15/16.03.1944 No. 625 Squadron Lancaster III DV194 CF-F F/Sgt. Hodgkins
Date: 15/16th March 1944
Unit: No. 625 Squadron (motto: We Avenge). 1 Group
Type: Lancaster III
Base: RAF Kelstern, Lincolnshire.
Location: Obereschach, Germany
Pilot: F/Sgt. Frank Grafton Hodgkins 574399 RAF Age ? Killed
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Norman Sinclair Allan 9066502 RAFVR Age ? Killed
Nav: W/O II. Arthur John Dennis Fox R/155142 RCAF Age 24. Killed
Air/Bmr: Sgt. Allen Edward Roy Ward 1509409 RAFVR Age 28. Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Arthur Smith 1527311 RAFVR Age ? Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. John McDougal McIntyre 1568128 RAFVR Age ? Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Harold Edward Chapman 1876520 RAFVR Age 19. Killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
Sgt. Hodgkins was posted to RAF Kelstern, from 1662 HCU, on February 22nd, 1944. For reasons unknown his crew had arrived the day before.
After three weeks of pre-operational ground and air exercises this green crew was deemed fit for combat, without the customary 'second dickie’ trip.
Regardless, they were sobered to observe their names on the Battle Order for the March 15th bombing attack on Stuttgart. The Squadron ORB gives brief testimony of their first op, neglecting to name their target.
Took off at 19:08 hrs from RAF Kelstern in Lincolnshire to attack the city of Stuttgart. A total of 863 aircraft - made up from 617 Lancasters, 230 Halifaxes and 16 Mosquitos took part in this raid.
The German night fighters split the force into two parts. The bombers flew over France nearly as far as the Swiss border before turning North east to approach Stuttgart. This resulted in delaying the Luftwaffe making contact with the bomber force. When the German fighters did arrive just before Stuttgart was reached, a fierce combat followed. A total of 37 aircraft were lost (27 Lancasters and 10 Halifaxes - 2 other Lancasters force landed in Switzerland) Adverse winds delayed the opening of the attack and the same winds may have caused the pathfinder marking to fall back well short of the target area - despite the clear weather conditions.
Some of the bombing fell in the city centre but most were ineffective and fell into open country south - west of the city. The bombing destroyed some housing and a college. A total of 88 people on the ground were killed and a further 203 injured.
DV194 is understood to have been shot down by Fw. Alfred Rauer of 3./NJG1 at 22;58 hrs.The aircraft exploded and scattered debris near the village of Obereschach, north, north east of Villingen, Germany. (see map)
The German Death Card for 15.3.44/ 23-24 hours indicates that four of the crew were recovered and identified:
Dead - Fox, identity card
Chapman, identity disc
Ward, “ “
McIntyre, passport pics.
Handwritten on the reverse of the Death Card, in pencil, in English and dated 28/8/45.
All buried on the 18.3.44 in the Cemetery Obereschach.
On March 16, 1944, Wing Commander Preston, Officer Commanding 625 Squadron RAF, wrote a letter to Mrs. Fox, the mother of W/O II Fox, confirming the preceding telegram that her son was missing as a result of air operations.
22nd May, 1950.
Mrs. Lena M. Fox
Dear Mrs. Fox:
It is with regret that I refer to the loss of your son, Warrant Officer Class II Arthur John Dennis Fox. A report has, however, been received from our Missing Research and Enquiry Service concerning your son and the members of his crew. Investigating Officers of this Service located the graves of your son and the members of his crew in the cemetery at Obereschach sixty miles southwest of Stuttgart, Germany.
In accordance with the agreed policy of the Nations of the British Commonwealth that all British aircrew buried in Germany would be moved to the British Military Cemeteries in Germany, your son and the members of his crew were moved to the Permanent British Military Cemetery at Bad Tolz. Bad Tolz is twenty-eight miles south south east of Munich. The cemetery is known as the Bad Tolz (Durnbach) British Military Cemetery. Unhappily, your son was the only member of the crew who could be individually identified on exhumation. He was laid to rest in plot 11, row E, grave No. 14. His crew-mates were laid to rest beside him in multiple graves 15-18 and these graves will be registered collectively with their names…
It is my earnest hope that you will be comforted with the knowledge that your son’s resting place is known, and that it will be permanently maintained, and I would like to take this opportunity of expressing to you and the members of your family my deepest sympathy in the loss of your gallant son.
for (W.R. Gunn) W/C
RCAF Casualties Officer
for Chief of Air Staff
Aircrew losses on this operation: Killed - 218, Injured - 3, PoW - 47, Interned - 1, Evaded - 17.
F/Sgt. Frank Grafton Hodgkins. Durnbach War Cemetery Coll. Grave 11.E.15-18. Joined the RAF as an engineering apprentice in 1938. Volunteered for aircrew early in the war and after training in Canada he qualified as a pilot. Son of Alfred Grafton Hodgkins and Theodora Hodgkins, nephew of Mr. R. Lerry, of Worcester, England. Grave inscription" 'R.I.P.'
Sgt. Norman Sinclair Allan. Durnbach War Cemetery Coll. Grave 11.E.15-18. No further details as yet - are you able to assist?
W/O II Arthur John Dennis Fox. Durnbach War Cemetery. Grave 11E.14. Son of Arthur E. Fox (died 1929, age 52) and Lena M. Fox (nee Hicks - died 1973), of Springford, Ontario, Canada. Born on March 10, 1920 at Springford, Ontario, Canada. Education: Miller P.S.- H.S. Entrance, Tillsonburg High School- Matriculation Sub. Grave inscription: 'By Faith, We Have Peace With God Through Jesus Christ" Rom.V.1'.
Date of reburial: 30.7.48.
Military Service: Oxford Rifles, Tillsonburg Ont. Pte, Rifleman, 1941-42. Discharged to join RCAF.
Sports: Swimming, Baseball.
Occupation: Farmer, Machinist.
Air Force Duty: Flying Duties.
Ground Duties: N/A.
Attestation: Declaration/Oath April 7, 1942
Sgt. Allen Edward Roy Ward. Durnbach War Cemetery Coll. Grave 11.E.15-18. Son of Roy McGreggor Ward, and of Jean Ward (née Holding), husband of Margaret Ward (née Arbury), of Blackpool, Lancashire, England. Grave inscription: 'Beloved Husband Of Margaret, Blackpool. He Lives In The Hearts Of Those He Loved'.
Sgt. Arthur Smith. Durnbach War Cemetery Coll. Grave 11.E.15-18. Son of N.H. Smith of 77 Shadsworth Road, Blackburn, Lancashire, England.
Sgt. John McDougal McIntyre. Durnbach War Cemetery Coll. Grave 11.E.15-18. No further details as yet - are you able to assist?
Sgt. Harold Edward Chapman. Durnbach War Cemetery Coll. Grave 11.E.15-18. Son of Albert Victor and Maud Violet Chapman, of East Greenwich, London, England. Grave inscription: 'In the blue heavens, above the clouds he is still flying'
Date of reburial: 30.7.48
For the aircrew of 625 Squadron the March 15/16, 1944, bombing attack on Stuttgart, with the tragic loss of three Lancs and their entire crews, would be the second raid in less than a month that the Squadron would lose three aircraft and crews - a harbinger for events to follow over the next seven months. During this time frame the Squadron, on seven raids, would lose three or more aircraft and crew - accounting for 22 of the 74 Lancs and crews lost over its eighteen month operational history (30%). For those who “failed to return” the stats were horrific: KIA 129 (84%), POWs, Evaders and Safe 25 (16%). These were the ‘dark’ months for the young men of Bomber Command taking the war to the enemy on the ‘Second Front’, over their territory, in the dark of night.
These raids with multiple losses were sporadic and unpredictable. Only half of the targets were in Germany and incredibly the Squadron would lose only one aircraft, W5009 (S/L Nicholls and crew), from the Nuremberg debacle:
Feb 19/20/44 Leipzig
JA862 S/L Douetil 5 KIA 2 POW*
ME588 P/O Aspin DFM 7 KIA
LM384 F/Sgt Pearson 6 KIA 1 POW
* W/O F.T. Price, Navigator, died on 19/4/45 following a Typhoon attack on
their train near Gresse (AR archive report for JA862).
Mar 15/16/44 Stuttgart
DV194 F/Sgt Hodgkins 7 KIA
W4833 F/Sgt Gigger 7 KIA
ND637 P/O Bulger 7 KIA
Mar 24/25/44 Berlin
ME684 F/L Clark 4 POW 3 EVD
ND641 W/OII Owen 6 KIA 1 EVD
ED317 F/Sgt Jamieson 7 KIA
May 3/4/44 Mailly-le-Camp
ME697 S/L Gray 5 KIA 1 POW I EVD
LM515 P/O McGaw 7 KIA
LM317 P/O Short 7 KIA
June 10/11/44 Achères
ND742 P/O Dudman 7 KIA
LM139 F/O Geeson 1 KIA 1 POW 5 EVD
LL897 F/O Malin 7 KIA
June 30/July1/44 Vierzon
PB126 F/L Elmhurst- Baxter 2 KIA 5 EVD
JB743 P/O Hale 7 KIA
ND459 F/O Wright 7 KIA
*ND975 P/O Knowles 7 KIA *SD Flight Binbrook, with a 625 Squadron Crew
Oct 23/24/44 Essen
PB531 F/O Morshead 7 KIA
PA174 P/O Tweter 7 KIA
LM691 S/L Hamilton 6 KIA 1 Safe
It is noteworthy that the crews of DV194, W4833 and ND637 were all relatively green crews. P/O Bulger and crew were most experienced, on their fifth op, yet hardened to the core. He did not have the combat cushion of a 'second dickie’ trip and had risen to the task in his first forays over Occupied Territory. F/Sgt. Hodgkins also did not benefit from a chaperoned baptism to fire, failing to return from his first op, to savour the customary bacon and eggs breakfast. His crew’s unlogged combat flying time would have been 3 hours, 50 minutes, and it is most likely that they expired with their fuel and bomb load. From the enemy perspective this was the optimal outcome: bomber and crew dispatched before their payload reached the target. A most depressing one for their family and Squadron mates. It was a well known fact that the highest Bomber Command losses occurred in a crew’s first five ops. This is exemplified in this second triad of Squadron losses!
Archive reports for W4833 and ND637:
Of the three, only F/Sgt. Gigger, Skipper of W4833, had the benefit of a baptismal op before going solo into combat with his crew. His introduction to the crucible of war came on February 15, 1944, as a participant observer with the crew of S/L B.N. Douetil to Berlin, to bomb in 10/10s cloud and return to Base unscathed. One month later on their fifth op as a combat team to Stuttgart they would be confronted with a crash/ditching at night into the English Channel. The bodies of F/Sgt. Gigger and his flight engineer, Sgt. R.F. McNeill were recovered and buried in France. The remaining five crew members are included on the panels at the Runnymede Memorial.
Taking into account the combat experience of subsequent Squadron losses, it is apparent that the Senior Staff learned from their mistakes. It was almost unheard of for a rookie crew to fly in combat without the experience of a ‘second’ dickie op. Hopefully this simple measure ensured that one more crew reached the magic #30 op, to tour expire, with prospects of a life to savour: free of night fighters and flak.
On a final note it is worth considering the time frame that DV194’s crew’s families were faced with the notification of their sons’ reburial site. It is apparent from the German records and Red Cross access, that the RAF/RCAF officials were aware that this crew was accounted for, within several weeks of them being reported “missing in action” on March 16, 1944.
The Presumption of Death Notification sent to the crew’s next of kin on November 30, 1944, would have confirmed to them that their sons would not be coming home. However, following the MRES investigation and reinterment on July 30, 1948, it was not until May 22, 1950 that W/O Fox’s mother was notified of his final resting place! The MRES is to be commended for their diligence and exemplary efforts in bringing closure to the grieving relatives of Bomber Command airmen who failed to return. JEA.
Researched for the son of Sgt. Arthur Smith Mr Peter Smith and for all the relatives of the crew.
Acknowledgments: Library and Archives Canada/Ancestry.ca: 625 Squadron Aircrew and Gravesite Photos and Documents. F/Sgt Arthur John Dennis Fox, R155142, p. 40 on Ancestry RG24 27437, May 2017. 625 Squadron ORB. Library and Archives Canada/ancestry.ca
Reg Price DFC: 625 vet, participated in this raid- Up 18.47 Down 02.35 STUTTGART. Target bombed at 2324 hours from a height of 22,000 feet in 10/10ths cloud. Target bombed in centre of red T.Is, but owing to cloud results were not visualized.
F/Sgt B.R. Pengilly was 2nd Pilot on this op and as far as is known, survived the war. Lanc ND619 would be their assigned steed for this and the majority of ops for Reg and his crew to tour expire.
Submission by Jack Albrecht.
Additional Stories of 625 Squadron Crews