Unit: No. 199 Squadron
Base: RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk.
Pilot: P/O. Maurice Albert Nicholas Hodson 170129 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
Pilot 2: F/O. Leonard Douglas Clay 135718 RAFVR Age 26. Killed (1)
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Jack Taylor 1624512 RAFVR Age 19. Killed
Nav: Fl/Sgt. Brian Purdy Higginson NZ/415760 RNZAF Age 22. Killed
Air/Bmr: Sgt. Robert Taylor Survived PoW No: 609 Camp: Stalag Kopernikus (Torum, Poland)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Dugald Gillies Wood 1367826 RAFVR Age 23. Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Alfred John Quar 1392702 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. William Henry Boyden 1393311 RAFVR Age 33. Killed
Took off at 19.45 hrs from RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk on an operation to Hannover. 678 aircraft - 312 Lancasters, 231 Halifaxes, 111 Stirlings, 24 Wellingtons. 5 B-17s also took part. 38 Bomber Command aircraft - 17 Halifaxes, 10 Lancasters, 10 Stirlings, 1 Wellington - lost, 5.6 per cent of the force, and a B-17 also lost.
The use by the Pathfinders of faulty forecast winds again saved the centre of Hanover. The bombing was very concentrated but fell on an area 5 miles north of the city centre. No details are available from Germany but RAF photographic evidence showed that most of the bombs fell in open country or villages north of the city.
21 Lancasters and 6 Mosquitoes of No 8 Group carried out a diversionary raid on Brunswick which was successful in drawing off some night fighters. 218 people were killed in Brunswick - 51 Germans and 167 foreigners. 1 Lancaster lost.
9 Mosquitoes on another diversion to Emden, 5 Mosquitoes on Oboe tests to Aachen (3 were successful), 19 aircraft minelaying in the Kattegat and the Frisian Islands, 4 O.T.U. sorties. No losses.
The crew of EF118, L-R: Sgt. Boyden, Sgt. Taylor, Sgt. Taylor, Fl/Sgt. Higginson, Sgt. Quar, P/O. Hodson and Sgt. Wood (courtesy Douglas Wood)
This was the 13th operation undertaken by this crew. Previous operations included:
One publication states that Stirling EF118 was intercepted and shot down by Ofw. Lothar Sachs (2) of 3./JG300 at 23.20 hrs. west of Hannover at 6.000 mtrs. Although other sources quote Oblt. Heinz Knigge (3) of 2./NJG6 as the Luftwaffe pilot and this fits in with the area more accurately. He is said to have shot a Stirling down north, north east of Hannover at 23.08 hrs. Combat taking place at 5.000 mtrs.
Crew graves - taken circa 1945, notice the graves carefully attended by locals (courtesy Douglas Wood)
The story of a 199 Squadron crew. So Dearly Loved - So Sadly Missed. Written by Douglas Wood and dedicated to all the relatives of the crew:
Five of the crew, which was to ultimately consist of five Englishmen, a New Zealander and a Scot, joined 199 Squadron from 28 OTU on 17 June 1943 as the Squadron were leaving Ingham in Lincolnshire and their Wellington X aircraft behind for Lakenheath in Suffolk and Short Stirling Mk. 111 four engine bombers. Early July saw them at Stradishall in Suffolk and 1657 Heavy Conversion Unit where they were joined by John Quar and Jack Taylor. After various training flights culminating in a successful night time cross country exercise in mid July, they returned to 199 Squadron to begin their operational career.
On returning to the Squadron, the crew were put through a series of training flights with “B” Flight commander S/Ldr. Wynne-Powell and Wing Commander Howard as their pilots. Further training with Maurice Hodson undertaking two and three engine flying exercises, high level bombing and a “Bullseye” exercise readied the crew for operations.
John Quar’s operational career had started on the night of 30/31 July 1943 when he was a Mid Upper Gunner in the crew of F/O. Archer during a sea mining exercise (known as Gardening) to the Frisian Islands. On the night of 1/2 August 1943, he occupied the same position in the crew of Sq/Ldr. Wynne-Powell on a Gardening exercise to the Gironde River area. The same night saw Bill Boyden operating as a Rear Gunner in the crew of F/O. Hagues during the same Gardening exercise.
The crew’s first operation as a unit was on the night of 9/10 August 1943 in Stirling BF481 EX-W and consisted of a minelaying operation to the Frisian Islands. The area in which the mines (known as Vegetables) were sown was codenamed ‘Nectarines’. Precise positioning of the mines was very important and a Gee fix enabled the crew to navigate to the specific area with accuracy. The mines were dropped from 1000 feet on a course of 124 magnetic in conditions of clear visibility and the parachutes, attached to the mines, were seen to open during the descent to the sea below.
The following night saw Maurice Hodson in the same aircraft but occupying the second pilot role in the crew of F/O. Hagues on an operation of seven and a half hours duration to Nuremburg. The majority of pilots, before flying with their crew operationally, flew as a second pilot with an experienced crew to gain some operational experience and an idea of operational conditions, particularly over Germany. Such a role was known to crews as a ‘second dickey’. The target was identified by the glow from the Green Target indicators seen through the cloud cover and as further Target Indicators were seen cascading down, the bombs were dropped from a height of 13500 feet. Conditions were described as 9/10 cloud which rose to approximately 10000 feet.
Right: F/O. Leonard Douglas Clay grave
From this point on, the crew were never to operate again other than as a single unit. The night of 15/16 August 1943 saw them undertake another Gardening exercise, this time to the Gironde River area (codenamed ‘Deodars’) in Stirling EE943 EX-X. The target was identified by a small lake North of Lake Hourtin and the mines were released from 4000 feet on a course of 327 degrees magnetic. Although it was noted that all four parachutes opened, the second mine exploded as it entered the water. An uneventful return journey ensued and an operation of almost seven hours ended as the aircraft touched down in the early morning of the 16th at Lakenheath.
As part of the bombing campaign of Northern Italian cities to ensure the Italian surrender, 199 Squadron operated the following night to Turin. However, the crew were not on the Battle Order. For them and Sq/Ldr. Humby’s crew, the night of 16/17 August 1943 saw them taking part in the Main Force raid to the German research establishment of Peenemunde on the Baltic coast of Germany. This operation was of great importance as Bomber Command were desperate to hinder the progress of the German rocket programme which was being conducted in great secrecy. Take off at 21.00 hours in Stirling EE913 EX-F preceded the long journey to Peenemunde.
The Short Stirlings of 3 Group were in the first attacking phase and visibility was 7/10 around the target area during the bombing run. The target was identified by green and red Target Indicators and bombs were dropped from 6000 feet in bright moonlight conditions on a course of 166 degrees magnetic. A block of buildings was seen to be on fire as the bombing run was completed.
The first phase of bombers, along with the second phase, was relatively unhindered due to a successful Mosquito diversion to Berlin, which drew most of the German night fighters away from the Peenemunde area. However, the third phase, made up of Halifaxes and Lancasters, was severely mauled by the returning night fighters resulting in a total loss of 40 aircraft from the 596 aircraft assigned to the operation.
Left: Sgt. Jack Taylor
Further deep penetration into the heartland of Germany awaited the crew with an operation to Berlin (or the Big City as it was known to bomber aircrews) on the night of 23/24 August 1943. As the crew were still relatively inexperienced operationally, the Squadron had not yet assigned an individual Stirling to them. This would only come with greater operational experience and, consequently, another Stirling BK806 EX-S was flown. Unlike weather conditions which were to be subsequently experienced by aircrew over Berlin during the winter of 1943-44, good visibility was reported over the target. From a height of 13000 feet and a course of 324 degrees magnetic, the bomb load was released when green Target Indicators were visible in the bomb sight. However, not all of the bomb load had been released as 90 x 4 pound incendiaries hung up in the bomb bay and eventually had to be brought back to Lakenheath. Exceptionally large fires were seen North East of the aiming point and although the raid was reported as being only partially successful, Berlin had suffered its most serious damage of the war to date. Bomber Command experienced its greatest loss of the war in one night to date as 56 aircraft from a total of 727 failed to return. Two of the aircraft which failed to return, were 199 Squadron Stirlings and the crews of P/O. Fisher and F/O. Widdecombe.
The crew’s next operation, as part of a force of 674 aircraft, was to Nuremburg on the night of 27/28 August 1943 and the aircraft flown was to become their regular aircraft from the beginning of September. This was Stirling EH909 EX-Z which was to be given the title ‘Semper in excreta’ and nose art of a flapping toilet roll. Although the crew could add another Stirling to their logbooks, nothing was to change with reference to the operational height of a fully laden Stirling as the bombing run was undertaken at 14000 feet. Clear and cloudless conditions were reported and the well concentrated green Target Indicators were identified and bombed on a course of 320 degrees magnetic. Although the crew returned safely after over eight hours in the air, another two of the Squadron aircraft and crews, piloted by Sgt. Drayton and W/O. Odgers failed to return. A total of 33 Main Force aircraft were lost on this operation.
There was to be no respite for the crew and thousands of other similar aircrew as on the night of 30/31 August 1943, they were sent to Munchengladbach in Stirling EE910 EX-Q. There was good visibility over the target, which was identified by red and green Target Indicators, and the bomb load was dropped from 13500 feet on a course of 030 degrees magnetic. When leaving the target area, a JU88 fighter attacked the aircraft for more than 20 minutes, which resulted in the aircraft being hit by cannon shells. The starboard inner engine was hit and set on fire, the port inner engine was damaged and the mid upper gun turret rendered useless. With Maurice Hodson putting the aircraft into a violent corkscrewing defensive manoeuvre when the enemy fighter attacked and then flying straight and level when the fighter was flying parallel, somehow, the crew extricated the aircraft from the enemy fighter’s prolonged attacks.
Fl/Sgt. Brian Purdy Higginson grave
The IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) aerial was broken and there was no answer to the SOS signal sent by the Wireless Operator, Dugald Wood, although replies to emergency calls from other aircraft were heard. Finally, the crew managed to return the damaged aircraft to Lakenheath where it was found the starboard tyre was punctured, the dinghy had been shot away and numerous bullet holes were found in the fuselage, tail-plane and wings. The Squadron suffered another grievous loss as the very experienced crew piloted by Fl/Sgt. Harlem failed to return from the operation. A total of 25 aircraft were lost from a force of 660 aircraft.
Only 16 hours after returning from Munchengladbach, the crew left Lakenheath in Stirling EH926 EX-T bound for Berlin a part of a force of 622 aircraft. The outward journey was trouble free until, when only 15 miles from the target, the port outer engine failed due to overheating and the port inner engine began to show evidence of distress. The bomb load was dropped to enable the aircraft to gain some height and the long journey for home began using the two starboard engines and the partly functioning port inner. SOS and direction finding messages were sent by the Wireless Operator and, with good fortune, the crippled aircraft was not spotted by enemy fighters and it limped back to the safety of the English coast. A landing was made at the Fighter Command base at Tangmere. The Squadron suffered another loss with the crew and aircraft piloted by F/Sgt. Davey failing to return and the Main Force losses totalled 47. Out of 106 Stirlings which operated to Berlin that night, 17 were lost i.e. 16% of all Stirlings dispatched. This loss rate and others previously suffered during the autumn of 1943 meant the days of the Stirling as a Main Force aircraft operating to Germany were numbered.
The Hodson crew were placed on the Squadron Battle Order on 5 September 1943 for an operation to Mannheim. The aircraft used was EH909 EX-Z which had been previously flown on the Nuremburg operation of 27/28 August. This operation brought an early return as starboard inner engine trouble meant the aircraft could not reach more than 10000 feet. The bombs were jettisoned, the operation aborted and the crew returned to Lakenheath. The end of this operation mean the crew had operated eight times in just twenty seven days over some of the most heavily defended areas in Europe.
As operational aircrew were due leave approximately every six weeks, the granting of seven days leave in early September gave the crew some relief from operational duties. However, all too soon, the crew returned to Lakenheath to continue to play their part in the overall and ever increasing effort of Bomber Command. Operational duties restarted on the night of 15/16 September 1943 when they flew in EH909 : EX-Z to the Dunlop rubber factory at Montlucon in Central France. Although there was 8/10 cloud over the target, there were sufficient clear patches in the cloud and moonlight conditions to allow the factory to be attacked visually. Green Target indicators were in the bomb sight when the bombs were released from a height of 8500 feet on a course of 185 degrees magnetic. Thick black smoke was reported as being evident up to 10000 feet indicating that the factory was badly damaged and subsequent reconnaissance photographs showed that every building in the factory was damaged. Nothing of any consequence happened on the return journey and the aircraft touched down safely at Lakenheath.
Right: Sgt. Dugald Gillies Wood grave at Hanover
The tenth operation for the crew was another trip to France in EH909 on the night after Montlucon. This time, the operation was to the important railway yards at Modane. The outward journey was very quiet although, when nearing the target, the gunners reported an Italian fighter flying a parallel course to the bomber for a short while before veering away. The route to the target took the Main Force over the Alps, which could present Stirling crews with severe problems due to the inadequate operational heights of their aircraft. However, there were no problems crossing the Alps and the aircraft flew over snow covered peaks. The crew were able to complete the bombing run after identifying the target using a nearby river and the presence of Green Target indicators. On the return journey, the gunners reported a Stirling being shot down over France and almost four hours after leaving the target, the Hodson crew landed at Lakenheath.
On the night of 22/23 September 1943 as part of a force of 711 aircraft, the crew returned in EH909 to Germany to attack the city of Hanover, which was to experience four heavy raids between September – October 1943. Clear weather conditions were reported over the target and when the Green Target Indicators were seen, the bomb aimer, Robert Taylor, bombed the centre of the markers. A large building was seen in the bomb burst flashes lighting up further buildings nearby. It was not known until later that stronger than forecast winds caused the marking to be 2 - 5 miles south of the intended aiming point so saving Hanover from a potentially devastating attack. The crew safely negotiated the return journey and landed at Lakenheath in the early hours of 23 September. Main Force casualties were ‘lighter’ than some of the recent raids to Germany but 26 aircraft and crews failed to return.
Left: Sgt. Alfred John Quar
As happened regularly throughout the war, operations were ‘On’ the following night with Mannheim, in this instance, being the target. Unlike the operation to Mannheim earlier in the month, the crew were able to get to the target but once again engine trouble dogged the crew’s attempts and EH909 lived up to its nickname. The port inner engine was on fire over the target but the fire was successfully extinguished and feathered. The target was identified visually and fires were noted in the area. The bomb load was released over the target on a course of 141 degrees magnetic and a height of 14500 feet. On the return journey, the starboard inner engine began running at a high temperature and the aircraft was forced to lose height to approximately 6000 feet and emergency wireless messages were broadcast. Damaged bombers flying at this height could attract serious trouble due to fighter attacks or light flak but by great skill and good fortune, the aircraft landed back at Lakenheath.
Due to the engine damage suffered during the Mannheim raid, EH909 was taken for repairs and was not ready for the raid to Hanover on the night of 27/28 September 1943. The crew and a “second dickey” pilot, F/O. Leonard Clay from Chadwell Heath in Essex, boarded Stirling EF118 EX-O which took off at 19.45 hours. After an uneventful trip to the target, the aircraft was just starting its bombing run when it was coned by searchlights. The pilot, Maurice Hodson, tried to lose the searchlights by putting the aircraft into a series of violent corkscrew turns in the hope they could lose the searchlights and find the relative safety of darkness. It was to no avail. The gunners reported two enemy aircraft were closing in on the bomber and there was a large explosion causing the aircraft to go out of control. The aircraft crashed at a farm near the village of Ramlingen about 10 miles North East of Hanover. Robert Taylor, the bomb aimer, managed to escape from the front hatch before the aircraft crashed, but his seven colleagues were killed.
The seven men who died now lie side by side in Hanover War Cemetery. Of the original crew, Bill Boyden was the eldest at 33 years old. The remainder of the crew were aged between nineteen and twenty three years old at the time of their deaths. Robert Taylor was to survive almost two years as a Prisoner of War and another forty eight years of peace for which he, his crew and the personnel of RAF Bomber Command had fought, so gallantly, to achieve.
Right: Sgt. William Henry Boyden grave
The crew members who lost their lives were initially buried in a local churchyard in Ramlingen before being reinterred in the Hannover C.W.G.C. War Cemetery.
P/O. Maurice Albert Nicholas Hodson. Hanover War Cemetery Grave 6. F. 7. Son of Albert Edward and Jane Ellen Hodson, of Sheffield, England.
F/O.Leonard Douglas Clay. Hanover War Cemetery Grave 6. F. 1-3. Son of Walter Clay, and of Frances Alice Clay, of Chadwell Heath, Essex, England.
Sgt. Jack Taylor. Hanover War Cemetery Grave 6. F. 1-3. Son of George and Sarah Taylor, of Newton, Hyde, Cheshire, England.
Fl/Sgt. Brian Purdy Higginson. Hanover War Cemetery Grave 6. F. 6. Son of John Samuel Higginson and of Elsie Mary Higginson (nee Purdy), of Auckland City, New Zealand.
Sgt. Dugald Gillies Wood. Hanover War Cemetery Grave 6. F. 1-3. Son of John Stewart Wood and Elizabeth Wood, of Clarkston, Renfrewshire Scotland.
Sgt. Alfred John Quar. Hanover War Cemetery Grave 6. F. 5. Son of Charles Alfred and Minnie Quar, of Fulham, London, England.
Sgt. William Henry Boyden. Hanover War Cemetery Grave 6. F. 4. Son of Thomas John and Mabel Boyden; husband of Irene Florence Boyden, of Barkingside, Ilford, Essex, England.
Extensive research carried out by Douglas Wood. For Suzanne Cooling relative of Sgt. William Henry Boyden and for all relatives/friends of the crew. For further details our thanks to the following, Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vol's. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vol's. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries (Updated 2014 version), Commonwealth War Graves Commission.