18/19.03.1945 No. 640 Squadron Halifax III MZ494 C8-B Fl/Lt Alan William Huckle DFC
Operation: Witten, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Date: 18/19 March 1945 (Sunday/Monday)
Unit: No. 640 Squadron
Badge: The squadron had no authorised badge or motto.
Type: Handley Page Halifax III
Base: RAF Leconfield, East Riding of Yorkshire
Location: Witten, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Pilot: Fl/Lt Alan William Huckle DFC 128891 RAFVR Age 24 - Killed (1) (25+8 on loss card)
Fl/Eng: P/O. William Edward Charles Ralph 190702 RAFVR Age 20 - Killed (2)
Nav: Fl/Lt. William Archibald 'Slim' Walton J35832 RCAF Age 22 - Killed (3)
Air/Bmr: F/O. James Byron Willoughby J35130 RCAF Age 30 - PoW - Camp: Stalag XIB, Fallingbostel (4)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: P/O Samuel McKaig 'Mac' 196057 RAFVR Age 23 - Killed (5)
Air/Gnr (MU): F/Sgt. William George Allingham 1798198 RAFVR Age 25 - Killed (6)
Air/Gnr (R): F/Sgt. Michael Barrett 1798959 RAFVR Age 24 - Killed (7)
We appeal to anyone with further information and/or photographs to please contact us via our HELPDESK
No. 640 Squadron
No. 640 Squadron was formed as a heavy-bomber unit from "C" Flight of No 158 Squadron on 7 January 1944, at RAF Leconfield near Beverley, East Riding of Yorkshire. Equipped with the Handley Page Halifax, the squadron flew its first two missions from RAF Lissett near Bridlington, East Riding of Yorkshire - No 158 Squadron's base - but flew all subsequent missions from RAF Leconfield.
The last operational mission flown by 640 Squadron in WWII was on 25 April 1945 when 18 Halifaxes bombed gun batteries on the German island of Wangerooge.
The squadron was disbanded on 7 May 1945 having operated exclusively with the Handley Page Halifax B. III and B. VI.
On the night of 18/19 March 1945 a force comprising 259 Halifaxes, 45 Lancasters and 20 Mosquitoes was despatched to bomb Witten, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. The raid was carried out in good visibility and 1081 tons of bombs were dropped destroying 129 acres, 62% of the built up area (according to the Post War British Bombing Survey Unit). The only German report stated that the Ruhrstahl steelworks and Mannesmann tube factory were severely damaged. 6 Halifaxes, 1 Lancaster and 1 Mosquito were lost.
THE LOSS OF HALIFAZ MZ494 C8-B
Compiled from the unpublished document "Diary of my Adventures in Germany" by the air bomber and sole survivor of the crew, Jim Willoughby, the account of the loss by the Late Bill Norman in his book " Halifax Squadron" and further research by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock.
"We were a very happy crew, with thirty four operations to our credit and four more to make. Together we had shared the dangerous times and the good times..." (Jim Willoughby)
The crew epitomised the diversity of nationalities fighting side by side in Bomber Command: two Englishmen, two Canadians, a Scot and two Irishmen, one from each side of the border. Under normal circumstances this alone might have been a recipe for disaster but flying over enemy territory night after night through torrents of flak and likely to be blown to pieces at any moment were hardly normal circumstances. The seven airmen, each dependent on the others for their very survival had been honed into a highly trained, efficient unit and having survived so many dangerous operations bore testimony to their skill and expertise albeit with a generous sprinkling of good fortune. Inevitably, such reliance on each other in situations of constant danger had spawned such a close bond of friendship between them that only those who had been there could begin to comprehend its nature.
The briefing had promised good weather for that night's raid on Witten, home of the Ruhrstahl steelworks and Mannesmann tube factory, with fourteen aircraft of 640 Squadron detailed to take part. The briefed route would take them south over Reading crossing he English coast just east of Brighton and thence over the Channel to the French coast where the force was to turn due east passing just north of Amiens then north east across Belgium, the south Netherlands and into Germany before turning south west towards Witten. The route was intended to keep the force over allied territory as far as possible and also avoid having to fly through the worst of the heavy flak of the Ruhr valley.
The aircraft's bomb load was 1 x 1000 lb MC TD .025, 2 x 500 ANM 64 TD .025, 4 x No. 15 CP C6/10, 2 x No. 14 CP (Plain) C6/10 and 4 x No. 14 CP C6/10 'X' type.
Ammunition for the guns was 7600 rounds of .303.
Special equipment on board was H2S and Fishpond. (See abbreviations)
The fuel load was sufficient for 7 hours of flying.
At 22:15 the crews had the traditional pre-operational meal of bacon and eggs and afterwards collected parachutes, Mae Wests and escape kits before making their way to the crew room where they got into their flying suits.
There was a delay in take off time because of the forecast of a bright moon but at 00:44 hours the captain, Fl/Lt. Alan Huckle, took off and circled the airfield until all the squadron aircraft airborne. At 4000 feet they set course for Witten.
As they neared Reading all navigation lights were extinguished.
"From here on lights of any kind (inside or outside our aircraft) must be seen. From the time of setting course, no one spoke unless to give brief necessary information, or to acknowledge receipt of such. Unnecessary talk was a direct menace, for who knew at what time the intercom would prove to be the means of saving our aircraft from destruction. A quick order from one of the crew might be all that enabled the pilot to avoid collision, steer clear of bursting shells or duck a night-fighter".
Approaching the French coast and cognisant that German radar had probably already picked it up the bomber stream climbed to a safer height of 10000 feet where Alan Huckle ordered "'Oxygen masks on'". They continued to climb to 18000 feet at which height the thermometer registered 22° below zero.
A tremendous amount of flak in front of them heralded their approach to the Ruhr at which point it was time for Jim Willoughby to leave his position as assistant navigator and take up his place in the bombing compartment.
With a casual "'You're on your own, Slim. I'm going to see how Jerry looks'" Jim clipped on his parachute and took up the bomb aimer's position in the nose of the aircraft.
"Had I known that I was seeing a bosom friend for the last time, my departure certainly would not have been so carefree".
"'Camera and bomb-sight checked. Bombs selected. Master switch on skipper'" was Jim's proclamation that the dangerous work of the night had begun.
"We entered an area brilliantly lit by searchlights interspersed with bursting flak. Danger of collision was now very real: some four hundred [sic] of our aircraft were passing over the common target. If we could avoid flak for two minutes longer we would be out of the heavily defended zone; Witten, our destination, was only very weakly armed with ack-ack."
"'Dive starboard' Michael called from the rear turret. The order was carried out immediately and we narrowly missed being rammed by one of our own aircraft, as it hurtled past in a fiery mass".
The target was now coming up fast and with thirty seconds to go Jim Willoughby called "'Bomb doors open'" and as Alan Huckle acknowledged Jim took charge of proceedings and began his guidance over the red Target Indicators.
"'Left...Left...Steady...Right...Steady...Steady... Bombs gone'".
After continuing straight and level for another thirty seconds the Skipper was making a diving turn for home when there was a tremendous bang and the Halifax went into a rapid dive.
In the nose, smoke was making Jim's eyes smart and knowing something was seriously wrong he retraced the three or four steps back to the navigator's compartment where he found that "the curtain partition, the floor, part of the table as well as the double seat upon which Slim and I usually sat, had been completely blown away. Slim wasn't there ....there was a great rent in the floor, and through the hole - some three feet by six- I could clearly see the burning target below".
The above photographs serve to illustrate the cramped conditions in the front section of a Halifax Bomber and how Jim Willoughby had found himself completely isolated from the rest of the aircraft because of the hole blown in the fuselage floor below the navigator's position.
As Alan regained some control of the aircraft Jim struggled back into the nose section from where he could see that at least the engines were undamaged and running smoothly with no sign of fire but as he returned to the main body of the plane the aircraft went into another spin, the centrifugal force pinning him hard against a bank of instruments before Alan once more seemed to recover an element of control. But finding the intercom useless, Jim was unable to contact the others and isolated as he was by the hole in the fuselage floor, decided to take his chance to get out whilst he was still able to do so. So sitting on the edge of the gaping hole he curled over and fell from the aircraft.
"Then I was being buffeted fiercely in all directions by the churning air from the propellers... strange as it may sound, at no point did any feeling of fear or panic seize me... I remained curled up until the air about me was quiet, then stretched out to full length with arms at my side".
Then realising that 120 mph was too fast for landing he reached for the ripcord but...
"there was no ripcord...there was no chute...the light string that which kept the straps folded had broken and allowed the chute to float above my head unopened."
Reaching up Jim pulled the cord and was relieved to see his parachute billow out above him but as he floated gently downwards he realised that his troubles were far from over. And if he had felt no fear or panic when he first baled out he was now having more than a few misgivings about his future.
He hung suspended from his canopy of silk in the very midst of the attack; bombs raining down from bombers above were reciprocated by the anti-aircraft shells soaring from below: the entire scene illuminated by a myriad of pointing fingers of intense light emitting from the searchlights below. Beneath him, a blazing inferno into which he was inevitably descending.
He was momentarily resigned to dying in the fires that raged across the target area below but the realisation that a stiff breeze was blowing him to safety, brought hope that he might yet survive.
Drifting beyond the target with the ground racing up towards him he heard above the cacophonous din of ack-ack, exploding bombs and wailing sirens, a tremendous explosion that he later realised must have been the sound of the crashing Halifax.
"Seconds later, I landed two hundred feet from a house in perhaps the only clear space for miles around. My first thoughts were of the crew. I felt sure Slim was gone. I had discovered that my clothing from hip to heel was covered with a thick sticky layer of blood. Slim had been fatally wounded, and the blood which I had sat in whilst preparing to jump was his. As for the rest of the boys. I couldn't help thinking that they were alright. They were probably well on their way home or, at any rate, safely behind allied lines".
After landing Jim considered his situation. He had a badly bruised right ankle sustained either when he baled out or on landing, he had no food and he was perhaps 90 miles from the American bridgehead at Nijmegen but he was optimistic that he could make it. After resting up in a copse throughout the following day, he set off; but within an hour his ankle had become so sore he was struggling badly. Making detours to avoid contact with German troops and civilians he walked by night and rested during the day but just about dawn on the third day whilst passing through a village near Wuppertal the air raid siren sounded and he had to hide quickly in some shrubbery before the local residents were awakened. Alas, too late he discovered his hiding place was near an anti-aircraft battery and was thus forced to cover his ears to protect them from the noise as they fired at the bombers overhead.
But after the raid he discovered that he had concealed himself in a poor position being adjacent to a path along which farm workers were constantly passing. Remaining cognisant of the many stories of allied airmen being lynched when caught by German civilians, Jim decided it might be to his advantage to stay hidden for the rest of the day until darkness fell.
Two days later he witnessed another daylight raid by American Fortresses on Wuppertal itself. From his vantage point in woodland on a hill top he had a ringside seat as German fighters took on the bombers.
But as darkness fell on day five Jim was all in. Exhausted and hungry he decided to take his chances and approached a farm house where he asked for food. The middle aged occupants duly obliged with some coarse brown bread and water but shotly afterwards the man left the room briefly only to reappear wearing a German Officer's cap and waving a Luger.
The game was up and Jim was taken to a nearby village where it seemed the whole village had turned out to see him and before long the angry mob was becoming extremely threatening with one disreputable character questioning Jim in broken English but on receiving no reply declared "We will tar and feather you".
"Five minutes passed and great excitement was gripping my tormentors. Suddenly the man who had tried talking to me pointed to a short telegraph pole. The result was a roar of approval from the crowd. Immediately, he started away, yelling "We hang you!" as he went. Obviously he was going for a rope."
At this point the officer stepped in and stopped him but then as Jim was escorted from the village under armed guard for nearby Wuppertal the Mayor himself launched a tirade of abuse and kicks at him.
In Wuppertal he was handed over to the police who put him in a cell where he quickly fell asleep.
The following day there were two more air raids on Wuppertal and though other prisoners were taken from their cells to a place of relative safety Jim was left to take his chances, locked in his cell.
The next day (26 March) and with the Allies advancing on Wuppertal he was transferred to Dortmund in the company of nine Americans but two days later the group was sent to Hannover a distance of 130 miles. The journey had to be made by whatever means were available, some of it by rail when possible, some of it by any road transport available or otherwise on foot. Over two days (31 March and 1 April) they walked 56 miles to Lubeck and the following day by train to Minden where they changed trains for Hannover only to for it to be attacked by Spitfires that shot up the engine thus curtailing the journey.
On 3 April they finally arrived at Stalag XIB at Fallingbostel near Hannover to join the 15000 prisoners already in the camp but on 15 April Jim and ten others were moved back to Lubeck where they settled down in relative comfort to await liberation by British forces. At 5.30 pm on 2 May 1945 they were liberated by General Simpson's Division of the British Army.
"Five days later, Lancasters flew us back to England"
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) Fl/Lt Alan William Huckle DFC was born on 12 December 1920 at Hackney, London the son of William Bernard Huckle and May Helana Huckle nee Mead. He had one sibling, a sister Marjorie M. Huckle born in 1925.
658585 LAC Alan William Huckle was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 5 September 1942 (London Gazette 10 November 1942) and promoted to Flying Officer on probation (war subs) on 5 March 1943 (London Gazette 16 April 1943). He was further promoted to Flight Lieutenant (war subs) on 5 September 1944 (London Gazette 22 September 1944) He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 13 April 1945 (London Gazette 13 April 1945)
(2) P/O. William Edward Charles Ralph was born on 3 January 1925 at Margate, Kent the son of William Charles Ralph and Doris Rachel Ralph nee Stevens of Margate. He had siblings, Eric Vincent G Ralph (1927-1991), Donald Leslie Colin Ralph (1929-1929), Douglas W. Ralph born 1930 and Bernard Roland Ralph (1932-2014)
3030437 Sgt. William Edward Charles Ralph was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 22 January 1945 (London Gazette 13 March 1945)
(3) Fl/Lt. William Archibald Walton was born on 8 December 1923 at Silverton, British Columbia, Canada the son of Edwin Archibald Walton, a Mechanic and Lotie Maud Walton nee McVicar. He had two sisters Helen Jean Walton born 1917 and Mary Elizabeth Walton born 1921 and the family lived at Bralorne, British Columbia.
He was educated at Silverton Superior School (1928-1937) and Bralorne High School (1937-1940) and then studied a Preparatory Course to Applied Sciences at the University of British Columbia for a year. He then worked as a labourer whilst waiting to join the RCAF. His hobby was building model aircraft and he had a particular ability in Maths and Science. He played tennis extensively aa well as American football and baseball. He also engaged in weight lifting and enjoyed hiking.
When he enlisted at Vancouver on 17 October 1942 he was 6 feet tall weighing 190 lbs with a fair complexion, broen eyes and hair. After training at no. 36 Service Flying Training School at RCAF Penhold, Alberta, No. 4 Initial Training School at RCAF Edmonton, Alberta and No. 2 Air Observer School also at RCAF Edmonton, Alberta he was awarded his Air Observers Badge, promoted to Sergeant and commissioned as a Pilot Officer on 17 September 1943.
He embarked for the UK on 22 October and on arrival was posted to No, 3 Personnel Reception Centre. On 18 January 1944 he was posted to No. 1 (Observer) Advanced Flying Unit at RAF Wigtown, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland followed on 8 February to No. 2 (Observer) Advanced Flying Unit at RAF Millom in Cumberland (now Cumbria). He was promoted to Flying Officer on 17 March 1944 and on 21 March was posted to No. 19 Operational Training Unit at RAF Forres in Morayshire, Scotland. He was thereafter on 9 June posted to No. 41 Base at RAF Marston Moor in the West Riding of Yorkshire and to No. 640 Squadron at RAF Leconfield in the East Riding of Yorkshire on 11 August 1944.
His promotion to Acting Flight Lieutenant was on 19 January 1945
In 1997 the memory of Fl/Lt. William Archibald Walton was honoured by the Procince of British Columbia with the naming of Walton Lake (North side of Mount Cooper, North East of Slocan Lake, Kootenay Land District, British Columbia)
(4) F/O. James Byron Willoughby was born on 15 August 1914 at Sintaluta, Saskatchewan, Canada the son of James Henry Willoughby and Sarah Jane Willoughby nee Morton. He had four siblings, Ethan Lloyd Willoughby (1894-1959), Stella Marie Willoughby born 1986, Myrtle J Willoughby born 1901 and Stanley N. Willoughby (1907-1928).
Jim was a School Teacher at Durham and Dunkirk, Saskatchewan before joining the Air Force in 1942. Before embarking for the UK he married Mae Peardon in 1943.
Whilst serving in the Air Force Jim completed 32 successful operations before being shot down on his 33rd and becoming a prisoner of war. After his liberation and subsequent return to Canada he returned to teaching at Port Crawford, British Columbia and at Rock Glen, Saskatchewan.
He later left the teaching profession and returned to Sintaluta where he became a farmer. In 1969, Jim and Mae sold their farm, and in 1973 Mae sadly passed away after a lengthy illness.
Jim retired to Surrey, British Columbia in 1976 and was a resident at the Kinsmen Care Centre in Tsawwassen, Delta, British Columbia at the time of his death.
James Byron Willoughby died at New Westminster, British Columbia on 13 July 2009 aged 94. A private family interment of his cremated remains took place in Sintaluta Cemetery at a later date.
(5) P/O. Samuel McKaig was born in 1922 at Dundee, Scotland the son of Samuel McKaig and Joan McKaig nee Dawson, of 12, Paterson Street Dundee.
1566706 Flight Sergeant Samuel McKaig was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 16 March 1945 (London Gazette 8 May 1945)
He is commemorated on The Scottish National War Memorial, Edinburgh Castle.
(6) F/Sgt. William George Allingham was born in 1920 at Belfast, County Antrim, Northen Ireland the son of Robert Allingham and Margaret Hanna Allingham nee Morton.
(7) F/Sgt. Michael Barrett was born on 31 July 1920 at Ardagh, Co. Limerick, Republic of Ireland the son of Patrick (Paddy) Barrett (a Farmer) and Ellen Barrett nee Harrold. His elder brother, Flight Engineer F/Sgt. William Barrett 541539 was killed on 9 January 1943 when his aircraft Lancaster W4176 of No. 44 Squadron was lost without trace along with the rest of the crew whilst on mine-laying duties at The Sound between Denmark and Sweden. To read the story of the loss of Lancaster W4176 click here
A PAUSE FOR THOUGHT
Since William and Michael Barrett were citizens of the neutral Republic of Ireland it is perhaps interesting to note the following details from the Irish Independant newspapof 11 November
Irish neutrality in World War Two was a most extraordinary thing. The first RAF bomber pilot to be shot down and killed in 1939 was Willie Murphy from Cork. His navigator, Larry Slattery, from Thurles [County Tipperary] became the longest-serving 'British' POW of the war.
The co-pilot of the last RAF bomber to be shot down over Germany, in May 1945, Sgt W Mackay, who was killed, was Irish too.[Sgt. William Henry Vasey MacKay from Glenageary Co. Dublin]
In all, some 250 men from neutral independent Ireland died with RAF Bomber Command, compared with 218 Frenchmen, 136 Czechs and 34 Norwegians, all of whose countries were at war.
BURIAL DETAILS, MEMORIALS AND EPITAPHS
Fl/Lt Alan William Huckle DFC was originally buried at Witten-Annen Cemetery and re-interred on 12 June 1947 at Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany. Grave reference 28. F. 2
P/O. William Edward Charles Ralph was originally buried at Witten-Annen Cemetery and re-interred on 12 June 1947 at Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany. Grave reference 28. F. 3.
His epitaph reads:
At the going down
Of the sun
And in the morning
We will remember them
Fl/Lt. William Archibald Walton - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial Panel 278
P/O Samuel McKaig was originally buried at Witten-Annen Cemetery and re-interred on 12 June 1947 at Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany. Grave reference 28. F. 4.
His epitaph reads:
We remember you in silence.
What it meant to lose you
No one will ever know
F/Sgt. William George Allingham was originally buried at Witten-Annen Cemetery and re-interred on 12 June 1947 at Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany. Grave reference 28. F. 6
His epitaph reads:
In silence we remember.
His loving mother,
Brothers and sisters
F/Sgt. Michael Barrett was originally buried at Witten-Annen Cemetery and re-interred on 12 June 1947 at Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany. Grave reference 28. F. 5
Photographs of headstones courtesy Mitch Buiting - War Graves Volunteer Photographer, Netherlands.
"We were a very happy crew, with thirty four operations to our credit and four more to make. Together we had shared the dangerous times and the good times and the nearness of the end of our tour only served to make more tragic the dire happenings of that March morning". (Jim Willoughby)
A number of years ago Jim Willoughby recorded the events of 18/19 March 1945 and his subsequent capture, in an unpublished document "Diary of my Adventures in Germany". In due course he gave a copy of the diary to Karl Kjarsgaard¹ and this copy is now in the Canadian Air Force Museum.
When the Squadron Historian and Author, the late Bill Norman, was writing his account of the loss of Halifax MZ494 Karl kindly provided him with extracts from the diary for inclusion in the story.
On behalf of Aircrew Remembered, Roy Wilcock would like to thank Karl Kjarlsgaard for granting permission to use those extracts from Bill Willoughby's Diary and also for arranging provision of such via Kevin Turner².
We would also like to thank the personal representatives of the late Bill Norman for permitting the use of extracts from his book and to Kevin Turner² for providing a copy of the story as it was published. Our gratitude to Kevin Turner for his courtesy and support and for providing other unsolicited and helpful information relative to the loss.
Thanks also to John McPhail for providing details of the obituary of James Byron Willoughby published in the Regina Leader Post.
¹Karl Kjarlsgaard is the Project Manager of Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada), an exciting international recovery and restoration group dedicated to saving the Handley Page Halifax heavy bombers that flew with the RAF and RCAF during World War Two. For further information see http://www.57rescuecanada.com/
²Kevin Turner is the present keeper of the 640 Squadron Archives following the death of Bill Norman in 2017. Kevin also set up and runs a facebook group for squadron members and their relatives. https://www.facebook.com/groups/1619772104932161/
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for Ms Mary Fitzpatrick and Paddy Enright, relatives of rear gunner Michael Barrett, and all the relatives and friends of the members of the crew - July 2017
With thanks also to the sources quoted below.