30/31.03.1944 No. 550 Squadron Lancaster III LM425 BQ-N Fl/Sgt. Arthur Harrington Jefferies CGM
Operation: Nürnberg, Germany
Date: 30/31st March 1944 (Thursday/Friday)
Unit: No. 550 Squadron - Motto: Per Ignem Vincimus (Through fire we conquer)
Squadron Badge: In front of flames of fire a sword erect point upwards. The badge is symbolic of the squadron's power to force its way through barrage of fire and fighter opposition to drop its bombs. It can also be taken as symbolic of the squadron's raids with both incendiary and high-explosive bombs
Type: Lancaster III
Base: RAF North Killingholme, Lincolnshire
Location: Barrage de la Gileppe, Belgium
Pilot: Fl/Sgt. Arthur Harrington (Jeff) Jefferies CGM. 1313283 RAFVR Age 21. Killed (1)
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Robert Henry (Bob) Paxton 1329560 RAFVR Age 39. Killed (2)
Nav: Sgt. Harold Simpson 1549784 RAFVR Age 21. Killed (3)
Air/Bmr: Fl/Sgt. Dennis Sydney Jeffrey (Jeff ) 1339840 RAFVR Age 21 - PoW No: 3447. Camp: Stalag Kopernikus - 357 (4)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Stanley Arthur (Stan) Keirle 1335551 RAFVR Age 21 - PoW No: 119. Camp: Stalag Luft Bankau-Kreuzburg (Kluczsbork, Poland) - L7 (5)
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Wilfred George (George) Upton 961931 RAFVR PoW No: 3451. Camp: Stalag Kopernikus - 357 (6)
Air/Gnr: Sgt. James Woodburn (Jimmy) Whitley 978030 RAFVR Age 23. Killed (7)
We appeal to anyone with further information and/or photographs to please contact us via our helpdesk
Being the son of an aircraft fitter it seemed almost inevitable that Arthur Harrington would develop a keen interest in flying: so keen in fact that aged just 18 he enlisted in the RAFVR. It was late 1940 when he did so and with the Battle of Britain having just concluded attention was soon to be turned towards Bomber Command being the only viable force capable of carrying the war to Germany.
By the time Arthur Harrington and his fledgling crew joined No. 101 Squadron at Holme-on-Spalding-Moor the bombing campaign was underway in earnest spearheaded by Halifax and Lancaster bombers.
Arthur and his crew flew their first operation on 23 May, a raid on Dortmund. On their second operation to Dusseldorf their aircraft was damaged by heavy flak. On 22 June their Lancaster was severely damaged by flak over Mulheim, but despite the loss of one engine, and with hydraulics, brakes and turrets out of action, Arthur nursed the Lancaster back home. On 27 July 1943 whilst on a raid to Hamburg one of the port engines caught fire over the Kiel Canal but nevertheless bombed searchlights and flak positions near Rendsburg rather than abort the mission. Homebound the engines caused trouble again and the gun turrets were inoperative.
Arthur ordered everything possible to be jettisoned, including guns and the bombsight, and reached England safely. On 27 August, Arthur and his crew were detailed for a raid on Nuremberg. It was Arthur's 12th and final operation with No. 101 Squadron
Arthur then suffered a spell of illness that kept him off operations for some time and following an attachment to the Aircrew Refresher School he was posted to No. 1667 Conversion Unit on 7 November where he formed a new crew with which he was posted to No. 100 Squadron at RAF Waltham (Grimsby) on 18 November.
On 23 November the crew was detailed for a raid on Berlin but were forced to abandon the operation when their Lancaster failed to gain height.
It was to be their one and only operation with the squadron as two days later they were one of eleven crews of "C" Flight which formed the new No. 550 Squadron also based at Waltham.
Arthur had inevitable become known as Jeff to his new crew which comprised navigator Harold Simpson, a 22 year old Lancastrian from Salford; air bomber Dennis Jeffrey aged 22 from Plymouth, Devon; wireless operator Stan Keirle aged 21, from Orsett in Essex; mid upper gunner George Upton, about who nothing is known but thought to be about 21 years old; rear gunner Jimmy Whitley, 23, an aspiring architect from Mollington Chester and flight engineer Bill Bull a former civil servant from Winchester in Hampshire. Bill was married to Alice and they had a 7 year old daughter. Aged 36 he was without doubt, the father figure of the crew.
Not in the above photograph are Air Bomber Dennis Jeffrey and stand in Flight Engineer on the Nuremberg raid, Bob Paxton.
Because No. 550 Squadron was composed of experienced crews it became operational immediately and the day after formation 8 crews were detailed for a raid on Berlin. One of those despatched was Jeff's and they duly completed the operation successfully albeit with a stand in flight engineer and navigator.
Further operations followed thick and fast including another 7 to the "Big City" and others to Leipzig, Brunswick, Stuttgart, Schweinfurt and Frankfurt until a raid on Essen on 26 November brought the crew's total of operations with No. 550 Squadron to 16. They had also set out on 5 others but had been forced to abort each one due to technical or mechanical problems. On 16 December 1943 the crew had been allocated its own Lancaster Mark III LM425 N-Nan and from then on, except when she was undergoing repairs, Nan was the Lancaster which they flew on all but 5 operations.
The Squadron had also relocated to North Killingholme in Lincolnshire on 3 January 1944.
Adding his completed operations at No. 101 Squadron, Jeff's tour total now stood at 28, just 2 short of completion and an impending promise of six months break from operations.
The others of course still had some way to go to complete their tours but nevertheless were still planning a wild party to celebrate Jeff's.
On Thursday 30 March 1944, 17 crews were briefed to attack targets in Nuremberg and although Jeff's crew was one of them there was a notable absentee from their ranks, Bill Bull, who was grounded suffering from a very heavy cold. Taking his place was Scotsman Robert Paxton. Married to Agnes and with three young daughters Bob Paxton was 39 years old and a former house painter. He had been posted to No. 550 Squadron from No. 1656 Conversion Unit with the crew of P/O. W.N.H. Brawn on 21 February 1944.
As usual the crew would be flying their own Lancaster, LM425 N-Nan, the briefed route taking them south-west to Southwold in Suffolk and continuing south to cross the enemy coast north of Bruges, onward to Ghent to about 20 miles south of Brussels where they were to turn eastwards, pass just south of Liege and onwards deep into Germany before turning almost due south to the target. The round trip should take about 8 hours.
This would normally have been the moon stand down period for the Main Force, but with an early forecast of protective high cloud on the outward journey when the moon would be up, but clear for ground marking over the target, the raid was planned, and despite a Meteorological Flight Mosquito reconnaissance reporting that the expected protective cloud was unlikely to be present and the possibility of cloud over the target, the raid was still to go ahead.
REASON FOR LOSS
The Lancasters of No. 550 Squadron took off at approximately 1 minute intervals beginning at 21.40 and by 22.03 all 17 were airborne. Jeff, flying N-Nan, had been third in line and took off at 21.45.
From bases over eastern England a force of 795 aircraft was despatched, the 572 Lancasters 214 Halifaxes and 9 Mosquitoes assembling over the North Sea before heading south east towards the coast of Belgium.
The reconnaissance had been correct; the cloud gradually dispersed and two hours after take off, the force was flying over Belgium in bright moonlight. Thus totally exposed the crews were scanning the skies for night fighters.
Just before midnight wireless operator Stan Keirle had just switched the main radio over to the correct frequency to listen to the Group Broadcast, when the aircraft started jinking all over the sky. Stan was off intercom at the time but later learned that Jimmy in the rear turret had spotted a night fighter diving underneath them and Jeff was taking evasive action.
Stan Keirle later described the events that followed in a wartime log written whilst a PoW in 1944, a transcript of which was kindly provided to Aircrew Remembered by German researcher, Horst Jeckel.
"At approximately 23.55 hrs something hit our starboard outer motor which made the aircraft rock to port, immediately the navigator [Harold Simpson] and I extinguished our cabin lights and drew back the blackout curtains. At the same time the skipper ordered "parachutes on". Having clipped mine on I stood in the astrodome watching what I presumed to be a fuel tank on fire, and waited for further orders. The fire by this time was very fierce and was roaring like a blowtorch, with ever increasing noise. I also noticed the outer motor was feathered and the aircraft was quickly disappearing. I told the skipper this who immediately gave the order to "bale out". I then opened the bulkhead door to see if the gunners were in the fuselage, but could see no one. My oxygen and intercom were still on, owing to the fact that I intended to wait for the bomb aimer, navigator and wireless operator to go, before disconnecting so as not to pass out due to the lack of oxygen. At this time the kite appeared to lazily roll over onto the starboard wing and go into a spiral dive. From here on, until hitting the ground, everything is hazy in my mind as to what happened. However here is how I remember it.
As the kite went into the spin my feet appeared to be tangled up with the cockpit controls - then I went unconscious, but before going unconscious I remember saying 'Well Stan, you've had your time, it's going to be tough on mum - hope dad recovers OK' [he had been ill with pneumonia] and then resigned myself to my fate, it being impossible to control one's actions owing to the spin.
The next thing I remember is bursting through space at what seemed a terrific speed with the parachute hanging down by my left boot and what seemed to be a heavy weight on my left shoulder, which afterwards turned out to be the cockpit cupola. I thought 'dammit the parachute has broken loose from the right hand clip, haven't time to right that now so I will hold it'. This I did and pulled the rip-cord and passed out again.
I must have regained consciousness when I hit the deck because I remember hitting it very hard. I felt bruised and battered about, just managed to free myself of parachute harness and life vest after a struggle, having found out that it was impossible to move.
I started to search my pockets and found my pay book, so I immediately burned that together with parts of the escape kit. Next I inflated the Mae West and used it as a pillow, then took a cigarette from my case and started to smoke. At this point I started to vomit blood which alarmed me quite a bit. It was now about 1 a.m.
I was very cold but could do nothing about it because my parachute was in a tree. It was at this point that I discovered the weight on my shoulder was the cupola. I also noticed that there was still about five feet of cord in my parachute pack. This really shook me and made me perspire at the thought of it.
I lay in the forest for approximately another hour and at frequent intervals I imagined people standing staring at me. Naturally I called for help but none was forthcoming so I think it was an optical illusion. Anyway I lay there thinking all sorts of weird and wonderful things. I then saw a light about two hundred yards away [so] after making sure this was not an illusion I blew my whistle . The light came nearer and nearer until I saw the bearer of the same was a German soldier. He spoke German so I couldn't understand him. By signs I tried to make him understand that I was injured. He then took the rifle off his shoulder and cocked it: I thought he was going to shoot me in cold blood, but at the time it didn't worry me. However, he fired two shots into the air and a few minutes later another soldier arrived. They lit a fire to keep me warm and also covered me with my parachute canopy.
At approximately 6 o'clock in the morning a motorbike and sidecar arrived and one fellow who could speak a little English, told me I was the only one of my crew alive. Then he started to question me about various things. Target, how many trips I had done, how many fellows in my crew etc. I remained dumb which made the Jerry annoyed. After an hour or so they carried me to the sidecar and took me to a sentry post, by a reservoir. Sometime later they brought along George Upton and Dennis Jeffrey. They loaded us into and took us to a small town believed to be Duren and then by tramcar to Aachen. Here the crowds tried to mob us".
The four photographs above, courtesy German researcher Horst Jeckel, show the wreckage of Lancaster LM425 in the forest near the Lac de la Gileppe and clearly illustrate the terrain in which Stan Keirle, George Upton and Dennis Jeffrey landed by parachute. The German officer posing with the wreckage is a "Förster" in the Luftwaffe Forestry Service. The rank of Förster is equivalent to a Leutnant in the Flight Branch.
Much later Stan learned that N-Nan had exploded in the air and George had been trapped in his turret. As the front of the plane broke apart George released himself from his turret walked to the edge of the fuselage and jumped off. When he landed his parachute caught in a tree and whilst swinging on the end of the webbing had hit his face on a tree trunk. Dennis Jeffrey had lost his flying boots and landed badly spraining both ankles.
"After a ride on a stretcher in the back of a lorry we arrived at the reserve lagervest (Reserve Hospital) Aachen. Here all three of us were examined by a doctor and later they X-rayed my left ankle and then took us to a small wooden building used exclusively for Prisoners of War.
Here we were given a bed each and left to spend the night. The following morning I woke up to find Jeff [Dennis Jeffrey] and George piling into a plate of sandwiches but I couldn't eat any. Later a French orderly brought in a glass of milk for me. For fourteen days following I live entirely on milk. The day after our arrival in hospital I was undressed and put to bed. Jeff [Dennis] ad George were taken to Dulag-Luft, the interrogation centre at Frankfurt on Main".
Stan did not see Dennis Jeffery or George Upton again until after the war.
Although that is the extent of Stan's wartime log, in 1992 he wrote at length of his experiences. Entitled "For You: The War Is Over" the document, courtesy of our friends at website The Belgians Remember Them (http://www.belgians-remember-them.eu/ ) can be read in its entirety here.
Hit by flak from batteries near Liege the main part of N NAN crashed at Gileppe, about 8 kilometres East of Verviers and was No. 4 downed that night out of a total of 95 aircraft lost.
Diversionary attacks on Cologne and Kassel were ignred by the German controller and assembled his fighter at two radio beacons which happened to be astride the route to Nuremberg. The first fighter appeared just before the bombers reached the Belgian border and the ensuing battle in the moonlight lasted for the next hour. 82 bombers were lost on the outward journey and though the action was much reduced on the homeward leg 95 bombers were lost in total representing 11.9 per cent of the force. It was the biggest Bomber Command loss of the war in a single operation.
In addition to the 95 lost during the raid, a further 10 were lost after crashes in England and one was written off due to severe battle damage. 70 more sustained damage of varying degrees.
The target was covered in thick cloud and much of the target marking was too far east and a 10 mile creepback developed into countryside north of Nuremberg. The bomber force was under fighter attck throughout the raid and little damage was caused in Nuremberg.
(1) Fl/Sgt. Arthur Harrington Jefferies CGM was born in 1922 at Wantage, Berkshire the son of George Cornelius Jefferies (an Aircraft Fitter) and Bertha Jefferies nee Spicer. He had one sibling, Edna M. Jefferies born 1921. In 1939 the family lived at Flanders, Oxford Lane, Grove near Wantage in Berkshire.
He was posthumously awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (Flying) – London Gazette 21st December 1945. His recommendation states:
“During his tour of ops, this airman has attacked many important and heavily defended objectives in Germany. Eight of these have been against Berlin in the face of intense opposition and others against centres in the Ruhr. His coolness and deliberation have been most praiseworthy and he has always displayed high courage and determination.”
(London Gazette - 21 December 1945 i.e. nearly 21 months after his death)
The recommendation was drafted after a raid on Stuttgart (15 March 1944) when he had flown 25 sorties (184 operational hours). Apart from the recommendation itself, his Base Commander (Air Commodore Ivelaw-Chapman) wrote of his “magnificent record of deliberate and consistent coolness in the face of the enemy.”
(2) Sgt. Robert Henry Paxton was born on 1 May 1904 at 79, George Street, Stranraer, Wigtownshire, Scotland the son of Robert and Annie (nee Brooke) Paxton of Stranraer, Wigtownshire. He had three siblings: Catherine Butle Paxton born 1906, Robert Lochhead Paxton born 1907 and Eva Mary Paxton born 1909.
On 24th June, 1931 he married Agnes Campbell Thomson at the Grand Hotel, Glasgow. They had three children: Hannah Muir T. Paxton born 1932, Margaret Shenag Paxton born 1938 and Dorothy Paxton born 1944. Robert Paxton was a house painter prior to enlisting in the air force.
He is commemorated on the Scottish War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle.
(3) Sgt. Harold Simpson was born in 1922 at Chorlton, Lancashire the son of Henry James Simpson (a Night Telephonist) and Mary Alice Simpson, nee Bowers. He had two siblings, Mary Simpson born 1921 and James Simpson born 1924.
In 1939 the family lived at 9 Bank Street Salford.
(4) F/O. Dennis Sydney Jeffrey was born in 1922 at Newton Abbot, Devon the only child of Sydney E. Jeffrey (an Insurance Agent) and Evangeline Jeffrey nee Clark. In 1939 the family lived at 24 Old Town Street Plymouth
In 1954 he married Rosalind A Biddulph at Plymouth, St Gabriel, Devon,
He was appointed to commission as a Pilot Officer (four years) RAFVR Training Branch on 8 May 1953 (London Gazette 22 September 1953) and promoted to Flying Officer on 8 May 1955 (London Gazette 2 August 1955) He resigned his commission on 13 November 1956 (London Gazette 29 January 1957)
Dennis Jeffrey died at Callington, Cornwall on 5 November 2008 aged 86
(5) Sgt. Stanley Arthur Keirle was born on 23 August 1922 at Orsett Essex the son of Arthur D. Keirle (a Cowman) and Rosetta E. Keirle nee Pratt. He had four siblings: Roland A. Keirle born and died 1921, Dorothy M. Keirle born 1925 and twins Alan G. Keirle and Geoffrey W. Keirle.
In 1939 the family lived at 1 Railway Cottages, Thurrock, Essex. Prior to enlisting Stanley Keirle was a Book-Keeper.
In 1946 Stanley married Georgina B. Griffiths at Wolverhampton
Stanley Arthur Keirle died at West Somerset in 1994.
(6) Sgt. Wilfred George Upton - nothing further known, if you have any information please contact our helpdesk
(7) Sgt. James Woodburn Whitley was born in 1921 at Chorlton, Lancashire the son of Joseph Erle Whitley (an Architect and Surveyor) and Constance Mary Whitley nee Walker. He had three siblings: Doreen E. Whitley born 1922, Roy Whitley born 1924 and Brenda M. Whitley born 1930.
In 1939 the family lived at 12 Overwood Avenue, Parkgate Road, Mollington, Chester.
After leaving school he enrolled at the Liverpool School of Architecture, hoping to follow his father’s profession, but on the outbreak of war he joined the RAF.
BURIAL DETAILS, MEMORIALS AND EPITAPHS
(1) Fl/Sgt. Arthur Harrington Jefferies CGM was originally buried at St-Truiden and re-interred on 25 March 1947 at Heverlee War Cemetery, Belgium - Grave 5B.19.
His epitaph reads:
In loving memory of Arthur
Always in our thoughts.
Father, mother and sister
(2) Sgt. Robert Henry Paxton was originally buried at St-Truiden and re-interred on 25 March 1947 at Heverlee War Cemetery, Belgium - Grave 5B.17.
His epitaph reads
And our gratitude
(3) Sgt. Harold Simpson was originally buried at St-Truiden and re-interred on 25 March 1947 at Heverlee War Cemetery, Belgium - Grave 5B.16.
His epitaph reads:
Hearts that have loved him
(7) Sgt. James Woodburn Whitley was originally buried at St-Truiden and re-interred on 25 March 1947 at Heverlee War Cemetery, Belgium - Grave 5B.18.
His epitaph reads:
That others might live
Researched by Aircrew Remembered, researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of this crew - August 2019
With thanks to specialist genealogist Linda Ibrom for her earlier research into this loss and also to Andrew Beattie for additional information about Sergeant Paxton.