24/25.02.1944 100 Squadron Lancaster III JB604 HW-S Fg Off. V.L.B. Jones
Operation: Schweinfurt, Germany (Ball bearing factories)
Date: 24th/25th February 1944 (Thursday/Friday)
Unit: 100 Squadron
Type: Lancaster III
Base: RAF Grimsby (Wlatham)
Location: Marly, France
Pilot: Fg Off. Vernon Llewelyn Bowen Jones 133632 RAFVR Age 22. Killed
Flt Eng: Sgt. Kenneth Edwin John Head 1800297 RAFVR Age 20. PoW No. 1188, Stalag 357 Kopernikus (note)
Nav: Fg Off. Russel Tonson Garlick 414609 RNZAF Age? PoW No: 3530, Stalag Luft 3 Sagan and Belaria
Air Bmr: Plt Off. John Carter Grindrod 172155 RAFVR Age 33. Killed
WOp/Air Gnr: Flt Sgt. Joseph Henry Sullivan 1294908 RAFVR Age 23. Killed
Air Gnr: Sgt. Patrick Anthony Turner 1661472 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
Air Gnr: Sgt. Maurice Herbert Messenger 1351107 RAFVR Age 22. Killed
Update, January 2018: In January 2018 we were contacted by Mr. Geoff Hale who had been lucky enough to be able to talk to one of the surviving crew members - he wrote down notes as he rightly thought it was part of our history. Sadly, he never asked his name, but it is highly probable to have been Sgt. Head, the Flight Engineer. See end of page for the transcript.
REASON FOR LOSS:
JB604 took off from RAF Grimsby (Wlatham), Lincolnshire at 18:16hrs. to join a massive attacking force of 734 aircraft made up from 460 Lancasters, 169 Halifaxes and 11 Mosquitoes to attack the German main production area of ball bearings. The plan was to split the force into two halves separated with a 2 hour interval.
This did work with 22 aircraft being lost on the first raid but half that number on the second and the majority of losses on the second wave were caused by flak. 362 People were killed on the ground from this raid and one from the previous night by American bombers. A total of 33 aircraft were lost with 3 from 100 Squadron alone.
JB604 was on the first wave and although some reports state that it was shot down by flak, we have further information that it is possible (Indeed claimed) that it was shot down by a German night fighter. The starboard inner fuel tank began to burn. The order to bale-out was given by Fg Off. Jones, but only two managed to do so before the Lancaster blew up crashing at location shown.
JB604 was claimed by Hptm. Eckhardt-Wilhelm Von Bonin, his 31st Abschuss and second of the night, from Stab II./NJG1 over Marly, SW of Metz ant 6.000m at 21.48hrs. JB604 was also claimed as a probable by Ofw. Reinhard Kollak, his 33rd Abschuss and second of two this night, from 8./NJG4 near Metz at 6.000m at 21.57.
Hptm Von Bonin’s claim was confirmed on the 12th July 1944 and Ofw. Kollak’s claim was confirmed on the 18th August 1944. (Nachtjagd Combat Archive (1 January - 15 March 1944) Part 1 - Theo Boiten)
Fg Off. Vernon Llewelyn Bowen Jones - Local children visit the grave "Heros Allies"
The Marly Lancaster Memorial (courtesy Joe Perry - original photograph sent in by Fabrice Loubette)
Mr. Geoff Hales - Conversation - Saturday 16th September 2000. Submitted to Aircrew Remembered January 2018 after a search on Google found this page:
"Today I met a man whose story deserves to be told, like the stories of all those men who flew and fought over Europe during the Second World War.
He was sitting with quiet dignity in his motorised cart, gently shaking a collecting tin and handing out stickers for the RAFA Wings Appeal. I have been conscious of the anniversary that falls this summer - Sixty years since the Battle of Britain. Conscious that I never have had a chance to say "Thank You" to the men who enable me to live the life I lead -To wear my hair long, have outspoken views on politics, religion and the rights of man. All these things that people take for granted.
I unloaded some change into his tin and asked him what the three medals on his chest represented.
"Aircrew 1939 to 1945, this here is the important one - Aircrew (Europe) ’39 to ’45 and the Victory Medal" He said with a quiet pride.
He seemed pleased that someone showed an interest, it seems that few do in this day and age. He was part of the crew of a Lancaster bomber, an experienced crew that had done 18 missions over Europe. Missions to Cologne, the Ruhr and twelve over Berlin itself.
On his 17th mission, an incendiary bomb from a ‘plane above them in the bomber stream had struck the mid-upper turret, smashing the Perspex and exposing the gunner to the elements for the remainder of the mission. The gunners' face was frostbitten around the edges of his oxygen mask and was unable to fly on the next mission. Another "bod" took his place.
The 18th mission was to the infamous ball bearing factory at Scweinfurt (he seemed very surprised that I knew about the place). He said that it was funny, with 800 planes in the air over the target, there were more aircrew over the town than people living in it. This raid consisted of two waves.
His aircraft was on PS, "Pathfinder Support" Equipped with the H2S bombing aid, his aircraft and others like it were to provide precision bombing of the target. Presumably to provide fires that the subsequent waves could use as aiming points.
On a dogleg on the way to or from (from I think) the target, the plane was hit by flak. The inner engine on the skippers’ side of the plane (port?) caught fire and the pilot put the aircraft into a steep dive from eighteen thousand feet to try to extinguish the fire with the slipstream. The dive failed to put out the fire and it spread to the fuel tank. The skipper gave the order to abandon the aeroplane. It is a little known fact that a Lancaster was perhaps the hardest aircraft to abandon in a hurry.
The bomb aimer was to the rear of the cockpit area, with the navigator, operating the H2S unit.
Having helped his skipper on with his parachute (the armour behind the pilot making it hard for him to reach it himself) the storyteller had to put his own ‘chute on before making his way to the escape hatch. One of the H2S operators went out first and he was to follow. "I had to go before the pilot you see, that’s how it was done." I could tell that this pained him, quite understandably so as he went on to explain "Us two got out, but then the ‘plane blew up, we were the only two to get out."
His five crew mates perished with their aircraft. The wreck came down on or near a mill on the river Meuse, near a town called "Marley". There is a plaque commemorating the crash at the site and the school children were bussed to the site as part of a local holiday when my storyteller was visiting (last?) February.
"Yet here… they don’t even teach it in school. In the Mirror they asked when the Battle of Britain was and some people said 1066" There was no rancour or bitterness in his voice but I felt ashamed that this was the state of affairs.
It was only after the war that he even found out the name of his mid-upper gunner, when he met the daughter of the man (unborn at the time of her fathers death) at the anniversary. It was at that same meeting that he met the son (also unborn at the time of the crash) of Maurice Messenger, his tail gunner. He remarked that the son was the image of his father and even called him "Maurice" by mistake.
The other survivor (A New Zealander I believe) has since died. "That makes me the last survivor of my crew I suppose, the only one who remembers."
He said that the bodies of his crew mates were initially buried one atop of another in a common grave near the crash site. Later, the war graves commission exhumed them and sent them home for separate burial. Although, as he remarked "They were blown to bits, how they knew who was meant to go where, I do not know."
His old squadron sent a pair of hawks to overfly the anniversary he attended, along with mirages from the French airforce.
He still wears the "caterpillar" club badge on his lapel. The caterpillar club is an association of all those pilots who have saved their lives by bailing out of their aircraft. It is sometimes known as the "silkworm club" (in reference to the silk from which parachutes used to be made).
He was made a PoW, kept in a camp in Eastern Prussia (near Konigsburg I think). He made light of being marched for 6 weeks to the west, to avoid the advancing Red Army, then being marched North toward Schliswieg Holstein, part of a plan to bargain allied PoW’s for safety on the part of the Germans.
On the road, a pair of armoured cars (saracen?) from the 6th Hussars of the 11th Armoured division caught up with them, disarmed the guards and gave their weapons to the PoW’s. "Hang on here chaps, we’ll be back" they said, before carrying on up the road.
He was a chatty old chap, no sense of bravado or jingoism about him. He lives in Tilgate, has a cousin who works for Virgin Atlantic and a son in Boston. And he also has one other thing… my eternal gratitude. My only regret was not having longer or asking his name. From the half-wing with an "E" in it on his tie, I assume he was the flight engineer of his aircraft. He did mention "Pulling the mags on the engine" when they were damaged, but to tell the truth, I don't know for sure.
"I suppose I ought to write all this down" he said.
"Or you could tape it" I suggested. I hope that he does… but if he doesn’t, then at least I have recorded this. Someone must tell the children."
(note) Kenneth Edwin John Head passed away on the 2nd June 2012 at East Surrey Hospital age 88.
The well looked after crew graves (courtesy Joe Perry)
Fg Off. Vernon Llewelyn Bowen Jones. Marly Communal Cemetery. Grave 4. From Pontardawe district, Breconshire / Glamorgan, Wales.
Plt Off. John Carter Grindrod. Marly Communal Cemetery. Grave 1. Son of John and Emily Beatrice, husband of Bessie Mary, of Kettering, Northamptonshire, England.
Flt Sgt. Joseph Henry Sullivan. Marly Communal Cemetery. Grave 2-3 (Collective). Inscription reads: "PEACEFULLY SLEEPING, FREE FROM PAIN, SAFE IN GOD'S KEEPING. WE'LL MEET AGAIN". Son of Joseph and Evelyn Mary, of Rainham, Essex, England.
Sgt. Patrick Anthony Turner. Marly Communal Cemetery. Grave 2-3 (Collective). Born on the 14th October 1922 in Flintshire, Wales. Son of Thomas Edwin and Norah Sheila (née Phillips) Turner of the Foryd Hotel, Rhyl, North Wales.
Sgt. Maurice Herbert Messenger. Marly Communal Cemetery. Grave 2-3 (Collective). Born on the 13th August 1921. Son of Herbert and Nellie Maud (née Butler) Messenger. Husband to Iris Grace (née Holland) Messenger of Stokenchurch, Buckinghamshire.
With many thanks to Joe Perry who contacted us in June 2017 - further details of Sgt. Patrick Turner added. Also to Geoff Hale who contacted us in January 2018. Thanks to Pat Prentice for the NoK details for Sgt. Messenger (Oct 2021). German night-fighter claim correction (Oct 2021). For further details our thanks to the sources quoted below.