29/30.05.1944 No. 142 Squadron Wellington X LN318 QL-X F/O. Herbert Bruce Keen
Operation: Fels am Wagram Aerodrome, near Feuersbrunn Austria
Date: 29/30 May 1944 (Monday/Tuesday)
Unit: No. 142 Squadron - Motto: "Determination"
Squadron Badge: A winged sphinx. The badge commemorates the squadron's association with Egypt.
Type: Vickers Wellington Mark X
Base: RAF Amendola, Italy
Location: Hofstetten, Austria
Pilot: F/O. Herbert Bruce Keen Aus/422570 RAAF Age 22 - PoW No. 5660 Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria - L3 (1)
Nav: F/O. William Kenneth Todd Aus/424878 RAAF Age 28 - PoW No. 5661 Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria - L3 (2)
Air/Bmr: Sgt. James Dunstan Fisher Gallagher 15222873 RAFVR Age 20 - PoW No. 81 Camp: Stalag Luft Bankau-Kreulberg - L7 (3)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Edward Robert Yeo 1399011 RAFVR Age 20 - PoW No. 104 Camp: Stalag Luft Bankau-Kreulberg - L7 (4)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Brian Thomas Halligan Aus/434208 RAAF Age 19 - PoW No. 104259 Camp: Stalag Luft Bankau-Kreulberg - L7 (5)
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Having spent the whole of 1943 in Algeria and Tunisia attacking Axis forces as part of the North African campaign No. 142 Squadron moved to RAF Cerignola in southern Italy on 16 December 1943 and two months later to RAF Amendola some 20 miles north east of RAF Cerignola. Whilst based in southern Italy the Squadron was engaged in attacking targets in northern Italy and the Balkans until 25 October 1944 when the squadron was reformed in England as a night bomber squadron flying De Havilland Mosquitoes.
The three Aussies and two Brits had crewed up at No. 21 Operational Training Unit at Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire in November 1943 and after three months' night bomber training were deemed ready for operational flying.
On 12 March 1944 they were posted for a weeks' training at No. 311 Ferry Training Unit also at Moreton-in-Marsh after which they spent a further week at No. 3 Overseas Air Despatch Unit, RAF Talbenny in Pembrokeshire and on 27 March took off in a Wellington bomber bound for North Africa. After a stopover at RAF Rabat Salé, Morocco they flew on to No. 1 Base Personnel Depot at Fort de l'Eau in Algeria. From there they had flown to Italy and finally arriving at RAF Amendola on 3 April 1944.
Captain of the crew was 22-year-old Aussie Flying Officer, Bruce Keen. 6 foot 4 and weighing 14½ stone the erstwhile farmer from Randwick, New South Wales, was a keen rugby player and cricketer. His navigator was former School Teacher and fellow Australian Ken Todd. 28 years old, he had been born in British Columbia in Canada but after immigrating to Australia with his parents and elder brother the family had settled in New South Wales. His brother Ernest was also a navigator and joined No. 142 Squadron on 1 May 1944.
James Gallagher, the Bomb Aimer aged 20 hailed from Lanark in Scotland whilst the wireless operator, also 20, was Londoner Edward Yeo. Completing the crew was Queenslander Brian Halligan: aged 19 he was the youngest member of the crew. He too had an elder brother serving in the RAAF: Neville Halligan was a pilot with No. 37 Squadron.
A week after joining the Squadron, Bruce Keen flew his first two operations, both of them as 2nd pilot to gain operational experience. The first, on 10 April with Fl/Sgt. Harrison and crew, was a night raid on the Piombino Port Installations during which they were attacked twice by enemy aircraft. The following day he flew as second dickey with F/Sgt. Ashwell, a raid on the Macchi Aircraft Works at Varese. Failing to find the target they bombed road and railway targets north of Pesaro instead.
Bruce was hospitalised from 13 to 16 April and it was 29 April when he next flew operationally. This time as Captain and with his own crew, a raid on the Port Installations at Spezia. Despite engine trouble they returned safely having bombed the target.
Two more operations on Bucharest targets followed in the first week of May before Keen was again hospitalised for unknown reasons from 15 to 22 May whilst the other crew members gained further valuable experience with other crews.
The day after leaving hospital Bruce and his crew were back in action again and by 29 May Bruce had completed 9 operations
On 29/30 May 1944 38 Wellingtons of 205 group were detailed for a raid on the Luftwaffe fighter base at Fels am Wagram near Feuersbrunn in Austria. No 142 Squadron were to contribute 8 aircraft for the attack, the Keen crew being one of the crews detailed to fly.
REASON FOR LOSS
The eight Wellingtons of 142 Squadron were airborne in 20 minutes and shortly after 2100 hours were heading north towards the target. Fels am Wagram airfield near Feuersbrunn was located about 30 miles north west of Vienna some 500 miles north of Amendola.
Returning between 0345 and 0420, pilots gave accounts of the attack reporting good illumination and bombing from between 9000 and 10000 feet. They saw their bombs falling in sticks across the airfield followed by "large green flashes" "explosions on the ground" "flames and fires" "explosions seen in target area, possibly petrol" and "large fires, red with black smoke".
But four of the pilots brought bad news, having seen what later transpired to be the loss of one of their own aircraft, Wellington LN318 captained by Bruce Keen.
Fl/Sgt. C. Hill reported "aircraft seen to crash in flames about 20 miles south of target at about 0058 hours" whilst Fl/Sgt. Pennefather added"air to air firing seen 20 miles south of target followed by violent explosion on ground". WO. Leftwich said they had seen an "aircraft on fire on [the] ground 20 miles south east of target at 0101 hours" and Captain Westhuizen and his crew had seen "air to air firing south of target at 0051 hours".
The three pilots mentioned above are pictured below together with Brian Halligan and Ken Todd.
Bruce Keen duly bombed the target and turned for home without incident but on the outskirts of Vienna his good fortune rapidly deteriorated.
"Aircraft was coned and subsequently hit by heavy flak while over the outskirts of Vienna" and was "immediately hit by flak" and "repeatedly hit by flak while evading searchlights" [Brian Halligan]
"...and after passing searchlights we were attacked by 3 fighters which after several attacks, five being successful, rendered the controls inoperative.
The Captain F/O. Keen, had previously warned us and ordered the aircraft to be abandoned. Intercom u/s [unserviceable] but all members received order (some orally). Rear Gunner [Halligan] wounded by flak and Perspex, bleeding profusely when examined in aircraft, but carried on till ordered to bale out. Smoking just behind Nav[igator's] compartment but no flame visible inside".
Bomb Aimer clipped chute incorrectly, Nav [Todd] then baled out first followed by W/Op. Sgt. Yeo, Rear Gunner Sgt. Halligan, BA Sgt. Gallagher and Pilot F/O. Keen. Baled out at 7000 feet aircraft out of control in shallow dive". [Todd]
"I [Halligan] baled out from the front hatch at about 2500 feet. Aircraft was then diving and out of control. Pilot was just able to obtain sufficient control to enable crew to clear aircraft".
"Aircraft crashed near St Polten [Sankt-Pölten] - 5 miles from St Polten". [Keen]
The actual crash site was at Hofstetten about 10 miles southwest of Sankt-Pölten and about 40 miles west of Vienna.
Having left the aircraft first Ken Todd was further away from the crash than the remainder of the crew and consequently saw nothing of them.
He stated that:
"On landing in 'chute, buried harness, Mae West [and] parachute in nearby wood and headed for high ground and Yugoslavia. Knee injured on landing and as this caused very poor mileage and the mountains were isolated. Country was mountainous and route out crossed numerous tributaries of Danube. Only bridges through villages and valleys inhabited. Rivers difficult to swim generally being very fast flowing and strewn with huge boulders. One personal attempt almost disastrous.
I decided to walk during day. Surprised later by Austrian farmer and Russian PoW. Though not actively hostile they turned me in. Leg injury preventing me putting sufficient distance between parties before taken. Mileage less than 1 mile per hr. Unable to walk normally for 2 months [afterwards].
Alarm was out for members of the aircraft. The [other] two Australians in the crew had been captured and description of uniform circulated for [I] was told straight away that I was Australian. Uniform (battle dress) familiar at least. Wearing flying boots".
On landing Brian Halligan, being wounded and unable to walk, "sought medical assistance from an Austrian dairy farm. Farm hands identified me by air force uniform and RAAF identity discs.
Although appearing sympathetic [and] after treating me for a few hours, took me to Gestapo headquarters and from there to hospital. [I had] light shrapnel wounds on both legs, cut by flying glass on head and face".
Bruce Keen said that he was:
"Captured next morning [30 May] by Austrian farmer who appeared friendly but handed me over following morning. Said he would help".
Edward Yeo and James Gallagher are believed to have also been captured on 30 May but details are not known. They were held at Stalag Luft 7 at Bankau near Kreulberg in Silesia, Germany the same camp as Brian Halligan but he makes no reference to the fact in his Liberation Statement. They were liberated at the end of the war and returned to the UK.
The two officers, Bruce Keen and Ken Todd were sent first to Dulag Luft, Wetzlar Transit Camp. In his Liberation Statement Ken Todd recorded that he was "Marched with other PoWs through Frankfurt and Wetzar (propaganda purposes), where PoWs exposed to hostile crowds".
From Wetzlar Transit Camp he and Bruce Keen were sent to Stalag Luft 3 where they were incarcerated in the sub-camp at Belaria some 3 miles west of the main camp at Sagan. At Belaria accommodation was very crowded and from September 1944 there were food shortages with Red Cross parcels cut to one every four weeks. As winter set in there was a shortage of coal and consequently they suffered from extreme cold. Sanitary facilities, Todd described as "crude" whilst bedding was "infested". But as bad as conditions were, come the end of January 1945 they were about to get much worse.
As Russian forces advanced ever nearer the 1000+ prisoners at Belaria were told by the Germans at midnight on 27 January that they were to be ready to leave the camp at daybreak the following day. In freezing temperatures and light snow, carrying whatever belongings they could manage, they duly marched from the camp at about 8 am on 28 January heading towards Sagan.
For seven days they marched through forest and open country in freezing snowy weather, sleeping at night in draughty barns as best they could. Via Gross Selten, Birkenstadt, Muskau and Granstein they trudged for 50 miles finally arriving at Spremberg on 3 February. Here they were given barley soup and housed temporarily in a factory before being crammed into railway cattle wagons, 50 men to a wagon, and taken by train to Stalag 3A at Luckenwalde, some 32 miles south of Berlin, where they arrived the following day.
Accommodation at Stalag 3A according to Ken Todd was "extremely overcrowded, dirty and unsanitary, no washing facilities and lighting very poor". Rations consisted of bread, potatoes and a cup of watery soup per day. There were no cooking facilities in the camp or fuel.
There was "a large number of sick in the camp and for a couple of months no medical supplies". Todd himself spent a week in the camp hospital suffering from lack of vitamin B.
The camp was liberated by the Russians on 22 April but it was not until 26 May 1945 that Ken Todd got back to the UK.
Bruce Keen was rather more fortunate. On 7 May he escaped to the Barbary American Reception Centre, leaving two days later and via Magdeburg and Peine ultimately arrived in the UK on 10 May 1945.
After his capture Brian Halligan was first sent to Stalag XVIIB located at the village of Gniexendorf near Krems, Austria. Conditions and rations here were rated by Brian as very good but his stay was short lived as on 17 June he was moved possibly by train and via Dulag Luft to Stalag Luft 7 at Bankau in Silesia, Germany where he arrived on 17 June.
Conditions at the newly opened Stalag XVIIB were, as to be expected, rated as good. Brian records that there was no overcrowding, palliases, blankets, coal fires, good lighting, excellent shower room and sanitary facilities (eventually) and rations of:
"1/6 loaf of bread per day, bowl of soup, potatoes, cabbage and a full issue of Red Cross parcels". He notes however that rations "deteriorated as time went on".
On 19 January 1945, 1,500 prisoners were marched out of camp in bitterly cold weather. For the next 17 days they trudged through gale force winds and snow they trudged by day sleeping at night in barns and receiving little rations or medical supplies from the Germans had to rely on whatever they were able to bring with them from Stalag Luft 7.
On 5 February, having covered 160 miles on foot, they reached Goldberg where they were loaded on to a train. On 8 February they reached Stalag 3A at Luckenwalde which already held 20,000 prisoners, consisting mainly of soldiers from Britain, Canada, the U.S. and Russia.
Brian Halligan records that here he was "reunited with his pilot". As previously noted, the camp was liberated by the Red Army on 22 April and by 11 May Brian Halligan like his pilot Bruce Keen was back in the UK. It seems probable that they escaped together.
Brian Halligan and Bruce Keen both became members of the Caterpillar Club an informal association of people who have successfully used a parachute to bail out of a disabled aircraft. It is not known if any of the other crew members also joined the club.
Brian Halligan disembarked at Sydney on 9 September and was demobilised on 5 November 1945.
Ken Todd disembarked in Australia on 17 October and was demobilised on 6 December 1945.
Bruce Keen disembarked in Australia on 19 October and was demobilised on 30 November 1945.
It is believed that Wellington LN318 QL-X was shot down at Sankt-Pölten, at 00.55 hours on 30 May 1944, by Oberfeldwebel (later Leutnant) Herbert Ludwig of 6./NJG 101.
Lt. Herbert Ludwig served from 1943 with 5/NJG-1, 6/NJG-101 and IV/NJG-6 flying the Messerschmitt Bf 110 and the Junkers Ju 88G-6 night fighter.
According to Theo Boiten he was credited with 13 victories. He was killed on 23/24 April 1945 when he was shot down by American ack-ack whilst on a strafing mission. Lt. Ludwig was flying with Uffz. Werner Breuer (BF) and Uffz. Erich Gränitz (BM),both of whom were also killed.
During his career Lt Herbert Ludwig was awarded the Eisernes Kreuz (Iron Cross) 1st and 2nd Class and the Frontflugspange für Nah-Nachtjäger (Night Fighter Operational Clasp).
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) Fl/Lt. Herbert Bruce Keen was born on 17 July 1921 at Randiwick, New South Wales, Australia the son of Herbert Albert Keen (a Grazier) and Lynda May Keen of 4 Bishop's Avenue, Randwick NSW. He had two siblings: Jean Keen and Lynette Keen. After leaving school Bruce followed in his father's footsteps and became a Grazier.
When he enlisted in the RAAF at Sydney on 22 May 1942 he was 6'4" tall weighing 14 st 7 lbs with a dark complexion, blue eyes and dark hair. After training at No 2 Initial Training School at Bradfield Park, No. 10 Elementary Flying Training School at RAAF Temora, New South Wales and No. 1 Service Flying Training School at RAAF Point Cook, Victoria he was awarded his Flying Badge on 10 March 1943.
LAC Herbert Bruce Keen was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation on 11 March 1943 (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette 6 May 1943) confirmed in this appointment and promoted to Flying Officer on 11 September 1943 (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette 16 March 1944).
He embarked for the UK in March 1943, disembarked in the UK on 3 June 1943 and was posted to No. 11 (RAAF) Personnel Despatch and Reception Centre at Brighton. On 29 June he was posted to No. 3 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit at RAF South Cerney in Gloucestershire for training on twin engine Airspeed Oxfords and on 31 August 1943 to No. 21 Operational Training Unit at Moreton-in-Marsh in Gloucestershire for night bomber training on Vickers Wellingtons. It was at 21 OTU that he crewed up with the other members of his crew with whom he eventually joined 142 Squadron on 3 April 1944.
His promotion to Flight Lieutenant was on 11 March 1945 (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette 2 August 1945)
In the quarter to 30 September 1945 he married Pearl Enid Cooke at Birmingham and of 1 Allen's Croft Road, King's Heath, Birmingham.
His appointment to commission was terminated on demobilisation on 30 November 1945. (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette 11 April 1946)
After returning to Australia he lived at "Dolgelly" Garah, NSW
Herbert Bruce Keen died on 5 December 1983 Aged 62 and on 8 December 1983 his cremated remains were interred in the Crematorium Chapel Gardens F17, Position 228 at the Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park, Matraville, Randwick City, New South Wales
(2) F/O. William Kenneth Todd was born on 16 July 1915 at Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada the son of Ernest Todd (a Logger and Saw Mill Labourer) and Elizabeth Todd nee Thompson later of 48 Third Street Weston New South Wales.
His brother F/O. Ernest Todd Aus/424942 born 30 December 1913 also at Nainamo, served as a navigator with No. 142 Squadron 1 May 1944 to 3 October 1944 and completed a tour of 33 operations. He survived the war.
Prior to enlisting Kenneth Todd was a School Teacher and lived at Reedy Creek Via Singleton, New South Wales.
When he enlisted on 9 Oct 1942 at Sydney he was 5'9" tall weighing 162 lbs with a medium complexion, brown eyes and brown hair.
After three months training at No. 2 Initial Training School at Bradfield Park he was posted to No. 2 Embarkation Depot on 3 January 1943 and on 8 February embarked for Canada. In Canada, on 7 March, he was posted to No. 2 Air Observer School at RCAF Edmonton, Alberta where he received his Air Navigators Badge and was promoted to Sergeant on 23 July 1943.
He was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation on 23 July 1943 (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette 28 October 1943)
On 26 August he embarked at Halifax for the UK where he arrived on 1 September and posted to No. 11 (RAAF) Personnel Despatch and Reception Centre at Brighton the following day. On 5 October he was posted to No. 3 (Observer) Advanced Flying Unit at RAF Halfpenny Green in Staffordshire and on 23 November to No. 21 Operational Training Unit at Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire where he joined the Bruce Keen crew for night bomber training on Vickers Wellingtons.
He was confirmed in his appointment as a Pilot Officer and promoted to Flying Officer 23 January 1944.
He was posted with the crew to No. 142 Squadron on 3 April 1944.
He was further promoted to Flight Lieutenant on 23 July 1945 (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette 25 October 1945)
His appointment was terminated on demobilisation 6 December 1945.
(Commonwealth of Australia Gazette 30 May 1946)
(3) Sgt. James Dunstan Fisher Gallagher was born in 1923 at Motherwell, Lanarkshire, Scotland the son of Dunstan Edward Gallagher and Mary Gallagher nee Fisher of 132 New Stevenston Road Carfin Motherwell Lanarkshire.
Though nothing is known of his earlier service record it is believed that he was posted to No. 21 Operational Training Unit on 23 November 1943 where joined the Bruce Keen crew.
He was posted with the rest of the crew to No. 142 Squadron on 3 April 1944
(4) Sgt. Edward Robert Yeo was born on 25 March 1924 at Camberwell, Surrey the son of George W. Yeo and Violet M. Yeo nee Lodge later of 26, Darley Gardens, Morden, Surrey
Before enlisting in the RAFVR Edward Yeo was an Apprentice at a Scientific Instrument business.
As with James Gallagher nothing is known of Edward Yeo's earlier service record but it is believed that he was posted to No. 21 Operational Training Unit on 23 November 1943 where he joined the Bruce Keen crew.
He was posted with the rest of the crew to No. 142 Squadron on 3 April 1944
Edward Robert Yeo is thought to have died at Hastings and Rother, East Sussex in 2003 aged 79.
(5) WO. Brian Thomas Halligan was born on 6 September 1924 at Brisbane, Queensland, Australia the son of James Francis Halligan and Laura Halligan of 26 Wylie Avenue Greenslopes Brisbane.
His elder brother F/O. Neville George Halligan Aus/414229 was born at Brisbane in 1922. He served as a pilot with No.37 Squadron and survived the war.
Brian Halligan attended Cleveland State School, Cleveland (1936-39) and Church of England Grammar School (1939-42). He played tennis (for his school), cricket and swimming.
After leaving school he undertook part time Accountancy tuition at Hemmingway and Robertson, Queen Street, Brisbane and was employed as a Junior Clerk at Dalgety & Co
When he enlisted at Brisbane on 4 November 1942 he was 5'6" tall weighing 120 lbs with a fair comlexion, blue eyes and fair hair and after training at No. 2 Initial Training School at Bradfield Park, No. 8 Elementary Flying Training School at RAAF Narrandera and RCAF Evans Head all in New South Wales he was awarded his Air Gunners Badge on 22 July 1943 before being promoted to Sergeant on 19 August 1943.
On 27 September he embarked for the UK where the day after arrival on 9 November, he was posted to No. 11 (RAAF) Personnel Despatch and Reception Centre at Brighton. On 23 November 1943 he was posted to No. 21 Operational Training Unit at Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire where he joined the Bruce Keen crew for night bomber training on Vickers Wellingtons.
He was promoted to Flight Sergeant on 19 February 1944, posted with the crew to No. 142 Squadron on 3 April 1944 and promoted to Warrant Officer on 19 February 1945.
After the war Brian Halligan took an Arts degree and a Law degree at Queensland University and became a lawyer founding the firm of Walsh Halligan Douglas. He retired in 2006 aged 82. He married after the war and subsequently had three sons.
BURIAL DETAILS, MEMORIALS AND EPITAPHS
None, all the crew survived.
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - March 2019
With thanks to the sources quoted below.