30/31.03.1944 427 Squadron Halifax III LV923 ZL-M Sq/Ldr. Laird
Date: 30/31st March 1944 (Thursday/Friday)
Unit: 427 Squadron (Motto: Ferte manus certas, lit. 'Strike with a sure hand')
Type: Halifax III
Base: RAF Leeming, Yorkshire
Pilot: Sq/Ldr. George Johnstone Laird DFC. J/4896 RCAF Age 29. Killed (1)
Pilot: Fl/Sgt. Arthur John Stainton R/158503 RCAF Age 27. Killed
Fl/Eng: F/O. John Morrison DFC. 159666 RAFVR Age 22. Injured
Nav: F/O. William Ernest Paul Soeder J/13272 RCAF Age 26. Killed
Air/Bmr: P/O. Joseph Charles Corbally J/19835 RCAF Age 24. Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Wiliam Paterson Clapham 1022894 RAFVR Age 19. Killed (2)
Air/Gnr: P/O. Lloyd Henry Smith C/18975 RCAF Age 24. Killed
Air/Gnr: P/O. James Moffat J/27919 RCAF Age 21. Evaded capture
REASON FOR LOSS:
Despite the fact that it was a period of bright moonlight and an earlier meteorological flight had warned that there would be no cloud cover for the bomber stream, conditions that normally would have ordered a cancellation of the mission, no such order was made. Nuremberg was an important industrial target as well as a centrepiece of the Nazi Party that had not been attacked for seven months. Air Chief Marshall Harris was not to be deterred from his plan.
Nuremberg was a distant target and even though the route chosen was to be one of a direct nature it still represented a round trip of between 1300 and 1600 miles depending upon the base airfield. Additionally, it was one that would lead the bomber stream between the Ida and Otto radio beacons located near Cologne and Frankfurt respectively which in hindsight turned out to be a fatal mistake. German intelligence had monitored the bomber force taking off in England and plotted their course by intercepting their H2S transmissions. Suspecting that the intended target was somewhere in south eastern Germany, the Luftwaffe commanders had ordered their fighters to assemble at the Ida and Otto beacons.
Although the bombers' flight path had been clear and moonlit, by the time the Pathfinders arrived in the vicinity of the target thick cloud cover and strong winds prevailed. The thick cloud made the target indicators all but invisible and, combined with the unexpected winds blowing the Pathfinders off course, caused much of the main force bombing to be cantered on the small town of Lauf and the surrounding villages to the north east of Nuremberg. In the confusion some crews dropped their bombs on Schweinfurt causing minor damage to the ball bearing factories but again many of the bombs fell in the outskirts. Damage in Nuremberg itself was relatively light. Several smaller fires were set in the city centre and a few buildings hit including the railway station, post office and some houses but the main objective of setting the city ablaze and bombing the M.A.N. and Siemens factories failed completely.
Of the 795 aircraft making up the attacking force 82 of their number would be lost due to enemy action en-route and near to the target. While some of these were brought down by flak by far the majority was as a result of night fighter action. Another nine bombers were brought down by the night fighters and flak on the return leg. Fourteen more were lost, eleven in crashes on take off or on their return to base, one due to friendly fire and two to mid-air collision.
In all 543 aircrew were killed and a further 157 captured as prisoners of war.
The operation was a total failure not only in terms of the loss of so many brave aircrew and aircraft but little damage was sustained by the City of Nuremberg.
Taking off at 22:00hrs from RAF Leeming and after returning form the operation a collision occurred with a Lancaster III ND767 GI-D from 622 Squadron flown by 29 year old P/O. Eric Pickin 174147 RAFVR. All the crew from the Lancaster were killed. Six of the crew from the Halifax were also killed.
The Flight Engineer was seriously injured and sadly died from his injuries on the 20th April. The rear gunner, P/O. James Moffat on his 13th operation survived the impact and baled out. He describes what happened:
"I looked to the right, everything’s fine, I look to the left, and there’s no tail fin, so I thought, I’m getting out. I got out, put my chute on, the parachute is attached to the wall by bungee cord so you wear the harness. So I attached the suit, I stood up and realised there was no top on the aircraft. So I just stepped off the side of the aircraft and I was going down, there was no sign of speed of wind at all, just like a vacant, just like standing in a room. So I realised, I must be on an inside spin with the aircraft. So I kicked against the aircraft, went out into the darkness, opened the chute, a few minutes later, hit the ground. And I was very fortunate. The engineer had bailed out, I didn’t know this until after, and he landed in the trees and badly wounded by the branches and died 20 days later in hospital."
The next morning I woke up and I walked down to the crossroads and found out it was Halanzy, and I didn’t know where that was. Eventually walked through this village and it was starting to snow. There was no snow on the ground, but the snow was melting as it landed and it was kind of cool. And I got to the end of the village, just about out of the village and three men ran up and said, “Prisoner, prisoner.” I thought, oh, they’re going to turn me over to the Germans because there was a big reward. But I see a man running up behind and he said, “I’m here to get you back to England, the Germans are right behind you, get behind the bloody hedge.”
'Behind Enemy Lines' ISBN 13: 9781553061960 Published by Epic Press 2006 written by Mary Thomas (daughter) and James Moffat detailing his full story.
"So I spent the rest of the day behind the hedge and they came at darkness, took me into their home and burnt my uniform, gave me a bottle of beer and a bacon grease sandwich. And he said, “Can you ride a bike?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Follow that man, he can’t speak English, but he’ll point out where you hide and we’ll come around midnight.” So at midnight, they came and it was Vitel Paul and his brother, Albert. Albert and another gendarme came out of the forest and they took me into Vitel’s home. I stayed overnight. Next morning, they loaded me in a car, the two gendarmes in the front seat, myself and a British airman by the name of Jones in the backseat with Cécile Paul, Albert’s wife and their little baby, Monique.
We spent the next six weeks trying to learn French. They spoke no English and we spoke no French. We had no dictionary. But after six weeks, we had a good smattering of French. The only identification, I had false identity, my name was Charles Lebrun, because I had brown hair and Jones had Jacques Lenoir because he has black hair.
The Americans liberated us and I was wearing a German jacket, so they said, “You can’t wear that, I have a spare uniform.” So I wore an American lieutenant’s uniform with the badges and so on and a steel helmet and the most beautiful 15 shot 30 calibre rifle I’ve ever seen. And we were in the back of a Jeep. There were five Jeeps and an M8 [Light Armoured Car] and we went looking for bridges that were not down, and we saw one in the distance. So there was a roadside tavern. So we said, “Go in there and find out if the Germans are there.” So I go in, they said, “Oh yeah, be careful, there’s lots of Germans on the other side of the river, the bridge is mined, and they have a gun.” So I tell the lieutenant and he said, “Oh, they’re full of it, let’s go.”
So five Jeeps and an M8 with an automatic 37 millimetre, 60 miles an hour towards this bridge. And the Germans opened up. And I swear, they fired six shots about four feet to our left and you could hear the tearing of the shots as they went by. We stopped, turned around, ran back and he radioed his report and he was instructed to go to a town called Momignies on the border of Belgium and France. We arrived there and the bridge was down in the water and he said, “Go in and find out if the Germans are gone.” So I go in and this lady said, “Oh yes, they left this morning. But tell the lieutenant to bring some shovels and some soldiers, I’ll show them where the champagne is.” So we dug up about 20 bottles of champagne. And if you drink enough, you can walk four feet off the ground!"
Left: A detailed account of this operation has been described in Martin Middlebrooks publication” ‘The Nuremberg Raid’ ISBN-13: 978-1844158751 (Also available in softcover)
DFC Citation for Sq/Ldr. Laird 09th November 1943:
"Fl/Lt. Laird and Sgt. Cardy were pilot and flight engineer respectively of an aircraft detailed to attack Kassel one night in October 1943. During the operation the bomber was hit by a hail of bullets from an enemy fighter. Nevertheless, Fl/Lt. Laird coolly and skilfully outmanoeuvred the enemy aircraft and set course for this country. Two of his crew had been killed, however, and Sgt. Cardy was wounded in the arm and in the eye. In spite of intense suffering, this gallant airman refused to leave his post and executed his normal duties until he finally fainted through loss of blood. Later, when he again recovered consciousness, he attempted to do as much as he could to assist his captain in the homeward flight. By a superb effort Fl/Lt. Laird succeeded in reaching base where he effected a safe landing in difficult circumstances. This officer displayed outstanding skill, courage and tenacity, while Sgt. Cardy's exemplary conduct and great fortitude were beyond praise."
(Note: Also on this flight was P/O. Joseph Corbally and P/O. James Moffat)
(1) Laird Point on Holenchuck Lake was named after Sq/Ldr. George Johnstone Laird DFC in 1996.
(2) The brother of FL/Sgt. Clapham composed a beautiful poem 'Requiem For A Rear Gunner' which can be read in our Poetry section here.
Sq/Ldr. George Johnstone Laird DFC. Hotton War Cemetery. Grave XII.B.3. Born on the 14th August 1920 in Winnipeg, the son of George Johnston and Isabella Macrae Laird (née Dawson), of 2621 Assinbourne Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and husband of Robert Elma Laird (née Ward). Grave inscription reads: "I Have Fought A Good Fight, I Have Finished My Course, I Have Kept The Faith".
Fl/Sgt. Arthur John Stainton. Hotton War Cemetery. Grave XII.B.2. Son of Arthur T. and Alma M. Stainton, of Peterboro. Ontario, Canada. Grave inscription reads: "He Died, As He Lived, Bravely; To Preserve Freedom And Honour".
F/O. John Morrison DFC. Arlon Communal Cemetery Belgian pelouse d'honneur sect. Son of Angus and Annie Morrison, of Ness, Ross and Cromarty, Scotland. Grave inscription reads: "Thy Sun Shall No More Go Down; Neither Shall Thy Moon Withdraw Itself" Isaiah Lx.20".
F/O. William Ernest Paul Soeder. Hotton War Cemetery. Grave XII.B.5. Son of John George and Annie M. Soeder, of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Grave inscription reads: "Lo, I Am With You Alway, Even Unto The End Of The World".
P/O. Joseph Charles Corbally. Hotton War Cemetery. Grave XII.B.6. Born on the 11th July 1919 in Toronto, the son Joseph Aloysius and Justina Bridget Corbally (née Delemere), of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Grave inscription reads: "Semper Fidelis".
Fl/Sgt. Wiliam Paterson Clapham. Hotton War Cemetery. Grave XII.B.4. From London, England. No further details - are you able to assist?
P/O. Lloyd Henry Smith. Hotton War Cemetery. Grave XII.B.1. Son of William and Mabel E. Smith, of Sturgis, Saskatchewan, Canada. Grave inscription reads: "His Life A Beautiful Memory To Mother, Sister, Brother And Relatives".
Lancaster III ND767 GI-D crew:
Grave markers for Sgt. Collins, Plt.Off. Merritt and Sgt. Page. (Courtesy Peter Price)
(Right) Pilot - 29 year old, P/O. Eric Pickin 174147 RAFVR. Hotton War Cemetery. Grave VIII.E.5. Son of George and Catherine Pickin and husband of G. Margery Pickin, of Witney, Oxfordshire, England. Grave inscription reads: "Of Your Charity Pray For The Soul Of Eric Beloved Husband Of Margery R.I.P"
Fl/Eng: - 21 year old, Sgt. Henry 'Harry' Frederick Page 1713536 RAFVR. Hotton War Cemetery. Grave VIII.E.9. Son of William and Rosina Eleanor Page, of Kingsbury, Middlesex, England. Grave inscription reads: "He Was Called Away For A Good Cause, Though Greatly Missed".
Nav: - 24 year old, P/O. John Percival Merritt J/85569 RCAF. Hotton War Cemetery. Grave VIII.E.8. Husband of Edna Doris Merritt, of Cove, Farnborough, Hants, England. Grave inscription reads: "God Knows Best, We Know Not Why, The Best Are Always The First To Die".
Air/Bmr: - 32 year old, Fl/Sgt. Cleveland Julian Schmid 425061 RAAF.Hotton War Cemetery. Grave VIII.E.6. Son of Henry August George and Annie May Schmidt, of Eton, Queensland, Australia. Grave inscription reads: "In The Midst Of Life We Are In Death. A Duty Nobly Done".
W/Op/Air/Gnr: - 21 year old, Sgt. Raymond John Asplen 425061 RAAF. Hotton War Cemetery. Grave VIII.E.3. Son of William John and Thyra Bessie Alice Asplen, of Ealing, Middlesex, England.
Air/Gnr: - 20 year old, Sgt. Gordon Robert Collins 1869001 RAFVR. Hotton War Cemetery. Grave VIII.E.7. Son of George Henry and Ethel Jemina Collins, of Stratford-on-Avon, England. Grave inscription reads: "Our Darling Son And Brother. He Is Not Dead But Just Away. Dad , Mother, Peter, Anne".
Air/Gnr: - 32 year old, Sgt. John Coup 1600454 RAFVR. Hotton War Cemetery. Grave VIII.E.4. Son of Richard and Clara Coup; husband of Vera E. Coup, of Heavitree, Exeter, England. Grave inscription reads: "Only Those Who Have Lost Can Tell Of My Silent Grief For A Husband Loved So Well'.
Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to 'The Memory Project', 427 Squadron. Thanks to Peter Price the image of the grave marker for his Uncle, Sgt Page, and for the two adjacent markers for Plt.Off. Merritt and Sgt. Collins. Other sources quoted below.