16/17.01.1945 No. 578 Squadron Halifax III NA603 LK-T F/O. Robert L. Maloney
Date: 16/17th January 1945 (Tuesday/Wednesday)
Unit: No. 578 Squadron
Type: Halifax III
Base: RAF Burn, Yorkshire
Location: Gross Vahlberg, Germany
Pilot: F/O. Robert Lenard Maloney AUS/417657 RAAF Age 22. Killed (1)
Fl/Eng: Fl/Sgt. G.C. Atkins 1594303 RAFVR PoW No: No details Camp: Probably Stalag Luft 3 - Sagan and Belaria (3)
Nav: P/O. Philip H. Clews 184918 RAFVR PoW No: No details Camp: Probably Stalag Luft 3 - Sagan and Belaria
Air/Bmr: F/O. Ivor Glyn Owen 146350 RAFVR Age 28. Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Charles Thomas Moore AUS/429471 RAAF Age 28. PoW No: No details Camp: Stalag 13D - Nurnburg
Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. H.G. Skeats 1432264 RAFVR PoW No: No details Camp: Stalag 13D - Nurnburg
Air/Gnr: P/O. F.J. Fitzgerald J/J89601 RCAF PoW No: No details Camp: Probably Stalag Luft 3 - Sagan and Belaria
Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. ‘Bill’ Thomas William Spencer 1436767 RAFVR Age 23. PoW No: 9263 Camp: Stalag 13D - Nurnburg
REASON FOR LOSS:
Taking off at 18:23 hrs from RAF Burn to bomb the city go Magdeburg with 370 other aircraft from 4, 6 and 8th groups. The allies claimed the operation a success with over 44% of the built up area destroyed. No details on casualties on the ground. However the allies lost some 17 Halifaxes lost - 69 aircrew killed, 51 taken PoW.
Above: Believed to show some of the crew taken in October 1944 - Written on the back: Cyril, Alf, Bob, Phil, Shorty, Bill, T.M. and first reserve Gordy. (courtesy Gordon Spencer)
It is thought ‘probable’ that Halifax NA603 was shot down by the then Luftwaffe nightfighter ace, Lt. Hans Schäfer (2) of 10./NJG3 at or around 22:03 hrs. (Again records for this period of the war have been lost/unrecorded accurately) The Luftwaffe ace had taken off from their base at Jever with his crew of Uffz. Manter and Fw. Dieter Brinkman in their Ju88 D5+IV - although this has been listed as ‘probable’ he did receive later confirmation of the claim. His crew member, Fw. Dieter Brinkman recorded that they intercepted the Halifax during their homebound flight - he observed fire between the left inner and outer engines - opening fire at 22:11 hrs and witnessing it crash at 22:14 hrs. Bombs, which were still on board, exploded on impact with the aircraft bursting into flames.
After the war, the Missing Research and Enquiry Unit MREU (4) was set up to trace the thousands of aircrew missing on operations. On the 14th June 1946 No. 23 Section. unit No 4 based in Germany were tasked to identify a body in an isolated grave in Margraten Cemetery. They proceeded to the village of Klein Vahlberg to do just that. (please note - the dates described were from memory of those interviewed and are clearly not correct) Several people were interviewed by the Unit:
"According to Herr. Wrupka who was the Burger-master of Klein Vahlberg, the aircraft crashed in a wood 3 km south west of the village at approximately 22:30 hrs on January 15th 1945. Fl/Lt. Angus M.D. Dipon the investigating officer and Sq/Ldr. A.S. Cade visited the scene of the crash with the Burger-master but nothing remained apart from small pieces of metal - in the centre of the clearing made by the explosion is a hole from which the body of the “unknown” airman was retrieved."
"Following the crash two crew members were interviewed on the morning of the 16th December 1945 by Herr. Wrupka - they had parachuted from the aircraft and one was captured at Remlingen (Map ref: M.53 D.0295 and the other at Berklingen. (Map ref: M.53 D.0596). The Burger-master was of the opinion that they were both NCO’s and the one at Remlingen was an Australian. A third member of this crew had parachuted into the nearby village of Vahlberg (Map ref: M.53 D.0397) He was also captured and handed over to the Wehrmacht."
Above: Believed to be as shown - taken by their ground crew (courtesy Gordon Spencer)
A further body was recovered from a field some 2 km east of Klein Vahlberg. The body was intact but had sustained fatal injuries due to parachute not opening. The parachute was found was recovered six feet from the body. Alocal farmer, Herr. Frecke discovered the body and together with the Burgermaster with six other men removed it to the village cemetery where it was buried in a coffin - but without burial rites or honours on January 17th 1945. The grave is already registered since a highly polished brown wooden cross was erected over the grave in May of this year and bears the legend “Heir Ruht F/O. I.C. Owen, 14.01.45” - on the back of the cross is the inscription: 77G.R.U/E.S./400.
(A further report made by No. 15 Search Section of No. 3 MREU from the 01st February reported that the body of F/O. Owen was found in fields near Gross Vahlberg (Map ref: M.53 C.99) and was buried in the children’s churchyard by the west gate of the cemetery and marked after the war with the wooden cross)
A statement made by Fl/Sgt. Skeats after his repatriation describes the events:
“The pilot, F/O. Maloney was killed, he crashed with the aircraft. After talking to my wireless operator Fl/Sgt. Moore after the crash he told me F/O. Maloney was over the escape hatch ready to bale out after him and that the bomb aimer, F/O. Owen was already dead in the nose of the aircraft. But the following day my rear gunner, Fl/Sgt. Spencer was taken to the bomb aimer in a field where his white was open and his body in good shape except for blood on him caused through cannon shells. Fl/Sgt. Moore was taken round the crashed aircraft and saw the body of F/O. Maloney - with this information I report that the pilot lost his life baling out, the bomb aimer was already dead.”
From this report it was decided that no war crimes had been committed based on the evidence.
A further statement made by Fl/Sgt. G.C. Atkins on the 13th June 1945:
“ About 15 minutes flying west of Magdeburg. Fl/Sgt. Moore informed me that F/O. Maloney’s body was found dead, some distance from the aircraft with his chute open.”
The investigating officers also learnt from Herr. Wrupka that another member of this crew had been captured at Gross Denkte (Map ref:M.53 C.0898) but he could supply no further information regarding the ultimate destination of any of the men who had been taken prisoner.
They concluded that four members of the crew had been taken prisoner, the identity of one of the two crew was established and with this information serve to help the positive identity of the body removed from the scene of the crash and buried as “Unknown X370” in the US Military Cemetery in Margraten.
It was established that buried in the grave to his right was a Iwen Ritsohnjaw and unknown Russian soldier in grave 197 and to his left, P/O. Eric Hutrrell 416858 in grave 199 (Now known to be 25 year old Typhoon pilot, F/O. Eric Hurrell AUS/416858 RAAF from Epping, New South Wales, Australia. Now buried at Nederweert War Cemetery. Grave IV.D.2. died of injuries as a result of a motor accident near Langenhagen, Hanover on the 27th April 1945. Served with 610 and finally with 181 Squadron. The body was identified when the identity tags were discovered in grave 198.
(1) Regretfully the family of another RAAF crew member were misinformed that their relative was killed - a telegram was received by the family of P/O. ‘R. Edward’ Maloney that he had been killed - it was only when the daughter noticed that the serial number of the chap named was AUS/417657 and that he was described as a Pilot and not an air gunner also the serial number did not match that of their relative AUS/422218 - it occurred when the mothers name had been wrongly recorded. This was probably one of many mistakes made at the time of poor information received and not properly investigated.
(2) Lt. Hans Schäfer survived the war with a total of 12 claims. No further details - post war.
(3) At this stage of the war many PoW details were not recorded / or lost. Germany were on the verge of defeat - Hitler returned to Berlin on this day where he spent the remainder of his life in the Reich Chancellery and Führerbunker. At this time he also sacked his Generals Smilo Freiherr von Lüttwitz and Walter Fries. Germany ordered the evacuation of the remaining 58,000 inmates of Auschwitz concentration camp ahead of the advancing Soviets. Some were deported by rail while others were forced to march in freezing temperatures - German troops were mostly driven out of Poland. Martin Bormann and Eva Braun arrived at the Führerbunker a few days later, Hitler ordered that every commanding officer from division level upward was required to notify him of all planned movements - so he could override them if he saw fit. A few days later, the Germans blew up and abandoned the Wolf's Lair ahead of the advancing Soviets.
(4) MREU - The Royal Air Force Missing Research and Enquiry Service (MRES) was set up in 1944 to trace the 42,000 personnel who were listed as 'missing, believed killed'. The demand was so great that the department was expanded in 1945. These men had no special training, and did not have the benefits that modern technology offers; only a strong desire to bring home those who had not returned. Despite the obstacles caused by the lack of tools, the MRES was able to account for over two thirds of the missing personnel by a thorough combing of the globe. Those found were identified and reinterred in Commonwealth War Graves Commission plots.
Without the commitment shown by the dedicated teams of the MRES, many families would go on not knowing what had happened to their loved one or of the location of their final resting place. The MRES allowed families the dignity to finally grieve. The unit was disbanded in 1952 due to ‘cuts in public spending’ despite protests that their work was far from complete. The Runnymede Memorial was then erected - pleasing some, but not for the many relatives of those classed as ‘missing’.
We strongly recommend the publication of ‘Missing Believed Killed’ compiled by Stuart Hadaway, published by Pen and Sword books in 2012. ISBN No: 9781848846593. Aircrew Remembered refer to this publication - tragic that this unit had to disband. In December 1944 the MRS was expanded and a small team of just fourteen men, named the Missing Research and Enquiry Service (MRES), was sent to France to seek the missing men on the ground. With 42,000 men missing, the amount that fourteen men could achieve was naturally limited, so in July and August 1945 a series of meetings at the Air Ministry decided on the rapid expansion of the MRES to over twenty-five times its current size, split between six units with set geographical areas of responsibility. The final chapters explain how to trace RAF members through both personnel and operational records, show where these records are kept and explain how to access them.
Crew killed were moved to Commonwealth Cemeteries at sites mentioned below post war.
F/O. Robert Lenard Maloney. Venray War Cemetery. Grave VII.B.12. Son of William Arthur and Ellen Mary Maloney, brother to June Lenard, of 5 Maple Avenue, Keswick, Adelaide, South Australia. Understood to have been on his 38th Operational sortie. Grave inscription reads: “His Duty Fearlessly And Nobly Done. Ever Remembered By Mum and June”.
F/O. Ivor Glyn Owen. Hanover War Cemetery. Grave 6.C.17. Son of John and Annie Vaughan Owen, of Llandudno, Caernarvonshire, husband of Eileen Bridge Owen, of Llandudno, Wales.
Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Gordon Spencer, proud nephew of Fl/Sgt. ‘Bill’ Spencer who contacted us in December 2016. He welcomes contact from any of the relatives of the crew on this flight. With thanks to sources as quoted below but also to the National Archives of Australia for further information.