03/04.10.1944 No. 502 Squadron Halifax HR686 J F/O. Patrick J. McManus D.F.C.
Operation: Rover Patrol
Date: 03/04th October 1944
Unit: No. 502 Squadron
Type: Halifax GRII
Base: RAF Stornoway
Location: The Skagerrak, off Norway.
Pilot: F/O. Patrick J. McManus DFC RCAF - survived Prisoner of War (PoW) Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria
Pilot 2: F/O. Alexander Lawrence Lyttle DFC J/25873 RCAF - survived PoW Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria
Fl/Eng: F/O. Ian Edward Osbourne 142463 RAFVR - survived PoW No. 12816 Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria
Nav: Sgt. Reginald ‘Plugs’ Godfrey Allen 1397157 RAFVR Age ? Missing
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Lt. Sidney A. Winchester RCAF - survived PoW Stalag Berlin-Steglitz
W/Op/Air/Gnr: F/O. Hugh Thomas Conlin J/86034 RCAF Age 25. Missing
W/Op/Air/Gnr: F/O. Joseph Armand Roger Lucien La Palme J/18647 RCAF Age 25. Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: W/O. Charles McLaughlin 643195 RAFVR Age 27. Missing
Air/Gnr: Wg/Cmdr. Charles Aubrey Maton DSO 76222 RAFVR - survived PoW No further details
Research carried out by Mr Robin Hudson, who kindly provided us with these details via a relative of W/O. Charles McLaughlin, Rae McKenna
REASON FOR LOSS:
At the briefing for the mission, the Met. forecast gave the weather conditions as cold, wet and windy, not unexpected for October in that part of the world! The mission would be a 'Rover' patrol, meaning the crew were free to attack any enemy vessels sighted in the patrol area. Intelligence indicated that the Germans were endeavouring to move men and material from Norway to Europe to bolster their defences following the Allied invasion of Europe in June. These movements were being undertaken under cover of darkness. Also, enemy night-fighters could be expected in the area!
With all preparations complete, the crew went out to the aircraft, which was fully loaded with depth charges and a full load of fuel, sufficient for over 12 hours of flying. It was already raining when they took-off at 23-08hrs. on 3rd October 1944.
On such long endurance flights, the Air Gunner/Wireless Ops. (AG/Wop.) would frequently swop positions between the two turrets, wireless and radar positions. So it was on this flight. After testing their guns, everyone settled down for the long transit to the operational area off the Norwegian and Danish coasts.
The main tool used to search for targets was the radar, housed in a blister under the belly of the aircraft, just aft of the bomb-bay. The radar would also give 'returns' from rain and snow showers, as it did on this mission, which made identifying a real target more difficult. However, with practice, these real 'returns' could be distinguished from the phantom ones.
502 Squadron Halifax HR686 ‘J’.
Once in the patrol area, the crew commenced their search pattern, until a call came from the radar operator, 'Contact 05 degrees starboard at 18 miles'. This contact looked promising and they set course to intercept. Speed was increased and altitude reduced in an effort to visually identify the target. Eventually, they broke through the clouds and there, dead ahead, they saw a ship on fire! It was obvious the ship had already been attacked and was sinking, so they aborted their attack and climbed away.
Returning to their search pattern, a while passed, when suddenly another call from the radar operator stated, 'Contact port 25 degrees, 15 miles'. Again the attack routine took over, with increase in speed and loss of height, swinging onto the new heading, looking for the target. Breaking through the cloud at about 800 feet, there in front was a ship which appeared to be brightly lit, usually an indication it was a neutral vessel.
Breaking off the attack, and beginning to swing away, it was only then realised that the 'lights' were in fact the muzzle flashes from numerous guns on the ship all firing at the aircraft! This barrage of fire hit the aircraft as it turned away, setting the port inner engine on fire and causing damage to other parts of the aircraft.
W/O. Charles McLaughlin pictured 2nd left during an operation debrief
The captain, Patrick McManus realised the aircraft was doomed and told the crew to prepare for a ditching at sea. Wrestling with the controls, helped by co-pilot Larry Lyttle, they managed to keep the aircraft fairly level as it hit the sea, but any contact was going to cause massive damage. At the time it was thought all 9 crew members managed to escape the sinking aircraft, via one means or another, and ended up in the rough sea. Unfortunately, the dinghy carried in the port wing, aft of the port inner engine, had been burnt and was useless.
Patrick realised their only hope of survival was to get together in a group and so searched around in the water to locate the others. In the dark and rough seas, this was difficult. Eventually, all the survivors who could be located came together but, without the dinghy, it was difficult staying afloat. Then, one of the aircraft's main wheels and tyre was seen floating nearby and they managed to cling to that.
The wheel and tyre of Halifax HR686, to which the survivors owe their lives
As dawn began to break, and after several hours in the water, they were rescued by the ship that had shot them down (later identified as the 'Amisia'), and the surviving 5 crew members McManus, Lyttle, Osbourne, Winchester and Maton became PoWs. Their experiences as PoWs is a whole different story and outside the scope of this article.
One thing I did find in doing this research, as is common I'm sure with much historical research, is that for almost every piece of new information you discover, it raises new questions. For instance, in the 502 Sqn. Operational Record Book (ORB), the official squadron diary, the crew list for HR686 for its final sortie differs from the actual crew who flew her, and yet at the end of the monthly summary for October 1944, it gives the correct crew names as those missing!
502 Squadron Halifax HR686 J - much sought after collectors model from Corgi
Of the 4 crew lost, F/O LaPalme's body was washed ashore near Mandel in Norway, where he is buried. The bodies of the others were never recovered and are remembered at the RAF Memorial at Runnymeade, in the RAF Stornoway Book of Remembrance and RAF Stornoway Memorial, they are F/O H. T. Conlin, Flt. Sgt. C. McLaughlin and Sgt. R. G. Allen. This article is dedicated to those who were lost.
What makes this article possible is the fact that some of the crew survived the war and were able to tell the tale. With many of the losses from 502, and its sister squadron 58 stationed at Stornoway, occurring with no witness, their stories will never be told.
I would like to thank Paul McManus for his help in providing so much information about his father's experiences and what truly happened on that fateful night. Finally, Patrick McManus was presented with his own Corgi die-cast model of HR686 by his family on 4th June 2011, exactly 66 years and 8 months after she was lost, as shown below.
Pictured left: Patrick McManus with the special edition HR686 as presented by his family in 2011
Sgt. Reginald Godfrey Allen. Runnymede Memorial. panel 215. Next of Kin details currently not available - are you able to assist completion of these and any other information?
F/O. Hugh Thomas Conlin. Runnymede Memorial. panel 245. Son of William and Lillian Conlin; husband of Edith Irene Conlin, of Dorset, Ontario, Canada.
F/O. Joseph Armand Roger Lucien La Palme. Mandal Churchyard. Grave I2.12. Son of Albert and Alphonsine La Palme, of Montreal, Province of Quebec, Canada.
W/O. Charles McLaughlin. Runnymede Memorial. panel 214. From Limavady, Northern Ireland. Joined the RAF in 1939, serving in both Europe and North Africa. Listed as a Fl/Sgt at time of loss, later posthumously promoted to W/O. Served with Bomber Command prior to service with Coastal Command. Son of Mrs McLaughlin of Kennaught Street, husband of Mrs Mclaughlin of Clooney Terrace, Wtwrside, Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Mr Robin Hudson, Paul McManus, Rae McKenna, Hugh Halliday, Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
F/O. Patrick J. McManus DFC: Award effective 19 July 1945 as per London Gazette dated 27 July 1945 and AFRO 1672/45 dated 2 November 1945. Born March 1920 in Perth, Ontario; home there; enlisted in Ottawa, 10 March 1941. To No.1 Manning Depot, 1 September 1941. To No.4 WS, 25 October 1941. To No.1 ITS, 31 January 1942; graduated and promoted LAC, 27 March 1942; to No.1 EFTS, 28 March 1942; graduated 6 June 1942 and posted that date to No.5 SFTS; graduated and commissioned 25 September 1942. To No.31 GRS, 22 October 1942; to Western Air Command, 8 January 1943; promoted Flying Officer, 25 March 1943; to “Y” Depot, 15 April 1943; to RAF overseas, 26 May 1943. Missing (POW), 4 October 1944. Safe in United Kingdom, 13 May 1945. Repatriated to Canada, 6 July 1945. To AFHQ, 20 July 1945. To Release Centre, 27 September 1945. Retired 19 October 1945. Medal presented 21 May 1949. Cited with F/O Alexander L. Lyttle (RCAF, awarded DFC); see above for citation. Newsclipping in DHist biographical file says he was born in Smith Falls although his home is given as Perth. Clipping dated 16 June 1945 states that he was captain of a Halifax attacking shipping off Norwegian coast.
F/O. Alexander Lawrence Lyttle DFC: Award effective 19 July 1945 as per London Gazette dated 27 July 1945 and AFRO 1672/45 dated 2 November 1945. Born 1917 in Ottawa - home in Vancouver - enlisted there 23 March 1942. Trained at No.2 ITS (graduated 10 December 1942), No.19 EFTS (graduated 19 March 1943) and No.17 SFTS (graduated 23 July 1943). Commissioned 1943. Died at East Redonds Island, British Columbia, 23 February 1959 as per British Columbia Vital Statistics. Cited with F/L Patrick J. McManus (RCAF, awarded DFC).
D.F.C. Citation reads:
‘Flight Lieutenant McManus was first pilot and captain of aircraft and Flying Officer Lyttle was second pilot of an aircraft detailed for an attack on enemy shipping in the Skagerrak. Intense anti-aircraft fire was encountered and the aircraft was so badly damaged it was forced down onto the sea. From the moment the aircraft was hit till its final plunge into the sea these two officers remained at their posts and by their calm efficiency inspired the other members of the crew with confidence. Although badly cut about the head, Flight Lieutenant McManus continued in a rough sea to look to the safety of the others. In these difficult circumstances these two officers displayed cool courage and devotion to duty and averted disaster and saved the lives of all nine members of their crew.’