11.07.1942 97 Squadron Lancaster I R5696 OF-H Fl/Lt. C.W. Miller DFC
Operation: Danzig (Gdańsk)
Date: 11th July 1942 (Saturday)
Unit: 97 Squadron
Type: Lancaster I
Base: RAF Woodhall Spa
Location: Forest area north west of Gdańsk, Germany. (now Gdańsk, Poland)
Pilot: Fl/Lt. Charles William Miller DFC. 36270 RAF Age 24. Killed
Co/pilot: Sgt. John Forsyth 1007363 RAFVR Age 22. Killed
Obs: Sgt. Alan Thomas Grossmith 1280705 RAFVR Age 22. Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: P/O. Joseph Norman Eslick 106076 RAFVR Age 30. Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: P/O. Robert John Westgate J/15812 RCAF Age 20. Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Norman Lindsay Smith AUS/401251 RAAF Age 27. Killed
Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Alden Ernest Nickerson R/64786 RCAF Age 20. Killed
Relatives are keen to correspond with all relatives from this crew. Please contact us in the first instance.
REASON FOR LOSS:
Took off at 16:42 hrs from RAF Woodhall Spa joining 43 others in an experimental daytime operation. It was hoped that if the bomber stream flew at low level over the North Sea then, splitting up to stay independently in the clouds which were forecast over Denmark - then over the Baltic onto Danzig. It was the most distant target attacked by Bomber Command of the war with a round trip of some 1500 miles.
Crew of Lancaster R5696 - Top row L-R: Robert John Westgate, Pilot Charles Miller DFC, Joseph Eslick, John Forsyth. Bottom row: Alden (Nicky) Nickerson, Alan Grossmith and Norman Smith. (courtesy Lynn Berry)
It was planned that they would hit the target - U-Boat yards, just before dusk, returning using the cover of darkness. The operational idea went well, Luftwaffe fighters never intercepted, 24 aircraft bombed Danzig - others were unable to locate the target and bombed the city instead.
Fl/Lt. Charles William Miller DFC was a New Zealander serving in the Royal Air Force. His award was published in the London Gazette on 27th July 1943.
Another aircraft, Lancaster I L7543 EM-Z
from 207 Squadron was also lost on this raid. Flown by 26 year old Fl/Sgt. George H. Duke 1163246 RAFVR from Sherwood, Nottinghamshire who, along with his 6 other crew members were killed.
Both aircraft fell victims to the massive flak defences around Danzig and both, it seems crashed in the same area. With thanks to Peter Hammond for details on actual location and to Piotr Urban for placing a memorial at the crash site - September 2018.
Piotr Urban and Gdańsk historian Jan Daniluk have uncovered the following new information regarding the circumstances leading up to the loss of OF-H:
The raid lasted from 2130 to 2335 hrs. In addition to the Gdańsk Flak units, the defences also included Kriegsmarine Flak ships tied up in the port. These were the vessels "Potsdam", "Gneisenau", "Ortelsburg" (ex. Latvian steamer "Auseklis", 721 t) and the tugboat "Holland". The report from the captain of the "Ortelsburg", which stood at the dock of Schichau shipyard, stated that they opened fire at 2150 hrs and shot down OF-H on its second run over the target. OF-H was hit, caught fire and fell near Wrzeszcz at 2154 hrs.
As a result of the raid 22 houses were demolished, 19 houses slightly damaged, 5 installations/industrial plants were hit, and about 100 housed suffered broken windows. The fall of 5 bombs was also recorded in Wejherowo-Nanice, 50 km away from Gdańsk. The bombs did not cause any losses or damage.
Stock images of the original "Auseklis" (above) and the renamed "Ortelsburg"(below); prior to the installation of weapons (Courtesy Piotr Urban)
The rating plate from an engine of Lancaster R5696 which is currently displayed in the Museum of the Second World War in Gdańsk. (Courtesy Piotr Urban)
Sgt. Norman Lindsay Smith with his friend Jacky at Woodall Spa (see credits)
The MRES (1) report states ‘Kinglershobe - Danzig area’. Which we understand to be misspelt as Zinglershohe - we have been unable to find the Polish name for this area.
Marlbork Commonwealth War Cemetery (Poland) crew graves - together with that from 207 squadron crew.
Fl/Lt. Charles William Miller DFC. Marlbork Commonwealth War Cemetery (Poland) Coll. grave 3. B. 12-14. Son of Charles Fraser Miller and Elizabeth Johnson Miller (formerly McIntosh), of Blenheim, Marlborough, New Zealand. A total of 1336 flying hours logged and had completed some 20 operational sorties.
Above: family grave of the Forsyth family (courtesy David Forsyth)
Sgt. John Forsyth. Marlbork. Commonwealth War Cemetery (Poland) Coll. grave 3. B. 12-14. Son of John (died January 20th 1946 - age 50) and Margaret Macpherson Forsyth (died January 2nd 1953, age 63), of Hope House Farm, Gosforth, Newcastle-on-Tyne, England. Brother of Jean Dickinson Forsyth who died on June 22nd 1990, age 65.
Sgt. Alan Thomas Grossmith. Marlbork Commonwealth War Cemetery (Poland) Coll. grave 3. B. 12-14. Son of Thomas John and Maud Evelyn Grossmith, of Stoke Newington, London, England.
P/O. Joseph Norman Eslick. Marlbork. Commonwealth War Cemetery (Poland) Coll. grave 3. B. 12-14. Further information: Born in 1911 in Capetown, South Africa, the son of Arthur Eslick and his wife Olivia Martin. It was a widely travelled family as his grandfather had been a Cornish mine agent. Joseph's father had been born in Brazil and the family is seen re-entering the UK from both South Africa and Mauritius. Like his father, Joseph worked as a blacksmith in the mines. He married Kathleen Clarice Lisk in Plymouth in 1934 with whom he had three daughters.
Left. Mrs Lynn Berry and her mother at RAF Woodhall Spa in 2005. Above the stained glass windows commemorating 97 Squadron (courtesy Lynn Berry)
P/O. Robert John Westgate. Marlbork Commonwealth War Cemetery (Poland) Coll. grave 3. B. 12-14. Further information: Son of Robert John Westgate and Marion Turriff Ward of East Angus, Quebec, Canada. His sister, the mother of Lynn Berry, is Marion Jean Westgate Berry. He was one of 6 children and the second youngest son and their third child. His older brother trained the Canadian boys to fly in Quebec and his younger brother, Kenneth joined the Canadian army. His other brother was not able to join up because he did not pass the vision test. He stayed back in East Angus and helped her grandfather, Westgate run the farm during the war. He was always envious that all of his brothers went overseas but he couldn't. Born on Monday,10th October 1921.
Sgt. Norman Lindsay Smith. Marlbork Commonwealth War Cemetery (Poland) Coll. grave 3. B. 12-14. Born on the 26th August 1914 at Richmond, Victoria, the son of Alexander and Ethel Smith and husband of Edith Winnifred Smith, of Alphington, Victoria, Australia. Grave inscription reads: "Dearly Loved Husband Of Edith, Daddy Of Joy, Melbourne, Victoria".
Fl/Sgt. Alden Ernest Nickerson. Marlbork. Commonwealth War Cemetery (Poland) Coll. grave 3. B. 12-14. Son of George Wesley Nickerson and Kathleen Marion Nickerson, of Anagance, King's Co., New Brunswick, Canada. Born on Monday,10th October 1921.
Researched for Leanne Saunders, Lynn Berry. Further information from David Forsyth. Additional photographs by Mike Harrison, Leanne Saunders, Lynn Berry and Margaret Tappenden. Also to Kim Baldacchino and her research into the family of P/O. Joseph Norman Eslick. Peter Hammond for details on actual location and to Piotr Urban for placing a memorial at the crash site - September 2018, together with the additional information about the raid and loss of the aircraft. Thanks to Peter Chapman, the Grandson of Plt.Off. Eslick, for the correction to his NoK details.Other sources as quoted below.