09.02.1945 No. 404 Squadron Beaufighter TFX NE761 EW-O F/O Philip Rex Myrick
Operation: Anti-Shipping Strike
Date: 9th February 1945 (‘Black Friday’)
Unit:No. 404 RCAF Buffalo Squadron
Type: Bristol Beaufighter TFX
Base: RAF Dallachy, Morayshire, Scotland
Location: Førde Fjord near Steinen, Norway.
Pilot: F/O. Philip Rex Myrick J/35788 RCAF Age 22. Killed.
Navigator: P/O. Claude Gerald Berges J/95209 RCAF Age 27. Killed.
REASON FOR LOSS:
Shortly before 14:00 hours, a strike force comprised of thirty Beaufighters escorted by ten Mustang fighters, took off to attack a destroyer and eight other German naval craft sheltering in Førde Fjord.
The commander of the destroyer, knowing his ship had been spotted earlier in the day by a reconnaissance flight, sailed deeper into the fjord seeking the protection of the high cliffs on the shore line.
Normally the strike would be made from an easterly direction allowing the Beaufighters to attack the target and make a hasty retreat out towards the sea. Upon arriving at the target however, the destroyer, now moored right under the cliffs, forced the wing commander to change the direction of attack. Due to the narrow confines of the fjord only one aircraft at a time could make the attack which was met with heavy anti aircraft fire from the flak ships and the garrisons stationed on the cliffs above. (further photographs)
Left: F/O Philip Rex Myrick. Right: F/O. Myrick with P/O. Berges at Dallachy, Scotland, 1944. (courtesy Betty Myrick Russell)
As the strike force circled the fjord to attack in the opposite direction, the alert was being sounded at the nearby Luftwaffe base at Herdla. Soon fourteen Fw190 fighters of 9 and 12 Staffel JG5 arrived upon the scene and a furious air battle ensued. The Beaufighters were no match for the fast and nimble 190’s. Within fifteen minutes the flak and German fighters had claimed nine of the Beaufighters and one Mustang. The remainder of the force, badly shot up, staggered back to base including two aircraft which were forced to make belly landings.
Further information on the operation.
F/O. Myrick and P/O. Berges were on their first operation against the enemy when their crippled aircraft slammed into the hillside broke apart and sank into the deep waters of the fjord near Steinen.
The bodies of Myrick and Berges were thrown clear of the wreckage and after the battle had subsided were recovered from the ice covered fjord by the local villagers. The occupying German troops soon arrived upon the scene and, with the help of some of the villagers, transported the remains back to Førde where they were buried in the churchyard. After the war, in 1946, they were re-interred at the military cemetery in Haugesund.
Although it was common knowledge that one of the missing Beaufighters lay at the bottom of the fjord off of Steinen it was unknown if it was the one piloted by F/O. Myrick or that of F/O. Charles Smerneos.
In February of 2008, 63 years after the battle, Rob Rondeau a Canadian marine archeologist led a diving expedition with the objective of identifying which aircraft lay at the bottom of the fjord.
Although the wreckage was strewn about on the bottom of the fjord, a larger section of the rear fuselage was found bearing the numbers NE761 – Myrick and Berges craft. This discovery cleared up the mystery as now it was known that the other aircraft which crashed high up in the mountains was that of F/O. Smerneos and his navigator F/O. Norman Cochrane.
The location and condition of the fuselage section was such that recovery was impractical. Two artefacts, the tail wheel assembly and a hydraulic header tank, were however, retrieved, and are now on display at the Black Friday Museum in Naustdal.
Egil Hjelmeland who, as a young boy, had witnessed the air battle, held a keen interest over the years in preserving the memory of the fliers lost on that fateful afternoon. In 2003, Egil sent five letters to Canada hoping to trace the relatives of those who had died. He received only the one reply which was from a sister of F/O Hugh Lynch who put a notice in the Legion magazine. Rex’s brother-in-law saw the notice and, through his daughters, contacted Rex’s younger sister Betty.
Egil corresponded with Betty over the years exchanging information about Black Friday and it was he who notified her that Rex’s aircraft had been positively identified.
Above left: Egil Hjelmeland with cup that contained Rex's ring. Right: Ruth Hammar and Betty Myrick Russell with Rex's ring. (courtesy Betty Myrick Russell)
At the invitation of the municipalities of Sunnfjord, Betty and her daughters, Lynn and Pam, were invited to attend the dedication ceremonies to be held for the two artefacts recovered during the dive.
The ceremonies were also attended by Bert Ramsden, the last surviving member of 404 Squadron who took part in the Black Friday raid.
Representing R.C.A.F 404 Squadron was the present commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Doug Baird, squadron historian Major Chris Larsen and Technician Rob Fletcher.
Left: Claude Berges with his wife Hilda (courtesy Joan Slover)
Among the many remembrances of her brother, Betty has a photograph of Rex, taken in Scotland in 1944, showing him wearing a ring. During Betty’s stay in Norway, it came to light that just after the crash a villager had ventured out to the crash site before the German troops arrived. Amongst the scattered remains he found a gloved hand lying on the ice. When he removed the glove he found a ring which upon arriving home he placed in a cup in a china cabinet for safe keeping.
Egil knew of the incident and took Betty to meet Ruth Hammar the daughter of the man who had found the ring. Although she was never told the actual circumstances by her father, Ruth often wondered who it once belonged to. Fate surely must have played its part, as, for over 60 years, the ring sat in the cup in the china cabinet waiting to be claimed.
When Ruth handed Betty the ring and she saw the engraved initial ‘M’ there was no doubt. It was Rex’s.
In early 2011, Betty Russell was contacted by a niece of P/O Claude Berges, Joan Slover.
Joan’s curiosity was aroused by a tip from a relative who had seen a ‘Black Friday’ You Tube clip showing the memorial at Førde. On surfing the web Joan discovered a site showing Tore Solbakken and Rob Rondeau recovering the tail wheel during their diving project in Førdefjord. It was then, through Rob, that Joan was able to learn of the complete Black Friday story, the memorial in Norway and the efforts made to locate and raise her uncle’s aircraft in 2008.
Through Joan we were able to learn that Claude’s wife Hilda is still with us although, now, very elderly. Joan and her relatives were unaware of the memorial ceremonies held in Norway and disappointed that Hilda was unable to attend. The mention of Claude’s name is, still, after more than 66 years of his passing, very upsetting for Hilda and so perhaps it was for the best.
P/O Claude Gerald Berges was the sixth of nine children from a Kitchener, Ontario, area family of German descent. He was married to his wife Hilda only a short time before he was posted overseas. They had no children. His widow, now 93 years of age, never remarried the painful memories of the short time she shared with her beloved Claude lingering on still.
In all, 404 Squadron lost six aircraft and eleven aircrew. Three further casualties were from R.A.F. 65 Squadron and R.A.A.F. 455 Squadron. Four more Allied aircrew were taken prisoner. German losses included one pilot each from 9. and 12. Staffel and seven naval personnel.
On that day, Coastal Command had suffered its worst losses of the war by a Strike Wing. A day which was subsequently dubbed ‘Black Friday’ by the surviving members of the squadrons involved in the raid.
In addition to Rex, Willard and Edna Myrick lost another son while serving with the R.C.A.F. during the war. P/O. John F. Myrick, a W/Op/Air/Gnr. with 78 Squadron, died during a mission to Mainz on the 11/12th August 1942. Halifax W1233 Piloted by Fl/Sgt. Fleetwood-May killed with all crew.
Left To Right - Lt/Col. Doug Baird C.O. RCAF 404 Sqd, Bert Ramsden 404 Sqd, the last surviving member of Black Friday raid, Millar Bryce 404 Sqd, Maj. Chris Larsen R.C.A.F. 404 Sqd. (courtesy Betty Myrick Russell)
Plaque presented by 404 Squadron and placed on the wreckage of Myrick and Berges Beaufighter at the bottom of the fjord. (courtesy Betty Myrick Russell)
Haugesund (Rossebo) Var Freslers Cemetery (courtesy Betty Myrick Russell)
Myrick Lake in Northern Ontario was named in remembrance of the brothers in 1960.
F/O. Philip Rex Myrick. Haugesund (Rossebo) Var Freslers Cemetery. Norway. Grave F 15. Son of Willard R. and Edna C. Myrick of Tillsonburg, Ontario, Canada.
P/O. Claude Gerald Berges. Haugesund (Rossebo) Var Freslers Cemetery. Grave F 19. Son of Eugene and Edith Berges, husband of Hilda Mary Berges of Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.
Researched by Aircrew Remembered, researcher and RCAF specialist, Colin Bamford for relatives of this crew.