16/17.12.1943 No. 7 Squadron Lancaster III JB552 MG-K Fl/Lt. Petrie DFC
Date: 16/17th December 1943 (Thursday/Friday)
Unit: No. 7 Squadron (motto: Per diem, per noctem - 'By day and by night')
Type: Lancaster III
Base: RAF Oakington, Cambridgeshire
Location: Werlte, Germany
Pilot: Fl/Lt. John Russell Petrie DFC. NZ/414337 RNZAF Age 26. Killed
Fl/Eng: P/O. Arthur William Osborn 159514 RAFVR Age 23. Killed
Nav: Sq/Ldr. Arthur Gibson DFC. 61043 RAFVR Age 27. Killed
Air/Bmr: F/O. Ian Roy Macdonald 127172 RAFVR Age ? Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: F/O. Terence Walter Jackson-Baker 133512 RAFVR Age 23. Killed
Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Alfred Henry Hartshorn 1358147 RAFVR Age ? Killed
Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Clifford James Seery 1112458 RAFVR Age ? Killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
Took off at 16:20 hrs. to bomb the capital of Germany - Berlin. The raid consisted of 483 Lancasters and 10 Mosquitoes with a further 5 mosquitoes being used to drop decoy flares south of Berlin. 7 Squadron sent 21 Lancasters on this operation - 16 of which bombed the target.
The German night-fighter controllers plotted the bomber stream with great accuracy. Fierce fighting incurred during the run in and also over the target area with many Lancasters engaging the night fighters. 19 Lancasters were lost on this raid by this action alone. But the real tragedy of the night came when the remainder of the force returned home.
They managed to shake off the night fighters by taking a much more northerly route over Denmark using up precious fuel - many of the bases were covered in very low cloud. As a result a further 16 Lancasters were lost (Some reports state 29 Lancasters lost in this way) in crashes and collisions, with approximately 156 aircrew killed and 39 injured.
The Squadron did suffer very heavily during this operation. Losing some 4 crews, the others:
Lancaster III JB656 MG-D Flown by 23 year old, F/O. Francis William Rush AUS/30245 RAAF from Tasmania, Australia - killed with 5 other crew with 1 evading capture.
Lancaster III JB543 MG-J Flown by 21 year old, P/O. Geoffrey Tyler AUS/415286 RAAF from Victoria Park, Western Australia - killed with 4 other crew, 2 taken PoW.
Lancaster III JA853 MG-L Flown by 21 year old, W/O. Wallace Arthur Watson AUS/412327 RAAF from New South Wales, Australia - killed with all other 6 other crew members.
JB552 was intercepted and shot down by 24 year old Luftwaffe ace, Oblt. Dietrich Schmidt of 8.NJG1 at 18:45 hrs. (Further information on our Kracker Archives here) Shown right.
We have further details on Fl/Lt. John Russell Petrie DFC from the son of a crew member who had served with him. Fl/Lt. Petrie was awarded his DFC on the 10th December 1943 whilst with 7 Squadron. He had survived earlier training accidents flying at the time a Wellington suffering an engine failure and then a Stirling suffering undercarriage failure on landing. (Further details at foot of page) Sq/Ldr. Arthur Gibson was awarded his DFC on the 07th December 1943 also whilst with 7 Squadron.
The crew were initially buried at Werlte on the 17th December 1943, prior to being reinterred at Sage War Cemetery after the end of the war.
Grave photographs kindly supplied by Ernst Sittig - see credits below.
Fl/Lt. John Russell Petrie DFC. Sage War Cemetery. Grave 5.E.4. Born on the 11th August 1913, the son of Frank Petrie and of Annie Petrie (née Morton), of Balclutha, Otago, New Zealand and husband of Frances Joan Petrie, of Baldutha. No grave inscription - read why here.
Notes: Fl/Lt. Petrie DFC (previously a sawmill hand) arrived at Chipping Warden OTU on the 20th October 1942 for crewing up and completion of his Wellington pilot training. During February 1943 he converted to Lancaster four-engined aircraft at RAF Waterbeach. On the 31st March 1943 he was posted to No. 7 Squadron at Oakington, Cambridge, for operational flying. Awarded Pathfinder badge 26th August 1943. Petrie’s widow, Frances, arrived in Balclutha, New Zealand, on the 3rd September 1946, intending to remain indefinitely. In April 1946 his mother stated that he had married in England 3 months before his death: ‘She was a new acquaintance', Frances Joan Schofield, from Whaley Thorns (Derbyshire) married Fl/Lt. Petrie on the 26th August 1943. At the time she was an Aircraftwoman at RAF Oakington.
P/O. Arthur William Osborn. Sage War Cemetery. Grave 5.D.15. Son of Arthur William and Mary J. Osborn, of Blackheath, London. Grave inscription reads: "Underneath Are The Everlasting Arms".
Sq/Ldr. Arthur Gibson DFC. Sage War Cemetery. Grave 5.E.3. Son of Arthur and Amy Gwendoline Gibson and husband of Muriel Dorothy Gibson, of Shirley, Surrey, England. Grave inscription reads: "Always In Our Thoughts, And Lives In Our Hearts For Ever. Sleep Well, Brave Heart".
F/O. Ian Roy Macdonald. Sage War Cemetery. Grave 5.E.1-2. No further details - are you able to assist?
F/O. Terence Walter Jackson-Baker. Sage War Cemetery. Grave 5.E.1-2. Son of Walter Thomas Standly Baker, and of Gladys Baker, of Wick, Littlehampton, Sussex, England and husband of Kathleen Vera Jackson-Baker. Grave inscription reads: "Gone But Not Forgotten".
Fl/Sgt. Alfred Henry Hartshorn. Sage War Cemetery. Grave 5.D.13-14. No further details - are you able to assist?
Fl/Sgt. Clifford James Seery. Sage War Cemetery. Grave 5.D.13-14. Son of Mr. E.S. and Mrs E.S. Seery of 18 Old Port Road, Queenstowb, South Australia and husband of Mrs. J. Seery 41 Wellesee Street, Tredpath, Gloucester, England.
Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this pilot with thanks to Paul Stamper - son of the navigator of the pilot whilst at an Operational Training Unit. Also the research by Errol Martyn and his publications: “For Your Tomorrow Vols. 1-3”, Auckland War Memorial Museum, Weekly News of New Zealand. Also to Ernst Sittig who kindly supplied us with grave photographs 29th December 2018, other sources as quoted below:
Supplied by Paul Stamper:
15th December 1942 - 18th February 1943 - Crew formed at Chipping Warden:
Sgt. Petrie: Pilot. Sgt. Stamper: Observer/navigator. Sgt. Rose: Air Bomber. Sgt. Edmonds: Wireless Operator. Sgt. Seery: Air Gunner.
Their first pilot had been a West Indian, somebody Gordon [surname] (he appears on a No. 40 Course group photo taken at Chipping Warden late 1942). However, it soon transpired he couldn’t manage night landings. Petrie flying as my fathers pilot from the 15th December.
On the 2nd February 1943, a training flight, at dusk, in a five-man Wellington, at Chipping Warden. This had been grounded for a week, as had the crew, as one of the two engines had been out of action/playing up. The station commander, once the engine was repaired, ordered them (or Petrie, the pilot) ‘up’ to get back into the swing of things. When only 500 or 600 feet up the ‘good’ engine went (i.e. not the one that had been under repair). Petrie, the 23-year-old New Zealand pilot (‘a burly bloke’ - dad did a sort of Popeye mime) put full power into the good engine (made a screaming noise), and turned back to the airfield, losing height.
Dad, as Observer, had a designated crash position behind the mid-bulkhead, which he tried to straddle, but was unable to because (as it transpired) his RT lead had got caught somewhere. After a (clearly terrifying) few seconds, which seemed much longer, he wrenched it free and landed behind the bulkhead, with a spare observer (on an acclimatisation flight) landing on top of him. Dad was grateful for the extra protection.
As the plane came in, dad remembers the ripping and tearing of the fabric fuselage as the plane clipped trees, in the event Petrie managing a safe (belly) landing, coming in across the runway at right-angles, which the frame scraped across. The crew climbed out via various exits, dad via the front and kissed the ground. Petrie jumped up and down in anger at himself for not having followed the correct drill and feathered the good engine. Dad hadn’t done what he was supposed to do in the event of a crash, which was to undo the astralobe as a possible escape route. The station commander, Scott, a blond-haired chap, also a New Zealander, arrived (plus ambulances and fire engine) in his jeep and told dad to go back inside the plane and collect the maps, kept in a big green folder. Dad surmises that as he was the youngest on the crew, at 21 [20, I think], this may have been a deliberate ploy (like getting back on a horse after you’ve fallen off) to stop dad getting windy about flying.
Of this, dad said that undoubtedly Petrie (who himself was still under training) saved the crew’s lives.
To 1651 Conversion Unit, Waterbeach (Cambs) on Stirlings Mk1, and to new satellite airdrome at Turweston (Bucks). Training included night flying. [it would appear, see below, that this was training for Pathfinder duties, not standard bombing].
Five original crew plus Sgt Hartshorne: Flight Engineer. (name not remembered}: Mid-upper Gunner
Apparently dad told mum that they were lined up to convert to Lancasters in the near future, presumably with 7 Squadron (this transfer happened in May 1943). Stirlings were generally withdrawn from front-line duties in late 1943.
At some stage in his training dad (A.J.P. Stamper) was involved in testing one of the versions of the Gee radar system, which was upgraded and refined after its introduction in 1941/2. Dad told me that on one occasion with some high-level observer(s) on board he had to locate the chapel of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, as a ‘bombing target’. He managed this very precisely.
A training run from Waterbeach to bomb Hull (presumably docks), the day/night before operational flying was due to start, on a seven-man Stirling. Petrie again the pilot; dad the navigator. On taking off one of the undercarriage struts collapsed, followed by the other. The plane came to a fairly quick halt. The 7 or 9 smoke bombs they had on board went off (but the plane didn’t catch fire).
Sgt. A.J.P. Stamper was injured in this crash and never returned to flying duties.