09/10.08.1944 No. 614 Squadron Halifax II JP225 F/O. Bruce Willard Prange DFC
Operation: Romana Americana Oil Refinery, Ploiești, Romania.
Date: 9/10 August 1944 (Wednesday/Thursday)
Unit: No. 614 "County of Glamorgan" Squadron - Motto: Codaf I geisio ("I rise to search")
Squadron Badge: On a demi-terrestrial globe, a red dragon passant. The red dragon points to the squadron's connection with Wales, 614 being the Glamorgan Squadron.
Code: Not known
Base: RAF Amendola, Italy
Location: Aircraft returned to base.
Pilot: F/O. Bruce Willard Prange DFC J25783 RCAF Age 21 - Safe and uninjured (1)
Fl/Eng: Sgt. J. Forshaw 1046723 RAFVR - PoW, details unknown - later returned to unit (2)
Obs: Fl/Sgt. George Sydney A. Squire 1219507 RAFVR Age 22 - PoW, details unknown - later returned to unit (3)
Air/Bmr: WO1. Bernard Allan Marvin "Al" Fox DFC R163681 RCAF Age 22 - Safe but wounded (4)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Ernest Major Prince "Ernie" Steel 1319314 RAFVR Age 23 - PoW, details unknown - later returned to unit (5)
Air/Gnr (rear): Sgt. David Henderson Jamison J109045 RCAF Age 24 - PoW, details unknown - later returned to unit (6)
We appeal to anyone with further information and/or photographs to please contact us via our HELPDESK
In 1940, 58% of Germany’s total oil imports came from the oil fields and refineries located near Ploiești in Romania thus making them a crucial Allied target. Although minor air raids had been made upon them previously by the Russians and the United States these had proved ineffective and it was not until mid 1943 that a large enough force became available to make a significant attack. Code named operation Tidal Wave, 177 heavy bombers of the United States Air Force carried out the strike on 1 August 1943 against eight refineries in the Ploiești area and though losses were extremely heavy (54 aircraft lost and 55 damaged) refinery output was reduced by half.
In April 1944 the United States Air Force embarked upon another campaign against the oil fields that continued until 19 August and numbered 5287 sorties. In support of the American effort the RAF also carried out 900 night sorties against the targets. The campaign was very successful and severely restricted the fuel supply to the Germans.
The attacks however, were costly both in aircraft and crew. From the beginning of the war the Germans had recognised the importance of the oil fields and had wasted no time in building a formidable defensive network in the area. Consisting of several hundred 88mm guns and 10.5 cm Flak 38 anti-aircraft guns plus many more small-calibre guns, some of the latter being concealed in haystacks, railroad cars and mock buildings, it was arguably one of the heaviest and best-integrated air defence networks in Europe. Three fighter groups were also within range of Ploiești but it was perhaps the Romanians' expert use of 1900 smoke generators, capable of producing a smoke screen lasting for up to three hours that was the most effective defence mechanism.
On 9 August 1944 205 Group despatched 81 aircraft to attack the Romana Americana Oil Refinery at Ploiești in Romania. No. 614 Squadron in its pathfinder role, detailed 8 of its Halifaxes to illuminate and mark the target.
One of the eight pathfinder crews detailed to mark the target ahead of the main force was that of Canadian Flying Officer Bruce Prange. The 21 year old former office worker from Kitchener, Ontario had joined the squadron in May 1944 and since then had flown 11 operations the latter seven of them with his present crew.
REASON FOR LOSS
The first two of the eight pathfinders of 614 Squadron detailed for the operation, took off from RAF Amendola at 1928 hours on the night of Wednesday 9/10 August 1944. One of them was Halifax JP352 Captained by WO. Thomas Bernard Sparrow the other being Halifax JP225 Captained by F/O. Bruce Prange and though both aircraft would make it safely back to base, the Bruce Prange crew faced a far more difficult night.
The journey to the target, the Romana Americana Oil Refinery at Ploiești, 60 miles north of Bucharest, entailed a round trip of 1100 miles which including time over the target was expected to take about 7 to 7½ hours.
Over the target area intense and accurate heavy and light AA was encountered with up to 60 searchlights in operation and several aircraft observed to have been coned.
Returning pathfinders later reported that the target was obscured by a smokescreen that had severely interfered with their attempts to mark the target.
Detailed as a Visual Marker, Halifax JP225 flown by Bruce Prange was unable to identify the target due to the smokescreen covering a large area although two sticks of flares were observed. Bruce made two runs over the area yet failed to locate the target although 24 Flares and one Green Target Indicator (TI) were observed between the target and town. Owing to the inaccuracy of Green TIs and the effective smokescreen Bruce did not release his own Red TIs.
He turned for home and at 0030 hours on 10 August was flying at 11000 feet on a heading of 133° at an indicated airspeed of 160 knots. Having covered about 175 miles of the return journey the bomber was about 20 miles south west of Băilești when there was a blinding flash under the nose of the aircraft. Hit by Heavy Ack Ack that had been unobserved prior to bursting, there immediately followed another explosion as a Target Marking Bomb went off in the bomb bay.
Bruce ordered crew to "Put on Parachutes" before the intercom went dead preventing any further communication.
Having accidentally pulled his parachute Al Fox, the bomb aimer, was going back for another. As he passed the Captain, Bruce observed that he was covered in blood from a wound and instructed him to remain, telling him the aircraft would soon be under control.
The bomb aimer however, obtained a fire extinguisher and successfully put out the fire in the bomb bay before going back into the nose where he found a further fire in the vicinity of the oxygen system. He went aft and turned the oxygen off. The aircraft was now under control and the bomb aimer turned on all fuel cocks and wing balance cocks.
Having also checked on the other members of the crew Al reported to Bruce that the navigator, wireless operator, flight engineer and rear gunner were all missing. It is believed that in the ensuing confusion of fire and smoke the four crew members had baled out, although such instructions had not been given by the Captain.
The wound to Al's arm was bleeding profusely and he took bandages to the Captain for him to dress the wound. Bruce was unable to manage to do so and control the aircraft so Al applied a tourniquet himself then owing to weakness due to considerable loss of blood lay down in the rest position.
With the hydraulics out of commission he was unable to close the bomb bay doors together with the damage to the nose and an altitude of 11000 feet it was bitterly cold in the Halifax which Bruce Prange continued to nurse on a course given by the navigator at 0030 as far as the Yugoslav coast. Here a 20 degree alteration in course to 243 degrees was made and he flew on until the Manfredonia Beacon on the Italian coast and then the last few miles home to base.
With no wireless and the Very Pistol lost he entered the circuit knowing full well that with no hydraulics a further circuit would be impossible. He had but one chance to get the stricken aircraft down in one piece and despite the Red given from the ground he came straight in to land and made a successful landing. It was 0305 hours on 10 August.
Many years later Bruce recalled that he did not feel the fear until after landing. He then started to shake and could not sleep for 24 hours.
The four crewmen who inadvertently bailed over Romania were captured by enemy forces, but were released three weeks later and returned to Italy after Romania switched sides and joined the Allies.
Halifax JP225 had flown its last flight: having suffered irreparable damage the bomber had to be scrapped.
In recognition of their courageous efforts on the night of 9/10 August 1944 F/O. Bruce Willard Prange and WO1 Bernard Allan Marvin "Al" Fox were each awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The awards were promulgated in the London Gazette as follows Lo
London Gazette 20 October 1944
Flying Officer Bruce Willard PRANGE (Can/J.25783). R.C.A.F., 614 Sqn.
One night in August, 1944, Flying Officer Prange captained an aircraft detailed to attack a vital target at Ploesti. In spite of strong enemy air and ground defences he successfully executed his task. On the return flight the aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire and sustained severe damage. The nose of the bomber was smashed. The bomb bays were damaged and several large holes were torn in the fuselage. In spite of this, Flying Officer Prange held to his course whilst a member of the crew successfully fought a fire which had commenced. Displaying iron determination and great skill, Flying Officer Prange flew his severely damaged aircraft to base and effected a safe landing. He displayed great courage and devotion to duty in most trying circumstances.
London Gazette 21 Nov 1944
Warrant Officer First Class Bernard Allan Marvin Fox (Can/R.163681), R.C.A.F., 614 Sqn.
Warrant Officer Fox has completed numerous sorties against many important and heavily defended targets in enemy and enemy occupied territory. He has proved himself to be an efficient, conscientious and resourceful air bomber, contributing considerably to the successes of his squadron. While taking part in an attack on Ploesti one night in August 1944, his aircraft was illuminated by searchlights and encountered anti-aircraft fire whilst over the target. On the return journey the aircraft was hit by a heavy shell burst, and fire broke out. After being assured by the pilot that the aircraft was under control and although suffering from numerous injuries caused by shell splinters Warrant Officer Fox proceeded to extinguish the fires. Owing to his courage and determination Warrant Officer Fox enabled his captain to fly his aircraft safely back to base.
As always when raiding Ploiești, losses were heavy. A total of 11 aircraft failed to return, 2 from No. 614 Squadron, one Liberator of No. 178 Squadron, and eight Wellingtons (two of No. 37, two of No. 70, three of No. 142, and one of No. 150 Squadron), a loss rate of almost 15% when JP225 is included. 32 crew members were killed, 22 became prisoners of war, 5 evaded capture and returned safely helped by Yugoslav partisans and 5 were interned in Turkey.
The two Halifaxes of No. 614 Squadron that failed to return from the operation were:
Halifax JP110 captained by Fl/Sgt. Claude Edgar Caldwell-Wearne RAAF was shot down by a Ju 88 and crashed at Ciocănești, Romania. One crew member was killed whilst the other five became prisoners of war.
Halifax JP282 Q captained by Fl/Lt. Robert Douglas Langton was shot down, probably by flak and crashed at Corbii Mari, Romania. Only the Canadian wireless operator survived and became a prisoner of war.
Barely two weeks after his desperate flight back to base from Romania, Bruce Prange was back on operations. With Al Fox still recovering from his wounds, Bruce flew with a totally different crew on the night of 26/27 August as a Blind Illuminator for an attack on Pesaro, Italy.
Bruce Prange went on to complete a total of 42 operations over Romania, Yugoslavia, Austria, Hungary, Northern Italy, Greece and the Middle East.
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) Fl/Lt. Bruce Willard Prange DFC was born 18 Nov 1922 at Kitchener, Ontario, Canada the son of Arthur Prange and Lillian May Prange nee Sharpe. He had three siblings: Dorothy Prange (1917-2007) Gordon A. Prange (died 1992) and James Russell Prange (1930-2010).
After leaving school he was employed by the Arrow Shirt Company as an Office Boy a position from which he quickly gained promotion.
He enlisted in 1942 and went overseas in 1943.
In 1945 following cessation of hostilities he returned to civilian life at Kitchener and his job with the Arrow Shirt Company
He also married Ruth Marie Woinowski with whom he had three children; Terry, Susan and Eric. Ruth however sadly died in 1959 leaving Bruce to bring up their children alone and something he accomplished with help from his mother.
His keen intellect ensured that promotions at work followed on a regular basis and by the time he retired in 1983 he had risen to the position of Controller of the Arrow Shirt Company.
A keen golfer and avid skier he was well liked by all who knew him.
Following a brief age-related illness he died aged 91 on 22 January 2013 at Freeport Hospital, Kitchener, Ontario and was buried at Breslau, Waterloo Regional Municipality, Ontario, Canada.
(2) Sgt. J. Forshaw - Nothing known. If you have any information please contact our helpdesk
(3) Fl/Sgt. George Sydney A. Squire was born on 28 September 1921 at Sheffield, West Riding of Yorkshire the son of Sydney W. Squire (a Licensed Victualler and Nancy G. B. Squire nee Jones. He had two siblings: Nancy E. Squire born 1919 and Francis A. Squire born 1926.
Prior to enlisting George Squire was a Junior Clerk in the Municipal Rating Department
In 1947 he married Gwenda M. Gibson at Northumberland. Their son Aiden W Squire was born the following year.
George Sydney A. Squire died at Weymouth, Dorset in 1977 aged 55
(4) WO1. Bernard Allan Marvin Fox DFC was born on 26 November 1921 at Prince Albert Saskatchewan Canada the son of Cecil Elmer Fox and Ethel Delina Fox nee Stanfield. He had three siblings: Lawrence Wilton Fox (1920-1990) another brother and a sister.
He married Sarah Agnes Julia Lane at Hereford, England in 1944 and with whom he had six sons.
He died on 25 September 2013 at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan aged 90 and was buried at Sunset Cemetery, Moose Jaw.
(5) Fl/Sgt. Ernest Major Prince "Ernie" Steel was born on 2 July 1921 at Bristol, Gloucestershire the son of Ernest Major Prince Steel and Hilda May Steel nee Dance. He had three siblings: Marjorie Ruth Steel born 1926, Barbara E. Steel born 1930 and Lorna Steel born 1931.
On 15 January 1944 he married Frances Joan Redler at Bristol. Their son, Roger E. Steel, was born in 1947.
He died at St. Peter's Hospice, Knowle, Bristol on 8 May 1993 aged 71
(6) Sgt. David Henderson Jamison was born on 30 March 1920 at De Winton, Calgary Alberta, Canada. He had four sisters, Sylvia, Eleanor, Shirley and Audrey.
After the war Davis returned to Canada and in 1946 married Frances Orton (1916-1989) with whom he went on to have three sons.
He worked in farming and at the Department of Highways and retired in 1983 to Vernon, British Columbia. Six years later following the death of his wife he moved back to Calgary to be close to family.
At the age of 91, following a brief illness, David died at home in Calgary on 11 June 2011 and was later buried at Pine Creek Cemetery, De Winton, Calgary
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - January 2019
With thanks to the sources quoted below.