03/04.03.1945 No 171 Squadron Halifax III NA107 6Y-T Sqn.Ldr. Percy Clifford Procter MiD
Operation: Bomber Support
Date: 03/04 March 1945 (Saturday/Sunday)
Unit: No. 171 Squadron - Motto: Per dolum defendimus - We defend by confusion or Confound the enemy
Badge: In front of an eagle displayed a portcullis
Due to protracted discussions in correspondence between the Commanding Officer of No. 171 Squadron and the Chester Herald responsible for RAF heraldry concerning its style and content, the badge and motto were not received by the squadron until after its disbandment on 27 July 1945. To read a comprehensive account of the matter click here
Type: Handley Page Halifax III
Base: RAF North Creake, Norfolk
Location: South Lopham, Norfolk
Pilot: Sqn.Ldr. Percy Clifford Procter MiD 112316 RAFVR Age 32 - Injured (1)
Fl/Eng: F/Sgt. Horace 'Harry' Laking 1582270 RAFVR Age 22 - Injured (2)
Nav: F/O. Daniel Thomas Twinn 176461 RAFVR Age 22 (3)
Air/Bmr: P/O. Walter 'Wally' Braithwaite DFC 179856 RAFVR Age 22 - Injured (4)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Lt. Norman George Errington MiD 115638 RAFVR Age 29 (5)
Special W/Op: F/O. W. G. Hayden 174179 RAFVR Age ? (6)
Air/Gnr: W/O. George David Alfred Richards DFM 1383252 RAFVR Age 33 - Injured (7)
Air/Gnr: F/O. Eric Vane Stephenson 175726 RAFVR Age 30 - Injured (8)
We appeal to anyone with further information and/or photographs to please contact us via our helpdesk
171 Squadron was initially formed at Gatwick on 15 June 1942. Flying the Curtiss Tomahawk I, IIA and the North American Mustang IA the squadron operated as a tactical reconnaissance unit of Army Co-operations Command until 31 December 1942 when it was disbanded, its aircraft passing to No. 430 Squadron.
On 8 September 1944 the Squadron was reformed at RAF North Creake in Norfolk to operate as a bomber support squadron of 100 Group that had been formed on 11 November 1943 to consolidate electronic warfare and countermeasures.
The Squadron was to receive 20 new Halifax IIIs but prior to their delivery to North Creake they were sent to St. Athan to have Mandrel and Window equipment fitted.
So that the squadron might become operational immediately, "C" flight of No. 199 Squadron, also based at RAF North Creake and equipped with Short Stirling III bombers, was allocated to No. 171 Squadron and undertook its first operation on 15 September 1944.
In early October, 14 Halifax crews were posted in from the squadrons of No. 4 Group and on 21 October the first two new Halifax IIIs (NA674 and NA107) were delivered to North Creake. The Squadron wasted no time in putting the two new Halifaxes into service: both flew a special mission on the day of their delivery and one of them, NA674, flew again on each of the two following days.
By the end of November all 20 Halifaxes IIIs had been delivered to the Squadron and after 21 November Stirlings no longer flew operations with the Squadron.
From September 1944 until the end of the war in Europe 171 Squadron operated in a Radio Countermeasures (RCM) role over the North Sea and Germany dropping "Window" (strips of aluminium foil dropped to flood German radar with false echoes) and operating the Mandrel transmitter (to jam the German ground based air search radar systems Freya and Würzburg). Squadron Stirlings flew 87 sorties in 22 RCM operations without loss and the Squadron Halifaxes flew 1496 sorties in 95 RCM operations with the loss of 4 aircraft (0.3%).
The Squadron was finally disbanded on 27 July 1945.
Sqn.Ldr. Percy Procter and his crew were posted to 171 Squadron from 76 Base on 13 February. The members of the crew were all experienced airmen with an average age of 28. Five of the crew were officers and air gunner George Richards was a Warrant Officer. George had already completed a tour of 25 sorties comprising 144 operational hours with No. 10 Squadron and had received the Distinguished Flying Medal for his efforts (see his biographical details below for more information). Air Bomber Walter 'Wally' Braithwaite had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 12 December 1944 for his service with 77 Squadron but unfortunately we do not have any further details of the award. Percy Procter was appointed the squadron's "B" Flight Commander.
To operate the radio countermeasures equipment on 171 Squadron aircraft the crew acquired the services of Flying Officer W. G. Hayden 174179 who is known to have been posted to 171 Squadron on 21 January 1945 from 76 Base. Alas nothing more is known about him.
On Wednesday 28 February 1945 the crew flew its first operation with 171 Squadron. Allocated Halifax NA109 6Y-S the crew was one of eight all detailed for a mandrel operation. All eight took off, completed the mission successfully and returned safely to base.
Three days later the crew was detailed for its second operation. On Saturday 3 March 10 crews were detailed; 7 for mandrel and 3 for window/mandrel.
On this, the 2000th night of the war 234 aircraft of Bomber Command attacked the synthetic oil plant at Bergkamen whilst a further 212 bombed the Landbergan aqueduct of the Dortmund-Ems canal. 339 others were also despatched on support and minor operations including 61 RCM (Radio Countermeasures) Sorties.
By March 1945 the Allied Air Forces held air superiority not only over the remaining German occupied territories but over Germany itself a situation that was helping the Allied ground operations enormously.
In a desperate attempt to improve the situation and hamper British operations, a number of experienced Luftwaffe night fighter commanders and pilots suggested restarting the intruder operations over England that they had operated with a certain amount of success in the early part of the war. In 1940–41, German night fighters, lacking airborne radar sets and a means to locate them over Germany, had flown to British bomber bases and attempted to destroy RAF bombers as they returned from their missions.
On 3 March the code named Unternehmen Gisela (Operation Gisela) was launched by the Luftwaffe Nachtjagdgeschwader (Night Fighter Wings). The precise number of aircraft employed in Operation Gisela is not known but it is generally accepted that a force of about two hundred Junkers 88s and Heinkel He110s was employed. The Luftwaffe night fighter crews were briefed to cross the North Sea at low level to avoid the British radar and patrol inland from the Thames Estuary to the North Yorkshire Moors and intercept the returning bombers. In order to preserve the element of surprise crews were ordered not to engage any enemy aircraft over the North Sea. Just after midnight on 4 March 1945 as the returning bombers crossed the English coast, the Luftwaffe struck.
REASON FOR LOSS
The ten Halifaxes of 171 Squadron detailed for RCM operations on 3 March 1945 began taking off from RAF North Creake at 18.23.
Sqn. Ldr. Percy Procter and his crew having been allocated Halifax NA 107 6Y-T were one of the seven crews detailed for mandrel and took off at 18.38.
Six hours or so later, having completed the operation, NA107 was heading for home and flying at 3000 feet was south west of Norwich; less than forty miles from base.
The Ju88 struck swiftly leaving the Halifax so badly crippled that Percy Procter immediately knew the score and instantly gave the order for the crew to bale out. The aircraft had already dropped to 1000 feet by the time the crew got out and continuing its fall crashed on the main road leading to the ford at Walnut Tree Farm, South Lopham some 5 miles WNW of Diss, Norfolk at about 00.25 on 4 March.
As they returned, the unsuspecting bomber crews were subjected to surprise attacks by the German fighters from the Thames in the south and as far north as Yorkshire. Bombers were attacked in the air, as they prepared to land and even after landing as the fighters followed them in and carried out strafing attacks at 27 airfields. The fighters claimed their first victim, Mosquito MM640 of 169 Squadron, just after midnight on 4 March and by 02.15 another 21 had been destroyed and probably as many as a further 20 damaged. In addition to the losses sustained by the returning bomber force, 5 bombers from the Heavy Conversion Units were shot down whilst on training flights.
The cost to the Luftwaffe however was almost as severe with at least 25 night fighters, all Ju88s, written off.
The crew of Halifax NA107 landed safely though not entirely without mishap: Percy Procter, Walter Braithwaite, Eric Stephenson and George Richards all suffered injuries. George Richards reportedly sustained a broken ankle and was admitted to RAF Hospital Ely on 5 March 1945 and on discharge from hospital on 14 March was granted sick leave until 29 March. Percy Procter's injuries are not known but he was also admitted to Ely hospital until 14 March and then granted sick leave until 29 March. It seems that Walter Braithwaite's injuries were minor as he, together with Daniel Twinn, Norman Errington and F/O. Hayden were each granted Special Leave from 8 March to 14 March. Flight Sergeant Laking who had landed, of all places, in a cemetery, had suffered a burnt wrist but is recorded as receiving Privilege Leave from 7 to 12 March. Eric Stevenson's injuries were also presumably minor and he is recorded as being posted to RAF North Creake (Supernumerary wef 4 March 1945)
On 8 April the crew, now with a new air gunner, Warrant Officer R.K. Stone (posted from 277 Squadron on 19 March) were back in action. Detailed for a mandrel operation, they were allocated Halifax NA675.
The break-up of the crew continued, the next to go being Special Operator F/O. Hayden who on 11 April was attached to No, 14 Radio School.
14 April saw the crew allocated Halifax NA109 and detailed for a mandrel/window and bombing operation. With them on this operation was Special Operator F/O. W.G. Marshal. This was the last operation that Norman Errington flew with the crew but the reason for this is not known.
Allocated Halifax NA106 on 19 April they were detailed for another mandrel/windows/bombing operation now with W.O. Cowell replacing wireless operator Norman Errington and P/O. F.C. Twidell the Special Operator.
The crew's sixth and final operation was on 23 April 1945. Allocated Halifax NA106 again they were detailed for a Mandrel operation with wireless operator Fl/Lt C. Cubby and Special Operator Fl/Sgt. J.A. Cummings.
After the cessation of hostilities in Europe , Walter Braithwaite was posted to Air Sea Rescue at RAF Calshot, Hampshire on 14 June 1945, Norman Errington was posted to 1332 CU at RAF Riccall, North Riding of Yorkshire 14 July 1945 and Percy Procter was posted to HQ of 100 Group on 16 July 1945
Further details of the post war activities of the crew can be found in their respective biographies below.
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) Sqn.Ldr. Percy Clifford Procter MiD was born on 25 April 1912 at Gainsborough Lincolnshire the only child of John Procter and Annie Elizabeth Procter nee Strong
In 1939 the family lived at 269 Tunnel Avenue in Greenwich, London. John Procter worked as a Maintenance Fitter and Percy was a book-keeper to a Paper Maker and a member of the London County Auxiliary Fire Service.
1376301 LAC Percy Clifford Procter was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 21 November 1941 (London Gazette 10 February 1942), promoted to Flying Officer on probation (war subs) on 1 October 1942 (London Gazette 4 Dec 1942) and to Flight Lieutenant (war subs) on 21 November 1943 (London Gazette 3 December 1943)
On 1 January 1945 it was announced in the London Gazette that he had been Mentioned in Dispatches.
He was promoted to Acting Squadron Leader wef 13 February 1945.
On 28 May 1945 he married Mabel Shepherd at the Parish Church of St. Michael and All Saints at Wandsworth, London
On 25 April 1957, under the provisions of the Navy, Army and Air Force Reserves Act, 1954, he relinquished his commission and was granted permission to retain his rank of Squadron Leader (London Gazette 11 June 1957)
Percy Clifford Procter died at Dover, Kent in July 1991 aged 79
(2) F/Sgt. H. Lakingwas born on 24 November 1922 at Harthill, West Riding of Yorkshire the son of Thomas Laking (a Coal Hewer) and Kathleen Lois Laking nee Richards. Horace was baptised at Harthill All Hallows' Church on 7 January 1923.
He had three siblings: Ernest Laking (1920-1991), John Laking (1925-2011) and Cyril Laking (1927-2014)
In 1933 he won a Minor Scholarship at Harthill County School.
In 1939 the family lived a 6 Winny Lane, Harthill at which time Horace was employed as a Butcher Boy.
On 23 July 1942 he enlisted in thr RAFVR. He was posted to 1663 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Rufforth, North Riding of Yorkshire from 28 August 1943 until 30 September 1943 when he was posted to 77 Squadron at RAF Elvington, East Riding of Yorkshire and after relocation on 20 May 1944 at RAF Full Sutton also in the East Riding. On 17 January 1945 he was posted to 1659 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Topcliffe, North Riding of Yorkshire and on 27 February 1945 to 171 Squadron at RAF North Creake in Norfolk. He remained with 171 Squadron until 4 July 1945. The Squadron was disbanded on 27 July 1945.
Horacae later served in India from 16 November 1945 until his discharge on 26 July 1946.
His service during World War Two is recorded on the Roll of Honour at Harthill Church - Plaque C22 along with that of his brothers Ernest and John.
Horace Laking died on 17 December 2012 at Harthill, Yorkshire, when he was 90 years old.
(3) Fl/Lt. Daniel Thomas Twinn was born on 25 May 1922 at Orsett, Grays Thurrock, Essex the son of Daniel J. Twinn and Emma J. Twinn nee Gill. He had four sisters Lillian E. Twinn born 1914, Eva J.L. Twinn born 1917, Ethel E. Twinn born 1919 and Edith M. Twinn born 1923. In 1939 the family lived at 86 Long Lane, North Stifford, Grays Thurrock.
Prior to joining the RAFVR he was a Postman/Messenger at the General Post Office.
1468745 Sgt. Daniel Thomas Twinn was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 13 May 44 (London Gazette 4 July 1944) confirmed in this appointment and promoted to Flying officer (war subs) on 13 November 1944 (London Gazette 22 December 1944. He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant (war subs) on 13 May 1946 (London Gazette 7 June 1946)
In 1952 he married Iris E. Hornsby at Thurrock, Essex. They had two children: Linda C. Twinn born 1954 and Brian T. Twinn born 1957.
On 24 August 1947 he arrived at Southampton on the "Carnarvon Castle" from Cape Town, South Africa. He was one of 66 RAF personnel on board.
Daniel Thomas Twinn died at Grays Thurrock, Essex on 26 December 1985 at the age of 63. At the time of his death he lived at 23 The Broadway, Grays Thurrock
(4) P/O. Walter Braithwaite DFC was born in 1922 at Leeds, West Riding of Yorkshire the son of Fred Braithwaite and Miriam Braithwaite nee Heaton. He had three siblings: Douglas Braithwaite born 1919, Donald Braithwaite born 1924 and Alan Braithwaite born 1929.
In 1939 the family lived at 29 Harold Walk, Hyde Park, Leeds.
1293577 Flight Sergeant Walter Braithwaite was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 12 July 1944 (London Gazette 5 September 1944).
He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 12 December 1944 whilst with No. 77 Squadron and promulgated in the London Gazette of the same date.
He married Margaret D. Moon at Leeds in 1947 and they had three children: Michael born 1949, Jane born 1951 and Susan born 1955.
Walter Braithwaite died at Bristol, Gloucestershire on 8 December 2017 at the age of 95.
(5) Fl/Lt. Norman George Errington MiD was born at Gateshead County Durham on 29 April 1915 the son of Isaac Errington and Mary Alice Errington nee Davies. He had three siblings: Winifred Annie Errington born 1900, Albert William Errington (1907-1967) and Edith A. Errington born 1913.
In 1939 he lived with his 63 year old widowed mother and his sister Edith A. Errington (born 1913) at 122 Avenue Road, Gateshead. At that time he was employed as a Grocery and Provision Salesman
In 1942 he married Florence Helen Reeve at Downham, Norfolk.
942763 Sgt. Norman George Errington was promoted to Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 2 Jan 42 (London Gazette 24 February 1942) and to Flying Officer on probation (war subs) on 1 October 1942 (London Gazette 20 November 1942).
On 14 Jan 44 it was promulgated in the London Gazette that Acting F/Lt. N.G. Errington had been Mentioned in Dispatches and in the London Gazette of 8 June 1944 that Fl/Lt. N.G. Errington had been again Mentioned in Dispatches.
During his service with No 75 New Zealand Squadron he flew at least 20 operations on Wellingtons
Norman George Errington died at Kings Lynn, Norfolk on 26 November 1984 aged 69. At the time of his death he lived at The School House, 105 School Road, Runcton Holme, Kings Lynn.
(6) F/O. W. G. Hayden - nothing further known, if you have any information please contact our helpdesk
(7) W/O. George David Alfred Richards was born on 25 April 1911 at 73, Old Street, Holborn, London the son of Dining Rooms Manager George Richards and Mary Jane Richards nee Roberts. He had two siblings: James Henry Benjamin Richards (1919-1990) and Annie E. Irene Richards (1914-1992)
In 1939 he lived with his widowed mother, his sister Irene and Edna Sockett at 140 Old Street, Finsbury, London. George was a Dining Room Waiter in his mother's business.
In 1940 he married Edna Jane Sockett at Finsbury, London
He joined the RAFVR 4 August 1941 and after training as an Air Gunner was posted to No. 10 Squadron in May 1943 with whom he completed a tour of 25 operations.
DFM awarded to 1383252 Sergeant George Alfred David RICHARDS,
Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 10 Squadron (London Gazette 21 January 1944)
We do not have the citation for the award but "The Distinguished Flying Medal for the Second World War" by Ian Tavender contains the following details of the recommendation.
"This NCO has throughout his tour displayed high morale, cheerfulness and eagerness to get at grips with the enemy. He possesses unusual qualities of cheerful confidence and, during an attack by a JU88, his Captain, Flight Sergeant Thackray, stated that sergeant Richards displayed coolness in giving evasive instructions which saved the aircraft from serious damage. During an attack on Gelsenkirchen on the night of 9 July 1943, he was the rear gunner in a Halifax, which received severe damage from a high concentration of flak in the port wing and fuselage. During a raid on Berlin on 23 August 1943, his aircraft was attacked by a JU88 and, although he fired a short burst, no strikes were seen on the enemy aircraft. Our aircraft received damage to the rear turret and fuselage. Despite this, Sergeant Richards has continued to operate with undiminished ardour ad I strongly recommend that his outstanding devotion to duty and fighting qualities be now recognised by the award of the Distinguished Flying Medal".
1 November 1943.
Remarks by Station Commander
"This NCO had consistently displayed keenness and devotion to duty and shows fearlessness in the face of danger. His fine example had done much to maintain the high standard of morale in this crew. I recommend that his good work be recognised by an award of the DFM".
On 1 April 1944 he was posted to RAF Abingdon, Berkshire as a Gunnery instructor followed on 29 December 1944 with a posting to No. 1658 Heavy Conversion Unit for training on Halifaxes from where he joined No. 171 Squadron in February 1944.
He was discharged from RAFVR in 1946 and later worked as a coal miner
He died on 23 September 1989 at Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire aged 77.
(8) F/O. Eric Vane Stephenson was born on 20 October 1914 at Stockton on Tees, Co Durham the son of John James Stephenson (an Angle Ironsmith in the Shipbuilding Industry) and Lavinia Ethel Stephenson nee Umpleby. He had six siblings: John Vincent Stephenson born 1897, Thomas Victor Stephenson born 1900, Ethel Mary Stephenson born 1902, George Vivian Stephenson born 1906, Lawrence Vernon Stephenson born 1908 and Lilian G. Stephenson born 1911. The family lived at 42 Lambton Terrace, Stockton on Tees.
In 1938 he married Irene M. Ranshaw at Durham. A daughter Pamela Stephenson was born in 1939 and a son Paul V. Stephenson was born in 1946.
In 1939 Eric Stephenson lived with his wife and daughter at 42 York Crescent, Billingham, County Durham. At that time he was employed as a Plumber at a Chemical Works.
1590775 Flight Sergeant Eric Vane Stephenson was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 2 May 1944 (London Gazette 13 June 1944) confirmed in this appointment and promoted to flying officer (war subs) on 2 November 1944 (London Gazette 24 November 1944).
He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant (was subs) on 2 May 1946 (London Gazette 24 May 1946). He was granted the substantive rank of Flight Lieutenant on 2 November 1947 with seniority of 2 May 1946 (London Gazette 20 April 1948).
He relinquished his war substantive rank of Flight Lieutenant on 1 January 1948 (London Gazette 6 July 1948) and transferred to the Secretarial Branch on 12 May 1948 as Flying Officer short service (five years on the active list) (London Gazette 1 June 1948)
On 18 May 1949 he transferred to the Equipment Branch (London Gazette 14 June 1949) He was appointed to commission (permanent) under AMO A628/51 as Flying Officer on 24 June 1952.
Retired as Flight Lieutenant on 20 October 1961 (London Gazette 12 November 1963
Eric Vane Stephenson, his wife, Irene May Stephenson and their two children were First Class passengers on the 'Capetown Castle' arriving at Southampton on 29 July 1949 from Durban South Africa. In the ship's records Eric Stephenson is described as an RAF Officer, age 34. The family's permanent address in the UK is given as 66 Central Avenue, Billingham Tees and country of last permanent residence is recorded as South Africa.
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - June 2018
With thanks to the sources quoted below.