31.07.1944 No. 617 Squadron Lancaster I ME557 KC-S Fl/Lt. William Reid VC.
Operation: Rilly-La-Montage France
Date: 31st July 1944
Unit: No. 617 Squadron
Type: Lancaster Mk I
Base: RAF Woodhall Spa
Location: near the village of Germaine (Marne) France
Pilot: Fl/Lt. William Reid VC. 124438 RAFVR Age 22. PoW No: 6960 Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria
Fl/Eng: Fl/Sgt. Donald George William Stewart 909536 RAFVR Killed
Nav: F/O. Joseph Ovila Peltier J/17546 RCAF Age 26. Killed
Air/Bmr: P/O. Leslie George Rolton DFC. 171066 RAFVR Age 22. Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: F/O. David Luker 131635 RAFVR PoW No: 6953 Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria
Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Albert Arthur Holt 1159886 RAFVR Age 31. Killed
Air/Gnr: W/O. John William Hutton DFC. 1378696 RAFVR Killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
On 31 July 1944, 617 Squadron was linked with 9 Squadron for a "Tallboy" deep penetration bomb attack on a V-weapon storage dump at Rilly-la-Montagne, near Rheims. As Reid, flying in Lancaster Mk.I ME557 KC-S, released his bomb over the target at 12,000 ft at 20:18hrs, he felt his aircraft shudder under the impact of a bomb dropped by another Lancaster 6,000 ft above.
The bomb ploughed through his aeroplane's fuselage, severing all control cables and fatally weakening its structure, and Reid gave the order to bail out. As members of his crew scrambled out, the plane went into a dive, pinning Reid to his seat. Reaching overhead, he managed to release the escape hatch panel and struggled out just as the Lancaster broke in two. He landed heavily by parachute, breaking his arm in the fall.
Within an hour he was captured by a German patrol and taken prisoner. After various transfers, he ended the war in Stalag III-A prisoner of war camp at Luckenwalde, west of Berlin.
The pilot, Fl/Lt. William Reid received the highest award for gallantry on an earlier operation with 61 Squadron Gazetted on the 14th December 1943:
‘On the night of November 3rd, 1943, Flight Lieutenant Reid was pilot and captain of a Lancaster aircraft detailed to attack Dusseldorf. Shortly after crossing the Dutch coast, the pilot's windscreen was shattered by fire from a Messerschmitt 110. Owing to a failure in the heating circuit, the rear gunner's hands were too cold for him to open fire immediately or to operate his microphone and so give warning of danger; but after a brief delay he managed to return the Messerschmitt's fire and it was driven off.
During the fight with the Messerschmitt, Flight Lieutenant Reid was wounded in the head, shoulders and hands. The elevator trimming tabs of the aircraft were damaged and it became difficult to control. The rear turret, too, was badly damaged and the communications system and compasses were put out of action. Flight Lieutenant Reid ascertained that his crew were unscathed and, saying nothing about his own injuries, he continued his mission.
Soon afterwards, the Lancaster was attacked by a Focke Wulf 190. This time, the enemy's fire raked the bomber from stem to stern. The rear gunner replied with his only serviceable gun but the state of his turret made accurate aiming impossible. The navigator was killed and the wireless operator fatally injured. The mid-upper turret was hit and the oxygen system put out of action. Flight Lieutenant Reid was again wounded and the flight engineer, though hit in the forearm, supplied him with oxygen from a portable supply.
Flight Lieutenant Reid refused to be turned from his objective and Dusseldorf was reached some 50 minutes later. He had memorised his course to the target and had continued in such a normal manner that the bomb-aimer, who was cut off by the failure of the communications system, knew nothing of his captain's injuries or of the casualties to his comrades. Photographs show that, when the bombs were released, the aircraft was right over the centre of the target.
Steering by the pole star and the moon, Flight Lieutenant Reid then set course for home. He was growing weak from loss of blood. The emergency oxygen supply had given out. With the windscreen shattered, the cold was intense. He lapsed into semiconsciousness. The flight engineer, with some help from the bomb-aimer, kept the Lancaster in the air despite heavy anti-aircraft fire over the Dutch coast.
The North Sea crossing was accomplished. An airfield was sighted. The captain revived, resumed control and made ready to land. Ground mist partially obscured the runway lights. The captain was also much bothered by blood from his head wound getting into his eyes. But he made a safe landing although one leg of the damaged undercarriage collapsed when the load came on.
Wounded in two attacks, without oxygen, suffering severely from cold, his navigator dead, his wireless operator fatally wounded, his aircraft crippled and defenceless, Flight Lieutenant Reid showed superb courage and leadership in penetrating a further 200 miles into enemy territory to attack one of the most strongly defended targets in Germany, every additional mile increasing the hazards of the long and perilous journey home. His tenacity and devotion to duty were beyond praise.’
Note: William Reid died at the age of 79 on the 28th November 2001, survived by his wife and their two children. On the 19th November 2009, his VC was sold at an auction by medal specialists, Spink. It went to an anonymous bidder for £384,000, a record for a VC awarded to someone from the United Kingdom.
Letter and medals awarded to Fl/Sgt. Albert Arthur Holt
Fl/Sgt. Donald George William Stewart. Germaine Communal Cemetery. Row 6. Grave 2. No further details, are you able to assist?
F/O. Joseph Ovila Peltier. Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery, Hautot-Sur-Mer. Grave N.29. Son of Rene and Emilie Renaud Peltier, of Windsor, Ontario, husband of Lillian Ilene Peltier, of Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
P/O. Leslie George Rolton. DFC. Clichy Northern Cemetery. Plot 16. Row 11. Grave 4. Son of Olander Rolton, and of Elizabeth Rolton, of Romford, Essex, England.
Fl/Sgt. Albert Arthur Holt. Clichy Northern Cemetery. Plot 16. Row 10. Grave 18. Son of Henry and Florence Elizabeth Holt, husband of Gladys Maude Holt, of Douglas, Isle of Man, England.
Air/Gnr: W/O. John William Hutton. DFC. Clichy Northern Cemetery. Plot 16. Row 10. Grave 17. No further details, are you able to assist?
Researched by Michel Beckers for Aircrew Remembered July 2015. With thanks to Alan Hart, Régis Biaux and Anneke Moerenhout for grave photo’s, John Robertson and John Baxter ( Windsor Daily Star) for crew photo’s. Mike Beckers for medal photo’s.