02/03.01.1944 No. 460 Squadron RAAF Lancaster III JB606 AR-H Fl/Sgt. Reginald William Rowley
Date: 02/03rd January 1944 (Sunday/Monday)
Unit: 460 Squadron RAAF - Motto: "Strike and Return"
Type: Lancaster III
Base: RAF Binbrook, Lincolnshire
Location: near Mückendorf, Brandenburg, Germany
Pilot: Fl/Sgt. Reginald William (Reg) Rowley AUS/409747 RAAF Age 29 - Killed (1)
Fl/Eng: Sgt. William Fleming 1294322 RAFVR Age 19 Killed (2)
Nav: F/O. Edward Charles Truscott AUS/409619 RAAF Age. 29 - Killed (3)
Air/Bmr: F/O. Aubrey (Jack) Robinson AUS/420402 RAAF Age 27 - Killed (4)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Lambert Albert Chester AUS/420146 RAAF Age 32 - Killed (5)
Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Ronald Herbert (Ron) Lawn AUS/427652 RAAF Age 31 - Killed (6)
Air/Gnr: F/O. Henry Edward Bennett 145380 RAFVR Age 30 - Killed (7)
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Formed at RAF Lichfield, Staffordshire on 23 April 1941 No. 27 Operational Training Unit (OTU) trained airmen predominantly from the Commonwealth countries of which by far the largest contingent were Australian. Considering the preponderance of Australians it goes without saying that most crews were top heavy with men from down under; Reg Rowley's crew was no exception.
As was the norm, crewing up was a matter to be settled by those concerned; it was up to the airmen to sort themselves out into crews formed of their own volition and in consequence throwing up some strange and diverse combinations of backgrounds and personalities.
Reg Rowley, a former Police Officer from Victoria eventually found himself an all Australian crew but that was where the similarity ended.
Edward Truscott was a School Teacher turned navigator and also from Victoria. The Air Bomber, Jack Robinson was a Main and Service Layer from New South Wales but actually born in Carlisle, Cumberland and actually called Aubrey, but for obvious reasons he was known as Jack even by his own family. Filling the position of Wireless Operator was Lambert Albert Chester. Also from New South Wales he was a Plumber before enlisting and had been named Lambert after his maternal grandfather. Completing the crew was Air Gunner Ron Lawn from Boulder, Western Australia. He was married with two young sons and before enlisting in the air force he worked for Metro Goldwyn Mayer as a Film Exchanges Booker.
Somewhat unusually for aircrew the five had an average age of almost 30.
On 5 September after completing training on the Vickers Wellington at 27 OTU the crew was posted to No. 1656 Heavy Conversion Unit RAF Lindholme near Doncaster, West Riding of Yorkshire. Here they were to learn to fly four engine heavy bombers. Crews were trained on either the Halifax or Lancaster: Reg Rowley's was designated as a Lancaster crew.
Since the Lancaster required an additional Air Gunner the crew was augmented by Londoner Henry Bennett. A former Grocery Shop Manager, Henry, aged 30, was a similar age to the others: he was also married with two young children.
Because of the additional work involved in operating four engines it was deemed necessary for the pilot to have the assistance of a Flight Engineer and to fill this position the crew acquired the services of Scotsman William Fleming. Aged just 19 William was certainly the baby of the crew.
Two months later the crew was deemed ready for operations and on 5 November 1943 was posted to RAF Binbrook in Lincolnshire, the home of No. 460 RAAF Squadron.
There followed a two week familiarisation period including a Practise Bombing flight on 13 November and 5 days later the crew was detailed for its first operation - the first raid of what would become known as the Battle of Berlin.
Flying Lancaster JB547 the crew was one of 27 that were despatched from 460 squadron. Ron Lawn, having flown his first operation with an experienced crew captained by P/O. N M Peters to Modane France on 10 November, was replaced by Sgt. P.W. Moore an experienced air gunner and soon afterwards to be posted to No. 626 Squadron.
This operation however was abortive and on returning to base Reg Rowley reported that: "Aborted due to H2S u/s and Geo u/s. With instruments u/s had no position to set course from and as no other aircraft was then in sight it was decided to abandon".
An inauspicious start, but four days later the crew redeemed itself. Flying JB547 once more it was off to Berlin again and this time successfully completed. Ron Lawn was also back for this operation and from here on the crew was to remain unchanged.
Detailed once more for Berlin on 2 December the crew flew its first operation in Lancaster JB606. The aircraft had been delivered from the factory to RAF Binbrook on 3 November and this was to be only its fifth operation: it would be flown exclusively by the Rowley crew until its loss.
The operation of 2/3 December was to prove most costly to 460 Squadron both in men and machines when 5 of the 25 Lancasters despatched, failed to return.
The following day the crew was one of sixteen that took off to bomb Leipzig, all carried out the operation and returned safely.
There followed a period of almost two weeks devoid of operational flying but on 16 December the crew were detailed again: the target - Berlin! 23 aircraft were detailed one of which one returned early and although four crashed on return, the Rowley crew successfully completed the mission and returned unscathed.
A raid on Frankfurt was completed without mishap on 20 December and then it was back to Berlin for raids on 23 and 29 December before 1943 passed into history. The New Year began where 1943 ended and on 1 January it was back to Berlin. Their luck held out once more and they returned safe and sound. However after landing at 8.03 Reg Rowley said
"Could not get into S gear [Supercharger] so unable to climb above 17000 feet, we were in cloud during large part of route and over target so we saw practically nothing and had to bomb on H2S = quite successfully"
So after bacon and eggs it was off to bed for the crew for a few hours. After waking however they soon learned that they were detailed for another operation that night: it was Berlin yet again.
REASON FOR LOSS:
For the second successive night Berlin was the target as a force of 383 aircraft comprising 362 Lancasters, 9 Halifaxes and 12 Mosquitoes was despatched from cloud covered bases in England with those of the northern groups also experiencing local rain. A long circuitous route over Denmark had been planned for the outbound journey but this was changed to the more direct route across Holland in order to take advantage of a strong following wind. Though 460 squadron detailed 20 aircraft for the raid only 19 took off. The time of take off for JB606 is not recorded but it is reasonable to presume that it was about or between that of the first away at 23.28 (JB600) and the last to leave at 00.09 (JB734) on 3 January.
Carrying a bomb load of 1 x 4000 High Capacity (Cookie), 48x30lb incendiaries, 720x4lb incendiaries 120 x 4lb incendiaries "X" filled plus 2050 gallons of fuel, Halifax JB606 lumbered into the night sky.
Briefed route outbound - Southwold - 52 45N 03 30E - 52 50N 08 50E - 53 25N 12 40E - Berlin.
Briefed route homebound: Berlin - 52 10N 13 10E - 51 50N 10 30 E - 52 30N 08 20E - 52 45N 03 30E - Southwold.
Over most of the route there was thick cloud up to 3 miles high (16000 feet) but above it the sky was clear and visibility was good but variable gale force winds made life particularly difficult for the navigators.
"We were fighting the gales practically all the way there and back... it was full blast along parts of the route, and in sudden gusts along others"
The variability of the gales made calculations extremely difficult for navigators but the Pathfinder navigators still managed to time it all so perfectly that they arrived over Berlin on the dot.
For the first part of the journey crews did not see many fighters, but as they approached Berlin they saw fighter flares in twos and threes and then the combats started. The German control rooms followed the bombers all the way to Berlin which they assessed as the target 40 minutes before zero hour.
The enemy put up fighters from airfields some considerable distance away from Berlin. These joined up into packs, which then swept on towards the capital, gathering reinforcements on the way. Some of them intercepted the bomber stream and fighting was going on continuously during the last hundred miles.
Returning pilots reported that the Germans put up swarms of fighters to defend Berlin - more than they had seen for some time - and there were many combats over the target, and along the route
"We had to shoot our way in by the front door and then shoot our way out again" one pilot reported.
"They tried to stop us before we got there" said another "When they failed, they tried to break up our formations as we went in to drop our bombs. On the last few miles we had to fight every inch of the way.
The searchlights were not of much use to them because there was some very thick cloud over Berlin, but they were putting up a lot of flak, and guiding the fighters to the scene, with a tremendous number of flares. We forced our way through, and before long, large fires had got going in the areas marked out by the target indicators of the pathfinders".
The glow of the fires could be seen more than a hundred miles away.
Zero hour was 02.45 hours and the attack was opened by the Primary Blind Markers at zero - 2 minutes but although the timing of the Blind Markers was good, the skymarkers were scattered and few flares were visible after zero + 6.
The main force was to attack in three waves: zero to zero + 3, zero + 3 to zero + 7 and zero + 7 to zero + 11 but if the gales had not prevented the Pathfinders from reaching the target on time, the main force had been affected by them to such a degree that Bomber Command later concluded that: "The high proportion of our losses over Berlin was mainly due to the poor timing of our aircraft; the concentration only once rose above 20 per minute".
284 aircraft reported bombing the target and 11 bombed alternative targets but as many as 61 aircraft were forced to abort due to technical and manipulative error (24), icing (19), mistakenly recalled (14), sickness of crew (3) and one that crashed shortly after take off (JB738 of No. 460 Squadron see below).
27 Aircraft failed to return but due to the thick cloud only 12 were seen to go down 8 due to flak and 4 to fighters. It was considered that most of the unobserved losses were probably due to fighters which were up in great strength. 10 of the losses were Pathfinder aircraft.
After leaving base no further news was received of Halifax JB606 or its crew.
In February 1944 news was received via the International Red Cross that according to German information five Australian members of the crew had lost their lives. Alas there was no information as to where they were buried.
In 1947 following an investigation by No. 4 Missing Research and Enquiry Unit it was established that a four engine aircraft had exploded and crashed at approximately 03.00 hours on 2 January 1944, 2km from Mückendorf some 30 miles south of Berlin. [Although the MREU recorded the date of the crash as 2 January 1944, later identification of the crew buried in Mückendorf Churchyard was conclusive in proving the date must have been 3 January 1944]
There were no eyewitnesses to the crash probably due to the time and therefore nobody in the village could state the cause of the explosion. The aircraft burned on the ground for several hours, the wreckage being removed a short time afterwards by the military authorities.
According to Herr Pfund who was the Bürgermeister at the time said that seven bodies were found scattered around the wreckage and their papers and personal effects were removed by the police and handed over to the military. No local records were taken. The military authorities then instructed the cemetery warden to bury the seven bodies. These were buried without any sort of ceremony in a mass grave without any grave markings whatsoever.
The remains of the crew were exhumed by members of No 4 MREU on 20 May 1947. On examination it was determined that they were the crew members of Halifax JB606 and they were re-interred at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery later the same day.
Attacking in the second wave it seems that Reg Rowley in Halifax JB606 probably made his bombing run successfully and continued south from Berlin following approximately the briefed route.
No. 460 Squadron lost another aircraft that night.
Lancaster JB738 captained by Fl/Lt Barrington Armitage Knyvett crashed 6 minutes after take off, a quarter of a mile east of Binbrook village. All the crew were killed.
The raid was ineffective with bombs scattered all over parts of berlin. Local reports stressed thatthere were no large fires and the fire services were able to contain all fires as soon as they started. 82 houses were destroyed and 36 people were killed. Industrial damage was insignificant.
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) Fl/Sgt. Reginald William Rowley born on the 17th February 1914 on the family farm at Bethanga, Victoria, Australia the son of Joseph Smart Rowley and Eircell Paulina Rowley of Bethanga, Victoria, Australia.
A Police Officer he enlisted at Melbourne in October 1941.
After training at Initial Training School RAAF Somers, Victoria, No. 8 Elementary Flying Training School at RAAF Narrandera, New South Wales he embarked for Canada. On 23 June 1942 he was posted to Service Flying Training School at RCAF Dunneville, Ontario where he was later awarded his Pilots Badge on 4 December 1942.
He embarked for the UK and after arrival on 8 January 1943 was posted to No. 11 Personnel and Reception Centre RAF Bournemouth then to RAF Whitley Bay Senior NCO survival course.
In April 1943 he was posted to No. 18 Elementary Flying Training School at RAF Fairoaks in Surrey followed in May with a posting to No. 15 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit RAF Ramsbury, Wiltshire.
On 8 June he was posted to No. 27 Operational Training Unit at RAF Lichfield, Staffordshire followed on 5 September with a posting to No. 1656 Conversion Unit at RAF Lindholme, West Riding of Yorkshire and finally to No. 460 Squadron at RAF Binbrook, Lincolnshire on 5 November 1943
Reginald William Rowley is commemorated on Panel 108 of the Australian War Memorial at Canberra.
A comprehensive biography of Reg Rowley including many personal family photographs can be seen at http://bonesinthebelfry.com/Rowley/AnAirmansStory....
(2) Sgt. William Fleming. Born c1924 at Coldstream, Berwickshire Scotland the son of Daniel Fleming and Mary Fleming of Lady Kirkshiels, Ladykirk, Berwickshire, Scotland.
Posted to 460 Squadron at RAF Binbrook from 1656 Conversion Unit on 5 November 1943
He is commemorated on the Scottish National War Memorial, Edinburgh Castle and the Ladykirk War Memorial, Berwickshire Scotland.
(3) F/O. Edward Charles Truscott was born on 11th December 1914 at Toora, Victoria the son of Thomas William and Catherine Frances Truscott nee Lousada. He had four siblings: William Lousada Truscott 1913-1974, James Helbert Truscott 1917-1942 and two sisters - details unknown.
He married his wife Joyce on 20 January 1940 and lived at 7 Oberwyl Road, Burwood, a suburb of Melbourne Victoria and later at 64 Through Road, Burwood.
Prior to enlisting Edward Truscott was a School Teacher.
When he enlisted at Melbourne on 12 September 1941 he was 5'4" tall weighing 129lbs with a fair complexion, blue eyes and fair hair.
After training at No. 4 Initial Training School RAAF Mount Breckan, Victor Harbour, South Australia, No. 3 Elementary Flying Training School RAAF Essandon, Victoria No. 1 Air Observer School RAAF Cootamandra, New South Wales, No. 3 Bombing and Gunnery School RAAF West Sale, Victoria and No. 2 Air Navigation School RAAF Nhill, Victoria he was awarded his
Air Observer Badge on 17 September 1942.
LAC Edward Charles Truscott was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation on 15 October 1942 (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette 26 November 1942) confirmed in this appointment and promoted to Flying officer on 15 April 1943 (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette 30 September 1943)
He embarked at Melbourne 2 November 1942 and disembarked in the UK 15 December 1942. After four weeks at Personnel Reception Centre he was posted to 22 Elementary Flying Training School at RAF Cambridge on 15 January 1943 and to No. 11 Personnel Reception Centre at RAF Bournemouth. On 10 May 1943 he was posted to No. 2 (Observer) Advanced Flying Unit at RAF Millom in Cumberland and on 8 June to No. 27 Operational Training Unit at RAF Lichfield, Staffordshire followed on 5 September with a posting to No. 1656 Conversion Unit at RAF Lindholme, West Riding of Yorkshire and finally to No. 460 Squadron at RAF Binbrook, Lincolnshire on 5 November 1943
He is commemorated on Panel 108 of the Australian War Memorial at Canberra.
(4) F/O. Aubrey Robinson known as Jack, was born on 15 May 1916 at Carlisle, Cumberland, England the son of William Robinson and Margaret Robinson nee Kirk later of 24 Woodlawn Avenue Wollongong New South Wales, Australia. The details of the Robinson family's arrival in Australia is not known.
Before he enlisted in the RAAF Jack worked as a Main and Service Layer for the Wollongong Gas Light Co.
When he enlisted at Sydney on 7 November 1941 he was 5'7½" tall weighing 146lbs with a fair complexion, blue eyes and fair hair. He gave his address as 9 Brownlee St, Wollongong.
After training at No 1 Initial Training School RAAF Somers Victoria and
No. 1 Elementary Flying Training School RAAF Parafield, South Australia he was posted on 5 June to No. 2 Embarkation Depot at RAAF Bradfield Park, Sydney and on 17 June to No. 3 Embarkation Depot at RAAF Sandgate, near Brighton, Queensland to await a posting to Canada.
9 August 1942 found Jack at No. 5 Manning Depot at RCAF Lachine, Quebec and six days later he was posted to No. 3 Service Flying Training School RCAF Calgary.
On 19 October he was posted to No. 1 Composite Training School RCAF Trenton, Ontario, where he was remustered as an Air Bomber and posted to
No. 8 Bombing and Gunnery School RCAF Lethbridge Alberta on 7 November 1942 until 28 January 1943. The following day he was posted to No. 3 Air Observer School RCAF Pearce Alberta until to 5 March 1943 when he was awarded his Air Bombers Badge and commissioned as a Pilot Officer.
On 27 March he embarked at Halifax for the UK. Disembarking in the UK on 10 April he was posted the following day to No. 11 Personnel Despatch and Reception Centre at RAF Bournemouth and on 10 May to No. 9 (Observer) Advanced Flying unit RAF Penrhos, Caernarvonshire, Wales.
On 8 June he was posted to No. 27 Operational Training Unit at RAF Lichfield, Staffordshire and on 5 September to No. 1656 Conversion Unit at RAF Lindholme, West Riding of Yorkshire. He was posted to No. 460 Squadron at RAF Binbrook, Lincolnshire on 5 November 1943
Aubrey Robinson is commemorated on Panel 108 of the Australian War Memorial at Canberra.
(5) Fl/Sgt. Lambert Albert Chester was born on 24th August 1911 at Bondi, New South Wales, Australia the son of Albert William Chester and Mary Ellen Chester nee Harrison.
He had three siblings: Nellie Violet Chester 1903-1971, William Sawdon Chester born 1914 and Eleanor Chester.
In 1933 the family lived at Puchbowl Road, Punchbowl NSW and later moved to Thompson Street, Panania NSW.
Prior to enlisting in the RAAF Lambert Chester was a Plumber
He is commemorated on Panel 107 of the Australian War Memorial at Canberra.
(6) Fl/Sgt. Ronald Herbert Lawn was born on the 24th April 1912 at Boulder, Western Australia the son of George Herbert Lawn and Esther Ellen Lawn nee Williams.
Ronald was educated at Boulder Central School, Kalgoorlie Eastern Goldfields High School, Boulder Technical School and Perth Technical School. After leaving school he was employed by Metro Goldwyn-Mayer Pty Ltd as a Film Exchanges Booker. He played football and tennis and also boxed.
On 13 February 1937 he married Leonie Beatrice Burlinson with whom he later had two children; Brian Ronald Lawn born 1938 and David Rodney Lawn born 1941.
When he enlisted at Perth on 16 August 1942 Ronald Lawn was 5'8" tall weighing 148lbs with a medium complexion, hazel eyes and black hair.
After training at No. 5 Initial Training School, RCAF Somers, Victoria; No. 1 Wireless Air Gunners School, RCAF Ballarat, Victoria; No. 3 Bombing and Gunnery School, RCAF West Sale, Victoria, he was awarded his Air Gunners Badge and promoted to Sergeant on 1 April 1943 and on 24 May embarked for the UK.
On arrival in the UK he was posted to No. 11 Personnel and Reception centre at RAF Bournemouth on 9 July and on 27 July to No. 27 Operational Training Unit at RAF Lichfield, Staffordshire.
On 5 September 1943 he was posted to No. 1656 Conversion Unit at RAF Lindholme, West Riding of Yorkshire and on 5 November 1943 to No. 460 Squadron at RAF Binbrook, Lincolnshire.
His promotion to Flight Sergeant was on 1 October 1943.
He is commemorated on Panel 107 of the Australian War Memorial at Canberra.
(7) F/O. Henry Edward Bennett was born on 25 May 1914 at St. George in the East, London the son of Henry Edward Bennett and Violet May Bennett nee Hill. His sister Magdalena A. Bennett was born in 1917
In 1938 he married Freda V. Baker at Romford. A daughter Barbara V.M. Bennett was born in 1939 and a son, Richard M. Bennett in 1943.
In 1939 the family lived at 141 Carter Drive, Romford and Henry was a Grocery shop manager. They later lived at Collier Row, Romford.
1263915 Corporal Henry Edward Bennett was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 4 June 1943 (London Gazette 13 July 1943) and promoted to Flying Officer on probation (war subs) on 4 December 1943 (London Gazette 10 December 1943)
He was posted to No. 460 Squadron at RAF Binbrook on 5 November 1943 from 1656 Conversion Unit
Henry Edward Bennett is commemorated on the Romford War Memorial. Main Road, Romford.
The members of this crew were initially buried at Mückendorf Churchyard and re-interred at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery Heerstraße 139, 14055 Berlin on 20 May 1947
Fl/Sgt. Reginald William Rowley - Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery. Grave 5.F.36.
His epitaph reads:
Duty nobly done.
Sgt. William Fleming - Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery. Grave 5.F.31.
F/O. Edward Charles Truscott - Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery. Grave 5.F.35.
His epitaph reads:
Greater love hath no man
F/O. Aubrey (Jack) Robinson - Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery. Grave 5.F.32.
His epitaph reads:
The supreme sacrifice.
Fl/Sgt. Lambert Albert Chester - Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery. Grave 5.F.33.
His epitaph reads:
The supreme sacrifice
Fl/Sgt. Ronald Herbert Lawn - Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery. Grave 5.F.34.
His epitaph reads:
Loved husband of Leonie
Dearest daddy of Brian
F/O. Henry Edward Bennett - Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery. Grave 5.F.30.
His epitaph reads:
In loving memory,
Not just today
But every day
In silence we remember
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.