24/25.08.1944 No. 576 Squadron Lancaster III PB265 UL-V2 F/O. Robert J. Sarvis DFC
Date: 24/25th July 1944
Unit: No. 576 Squadron
Type: Lancaster III
Base: RAF Elsham Wolds, Lincolnshire
Location: Liesville, France.
Pilot: F/O. ‘Bob’ Robert J. Sarvis DFC. T-223123 USAAF Age 27. Killed
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Alexander Balfour 1021030 RAFVR Evaded capture.
Nav: Sgt. ‘Roy’ Robert T. Gordon R/181524 RCAF Evaded capture / injured.
Air/Bmr: Sgt. ‘Jackie’ John Morrison Weir 1560450 RAFVR Age 21. Survived / injured.
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Jack Coates 1622241 RAFVR Age 21. Survived (1)
Air/Gnr: Sgt. E. Reed 1541804 RAFVR Survived / injured
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Tom A. Clark R/200128 RCAF Survived / injured.
REASON FOR LOSS:
Detailed to take part on an operation against the German city of Stuttgart. A difficult target situated in a series of narrow valleys deep inside Germany. 576 Sq tasked 16 crews for this attack. The total Bomber Command effort was 461 Lancasters and 153 Halifaxes.
Took off from Elsham Wolds at 21:08hrs. They headed south with the main force across the Channel to Dieppe and on to Rouen and Dreux. Approaching the turning point near Orleans PB265 was attacked by a night fighter. The Lancaster was seriously damaged and he had no option but to abandon the operation. They headed North West in an attempt to seek refuge at the Allied held Normandy Beachhead.
Nearing Carentan at 8,500 ft the Lancaster was fired on by US anti aircraft units and further damaged. The aircraft was now well ablaze. Robert gave the order to bale out and the rest of his crew left the aircraft in good order. All survived. Sgt's Balfour and Gordon evaded capture. Sgt's Weir, Coates, Reed and Clark all landed in Allied held territory and were safe. All returned to the UK. At least two, Sgt. Coates and Sgt. Weir, returned to 576 Squadron.
What happened after crew baled out is unclear. The aircraft crashed onto a road between Carquebut and Liesville, possibly attempting a wheels up landing although it does seem unlikely. Be that as it may the results were sadly fatal and Robert was killed. The remains of the aircraft were bulldozed off the road into swampy ground next to the road.
In 1989, during a road widening project, wreckage of the aircraft was found along with further human remains were discovered. The remains were buried in Robert's grave. The wreckage recovered included a number of interesting items in surprisingly good condition. These included machine guns, parachute and oxygen bottles.
The following is a copy of a letter sent to the wife of F/O. Sarvis from Sgt. Gordon.
"August 31st 1944 Dear Mrs. Sarvis:“It was not until last week that I knew Bob was missing. Until that time, I had been in a hospital in Southern England, and had no news concerning the rest of the crew. Since then, I have seen most of the others, and can tell you what happened, partly from what I have learned from the other chaps.“We were over the interior of France when we were hit. The aircraft was very badly damaged, and immediately went into a dive. While Bob was trying to regain control of the plane, he gave the order to abandon the aircraft.
The engineer, who was closest to the escape hatch, jumped just before Bob was able to pull the plane out of the dive, and hold it on an even keel. As soon as he was able to do this, Bob told the rest of us to remain in the aircraft, and we altered course for the Allied lines in Normandy, hoping to get as near to them as possible before bailing out. “By skill and sheer strength. Bob was able to keep us up until we reached Allied territory. He said there was no chance of making a safe landing, and told us to prepare to jump. After the bomb-aimer jumped. I went forward to the escape hatch to check the others out. I had barely reached there when the aircraft was hit a second time by an anti-aircraft shell, and the plane went into a dive. The sudden lurch threw me off my feet, and I fell through the hatch. After a few seconds of confusion, I found the ripcord on my parachute, pulled it, and dropped to earth safely.“Before we had gone forward to jump, the bomb-aimer had assisted Bob to adjust the straps of his harness, and make every preparation to jump. Bob told us in detail what he intended to do after all of us had jumped – such as trimming the aircraft for level flight, and so on. The wireless operator jumped after me, and he was followed by the mid-upper gunner. They didn’t have much to tell about what happened after I left, except that Bob was alright, and ready to jump.
They were at a good height at the time, and for that reason I had hopes that everyone had gotten out safely. That is the story of the experiences of the crew.Bob was much more than skipper to the rest of us—or perhaps I mean that he was a captain in the finest sense of the word. With the good - humoured perversity of a crew, the boys rarely let Bob know in words how much we all thought of him, but when we were flying together, we were able to show him in deed what his inspiration meant to us. For our various duties, the rest of us have only average abilities, but in response to Bob’s leadership, we were able to achieve better-than-average performance as a crew. This was realised not only by ourselves, but also by our friends in the squadron, and by the squadron commanders. I mention this so that when you receive the Distinguished Flying Cross that has been awarded Bob, you will know that the award was merited not only by this final gallant achievement, but just as much by the constant fine example he set for all of us.“Jack Balfour, the engineer, who dropped behind enemy lines, has recently arrived safely in England.
Tom Clark, the rear gunner, is still in a hospital under treatment for an injury he received when he jumped.“For all of us, the realisation that we owe our lives to Bob’s courage and endurance is final vindication of our faith in our skipper. This letter, written on behalf of the whole crew, is an inadequate expression of our feelings. But, though we realise that words are small comfort at this time, we want you to know that Bob’s friends over here are hoping and praying with you.Very sincerely,Roy Gordon
(1) Sgt. Jack Coates was tragically also to lose his life on the 20/21st February 1945. Operation to Dortmund still with 576 Squadron, flying with 24 year old,F/O. Richard Stanley Bastick 184678 RAFVR from Woolwich, London on NF975 UL-J2 - all the 7 crew were missing when their Lancaster was lost without trace.
F/O. Robert J. Sarvis DFC. Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, France. Plot B, Row 5, Grave 38. son of Charles Fremont Sarvis and Josephine Mary Abraham, originally from Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. At the time of his death, he a member of the 12th Replacement Depot. He was the recipient of the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster and entered military service from the state of Tennessee, USA.
(1) Sgt. Jack Coates. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 270. Son of William and Elizabeth Coates, of Accrington, Lancashire, husband of Margery Coates, of Accrington, Lancashire, England.
Researched by Simon Weir (Grandson of Sgt. Weir) for Aircrew Remembered (Additional research by webmaster) and dedicated to the relatives / friends of the crew. The full story can be read on Simon Weir’s Blog.