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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.


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405 Squadron Crest
08/09.10.1943 No. 405 Squadron Lancaster III JA980 LQ-Z Sq/Ldr. Murray S.F. Schneider

Operation: Hanover

Date: 08/9th October 1943 (Friday/Saturday)

Unit: No. No.405 RCAF (Vancouver) Pathfinder Squadron

Type: Lancaster III

Serial: JA980

Code: LQ-Z

Base: RAF Gransden Lodge, Cambridgeshire (Bedfordshire circa 1943)

Location: Near Engern (Angria-Rinteln), Germany

Pilot: Sq/Ldr. Murray Stanley Fuller Schneider J/16432 RCAF Age 22. Killed (1)

Fl/Eng: Sgt. J.J. Connolly 619879 RAF PoW No: 259858 Camp: Stalag Luft 3 Sagan and Belaria (note)

Nav: F/O. Frederic William Bilson 126821 RAFVR Age 28. Killed

Air/Bmr: F/O. Joseph Greig Taylor NZ/413149 RNZAF Age 23. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Lt. Cecil Ambrose Farnum J/17442 RCAF PoW No: 3130 Camp: Stalag Luft 3 Sagan and Belaria (note)

Air/Gnr: W/O2. John Alfred Nelson Hucker R/63841 RCAF Age 28. Killed (2)

Air/Gnr: Fl/Lt. Richard Trent Botkin MiD. J/16957 RCAF Age 30. Killed.

REASON FOR LOSS:

Of all the raids on Hannover, the one launched by Bomber Command on the night of 8/9 October, 1943, was the most destructive and caused the greatest loss of life in a single operation against the city. Many thousands more inhabitants were injured and made homeless by the fires that consumed over 3,900 homes.

The old city centre was accurately marked by the Pathfinders and the resulting bombing destroyed vital services such as the railway station, electricity, water and telephone systems. The Continental tire factory and the Hanomag factory producing military vehicles were also badly damaged.

The city was heavily defended by flak batteries and night fighters, and although a diversionary raid against Bremen was carried out, the German air defence controllers were not to be misled. Of the 504 aircraft that took off, 14 Lancaster’s and 13 Halifaxes were shot down over the target area or during the trip back to base.

Whilst homeward bound, JA980 came under attack by a night fighter at 02:20 hours and crashed from a height of 5,500 meters some 50 kilometres west of Hanover on the east bank of the River Weser near Engern.

Two members of the crew managed to bale out of the stricken aircraft and were captured. After the war, one of the two survivors contacted Sq/Ldr. Schneider’s mother and related how her son had stayed at the controls trying to keep the doomed Lancaster level to allow the crew to bale out. Tragically, none of the others could escape and were trapped in the aircraft as it dove into the ground. Their bodies were recovered from the wreckage by the German authorities and were initially buried in the churchyard at Steinbergen-Rinteln. After the war their remains were exhumed and re-interred in the Hanover War Cemetery.


(note) For the flight engineer Sgt. J.J. (Jock) Connolly, this would be his second brush with death in a period of four months. While taking part in a raid on Aachen when he was with 408 Squadron, his aircraft Halifax JD174 was attacked and badly damaged by a night fighter. The crew managed to nurse the bomber back towards base where they abandoned in flight and all parachuted to safety. Sgt. Connolly had served two years with ground crew before transferring to aircrew operations. Jock Connolly flew every sortie with Sq/Ldr. Schneider and had in excess of twenty operations to his credit. Connolly, who was able to bale out of the stricken craft, was captured by the Germans and spent the remainder of the war as a POW.
(note) Cecil Ambrose Farnum, (pictured left) nicknamed ‘Flatspin by Sq/Ldr. Schneider, was the second survivor and was also captured after bailing out. He was born in Montreal on 14 October, 1919 and died at the age of 82 in Bournemouth, England having emigrated there in 1953 with his wife and two children. One of the other regulars with Schneider’s crew and also a close personal friend, he flew all but one operation with him before being shot down. Ambrose wrote to Annie Schneider shortly after wars end expressing his deep sorrow for the loss of her son. In the letter he gives a vivid account of that final sortie and how Sq/Ldr Schneider had bravely stayed at the controls of the doomed aircraft trying to keep it level so that the others could bail out.


Betty Ann Botkin Thorpe at her fathers' grave site

Burial details:

(1) Schneider Lake southeast of Nejanilini Lake in Manitoba is named after Sq/Ldr. Schneider.

(2) Hucker Lake in the District of Kenora, northern Ontario is named after W/O2. Hucker.




Sq/Ldr. Murray Stanley Fuller Schneider. Hanover War Cemetery, Germany. Grave 16 K 16. Further information: Son of Montague and Annie Schneider of Brandon, Manitoba, Canada and husband of Mollie (née Alsford) Schneider of Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey, England.

Sq/Ldr. Schneider, known to his crew mates as Buck, was on his second tour when lost after spending nine months in hospital recovering from serious injuries following the crash of Halifax L9622 in January of 1942. (See L9622).

After the crash in January, Schneider was re-assessed in October 1942 as fit for non-operational flying and posted as an instructor to No.1659 Heavy Conversion Unit at Leeming, Yorkshire. Following nine months as an instructor on Halifax aircraft at both Leeming and Topcliffe, the medical review board approved his return to operational flying in July 1943. That same month he was posted to RCAF 405 Pathfinder Squadron based at Gransden Lodge.

On 10 August Sq/Ldr. Schneider piloted Halifax ‘Z’ on his first operation with the Pathfinders to Nuremburg. He was crewed up with the nucleus of his crew that would fly with him on the remainder of his missions with 405 Squadron.

Summary of Operations flown by Sq/Ldr. Murray S. F. Schneider with RCAF No.405 Pathfinder Squadron:


Left: Sq/Ldr. Murray S. F. Schneider at 'work'.
10 Aug. 1943 Nuremberg Halifax II ‘Z’ 
Crew: Flt/Eng. Sgt. J.J. Connolly, Navigator F/O. F.W. Bilson, Air/Bmr. Sq/Ldr. G.T. Pearson DFC, Wireless Op. P/O. C.A. Farnum, M.U. Gnr. W/O2 J.A.N. Hucker Tail Gnr. Fl/Lt. R.T. Botkin, 2nd. Pilot Sgt. R.H. Larson (note 1).
12 Aug. 1943 Turin Halifax II ‘Z’
Crew: Flt/Eng. Sgt. J.J. Connolly, Navigator F/O. F.W. Bilson, Air/Bmr. Sq/Ldr. G.T. Pearson DFC, Wireless Op. P/O. C.A. Farnum, M.U. Gnr. W/O2 J.A.N. Hucker Tail Gnr. Fl/Lt. R.T. Botkin.
16 Aug. 1943 Turin Halifax II ‘Z’
Crew: Flt/Eng. Sgt. J.J. Connolly, Navigator F/O. F.W. Bilson, Air/Bmr. Sq/Ldr. G.T. Pearson DFC,, Wireless Op. P/O. C.A. Farnum, M.U. Gnr. W/O2 J.A.N. Hucker Tail Gnr. Fl/Lt. R.T. Botkin, 2nd. Pilot P/O. F.A. Harman (note 2)
27 Aug. 1943 Nuremberg Halifax II ‘Z’ 
Crew: Flt/Eng. Sgt. J.J. Connolly, Navigator F/O. F.W. Bilson, Air/Bmr. Sq/Ldr. G.T. Pearson DFC, (note 3), Wireless Op. P/O. C.A. Farnum, M.U. Gnr. W/O2 J.A.N. Hucker Tail Gnr. Fl/Lt. R.T. Botkin, 2nd. Pilot P/O. A.P. Campbell (note 4)
3 Sept. 1943 Berlin Lancaster III ‘Z’
Crew: Flt/Eng. Sgt. J.J. Connolly, Navigator F/O. F.W. Bilson, Air/Bmr. Sgt. F.W. Bundy (note 5), Wireless Op. P/O. C.A. Farnum, M.U. Gnr. W/O2 J.A.N. Hucker, Tail Gnr. Fl/Lt. R.T. Botkin
5 Sept. 1943 Mannheim Lancaster III ‘Z’
Crew: Flt/Eng. Sgt. J.J. Connolly, Navigator F/O. F.W. Bilson, Air/Bmr. Sgt. L.V. Milward (note 6), Wireless Op. P/O. C.A. Farnum, M.U. Gnr. W/O2 J.A.N. Hucker, Tail Gnr. Fl/Lt. R.T. Botkin
6 Sept. 1943 Munich Lancaster III ‘Z’
Crew: Flt/Eng. Sgt. J.J. Connolly, Navigator F/O. F.W. Bilson, Air/Bmr. F/S E.H. Anthony DFM, Wireless Op. P/O. C.A. Farnum, M.U. Gnr. W/O2 J.A.N. Hucker, Tail Gnr. Fl/Lt. R.T. Botkin
15 Sept. 1943 Montlucon Lancaster III ‘Z’
Crew: Flt/Eng. Sgt. J.J. Connolly, Navigator F/O. F.W. Bilson, Air/Bmr. Sgt. H.B. Searles, Wireless Op. P/O. C.A. Farnum, M.U. Gnr. W/O2 J.A.N. Hucker, Tail Gnr. Fl/Lt. R.T. Botkin, 2nd. Pilot Fl/Sgt. L.L. MacKinnon
24 Sept. 1943 Mannheim Lancaster III ‘Z’
Crew: Flt/Eng. Sgt. J.J. Connolly, Navigator Fl/Lt. I. Hewitt DFC, Air/Bmr. Fl/Lt. G.A. Sweany DFC, DSO, Wireless Op. P/O. C.A. Farnum, M.U. Gnr. W/O2 J.A.N. Hucker, Tail Gnr. Fl/Lt. R.T. Botkin, 2nd. Pilot F/O. H.W.A. Trilsbach
3 Oct. 1943 Kassels Lancaster III ‘Z’
Crew: Flt/Eng. Sgt. J.J. Connolly, Navigator F/O. F.W. Bilson, Air/Air/Bmr. F/O. J.G. Taylor, Wireless Op. Sgt. E. Halliwell (note 7), M.U. Gnr. W/O2 J.A.N. Hucker, Tail Gnr. Fl/Lt. R.T. Botkin

F/O. Frederic William Bilson. Hanover War Cemetery, Germany. Grave 16 K 15. Further information: Frederic, the navigator, was another regular member of Sq/Ldr. Schneider’s crew flying all but one sortie. He was reputed to be an exceptionally good navigator and was lost while flying his 26th operation. He is believed to have been born in Hampshire in 1915.

F/O. Joseph Greig Taylor. Hanover War Cemetery, Germany. Grave 16 K 14. S Further information: Son of Joseph and Annie Taylor of Invercargill, Southland, New Zealand. Joseph, who was on his second trip with Sq/Ldr. Schneider when he was killed, had flown over ten operations.

Fl/Lt. Richard Trent Botkin. (pictured left with Tony Syms) Hanover War Cemetery, Germany. Grave 16 K 18. Further information: Son of Ralph Waldo and Faye (née Trent) Botkin, husband of Madge Inez (nee Sullivan) Botkin of Pratt, Kansas, USA. Fl/Lt. Richard Trent (Dick) Botkin was an American citizen born in Caldwell, Kansas who enlisted in the RCAF at Windsor, Ontario on 7 August 1941. After spending four months at the BCATP No.3 Wireless Training School in Winnipeg, Manitoba he was sent to KTS at Trenton, Ontario on February 6, 1942, for re-assignment. Following six weeks at Trenton, Botkin was posted to No.6 Bombing and Gunnery School at Mountain View, Ontario from where he graduated as an Air Gunner on the 13 April, 1942. Soon after he was posted overseas and was taken on strength of No.3 PRC Bournemouth, England on the 15 May, 1942. At the end of June that year, Sgt. Botkin was posted to No.7 Air Gunner School at RAF Stormy Down in Wales. Botkin’s accuracy as a gunner was exceptional graduating from No.7 Air Gunner School with a mark of 85% and the remarks “Very sound”.

On July 21 he was posted to No. 22 Operational Training Unit at Wellesbourne Mountford, Warwickshire. It was here that he first teamed up with R.A. (Tony) Symes who was to be his regular pilot until he was assigned to Central Gunnery School at Sutton Bridge.

It was at No. 22 OTU that he made his first operational trip. He had been flying in Wellington’s as a regular member of Tony Symes crew on training exercises since 20th August when the call was made to the OTU’s to supply aircraft as part of a 446 bomber force for a raid on Bremen on the night of 13/14th September, 1942. Three nights later they were on their second trip, this time to Essen.

The final notation written in his log book while at 22 OTU reads: “Assessment - Above the average.” Signed J. Fauquier, Sq/Ldr..

(John Fauquier DSO and 2 Bars, DFC, rose to the rank of Air Commodore. He commanded No.405 Squadron from 1942 to 1944 surviving three tours and is widely regarded as “Canada’s greatest bomber pilot.”).

On September 30, 1942, Sgt. Botkin joined RCAF No.405 Squadron Conversion Flight based at Topcliffe in Yorkshire, transferring to 405 Squadron itself on 20 October. Following a short Beam Approach Training Course at Driffield, he was back at Topcliffe for only a few days before re-joining the squadron which had been loaned out to Coastal Command for anti submarine patrol operations in the Bay of Biscay.

Now stationed at Beaulieu, Hampshire, Botkin flew his first anti submarine patrol on 16 November, 1942. On his fourth patrol on the 26 November their aircraft developed trouble in two of the engines and just managed to limp back to St. Eval on the Cornish coast. As they made their approach and were down to a height of 100 feet over the runway, the pilot was unable to maintain control of the aircraft and it bounced off the tarmac hitting a Nissen hut with the undercarriage. From there it bounced to a landing off the runway and caught fire. All the crew except the wireless operator, Sgt. C.A. Farnum who was trapped by the legs, managed to get out.

Left: Fl/Lt. Richard Trent Botkin MiD with unidentified airman.

The pilot Sgt. R.A. Symes and the flight engineer Sgt. Nichols re-entered the wreckage and released him, extricating him through a hole in the perspex while the remainder of the crew, navigator Sgt. J.H. Boudreau, bomb aimer P/O. C. Massey and the gunners Sgt’s. Calder and Botkin were attempting to make a hole in the fuselage. Two seconds after Symes, Nichols and Farnum had escaped there was an explosion and the aircraft was completely burnt out. Both Symes and Nichols were awarded the British Empire Medal for their bravery.

Seven months later Symes and Nichols were both shot down just two days apart. Sadly, Sgt. Nichols was killed during a raid on Krefeld and Symes who had moved on to 408 Squadron, was shot down over France and spent the remainder of the war as a PoW.

The navigator, Sgt. Joseph Hector (Joe) Boudreau, (pictured right) survived the war with the rank of Flight Lieutenant and was awarded a DFC In total, Boudreau completed 47 sorties to enemy targets and became one of the original radar instructors for the Canadian Group of Bomber Command during which he completed eight additional operational trips as spare navigator. He was born in Campbellton, New Brunswick, 18 April, 1918.

P/O. Cornelius (Connie) Massey (pictured left) was promoted to the rank of Flying Officer and gained a DFC in 1944 while serving with 426 Squadron. Born in Hyde, Cheshire in 1910 he emigrated to Canada with his family in 1916. Cornelius died in Creskill, N.J. at the age of 81 in 1992.

“This officer has proved himself a most courageous and skilful Bomb Aimer. He has completed many operational sorties, both in Coastal Command and Bomber Command, including attacks against many of the most heavily defended enemy targets. He has consistently achieved success over the most difficult targets in the face of intense enemy opposition. By his coolness and determination he has set a high example in the squadron...”

Sgt. Rodger Garfield Calder MiD was promoted to Warrant Officer after the crash. Born in Saskatoon in 1916, he worked as a salesman before enlisting in December 1940. Posted overseas in March 1942, Calder attended No.7 Air Gunner School before transferring to No. 23 OTU accumulating 11 hours on Whitleys and 120 hours on Wellingtons. In October of 1942, he joined 405 Squadron flying nine operational sorties before being repatriated to Canada in November 1943 where he continued to serve in various roles until his discharge in 1945. Rodger rejoined the RCAF in 1951 in the trade of Weapons Technician until his release in 1966.

During their time at Beaulieu, Symes and Botkin flew ten patrols together before the squadron was transferred back to Bomber Command in early March 1943.

On the night of 11/12 March during a raid on Stuttgart, their aircraft was attacked by a Me.110 night fighter. While taking evasive action both the night fighter and Sgt. Botkin exchanged fire. Although the Halifax was hit in the wing, Botkin observed his own tracer bullets strike the nose of the enemy fighter at which point it broke off the engagement and was not seen again.

Following an operation to Essen the next night, the squadron was transferred to a new base at Leeming on March 14. The month was rounded off with an operation bombing the port of St. Nazaire and an incomplete operation to Berlin on the night of the 29th.

April 1943 was a busy month for our crew, with operations against Kiel, Essen, Stuttgart and Duisburg. It was also a successful one for Richard Botkin who, by now, had been promoted to the rank of Pilot Officer, claiming the destruction of two enemy aircraft.

During the raid on Kiel their Halifax JB875 was attacked by a Ju.88. As the enemy aircraft closed in, P/O. Botkin opened fire hitting the fighter in the nose and wings. A second burst hit the Ju.88 in the port wing and engine causing it to disintegrate at which point the burning aircraft immediately dove into the ground and exploded.

On the night of 26/27 April during the raid on Duisburg a Me.109 approached from the rear quarter and opened fire at a range of 1000 yards. As he did so Botkin instructed the captain to corkscrew and returned the fire in two bursts which set the fighter on fire with pieces flying off as it fell through the clouds below them.

Earlier that month the squadron was selected to join No.8 Group as part of the Pathfinder Force and moved to Gransden Lodge. The Duisberg operation would be the last sortie that Botkin would fly with Tony Symes as his captain for early May brought an end to a long and successful partnership.

At the beginning of June 1943, Richard was transferred to Central Gunnery School. The intent of the gunnery school was to bring experienced fighter pilots from Fighter Command and rear gunners from Bomber Command to train together and become Gunnery Instructors who would then be sent to airfields around the country to train others. Whether P/O. Botkin ever became an instructor is unclear as the next recorded entry in his log is 27 July, 1943 which finds him back at Gransden Lodge flying a cross country exercise with Sq/Ldr. Schneider.

P/O. Botkin was now crewed up with Sq/Ldr. Schneider as his captain flying every operation together until the fateful trip to Hannover.

Of the eleven trips they would have one more encounter with an enemy fighter. On the night of 12/13 August as they were on their bombing run over the target of Turin their Halifax HH916 LQ-Z was attacked by a Macchi 202. Botkin fired 400 rounds driving off the fighter which was last seen diving away to port. No damage to either aircraft was reported.

W/O2. John Alfred Nelson Hucker. Hanover War Cemetery, Germany. Grave 16 K 17. Further information: Son of Frederick and Viola Pearl (née Baskerville) Hucker, husband of Margaret (née Badger) Hucker of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

WO2. John A.N. Hucker flew all eleven operations as the mid upper gunner and, in conjunction with the rear gunner, brought down an attacking night fighter before they themselves were attacked and set on fire. An earlier Combat Report indicates that Hucker was instrumental in driving off an attack by two enemy aircraft during an earlier raid on the night of 20/21 June, 1943.

‘Whilst on operations on the night of 20/21 June, 1943 on Le Cruesot, Halifax aircraft ‘M’ (JB917) of 405 Squadron was attacked by two enemy aircraft which the rear gunner identified as a FW190 and a Ju.88, about two miles north west of the target on the homeward journey at 01.55 hrs. The Halifax was flying at 7,500 ft. 3030 True and I.A.S. 190 knts. Visibility was very good, full moon, slight haze on the ground.

The enemy aircraft was first sighted by Sgt. Hucker, rear gunner, at 400 yds. dead astern, slightly above. The Rear and Mid Upper gunners opened fire at 175 yds. The enemy aircraft closed in to attack and opened fire. The evasive action given was a diving turn to starboard. The enemy aircraft broke away on the port quarter down. There was no indication that an attack was imminent.

The Rear and Mid Upper gunners fired approximately 100 rds. per gun. No damage is claimed to enemy aircraft.

Sgt’s. White and Hucker attended No.4 B and G School.”

Notes: 

1: Sgt. Larson was killed on the night of 17/18 Nov. 1943 when his Lancaster JB226 LQ-G was lost during a raid on Ludwigshafen.

2: P/O. Harman was killed on the night of 23/24 Aug. 1943 when his Halifax HR918 LQ-G was shot down over Berlin.
3: Sq/Ldr. Pearson DFC was captured and spent the remainder of the war as a PoW. Shot down in Halifax HR915 LQ-O over Berlin on the night of 31 Aug/1 Sept. 1943.

4: P/O. Campbell was killed on the night of 1/2 Jan. 1944 when his Lancaster JB737 LQ-R crashed in France returning from a raid on Berlin.

5: Sgt. Bundy was killed on the night of 20/21 October 1943 when his Lancaster JB348 LQ-R was lost during a raid on Leipzig.

6: Sgt. Milward was killed on the night of 30/31 March 1944 when his Halifax HX272 BN-M was shot down over Nuremberg.

7: Sgt. Halliwell was killed on the night of 16/17 December 1943 when his Lancaster JB369 LQ-D crashed at Ely, Cambridgeshire returning from a raid on Berlin.

Researched and compiled by Colin Bamford for Aircrew Remembered from material very kindly and generously supplied by Sq/Ldr. Schneider’s niece and nephew, Theo and Lynn Siemens, and Fl/Lt. Botkin’s daughter Betty Ann Botkin Thorpe as well as various other sources. Aircrew Remembered dedicates this Page of Remembrance to Theo, Lynn and Betty Ann and also to Vicki White, daughter of Sq/Ldr. Schneider, and to all the family members and relatives of the crew of Lancaster JA980.

Acknowledgements: Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives and Fred Paradie - Paradie Archive (both on this site), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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