25/26.06.1943 No. 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron Lancaster I R5740 KM-O, P/O. Derek Minden Sharp
Operation: Gelsenkirchen, Germany
Date: 25/26 June 1943 (Friday/Saturday)
Unit: No. 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron - Motto: "Fulmina regis iusta" ("The King's thunderbolts are righteous").
In September 1941, the squadron's title was altered to "No. 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron" in recognition of that country's generous donations to the war effort. This was particularly appropriate as about a quarter of the squadron's personnel were Rhodesian. The association is preserved in the squadron's badge which features an African elephant.
Badge: On a mount an elephant. The badge is based upon the seal of Lo Bengula, the chief of the Matabeles on conquest. The seal shows an elephant which, in the case of this unit, is intended to indicate heavy attacks.
Authority: King George VI, October 1941.
Type: Avro Lancaster I
Base: RAF Dunholme Lodge, Lincolnshire
Location: Not known
Pilot: P/O. Derek Minden Sharp 145476 RAFVR Age 27 - Missing, believed killed (1)
2nd Pilot: P/O. Donald Maclean Struthers 149534 RAFVR Age 22 - Missing, believed killed (2)
Fl/Eng: F/Sgt. Thomas Johnstone 530175 RAF Age 27 - Missing, believed killed (3)
Nav: Sgt. Rowland Josiah Dash 1316701 RAFVR Age 20 - Missing, believed killed (4)
Air/Bmr: Sgt. Reginald Herbert William Thompson 1385570 RAFVR Age 21 - Missing, believed killed (5)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Norman Henry Morris 1271185 RAFVR Age 21 - Missing, believed killed (6)
Air/Gnr (MU): Sgt. Ernest Reginald Hylton Griffiths 1399828 RAFVR Age ? - Missing, believed killed (7)
Air/Gnr (R): Sgt. Kenneth William Langstaff 1455580 RAFVR Age 21 - Missing, believed killed, this was his 19th operation (8)
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A total force of 473 aircraft made up of 214 Lancasters, 134 Halifaxes, 73 Stirlings, 40 Wellingtons and 12 Mosquitoes set out on this raid to bomb Gelsenkirchen. En route and over the target there was 7-10/10ths cloud, tops 10000 feet and visibility was generally good with the moon below the horizon. As well as the cloud obscuring the target the Oboe Mosquitoes failed to produce accurate and regular marking since five of them found their equipment to be unserviceable. The resultant bombing was scattered and the raid was considered unsuccessful.
Intense heavy flak was encountered at Gelsenkirchen and over the Ruhr initially accurate predicted fire and later an intense barrage round sky-markers. In the target area cloud rendered the searchlights ineffective and only a few were seen en route mostly at Amsterdam where cones of 7 to 20 beams were working in co-operation with heavy flak. There was considerable controlled fighter activity mainly during the late stages of the raid.4 Mosquitoes attacked at 01.30, 01.34½ (2) and 01.54 hours and the main force attacked within the prescribed time (01.20 - 01.54).
394 aircraft reported attacking the primary target area and 6 the alternative target whilst there were 43 aborted sorties mainly due to technical defect or manipulative error and 30 aircraft were lost (13 Lancasters, 7 Halifaxes, 6 Stirlings and 4 Wellingtons)
Enemy wireless traffic and observations by crew suggest that 5 aircraft were shot down by flak and at least 20 by fighters. The flak losses occurred at Amsterdam (2), in Dutch coastal areas (2) and over the target (1). Losses to fighters were mainly on the return route.
Düsseldorf reported 24 buildings destroyed and 3285 damaged but 2937 of these suffered only superficial blast damage. 20 industrial premises were hit and 4 of them suffered total production loss but no large fires were involved and the loss of production lasted no more than 2 weeks. 16 people were killed. Bombs probably fell on many other Ruhr towns. Solingen nearly 30 miles away recorded 21 people killed and 58 injured on the night.
REASON FOR LOSS
Took off at 22.51 carrying a bomb load of 1 x 4000lb 3 x 500 lb MC and 1 x 500lb. Flying east the aircraft was scheduled to cross the North Holland coast approximately 20 km south of Den Helder before turning southeast and then due south to the target. The briefed return route was some 20 km further south of the outbound route via Harderwijk in Gelderland, Netherlands and Egmont in North Holland.
Nothing was heard from any of the crew after take-off nor was any trace found of the crew or the aircraft.
THE FLYING YORKSHIREMAN - Cheated death twice in six days
Based on an account written by Jay McCausland and published in the Flying Magazine of November 1948
Derek Sharp had enjoyed a certain celebrity status in the USA having so nearly lost his life twice in the space of six days whilst training at Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
On 14 January 1942 with a mere 15 hours flying time including 5 hours solo, he went up with his instructor, to practice landings prior to going up solo in the afternoon.
With Derek at the controls in the rear cockpit and having climbed to 500 feet the Stearman hit some turbulent air, shuddered violently then nosed up into a rapid stall.
Instructor, Jay McCausland grabbed the controls quickly but felt undue back pressure on the stick and stabiliser. Forcing both fully forward he opened up the throttle and gradually the aircraft levelled off. Other planes were flying close by and thinking they had been hit Jay but turning round to look at Sharp saw only gosport pipes hanging over the side of the cockpit and no sign of Derek. Looking below he searched in vain for an open parachute then looking round the plane again spotted him. Derek was clinging desperately to the tail frantically trying to wriggle onto the elevator surfaces and whilst doing so holding onto the elevator control wires thus causing the plane to lurch or skid with his every movement.
Now at 300 feet and too low for them to use their parachutes Derek managed get into a position straddling the vertical tail fin facing backwards.
Struggling against the imbalance of the aircraft and the severely hampered rudder controls Jay gradually fought the plane up to 2500 feet and high enough for Derek to use his parachute. But kicking the rudder back and forth to attract Derek's attention and expecting an indication of his intention to jump got nothing more than a "thumbs up" from the broadly grinning Yorkshireman.
Realising that he was going to have to land with Derek clinging to the tail Jay McCausland immediately thought of 1001 things that might go wrong and the ensuing disastrous consequences.
By some miracle and fighting the controls all the way Jay managed to bring the plane down safely with Derek still clinging to the tail and with nothing more to show for his ordeal than a huge bump on his head. He had been out on the tail for 30 minutes.
It transpired that Derek had not fastened his safety belt securely before take-off and on hitting the turbulent air had been lifted out of his seat, with his parachute having caught on the cockpit side and turning him round to face the tail. Thrown by the slip stream along the fuselage he had hit the tail where he instinctively grabbed hold of the flying wires and in due course managed to straddle the tail. When asked why he had not jumped when he had the chance he explained that he had not adjusted the parachute leg straps before take-off never thinking that he might have to use the parachute and besides that he thought the 'chute might not work following its violent bump on the way out of the cockpit.
Jay took Derek back up in another plane almost immediately and Derek remained totally unruffled. Later in the day the nonplussed Yorkshireman went up solo but not before Jay checked his parachute and safety belt to ensure they were securely fastened.
After their little episode, Derek Sharp and Jay McCausland appeared on several broadcasts and received numerous cables and letter from people all over the world.
Derek Sharp's second escape happened six days later on an auxiliary airfield five miles south of Tuscaloosa where he had just taxied out onto the apron preparatory to taking off. Having checked that all was clear behind Sharp was just about to open the throttle when all hell seemed to break loose over his head. He instinctively ducked down into the cockpit just as another plane, having undershot the airfield and being below the trees had been out of Sharp's sight, crashed onto his aircraft. Though the entire upper right hand section of his aircraft's wing was smashed and lay strewn about the runway and despite the fact that the propeller and undercarriage of the other plane had missed his head by inches Derek managed to control his plane and bring it to a stop.
As Jay ran over to the aircraft, Derek slowly climbed out and quite miserably uttered "I wonder how long this can keep up"
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) P/O. Derek Minden Sharp was the son of Edward and Margaret Sharp, of Hull.
He was a bell ringer mainly at Crayford a town and electoral ward in south-east London, England within the London Borough of Bexley.
1336334 Sgt. D.M. Sharp was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 13 April 1943 (London Gazette 29 June 1943)
(2) P/O. Donald Maclean Struthers was born in 1921 at Brentford, Middlesex the son of John Paton Struthers and Margaret Ann MacLean Struthers, of Oxley, Staffordshire.
(3) F/Sgt. Thomas Johnstone was born c 1915 the son of Mr. and Mrs. J. Johnstone, of Locharbriggs, Dumfriesshire.
(4) Sgt. Rowland Josiah Dash was born in 1923 at Bedwelty, Monmouthshire the son of William George Dash and Emily Leslie Dash nee Johns, of New Tredegar, Monmouthshire. He had siblings, Gwilym George Dash born 1920, Mair E. Dash born 1925, Iris Beryl Dash born 1929, Mildred D. Dash born 1931, Brenda Dash born 1940.
(5) Sgt. Reginald Herbert William Thompson was born in 1921 at Lambeth the son of Herbert Stanley Thompson and Kitty E. Thompson nee Elliot of Pinner; Middlesex.
(6) Sgt. Norman Henry Morris was born 1922 at Bromley, Kent the son of Milk Dealer, Allen Midford Morris and Elizabeth Maud Morris nee Pryor of Beckenham, Kent. He had siblings Albert William A Morris (1902-1980), Doris Ethel Morris (1904-1998) Muriel Beatrice Hilda Morris (1908-1991) Cyril Midford Morris (1909-1941) Bertha Elizabeth Morris born 1911 and Donald Morris born 1920.
(7) Sgt. Ernest Reginald Hylton Griffiths was born in 1922 at Hammersmith, London the son of Ernest W. Griffiths and Rose M. Griffiths nee Hewett. He had siblings Frederick H. Griffiths born 1921 and Daphne Griffiths born 1928.
(8) Sgt. Kenneth William Langstaff probably born in 1921 at Boston, Lincolnshire the son of Albert Langstaff and Gertrude M. Dawson. He had siblings Leslie A. Langstaff born 1919, Reginald A. Langstaff born 1920 and Joyce E. Langstaff born 1932.
(1) P/O. Derek Minden Sharp - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, Panel 133
(2) P/O. Donald Maclean Struthers - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, Panel 133
(3) F/Sgt. Thomas Johnstone - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, Panel 137
(4) Sgt. Rowland Josiah Dash - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, Panel 147
(5) Sgt. Reginald Herbert William Thompson - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, Panel 167
(6) Sgt. Norman Henry Morris - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, Panel 159
(7) Sgt. Ernest Reginald Hylton Griffiths - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, Panel 151
(8) Sgt. Kenneth William Langstaff - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, Panel 156
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - February 2017
With thanks to David Archer of Operation Picture Me for initially bringing the story of Derek Minden Sharp's lucky escapes to our attention.
Thanks also to the sources quoted below.