22/23.11.1944 No. 37 Squadron Wellington X LP547 LF-S F/O. John Henry Sutcliffe
Operation: Szombathely, Hungary
Date: 22/23 November 1944 (Wednesday/Thursday)
Unit: No. 37 Squadron "Wise without eyes"
Badge: A hawk hooded, belled and fessed, wings elevated and addorsed.The badge is indicative of the duties of blind flying.
Type: Vickers Wellington Mk X
Base: Tortorella Landing Ground
Location: Felsőjánosfa, Hungary
Pilot: F/O. John Henry Sutcliffe NZ415036 RNZAF Age 28 - Killed (1)
Nav: F/O. William Frank Woolfrey 155382 RAFVR Age 35 PoW No.6572 Camp Stalag Luft Barth - L1 (2)
Air/Bmr: F/O. Herbert Moore Sheed NZ417121 RNZAF Age 28 - Killed (3)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: WO. William Alfred Higson Board Aus/420855 RAAF Age 29 PoW No. 1224 Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria - L3 (4)
Air/Gnr (R): Sgt. John Harvey Millar Adam 1822272 RAF Age 19 - Killed (5)
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The major tenant of Tortorella airfield was the USAAF's 99th Bombardment Group, which had arrived from Oudna Airfield, Tunisia on 11 December 1943. Tortorella or Foggia No. 2 as it was known, was shared with 37 Squadron of 205 Group, Royal Air Force. No. 37 Squadron had arrived from Cerignola on 29 December 1943 and was equipped with the Vickers Wellington Mark X, later replaced by Consolidated LB-30 Liberators.
Following a very brief sojourn in India Flying Officer John Sutcliffe and his crew were posted to 37 Squadron on 29 September 1944 and spent the next three weeks in training and acclimatisation.
To gain experience prior to taking his own crew on operations, John Sutcliffe flew as 2nd Pilot, colloquially known as 2nd dickey, on 11 October with Fl/Lt. B.W. Taylor on a night op to attack the Verona Marshalling Yard in Northern Italy and on 20 October with WO. John McDougall Pike, a night raid on Szombathely Aerodrome in Hungary.
The following night, John Sutcliffe led his own crew on its first operation, a raid on the Marshalling Yards at Maribor in Yugoslavia (now Slovenia).
It was not until 4 November that the crew flew again operationally, the first of three supply drops to Yugoslavia for which they were detailed. On another supply drop they were forced to abort the operation due to hydraulic problem with the rear turret.
Two attacks on transport concentrations and a raid on Podgorica followed bringing the crew's total operations to eight.
On 22 November as part of a 205 Group force of 79 aircraft, No. 37 Squadron detailed 13 Wellingtons to attack Szombathely South Marshalling Yards in Hungary.
Szombathely along with many other towns in the region, was a strategically important target due to its railway infrastructure, aerodrome and barracks and consequential military importance to the Axis forces. In 1944/45 the whole area was a regular target for 205 Group of the RAF based in Italy.
It would be John Sutcliffe's 11th and his crew's 9th operation.
REASON FOR LOSS
In the space of 18 minutes, commencing at 16.57, all thirteen Wellingtons were airborne, with LP547 eleventh in line taking off at 17.09.
With a bomb load of 9 x 500 lb GPTI (General Purpose Target Indicator Bombs) and 746 gallons of petrol LP547 was at its maximum take off weight of 28000 lbs as it clawed its way into the air and heading north across the Adriatic Sea towards the target.
The following account of subsequent proceedings is taken from the No. 37 Squadron Operations Record Book.
"On account of haze and failure of PFF [Pathfinder Force] to mark the target under scattered illumination, the remaining crews failed accurately to pinpoint either the town or marshalling yards and dropped their bombs either in the area of the flares or upon incendiaries which had been dropped by other aircraft in the same general area.
W/O. Shiel saw what he believed was the north end of the Marshalling Yards close to flares and incendiary bombs. Results could not be observed and such other bombing as was seen appeared to be very scattered. There was evidence of considerable fighter activity in the target area: Flight Sergeant Wilson and W/O. Shiel each had an encounter with a Ju88 claiming hits and possible destruction. F/O. Buhr was attacked by another Ju88 firing rockets and green tracer but took successful evasive action. There were many other reports of enemy aircraft seen and of air to air firing (including rockets) and fighter flares, between the target area and Zagreb
At least 4 aircraft were seen shot down in flames and explode on hitting the grpund, one positively identified as a Halifax. By way of contrast flak at the target was slight inaccurate light and negligible heavy. At Zagreb 4 track[s] indicating S/Ls[searchlights] were operating.
11 aircraft bombed from 7000 to 8200 feet between 2001 and 2016 hours".
Six of the bombers were shot down; at least four of them if mot all of them, by night fighters.
Wellington LP547 was one of those known to have fallen victim to a night fighter and reportedly crashed in flames at Felsőjánosfa, a village 1km west of Zalalövő, at about 2100 hours.
In his Liberation Report made at 11 PDRC RAF Brighton on 12 June 1945 William Board explains what happened.
"After bombing we were attacked by fighter and had both our engines hit and on fire. The Rear Gunner was killed and so was the Bomb Aimer. [The] Pilot told us prepare to abandon: he then said abandon aircraft at 6000 feet. Navigator and myself then baled out: the aircraft was on fire by this time and out of control. When I left the aircraft the skipper was the only one alive and he was still at the controls. I saw [the] plane explode just as I left it and am sure he never got out. Plane crashed approximately 20 miles south of target. I was told three bodies were found in the wreckage of the plane. Received no news as to burials".
"After baling out picked up by Hungarians (unable to walk) - injuries to left shin, right ankle and face but received no medical treatment".
He also remarked that
"My pilot F/O. Sutcliffe (NZ) stayed with plane whilst the Nav and myself baled out and in so doing was not able to bale out himself."
He knew nothing of the Navigator other than he was safe.
After being taken prisoner in Hungary William Board was taken to Budapest and three days later to Gyor in North West Hungary. Four days afterwards he was moved to Dulag Luft near Frankfurt where he was interrogated whilst being kept in solitary confinement. After two weeks there he was transferred, on 20 December, to Stalag Luft 7 at Bankau-Kreuzburg in Silesia, Germany (now Baków, Opole Voivodeship, Poland). He was held there for a month and on 19 January 1945 the Germans, faced with rapidly approaching Russian forces, marched about 1500 prisoners from the camp in bitterly cold weather to Goldberg in Germany, a distance of some 140 miles and in horrendous conditions. Marching through snow and ice over 400 prisoners died of starvation, frost bite or exhaustion before the others reached Goldberg on 5 February. Loaded on to trains the survivors of the march were taken to Stalag 3a about 30 miles south of Berlin at Luckenwalde.
On 22 April the prisoners were liberated by the Red Army after which William Broad made his own way to the American lines. By 13 May he was back in the UK at 11 Personnel Despatch and Reception Centre at RAF Brighton.
Nothing is known of William Woolfrey's time as a PoW except that he was held at Stalag Luft 1 at Barth in Mecklenburg, Western Pomerania, Germany and after being liberated in 1945 returned safely to the UK.
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) F/O. John Henry Sutcliffe born c 1916 in New Zealand the eldest son of Mr and Mrs W. Sutcliffe of 28 Ninth Avenue Tauranga. He left New Zealand for Canada in December 1941. He was a married and his wife lived at Tirau, North Island New Zealand.
(2) Sqn Ldr. William Frank Woolfrey was born on 17 April 1909 at Thornton Heath, Surrey the son of Frank Woolfrey (an Estate Clerk) and Eleanor Mary Woolfrey nee Upton of 12 Leander Road, Thornton Heath. He had two siblings, Lilian Mary Woolfrey (1907-1998) and John Philip Woolfrey (1911-1917)
In 1938 he married Shorthand Typist, Phyllis Mary Merryfield at London City. They initially lived at 48, Hopton Road, Streatham and later at 52, Riggindale Road, Streatham.
A Woollen Merchant, William and his wife were both Auxiliary Firemen in 1939 based at an AFS Station at the LCC School in Woodmansterne Road, Wandsworth.
They had two children, John P. Woolfrey born 1941 and Pamela Woolfrey born 1944.
1398261 LAC William Frank Woolfrey was commissioned as Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 11 September 1943 (London Gazette 4 January 1944) confirmed in this appointment and promoted to Flying Officer (war subs) (London Gazette 14 April 1944). He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant (war subs) on 11 September 1945 (London Gazette 19 October 1945). Commission relinquished under the provisions of the Navy, Army and Air
Force Reserves Act, 1954, and granted permission to retain rank of Squadron Leader from 17 April 1954.
William Frank Woolfrey died in 1987 at Sutton Surrey.
(3) F/O. Herbert Moore Sheed was born c 1916 the son of Bertha Sheed (nee Haigh), and stepson of Robert Thompson, of Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand. He had a brother, Peter Sheed.
Herbert Sheed was married to Mary Sheed, of Putaruru, Auckland, New Zealand.
(4) WO. William Alfred Higson Board was born on 14 April 1915 at Marrickville, Sydney Australia the son of Osbert William Francis Board and Victoria Board nee Higson of 160, Marrickville Road, Marrickville. He had three siblings; Elizabeth Blanche Board (1913-2005), Blanche Eileen Board (1921-2012) and Fl/Lt. Robert William Board DFC and bar born 1918.
He was educated at Chapel Street Public School 1920-1926, Marrickville Technical School 1926 -1928 The night school at Ultimo, Newtown and Darlinghurst
He had his own business as an Electrician, was employed by an Electrical Contractor and at time of enlisting was a Storeman. He played tennis, football and participated in swimming and running.
When he enlisted at Sydney on 6 December 1941 he was 5' 9" tall weighing 154 lbs with a dark complexion, hazel eyes and brown hair.
After training on Course 23 (G) at No. 2 Initial Training School, Bradfield Park he embarked for Canada aboard the MS Klipfontein on 27 April 1942. In Canada he was posted on 29 May to No. 2 Manning Depot at RCAF Brandon Manitoba and from there on 7 June, 150 miles east to No. 3 Wireless School at RCAF Winnipeg. On completion of training at Winnipeg he was posted to No. 2 Bombing and Gunnery School at RCAF Mossbank, Saskatchewan where on 3 February 1943 he was awarded his Air Gunner Badge and promoted to Sergeant. On 8 February it was back to Manitoba and a posting to No. 7 Air Observer School at RCAF Portage la Prairie. At some later stage he was posted to No.32 Operational Training Unit, Patricia Bay, British Columbia where he passed the course on 15 October 1943.
On 24 November he embarked for the UK where he arrived on 2 December. Posted to No. 11 Personnel Despatch and Reception Centre at RAF Brighton on 3 December it was not until 8 February 1944 that he received a further posting to No. 9 (Observer) Advanced Flying Unit, RAF Penrhos, Gwynedd, Wales followed on 21 March with a posting to No. 11 Operational Training Unit at RAF Wescott, Buckinghamshire for night bomber training on the Vickers Wellington. On completion of his training on 4 July he was posted to No. 5 Personnel Despatch Centre and two weeks later sailed for India arriving at Bombay on 15 August and the following day posted to No. 3 RFU (Refresher Flying Unit). His stay in India was to be short-lived; on 15 September he was posted to No 3 Base Personnel Depot and to No 37 Squadron at Tortorella two weeks later.
His promotion to Warrant Officer was on 3 August 1944.
On liberation he returned to No. 11 Personnel Despatch and Reception Centre at RAF Brighton on 13 May 1945. He embarked for Australia on 18 June 1945 where wef 15 October he was discharged from the RAAF at No 2 Personnel Depot Demobilisation Wing Reception Squadron.
Later in 1945 he married Kathleen Moore at Canterbury, New South Wales. They went on to have four children.
William Alfred Higson Board died at Gosford, New South Wales on 3 January 1985 aged 69.
Kathleen Margret [sic] Board died 5 September 1990 aged 69. Her remains were interred with those of her husband at Woronora Memorial Park Sutherland NSW in the Roman Catholic Monumental Section 5, Grave 0826
(5) Sgt. John Harvey Millar Adam was born in 1925 at Anstruther, Fife, Scotland the son of George and Eliza Bella Adam, later of Pittenweem, Fife.
He is commemorated on the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle.
BURIAL DETAILS, MEMORIALS AND EPITAPHS
(1) F/O. John Henry Sutcliffe was initially buried at Felsőjánosfa, and later re-interred at the Budapest War Cemetery - Coll. grave III. A. 1-3.
(3) F/O. Herbert Moore Sheed was initially buried at Felsőjánosfa, and later re-interred at the Budapest War Cemetery - Coll. grave III. A. 1-3.
(5) Sgt. John Harvey Millar Adam was initially buried at Felsőjánosfa, and later re-interred at the Budapest War Cemetery - Coll. grave III. A. 1-3.
His epitaph reads
Will cling to us each year,
A memr'y to cherish
And ever hold dear
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - September 2018
With thanks to the sources quoted below.