21/22.02.1945 170 Squadron Lancaster Mk.I NN744 TC:V Flt.Lt. Thomas Cecil Birdwood Smith
Operation: Duisburg, Germany
Date: 21/22nd February 1945 (Wednesday/Thursday)
Unit: 170 Squadron
Type: Lancaster Mk.I
Base: RAF Hemswell, Lincolnshire
Location: Aijen (Limburg) Netherlands
Pilot: Flt.Lt. Thomas Cecil Birdwood Smith 173785 RAFVR Age? Killed
Flt.Eng: Flt.Sgt. Leslie Robert Willis. 1604003 RAFVR Age 22. Injured (2)
Nav: Flt.Sgt. John Claude Hartley 426587 RAAF Age? PoW. No number or Camps listed (1) (2)
Air Bmr: Flt.Sgt. Arthur Charles Morris Bates 1253523 RAFVR. Age? PoW. No number or Camps listed (2)
WOp/Air Gnr: Flt.Sgt. William Frederick Edward Mole 1587035 RAFVR. Age? PoW. No number or Camps listed (2)
Air Gnr: Flt.Sgt. John Richard Downing 1517775 RAFVR Age? PoW. No number or Camps listed
Air Gnr: Flt.Sgt. Ronald Edward Price 1308587 RAFVR Age? PoW. No number or Camps listed (2)
If you have any further information on the loss of this aircraft, crew, their relatives and friends than please contact us via the "add info" button at the top of this page. Update: friends of 'Papa Joe' Hartley contacted us in February 2015. Update: January 2016 Relatives of Flt.Sgt. Willis contacted us.
RAF Hemswell. Lincolnshire and Lancaster getting ready for take off (both courtesy of Imperial War Museum)
NN744 is briefly featured, as are 150 Sqn and 170 Sqn Lancasters, in the film "Night Bombers" which was filmed at RAF Hemswell in Lincolnshire. The video of the film is still available for purchase.
REASON FOR LOSS:
Lancaster NN744 took off from RAF Hemswell at 19:09hrs for an operation on Duisburg. One of 363 Lancasters that took off that night for Duisburg, escorted by 11 Mosquitoes.
16 aircraft from 170 Squadron took part in this operation and the returning crews reported that flak was heavy at the start of the bombing, but died down as the attack developed. Search lights were hampered by cloud and caused no difficulty to the crews.
Fire and smoke testify that the crew reports of good concentration of bombing was achieved. This was a successful operation and much damage was caused. 7 Lancasters were lost with 3 Lancasters crashing behind Allied lines in Europe. Lancaster NN744 may have been one of these aircraft as this might account for the crew not being listed with PoW numbers or camps. This was the last major operation by Bomber Command on Duisburg.
Duisburg after an earlier bombing operation (courtesy Imperial War Museum) Duisburg 21/22nd February 1954 (courtesy Australian War Memorial)
(1) Flt.Sgt. John Claude Hartley was born 17th March 1923 in Cairns, Queensland, Australia. The Courier Mail, Brisbane Thursday 24th May 1945 states that eighty-two Queensland PoW now in England - Plt.Off. J. C. Hartley of Cairns being one of them.
John Claude Hartley ‘Papa Joe’ remained in the RAAF after the war, retiring as a Wing Commander. Still living in his own home in Queensland, Australia in January 2015.
Right: John Claude Hartley ‘Papa Joe’ in 2015 (courtesy Howard Chetham)
He recalls the events of the 22nd February 1945:
"Our Lancaster was shot down by a night fighter using the Schräge Musik (upward firing guns) - both port engines were on fire and the fuel supply could not be shut off. I baled out and hoped that I would land in the British zone but the wind was taking me over the German lines. I tried to adjust my descent but as I thought the chute was going to candle, I abandoned the idea.
Shortly after I landed I was surrounded by German soldiers. When they started to look under the hedges I thought that they were going to shoot me. They were looking for our dugout which turned out to be quite sophisticated and well lit. The German officer in charge was quite high in rank, either a half or full Colonel, well spoken and could have been accepted in any Officers Mess back in England.
When they left the dugout they could see the flash of guns not so far away. The German officer looked and just said ‘Tommies’. His next comment was ‘what do you think of the war now?’ I replied: ‘I wish it was over.’ The officer said, so do I, my wife is in Potsdam.’
I was then taken to a prison camp and later transferred to Stalag VII-A Moosburg in Southern Bavaria where I remained until war end. The camp was liberated on the 29th April 1945 by the United States 14th Armoured Division."
(2) Flt.Sgt. Leslie Robert Willis, Flt.Sgt. John Claude Hartley, Flt.Sgt. Arthur Charles Morris Bates, Flt.Sgt. William Frederick Edward Mole and Flt.Sgt. Ronald Edward Price had been involved in a flying accident on the 19th August 1944 while serving with 103 Squadron. Lancaster MkI LM293 took off at 22:29hrs from RAF Elsham Wolds on an operation to Ertvelde Rieme to attack oil depot and fuel storage. The aircraft crashed on returning to base. No injuries reported.
Flt.Lt. Thomas Cecil Birdwood Smith. Jonkerbos War Cemetery, Netherlands. Grave Ref. 17.B.2. Husband to Edith Vera Smith from Hornchurch, Essex, England.
Flt.Lt. Smith had first been buried in Aijen cemetery.
Flt.Sgt. Leslie Robert Willis. Steenwijkerwold (Kallenkote) General Cemetery, Netherlands. Grave Ref. Row 2. Grave 4. Born on the 12th January 1923. Son of Robert and Tracey I. (née Treacher) Willis from Slough, Buckinghamshire, England.
Flt.Sgt. Willis was injured when the aircraft crashed and was taken to hospital where he died on the 6th April 1945.
Researched by: Kate Tame Aircrew Remembered and for all the relatives and friends of the crew.
Additional information and photograph of Mr. John Hartley kindly submitted to Aircrew Remembered in February 2015 by Howard Chetham of Queensland, Australia. Who has also supplied us with other information on RAAF aircrew which we hope to use in other articles. Also to Anthony Cannon, relative of Flt.Sgt. Willis who contacted us in January 2016 - as well as ex RAF Harold Warburton who is assisting the Willis family research his loss. Thanks to Donald Grant for the information regarding the film "Night Bombers". (Nov 2020). Further updates by Aircrew Remembered (Nov 2020).