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Archive Report: Allied Forces

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248 Squadron
30.06.1944 248 Squadron, Mosquito FB.VI HR134, Plt Off. W. Tonge

Operation: Shipping strike, France

Date: 30th June 1944 (Friday)

Unit: 248 Squadron, Coastal Command

Type: Mosquito FB.VI

Serial No: HR134

Code: DM:Z

Location: Off the coast near Sainte-Marine, Brittany, France

Base: RAF Portreath, Cornwall

Pilot: Plt Off. Walter Tonge 176020 RAFVR Age 30. Survived (1)

Navigator: Flt Sgt. Richard Rigby 1107517 RAFVR Age 23. Survived (1)

Fg Off. Tonge and Flt Sgt. Rigby were credited with the destruction of a Ju88 in air-to-air combat on the 10th March 1944.

REASON FOR LOSS:

248 Sqn put up fourteen Mosquitos, including HR134, from RAF Portreath between 12:56 and 13:05 hrs on the 30th June 1944 on an anti-shipping strike. 248 Sqn and was the lead for seven Mosquitos from 235 Sqn and nine Rocket Projectile (RP) Beaufighters from 404 Sqn based at Davidstow Moor. The Mosquitos were tasked with flak suppression.

At 14:24 hrs the formation sighted three vessels 1 mile south of Bénodet Point, and a further four just outside Concarneau Harbour which the leader decided to attack.

The enemy shipping comprised, two 216 ft M-Class Minesweepers, one Trawler Type Auxiliary and one Patrol Vessel of approximately 600 tons.

HR134 was one of five Mosquitos that attacked the first Minesweeper from the port bow and beam in a series of shallow dives with one of the Mosquitos continuing its attack on the second Minesweeper. Heavy and Light flak was experienced which was moderate and not very accurate. The ships for some reason appeared to hold fire while aircraft prepared to attack, however, later attacking aircraft experienced no return fire at all from the ships.

Shore flak batteries were active during the engagement with both Heavy and Light flak. HR134 was hit in the port wing and a small fire broke out. The aircraft withdrew from the attack and made a perfect landing in a calm sea.

The crew were seen to exit the aircraft and to get into their dinghy. A small sailing vessel was seen a few hundred yards from the scene of the ditching and it was hoped that they would pick up the crew. The Commanding Officer of the squadron circled the area but was driven off by flak from the shore.

The after mission assessment claimed that the two Minesweepers were badly damaged and on fire in clouds of greyish smoke. The Trawler Auxiliary and Patrol Vessel were also badly damaged and left smoking amidships. Numerous RP strikes were registered by the Beaufighters on all vessels. This attack was made by a large number of aircraft on a small number of ships, which was considered largely responsible for the success. The Beaufighters reported little opposition from the ships and a good deal of damage appears to have been done by cannon fire.

(1) The Breton Federation of the 39-45 Air Remembrance have researched the circumstances of the deaths of the two airmen. The following is a translation and summary of their research:

The circumstances of the deaths of Plt Off. Tonge and Flt Sgt. Rigby remain unclear. Eyewitnesses claim to have seen the two airmen in their dinghy heading towards the coast. A German motorboat soon afterwards headed for the area and, spotting the dinghy in the distance, proceeded towards it. It returned to port with two lifeless airmen on board, one dead from wounds and the other with lungs filled with sea water.

After the war Walter's father, Harold Tonge, not receiving satisfactory news from the RAF to whom he had written many letters, finally decided to go to the continent. After questioning many people who would not answer, he finally discovered that Walter and his navigator were in their dinghy when the Germans spotted them. When the Germans came upon them, they shot and killed Richard Rigby and Walter jumped into the water to escape the same fate. Walter tried to swim away but the Germans caught him and held him under with a boathook until he drowned.

The circumstances leading to the deaths of the two airmen were subject to an investigation by the British War Crimes Group. It is known that three German nationals were named and accused of the killings. The three accused were: Johannes Ukena, Diedrich Koenen and Emil Heinrich Hassenpflug.

The results of the investigation are not currently available and it is not known if the accused were brought before a court to examine their role in the deaths of the two airmen.

Burial Details:

Plt Off. Walter Tonge. Combrit Churchyard, Finistère, France. Born on the 15th May 1914 in Langley Moor, County Durham. Son to Harold and Catherine (née Boland) Tonge of County Durham, England.

987493 WO Walter Tonge was appointed a commission and promoted to Plt Off. with effect 3rd May 1944

Flt Sgt. Richard Rigby. Combrit Churchyard, Finistère, France. Born on the 31st July 1920. Son to Richard and Hannah (née Thomas) Rigby of Wigan, Lancashire, England.

Combrit is the larger community to which Sainte-Marine belongs. The cemetery is not a Military Cemetery but just the local churchyard. The CWGC graves for Plt Off. Tonge and Flt Sgt. Rigby are the only ones in the cemetery.

Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with additional thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’.

RS & TV 05.08.2021 - Initial upload

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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, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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