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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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90 Squadron Crest
16/17.09.1944 No. 90 Squadron Lancaster I LM169 WP-R2 F/O. Paul W. Tooley

Operation: Moerdijk

Date: 16/17th September 1944 (Saturday/Sunday)

Unit: No. 90 Squadron

Type: Lancaster I

Serial: LM169

Code: WP-R2

Base: RAF Tuddenham, Suffolk

Location: Stoopepolder, Netherlands

Pilot: F/O. Paul William Tooley 152479 RAFVR Age ? Killed

Fl/Eng: Sgt. Roy Whittington 1851166 RAFVR Age 20. Killed

Nav: F/O. Harry Johnson 146308 RAFVR Age 23. Killed

Air/Bmr: F/O. James Edward Brown 153303 RAFVR Age 23. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: F/O. David Selwyn Thomas 169609 RAFVR Age 19. Killed

Air/Gnr: Sgt. Eric John Smalldon 1607395 RAFVR Age 21. Killed

Air/Gnr: Sgt. Leslie Mathers Gill 1681271 RAFVR Age 36. Killed


Researched by Henk Nooteboom, leading Dutch researcher and author based in the Netherlands - submitted to Aircrew Remembered July 2015. 


REASON FOR LOSS:

Operation ‘Market Garden’, in Holland known as ‘the battle for Arnhem’, is the largest operation on Dutch soil during the Second World War. It starts with RAF attacks on targets that can be a hazard for the air fleet that will transport parachutists to Arnhem and Nijmegen. Two hundred Lancasters and 23 Mosquitoes bomb airfields near Hopsten, Leeuwarden, Steenwijk and Rheine. A second group, 48 Lancasters and 5 Mosquitoes were sent out to bomb flak positions near the bridge at Moerdijk. The Lancasters are drawn from three squadrons; the largest part, 24 aircraft, from 90 Squadron while 75 and 115 Squadron each contributed 12. 

The crew of LM169 L-R: Sgt. Roy Whittington, Sgt. Leslie Gill, F/O. James Brown, F/O David Thomas (?), Sgt. Eric Smalldon and F/O. Paul Tooley. (courtesy Henk Nootenboom)

From 21:14 the Lancasters started to take off from their bases at Tuddenham, Witchford and Mepal, all in the Cambridge area. It’s an easy mission in comparison with those over Germany; most of the aircraft are back after about three hours. There are no problems during the flight although some shots are fired at German night fighters. 

Five Mosquitoes are detailed to mark the target. Two from 105 Squadron, flown by Fl/Lt. Tidy and Fl/Lt. Taylor, and one from 109 Squadron, flown by F/O. Mountains mark the target accurately with red ‘Target Indicators’. The other two 109 Squadron aircraft, flown by Fl/Lt. Petts and Sq/Ldr. Burt can’t drop their loads due to technical reasons and bring their Ti’s back to Little Staughton. The flares that were dropped, gave enough light, and the Lancasters could drop their loads after identifying the targets visually. From heights between 9000 – 10,000 feet at least 384 x 1000 lbs and 140 x 500 lbs bombs are dropped. The bomb load of No. 75 Squadron was not reported.

LM693 crew; on the wing P/O. Peter Dooley, standing L-R; F/O. Wilfred Scanlan, F/O. Arnold Johnston, Fl/Sgt. Uriah Butters, P/O. Douglas Dawson, F/O. Peter Bickford and P/O. Donald Flood. (courtesy Henk Nootenboom)

On the Dordrecht side of the bridge, the Keller family experienced the bombing close by:

Saturday night very heavy bombardment on Willemsdorp at 12:00 hours. The house rumbled and 3 sets of curtains fell from the wall. Got out of bed quickly and got dressed but too late for ….. Then we laid down on the floor near the toilet. Happily my wife is well again and out of bed for the whole week.

'Then it became calmer and outside was lit by 20 flares over the bridge. At v/d Zee fell 20 bombs, just past the barn, at 200 meters. At H. de Jong 3 cows were killed by fragments. There were holes in the road surface (of the bridge?) and the railroad bridge but these were not collapsed. The access to the bridge was heavily damaged, big holes everywhere. There was no more light in the house, so we all searched for batteries, lights and matches. Everything was very confused, so we all went back to bed.'

This is of course unknown to the pilots; they are, at first, excited about the mission and what they have seen. Remarks like ‘very concentrated bombing’, bridge is clearly hit’, perfect trip’ and ‘perfect attack’ are seen in the logbooks. One even uses the phrase ‘wizard prang’, meaning something like fantastic result. 

There are only two disturbing facts; three crews reported to have seen a large orange-red fireball at 22:58 hours. And there are two planes missing. Likely these two facts are connected and that these two planes have collided with each other over the target. Fl/Lt. Bruce Johnston wrote in his diary: ‘There was little opposition, but we lost Bickford and crew on this trip. It came as a shock to all of us. I saw a chop (RAF slang for crash or get killed), which must have been Bick. At first I thought it was too big to be a chop, but apparently it was not.’

The target, Northern end of Moerdijk Bridge, Maria polder is in the left upper corner. (courtesy Henk Nootenboom)

Lancaster LM169, plane ‘R for Robert’ from 90 Squadron flown by F/O. Paul Tooley crashes in the flooded area of the Stoopepolder. The complete crew are lost. The second Lancaster, LM693, ’T for Tommy’ from 115 Squadron crashed a little to the East, in the ‘Mariapolder’. The plane is loaded with 15 bombs, 11 x 1000 Lbs. and 4 x 500 Lbs. The bombs do not explode as they are armed only when leaving the airplane. 

Sadly also this crew has no survivors. The 200 tons of explosives hardly damages the German guns, only a road is cut off. The crash of LM169 is quickly known at Strijen where mayor Bolman writes in his diary:

‘Around 23:00 hours an Allied plane (type unknown) crashed in the flooded area of the Stoopepolder, between J. Schouwenburg and P. van den Berg. Plane totally destroyed. Nothing is known about its crew. No personal accidents.’  It’s five days later when he learns about the second aircraft: ‘At present it became clear that on September 16th another English plane has crashed, this time on a stretch of farmland of Mr. Van Vliet in the Mariapolder. The plane is totally destroyed. In all probability a collision has occurred with the other plane that came down on the same date. The bodies of the four airmen were buried on the spot by the Germans, their names are unknown to me as are the locations of the graves. This whilst other Germans have arrived in the meantime and they don’t know where the graves are.’

Municipal official Cor Vos is a member of the recovery crew: 

‘The two planes had crashed in the night of 16 to 17 September in the Mariapolder and the flooded area nearby. Mayor Bolman had told us to go and recover the bodies of the airmen, but German permission only came nine days later. When we finally arrived with two carts and seven men at the scene, we saw the wreckage of the plane that was completely shattered. The airmen were very sloppily buried by the Germans, some only partially. When we laid them in the coffins we noticed that watches and rings had already been removed! 

This and many other loses are covered in the latest publication of Henk Strijenaar Nootenboom: Luchtoorlog Hoeksche Waard 1940-1945.

After we had recovered six bodies, we had to search for the seventh victim, which we found in the tail eventually. The area where the other plane had come down was flooded so we could not recover these crew members.  

The first one to be buried at Strijen cemetery at September 25th is Douglas Dawson. There was much interest from the population , but all went quiet. Next day the other six men were buried, with only the names of Donald Flood, Peter Bickford and Wilfred Scanlan known. 

All were buried ‘under the Dutch flag’ as there were no English flags available. 

It was January 1946 before all the names of the victims are known.

The crew from ‘R for Robert’ was recovered and identified after the war by a team from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and buried at nearby Dordrecht.

We can say now that these men were the first casualties of ‘Market Garden’. 

Crew graves at Dordrecht Cemetery (courtesy Moos Raaijmakers) Insert - mother of F/O. Thomas visiting his grave marker in 1947 (courtesy Henk Nootenboom)

Burial details:

F/O. Paul William Tooley. Dordrecht General Cemetery. Row A. Grave 13. No further details - are you able to assist?

Sgt. Roy Whittington. Dordrecht General Cemetery. Row A. Grave 9. Son of Harry and Hilda Whittington, of Ryde, Isle of Wight, England.  Grave inscription reads: ‘Tho’ Far Away You Are Sleeping In Our Hearts We Are Thinking Thoughts Of You.’

F/O. Harry Johnson. Dordrecht General Cemetery. Row A. Grave 12. Son of Fred Herbert and Lilian Ethel Johnson, of Hull, England. Grave inscription reads: ‘In Heavenly Love Abiding His Duty Nobly Done.’

F/O. James Edward Brown. Dordrecht General Cemetery. Row A. Grave 11. Son of William and Bertha Isabella Brown, of Nelson, Lancashire, England. Grave inscription reads: ‘A Loving Heart A Smiling Face A Broken Link We Cannot Replace.’

F/O. David Selwyn Thomas. Dordrecht General Cemetery. Row A. Grave 10. Son of John Llewellyn Thomas and Sarah Bowen Thomas, of Swansea, Wales. Grave inscription reads: ‘At Rest Yn Gorffwys.’

Sgt. Eric John Smalldon. Dordrecht General Cemetery. Row A. Grave 8. Son of Albert John and Ruth Smalldon, of Eastleigh, Hampshire, England. Grave inscription reads: ‘Treasured Memories Of Eric Son Of R. And A. Smalldone Of Eastleigh, England.’

Sgt. Leslie Mathers Gill. Dordrecht General Cemetery. Row A. Grave 7. Son of Henry and Edith H. Gill, of Birkdale, Southport, Lancashire, England. M.Inst. R.A. Grave inscription reads: ‘Only Son Of Edith H. And the Late Henry Gill Of Birkdale Southport England.’

From ‘Luchtoorlog Hoeksche Waard’ researched and written by Henk Strijenaar Nootenboom, NL Books 2015. Available direct from the author - please contact us. Grave photographs courtesy Moos Raaijmakers.

H.N 18.07.2015

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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