12.02.1942 No. 420 Squadron Hampden I P4400 PT-J P/O. Topping DFM.
Date: 12th February 1942 (Thursday)
Unit: No. 420 Squadron (RCAF)
Type: Hampden I
Base: RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire.
Location: English Channel.
Pilot: P/O. John Robert Topping DFM. 103530 RAFVR Age 24. Missing - believed killed
Obs: Sgt. Frederick William Ashfield 116084 RAFVR Age ? Missing - believed killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: F/O. Edward Graham Fowler 81397 RAFVR Age 30. Missing - believed killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Thomas Henry Mate 1050108 RAFVR Age 22. Missing - believed killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
Took off at 13:37 hrs on Operation 'Fuller" the famous channel dash of the German battleships Scharnorst and Gneisenau. Another six aircraft from the squadron left an hour earlier to the same target. Two others left an hour after P4400, all with the object of crippling or sinking the pride of the German fleet as they broke out of Brest harbour.
The weather obscured the targets with only a couple of Hampdens actually finding and attacking with no success.
P4400 was lost without trace, as was another from 420 Squadron, Hampden AT134 PT-K flown by Squadron Leader George L.B. Harris, all eight crew members from both aircraft killed or missing.
P/O. John Robert Topping D.F.M. and newspaper reports (see credits)
Sgt. John Topping earned his DFM while flying Hampdens with 106 Squadron. His citation from the London Gazette, dated 23rd September 1941 reads:
'Sergeant Topping has captained an aircraft on 31 operations which have included 10 “Gardening” operations off the coast of France and Germany and 21 bombing raids on the heavily defended Naval yards of the enemy and the industrial cities in the Ruhr. His consistent skill and courage have earned him a considerable measure of success. On the night of 4th April 1941, he carried out a daring low-level attack on “Scharnhost” in Brest Harbour and was only 50 feet above sea level before pulling out of the dive in which his aircraft was hit by a tracer and his navigator wounded. This N.C.O. is a pilot whose skill, courage and conscientiousness have been outstanding throughout his service in the squadron and his reliable execution of his operations and the ground duties have undoubtedly been an example to other members of the squadron'.
Above: John Topping with wife Kathleen, his parents and brother Captain T. Topping (courtesy Walter Alberto Mazzeo)
None - all are classed as 'missing' and commemorated on the Runnymede memorial
P/O. John Robert Topping DFM. Runnymede Memorial Panel 72. Further information: Fourth son of Mrs. Annie Mary and the late Mr. Thomas Topping, husband of Kathleen (née Lockett) Topping of Bedford and father to Jacqueline born in April 1942. He was born in Carlisle, worked as a pupil for his father who was the Sanitary Inspector for Rochester at the Sanitary Inspectors Office before joining the Air Force in 1938. Had two brothers in the forces, one in the R.A.M.C. the other, Captain T. Topping serving in the Royal Artillery.
Sgt. Frederick William Ashfield. Runnymede Memorial Panel 77. Husband of J.W. Ashfield of Halstead, Essex, England.
F/O. Edward Graham Fowler. Runnymede Memorial Panel 66. Adopted son of Edward and Rose Fowler, husband of Dorothy Anne Fowler of Wembley, England.
Sgt. Thomas Henry Mate. Runnymede Memorial Panel 89. Son of James T. Mate and Batty Harriet Mate of Wortley, Yorkshire, England. Also listed on the Penistone Grammar School Memorial, Barnsley.
Researched by Aircrew Remembered, researcher and specialist genealogist Linda Ibrom for relatives of this crew. With special thanks for information and photo’s to Marshall Topping, nephew of Pilot Officer Topping. Thanks also to Martyn Critchlow for sending information on Sgt. Thomas Mate (February 2013 - via our help desk) To Walter Alberto Mazzeo Great Grandson of the pilot who contacted us in March 2018.