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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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169 Squadron Crest
06/07.12.1944 No. 169 Squadron Mosquito VI NT172 VI-A Fl/Sgt. Robert J. Ware

Operation: BS (Bomber Support)

Date: 06/07th December 1944 (Wednesday/Thursday)

Unit: No. 169 Squadron

Type: Mosquito VI

Serial: NT172

Code: VI-A

Base: RAF Great Massingham, Nr. Kings Lynn, Norfolk.

Location: Liege, Belgium

Pilot: Fl/Sgt. Robert John Ware 1338162 RAFVR Age 22. Injured

Nav: Fl/Sgt. Benjamin R. Soper RAFVR Age ? Unhurt

REASON FOR LOSS:

Hit by flak and then by night fighters. We have not, yet, been able to place the Luftwaffe pilot who shot them down.

We are indebted to the family of the pilot Fl/Sgt. Robert Ware who have supplied us with the full story of this nights events and more:

After we signed up for the RAF at Prewet Street in Bristol, we all went to Viceroy Court, which was an RAF receiving centre (near the Lords Cricket ground) where we picked up our uniform. I was to become AC.2 (Airman 2nd Class). Here our Sergeant would take us on a route march around the area and we used to stop off at a café for toast and jam, then back to the billet. Each night we ate at London Zoo, where all the aircrew ate. We left London after training and more exams, then there was physical training, and we went to Brighton for a course in Morse code, Aircraft Recognition and Basic Navigation. I was then accepted for aircrew training.

There were still more exams which I passed and at the beginning of May 1942 I moved on to a grading school, a small training place at Newmarket Road called Marshalls Flying School, in Cambridge.

Starting on May 7th 1942 I did 12 hours training and went solo at 11 hours on June 1st. On June 2nd I had a grading test and I was then on the road to Pilot Training.

I was sent to ITW (Initial Training Wing) after flying solo. I flew a tiger moth at ITW at Stratford on Avon for 2 months. After ITW we were then selected for either Pilot Training or Navigator Training by a selection board. I was selected as a Pilot, this wasn’t positive, it could be changed.

Right: The Letitia

After that I went to a distribution centre at Heaton Park, Manchester for a bit of Physical Training, then on to Greenock in Glasgow and boarded a troop ship called ‘Letitia’ (1) and sailed to Canada landing in Halifax, Nova Scotia some 7 - 8 days later.

We all went to a receiving centre at Moncton, New Brunswick, which was a big camp receiving British trainees. We then boarded a train to the USA, but we never got there as the Yanks had joined the war by then and wouldn’t accept any more British trainees. So we hung around in Canada. Eventually we were put on a train and went through Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa, Kingston and around the great Lakes. On to Renora and Winnipeg which took 3 days and 2500 miles on to Regina ending up in Calgary. It was a wonderful experience, we went right across the Prairies on the Canadian National Railways.

Then on 1st September 1942 we all went to elementary Flying School at 31 (EFTS - Elementary Flying Training School) Dewinton, Alberta on the Bow River, where we did horse riding and sports in our spare time. This was a civilian flying school where I was flying a Sherman, with Sgt. Bowie, this is where I got my elementary flying certificate after flying for 60 hours and numerous night landings.

Then on 1st January 1943 I went to Calgary 37 SFTS (Service Flying Training School) where I flew Harvards for 150 hours with Sgt. Smalley, P/O. Ralton, P/O. Waugh and P/O. McLannahan, here we did Low Flying, Spinning and Navigation. On March 10th 1943 I went to a flying instructors school at Trenton flying Harvards and the Fairchild Cornell for 60 hours, then on to Calgary and on to Ontario on the Great Lakes where I did more flying training and instructors training.

We got our ‘Wings’ before we went on leave. Then from Vancouver we had to get back to Calgary, so we started walking! After a while a Canadian Police Officer picked us up and took us back to Vancouver and told us to go back to the RAF base. We were then given a railway warrant to get to Calgary. From here a lot went back to the UK. I was selected to become a flying instructor and went to Ontario to do the course.

I did not like instructing, I just wanted to get on with flying myself, so:

Left: Lieu Pastiuer

I was sent back to England on the ‘Lieu Pastiuer ‘ a French Boat! and landed in Liverpool some 8 days later. From Liverpool I was sent to Harrogate to a receiving centre. From there I was posted to 12 (P) AFU for advanced training at Spittlegate, Grantham, where I flew Blenhaim Beauforts for 60 hours starting on 1st December 1943. We were grounded here which was very frustrating, due to thick fog.

After Grantham I was posted to 51 OTU (Operational Training Unit) at Cranfield, Bedfordshire, where I flew Bristol Beaufighters for 75 hours. Then went to BSTU for a further 20 hours flying on Beaufighters on 12 April 1944. Brief training followed this on duel Mosquitoes. Then I was off to Little Snoring in Norfolk to Mosquito training. After that I went to Great Massingham in Norfolk, and was posted to 169 squadron, flying operationally from Great Massingham on the Norfolk 100 (Special Duties) Group, Bomber Command. We were called the serrate squadron, because they were fitted with the serrate device, which picked up and ‘homed’ in on emissions such as Lichtenstein night fighter radar also we had ‘Gee’ navigational aids. From Great Massingham I did more than 30 trips over Germany or 210 hours from 21st April 1944 to 6th December 1944.

On December 6th 1944 I was shot down. This night I went up with my navigator, Ben Soper. (3) It was a terrible night, cloudy, and very bad weather, but they said it was a clear night out over the sea off Norfolk and the weather was good above the clouds (of course!). We were carrying out high level Bomber Support patrol in the Koblenz area.

Robert with his wife Gwendoline - 1947

Doug Waite (2) (a good friend who has remained friends until this time) was also going out that night and we made a pact to talk to each other on the way out and on the way back. On the way out we spoke for a short time and said ‘talk again on the way back’. But I got hit by heavy flak at 15,000 feet and realised the Mossy was going down. Then I became the victim of an enemy night fighter. Violent evasive action led to further loss of height, the drop tanks were jettisoned and I struggled desperately to maintain flying speed long enough to reach the Allied front. Because I had lost all power and lost height I told my navigator to get out. I then took my helmet off and stuck it over the control column and jumped. It was rather low and it was rather late for my parachute to open. I was relieved to be out, as I knew that the aircraft was going to crash. I saw my Mosquito hit the ground with a flash, it was awful. I didn’t realise that I was going to break my ankle when I hit the ground, or what would happen to me after that, in fact I thought I was going to die.

I bailed out over Belgium and when I landed in a frozen field, breaking my ankle on impact I crawled for some distance out of the field and over a fence and into an ex US Army truck that was parked up in a field. The Battle of the Bulge was in operation at the time and the Americans had suffered considerable casualties. I hid there all night not really knowing what was going to happen to me, then in the early hours of the morning I heard voices, American voices, so I blew as hard as I could on my whistle to let them know I was there. I had already found a letter in the cab addressed to an American Soldier and there was a big white star on the bonnet so I knew it was American. I also knew I was somewhere near Liege.

At this time a telegram had been sent to my Mother and Father explaining my aircraft had been shot down and I was missing. I cannot imagine how they must have felt receiving this telegram, they had a day and a night to go through before they had the second telegram then a letter explaining that I had been found.

Douglas Waite had got back that night safe and sound, but was up all night in the control tower waiting for some word of me. He had tried to contact me on his way back but had no luck, and had a feeling something had happened to me.

The Americans had found my parachute and were looking for me. I could hear American voices getting closer and then an American Soldier, from the Medical Collecting Company, was stood in front of me. He asked if I was hurt and asked if I was the Airman that crashed last night. I told him that I thought he had broken my leg, in fact it was my ankle, so they put my leg in a splint and took me to their field hospital, Noll Coy Hospital, near Malmedy.

There an American Doctor met me and he looked at my ankle and said he had to get me to a proper hospital for an operation. I stayed there for 3 - 4 days then was put on a train from Liege to Paris. It was a most harrowing experience on the train as there were literally dozens of American Soldiers very badly injured and the train was stopping and starting all the time. I went to Hospital in Paris for another 3 - 4 days. Here a Nurse took my battle dress top to the cleaners for me. After that short stay I was taken to Orly Airport near the Eiffel Tower and was flown back to Britain in an American Dakota. There I was put in hospital in Tarrant Tushton in Blandford, Dorset and stayed there for 3 - 4 weeks where they did the operation on my ankle, putting in pins to hold the bones together.

(1) The Letitia was used later as a hospital ship transporting wounded PoW’s back to England.

Above left: Robert with 4 generations of the family, right: Robert Ware and his wife Gwendoline

Robert John Ware sadly died on the 24th February 2009. He rarely discussed his wartime career until his family researched his life and managed to get him to write a little of his wartime career. His wife Gwendoline died earlier in 1998. Both are buried at Haycombe Cemetery in Bath, Somerset.

(2) Douglas Waite is a very close friend of the family to this day and regularly see one another. He recently RAF Great Massingham was a World War II RAF Heavy Bomber airfield located just to the east of the Norfolk village of Great Massingham. The airfield was built as a satellite airfield of RAF West Raynham in 1940. The airfield closed in 1945, although remained in use for storage until the 1950s. The airfield was sold in 1958 and returned to agricultural use. Although the runways are still present and still used, the control tower has been demolished.

(3) Ben Soper, we understand, worked at Timothy Whites chemist as a pharmacist after the war. They have since lost contact. No further details are available to date - we welcome contact from any relatives.

Burial details:

None - both crew survived the war.

Researched for the family of Fl/Sgt. Ware and relatives / friends. With thanks to the following: Alison Parsons and family of Fl/Sgt Ware, further sources as quoted below.

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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