16/17.12.1943 No. 138 Squadron (SOE) Halifax V LL115 NF-A Fl/Sgt. John G.A. Watson
Operation: S.O.E. (Special Operations Executive)
Date: 16/17th December 1943 (Thursday/Friday)
Unit: No. 138 Squadron
Type: Halifax V
Base: RAF Tempsford, Bedfordshire
Location: Capel Green, Woodbridge, Suffolk
Pilot: Fl/Sgt. John George Addison Watson 1043277 RAFVR Age 22. Killed
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Norman Montague Gillis R/97720 RCAF Age 22. Killed
Nav: Sgt. John Robert Hoddinott 1585048 RAFVR Age ? Killed
Air/Bmr: Sgt. Herbert Donald King 1586586 RAFVR Age 26. Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. George Osborne 1533381 RAFVR Age 20. Killed
Air/Gnr: P/O. L. Pearcey RAAF Injured
Air/Gnr: Sgt. I. Scaellenberg Injured
Air/Gnr: Sgt. W.F. Sutherland Injured
We would like contact from relatives of this crew, in particular Sgt. Norman Montague Gillis as a Norman Parker has adopted this grave, he places flowers on the grave every Remembrance Sunday.
REASON FOR LOSS:
Took off from RAF Tempsford, Bedfordshire at 20.30 hrs, on a special operation to drop ’12 containers and 5 packages’ in the hills at approximately 25 km south east of area of Carcassone, Portugal.
After being in the air for nearly 10 hours the Halifax returned encountering severe weather conditions (1), the crew decided to land at RAF Woodbridge (2) in Suffolk. During the landing the aircraft crashed into trees at Capel Green in the early morning of Friday 17th December at 05.30 hrs.
138 Squadron lost 3 aircraft this night, the others:
Halifax II LW280 NF-K flown by Fl/Sgt. T.M. Thomas crashed into the sea, 4 crew members being killed.
Halifax V LL119 NF-L Flown by F/O. R.W. Johnson was abandoned and crashed into the sea off Felixstowe, Suffolk - all the crew surviving.
(1) A terrible night for Bomber Command, severe fog had set in, together with very low cloud. 32 aircraft were wrecked in crash landings alone with 127 crew members being killed and a further 34 injured. The worst bad weather casualties for the RAF for the whole of the second world war.
(2) In 1943, Woodbridge was constructed as one of three airfields set up to accept damaged or fuel-short bombers returning from raids over Germany, it was therefore fitted with long, heavy-duty runways. It was initially called RAF Station Sutton Heath. The site at Woodbridge was chosen as it was 'nearly fog-free and had no obstructions for miles', although more than a million trees had to be cleared from Rendlesham Forest to take the new base. Following the events of this night the landing facilities at RAF Woodbridge were dramatically changed with a FIDO (3) installation.
(3) FIDO - Fog investigation and Dispersal Operation. A series of pipelines running either side of the runway into which petrol was injected under pressure, the petrol was then ignited through small holes in the pipes by burners fitted at certain intervals along its length. The resulting fire produced heat so intense that it literally burned the fog away from the immediate vicinity. FIDO became fully operational at Woodbridge in May 1944. It saved many other lives.
Fl/Sgt. John George Addison Watson. Houghton-Le-Spring Cemetery. Sec D. Grave 2789. Son of Jane Stafford Watson, of Chilton Moor, County Durham, England.
Sgt. Norman Montague Gillis. Rushden Cemetery. Grave 4. Son of Duncan and Florence Ethel Gillis, of Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada.
Right: Grave of Sgt. Norman Montague Gillis, adopted by Norman Parker.
Sgt. John Robert Hoddinott. Horsington Cemetery. Grave 432. NoK details currently not available - are you able to assist completion of these and any other information?
Sgt. Herbert Donald King. West Harptree Churchyard. Grave 294. Son of Herbert Tyler King and Hilda Annie King, of East Harptree, Bristol, England.
Sgt. George Osborne. Tynemouth Cemetery. Sec J. R.C. Grave 1808. Son of George and Mary Osborne, of North Shields, Tyneside, England.
Researched for Norman Parker, and for relatives / friends of the crew. For further details our thanks to the following, Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vol's. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vol's. 1 and 2', Tom Kracker - 'Kracker Luftwaffe Archives'. Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries (Updated 2014 version), Commonwealth War Graves Commission.