23/24.04.1944 No 428 (Ghost) Squadron Handley Page Halifax LW285 MA-Z F/O. William (Bill) Vincent Blake DFC
Operation: Gardening in the Baltic area
Date: 23/24th April 1944 (Sunday/Monday)
Unit: No. 428 (Ghost) Squadron
Type: Handley Page Halifax Mk II
Base: RAF Middleton St. George, County Durham
Location: Solvesborg, Sweden
Pilot: F/O. William (Bill) Vincent Blake DFC J/14132 RCAF Age 21 Killed (1)
Fl/Eng: P/O. John Danskin 174694 RAF Age 31 Interned (2)
Nav: F/O. Neil Alan Bell J/14200 RCAF Age 24 Interned (3)
W/Op: W/O. Cyril Graham 1134777 RAF Age 24 Interned (4)
Air/Bmr: F/O. Walter David Watt J/21540 RCAF Age? Interned (5)
Air/Gnr: P/O. Thomas Jerry DFM R/193667 RCAF Age 26 Interned (6)
Air/Gnr: P/O. James (Jim) Talbert Houston DFC J/853371 RCAF Age 30 Interned (7)
REASON FOR LOSS:
Halifax LW285 took off at 20:46hrs for a mine laying (Gardening) operation in the Baltic area. On the way out the aircraft was attacked by Ju 88 night fighters who damaged the aircraft so severely and wounded Sgt. Jerry RCAF. The pilot Bill Blake asked for a course for Sweden and when over Southern Sweden the pilot gave the order to bale out. Six of the crew baled out at 9,000 feet, but the aircraft became uncontrollable and the pilot Bill Blake was lost and his remains have never been found. The aircraft crashed in the sea at Solversborg, Sweden
Hptm. Werner Husemann of Stab 1./NJG3 claimed to have attacked the aircraft over Tillitse, Lealand Island, and shot it down at 23:56hrs . This was his 17th abschuss (shooting down) of the war and he went on to claim a total of 32 night abschuss. Werner Husemann was born on the 10th November 1919 and was the holder of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and survived the war
Swedish divers tried to recover F/O. Blake's body in May 1944. A diver found the forward escape hatch blocked by something. A line was attached and brought to the surface. As the rescue boat started to pull on the line, a large explosion went off in the aircraft injuring 4 members of the rescue crew and damaging the boat. It was thought that there was now no hope in recovering the pilot
Ground staff "bombing up" a Handley Page Halifax Mk II (Courtesy of Imperial War Museum) Maj. Husemann shown here in the centre with his crew and ground crew. L to R. Ogefr.Meisolle, machanic, Ofw. H.G. Schierholz, BF, Husemann, FW. Moller, BS, FW. Fehmann 2nd BF (courtesy of Tom Kracker - Kracker Archives)
Map showing the area of the crash of Halifax LW285
Runnymede Memorial, Surrey
F/O. William (Bill) Vincent Blake DFC. Runneymede Memorial, Surrey Panel 245. Son of William Albert Blake and of Helen Parr Blake of Dundas, Ontario, Canada. (1) Born on the 16th November 1922, Ontario. William attended Central Collegiate and before enlisting worked at Dommion Foundries and Steel Company Ltd, Hamilton, Ontario. William enlisted on the 9th September 1941 and trained at No 3 (ITS) Initial Training School, Quebec, No 4 EFTS (Elementary Flying Training School, Windsor Mill, Ontario) and No 11 SFTS (Service Flying Training School, Yorkton, Saskatchewan) and was commissioned in 1942. Before going overseas he was an instructor at No 8 Flying Training School, Moncton and later was attached to Ferry Command before joining Bomber Command
Left: Hamilton Spectator 27th February 1946 (courtesy Canada War Museum)
On the 28th February 1944 on an operation to Leipzig "F/O. Blake was the pilot of an aircraft and on the outward flight the aircraft was attacked by 11 fighters, and before the enemy aircraft could be driven off the bomber sustained much damage. Soon afterwards three more fighters were encountered, but they were successfully evaded. A little later the bomber was hit by fire from the ground defences. More damage was sustained, rendering the intercommunication system inoperative, and cutting of oxygen to the rear of the aircraft. Although the aircraft became difficult to control, F/O Blake continued to the target which he successfully attacked, afterwards flying the damaged bomber to an airfield in this country" The bomber was badly damaged and the rear gunner was wounded in the neck. A. C. Cummings wrote "When the pilot of a bomber dives it through attacks by 11 night fighters, weathers two flak barrages and finally bombs the target, the feat usually calls for a celebration at the airbase. In the case of F/O. William V. Blake of Hamilton, it certainly did! The feat won him an immediate D.F.C"
Blake Island in Skootamatta Lake was named in memory of Flying Officer William (Bill) Vincent Blake DFC. On the 1st July 2007 the Cloyne and District Historical Society provided a plaque to commemorate William's heroism. Present at this ceremony was William's brother Robert (Dick) and his wife Edna with three of their four children, their families, grandchildren, local and island resident and historian Joanne Volpe
The memorial plaque in memory of William Vincent Blake DFC. Bill's brother Richard (Dick) with his private thoughts at the memorial site (courtesy of Cloyne and District Historical Society)
(2) P/O. John Danskin. Born on the 12th April 1913 in Scotland. John enlisted on the 29th April 1940 and was promoted to the rank of Flying Officer as per London Gazette 17th October 1944. John's report of his internment in Sweden states: "I baled out at 00.01hrs on 24th April and landed near the town of Solvesborg about 20 miles east of Kristlanstad, Sweden. I came down beside a man bicycling along a road. He immediately came to my assistance and took me to his house. About half an hour later a Swedish Army Officer arrived, and took me to Solvesborg, where I met F/O. Bell of my crew. The remainder of my experiences are as related by F/O. Bell in his report" John's address at the time of his report was 12 Macdonald Street, Motherwell, Scotland.
The Motherwell Times Friday November 3rd 1944 (courtesy of The British Newspaper Archive) states "In Sweden P/O. Danskin made a safe landing and was interned. The Swedish are as daft for football as we Scotts. Dankins told a "Times" man, and the game is played according to English laws subject to little variations. The teams do not compare with Rangers, Celtic or Motherwell, the players not having attained to the same class and a really good Scottish junior can match any of the best I saw in Sweden. It is a great country for sport, cycling, runners and jumpers. The Swedish teams were eager to be matched against a team of British internees and a series of Swedish v British international games were arranged.. Danskin played centre-half in the British team which included Bob Baillie from the Clyde. The International Red Cross were most helpful in equipping the British team for these contests. It was our townsman's experience to find himself among a friendly folk who tried to make him feel at home and went to some pains to teach him their language in very practical ways while they were also keen to learn English from him. Coal is very scares in Sweden and a wood fire is the common lot. Food is plentiful and the living conditions leave a favourable impression"
Left: The Lethbridge Herald 4th December 1944 (courtesy Canadian War Museum)
(3) F/O. Neil Alan Bell. Born on the 29th March 1920 in Delburne, Alberta Neil was educated at Torrington, Red Deer, Calgary Normal School and Queens University. Before enlisting Neil was a student, teaching in a school in Alberta. He enlisted on the 13th August 1941 and did part of his training at No 3 Bomber and Gunnery School, MacDonald, Manitoba where he gained his air gunners badge. Arriving in the UK in October 1942 he joined 428 Squadron and had flown many operations.
Neil's report of his internment in Sweden states: "I baled out and landed near the town of Solvesborg about 20 miles east of Kristlanstad. I walked to a house and woke the inhabitants. I was taken in, and the police were informed. After about half an hour the police and a Swedish Military Officer arrived, and I was taken to a barracks near the town. About two hours later P/O. Danskin, my engineer was brought in. We were taken to into Solvesborg, where we spent the night. Later that day (24 Apr) P/O. Houston, rear gunner and W/O. Graham, wireless operator joined me, and later that evening the bomb aimer, F/O. Watt also arrived. We remained at Solvesborg under guard until 26 April. On that day we travelled by train via Stockholm to Falun. We arrived on the 27 April and remained there until 10 October. While at Falun we were joined by Sgt. Jerry who had been wounded. We have not seen the pilot F/O Blake and it is thought he was killed in the aircraft which crashed into the sea near Solvesborg. On the 10 October we travelled by train to Stockholm, and left there on the 23 October by air for the UK" Neil returned to Canada and completed his degree at Queens University which he received in 1952. Neil Alan Bell died in 2009
(4) W/O. Cyril Graham. No further information. Are you able to help?
(5) F/O. Walter David Watt. No further information. Are you able to help?
Distinguished Flying Medal (courtesy of the London Gazette Archives)
(6) P/O. Thomas Jerry DFM. Born in 3 September 1918 in Toronto. Thomas had served with the Royal Canadian Artillery before enlisting in the RCAF on 18th September 1942. Thomas completed part of his training at No 3 Bomber Gunnery School, MacDonald, Manitoba before coming to the UK. Awarded DFM (Distinguished Flying Medal) while serving with No 428 Squadron 3 October 1944
Thomas's report of his internment in Sweden states: "I was wounded by explosive bullets, and can remember little about the attack until I was told to bale out. I left the plane about 23.59hrs and landed in wooded country near Kristlanstad, on the most southerly part of Sweden. I managed to crawl to a house, and was taken in, and given medical attention. The next day (24 Apr) I was taken by ambulance to a hospital at Kristlanstad where I remained for about two months. About 27 June I was discharged from hospital, and sent by train to Falun. Here I met the whole of my crew except F/O. Blake. I remained at Falun until 9 October when I was sent to Stockholm by train. I left there for Leuchars, Scotland by air on 19 October"
Left: Jim Houston's obituary (courtesy of William (Bill) Houston
(7) P/O. James (Jim) Talbert Houston DFC. Born on the 7th October 1913 in Carleton Place, Ontario. James enlisted on the 30th January 1941 and trained at No 1 Wireless School, Montreal and No 6 Bombing and Gunnery School, Mountain View, Ontario.
Awarded the DFC as per London Gazette dated 21st March 1944. The citation reads "Warrant Officer First Class James Talbert Houston (Can/R82755), Royal Canadian Air Force, No 428 (R.C.A.F.) Squadron. Warrant Officer Houston was the rear gunner of an aircraft detailed for a sortie one night in February 1944. On the outward flight the aircraft was attacked by a fighter and some damage was sustained. Soon afterwards three more enemy aircraft were encountered but, each time Warrant Officer Houston's clear and concise directions enabled his pilot to evade the enemy aircraft. When nearing the target the bomber was hit by shrapnel and Warrant Officer Houston was wounded in the shoulder. The oxygen point in his turret and the inter-communication system were rendered unserviceable. In spite of this, he remained at his post and, on seven occasions. Warrant Officer Houston displayed great courage and devotion to duty and his efforts contributed materially to the success of the sortie" James (Jim) Talbert Houston died on the 5th January 1989. Jim's 2nd cousin WO2 Edward James Houston became a POW in January 1944 when his aircraft Lancaster DS775 was shot down
Swedish people honour Hamilton hero 19th September 2015
Left: Richard Parr Blake holding a photograph of his brother William Vincent Blake. Richard who is aged 95 was unable to attend the memorial ceremony as the long journey would have been to much for him. Richard served in the Navy during the war and was informed of his brother death while serving in Ireland. William was best man at Richards wedding to Edna in 1943, Hove, Sussex and had visited Richard at HMS Elfin the submarine school at Blyth where he did not like the experience of a day at sea. Right: William and Dick together during the war
Left: Niece's of William Vincent Blake DFC. Jennifer DePetrillo (nee Blake) and sister Christine Watson (nee Blake) and their husbands flew in from Canada to attend the unveiling of the memorial. Right picture: Left to right. The back of Brigitta Thoro, Jan Landin, Christine Watson, Richard Watson, Daniel Berg, Jennifer Blake and Caroline Blake niece of Jennifer and Christine
Below: TORSÖ: Welcome speach written and read by Jan Landin
Jan Landin welcoming guests to the ceremony
You are very welcome to this ceremony here in Torsö Harbour' Most welcome Vice Chairman of Municipal Road in Sölvesborg Mr Daniel Berg and Most welcome are of course Mr Richard Blake and his wife Edna’s family Jennifer Blake and Christine Watson with their husbands and they’re nice Caroline Blake who has come all the way from Canada and Isle of Main, to be with us here to day. Mr Blake who is 96 years old had to stay in Canada. We send him our best thoughts. Mr Blake is the brother to the commander of the aircraft, which went down just outside of here. We are very impressed that family have taken this long journey. And also a Warm welcome to all of you who have come here to day.
My name is Jan Landin. I am a retired Captain of the Swedish Air force, I have been during my 35 years in the Air force flying lots of missions over the Baltic see and I have also served as a rescue pilot, my flying hours are a little more than 9000 hours. I have now the honor to be your host during this ceremony I will also translate part to Swedish. ÖVERSÄTT
To day we are hear together to remember a special occasion, which happened 23 of April 1944 here in Torsö, an aircraft went down just outside of this harbour. I will tell you the story of this special occasion, and after that we will have a church ceremony. We will also uncover a special remembrance plate. After the ceremony the family will go out too sea to visit the crash site. The story is as follows. A young man was in a little village talking to his friends when they heard a loud noise from the sky and suddenly there was a horrible crash noise. They understood that an aircraft had gone down. The young man took his bike and went for home. Suddenly on his way home he heard from forest there was coming a Hello. The young man on the bike stopped as a new Hello was heard and out of the forest came an airman. He asked if he was in Sweden and the young man confirmed that. The airman wanted to give him his torch but the young man was afraid to take it. Than the airmen gave him a button and this is the one. Visa. In the button there is a compass. The young man took the airman to a house where he knew that they had a telephone
But let us start from the beginning: We are in the middle of a horrible war. All of Europe is burning, young men and woman are dying, the allied forces are fighting for a free world so that we all can live in freedom. Now we know that they succeeded and we should all be grateful for that. We live in a free world even if there are signals that there still are threatening nations around us. But let us hope that there will still be peace. 1944 there is a squadron called the Ghost sqn, its number was 428 and they were placed at Middleton St George Air Force base in England. On this base there was a lot of bombing aircraft of the type Halifax MK ll. A Halifax bomber is a four engine heavy bomber; you can see it on a plate over there. ÖVERSÄTT
In each aircraft there was a crew of seven men, there was Pilot, Flight engineer, Bomb aimer, Navigator, Wireless Operator, Mid upper Gunner and Tail Gunner. Among all those aircrafts there was one called LW285 In this special crew was the commander William Vincent Blake his age was 21. The rest of the crew were all young men. I can feel how it must have been being so young and having command during a horrible war, it must have been very tuff. The crew was very proud of their captain, he and the crew had flown many missions together. He always took them back too the base, sometimes they wondered how he did this. In one mission they were badly hurt before the target, but Captain Blake took the aircraft to the target, made their mission and took it back to base again. For that he received the DFC (Distinguish flying Cross) When it came to their last mission, they had already made 19 ones together, but they didn’t like this mission. Every one felt that there luck was over, bur they couldn’t say no, they had to go. They went and they worked together as they always had done. This mission was to lay mines in the Baltic enemy water of the Kiel area. They took off from the base at 2046 and their heading was towards the Ireland of Sylt and than east. Their flight altitude was 13000 ft. Coming in over enemy territory they could see flak coming up in front of them. Suddenly in the darkness they were attacked. When they had 10 minutes to the target a German night fighter JU 88 flown by Captain Werner Huseman showed up. The rear gunner reported to the pilot that they were under attack, while he was shooting back at the German aircraft. He succeeded to hit the German in the fuselage, but the Halifax had been hit seriously. The hydraulic system was leaking, one man was hit, the intercom system was out of order. They had to shout to each other. The bomb hatch opened due to the hydraulic problem and it was difficult to steer the aircraft. I know that the pilot must have had a heavy situation in steering this big aircraft; I have flown an aircraft with hydraulic leek so I know. Together they took the decision to abort and go for Sweden, The mines were dropped and they continued flying to this area of Sweden. Pilot Blake had full power on the engines but was all the time descending, the ailerons were damaged and the aircraft was not easy too steer. By midnight they reached the Swedish coast. Flak was bursting around them, the flight engineer shoot a red emergency light. They could see the lights of towns and villages and the pilot intended to land because one man was wounded but the wounded man said that he could bail out so that became the decision. Pilot Blake ordered the crew to bale out by saying “ I cant fly this thing all night”
They were now on 9000 ft. and all of them except of the pilot went out here over the “Listerlandet”. The last one to leave was the navigator and his word to the pilot was” Sorry it got to end this way” and than he bailed out. F/O Blake has succeeded to flying a badly damaged aircraft so that he had made it possible for his crew to save themselves. His intention was that he was also jumping, but he disappeared with the aircraft witch went down outside here. The crew was taken by police and military personnel and later on they were sent to an camp in Falun Korsnäs. In October they were flown back to England.
William Vincent Blake's DFC (courtesy of his brother Richard (Dick Blake)
After in about to weeks there was an attempt to go down and look for the pilot. A diver went down but couldn’t see anything in the upside and badly wounded aircraft. He saw a cylinder and attached a line around it. After coming up they tried to bring this thing up, but suddenly there was an enormous explosion. One mine was left and had exploded. A navy boat was nearly sinking and four men were wounded. No more attempts were made to dive on the aircraft. Let me end saying the following: F/O William Vincent Blake was never found. He gave his life for his crew, but he also gave his life for us so that we could go on living in a free world. To the Memory of Pilot: F/O William Vincent Blake DFC. Gave his life for Europe and our freedom when his Halifax bomber: MK II, 428 Ghost sqn Royal Canadian Air Force during WWII, 23 April 1944 was under attack during a mission over Germany. The plane was hit badly and went down in the see south of harbour of Torsö. The rest of the crew of 6 man bailed out safely
Left: Holger Lundstrom, Church Pastor. Right: Jan Landin addresses the guests
Dear friends, who are gathered here today at the harbour of Torsö.
Particularly I welcome William Vincent Blake’s family, who have travelled all the way from Canada and the British Isles, but all of you are very welcome. I consider myself a local, even though I do not live here. But I have served as a pastor here at the Mission house for the last 40 years and for several years I have also been the president of the Mission Compound.
The accident when the young pilot William Blake lost his life is well remembered by the elderly people of Torsö. Either they were alive when it happened or they have grown up hearing the stories about the accident. They deeply sympatise with the family that lost their beloved son and brother. With this ceromony we wish to convey both William Vincent Blake and his family in God’s hands.
Now I would like to remind you of King David’s testimony of the Lord in the 139 psalm in the Psalter: If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
Finally I would like to ask God to let perpetual light shine upon William Vincent Blakes memory and may he rest in peace.
Above right: The reading of "The Bombers" by Shara Churchill read by Richard Watson. Left: The memorial plaque
Read by Richard Watson at the ceremony September 19, 2015
Whenever I see them ride on high, Gleaming and proud in the morning sky, Or lying awake in bed at night, I hear them pass on their outward flight. I feel the mass of metal and guns, Delicate instruments, deadweight tons, Awkward, slow, bomb racks full, Straining away from downward pull, Straining away from home and base
And try to see the pilot's face, I imagine a boy who's just left school, On whose quick-learned skill and courage cool depend the lives of his crew, and the success of the job they have to do
And something happens to me inside that is deeper than grief, greater than pride, And though there is nothing I can say, Ialways look up as they go their way
And care and pray for everyone, And steel my heart to say, Thy will be done
The unveiling of the memorial on the edge of Torsö harbour
Christine and Jennifer laying a wreath in the sea near the crash site
The Blake Island Story
Margaret Axford standing by the memorial plaque on Blake Island 2007
History is most often told through the actions of many; perhaps it is most profoundly felt through the singular actions of a few. The story of Flying Officer William Blake has had a lasting effect on his nieces and nephews and their families, as well of course in a most profound way on his brother and sister-in-law, Richard and Edna Blake.
His story was first told to the CDHS at our annual pot luck gathering in July, 2006. Joanne Volpe, a summertime neighbour of Richard Blake, told us about a pilot who had given his life in WWII to give his crew a chance to live. That man was Flying Officer William Vincent Blake, brother of Richard Blake of Guelph, now 96. The story was captivating.
In April of 1944, F/O William Blake, in his early twenties, was flying a Handley Page Halifax MkII when it was attacked by German fire over the Baltic Sea close to the coast of Sweden. The damage to the plane was significant. The mid-upper gunner had been wounded. In order to help his crew survive the attack, Blake flew the plane over southern Sweden where he ordered all of the 6 to bale out, which they did. At that point, the aircraft became uncontrollable; Blake managed to get the plane back out over water before it crashed into the sea near Solvesborg, Sweden. In spite of the attempts of divers, his body was never found.
To Richard and Edna Blake and their children, and now grandchildren, this event in 1944 became a defining moment in their family stories. After Joanne Volpe’s presentation to the CDHS, it seemed appropriate to commemorate William Blake, who was so dear to his brother Richard. And so, a plaque was created, which was installed in a small ceremony on Blake Island in Lake Skootamatta on July 1, 2007.
Part two of this story takes place in London England, where a researcher named Kate Tame came across the CDHS website and read the story of F/O William Blake, who had been awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross in February of 1944. Kate Tame does work searching the stories of WWII airmen for a British website called Aircrew Remembered. She was enthralled with this story and wondered if we had photos and perhaps local information. Eventually, she posted the whole story as we both knew it on her website. Included in her report of the events of April, 1944, are biographies of 4 of the 6 crew who baled out and survived. To check out her account, go to www.aircrewremembered.com.
No one knew that there would be a Part Three of the story until this summer when we heard that a memorial to honour F/O Blake, DFC was being erected in Solvesborg Sweden. From an article in the Hamilton Spectator, October 12, 2015, it appears that a Swedish citizen living in Solvesborg came across the story on its 70th anniversary in April 2014. He was impressed enough by the heroic actions of the pilot to organize this event, which included tracking down the Blake family in Canada to invite them to the dedication of the memorial on September 19, 2015. When I talked with Richard Blake on the phone to ask him if he was going to attend, he replied that he was not. “My family thinks I am too old to make that journey” he said, acknowledging that it would be a tremendous effort physically. However, five of his family members did attend.
Those five, two daughters of Dick and Edna, their husbands and a granddaughter, found the Swedish people welcoming, friendly and helpful. The memorial is not unlike our own, a small cairn with a plaque. As part of the ceremony, the two Blake daughters went out in a boat and dropped a wreath on the water at approximately the spot where it is believed their uncle’s plane went down. Even the telling of the event is moving; actually being there would have been both heart-warming and incredibly sad.
F/O Blake has had two commendations for his wartime accomplishments, one in 1957 with the naming of a lake after him in the NorthWest Territories and the second his Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded as a result of an amazing effort in February, 1944 when his plane was attacked eleven times by enemy aircraft before he could successfully bomb his target. His family has tried for a commendation in light of the heroic actions which led to his death a mere two months later. However, they were told that their efforts were too late; no awards have been made for WWII actions since 1950. Knowing that, it seems even more important for organizations such as our own to do what we can to shine a light on such courage and self-sacrifice and to be truly grateful.
With thanks to Richard and Edna Blake, Joanne Volpe and Kate Tame, and with the utmost respect for the members of the Blake family.
Margaret Axford, Cloyne and District Historical Society, October 12, 2015
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we shall remember them. (Robert Laurence Binyon)
Researched by: Kate Tame Aircrew Remembered and for all the relatives and friends of the crew. Acknowledgements and special thanks to: Richard Parr Blake brother of William (Bill) Vincent Blake, Jennifer Blake, Margaret Axford - Cloyne and District Historical Society, John Johansson- Sweden, William (Bill) Houston, Jack Brook, UK National Archives WO/2083324, The British Newspaper Archives