19.12 1942 No. 14 Squadron Marauder IA FK366 F/O. John Trueman Willis DFM
Operation: Minelaying - Tunis
Date: 19 December 1942 (Saturday)
Unit: No. 14 Squadron. Motto: 'I spread my wings and keep my promise', an extract from the Koran suggested by the Emir of Transjordan.
Badge: A winged plate charged with a cross throughout and shoulder pieces of a suit of armour - approved by King George VI in May 1937. The badge represents a crusader in association with the Cross of St George because of the Squadron's close First World War ties with Diospolis, Palestine, the reputed burial place of the Saint, and its location in the Middle East at the time of submission to the Chester Herald.
Type: Martin Marauder IA
Code: Call sign "S"
Base: Berka III, near Benghazi, Libya
Location: Mediterranean Sea near Tunis.
Pilot: F/O. John Trueman Willis DFM 120485 RAFVR Age 24 - PoW No. 90 Camp: Sagan and Belaria - L3 (1)
2nd Pilot: F/Sgt. Samuel Hart Porteous 1059847 RAFVR Age 25 - Killed (2)
Obs: F/O. Eric William Barr 402240 RNZAF MiD Age 25 - Killed (3)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: F/O. Peter Benson Martell 120866 RAFVR Age 21 - Killed (4)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Herbert Frank Ford Aus/401632 RAAF Age 27 - Killed (5)
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Frank Barratt 1076864 RAFVR Age 31 - Killed (6)
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In November 1942 following the Second Battle of Alamein, the Axis forces were in full retreat. The eighth army however had been slow to follow up and had thereby allowed Rommel to effect a steady and orderly fighting retreat through Libya; by mid-December, hopes of a quick victory were fading. The Allied Desert Air Force was tasked with disrupting Rommel's supply lines by attacking the ports and airfields in German held Tunisia.
On 4 August 1942 No.14 Squadron had been withdrawn from the line for conversion to the Martin B-26 Marauder and on 26 August moved to RAF Fayid for training. On 30 November the majority of Captains of aircraft and crews, including F/O. John Willis and his crew of "B" Flight, moved to Shallufah to attend a Torpedo Training Course. "B" Flight aircraft were to be converted to carry torpedoes.
REASON FOR LOSS
On 19 December 1942 six of the squadron's Marauders including FK366 were detailed to lay mines in Tunis harbour. To reach the target the aircraft needed an extra 1000 gallons of fuel accommodated in an auxiliary fuel tank located in the bomb bay.
Each carrying two 1200 lb American magnetic mines loaded at RAF Shallufah, the aircraft made the four hour flight to RAF Berka III near Benghazi where they landed for a meal and refuelling. At 16.51 the first of five Marauders took off for Tunis followed at 17.00 by FK366 and at intervals shortly afterwards by the other three. Flying North-West at 1000feet the Marauders followed the briefed route 480 miles across the Mediterranean through rain squalls to the Italian island of Lampedusa and a further 150 miles on to Cape Bon on the north east tip of Tunisia. From Cape Bon they were to turn south east to Tunis and descend to 200 feet for the run in to the target and the height from which they were to drop their mines.
Nothing was heard from FK366 after take-off and was last reported sighted by another aircraft on the same operation about an hour after take-off on its correct course and apparently in no difficulty. However, Australian Sgt. C.J. O'Connor piloting Marauder FK133/R (took off 17.10) later reported that "...suddenly, on came the searchlights, and flak from anti-aircraft guns began hammering a Marauder about a quarter of a mile ahead. The pilot pulled up and started weaving, but his evasive actions were to no avail. A shell must have hit his mines or fuel tank, for his aircraft exploded into a large ball of orange flame"
It later transpired that the aircraft he had seen explode was FK366. It had either been hit by flak or had flown into a crane and crashed. Only the pilot John Willis survived and having become a prisoner of war was eventually incarcerated at Stalag Luft III Sagan and Belaria.
The bodies of F/O. Barr and F/Sgt. Porteuos were found washed up at Sidi Rais on 1 and 3 January 1943 respectively. They were identified by personal effects.
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) Fl/Lt. John Trueman Willis DFM was born in 1918 at Oxford the son of Gordon A. Willis (a Motor Mechanic) and Ethel E. Willis nee Trueman of 188 London Road, Headington, Oxford.
John Willis joined No. 14 Squadron as a Sergeant pilot direct from No. 4 Flying Training School at RAF Habbaniya, Iraq in June 1941. On 25 February 1942 he was the pilot of Blenheim V5657 of No. 14 Squadron shot down whilst on a bombing raid in Martuba, Libya. His Wireless Operator Sgt. Harold Philip Tew was killed in the crash but John Willis and his Observer Eric Barr baled out successfully. To read the story of this loss click here
742094 F/Sgt. J.T. Willis was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 4 March 1942 (London Gazette 12 May 1942) and promoted to Flying officer (war subs) in 1 October 1942 (London Gazette 12 March 1943). Whilst a prisoner of war and on 4 March 1944 he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant (war subs) (London Gazette 24 March 1944).
John Trueman Willis died in 1998 at Birkenhead, Cheshire.
(2) F/Sgt. Samuel Hart Porteous was born in 1914 at West Calder, West Lothian, Scotland. He was the son of Mr J. Porteous of Norisbank, Blackridge, West Lothian Scotland.
On 22 May 1935 he was a successful candidate at the examination held by the Board for Mining Examinations for Certificates of Qualification as Surveyors of Mines.
He went to work in Brazil but having embarked at the port of Santos, arrived at London on board the Highland Monarch of the Royal Mail Lines Ltd from Buenos Aires Argentina on 13 May 1940
His intended future permanent residence was recorded as, Norisbank, Blackridge, West Lothian Scotland.
He is commemorated on the Scottish National War memorial at Edinburg Castle (correct date of death given 19 December 1942
(3) F/O. Eric William Barr was born c 1917 the third son of Stewart and Waihuia Margaret Barr, of "Gladsome Lodge" Upper Riccarton, Canterbury, New Zealand.
He attended Christchurch Boys High School between 1932 and 1935. He was a keen hurdler, cross country runner, sprinter and rugby player. In July 1940 he reported to RNZAF Levin for Observer training. In December 1940 his engagement to Vonnie Elveen Wilson of Christchurch, was announced. On 25 February 1942 he was the Observer of Blenheim V5657 captained by the then F/Sgt John Willis which was shot down over Libya. To read this story click here
On 2 June 1943 it was promulgated in the London Gazette that Eric Barr had been Mentioned in Despatches.
(4) F/O. Peter Benson Martell was born in 1921 at Guisborough, North Riding of Yorkshire the only child of Richard Henry Martell (a Shipping Clerk) and Gertrude Martell nee Maddison of "Lowside" Bowbank, Middleton-in-Teesdale, Co. Durham. 914963 Temp. F/Sgt. Peter Benson Martell was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) (London Gazette 25 August 1942) confirmed and promoted to Flying officer (war subs) on 1 October 1942 (London Gazette 4 December 1942).
Peter Martell is commemorated on the War Memorial at St. Mary the Virgin Parish Church of Middleton-in-Teesdale, County Durham.
(5) Sgt. Herbert Frank Ford was born on 28 April 1915 at the seaside town of Mornington, Victoria, Australia the son of Robert Ford and May Florence Ford later of 57 Margaret Street, Moonee Ponds, Melbourne Victoria, Australia. He had one known sibling, a brother Mr J.A. Ford of Glenroy, Melbourne Victoria. Prior to enlisting in the RAAF Herbert Frank Ford was a Pharmaceutical Chemist.
He enlisted on 3 March 1941 and embarked for the Middle East on 1 November 1941.
He is commemorated on the Moonee Ponds Roll of Honour and on the Australian War Memorial, Panel 122 at Canberra.
(6) Sgt. Frank Barratt was born in 1911 at Congleton, Cheshire the son of Leonard and Annie Barratt nee Bracegirdle, of 1 Clifton Street, Crewe, Cheshire. He had one sibling Edith L. Barratt born 1915.
Frank Barratt is commemorated on the Crewe War Memorial, Cheshire.
BURIAL DETAILS AND EPITAPHS
(2) F/Sgt. Samuel Hart Porteous - Details of his original burial are not known. He was re-interred on 12 February 1944 at Enfideville War Cemetery, Tunisia - Grave No. IV.D.16
(3) F/O. Eric William Barr - Details of his original burial are not known. He was re-interred on 24 January 1944 at Enfideville War Cemetery, Tunisia - Grave No. IV.E.23
(4) F/O. Peter Benson Martell - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Alamein Memorial - Column No. 248
(5) Sgt. Herbert Frank Ford was originally buried at Grombalia Civil Cemetery, Tunisia and re-interred on 6 December 1944 at Enfideville War Cemetery, Tunisia - Grave No. V.B.27
His epitaph reads
(6) Sgt. Frank Barratt was originally buried at Grombalia Civil Cemetery, Tunisia and re-interred on 6 December 1944 at Enfideville War Cemetery, Tunisia - Grave No. V.B.26
His epitaph reads:
That we might live
He gave his all.
O valiant heart,
Rest in peace
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - January 2017
With thanks to "Winged Crusaders - The Exploits of 14 Squadron RFC and RAF 1915-1945 by Michael Napier" and to the sources quoted below.