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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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77 Squadron Crest
31/01.09.1943 No. 77 Squadron Halifax II JD413 KN-G Fl/Lt. John L. Wilson

Operation: Berlin.


Date: 31/01st. September 1943 (Tuesday/Wednesday)



Unit: No. 77 Squadron



Type: Halifax II



Serial: JD413 



Code: KN-G



Base: RAF Elvington, Yorkshire.



Location: Junction of Wiessenstrasse and Südring in Datteln, Germany


Pilot: Fl/Lt. John Leslie Wilson AUS/412788 RAAF Age 26. Killed

Pilot 2: Fl/Sgt. Raymond William Barlow 1321808 RAFVR Age 22. Killed

Fl/Eng: Sgt. James F. Hopkins PoW No. 222719 Camp: 4b - Stalag Mühlberg-Elbe

Nav: Fl/Sgt. John Jack Leicester PoW No. 222731. Camp: 4b/L3 - Stalag Mühlberg-Elbe / Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria.

Air/Bmr: Sgt. Robert Alfred Sims 1316116 RAFVR Age 20. Killed 

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Edward Joseph Wilson 1029925 RAFVR Age 23. Injured (1) 

Air/Gnr: Sgt. Jack Alexander Baxter 139006 RAFVR Age ? Killed 

Air/Gnr: P/O  Kenneth George Sheward 146274 RAFVR Age 20. Killed

REASON FOR LOSS:

Took off at 20.16 hrs. from RAF Elvington to attack Berlin. The aircraft suffered an engine failure on the way to Berlin but the crew, having turned back after a similar mechanical problem on an earlier mission, elected to continue on the three remaining engines. Partly due to the lack of power, the plane drifted South from its direct route back to the UK after dropping its bombs, it passed over the heavily-defended Ruhr industrial area, shot down by flak from a gun position at Datteln, North-West of Dortmund 02.23.

Pilot: Fl/Lt. John Leslie Wilson (courtesy of his son John Wilson) 

The aircraft was only a month old. During the outward flight, one of the motors caught fire. The hydraulic systems also failed, forcing manual operation of many functions. 

The extra efforts necessary were unpleasant as the sweat then froze! The pilot was permanently using the rudders to effect any effective control over the aircraft. Nonetheless Berlin was reached, and bombed, after which the return flight to England was commenced. 

This should have taken the aeroplane nearer to Cologne, but it strayed off track, lost height and was caught by the flak over Datteln. 

In 2005 the site of the crash was to be developed for a new sports hall and swimming pool. 

During the excavation aircraft pieces were discovered and the contractors decided to call in experts in case unexploded ordnance were present. 

Andreas Wachtel became involved with the project (Andreas was a leading expert on Bomber Command)

Eventually human remains were discovered and after extensive test it revealed that they were of the pilot, Fl/Lt. John Wilson. 

Finally, after a great deal of work by many concerned, the remains would be placed in the cemetery at Reichswald in 2006.

The description of the event is better made by the RAF: Laid To Rest’ at the foot of this page.

     

Above left: John Wilson with Hugo Bresser - the man who shot down JD413 - with the port inner propeller hub, still in the feathered position with right: John Wilson at his fathers grave. (courtesy of John Wilson) 

     

The recovery of the aircraft (courtesy of of Karl Gatzmanga and Rainer Raffalski West German Allegmeine Zeitung)

Sgt. Hopkins recalls that prior to the mission the undercarriage had been fully overhauled, but subsequent re-calibration of the compass was possibly not executed – which would explain why the aircraft was on a heading too far north. After being hit by flak, the pilot ordered the crew to jump, but remained at his post so that they could do so – thus sacrificing himself.

As a result of having two people on board with the same surname the pilot's wife, Mary Wilson, did not know whether he had died or not - for eighteen months!

(1) Sgt. Edward Joseph Wilson died of his injuries on the 4th September. The German doctor refused to treat him and was later prosecuted for war crimes by the Americans.

     

RAF personnel prepare to lower the casket containing the remains into the grave. Surviving crew member, Mr Jim Hopkins, can be seen at the rear, right, of the photograph (courtesy RAF © Crown Copyright/MOD 2009) 

     

Left: Jim received the Union flag which was used to drape the casket. Jim Hopkins stands for a moment in silent tribute after laying a wreath in memory of his fallen comrades of 66 years ago (courtesy RAF © Crown Copyright/MOD 2009)

     

Left: John Wilson with Hugo Bresser at the exact spot of the crash. Right: The identity tags of Fl/Lt. John Leslie Wilson - now on display at the Yorkshire Air Museum (courtesy of John Wilson)

Burial details:

Fl/Lt. John Leslie Wilson. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 18. A. 16. Son of Hugh Charles and Grace Louise Wilson, husband of Mary Wilson, of Hazelbrook, New South Wales, Australia.

Fl/Sgt. Raymond William Barlow. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 18. A. 15. Son of William Henry and Hilda Barlow, of Romford, Essex, England.

Sgt. Robert Alfred Sims. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 18. A. 13. Son of Alfred Jesse and Charlotte Sims, of Verwood, Dorsetshire, England.

Sgt. Jack Alexander Baxter. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 18. A. 12. NoK details currently not available - are you able to assist completion of these and any other information?

   P/O. Kenneth George Sheward. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 18. A. 14. Son of Harold and Edith Sheward, of Westbury-on-Severn, Gloucestershire, England.

Sgt. Edward Joseph  Wilson. Hotton War Cemetery. Grave XI. C.4. Son of George and Isabel Lydia Wilson, of Garston, Liverpool, England.

Researched by Mike Harrison. With thanks to Andreas Wachtel for his tremendous research into this loss (as well as many others), John Wilson son of the pilot Fl/Lt. John Leslie Wilson also to Dr. Benjamin Wilson, his son, who has also proven to be most helpful. To the MoD for photographs, Karl Gatzmanga and Rainer Raffalski for excavation photographs and to Bill Chorley Bomber Command Losses Vol. 3


‘Laid To Rest’: WWII Airmen Buried 63 Yrs After Being Shot Down - Mon, March 06, 2006 Source: MoD


Just short of 63 years after he was shot down as a young RAF airman, WWII RAF vet Jim Hopkins stood at a graveside in Germany as the remains of 3 of his fellow crew members on the ill-fated mission were finally laid to rest.

Just short of 63 years after he was shot down as a young RAF airman, WWII RAF vet Jim Hopkins stood at a graveside in Germany as the remains of 3 of his fellow crew members on the ill-fated mission were finally laid to rest.

The then Sergeant Jim Hopkins was a 19-year-old flight engineer on a Halifax bomber which was shot down while returning from a raid on Berlin in the early hours of September 1st, 1943. The aircraft was hit by flak from a gun position at Datteln, North-West of Dortmund.

Four men - Pilot Officer Ken Sheward, Flight Sergeant R W Barlow and Sergeants Robert Simms and John Baxter - died in the wreck. Badly-injured crew member, Sergeant Ted Wilson, was taken critically injured from the aircraft and lost his battle for life three days later. He is buried at the Hotten War Cemetery, near Namur in Belgium.

Poignantly, the single other survivor, aircraft navigator John 'Jack' Leicester, died at his home in Warrington only a week ago at the age of 88.

In another remarkable footnote to the final chapter of this wartime tragedy, also present for the burial ceremony, which was conducted with full military honours, were two members of the German flak battery which brought down the Halifax.

Jim Hopkins met his two erstwhile 'enemies' when he visited the crash site after the aircraft remains were found in June last year. The men struck up a firm friendship.

Discovered: The remains of the three missing crew were found in May 2005 during work to build a swimming pool. Only one, Halifax JD413 pilot, Flight Lieutenant John Leslie Wilson, was able to be identified. All three remaining crew have now been buried with full military honours at the Reichswald Commonwealth War Cemetery, near Kleve on the German-Dutch border, alongside the graves of the other two crew members.

The ill-fated mixed British and Australian crew of Halifax JD413, from 77 Squadron operating from RAF Elvington, near York, could have avoided the mission on the night of 31 August 1943. The aircraft suffered an engine failure on the way to Berlin but the crew, having turned back after a similar mechanical problem on an earlier mission, elected to continue on the three remaining engines.

It was partly because of lack of power that the plane, having drifted to the South from its direct route back to the UK after dropping its bombs, slipped from under cloud cover as it passed over the heavily-defended Ruhr industrial area.

It was an easy target for the German anti-aircraft battery crew made up, among others, of 16-year-old Hitler Youth members Hugo Bressner and Theo Stevermann, who had been conscripted from the Sixth Form of their local school.

After being shot down, Jim Hopkins spent the rest of the war in a POW camp at Mulberg on the River Elbe. After the war, he became a policeman in Birmingham, where he still lives today. Aged 83, he is long-retired.

His German nemeses were both drafted into the Wehrmacht six months after the aircraft came down. Herr Bresser was taken prisoner by the Americans near Aachen in February 1945, while Herr Stevermann swapped his uniform for civilian clothes and slipped through Allied lines to return to his home after his unit’s last position near Detmold was over-run in the final weeks of the war.

Herr Bressner went on to become a Roman Catholic priest and served for many years until his retirement in a parish near Datteln. Herr Stevermann also remained in the area, working in a local business.

Poignant: Jim explained how he felt seeing his comrades finally laid to rest:

"It was a bit sad. Quite a ceremony, well put on by the RAF and the British Army based at Rheindahlen. They organised everything. There were a number of unknown soldiers buried yesterday too.

"It was an emotional day. Standing there I could picture them as they were when we were flying together. It was our 19th mission together so we knew each other quite well. I felt sad but it was a good, albeit solemn ceremony. It was nice that the crew had a good send-off.

"There was an excellent attendance too, lots of officers came along which was also nice, along with a colonel from the Australian Army."

The night the aircraft went down is easily brought to Jim's memory:

"I don't really show emotion, which I don't mean in a disrespectful way. But yesterday, my thoughts really were of the crew and how we were back then."

In a separate ceremony at the Reichswald Cemetery, the remains of what could be up to 14 British soldiers from WW2 were interred, in a single coffin, with full military honours. The remains were discovered during construction work at Kleve, not far from the Reichswald Cemetery. The site was used as a temporary burial place in the last months of the war. It is believed the remains were missed when the graves were transferred to their final resting place after the end of the War.

Wreaths were laid at both ceremonies by Brigadier Max Marriner, Commander of the Army’s Rhine and European Support Group based at nearby Mönchengladbach, Group Captain Frank Simpson, Air Attaché from the British Embassy in Berlin and Lieutenant Colonel Sean Armstrong, Commanding Officer of the Rheindahlen Support Unit, part of Brigadier Marriner’s command.

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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