17.09.1944 No. 107 Squadron Mosquito FB.VI LR366 OM-L W/O. Robert Arnold Roger Miles Woodhouse
Date: 17 September 1944 (Sunday)
Unit: No.107 Squadron. Motto: "Nous y serons" ("We shall be there").
Badge: A double-headed eagle displayed, gorged with a collar of fleur-de-lys. The double-headed eagle is one of the supporters from the armorial bearings of Salisbury, in which district the squadron was formed. The collar of fleur-de-lys was introduced in reference to service in France in the First World War during a period when the unit was attached to the French Army. The motto is said to have been derived from the squadron magazine produced in the First World War and entitled The Objective 107th (Squadron Always Gets There).
Authority: HM King George VI, April 1938.
Type: De Havilland Mosquito FB.VI
Base: RAF Lasham, Hampshire
Location: Rheden, Gelderland, Netherlands
Pilot: W/O. Robert Arnold Roger Miles Woodhouse 1332242 RAFVR Age 22 - Killed (1)
Nav: W/O. John Sim McPhee DFM 1499160 RAFVR Age 22 - Killed (2)
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The prelude to Operation Market Garden was a concentrated bombardment of German positions in the Netherlands undertaken by the Allied air forces in the hours preceding the airborne landings. In an attempt to reduce the risk to the paratroopers, targets in the three landing areas were attacked. 1395 sorties were flown by Bomber Command, the 2nd Tactical Air Force¹ of the RAF and the US 8th and 9th Air Forces against the 117 flak positions along the Market Garden route, airfields, military headquarters, railways and railway stations, barracks and other known troop concentrations in the operation area. Escorting fighters numbered 1295.
¹The 2nd Tactical Air Force was formed on 1 June 1943 as HQ Tactical Air Force from Army Co-operation Command, in connection with preparations then in train to invade Europe a year later. It took units from both Fighter and Bomber Command in order to form a force capable of supporting the Army in the field
REASON FOR LOSS
At 0700 hours on Sunday 17 September 1944 64 airmen were assembled for a special briefing at RAF Lasham, Hampshire. They were the crews of 32 Mosquitoes, 16 each from Nos 107 and 613 Squadrons of the 2nd Tactical Air Force of the RAF detailed for an attack to be made later that morning paving the way for the later airborne assault of Operation Market Garden. During the briefing they were shown models of their targets, an enemy barracks and various other buildings in and around Arnhem housing German troops.
Take off was at 1045 hours and within four minutes the 16 aircraft of 107 Squadron were airborne and formed up in four formations of four aircraft code named Sky Red, Sky Blue, Sky Green and Sky Black. Conditions over base were described as fair with 5/10th cumulus cloud at 3500 feet. Setting out on the 750 mile round trip LR366 piloted by Robert Woodhouse was in the Sky Green formation.
Over East Anglia they saw very large numbers of Dakotas and other aircraft carrying airborne troops and strung out in two columns, the biggest formations ever seen over England. These were the aircraft of the first lift numbering just over 2000 troop carriers, gliders and tugs escorted by over 900 fighters in a formation 94 miles long and 3 miles wide.
Flying at 250 mph the Mosquitoes quickly overtook them, crossed the coast at Southwold and sped onward at very low level over a practically cloudless North Sea towards the Dutch coast.
Just south of Egmond aan Zee they saw the odd formation of Fortresses returning from raids. With cumulus cloud 8/10ths at 4000 feet the four formations turned south east and continued the flight to Arnhem unopposed.
Over Arnhem intense light flak was met and with 32 aircraft over the town the flak defences were probably swamped to some degree. The targets were located and bombed in shallow dive attacks from heights of 800 to 1500 feet. Photos showed that some of the targets were blasted by the .025 seconds delay, 500lb bombs with at least one target receiving a direct hit, a bomb burst inside the building.
Robert Woodhouse's Mosquito having presumably been hit by flak, was seen to catch fire and crash to the ground but no parachutes were observed.
One other 107 Squadron aircraft, NS946 OM-E crewed by pilot W/O. Alfred George Lewis (1260755) and navigator F/Sgt. Gabriel George Griffin (1401177) also failed to return. Nothing was seen of this aircraft either over the target or on the way back and it is assumed the aircraft crashed in or around Arnhem. The two airmen are buried at Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery.
The other aircraft proceeded straight out of Holland and made it safely back to England.
And 15 minutes after the raid the lead elements of the first lift were already landing.
The first arrivals were the 21st Independent Parachute Company at 12:40 (i.e. 13.40 local time) who marked the landing zones for the gliders and parachutists in advance of the main landings. The 1st Airborne Division landed at 13:30 largely unopposed and the battalions were formed up in good order and ready to carry out their tasks by 14:45.
THE CRASH AND AFTERMATH
Witnesses on the ground reported seeing Mosquito LR366 flying lower and lower above Rheden, some 8 miles north east of Arnhem. On fire with one engine apparently not functioning properly the aircraft just missed the church tower, almost hit De Mul (the mill) and then clipped a house roof before crashing into the river IJssel near the ferry. The crash was timed locally at 13.25 (i.e. 12.25 UK time).
The son of the local doctor Kees Beumer (aged about 10 in 1944) recalled that on that beautiful September day he and his mother, father and sister were outside watching the aircraft attacking Arnhem. After a while he and his mother and sister went inside but five minutes or so later they heard the sound of a low flying aircraft followed shortly afterward by the sound of metal scraping on something: then his father ran into the house telling them that an aircraft had crashed at the Veerhuis (ferry house). Along with his father, mother and sister, Kees ran up the street towards the Veerhuis. At the bend in the Dorpsstraat looking out across the River IJssel, they saw that the other side of the river was dotted with burning fragments of the aircraft, the main part of the plane having apparently crashed into the river and sunk.
They saw that the thatched roof of the last farmhouse along the Veerweg was also on fire but it was swiftly extinguished with buckets of water. Much of the high hedge at the farmhouse had been demolished as had part of the heavy fence that ran along the river bank on the other side of the road. On the road, scratches showed where the aircraft had scraped along it after going through the hedge, before crashing through the fence and into the river.
Meanwhile the ferryman Willem Bennink had arrived and gone out in a rowing boat to search for survivors. By now a good number of people had gathered to watch hoping to see the crew surface in the water but after twenty long minutes or so it was obvious that this was not going to happen and gradually the crowd drifted off in small groups mostly in silent thought. Kees and his family also went home.
Kees' father told him that he had seen the aircraft coming from the direction of Posbank (a monumental bank north of Rheden) It was losing height and heading straight for their house but at the last moment had banked to port and flown over the houses on the Veerweg (Ferry Street) towards the river.
Shortly after they arrived home the doorbell rang: it was Willem Bennink the ferryman. He had found the pilot and wanted the doctor to go and look him. This he did immediately but alas, the airman had not survived the crash.
The pilot had apparently been carried out of the wreckage by the strong river current and still attached to his open parachute. When the ferry made the next crossing the parachute had become caught on the ferry pulley and on seeing the white cloth Willem had stopped the ferry and pulled it up thus discovering the body of the pilot. He got him onto the ferry, returned to the bank and fetched the doctor.
Willem Bennink later transported the pilot's body to the local Heiderust cemetery on his flat cart for burial.
Not until after the war did the people of Rheden learn that John McPhee's body had also been carried out of the aircraft by the current and having been swept several miles down-river was found by police at the border of Dieren and Steenderen near Olburgen ten days after the crash on 27 September 1944. He was buried at the Steenderen (Olburgen) Roman Catholic Cemetery. His is the only British grave in the small cemetery.
A LUCKY ESCAPE THE PREVIOUS WEEK
Only 7 days prior to their fateful mission Robert Woodhouse and his navigator John McPhee had been fortunate to escape injury when their aircraft, Mosquito NT228 OM-F, crashed when returning from a patrol over France.
On 10 September 1944 whilst on an offensive patrol in the region of Metz to Nancy they sustained the loss of one engine in the patrol area. Then having successfully reached the English coast a loss of power on the remaining engine was experienced and a crash landing was made at RAF Friston in East Sussex.
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
W/O. Robert Arnold Roger Miles Woodhouse was born in 1921 at Romford, Essex the son of Robert Arnold Woodhouse MD and Ethylewynne Joan Woodhouse nee Neil-Kerrison. He had two half-brothers.
In 1944 he married Joan Aspinall at Norwich and later lived at 33, Elizabeth Street Liverpool. Their son Robert A.R.M. Woodhouse was born in 1945.
W/O. Woodhouse was granted a short service commission as an Acting Pilot Officer on probation for 4 years on the active list on 23 October 1939 (42933) (London Gazette 7 November 1939) but terminated on cessation of duty 30 August 1940 (London Gazette 8 October 1940)
He is commemorated on the Roll of Honour at Romford War Memorial Social Club.
W/O. John Sim McPhee DFM was born on 30 July 1922 at South Shields, Co. Durham the son of John Sim McPhee and Florence Margaret McPhee nee Mallaby later of 3 Cuthbert's Avenue, Chester-le-Street, Co. Durham. He had two sisters, Kathleen McPhee (1920-2016) and Joan Madeleine McPhee (1925-2014). He was educated at Skerries Commercial College at Newcastle-upon-Tyne for two years prior to becoming a Solicitor's Clerk when he was 16.
He joined the RAFVR in 1941. On 18 October 1942 he was posted to No. 142 (City of Worcester) Squadron at RAF Grimsby (Waltham) flying Wellingtons. In December 1942 when 13 of the squadron aircraft and their crews were flown to Algeria to take part in the North African campaign John McPhee remained with the UK echelon at RAF Kirmington, Lincolnshire. On 27 January 1943 this UK echelon was merged with the UK echelon of No. 150 Squadron to form No. 166 Squadron also flying Wellingtons.
He was awarded the DFM on 13 July 1943 as promulgated in the London Gazette of the same date.
The citation reads:
Sergt. McPhee has completed many operational sorties. By his fine fighting spirit and coolness under fire, he has set a magnificent example to the rest of his crew.
On one occasion the aircraft in which this airman was flying encountered very heavy opposition and his skilful navigation contributed largely to its safe return to base. Sergt. McPhee's outstanding ability, strong sense of duty and splendid record of achievement are worthy of the highest praise.
John Sim McPhee is commemorated on the Memorial Plaque at St. Cuthbert's Roman Catholic Church at Ropery Lane Chester-le-Street, Co. Durham, the Book of Remembrance at the Church of St. Mary and St. Cuthbert, Church Chare, Chester-le-Street, Co. Durham and the War Memorial, Market Street, Chester-le-Street, Co. Durham
BURIAL DETAILS, MEMORIALS AND EPITAPHS
W/O. Robert Arnold Roger Miles Woodhouse was buried at Rheden (Heiderust) General Cemetery, Gelderland, Netherlands Grave 8
W/O. John Sim McPhee DFM was buried at Steenderen (Olburgen) Roman Catholic Cemetery, Gelderland, Netherlands. No grave reference
His epitaph reads
Give unto him, O Lord;
And let perpetual light
Shine upon him. R.I.P.
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - November 2017
With thanks to the sources quoted below.