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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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02.09.1943 No.224 Squadron Liberator GR V FL959 B - P F/L Charles R. Wharram

Mission: Anti Submarine Patrol

Date: 2 September 1943 (Thursday)

Unit: No.224 Squadron

Type: Liberator GR V

Serial: FL959

Code: B - P

Base: St. Eval, Cornwall

Location: Bay of Biscay

Pilot: F/L Charles Russell Wharram, J6951 RCAF Age 26 Killed

2nd Pilot: F/Sgt. Ronald John Foss, CGM, 1313625 RAFVR Age 29 Injured

Flt/Eng: Flight Sergeant David Horace Bareham, 569893 RAF Age23 Injured

Nav: F/O William Richard Collins, 138822 RAFVR Age 30 Injured

WOp/AG: F/O James Clayton Miller, J/8753 RCAF Age 24 Injured

WOp/AG: Sgt. Maurice William Dilks, 1216857 RAFVR Injured

WOp/AG: F/O John Robert Wilcox, 136708 RAFVR Age 23 years Injured

WOp/AG: Sgt. Edward Arthur Maloney, 1112371 RAFVR Age 32 Killed

Passenger: F/O David Malcolm Johnstone, 86904 RAFVR Injured


Captain Wharram and crew took off from their base at St.Eval at 10:59 hours on 31 August 1943 detailed for an anti-submarine patrol over the Bay of Biscay.
Their log reports that they photographed a tanker off of the town of Ferrol, Spain on the southern coast of the Bay and also hunted for a suspected U-Boat. Instructed not to land back at base after 20:00 hours due to the weather conditions, they proceeded to Gibraltar and landed there at 20:46 hours.

The following day, Captain Wharram and crew took off from Gibraltar at 10:30 hours on an anti-submarine sweep hunting U-Boats, again in the Bay of Biscay. They were accompanied on this flight by a passenger F/O D.M. Johnstone, a radar specialist, seeking a ride back to the UK after doing investigative work in North Africa.

After several hours of uneventful patrolling, a rapidly approaching radar contact was made at 16:15 hours. Five minutes later four Ju 88’s were seen to be closing in on the Liberator. One of the fighters flew past the Liberator, turned sharply and attacked head-on sending a volley of cannon fire into the nose of the big ship which exploded in the cockpit killing the pilot, F/L Wharram, almost instantly. The second pilot, F/Sgt. Ronald Foss instructed F/O Johnstone to lift Wharram’s body from the pilot seat and help him control the disabled aircraft as they tried to fight off the Ju88’s. Return fire from the Liberator struck one of the German aircraft and it was seen to fall away trailing smoke.
Now wrestling with the controls, Foss and with the help of Johnstone, sought to gain cover in the clouds but the three remaining attackers resumed a relentless barrage putting the gun turrets and number two and three engines out of action. The heavily shot-up Liberator was becoming increasingly difficult to keep level and with everyone on board wounded, some very seriously, F/Sgt. Foss made the decision to ditch while he still could.
Upon hitting the water the aircraft broke in two and Johnstone who had been knocked out on impact was dragged under. Coming to he saw a patch of light above and swam to the surface where he found three crew members in the dinghy. Three others were swimming about but despite their wounds, all including Johnstone were able to scramble aboard. One body was seen to be floating which they believed was the rear gunner Maloney who had suffered very serious wounds to his back.

The dinghy drifted with the wind and currents and although they were seen by a passing U-Boat crew no help was offered, and it would be four days after the ditching before the men were spotted by a patrolling Sunderland. By this time gangrene had set in to those most severely wounded and despite Miller and Wilcox getting injections from the first aid kit dropped by the Sunderland, Miller died the following night just after dark. Wilcox, whose right leg had almost been blown away, became delirious later that night and very unmanageable. In his confused state of mind, he jumped overboard and was not seen again.

On September 8, six days after the ditching, several aircraft circled the dinghy and dropped more supplies but it would not be until the morning of the 9th that two Sunderlands guided the rescue ship to the now exhausted men. At 09:45 hours the remaining survivors were taken aboard HMS Wildgoose and made as comfortable as possible after their ordeal. Sadly, F/Sgt. Bareham died on the night of the 10th and the next day Collins succumbed to his injuries. Upon arrival at Liverpool, the three survivors were taken to hospital where they were treated for their wounds and nursed back to full health.

Sometime after the event, F/O Johnstone wrote a detailed day by day account of their ordeal from which this story is taken. At the end of his report he wrote:

"I do not feel it necessary to say much about those who failed to survive, although Wilcox impressed me considerably by his resolute conduct until his collapse, and Collins continuously exerted himself in the interests of the others. I thought Flight Sergeant Foss’ handling of the aircraft during the action was most skillful and resourceful, the ditching, carried out without flaps or aileron control, and in a wounded condition, was an outstanding achievement. Sergeant Dilks showed throughout a stolid indifference to danger and continued to operate the wireless even when seriously wounded. During the long spell in the dinghy, he continued stolid and uncomplaining, and took his full share in baling, pumping and other activities.”

On Friday, 29th October 1943 the following awards were published in the London Gazette

Air Ministry, 29th October, 1943.
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the following awards in recognition of gallantry
displayed in flying operations against the enemy: —

Distinguished Service Order.
Flying Officer David Malcolm JOHNSTONE (86904), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.
Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (Flying).
1313625 Flight Sergeant Ronald John Foss, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 224 Squadron.
Distinguished Flying Medal.
1216857 Sergeant Maurice William DILKS, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 224 Squadron.
This officer and airmen were members of the crew of an aircraft engaged on an anti-submarine patrol in September, 1943. During the flight the aircraft was engaged by 4 Junkers 88. The captain was killed in the early stages of the combat and Flight Sergeant Foss, the second pilot, immediately took over the controls. Flying Officer Johnstone, with commendable initiative immediately went to his assistance and rendered material help in subsequent evading tactics. The enemy pressed home their attack, however, and the aircraft was extensively damaged and caught fire, while several of the crew were wounded. Although the aircraft was fast becoming uncontrollable, Flight Sergeant Foss and Flying Officer Johnstone, by a combined effort, succeeded in bringing the aircraft down on to the sea where it became wrecked on impact with the water. Although under water, Flying Officer Johnstone, who was himself injured, gallantly assisted 2 of his wounded comrades to get clear by allowing them to step on his shoulders and head and thus to scramble through a gaping hole in the submerged portion of the aircraft. Meanwhile, Flight Sergeant Foss assisted other members of the crew into the dinghy. For nine days, these members of aircraft crew were adrift and during this period, Flying Officer Johnstone, Flight Sergeant Foss and Sergeant Dilks displayed great courage and high morale. Throughout this trying ordeal their exemplary conduct set an example of the highest order.

The London Gazette, Friday, 29 October 1943

F/O David Malcolm Johnstone, DSO

David was born at Portsmouth in 1910, the only child of James and Maude Johnstone. Sadly Maude died when David was three and his father, who was serving in the Merchant Marine, was lost when his ship the S.S. Empire Jaguar was torpedoed by U-103 on the 9 December 1940. He was educated at Skinners School, Tonbridge, and lived for a time at St. Leonards where he apprenticed at Boots Chemists. He later earned his Bachelor of Science degree and worked in the area of radio research before enlisting in the RAF. David died on 15 March 1983.

F/Sgt. Ronald John (Jack) Foss

Born in 1922 at Bridport, Dorset Ronald married the former Phyllis Benger in 1943 who was also serving her country as a member of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). He was commissioned effective 28 November 1943 and upon retiring from the RAF held the rank of Flight Lieutenant. Ronald and Phyllis emigrated to Canada after the war making their home in London, Ontario. Phyllis died in 1999 and Ronald in 2010. They are buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens, London.

Sgt. Maurice William Dilks

Maurice was born at Kettering, Northamptonshire on 29 June 1922 to William and Nellie (nee Bridgford) Dilks. Prior to enlisting in the RAF he was working in the clothing industry. He married the former Joan Skellham in 1944 and had four children. Maurice died at Lincoln on 30 October 1997 and his wife Joan in 2005.

F/L Charles R.Wharram

Charles came from a large family of four brothers and five sisters and upon leaving high school worked for several farmers around the town of Wheatley until his enlistment in December 1940.
Posted to No.1 Manning Depot he was selected for aircrew training as a pilot or observer. Charles completed his initial training at No. 3 ITS at Victoriaville, Quebec on 19 April 1941 with the remarks, "Responsible and ambitious, well recommended" and was selected to continue on for training as a pilot. Posted to No.6 Elementary Flying Training School, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan he completed his training on the DeHavilland Tiger Moth and was passed on to No.4 Service Flying Training School at Saskatoon on 9 June 1941. Charles graduated with his Pilots Flying Badge and was granted a commission on 20 August 1941.
Posted to Charlottetown Navigation School and then to No.31 Operational Training Unit at Debert, Nova Scotia where he trained on the Anson and Hudson aircraft for maritime patrols until 1 April 1942 when he embarked for the UK. Arriving at No.3 PRC, Bournemouth on 12 April, Charles was posted to No.119 Squadron at RAF Beaulieu on 9 May before joining No.224 Squadron on 27 April 1943.

Wharram Lake in Ontario was named after F/L Wharram in 1960

Flight Lieutenant Charles Russell Wharram, Panel 172 Runnymede Memorial, Surrey, UK. Son of Lawson and Emily (nee Johnson) Wharram of Leamington, Ontario, Canada.

Flying Officer James Clayton Miller

James was the only son of Charles and Violet Miller when he enlisted in the RCAF for training as an air gunner in October 1940. He had graduated from high school in 1937 with a Commercial Diploma but was working as a track labourer for the Canadian Pacific Railway at the time of his enlistment.
Called up on 27 January 1941 he was found fit for aircrew and after several temporary postings, he was sent to No.1 Wireless School in Montreal on 25 May that year. Completing his course there, where he finished 8th out of a class of 107, James was authorized to wear his Wireless Operators Badge on 21 October 1941. Next passed on to No.1 Bombing and Gunnery School, Jarvis, Ontario, 13 October he passed his final assessment 3rd out of a class of 38 and on 8 November graduated as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner and was granted a commission with the rank of Pilot Officer. The remarks by the Commanding Officer at Jarvis read," A smart chap quick on the uptake and can assume the initiative".
Posted to No.31 Operational Training Unit, Debert, Nova Scotia on 24 November 1941 to further his day and night training on wireless operation and gunnery while airborne completing his course there on 13 March 1942.
Disembarked in the UK on 2 April, James was next posted to No. 119 Squadron on 2 June 1942 and then to No.224 Squadron 27 April 1943.
While in England he met his future wife Ethel Tegwen Evans and they were married on 21 August 1943, just two weeks before James succumbed to his wounds on 7 September 1943.

Flying Officer James Clayton Miller, Panel 174 Runnymede Memorial, Surrey, UK. Son of Charles Eldon and Violet Ethel (nee Ferguson) Miller. Husband of Ethel Tegwen Miller, of Pontryhdygroes, Cardiganshire, Wales.

Flight Sergeant David Horace Bareham, died of his wounds 10 September 1943. Panel 135 Runnymede Memorial, Surrey, UK. Son of Vernon Alfred and Esther (nee Smith) Bareham, of Clapham, London.

Flying Officer William Richard Collins, died of his wounds 10 September 1943. Panel 123 Runnymede Memorial, Surrey, UK. Son of Richard and Margaret (nee Jacobs) Collins, of Pontypridd, Glamorgan.

Flying Officer John Robert Wilcox, died of his wounds 8 September 1943. Panel 130 Runnymede Memorial, Surrey, UK. Son of Walter Albert and Ethel (nee Maughan) Wilcox, of Billingham, Co. Durham.

Sergeant Edward Arthur Maloney, Panel 158 Runnymede Memorial, Surrey, UK. Son of Edward and Mary Alice Maloney, of Chester.
Edward, a keen tennis player, was educated at St. Werburghs School, Chester. Before joining the RAF Edward was employed at the Cheshire County Council Offices and for a number of years at Bradleys of Chester Ltd. Two of his brothers, Ronald and Cyril, also served in the Royal Navy during WW2.

Source Information:
The National Archives Kew, Richmond UK. RAF 224 Squadron Operations Record Books
Service Files of the Second World War―War Dead, 1939–1947. Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada.
Veterans Affairs Canada, Canadian Virtual War Memorial
Foss Grave photo courtesy Big B

CHB 20.12.2021

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