26/27.11.1944 No. 171 Squadron Halifax III NA108 6Y-V F/Sgt. Robert Francis Allen
Operation: Bomber Support
Date: 26/27 November 1944 (Sunday/Monday)
Unit: No. 171 Squadron - Motto: Per dolum defendimus - We defend by confusion or Confound the enemy
Badge: In front of an eagle displayed a portcullis
Due to protracted discussions in correspondence between the Commanding Officer of No. 171 Squadron and the Chester Herald responsible for RAF heraldry concerning its style and content, the badge and motto were not received by the squadron until after its disbandment on 27 July 1945. To read a comprehensive account of the matter click here
Type: Handley Page Halifax III
Base: RAF North Creake, Norfolk
Location: Donnemarie-Dontilly, Seine-et-Marne, France
Pilot: F/Sgt. Robert Francis Allen 1576404 later 191987 RAFVR - Baled out, landed safely and returned to squadron (1)
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Alexander Christison 2210273 RAFVR - Baled out, landed safely and returned to squadron (2)
Nav: F/Sgt. Lester Michael Keen NZ421418 RNZAF Age 24 - Baled out, landed safely and returned to squadron (3)
Air/Bmr: F/Sgt. Lionel Benjamin Sydney Simmonds 1577387 RAFVR Age 22 - Baled out, landed safely and returned to squadron (4)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: F/Sgt. Arthur Joseph Stephen (Steve) Scanlan NZ425468 RNZAF Age 24 - Baled out, landed safely and returned to squadron (5)
Special W/Op: W.O. S.W. Cook 633242 RAFVR - Baled out, landed safely and returned to squadron (6)
Air/Gnr (MU): Sgt. J. Fyfe 1563050 RAFVR - Baled out, landed safely and returned to squadron (7)
Air/Gnr (R): Sgt. J.C. Allan 1595301 RAFVR - Baled out, landed safely and returned to squadron (8)
We seek further information and/or photographs of the members of this crew - if you have any information please contact us via our HELPDESK
No. 171 Squadron was initially formed at Gatwick on 15 June 1942. Flying the Curtiss Tomahawk I, IIA and the North American Mustang IA the squadron operated as a tactical reconnaissance unit of Army Co-operations Command until 31 December 1942 when it was disbanded, its aircraft passing to No. 430 Squadron.
On 8 September 1944 the Squadron was reformed at RAF North Creake in Norfolk to operate as a bomber support squadron of 100 Group that had been formed on 11 November 1943 to consolidate electronic warfare and countermeasures.
The Squadron was to receive 20 new Halifax IIIs but prior to their delivery to North Creake they were sent to St. Athan to have Mandrel and Window equipment fitted.
In order for the squadron to become operational immediately, "C" flight of No. 199 Squadron, also based at RAF North Creake in Norfolk and equipped with Short Stirling III bombers, was allocated to No. 171 Squadron undertaking its first operation on 15 September.
In early October 14 Halifax crews were posted in from the squadrons of No. 4 Group.
It was 21 October before the first two of the new Halifax IIIs (NA674 and NA107) were delivered and the Squadron wasted no time in putting the two new Halifaxes into service with both flying a special mission on the day of their delivery and one of them, NA674, on each of the two following days.
It would be the end of November before all 20 Halifax IIIs had been delivered to the Squadron.
After 21 November Stirlings no longer flew operationally with the Squadron and were eventually absorbed within the Command or offered to No. 43 (Maintenance) Group.
From its formation in September 1944 until the end of the war in Europe No. 171 Squadron operated in a Radio Countermeasures (RCM) role over the North Sea and Germany dropping "Window" (strips of aluminium foil dropped to flood German radar with false echoes) and operating the Mandrel transmitter (to jam the German ground based air search radar systems Freya and Würzburg).
Squadron Stirlings flew 87 sorties in 22 RCM operations without loss and the Squadron Halifaxes flew 1496 sorties in 95 RCM operations with the loss of 4 aircraft (0.3%).
No. 171 Squadron was finally disbanded on 27 July 1945.
One of the Squadron's original 14 crews had been posted from No. 76 Squadron on 1 October 1944. Captained by Robert Allen the crew comprised, flight engineer Alexander Christison, navigator Lester Keen a 24 year old New Zealander, air bomber Lionel Simmonds a Londoner aged 22, wireless op Steve Scanlan, another 24 year old New Zealander and air gunners Sgt. J. Fyfe, and Sgt. J. C. Allan.
The seven strong crew however, would later necessarily become an eight strong crew with the addition of a specialist operator of Mandrel and Window equipment.
On 20 November, having acquired the services of Warrant Officer S.W. Cook to fulfil the role of Specialist Operator, Robert Allen and his crew were detailed for their first operation and were allocated the recently delivered Halifax NA106 6Y-X for what was its maiden operation.
Of the four aircraft detailed for this Mandrel Operation one failed to take off: the other three, Halifax NA106, and two Stirlings carried out the operation and returned safely to base.
The crew was not called upon again until 26 November when it was detailed for a Window operation along with three more of the Squadron's crews. For this operation the crew was allocated another new Halifax, NA108, for its maiden operation.
REASON FOR LOSS
One of the four Halifaxes detailed for this operation failed to take off and one other returned early leaving NA108 captained by Robert Allen and NA112 captained by RCAF Sqn.Ldr. Keith Eddy (Aus/410223) to carry out the operation. Sqn.Ldr. Eddy took off at 23.26: take off time for Robert Allen is not given in the Squadron Operations Record Book. Halifax NA112 duly landed safely back at base at 03.58 but NA108 ran low on fuel and after encountered was severe icing was abandoned and crashed near Donnemarie-Dontilly, a commune in the Seine-et-Marne department in the Île-de-France region in north-central France. There were no reported injuries to any of the crew who all arrived back safely in the UK on 29 November 1944.
NA108 was the first Halifax III lost by No. 171 Squadron.
The following account, dictated by flight engineer Alexander Christison on his return, was contributed to the BBC Series, WW2 People's War by "xtison" and entitled "Bail Out 25th November 1944"
"We were on our way back from a long trip that started on Sunday the 26th November 1944 when we came to the decision that we had not enough fuel to get back to England. Some of the navigational instruments had also gone haywire and were of no use to us. The weather was really appalling and we could not see the ground nor the stars above we were in solid cloud. We then decided to land at a drome given to us at the briefing so flew there and called them up but got no reply ( later we learnt they had no facilities for night flying at all). By this time our fuel was really low so we flew away from the town and bailed out. I actually was last but one to go and never saw the ground till I hit it with my behind due to cloud and rain. I landed in the middle of a ploughed field which was very damp and muddy, it was dark and pouring with rain. I hadn’t the vaguest idea where I was, I found my torch in my Mae West and with the aid of its light made my way to a canal and walked along its bank till I came to a cart track which eventually led to a road. On hearing a cock crow to my right I turned toward the sound and after three quarters of an hour I reached a farm on the outskirts of a village, but the gates were locked. I could see a light shining in a window so I shouted, the gate was opened by a woman who took me into the house. She gave me some coffee and a roll and butter whilst I dried myself by the fire. The door opened and a man came in holding an automatic pistol keeping me covered he was not convinced that I was RAF but when I produced a packet of Woodbines and offered him one he realised I must be British. Drinks were produced and it was smiles all round. I was then escorted to another house where a woman spoke a fair amount of English. After more drinks and coffee and much discussion it was decided to drive me from Montigny where I had landed, to Donnemarie, where there was a police station, and a telephone. On arrival I found six of the crew there already and shortly afterwards we were joined by our skipper making our crew complete. We were naturally delighted to see each other especially as there were no injuries. The villagers plied us with food and drink all of which they could ill afford to give us, we accepted as refusal was liable to cause offence. The police managed to contact the French military at Provins who sent cars to take us there. On arrival we were given another meal in the officers mess. It was now 3 p.m. on Monday, a call was made to Le Bourget that we were safe and sound (this we learnt later was signalled to Britain at 3.30 p.m.). We were told that our aircraft had come down in open fields and was scattered over a wide area in small pieces. Then to a military hospital and looked after by a very large nurse. Finally to bed very weary, we were woken at 7 o’clock and had dinner and a walk around the town then back to bed for eleven. We woke at 10 o’clock on Tuesday morning and were treated to breakfast in bed, whilst there was a stream of visitors shaking us by the hand and wishing us luck. We were about to have a shower when a lorry arrived to take us to Le Bourget . First though we went back to collect our parachutes. Then lunch in a local restaurant and off to Le Bourget , where we arrived having got lost along the way. Dinner and a chance to buy English cigarettes, a walk around the town and a few drinks despite the rain then to bed on straw mattresses. Next morning we reported to the Medical Officer for a check-up. Then issued with a razor and toothbrush we at long last were able to make ourselves respectable again. Then on board a Dakota for a flight to Croydon arriving at 1.30 p.m. on Wednesday, after Customs and Censor off to the receiving centre at St. John’s Wood. When we arrived we sent wires to our folks to say we were safe. We were then issued with new uniform to replace our torn and muddy ones, suitably attired we went to the pub for a celebratory drink then to bed. On Thursday morning we were debriefed and given another medical. After lunch we went to the Air Ministry and were issued with rail passes back to North Cheadle, we were also told we were entitled to seven days survivors leave. That evening we went to a show in the West End then bed. We caught the 08.30 train to Creake where we arrived at 4.30 p.m. Next morning yet another debrief, and given four days leave! With a scramble managed to catch the six o’clock train which arrived in Goole next morning.
As a result of this he received 200 Woodbines from the company when he sent them a letter saying how they had changed the attitude of the French resistance that burst into the house. As no German would have Woodbines.
A few years ago we had contact from Andre Guillet one of the young Frenchmen involved, who supplied this photograph. Taken by member of the Gendarme".
'WW2 People's War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar'
If you can identify any of the crew in the above photograph please contact our helpdesk
According to 171 Squadron records the crew were granted privilege leave from 4 December to 7 December 1944. Presumably this was the survivor leave referred to by Alexander Christison in the above article.
On 15 December 1944 the crew was back in action flying a Mandrel operation and would continue to fly on special operations until their final such mission on 24 April 1945 by which time the crew had completed 26 operations with the Squadron. Apart from two of these operations the original seven personnel remained the same.
After the crash of 26/27 November 1944 Special Operator W.O. S.W. Cook became an Instructor at North Creake: his place for all but 5 of the later operations was taken by Flying Officer Gordon Stanley Jevons 155943.
With the end of the war in Europe the crew was inevitably broken up, its members being posted to various other units.
Captain P/O. Robert Allen was posted to No. 105 (Transport) Operational Training Unit at RAF Bramcote, Warwickshire wef 26 June 1945
Flight Engineer F/Sgt. Sandy Christison went on screening leave 1 May to 29 May 1945 but it is not known where he was posted afterwards.
Wireless Operator W.O. Steve Scanlan was posted to No. 12 RNZAF Personnel Despatch and Receiving Centre (54 GROUP) at RAF Brighton on 10 May 1945
Navigator Lester Keen was posted to ACAC (Air Crew Allocation Centre) 21 Group at RAF Brackla near Nairn in
Invernesshire, Scotland wef 30 May 1945
Air Bomber Lionel Simmonds was posted to HQ No. 8 Group Pathfinder Force wef 23 July 1945
Air Gunners F/Sgt. J. Fyfe and F/Sgt. J. C. Allan were both posted to ACAC 21 Group wef 28 May 1945
Special Wireless Operator F/O. Gordon Stanley Jevons was posted to ACAC 21 Group wef 30 May
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) P/O. Robert Francis Allen
1576404 Flight Sergeant Robert Francis Allen was commissioned as a Pilot Officer (191987) on probation (emergency) on 2 February 1945 (London Gazette 10 April 1945) confirmed in this appointment and promoted to Flying Officer (war subs) on 2 August 1945 (London Gazette 31 August 1945)
(2) Sgt. Alexander Christison was promoted to Flight Sergeant wef 17 April 1945 - Nothing further known, if you can help please contact our helpdesk
(3) W.O. Lester Michael Keen was born on 18 July 1920 at Hokitika, Westland, New Zealand the son of Michael Frederick Keen and Annie Keen nee Singer. He had four siblings: Wallace Francis Keen 1911-1992), Agnes Margaret Keen (1913- ), Leba Estelle Keen (1917-) and Maurice Frederick Keen (1918-1987)
He was educated at Hokitika Catholic School where he passed the Canterbury Education Board proficiency examination in 1932
He embarked for San Francisco arriving 31 May 1943 and later embarked for the UK.
He was promoted to Temporary Warrant Officer wef 12 May 1945.
On 8 Jan 1947 he arrived at London on the Rangitata from Auckland. He was recorded as being aged 26 and his proposed address in the UK was 265 Kenshall Road, Westbourne Park, London. Occupation Welder.
Later in 1947 he married Joyce A. Homes at Paddington.
He died in 1980 at Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire.
(4) F/O. Lionel Benjamin Sydney Simmonds was born in 1922 at Mile End Old Town, London.
1577387 F/Sgt. Lionel Benjamin Sydney Simmonds was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) 196416 on 7 March 1945 (London Gazette 15 May 1945) confirmed in this appointment and promoted to Flying Officer (war subs)on 7 September 1945 (London Gazette 5 October 1945)
In the London Gazette of 28 March 1961 this notice was published
"Sydney Simmonds deceased of "Eastcote" 18 Forty Lane Wembley Park, Middlesex, died 16 February 1961. Personal representatives Rose Simmonds and Lionel Benjamin Sydney Simmonds".
Lionel Simmonds married Magdalena Katona at Marylebone in 1963.
The Oxford University Gazette Obituaries records:
"LIONEL BENJAMIN SYDNEY SIMMONDS, 30 December 2002; commoner 1941–2 and 1945–7. Aged 80. Died at Barnet Middlesex"
(5) W.O. Arthur Joseph Stephen (Steve) Scanlan was born on 9 October 1920 at Gisborne, New Zealand the son of Edward James Scanlan and Mary Jane Scanlan nee Kelly. He had six siblings: Harold James Scanlan (1906-1977), Elvie Ellen Scanlan (1908-1973), Hilda Evelyn Scanlan (1909-), Dorothy May Scanlan (1910-),
Edward James Scanlan (1912-1977) and Francis Herbert Scanlan (1914-2003)
He was promoted to Warrant Officer wef from 26 January 1945.
In civilian life he was a Builder and his last known address was Te Wiremu House, Lifecare and Rest Home, 261 Aberdeen Road, Gisborne 4010
He died at Gisborne on 9 January 2011 aged 90. His cremated remains were interred on 4 May 2011 at the Teruheru Cemetery Block RSAAS Plot 274.
(6) W.O. S.W. Cook - Nothing further known, if you can help please contact our helpdesk.
(7) Sgt. J. Fyfe was promoted to Flight Sergeant wef 19 December 1944 - Nothing further known, if you can help please contact our helpdesk
(8) Sgt. J.C. Allan was promoted to Flight Sergeant wef 19 February 1945 - Nothing further known, if you can help please contact our helpdesk
(9) F/O. Gordon Stanley Jevons was born on 6 May 1920 at Kings Norton Warwickshire the son of Gordon H.P. Jevons and Violet L. Jevons nee Parkes.
He died at Torbay Devon in 1990 at the age of 70
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - May 2018
With thanks to the sources quoted below.