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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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427 Squadron Crest
21/22.01.1944 427 Squadron Halifax III LL139 ZL-D Sqn.Ldr. Arnot DFC

Operation: Magdeburg

Date: 21/22nd January 1944 (Friday/Saturday)

Unit:No. 427 (Lion) Squadron, RCAF

Type: Halifax III

Serial: LL139

Code: ZL-D

Base: RAF Leeming, North Yorkshire.

Location: Magdeburg / Köthen, Germany

Pilot: Sqn.Ldr. Donald Mackenzie Arnot DFC J/13470 RCAF Age 25. Killed

2nd.Pilot: Wg.Cdr. Arthur Norman Martin C/782 RCAF Age 28. Killed

Flt.Eng: Plt.Off. Reve Achille Nicolas Rondelet 160504 RAF Age 20. Killed

Nav: Plt.Off. Lloyd William Wesley Jones J/18966 RCAF Age 22. Killed

Air/Bmr: Plt.Off. William Victor Thom J/21028 RCAF Age 32. PoW No: 3473 Camp: Stalag Luft III Sagan and Belaria.

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Plt.Off. Raymond Dawson 159010 RAFVR Age 22. Killed

Air/Gnr: Plt.Off. Leonard Samuel Gray J/18925 RCAF Age 21. Killed

Air/Gnr: Plt.Off. Roland Otis Nickerson J/18917 RCAF Age 23. Killed


The Lion’s Halifax ZL-D with its all commissioned officer crew along with the CO from 424 Squadron, Wg.Cdr. Arthur Martin as second pilot for operational experience, took off at 20:05 hours from RAF Leeming. Wg.Cdr. Martin's service number shows that he was one of the first to join the RCAF when formed in 1924.

The target for that night’s raid was the capital of Saxony, Magdeburg, a strategic traffic and railway junction for tracks to Leipzig, Kassel and Hamburg. The city environs also housed a Krupp heavy engineering factory use for the manufacture of tanks as well as explosive factories and a synthetic oil plant.

It was to be a very heavy raid believed to be a force comprised of a 1000 bombers. The pathfinders had measured success placing their markers but the crews were assisted by the relatively clear visibility which aided them identifying their targets within the city lying on the banks of the Elbe.

Aircraft: Halifax B.V, EB241, ZL-A. The crew did all but four sorties in this aircraft. Front to Back: Plt.Off Dawson, Sqn.Ldr. Arnot; Back left to Right: Plt.Off. Thorn, Plt.Off. Nickerson. (Courtesy Ian Bruce)

Crew Photograph. Left to Right: Sqn.Ldr. Arnot, Plt.Off. Jones, Plt.Off. Thom, Plt.Off. Dawson, Plt.Off. Gray, Plt.Off. Rondelet, Plt.Off. Nickerson. (Courtesy Ian Bruce)

After dropping their bomb load Halifax LL139 was attacked by a night fighter and set ablaze forcing Captain Arnot to issue a command to abandon the aircraft. Tragically, before the crew could bale out, the aircraft exploded in mid air killing all on board except for Plt.Off. Thom who was blown clear and captured near Köthen, spending the remainder of the war as a PoW.

Plt.Off. William Victor Thom submitted this statement whilst a PoW:

"Aircraft attacked by fighter while leaving Magdeburg at a height of 19,500 ft. The aircraft was damaged and after losing height to 14,000 ft the order to bale out was given; just then an explosion occurred and I was blown clear and descended safely by parachute. The Germans stated that seven bodies of officers were found in the wreckage; it is probable that the rear gunner, Plt.Off. Nickerson, was killed during the action with the fighter".

The Lion’s lost an extremely experienced crew in that all had completed at least 19 sorties, Arnot and Gray completing 23 and 28 respectively. Ironically Sqn.Ldr. Arnot had been awarded his DFC, which was gazetted on the 18th January 1944.

The following is an extract from a report by Flt.Lt. John R Hughes DFM of No.4 MREU dated the 8th September 1948:

During a recent “exhumation trip” in the Russian Zone Kreis Wansleben a visit was made to the town of Unseburg to exhume the grave of the 7 unknown Canadians buried there.

Information regarding the crash and graves was supplied by a former Master of Gendarmes who is a resident of Unseburg and he stated that during the night 21st/22nd January 1944 at approximately 2200 hours a 4 engined aircraft crashed 3km East of Unseburg. The crash was not investigated until the following day when it was discovered that the wreckage was strewn over an area of 1,000m. Five bodies were found around the wreckage and two burnt bodies in the main fuselage and it was reported that an eighth crew member was taken as a PoW at Atzendorf a village 2kms away.

A Luftwaffe Oberleutnant (1st.Lt.) from Kothen airport removed all identity discs, valuables, etc. from the dead, these were placed in separate paper bags marked with the names of the dead. The names were not supplied to the Unseburg Burgermeister and he was just left with instructions to bury the dead. Burial took place on 23rd January 1944 at the Unseburg Cemetery. Each of the dead were placed in separate coffins and buried in individual graves, crosses were erected over each grave and they all bore the same inscriptions. “Canadischer Officer gef im Luftkampf 21.1.1944”

In all 55 aircraft were lost on the operation, one of the single heaviest losses of the war, 14 of which were from RCAF squadrons.

Sqn.Ldr. Arnot enlisted at the outbreak of war in 1939 and was called up in 1940. After gaining his wings at Camp Borden and undergoing officer training at Trenton, Sqn.Ldr. Arnot spent two years as an instructor where he became a very experienced pilot accumulating in excess of over 1700 flying hours. Posted overseas in 1943, he succeeded in bringing home his badly damaged aircraft after his very first operation over enemy held territory.

Plt.Off. Nickerson was a fisherman before he enlisted from the small town of Clarks Harbour on Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia.

Arnot Lake Northwest Territories is named after Sqn.Ldr. Donald Arnot.

Burial Details:

(Left) Sqn.Ldr. Donald Mackenzie Arnot DFC. Berlin 1939–1945 War Cemetery Grave 2 K 10. Grave inscription reads: “And So He Passed Over, And All The Trumpets Sounded For Him On The Other Side”. Born on the 11th September 1918.Son of Colin Mackenzie Arnot and Florella May Arnot of Toronto, Canada.

DFC awarded to Acting Flt.Lt. Arnot on the 18th January 1944, whilst with 427 Sqn, Gazetted 14th January 1944.

(Right) Wg.Cdr. Arthur Norman Martin. Berlin 1939–1945 War Cemetery Grave 2 K 9. Grave inscription reads: “No Man Hath Greater Love Than This. Dearly Loved And Deeply Missed”. Born on the 30th April 1915. Son of Arthur E. C. Martin and Harriet Martin, husband of Frances E. Martin. B.A., B.Com.

Plt.Off. Reve Achille Nicolas Rondelet. Berlin 1939–1945 War Cemetery Grave 2 K 13. Liege, Belgium. No further details, are you able to assist with these?

(left) Plt.Off. Lloyd William Wesley Jones. Berlin 1939–1945 War Cemetery Grave 2 K 11. Grave inscription reads: “You Shall Hear His Voice And Come Forth In The New World John V. 28-29”.Born on the 22nd March 1921. Son of William H. H. Jones and Irma M. Jones of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

(Right) Plt.Off. Leonard Samuel Gray. Berlin 1939–1945 War Cemetery Grave 2 K 15. Grave inscription reads: “Dearly Beloved”. Born on the 3rd December 1922. Son of Leonard and Ellen Frances Gray of Eastview, Ontario, Canada.

(Left) Plt.Off. Raymond Dawson. Berlin 1939–1945 War Cemetery Grave 2 K 12. Born on the 12th June 1921. Son to Joseph Dawson and brother to three sisters and four brothers from Washington, County Durham, UK.

(Right) Plt.Off. Roland Otis Nickerson. Berlin 1939–1945 War Cemetery Grave 2 K 14. Grave inscription reads: “Christ In You, The Hope Of Glory: Col. I. 27”. Born on the 6th June 1920. Son of Edwin Henderson Nickerson and Dora Elmina Nickerson of The Hawk, Shelburne Co., Nova Scotia, Canada.

Researched by Colin Bamford for Aircrew Remembered, further information and photographs submitted by David Champion - October 2017. Page dedicated to all relatives/friends of the crew. Thanks to Ian Bruce, the grand nephew to Plt.Off. R. Dawson, for the additional photographs and information

CHB 11.07.2017
RS 14.01.2020 - Inclusion of additional photographs and information

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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, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Stan D. Bishop, John A. Hey MBE, Gerrie Franken and Maco Cillessen - Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Forces, Vols 1-6, Dr. Theo E.W. Boiton - Nachtjagd Combat Archives, Vols 1-13. Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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