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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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214 crest
15/16th November 1944 214 Squadron Fortress III HB787 Fl/Sgt. Ashworth

Operation: Special Duties

Date: 15/16th November 1944 (Wednesday/Thursday)

Unit: No. 214 Squadron. (motto: Ultor in umbris - 'Avenging in the shadows')100 (Bomber Support) Group

Type: Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress III

Serial: HB787

Code: BU-J

Base: RAF Oulton, Norfolk

Location: Twyford, Norfolk

Pilot: Fl/Sgt. Colin James Ashworth NZ/427492 RNZAF Age 22. Killed

Fl/Eng: Sgt. Gilbert Leslie Hislop 1594952 RAFVR Age 32. Killed

Nav: Fl/Sgt. William Alistair McLaren 1672260 RAFVR Age 21. Killed

Sp/Op: F/O. Archibald Havill Leitch J/44328 RCAF Age 21. Killed

Air/Bmr: Sgt. Peter Edward Durman 1389300 RAFVR Age 21. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Ernest Robert Armstrong NZ/427084 RNZAF Age 20. Killed

Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Terence Francis McCormack NZ/429183 RNZAF Age 24. Killed

Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Alexander McLaughlin NZ/422972 RNZAF Age 27. Killed

Air/Gnr: Sgt. Richard Edmond Mooney R/261225 RCAF Age 32. Killed

Air/Gnr: Sgt. Charles Gordon Mackay Ogilvie 621667 RAFVR Age 28. Killed


Taking off at 22:30 hours on radio counter messages in support of various raids over Germany.

Following extensive research by Cymon Hewitt, relative of the pilot Fl/Sgt. Colin James Ashworth. He sent us the following information:

'As the flight on 15/16 Nov was 5 hours total duration and as they were carrying out a Windows operation, I assume they most likely were over the channel and France, or the low countries. I have not found any record of where the 6 aircraft had completed operations or were specified to go that night. I have yet to find information on what operations Bomber Command were carrying out that night either. A report from another aircraft that carried out a Jostle op on 30.10.44 showed Cologne as the target area and a flight duration of almost 6 hours so it is feasible that they travelled as far as the Ruhr.

Due to bad weather, there was no ops for the two days preceding the 15th and two days after.

The Squadrons Record books on the 15th of Nov 1944 show 7 aircraft out on ops- one returned early after late take off and unable to catch up (BU-S).

HB787 was reported by the ground crew to have a Magneto drop issue with engine No. 4 during pre-flight checks but was cleared to continue by the crew chief Patterson.

Of the 6 aircraft who completed operations, three returned to RAF Oulton and 3 were redirected. The last returning to Oulton was BU-R at 3.45 Am. After this time fog conditions prevented further landings at this airfield.

Three aircraft redirected from landing at Oulton- BU-J (HB787) sent to RAF Foulsham (crashed at 4.36am). BU-O (HB802)-F/S Ingham (5.35am) and BU-A (HB785)- Fl/Lt. Wright (5.55am), both sent to RAF Carnaby.

The RAF Foulsham FIDO system was reportedly in operation on the night of the crash from 4.15am.

In your document, the cause of the crash appears to have been taken from Errol Martyn’s Books. This is the same as what is shown in the report in Colin’s military records but does not completely match the actual crash report and a photo of the crashed aircraft I have been given.

As the operations of the Squadron at the time were highly secret it is unlikely the family or available records show the true nature of what happened or what they were doing. My grandparents made mention of him crashing in a Wellington bomber and my grandfather had cast a memorial ashtray in the 1950’s with Colins initials and atop it was a P40 Fighter aircraft. As the records of 214’s operations were only declassified in the 70’s it’s highly unlikely the family were aware if the actions Colin and his crew were taking part in.

From the information from the crash site, the RAF and RNZAF records and the official crash report the following is what I believe happened.

At 23.30 on the 15th of November 1944, Aircraft BU-J (HB878) of 214 Squadron, 100 Bomber (Support) Group, Piloted by Fight Sargent C.J. Ashworth (RNZAF) departed RAF Oulton airfield in Norfolk at to carry out a Windows drop operation in support of Bomber Command operations against Germany.

Upon return to Norfolk, while over Cromer, the crew was advised that the weather had deteriorated badly over the country, RAF Oulton had been closed due to fog and they were to divert to nearby RAF Foulsham. RAF Foulsham at the time had an active FIDO fog dispersion system.

Intermittent and distorted radio contact from BU-J to Foulsham ground control was made at 4.09am and the crew were given permission to land after joining circuit.

During their initial decent into Foulsham, another aircraft ran off the end or side of the South/ North runway in use, at the downwind end and became bogged. The crew of BU-J were ordered to abort the imminent landing and fly around while the disabled aircraft was cleared from the runway area.

The aircraft successfully aborted its landing from 300ft and was last seen climbing to re-join circuit.

Aircraft re-joined circuit and reported by radio as location “Downwind” at 4.31 but was not seen or heard from again.

The aircraft entered low cloud near the end of its circuit and travelled northwest at a very low height, passing the inner and outer fog funnel lights. At 4.36am, 1 ½ miles southwest of the centre of RAF Foulsham, during the landing approach, the aircraft was too low, striking a tree at Broom Green, then hitting the ground heavily and climbing steeply to the left where the aircraft lost control and hit the ground again nearer Twyford, catching fire and killing the crew of ten men.

The location of the crash and direction the aircraft was heading is not in line with the runway at Foulsham and the accident report suggests the pilot was not using the D R compass as instructed at the time of the crash. This may also explain why he passed between the inner and outer Fog lights and not between the two outer fog lights. He had probably assumed he was close to the South/North runway when he was in fact travelling in a northwest direction.

The photos of the aircraft I have been given show it as being mostly complete, lying burnt out in a field adjacent to a hedge row. The aircraft does not appear to have nosed dived into the ground as reported, as the main structure and wings are intact, and the aircraft is lying on its starboard side.

The accident report includes information that there were radio communication issues between the ground station at Foulsham and the aircraft. There was also confusion between the ground control at Foulsham and 100 Group HQ in relation to the bogged aircraft.

The Metrological report for the night in question was inaccurate and the weather had significantly deteriorated over the entire country around 3.30am.

It brings to note the inexperience of the crew and lack of training on the use of the fitted directional Gyro or D R Compass.

It also included the statement of witness 16, who was the pilot of the aircraft immediately behind HB787. This pilot reported that he had duplicated the movements of HB787 in all aspects except he fortunately had maintained more height and had verry narrowly avoided a similar fate.

That the RAF Foulsham Crew should not have attempted to land heavy aircraft in the conditions of the night. Due to miscommunication with 100 Group HQ, RAF Foulsham were of the understanding that they were the only airfield available to take aircraft.'

Burial and crew personal details:

Fl/Sgt. Colin James Ashworth. (Shown left) Cambridge City Cemetery. Grave. 15351. Born on the 06th July 1922 at Rangora. Worked as a farmer on his fathers farm at Sefton prior to service. After 2 years in the territorial army enlisted at Rukuhia on the 11th July 1942 into the RNZAF. Trained at No. 3 Elementary Flying Training School and later No. 2 Flying Training School. Awarded his pilots badge on the 07th June 1943 and then promoted to sergeant on the 31st July 1943. Embarked for England on the 21st August 1943. Further training with No. 11 Operational Training Unit flying on Wellingtons then to No. 1657 Heavy Conversion Unit on the 03rd August 1944 on Stirlings. Joined 214 squadron on the 20th September 1944. Son of Abram Ashworth and of Jessie Mitchell Ashworth (nee McGowan), of Sefton, North Canterbury, New Zealand. A total of 484 flying hours logged with 20 solo on the Fortress. On his 3rd operational sortie.

Sgt. Gilbert Leslie Hislop. Goole Cemetery. Sec. D. Plot 3. Grave 2088. Son of Thomas Dagg Hislop and Mollie Hislop, of Goole and husband of Elsie Hislop, of Goole, Yorkshire, England. Grave inscription: 'Sadly Missed'.

Fl/Sgt. William Alistair McLaren. Caputh Cemetery. Plot 365. Grave 1077. Son of William and Margaret McLaren, of Murthly, Perth and Kinross, Scotland. Grave inscription: 'Greater Love Hath No Man Than This, That A Man Lay Down His Life For His Friends'.

F/O. Archibald Havill Leitch.(Shown left) Brookwood Military Cemetery. Grave 51. A. 10. Born on the 30th October 1923 at British Columbia, Canada. Son of Archibald Kenneth (died 22nd October 1945 age 66) and Mary Josephine Leitch (née Hamill. died 11th April 1957 age 66), of 159 Weston Avenue, Vancouver British Columbia, Canada. Grave inscription: 'Born In Cranbrook, B.C. Son Of Archibald And Mary Leitch, Vancouver, British Columbia'. Buried on the 21st November at 11:00 hrs.

Sgt. Peter Edward Durman. Beckenham Crematorium And Cemetery. Sec. L.7. Grave 19794. Of Bromley, London, England. No further information but we do know he was married.

Fl/Sgt. Ernest Robert Armstrong. (Shown left) Cambridge City Cemetery. Grave. 15352. Born on the 11th January 1924 at Geraldine. Worked as a farm hand for his fathers farm at Raukapuks prior to service. Enlisted on the 09th July as an aircraft hand but re-mustered as a wireless operator/air gunner on the 28th November 1942. Embarked for further training in Canada on the 12th February 1943. Awarded his wireless operator/air gunner badge and promoted to sergeant on the 15th November 1943. Embarked for England on the 14th December 1943. Further training with No. 11 Operational Training Unit flying on Wellingtons then to No. 1657 Heavy Conversion Unit on the 03rd August 1944 on Stirlings. Joined 214 squadron on the 20th September 1944. Son of Charles Edwin Armstrong and of Agnes Swinbourne Armstrong (nee Handford), of Geraldine, South Canterbury, New Zealand. Engaged to a Audrey Trotman at the time of his death. A total of 246 flying hours logged. On his 3rd operational sortie.

Fl/Sgt. Terence Francis McCormack. (Shown left) Cambridge City Cemetery. Grave. 15353. Born on the 06th May 1920 at Taradale. Worked as a shepherd for J.A. McFarlaneat the Narrow ion Hastings prior to service. After 2 years in the territorial army enlisted at Masterton on the 17th August 1942 into the RNZAF. Embarked for Canada on the 17th May 1943. Awarded his wireless operator badge and promoted to sergeant on the 10th March 1944. Embarked for England on the 04th April 1944. Further training with No. 11 Operational Training Unit flying on Wellingtons then to No. 1657 Heavy Conversion Unit on the 03rd August 1944 on Stirlings. Joined 214 squadron on the 20th September 1944. Son of Thomas and Mary Elizabeth McCormack (née Reid), of Hastings, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand. A total of 190 flying hours logged. On his 3rd operational sortie.

Fl/Sgt. Alexander McLaughlin. (Shown left) Mosside Presbyterian Churchyard. Grave 169. Born on the 20th September 1917 at Carolelis, Moss-side, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Worked as a farmer for W.A. Gault at Opotiki prior to service. Enlisted on the 06th May 1942 at Hobsonville. Embarked for Canada on the 12th February 1943. Awarded his air gunner badge and promoted to sergeant on the 10th March 1944. Embarked for England on the 04th April 1944.Further training with No. 11 Operational Training Unit flying on Wellingtons then to No. 1657 Heavy Conversion Unit on the 03rd August 1944 on Stirlings. Joined 214 squadron on the 20th September 1944. Son of Patrick and Catherine McLaughlin (née Gillan) and husband of Phyllis Mona McLaughlin (née Potts - later Mathews) Her brother, P/O. Donald Norman Potts NZ/412267 RNZAF was listed as missing believed killed flying as second pilot on 75 squadron Wellington III X3557during a raid on Wilhelmshaven on the 08/09 July 1942. A total of 160 flying hours logged. On his 3rd operational sortie. (see below)

Sgt. Richard Edmond Mooney. (Shown left) Brookwood Military Cemetery. Grave 51. D. 4. Born on the 06th June 1913. Worked as a fruit farmer and also for the Chrysler Corporation of Canada prior to service. Enlisted on the 29th July 1943 at Edmonton. Son of Vincent Charles (died 15th December 1947 age 68) and the late Ellen 'Nellie' Mooney (née Ferry - died 03rd December 1926 age 45). Husband of Christine Mooney of 3612 Queen street, Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Father of Betty Ellen and Michael Richard. Brother of Angela Maria Barnes (née Mooney - died 21st July 2001 age 91). Buried on the 21st November at 11:00 hrs.

Sgt. Charles Gordon Mackay Ogilvie. Cawston Cemetery. Sec. N. Grave 88. Son of Charles Gordon Mackay Ogilvie and Elizabeth Ogilvie and husband of Ira Ogilvie, of Hampstead, London. Grave inscription: 'Thy Purpose, Lord, We Cannot See But All Is Well That's Done By Thee'.

Special additional information on Fl/Sgt. Alexander McLaughlin by Sonia Edwards researching all who lost their lives from the Bay Of Plenty area of New Zealand.

Flight Sergeant Alex McLAUGHLIN (1917- 1944) was born at Carolelis, Moss-side, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, 20 September 1917. He attended Moss-side School. He was the son of Patrick and Catherine McLAUGHLIN née GILLAN of County Antrim. In 1935 he came to New Zealand as a farm worker for Mr W A Gault of Opotiki, as a young man of 18 years. When he signed up for the air force he was employed by another Irishman, Mr D Morrison, share milking 114 dairy cows (on thirds) and helping with heifers and 100 sheep.2

Alex McLAUGHLIN married Phyllis Mona POTTS of Opotiki, who was the sister of another airman, Donald (Peter) POTTS. Sometime after the death of her husband in 1944 Phyllis McLAUGHLIN remarried W P MATHEWS.

Left: 25 year old P/O. Norman Donald Potts

Alex McLaughlin joined Royal New Zealand Airforce at Hobsonville, 6 May 1942, as an aircraft hand in the aircraft Maintenance Depot. He was then able to re-muster as an aircraft hand in the Aerodrome Defence Unit, 19 September 19423. One month later Alex McLaughlin went to New Plymouth for Wireless Operator/Air Gunner training with the Initial Training Wing.

12 February 1943, NZ422972 A McLaughlin embarked for Canada, to be attached to the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was at the Wireless School in Halifax Nova Scotia, 21 March 1943, before re-mustering as an Air Gunner in September 1943, at the Bombing & Gunnery School. He gained his Air Gunners Badge and was promoted to Sergeant 10 March 1944.

Above: Alexander McLaughlin with Phyllis Mona Potts wedding 1942

Sgt A McLaughlin embarked from Halifax, Nova Scotia, for the United Kingdom 4 April 1944, having been attached to the Royal Air Force. From the Reception Centre McLaughlin went to the 11 Operational Training Unit to fly in Wellingtons. At Stirling, he undertook Heavy Conversion training, before joining 214 Squadron. He did three operations with Fortress aircraft.

McLaughlin was transported to Northern Ireland, the country of his birth, for burial at Moss-side Co. Antrim.

He lies at Moss-side Presbyterian Church. He is remembered on the Opotiki Cenotaph and on the Memorial plaque, below the stained glass windows in St Johns Union Church Opotiki. His name is also in the Hall of Memories at Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this pilot with thanks to Sonia Edwards, Cymon Hewitt and to the extensive research by Errol Martyn and his publications: “For Your Tomorrow Vols. 1-3”, Auckland Library Heritage Collection, Weekly News of New Zealand, 214 Squadron Association, other sources as quoted below:

KTY 16-07-2021

KTY 21-07-2021 Further information added courtesy Cymon Hewitt.

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