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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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617 Squadron crest
16/17.05.1943 617 Squadron Lancaster III ED864 AJ:B Flt Lt. William Astell DFC

Operation: Chastise

Date: 16th/17th May 1943 (Sunday/Monday)

Unit No: 617 Squadron

Type: Lancaster III

Serial: ED864

Code: AJ:B

Base: RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire

Location: Marbeck, Germany

Pilot: Flt Lt. William Astell DFC 60283 RAFVR Age 23. KiA

Flt Eng: Sgt. John Kinnear 635123 RAFVR Age 21. KiA

Nav: Plt Off. Floyd Alvin Wile J16872 RCAF Age 24. KiA

Bomb Aimer: Fg Off. Donald Hopkinson 127817 RAFVR Age 22. KiA

WOp/Air Gnr: WO2. Abram (Albert) Garshowitz R84377 RCAF Age 22. KiA

Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Sgt. Francis Anthony Garbas R103201 RCAF Age 22. KiA

Air Gnr (Rear): Sgt. Richard Bolitho 1211045 RAFVR Age 23.KiA

We have since been contacted by Mr. Mitch Bulting from Holland. On the 70th anniversary of the loss, he researched and prepared photographs of all the crew, laminated them and placed in front of each crew members grave.


Lancaster III ED864 took off fro RAF Scampton at 21.59 hrs as part of the final section of the first wave of Operation Chastise to bomb the Mohne Dam.

Along with Plt Off. Knight and Sqn Ldr. Maudslay and crews, they proceeded into Germany. The other two crews altered course but Flt Lt. Astell became slightly off course and on reaching a canal crossing, which was actually the correct place, turned South down the canal as though to search for the correct position.

ED864 collided with an electricity pylon before bursting into flames and crashing into fields behind some farmhouses with its bomb on fire which continued to roll onwards before exploding. At the same time machine guns continued to fire from the burning aircraft.

Above: This is a photograph of Sgt. Stephenson’s original crew formed at 19 OTU RAF Kinloss, Course No.45 - 16th July 1942. They were posted to 9 Squadron on the 23rd December 1942 having completed their time at the OTU and 1654 Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU).

Left to Right: Rear: Sgt. Wile, Sgt. Stephenson, Sgt. Hopkinson; Front: Sgt. Garshowitz, Sgt. Bolitho (See credits)

Sgt. Maxwell W.Stephenson 1088249 RAFVR was killed along with the crew of 9 Sqn Lancaster I W4159 on a mission to Duisburg on the 8th/9th January 1943

Above, left to right: WO2. Abram Garshowitz, Plt Off. Floyd Wile, Fg Off. Donald Hopkinson, Sgt. Francis Garbas and Sgt. Richard Bolitho, Sgt. John Kinnear and Flt Lt. William Astell DFC (See credits)

Eyewitnesses who ran to the crash scene were unable to get close owing to the ammunition still discharging. A very deep bomb crater about 12 metres wide was left.

Many buildings nearby had roofs torn off and windows smashed but miraculously a statue of St.Joseph holding the baby Jesus, on the edge of the crater remained untouched.

A memorial stone and plaque lie as a permanent memorial to Flight Lieutenant Astell and his crew (courtesy Stefan Heinitz)

Burial Details:

Originally buried at Borken and relocated to the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery on the 5th February 1947.

Flt Lt. William Astell DFC. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 21.D.13. Inscription reads: ‘THINK NOT OF ME AS DEAD: HAPPY HE WHOSE COURSE IS SPED. HE HAS GONE HOME- TO GOD’. Known to friends and family as Bill and born in 1920 at Peover, Cheshire to Godfrey Grant and Margery Helen Astell of Manchester.

His DFC was awarded whist with 148 Sqn. Promulgated in the London Gazette on the 14th August 1942.

Citation reads: "Acting Flight Lieutenant William ASTELL (60283) Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 148 Squadron. One night in May, Flight Lieutenant Astell was captain of an aircraft which carried out an attack on an enemy landing ground. Following the attack, his aircraft was intercepted and damaged by an enemy fighter. The rear turret and rudder control were rendered unserviceable whilst fire broke out in the fuselage, the starboard wing, the engine nacelle, and an ammunition container, also caught fire and 2 members of the crew were wounded. The aircraft lost height and Flight Lieutenant Astell ordered his crew to escape by parachute. Two of them were able to do so but time did not permit of similar action being taken by the navigator and Flight Lieutenant Astell. The latter was able to make a successful crash landing, however, and both he and his colleague managed to extricate themselves from the wreckage. After a period of 5 days, fraught with danger, they eventually observed one of our patrols. Flight Lieutenant Astell went forward to make contact but, unfortunately, was unable to do so. He returned to the place where he thought he had left, his colleague but he could not find him. Flight Lieutenant Astell eventually discovered another friendly detachment and reached safety. Throughout the engagement, and subsequently, this officer displayed great courage and fortitude".

He was posted to 617 Sqn on the 25th March 1943

Sgt. John Kinnear. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 21.D.14. Inscription reads: ‘MY RACE IS RUN, MY WARFARE'S O'ER’. Son of William and Helen Kinnear of East Newport, Fife. Born in November 1921 and worked as a mechanic, waiting till he was twenty-one before he could enlist and enjoy his enthusiasm for flying.

Plt Off. Floyd Alvin Wile. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 21.D.15. Inscription reads: ‘GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN’. Born on the 17th April 1919 in Scotch Village, Nova Scotia. Son of Harris Artimas and Annabell Beatrice (née Johnston) Wile of Scotch Village, Nova Scotia , Canada.

Raymond (served overseas with the Princess Louise Fusiliers in Italy) and Donald. After he left high school he worked in farming and the lumbar business. A keen sportsman, he enjoyed skiing, skating and swimming. Attended No. 5 Initial Training School and No. 8 Air Observer School and was noted for being very quiet and hard working. By the time he had attended No. 9 Bombing and Gunnery school he had gained in confidence and was commended as outstanding by his commanding officer. After passing out of No. 2 Air Navigation School in 1941, he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer and left 1654 Conversion Unit, Wigsley in December 1942. Posted to 9 Squadron at Waddington, Floyd and the rest of the crew were piloted by Sergeant M.W.Stephenson, who it is believed was killed acting as Flight Engineer on a raid to Duisberg on 8/9th January 1943. Floyd and the rest of the crew were to fly their first op. with Flight Lieutenant Astell on the 25th of January 1943. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission also erected an identical headstone dedicated to Floyd in the family plot.

Fg Off. Donald Hopkinson. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Coll. Grave 21.D.16-18. Inscription reads: ‘HE DIED TO GIVE US ANOTHER DAWN, FOR US TO LIVE ALL HIS TOMORROWS’. Son of Harold and Sarah (née Tithler) of Royton, Lancashire.

Donald’s mother died of cancer when he was just four months old and he and his sister went to live with his uncle and aunt Harold Tither and Ellen (nee Hopkinson), who were brother and sister to his parents.

His half brother Fred qualified as a pilot in Florida in August 25th 1945 and became a Spitfire pilot after joining the RAF Donald was educated at Chadderton Grammar School for Boys, a keen sportsman, he excelled at cricket. He worked as a clerk before enlisting in December1941 and did part of his training at RAF Kinloss. On the night before the final mission, whilst spending his leave at home, Don mentioned to his family that he had a bad feeling and premonition about flying on this particular mission.

Donald’s relative Godfrey Rust told Aircrew Remembered in Jan 2023: “My mother Joan Hopkinson was Don’s cousin and lived next door in Rochdale Road, Royton from 1939. She was three years younger than him. In about 1960, when I was about seven years old, my mother showed me a photograph of Don and told me that he was her cousin, he was very handsome and that she had been going to be married to him, but he was killed in the raid on the dams. Don’s photograph came to light recently within other family pictures from that era: we didn’t immediately recognise it, but I remembered my mother’s story and found it is the same picture of Don that appears on 617 Squadron websites. Enquiries with cousins in my family confirmed that their engagement was general knowledge within their family although it had not been publicly announced. Two years after Don’s death Joan married my father, Robert Rust, who was a navigator flying Halifax bombers in 1944-45. They had a happy marriage, although my father died in 1974 at the age of only 51 from heart failure as a long-term result of catching rheumatic fever during his RAF training. Joan died in 1994. I’m very happy to have been able to confirm and make public the love and commitment that she and Don had for one another before it was entirely lost with the last of those who knew of it!”.

WO2. Abram (Albert) Garshowitz. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Coll. Grave 21.D.16-18. Born on the 11th December 1920 in Hamilton, Ontario. Son of Samuel and Sarah (née Borowy) Garshowitz of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Known by family and friends as Albert or Al, and the ninth of twelve children, educated at McIlwraith Public School, Hamilton Central Collegiate Institute and Hamilton Talmud Torah. Confirmed in 1934 at the Beth Jacob Synagogue and was an active member of the A.Z.A. He worked in the family furniture business, selling new and used furniture.

Sgt. Francis Anthony Garbas. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Coll. Grave 21.D.16-18. Born on the 13th July 1922 in Hamilton, Ontario. Son of Stanley and Mary (née Gabka) Garbasz of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Known to his family and friends as Frank, he was a boyhood friend of Sergeant Garshowitz. The son of Polish immigrants to Canada he enjoyed playing American football and worked at Otis, the elevator manufacturers before he enlisted in the RCAF.

Sgt. Richard Bolitho. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 21.E.1. Inscription reads: ‘GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS, THAT A MAN LAY DOWN HIS LIFE FOR HIS FRIENDS’. Son of William and Jane (Cuthbertson) Bolitho of Port Rush, Co.Antrim, Northern Ireland.

Known as “Dickie” to family and friends he was the only son of William, (a traveller in seeds) and Janet Bolitho and was brought up at his mothers family home, ”Braehead” in Portrush. In 1927 the family moved to England where they bought a hotel on Castle Boulevard in Kimberley, Nottinghamshire and Richard moved in with his aunt Emily who owned a fruit and vegetable shop. He attended the Church Hill School and enlisted in the RAF. After training he joined 9 Squadron on 23rd December 1942, 57 Squadron on 22nd January 1943 and joined 617 Squadron on 25th March 1943. His last leave was spent with Plt Off. Wile, WO2. Garshowitz and Sgt. Kinnear at his home in Kimberley, Nottinghamshire. After his death his family returned to Portrush in 1946. Richards name is inscribed on the War Memorial for Kimberley, Nottinghamshire and in 2008 a special plaque was commissioned.

Researched by Aircrew Remembered, researcher and specialist genealogist Linda Ibrom for relatives of this crew. With thanks to the following relatives for their valuable assistance with information and photographs supplied, many thanks to Mitch Bulting for many photos and the video taken. For information on Plt Off. Wile to Donald Lightbody (nephew), Fg Off. Hopkinson to Christine Hopkinson (niece), Sgt. Richard Bolitho Basil Haslett, (second cousin), WO2. Garshowitz to the Canadian Virtual War Memorial. With special thanks to Matt Lacroix who we work so closely with. Thanks to Amanda Lightbody, grand niece of Plt Off. Wile for the identification of Sgt. Stephenson (Aug 2021). Other updates by Aircrew Remembered (Aug 2021). Thanks to Godfrey Rust for his story about Fg Off. Donald Hopkinson and for the correction to his mothers maiden name (Jan 2023). Thanks to Paul Markham for providing the correct information for Sgt. Stephenson's original crew at 19 OTU. (Aug 2023). Update to Next-of-Kin details for WO2. Garshowitz and Sgt. Garbas by Aircrew Remembered (Aug 2023).

RS 15.08.2023 - Updates to OTU crew information and Next-of-Kin details

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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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