15/16.03.1944 9 Squadron Lancaster I HK540 WS-H Sqn.Ldr. Backwell-Smith
Date: 15/16th March 1944 (Wednesday/Thursday)
Unit: 9 Squadron
Type: Lancaster I
Base: RAF Bardney, Lincolnshire
Location: Heutingsheim, Germany
Pilot: Sqn.Ldr. Raymond Backwell-Smith 37871 RAF PoW No. 1905 Camp: Stalag Mühlhausen
Flt.Eng: Sgt. Norman V. Sirman 1612116 RAFVR PoW No. 4022 Camp: Stalag Luft Barth Vogelsang
Nav: Fg.Off. Herbert Keith Sheasby 134586 RAFVR Age 31. Killed
Air/Bmr: Plt.Off. Douglas Raymond Eley J/86764 RCAF Age 20. Killed
W/Op/Air Gnr: Flt.Sgt. Ronald West 1575466 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
Mid-Upp Gnr: Sgt. Brian Glover 1588485 RAFVR Age 19. Killed
Rear Gnr: Flt.Sgt. Eric Alfred Birrell 416923 RAAF Age 21. Killed
Page dedicated to the fiancée of Fl/Sgt. Eric Birrell - they were engaged the day the day before he went to war.
REASON FOR LOSS:
The crew flying Lancaster HK540 took off from RAF Bardney, Lincolnshire at 19:18 hrs. on an operation to Stuttgart.
This operation consisted of some 863 aircraft which flew over France, nearly as far as the Swiss border before turning north-east to approach the target.
This tactic delayed the Luftwaffe intercepting the bomber stream, but arrive they did, just prior to reaching the city.
Left: Sgt. Brian Glover (see credits)
The usual fierce combats ensued with the allies eventually (1) losing some 43 aircraft!
The aircraft was claimed by Uffz Hugo Oppermann from 8./NJG2 - North of Stuttgart: 5,600m at 23:32 hrs. Also claimed by Flak of 4/schw Flak Abt 21, schw Hei Flak Battery 206/XIII and 4 & 6/schw Flak Abt 436 (“Viermot Ludwigsburg 23:37”). Victory confirmed for Uffz Oppermann on 28 July 1944. The aircraft crashed near the "Wilhelmshof" near Heutingsheim, North of Ludwigsburg (Baden-Württemberg). (Nachtjagd Combat Archives Part 1 1944 - Theo Boiten).
(1) Not all losses are due to combat, on this operation alone some 7 aircraft were lost for other reasons:
578 Squadron Halifax III LW495 LK-C crashed on return at a brickworks at Selby.
578 Squadron Halifax III LW348 LK-X ran short of fuel on return and crashed to the east of Biggin Hill
463 Squadron Lancaster III ED606 JO-E collided midair with another aircraft from 625 Squadron, crashing at Branston, south east of Lincoln.
625 Squadron Lancaster III ND637 CF-L as above.
426 Squadron Lancaster II DS829 OW-U abandoned following total engine failure.
425 Squadron Halifax IIILW413 KW-Q abandoned out of fuel, crashing into houses on Adelaide Street, Brierley Hill on the outskirts of Halesowen, Birmingham.
57 Squadron Lancaster III JB474 DX-F all four engines caught fire over target area, pilot headed for Switzerland, with the aircraft crashing at Saignelegier.
9 Squadron Lancaster at RAF Bardney with insert Flt.Sgt. Eric Alfred Birrell (with thanks to National Archives of Australia)
Stuttgart raid 15/16th March 1944
Aircrew losses: Killed: 218 - Injured: 3 - PoW: 47 - Interned: 1 Evaded:17. Such was the nature of any operation, many aircraft being lost through other causes.
Fg.Off. Herbert Keith Sheasby. Durnbach War Cemetery. Collective grave 4F 28-31. Son of Joseph A. and Hildred M. Sheasby, husband of Marjorie Irene Sheasby of Shirley, Warwickshire, England.
Plt,Off. Douglas Raymond Eley. Durnbach War Cemetery. Collective grave 4F 28-31. Son of Mabel Eley of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Flt.Sgt. Ronald West. Durnbach War Cemetery. Collective grave 4F 28-31. Son of William Edward and Florence Ethel West of Nottingham, England.
Above: Crew graves at Durnbach War Cemetery (courtesy David Franklin - any relative would like a higher definition copy of the grave David has provided permission for us to send a copy)
Sgt. Brian Glover. Durnbach War Cemetery. Collective grave 4F 28-31. Son of Silvester and Fanny Charlotte Glover of Didsbury, Manchester, England.
Flt.Sgt. Eric Alfred Birrell. Durnbach War Cemetery. Grave 4F 27. Born 06th March 1923 at Mount Gambier, Southern Australia. Son of James and Emilie Minna Birrell of Mount Gambier, Southern Australia.
Researched by Aircrew Remembered, researcher and specialist genealogist Linda Ibrom for relatives of this crew. With thanks to Vicki Erceg (nee Glover) for photograph of Sgt. Glover, further information supplied by sources as shown below. Also to David Franklin for sending the grave photographs. Thanks to John Jones for the new Night Fighter claim information.
Note: Flt.Sgt. Eric Alfred Birrell escaped with injuries during a crash landing of Wellington III BK139 whilst with 30 OTU on the 15th May 1943 at RAF Llandwrog in Wales. 6 of the crew were injured (pilot serious) the rear gunner, 22 year old Sgt. Alec Edgar from Harlesden, Middlesex was killed.
Right: Sgt. Alec Edgar grave at Brookwood Military Cemetery
In April 2015 we received this immensely moving letter via our Helpdesk:
".. I am hoping you can help me! I'm sure you get a lot of people asking for help. I am searching for a photo of a man called Eric Alfred Birrell. All I know was that he died on the 14th March 1944. I work in an aged care facility in Australia and a resident I work with asked to speak to me one day. I sat down with her for an hour while she told me of her long lost love, Eric. They got engaged the day before he had to leave for war. He never came home. It just broke my heart! He was her one and only love and she never went on to marry or have children. I would desperately love to give her a photo of Eric. Regards,Tanya" ... and after seeing our page..
"Oh my god!!! Thank you so much Kelvin! I have tears in my eyes..I just can not wait to show her this!!! How absolutely incredible."
Sadly we learnt that in 2015 the lady Eric Birrell was engaged to had passed away.