21/22.06.1944 No. 57 Squadron Lancaster I LM115 DX-M F/O. Bailey
Operation: Wesseling (synthetic-oil production plant)
Date: 21/22nd June 1944 (Wednesday/Thursday)
Unit: No. 57 Squadron
Type: Lancaster III
Base: RAF East Kirkby
Location: Oud Turnhout, Belgium
Pilot: F/O. Alan Frederick Bayley 55015 RAF Age 22. Killed
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Ray Heasman 1600293 RAFVR Age 22. PoW No. 301 Camp: Stalag Luft Bankau (Bakow, Poland), near Kreuzburg (Klucsbork, Poland)
Nav: F/O. John Raymond Maunsell 138134 RAFVR Age 23. Evaded
Air/Bmr: Fl/Sgt. 'Archie' D. Naysmith 1336555 RAFVR Age 21. Initially evaded - PoW No. ? Camp: Stalag Luft Bankau (Bakow, Poland), near Kreuzburg (Klucsbork, Poland)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: W/O. 'Frank' Thomas Francis Beecher AUS/410208 RAAF Age 30. Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Vivian Lloyd Marshall R/183838 RCAF Age 23. PoW No. 310 Camp: Stalag Luft Bankau (Bakow, Poland), near Kreuzburg (Klucsbork, Poland)
Air/Gnr: Sgt. John Henry Donovan 1836270 RAFVR Age 19. Killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
Pilot: Alan (Bill) Bayley was the Captain and Pilot, always called 'Skipper' when talking to him over an aircraft's intercom. He was the son of a Sheffield tailor who had joined the RAF as a boy apprentice at the age of sixteen. He had trained as an engine fitter and by 1941 when he volunteered for pilot training was a Sergeant Fitter in an aircraft maintenance unit. His initial pilot training took place in California followed up by conversion from single-engine to twin-engine aircraft on return to the UK.
Flight Engineer: Ray was twenty-two; his father owned a small motor business in Southampton, partly doing motor maintenance and partly dealing in second-hand cars. Ray had been working with his father but early on the war he had volunteered for the RAF and had trained as an engine fitter. Once he had qualified he volunteered again for flying duties.
Navigator: I (John Maunsell) was the Navigator. At the outbreak of the war in 1939 I was just about to start my final year in a Chemical Engineering degree course at London University. After a period of indecision, the authorities decided that we would not be allowed to volunteer until we had finished our course in 1940. This duly happened but I had already decided that I would try to get into the RAF as soon as I could. However, there was such a queue to get in that it was not until April 1941 that I found myself in uniform. I filled in the time while I was waiting working as an engineer in a factory in the London docks. An interesting experience as this was the period when the German Luftwaffe was bombing that area in earnest. I joined up as a would-be pilot but was rejected after elementary training in Alabama, USA, on the not unreasonable grounds that I could not land a plane safely. Was sent back to Canada, remustered as a Navigator and then sent to South Africa via England for training.
Air Bomber: Archie Naysmith was the Bomb Aimer. Archie came from a naval family, his father being a Petty Officer in the Royal Navy. He had tried to become a pilot at the same Californian air-school as Bill Bayley but he too had had landing problems and was transferred to a Bomb Aimer's course in Canada. In the early days-of the war, the Navigator then called the Observer, aimed the bombs as well but this combination of duties was found not to, work as aircraft got bigger and the equipment more complex and he duties were split. The Bomb Aimer was also given some sketchy pilot training so that he could take over if the Captain was disabled.
Wireless Operator: Frank Beecher was the Wireless Operator. One of the two married men in the crew he was also the oldest at twenty-six. He trained in Australia and Canada before coming to the UK. His was a vital job, the one link with our base once we were airborne and out of range of the base's radio telephone. Messages inwards covered weather reports, diversion orders in case of fog and at times changes to the bombing plan; outwards weather to, at and from the target and navigational assistance to the main force by transmitting wind speed and direction to the main force if we had been selected as "wind finders". He also obtained radio bearings from radio beacons in the UK and occasionally from radio stations in neutral countries. Frank had a dry, laconic way of speaking; he never wasted a word and had a well-developed sense of humour. A small man, say 5ft 6in, he was very strong physically and always was prominent in the rare opportunities we had to do anything athletic such as play soccer or go swimming. I remember he surprised us all when we went to a Station dance and found him playing a fiddle in the band.
Air Gunners: Our two Air Gunners were Lloyd Marshall (Canadian) and Johnny Donovan. Lloyd was married and aged twenty-three. An Air Gunners training was much shorter than other members of the crew and he found himself in the UK after little more than six months in uniform. At home in Canada be had worked as a waiter. Johnny (so called to distinguish himself from me) was the youngest member of the crew at eighteen. In civilian life he was a milkman.
Apart from being trained to fire at and hit anything hostile, the other vital duty of a Gunner was to keep a continuous lookout - up, down and around. Enemy Fighters, friendly aircraft getting to close were hazards to be watched for and pinpoint positions were always welcomed by the Navigator if the ground was visible.
Operational Training Unit: From August to November 1943 we trained as a crew on Wellingtons. Compared with the aircraft we had flown in hitherto, they were large and complicated. The pilot had to cope with two very powerful engines and the snags of taking off and climbing with heavy loads; the navigator was introduced to 'Gee', the radar set which allowed one to fix one's position to a few hundred yards over the UK and over Western Europe until the enemy started to jam it; the bomb aimer had to learn to handle the new gyroscopically equipped bomb sight which allowed the bombs to be aimed when the aircraft was turning or banking and the wireless operator had a completely new set to handle. The gunners had as much time as could be squeezed into the programme shooting with live ammunition at towed targets and with a camera gun at a co-operating fighter. The flying programme was backed up with long hours in the classroom.
I see from my log-book that before I got to OTU I had flown 123 day hours and 33 night hours; at the end of OTU the figures had increased to 140 by day and 70 by night. We were being trained for night bombing with its extra problems of take off and landing, navigation and target location.
Our OTU course finished with our first operational flight. This was an easy job given to new crews; flying across the English Channel about twenty miles into Northern France dropping a vast amount of "Window" or silver paper on the way. This material gave a strong reaction on the German radar and helped to conceal the line of approach of the main force of heavy bombers following on behind or alternatively could form part of a spoof diversionary raid designed to attract enemy fighters away from the main stream.
Our brief flight over France passed off without incident and after some leave the crew moved on to 1654 CU (Conversion Unit) at Swinderby. Lincolnshire. The job here was to convert to four engine aircraft and to pick up the seventh man of our crew which this necessitated. This of course, was our Right Engineer, Ray Heasman.
Heavy Conversion Unit: We spent December 1943 and January 1944 at Swinderby and this included Christmas which in spite of the war was celebrated in true RAF fashion with the officers waiting on the airmen and washing up afterwards.
Our task here was to learn to fly Stirling aircraft, the first real 'heavy' we had come in contact with. By this stage in the war it had been withdrawn from front line service because of excessive losses. It was slow and its engine power meant that with full bomb load it could not fly much above 16,000 feet. This meant that it was within the range of heavy German anti-aircraft guns and had little chance of evading a fighter once it was sighted.
These snags did not affect its use for training. On an aircraft of this size the engineer had to do a lot to assist the pilot like moving the throttles and flaps on take-off and landing. He also had to worry about the trim off the aircraft, shifting fuel around as needed when tanks were emptied and bombs dropped. We did a lot of 'circuits and bumps' (practice take-off and landings) by day and night, flying whenever it was possible but quite often the weather kept us on the ground. This time was however usefully employed in practicing emergency drill such as how to bailout if the aircraft had to be abandoned, ditching drill in case one came down in the sea and lectures on escape technique in case one ended up on the ground in enemy or enemy-occupied territory. The crucial advice given here was that one should try; if at all possible, to avoid being taken prisoner and ending up in a prisoner of war camp, since they were very hard to get out of. The best thing to do was to make one's way to occupied territory, which would be full of those sympathetic to the allies who would be glad to help. In our two months we flew 20 hours by day and 21 by night.
Lancaster Finishing School: Only one stage of our training remained and that was to convert to Lancasters, the aircraft we would be flying when we joined our operational squadron. We moved to a nearby satellite airfield and in seven days all learnt our way around this aircraft, the best bomber used by the RAF in WW2. We did the appropriate number of circuits, dropped a live bomb from 20,000 feet, flew on two engines and practiced a three-engine landing. As navigator, I also became acquainted with H2S, radar set which radiated a beam from the plane which was reflected back, in varying degrees, by sea, land or built-up areas and thus produced a crude map of the area below on a small cathode ray tube beside the navigator's table. Escape and dinghy drills were practiced at night with no lights until our movements became automatic. We and we had a session in a swimming bath righting a rubber dinghy which had deliberately been inflated upside down. This concentrated week involved six hours day and ten hours night flying.
57 Squadron, East Kirkby, (Lincolnshire): We joined our operational squadron, No 57, on February 16th 1944. The normal strength was 22 Lancasters divided into two flights. Allowing for aircraft undergoing overhauls and crews on leave around 18 aircraft flew on nights when full strength was ordered. This was the normal state of affairs and since there was a second squadron, No 630, of similar strength on the station, there was intense activity on operation nights with take-offs every 45 seconds and landings on return bunched together less than a minute apart. The pilot of each new crew was required to make one trip with an experienced crew as 'second dickie' before he could take his own crew into battle. Therefore two days after arriving at East Kirkby Bill Bayley did a trip as second pilot to Berlin. He returned safely and on February 24th we undertook our first operation as a crew, the target being Schweinfurt a small town in Southern Germany which was the centre of their ball bearing industry.
Operational Organisation: During the day the ground crew would have checked the aircraft and the armourers would have filled the bomb bay with high explosive and/or incendiary bombs suited to the target being attacked. Providing that it was not the second night on the trot that the squadron had operated, the aircrew would have carried out a short air test in the morning to see that all was well.
Four hours before take off the crews would have a meal. No fried food was served as this tended to produce wind in the digestion when flying at height in unpressurised aircraft. Two and a half hours before take off the crews would report for briefing. First of all in groups of pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, wireless operators and gunners and then all together as a crew. Every detail of the planned operation would be covered; routes, heights, speeds, location of enemy defences, weather en route and on return, bomb load, method of target marking and bombing technique. By the time all this was finished, there was just about enough time for the gunners to struggle into flying kit (at altitude they needed electrically heated under suits) and for them and the rest of the crew to draw parachutes and then clamber into the trucks that would take them out to their aircraft.
On return de-briefing by intelligence staff might take another hour allowing for reporting on the plane's performance to the ground crew before the crew could make their way to the mess for the traditional bacon and egg meal (a great privilege in war-time Britain). Then one could stagger off to bed safe in the knowledge that no-one would want to see you before lunchtime.
Operational Memories: It would involve a lot of needless repetition if a full account was given of every operation listed above because there were a lot of common factors. What I have done therefore is to pick out number things and incidents which I hope will give you a flavour of our experiences in 1944. We always had one off duty night per week when we went out as a crew generally to a country pub. We either cycled there or squeezed ourselves into Bill's very small 2-3 seater car. One of the special privileges given to aircrew was a small ration of recreational petrol; the other was a week leave every six weeks while on a front line squadron. Rank did not matter when we were by ourselves. Bill and I were Flying Officers (after 10 trips Bill became an acting Right Lieutenant as deputy Fight Commander), Frank was a Warrant Officer, and all the rest were Flight Sergeants.
Take Off and Climbing: Always a slightly risky business with a full load of bombs and fuel. The drill was to rev the engines up to 3000 rpm (cruising rpm 1800/200) with the brakes on, then release the brakes and start rolling down the runway while the Navigator called out the airspeed in knots; 60, 65, 70, 75 and so on until 140 was reached and then the Pilot could ease the plane into the air while the Engineer retracted the wheels as quickly as possible to reduce drag.
Against heavily defended German targets it was necessary to climb to 23000 feet to be above the flak zone. It took the best part of an hour to reach this height, either flying over the North Sea when attacking northerly targets or flying down to the south of England if a southerly target was the objective. Oxygen was turned on once 12000 feet was reached. This was a precaution as above 18000 feet in an unpressurised aircraft you will become unconscious rapidly without an oxygen supply. Fortunately for most of the crew temperature was not a problem. There front of the plane where everyone bar the gunners were stationed was well warmed by a warm air system powered by waste heat from one of the engine's radiators. The gunners at the rear inside their perspex turrets were effectively sitting in the open air and at maximum height in a European winter the outside temperature could drop to minus 40 centigrade. Frostbitten faces were not unknown despite electrically heated face masks.
The usual speed was 160 knots. The use of knots is nothing to do with some of the early aviators being sailors. A nautical mile is one minute (one sixtieth) of a degree of latitude. Distances on the Mercator's charts that we used could thus be measured quickly off the latitude scale on the side of the chart. The job of everyone bar the Navigator and the Wireless Operator was to keep their eyes skinned, up, down and both sides. Because there was a blind spot below, the pilot generally flew in a series of gentle "banks" in danger areas. Although many aircraft were lost to flak, the majority of losses were due to fighters; hence the needs for a good look-out. "Window" (large quantities of silver paper) were dropped over enemy territory to confuse their Radar.
Targets: Attacks on major towns and industrial areas in Germany where the flak defences were heavy had to be at altitude. Target marking was therefore always a problem especially as frequently the target was obscured by thick cloud. The main force, of which our squadron was a part, therefore relied on the 'Pathfinders', experienced crews who were equipped with slightly better H2S and on nearer targets (as far as the Rhur) with 'Oboe', a very accurate radar based on beams from UK bases whose range was limited by the curvature of the earth. The pathfinders would drop 'ground markers' if possible. They were essentially large fireworks which would burn on the ground for some minutes and which would be backed up by further waves of Pathfinder aircraft. If the target was obscured by cloud. 'sky-markers' had to be used. In this case the Pathfinder's markers were suspended from parachutes which drifted slowly down before disappearing into the clouds. Of course, this method was far less accurate but never the less some good results were obtained. In the build-up to D Day when French communication targets were being attacked, clear nights with no clouds were picked and bombing was carried out from 4000 to 7000 feet. This greatly increased the accuracy and it was necessary at times to deliberately drop the marker off target and then to use a false wind on the bombsight to hit the target. This was to avoid the marker being blown out by our own bombs.
Long and Tough Trips: Our two longest trips were to drop mines in the Gulf of Dantzig and an attack on Munich. Both of these involved long routes selected to confuse the enemy defence. Mines could only be laid accurately by means of a 'time and distance run' from a point on the enemy-occupied coast. In this case, the Hell peninsular of Dantzig (now Gdynia) was very suitable but flying the direct route across Denmark and Northern Germany would have been too hazardous on a clear moonlit night. We, therefore, flew across the North Sea to northern Norway, then across neutral Sweden who took no notice of us and then to the northern Baltic before turning south t6 Poland. We had dropped our mines and were away before some light and ineffective flak opened up.
Munich was a distant target in southern Germany which had never been seriously attacked and where the direct route went over areas with plenty of flak and fighter defences. We, therefore, flew south over France as though heading for Italy; over the top of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe, then around neutral Switzerland watching dummy target indicators being dropped over Turin before turning north to pass over Austria and attack Munich from the south.
This raid was very successful due in particular to Wing Commander Cheshire who flew the direct route from England in a Mosquito and dropped the initial marker from low level. He was coned by searchlights for 15 minutes while making his escape and landing back in England with nearly empty tanks. This was towards the end of his 100 operational flights after which he received a well-deserved VC. While bang over the target a Fock Wolf fighter flew directly over us, clearing us by perhaps l00 feet. We banked steeply and lost him.
Two trips when there were heavy losses, mainly due to weather conditions, are worth mentioning. Firstly Berlin on March 24th 1944. The plan was for the bomber force to approach from the north, turning onto a due southerly course near the island of Rügen in the Baltic. On the long plug eastwards the had been a wind from the north of perhaps 30 knots i.e. for every hour flown eastward the navigator had to compensate for a potential drift to the south of 30 nautical miles. This was a very normal state of affairs; however, after making the southerly turn near Rügen, the northerly wind picked up almost instantaneously to over 100 knots. There was no doubt about this, Rügen and the German coastline showed up very clearly on the H2S radar. The result of this was that the target marking scheduled for a particular time was disrupted and bombing by the main force using their own radar became disorganised and less accurate. Worse still on the way home westward the northerly wind increased even more and many navigators made insufficient allowance for this and as a result, flew over the Ruhr area with its massive flak defences. The losses that night were 73.
Secondly Nuremberg on March 30th 1944. This was a clear night with some moon. For some strange reason, the approach route over France and southern Germany included one dead straight leg of 300 miles dead east. Some cloud cover had been forecast but this turned out to be a thin layer with its top at about 10000 feet. The temperature was such that the bomber force flying at 23000 feet left condensation trails behind them making it simple for German fighters to spot the bombers silhouetted against the cloud tops below and then to attack at leisure. 96 bombers were lost out of 782 dispatched; in human terms 545 crew were killed, 152 taken prisoner, 26 wounded and 15 evaded and made their way home.
Near Misses: Two dangerous 'near misses' took places which were nothing to do with the enemy. On a short daytime test flight on which we had taken the Station Doctor along to show him what flying in a Lancaster was like, the rudder controls jammed just after takeoff. The pilot was struggling to get the plane back on a level keel while ordering the crew over the intercom to check the rudder control rods for an obstruction. These rods ran unshielded along the inside of the fuselage from nose to tail) Frank was first out of his seat and found the source of the problem near the tail - not an easy journey with the inside of the fuselage obstructed by spars, flare chute and other equipment. The jamming had been caused by a small incendiary bomb, which was carried to destroy the aircraft in case of forced landing in enemy territory, falling out of its rather weak clips onto the rods. It was just as well that Frank was quick; we were in danger of doing an over steep turn over the bomb dump.
Returning from Brunswick at 04:00 hrs on the morning of 23rd May 1944, we collided with another returning Lancaster. I can best describe what happened by condensing what Ray Heasman, our engineer, said to the subsequent court of enquiry. On leaving Brunswick the Skipper said 'How are we off for fuel?' Ray 'We've got plenty Skipper. How about leaving the power on and getting home a bit quickly'. Ray said 'Fair enough'
After a trip of only 5 hours 40 mins our plane, 'M-Mike', was first hack to East Kirkby, flying blacked out as there were enemy intruders about (long-range fighters sent to follow returning bombers and attack them while they were orbiting prior to landing) "John (me) guided 'M-Mike' over the airfield, the Skipper called up the airfield on the RT and got permission to land; the airfield which had been also blacked out. switched on the landing and runway lights. 'M' completed its circuit, lined up with the runway and started its final descent. At 900 feet another Lancaster from a nearby airfield cut across slightly below 'M' knocking off 'M's' undercarriage which had been lowered ready for landing. Frank fired a red Very light (distress signal) to warn those on the airfield below and then the Skipper made a perfect belly landing on the grass, just to the right of the runway. Sadly the second Lancaster crashed nearby all its crew being killed.
As 'M' was partially blocking the runway the rest of the two squadrons operating that night from East Kirkby had to be diverted.'
Webmaster Note: The other aircraft involved was a 97 Squadron Lancaster III. ND415 OF-B Flown by 24 year old, F/O. Wallace Bell Jardine J/21203 RCAF posted as missing with 3 other crew, commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, the remaining 3 killed and have graves.
The Last Trip: We took off at 23:30 hrs on 21st June 1944 - to attack the synthetic oil plant at Wesseling on the Rhine. This attack was the first of a new series designed to starve the Germans of fuel for their army and air force. Though successful in the end, this first operation turned out to be a disaster. 133 Lancasters and 6 Mosquitoes (Target Markers) were dispatched. The route chosen was pretty well a straight line across the North Sea and then over the south of Holland, Belgium and the Rhineland to the target on the river Rhine itself. It was the shortest night of the year and it never got really dark. Clear weather had been forecast over the target and the Mosquitoes had planned to mark the target visually from low level. In the event 10/10ths low cloud was encountered and marking had to be done from high level using the H2S Radar. This led to a 20 minutes delay and allowed a large force of German night fighters to intercept the bomber force over the target and to chase them on the return journey.
37 Lancasters were lost (27.8%), one of the highest figures for any raid in the war. It is easy to be wise after the event but the reasons for this outcome were:-
Indecision about the alteration in the method of marking causing the 20 minute delay. The absence of any other attacks or spoofs which could have confused the night fighters. Ignorance of the fact that the Germans had perfected a radar receiver which allowed their fighters to home onto the H2S signals radiated by the bombers.
An exceptionally bright night allowing visual sightings.
An over-optimistic estimate of the extent to which the enemy fighters had been reduced by RAF and USAF action.
We reached the target on time and then had to orbit for 20 minutes until the markers went down. We saw a number of combats and some planes being planes shot down; sadly they seemed to be bombers with their bombs still on as was apparent from the explosions when they hit the ground. Eventually, the markers went down and having bombed, we set off for home following the same course we had used on the outward leg.
Further combats were seen crossing the Rhineland and over Northern Belgium but we were unscathed until a position about twenty miles north east of Antwerp when the Rear Gunner called out, 'Fighter, fighter, green quarter down, corkscrew port!'
This was the signal that he had sighted a German fighter closing on us from below on the starboard (right hand or green side) and telling the pilot to fly a 'corkscrew' course thereby making it harder for the fighter to aim with any accuracy.
Description of Corkscrew Manoeuvre
Sadly, this was obviously a well-trained fighter using a technique which we knew nothing about at the time. Though both our gunners opened fire, our light .303 machine guns had no effect; the fighter accelerated, positioned himself under our right hand wing and loosed a salvo from a battery of upward-firing cannon installed behind its crew's seats.
Webmaster Note: It is thought 'probable' that this Luftwaffe pilot was 21 year old Uffz. Egon Engling of 5./NJG2 - time of combat 02:06 hrs, his 3rd claim of the war. He went on to claim a total of 12 making him an 'Ace. Killed on the 26th March 1945 during a failed belly landing crash at Jever Airfield (Courtesy Kracker Archives on this site)
As navigator, I was sitting behind a black-out curtain and saw nothing of this but I felt the heavy shock of the cannon shells hitting the wing; I pulled back the curtain and saw the starboard wing (full of petrol tanks) ablaze from end to end. Bill Bayley, the skipper, saw that the aircraft was lost and gave the order 'Bail Out'.
Somehow Bill kept the plane level while the rest of the crew got on with the abandon aircraft drill. The Bomb Aimer (Archie) went forward, opened the escape hatch in the floor of the nose and jumped, the Flight Engineer (Ray) followed. We all used chest type parachutes which clipped onto hooks fixed to the front of harnesses which we wore all the time and my first job was to hand his to the Wireless Operator (Frank): he had been listening to a weather broadcast from the UK and was unaware of the mess we were in. He clipped his chute on and went down the fuselage to rear door from which he and the two gunners (Lloyd-Mid Upper and Johnny- Rear) were due to jump.
The drill at that end was for the Mid- Upper to open the door and jump, followed by the Wireless Operator who was expected to give any possible help to the Rear-Gunner if he came along the fuselage. The Rear- Gunner had however an alternative method of escape by rotating his turret and then falling out through the door at its back.
The last I saw of Frank was when I handed him his parachute. He was his normal phlegmatic self and gave me the thumbs-up sign.
My next job was to hand the Skipper (Bill) his parachute and follow the Bomb Aimer and the Engineer out of the front escape hatch. I found Ray, impeded by his chute, stuck in the none too large hole so I pushed him out and followed as quickly as I could. Bill was due to follow the same route.
Webmaster Note: In addition to LM115 being shot down, 57 Squadron lost another 5 on this operation:
LM573 DX-U Flown by P/O. Norman Robert Carr PoW all other 6 crew killed.
NN696 DX-H Flown by Fl/Lt. Ronald Beaumont DFC. killed along the remaining 6 of the crew.
JB526 DX-D Flown by P/O. Weightman PoW with the remaining 6 crew killed.
LM580 DX-L Flown by P/O. Guilyn Guy killed with 3 made PoW and the remaining 3 evading capture.
ND471 DX-A Flown by P/O. A. Nicklin - ditched in North Sea off Great Yarmouth and all crew rescued by ASR launch RML514 out of Yarmouth.
After The Jump: I was in the air for a very short time. I was looking up at the white canopy above when I subsided into a bog. It was very wet and muddy but I could not have had a softer landing. I think I sat on the ground for about a minute, but then the training we had reasserted itself and I began to think about escape. After all, I knew that I must have. landed in Belgium or possibly Holland, both occupied by the Germans and full of people who were likely to help anyone from the RAF.
I looked around and could see, not too far away, three large fires clearly from crashed aircraft. I hoped that one of them was that of the fighter that had shot us down. The 21st/22nd June being the shortest night in the year and the time being about 02:30 hrs, it was already beginning to get light in the east; German patrols would obviously be sent out to look for survivors, so it was clearly the right thing to look for a hiding place as quickly as possible.
I spotted a wood in the opposite direction to the crashed aircraft and decided to make for that but first of all I threw my parachute and bright yellow life jacket into a field and then tried to make contact with Archie and Ray who had jumped just before me. I called out, blew a whistle which we all carried but to no avail; then I tried to contact any of the three who might have got out of the rear door but with a similar lack of success.
After ten minutes or so I decided that the only thing to do was go off by myself so r set off for the wood I had spotted previously. I found that I had landed in an intensively farmed area and I was continuously climbing fences and skirting farm buildings to make any headway. Soon I realised that to make any progress, I would have to take a few risks, so I cut through the next farmyard I came to. Here I encountered a woman, possibly the farmer's wife who had come down to check on the livestock, and I am afraid scared the living daylights out off her. I must have been a very disreputable-looking object, covered in mud from the bog in which I had landed and bleeding from a cut in the head where I had knocked against the escape hatch. She cried out in alarm and waved me away so I brushed past her and continued on my way.
There was one more farm between myself and the wood so I cut through this farm and on turning a comer ran straight into the farmer himself who was looking at the burning aircraft fires in the distance. He held out his hand and we shook hands warmly.
I had been wondering what I should say when I asked for help so I tried, 'Je suis un aviateur anglais, voulez- m 'aider?' This clearly was not understood as the reply came in what I took to be Dutch. In fact I had landed in the extreme north of Belgium where the majority of the population speak Flemish (a Dutch dialect). He made signs that I should wait where I was and he jumped on a bicycle and peddled away on a nearby road. I was a bit uncertain what to do; had he gone to fetch the Germans or help?
Shortly after he returned with a friend who spoke French who explained that they were members of a Resistance group, 'The Mouvement National Beige' and they would do everything they could to keep me out of the clutches of the Bosches. 99.9% of Belgians loathed the Germans who had occupied their country twice, 1914--18 and 1940 onwards.
Civilian clothes were produced, I stripped off my uniform which was spirited away and I was ushered into the farmhouse where to my astonishment the farmer's wife produced a bacon and egg breakfast. The helper who spoke French explained that I could not stay in the farmhouse because the Germans regularly went there to requisition food but I would be guided to a safe house while a plan for my evasion was worked out. I explained about the rest of the crew and was told that scouts would be sent out to look for them.
Later that morning a lady arrived on a bike, I was lent another and was told to follow her 100 yards behind and she would lead me to a garden gate of a small house in the nearby town of Turnout. I was to go in where I would meet my hostess, who spoke only Flemish and a young English-speaking Belgian who would look after me.
It was an interesting ride, weaving through a column of German troops who looked like recruits on a route march and a multitude of farm vehicles, it being harvest time.
I was received kindly by my hostess. I was the 14th British or American airman whom she had hidden. The courage of the helpers in the Resistance movement was beyond praise. If caught, the penalty was death or a concentration camp. My hostess's husband, a regular Belgian NCO was a prisoner of war; he also would have been executed.
The next day I was visited by the local Resistance chief who told me what his team of scouts me had been able to find out. Sadly three members of our crew were dead.
Bill (Pilot) had been found in the wrecked fuselage; He had not had time to bailout and by staying at the controls had given a chance of survival to those who did. I personally was in the air for a very short time which meant that he would have had very little time to follow me out; It is also possible that the aircraft broke up before hitting the ground owing to the intensity of the fire.
Johnny (Rear Gunner) had been found still in his turret but dead from wounds from the forward-firing guns of the attacking fighter.
Frank (Wireless Operator) had been found not far from the wreck still attached to a half open parachute. He had obviously jumped when there was insufficient height left.
The remaining three who like me had bailed out successfully had all been rounded up by patrols and were now on their way to a prisoner of war camp. It was remarkable that although we must all have jumped from the aircraft within seconds of each other (I helped to push Ray through the escape hatch since his harness had caught on the edge), none of us could find each other on the ground and because of this, we all set off in different directions.
Ray (Engineer) landed in a tree from which it took him some time to get down and then made his way to a village; he was arrested at a tram stop. Archie (Air Bomber) and Lloyd (Mid-Upper Gunner) were picked up separately in open country. All three ended up in the cells of a local police station from which they were moved after a few days to an interrogation centre in west Germany. The Germans knew that the navigator was unaccounted for so they were questioned about me but it seemed to be accepted that I had been killed in the crash.
In due course, the bodies of Bill, Frank and Johnny were buried side by side in the British Military Cemetery at Antwerp. I visited this after I was demobilised; it is well kept and they rest peacefully among many of their comrades.
My Evasion: We had all been instructed that if we accepted help then we had to do exactly what our helpers told us to do. This was because of the great risks that they ran. Before the Normandy invasion, there was a well-organised escape line in Western Europe in which downed airmen were guided from Holland and Belgium to Paris and then southwards to the foothills of the Pyrenees; here they were handed over to a guide (in peacetime a smuggler) who led them by tracks across the mountains; once in Spain they were guided to Gibraltar and thence home to the UK. Jumping ahead somewhat a total of 2803 British and Commonwealth airmen and many Americans were got home by this and other routes with the aid of an estimated 16,000 helpers.
My Belgian friends now told me that this method of escape was no longer possible, the RAF had bombed the French railway system out of existence, many of the guides were in the 'Maquis' (and French Resistance groups) and what transport still existed had been requisitioned by the Germans to bring up reinforcements to oppose the Allies in the Normandy bridgehead.
The only thing to do was to stay put and wait for the allies to break out and advance; rather optimistically this was expected to happen in a few days.
I, therefore, stayed in my first safe house for six weeks, never going out and passing my time reading and improving my French with the assistance of the young Belgian who was dodging forced labour in Germany and who was concealed in the same house. Food was short but a stream of helpers brought what they could to eke things out; a few eggs, half a loaf, lumps of fat or dripping and rarely a little meat from a bullock or a pig that had been secretly slaughtered or even a horse that had broken a leg. I ate as well as the Belgians; they shared what they had but the whole population was on short rations.
After six weeks my helpers got word that there was going to be a house to house search in the street where I was, so I was moved to another family this time a little way out in the country. Once again I rode a bike and followed the lady who had guided me on my first day in Belgium and on this accompanied by my young Belgian friend. Our hosts on this occasion were a foreman electrician in a large cement factory and his wife. Their only son, a regular Belgian soldier was a PoW in Germany but they did not hesitate to help.
I spent another six weeks here most of the time listening to the radio because the breakout from the Normandy bridgehead was now in full swing.
Paris was liberated, a further Allied invasion of France took place from the Mediterranean, the liberation of Brussels took place and we began to hear the noise of the guns. I had the experience of watching, through a hole in the curtains, a much disorganised German army retreating along the road in front of the house.
It was now September and the time when an effort was made to shorten the war by using the British airborne forces to capture the bridges across the Rhine at Arnhem. Arnhem was perhaps twenty miles to the east of where I was; sadly the bridges were not taken and our forces suffered grim causalities. However, their misfortune opened up an opportunity for me. I recovered my uniform which had incidentally been meticulously cleaned, said goodbye to my kind hosts and walked south towards an area where I guessed British troops might be. In fact, I walked through a vacuum as the German troops previously there had been moved over to Arnhem to help repel the airborne invasion. In three or four hours I came upon a British artillery battery just preparing to move forward. They inspected my 'dog tags' (identity discs), listened to my story, gave me a drink and put me on my way to GHQ which by that time was in Brussels.
I spent the night there, was interrogated by the intelligence staff the following morning, mainly to give careful details of those who had helped me so they could properly be thanked and decorated and in the evening was put on a plane for Croydon which at that time was the airport for London. The date was 28th September.
October - December 1944: Before being sent on a month’s survivor’s leave I was given a medical which showed that I had lost a stone in weight while in Belgium. I was given double rations to put this right.
I was then interviewed and asked what I would like to do. Like most evaders who owed their liberty to the efforts of those whose one idea was to get them back on active service again, I said that what I wanted was to get back on operations again. My first tour, officially 30 trips, was deemed to be satisfied by 28 trips plus an evasion, so a second tour of 20 was appropriate. This took some time to arrange as I had to be fitted into a crew whose navigator had gone sick or been promoted; thus it was not until the end of December that I was posted to 223 Bomber Support Squadron at Oulton, Norfolk.
223 Bomber Support Squadron: This squadron was equipped with Liberator 8-24 aircraft borrowed from the US Army Air Force. We carried no bombs but the space that they would have occupied and its weight was taken up by radio equipment designed to jam German radio and wireless telephony and airborne and ground radar. The tactics were to fly with and above the main bomber stream to provide protection going to and from the target or alternatively to remain over the target while bombing was in progress to jam the radar of enemy fighters who were inevitably attracted to that area. This may sound somewhat hazardous but in fact, the losses were less than half those experienced by the main force because one was always flying at high altitude (30,000 feet in an unpressurised aircraft - very cold) to gain maximum jamming coverage and at this height there was little fighter activity and one was well above effective anti-aircraft fire. There was a crew of nine; two pilots, navigator, three gunners and three wireless operators in charge of the varied jamming systems.
The majority of France and Belgium had been liberated by this time so operations were entirely over Germany. Although we witnessed plenty of fighter and anti-aircraft gunnery activity from our vantage point high up, we were left alone apart from some fortunately inaccurate fire from a British battery near Brussels on one of our return journeys.
Meeting With The Survivors Of My Lancaster Crew: I finished my tour in April and a month or so later VE Day arrived signalling the end of the war in Europe; by which time I was on leave awaiting my next posting. This turned out to be a transfer to the technical intelligence branch in southeast Asia where the task was to examine and assess the value of captured Japanese aircraft and aero equipment in Burma and in due course in other countries which they had occupied. The day before I was due to fly out to India en route for Burma I received a phone message saying that Archie, Lloyd and Ray had arrived back in England. Needless to say a meeting was hurriedly arranged.
All three had been prisoners in a camp in the far east of Germany, almost on the Polish border.
As the Russians advanced all the prisoners were marched westwards in the direction of Berlin. This was very unpleasant as the march to the next camp was more than 150 miles long with little food or shelter at night. The column was not far away from the pursuing Russians so Archie and a few friends decided to chance their luck, dodged out of a bivouac one night, walked eastwards and made contact with our Allies. They were well treated and after a few weeks were shipped home via a ship from Odessa which took them to Italy and thence home by air. Lloyd and Ray stayed with the main party who were eventually freed by the Americans; they arrived back in England via one of the many RAF bombers which had nothing else to do now that the war was over and which had been given the job of helping to get our boys back home as quickly as possible. Despite the hard time they had been through, they all looked fit. We knew we were going to scatter so we said our goodbyes and I left for the East
What Happened To The Crew: Lloyd was commissioned in the RCAF as a Pilot Officer and sailed almost at once for Canada. I had a letter from him saying he had had a deliriously happy reunion with his wife but after that the correspondence petered out and sadly we lost touch.
Archie extended his RAF service by six months as he could not make up his mind what to do in civilian life.
Finally he settled in his hometown of Gosport, worked in the hotel trade and finished up as the landlord of a pub. Unhappily he developed lung cancer and died in his early sixties.
Ray also returned to his home town, Southampton, joined a timber firm where he spent many years as an engineer/machinist. We used to meet from time to time for lunch and enjoyed putting the world to rights. Sadly his health failed and he died in 2005. I attended and spoke at his funeral.
Myself, I returned to the firm where I had worked briefly while waiting to join the RAF and spent, counting in my war service, almost 40 years with them in a variety of technical and managerial jobs. The firm was a subsidiary of the multi-national Unilever who I think trade in Australia under the name of Lever Brothers. After retiring from them, I spent four years in a semi-government job, the National Economic Development Office after which I was invited to return to Unilever on a part-time basis to help sort out their archives. I finally retired at 60+ in 1982 as Squadron Leader DFC.
Webmaster note: John passed away on the 26th January 2010.
F/O. Alan Frederick Bayley. Schoonselhhof Cemetery. Grave IVA.F.19. Son of Harry and Gertrude Anne Bayley, of Sheffield, England.
W/O. Thomas Francis Beecher. Schoonselhhof Cemetery. Grave IVA.F.18. Born in Buchan, Victoria on the 17th June 1914, the son of Henry Ward Beecher and Annie Amelia Beecher and husband of Brenda Joyce Beecher, of Lindenow, Victoria, Australia. Grave inscription reads: 'His Duty Nobly Done'.
Sgt. John Henry Donovan. Schoonselhhof Cemetery. Grave IVA.F.20. Son of William Bernard and Annie Lillian Donovan, of Ely, Glamorgan. Grave inscription reads: 'A Silent Thought, A Silent Tear Keep His Memory Always Dear'.
Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Hubert Michiels who met the late John Maunsell who provided the material for the page. Also to Anastasia Travers who originally wrote the transcript.