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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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550 Squadron
21/22.02.1945 550 Squadron Lancaster I NN715 Wg Cdr. Bryan Bell

Operation: Duisburg, Germany

Date: 21st/22nd February 1945 (Wednesday/Thursday)

Unit No: 550 Squadron

Type: Lancaster I

Serial No: NN715

Code: BQ:A

Base: RAF North Killingholme, Lincolnshire, England

Location: Reported to be near Westhofen, 4 km (2½ mls) SW of Schwerte, Germany

Pilot: Wg Cdr. Bryan ‘Dingle’ Bell 37375 RAF Age 39. PoW **

2nd Pilot: Flt Lt. Derek Eustace Arthur Luger 133373 RAFVR Age 22. PoW * (1)

Flt Eng: Sgt. Raymond Leslie Gibbs 1436189 RAFVR Age? PoW *

Navigator: Sgt. Gordon Hancock 1108260 RAFVR Age 23. KiA (2)

Bomb Aimer: Fg Off. Stephen Roy Angill 1614540 RAFVR Age 22. PoW *

WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Rodney Gray 1892763 RAFVR Age? PoW *

Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Sgt. Dennis Bertin Boyce 3034274 RAFVR Age 19. PoW *

Air Gnr (Rear): Sgt. Frederick George 'Taffy' Jones 3025053 RAFVR Age 19. KiA (3)

* Unknown PoW Camp

** Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria)

REASON FOR LOSS:

On the evening of the 21st February 1945 twenty-four aircraft and crews from the Sqn were detailed for a mission to Duisburg in Germany. The aircraft commenced to take off from RAF North Killingholme at 19:11 hrs.

NN715 was the only aircraft from the Sqn that failed to return from this mission and nothing was heard from them after take-off.

The aircraft was reported to have crashed near Westhofen, 4 km (2½ mls) SW of Schwerte, Germany. After questioning the repatriated crew they reported that they had been attacked by a Ju88 and the rear turret was hit and set on fire.

Note: This is a questionable crash location as it is some 53 km (33 miles) due east of the target. The initial burial site for Sgts. Hancock and Jones was recorded as being in Meinweg which is just on the border of The Netherlands with Germany and is some 49 km (30 miles) WSW of the target. Also Wg Cdr. Bell stated unequivocally in July 1946 that the crash site was in the Ruhr area more specifically west or NW of Krefeld.

A subsequent investigation into the crash site of the aircraft by No. 4 Missing Research and Enquiry Unit (MREU) established and reported on the 29th November 1946, that according to a witness, at approximately 23:00 hrs on the 21st February 1945 an aircraft approached Elmpt. The aircraft was on fire with pieces falling off which then went into a dive and crashed. The wreckage burned for 24 hrs.

Note: Elmpt is about 3 km (1¾ mls) NNE of Meinweg where the aircraft actually crashed and where the two bodies were buried about 200 yards from the crash site.

The inspection of the wreckage determined that it was a Lancaster and that parts of the aircraft identified it as NN715.

Farmers living near the crash site stated that they saw nothing of the crew of this aircraft. It transpired that a German Paratroop unit was holding this area at the time and it was thought that it was they that had buried of two bodies. The farmers claimed to have heard troops shouting “Halt” and shots fired at the time of the crash but no further facts about this incident could be obtained at that time.

The grave was visited and found to have a wooden cross at its head on which was inscribed:

“Bombers are Killed in action”
Sgt. Gaston Kancock No. ---------
Sgt. T.G. Jones 11.7.25. 302503

The grave had been marked shortly after the crash. The number of Sgt. Jones was correct and only the name of Sgt. Hancock had been misspelt. The wooden cross was replaced with two metal prefabricated crosses with Rank, Name, Number and date of death of the two deceased and also registered by No. 40 Grave Registration Unit (GRU).

(1) Flt Lt. Luger was reported to have arrived home on the 8th May but had to be admitted soon afterwards to Manchester’s Christie Hospital, where he died on the 29th May 1945. He tragically died as a result of sudden weight loss and muscle wastage from cancer, which appears from his death certificate that he had been suffering from for some time.

(2) It was alleged by some of the repatriated crew that were interviewed that Sgt. Hancock had baled out of the aircraft and that he had been killed by unknown Germans but it transpired that they had no first-hand knowledge of his subsequent fate.

The alleged murder of Sgt. Hancock was largely based upon a report received from a Capt. Harold H. Meisner of No. 75 Infantry Division, US Army who had been handed an ID tag for Sgt. Hancock by an unnamed Polish man. The man had stated that the owner of the ID tag had baled out near Westhofen and that the airman had been shot in the leg and foot. After he had landed he had been caught by the Gestapo at Westhofen and then shot and killed.

Note: This Westhofen was conflated with the Westhofen 4 km (2½ mls) SW of Schwerte in Germany, neither of which are the correct location of the aircraft crash.

The subsequent investigation could not establish how the Polish man had obtained the ID tag of a dead man in Alsace-Lorraine when Sgt. Hancock was killed on the border of the Netherlands with Germany. It was considered probable that the true picture was that someone, perhaps an escaped concentration camp internee, stole Sgt. Hancock’s ID tag in order to evade capture by the Germans.

The deputy Judge Advocate General determined that it would not serve any useful purpose to continue investigations into the alleged murder of Sgt. Hancock.

(3) Sgt. Jones was listed on the crew manifest as the Mid-Upper Gunner but it appears that he was actually the Tail Gunner because it was reported that he had been trapped by the turret doors being jammed and when the doors were finally opened he had perished from the fire.

Burial Details

Flt Lt. Derek Eustace Arthur Luger. Wallington (Brandon Hill) Cemetery Section O, Grave 381. Born in 3rd Qtr of 1922 in Croydon, Greater London. Son of Louis and Dorothy (née How) Luger, of Isleworth, Middlesex. Husband of Marjorie Grace Marfell (née Smith) Luger of Upminster, Essex, England.

Above: Grave marker for Sgt. Gordon Hancock (Courtesy of Des Philippet - FindAGrave)

Sgt. Gordon Hancock. Rheinberg War Cemetery 11.C.24 Inscription: 'INTO THY HANDS, O LORD’. Born in the 4th Qtr of 1921 in Salford, Greater Manchester. Son of Frederick and Lucy Jane (née Redfern) Hancock, of Pendleton, Salford, Lancashire, England.

Above: Grave marker for Sgt. Frederick G. Jones (Courtesy of Fred - FindAGrave)

Sgt. Frederick George ‘Taffy’ Jones. Rheinberg War Cemetery 11.C.23. Inscription: 'ABSENT BUT NOT FORGOTTEN BY THOSE HE LOVED'. Born on the 11th July 1925 In Bridgend, Glamorganshire, Son of Rees and Mary Ann (née Little) Jones, of Aberkenfig, Glamorgan, Wales.

Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with additional thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive.

Other sources listed below:

RS & TV 05.10.2023 - Initial upload

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Acknowledgements
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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