Date: 31 July/1 August 1942 (Friday/Saturday)
Unit: No. 148 Squadron
Type: Wellington IC
Base: Kabrit, Egypt.
Location: Tobruk, Libya.
Pilot: F/O William Dennis Bohl 404679 RAAF Age 20 Killed
Pilot 2: P/O Raymond Ernest Vaupel J/ 7436 RCAF Age 25 Killed
Navigator: Sgt. John William Southgate 1500043 RAFVR Age 20 Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Ronald George Lawry Holton 401588 RAAF Age 20 Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Roy Vernon 641582 RAFVR Age 24 Killed
REASON FOR LOSS
The deep water Port of Tobruk in Libya was a key position in North Africa for both the Allied and Axis forces for the transport of vital oil and petroleum supplies from the oil fields through the Suez Canal. At the outbreak of war Libya was an Italian colony and Tobruk under the control of the Italian 10th. Army. Early in 1941, British and Australian troops mounted an offensive against the Italians and succeeded in capturing Tobruk on January 22 which they held until 21 June 1942 when it was retaken by General Erwin Rommel and the Afrika Corps. .
According to the Squadron Operations Record Book (ORB) for the night of July 31,1942 twelve aircraft from the squadron were detailed for a night bombing operation on the shipping and harbour installations at Tobruk. No mention is made of F/O Bohl or Wellington HX527 being involved. However, the ORB does also state that thirteen aircraft took part in the attack and goes on to state that two of the aircraft abandoned the mission due to engine trouble, one failed to return that being F/O Bohl, and the remainder completed the sortie and returned to base.
The crews that returned reported that the weather over the target was clear with slight haze. Bombs were dropped on several ships moored at the jetties with bursts and fires seen. Due to the heavy anti aircraft fire it was necessary to drop from 12000 to 7000 feet to avoid the flak. Further observations of the results of the bombing could not be made due to the need to take evasive action and the appearance of night fighters.
As to the fate of the crew of HX527 it remains a mystery.
From the loss report submitted by their Commanding Officer on 2 August 1942, after
Captain Bohl and crew took off from Kabrit at 21.33 hours with a bomb
load of 10 x 250lb general purpose bombs and 750lb of petrol in good
weather conditions, no further news was received of the aircraft or crew.
Were they a last minute addition to the operation hence their omission from the original flight details? The ORB shows that HX527 was delivered from RAF Fayid to Kabrit at 11:00 hours on 30 July but no crew members are listed. Kabrit was the location of the RAF Middle East Training School (No.2 METS) where pilots were trained for conversion to night bombing operations on the Wellington 1C. P/O Vaupel's Service Record shows that he was posted from No.21 OTU at Moreton in Marsh to No.2 METS on 25 July 1942. Could it be that he was part of the crew that delivered HX527?
The only other mention in the ORB of Wellington HX527 is on the morning of 31 July 1942 when a F/L Moore used it for a communications flight to Landing Ground 86 (ALG086) taking off at 10:20 hours and returning to Kabrit at 13:45 Hours.
Strangely, Vaupel's record shows, in a letter from the RCAF Casualties Officer, that it had been learned from the International Red Cross Committee, Geneva, quoting Italian information, that P/O Vaupel and one other member of the crew was killed, no burial place was given nor has one ever been located. This officer therefore is officially recorded as having lost his life and does not have a "known" grave.
In another letter from the RAAF Overseas Headquarters in England to the Air Board in Australia in 1948 it is stated that the other member of the crew reported to have been killed by the Italians was that of Sgt. Southgate.
Could it be that that HX527 was hit by flak or attacked by a night fighter and came down in the sea? Did the Italian military find the bodies of Vaupel and Southgate floating in the sea and not retreive them or from some other evidence that they had perished?
It is with great pleasure that we have contacted a niece of F/O Bohl, Pauline Tyrrell, who has very kindly provided the portraits of her Uncle Bill. In addition, the family have given their permission to publish a letter sent by Harry Godfrey to Emmeline Lucas, sister in law of Gordon Bohl, William's brother, giving some details of the raid on Tobruk and the loss of Wellington HX527.
(Note: Right click on letter, view image to enlarge)
F/O William D. Bohl
William Bohl enlisted at Brisbane, Australia on 8 November 1940 at the age of 18 years and 8 months. He was working as a shop assistant at a hardware store and had also served in the 51st. Battalion Senior Cadet Corps for 9 months. After completing his initial training at No. 2 ITS, Bradfield Park he was posted to No.8 Elementary Flying Training School at Narrandera, NSW on 9 January 1941. Upon his graduation on 6 March that year he was posted to No.2 Embarkation Depot to await shipment to Canada for training as a pilot. William embarked at Sydney on 21 March arriving at the Port of Vancouver, BC on 17 April transferring by rail to RCAF No.1 Service Flying Training School at Camp Borden, Ontario arriving there on 21 April 1941. Here he would first learn to fly the North American Yale aircraft and then the much heavier Havard graduating with the award of his Flying Badge and promotion to the rank of Sergeant on 3 July 1941. Posted to Halifax, Nova Scotia he embarked for the UK on 16 July where he arrived at No.3 PRC Bournemouth via a Transit Camp in Iceland on 15 August. Granted a commission effective 4 July, P/O Bohl was posted to No.12 Operational Training Unit (OTU) at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire for training on the Wellington bomber on 22 August 1941. Posted to 458 Squadron on 6 November he joined them at RAF Holme-on-Spalding Moor on 19 February 1942. Attached to No.1651 Heavy Conversion Unit 26 February for training on the Stirling heavy bomber. Returned to 458 Squadron 1 July when the squadron was relocated to the Middle East Command and then dispersed to 148 Squadron on 9 July 1942.
P/O Raymond E. Vaupel
Raymond Vaupel was born on 31 March 1917 at Aylesbury, Saskatchewan moving to Port Elgin, Ontario with his family in 1932.
Upon completion of high school in 1935, Raymond took a job with the Port Elgin Times newspaper for five years until he enlisted in the RCAF on 18 November 1940 at London, Ontario.
After spending three months at RCAF Station Rockcliffe, Raymond was posted to No.1 Initial Training School at Toronto on 7 April 1941. With the rank of Leading Aircraftsman (LAC) he was selected to begin training for air crew duties and posted to No.10 Elementary Flying Training School, Mount Hope, Ontario on 17 May until 4 July when he was posted to No.6 Service Flying Training School at Dunnville, Ontario graduating with the award of his Flying Badge that September.
Accepted for a commission on 29 September 1941 when he embarked for the UK from "Y" Depot , Halifax. Posted to No.21 OTU at Moreton in Marsh, Gloucestershire from No. 3 PRC on 4 November 1941. Posted to No.2 METS 25 July 1942.
Tragically for the Vaupel family, Raymonds's older brother Frederick was lost while flying his Mustang fighter on patrol over the English Channel on 17 June 1943. Link to F/O Frederick L. Vaupel loss report.
Vaupel Lake in Kenora, Ontario was named after the Vaupel brothers in 1960
Sgt. John W. Southgate
From Paul Southgate, John's nephew. "I met John William's retired Headmaster (St Cuthbert's RC Primary School) at Billingham who described him as the cleverest student he had ever taught. John became Head Boy at St Mary's RC Grammar School at Darlington (now Carmel College of Technology). He trained as a chemist at ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) before volunteering for RAF during World War 2. He crammed 2 years training into 6 months to become Navigator/Bomber flying Lancasters. Within 2 months of qualifying he was shot down over Tobruk and killed, probably over land rather than sea but uncertain."
Can you help with any further information?
Sgt. Ronald G. L. Holton
No further details available, can you help?
Sgt. Roy Vernon
No further details available, can you help?
F/O William Dennis Bohl. Alamein Memorial, Egypt, Column 263. Son of Charles Ferdinand and Jane Cregar (nee Dillon) Bohl of Yandina, Queensland, Australia.
P/O Raymond Ernest Vaupel. Alamein Memorial, Egypt, Column 263. Son of Ernest and Nancy (nee Matson) Vaupel of Port Elgin, Ontario, Canada.
Sgt. John William Southgate. Alamein Memorial, Egypt, Column 262. Son of John William and Margaret (nee Carroll) Southgate of Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, England.
Sgt. Ronald George Lawry Holton. Alamein Memorial, Egypt, Column 266. Son of Francis George and Elizabeth Grace (nee Lawry) Holton, of Preston, Victoria, Australia.
Sgt. Roy Vernon. Alamein Memorial, Egypt, Column 262. Son of Thomas and Amy Vernon of Wilmslow, Cheshire, England.
Australian War Memorial
Port Elgin Cenotaph
Researched, written and compiled by Colin Bamford for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the families of the crew of Wellington HX527.
Photo and additional credits:
F/O Bohl portraits, Godfrey letter, RAAF Statement of Service and Australian War Memorial photograph courtesy of Pauline Tyrrell and family and reproduced with their permission.
Vaupel brothers photographs reproduced from Veteran Affairs Canada (VAC) web site.
Sgt. John Southgate photograph courtesy Paul Southgate
Service Files of the Second World War - War Dead, 1939 - 1947. Library and Archives Canada
Alamein Memorial photograph courtesy Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Port Elgin Cenotaph photograph courtesy Tom Laye, Ontario War Memorials