Date: 31st May/1st June 1944 (Wednesday/Thursday)
Unit: 622 Squadron (motto: Bellamus Noctu - 'We wage war by night')
Type: Lancaster I
Base: RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk
Location: Poigny-le-Foret, Yvelines, France
Pilot: 1st Lt James Edward Braithwaite O-886224 USAAF Age 28. PoW *
Flt Eng: Sgt Anthony Charles Connor 1819154 RAFVR Age 19. Killed
Nav: Flt Sgt Robert Davidson 1365234 RAFVR Age? Evaded
Air Bmr: Sgt 'Paddy' T.P. Starling R159985 RCAF Age? Evaded
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Thomas Henry Cloran 1444776 RAFVR Age? PoW No 117 **
Air Gnr: Sgt Douglas Paul Bernhardt R183965 RCAF Age 19. Killed
Air Gnr: Flt Sgt Samuel Norris 1384133 RAFVR Age 24. Killed
* Stalag 7a Moosburg, Bavaria (Work Camps 3324-46 Krumbachstrasse and 3368 Munich).
** Stalag Luft 7, Bankau near Kreuzberg, Silesia, Germany. (Now Bąków, Opole Voivodeship, Poland).
REASON FOR LOSS:
The following information has been submitted by his son. Adrian also supplied the photographs used:
James E Braithwaite is my father, and was a WW2 bomber pilot. He flew the Lancaster bomber for the RAF. He was a great man, but very proud, and never took guff from anyone, even to the detriment of him, and his family.
My father was born in 1916, in McKeesport, Pennsylvania (a small port town adjacent to Pittsburg. He was a only child. His father’s families were English emigrants from Yorkshire, England. His mother’s Family was Swedish immigrants. His father worked in the textile industry until the advent of the Great Depression of 1929. With no work available, his parents left him with his grand-parents, and they moved west to Los Angles looking for work. Once they were settled, and working, they sent for him. He loved living with his grandparents, they were a warm, caring family and he was sad to leave them. On the Other hand, his father was an abusive drunk, and would whip my father on a regular basis. He grew to hate his father, and relished when his father died at age 53 of alcoholism.
Upon arriving in Los angles, his parent’s immediately put him to work selling newspapers on street corners. Any money he made was taken from him, and providing he was a good kid, would get 25 cents a week as an allowance. My father attended Beverly Hills high school, and graduated in 1934. In his senior year He was on the track, and field team. He excelled in cross-county running. Upon graduating, he attended a local Community college, and did various odd jobs (delivered prescription medicines for a pharmacy, and installed television/ radio antennas on residential houses). During this time, he got interested in motorcycles, and started racing dirt track (circle track, flat track, and T.T.) on Harleys, and Indians.
In early 1941, my father read about the exploits of the Eagle Squadron that were formed by American volunteers during the battle of Britten. Because of this, he had a desire to become a fighter pilot. He went to an army air force recruitment center to apply, but was told he was not eligible for pilot training because he did not have a college degree. Not to be deterred, he learned about another way to become a pilot. On the 24th September 1941, (at age 25) he took a physical, and interviewed with the Clayton knight committee in Pasadena, California. The Clayton Knight committee was a non government organisation set up to recruit potential candidates for flight training, and help with England’s war effort. He was recommended for pilot training.
On October 21st, 1941, he traveled to Vancouver, Canada, and enlisted in the RCAF. He was given the serial number J/20069. He went through 4 weeks of basic training, followed by 26 weeks of initial training (ground school), then 8 weeks of elementary (basic) flight school. On the 20th June 1942 James started service flight school No.4, course 58, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. On the 9th October 1942, he received his commission as a 2nd lieutenant, upon graduating from service flight school number 4. On October 10th 1942 he went on 20 day leave back to USA. He then attended flight instructor’s school No. 2, in Vulcan, Alberta, Canada. He graduated from flight instructor’s school on January 3rd, 1943. Stayed on in Canada, as a flight instructor, teaching other cadets how to fly. All the while, he was hoping to be selected for fighter pilot training.
Unfortunately, he was told that (at age 26) he was 'too old' to become a fighter pilot, but would make a great bomber pilot. In early November 1943, he shipped out to England. Because of the U.S. entering the war. On December 3rd, 1943 he was discharged from the RAF, and at the same time received a commission as a 1st lieutenant in the U.S army air force. His new AAF serial number was A0886224. On December 4th, 1943, he was transferred to the 8th air force, and because he only had received training in English aircraft, then 'attached' to RAF London. On December 6th, 1943 he was assigned to the 12th replacement depot, station No. 591, Tidworth, England. On February 15th 1944 he was assigned a flight crew.
His flight crew consisted of: J. Davidson (navigator), T. Sterling (bomb aimer), A. Conner (flight engineer), T. Cloron (radio man), D. Bernhardth (mid gunner), and T. Norris (rear gunner). All, with the exception of the rear gunner Norris, had never flown in combat. The rear gunner had been assigned to a sterling bomber crew that had completed their tour of 30 missions, and was on his '2nd time around'.
My father and his crew started multi engine bomber training in short (sterling I, and III) bombers at school 1653 HCU (Heavy conversion unit) at RAF Burn. On April 20th, 1944 he and his crew started Lancaster finishing school No. 3 at RAF Feltwell. After finishing Lancaster training, he, and his crew were posted to squadron 622 at RAF Mildenhall (on April 30th, 1944).
On May 3, 1944 he and his crew flew a cross country training mission to Newcastle, England for a mock bombing run. On May 7th, 1944 he alone, flew with a seasoned crew as a 2nd pilot. Starting on May 8th, 1944 he, and his crew flew 8 successful missions, participating in the allied 'transportation plan' (the systematic destruction of German and French transportation infrastructure in preparation for the Normandy invasion). They bombed rail yards in France, Belgium, and West Germany.
On May 31st 1944 their 11th, and last mission in Lancaster LL782 GI-H, call sign 'teacup how', to Trappes, they were attacked, and shot down by a German night fighter after dropping their bombs. (see webmaster note)
One of Lancaster’s engines was hit, propeller blown off, plane/engine caught fire, and went into a dive. After regaining control, the 5 surviving crew members bailed out. (The two air gunners were killed in the attack).
A third crew member (The flight engineer) fell to his death after bailing out. (He lost his parachute, when the plane was hit, and he decided to hang onto the wireless operator, and they jumped together. When the chute opened, he lost his grip, and fell to his death). My father, being the last out, was burned on his face, neck, and arms. He was turned over to the German authorities for medical treatment. He spent 22 days in a Paris hospital, and then was sent to PoW camp Stalag Luft Sagan in Poland.
The wireless operator was also captured, and ended up a PoW as well. Two of his crew did initially evade capture (navigator, and bomb aimer), but the bomb aimer was eventually captured and turned over to the German Gestapo, and held in solitary confinement in a French jail. The wireless operator was hidden by French locals. They were both liberated, and returned to England when France was liberated in September 1944. In February 1945 (due to the approaching Russian troops), Stalag Luft Sagan was evacuated by the Germans, and the prisoners were marched to other Stalags.
My father marched for 12 days, ending up at PoW camp Stalag 7a, in Bavaria, where he was held until being liberated on April 29th 1945 (by the U.S. Army). On May 7, 1945 the war in Europe was officially over. On May 21 1945, he received a purple heart for his injuries, and in June 3, 1945 was given a full physical, including a mental exam at the 7th general hospital in England. (The report stated that he lost 30 lbs. while in captivity). On June 6th 1945, he had a 2nd interview, and was then transported by troop ship back to the USA. Upon arrival, he was given 75 days leave, and told to report to the army air force base (AAF re-distribution station No. 3) in Santa Anna, California on September 1st, 1945, for re-assignment. By then, the war in the pacific was also over. He was put on reserve status, and was assigned to an air reserve unit. He stayed in the reserves until 1965, when he was discharged with the rank of major at age 49.
After the war, he continued to race motorcycles, but fell in love with British bikes. He marvelled at the performance that a 500cc Triumph had compared to what American motorcycles had. He even raced in the Daytona 200, when half of the race was run on the beach, and the other half on surface streets through town. He also purchase a surplus trainer aircraft, and flew quite a bit in the late 1940's. He ended up selling the plane when flying became too expensive.
He married and had a daughter in the early 1950's, but it would not last. His wife was not the stay at home type, and he would not tolerate that. In the mid 1950's he met his future 2nd wife whom would also be my mother. She Was a German war bride brought to America by her soon to be ex-husband, and upon their separation, she ended up living in a house right next door to my future father.
They met when his cat decided to sharpen his claws on the convertible top of her Cadillac. They dated, fell in love, and married in 1956. During that time, my father opened a motorcycle dealership in Torrance, California. He sold triumph, Norton, and BSA. It was difficult being in business for him, and the bike shop folded after a couple of years. He went on to work in an import auto repair shop as a mechanic, then moving on to VW (also as a mechanic) at several southern California dealerships. My father was a very proud man, and when he felt he was not appreciated, he would 'move on' regardless of the consequences. He ended up moving to Barstow, and again went into business for himself running an earth mover, and building lakes for people in the high desert area around the Barstow/Yermo area of California.
In 1969, he moved to Las Vegas, and again worked at a local VW dealership as a line mechanic. In the 1973, during the Arab oil embargo, he got a job at a Honda motorcycle, and car dealership. It was the perfect Job and time for him. With his enthusiasm for motorcycles, he was the best salesman they ever had, and the bikes just flew out the door. But again, his pride got in the way, and he left that job to open his own shop.
He again struggled, and in 1977 moved back to California and worked as a service writer in an import auto dealership in Reseda. By then, he was semi-retired and spent time in Palm Springs, California, Kingman, Arizona, and Las Vegas Nevada.
He passed away at age 79 of a heart attack. He was buried at the veterans cemetery in Boulder City, Nevada.
LL782 was claimed by Hptm Paul-Hubert Rauh, his 11th Abschuss, of Stab II./NJG4, 7km West of Rambouillet (BD 6) at 3,000m at 02:05hrs. Also claimed by Flak of 3/gem Flak Abt 683 and 3. & 4./schw Flak Abt 473 (“Lancaster Poigny at 02:05 hrs. Victory confirmed for Hptm Rauh on 19th August 1944 (Nachtjagd Combat Archives 1944 Part 3 - Theo Boiten)
He survived the war as a Major with 31 victories. he received the Ritterkreuz on 28th April 1945. After the war he joined the Austrian Air Force, where he reached the rank of Oberst. He died on 30th August 2005.
Sgt. Anthony Charles Connor. Villeneuve-St. Georges Old Communal Cemetery. Grave 133. Son of Charles and Mary Gertrude Connor, of Dudley, Worcestershire, England. Grave inscription: 'Into Thy Hands, O Lord, I Commend My Spirit'.
Sgt. Douglas Paul Bernhardt. Poigny-La-Foret Communal Cemetery. Joint grave. Born on the 27th December 1924 in Stayner, Simcoe County, Ontario. Son of Oscar George and Verda V. Harwood (née McCracken) Bernhardt from Collingwood, Ontario, Canada. A memorial to him been erected in front of the Town Hall of Poigny-la-Forêt.
Flt Sgt Samuel Norris. Poigny-La-Foret Communal Cemetery. Joint grave. No further information - are you able to assist? A memorial to him been erected in front of the Town Hall of Poigny-la-Forêt.
Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Adrian Braithwaite, son of the pilot, Ashley Smith for grave photo. Thanks to John Jones for the night-fighter claim information. Other sources as quoted below:
RS 16.03.2021 - Update to German night-fighter claim
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember
them. - Laurence
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