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Archive Report: Allied Forces

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103 Squadron
10/11.01.1942 103 Squadron, Wellington Ic Z1142, Flt Sgt. Charles L. Bray DFM

Operation: Wilhelmshaven, Germany

Date: 10th/11th January 1942 (Saturday/Sunday)

Unit No: 103 Squadron, RAF

Type: Wellington Ic

Serial No: Z1142

Code: PM:N

Location: RAF Grimsby, Lincolnshire

Base: RAF Elsham Wolds, Lincolnshire

Pilot: Flt Sgt. Charles Lorne Bray DFM R78203 RCAF Age 22. Safe (1 & 2)

2nd Pilot: Sgt. Douglas Wilberforce Spooner DFM 404553 RAAF Age 25. Safe (1 & 3)

Obs: Plt Off. George Edward McGill MiD J5312 RCAF Age 26. PoW No. 1431 * /Murdered (5)

Wireless Op/Air Gnr: Sgt. Robert Matthew Coghlan 1101022 RAFVR Age 26. PoW No. 117 ** (4)

Wireless Op/Air Gnr: Sgt. Harold Douglas Whiting 404422 RAAF Age 21. PoW No. 146 ** (4)

Air Gnr (Rear): Sgt. Eric Bernard Frais 985776 RAFVR Age 26. PoW No. 118 ** (4)

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

** Stalag 383, Hofenfels, Bavaria. Former Oflag IIIc renamed in November 1942

REASON FOR LOSS:

Z1142 took off at 17:16 hrs from RAF Elsham Wolds on the 10th January 1942 as one of 14 aircraft from the Squadron detailed to bomb Wilhelmshaven in Germany.

Flt Sgt. Bray thought that some of his bombs had hung up on his first run over the target and went round again. At approximately 20:00 hrs the aircraft appeared to be hit by heavy flak detaching a 4.5” reconnaissance flare, stowed in the rear of the bomb compartment became detached and set fire to the fabric of the and wooden floor of the beam gun seat. The fire spread rapidly, filling the aircraft with smoke, and the captain, after steering a westward course to ensure that the aircraft was over land, gave the order to “abandon aircraft”, which was obeyed by Plt Off. McGill and Sgts. Whiting, Coglan and Frais.

It is not known whether they bailed out over Germany or the Netherlands.

Sgt. Spooner, the 2nd Pilot, having not heard the order to abandon the aircraft managed to extinguish the flames, and subsequently together with the captain, brought the aircraft safely back to England landing at RAF Grimsby at 23:07 hrs.

The pilot, Sgt. C.L. Bray, RCAF, and the second pilot Sgt. D.W. Spooner, RAAF, standing in front of a 103 Sqn Wellington on 22nd January 1942. (Photo PL-7140 RCAF/DND Canada - Crown copyright expired)

(1) For their actions and for bringing the aircraft home Sgt. Bray and Sgt. Spooner were each awarded the DFM. London Gazette. 27th January 1942:

The citation for their award describes their actions: “CAN/R.78203 Sergeant Charles Lome BRAY, Royal Canadian Air Force, No. 103 Squadron. AUS/404553 Sergeant Douglas Wilberforce SPOONER, Royal Australian Air Force, No. 103 Squadron. One night in January, 1942, Sergeants Bray and Spooner were captain and second pilot respectively of an aircraft which participated in an attack on Wilhelmshaven. Sergeant Bray carried out a determined attack in spite of intense anti-aircraft fire but, when making a second run over the target, a violent explosion shook the aircraft and an ignited flare was blown from the rear of the bomb compartment into the fuselage where it set fire to the fabric, the floor and a seat. The aircraft was now brightly illuminated so that it was an easy target and, whilst held in a concentration of some 30 searchlights was subjected to intense enemy fire. The situation began to appear hopeless and Sergeant Bray ordered the crew to escape by parachute. He then set the controls and, when making his way to the rear of the aircraft to ensure that the crew had left safely, he observed Sergeant Spooner still battling with the flames. Sergeant Bray thereupon returned to the controls and skilfully and coolly extricated his aircraft from a perilous situation. The flare eventually burned its way through the floor of the aircraft and Sergeant Spooner, having exhausted the extinguisher, finally subdued the flames with his gloved hands. He then went forward and, to enable Sergeant Bray to fulfil the duties of navigator, took over the controls. Although suffering acutely from the effects of the fumes, he flew the aircraft safely back to this country. Throughout, these airmen showed great courage and set an example worthy of the highest praise”.

(2) Tragically Flt Sgt. Bray DFM was missing in action on the 25th/26th April 1942 on a mission to Rostock, Germany.

His aircraft, Wellington Ic DV579 PM:Z was either shot down by flak from 1. Lehr- and 2. Versuchsbatterie FAS I and crashed into the Breitling sea near Rostock at 02:14 hrs or by Uffz. Heinz Grimm, his 4th Abschuss, from 5./NJG2 over the sea NW of Ameland at 03:37 hrs. (Nachtjagd Combat Archive (13 July 1941 - 29 May 1942) The Early Years Part 2 - Theo Boiten).

The crew of six are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

(3) Tragically Plt Off. Spooner DFM was killed in action on the 3rd/4th July 1942 on a mission to Bremen, Germany.

His aircraft, Wellington Ic R1617 PM:T was claimed by Uffz. Rudolf Frank, his 5th Abschuss, from 1./NJG3, over Vahren, 5 km north of Cloppenburg at 01:45 hrs. (Nachtjagd Combat Archive (30 May - 31 December 1942) The Early Years Part 3 - Theo Boiten)

Two others from his crew were also killed whilst two became PoWs for the duration of the war. The three KiA were interred at the Sage War Cemetery.

(4) Sgt. Coghlan, Sgt. Whiting and Sgt. Frais were promoted to Warrant Officer (WO) whilst they were PoWs.

(5) After the prerequisite visit to Dulag Luft Plt Off. McGill was sent to Oflag IXa on the 17th January 1942 before being moved to Stalag Luft 3 on the 30th April 1942.

Oflag IXa, Schloss Spangenberg ("Spangenberg Castle") in the small town of Spangenberg in NE Hesse, Prussia

Flt Lt. McGill was part of the compound security team and was the head of security for one of the tunnels. (Ref 1. p 181)

On the night of the 24th-25th March 1944, 76 officers escaped from the north compound of Stalag Luft 3 which, at that time, held between 1000 and 1500 RAF PoWs. The escape was made by the means of a tunnel. At about 05:00 hrs on the 25th March the 77th PoW was spotted by guards as he emerged from the tunnel.

An overview of the German response to the escape and the subsequent British prosecution of those responsible for the murder of fifty of the escapees is summarised in the report entitled “The Fifty - The Great Escape”.

It is not known when Flt Lt. McGill exited the tunnel nor with whom he travelled, if at all. What is known from the trial transcript is that he was captured at or near Sagan and that he was one of a number of recaptured officers who were gathered together in Görlitz prison in Germany which was under the control of the Gestapo. Gradually the numbers of recaptured officers grew until thirty-five were held there.

On the 31st March two of the surviving officers witnessed a number of Gestapo agents collect the following ten officers and take them away; Flt Lt. C.P. Hall, Ft Lt. Birkland, Flt Lt. B. Evans, Flt Lt. G.E. McGill, Flt Lt. E.S. Humphreys, Flt Lt. P.W. Langford, Flt Lt. C.D. Swain, Fg Off. R.C. Stewart, Flt Lt. E. Valenta and Fg Off. A.D. Kolanowski. None of these men were seen alive again.

It was alleged that a Gestapo agent by the name of Lux selected and commanded the death-squad that carried out the order to execute selected prisoners.

Believed to be Kriminalobersekretär (Chief Detective) Walter Lux who was reported to have been killed in the Siege of Breslau in 1945.

No one was formally charged with the actual murder of Flt Lt. McGill or the other fifteen officers killed by Lux and his death-squad. The bodies of this group were cremated at Liegnitz (Legnica) in Poland and their urns returned to Stalag Luft 3.

Burial details:

Memorial to “The Fifty” near to Żagań (Credit: CSvBibra - Own work, Public Domain)

Above left, Flt Lt. McGill from his PoW Card and right, grave marker (Courtesy of TPGPP)

Flt Lt. George Edward McGill MiD. Poznań Old Garrison Cemetery 8.C.7. Born on the 14th April 1918 in Toronto, Ontario. Son of George and Rita (née Strohmayer) McGill and husband to Elizabeth Louise (née Goodman) McGill of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Whilst a PoW he was promoted to Fg Off. on the 13th May 1942 and then to Flt Lt. on the 13th May 1943.

Flt Lt. McGill was Mentioned in Despatches (MiD) recognizing his conspicuous bravery as a PoW because none of the other relevant decorations then available could be awarded posthumously. Promulgated in the London Gazette on the 8th June 1944.

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

Thanks to ‘The War Graves Photographic Project for their great work.

Other sources listed below:

References:

1. Stalag Luft III - An official history of the “Great Escape’ PoW Camp - Published by Frontline Books - ISBN: 978-1-47388-305-5




RS & TV 14.08.2022 - 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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