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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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53 crest
53 Squadron Liberator GR.V BZ945 Fl/Lt. Frank Mason Burton

Operation: Patrol

Date: 16/17th April 1944 (Sunday/Monday)

Unit: No. 53 Squadron (MOTTO: 'United in effort'). 19 Group. Coastal Command

Type: Liberator GR.V

Serial: BZ945

Code: FH-O

Base: RAF St. Eval, Cornwall

Location: Bay of Biscay

Pilot: Fl/Lt. Frank Mason Burton 45810 RAF Age ? Missing - believed killed

Pilot: F/O. Elmer James Hagan 124491 RCAF Age 28. Missing - believed killed

Pilot: F/O. Alfred Derrick Critchlow 150507 RAFVR Age 22. Missing - believed killed

Nav: P/O. Allan Edward Buckley Aus/418054 RAAF Age 22. Missing - believed killed

Nav: F/O. Kenneth Kara Edwards 124726 RAFVR Age ? Missing - believed killed

Fl/Eng: Sgt. Laurence Gerald Reilly 1566202 RAFVR Age 21. Missing - believed killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: F/O. Lionel Herbert Abbott 126090 RAFVR Age 26. Missing - believed killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Wilfred Archibald Hallett R/166246 RCAF Age ? Missing - believed killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Roy Thomas McDennon R/162261 RCAF Age 20. Missing - believed killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Ronald Leonard Mark Peirce 1385581 RAFVR Age ? Missing - believed killed

Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Claude Ralston Newell R/153296 RCAF Age 21. Missing - believed killed


Weather - Base Low stratus clouds, generally cloudy conditions, becoming fair to fine towards 18:00 hrs. Operational Area: Mainly fair, slight showers and thunder rain occasionally, light winds.

On an ant-submarine patrol over the western Bay of Biscay area taking off at 21:52 hrs.

Another Liberator from the squadron BZ800 FH-H flown by 27 year old, Fl/Lt. Granville Roberts from Stapenhill, Burton-on-Trent took off at 22:15 hrs. The last transmissions from the pair received from BZ800 at 01:26 hrs, BZ945 at 03:04 hrs were that they were both attacking targets.

At 03:51 hrs north west of Cape Finisterre BZ945 was staffing U-993 (3) VIIC captained by Oblt. Kurt Hilbig (1) in a Leigh Light (2) attack. During the attack the Liberator was hit during its approach by tracer and incendiary ammunition. They were seen to hit the sea with the port engines on fire approximately 600 metres from the U Boat and exploded on impact. Two depth charges dropped by the Liberator fell wide of the index target causing damage.

Above: P/O. Buckley, F/O. Edwards, Fl/Lt. Burton, P/O. Hagen, F/O. Abbott. Front: Sgt. Peirce, Fl/Sgt. Hallett, Fl/Sgt. Newell, Sgt. Reilly and Fl/Sgt. McDennon (Courtesy National Archives Australia - see links below)

BZ800 at 04.53 hrs, North of Finisterre, after approaching using the Leigh Light, the Liberator dropped six depth charges, two to starboard and four to port of U-546 captained by Paul Just (which caused only minor damage) before the boat dived. The aircraft crashed into the sea 500m from U-546. All nine aircrew died.

Above: as described (Courtesy U-Boat - see links below)

(1) Oblt. Kurt Hilbig - born on the 18th May 1919 in Rüstringen. Survived the war but died at the young age of 32 on the 21st August 1951.

(1) Kapitänleutnant Paul Just was captured and made a PoW in America after U-546 sunk after an attack on the 24th April 1945.

(2) Leigh Light: (shown left) The Leigh Light (abbreviated L/L) was a British World War II anti-submarine device used in the Battle of the Atlantic. It was a powerful (22 million candela) carbon arc searchlight of 610 mm diameter fitted to a number of the British Royal Air Force's Coastal Command patrol bombers to help them spot surfaced German U-boats at night.

(3) On the 04th October 1944, U-993 was stationed in the Laksevaag shipyard at Bergen, Norway. At 09:30 hrs, 47 Lancaster Bomber and 93 Halifax bomber of 6 RCAF and 8 RAF Group threw a total of 603 bombs which each weight 1000 pounds on the port of Bergen. Seven bombs hit the submarine bunker, but focused on the thick reinforced concrete slabs resulted in almost no damage. Only the electrical wiring was destroyed and the repair yards were severely damaged.

However, U-993 and U-228 both capsized and sank in a floating dock outside the bunker and U-92 and U-437 were so badly damaged that they had to be decommissioned. Twenty of the Allied machinery had received specific objective instructions for damaging and/or destroying unprotected submarines in the port. One man died on U-993 and another man died the following day of his injuries; the survivor count is unknown. The submarine was later salvaged and decommissioned. After the war in May 1945, the submarine was captured by British forces and broken up.

Burial details:

Fl/Lt. Frank Mason Burton. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 201. No further information. Are you able to assist?

F/O. Elmer James Hagan. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 246. Born on the 30th November 1916. Enlisted on the 23rd February 1942. Son of O.J. and Adie Hagen, of Nelson, British Columbia, Canada.

F/O. Alfred Derrick Critchlow. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 205. Son of Samuel Percival and Alice Critchlow, of Leek, Staffordshire, England.

P/O. Allan Edward Buckley. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 257. Born on the 15th January 1922 in Key, Victoria. Enlisted in Melbourne 25th April 1942. Son of Harry Wilfred and Edna Doris Buckley, of Heidelberg, Victoria, Australia.

F/O. Kenneth Kara Edwards. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 205. Son of Mr and the late Mrs G. Edwards of Cosy Cottage, Lewis Road, Selsey, West Sussex, England.

Sgt. Laurence Gerald Reilly. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 236. Son of Laurence and Isabella Reilly, of Gartcosh, Lanarkshire, Scotland.

F/O. Lionel Herbert Abbott. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 204. Son of William Lionel (died 12th March 1966, age 88) and Hilda Mary Abbott (née Lewis - died 26th December 1963, age 72), of Poole, Dorsetshire, England.

Fl/Sgt. Wilfred Archibald Hallett. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 254. Son of Robert Charles and Mary Irene Hallett, of 550 Bannatyne Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

Hallett Point on Descoteau Lake was named after him 1995,

Fl/Sgt. Roy Thomas McDennon. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 255. Son of Thomas Joseph (died 07th April 1964, age 74) and Isabel McDennon (died 24th January 1983), of 387 Parr Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

McDennon Lake, west of Tadoule was named after him in 1975.

Sgt. Ronald Leonard Mark Peirce. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 236. Son of Mark and Daisy Bell Peirce, of Hillingdon, Middlesex, England.

Fl/Sgt. Claude Ralston Newell. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 255. Son of Mitchell Walter (died 04th September 1978, age 84) and Elizabeth Maud Newell (died 14th October 1983, age 86), of Newellton, Shelburne County, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this pilot with thanks to the Australian National Archives, Air 27-506/7 National Archives, A Place of Honour (Manitoba War Dead) U-Boat Net.

Other sources as quoted below:

KTY 18-11-2022

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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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