Operation: Harburg, Germany
Date: 4th/5th April 1945 (Wednesday/Thursday)
Unit: 635 Squadron, Pathfinder Force (PFF)
Type: Lancaster I
Base: RAF Downham Market, Norfolk, England
Location: Peat bog at Hesepe. Germany
Pilot: Flt Lt. Philip Edward Cawthorne DFC 417049 RAAF Age 23. KiA
Flt Eng: Flt Sgt. Bernard Richard McMaster 1320892 RAFVR Age 21. PoW * (1)
Nav I: Plt Off. George Wilson DFC 191391 RAFVR Age? Evader (3)
Nav II: Plt Off. Bryan George Roberts DFC 191405 RAFVR Age? Evader (2 & 3)
Bomb Aimer: Fg Off. Frank Myles Williams 164595 RAFVR Age? PoW *
WOp/Air Gnr: WO. Thomas Reid 429266 RAAF Age 21. KiA
Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Flt Sgt. Ronald Victor Moore 1587852 RAFVR Age 20. KiA
Air Gnr (Rear): WO2. Irvine James Kinney R250856 RCAF Age 18. KiA
* Stalag Luft 1 Barth-Vogelsang, today situated in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.
The son of Flt Sgt. McMaster would very much like to make contact with other relatives of the crew - please contact Aircrew Remembered
Above L-R: Flt Lt. Cawthorne, Plt Off. Wilson, Plt Off. Roberts, WO. Reid, Flt Sgt. Moore, WO. Kinney, Sgt. J. Goulbourn (Courtesy of John Williams)
Note: Sgt. J. Goulbourn was not aboard the Lancaster on this operation. He was however the regular Tail Gunner on Flt Lt. Cawthorne’s crew.
REASON FOR LOSS:
On the 5th January 1945, 635 Sqn was detailed to provide sixteen aircraft for a target marking operation on Hanover. PB949 took off from RAF Downham Market at 20:04 hrs as one of the three designated VCs.
VC is believed to mean Visual Candle. The candle was the basic indicator which was about 2 feet long and about 2 inches in diameter, it sequentially ejected flare pellets that burned for 15 seconds each. The aircraft also carried the Type H Target indicator (TI) bomb which was filled with alternately coloured pellets (red/yellow or red/green or yellow/green), and illuminated for about 5½ minutes in total.
The run to Harburg was uneventful and their bombs and markers were dropped at 22:29 hrs at approximately 15,000 ft. After being hit by flak an engine was feathered and they turned for home. Enroute they were attacked by a night fighter and the aircraft was abandoned. The description of what occurred after being hit by flak was described by Plt Off. Roberts See (2).
PB949 was claimed by Gruppenkommandeur Maj. Werner Husmann, his 30th, and final Abschuss from Stab I./NJG3, over Bourtanger Moor at 23:32 hrs.
Ofw. Schierholz, Bordfunker to Maj. Husmann achieved his 57th and final Abschussbeteiligung in WW2. He recorded in his Flugbuch “210th Operational sortie; Husemann, Schierholz, Ju88 D5+ZB, Nachteinsatz Stade 4.4 2228, Stade 4.4. 2400, 92 mins, Hamburg, Abschuss “Lancaster” 2332 FP 6”. (Nachtjagd Combat Archive (1 January 1945 - 3 May 1945) Part 6 - Theo Boiten).
Maj. Husmann survived the war having flown over 250 combat sorties and was credited with 30 confirmed Abschüsse. He died on the 2nd February 2014. (Luftwaffe ACES - Biographies and Victory Claims (Mathews and Foreman) - Volume 2).
It was thought that the four crew members that survived were blown out of the aircraft when it exploded. However, the interrogation of Plt Off. Roberts does not support this premise see (2).
Additionally, it was thought that three of the crew became PoWs and were liberated from Stalag Luft 1 on the 5th May 1945 by Russian troops. However, the interrogation of Plt Off. Roberts clearly reports that Plt Off. Wilson also evaded capture and was interrogated by M.I.9. in London on the 12th April 1945.
(1) Flt Sgt. McMaster had previously served as the Flight Engineer on the crew of Flt Lt. Ivor B. Hayes whose crew aboard Lancaster III PB564 were shot down on the Hanover mission on the 5th/6th January 1945.
Above: A later photograph of Flt Sgt. McMaster as a Warrant Officer (WO) (Courtesy of Steve McMaster)
Bernard Richard McMaster was born on the 3rd April 1923 in Aldershot, Hampshire and passed away, aged 81, on the 23rd July 2004 in Wragby, Lincolnshire.
(2) After Plt Off. Roberts returned to the UK he was interrogated on the 28th April 1945 by the Senior Intelligence Officer (SIO) from RAF Warboys. The following was his description of the events leading to the loss PB949.
The run to Harburg was uneventful and their bombs and markers were dropped at 22:29 hrs at approximately 15,000 ft. Immediately after bombing, while on the camera-run over the target, a very heavy jolt to the aircraft was felt by Plt Off. Roberts. It was deduced from conversations heard over the intercom, that the aircraft had been hit by heavy flak. He heard the Captain tell the Flight Engineer (FE) to feather the port outer engine and later heard remarks about the progress of the fire. After the incident the Captain put the aircraft’s nose down to gain some speed.
At about 22:35 hrs Plt Off. Roberts while working the radar, felt considerable heat from the floor though his flying boots. He subsequently fired off a portable fire-extinguisher through small holes in the port fuselage-side into the wing root but he could see no fire.
When about 20 miles (32 km) south of Bremen Plt Off. Roberts’ heard the RG call “Fighters astern corkscrew port”. Almost at once he heard firing and the RG call “Are you firing mid-upper” to which the Mid-Upper gunner (MUG) replied “Yes”.
Plt Off. Roberts understood that the rear turret was unserviceable after leaving the target and could only be traversed manually. After a brief interval the Captain called the RG and asked where the enemy aircraft was but there was no reply. He then heard faint gunfire which he believed was from the enemy fighter but did not know if the Lancaster had been hit.
After another brief interval he heard the FE say “Can’t do anything with it Skipper, we’ll have to get out”. Another slight pause and the Captain said “OK Chaps all get out”.
Plt Off. Roberts picked up his parachute and saw that the FE and Bomb Aimer (BA) had gone and the front parachute exit hatch (located in the nose under the BA position) was missing. The pilot’s position was lit up from a fire on the aircraft’s port side. He described that the aircraft was porpoising and banking violently and that he has great difficulty making his way to the hatchway in the nose.
When he left the aircraft he received a blow to the head and lost consciousness. When he regained his senses he was hanging in his parachute from a tree, with no recollection of having pulled the rip-cord, where he was or how he got there. As he could not see how high he was off the ground he managed to climb the parachute shrouds into the tree before releasing himself from the harness, freed the parachute and climbed down.
When he took stock of his situation, he found that both his wrist watches were gone, the left trouser leg below the knee was missing, the top of his left flying boot was badly ripped, his aid boxes and purse which he had stowed in his boots had also gone. His right eyelid, forehead and chin was badly scratched.
Just before the fighter attack he had been getting fixes on what he believed to be the Dümmer Lake. However, Dümmer Lake is some 96 miles (155 km) SW of Harburg and some 54 miles (87 km) from the Netherlands border to the east, which proved to be wildly inaccurate.
He buried his parachute, harness and Mae West in a manure pit and at about 23:30 hrs he started walking in what he hoped was in a westerly direction as he had no compass and the sky was overcast.
The countryside was mainly woodland and ploughed fields, and frequently boggy. There followed an eventful night avoiding groups of soldiers and roads with convoys passing in the opposite direction of his travel. At about noon the next day feeling desperate he approached an isolated farm intending to steal some eggs or any other food.
Whilst searching the out-buildings he was confronted by a young woman who seemed surprised but not alarmed. He said to her “English flieger, war is kaput”, which she seemed to understand and gestured for him to follow her into the farm.
The farm was in Georgsdorf, near Bentheim which is some 4½ miles (7¼ km) north of the nearest Dutch border.
The family welcomed him and provided him with food and bathed his scratches. He gathered that German soldiers had been billeted there and took whatever provisions the wanted and had also mistreated some of the neighbours. He found out that they has a son who was in the Luftwaffe and a PoW in England.
He manged to determine that the Germans were about 2 miles (3¼ km) from the farm and that the Allies were about 50 miles (80 km) away. At about 14:00 hrs he set off accompanied by one of the young women from the family who guided him along along country lanes for about 2 to 3 miles (3¼ to 5 km) until they came to a main road. From here he went on alone and walked in a westerly direction for the rest of the afternoon passing through a number of villages and a small town. Everything was quiet and few people were about although he passed by some German soldiers, a couple of whom looked him up and down but passed on.
At about 19:00 hrs, he asked a passing civilian where the Allies were and was gestured to continue the way he was going. A little later he heard the sound of armoured vehicles in the distance and hid near the road. Shortly thereafter a reconnaissance patrol headed by a scout car appeared and when he saw that the troops were wearing berets he approached them with his arms raised and found that they were Canadians.
They told him that he was very nearly shot on sight as they were not taking prisoners. Instead of waiting for their return he opted to accompany them on their patrol.
Upon returning to their forward operating base he was passed through medical channels to Ghent in Belgium, where he was detained for suspected spinal injuries. No one there seemed to know what to do with him so he took it upon himself to contact 85 (Base) Group Headquarters in Ghent and was later flown back to England.
85 Group was a component of the 2nd Tactical Air Force.
(3) Plt Off. Wilson and Plt Off. Roberts were awarded the DFC whilst with 635 Sqn. London Gazette 20th July 1945.
Above: Initial collective grave marker for Flt Sgt. Moore, Flt Lt. Cawthorne and WO. Reid. It should be noted that Flt Sgt. Moore was identified and reinterred in his own grave.
Above: Flt Lt. Cawthorne DFC from his service file and grave marker
Flt Lt. Philip Edward Cawthorne. DFC. Becklingen War Cemetery, Joint Grave 14.D.3-4. Inscription: "HE GAVE HIS LIFE TO SAVE HIS CREW, HIMSELF HE COULD NOT SAVE! SO BE IT". Born on the 4th January 1922 in Millswood Estate, South Australia. Son of Leslie Edward and Kathleen Cawthorne, of Millswood, South Australia.
The DFC was awarded to acting Flt Lt. Cawthorne whilst with 635 Sqn. London Gazette 22nd May 1945.
Citation reads: "Flight Lieutenant Cawthorne has completed numerous operations against the enemy, in course of which he has invariably displayed the utmost fortitude, courage and devotion to duty".
WO. Thomas Reid. Becklingen War Cemetery, Joint Grave 14.D.3-4. Inscription: "HIS DUTY FEARLESSLY AND NOBLY DONE. EVER REMEMBERED". Born on the 14th December 1923 in Artarmon, New South Wales. Son of Robert and Annie Reid, of Crows Nest, New South Wales, Australia.
Flt Sgt. Ronald Victor Moore. Becklingen War Cemetery, 14.D.2 Inscription: "HIS LIFE HE NOBLY GAVE FOR FREEDOM, R.I.P.". Son of Albert Victor and Edith Mary Moore, of Ludgershall, Wiltshire, England.
Above: WO2. Kinney from his service file.
WO2. Irvine James Kinney. Becklingen War Cemetery, 14.D.1. Inscription: "IN OUR HEARTS YOU ARE EVER PRESENT. MOTHER, SISTER AND DAD". Born on the 19th September 1925 in Port Arthur, Ontario. Son of Thomas James (deceased Sep 1940) and Isabel (née McLeod) Kinney of New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada.
Our thanks to Steve McMaster, son of the Flight Engineer and also to John Williams who submitted the crew photograph (Aug 2016). Reviewed and updated by Ralph Snape for Aircrew Remembered with new information from the interrogation of Plt Off. Roberts (Nov 2022).
Other sources list below:
RS 30.11.2022 – Review and complete update of narrative
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them. - Laurence
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