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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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No. 9 Squadron
18.12.1939 9 Squadron Wellington 1a N2939 WS:H Fg Off. Challes

Mission: Reconnaissance, Wilhelmshaven, North Sea

Date: 18th December 1939 (Monday)

Unit: 9 Squadron

Type: Wellington IA

Serial: N2939

Code: WS:H

Base: RAF Honington, Suffolk

Location: North Sea off the coast of Germany

Pilot: Fg Off. John Thomas Irvine Challes 39041 RAF Age 19. Missing

2nd Pilot: Plt Off. Alistair Hugh Richmond Bourne 40882 RAF Age 25. Missing

Obs: Sgt. Frank Michael Mason 580718 RAF Age 20. Missing

WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Thomas Henry English 524025 RAF Age? Missing

Air Gnr: LAC. Gurth Ernest Cox 566740 RAF Age 21. Missing

Air Gnr: AC1. Alexander Telfer 531938 RAF Age? Missing

No. 9. Squadron Wellingtons 1A

Wilhelmshaven November 1939


N2939 took off at 09:00 hrs with eight other Wellingtons of the Sqn from RAF Honington to carry out a reconnaissance in the Schilling/Jade Road and Wilhelmshaven and to attack any battleships or cruisers.They flew in formation with nine aircraft from both 149 Squadron and 37 Squadron.

The formation was attacked South of Wilhelmshaven at 12:30 hrs by approx. 30/40 enemy aircraft and the attack continued until reaching Wilhelmshaven when heavy flak was encountered from both shore based batteries and Navel craft. No suitable enemy battleships or cruisers were seen.

After leaving the Wilhelmshaven area the aircraft were followed for some 70/80 miles to the German coast by the enemy fighters. A total of twelve aircraft were shot down on this reconnaissance mission.

Situated on the island of Wangerooge the Germans had been tracking the bomber force for many miles using the experimental early warning Freya radar system and this information was passed on to the German fighters. N2939 may have been shot down or hit by flak and is thought to have been lost near Wilhelmshaven.

The following is an extract from "The Battle of Heligoland Bight 1939 The Royal Air Force and the Luftwaffe Baptism of Fire" by Robin Holmes:

Bekker relates how Wolfgang Falck and his number two, Lt. Heinz Fresia, ran into a close formation of returning Wellingtons at 14:35 hrs (German time). In Les Aiglons it describes how Falck attacked the right hand bomber in the last formation and watched it explode in mid-air. Fresia attacked the plane on the left hand side of the same section and watched it crash into the sea with its port engine in flames. As Falck and Fresia raced in from the West, Guthrie’s six aircraft would have been first in “close formation” the encountered. In the 3 Group report it states that an aircraft in Fg Off. Allison’s section appeared to explode and another was seen to go down with its port engine on fire. Sgt Petts also reported that an aircraft in Allison’s section was seen to receive a direct hit and fell to bits. Plt Off. Lines was supposed to be in number three position. However Sgt. Murphy on Macrea’s plane reported that the aircraft in Allison’s section were changing positions so that it is not possible to be precise about Falck and Fresia’s victims. Falck was shot down in flames by the last aircraft he attacked N2872. He forced landed on the island of Wangerooge.

In the OKL Fighter Claims Chef für Ausz. und Dizsiplin Luftwaffen-Personalamt LP [A] V OKLs & Supplementary Claims from Lists Hptm Wolfgang Falck and Uffz Heinz Fresia both recorded as being from Stab I./JG77 and claimed Wellingtons on this day and location.

In Luftwaffe ACES - Biographies and Victory Claims (Mathews and Foreman) - Volume 1 both pilots were credited with two Wellingtons each:

Hptm Wolfgang Falck from 2./ZG76 claimed two Wellingtons 20km SW of Heligoland at 14:40 & 14:45 hrs (German Time);
Uffz Heinz Fresia from 2./ZG76 claimed two Wellingtons 20km SW of Heligoland at 14:45hrs (German Time).

Of the remaining 9 Squadron aircraft - N2964 and N2981 managed to land at their home base at 16:00 hrs. N2873 was so badly damaged it was forced to land at RAF Sutton Bridge, Lincolnshire at 17:30 hrs, two of the crew having been wounded. N2871 was forced to land at RAF Northcoates Fitties at 17:30 hrs again due to the extensive damage to the aircraft.

The total loss for No. 9 Squadron from the mission was 24 killed and four injured. No. 9 Squadron losses (N2983) (N2872) (N2940) (N2941)

Runnymede Memorial, Surrey. Sgt. Mason is remembered on the Surbiton War Memorial, Surrey

Burial details:

Fg Off. John Thomas Irvine Challes. Runnymede Memorial, Surrey. Panel. 1. Born on the 27th July 1915 in Lincoln, Ontario, Canada. Son to John Alexander McDonald and Mabel Florence (née Booz) Challes of Louth Township, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. Husband to Elizabeth Hellen (née Wootton) Challes of Ramsgate, Kent, England..

John Thomas Irvine Challes was granted a short service commission as acting Plt Off. on the 24th August 1936 and posted to RAF Depot, Uxbridge. On the 5th September 1936 he was posted to No.10 Flying Training School, Tern Hill, Shropshire. On the 27th May 1937 he was posted to 70 Bomber Transport Squadron, Hinaidi, Iraq. On the 29th December 1938 he was promoted to Fg Off. On the 27th September 1939 Fg Off. Challes was posted to 9 Squadron.

Plt Off. Alistair Hugh Richmond Bourne. Runnymede Memorial, Surrey. Panel 1. Born 3rd Qtr 1914 in Croydon, Surrey. Son of Alfred Hugh and Gladys Evelyn (née Robson) Bourne from Croydon, Surrey, England

Acting Plt Off. Bourne was confirmed as Plt Off. on the 16th May 1939 was posted to 9 Squadron on the 23rd October 1939

Sgt. Frank Michael Mason. Runnymede Memorial, Surrey. Panel 2. Born during 3rd Qtr 1919 in Nottingham. Son of Frank Leslie and Gladys (née Wright) Mason of Surbiton, Surrey.

Sgt. Mason is remembered on the Surbiton War Memorial

Sgt. Thomas Henry English. Runnymede Memorial, Surrey. Panel 1. No further information as yet - are you able to assist?

LAC. Gurth Ernest Cox. Runnymede Memorial, Surrey. Panel 2. Born on the 8th February 1918 in South Africa. Son of Harold Herbert and Lilian Florence May (née William) Cox of Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, South Africa.

His father predeceased him in September 1925.

AC1. Alexander Telfer. Runnymede Memorial, Surrey. Panel 3. No further information as yet - are you able to assist?

Researched by: Kate Tame for all the relatives and friends of the crew With thanks to for picture of Surbiton War Memorial. Thanks to John Jones who contacted us in October 2016 regarding pilot origin. Thanks again to John Jones for NoK information for Fg.Off. Challes. Thanks again to John Jones for the German fighter narrative and claim (Nov 2021). Other research and update to the German fighter claims and NoK details by Aircrew Remembered (Nov 2021).

RS 07.11.2021 - Addition of fighter claims and update to NoK details

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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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