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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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635 Squadron Crest
14/15.02.1945 No. 635 Squadron Lancaster III PB287 F2-T Fl/Lt. John D.F. Cowden DFC

Operation: Chemnitz

Date: 14/15th February 1945 (Wednesday/Thursday)

Unit: No. 635 Squadron

Type: Lancaster III

Serial: PB287

Code: F2-T

Base: RAF Downham Market, Norfolk.

Location: Near Gefell, Germany.

Pilot: Fl/Lt. John Duncan Forbes Cowden DFC. 178046 RAFVR Age 23. Killed

Fl/Eng: F/O. Walter Gabbott DFM. 169640 (1540486) RAFVR Age 26. Killed

Nav: F/O. John Richard Charles Donohue DFC. 178567 RAFVR Age 21. Killed

Air/Bmr: Sq/Ldr. Robert Anthony Boddington DFC and Bar. 104534 RAFVR Age 29. Killed (2)

Spec/Op: Fl/Lt. James Fraser Craik DFC. 145700 RAFVR Age 23. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Harry Botterill DFM. 1079870 RAFVR Age ? Killed

Air/Gnr: Fl/Lt. James Stuart Davidson 81393 RAFVR Age 43. Killed

Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. John Thomas McQuillan DFM. 646271 Age 24. RAFVR PoW - No further details, returned to UK 08th May 1945. (3)

The relatives of F/O. Donohue would very much like to make contact with other relatives of the crew with regard to sharing of information etc. Please contact him via the help desk or add info button on this page.


Left RAF Downham Market in the west of Norfolk at 17:27 hrs to bomb Chemnitz as part of ‘Operation Thunderclap’ (1) 717 aircraft from 1,3,4,6 and 8 group taking part. Chemnitz (Later named Karl Marx City, then in 1990 reverted back to its former name) Targets included factories producing military goods, an oil refinery was also situated in the area.

The highly decorated crew of Lancaster III PB287: Fl/Lt. John Duncan Forbes Cowden DFC, F/O. John Richard Charles Donohue DFC, Fl/Lt. James Fraser Craik DFC, Sq/Ldr. Robert Anthony Boddington DFC and Bar, Fl/Sgt. Harry Botterill DFM, Fl/Sgt. John Thomas McQuillan DFM, Fl/Lt. James Stuart Davidson, F/O. Walter Gabbott DFM. (courtesy Rick Jones and Norman Franks - author of many publications including Ton Up Lancs)

Apart from the bomb load the aircraft was also carrying other specialist equipment being a Pathfinder Squadron: H2S 3, T/P, Boozer, Carpet, ‘G’ Nav aid Y (see abbreviations)

The bomb load according to Loss Card: 4 x 250 TI Red, 2 x 250 TI Red LB, 1 x 4000 HC (M2), 4 x 500 ANM 64 TD025.

Right: Chemnitz after the RAF bombing of 1945.

The bombing was hampered by cloud, even though very little is available as to the results of the raid many parts of the city were hit. Although the majority of the bombs fell in open country.

The diversionary tactics used by the allies resulted in few aircraft losses, 13 in total during the Chemnitz raid. (the other operations taking place at this time were on Gardening and an attack on the oil refineries at Rositz)

This very experienced and decorated pathfinder crew were intercepted and shot down by Hptm. Karl-Heinz Weigel (4) of 4./NJG6 flying a Ju88G-6 at 21:37 hrs during their return trip home. The Lancaster crashing near Gefell.

(1) "Operation Thunderclap" - In August 1944 plans were drawn for an operation code named Thunderclap but it was shelved and never implemented. The plan envisaged a massive attack on Berlin that would cause 220,000 casualties with 110,000 killed, many of them key German personnel, which would shatter German morale. But on consideration it was decided that it was unlikely to work, so it was shelved.

The plan was reconsidered in early 1945, to be implemented in coordination with a Soviet advance, but again was rejected again as impractical, and instead a number of coordinated smaller attacks against cities in the communications zone of the Eastern Front, through which key routes to the east converged, were chosen. The cities designated as choke points where the bombing would be most effective were Berlin, Dresden, Chemnitz and Leipzig. Intensive bombing of these targets was carried out with the intention of disrupting the rear areas of the German Eastern Front lines, to aid the Soviets advance as had been requested by the Soviets at the Yalta Conference. These raids were large ones, but were not the massive raids envisaged in the original Thunderclap plan. (Information courtesy Wikipedia)

Left: Hptm. Karl-Heinz Weigel of IV./NJG6

(2) On the loss card it reads that the Identity discs of 104334 acting Sq/Ldr R.A. Boddington have been received with a copy of a letter from a farmer residing at Bouguenais, France stating the aviator was picked up on 16th or 19th March and given over to the Maquis at Saffre.

(3) After the war Fl/Sgt. John Thomas McQuillan DFM. served with the RAFVR Training Branch rising to the rank of Flying Officer. Understood to have been born in Lanchester, County Durham in 1921. Son of Michael and Charlotte McQuillan (née Edwards). We understand that he passed away on the 2nd October 2008 age 87. Having a service at St. Mary Church, Hayling Island followed by cremation at Porchester Crematorium on Tuesday, 14th October.

The following entries appear in the Supplement to the London Gazette on the dates stated:

7th November 1967 RAFVR Training Branch. Appointment to commission as Pilot Officer (4 years) 07.07.1967. 12th August 1969 RAFVR Training Branch. Pilot Officer to Flying Officer 07.07.1969. 13th July 1971. Extension of service by 4 years 07.07.1971. 22nd July 1975 Extension of service 06.07.1977. 24 July 1979 RAFVR Training Branch – Extension of service to 6th July 1980.

(4) This was the fourth and final abschüsse for Hptm. Karl-Heinz Weigel - he was shot down and killed the following month. Mosquito from 406 Squadron (Fl/Lt. McFadyen and Fl/Lt. Shail) on the 05/06th March 1945 at Brünnstaddt near Gerolzhofen airfield.

Burial details:

Crew initially buried at Gefell Friedhof but during the latter part of 1948 reinterred in the Berlin War Cemetery.

Fl/Lt. John Duncan Forbes Cowden DFC. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery. Coll. grave 9.A. 18-23. Son of Mary Cowden, of Prestwich, Lancashire, England.

F/O. Walter Gabbott DFM. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery. Coll. grave 9.A. 18-23. Son of Harry and Ethel Gabbott, husband of Audrey Gabbott, of Evesham, Worcestershire, England.

F/O. John Richard Charles Donohue DFC. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery. Coll. grave 9.A. 18-23. Son of Charles B. Donohue and Eva E. Donohue, of Farlington, Hampshire, England. Brother to Pamela Florence born on 1st April 1928.

Sq/Ldr. Robert Anthony Boddington DFC and Bar. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery. Coll. grave 9.A. 18-23. Son of William and Emily Boddington (née Pidd) of Lambeth London. One known sibling, Frances J. Boddington born 1913. Robert born in 1916.

Fl/Lt. James Fraser Craik DFC. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery. Coll. grave 9.A. 18-23. Son of Mr. David Craik and Elspeth Janet Craik (née Fraser) of 90 Great George Street, Glasgow. Born in Hillhead, Glasgow in 1913. Brother to John Elliot Craik, born 1st October 1911 - died 10 December 2008 at East Kilbride, Scotland.

Fl/Sgt. Harry Botterill DFM. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery. Grave 9.A. 17. No further details, are you able to assist?

Fl/Lt. James Stuart Davidson. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery. Coll. grave 9.A. 18-23. Son of James and Annie Davidson, husband of Eva Davidson, of Belfast, Northern Ireland.

With thanks to Clive Hamilton, relative of F/O. Donohue. For further details our thanks to Uwe Enrich for grave photographs, Roy Wilcock (Aircrew Remembered) for further detailed information. Also to Gradys Funeral Directors for additional information on John McQuillan. Thanks also to Rick Jones who contacted us in November 2106 with crew photograph. Other sources as shown below.

KTY 31.08.2015

RW 02.09.2015 - additional information.

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', Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', 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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