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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 635 Squadron Lancaster III PB287 Flt Lt. John D.F. Cowden DFC

Operation: Chemnitz

Date: 14th/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: Flt Lt. John Duncan Forbes Cowden DFC. 178046 RAFVR Age 23. KiA

Flt Eng: Fg.Off. Walter Gabbott DFM. 169640 RAFVR Age 26. KiA

Nav: Fg Off. John Richard Charles Donohue DFC. 178567 RAFVR Age 21. KiA

Bomb Aimer: Sqn Ldr. Robert Anthony Boddington DFC and Bar. 104534 RAFVR Age 29. KiA (1)

Spec Op: Flt Lt. James Fraser Craik DFC. 145700 RAFVR Age 23. KiA

WOp/Air Gnr: Flt Sgt. Harry Botterill DFM. 1079870 RAFVR Age 22. KiA

Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Flt Lt. James Stuart Davidson 81393 RAFVR Age 43. KiA

Air Gnr (Rear): Flt Sgt. John Thomas McQuillan DFM. 646271 RAFVR Age 24. PoW - No further details (2)

The relatives of Fg Off. 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’ 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.

"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 highly decorated crew of Lancaster III PB287: Flt Lt. John Duncan Forbes Cowden DFC, Fg Off. John Richard Charles Donohue DFC, Flt Lt. James Fraser Craik DFC, Sqn Ldr. Robert Anthony Boddington DFC and Bar, Flt Sgt. Harry Botterill DFM, Flt Sgt. John Thomas McQuillan DFM, Flt Lt. James Stuart Davidson, Fg Off. 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.

Above: 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 of 4./NJG6 flying a Ju88G-6 at 21:37 hrs during their return trip home. The Lancaster crashing near Gefell.

Above Hptm. Karl-Heinz Weigel of IV./NJG6

This was the fourth and final Abschuss for Hptm. Karl-Heinz Weigel. He was shot down and killed on the 5th/6th March 1945 by a Mosquito from 406 Squadron flown by Flt Lt. McFadyen and Flt Lt. Shail at Brünnstaddt near Gerolzhofen airfield.

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).

(2) On the loss card it reads that the Identity discs of 104334 acting Sqn Ldr. R.A. Boddington have been received with a copy of a lettr 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. The circumstances leading to the death of Sqn Ldr. Boddington are unknown.

(3) The DFM was awarded to Sgt. McQuillan whilst with 61 Sqn. Promulgated in the London Gazette 30th June 1944. He returned to UK 8th May 1945. After the war Flt Sgt. 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.

Burial details:

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

Flt 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.

DFC awarded to acting Fg Off. Cowden whilst with 158 Sqn, promulgated in the London Gazette 6th October 1944. Citation reads: "One night in August, 1944, this officer captained an aircraft detailed to attack Brunswick. Shortly after crossing the enemy coast an enemy fighter was encountered. The enemy aircraft closed in with guns firing and the bomber was struck. Cannon shells pierced the tailplane, fuselage and main plane. A petrol tank was punctured and other damage was sustained. Flying Officer Cowden manoeuvred with much skill however, and his gunners finally drove off the attacker. He afterwards went on to the target and executed his attack. This officer displayed fine leadership, great skill and courage throughout this spirited sortie ."

Fg OIf. 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.

1540486 Sgt. Gabbott was awarded the DFM whilst with 10 Sqn. Promulgated in the London Gazette 15th June 1943.

Fg Off. 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.

DFC awarded to Plt Off. Donohue whilst with 158 Sqn. Promulgated in the London Gazette 20th February 1945

Sqn 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.

DFC awarded to acting Flt Lt. Boddington whilst with 97 Sqn, Promulgated in the London Gazette 31st July 1942. He was posthumously awarded a Bar to his DFC as a Sqn Ldr with 635 Sqn, Promulgated in the London Gazette 12th February 1946

Flt 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.

DFC awarded to acting Flt Lt. Craik whilst with 635 Sqn. Promulgated in the London Gazette 13th November 1944.

Above: Grave marker for Flt Sgt. Harry Botterill. This new grave marker, with his details, was achieved through the hard work and patience of David Midgley. The son of Harry Botterill, Ken Charlesworth, is absolutely delighted. He never really knew his father as he was a few months old. (Courtesy of David Midgley)

Flt Sgt. Harry Botterill DFM. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery. Grave 9.A. 17. Inscription reads: "A SON HUSBAND AND FATHER REST IN PEACE". Born on the 24th June 1922 in Morley, Dewsbury. Son of Rueben and Beatrice May (née Gibson) Botterill from Dewsbury, Yorkshire West Riding, England.

DFM was posthumously awarded to Flt Sgt. Botteril whilst with 635 Sqn. Promulgated in the London Gazette 12th February 1946

Flt 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 Fg Off. 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. Thanks to David Midgley for the DoB and NoK details for Flt Sgt. Botterill (Jun 2021). Other updates by Aircrew Remembered (Jun 2021). Thanks to David Midgley for the image of the grave marker for Flt Sgt. Botterill and for his efforts in having the marker replaced with his details. (Dec 2022)

Other sources listed below.

RS 21.12.2022 - New grave marker for Flt Sgt. Botterill added

Pages of Outstanding Interest
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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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