Date: March 15/16, 1944
Unit: No. 625 Squadron
Type: Lancaster I
Base: RAF Kelstern
Location: Crashed off French coast
Pilot: F/Sgt Derrick John Gigger 173328 RAFVR Age 21 Killed (1)
Fl/Eng: Sgt Robert Findlay McNeill 1559057 RAFVR Age 22 Killed (2)
Nav: F/Sgt George Ronald Stewart 1365996 RAFVR Age ? Killed (3)
Air/Bmr: Sgt Sydney Wasson 1063520 RAFVR Age 25 Killed (4)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt Richard Clegg 1578868 RAFVR Age 22 Killed (5)
Air/Gnr: Sgt Raymond Eddison 1594592 RAFVR Age 20 Killed (6)
Air/Gnr: Sgt Peter James Gallacher 1607032 RAFVR Age 20 Killed (7)
Sgt. Gigger and his crew arrived at RAF Kelstern, on February 2, 1944, in a most unusual fashion. Sgt. Gigger, Stewart, Clegg and Wasson from 1667 HCU and Sgt. McNeill, Eddison and Gallacher from 1662 HCU (Heavy Conversion Unit). This would suggest that during the HCU course these two crews had a significant training accident or a major interpersonal conflict that resulted in them breaking up and being re-amalgamated on posting to an operational squadron. Under normal circumstances a crew would have arrived at an operational squadron after honing their combat skills, teamwork and camaraderie at an operational training unit, with fine tuning at a conversion unit.
Unfortunately, Sgt. Gigger found himself at an operational squadron with almost half a crew that was an unknown entity. He had never flown with them before and was unaware of their personalities and idiosyncrasies. In the stress of combat, he had no idea how they would react to the challenges that they would be confronted with.
After rigorous ground and cross country training Sgt. Gigger’s crew was deemed fit for their 'second dickie’ op*
* Note: Before a pilot took his own crew on an operation, he had to do a trip with another crew for a look-see; this was known as a 'Second Dicky'. This put the pilot one operation ahead of the rest of the crew
On February 15 they noted their names on the Battle Order, under the mentorship of S/L B.N. Douetil, with Lanc III JA862, target Berlin, the ‘Big City’. As was customary Sgt. Gigger was listed as 2nd Pilot, along with Sgt. McNeil, Wasson, Clegg and Gallacher. S/L Douetil still had the comfort and security of his Nav, F/Sgt. F.T. Price and rear gunner, Sgt. F.L. Hale. This was an uneventful introduction to the crucible of war for Sgt. Gigger and his contracted crew. However, it would only be days later, when on the February 19th Berlin raid that S/L Douetil and his crew ‘failed to return’—victims of a Nachtjagd (nightfighter) attack, exploding in mid-air. Only S/L Douetil and his Nav. W/O F.T. Price would survive. Tragically, W/O Price would survive the next year as a POW, only to succumb to injuries sustained during a strafing attack by a Hawker Typhoon on their prisoner train! He would have been mourned by his family and wife.
On February 20th, Sgt. Gigger and his hybrid crew found themselves on the Battle Order detailed to attack Stuttgart. They returned to Base from this seven hour, thirty-nine minute foray in Lanc ED317, intact and wiser.
For their third op on February 24th, they were detailed to attack Schweinfurt in Lanc W4263. As the Squadron ORB (Operations Record Book) indicates this eight and a half hour jaunt into enemy territory would challenge their resourcefulness: SCHWEINFURT. Target bombed at 0116 hours from a height of 20,000 feet. Fires could be seen about 100 miles away on the outward journey to the target which was just one big fire. The Port outer engine had to be feathered owing to Coolant leak which put the Rear turret and GEE* out of action, Base being reached on three engines.
*Note—Gee, sometimes written GEE, was a radio navigation system developed by radar scientists working under Robert Watson-Watt and used by the RAF during World War II. After the introduction of GEE, bombing accuracy improved dramatically and losses caused by navigation errors decreased significantly. GEE measured the time delay between two radio signals to produce a fix, with accuracy on the order of a few hundred metres at ranges up to about 350 miles (560 km). It was the first hyperbolic navigation system to be used operationally, entering service with RAF Bomber Command in 1942.
Without reprieve, Sgt. Gigger and crew were unleashed to attack Augsburg on February 25th, with Lanc W4883 as their trusty mount. In the end this seven and a half hour op was uneventful but as the ORB suggests had the potential for disaster: AUGSBURG. Target bombed at 22.55 hours from a height of 20,000 feet. One big fire was ringed with T.I’s Red and Green (Target Indicators) T.I’s seemed to be burning on the ground North East of target. Sticks of incendiaries were undershooting. We had to dog-leg on the last leg previous to the run up to the target in order to lose time as we would have been too early, but we overshot the last turning point which resulted in our bombing 10 minutes late. This would have increased their risk of collision and exposed them to a Nachtjagd (nightfighter) attack, as a sole target, illuminated by the fires below. The option was to arrive early, exposed to bombs from above!
Freshly promoted, F/Sgt. Gigger would have had sober thoughts on viewing his crew’s listing on the Battle Order for their second visit to Stuttgart. For a second consecutive op their assigned aircraft was battle weary Lanc I, W4833. Bad karma! Note: The Squadron ORB had a typo for their last trip. It should have been W4833 and not W4883. The latter never flew with 625 Squadron and in fact never existed!
At 18.56 hours on March 15th, F/Sgt. Gigger applied the brakes, and full throttle to all four galloping Merlins, released the brakes for a max performance takeoff, reflexively correcting for the anticipated yaw from slipstream effect, asymmetric thrust, torque and asymmetric thrust, maintaining a straight course down the runway, lifting gently into the darkening sky, braking and then retracting the ‘undercart’ and at 300 feet AGL, safe airspeed and positive climb rate, slowly raised the flaps. Throughout their take-off roll, Flight Engineer, Sgt. Bob McNeill would have covered his hands on the throttles to prevent slippage at the worst possible time. This was the crew’s fifth op and they were gelling solidly as a combat team, despite their handicap of late amalgamation.
However, the ORB provides the following entry on the outcome of a flight that had started on such a positive note: Lancaster I W4833 F/Sgt Gigger and Crew Up 18.56 Down-
STUTTGART. No news after take off—failed to return.
It is noteworthy that the next ORB entry was for Lancaster III ND637, F/Sg Bulger and Crew, Up at 18.58, crashing at RAF Waddington after being involved in a collision with another aircraft. This tragic event occurred at 03.05 hours on February 16th. Coincidentally, this crew was also on their fifth op. The final ORB entry for this Stuttgart raid was for Lancaster III DV194, F/Sgt Hodgkins and Crew, Up 19.08, Failed to return from operations. Target not included! This crew was on their first op without the benefit of a second ‘dickie’ fam op (familiarization operation) with an experienced Skipper! The entire crew perished, the result of a Nachtjagd attack in the vicinity of the target at 2258, quite likely with their bomb load still in the ‘bay'. Tragically, from the three Squadron Lancs lost on this raid, there were no survivors. Fourteen of these keen young airmen did not have time to suffer. It is quite possible that F/Sgt. Gigger and his crew had time to contemplate their fates, realizing that they would not be returning home to their loved ones.
For 625 Squadron this was a devastating and instructive raid, losing three relatively inexperienced crews from an attacking detail of nineteen Lancs and crews—fatality rate of 100% and loss rate of 19%. A most sober fact for the surviving crews the next morning in the Sergeant’s Mess when they were confronted by the empty chairs. Quick calculation would reveal that their life spans could be as short as five ops, with a contract to complete thirty to tour expire. One has to wonder at the fortitude of these brave young men to gear up for their next trip into the unknown over Occupied Europe. It is astounding that so many carried on regardless of the odds, rather than seeking the option of Lack of Moral Fibre (LMF). This provides some insight to the powerful bond and loyalty between the members of a crew— symbolized by the Squadron’s Coat of Arms with a seven link gold chain encircling a Lancaster Rose. So powerful in its depiction of crew and aircraft that rose to the top of the jug of milk! Cream of the crop and attestation of the wisdom of ‘crewing up’.
REASON FOR LOSS/THE CHOP
The recovery of the remains of F/Sgt. Gigger and Sgt. McNeill several months after the February 15/16, 1944 Stuttgart raid, indicates that the crew of W4833 were most likely returning from this op and crashed or ditched in the English Channel or the reaches of the North Sea. It was customary under circumstances of a battle damaged aircraft or critical fuel situation, that the Skipper would take a poll of the crew to determine their wishes: bale out over Occupied Europe with the certainty of surviving as a POW or less likely as an evader, versus the risk of taking the less certain gamble of pressing on regardless, confronted with the prospects of a watery grave or a tasty post-op breakfast and a comfortable bed, with a chance to do it all again. A tough call to make. Ditching at night was always a hazardous affair, seldom with a positive outcome. However, ex-625 Squadron Navigator, P/O Johnny Goldsmith, provided a remarkable account of the crew of No. 156 Pathfinder Squadron, Skippered by ex-625 Squadron Pilot, F/L Bob Etchells and their Lanc III PB302. It is a fascinating read and includes the fate of the Danish fishing boat crew that plucked them from the North Sea.
On July 1, 2021 we received the following response from Theo Boiten, co-author of the Nachtjagd War Diaries and pending Nachtjagd Combat Archives:
'-a quick reply; I have not been able to find a Flak or NJ claim that could be tied to the loss of W4833, I'm sorry to say.'
Theo Boiten and Rod MacKenzie are in the process of publishing the expanded Nachtjagd Combat Archive (NCA), with a projected completion date of late 2021 to early 2022, comprising fifteen volumes. This includes two additional volumes on the Med and Eastern Front Nachtjagd.
This lifelong mega-project is eagerly anticipated by historical aviation enthusiasts. The trojan task of expanding the two volume Nachtjagd War Diaries into the fifteen volumes of the Nachtjagd Combat Archives has been monumental and painstaking, their research diligent and unbiased. They have both been most gracious with their time and energy in responding to our numerous queries in researching loss causes of numerous 625 Squadron Lancs and their crews.
It is noteworthy that co-author, Reg Price DFC, had a most harrowing experience at the controls of Lancaster W4833, during his third op to Düsseldorf on November 3/4, 1943.
Taking into account W4833’s storied past, it is quite likely that F/Sgt. Gigger and his crew flying a battle-worn Lanc, with a multitude of mechanical ‘snags’, possibly combined with new battle damage from flak or a Nachtjagd attack, culminated in a ditching. The fact that the pilot and flight engineer survived this event would suggest that the remainder of the crew were incapacitated or deceased at the time, unable to escape a watery grave. A tragic ending for a hybrid crew that was maturing, excelling and displayed the potential to tour expire.
The following account of W4833’s life story, provides insight of the incredible structural integrity of the mighty Lancaster:
A Short History of Avro Lancaster - W4833 - 625 Squadron
This particular Aircraft had a somewhat lengthy and chequered career. She was part of a batch order of 221 Lancaster Mk 1s, given by Messrs A.V.Roe, to Metropolitan Vickers at Trafford Park, Manchester, UK. She was fitted with Merlin XX engines.
On the 4th of December 1942, she was taken on charge by A.V.Roe at Woodford, and over the next two weeks, was subjected to the compulsory Air Test and handling routines.
Given the all clear by the 19th December, she was allocated to 100 Squadron at Waltham near Grimsby. Her stay there was short lived however, and on 30th January 1943, she was re-allocated to 101 Squadron at Holme-on-Spalding Moor in Yorkshire.
From there, she operated continually on all of the major raids, coded SR-C and becoming the usual mount of F/L Manahan and crew.
However, on the Duisburg raid on the 26th April 1943, she was being flown by Sgt Cunningham and crew,( an all Sgt Crew). Taking off at 23.40 hrs, she successfully bombed the target, but was almost immediately hit by incendiaries from another Bomber above. This caused considerable damage to the Pilots’ cabin and floor, flap jack and elevators. A fire that broke out by the flare chute was immediately extinguished by Sgt Scaife, the Flight Engineer. Upon recovery by the Pilot, Sgt’s Ward and McNeil were found to be missing, presumably having ‘baled out’. The skill of the Pilot, Sgt Cunningham, saw the remaining crew return safely to base for a difficult approach and landing at 0543 hrs.
On 27th April, she was examined and declared ‘Damaged - Cat AC’.
This meant she was beyond the possibility of being repaired by the RAF Engineers, but was nonetheless repaired ‘on site’ by contractors from Messrs A.V.Roe.
Following substantial repairs, she was returned to 101 Squadron on the 5th June 1943, and on the 15th June, 101 Squadron moved to Ludford Magna in Lincolnshire. Here, she continued operating successfully until the 14th October 1943. On the 15th October 1943 she was transferred to 625 Squadron, just down the road at RAF Kelstern.
Here, she became coded CF-J, and her record on successful operations, (usually the mount of F/Sgt Reginald Price), where her excellent record continued and is well documented. Her ultimate demise however, came with F/Sgt Gigger and crew from 625 Squadron on the 15/16th March 1944 raid on Stuttgart, from where she failed to return.Her proud flying hours totalled 463.18 hours!
1. P/O Derrick John Gigger: Buried in Dannes Communal Cemetery, Row B. Grave 2, Pas de Calais, France. Son of John Henry and Elsie Winifred Gigger, of Eynsford, Kent.
Dannes Communal Cemetery
His epitaph reads:
In everloving memory
Our beloved son and brother
“Till we meet again”
Derrick Gigger is remembered on the Eynsford War Memorial, Kent.
He was the subject of a research project by the late Brian Hussey of the Farningham and Eynsford Local History Society (Bulletin 105 available as a PDF).
Courtesy Jane Challis
Brian Hussey (cousin of Derrick Gigger) pays his respects 2014
Courtesy Jane Challis
Derrick Gigger was born in 1923 (approx.) to parents John Henry Gigger (born 23/08/1891 in Alton, Hampshire) and Elsie Winifred Hussey (born 14/02/1893 in Maidstone, Kent). He had one sister, Margaret, known as Peggy who married a Mr Sunderland and they had two children, Nicholas (name uncertain) and Geraldine.
The family lived in Alton cottages, Eynsford in Kent. Alton Cottages were built by the paper mill in the village to house the workers who had moved to Eynsford from Alton in 1909.
Derrick’s cousin Brian Hussey remembers Derrick who was about eight years his senior cycling with his friends over to the tennis club in the neighbouring village of Farningham with Brian in hot pursuit, but struggling to keep up with them on his scooter!
When the war started, Derrick joined the RAF and went to Canada to train as a bomber pilot. Brian remembers being amazed at Derrick’s appearance on his return to England. He wore a smart new officer’s uniform complete with pilot’s wings sewn onto his tunic, neatly cut hair and smoked cigarettes, which seemed the height of sophistication to his younger cousin.
Sadly, Derrick did not last long as a bomber pilot. After just a few missions he was reported missing on 16th March 1944. His parents would listen every evening on the wireless to the traitor William Joyce, popularly known as Lord Haw-Haw, broadcasting a stream of Nazi propaganda from Germany, This was because the propaganda would stop briefly and the names of British servicemen who had been captured would be read out. They were convinced that Derrick was not dead and that they would hear his name. This was not to be. He had been killed in action and now rests at the Dannes Cemetery in the Pas de Calais in France.
His sister Peggy also sadly died, in her case of cancer, meaning that the parents outlived both of their children.
2. Sgt Robert Findlay McNeill:Buried in Abbeville Communal Cemetery Extension, France, Plot 6. Row J. Grave 6. Son of R.F. McNeill and Jane Aikman, of Broxburn, West Lothian.
His epitaph reads:
Of Mr. and Mrs. R.F. McNeill
4 Station Road
3. F/Sgt George Ronald Stewart: Runnymede Memorial, Panel 222.
4. Sgt Sydney Wasson: Runnymede Memorial, Panel 239. Son of Robert and Mary Wasson, of Dunadry, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland.
5. Sgt Richard Clegg: Runnymede Memorial, Panel 227. Son of Richard William and Laura Clegg, of Grimsby, Lincolnshire.
6. Sgt Raymond Eddison: Runnymede Memorial, Panel 228. Son of Herbert and Ethel Marion Eddison, of Leeds, Yorkshire.
7. Sgt Peter James Gallacher: Runnymede Memorial, Panel 229. Son of James Andrew and Frances Alice Gallacher, of Bitterne Park, Hampshire.
P/O D.J. Gigger 173328: DFC, KIA
Sgt R.F. McNeill 1559057: DFM, KIA.
F/Sgt G.R. Stewart 1365996: DFM, KIA.
Sgt S. Wasson 1063520: DFM, KIA.
Sgt R. Clegg 1578868: DFM, KIA.
Sgt R. Eddison 1594592: DFM, KIA
Sgt P.J. Gallacher 1607032: DFM, KIA.
This account concludes our archive submissions for the Squadron’s losses resulting from the March 15/16, 1944 bombing attack on Stuttgart—DV194, W4833 and ND637.
They epitomize the tragic events resulting from just one of the Squadron’s multi-loss raids—the devastating impact on Squadron mates, morale, and next of kin. It is especially noteworthy that the Senior Staff recognized the extraordinary character of the pilots of W4833, P/O Gigger and ND637, P/O Bulger RCAF, with the distinction of awarding them posthumous commissions. We know that P/O Bulger was married and had a daughter before his Overseas posting. We are uncertain of P/O Gigger’s marital status. This promotion would have ensured that the families would have received a more substantial survivor’s benefit.
Both Pilot Officers were well on the way to moulding their crews into combat teams with the potential to complete their tour of ops. Sadly, the fortunes of war would not permit this evolution.
It is most tragic that F/Sgt. Hodgkins and his crew of DV194 would perish on their first op, without the benefit of a second ‘dickie’ trip to demonstrate the importance of a keen lookout for their number one enemy—the dreaded Nachtjagd. However, it appears that Squadron Senior Staff learned from this oversight, and it would be a rare occurrence for a rookie crew to be set loose over the night skies of Occupied Europe before a fam op with an experienced crew—a stiff price to pay, but a lesson learned.
We are most honoured and privileged to have Reg Price as a co-author and technical adviser for this archive report as he had a most challenging experience in the ‘office’ of W4833 on the early evening of November 3, 1943! We are dedicating the three archive reports of the Squadron’s losses during this raid, as a celebration of his 100th birthday, while this last of the series was being compiled!
625 Squadron ORB
Royal Air Force Bomber Command: Squadron Profiles Number 121- 625 Squadron, We Avenge. Researched, compiled and written by Chris Ward.
The Avro Lancaster, Francis K. Mason.
Nil. Unfortunately we do not have photos of the other members of the crew of W4833 and would be most grateful to anyone who could share them with us.
John Naylor: A Short History of Lancaster - W4833 - 625 Squadron.
Reg Price DFC: Participated in this raid and his debriefing comments can be reviewed in the DV194 archive report, Co-authors section.
Submission by Jack Albrecht and Nic Lewis, in memory of this crew and the relatives left to appreciate their sacrifice.
We are most grateful to Susan Pittman, archivist for the Farningham and Eynsford Local History Society, for putting us in contact with Jane Challis and Sarah Parkinson, daughters of Brian Hussey, and so ‘cousins once removed’ of Derrick Gigger. You have added a personal touch to this archive report.
Other 625 Squadron Reports
Allied Losses & Incidents Database
JA 15.10.2021-GEE note
JA 22.10.2021-Biography P/O Gigger and Credits to archivist and relatives
JA 27.10.2021-Reader Comment
From family member of Derrick Gigger....My sister forwarded your email onto me as I have a copy of all my father’s photos. It is wonderful to think that people in other countries are compiling such a detailed archive of air crew who were killed in WW2. I was amazed that such a comprehensive report exists on Derrick Gigger’s final mission. I remember my Dad talking fondly about him as someone he looked up to and admired.
As I think you know we took both my parents to France in August 2014 to visit Derrick’s grave and I have attached a couple of photos from that visit including one of my Dad by the grave. I’ve also attached the only photo that I can find of Derrick himself ...
Many thanks again for all your work on this. I am going to send the link to my cousin who is currently studying for a Masters degree in 2nd World War History!
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember
them. - Laurence
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