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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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401 Squadron Crest
17.02.1943 No. 401 Squadron Spitfires W3839 Fl/Sgt. Leonard Gilis

Operation: Training

Date: 17th February 1943 (Wednesday)

Unit: No. 401 Squadron

Type: Spitfire Vb

Serial: W3839 (Gilis - Aircraft named “Kettering District”)

Serial: BN346 (Muirhead)

Codes: YO - Not known

Base: RAF Catterick

Location: North Otterington, 5 miles south Northallerton

Pilot: Fl/Sgt. Leonard Gilis 793791 PAF Age 28 Missing believed killed

Pilot: WO1 Harvey Donald Muirhead R/79587 RCAF Killed


The weather for today was very mild generally with light showers. During the early part of the afternoon these pilots were undertaking a formation flying exercise. The two aircraft collided in the air between North Otterington and Northallerton and both aircraft crashed with the loss of both pilots at around 14.00hrs.

The body of Canadian Harvey Muirhead was recovered for burial, but sadly they failed to recover Leonard Gilis who is still classed as missing.

Above left: Fl/Sgt. Leonard Gilis with right: WO1 Harvey Donald Muirhead (courtesy François Dutil)

Above 23 Course at 58 Operational Training Unit June, 1942

Front row: P/O. Wiesław Benoit 783408, P/O. Władysław Banach 784483, F/O. Stefan Andersz P-0958, Fl/Lt. Vaclav Jan Petr Ridkosil 82944 (Czech pilot), F/O. Jan Kazimierz Preihs P-0219, P/O. Marian Ciach 783441, P/O. Stanisław Karol Birtus 783414 - Centre row: Sgt. Józef Marian Ziendalski 792036, Sgt. Tadeusz Haczkiewicz 793831, Sgt. Brunon Makowski 783157, Sgt. Muszynski, Leonard Gilis 793791, Sgt. Tadeusz Orzechowski 784097, Sgt. Antoni Stefan Plenkiewicz 784769 - Rear row: Sgt. Józef Bednarz 782356, Sgt. Henryk Starzynski 793783, Sgt. Kazimierz Maksymilian Kierski 783524, Sgt. Konrad Edward Sztuka 704334, Sgt. Antoni Stefan Murkowski 784755, Sgt. Janusz Włodzimierz Kobylinski 781295

Notes from photograph:

P/O. Wiesław Benoit - killed 18th November 1942 ( 306 Squadron), P/O. Władysław Banach - died 12th December 1964. (317 Squadron), F/O. Stefan Andersz P-0958 - Died 16th June 2013 (302 Squadron), Fl/Lt. Vaclav Jan Petr Ridkosil - killed on the 27th February 1943 310 (Czech) Squadron), F/O. Jan Kazimierz Preihs - died 13th February 2014 (318 Squadron), P/O. Marian Ciach - killed 16th July 1943 (317 Squadron), P/O. Stanisław Karol Birtus - died 25th November 1988 (317/309 Squadron), Sgt. Józef Marian Ziendalski - died 18th April 1984 (302 Squadron), Sgt. Tadeusz Haczkiewicz (303 Squadron), Sgt. Brunon Makowski - killed 05th April 1943 (317 Squadron), Sgt. Tadeusz Orzechowski - killed 22nd November 1942 (316 Squadron), Sgt. Antoni Stefan Plenkiewicz - killed 27th April1943 (316 Squadron), Sgt. Józef Bednarz - killed 01st February 1943 (41 Squadron), Sgt. Henryk Starzynski - killed 28th March 1943 (602 Squadron), Sgt. Kazimierz Maksymilian Kierski - killed 31st March 1943 (317 Squadron), Sgt. Konrad Edward Sztuka - killed 29th March 1946 (303 Squadron), Sgt. Antoni Stefan Murkowski - (309 Squadron), Sgt. Janusz Włodzimierz Kobylinski - died 27th November 1986 (303 Squadron)

Muirhead Lake, Southwest of Tazin Lake Saskatchewan was named after WO1. Harvey Muirhead.

Burial details:

Fl/Sgt. Leonard Gilis. Remembered on the Polish War Memorial at Northolt and the Warsaw Memorial for missing airman. Born on the 27th January 1915 at Telechany, Poland - now Belarus.

WO1. Harvey Donald Muirhead. Catterick Cemetery. Nonconformist Sec. Row O.O. Grave 9. Born on 13th December 1919 the son of William Davidson Muirhead and Nancy Isabel Muirhead, of Estevan, Saskatchewan, Canada. Grave inscription reads “We Shall Never Lose Sweet Memories Of The One We Loved So Much. Mother And Family.”

Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this pilot with thanks to François Dutil for pilot photographs. Other sources as quoted below:

KTY 04.02.2017

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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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