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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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166 Squadron Crest
23/24.11.1943 No. 166 Squadron Lancaster III JA865 AS-A W/O. E.F. Grove

Operation: Berlin

Date: 23/24th November 1943 (Tuesday/Wednesday)

Unit: No. 166 Squadron

Type: Lancaster III

Serial: JA865

Code: AS-A

Base: RAF Kirmington, Lincolnshire

Location: Lehnin / Emstal, Germany

Pilot: W/O. E.F. Grove RAFVR PoW No: 263586 Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria (L3) (1) Also reported to have been held in Stalag Luft Heydekrug (L6) and Stalag Luft Muhlberg-Elbe (4B)

Fl/Eng: Sgt. A. Rossi RAFVR PoW No details recorded. (1)

Nav: Sgt. Alan C. Smith RAFVR PoW No: ? Camp: Dulag Luft Wetzlar (DL) (1)

Air/Bmr: Fl/Sgt. E.W.D.B. Hunt RNZAF PoW No: 263687 Camp: Stalag Luft Muhlberg-Elbe (4B) (1)

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. S.G. Patterson RAFVR PoW No: 263613 Camp: Stalag Luft Muhlberg-Elbe (4B) (1)

Air/Gnr: Sgt. John Francis Mathew Davies 1682448 RAFVR Age 22. Killed

Air/Gnr: Sgt. James Edward William Iverson 1876512 RAFVR Age 19. Killed


Took off at 17.02 hrs to attack Berlin. A bomber force of some 383 Lancasters planning to bomb the city between 19.56 - 20.35 hrs.

The raid was set up with diversion in an attempt to keep the Luftwaffe controllers guessing what would be the target. This failed somewhat, with the first of 167 twin engine night fighters being sent up as soon as the bomber stream crossed the Dutch coast. Interceptions taking place both on the outward and homeward bound heavy bombers.

Flak was very light during the raids as priority was given to the Luftwaffe.

Bombing was hampered by low cloud cover and the pathfinders carried out sky marking. The main force aimed their bombs through the cloud at the glow of major fires still burning from the previous nights raid.

Enormous damage had been inflicted on Berlin, but reports were recorded together with other attacks, but, it is thought that a further 2,000 houses, 94 wooden barracks and 8 industrial buildings were destroyed, with many more buildings damaged. Around 1,500 people were killed in the city.

The raid cost Bomber command 27 aircraft with 128 crew members killed, 21 being made PoW and a further 14 injured on return as a result of aircraft damage.

Sgt. Alan C. Smith on extreme left during his "stay" at Dulag Luft Wetzlar (courtesy of Clive Smith - his son) Do you recognise any of the others?

It is thought "probable" that Lancaster JA865 was shot down by Lt. Peter Spoden (2) of 5./NJG5 with combat taking place 40 km. west of Berlin at 6,000 mtrs. The time of this combat is recorded at 20.02 hrs.

Notes recorded by Lt. Spoden on this combat was that he attacked the Lancaster with a long burst with his forward firing weapons. He recalled that he was still very angry at being shot down and wounded, some months earlier over Berlin. that he was ashamed to say that he aimed not for the normal point of the wings, but into the fuselage. The salvo continued resulting in an explosion sending countless chunks of burning debris and wreckage down to earth.

This is despite what Sgt. Alan Smith recorded in his diary notes sent in to us by his son:

‘Sgt. Alan Smith was the navigator of a Lancaster bomber attacking Berlin on the night of 23/11/43. As we were approaching Berlin the plane was hit by two bursts of flak, the first of which came between my legs which were apart due to the fact that I had my parachute on the floor between my feet because the Wireless operator had put his rations bag in my parachute stowage container.'

Right: The navigator, Sgt. Alan C. Smith

'As I bent down to look under the navigation table, the second burst of flak came and the blast caught me in the eyes, face, under the chin and on the back of the left hand, resulting in superfluous cordite burns and cuts. The intercom and hydraulic systems were rendered u/s so therefore the bomb doors could not be opened or the bombs released. The two port engines were on fire and the incendiary bombs were ignited. I was ordered to bale out three times by the flight engineer on the instructions of the pilot, but I had seen that the Wireless Operator was in a state of shock and as he wasn't wearing his parachute harness I stayed behind to fit it on him which was a bit of a struggle as his legs were rigid and I had to force them apart to get the harness straps to the front. Meanwhile the plane had lost height from 21,500ft to 13,000ft. and kept veering and tipping over to port trying to go into a spin.'

'By this time the W/Op. had come round so I gave him his parachute to put on and I went to the pilot who had now put the plane on automatic pilot. I wanted to open the bomb doors manually and for him to put the plane in a dive to try and extinguish the flames, but he said there wasn't time and told me bale out and stop arguing otherwise we would all get killed.'

Left: Lt. Peter Spoden of 5./NJG5

'I then said I would go down the aircraft and see if the mid-upper gunner and rear gunner were out and I would then bale out of the rear exit, but he ordered me to get out the front exit and said that he was going out the rear exit and he would see if they had gone on his way down.'

'(Later when I saw him in Berlin he told me he couldn't get down the aircraft because of the flames, so he had helped the W/Op to clip his chute on and they baled out of the front exit. The two gunners were never seen again)'

'During this period my parachute which had caught some of the flak and flames from the incendiary bombs was smouldering a little, so that when I jumped, quite a bit of the chute was burnt and torn, so I dropped faster than normal and made a very heavy landing, which resulted in a severe pain from the right ankle, along the leg to the small of my back. Next day when I had been captured a German officer asked me if I was wounded as he could see i was having trouble walking. Thinking i would be sent to hospital and have to face the wrath of the civilians of which we had previously been warned about in England, I told him that i had just bruised my leg. Sgt. Alan Smith remained a PoW until liberated by the Russians.'

(1) Research publications have these PoW details for these crew members. We have however been informed that all the crew were later held in Stalag IVB at Muhlberg-Elbe

(2) Peter Spoden survived the war with a total of 25 abschüsse. He now contributes to many research publications.

Burial details:

Sgt. John Francis Mathew Davies. Runnymede Memorial Panel 147. Son of Frank and Elizabeth Ann Davies, of Upton, Cheshire, England.

Sgt. James Edward William Iverson. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery. Grave 7.L.13. Born on the 8th September 1924. NoK, Isobel Ellen Neal (née Knight) Page.

Researched for Clive Smith (son of Sgt. Smith) with some information he supplied and dedicated to all the relatives of this crew. With thanks to For further details our thanks to the following, Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vol's. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Tom Kracker - 'Kracker Luftwaffe Archives'. Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vol's. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries (Updated 2014 version), Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Oliver Clutton-Brock - 'Footprints On The Sands Of Time'. Thanks to Bob Page for NoK and DoB details for Sgt. Iverson.

Above: Stalag Luft Muhlberg-Elbe (archives)

RS 03.09.2019 - Update to Sgt. Iverson's details

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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