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Archive Report: Allied Forces

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617 Squadron Lancaster BI PD117 Flt Lt. Bernard Alexander Gumbley DFM

Operation: Bremen

Date: 21st March 1945 (Wednesday)

Unit No: 617 Squadron (motto: Après moi le déluge - 'After me, the flood'). 1 Group

Type: Lancaster BI (Special)

Serial: PD117

Code: YZ:L

Base: RAF Woodall Spa, Lincolnshire

Location: Okel, Germany

Pilot: Flt Lt. Bernard Alexander Gumbley DFM. NZ/414614 RNZAF Age 29. Missing - believed killed

Flt Eng: Fg Off. Edwin Alfred Barnett MiD. 53823 RAFVR Age ? Missing - believed killed

Nav: Fg Off. Kenneth Gill DFC. C de G. 155097 RAFVR Age 22. Missing - believed killed

Bomb Aimer: Flt Lt. Joseph Charles Randon 134673 RAFVR Age 25. Missing - believed killed

Air Gnr (Rear): Fg Off. George Bell 185065 RAFVR Age 24. Missing - believed killed

Note: The normal crew complement included the Wireless Operator/Air Gunner Plt Off. Sydney Grimes 173865 RAFVR and Mid-Upper Gunner WO. Jack Penswic 1497486 RAFVR but were not on this mission


PD117 with a bomb load of 1 x 12,000 lb. 'Tallboy' (1) took off at 07:45 hrs. In common with several other aircraft on this operation, and other operations were flown by 617 around this time, the aircraft flew without a wireless operator and with only the rear air gunner. The Lancaster BI (Special) had a faired off nose turret and the Mid-Upper turret removed and faired over.

20 Lancasters were detailed with an escort of 20 RAF Mustangs. In addition, an attack on an Oil Refinery at near by Bremen would comprise 133 Lancasters of No. 5 Group and 6 Mosquitos from No. 8 (Pathfinder Force) Group, escorted by additional Mustangs.

The Arnsberg Viaduct target was a 200yds long double track Rail link across the River Weser, southeast of Bremen, approached by an embankment and a long low-level steel viaduct crossing the river flood plain until reaching the main bridge comprising three steel girder spans supported on piers.

On this occasion, flak in the target area was more intense than previously encountered for other Bridge targets and a number of aircraft were damaged.

This may have been partly due to the target's proximity to Bremen and also that it had been alerted by the Main Force attack on the port. A number of Me 262 jet fighters were also encountered after the bombing, though they do not appear to have inflicted any damage on the Squadron's aircraft.

Above L-R: Plt Off. Sydney Grimes (not on this trip), Fg Off. Kenneth Gill, Fl/Lt. Joseph Randon, WO. Jack Penswic (not on this trip), Fg Off. Edwin Barnett and Flt Lt. Bernard Gumbley.

A number of Tallboys fell on the south end of the target, with 3 near misses in the river 2 further Tallboys destroyed two piers and brought down 2 spans of the approach bridge to the main structure and a third span was thrown off its piers, with a further one being thrown out of line. Although the main bridge was still intact the target had been rendered unusable.

PD117 was hit by Flak during its run-up to the target, it would have been making its bombing run within the squadron's bombing band of between 12,900ft and 14,200ft. It was hit by flak and dropped out of formation causing Fl/Lt. Gordon Richard Price DFM RCAF flying Lancaster PD118 YZ-M to take avoiding action as the aircraft went past him. British records state that the aircraft received a direct hit and dived down out of control.

Witnesses on the ground gave a different account 'the aircraft went down passing over the village of Okel heading in the direction of Riede at a height of approx 2,000ft'. They do not mention that the aircraft was on fire at this stage, but state that it seemed to be flying extremely slowly. As it flew over Riede the local flak battery went into action, hitting one of the engines and setting the fuselage on fire.

The aircraft made a 180º turn back towards Okel and crashed into a field belonging to a farmer Herr Lippmann. Witnesses said the aircraft did not explode immediately, but before anyone could reach the aircraft a violent explosion occurred 10 minutes after impact, reducing the aircraft to fragments and creating a crater 50ft deep by 100ft in diameter.

The RAF Missing Research and Enquiry Service failed to find any German documentation regarding the incident or trace any burial for the crew. The identity of Flt Lt. Joseph Randon was established from a document found at the crash site, leaving no doubt about the identity of the aircraft. No evidence was found that the crew had been found and a search of the cemeteries for crew members was also unsuccessful. It was assumed that the crew had still been aboard the aircraft when it came down and perished in the crash and explosion, the water-filled crater 20 metres deep and 30 metres across prevented any further investigation or recovery.

(1) Tallboy or Bomb, Medium Capacity, 12,000 lb was an earthquake bomb developed by the British aeronautical engineer Barnes Wallis and used by the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.

At 5 long tons, it could be carried only by a modified model of the Avro Lancaster heavy bomber. It proved to be effective against large, fortified structures against which conventional bombing had proved ineffective.

Tallboys were largely hand-made, requiring much labour during each manufacturing stage. The materials used were costly, with precise engineering requirements in casting and machining. To increase penetrative power, a large, specially hardened, steel plug had to be precisely machined and mated to a recess in the nose of the bomb. The ogive had to be perfectly symmetrical to ensure optimum aerodynamic performance. This was no easy task when manipulating a bomb casing with the size and weight of a Tallboy.

The Torpex filling was poured by hand into the base of the upturned casing after melting it in 'kettles'. The final stage of explosive filling required that a one-inch layer of pure TNT be poured over the Torpex filling, followed by sealing the base with a 4 inch layer of woodmeal-wax composite with three cylindrical recesses fitted with the explosive boosters and into which three chemical time-fuses were inserted when the bomb was armed.

Tallboys were not considered expendable, and if not used on a raid were to be brought back to base rather than safely jettisoned into the sea. The value of the weapon offset the additional risk to the aircrew. Given their high unit cost, Tallboys were used exclusively against high-value strategic targets that could not be destroyed by other means. When it was found that the Lancaster could be modified to carry a bomb larger than the Tallboy, Wallis produced the even larger 'Grand Slam' bomb. Information courtesy Wikipedia)

Above the memorial to 617 Squadron at Woodhall Spa, East Lindsey, Lincolnshire. (Wall in the form of a breached dam, with 617 Squadron crest and dedication inscribed on the central sloping tablet, which forms the breach. Flanking this the wall represents the remaining dam, with three recesses on each side forming the spillways. The names are inscribed on slate tablets, mounted inside the spillways).

Burial details:

Flt Lt. Bernard Alexander Gumbley DFM. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 284. Also remembered on the family grave in the Hastings Cemetery and Crematorium. Born on the 12th May 1915 in Napier. Educated at Hastings High School. Worked as a projectionist for Messrs L. & M. Gumbley in Hastings. Enlisted at Levin on the 16th of August 1941. With No. 2 Elementary Flying Training School on the 27th of September 1941. No. 1 Flying Training School on the 08th of November 1941. Pilot badge awarded on the 20th of December 1941 and promoted to Sergeant on the 31st of January 1942. Embarked for England on the 22nd of February 1942. With 3 Personnel Reception Centre on the 15th April 1942. Further training with Pilot Advanced Flying Unit. 29 Operational Training Unit, 1654 Heavy Conversion Unit. Joined 49 squadron on the 27th of October 1942 carrying out 33 operational sorties. With No 3 Flying Instructor School 25th April 1943. An instructor with 1654 Heavy Conversion Unit 29th of May 1943. Commissioned on the 22nd of June 1943. No. 5 Lancaster Finishing School as an instructor. Joined 617 squadron on the 29th of September 1944. Son of Louis (died 16th February 1952, age 65) and Margaret Gumbley (née Robins - died 14th August 1972, age 85), of Hastings, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand. A total of 1,392 flying jours logged and on his 51st operational sortie.

DFM Citation 18th May 1943: 'This airman has completed a large number of operational sorties within a comparatively short time. His missions have been attended with a considerable measure of success, which has largely been the result of his efficiency and determination. Sergeant Gumbley's courage and devotion to duty have been a great asset to his crew and a source of confidence in moments of stress and danger'

Fg Off. Edwin Alfred Barnett MiD. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 266. He was living in Southend-on-Sea, Essex. Father believed to be Alfred Christopher Barnett also of Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England.

He was Mentioned in Despatches. London Gazette 8th June 1944.

Fg Off. Kenneth Gill DFC. C de G.1. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 267. Son of Fred and Dorothy Rosamund Gill and husband of Vera Gill, of Halton, Yorkshire, England.

He was awarded the DFC whilst with 9 Sqn. London Gazette 11th February 1944

Flt Lt. Joseph Charles Randon. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 265. Son of Richard Arthur and Prudence Elizabeth Randon, of Spital, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England.

Fg Off. George Bell. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 266. Son of George Edwin and Hannah Eliza Bell, of Hull, Yorkshire, England,

Above: L-R: Rear; J.P Franklin, Edward Roy Markland NZ/414656 killed 18th February 1943, Lindsay David Hutton NZ/41173 killed 16th November 1943, Robert Henry Blyth NZ/414581 Died 14th November 1981, Fraser Dudley Clark NZ414590 killed 22 August 1943, Eric Bayly Withell NZ414713 killed 18th January 1943, Raymond Herbert John Broady NZ39691 killed 28 November 1942.

Third row; Bernard Alexander Gumbley NZ/414614 killed 21st March 1945, H.R Harrop, Sydney Alcock NZ39979 killed 25th June 1942, D.B Chamberlain, James Gilbert Duffill NZ414604 killed 17th January 1943, Jack Trevor Villers NZ/412412 killed 21st January 1942, Thomas Wyllie NZ414718 killed 27th September 1944, George Ivan Ellis NZ414269 killed 20 April 1943.

Second row; William Alexander Irwin NZ/414632 killed 24th June 1944, John William Thomas Nelson NZ/414663 killed 23rd January 1942, T.W.O Fox, Donald Hugh McKenzie NZ414650 killed 21st January 1942, R.F Hancock, Michael Acton Sullivan NZ414697 killed 20th December 1943, F. Simpson, Wilfred Edward Bolton Turner NZ/414360 killed 15th December 1943 .

Front; Edward Desmond Sale NZ414682 killed 06th September 1942, William J. J. Warwick NZ/414706 , J.M Paynter, Arthur Frederick Tucker NZ414703 died 17th April 2015, David Oliphant Stewart NZ/413901 killed 20th August 1944, R.T Johnston, L.H.F Brown, J. Bains, Ian John Land NZ414306 killed 07th December 1942.

Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to National Archives Kew, Air-27-2128-39/40, International Bomber Command Centre IBCC, New Zealand Cenotaph, Pamela McBride for family grave photograph of the pilot, Air Museum of New Zealand

Other sources as quoted below:

KTY 21-04-2023

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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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