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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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51 Squadron Crest
10/11.04.1944 51 Squadron Halifax III LV880 MH:C Plt Off. Horace M. Hall

Operation: Tergnier

Date: 10th/11th April 1944 (Monday/Tuesday)

Unit No: 51 Squadron

Type: Halifax III

Serial: LV880

Code: MH:C

Base: RAF Snaith

Location: Davenescourt, France

Pilot: Plt Off. Horace Mervyn Hall 410158 RAAF Age 31. KiA

Flt Eng: Sgt. Gordon Joseph William Peck 1812386 RAFVR Age 19. KiA

Nav: Fg Off. Frederick Godfrey Kirkwood 422577 RAAF Age 22. Evader (1)

Bomb Aimer: Fg Off. Charles Thomas Hartley J26313 RCAF Age 24. KiA

WOp/Air Gnr: WO. John Bruce Osborn 408733 RAAF Age 22. KiA

Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Sgt. Patrick William Hegarty 1894062 RAFVR Age 29. Id No:78421 *, PoW No: 8095 ** (2)

Air Gnr (Rear): Flt Sgt. Mervyn James Fairclough 427078 RAAF Age 20. Id No:78427 *, PoW No: 8087 ** (2)

* Buchenwald concentration camp established on Ettersberg hill near Weimar, Germany in July 1937.

** Stalag Luft 3 Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).

Above left to right: Plt Off. Hall, Sgt. Peck, Fg Off. Charles Thomas Hartley, WO. John Bruce Osborn, Flt Sgt. Fairclough (for credits see below)

REASON FOR LOSS:

Took off from Snaith at 21:20 hrs to bomb the rail installations at Tergnier. LV880 carrying 7 x 1000 pounders and 6 x 500 lb HE’s. At the same time a large diversionary raid was taking place at Hannover by 36 Mosquitoes which resulted in the night fighter force being partly fooled by the main targets.

Sgt. Patrick William Hegarty on left in overcoat - it is thought that this photo does show the complete crew at time of loss plus of course some ground crew members. (courtesy Amanda Hegarty)

Photo left - Left to right: Fred Kirkwood, Clary Jones (not LV880 crew) John Osborn, Merv Fairclough and Merv Hall taken at Lichfield Railway station, September 1943. Photo right: Merv Hall, Merv Fairclough, John Osborn taken at Snaith (courtesy John Bruce Osborn)

Shot down by night fighter executing a head on attack which set light to the port wing. Flt Lt. Hall dived the aircraft in an attempt to blow out the fire which was unsuccessful . Moments of ordering the crew to don their parachutes the aircraft exploded and crashed at Davenescourt (Somme), 7 km (4¼ mls) NNE of Montdidier.

The aircraft was claimed by Hptm. Gerhard Friedrich, his 10th Abschuss and second of this night, from 1./NJG6, east of Montdidier at 3.200 m at 00:13 hrs, (Nachtjagd Combat Archive (16 March 1944 - 11 May 1944) Part 2 - Theo Boiten)

Above: Hptm. Gerhard Friedrich (courtesy Kracker Archive)

(1) Fg Off. Kirkwood was liberated on the 20th August 1944 by US troops.

(2) Flt Sgt. Fairclough and Sgt. Hegarty were sheltered in church and then in the Breteuil region with a dozen or more airmen for over ten weeks. Robert Moulet of the French Forces of the Interior (FFI) and his assistant collected the two, together with a Flt Sgt. Dowdeswell and Flt Sgt. Bennett who were hiding in several places around Breteuil.

Flt Sgt. Philip Dowdeswell 1586209 RAFVR, the Wireless Operator/Air Gunner from 158 Sqn Halifax III LW723 shot down on the 10th April 1944;

Flt Sgt. Geoffrey Bennett 1578765 RAFVR, the Navigator from 57 Sqn Lancaster III JB370 shot down on the 7th July 1944.

The trap was organized by two French traitors working for the Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service = SD) in Beauvais. The airmen were arrested soon after and sent to Beauvais' prison, then Fresnes after interrogation and sentencing.

Fresnes prison located to the south of Paris was where French political prisoners were held and ordinarily Allied airmen, after questioning, were moved to a PoW Camp. In the summer of 1944, with the Allies having liberated Paris and closing in, the Gestapo guards started reducing the prison population by execution, and then relocating surviving prisoners to various concentration camps east of France. On the 15th August 1944 they were amongst 169 Allied PoWs and hundreds of French men and women who were packed into a freight train and transported to Buchenwald concentration camp on a journey lasting five days. Buchenwald was located 8 km (5 mls) north of Weimar, in the German province of Thüringen. It was established and administered by the Schutzstaffel (SS).

Fg Off. Joel Mathews ‘Tex’ Stevenson C27788 RCAF, the pilot of 419 (Moose) Squadron, RCAF Lancaster X KB727 VR:H escaped from the train and successfully evaded.

Sqn Ldr. Lamason and Fg Off. Chapman succeeded in getting all but two of the Allied PoWs transferred to Stalag Luft 3. Two airmen, 1st Lt. Levitt Clinton Beck Jr. O-736945, US AAF and Fg Off. Philip Derek Hemmens, 152583, RAFVR died in the sick barrack.

Flt Sgt. Fairclough and Sgt. Hegarty were transferred to Stalag Luft 3 over the period 15th to 20th August 1944

Recognition:

For decades the International Red Cross (IRC) had stated that there were no military personnel in Buchenwald despite the overwhelming documentary and anecdotal evidence. It was not until 1988 that the IRC eventually confirmed the airmen were illegally held at Buchenwald.

The Australian, New Zealand and Canadian governments also consistently denied that any of their service personnel were ever held in concentration camps and refused to investigate the claims made by a 'mere’ handful of men.

Reparations were made to the British airmen who had been illegally held at Buchenwald in 1965. Eventually in 1988 the Australian, New Zealand and it is believed the Canadian governments acknowledged that their airmen had been illegally held in concentration camps.

American airmen were among those who received compensation and the US Air force have acknowledged the Buchenwald airmen with an exhibit at the Air Force Museum, albeit the airmen are shown in uniform rather than in civilian attire. Furthermore, there is no mention of decades-long denial of their experiences by other branches of the government.


Notes from Fred Kirkwood:

"A local - Mr. Femand rescued one of our crew from a tree, I think, it would have been Merv Fairclough (Rear Gunner) for I myself landed in a field 5km north and headed SE (away from Paris!) while Bill Hegarty mentioned sometime having sheltered the first night in the porch of a church - where, I don’t know - and being found there in the morning by a woman.


Both Fairy (Merv Fairclough) and Bill Hegarty were befriended and sheltered separately in various locations near, and for a time, in Breteuil for 10+ weeks - by which time there were a dozen or more airmen being supervised by a local resistance group. All were duped by a very plausible infiltrator, Jacques Desoubrie who in mid-July collected the lot and delivered them to Gestapo HQ in Paris.

Airplane that Fg Off. Hartley built in his back yard! (courtesy Rod Keith)

Fred Kirkwood second right (courtesy Rod Keith)

By mid August the haul reached 168 allied airmen (29 Canadians) . Just before Paris was liberated they were all shipped off to Buchenwald arriving on 20th Aug. There they endured hell for 8 weeks until, mere skeletons, they were ‘rescued’ by the Luftwaffe (and sent to Stalag Luft 3). Fairy never fully recovered mentally and died in July 1964. In 1988 six of the nine Australians Involved had a reunion in Canberra, which I was privileged to attend."

Fred Kirkwood felt a head-on attack was very unlikely, since the closing speed would be several hundred MPH, too fast for an accurate attack. He felt ‘Schrage Musik’ from below was much more likely. According to what Fred had written in the document referenced above, Bomber Command was not fully aware of ‘Schrage Musik’ in April of '44.


Burial details:

Plt Off. Horace Mervyn Hall. Davenescourt Communal Cemetery. Row 1. Grave 1. Grave inscription: "HIS DUTY NOBLY DONE. TOO DEARLY LOVED TO EVER FORGET". Born on the 18th June 1912 at Eaglehawk, Victoria, the son of Horace Martin Hall and Daisy Evelyn Hall and husband of Gladys Mary Hall, of 23 Alley Street, Bendigo, Victoria, Australia.

Sgt. Gordon Joseph William Peck. Davenescourt Communal Cemetery. Row 1. Grave 2. Grave inscription: "SUNSHINE PASSES, SHADOWS FALL; BEAUTIFUL MEMORIES OUTLIVE THEM ALL". Son of George Walter and Doris Peck, of Duckmanton, Derbyshire; husband of Marjorie Peck.

Fg Off. Charles Thomas Hartley. Davenescourt Communal Cemetery. Row 1. Grave 3. Grave inscription: "HE IS GONE BUT MEMORY LINGERS IN THE HEART THAT KNEW HIS SMILE". Son of Wesley Herbert and Emma (née Seitz) Hartley, of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; husband of Billie Monica (née Smith) Hartley.

WO. John Bruce Osborn. Davenescourt Communal Cemetery. Row 1. Grave 4. Grave inscription: "HIS DUTY FEARLESSLY AND NOBLY DONE. EVER REMEMBERED". Born on the 20th March 1941 in Melbourne, Victoria. Son of Hubert Theodore and Violet May Osborn, of Deepdene, Victoria, Australia.

Researched by Neil, 51 Squadron Historian for Aircrew Remembered. Credits for photographs used: Christine Cutler, Amanda Hegarty, Mervyn Hall, Nigel and Stella Scott, Rod Keith, E. Fairclough. Reviewed and updated to include Buchenwald information by Aircrew Remembered (Mar 2023).

Other sources listed below:

RS 27.02.2024 - Corrections and updates to Buchenwald narrative

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Acknowledgements
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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