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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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158 squadron crest
158 Squadron Wellington II Z8577 NP-T Sq/dr. Donald Harkness DFC

Operation: Köln

Date: 30/31st May 1942 (Saturday/Sunday)

Unit: No. 158 Squadron

Type: Wellington II

Serial: Z8577

Coded: NP-T

Base: RAF Driffield, Yorkshire

Location: Schelphoek, Holland

Pilot: Sq/Ldr. Donald Joseph Harkness DFC. 41694 RAF Age 25. Killed

Obs: P/O. Alexander Robertson Edgar DFM. 45985 RAF Age 23. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: P/O. Hubert Alan Radcliffe 122312 RAF Age 32. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Hill Mercer 1063545 RAFVR Age 21. Killed

Air/Gnr: Fl/Lt. Bernard James Lovett 45715 RAF Age 26. Killed


Took off at 23:19 hrs from Driffield, Yorkshire.

Two 158 squadron Wellingtons were shot down on this raid, the other, piloted by 24 year old J/15750 P/O. Ralph Connors O'Brien RCAF flying Z8577 of New Brunswick, Ontario, Canada, both been claimed by two German night fighter aces.

Oblt. Heinrich Prinz Zu Sayn-Wittgenstein from 9./NJG2 (This was his 2nd kill and on this same night shot down a Manchester from 49 CF).

A German night fighter ace with a total of 83 kills to his credit. He was shot down and killed on the 20/21st January 1944 at Lubars, near Magdeburg - thought to be by a Mosquito.) and Hptm. Dr. Horst Patuschka from 7./NJG2. (Also a German Night Fighter ace with a total of 23/25 kills to his credit. He was killed on the 6/7th March 1943 near Bizerta, Tunisia due to engine failure.) Some reports say that Z8577 was shot down by Oblt. Emil Beier of 1./NJG1. We feel our information is correct but are always open to new information.

Further information:

Wellington Z-8577, was the first plane to be shot down on the raid. Because of heavy icing encountered by all the Driffield aircraft, Harkness had been unable to climb his aircraft above 10,000 feet but had refused to turn back. Thus it was that as his plane crossed the Dutch coast south of Rotterdam, it was picked out by searchlights and was easily seen by two patrolling German fighters as it was crossing the Easter Scheldt and approaching the island of North Bevaland.

The fighters pounced, and against them the Wellington, still struggling for height, had no chance.

An eye witness on the Island saw the fighters attack, saw the Wellington plunge downwards then watched it disappear in the Eastern Scheldt at the point where it joins the North Sea. The crew, excluding Harkness, were washed ashore on North Bevaland in the ensuing few days. Hopes were held out by the Dutch that the pilot might have escaped, but the body of Harkness was finally recovered on the last day of 1942.

Sq/Ldr. Donald Joseph Harkness DFC Citation reads:

'This officer has carried out 34 operational flights. In September 1940, he was detailed to bomb shipping in Ostend Harbour and also to cooperate with Naval forces in work of extreme importance. Perfect timing was essential. He dropped his flares at the exact minute and was also able to bomb his own target in spite of extremely bad weather conditions. He has shown a grim determination to carry out his duties under difficulties and is also an excellent navigator and able pilot.'

Little history of the pilot as supplied by Don Murray (a relative by marriage):

'Donald Joseph Harkness was born in Midhurst, Taranaki on September 16th 1916. The son of George Percy and Georgine McKay Harkness and wife of Joan Harkness of Esher, Surrey, England.

He received his secondary education at the Stratford Technical High School obtaining his matriculation certificate. He also attended the Canterbury College of Accountancy and studied elementary radio and electricity with the International Correspondence School.

Fl/Lt. Bernard James Lovett shown extreme left with other members from 38 Squadron at RAF Marham - see notes below. (courtesy Michael Burton)

His sporting actives included football, tennis, golf,and he was a member of the 1st IX at High School. He served in the cadets and 1st Taranaki Regiment, prior to his enlistment in the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1937.

He was posted to Air Force Headquarters Training Depot,Trentham on October 27th 1937, transferring three months later to Wigram (NZ Air Base) and being remustered to Clerk Stores Accounting. He was reclassified from AC2 to AC1 on 1st July 1938. Applied for a short service commission in the Royal Air Force and on discharge from the New Zealand Air Force he embarked on the Rangitiki for the United Kingdom on November 19th 1938.

On arriving in England he was posted on December 28th to No.4 Elementary and Reserve Flying Training School, in Brough,Yorkshire, being promoted to Acting Pilot Officer on March 4th 1939, posted to No.1 Depot, Oxbridge then to No3 Flying Training School, South Cerney, Gloucestershire on March 18th. Six months later he moved to Station Abington to undertake supernumerary flying duties. Late in November he was posted to Station Harwell for duties in the New Zealand flight, shortly afterwards being transferred to No. 75 Squadron Mildenhall.

Promoted to Flying Officer on September 23rd 1940. Soon afterwards posted to No 15 Operational Training Unit, Harwell. From August 23rd to September 13th he was attached to the Central Flying School, Hullavington, Wiltshire, on a Flying Instructors war course and on February 18th 1942 he was posted No 158 Squadron, Marston Moor being promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader shortly afterwards.'

Burial details:

Sq/Ldr. Donald Joseph Harkness DFC. Flushing (Vlissingen) Cemetery Row D. Grave. 20. Son of George Percy and Georgine McKay Harkness, of Midhurst, Taranaki, New Zealand; husband of Joan Harkness, of Esher, Surrey, England.

P/O. Alexander Robertson Edgar DFM. Flushing (Vlissingen) Cemetery Row C. Grave. 1. Son of James and Elizabeth Robertson Edgar, of Buckhaven, Fife, Scotland.

P/O. Hubert Alan Radcliffe. Flushing (Vlissingen) Cemetery Row B. Grave. 25. Son of Frank and May Radcliffe, of Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, husband of Eda Radcliffe, of Ashton-under-Lyne, England.

Sgt. Hill Mercer. Flushing (Vlissingen) Cemetery Row B. Grave. 29. Son of George and Jane Mercer, of Lisburn, Co. Down, Northern Ireland.

Fl/Lt. Bernard James Lovett. Flushing (Vlissingen) Cemetery Row B. Grave. 26. Son of James and Kathleen Lovett of Birmingham, West Midlands, England. Husband of Agness Dye, of Thetford, Norfolk, England.

With thanks to Don Murray for his research on the Pilot, Donald Joseph Harkness DFC. Also to Michael Burton, who was the nephew of Fl/Lt. Bernard Lovett and contacted us in December 2015.

Notes on signatures of 38 Squadron photo:

We think they are signed top to bottom: F/O Arthur Hubbard, F/O. A.W. Stuart, Ronald Warren, Bertram A. Wolstencroft and Joseph Stewart. Wolstencroft - is that Fl/Sgt. Bertram Arthur Wolstencroft 621032 W/Op/Air/Gnr. 218 Squadron 28.08.1942. Son of Bertram and Clara Warren Wolstencroft; husband of Gladys Vera Wolstencroft, of East Barnet, Hertfordshire? Only you, the readers maybe able to assist.

KTY 21.12.2015 - Additional information / photos added, courtesy Michel Burton.

KTY 31-03-2023 Map updated

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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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