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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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50 Squadron Crest
02/03.02.1945 No. 50 Squadron Lancaster I PA223 VN-D F/O. Eric Harrop

Operation: Karlsruhe

Date: 02/3rd February 1945 (Friday/Saturday)

Unit: No. 50 Squadron

Type: Lancaster I

Serial: PA223

Code: VN-D

Base: RAF Skellingthorpe, Lincolnshire

Location: Hochfelde, Bas-Rhin, Alsace, France. (1)

Pilot: F/O. Eric Harrop 150483 RAFVR Age 24. Killed

Fl/Eng: Sgt. Robert MacGowan 1823400 RAFVR Age 19. Killed

Nav: Fl/Sgt. Robert Dennis Heppenstall 1525610 RAFVR Age 24. Killed

Air/Bmr: W/O 2. Frederick Charles Wrynn R/180139 RCAF Age 26. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. John Leonard Russell 1580401 RAFVR Age 22. Killed

Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. John Leeming J/93959 RCAF Age 19. Killed

Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. James Edmund Tolson RCAF Age. 21. Survived (2)


On 2/3rd February 1945, Lancaster I PA223 VN-D took off at 19:40 hrs. from Skellingthorpe on an operation to Karlsruhe.

It exploded, crashing 4km south west of Hochfelden.

It is assumed that Fl/Sgt. James Tolson was either blown clear or managed to parachute to safety and later returned to Skellingthorpe.

Above photos taken during training in Canada. Names as marked but are you able to recognise Hicks and Davidson? (courtesy Julie Williams)

Right: F/O. Tarrant (courtesy Weekly News)

Another 50 Squadron Lancaster was also lost on this operation. That of NG381 VM-A lost to a night fighter with the pilot, 21 year old, F/O. Thomas Stephen Archer Tarrant NZ/428165 RNZAF from Taranaki, New Zealand - plus all other 6 crew members being killed. This crew being buried at Durnbach War Cemetery.

(1) Until their deportation to the south in 1940, Hochfelden had a significant Jewish community. In 1941, more than 200 young people celebrated Bastille Day with a street procession. The occupying forces retaliated, placing the village under a state of siege. The Mayor and Gendarmes were replaced and 106 people, including 23 women, were interned at Schirmeck. The information was reported to London where the events were reported by the BBC. (Info courtesy Wikipedia)

(2) The only survivor of this crew, Fl/Sgt. James Edmund Tolson RCAF died at the early age of 52 in 1976. No further details available on this - are you a relative and are able to assist further?

A number of residents of Hochfelden and Bischwiller had a monument erected to the crew. The monument was visited by the 2 nephews of Eric Harrop in May 2013, and who were then able to visit the graves of the 6 crew at Choloy thanks to the courtesy of the residents who had the wonderful monument to the crew erected. (courtesy Geoff Harrop)

Burial details and further information:

F/O. Eric Harrop. Choloy War Cemetery. Grave 1A.5. Further information: Eric was born in Oldham in 1921. The family then moved to the Gorse Hill area of Stretford and Eric was accepted at Stretford Grammar School, where he proved to be a bright student, winning a scholarship, and a very good sportsmen. He played both football and cricket to a high standard. He was a goalkeeper and had trials with both Bolton Wanderers and Manchester United, and was taken on by Bolton at the age of 16. Sadly the war started in 1939 and Eric applied to join the RAF once he was called up.

He trained at different locations in England, as well as Canada and the USA and won his wings at Oklahoma.

Left: pilot Eric Harrop (courtesy Geoff Harrop)

Coming back to the UK he finished his training and flew with 50 squadron, which was based at Skellingthorpe , Lincolnshire. He flew 29 operations, although one was curtailed due to ‘illness of the navigator’. His final mission was to Karlsuhe on Feb 2nd 1945. After leaving the target, the Lancaster bomber, PA233, exploded and crashed near Hochfelden. Of the 7 crew on board, 6 were killed, the rear gunner- Fl/Sgt. Tolson was able to parachute to safety, despite his burns. Tolson survived and lived until 1976.

Sgt. Robert MacGowan. Choloy War Cemetery. Grave 1A.2. Son of William and Catherine Vernon MacGowan of Newton Stewart, Wigtownshire, Scotland.

Fl/Sgt. Robert Dennis Heppenstall. Choloy War Cemetery. Grave 1A.1. Further information: Son of Walter and Hetty Heppenstall of Hull, husband of Ada Heppenstall of Hull, England. His only brother, Geoffrey enlisted in the Navy but tragically died of TB aged 18. Robert married Ada in 1939 in Hull and their daughter Janet was born in 1940. Before he volunteered for the Air Force, Robert was a highly talented Lithographic artist doing advertising work for the local firm of Reckitt’s He did his training at 2 Air Observers School, Edmonton, Canada. He and his wife had planned to move to Canada after the war.

W/O 2. Frederick Charles Wrynn. Choloy War Cemetery. Grave 1A.4. Son of Edward C and Zita B Wrynn of Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.

Fl/Sgt. John Leonard Russell. Choloy War Cemetery. Grave 1A.3. Son of Percy Edward and Elizabeth Russell of Stirchley, Birmingham, England.

Fl/Sgt. John Leeming. Choloy War Cemetery. Grave 1A.6. Son of Shaw and Rosie May Leeming of Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Researched by Aircrew Remembered, researcher and specialist genealogist Linda Ibrom for relatives of this crew. With thanks to Julie Williams for photographs of Fl/Sgt. Robert Dennis Heppenstall. Also to Geoff Harrop, nephew of the pilot for the truly superb memorial photographs. Also our thanks go to Patrick Kautsmann, Roland Muller and Lucy Anne Baneau for their hospitality shown to the family of Eric Harrop during their visit in May 2013. Our thanks go to the local inhabitants of Hochfelden for financing and erecting this fine memorial to the crew lost. On behalf of the family of the pilot we are happy to release full resolution photographs of the memorial to any relative/friend of the crew free of charge. Crew grave photos courtesy Ben on Find A Grave.

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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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