Operation: Leuna synthetic oil plant
Date: 14/15 January 1945 (Sunday/Monday)
Unit: 625 Squadron - Motto: We Avenge
Squadron Badge: Within a circular chain of seven links, a Lancaster rose; The Lancaster rose stands for the aircraft used, the seven links the number of personnel in one such aircraft
Type: Avro Lancaster I
Base: RAF Kelstern, Lincolnshire
Location: Weidenbach, 30 kilometres SSW of Bonn, Germany
Pilot: F/O. Herbert William Hazell DFC 170210 RAFVR Age 23 - Missing believed killed (1)
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Oliver James Pulford 1852074 RAFVR Age 19 - Killed (2)
Nav: P/O. Stanley Sellers 188352 RAFVR Age 20 - Missing believed killed (3)
Air/Bmr: F/O. Malcolm Jack Shenton 153642 RAFVR Age 23 - Missing believed killed (4)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt Joseph Edward (Joe) Hughes 2202958 RAFVR Age 19 - PoW (no further details known) (5)
Air/Gnr (MU): Sgt. Ambrose William Hall 2200662 RAFVR Age 40 - Missing believed killed (6)
Air/Gnr (R):Sgt. William Joseph Harrison 2210807 RAFVR - PoW (no further details known) (7)
We appeal to anyone with further information and/or photographs to please contact us via our HELPDESK
On 6 September 1944 Herbert Hazell and his crew were posted to 625 Squadron at RAF Kelstern in Lincolnshire. Having crewed up at an Operational Training Unit they had been honed into an efficient bomber crew before spending a short spell at the Lancaster Finishing School at RAF Hemswell, Lincolnshire being schooled in the finer points of flying the iconic bomber.
The members of the crew were, somewhat unusually, all British but there the similarity ended.
Londoner Herbert Hazell, skipper of the crew was 23 years old and an only child as was air bomber, Malcolm Shenton also 23 and a Manchester University Graduate from Sale in Cheshire.
Devonian, Oliver Pulford, the flight engineer, was one of 7 children whilst navigator Stanley Sellers from Kettering was one of 5 and Scouser, Joe Hughes, the wireless op, was one of 3. All three airmen were aged 19 or 20.
Ambrose Hall the mid upper gunner was just about old enough to be the father of any of the others. Born in 1905 the 39 year old peacetime Grocers' Manager was married to Lily; they had two children and lived in Liverpool.
William Harrison the rear gunner is thought to have been about 20 years old and a well known rugby player.
The following days were spent in acclimatisation and training but on 16 September Herbert found himself on the Battle Order for a raid on Rheine Salzbergen. He was to fly 2nd dickey with Fl/Lt James Maclean Wilson* and his crew flying Lancaster LL956 one of sixteen 625 Squadron Lancasters detailed to bomb the airfield at Rheine in support of Operation Market Garden. All aircraft and their crews returned safely.
*Fl/Lt. Wilson and his crew were all killed on 9 November 1944 when their Lancaster, LM731, crashed during a raid on Wanne Eikel, Germany. Fl/Lt Wilson, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, had completed 27 operations.
The following day Herbert Hazell flew again, this time with his own crew. Flying Lancaster PB574 they took part in a raid on the V1 site at Eikenhorst in the Netherlands. They and all other aircraft returned safely.
With their operational career now under way two more operations followed just over a week later on 26 and 27 September, both of them raids on targets in the Calais area.
In October six more ops were successfully completed - Saarbrucken, Emmerich, the Fort Frederik Hendrik Gun Batteries, Duisburg, Stuttgart and Cologne. After Dusseldorf on 2 November the crew had been allocated no less than 8 different mounts for their first 10 operations.
But things were about to change and when they were detailed for the raid to bomb Bochum of 4 November they were also allocated their very own Lancaster Mark I - PD388 CF-Z Zulu. Named 'Queen of the Skies', she was to carry them triumphantly into battle, on 15 out of their next 18 operations.
By 14 January 1945 Herbert Hazell had flown 29 operations, the rest of the crew, a few less due to leave, illness etc.
The Battle Order for the night of 14/15 January 1945 detailed 30 crews for a raid on the synthetic oil plant at Leuna in Saxony-Anhalt, eastern Germany, 3 miles south of Merseburg and some 20 miles west of Leipzig.
As one of the largest synthetic oil plants and second most extensive chemical operation in Nazi Germany, the IG Farben Leuna works headed by Heinrich Bütefisch was a prime target for the Allied bombing offensive against German oil production.
Although the USAAF Eighth Air Force had been bombed Leuna regularly since 12 May 1944, Bomber Command had made its first attack on the plant on 6/7 December 1944. The raid was the first major attack by the RAF on an oil target in Eastern Germany and the Hazell crew had in fact taken part in the raid but due to engine failure had been forced to abort the sortie and return early.
The raid of 14/15 January 1945 was to be carried out by 573 Lancasters and 14 Mosquitoes of 1, 5 6 and 8 Groups in two attacks, 3 hours apart. The first attack would involve 226 aircraft and the second 361 aircraft. The 30 Lancasters of 625 Squadron were to take part in the second attack
The Hazell crew tarried but briefly before the Battle Order - they were fifth on the list.
At RAF Kelstern, Lancaster PB708 was first away at 1836, the rest following at roughly 2 minute intervals until 19.35 by which time all were airborne. Lancasters NF996 (Fl/Lt. Cunliffe) and PB850 (F/O. Houghton) were, according to the Squadron Operations Record Book, 'cancelled just before take off' leaving 28 to join the attacking force.
Herbert Hazell and his crew in their very own Lancaster PD388 were away at 19.14 carrying a bomb load of 1 x 4000 lb and 12 x 500 lb bombs. The Lancaster was also equipped with H2S ground scanning target identification system, and Fishpond night fighter early warning radar. For further details see abbreviations
It took perhaps an hour for the entire force to assemble over Reading, but by 2100 as the bombs of the first attack force began to fall on Leuna, the 355 Lancasters of the second attack were already across the channel.
At 20000 feet the force flew almost due east in broken cloud, doglegging the heavy defences of Frankfurt and continued eastward to the target which by then was covered by 10/10ths stratus cloud, fog and smoke.
H hour was 0001 but the first of the 625 Lancasters bombed at 2353 followed by 8 others before H hour, and by just after 0006 all 28 had bombed and were heading for home.
Shortly after 0100 Herbert Hazell and his crew were south of Bonn and well on their way home when they were attacked by a night fighter.
The following details of the attack were kindly provided by Theo Boiten and will be included in the first volume of the Nachtjagd Combat Archive series for 1945 to be published in 2021.
Lt. Theodor Adamski of III./NJG1 achieved the last Nachtjagd Abschuss of the night when he shot down 625 Squadron Lancaster PD388 (named "Queen of the Skies") circa 01.11 - 01.17 hrs. The bomber crashed in a forest just north-west of Weidenbach, 30 kilometres SSW of Bonn.
Theo Boiten and Rod MacKenzie are in the process of publishing the expanded Nachtjagd Combat Archive (NCA), comprising fifteen volumes, with a projected completion date of late 2021 to early 2022. This includes two additional volumes on the Mediterranean and Eastern Front Nachtjagd.
A lifelong mega-project that is eagerly anticipated by historical aviation enthusiasts. The trojan task of expanding the two volume Nachtjagd War Diaries into the fifteen volumes of the Nachtjagd Combat Archives has been monumental and painstaking, their research diligent and unbiased. They have both been most gracious with their time and energy in responding to our numerous queries researching loss causes of numerous 625 Squadron Lancs and their crews.
As the stricken Lancaster quickly caught fire and went into a spin wireless operator Joe Hughes and rear gunner William Harrison managed to bale out. On the run for 4 days in the middle of winter Joe Hughes finally gave himself up in Frankfurt.
Re-united with his pal William Harrison 4 days later they spent the next four months as prisoners of war before being liberated and repatriated to the UK.
The fate of Herbert Hazell, Stanley Sellers, Malcolm Shenton or Ambrose Hall is unknown. Their remains were never found but it is presumed that they perished in the burning 'Queen of the Skies'. Thus, having no known grave they are commemorated on the Runymede Memorial.
The body of Oliver Pulford was found on 8 March 1945 near Dümpelfeld, some 6 km N of Adenau, probably by American Forces. He was buried originally at Henri Chapelle American Cemetery 30 km east of Liège in Belgium. On 10 June 1947 he was re-interred at Hotton War Cemetery, Belgium
Bomber Command Night Bombing Raid Report.
The Leuna/Merseburg synthetic oil plant was most severely damaged in 2 attacks by strong bomber forces. Other forces visited the fuel depot at Dulme and the marshalling yard at Grevenbreich seriously damaging the latter. Only 11 of 1215 aircraft were lost but bad weather caused a further 18 to crash on return.
625 Squadron Operations Record Book
30 aircraft were detailed for operations, the target being Merseburg Leuna, but only 28 took off as two were cancelled just before take off. 10/10 cloud was encountered over target area, but red glows could be seen on the way out. There was some fighter activity and one of our aircraft claimed to have destroyed a FW190 and also had two other combats with Ju88 and S/E fighter.
Detailed 30 aircraft. Cancelled 2 aircraft. Primary 27 aircraft. Missing 1 Aircraft.
Bomber Command War Diaries - Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt
The attacks caused severe damage throughout the plant. Albert Speer, in his post war interrogations stated that this was one of the group of most damaging raids on the synthetic oil industry carried out during this period. 10 Lancasters were lost.
The following photographs of the crash site marker and recovered parachute release were kindly provided by Dirk Röllecke .
(1) F/O. Herbert William Hazell DFC was born in 1921 at Catford, London the only child of Herbert William Hazell (a Product Fireman, Gas Co.) and Lily Hazell nee Richardson of Catford, London.
In 1939 the family lived at 63 Laleham Road, Catford, London SE6
1391910 Fl/Sgt. Herbert William Hazell was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 22 December 1943 (London Gazette 22 February 1944) confirmed in this appointment and promoted to Flying officer (war subs) on 22 June 1944 (London Gazette 28 July 1944)
He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with effect from 13 January 1944 and promulgated in the London Gazette of 19 October 1945
He is commemorated in the Brockley County School Book of Remembrance, Lewisham.
(2) Sgt. Oliver James Pulford was born in 1925 at Bath, Devon the son of James Pulford (a Maintenance Fitter at a Stone Quarry) and Ethel Marion Pulford nee Perkins of Buckfastleigh, Devon. He had six siblings: Ethel M. Pulford born 1915, Millicent Pulford born 1920, Mavis R. Pulford born 1928, Edwin Rodney Pulford (1930-1986), Robert M. Pulford born 1932 and Trevor J. Pulford born 1933 (? died 1937 at Holbourn, London)
In 1939 the family lived at 29 Gipsy Lane, Buckfastleigh, Devon.
Oliver James Pulford is commemorated on the Buckfastleigh War Memorial located at Holy Trinity Church, Church Hill, Buckfastleigh, Devon, TQ11 0EZ.
(3) P/O Stanley Sellers was born in 1924 at Kettering Northamptonshire the son of Ernest John Sellers (a Clerk in 1911) and Elizabeth Sellers nee Plant. He had four siblings: Annice Alice Sellers born 1910, Frances A. Sellers born 1912, Betty S. Sellers born 1916 and Arthur J. Sellers born 1921. In 1939 the family lived at 157 Kingsley Avenue, Kettering when Ernest John Sellers was a Commercial Travellers and Assistant Manager of a Wholesale and Retail Wine and Spirit Merchants.
1627023 Sgt. Stanley Sellers was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) 24 November 1944 (London Gazette 9 January 1945)
He is commemorated on the Kettering War Memorial
(4) F/O Malcolm Jack Shenton was born on 3 September 1921 at Manchester the only child of Harold Shenton (a Dentist) and Mary Shenton nee Blakely later of Sale, Cheshire. In 1939 the family lived at 26 Heylings Road, Sale, Cheshire
1493492 LAC Malcolm Jack Shenton was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 1 October 1943 (London Gazette 30 November 1943) confirmed in this appointment and promoted to Flying Officer (war subs) on 1 April 1944 (London Gazette 28 April 1944)
Malcom Jack Shenton commemorated on the Sale War Memorial, Stretford Grammar School War Memorial and Manchester University War Memorial
(5) Fl/Sgt Joseph Edward (Joe) Hughes. Probably born Liverpool in 1924 the son of William A. Hughes (a GPO Sorter) and Josephine Hughes nee Pover. He had two siblings: William C. R. Hughes born 1917 and Margaret Hughes born 1923
In 1939 the family lived at 19 Terence Road, Liverpool
(6) Sgt. Ambrose William Hall was born on 17 August 1905 at New Ferry, Wirral, Cheshire the son of William James Hall (an Oilcake Mill Hand) and Mary Jane Hall nee later of Liverpool.
He had two siblings Albert James Hall born 1907 and Thomas Moir Hall born 1910.
In 1932 he married Lily Merchant Polhill at Liverpool. They went on to have two children, Maureen Hall born 1933 and William Hall born 1937. In 1939 the family lived at 1 Princess View, Liverpool at which time Ambrose Hall was a Grocers' Manager.
(7) Sgt. William Joseph Harrison - Nothing further known. If you have any information please contact our helpdesk
(8) Lt. Theodor Adamski was born 8 June 1920.
One known victory, a "4 mot" on the Dortmund/Münster raid of 23 September, 1944.
He was killed in action 8/9 March 1945 crashing at Möhne Dam, bailed out too low after colliding with balloon cables while being chased by a Mosquito (Theo Boiten).
Theo Boiten states 3 victories and the Bf 110 Loss List suggests he was killed in combat on 5 March, 1945 at Mohnetal-Sperre due to icing, and they refer to the LW Loss Report for this detail.
He was awarded the Iron Cross Classes 1 & 2 and Night Fighter Operational Clasp.
(Details Tom Kracker database)
(1) F/O. Herbert William Hazell DFC - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial - Panel 267
(2) Sgt. Oliver James Pulford was originally buried at Henri Chapelle American Cemetery and on 10 June 1947 was re-interred at Hotton War Cemetery, Belgium - Grave ref: VIII.B.4
His epitaph reads
Beyond our range of view
He walks in glory,
Bright and new
(3) P/O Stanley Sellers - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial - Panel 268
(4) F/O Malcolm Jack Shenton - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial - Panel 267
(6) Sgt. Ambrose William Hall - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial - Panel 275
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - March 2020
With thanks to the sources quoted below.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember
them. - Laurence
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