16/17th December 1943 Lancaster I DV299 SR-K2 P/O. Head
Date: 16/17th December 1943 (Thursday/Friday)
Unit: No. 101 Squadron (motto: Mens agitat molem - 'Mind over matter')
Type: Lancaster I
Base: RAF Ludford Magna, Lincolnshire
Location: Baltic Sea
Pilot: P/O. Peter Ewan Head 53736 RAF Age 29. Missing - believed killed
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Wilfred Welby 1645012 RAFVR Age 21. Missing - believed killed
Nav: Fl/Sgt. Robert Alexander Wilson 1480719 RAFVR Age 22. Missing - believed killed
Air/Bmr: Fl/Sgt. Donald James Gibson R/158800 RCAF Age 23. Missing - believed killed
Spec/Op: Fl/Sgt. Wilfred Malvern Green RAFVR Age 21. Missing - believed killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Harry Street 1319512 RAFVR Age 20. Missing - believed killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Ronald Betts 2203093 RAFVR Age 19. Missing - believed killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Henry Rose Lintern 1569397 RAFVR Age 19. Missing - believed killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
During WW2 232,000 men and 17,000 women volunteered to join the Royal Canadian Air Force, serving in 86 Squadrons, 47 of which were overseas. During the war over 17,000 Canadian aircrew were killed in action. This is the record of one of those, Flight Sergeant Donald James Gibson, a Bomb Aimer who served in 101 Squadron RAF, operating out of RAF Ludford Magna, near the village of Ludford, Lincolnshire, until his death on the night of 16/17th December 1943.
Donald was born on the 27th April 1921, in Bowmanville, Ontario, the son of George Beaumont Gibson, and Winifred Harriet Gibson (nee Frank),all living at 113, Main Street, Kirkland Lake, Ontario. Donald initially attended Cobalt Public School in his home town between 1927 and 1936, then moving to Kirkland High School studying mechanics, where he stayed until 1938.
In 1939 he took up work as a stock keeper in Metropolitan Stores in Kirkland, finally landing a job as a business machine mechanic with Remington Rand Typewriter Company in Ontario, from 1940 until 2st March 1942, when he enlisted at Hamilton into the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) as an Air-craftsman 2 (AC2), volunteering to be a pilot or observer.
On the 28th August 1942 he was posted to No 3 Initial Training School, and then on to No 34 Training School and No 4 Bombing and Gunnery School at Fingal Ontario.
By the 24th October that year he was promoted to Leading Air-craftsman (LAC), and was re-mustered as an Observer. On the 9th January 1943 he attended No 9 Air Observers School, Fingal, gaining his Air Observer wing on the 19th February, with promotion to Temporary Sergeant.
He stayed here with further training (No1 Y Depot) until the 28th March 1943 when he embarked on a troopship bound for the UK, arriving six days later. He was sent to No. 3 Personnel Reception centre at Bournemouth being requisitioned in one of the many hotels. Luckily, this was not the Metropole Hotel, which suffered heavy casualties on Sunday May 23rd 1943 when 26 Fw 190’s swooped down on the town destroying 22 buildings and damaging a further 3000.
On the 31st May Donald was posted to No 2 Advanced Flying Unit for Observers at RAF Brize Norton, where techniques and conditions were taught of flying in blacked-out northern Europe, and then on to No 18 Operational Training Unit at RAF Finningley on the 22nd June. On the 4th September Donald found himself at No 1662 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Blyton in Lincolnshire. This posting was to qualify crews that had trained on light bombers to operate on heavy bombers before being posted to an operational squadron. It was here also that he would meet up with fellow aircrew who would get together as a team, and become a fully trained ‘bomber crew’.
By now Donald had been selected to be a ‘bomb aimer’, an important role undertaken usually by an Observer or Navigator, who would take control of the aircraft over the target, making sure the bombs hit the spot. He could also stand in for the pilot if he was injured, or unwell, as Observers also had pilot training.
On the 9th November 1943 this crew were posted to 101 Squadron at RAF Ludford Magna, which were flying Mk 1 Lancaster aircraft at that time.
This was a special squadron that was equipped with a top secret radio jamming system code-named ‘Airborne Cigar’ (ABC) which was operated by an eighth crew member who spoke German and were designated ‘special operators’. They sat towards the rear of the aircraft in a sectioned off part, where they jammed the German fighters controller’s broadcasts, sometimes even posing as controllers spreading disinformation. These special aircraft were fitted with two large vertical antennae rising from the middle of the aircraft, and were very vulnerable to being tracked and attacked, resulting in the squadron having the highest casualty rate of any RAF squadron during WW2.
On the 26th November 1943 Donald and his fellow crew members took off at 17:20 hrs in Lancaster DV-K on a mission to bomb Berlin. Just over two hours into the mission the pilot turned the aircraft around, due to the Navigator reporting air sickness, disposing their bomb load over the sea before landing back at 22:20hrs.
This obviously had an impact on the crew, for it would be another three weeks before their next, and sadly, the last operation they would undertake.
On the 16th December 1943, 483 Lancaster’s along with 15 Mosquito’s took off from England around 4pm, crossing the North Sea and into northern Germany.
Donald and his crew were amongst this force, flying in Lancaster DV299 SR-K2, one of the aircraft fitted with ABC. Also onboard was the ‘special operator’, Flight Sergeant Wilfred Malvern Green RAFVR, aged just 21 from London.
The target was Berlin once more, Bomber Command’s all out attempt to win the war by attacking the German capital, along with other key cities.
Twenty-five Lancaster’s were shot down over the target on this night, with another thirty-one lost in the breaking dawn, due to fog blanketing the whole of England for the returning crews as they landed.
Lancaster DV299-SR-K2 were one of those lost without trace over Germany that night.
(note: according to Dr. Theo Boiten they were hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed into the Baltic between 20:45 hrs. and 21:30 hrs. two were hit by flak in this area, the reason there are two timings, the other a 156 squadron Lancaster III JB216 GT-W flown by 26 year old, Fl/Lt. Charles Oscar Aubert DFM Aus/403490 RAAF - killed with all 7 other crew members).
In total 328 aircrew would loose their lives on this day, which would become known as ‘Black Thursday’ in Bomber Command.
The squadron operational record book for Lancaster DV299-SR-K2 just records;
‘no communication from this aircraft after take-off’.
The squadron lost four aircraft on this operation, the others:
Lancaster III LM389 SR-Y Flown by 20 year old, P/O. Norman Maylin Cooper 170735 RAFVR - Killed with 5 0f his crew, 2 taken PoW.
Lancaster I DV300 SR-W Flown by 21 year old, Fl/Lt. Ronald Ernest Macfarlane DFM J/16696 RCAF - Killed with all 7 other crew members.
Lancaster III DV283 SR-P Flown by 27 year old, Fl/Lt. F/O. Alan Lonsdale Lazenby 121466 RAFVR who survived with all his crew after abandoning the aircraft near the base after running out of fuel.
The Commanding Officer of 101 Squadron, Squadron Leader R.C.C Rosevear wrote to Donalds mother on the 18th December 1943, giving her some hope that he may have parachuted to safety or made a forced landing in enemy territory.
He added; ‘your son had proved himself a very competent and efficient Air Bomber during the time he was with the squadron, and had become a popular member who will be greatly missed here’
It would take another nine years before the RCAF would officially record the death and unknown location of 23 year old Donald James Gibson to his mother, by way of a letter from Wing Commander Wilfred Raymond Gunn, the RCAF Casualties Officer.
In the meantime, officials had forwarded to his mother Winifred, his campaign medals;-
the 1939 Star, the Air Crew Europe Star, the Defence Medal, the War Medal and the Canadian Voluntary Service Medal with clasp, along with his silver operation wing and the named silver memorial cross.
On the 23rd August 1946, Winifred wrote back to the RCAF Records:-
‘Sometime last fall I had the misfortune of losing my silver memorial cross, and having tried every way possible to recover it, have been unsuccessful. Would it be possible to have this replaced, as I feel very badly about losing it. I am quite willing to meet any expense in connection with this’.
Not wishing to cause her any more distress, a replacement cross was immediately despatched to her.
P/O. Peter Ewan Head. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 131. Son of Jessie V. Head, of Brighton, Sussex.
Sgt. Wilfred Welby. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 169. Son of Wilfred and Florence Welby, of York and husband of Patricia Welby, of York.
Fl/Sgt. Robert Alexander Wilson. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 140. Son of Robert John Wilson, and stepson of Emily Jane Wilson, of Headingley, Yorkshire.
Fl/Sgt. Donald James Gibson. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 181. Son of George Beaumont and Harriet Winifred Gibson (née Frank), of Swastika, Ontario, Canada.
Fl/Sgt. Wilfred Malvern Green. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 136. Son of Wilfred Fredrick and Edith Green, of King's Cross, London.
Sgt. Harry Street. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 166. No further details - are you able to assist?
Sgt. Ronald Betts. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 142. Son of William Alfred and Sarah Madeline Betts, of Longsight, Manchester.
Sgt. Henry Rose Lintern. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 157. Son of Mr. and Mrs. John Lintern, of Rowlands Gill, County Durham.
Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Simon Muggleton who researched this loss and submitted to us in October 2021,Dr. Theo Boiten - Nachtjagd Archives 1943 Part 3, other sources as quoted below: