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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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408 Crest
16/17.04.1943 No. 408 Squadron Halifax II JB854 EQ-D Fl/Sgt. George Chetwynd Heming

Operation: Pilsen

Date: 16/17th April 1943

Unit: No. 408 RCAF Squadron (Moose)

Type: Halifax II

Serial: JB854

Code: EQ-D

Base: RAF Leeming, North Yorkshire.

Location: Louppy-le-Chateau, Meuse, France

Pilot: Fl/Sgt. George Chetwynd Heming R/120606 RCAF Age 21 Killed (1)

Fl/Eng: Sgt. Alexander Crawford Cantley R/73825 RCAF Age 23 Killed

Nav: W/O2. Roland Birchall R/90351 RCAF Age 20 Killed (2)

Air/Bmr: W/O2 Demetre Zaleschuk R/115908 RCAF Age 21 Killed (3)

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Richard William Mason 1333188 RAF Age 21 Killed

Air/Gnr: Sgt. Stanley Johannes Jorgensen R/149986 RCAF Age 20 Killed (4)

Air/Gnr: Sgt. Steve Archie R/139949 RCAF Age 24 Killed (5)


On the evening of April 16, 1943, 197 Lancasters and 130 Halifax's took off from their bases in England destined for the Skoda armament works at Pilsen, Czechoslovakia. The raid was to be carried out by the light of a full moon which was intended to aid the crews in identifying the target and also avoid the prowling night fighters. Upon reaching the target area the neighbouring town of Dobrany was misidentified as Pilsen, which was twelve miles away, and a large psychiatric facility mistaken for the Skoda works. In all only six crews brought back photographs of hits which were within three miles of the factory. Not one bomb fell on the target.

The raid was a complete failure compounded by the bright moonlight making the bombers easy targets for the German fighters instead of aiding their avoidance. In all 36 aircraft and their courageous crews were lost. No.408 R.C.A.F. Moose squadron alone lost four aircraft and 28 young airmen.

It is believed that Halifax JB854 was shot down over north eastern France by a Me110 night fighter from II/NJG-4 flown by Ltn. Friedrich Tober at a height of 2500 meters at three minutes past midnight on April 17th 1943. All aboard were killed during the engagement when the aircraft crashed in flames 5 kilometres north east of Laimont.

The navigator, W/O Roland Birchall (left: courtesy Elgin Military Museum via Colin Bamford), graduated with his observer’s wing and sergeants stripes from No.1 Bombing and Gunnery School, Jarvis, Ontario on December 30, 1941 and was posted to England the following February. W/O Birchall was a graduate of the St.Thomas Collegiate Institute and a member of the second battalion, Elgin Regiment.

Ron Barnes, a school friend of Roland’s recalls. “He was a very good student and we played on the rugby football team together. When Rolly enlisted in the air force I tried to join with him but was refused on account of colour blindness. I joined the army and became a signaller/driver with the 4th. Canadian Armoured Division. By this time, he had completed his training and was posted overseas. We kept in touch and planned to meet up when I arrived in England but sadly when I got there I was notified that he had been killed a few weeks earlier. Before he left for England I met him dressed in uniform at the Y.M.C.A. He was not wearing his sergeant’s stripes and, upon asking him where they were, he said, ‘Oh, they’re in my pocket.’ That’s just the kind of unpretentious guy he was.”

Seven months earlier the Birchall family had lost their eldest son Albert who was a wireless operator air gunner with No.15 RAF Squadron, when his aircraft, Stirling W7578, was shot down during a raid on Munich.

Interestingly, a first cousin of W/O. Birchall was Sq/Ldr. Leonard Birchall who was to be named by Churchill as 'The Saviour of Ceylon' for warning the Allies of an impending attack by the Japanese fleet. Sq/Ldr. Birchall was captured by the Japanese and became a figurehead for the POW’s taking many beatings for standing up to his captors and demanding fair treatment of the prisoners.

Pilot: F/Sgt. George C. Heming

Enlisted on 11 August 1941 at Brandon after finishing high school and completed initial training at No.2 ITS, Regina Saskatchewan 3 January 1942. Selected for training as a pilot and posted to No. 15 Elementary Flying School, Regina. Graduated with Pilots Badge from No.3 Service Flying Training School, Calgary 17 July 1942. Arrived No.3 PRC Bournemouth 19 August and posted to No.6 (P) Advanced Flying Unit at RAF Little Rissington, Gloucestershire 1 September 1942. Posted to No.23 Operational Training Unit 17 November 1942 and then to No.1659 Heavy Conversion Unit 25 March 1943 joining No.408 Squadron on 8 April 1943.F/Sgt. Heming and the rest of his crew with the exception of W/O2 Birchall, were on their first operation when lost. W/O2 Birchall had completed 14 sorties prior to being lost.

Right: F/Sgt. George Chetwynd Heming

Ltn. Tober and his radio operator, Konrad Rössner, were wounded in action on January 30, 1944, when their Ju 88C-6 crashed southeast of Hardenberg at Ebbenbroek in the Netherlands, after being damaged during aerial combat. Both survived the war.

A comprehensive book is available entitled 'A Shaky Do - The Skoda works raid 16/17th April 1943'. The author, Peter Cunliffe, would like to hear from any relatives of the members of this crew. Or any other airmen or relatives thereof, who were involved in this raid. Please contact us in the first instance and we will forward the message. Please also contact us for details on how to receive a signed copy from the author.

Left: 'A Shaky Do - The Skoda works raid 16/17th April 1943'.

The following Canadian geographic features have been named in memory of these crew members:

(1) Heming Lake in Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan is named after Fl/Sgt. Heming.

(2) Birchall Lake in northern Ontario is named after W/O. Birchall and his brother Albert.

(3) Zaleschuk Lake in Saskatchewan is named after W/O. Zaleschuk.

(4) Jorgensen Lake in Saskatchewan is named after Sgt. Jorgensen.

(5) Archie Lake in Saskatchewan is named after Sgt. Archie.

Louppy-le-Chateau Communal Cemetery (courtesy Colin Bamford)

Burial Details:

Fl/Sgt. George Chetwynd Heming. Louppy-le-Chateau Communal Cemetery, Meuse, France. Collective Grave 3-5. Son of Dempster Henry Ratcliffe Heming and Catherine Campbell Heming, of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Sgt. Alexander Crawford Cantley. Louppy-le-Chateau Communal Cemetery, Meuse, France. Grave 2. Son of Mr. and Mrs. T. Cantley, of Montreal, Province of Quebec, Canada.

W/O2. Roland Birchall. Louppy-le-Chateau Communal Cemetery, Meuse, France. Collective Grave 3-5. Son of Thomas and Emily Birchall, of St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada.

W/O2 Demetre Zaleschuk. Louppy-le-Chateau Communal Cemetery, Meuse, France. Collective Grave 3-5. Son of John and Juliana Zaleschuk, of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Sgt. Richard William Mason. Louppy-le-Chateau Communal Cemetery, Meuse, France. Collective Grave 3-5. Son of Joseph and Dorothy Mason, of Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, England.

Sgt. Stanley Johannes Jorgensen. Louppy-le-Chateau Communal Cemetery, Meuse, France. Grave 1. Son of Mr. and Mrs. H.G. Jorgensen of Sceptre, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Sgt. Steve Archie. Louppy-le-Chateau Communal Cemetery, Meuse, France. Collective Grave 3-5. Son of Mr. and Mrs. Mike Achtymiczuk, Wynard, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Researched by Aircrew Remembered, researcher and RCAF specialist Colin Bamford for relatives of this crew. With thanks to Mr. Ron Barnes and Mary Olde, Director of Administration, The Elgin Military Museum, St. Thomas, Ontario for their assistance in the preparation of this article.

CHB 08.10.2019 Links to place names added.
CHB 03.04.2021 F/Sgt. Heming photo and service notes added

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', Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', 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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