Date: 27th/28th January 1944 (Thursday/Friday)
Unit: 9 Squadron
Type: Lancaster I
Base: RAF Bardney, Lincolnshire
Location: Forest of Sulzthal (Bavaria)
Pilot: Flt Lt. Stanley James 128908 RAFVR Age 19. Killed
Flt Eng: Sgt. Georg Robert Tomlinson 172564 RAF Age 21. Killed
Nav: Flt Sgt. Austin William Archer 1029029 RAFVR Age 31. Killed
Bomb Aimer: Flt Sgt. Andrew 'Jock' Howie 1552456 RAFVR Age? PoW No. 1063 *
WOp/Air Gnr: Flt Sgt. Ronald Ernest Burke, 1313837 RAFVR Age 22. Killed
Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Flt Sgt. Michael Woore Chivers 1600002 RAFVR Age 21. PoW No. 977 *
Air Gnr (Rear): Flt Sgt. Harry 'Hal' Croxson 1332776 RAFVR Age 22. PoW No. 1016 * (1)
* Stalag Luft 6, Heydekrug, Memelland (now Šilutė in Lithuania)
Above: Original crew of LL745
Standing left to right: Flt Sgt. Howie, Flt Sgt. Croxson, Flt Sgt. Chivers, Flt Sgt. Burke. Front left to right: Sgt. Tomlinson, Flt Lt. James, George Lochie (Credit Mark Gibson)
George Lochie is believed to be Plt Off. George Edward Lockey 149473 RAFVR. His last mission with this crew was on the 26th November 1943. On the 12th December 1943 he was posted to No. 5 Lancaster Finishing School (LFS) at RAF Scampton. He was awarded the DFC whilst with 9 Sqn, London Gazette 15th February 1944. Believed to have survived the war.
Above: left Sgt. Georg Robert Tomlinson and right Flt Sgt. Ronald Ernest Burke when he was an aircrew trainee (Credit Mark Gibson)
Above: Sgt. Ron Burke (Credit Mark Gibson)
Update November 2018: Mr. Mike Rutter contacted us - if you could contact us again Mike as the email address is not working?
We would like to appeal for photographs of this crew and any further information. We hold photographs of several smaller pieces recovered from the aircraft crash site which, we are not showing, but willing to send to relatives. The reason we do not want to place on the website is to avoid 'souvenir hunters' going to the area.
In August 2014 we have been contacted by a relative of the pilot, Flt Lt. Stanley James.
REASON FOR LOSS:
Taking off at 17:15 hrs. RAF Bardney, Lincolnshire, to join a total of 515 Lancasters and 15 Mosquitoes on the first night of 3 continuous night bombing on the German capital, Berlin.
Lancaster WS:M LL745 as drawn by Holger WörnerThe city was covered in cloud and sky matching had to be used. No assessment of the raid was possible by Bomber Command except that the bombing was widely spread. Local reports confirmed that some 61 small towns and villages outside the city were hit with 18 people on the ground being killed.
Left: Pilot, Flt Lt. Stanley James (courtesy Elizabeth Cawthorn) Right: Artist impression of Flt Lt. James in the pilot seat (courtesy Holger Wörner)
Above: Sulzthal - Red arrow points to the location of LL745 crash site (Credit Mark Gibson)
In the city itself a further 567 people were killed including 132 foreign workers. 20,000 people were bombed out of their homes.
The crash time was about 22:00 hrs. 3 crew members bailed out. The other four died in the air plane when it crashed in the forest (shown above) and burned out. The pilot, it seems, tried to make an emergency landing.
Above: Trimburg Castle and Flt Sgt. Hal Croxson as drawn by Holger Wörner
(1) This extract is a contribution from Hal Croxson to a book entitled ‘No time for Fear‘ written by Victor F. Gammon.
Flt Sgt. Hal ‘Horizontal’ Croxson always stretched out and closed his eyes when the other airmen in the mess were reading or playing cards, but his alert manner when flying as a rear gunner in a Lancaster belied his nickname. Wide-open eyes and constant attention were necessary to survive but even that was sometimes not enough.
The Luftwaffe had perfected their angled, upward firing 20-mm cannon (Schräge Musik); the crash of shells into the aircraft was often the first that the bomber crew knew they had been attacked, then it was too late.
For two anxious, back breaking hours after the attack the crew had fought to keep the Lancaster flying: everything possible had been jettisoned to reduce weight, but the crew was fighting a losing battle. On the Berlin raid of 27th January 1944, the Lancaster dived towards the earth and ‘Horizontal’ Croxson made a hurried vertical leap into space. His parachute had barely opened when he tumbled to the ground on a hillside. His canopy and shroud lines collapsed on him. With his heavy, thick flying clothing Croxson described himself as feeling like a Christmas parcel that had come undone.
Although out in the quiet of the country, Croxson was quite sure that the whole of Germany knew he was there and would shortly come to collect him. He watched a feint glimmer from a leaking blackout and, when the door opened and a shaft of light momentarily flooded out into the dark night he thought, “This is it, will they come to murder or help me?”.
Hal Croxon always carried a .38 revolver and, to be prepared to defend himself, he checked that it was loaded, put it by his side and waited – expectant, ready. But nobody came.
Eventually, so confident was he that ‘they’ knew he was there, that Croxon took out a cigarette and lit-up without making any effort to conceal the flame. He remembered from blackout drills that someone lighting a cigarette could be seen for three miles in those conditions. Still nobody came. Lying back, mentally and physically exhausted, Croxson, still in his flying suit and parachute harness, dropped into a troubled sleep.
Waking 20 mins later, Croxson concluded that the whole of Germany had not seen him arrive. With his Bowie scout knife he sliced off the lower part of his flying suit, pulled out the kapok from the pockets and collar and wrapped the whole in his dark coloured electric inner suit.
For the first time, he saw that two fingers on his right hand had been deeply cut during his scrambling escape from the rear turret. His snow-white parachute was liberally stained with blood. Croxson cut a two-inch strip of parachute fabric to bandage his wounds.
Then to his dismay, he saw that one boot was missing, but he had to press on. Stuffing his helmet and unwanted gear into a bush, he sliced the fur-lined top from his one flying boot and, using the parachute shroud lines, he formed a kind of shoe for his other foot. Ever a practical man, Croxson carried a pocket compass, so he set off in a westerly direction.
Feeling through his pockets, he found a bar of chocolate, some Horlicks tablets, a tube of condensed milk and seventeen cigarettes. Croxson reckoned he was reasonably well equipped, although a walk from south of Frankfurt across hostile Germany and over the Rhine to an already occupied France or Luxembourg seemed a forlorn prospect.
The next day he travelled carefully, planning to make up time and distance through the night. As he climbed out of another ditch, and collided with yet another fence, Croxon concluded that the instructions that one should travel by night had been given by instructors who had never had to do it themselves. He decided that it was necessary to see ahead and move in daylight.
On the third day, he was studying his compass, deciding which route to take at an intersection of deer trails, when he saw a group of ‘country yokels’ approaching. They carried twelve-bores and had dachshunds at their heels. Croxson determined to bluff it out in French.
“Parlez vous francais?” he asked, deciding that they did not look a very bright lot and that he might, perhaps, pass himself off as a French worker. He had reckoned without a local schoolmaster, a tall thin man with steel-rimmed glasses. “Oui m’sieu” he replied “Je parle francais”.
His bluff was called. With a twelve-bore pressed into his midriff, Croxson was relieved of his .38 and knife and whisked to a Luftwaffe Station near Hammelburg. The Luftwaffe men were puzzled. Although well hidden, Croxson’s abandoned gear and bloodstained parachute had been found. They had captured two crewmembers (Howie and Chivers) and discovered the remains of four others in the aircraft wreckage. With CROXSON that totaled seven. The Luftwaffe were sure that there must have been an eighth man on the aircraft. Croxson had said that he was not wounded, yet there was that bloodstained parachute and a helmet emblazoned with the name ‘Horizontal’ on the rim. Where was the wounded ‘Horizontal’? A further complication was that the Feldwebel interpreter was bluffing the interrogating officer that he could speak good English when he certainly could not. The situation was such a comedy of errors that Croxson found it difficult not to laugh.
Prisoner of War
Hal Croxson, Chivers and Howie were then transported by train to Stalag Luft 6 at Heydekrug, Memelland, now Šilutė in Lithuania.
On the 15th July 1944 Hal and 900 other Allied PoW’s began a journey from Stalag Luft 6 en route to Stalag Luft 4 Groß-Tychow, Pomerania, Prussia. From Stalag Luft 6 they were transported in cattle trucks to the Baltic Port of Memel, now Klaipeda in Lithuania.
The PoWs were loaded into the hold of the steamer “Itsteburg” for the crossing of the Baltic Sea to the German port of Swinemünde, now Swinoujscie in Poland. The conditions were very bad with limited water and severe overcrowding, which they had to endure 4 days and 3 nights. From there they were transported to Stalag Luft 4 by train. Halting and unloading at the railway sidings near Stalag Luft 4 the PoWs were beaten and kicked on the 3kms up the hill to the camp.
The Germans were reluctant to release allied aircrew in the face of the advancing Russian Army knowing that if they were repatriated they would return to the war effort. Therefore, the decision was made to move Allied PoW’s westward away from the advancing front.
In January 1945 a number of PoW’s estimated at 2500 split into different directions and marched away from the Russians. The front was so fluid at that time with contradicting information resulting in the column changing direction several times. The men were forced marched 55 minutes in the hour and there was little or no food provided by the Germans.
Men foraged for food along the roadside looking for vegetables, there was no shelter and the intended destination was Stalag 357 Fallingbostel (officially Stalag 357 (Oebke) north of Hanover. The column reached Fallingbostel but were made to march for another 4 days before being liberated.
On the morning of 2nd May 1945 the PoWs were all sitting in a ditch next to the River Elbenear Lauenburg, Germany, when the Britisharrived and liberated the camp.
Hal was then billeted in a former SS Barracks in Hamburg (may have been SS-Kaserne Hamburg-Langenhorn) which he recalls was a strange anomaly to come to terms with only days previously the SS occupying his bed. Having been flown to Brussels Hal was returned to England to an airfield on the east coast, the name of which he cannot recall.
Many years after the war Hal visited the site of the crash in Sulzthal as a mark of respect to the members of his crew who lost their lives. The parish priest showed him the exact crash site and the Cemetery where the airmen were initially buried. He also visited the Durbach War Cemetery, near Bayern.
The chronological history of the village of Sulzthal has an entry, which has been translated an reproduced below:
“ Several waves of enemy aircraft flew over the area on the 27th January between 22:00 hrs and 23:00 hrs. At 22:45 hrs an English aircraft, that had numerous times before circled around and tried to find an emergency landing place, crashed in the woods at ‘Stockes’ and exploded. A huge flame lit the whole area up. On the 28th January four men of the English crew were retrieved from the wreck. One survivor who managed to escape by parachute was arrested on the 28th January in Sulzthal. The four dead Englishmen were buried on the 29th January in the cemetery at Sulzthal. After the war in 1946 their bodies were exhumed and sent back to their country.”
Hal living in Barton on Sea, Hampshire, recalled meeting with Mike Chivers during the late 1940’s early 1950’s but has never seen Jock Howie since their last meeting.
Above: Hal Croxson (Courtesy of Mark Gibson)
Mike, the Mid Upper Gunner, had a brother who was a Major in the Commandos during WW2 and originated from the Bristol area. Hal recalls that the Chivers’ family had a building company but there was talk when they last met that he was to emigrate to Australia. The family were prominent in the Bristol area with Mike’s father being a leading local counsellor. Hal lost touch with Mike Chivers and they have not been in contact since.
Andrew ‘Jock’ Howie, the Bomb Aimer, hailed from Ayrshire, Scotland and Hal believes that he had some connection with the Railways.
Those killed were initially buried at Sulzthal prior to moving them to Durnbach at the end of hostilities.
Left: Sulzthal Graveyard initial grave marker, Right: Commemorative Crucifix, (Credit Mark Gibson)
Above: Sulzthal Graveyard (Credit Mark Gibson)
Flt Lt. Stanley James. Durnbach War Cemetery. Coll grave 6.C.26-28. Son of Francis Percival and Hilda James of Harrow, Middlesex, England.
Sgt. Georg Robert Tomlinson. Durnbach War Cemetery. Coll grave 6.C.26-28. Son of Albert George and Selina Tomlinson, of Clitheroe, Lancashire, England.
Flt Sgt. Austin William Archer. Durnbach War Cemetery. Coll grave 6.C.25. Born 23rd November 1911 in Hexam, Northumberland. Husband to Charlotte Elizabeth Archer of Gill County, Durham, England.
Flt Sgt. Ronald Ernest Burke. Durnbach War Cemetery. Coll grave 6.C.26-28. Son of Patrick and Dora Burk, of Andover, Hampshire, England.
Researched by Holger Wörner for relatives of the crew. Holger's friend lives near the crash site. With thanks to the following for further information supplied; Elizabeth Cawthorn relative of Flt Lt. James. Updates by Aircrew Remembered (Oct 2021). Thanks to Mark Gibson for the new images of the crew and Sulzthal graveyard and environs (Jan 2022). Thanks also to Mark Gibson for the narrative for Flt Sgt. Harry 'Hal' Croxson (Feb 2022). Thanks again to Mark Gibson for the two images of Sgt. Tomlinson and Flt Sgt. Burke as a trainee (Apr 2022).
RS 10.04.2022 - New photographs added
Original upload details unknown
RS 01.10.2021 - NoK and other updates
RS 27.01.2022 - New images of the crew and Sulzthal graveyard
RS 13.02.2022 - Narrative for Flt Sgt. Harry 'Hal' Croxson added
RS 10.04.2022 - New photographs added
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember
them. - Laurence
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