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Archive Report: Allied Forces

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214 Squadron Crest
21/22.06.1944 214 Squadron Fortress II, SR382 BU:B Plt Off. John Cassan

Operation: Ruhr Valley, Germany.

Date: 21st/22nd June 1944 (Wednesday/Thursday)

Unit No: 214 (Federated Malay States) Squadron, 100 Group

Type: Fortress II

Serial: SR382

Code: BU:B

Baes: RAF Oulton, Norfolk

Location: Bergharen, Holland

Pilot: Plt Off. John Douglas Cassan 172119 RAFVR Age 21. KiA

Flt Eng: Sgt. Sydney Herbert Bryant 1851276 RAFVR Age 20. KiA

Nav: Flt Sgt. George Orr 1551656 RAFVR Age 21. KiA

Special Operator: Flt Sgt. William Milne 1557821 RAF Age? PoW No: 472 *

Air Gnr: WO2. Douglas Reid Jennings DFC R153179 RCAF Age 22. Evader

WOp/Air Gnr: Flt Sgt. Harry Whatton 1384559 RAF Age? PoW No: 423 *

Air Gnr: Sgt. Norman William Stanley Abbott 1626469 RAFVR Age? KiA

Air Gnr: Flt Sgt. Alex Sharpe 1011102 RAFVR Age 23. KiA

Air Gnr: Sgt Thomas Sarsfield Sparks 1685161 RAFVR Age? PoW No: 414 *

* Stalag Luft 7 Bankau nr. Kreuzburg O.S." (O.S. standing for Oberschlesien, Upper Silesia). Today called Bąków nr. Kluczbork (Poland).

Note: Fortress II SR382 was built as #42-30809 at Douglas, Long Beach, USA

This page is dedicated not only to the crew lost that day but to Mr. John Cripps who researched this loss and submitted to Aircrew Remembered. Sadly John passed away on the 8th March 2011 after a short illness. He had carried out tremendous work with the 198 Squadron website. His wife Jan still handles enquiries from the website today! The flight Engineer Sgt. Sydney Bryant was John’s Uncle.


During the early hours of Thursday the 22nd of June 1944 Fortress II SR382 of 214 (FMS) Sqn was shot down over Holland by a German nightfighter while returning from a raid on Germany. Dutch observers at Bergharen reported the aircraft crashing in flames at 01:15 hrs.

Some hours earlier at their base at Oulton, Norfolk, the crew had attended a pre-flight briefing on the forthcoming night’s raid on Gelsenkirchen. In the role of bomber support it was 214’s duty in their specially adapted American built B-17 Fortresses to counter measure the German radar and nightfighter radio defence networks in the hope of reducing losses likely to occur to the main attacking bomber force.

Outside of dropping aluminium foil strips known as “Window” and electronic jamming most 214 crews carried a fluent German speaking radio operator whose primary function was to broadcast false information into German wavelengths and thereby confuse German nightfighter pilots. Reports of heated exchanges taking place between genuine German ground controllers and their opposite numbers in 214 have subsequently become quite legendary.

Gelsenkirchen because of its oil refineries and nearby war industries in the Ruhr Valley was, at the time, one of the most heavily defended places in Germany. Such were the losses suffered by RAF bomber squadrons during previous night attacks on the town that many crews sarcastically referred to the area as “Happy Valley”.

Photograph of SR382 wreckage taken on the morning of 22nd June 1944 by a member of the Dutch resistance. It was sent to John Cripps by the "Foundation of Uden War Cemetery" some years ago now. Antoon Verbakel, the "Foundation's" secretary at the time told me that they have no idea who holds the original as their copy was a copy of a copy and so on. Written under the cockpit window it is thought "The Avenger". The squadrons motto: "Ultor in umbris”- Avenging in the shadows.

At approximately 23:50 hrs on the 21st, the shortest night of the year, Fortress II SR382 lifted from the runway at Oulton and headed east over the North Sea to Holland, then on to the Ruhr Valley. At some time around 01:00 hrs it came under attack by a Messerschmitt 110 piloted by Ofhr. Werner Kasmann of 7./NJG1 Although SR382 survived the first attacking pass a second, two minutes later, proved disastrous, knocking out the inboard starboard engine and rendering the aircraft controls useless. Instructing the co-pilot to feather the engines the pilot then ordered the rest of the crew to stand-by for an emergency jump, but in the next moment the aircraft was diving out of control for the ground.

Ofhr. Werner Kasmann this was the first and last abschüss for Werner Kasman. He was killed the following month during the night of the 28/29th July 1944, shot down, his aircraft fell into the North Sea north of Nordeney, Germany.

Somehow by piloting skill, or just plain luck, the pilot managed to pull the aircraft's nose up for just long enough so that the crew could bale out, while five managed to do so the pilot, co-pilot, navigator and an air gunner did not. Some years later one of the survivors reportedly said that when he baled out “The pilot and co-pilot were struggling with the aircraft's controls hoping to make a forced landing.” It has never been clarified why, the assumption is that one or more of the crew were badly wounded in the attack and that their only chance of survival was to attempt a crash landing.

Whatever the intentions of the pilot and co-pilot some moments later the aircraft, in flames, crashed into the ground where it quickly burnt out, by the time German soldiers arrived, some minutes later, four crew lay dead in the wreckage and another lay hidden beneath it.

Two days later on the 24th four of the crew were buried at what was then known as the “English Graveyard”, in Uden, Holland, (now Uden War Cemetery) attended by a military Guard of Honour made up of Luftwaffe personnel. Only on the 28th when the wreckage of BU-B was being removed was the body of a fifth member of crew found under the remains of the fuselage with an open parachute attached. For reasons unknown he was not taken to Uden to be buried along side his fallen comrades but instead was buried in the local civilian cemetery at Bergharen where his body remained until the late 1940’s at which time he was exhumed and re-interred at Jonkerbos War Cemetery.

Above: Plt Off. John Douglas Cassan, right: Sgt. Sydney Herbert Bryant

Plt Off. John Cassan. Son of Arthur William Marshall and Ida Francis Cassan. Clevedon, Somerset. Known as Johnny to his friends and family he came from Clevedon, Somerset, where he lived with his parents Arthur William Marshall and Ida Francis Cassan. He had originally become a pilot with 214 Sqn RAF in October 1943 at a time when 214 was flying Stirlings Mk’s 1 and 3. Killed in the crash of Fortress BU-B:, aged 21, John was originally buried as “Unknown Airman”. He is remembered on the war memorial inside St Andrew’s Church, Clevedon, and Clevedon’s Civic Website. Plt Off. John Douglas Cassan's abilities as the pilot of Fortress II SR382 inspired confidence in all of its crew. Highly regarded by them for his leadership and humanitarian qualities it is sad to note that the day before his death was his 21st birthday.

From a survivors recently discovered letter, (2003) written in June 1945, which covers some aspects of SR382 last flight it would appear typical of John to stay to the end at the controls of his aircraft if he thought it could mean saving others. In view of this letter it now seems more or less certain, though it cost John his life, that this was the case during SR382 final moments.

Sgt. Sydney Bryant. Son of Arthur William and Elsie May Bryant. Rowledge, Nr. Farnham, Surrey, England. Born in Rowledge near Farnham, Surrey, he was the youngest son of Arthur William and Elsie May Bryant. Qualified as a Flight Engineer in October 1943 and teamed with John Cassan. Became co-pilot when 214 was re-equipped with American built B17 Flying Fortresses in late January 1944. During the first six months of that year John was instructing him to become a full pilot. Killed in the crash of SR382 Sgt Bryant, aged 20, is remembered on the war memorial at Gostrey Meadows, Farnham, and also his parents grave.

Flight Engineer Sgt. Bryant's Log Book (shown above) is thought to be the only one from BU-B still in existence. Originally considered to have been lost, or destroyed, it was sent to Sgt. Bryant's parents by the RAF during 1949 along with some belatedly awarded medals. (See below)

Although containing mostly one line entries it does however give an insight into 214 Squadron's "operations" between October 1943 and late June 1944. Passed down over the years through Sgt Bryant's family the original now rests in the Document Archives of the Imperial War Museum, where it has been since 1995.

Note: The Imperial War Museum is very well respected and a fitting place for any original documents. Aircrew Remembered recommend that relatives never part with any original documents to third parties without obtaining advice first. Once they are gone, they are gone forever! We are contacted on an almost weekly basis asking how they are able to get these back. If you decide to release or send anything - have them copied first! We are able to assist you with advice on this - but please, dont send us anything!

A few years after the war medals like these began arriving as official acknowledgement of wartime service.

For most they were the only awards to be received, whether as relatives of a loved one killed, or as a survivor. It is hard to imagine, some sixty years on, the horrors which WW2 aircrew and their families must have gone through just to receive them. Medals shown above are: Aircrew Europe Star, War Medal, 1939 - 1945 Star, and France and Germany Bar.

Flt Sgt. George Orr. Son of Donald Campbell and Jean McLeod Ralph Orr. Glasgow, Scotland.

Left: John Cripps visiting his Uncle's grave and right the parents of Flt Sgt. Orr.

Photograph shown above shows Flt Sgt George Orr's parents and was taken at Uden War Cemetery, Holland, during September 1948. It perhaps conveys, that even four years after the event, what the relatives of those killed aboard SR382 were still going through. Between the beginning of World War 2 in 1939 and its end in 1945 Bomber Command alone lost altogether some 65,000 crew members dead. No doubt all, like George Orr, had parents and loved ones at home.

Right: family grave of the Ralph family in Craigton Cemetery, Glasgow, Scotland

Flt Sgt. Orr was originally buried as “Unknown Airman”. It is not known where in his home town his name is remembered. (Despite extensive enquiries little else is known except that Flt Sgt. Orr may have been badly wounded in the attack on SR382 which led the pilot to attempt a crash landing.

Flt Sgt. Milne was one of several crew from SR382 to bail out and be taken prisoner of war, he was repatriated during 1945. It is believed Flt Sgt. Milne was responsible for the electronic jamming equipment aboard the aircraft. (No further details are known.)

WO2. Douglas Jennings pictured above in 1989 with a former Dutch resistance worker, Mientje Manders, who, with the help of her father, helped him escape from occupied Holland - from a Canadian publication called the "Evaders".

WO2. Jennings from Nova Scotia, Canada, was the only crew member from SR382 to bail out and evade capture. Taken originally to a German run hospital with shrapnel in his leg he managed to escape later disguised as a policeman with the help of the Dutch Resistance and return to the UK. He was later awarded the DFC which was Gazetted November 1944. His name appears on the RAF Evaders Society, (Canadian Branch) nominal roll. In later years he became a Minister in the Canadian Church. (Douglas R. Jennings died on the 24th November 2002, aged 80)

Fg Off. Whatton was responsible for radio communications aboard SR382. One of several crew to bail out and be taken prisoner of war, he was repatriated during 1945. (Note although recorded as Fg Off J.H. Whatton all records for a Whatton with the service no. of 1384559 record him as Flt Sgt. Harry Whatton. It is suspected that he was not a serving RAF officer, as there is no record of his promotion in the London Gazette, but was in fact a civilian technician who was given an RAF service number and uniform to hid his real identity.)

Sgt. Norman Abbott could be said to have nearly survived the crash of SR382 however, enquiries made in 1946 at Bergharen told a tragic story. It would seem that he left it a little late bailing out for although his parachute deployed the aircraft crashed down upon him. His body, buried under the wreckage, was not discovered for several days and for reasons unknown was not taken to Uden to be buried with his fallen comrades. Instead on the 1st of July he was buried in the local civilian cemetery at Bergharen only to be later exhumed during the late 1940’s and re-interred in the war cemetery at Jonkerbos some miles away. Sgt. Abbott came from Station Road, Feltham, Middlesex. His parents ran a newsagents. His age, and further details of his family, are unknown.

Flt Sgt. Alex Sharpe was the son of Thomas and Margaret Sharpe of Loanhead, Midlothian. Killed in the crash of SR382 aged 23. It is not known where in his home town Flt Sgt. Sharpe's name is remembered.

Sgt. Sparks was one of several crew from SR382 to bail out and be taken prisoner of war. On repatriation in 1945 he continued his RAF career and was promoted to Flt Sgt. He was later reported as saying that pilot, John Cassan and flight engineer, Syd Bryant were wrestling with the controls of the aircraft attempting to make a forced landing at the time he bailed out, giving rise to the theory that there may have been badly wounded on board.

After bailing out Sgt. Sparks was given shelter by a Dutch Resistance group, unfortunately it had unknowingly been infiltrated by the Germans. Put in a van to be transported to a "safe house" Sgt. Sparks found on reaching its destination that instead of eluding capture he was surrounded by a dozen or so German soldiers all pointing rifles at him.

Sgt. Bryant , left, with his sister Dorothy (John's mother) and brother Arthur of 198 Squadron RAF.

Above photograph of the grave markers of SR382 crew taken at Uden, Holland, during 1945/46 is the earliest one known to exist.

The two middle grave markers carry the inscription "Unknown Airman" but were subsequently identified as being Plt Off. John Cassan, and Flt Sgt. George Orr. As travel in Holland immediately after the war was difficult and restricted it is not certain how this photograph came to be taken. The assumption is that Sgt Bryant's brother-in-law, who was serving with the Royal Engineers in Holland at the time, somehow managed to travel to Uden and take it.

Renee, John Cassen's fiancee. The first was taken about 1944, the second about 2006. They were going to announce their engagement when John returned from the sortie of 21st/22nd June 1944. Of course sadly this didn't happen . After the war she moved to Canada

Aftermath and echoes: After the crew were posted as "missing from operations", on the 22nd of June, for nearly six months the relatives and loved ones of BU-B hoped at the very worst all had been taken prisoner of war. It was not until just before Christmas, December 18th, 1944, that letters from the Red Cross began arriving, containing for some, the saddest of news.

Born exactly two weeks after Sgt Bryant's death his nephew, as already arranged, was christened John after P/O. John Cassan during September 1944. On the 6th November 1944, HB788, 214 Sqn's replacement BU:B, Fortress III SR382 (#42-102439) was also shot down, killing all of its crew.

Originally buried as "Unknown Airman" the remains of Plt Off. John D. Cassan, (Pilot) and Fltt Sgt George Orr, (Navigator) were positively identified during the summer of 1946.

Note: Thanks to the Special Units briefly employed to identify lost aircrews the graves marked as 'Unknown Airman'. These units were later disbanded due to 'cost savings'. The British government at the time, then decided to create the Runnymede Memorial to missing aircrew! Wonderful? Yes, but not the same as a grave that relatives could visit! Which perhaps more could have, if these units were kept operational. Protests were made at the time, but public opinion (according to the authorities) swayed the move to disband. The Missing research and recovery units also wanted to continue with their very difficult work which had achieved so many identifications and locations.

Above: Renee, John Cassen's fiancee. The first was taken about 1944, the second about 2006. They were going to announce their engagement when John returned from the sortie of 21st/22nd June 1944. Of course sadly this didn't happen. After the war she moved to Canada

Addendum: Eight years after Sgt Bryant's death in SR382 his father was taken ill on its anniversary during June 1952, and died a few days later. Twenty five years on, in June 1977, Sgt Bryant's mother became ill during the thirty third anniversary and died the following day. Richard Cassan - pilot's brother, spoke to John Cripps around 8 years ago and told him that at the time the aircraft crashed his mother actually was woken from her sleep by her son's voice saying: "Don't worry about me Mum, I'll be alright".

Newspaper report of Ghostly goings-on at the home of Sgt Bryant, years later. Click to read.

Researched by Mr John Cripps and dedicated to his Uncle and all the crew. Many thanks go to the following for their help and, or, supplying information: Mr J. Whitehouse of 214 (FMS) Squadron Association. Mr A. Verbakel of Stichting "Oorlogskerkhof Uden", Holland. Mr F. Aldworth of Airforce Magazine, Canada. The Royal British Legion, Clevedon Branch, Somerset. The Cassan family, formerly of Clevedon, Somerset. The Bryant family, formerly of Farnham, Surrey. The Imperial War Museum, Document Archives, London. We are very grateful for the continued valuable research by Michael Harrison for further information supplied on the crew details. Thanks to Gerald Tebes for point out the misidentification of the Wedding photograph for WO Sparks. (Apr 2023). Other updates by Aircrew Remembered (Apr 2023)

Other sources listed below:

RS 20.04.2023 - Updates and corrections

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