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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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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 ‘Johnny’ Cassan 172119 RAFVR Age 21. KiA (1)

Flt Eng: Sgt. Sydney Herbert Bryant 1851276 RAFVR Age 20. KiA (2)

Nav: Flt Sgt. George Orr 1551656 RAFVR Age 21. KiA (3)

Special Operator: Flt Sgt. William Milne 1557821 RAF Age 23. PoW No: 472 * (4)

Air Gnr: WO2. Douglas Reid Jennings DFC, R153179 RCAF Age 22. Evader (5)

WOp/Air Gnr: Flt Sgt. Harry Whatton 1384559 RAF Age 22. PoW No: 423 * (4)

Air Gnr: Sgt. Norman William Stanley Abbott 1626469 RAFVR Age 18. KiA (6)

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

Air Gnr: Sgt. Thomas Sarsfield Sparks 1685161 RAFVR Age 21. PoW No: 414 * (7)

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

* 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 a B-17F #42-30809 at Douglas, Long Beach, USA. On the 6th November 1944, 214 Sqn's replacement BU:B, Fortress III HB788, B-17G Ser #42-102439 was also shot down, killing all of its crew.

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 a 214 sqn duty in their specially adapted American built B-17 Fortresses to counter measure the German radar and night fighter 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 Sqn crews carried a fluent German speaking radio operator whose primary function was to broadcast false information into German wavelengths and thereby confuse German night fighter pilots. Reports of heated exchanges taking place between genuine German ground controllers and their opposite numbers in 214 Sqn 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, SR382 lifted from the runway at RAF 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 Bf110 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.

This was the first and last Abschuss for Werner Kasman. He was killed the following month during the night of the 28th/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.

(1) Plt Off. John Douglas Cassan had been posted to 214 Sqn in October 1943 at a time when the squadron was flying the Short Stirling I and III. His 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 in 2003 which was 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.

Above: Renee, John Cassen's fiancée. 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

(2) Sgt. Sydney Herbert Bryant qualified as a Flight Engineer in October 1943 and teamed with John Cassan. Became co-pilot when the squadron was re-equipped with American built B17 Flying Fortresses in late January 1944. During the first 6 months of that year John was instructing him to pilot the B-17 in the event he was needed.

Sgt. Bryant's Log Book (shown above) is thought to be the only one from SR382 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)

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

Although containing mostly one line entries it does however give an insight into 214 Sqn'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.

Born exactly two weeks after Sgt Bryant's death his nephew, as already arranged, was christened John after Plt Off. John Cassan during September 1944.

Note: The Imperial War Museum is very well respected and a fitting place for any original documents. Aircrew Remembered recommends 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.

(3) 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.

(4) Flt Sgt. Milne and Flt Sgt. Whatton baled out and landed near Ravenstein in Holland. They evaded capture with the aid of the underground. However they were all betrayed and captured in Antwerp on the 8th July 1944.

Note: There was some speculation because of the misidentification of Flt Sgt. Whatton as a Fg Off. in the that he was not in fact a serving member of the RAF but a communications technician and that his officer rank was a cover. There is no evidence that this was the case, in fact his PoW questionnaire confirms that he was a Flt Sgt. and not a Fg Off.

After the statuary visit to Dulag Luft, Oberursel they were transferred to Stalag Luft 7, Bankau arriving there on the 27th July 1944.

On the 19th January 1945, they joined the 1,500 prisoners that were marched out of camp in the bitter cold. They crossed a bridge over the river Oder on 21st January, reached Goldberg on 5th February, and were loaded onto a train. On the 8th February they reached Stalag 3A located about 52 km (32 mi) south of Berlin near Luckenwalde, which already held 20,000 prisoners, consisting mainly of soldiers from Britain, Canada, the United States and Russia.

In February 1945 prisoners from Stalag 3B Furstenberg were evacuated to Stalag 3A, adding to the already overcrowded and unhygienic conditions. Finally, as the Russians approached the guards fled the camp leaving the prisoners to be liberated by the Red Army on the 22nd April 1945.

Flt Sgt. Milne and Flt Sgt. Whatton were interviewed on the 23rd and 22nd May 1945 respectively.

William Milne was born on the 13th February 1921 in Glasgow and was employed as a General Clerk prior to enlisting in the RAFVR on the 29th August 1941.

Harry Whatton was born on the 19th September 1921 in Tottenham, London and was employed as a Railway Fireman prior to enlisting in then RAFVR on the 7th February 1941.

(5) WO2. Jennings was injured, from splinters in a leg, either aboard the aircraft or upon landing. He was admitted to a Dutch hospital from where he escaped disguised as a Policeman. No further information has been found, however, his Escape and Evasion report WO 208/3350/1481 will have further information.

WO2. Jennings was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) whilst with 214 Sqn on the 17th November 1944.

Citation: “In air operations Warrant Officer Jennings has displayed courage, endurance and devotion to duty of the highest order”.

WO2. Douglas Jennings pictured above in 1989 with a former Dutch resistance worker,

(6) Sgt. 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.

(7) Sgt. Sparks baled out and he evaded capture together with Flt Sgt. Milne and Flt Sgt. Whatton with the aid of the underground. However they were all betrayed and captured in Antwerp on the 8th July 1944.

In the absence of his PoW questionnaire it is believed that his journey to Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft 7 and Stalag 3A is the same at that described in Ser 4 above for Flt Sgt. Milne and Flt Sgt. Whatton.

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.

Thomas Sarsfield Sparks was born on the 21st August 1922 in West Derby. He died on the 1st May 1987 in Runcorn, Cheshire

Burial Details:

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. The remains of Plt Off. Cassan and Flt Sgt. Orr were positively identified during the summer of 1946.

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 SR382 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.

Plt Off. John Douglas Cassan. Uden War Cemetery 5.B.5. Grave Inscription: ‘"HE IS NOT HERE: FOR HE IS RISEN" ST.MATT. XXVIII.6’. Born on the 21st June 1923 in Clevedon, Somerset. Son of Arthur William Marshall and Ida Francis (née Douglas) Cassan of Clevedon, Somerset, England.

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.

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

Sgt. Sydney Herbert Bryant. Uden War Cemetery 5.B.3. Grave Inscription: ‘"THEY SHALL GROW NOT OLD, AS WE THAT ARE LEFT GROW OLD" WE SHALL REMEMBER YOU’. Born in Rowledge near Farnham, Surrey. Son of Arthur William and Elsie May (née Cole) Bryant. Rowledge, Nr. Farnham, Surrey, England.

Sydney is remembered on the war memorial at Gostrey Meadows, Farnham, and also his parents grave.

Above: 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.

Above: family grave of the Orr family in Craigton Cemetery, Glasgow, Scotland

Flt Sgt. George Orr. Uden War Cemetery 5.B.3. Grave Inscription: ‘DEARLY BELOVED YOUNGEST SON OF DONALD & JEAN ORR, 195 EARL ST. GLASGOW.W.4, SCOTLAND’. Son of Donald Campbell and Jean McLeod Ralph Orr. Glasgow, Scotland.

Flt Sgt. Orr was originally buried as “Unknown Airman”.

Sgt. Norman William Stanley Abbott. Jonkerbos War Cemetery 17.G.5. Born in the 15th July 1925 in Brentford, Middlesex. Son of Stanley Harrold Abbott (deceased in Feb 1938) and Gertrude Janet (née Craft) Abbott of Middlesex, England.

Flt Sgt. Alex Sharpe. Uden War Cemetery 5.B.6. Grave Inscription: ‘DEAR ALEX. BEAUTIFUL MEMORIES CHERISHED FOR EVER. LOVING MOTHER AND FATHER’. Son of Thomas and Margaret Sharpe of Loanhead, Midlothian, Scotland

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.

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). Reviewed, updated with new PoW information and reorganised by Aircrew Remembered (Jan 2024).

Other sources listed below:

RS 31.01.2024 - Reviewed, updated with new PoW information and reorganised by Aircrew Remembered

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