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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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51 Squadron Crest
05/06.01.1945 No. 51 Squadron Halifax III LV952 MH-F P/O. Alan Leach

Operation: Hanover

Date: 5/6th January 1945 (Friday/Saturday)

Unit: No. 51 Squadron

Type: Halifax III

Serial: LV952

Code: MH-F

Base: RAF Snaith, Yorkshire.

Location: Leinhausen - Stöcken, Hanover.

Pilot: P/O. Alan Leach 185864 RAFVR Age 23. Killed

Fl/Eng: Sgt. Peter Neale 1896808 RAFVR Age 20. Killed

Nav: Fl/Sgt. Jack Sidney Staples 1801787 RAFVR Age ? Killed

Air/Bmr: Fl/Sgt. William Gerwyn Bowen 1313633 RAFVR Age 22. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: F/O. Lionel Adolphus Wilson AUS/403167 RAAF Age 32. Killed (1)

Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Walter Matthew Burton 642138 RAF Age 24. Killed

Air/Gnr: Sgt. Donald E.F. Thomsett 1894688 RAFVR Pow No: 150023. Camp: Luckenwalde, Brandenburg (2)


Taking off from RAF Snaith at 16:47 hours, detailed to bomb Hanover, Germany. Nothing was heard from the aircraft after take-off and it failed to return to base. This was the largest raid on the city since 1943 with 664 aircraft taking part - 14 Mosquitoes, 340 Halifaxes and 310 Lancasters. The bombing was reported as widespread over the city with 3,605 apartments/flats destroyed, 250 people killed on the ground. The fatalities included 229 foreigners or prisoners of war. Over 2,000 tons of bombs were dropped.

Shot down at 19:22hrs. "possibly" (3) by Luftwaffe pilot Hptm. Hermann Greiner, Kommander of IV.NJG1, (4) crashing at 19:27 at Stockener Strasse, Leinhausen - Stöcken. The missing Research and Enquiry Unit identified the crew graves in May 1946 - some graves were shared with other crews from the same squadron - as detailed below.

51 Squadron lost two other aircraft during this operation:

Halifax III MZ767 MH-D piloted by 24 year old, F/O. Gilbert Ian Hodgson NZ/421510 RNZAF from Hawke’s Bay New Zealand - killed with 2 other crew, 4 taken PoW.
Halifax III MX918 MH-U piloted by 23 year old, P/O. Eric George Stevens 189431 RAFVR from Kenton, Middlesex, England - killed with 4 other crew, 2 taken PoW.

(1) The regular wireless operator was a Sgt. Eddie Hilton. He had been taken off this flight due to illness - see below for full story. The only son of F/O. Lionel Adolphus Wilson contacted us in June 2016 and supplied this information:

Basic Training: Bradfield Park. Sydney Australia. Empire Air Training Scheme Canada. Wireless operator/Air gunner. 9-2-1941 to 1-9-1941, Yatesbury. 10-11-1941 to 21-11-1941. Bicester. 17-12-1941 to 29-3-1942. Thence by ship to Gold Coast Africa. DC3 120113 Pan Am Flying Time Takoradi - Kano. 5 .45, Kano. - Maduguri. 2, Maduguri - Elfasha. 5 .25, Elfasha - Kartoum 3 ( tyre burst) Kartoum - Heliopolis. 6. 05 55 Squadron. North Africa. 29-7-1942 to 10-1-1943. Then Cranwell 17-9-1943 -? No 4 Radio School Madley. 8-2-1944 to 6-4-1944. Church Broughton. 2-5-1944 to 23-6-1944 1652. HCU 7-8-1944. To 18-9-1944. 51 Squadron. 26-9-1944 to 5-1-1945. Missing.

He had previously been a member of Sydney Alberto Tocchini AUS/403289 RAAF crew, I was told they were stood down, some went on course, some went on leave. So Dad decided to continue so he could complete his tour and come home. (Sydney Alberto Tocchini - Born on 02nd August 1920 from Sydney, New South Wales Australia)

(Note: We would of course be interested to hear from any relatives of the former crew of F/O. Lionel Adolphus Wilson)

Above left is Sydney Tocchini. Centre ? Right is 403167 L.A.Wilson.

Above at left base of ladder with fitter is Sydney Tocchini - pilot. Top left of ladder is Frank Utley - Engineer. Right bottom of ladder is Bert Stacey navigator. Third from bottom right is L.A. Wilson - radio operator.

(2) Liberated by the Red Army in April 1945.

(3) It was also claimed by a flak unit and reported to have crashed at 18:45 hrs. Although it was reported by returning crews that it had been attacked by a night fighter and that they observed a single parachute leaving the aircraft.

(4) Hptm. Hermann Greiner survived the war with 47 night abschüsse and 4 daytime. Following the conclusion of the War, Greiner and close friend Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer were arrested illegally crossing the German-Swiss border attempting an escape to Argentina.

Left: Greiner and Schnaufer (courtesy Kracker Archives)

Both Greiner and Schnaufer were detained in an Allied prisoner of war camp and released in 1947. He then studied law and also worked as a textile salesman before going the Bundesluftwaffe serving 17 years. Retired in the 1970's. Died on the 26th September 2014. Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer (also a night fighter ace) was injured in a road accident on the 13th July 1950 in France - he died 2 days later.

Eddie Hilton, regular wireless operator to this crew wrote his story:

"I had developed a heavy cold and the medical officer decided that I was not fit to fly and grounded me for 24 hours.”A wireless operator/air gunner from the Royal Australian Air Force named Wilson took my place and I believe he only needed to complete that one trip to earn a spell of leave. "Sadly, they were shot down over Hanover and are buried together in Hanover War Cemetery, except for Don Thomsett, who was the rear gunner and managed to bail out and became a prisoner of war. I didn't know the plane's fate until I went into the sergeants' mess the next day. "Other air crews were there and knew the flight crew had been reported missing. When they saw me, they thought they were looking at a ghost. They didn't know I had missed the raid because I had a cold”.

I joined the RAF in February 1943. I had actually volunteered six months earlier, but was turned down as I was only 17-and-a-half and had to wait until I was 18. After initial training took part in a number of bombing runs over industrial targets in the Ruhr Valley. From the time of losing my crew I acted as 'spare bod' with any crew who required a replacement and, as I recall, sometimes it was a 'little hair-raising'. At the end of the war in Europe I was transferred to Transport Command, flying Stirlings to bring troops, including members of the 14th Army who had been fighting in Burma, back to Britain, via Iraq, Palestine and North Africa. I was de-mobbed in 1947 when I joined Rochdale Corporation's planning and architects' department, earning a town planning degree before retiring as assistant borough planning officer 21 years ago.

After the war I was doing some some research about Luftwaffe night fighter aces and came across the name of Hauptman George Hermann Greiner, who had destroyed four heavy bombers during the night of 5 January 1945, including the Halifax he had been due to fly on. Many years later Don Thomsett, the rear gunner who had bailed out, met Mr. Greiner at his home on Lake Constance, where he was treated with great hospitality and friendship. "After all, Greiner had only been doing his job, as we all did."

Eddie was also a popular band leader, playing at such venues as the Carlton with Freddie Platt and his orchestra, and when wasn’t making music, Eddie could be found playing at Rochdale Golf Club. Eddie began his musical life in Heywood at age 13 when his mother, on a weaver's wage, paid for accordion lessons at two shillings and sixpence a week. He went on to learn alto saxophone and clarinet and aged 16 joined the Stan Bates band, playing the Co-op on Lord St. 
At the end of the war his commanding officer asked him to form a band, and at just 21 Eddie had his first taste of band leadership, an eight-piece with four fully professional musicians. 
He then formed his own band in 1948 and for years was in demand throughout the North, with fellow musicians including trumpeter Ronnie Butterworth. Eddie performed on 51 consecutive New Year's Eves. He played in venues all around the borough including Rochdale's most famous club, The Carlton.

Burial details:

P/O. Alan Leach. Hannover War Cemetery Joint Grave 2.F.7-7A. Further information: Son of Sylvester and Emma Leach and brother to Fred. Born in Coppull, Lancashire, England 25th March 1921. Awarded his wings at 19 and received the following medals: 1934-45 Star, France and Germany Star, Defence Medal, War Medal 1939-1945.

Sgt. Peter Neale. Hannover War Cemetery Grave 2.F.14. Son of Mr. and Mrs. R. F. Neale, of Kingston-on-Thames, Surrey, England.

Fl/Sgt. Jack Sidney Staples. Hannover War Cemetery Grave 2.F.8. No further information available - are you able to assist?

Fl/Sgt. William Gerwyn Bowen. Hannover War Cemetery Coll. Grave 2.F.5-6. Son of William John and Elizabeth Ann Bowen, of Kentish Town, London, England. (Shared grave with P/O. Eric George Stevens and Fl/Sgt. John Rigby Whitmore also from 51 Squadron)

F/O. Lionel Adolphus Wilson. Hannover War Cemetery Joint Grave 2.F.7-7A. Born 31st January 1912 at Balmain, NSW. Son of Adolphus Henry and Alice Tobatha Wilson, of Mayfield, New South Wales, Australia, husband of Beatrice Jean Victoria Wilson, of 124 Bull Street, Mayfield, New South Wales Australia.

Fl/Sgt. Walter Matthew Burton. Hannover War Cemetery Joint Grave 2.F.2-3. (4)Son of Charles George and Lily Burton, husband of Irene Burton, of Wakefield, Yorkshire, England. (Shared grave with Sgt. John Hubert Yearsley also from 51 Squadron)

Researched with information supplied by Alan Leach, nephew of the pilot. Further information added by Aircrew Remembered January 2016. With thanks also to Kerry John Wilson for valuable information and photographs of F/O. Wilson - June 2016.

KTY 17-06.2016 Further information and photographs added

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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', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Stan D. Bishop, John A. Hey MBE, Gerrie Franken and Maco Cillessen - Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Forces, Vols 1-6, Dr. Theo E.W. Boiton - Nachtjagd Combat Archives, Vols 1-13. 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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