Operation: Lützkendorf (Wintershall synthetic oil plant) Germany
Date: 14/15 March 1945 (Wednesday/Thursday)
Unit: 50 Squadron - Motto: Sic fidem servamus; ('Thus we keep faith'); Squadron crest shows 'From Defence to Attack'
Squadron Badge: A sword in bend severing a mantle palewise. This unit was formed at Dover and adopted a mantle being severed by a sword to show its connection with that town, the arms of which include St. Martin and the beggar with whom he divided his cloak. The mantle is also indicative of the protection given to this country by the Royal Air Force
Type: Avro Lancaster I
Base: RAF Skellingthorpe, Lincolnshire
Pilot: Fl/Lt Frank James Ling J/27079 (formerly R162573 RCAF Age 29 - Missing believed killed (1)
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Herbert Cecil Lomax 1079993 RAFVR Age 36 - Missing believed killed (2)
Nav: F/O. Bruce Wells Rutland J/37745 (formerly R179786) RCAF Age 31 - Missing believed killed (He had previously completed 29 operations ) (3)
Air/Bmr: Fl/Sgt. Eric Leslie Howard 1582382 RAFVR Age 23 - Missing believed killed (4)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: P/O. Ralph Lindsay Thompson J/95523 (formerly R198491) RCAF Age 21 - Missing believed killed (5)
Air/Gnr (MU): P/O. Robert Bruce Millman J/95401 (formerly R205556) RCAF Age 21 - Missing believed killed (6)
Air/Gnr (R): P/O. Angus Wharing (Sonny) Holmes J/95333 (formerly R252285) RCAF Age 20 - Missing believed killed (7)
NG 177 Crew Photo: Back row, l. to r. P/O Ralph Thompson, Sgt Herbert Lomax, P/O Angus Holmes,P/O Robert Millman,
F/Sgt Eric Howard. Front row, l. to r. F/O Bruce Rutland and F/L Frank Ling.
Pilot Frank Ling had been at Cottesmore for just over a week before the rest of his crew arrived: though to be fair, at that stage, they were not anyone's crew, come to think of it, they were not even a crew. Herded into a hangar and told to 'sort yourselves out' was the accepted method of forming airmen into crews that were happy not just to fly together, but to live, eat, sleep and socialise together, with each member having absolute trust in the others. With such brotherly-like bonds, each crew would be made ready for what awaited them when they eventually went to war.
And so, Frank Ling garnered the others about him: five Canadians and a token Brit in the shape of Eric Howard, erstwhile House Painter, but now an air bomber by trade, formed his rookie crew.
Age-wise, they fell into two distinct groups, Frank Ling and navigator Bruce Rutland were 28 and 30 respectively whilst the other three Canadians were all 20 and Eric Howard was 23.
Course 91 awaited them and having commenced on 21 April was completed successfully on 29 June. But though they were now conversant with the Wellington bomber and night flying the RAF demanded more from them; so it was off to 1654 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Wigsley, Nottinghamshire, followed by 5 Lancaster Finishing School at nearby RAF Syerston until to 19 September 1944, by which time they were deemed just as proficient on the four engine iconic Lancaster, and thus posted to 50 Squadron at RAF Skellingthorpe in Lincolnshire for operational flying.
Frank Ling hardly had time to unpack before being detailed to fly the same night as 2nd dickey with F/O. J. W. Warrington and his crew on an operation to Rheydt. All went well and he returned safe and sound, no doubt to the relief of the rest of his crew waiting anxiously for his return.
It was a week later on the night of 26/27 September before he had the opportunity to lead his own crew on an operation to Karlsruhe in Lancaster NF984 and the next night to Kaiserslautern flying Lancaster LL741.
On 19 September 50 Squadron had taken delivery of a Lancaster I straight from the Armstrong Whitworth factory. Powered by Merlin 24s the aircraft was prepared by ground staff at Skellingthorpe and declared ready for service. The Lancaster, serial number NG177 VN-L, was duly allocated to Frank Ling and his crew for its maiden operational flight on 5 October, a day raid on Wilhelmshaven.
Hence began the crew's association with NG177 as the Lancaster became its mount of choice, the crew flying only two of their following operations in alternative aircraft.
Operations followed regularly and according to the ORB, the Ling crew miraculously escaped any problems until 17 December, when, on return from a raid on Munich they reported 'our own defences at position G did their best to shoot everyone down. The light flak there was heavier than at most German positions' and on 27 December at Rheydt 'Camera run done on heading of 050T due to turning off to avoid falling bombs' and the following day, during an attack on shipping, 'Port fin holed by flak'.
By the turn of the year Frank Ling had completed 17 operations, the other crew members 16 and an operation to Dortmund on 12 March 1945 brought Frank's total to 30 and the crew's to 29.
On Wednesday 14 March, 18 crews appeared on the battle order for that night's operation, one of them being the Frank Ling crew.
In friendly chat with the ground crews, the airmen soon gleaned details of the bomb and fuel loads to be loaded and, armed with this information it took no Sherlock Holmes to work out that the night's op would be a long one, so when the curtain was drawn back at the later briefing, the ribbon stretched all the way across Germany to Lützkendorf near Leipzig, thus a round trip of some 10 hours or so awaited the lucky lads. The specific target was the Lützkendorf oil facilities located 2 miles East of Mücheln which included a small Wintershall AG crude oil refinery (100,000 tons/yr), a Bergius process hydrogenation unit (125,000 tons/yr) for blending gasolines, a Fischer-Tropsch plant (80,000 tons/yr) to process heavier gasoline cuts from synthesized oil, and tankage for about 75,000 metric tons.
REASON FOR LOSS
Take off from RAF Skellingthorpe began at 1631 hours and precisely 30 minutes later the last of the 18 was away.
Frank Ling and his crew had been one of the early ones, taking off fourth he was off at 16.34 and once formed up the group headed off south towards Reading and onwards to Beachy Head.
Reading 50°00N/02°00E - 4820N/0600E - 4820N/0920E - 4920N/1010E - 5100N/1110E -Target - 5110N/1200E - 5012N/1142E - 4907N/0920E - 4830N/0200E - Reading
H hour was set for 2200 hours and the first of the eighteen bombers of 50 Squadron duly delivered its load at 2202 with the last of them bombing at 2211.
50 Squadron ORB records that:
'All aircraft took off and proceeded to the target but one of this number (Fl/Lt LING AND CREW) failed to complete this mission. Yet another (Fl/Lt. CHADWICK AND CREW) returned early owing to trouble with Rear Turret. Remainder sixteen aircraft bombed target as instructed (identified by Red and Green TIs). Many explosions seen and much smoke penetrating cloud. Considered excellent attack. Aircraft diverted on return and returned to base PM on 15.3.45.'
[Fog over Lincolnshire on their return was probably the reason for the diversion]
The Bomber Command Night Raid Report included the following details:
Weather forecast: Fit, Fog in Lincolnshire on return
Plan: Newhaven with direct bombing H= 2200 BST
244 Lancasters and 11 Mosquitoes attacked the synthetic oil plant on markers which were reported as accurate, and a good concentration of bombing was reported. Many fires and explosions were seen.
Only moderate damage was effected to the Borgius and Fischer Tropsch plants, but a week after the attack they were both inactive.
Enemy fighters were active and 20 Lancasters were intercepted involving 11 attacks and 17 combats. At the target there was a moderate heavy flak barrage up to 10/12000 feet and also slight light flak. Near Weimar accurate heavy flak was experienced
Attacked primary 245
Attacked alternative target 2
Reconciliation of the above figures is problematic but they are as recorded in the Bomber Command Night Raid Report.
In addition to the 8 losses noted above, Lancaster LL902 of 207 Squadron crashed near Little Rissington airfield Gloucestershire while returning to base and killing all 7 crew. The total number of airmen in the crews of the 9 losses was 65 of which 52 were killed.
The Bomber Command War Diaries (Middlebrook and Everitt) and several other sources state that 18 Lancasters (7.4%) were lost on the raid. However Bomber Command Losses (Chorley) records only 8 losses on the raid plus 1 on return to England. Bomber Command Night Raid Reports as stated above also records 8 as missing.
Nothing was heard from Lancaster NG177 after take off on 14 March 1945 and despite the efforts of the Missing Research and Enquiry Service no trace of the aircraft or crew has ever been found, but the search goes on.
Aviation archaeologists in Germany continue to seek evidence of the fate of Lancaster NG177 and its crew. News of any future developments will appear here.
Having no known graves all the members of this crew are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.
We will be pleased if family or friends of the crew with any additional information or photographs will please contact our HELPDESK
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) Fl/Lt Frank James Ling was born on 4 September 1915 at Ashcroft, British Columbia, Canada the son of New Zealand born father Frank Ling (a Farmer) and Canadian born mother Josephine Ling nee Charles.
The family later lived at 560 Watson Road, Sardis, British Columbia, Canada.
He had seven siblings: Isabella Agnes Ling 1916-2008, Herbert Gordon Ling 1919-1997, Josephine Ling 1921-1921, Stanley Harold Ling 1923-1944 (further information below), Viola Ling 1925-1993, Walter Lawrence Ling 1928-1977 and Ernest Robert Ling 1930-2011
Frank Ling was educated at Sardis Public School 1923-1930 and Chilliwack High School 1930-1935, and later undertook two Hemphill Diesel School correspondence courses 1936-1938. He engaged in football basketball baseball and hunting.
After leaving school he worked in Farming 1935-38, as a Feller 1939-1940, a Riggingman (Chaser) 1940-42 and a Derrick Signalman 1 month.
When he enlisted at Vancouver on 9 April 1942 he was 5' 8½" tall weighing 167 lbs with a dark complexion brown eyes and black hair.
After training at 10 Service Flying Training School at RCAF Dauphin, Manitoba, 2 Initial Training School at RCAF Regina, Saskatchewan, 2 Elementary Flying Training School at RCAF Fort William, Ontario, and 12 Service Flying Training School at RCAF Brandon, Manitoba, he was awarded his Flying Badge and commissioned as a Pilot Officer on 11 June 1943. He was then posted to 1 General Reconnaissance School at RCAF Summerside, Prince Edward Island.
He embarked for the UK at New York on 12 October 1943, and the day following arrival, 20 October, was posted 3 Personnel Reception Centre at Bournemouth.
Promoted to Flying Officer on 11 December 1943, he was posted to 20 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit at RAF Kidlington on 28 December 1943, and on 10 April 1944 to 14 Operational Training Unit at RAF Cottesmore in Rutland, until 12 July when he was posted to 51 Base. He was attached to 5 Group Aircrew School at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire from 12 July to 25 July and then to 1654 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Wigsley, Nottinghamshire until 7 September, followed by 5 Lancaster Finishing School at RAF Syerston, Nottinghamshire, to 19 September 1944, on which date he was posted to 50 Squadron at RAF Skellingthorpe in Lincolnshire.
The Province of British Columbia honoured the memory of Frank James Ling by the naming of Ling Lake, and the memory of his borther, Leading Aircraftman Stanley Harold Ling, by the naming of Mount Ling.
Stan hoped he could join his brother’s squadron, and possibly become part of the same crew. While undergoing training as a bomb aimer at 5 Bombing and Gunnery School, Dafoe, Saskatchewan, Stanley Ling was killed when the Anson aircraft in which he was flying, crashed.
(2) Sgt. Herbert Cecil Lomax was born on 15 August 1908 at Darwen, Lancashire, the son of James Lomax (a Shopkeeper) and Betsy Lomax nee Aspden. He had two siblings: James Aspden Lomax (1899-1918) and William Ernest Lomax (1905-1984)
In 1911 the family lived at 19 Gladstone Street, Darwen, Lancashire
In 1934 he married Hilda M. T. Cooper at Blackburn (born 1911 Blackburn). There are no known children of the marriage.
In 1939 Herbert Lomax was the Postmaster at Green Lane Post Office, Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire where he lived with his wife Hilda.
(3) F/O. Bruce Wells Rutland was born on 18 December 1913 at Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the only child of England born parents Hubert Douglas Rutland (a Shipper) and Helen Rutland nee Wells
Educated at Winchester Street Public School 1920-27, and Jarvis Collegiate Institute Toronto 1927-32, he later took a Commercial Correspondence Course, 1932-33 after which he was employed by Canada Packers as a Bookkeeper, 1933-40, First and Co-operative Packers as a Credit Manager 1940-41, and Dunlop Tire and Rubber Co as a Cost Clerk 1941-42.
He played tennis and badminton extensively and his hobby was music
He married Alice Maud Broomhall 23 November 1940, lived at 71 Binswood Ave Toronto later 847 Logan Avenue Toronto. They did not have any children.
When he enlisted at Toronto on 13 July 1942, he was 5'9" tall weighing 140 lbs with a medium complexion, grey eyes and brown hair.
After training at 4 Bombing and Gunnery School at RCAF Fingal, Ontario, 6 Initial Training School at RCAF Toronto, and 1 Air Observer School at RCAF Malton, Ontario, he was awarded his Navigator's Badge and commissioned as a Pilot Officer on 29 October 1943.
He embarked for the UK on 24 November 1943 and after arrival on 1 December was posted 3 Personnel Reception Centre at Bournemouth. On 7 March 1944 he was posted to 10 (Observer) Advanced Flying Unit at RAF Dumfries, Scotland (Course 314)
On 18 April he was posted 14 Operational Training Unit at RAF Cottesmore in Rutland until 12 July, when he was posted to 51 Base. He was promoted to Flying Officer on 29 April 1944
He was attached to 5 Group Aircrew School at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire from 12 July to 25 July, and then to 1654 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Wigsley, Nottinghamshire until 7 September, followed by 5 Lancaster Finishing School at RAF Syerston, Nottinghamshire to 19 September 1944, on which date he was posted to 50 Squadron at RAF Skellingthorpe in Lincolnshire.
(4) Fl/Sgt. Eric Leslie Howard was born on 15 November 1920 at Arlesey, Bedfordshire, the son of Arthur Bernard Howard (a House Painter) and Mabel Howard nee Albon. He had one sibling: Frederick Bernard Howard (1914-2005)
In 1939 he lived with his widowed father and brother at 47 Hitchin Road, Arlesey.
(5) P/O. Ralph Lindsay Thompson was born on 21 April 1923 at Toronto. Ontario, Canada, the son of Northern Ireland born parents William Thompson (a Fireman) and Elizabeth Thompson nee Lindsay. He had three siblings: William Alexander Thompson born 1914, John James Thompson born 1915 (later F/O. RCAF J90835) and Vera Elizabeth Thompson born 1918 and the family lived at 157 Greenwood Avenue, Toronto.
He attended the Duke of Connaught Public School, (1928 1937) and Eastern Commerce Collegiate Institute, (1937-1940) and played hockey and baseball. After leaving school he was employed by Ingram and Bell as an Office Clerk until enlisting in 1942.
When he enlisted on 28 October 1942 at Toronto, he was 5' 6½" tall and weighed 126 lbs.
After training at 18 Pre-Aircrew Education Detachment at Queens University, Kingston, 2 Wireless School at RCAF Calgary, Alberta, and 5 Bombing and Gunnery School at RCAF Dafoe, Saskatchewan, he was awarded his Air Gunner Badge and promoted to Sergeant on 29 November 1943
He embarked for the UK on 20 January 1944 and the day after arrival, 1 February, was posted to 3 Personnel Reception Centre at Bournemouth. On 7 March he was posted to 6 Observer Advanced Flying Unit (Course 126 7 March 1944 to 18 April 1944). On 18 April he was posted 14 Operational Training Unit at RAF Cottesmore in Rutland until 12 July when he was posted to 51 Base. He was attached to 5 Group Aircrew School at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire from 12 July to 25 July and then to 1654 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Wigsley, Nottinghamshire until 7 September, followed by 5 Lancaster Finishing School at RAF Syerston, Nottinghamshire to 19 September on which date he was posted to 50 Squadron at RAF Skellingthorpe in Lincolnshire.
He was promoted to Flight Sergeant 29 August 1944, WO2 on 28 February 1945 and commissioned as a Pilot Officer on 13 March 1945
(6) P/O. Robert Bruce Millman was born on 14 November 1923 at Stratford, Ontario, Canada, the son of James Robert Millman (a Salesman) and Hilda Millman nee Ritter. He had three siblings: Audrey Helen Millman born 1925, William John Millman born 1928 and Kenneth James Millman born 1929
The family later lived at 140 Park street Chatham, Ontario, and later at 24, Ardavan Place, London, Ontario
He attended Central Public School (1936-1937) and Chatham and Chatham Collegiate (1937-1941).
After leaving school he was employed by the Chrysler Corporation as a Messenger, and later as a Stockpicker, until enlisting in the RCAF.
He enjoyed bowling and model aircraft construction.
When he enlisted at Chatham on 13 November 1942 he was 5'9" tall weighing 145 lbs with a fair complexion, blue eyes and brown hair.
He was hospitalised at Westminster, London, Ontario with Scarlet Fever from 19 April to 17 May 1943
He then studied a 5 week Pre-Aircrew Education Course at Ontario Training College for Technical Teachers at Hamilton, which he completed on 16 July 1943
After training at 5 Initial Training School at RCAF Belleville, Ontario and 9 Bombing and Gunnery School at RCAF Mont Joli, Quebec, he was awarded his Air Gunner Badge and promoted to Sergeant on 25 January 1944. He was then posted to 3 Air Gunner Training school at RCAF Three Rivers, Quebec.
He embarked for the UK on 25 March 1944 and the day after arrival in the UK, 3 April, was posted to 3 Personnel and Reception Centre at Bournemouth.
On 18 April he was posted 14 Operational Training Unit at RAF Cottesmore in Rutland until 12 July when he was posted to 51 Base.
He was attached to 5 Group Aircrew School at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire from 12 July to 25 July and then to 1654 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Wigsley, Nottinghamshire until 7 September followed by 5 Lancaster Finishing School at RAF Syerston, Nottinghamshire to 19 September 1944 on which date he was posted to 50 Squadron at RAF Skellingthorpe in Lincolnshire.
He was promoted to Flight Sergeant on 28 October 1944 and commissioned as a Pilot Officer 13 March 1945
(7) P/O. Angus Wharing Holmes was born on 26 February 1924 at Sydney, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada, the son of Joseph James Holmes (a Safety Inspector at a Steel Company) and Jessie Eleanor Holmes (nee McLean).
He had six siblings: Jean Eveline McLean Holmes (1922-1924), James Edwin Holmes (1926-2001), Catherine Elizabeth Holmes (1930-1930), Barbara Anne Holmes born 1931, Ruth McLean Holmes born 1934, and Catherine Patricia Holmes born 1937
The family lived at 54 St Peter's Road, Sydney and later at 129 High Street, Sydney.
Angus attended Sydney Public School (1930-1939) and Sydney Academy (1939-1943). He played basketball and hockey and also hunted.
After leaving school he enlisted in the RCAF at Sydney on 15 May 1943. He was 5' 9½" tall weighing 145 lbs with a fair complexion with brown eyes and auburn hair.
Following training at 1 Wireless School RCAF Montreal, Quebec and 9 Bombing and Gunnery School RCAF Mont Joli, Quebec he was awarded his Air Gunner's Badge and promoted to Sergeant on 28 January 1944. On 12 February he was then posted to 3 Air Gunner Training School at RCAF Three Rivers, Quebec.
He embarked for the UK on 25 March 1944 and the day after arrival, 3 April was posted to 3 Personnel Reception Centre at Bournemouth.
On 18 April he was posted 14 Operational Training Unit at RAF Cottesmore in Rutland until 12 July when he was posted to 51 Base
He was attached to 5 Group Aircrew School at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire from 12 July to 25 July and then to 1654 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Wigsley, Nottinghamshire until 7 September, followed by 5 Lancaster Finishing School at RAF Syerston, Nottinghamshire to 19 September 1944, on which date he was posted to 50 Squadron at RAF Skellingthorpe in Lincolnshire.
He was promoted to Flight Sergeant on 28 October 1944, and commissioned as a Pilot Officer 13 March 1945.
(1) Fl/Lt Frank James Ling - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial - Panel 278
(2) Sgt. Herbert Cecil Lomax - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial - Panel 275
(3) F/O. Bruce Wells Rutland - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial - Panel 279
(4) Fl/Sgt. Eric Leslie Howard - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial - Panel 271
(5) P/O. Ralph Lindsay Thompson - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial - Panel 281
(6) P/O. Robert Bruce Millman - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial - Panel 280
(7) P/O. Angus Wharing Holmes - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial - Panel 280
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - August 2020
With thanks to the sources quoted below.
50 Squadron Loss: NG177, F/L Frank Ling and Crew, Lost Without a Trace (LWT).
VERMISSTENSUCHE THÜRINGEN (SEARCH FOR THE MISSING)
In 2015 René Schütz formed a group of energetic, young German citizens dedicated to researching, locating, excavating and where applicable recovering aircrew remains for forensic identification and reburial. Their actions are voluntary and self-funded. It does not matter if the missing aircraft and crew were Axis or Allied. Each search was given the same determination and respect, regardless of the aircrew’s nationality. Their efforts are focused on the Thüringen district of central Germany that fell under Soviet occupation after the war. Consequently, crash sites were closed to researchers and souvenir collectors.
The initial Vermisstensuche team consisted of founder, René Schütz, Kevin Schmidt, Livius Schillingmann and Thorben Ehmer. Currently, it has expanded to twenty individuals including: forensic pathologists, surveyors, historians, experts in construction, supply and logistics, aircraft parts identification and medical security.
Since its inception, Rene’s team has carried out at least twenty crash site excavations and had three airmen laid to rest with appropriate military honours.
The time frame from 2014 - 2020, marked the 75th anniversary of the Second World War and those servicemen of all Commands who ‘failed to return’. It is quite remarkable that the Vermisstensuche team saw it fit to commemorate this anniversary of the actions taken by Bomber Command aircrew to attack the citizens and cities of their motherland!
P/O. Thompson, left, with fellow Canadian Wireless Operators. (Courtesy Alison Harrington)
On March 25, 2019, René and his team held a formal ceremony to commemorate the loss of 625 Squadron’s Lancaster ED317, F/Sgt. Jamieson and crew at Nägelstedt, Germany. This event included the unveiling of an elaborate cairn, attended by crew’s relatives, a priest, local citizens including surviving witnesses, politicians, the team—and even a piper to open and close the ceremonies. A formal dinner followed. This commemoration proved to be an emotive, unforgettable for those who attended.
VERMISSTENSUCHE Thüringen 2019: l.to r. Journalist Andreas Metzmachter, Elizabeth Baillie (ED 317 relative), Livius Schillingmann, René Schütz,Thorben Ehmer and Kevin Schmidt. Courtesy of Jack Albrecht.
For a number of years, René and his team have been aware of 50 Squadron’s Lancaster X NG177, F/L Frank James Ling RCAF and his crew, LWT after the March 14, 1945, Lützkendorf raid. His research led them to the village of Auerstedt, Germany where a living eyewitness recounted the events of the evening of March 14/15, 1945.
Retired history teacher, Werner Meister was seven years old when he witnessed the following events that occurred on the night of March 14, 1945:
During the Second World War, Auerstedt was on the approach for the Allied bombers, who flew to Lützhendorf and Leuna to bomb the oil refineries there.
At around 10 PM he ran to the nearby Lichtberg to avoid the approaching planes. Werner described what they saw in the sky as a “burning cigar”. The crashing plane just missed the church tower. Shortly thereafter, it crashed into the slope of the Schützenberg, with the entire bomb load still on board, it exploded. The massive pressure wave almost knocked the Meister family off their feet.
The remains of the crew members were collected. Only one of the occupants managed to bale out but as the plane was too low his parachute failed to open and he was killed. His body was also buried in the cemetery.
The crash site located in the vicinity of Auerstedt is spread over more than 100 metres, with the impact crater measuring 20 metres wide and 3 metres deep.
Update from René Schütz, May 18, 2022:
“I can confirm that two engines were recovered from an unauthorized dig at the crash site. One engine is still in the ground and another in a museum in Auerstedt, but this one is completely destroyed.”
For reasons unknown, the headstone marking this collective grave was inscribed: “Unknown American Soldier”.
NG177 crew at ? Pre-op Briefing: l. to r. F.O Rutland, P/O Millman, P/O Holmes, P/O Thompson and F/L Ling. Courtesy of Cathy Bauman/Cindy Ling.
REASON FOR LOSS:
NG177: Nachtjagd Claim - Courtesy Theo Boiten
Hptm. Martin Becker: 50 Stab IV./NJG6 Lancaster Bad Kösen-Naumburg (MD 5): 2.500 m. 22.03 Lützkendorf raid.
After deliberation with Theo and John Naylor, the consensus was that Hptm. Becker was the most likely claimant for NG177 on the grounds of time, location and combat report by his Bordfunker, Lt. Karl-Heinz Johanssen:
“…Over the intercom the crew exchanged their observations or made sudden interjections as they reacted to our pilot’s unexpected flight maneuvers. Ogefr. Welzenbach, the flight engineer, called out; ‘Ein Schatten in Rolf oben—I can see a shadow off to starboard above us’. All eyes glanced in this direction.
Becker had sighted the target and maneuvered the aircraft into position and flew a firing pass from below on the port quarter.
It was 22h03 as this Lancaster also plunged earthwards. It hit the ground in a dazzling explosion, most likely having impacted with its bomb load. Positon MD5.’
It is important to note this information is applicable to the loss of NG177, only with the proviso that the crash site at Auerstedt can definitely linked to this Lanc, and the crew’s loss.
In addition, the Nachtjagd combats that occurred during the Lützdendorf raid were intense and deadly for the Bomber Command crews who had the misfortune to be intercepted. Between 21.20 and 23.37 hrs, sixteen heavies fell to the sting of seven Nachtjagd crews. Hptm. Becker and his Lt. Johanssen would initially claim nine victories, later to be reduced. This included NG177 as a possible victim from six of his combats occurring in a matter of 22 minutes.
With this in mind it is not difficult to understand the difficulty confronting Nachtjagd controllers in attributing claims to the rightful combatant!
We are most grateful to Theo for his contribution to this and many previous archive reports:
"I am pleased to tell you that I have finished work on the final proofs of the NCA 1945 volume, which will now be printed and published by Wingleader by early July. I have written this volume myself, as unfortunately Wingleader was unable to contract Rod Mackenzie last year -Rod, as many of you know, has written a massive magnum opus on the subject and has since decided to go his own way in finishing and publishing his works."
AUERSTEDT EXHUMATION: APRIL 12, 2021.
Auerstedt Headstone—“Unknown American Soldier”, Killed in March 1945. Courtesy of Andreas Metzmacher.
After approaching the church hierarchy in Auerstedt and extensive lobbying with German officials, René was able to obtain permission for a supervised exhumation carried out with forensic experts, German officials and Werner Meister in attendance. Members of the CWGC, RAF and RCAF had been advised of the exhumation.
It was carried out on the morning of April 12, 2021. Careful excavation was carried out by Joachim Kozlowski and Jens Herzog, using a metal detector and a spade when necessary.
On opening, the coffin findings included a skull with gold crowns and amalgam fillings, evidence of a traumatic end with mid-facial, rib and pelvic fractures. There was no evidence of battle dress, although two buttons were located. After two hours a crucial find was made, a portion of an identity disc engraved with “CAN”, signifying Canada. No service numbers were found. At the end of the excavation, a smaller wooden container was found at foot of the coffin, presumably, the remains of the rest of the crew members laid to rest.
Read the report in Global News, Canada.
Exhumation, March 12, 2021. Courtesy Andreas Metzmacher.
Exhumation Remains. Courtesy Andreas Metzmacher.
Fragment of identity disc recovered—“CAN…”. Courtesy of Andreas Metzmacher.
THE RELATIVE’S OF NG177’S CREW
Immediately following the Auerstedt exhumation there was extensive media coverage in Germany, the UK and Canada.
Wendy Flemming, an avid aviation historian, residing in Camrose, Alberta, contacted René Schütz in Germany, volunteering her services to contact the Canadian relatives of NG177’s crewmen. Her interest in Bomber Command spans most of her life as her father served as a navigator with No. 514 Squadron. In twenty-five years she has reunited many, many crews and organized reunions in British Columbia and Hamilton, Ontario.
Her search rapidly bore fruit, connecting with five of the crew’s relatives:
Cindy Ling, niece of the Pilot, F/L Frank Ling.
Jackie Lewin, distant cousin of the Air Bomber, F/Sgt. Eric Howard
Alison Harrington, great niece of the Wireless Operator, F/O Ralph Thompson
Jim Millman, nephew of the Mid-Upper Gunner, F/O Robert Bruce Millman
Cathy Bauman, niece of the Rear Gunner, F/O Angus Holmes
In short order Cindy Ling was able to leapfrog and track down:
Christine Hughes, niece of the Flight Engineer, Sgt. Herbert Lomax
This means that only one crew member remains without known relative connection:
Navigator, F/O Bruce Rutland J37745 of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
We appeal to anyone who is able to put us in contact with his relatives,
via the HELP DESK.
ADDITIONAL BIOS AND DOCUMENTS FROM NG177’S RELATIVES
- F/L Frank Ling. Courtesy of Cindy Ling.
My uncle Frank was the pilot of the crew NG177. He was the oldest of 8 children. My dad who was the youngest was 15 when Frank was killed. He adored his older brother and I just wish he was still alive today to know that Frank and his crew have been finally found.
This is a little about what I know of my uncle Frank.
F/L Frank James Ling was born Sept 14 1915 in Ashcroft, BC to Frank Ling( born in New Zealand to a white English mother and while it’s not known who his father was he was of another race, either aboriginal or Chinese decent) and Josephine Charles (born in Ashcroft to a native mother and a father who was born in Rangoon Burma)
Frank attended a “boarding school” in Ashcroft. We refer to them as residential schools from Sunday nights to Friday nights for 1-2 years. When the family moved to Sardis, BC Frank attended school like any other where he was and very few native Indian boys integrated and was in the school system till grade 13.
At age 14 he won the Lord and Lady Willingdon Governor General’s Award for proficiency. He excelled in football, soccer, softball and track and field.
Upon graduating in 1939 he went into the logging industry but when the war broke out and the country needed people to work in the ship yards in Vancouver he went there.
He enlisted in the RCAF the fall of ’42 and earned his pilots wings at Brandon. He left for overseas in ’43 and served in No.50 squadron.
Frank wouldn’t make it home to visit family as much according to my Dad, due to the fact that he was highly intelligent and he was always taken for more training, things which he couldn’t discuss with the family to what he was doing.
Their last mission when the plane vanished was on March 14, 1945. From rear gunner, Fl/Sgt. Harvey Weeks who was also from Sardis and flew on that same mission with the Dam Busters 617 Squadron, told the family upon his return home that he saw Franks Lancaster NG177 when they were in deep flak, but when he looked again there was no sign of the plane. No one saw the plane go down , if it had engine trouble or had been hit, it just disappeared. Frank was only 29 years old.
This was a double blow to the family as only 4 and a half months earlier his brother, my uncle, LAC Stanley Harold Ling, with the 5th Bombing and Gunnery School of the RCAF, hoping to join his older brother was undergoing training as a bombardier in Dafoe Sask. When during a night exercise trying to land at the base in ground fog was killed in an Anson aircraft when it crashed. He was the only crew member to be killed, the others survived with injuries. Stan was only 20 years old.
The family never recovered to losing both of them.
The letter I have enclosed is the last that Frank ever wrote. It’s to his best friend and neighbour Charlie Currie. If you look at the post mark date it is the day before the last mission when they all perished. In reading the letter Frank states “ what will happen to me when I finish my tour is doubtful now…” By the time Charlie received the letter on March 20th he knew his best friend was already gone. Charlie never recovered from the loss.
I speak for the next generation of the family.
All my aunts and uncles are gone now , I wish my dad was still here, he would have been 92 this year. He would have so much longed to know that his brother has been finally found, so I will take his place and honour and carry on Frank’s legacy and his life. I only wish that I would could have met him. To have a remarkable uncle as he and to honour him for his sacrifice for his family and country. To pay the ultimate price.
F/L Ling’s Last Letter to his Best Friend:
March 7th (1945)
Just got back from another leave today and found a letter from you. I guess it’s time I dropped you a line for I have another letter from you outstanding.
Circumstances have changed a bit since I last wrote to you, and if you get over when you expect to, I’ll still be here. What will happen to me when I finish my tour is doubtful now. Probably I’ll end up doing some stooging on a training station.
While on leave I visited Gordon Hall and ran into Dick Cattermole, Stan Bishop, Ralph Ballam and Charlie Stewart, who used to drive truck for Bud Thompson and also one of the High School buses, if I’m not mistaken. Wes Davis & Alec McGregor were there but I couldn’t find them. Stan Bishop is a corporal instructor, Ralph is on his way home after being wounded in Italy, and Dick Cattermole is married and has a 2 months old baby girl. He hasn’t tamed down a bit and is just as crazy as ever. I expect that Gordon will be in the thick of it before long.
I only spent a couple of nights in London this time. My navigator, Bruce Rutland, and I went to Cromwell for the rest of our leave and really enjoyed ourselves. We stayed in a very exclusive hotel called the Tregeanna Castle. That was our only mistake. It was filled with old people, big shots, society people, Lords & Ladies etc. The atmosphere was so thick you could cut it with a knife. It was a beautiful old place though, with lovely grounds, including a golf course. We played a couple of games. The weather was ideal and we used to take bus trips to different places and even reached Land’s End. It was sure good to breath clean fresh air for a change from smoke and coal dust. We went to a couple of dances and nearly got mobbed by the local gals. There was a decided shortage of men, and in the ladies tags we’d never get more than a few dozen steps with the same partner.
The news from home says that Allen Wilson is going to get married, a Cloverdale girl, I think but I don’t know her name. You’ll probably got more dope on it than I have.
So you are having trouble with code. You’ll get through all right. It’s not that you aren’t as bright as you used to be, rather that you have got out of the way of studying. I had the same trouble. I sure used to envy the kids on the course that had enlisted from University - it was a cinch for them.
The ops aren’t doing me any harm. I’m getting used to taking the good with the bad. I’m getting to be a veteran on the Squadron now, and have taken quite a few newcomers on their second dickie trips. Nearly had a W/Cdr. as a second dickie one night , but the op was cancelled, and he went with somebody else the next night.
Well, I seem to be running out of BS. so had better close for now.
2. Sgt. Herbert Lomax. Courtesy of Christine Hughes.
Bert was the much loved, youngest of five sons of Lancashire folk, Betsy and James Lomax. His three oldest brothers were all dead by the end of 1918 and his mother died in February 1919 so Bert and and my father William grew up through the years of the Great Depression with their father ensuring education was the main objective for their future lives. Bert was a tall, dark, handsome, fun-loving and much-loved younger brother of my father and uncle to me and my sisters. As I was only 14 months old on the last occasion I saw him, my memories are vague but I have vivid recollections of my older sister making me run out into the garden to gaze into the skies whenever the instantly recognisable drone of a Lancaster flew over us in the late 1940’s and 50’s. I have felt his presence though all the long years since and to me he has almost become a mythical, mystical, magical man who saw fit to serve his country to enlist in the RAF at an age well beyond the accepted norm. I have always understood that this sortie was to be the last mission of his wartime service even before Martin Becker intervened. I don’t know how many sorties he had already made but he gave the ultimate sacrifice, his father was too ill to be told of his death, and he has and always will be remembered in my heart. My father would be incredibly grateful to know that the Lancaster and its crew have been found. Their final farewell has been long awaited but thanks to the persistence and determination of René and his team and all the people involved, we can indeed at long last allow them to Rest In Peace.
3. F/O Bruce Wells Rutland. Pending contact with next of kin.
4. F/Sgt Eric Howard. Pending info/photos if available.
5. P/O Ralph Thomson. Pending info/photos if available.
P/O Thompson, centre, and Service ‘Cronies’. Courtesy of Alison Harrington.
6. F/O Robert Millman. Courtesy of Jim Millman.
My name is Jim Millman, I am the nephew of the late Robert ( Bob ) Bruce Millman member of the 50th Squadron, Lancaster flight crew NA177. My uncle was the oldest of four children, my father being the youngest. Unfortunately the last sibling passed away 6 months ago not ever knowing what happened to Bob. His disappearance really had a lasting effect on the entire family, especially my father who I feel never came to terms with his passing.
I am in possession of all my uncle's log books and letters to family of which I have scanned and if you are interested will send to you, including Bob's posthumous commission to rank of Pilot Officer. Myself and my family deeply appreciate everything that you and Rene are doing.
7. P/O Angus Holmes. Courtesy Cathy Bauman.
My uncle was Angus Wharing Holmes who was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia in 1924 to Joseph James Holmes (Sheffield, UK) and Jessie McLean Holmes (North Uist, Scotland).
He was the only one with red hair in the family and he was referred to as "Red" in his squadron, but by "Sonny" in the family.
The parents lost 2 children in infancy prior to his birth and then had 5 after. My Mom was the baby of the family. All Angus' siblings have now passed away.
He was very close with his brother Jim (born just after him) and the 2 played endless pranks on their 3 younger sisters who they adored.
After high school he worked at the steel plant in Sydney, but left to register in Halifax. I have letters of him writing home to ask for money to pay his laundry bill and for shoe polish as their salary in the forces was not that large.
My grandfather had been in the navy and on 2 ships that sank during WWI so he signed Angus' underaged papers for the air force with the hope he would be safer there.
In my uncle's military records I have a lot of correspondence my grandfather wrote to the government begging for information and asking them to send anything they may have to his work address as my grandmother was not coping well. My grandfather had been a wireless operator in the war and spent every evening in the basement communicating with people trying to find out what happened to him. My uncle Jim enlisted as the war ended to go overseas with the hope of finding out more and help with the reconstruction of Europe.
The family moved a few streets over while Angus was overseas , but they still stayed in Sydney. After the move the sisters would cry worrying that Angus could not find them when he finally came home. I am so grateful to be part of this group that all share this experience with our family. We have all grown up on the sad tale and know the heartache our parents experienced from never knowing what became of this flight. Helping the memories of these men come full circle and back to us has been so healing.
I have watched a few shows on tv where they have uncovered planes and tracked down their relatives and always wished we could be one of those and now it seems too good to be true. Having some proof that this is truly them would be so heart-warming and healing.
STATEMENT BY RENÉ SCHÜTZ LEADER: VERMISSTENSUCHE THÜRINGEN
I have to say something, we can't prove 100% that it is the crew of NG177, but we are very sure. I expect that the DNA match will be available in 5 years at the earliest. Please excuse me for not having particularly high opinions of an agency that has not done anything in almost a year to clarify the identities of its soldiers for soldiers who have paid their country the ultimate price - their lives. You ask yourself why we as Germans are doing this. It's our story too! And we from the Thuringia missing person search are of the opinion that the Second World War is only worked up when everyone who died in this war has a grave with his name. But what makes me proud is that when you come to Germany for the inauguration of the memorial stone, you will be welcomed with open arms by the residents of Auerstedt
CURRENT UPDATE OF INVESTIGATION STATUS AS OF MAY 11/12, 2022.
We are most grateful to Cindy Ling for her aggressive research that has resulted in receipt of the two following emails from Dr. Sarah Lockyer. They are self explanatory:
May 11, 2022
Dear Ms. Ling,
My name is Dr. Sarah Lockyer and I am the Casualty Identification Coordinator and the Forensic Anthropologist for the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence. Thank you for taking the time to fill out the registration below.
I am currently in Germany doing a full anthropological analysis of the remains you referenced in the comments below. I am accompanied by a member of the Canadian Forces Forensic Odontology Response Team who is doing a full dental analysis to compare against the dental records in the personal files of the potential Canadian candidates that have gone missing in the area.
This is one of the 42 sets of remains I am trying to identify at the moment. Rest assured that the Casualty Identification Program is working on this case and doing everything we can to identify these remains.
Best wishes and keep well,
Sarah Lockyer, PhD
Casualty Identification Coordinator, Directorate of History and Heritage National Defence / Government of Canada
May 12, 2022
Thank you for sending the photographs of your uncle Frank and for providing the additional information.
Today is our last day of work in Germany and we will have collected all the anthropological and dental data. I cannot give you a definitive time frame at this point as there are too many variables that remain unknown. But I can give you a quick breakdown of the steps from a Canadian perspective we may need to take moving forward.
With the anthropological and dental data collection completed, the Canadian Forces Forensic Odontology Response Team (CFFORT) and I need to review the data and finalize our conclusions. The anthropological data serves to create a biological profile of the individual providing age, sex, height etc. That information is used to exclude potential candidates based on the data in their personal file (with the caveat that some may have lied about their age, requiring more research to confirm dates of birth). I am travelling to France tomorrow (Friday) to analyze more possible Canadian human remains. Therefore, I will not be able to analyze the data collected on this trip until the end of May or early June. I do not know when the CFFORT will be able to finalize their report as they work full-time as Canadian Armed Forces dentists but I am hopefully it won’t be too long.
The dental analysis can yield one of of three outcomes:
- If the dental excludes all potential candidates (our candidate list is larger than the crew of NG177 based on the historical research we have done for those who went missing in the months prior and after March 1945), I will inform the families of the Canadian crew of NG177 since you are aware of our investigation. The case is then no longer under a Canadian investigation.
- If the dental is able to confirm the identity of the individual with the full set of teeth, the case is submitted to the Casualty Identification Review Board (board members are civilian and military staff from the Canadian Armed Forces). The Board reviews all the evidence and must come to a unanimous decision on the recommendation that has been submitted.
- If the dental comes back as inconclusive (meaning some candidates could not be excluded and the identification could not be confirmed), we will need to move on to DNA analysis. Note that DNA extraction from the bone can take 2-3 months and the type of DNA (maternal or paternal) extracted from the bone is dependent on how well or poorly the DNA has survived in the bone. We then search for viable DNA donors who have the type of DNA that was extracted from the bone. It is important to understand that not all living descendants have the type of DNA we are looking for; we have to look for relatives who are at specific places in the family tree. When we find a donor who has the type of DNA we are looking for, it takes another 2-3 months before we receive the results of the comparison. If the DNA results are positive, the case is submitted to the Casualty Identification Review Board.
The results of the dental analysis will inform the next steps for this case. Until I have concrete results, I cannot say for sure when this investigation will be over.
I hope the above provides some answers for you.
The mystery of the loss of Lancaster NG177 LWT has been an unsolved ‘cold case’ for three quarters of a century, captivating the attention of the crew’s relatives and the international, aviation historical community.
René Schütz and his team are to be commended for their determination and tenacity resulting in the Auerstedt exhumation and the recovery of human remains of the crew of a Lancaster bomber that crashed on the evening of March 14/15, 1945. There is strong circumstantial evidence that this aircraft is NG177, along with F/L Frank Ling and his crew.
Unfortunately, no aircraft debris fragments have been identified as coming from NG177, and for reasons unknown the crew member who bailed out was not identified by the Germans at the time, from his identity disc or uniform personal labels. This coupled with the fact that he was buried, in a grave with a misleadingly inscribed headstone, without his clothing, was unusual.
A year has passed since the exhumation. The silence from the authorities is disconcerting regarding progress of DNA identification of the remains. We do not know at what stage this investigation is or if has started. Officials at the CWGC have informed us 2024 is the earliest to expect a conclusion from these studies. However, it is important to understand the financially and manpower challenged CWGC is the messenger in this process, having no control over the British or Canadian authorities directing the investigation.
We are hopeful the authorities realize the crew’s relatives awaiting the results are seniors, anxious to know the final conclusion. This also applies to surviving Bomber Command vets and aviation historical enthusiasts. It is a litmus test of the sincerity of politician’s Remembrance Day tributes to the sacrifices made by those who answered the call to arms—and failed to return.
One has to keep in mind DNA investigation is time consuming, expensive and complex. This includes a multitude of variables which may result in an indeterminate outcome—a frustrating situation for all involved.
At this point it will be important how the CWGC handles this possibility. Will they leave NG177 as LWT or demonstrate flexility and compassion, declaring the Auerstedt remains to be those of NG177’s crew— thus giving a known resting place for relatives to visit, in Auerstedt, as well as a British War Cemetery in Germany.
With this in mind, the mystery of the loss of No. 97 Squadron’s Lancaster ND739, W/C Jimmy Carter DFC and Bar and crew, dovetails with the variable unknowns of NG177’s loss.
On the eve of D-Day, June 5/6, 1944 W/C Carter and his eight man crew were detailed to attack the gun batteries at St. Pierre-du-Mont. They failed to return. Returning crews and French locals reported seeing a Lancaster crash into a marsh and explode.
RAF authorities assumed that ND739 had crashed into the sea, until a local French team, in 2012, carried out an excavation at the marsh. The aircraft was identified to be ND739 and personal effects of the crew were found, including a signet ring and uniform fragments. However, no human remains were found.
It is now over a decade and the CWGC still classifies the loss of ND739: LWT. No known resting place. A most frustrating situation for the relatives of ND739’s crew: More information here.
With this in mind, what are the chances of finding a positive DNA identification of the crew member at Auerstedt, Germany, as a one of NG177’s Crew members? Without the positive ID of the aircraft or the exhumed crew member it is most unlikely that the CWGC will be prepared, solely on circumstantial evidence, to confirm that this is NG177 and her crew. The case of ND739 is a strong precedent.
With three quarters of a century in the slipstream since war’s end, it will be interesting to observe if the CWGC will be able to show flexibility and compassion, with their final announcements regarding the fates of Lancasters NG177 and ND739. If they adhere to their original, rigid guidelines to confirm an ironclad case, then it is most likely that their decision will come down, status quo—LWT, in both cases.
One option would be to update their files with the information at hand.
ND739, crashed on June 5/6, 1944, into a marsh in the vicinity of St. Pierre-du-Mont. There were no survivors from the crew of eight. The aircraft and personal crew objects positively identified this to be the crash site of ND739. No human remains were recovered for reburial. It would seem reasonable for the CWGC to show this and have memorial headstones placed at a an adjacent French cemetery, perhaps at St. Pierre-du-Mont. In future, if crew remains are located they could be reinterred at this site.
This is not without precedent, where a known crash site had been identified, without recovery of identifiable crew remains, due to violent impact forces.
Following the disastrous June 30, 1944, Vierzon raid, 625 Squadron suffered the loss of four crews and three aircraft: Lancasters JB743, P/O H. Hale and crew, ND459, F/O E. Wright and crew and ND975, P/O W.M. Knowles were lost without survivors, or identifiable remains. These crews were buried in the local Communal cemeteries, in collective graves with recumbent slabs. Single coffins contained the unidentifiable remains of the crews, if they could be located. A local French researcher noted that for one of the crews, “the coffin was empty…the crew is still in the fields”. PB126, F/L J.C. Elmhirst-Baxter and crew would also fail to return from this raid, with five crew members evading capture. Sadly, Mid-Upper Gunner, F/Sgt W.J. Adcock and Rear Gunner, F/Sgt R.E. Gledstone, would perish in the crash. http://www.aircrewremembered.com/elmhirst-baxter-john.html
Unfortunately for the loss of NG177 we do not have a comparable situation for the CWGC management: a crash site of a Lancaster bomber, to date unidentified and exhumed remains, also eluding identification. The worst case scenario is the DNA investigations will be inconclusive.
However, all is not lost. The principles of exclusion rapidly narrow down the possible identification of the Lancaster and crew who crashed in the vicinity of Auerstedt. Timing, other missing aircraft possibilities, coupled with an eyewitness account and exhumation remains consistent with this account—all increase the statistical possibility of this being the crash site of NG177 and her crew to close to 100%, under the circumstances.
This is akin to the extreme jigsaw puzzle, that until the last piece remains a mystery, when it fits snuggly into its rightful place.
We are hopeful the CWGC will show flexibility and compassion with their final decision regarding the loss of NG177 and her crew. This is the time to bring as many cold cases to conclusion, with eyewitnesses, relatives and documents being lost with the passage of time.
In the event that the CWGC rules to the contrary, this addendum to this loss will leave future generations the opportunity of visiting the final resting place for NG177 and her crew—marked by a memorial cairn. Thanks to the tenacity of René Schütz and his team.
Time moves on. Will they be remembered, or forgotten?
LATE NOTE: May 23, 2022.
Cindy Ling is to be commended for her tireless endeavours to bring this case to an expeditious conclusion.
Her liaison with Dr. Sarah Lockyer has brought this file into vivid focus. Dr. Lockyer’s investigation results and proposed timetables for a positive or inconclusive result of the crash site near Auerstedt, and the remains exhumed from the local cemetery, will hopefully provide the answer to the puzzle — are they those of NG177, F/L Frank Ling and Crew, or some other missing Lanc and crew who ‘failed to return’. The end is in sight, the suspense overpowering! JEA
NG177 Crew’s Relatives Correspondence
Aircrew Remembered - More information here.
Library and Archives Canada/Ancestry.ca, Canada, World War II Records and Service Files of War Dead, 1939-1947:
F/L F. Ling, J37745 F/O B. Rutland, J95523 P/O R. Thomson, J95401 P/O R. Millman and P/O J95333 A. Holmes.
Reg Price DFC
NG177 Crews’s Relatives—Cindy Ling, Christine Hughs, Jackie Lewin, Alison Harrington, Jim Millman and Cathy Bauman.
Theo Boiten, Nachtjagt Combat Archives.
Wendy Flemming and Jack Albrecht.
UPDATE: July 20, 2022
Dr. Lockyer, National Defence, Ottawa, Canada
The results of Canada’s investigation into the 5 RCAF airmen of NG177 has been made available to the relatives of those RCAF airmen (with the exception of Rutland). Canada does not investigate the identity of service members from other nations. Identification is a national responsibility. For the RAF airmen, you need to contact UK’s Ministry of Defence’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC).
With the evidence that is available, there is no way to say who this person is or if they were a crew member of any aircraft. What we can conclusively say is that it is not an RCAF airmen from NG177. For due diligence and based on the historical analysis of Canadian Armed Forces Historians, the dental analysis looked at 5 RCAF airmen who crashed roughly in the area a few months prior to the NG177. The analysis of all 10 RCAF airmen was excluded meaning the remains are not one of those ten RCAF airmen.
I have informed CWGC and the UK’s Ministry of Defence’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre of the results of Canada’s investigation.
René Schütz, Germany
I would like to inform you that today I had a conversation with the responsible German authorities regarding the crash site of NG177. After approval by the authorities, we are expected to conduct a large-scale survey in the area of the Lancaster's stray field in October. The area to be searched has a length of about 300m and a width of 150m. The objective is to find the crew's personal items such as identification tags, watches, bracelets and, above all, possible mortal remains. The investigation will start in October and last until possibly early March. I have good hopes that we can find clear evidence and evidence to draw conclusions about the occupation. After documentation and elaboration, the items found will be handed over to the Canadian authorities responsible for you. As soon as the first clear evidence is found, we will inform you in the group. I am still convinced that it is NG177. We will inaugurate the memorial stone on August 6th because I am convinced that it is also a commemoration of your relatives that they deserve.
NG177 Memorial Plaque at presumed crash site:
LANCASTER NG177: INAUGURAL CEREMONY OF MEMORIAL CAIRN,
AUERSTEDT, GERMANY — AUGUST 6, 2022
Auerstedt: Memorial stone dedicated to fallen bomber crew
by Andreas Metzmacher, MDR THURINGIA
As of August 06, 2022, 1:14 p.m.
On March 14, 1945, a British bomber crashed near the Thuringian village of Auerstedt. Its crew of seven perished. Only an inconspicuous grave reminded of her for decades. In order to clarify the identity of the bomber crew, René Schütz from the IG missing persons search in Thuringia researched for a year - with success. On August 6, 2022, a memorial stone for the fallen crew was inaugurated.
Contemporary witness: Werner Meister watched the crash of the bomber as a child. Next to him is Christine Hughes, the niece of one of the crew members who died. Image rights: MDR/Andreas Metzmacher
“An unknown American soldier, captured in March 1945” was barely recognizable on the weathered gravestone in the small cemetery in Auerstedt. For decades, the people of Auerstedt tended the grave without knowing who the unknown dead person was. In order to solve this riddle, René Schütz from the IG missing persons search in Thuringia spent a year researching. His research led to a British bomber plane that did not return to its base in England after an attack on the German fuel industry near Leuna in the last days of the war and is still considered missing along with its seven-man crew.
“Like a lit cigar”
Historical photo and profile of an Avro Lancaster Mk. I. Courtesy of the Avro Lancaster The Definitive Record by Harry Homes.
Note by John Naylor: The Mk1 was always different with the smaller Bomb Aimers blister and the pitot head up front on the nose. It did of course have different engines than the Mk3. Some Mk1s were converted on the production line to Mk3 status, but still retained the pitot head on the nose!
On the evening of March 14, 1945, there was an air raid alarm in Auerstedt. An Allied bomber force was approaching from Weimar, aiming for the mineral oil works in Lützkendorf, near Leuna, north of Auerstedt. Since May 1944, Wintershall AG’s petroleum plant, which produces synthetic fuel from coal, had been repeatedly attacked by US bomber groups during the day. In the late afternoon of March 14, 1945, a bomber formation from the British Royal Air Force (RAF) with a total of 244 four-engined Avro Lancaster bombers and eleven twin-engined Mosquitos, which served as markers, formed over southern England for an attack on the hydrogenation plant.
Among the 18 aircraft that took off from RAF Skellingthorpe and joined the bomber formation was Avro Lancaster I, NG177, with the code VN-L, and a mixed crew of five Canadians and two Englishmen. Over France, the bombers flew past Weimar from the south-west towards the target area and had to defend themselves against the heavy resistance of German night fighters, who managed to shoot down several RAF bombers.
“And about a kilometre behind Auerstedt, on the Schützenberg, this plane crashed into the slope.”
—Contemporary witness Werner Meister
In 1996, a Lancaster engine was recovered about 150 metres from the crash site. It is exhibited in the Castle Museum in Auerstedt. Image rights: MDR/Andreas Metzmacher
The people of Auerstedt had almost routinely left their houses after the air-raid siren sounded and gathered on a hill outside the village. The then seven-year-old Werner Meister from Auerstedt still remembers exactly what happened next. “It was around 10 p.m. when a burning plane came from the west, it looked like a huge burning cigar, was a few hundred metres above Auerstedt, almost hit the church tower. And about a kilometre behind Auerstedt, at the Schützenberg, this plane crashed into the slope. The pressure wave was so strong that we were almost knocked to the ground.” The tremendous force of the explosion also left its mark on the village. Windows shattered and many roofs were blown off. When the people from the Auerstedt went to the crash site the next day, the exploded bomber had torn a huge crater in the slope.
Huge debris field
There were large stones and shredded fragments of the bomber everywhere. A sight that Werner Meister can’t get out of his head to this day was that of torn off body parts of the crew in the middle of the debris field. In front of the village, near a railway line, the Auerstedters found another dead airman next to a parachute. Apparently a crew member of the aircraft who had managed to bale out before impact. However, the plane was probably already too low for his parachute to deploy.
Wreckage of bomber, NG177, that crashed near Auerstedt. Image rights: MDR/Andreas Metzmacher
The Auerstedters buried the dead airman in their village cemetery. They placed the body parts of the other crew members, found at the crash site, in a box within the grave. Small pieces of wreckage can still be found at the crash site today, which René Schütz was able to clearly assign to an Avro Lancaster MK. I built by Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft in England, on the basis of the embossed letters and numbers. During a salvage operation more than 20 years ago, one of the Lancaster’s four engines, a Rolls Royce Merlin, was recovered and exhibited in the Auerstedt Castle Museum.
The wreckage, the witness statement and the fact that only one aircraft from the operation on March 14, 1945, namely NG177, is still considered missing, indicates that a member of this crew must have been lying in the grave. Only an exhumation, which René Schütz organized on April 12, 2021, in consultation with the municipality and the German People’s Association for War Graves Commission, which is responsible in such cases, could bring final certainty.
In fact, there was a dead airman in the grave. A small plaque that René Schütz found on a small chain on the dead man’s wrist was a small identification tag that indicated that he was a Canadian. Three letters were barely visible on it: CAN - the designation for Canadian military personnel. At the foot of the coffin, René Schütz and Umbetter Joachim Kozowski dug up the box mentioned in the village chronicle containing the remains of the other crew members. Not only bone remains were found in it, but also glass splinters and small pieces of sheet metal that clearly came from an airplane.
The Volksbund für Kriegsgräberfürsorge took over the complete skeleton and the bone parts from the box and handed them over to its British partner organization, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, for further identification. Missing persons researcher René Schütz was able to locate the descendants and relatives of the missing crew through contacts in Canada and Great Britain, and informed them that the crash site of NG177 was found, with high probability.
Extensive research with surprising results
In the meantime, a Canadian pathologist has been able to rule out that it is one of the five Canadians, based on the dental history of the deceased when comparing available files. So it must be one of the two Englishmen. But why was he wearing a Canadian identity disc? Only a DNA test can find out who the dead person is. More than 75 years after war’s end, the relatives of the seven airmen who did not return could finally be given certainty.
The municipality of Auerstedt invited all surviving relatives of the crew to the inauguration of the memorial stone on August 6, 2022. The ceremony was broadcast live for the relatives, who were mostly unable to travel for health reasons. Christine Hughes, niece of the flight engineer, Sgt. Herbert Cecil Lomax, came to Auerstedt with her husband from Australia. She was 14 months old when she last saw her uncle. She still remembers a tall, handsome and fun-loving man. She used to run into the garden with her sister whenever they could hear the roar of a Lancaster flying by.
Christine Hughes, niece of flight engineer, Herbert Cecil Lomax at the dedication of the memorial stone in Auerstedt on August 6, 2022. Image rights: MDR/Andreas Metzmacher
His brother’s fate hit her father deeply. To the end of his life he hoped to get news of his brother’s whereabouts, says Christine. She was finally able to say goodbye on behalf of her father and is incredibly grateful to René Schütz and his team, that he was able to clarify the fate of her uncle.
In Auerstedt she told MDR THÜRINGEN the the commemoration was very moving for her. She is very grateful to all Germans. After all that England and Germany went through, both countries are friends again.
Christine Hughes with a photo of her fallen uncle, Herbert Cecil Lomax. Image rights: MDR/Andreas Metzmacher
Cindy LIng, niece of the dead bomber pilot, Frank Ling, was unable to travel herself. In a speech she sent, she thanked the people of Auerstedt for their kindness and love. They showed that in dark times of crisis there are also shining moments of humanity.
Michael and Christine Hughes with René Schütz, centre. Image rights: MDR/Andreas Metzmacher
Vermisstensuche Thüringen Team 2022 and Guests. Image rights: MDR/Andreas Metzmacher
IMPACT STATEMENT: Christine Hughes, niece of Flight Engineer, Sgt. Herbert Cecil Lomax
August 8, 2022.
I can well imagine your emotions as you watched the ceremony, as you had already experienced it all on a personal basis. As we get older it does that!
I first began to look at family war records with my family in 1955 ! - at Carlisle cathedral for my father and Bert’s oldest brother, then to Tyne Cot in 1961 on our first trip to Europe. Michael and I have followed “war” everywhere-Singapore, Pearl Harbour, El Alamein, the Vršič Pass in Slovenia, Normandy, the Somme, even in Adelaide River in NT and the airfields of Queensland. We’ve seen where the Japanese surrendered on USS Missouri, and the school in Rheims where the Germans surrendered in 1945 and the railway carriage at Compiègne where they surrendered in 1918. If we ever go away again I think Hiroshima and Nagasaki are calling!
This experience in Auerstedt has been different and so very special. Michael and I have both enjoyed the most incredible time here for the last 48 hours or so and after yesterday are emotionally exhausted.
The Vermisstensuche Thüringen team are truly amazingly dedicated, respectful and cooperative with each other in their work, supremely welcoming, obliging and considerate with us and such a wonderful group of men of varied age that they have completely restored our faith in human nature. All members are very polite, courteous and mature and are an absolute credit to Germany! If only all human kind were like them the world would be a better place!
The ceremony was very emotional and I confess I almost fell apart at several points. The weather, fortunately, had cooled down, very considerably, the previous night and was perfect. Likewise every aspect of the setting was too, just below the actual crater of the crash site indicated in the trees above by the large banner style photograph of the Lancaster’s crew. The flags, candles, white roses and individual photographs of the crew were very touching and the memorial stone and the plaque were magnificent. Roses have been planted around the memorial and maples will be next spring. The flowers too looked beautiful. We are very much indebted to the generosity, determination and persistent efforts of the Burgermeister of Bad Sulza, Dirk Schütz and to René Schütz and the Vermisstensuche Thüringen group for everything they have all done to enable and produce a faultless and utterly unforgettable commemoration of the horrific event on 14th March, 1945.
We have experienced an enormous wave of friendship and healing from the ravages of WW2 expressed without reservation by everyone here in their welcome. The villagers of Auerstedt turned out in force, young and old, contributing to a remarkable community spirit by providing us with ample and extremely tasty refreshments in the village hall after the ceremony and chat/ photograph time, as well as keeping us occupied and entertained.
Not only will we always remember my uncle Bert and all the crew of NG 177, but also we shall never forget the people of Auerstedt and all those involved in this extremely special event in our lives. We are extremely thankful to have been able to be here.
With all good wishes
August 9, 2022.
I must have been too exhausted to recount adequately when I wrote to you yesterday.
Yes , you are so right . Please add this:
The photo banner of the crew was both surreal and symbolic. Placed in the trees in the position just where the plane actually crashed into the hillside we felt they were there watching over us and indeed remained ‘forever young’. Certainly, as evidenced by the friendship, generosity and hospitality which we have experienced and the cooperation between all our countries nowadays, it was not in vain.
Best wishes and take care
Above: Video for the August 6, 2022, Inaugural Ceremony dedicating the memorial cairn to the loss Lancaster NG177 and her crew, Auerstedt, Germany.
Further details here.
With the inaugural ceremony on August 6, 2022, Auerstedt, Germany is now the unofficial crash site and resting place of NG177 and her crew. The onus is now on others to refute this claim with substantive proof to the contrary. We are greatly indebted to René Schütz, his team and Andreas Metzacher for bringing us this far. Hopefully, future investigations will provide irrefutable evidence that this is indeed the crash site and remains of the brave young crew of No. 50 Squadron Lancaster NG177, VN-L. Only then will the CWGC accept this as the official crash site and crew remains, and arrange for reburial in a British Military Cemetery in Germany. JEA.