1659 HCU Halifax II JD317 F/O. Martin Stewart Little
Date: 24/25th March 1944 (Friday/Saturday)
Unit: No. 1659 Heavy Conversion Unit. 6 Group
Type: Halifax II
Base: RAF Topcliffe, North Yorkshire
Pilot: F/O. Martin Stewart Little J/24320 RCAF Age 23. Killed
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Derek James Webb R/110337 RCAF Age 21. safe
Nav: F/O. John Stewart Beresford J/24909 RCAF Age 26. Injured (1)
Air/Bmr: Sgt. J.H MacKenzie R/162305 RCAF Age ? Injured
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Leonarf James Rouse R/104909 RCAF Age ? safe
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Harry Richard Mason R/214011 RCAF Age 19. safe (1)
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Nicholas Edgar John Cowan R/209197 RCAF Age 30. Injured (1)
REASON FOR LOSS:
Weather - visibility moderate 2-3 miles - wind NNW 2 MPH at surface - nil clouds
Took off at 19:22 hrs on a 'Bullseye' operation at Bristol.
The aircraft was returning over the sea and set a course to Portland Bill. After the reached the English coast the navigator advised the pilot that they were half an hour early and to make a dog leg, this was done and they were back on track. Thet contued on the set course until a fishing beacon "P' was seen. At this time a 'Gee' fix was obtained which placed them over Wales the signal was to fly east. Having over run the target of Bristol the navigator decided to alter course to enable the to approach the target.
The crew observed searchlight activity and flares so he assumed they were in position and allowed the pilot to make the bomb run visually. Just as the photographs were being taken flak was reported by the crew. The pilot informed the crew that they had been hit and so haltered course. They were hit again and the pilot ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft.
Sgt. Derek Webb in the meantime fired the colour verification of the day and the pilot turned on the navigation lights and downward identification lights. Sgt. Webb fired 5 identification flares. As the pilot ordered the crew out he then fired 3 red distress flares. Then whilst at 8,000 ft he baled out of the rear escape hatch at about 00:50 hrs..
They were in fact over London at 23:30 hrs which at the time was suffering a Luftwaffe bombing raid.
The anti-aircraft units reported they had not seen the identification lights and engaged the 'target'.
The aircraft JD317 must have broken up a few seconds before crashing as the front half of the fuselage was three fields from the rear part and engines 500 yds in nearby woods. The aircraft was fully destroyed though the fuselage did not burn out. The pilot was found half way down the fuselage.
Conclusion of the enquiry:
This aircraft was detailed for a Bullseye exercise, the target being Bristol. No difficulties were experienced until the aircraft re-crossed the English Coast at Portland Bill. It was found that the aircraft was half an hour early so a course was altered to port for a dog leg.
But the pilot steered approximately course 348º instead of 048º as a result, Bristol was not seen and the aircraft flew into Wales. Several 'Gee' fixes were obtained and a flashing beacon was noted. Course was altered to bring the aircraft back for another run to Bristol. The fixes obtained and the steering of an improper course gave the navigator a strong easterly wind, when the wind, in actual fact, was northerly as forecast. This new wind was used for working out a new course to bring the aircraft back to a position west and south of Bristol. Searchlight activity and flares were seen to the east and the crew assumed that it was the Bullseye target while, in actual fact, it was an enemy raid on London. From then on courses were steered visually.
Right: F/O. Martin Stewart Little
The aircraft was engaged by our own ack ack while flying at a height of approximately 17,000 feet, while on the correct heading for the bombing run. Both port engines were put out of operation by anti-aircraft fire and the pilot began to lose control of the aircraft and ordered his crew to bale out.
He failed to get out himself before the aircraft crashed.
The main cause of this accident was faulty navigation, originally caused by the pilot failing to steer a correct course on the second dog leg. The navigator failed to check the course being steered and also failed to realise that an improper course had been steered in spite of obtaining several Gee fixes which showed the aircraft to be off track.
When the navigator realised that the aircraft was in Wales he only assumed that there had been a chance in direction and strength of wind.
When searchlight activity and flares were seen, the navigator left the pilot to steer visual courses and he failed to carry on with his D.R. plotting after 00:10 hours.
The aircraft flew into the area where enemy activity was in progress and as the aircraft was not showing I.F.R. (Identification, Friend or Foe) although it was switched on, it was engaged by our ground defences and shot down. Anti-aircraft continued in spite of the colours of the day period and distress signals being fired and navigation and downward identification lights being switched on.
(1) These members of the crew were listed as missing believed killed (with 4 others) on Halifax LW437 on the 29th July 1944 whilst on an operation to Hamburg.
Buried at 14:30 hrs on the 29th March 1944.
F/O. Martin Stewart Little. Brookwood Military Cemetery. Grave 48.C.4. Born on the 15th December 1920. Enlisted on the 05th March 1943. Son of George David Little and Dorothy Edna Little, of 'F' Hugo Apartments, Wellington Crescent, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Later 4972 Victoria Avenue, Montreal Quebec, Canada. Epitaph: 'He Stayed With His Ship, Saved His Crew, And A Village. We Are Justly Proud'.
Other crew members:
Sgt. Derek James Webb later promoted to flying officer - born in London, England on June 24, 1923. He moved to Canada in 1944 and settled in Vancouver in 1956. He moved to Richmond after her death in 1995 died peacefully at 04:10 hrs. on the 05th Jun 2002.
F/O. John Stewart Beresford - Born on the 05th January 1918 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Enlisted on the 01st November 1941. A total of 9 operational sorties. Son of John (died in 1965 age 78) and Marion Stewart Beresford (née McCrory - died in 1984, age 93), of 32 Arnold Street, Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada. Epitaph:P 'To Live In Hearts We Leave Behind Is Not To Die'.
Sgt. J.H MacKenzie later promoted to flying officer - no further details.
Sgt. Leonarf James Rouse later promoted to flying officer - no further details.
Sgt. Harry Richard Mason. Born on the 27th March 1925. A stock boy for Drug Trading Company in Toronto prior to service. Enlisted on the 18th December 1942. Son of Harry James Richard Mason and Queenie Mason (née Law) of 544 Delaware Avenue, Toronto, Canada.
Sgt. Nicholas Edgar John Cowan. Born on the 28th September 1924. Worked as an aircraft builder for Masse-Harris Company prior to service. Enlisted on the 27th November 1942. 64 St. Mary Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. posth P/O. J/88253. Son of Nicholas Eugene Cowan (died 27th September 1947, age 49) and Katherine Cowan (Edgar), of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to International Bomber Command Centre IBCC, National Archives Kew, Paradie Archive, Government of Canada .
Other sources as quoted below: