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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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408 Squadron Crest
16/17.12.1943 No. 408 Squadron Lancaster LL676 EQ-E Fl/Lt. William J. Maitland DFM

Operation: Berlin

Date: 16/17th December 1943 (Thursday/Friday)

Unit: 408 Squadron (Goose)

Type: Lancaster II

Serial: LL676

Code: EQ-E

Base: RAF Linton-on-Ouse

Location: Heyrothsberge, Germany

Pilot: Fl/Lt. William John Maitland DFM. J/15405 RCAF Age 22. Missing - believed killed

Fl/Eng: Sgt. Michael Maher 549483 RAF Age 25. Missing - believed killed

Nav: W/O.II. Joseph Evans Saunders R/126367 RCAF Age 27. Missing - believed killed

Air/Bmr: F/O. Ted Charles Gierulski J/22069 RCAF Age 21. Missing - believed killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. John James Robertson 1367800 RAFVR Age 23. Missing - believed killed

Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Claude Andrew Besse R/167515 RCAF Age 27. Missing - believed killed

Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Roland Pettitt R/142882 RCAF Age 29. Missing - believed killed


Took off at 16:37 hrs. to bomb the capital of Germany - Berlin. The raid consisted of 483 Lancasters and 10 Mosquitoes with a further 5 mosquitoes being used to drop decoy flares south of Berlin.

The German night-fighter controllers plotted the bomber stream with great accuracy. Fierce fighting incurred during the run in and also over the target area with many Lancasters engaging the night fighters. 19 Lancasters were lost on this raid by this action alone. But the real tragedy of the night came when the remainder of the force returned home.

They managed to shake off the night fighters by taking a much more northerly route over Denmark using up precious fuel - many of the bases were covered in very low cloud. As a result a further 16 Lancasters were lost (Some reports state 29 Lancasters lost in this way) in crashes and collisions, with approximately 156 aircrew killed and 39 injured.

Right: Occupation of Allied forces post war.

408 Squadron also lost another crew on this operation:

Lancaster II DS737 EQ-C Flown by F/O. Russell Stanley Clark J/20183 RCAF from Ericsson, British Columbia, Canada who, together with 2 other crew survived the initial crash with 4 others killed. Sadly F/O. Clark succumbed to his injuries a few days later on the 21st December. The aircraft crashed at Murton Common, Yorkshire, England when trying to come down on overcast conditions.

No claims for the loss of LL676 from the Luftwaffe night fighters. Although the aircraft and crew are described as missing, reports discovered recently from German archives claim that the Lancaster crashed at Heyrothsberge in Germany after being shot down at 19:15 hrs on the 16th December.

The crew is thought to have been originally buried at the cemetery in Magdeburg before being reinterred in the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery. Post war the graves were in the Soviet Occupied area and were not available to be inspected by the Missing Research and Enquiry Units.

Aircrew Remembered contacted the Commonwealth Graves Commission in June 2016 pointing out the graves marked unknown in Berlin are possibly this crew. They replied:

“The casualties buried in Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery in Plot 6, Row K, Graves: 15,16,17,18 are unidentified airmen, who died on 16th December 1943. They were originally buried in Magdeburg (Westerhuser Cemetery) Germany map reference GSGS 4416 1/100.000 SH P 6 MR 702.915. No positive identification was possible, so we cannot confirm any connection to the mentioned crew.”

Above: the graves of unknown airman at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery - high resolution copies of this and the individual graves are available free of charge to relatives. (kindly taken for Aircrew Remembered by Uwe Jenrich - June 2016)

Burial details:

Fl/Lt. William John Maitland DFM. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 172. Born 29th November 1921, the son of Royal Lethington Maitland and Ruth Hildred Maitland, of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Maitland Creek, Cassiar Land District, British Columbia is named after Fl/Lt Maitland

Sgt. Michael Maher. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 158. Son of Patrick and Kate Maher. No further details, are you able to assist?

W/O.II. Joseph Evans Saunders. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 180. Born on the 8th July 1916, the son of Joshua and the late Mary Susan (née Hannon) of Fredericton, New Brunswick. Brother of York and Isabel.

F/O. Ted Charles Gierulski. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 173. From Blairmore, Alberta Canada. No further details, are you able to assist?

Sgt. John James Robertson. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 163. Son of the Revd. Douglas Dickson Robertson and Dora Selkirk Robertson, of Dalkeith, Midlothian, Scotland.

Fl/Sgt. Claude Andrew Besse. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 181. Son of Henry Herbert Besse and Louisa A. Besse, of Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada.

Fl/Sgt. Roland Pettitt. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 185. Born in 1914. Son to Edward and May (née Whittaker) Pettitt and husband to Jeane (née Romanchuk) Pettitt of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Researched by Grant Workman who also runs the website on the 61 servicemen who lost their lives in the Powell River, British Columbia, Canada area. With many thanks to Uwe Jenrich who took the grave photographs for us in June 2016. With thanks to William Romaine for the Next of Kin details for Fl/Sgt. Roland Pettitt. Other sources as quoted below.

RS 19.11.2018 - Update to NoK details of Flt/Sgt. Roland Pettitt
CHB 31.10.2021 - Canadian commemorative geographic feature added

Pages of Outstanding Interest
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CWGC: Your Relative's Grave Explained •  USA Flygirls •  Axis Awards Descriptions •  'Lack Of Moral Fibre'
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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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