16/17,01.1945 No 101 Squadron Lancaster III LM472 SR-V2 F/O. Frederick D. McGonigle
Operation: Synthetic Oil Plant, Brux, Czechoslovakia
Date: 16/17th January 1945 (Tuesday/Wednesday)
Unit: No. 101 Squadron
Type: Lancaster III
Base: RAF Ludford Magna, Lincolnshire.
Location: Geilsdorf, Germany
Pilot: F/O. Frederick Desmond McGonigle 179064 RAFVR Age 25. Killed
Fl/Eng: Sgt. John Ritchie McDowell 1798275 RAFVR Age 23. Killed
Air/Bmr: P/O. Rochester Warren Lee Hart AUS/429458 RAAF Age 20. Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: W/O. Laurence Collins AUS/419981 RAAF Age 20. Killed
ABC/Op: F/O. Jack Karl Armour J/43497 RCAF Age 27. Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Robert John Beckett 148247 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Daniel Conroy 1881462 RAFVR Age 28. Killed
Nav: Fl/Sgt. John Edward Knight AUS/429068 RAAF Age 21. PoW (1)
REASON FOR LOSS:
At 17:48 hours (5.48PM) on 16 January 1945, a Lancaster III serial LM472 Code SR-V2 from RAF 101 Squadron, with a crew of eight, took off from Ludford Magna, war-time airfield, (see section 8.2), Lincolnshire, Great Britain, on a bombing operation to attack a synthetic oil plant in Brux, West Czechoslovakia, and was due to return to base, 0247 hours (2.47 AM), 17 January 1945. The normal crew of Lancaster bombers is seven, but several bombers of the 101 squadron were fitted with special equipment, named “Airborne Cigar”- (airborne cigars), known by the shortened name of ABC.
This equipment was used to search for German night fighters vectoring against British planes, and interfere with/jam German radio and radar operations between ground and aircraft. The eighth crew member, Jack Armour, a Canadian, and a skilled German speaking radio specialist, was on board SR-V2 as the specialist ABC operator.
The operations record book showed that SR-V2 aircraft had a bombing load of 1x4000 pound USA-Cookie bomb; 10 x 500 GD; and 1x 500 MC bombs.
This aircraft was part of a total of 231 Lancasters (7 Lancasters from 101 Squadron-equipped with ABC equipment) and 6 Mosquitoes (total 237 aircraft), from RAF Bomber Command,
No's 1 and 5 Groups, and, although the raid was consider a complete success, as only one of the 237 aircraft (LM472 code SR-V2) did not return. The aircraft and crew were posted as missing, and subsequently confirmed as being shot down, with one survivor, over enemy territory.
As the British bomber stream flew towards their target, one German night fighter (code named Zahme Sau (Tame Boar) – were lone single German night-fighters equipped with their own radar- once a bomber stream’s target was identified, they were free to leave their patrol box and intercept at their discretion.) infiltrated into their “stream”- probably a single engine Bf109 or Fw190 aircraft, equipped with radar. It flew with the British stream for approximately 12 minutes before attacking SR-V2 causing it to catch fire.
The RAF pilot, F/O. Frederick D. McGonigle, took evasive action and flew into heavy cloud. Although burning, and still carrying a full bomb load, the pilot was able to avoid further attacks from the German fighter by flying very low.
At approximately 22:04 hours, 16 January 1945, the burning plane flew very low over the village of Geilsdorf, to such an extent that the villagers, within the village, were in fear of the aircraft crashing into their village houses.
The pilot’s intention seemed to be to land in some snow covered fields, but unfortunately, the aircraft crashed into some high tension light wires on the edge of the field, about 30 metres from the road between Ruderitz and Geilsdorf, causing the bomb laden plane to explode. Eye witnesses of the incident, seen by the crew of another aircraft from 50th squadron, and by those on the ground, stated that there was a large whitish explosion seen at 5026N, 1200E, clearly visible in the night sky.
This was confirmed by another report, received from the crew of an aircraft from the 619th squadron, reporting an explosion at 22:09 hours, at the same location-this position corresponds with the place between the villages of Hof and Plauen, where the plane crashed. It is interesting to note, that nothing grew in this field until 5 years after WW2.
It was reported that one RR Merlin engine was found 350 metres from the crash site. Only RAAF member, Jack Knight somehow escaped from the crashed plane, although injured, was able to walk away from the site, under German Soldier escort, to a nearby village. Any remaining parts of the plane were taken to the railway station in Celsnitz for scrap iron.
One bomb, the biggest, the 4000 pound Cookie, was found unexploded among the wreckage. Some pieces of the wrecked plane are preserved in a local museum.
The surviving crew member, John Knight, was taken by German soldiers to a hospital in Plauen, where his face and hands were dressed and his head stitched, and approximately 1700 hours, 17 January 1945, was taken by stretcher to Revere for further treatment. From then up to his release on 29 April 1945, he was transferred to various hospitals/camps for treatment and internment.
The statement by repatriated crew member, John Edward Knight, after his release from PoW camp states the following:
Events Immediate and prior to capture:
“Two Starboard engines and wing set on fire from another aircraft. Aircraft exploded about 2 minutes later - blown out of aircraft - captured several hours later by civilians.”Injuries sustained: “Hands and feet burned-head split open-slight cuts in legs”Circumstances with loss of aircraft:i) Aircraft was set on fire, by fire from another aircraft.ii) Captain ordered put on parachutes - crew acknowledged iii) W/OP was burnt, but walked OK (? Laurie) No one bailed out.iv) No one left aircraft, captain gave "abandon aircraft" and it exploded immediately.v) Fire Started at 17,000 feet, explosion above 10,000 feet.vii) Captain was still flying aircraft under difficulties - fire was spread over wing (starboard) and cabin next to navigator and W/OP positions.Viii) Approx. 10 miles S.E of Plauen
Probable Fate of other crew members:
No one seen at all since explosion. German Officer at Dulag Luft told Fl/Sgt. John Edward Knight was the only survivor
This document is in included in the casualty Report papers:
"The bodies of the seven members of the crew that were killed in the crash were taken to Geilsdorf for identification procedures and burial. They were interred in the Geilsdorf Cemetery, (shown as Geclsdorf in the letter to my father, 7 December 1945, from The Directorate of War Graves Services,
307 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, on 20 January 1945, (This cemetery was listed as approximately 6 miles SW of Plauen, Germany. Laurie’s grave was listed as Row 1, Grave number 7.
From further information received, the bodies of the seven deceased members of SR-V2 were transferred, on 20 December 1945, to the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery. The crews of the other aircraft participating in the raid reported moderate flak in barrage form in the target area. No crew reported having seen any aircraft in trouble, but one crew did report having seen a parachute descending 4000 feet below them, while in the target area. Seven of the eight members of the crew were deemed to have died on the 16 January 1945; the eighth member was able to parachute to safety. (This has not been fully confirmed, as John Knight has no recollection of the happenings just prior to, and after the crash-some reports do not specify that he actually parachuted from the plane, or others claim that there is the possibility that he was thrown out of the plane on contact with the wires, which could explain the need for dressing on his face and hands, and the stitching of his head. (Ground eye-witnesses do not mention a parachute.)"
F/O. Frederick Desmond McGonigle. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery 13.B.2. Born 07th January 1920. Son of Mrs. M. E. McGonigle, of Glasgow, Scotland.
Sgt. John Ritchie McDowell. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery 13.B.5. Born 17th May 1921. Son of John and Mary Ann McDowell, of Hillsborough, Co. Down, Northern Ireland.
P/O. Rochester Warren Lee Hart. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery 13.B.1. Born 23rd March 1924. Son of Henry Rochester Hart and Irene Maude Hart, of Mackay, Queensland, Australia.
W/O. Laurence Collins. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery 13.B.3. Born 13th August 1924. Son of John Thomas Collins and Catherine Collins, of Ballarat. Victoria. Australia.
F/O. Jack Karl Armour. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery 13.B.7. Born 16th July 1917. Husband of Margaret Alice Armour, of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Sgt. Robert John Beckett. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery 13.B.4. Born 18th February 1923 to Albert and Rachael Beckett of Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
Sgt. Daniel Conroy. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery 13.B.6. Born 25th February 1916. No further details - can you help? (Thought to be from Dublin, Ireland)
(1) Jack Knight passed away in Gosford, Australia on the 9th August 1999.
Researched by Ray Collins (Brother of W/O. Laurence Collins) For relatives of the crew and also to try and locate the surviving relatives of Sgt. Robert John Beckett and Sgt. Daniel Conroy.