405 Squadron Lancaster III ME315 LQ-K Fl/Lt. M.L. Mellstrom DFC
Operation: Leipzig, Germany
Date: 10th April 1945 (Tuesday/Wednesday)
Unit: No.405 (Vancouver) Squadron RCAF
Type: Lancaster III
Base: RAF Grandson Lodge, Cambridgeshire, England
Location: Ingelsdorf, Germany - RAF Woodbridge, Suffolk, England
Pilot: Sqn/Ldr. Campbell Haliburton Mussells C/1639 RCAF Survived
Fl/Eng: P/O. Charles Rene George Ryan DFC 185424 RAFVR Survived (1)
Nav: P/O. Eric Leslie Tempest 188493 RAFVR Survived
Nav/Spec.Op: P/O. Peter Young 188718 RAFVR Survived
Air/Bmr: F/O. John P. Dooley 154601 RAFVR Survived
W/Op/Air/Gnr: WO2. Jack L. Larrimore R/178080 RCAF Survived
Air/Gnr: F/O. Robert T. Dale J/86847 RCAF Injured - Survived
Air/Gnr: Fl/Lt. Melborn Leslie Mellstrom DFC J/18414 RCAF Age 31. Killed (2)
REASON FOR LOSS:
During the evening Bomber Command launched two large operations, 95 aircraft to bomb the Marshalling Yards at Leipzig with bombing between 22:47 and 23:05 hrs, a further 305 aircraft bombing the Plauen Marshalling Yards between 23:02 and 23:24 hrs.
ME315 took off from RAF Grandson Lodge in Cambridgeshire at 14:41 hrs.
Crew of ME315 and others L-R: F/O. Young, P/O. Ryan, unknown - but not member of this crew at time of incident, Sq/Ldr. Mussells, Fl/Lt. Maelstrom, F/O. Dale, P/O. Tempest and F/O. Dooley (courtesy Eric Tempest via Peter Young)
After action interrogations reported that in the target area, immediately following release of T.I.’s, ME315 was attacked by an Me163 enemy fighter. The attacking aircraft approached from the rear and above, and with one burst completely shot away the rear turret, rudder and elevator. Damage was also caused to the H2S set and mid-upper turret. The rear gunner, Fl/Lt. Mellstrom, was in his turret when the attack commenced and was killed. A number of Mustangs who were acting as fighter escort moved in closer to the disabled aircraft and covered it until it reached the front lines. The pilot, due to the fact that he had only partial control of the aircraft, ordered all the crew to bale out over RAF Station, Woodbridge. Had not the Mid Upper Gunner been injured the whole crew would have baled out. The pilot was successful in making a reasonable landing at RAF Station Woodbridge. All members of the crew, with the exception of the rear gunner, returned their unit.
Above and below showing the extensive rear damage to the Lancaster (courtesy Eric Tempest via Peter Young)
(1) Charles Rene George was born in London in 1923 and joined the RAF as an armourer in 1941. He waited two years for an aircrew training course which he passed at the highest level. On completion he was attached to 405 (Vancouver) Squadron, the sole RCAF Pathfinder unit.
F/O Ryan was the flight engineer on ME315 which was the designated 'master bomber’. Sqn/Ldr. Mussells wanted F/O Ryan to join his crew and ‘pulled rank’ to get him. This was fortuitous as the Lancaster he would have joined was destroyed, with all crew, on its first operation. It was under the leadership of Sqn/Ldr. Mussells that F/O Ryan survived 33 operation as the ‘master bomber’.
F/O Ryan was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for his bravery during this raid. It was largely due to his efforts that the pilot was able to fly the crippled aircraft to RAF Woodbridge and execute a successful emergency landing.
The citation reads: “Flying Officer Ryan was flight engineer of a Lancaster aircraft which took part on a daylight attack on Leipzig on 10th April,1945. During the second run over the target, an enemy fighter attacked and caused severe damage to the aircraft. The rear turret and starboard rudder were completely shot away, the port rudder shattered and both elevators damaged to such an extent that that they became almost useless. In the course of the attack, the mid upper gunner was seriously wounded. The aircraft immediately dived out of control and, only by means of the able assistance of the flight engineer - Flying Officer Ryan - was the pilot able to regain control. The control column was then lashed fully back. During the return flight it became increasingly difficult to maintain a speed at which the aircraft neither stalled nor continued to break up and, until the English coast was reached, it was only kept under control because Flying Officer Ryan anticipated its reactions to turbulent weather with exceptional skill and accuracy. As the coast was crossed, the captain ordered the crew, with the exception of Flying Officer Ryan and the wounded mid-upper gunner, to abandon the aircraft whilst he attempted a crash landing. Flying Officer Ryan’s hands by this time were torn and bleeding, lacerated by the rope with which he was manipulating the control column. Despite this he showed no discouragement but remained cheerful and continued to give the captain the maximum of assistance. When the undercarriage had been lowered the aircraft commenced to descend very rapidly but a successful crash landing was made. Up to the last moment, Ryan helped the pilot by every means in his power. Without his assistance it would have been impossible to fly the aircraft back to this country. He also knew that the crash landing, which was the only means of saving the life of the wounded gunner, was an extremely dangerous operation. This, however, did not deter him in any way. He readily accepted all risks in order to help the pilot and it was largely due to his efforts that the aircraft was flown safely to the United Kingdom and that the crash landing was successful.”
Ryan married, had three children and had a career as a teacher in central London. He died in 1999.
(2) Note sent by the then P/O. Peter Young, navigator from the crew:
"I was one of the two navigators on Fl/Lt. Mellstrom's crew. After leaving the target there was an explosion and I saw an ME 163 (rocket powered) pass us going very fast. The elevators, fins and rudders were damaged and the control column was tied back with a rope. On arrival over the U.K the pilot ordered the crew apart from the flight engineer and the mid upper gunner to bale out. The aircraft was landed safely by Sq/Ldr. Mussells at Woodbridge in Suffolk, England.
F/O Mellstrom's DFC was presented to his next-of-kin at Government House, on the 7th November 1949. There was no citation other than the narrative; "Completed numerous operations against the enemy in the course of which (he has) invariably displayed the utmost fortitude, courage and devotion to duty."
Public Records Office Air 2/9070 dated the 20th February 1945 recorded that he had flown 44 sorties (233 hours 15 minutes) between the 20th February 1944 and the 13th February 1945. "F/O Mellstrom is a very keen and excellent Air Gunner who has attacked some of the most difficult targets in Germany, including Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Essen and Cologne. His skill, devotion to duty and his ability to size up a difficult situation quickly, makes him a very valuable crew member. On the ground, his personality and keenness are an inspiration to less experienced Air Gunners".
Further information (courtesy Hugh Halliday - see below)
Fl/Lt. Mellstrom was buried by British PoW’s as reported on 24 June 1945 by 1098208 Gunner Robert David Williams, 11th (HAC) Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery. He was then at Stalag IVG at Engelsdorf and the Chaplain had asked him to preside at the burial of a British PoW soldier killed by an air raid (a man named Gregory) plus an airman found by the Germans. Gunner Williams asked about the identity of the airman after the service, and this was duly provided some hours later. He passed this information to British officers after liberation. His description of the burial is striking:
"The burial took place in the evening of the 13th of April at the cemetery of a Luthren Evangelical Church (the only one in the place) at Engelsdorf. Engelsdorf is situated about ten kilometres to the east of Leipzig. The bearers and all the burial party were from Lager 29. The men were under the command of Lance Sergeant Frank Cole. They slow-marched from outside the mortuary to the grave. The coffins were draped with the Union Jack. They were lowered into the grave simultaneously by two different parties. After the service the men saluted. The Germans were unable to supply the usual firing party as the Americans were just outside Leipzig and the guns could be heard constantly. We ourselves were evacuated by the Germans at 03:00 hrs the following day."
The Mellstrom Memorial at the renamed "Mellstrom Lake" at Alberta, Canada. Dedicated to him on the 22nd September 2004
Originally buried at the Ingelsdorf Gemeinde Cemetery, but after hostilities ceased was exhumed and reburied at the Berlin War Cemetery.
Fl/Lt. Melborn Leslie Mellstrom DFC. Berlin 1939-45 War Cemetery Grave. 5.F.37. Son of Andrew and Inga Glen Mellstrom, husband of Irma Janet Mellstrom, of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. ( F/O was posthumously promoted to Fl/Lt.)
With thanks to Hugh Halliday of the RAF Commands Forum, P/O. Peter Young, one of the navigators on this operation who contacted Aircrew Remembered in June 2016, Airman's Memorial Cairns Committee, Royal Canadian Legion, McGrane Branch No 28, Lac La Biche, Alberta and also to Geographical Names Board of Canada), Uwe Jenrich for grave photograph, Les Allison and Harry Hayward - "They Shall Grow Not Old”. Also with many thanks to David Lyons and his site www.ww2rafcollection.co.uk for the update to P/O. Ryan and his award of the DFC.