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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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24.10.1942 57 Squadron Lancaster I W4251 Fg Off. Miles

Operation: Milan, Italy

Date: 24th October 1942 (Saturday)

Unit No: 57 Squadron (motto: Corpus non animum muto - 'change my body not my spirit'), 5 Group

Type: Lancaster I

Serial: W4251

Code: DX:?

Base: RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire

Location: Segrate near Milan, Italy

Pilot: Fg Off. John Thomas Norie Miles 116729 RAFVR Age 21. MiA (1 & 2)

Flt Eng: Sgt. Gilbert Gordon Fraser 14065 RAAF Age 32. MiA (2)

Nav: Fg Off. William Caldwell Hamilton J10176 RCAF Age 33. MiA (2)

Bomb Aimer: Sgt. Joseph Gordon Taylor 1036176 RAFVR Age 22. MiA (2)

WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Herbert Blatch Smith 798655 RAFVR Age 20. MiA (2)

Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Sgt. Arthur Francis Heffernan 1033069 RAFVR Age 32. MiA (2)

Air Gnr (Rear): Sgt. Walter John Wakelin 1389383 RAFVR Age 34. MiA (2)


Taking off at 12:33 hrs on a risky daylight bombing operation to Milan with 87 others from 5 Group.

The force moved independently direct over France using partial cloud cover to a rendezvous at Lake Annecy in France prior to crossing the Alps.

The operation took the city totally by surprise with the warning sirens not sounding until the first of 135 tons of bombs exploded on the city. Light flak was encountered and Italian fighters were weak.

The bombing continued for 18 minutes which destroyed or damaged 441 houses, including the University, the prison, offices of the local fascist party, 2 churches, 2 schools and 2 hospitals. RAF reconnaissance later reported that the Caproni aircraft factory had been hit as well as an umber of commercial and industrial buildings. At least 171 people on the ground were killed.

Lancaster W4251 was hit by 37mm flak by 1012 Battery Dicat Unit with the aircraft crashing at Segrate near Milan, Italy.

The allies lost 3 other Lancasters, with one other crashing near Ford, Sussex on return:

50 squadron Lancaster 1 R5691 flown by 25 year old, Sgt. Russell Lloyd Cumberland 403644 RAAF - all 7 crew lost or missing after coming down in the North Sea.

207 squadron Lancaster 1 W4121 flown by 21 year old Flt Sgt. Lawrence Ritelli Wright 1378917 RAFVR - all 7 crew killed after the aircraft crashed at Blainville sur Mer in France.

49 squadron Lancaster 1 W4306 flown by Flt Lt. Dorian Dick Bonnett DFC 45416 RAFO - 5 crew killed, 2 injured after crashing at Ford, Sussex on return.

Above left: some of the crew, as yet unidentified. Right: Crash site (courtesy Buckley at War - see credits)

(1) Philip Miles whose father, Roger Philip Norie Miles, was the brother of Fg Off. Miles left amongst his papers when he passed away a letter that John had sent to him in November 1939 together with some sketches of aircraft. John was an accomplished artist as can be seen below.

(2) On the15th July 1949 Missing Research and Enquiry Unit listed the crew as having no known graves. Buried in Segrate Communal Cemetery marked as unknown. All their names inscribed on the Runnymede Memorial. However in 1952 the bodies of the crew were identified and moved to the Ravenna War Cemetery.

Burial details:

Fg Off. John Thomas Norie Miles. Ravenna War Cemetery Collective grave IV. F. 2-4. Son of Lieut. John Miles, R.N and of Frances Lottie Miles, of Hayling Island, Hampshire, England. John attended Portsmouth Grammar School 1933-1938.

His brother 19 year old, David William Norie Miles an apprentice serving in the Merchant Navy also died in service on the 16th January 1941. He was on the S.S. Oropesa (Liverpool) when it was attacked and sunk by U-96 commanded by Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock (shown above - see credits) after being hit in the stern by a torpedo south east of Rockall in the North Sea. 106 crew died with 143 survivors picked up.

Sgt. Gilbert Gordon Fraser. Ravenna War Cemetery Collective grave IV. F. 2-4. Born on the 8th March 1910 in Aberdeen, Scotland. Worked as a motor mechanic prior to service. Enlisted in the RAAF on the 04th March 1940 in Sydney. Embarked for England on the 13th June 1941 - arrived 31st August 1941. Son of Edward and Jessie Fraser and husband of Annie Isabella Geddes Fraser who he had married on the 26th April 1930 (nee MacFarlane, later Hodgekiss, died 26th July 1961, age 51), of 2 Jupiter Street,Gladesville, New South Wales, Australia.

Fg Off. William Caldwell Hamilton. Ravenna War Cemetery Collective grave IV. F. 2-4. Born on the 18th December 1909 in Chicago, USA. Son of William George and Mary Etta Hamilton (nee Caldwell). Husband of Marjorie Hamilton (nee McBride, later Hamilton-Riedell - died 1992) of 51 Redbbrook Road, Great Neck, New York.

Sgt. Joseph Gordon Taylor. Ravenna War Cemetery Collective grave IV. F. 2-4. Worked for Pan American Airlines prior to service. Trained in Canada and USA. Son of John Hopwood Taylor and Hannah Taylor, of Bryn-y-Baal, Mold, Flintshire, Wales. Grave inscription: 'Tenderly He Watches Over You'.

Sgt. Herbert Blatch Smith. Ravenna War Cemetery Collective grave IV. F. 2-4. Son of Dr. Thomas Percy Smith (died 1941) and Mary Maud (nee Blatch - died 1936) Smith of St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada.

Sgt. Arthur Francis Heffernan. Ravenna War Cemetery Collective grave IV. F. 2-4. Son of John James Herffernan and Hannah Heffernan, of Blackley, Manchester, England.

Sgt. Walter John Wakelin. Ravenna War Cemetery Collective grave IV. F. 2-4. Son of George and Susan Wakelin; husband of Bertha Elizabeth Wakelin (later Riedel), of Ilford, Essex, England. Grave inscription: 'At God's Command He Fell. He Had No Chance To Bid His Friends Farewell'.

Researched by Kelvin Youngs (Webmaster) and dedicated to the relatives of this pilot with thanks to Portsmouth Grammar School, David Vickers at Buckley at War, UBoat Net. (Jun 2021) Thanks to Philip Roger Miles for the images of the sketches (Feb 2023).

Other sources as quoted below:

RS 10.02.2023 - Addition of letter and sketches

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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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