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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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No 78 Squadron Crest
27/28.08.1943 No. 78 Squadron Halifax II JD414 EY-M P/O. Samuel Norris

Operation: Nürnburg, Germany

Date: 27/28 August 1943 (Friday/Saturday)

Unit: No. 78 Squadron - Motto: 'Nobody unprepared'.

Badge: A heraldic tiger rampant and double queued - approved by King George VI in November 1939. The theme of the badge was based on the Squadron's aircraft at the time, the Whitley, which had Tiger engines and twin tails.

Type: Handley Page Halifax II

Serial: JD414

Code: EY-M

Base: RAF Breighton, East Riding of Yorkshire

Location: Exploded over target area following a fire in the main fuel tanks.

Pilot: P/O. Samuel Norris 149219 RAFVR Age 27 (1)

2nd Pilot: F/O. Alfred John Birtles Aus/12334 RAAF Age 30 - Killed (2)

FE: Sgt. Douglas John Purcell 1179990 RAFVR Age 22 - Killed (3)

Nav: F/O. Thomas Henry Tabberer 126677 RAFVR Age 32 - Killed (4)

Air/Bmr: P/O. Kenneth Wilson McTernaghan 149702 RAFVR - Killed (5)

W/Op/Air/Gnr: P/O. Douglas Crompton 155340 RAFVR Age 22 - PoW No. 222584 Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria - L3 (6)

Air/Gnr (MU): P/O. Raymond Stanley Payne 155906 RAFVR Age 21 - Killed (7)

Air/Gnr (R): P/O. Frederick Richard Sanderson 149461 RAFVR Age 22 - Killed (8)

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674 heavies - 349 Lancasters, 221 Halifaxes and 104 Stirlings, were sent to bomb Nürnburg on the night of 27/28 August 1943. The route briefed was via Beachy Head, over the French coast 20 miles NE of Dieppe then turning almost due east before crossing into Germany some 30 miles south of Mannheim. Continuing south east to a point 30 miles south west of Nürnburg the force were then to turn north east to attack the city before heading back and re-crossing the French coast at the same point as the outbound flight near Dieppe.

Target marking was to be mainly based on H2S with which 19 blind markers, 20 recenterers and 50 main force aircraft were equipped. 47 of the Pathfinders equipped with H2S were detailed to test their equipment by dropping one small bomb (500 or 1000 lb HC) on Heilbronn, 40 miles south east of Mannheim and 28 of them were able to do this successfully. The other 19 failed to do so for various reasons but released their entire loads over Nürnburg.

Zero hour was to be 00.30 hours with the blind markers attacking at Z-4 and the bombing continuing until 01.11 hours.

Arriving over Nürnburg the blind markers found the target area clear of cloud with no moon and good visibility. The target indicators dropped by the blind markers were well placed but the backers-up bombed short of them and initiated a creep back which drew the weight of the attack outside the built up area. Considerable damage however was caused in the east of the town and a number of priority factories were hit.

588 of the despatched force reported bombing the main target, 7 bombed the alternative target and 46 aborted the mission mainly due to technical defects or manipulative error. 33 aircraft failed to return of which four were lost to fighter on the way out and another to flak over Karlsruhe. The first arrivals over the target met a fairly light barrage but when the attack opened the ceiling of fire fell from 22000 feet to 18000 feet, its intensity slackening, probably due to enemy fighter presence in the target area where 30 to 40 searchlights were also active. Two bombers collided over the target area and 10 more were lost, at least five or six of them due to fighters. On the return leg the scatter of the bomber fleet considerably reduced the efficiency of WINDOW and enabled individual aircraft to be selected as targets for enemy controlled fighters which brought down 8 more of the bombers. A further five were lost to flak as they strayed off the briefed route into the defended areas of Mainz, Mannheim and Frankfurt.


When Wellington JD414 took off at 21.00 hours on 27 August 1943 it was a dry but cloudy evening over Yorkshire. For Captain Samuel Norris and his crew this was their 15th operation since joining No. 78 Squadron eighteen weeks earlier on 4 May, it was also their 13th trip to Germany. Somewhat coincidentally 13 of their 15 missions had been in the same aircraft Halifax II JD151 EY-M however that aircraft had flown its last mission two weeks earlier. Captained by F/Sgt. Jack Jenkinson JD151 was lost when it crashed on 11 August 1943 between Wressell (now Wressle) and RAF Breighton on its return from a raid on Nürnburg. To read the story of the loss click here

The crew's aircraft for tonight's operation was Halifax JD414, a new aircraft having been delivered by English Electric Co. (Salmesbury & Preston) between 29 July and 5 August 1943 and had been given the JD151's old code of EY-M.

P/O. Norris and his crew had by now become one of the squadron's more experienced crews and as such, on a few occasions, had been designated to take one of the new pilots with them for operational experience. Tonight they had one such "second dickie" flying with them in the shape of 30 years old Australian, Alfred Birtles but unlike the usual new pilots Alf was different. Already a Flying Officer he had been a flying instructor at No. 28 Elementary Flying School for the last six months. He had been posted to RAF Breighton three days earlier for some operational experience to augment his abilities as an instructor.

The cloudy conditions over base continued as they flew south and over the Channel increased to 7-10/10ths cumulus, tops 10-12,000 feet but thereafter became quite patchy.

Over the target area Halifax JD414 exploded following a fire in the main fuel tanks. Douglas Crompton was the sole survivor: having been blown out of his exploding aircraft he managed to parachute to safety. It was never established whether his aircraft was shot down by flak or by a night fighter. There were several claims by night fighter pilots for bombers shot down in the area that night but none of them can be definitely linked to JD414.

(According to Theo Boiten there are two pilots who could make a possible claim for the aircraft. They are:- Maj Wilhelm Herget Stab I/NJG4 - Nurnberg 4,000m at 01:50 and Oblt Rudolf Altendorf 2/NJG4 - Nurnberg at 02:12)

The location of the aircraft when it was hit is also uncertain. Douglas Crompton when interrogated, gave the approximate position of the crash as Neunhof: but there are at least seven places of that name in Germany including two in the vicinity of Nuremberg, one approximately 4½ miles NE of Furth the other 2 miles SE of Eachenau [?Eschenau]

No. 78 Squadron lost another aircraft on this raid. Halifax JD406 EY-P captained by F/O. Richard Herbert Orr was shot down by a night fighter over France. The pilot and five of his crew were killed whilst the surviving member became a prisoner of war. To read about this loss click here

Douglas Crompton became a prisoner of war and after the usual interrogation at Dulag Luft was incarcerated first at Stalag Luft III Sagan and Belaria and later at Stalag IVB Muhlberg and from 23 April 1944 at Stalag Luft I at Barth in northeast of Germany. Stalag Luft I was liberated by Russian forces on 30 April 1945 and within two weeks Douglas had returned to England.

The above document is Douglas Crompton's German PoW record, courtesy Carole J. Hirst.

The final section perhaps indicates that despite his predicament Douglas still maintained his standards. It is Dulag - Luft's evaluation of him: Hoflich, intelligent, vorsichtig i.e polite, intelligent, careful.

Whilst he was a prisoner of war 1164438 Flight Sergeant Douglas Crompton was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) with effect from on 31 July 1943 (London Gazette 21 September 1943). He was confirmed in this appointment on 31 January 1944 and promoted to Flying Officer (war subs) (London Gazette 4 February 1944).


(1) P/O. Samuel Norris was born in 1915 at Blantyre near Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, Scotland the son of Dugald McCallum Norris and Margaret Norris nee Carmichael.

1073122 Flight Sergeant Samuel Norris was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 6 June 1943 (London Gazette 7 September 1943)

He is commemorated on the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle.

(2) F/O. Alfred John Birtles was born on 23 April 1913 at Neutral Bay, Sydney, New South Wales Australia the son of Newspaper Publisher, George Bernard Quinesy Birtles and Ethel May Birtles nee Beer of 191 Benboyd Road, Neutral Bay, later of 9 Hindman Street Katoomba and Cremorne, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

Alfred, known as Alf by his family had two sisters, Ada Maria Cecilla Birtles and Dorothy Veronica Birtles and two brothers George Birtles and F/Sgt. Ronald Birtles who was killed aged 28 when flying as the navigator of the crew of Lancaster JB239 Captained by Fl/Lt. Johnny Ash which was shot down during a raid on Nantes on 12 June 1944.

After leaving school Alf was employed as a Linotype Operator by Associated Newspapers, Sydney.

He enlisted at Sydney on 22 June 1941 and was described as being 5'8" tall weighing 195lbs with a fair complexion, hazel eyes and brown hair. After initial training at RAAF Bradfield Park he was posted to No. 8 Elementary Flying Training School at RAAF Narrandera NSW where he began pilot training. On 16 December 1941 he was posted to No. 6 Service Flying Training School at RAAF Mallala in South Australia where, on 2 April 1942 he was awarded his Flying Badge. He was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on 30 April. In 1942 he also married his fiancée Dulcie Morrison: they then lived at "Claremont" Salisbury Square Seaforth Sydney.

On 16 June 1942 he embarked at Sydney for the UK where, on 11 September he was posted to No. 7 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit at RAF Peterborough in Cambridgeshire. He was later selected to take an Elementary Flying Instructors Course at No 2 Flying Instructor School based at RAF Montrose in Angus, Scotland.

On 30 December 1942 he was posted as a Pilot Instructor to No 28 Elementary Flying Training School at RAF Pendeford (Wolverhampton) from where on 25 August 1943 he was posted to 78 Squadron at RAF Breighton for operational experience.

In an RAF Confidential Report prepared after his death, his superior officers at 28 EFTS made the following comments about him:

"This officer had a pleasing personality, a good "mixer" and very popular with his brother officers"

"A hard working, keen and loyal officer; was making excellent progress as an instructor."

Flying Officer Alfred John Birtles is commemorated on the Australian War Memorial Panel 119 at Canberra

(3) Sgt. Douglas John Purcell was born 2 August 1921 at Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire the son of George and Gwladys Jane Purcell nee Rees. He had a brother Ivor Henry Purcell (1919-2006).

Sgt. Purcell had three brothers, a sister and two half brothers, William and George. His sister Phyllis currently resides in Wales. On a family visit to Douglas Crompton on retelling the story he could not recall whether the aircraft was hit by flak or shot down by a night fighter but he did tell them that the last words spoken on board where by Douglas (Jack) Purcell who said "Skip we're on fire" or words to that effect before the aircraft exploded.

(4) F/O. Thomas Henry Tabberer was born at Chesterfield Derbyshire in 1910 the son of Thomas Tabberer a Joiner and Ada Tabberer nee Watson. The family lived at 23 Rother Cottages Derby in 1911. ePossibly married Jessie M Lowndes at Derby in 1937

1338634 LAC Thomas Henry Tabberer was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 17 July 1942 (London Gazette 27 October 1942) and promoted to Flying Officer (war subs) on 17 January 1943 (London Gazette 19 February 1943)

(5) P/O. Kenneth Wilson McTernaghan

1450334 Sergeant Kenneth Wilson McTernaghan was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 25 June 1943 (London Gazette 14 September 1943)

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(6) Fl/Lt. Douglas Crompton was born on 1 November 1920 at Blackheath, Rowley Regis, Staffordshire (now West Midlands) the son of George Crompton (a Galvaniser at a steel tube manufacturing factory) and Beatrice Crompton nee Rose. He had four brothers and one sister and was educated at The County High School, Oldbury from 1931 to 1936. After leaving school he trained as a Draughtsman at Stewarts and Lloyds, steel tube manufacturers. Douglas played football for Beaumont Rovers Football Club and had a trial for Aston Villa.

He enlisted at No 2 Reception Centre RAF Cardington, Bedford and the following day was allocated to no. 1 Receiving Wing at Torquay for physical training and lectures prior to moving for the next stage of training to No 3 Initial Training Wing also at Torquay on 15 July. On 7 September 1940 he was posted to RAF Yatesbury, Wiltshire to begin pilot training. Douglas failed his pilot selection and having been re-mustered as a Wireless Operator was eventually posted on 2 March 1941 to No. 2 Signal School also based at RAF Yatesbury for training in Morse code, wireless operation, maintenance and repair. On 26 September he was posted to No. 5 Bombing and Gunnery School at RAF Jurby on the Isle of Man. On completion of his gunnery course he was awarded his air Gunners badge and promoted to Sergeant and this probably just prior to 18 November 1941 when he was posted to No. 27 Operational Training Unit at RAF Lichfield, Staffordshire for training on Vickers Wellington Bombers.

At 27 OTU he crewed up with the other four and on 5 May 1942 the fledgling crew was posted to No 20 OTU at RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, Scotland for further training on Wellingtons. Three weeks later on 28 May, whilst on a night training exercise, their Wellington IC Z8852 crashed near RAF Elgin. All five crew members suffered varying degrees of injury and the Canadian Pilot F/Sgt. Bruce Wallace McClennan was to die later the same day at Dr Gray's hospital Elgin. Douglas Crompton meanwhile sustained severe injuries to his left arm and wrist and it was to be six months before he was able to resume his training. To read the story of the crash and its aftermath click here

After convalescing at No. 2 ACD, Hoylake, Douglas Crompton returned to 20 OTU at RAF Lossiemouth on 26 November 1942 where he necessarily had to crew up with four new airmen. The five of them after completing training at Lossiemouth were then posted to 1663 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Rufforth in the North Riding of Yorkshire where they were to train on the four engined Handley Page Halifax. This aircraft operated with a seven man crew so a Flight Engineer and a second Air Gunner were added to the crew. This was the crew that on 3 May 1943 was posted to No. 78 Squadron based at nearby RAF Linton-on Ouse for operational flying. The squadron later moved to RAF Breighton near Selby, North Riding of Yorkshire on 16 June.

After release from captivity and repatriation to the UK, Douglas was promoted to Flight Lieutenant (war subs) on 31 January 1945 (London Gazette 31 August 1945)

On 3 September 1945 Douglas Crompton married Sadie May Riley at Stourbridge, Worcestershire.

On 5 October 1945 he was posted to RAF Elsham Wolds, Lincolnshire on a Heavy Controller Course followed by a posting to Flying Control School on 31 December 1945. On completion of training on 11 February 1946 he is posted to RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire as Flying Controller Safety. Later moving to HQ 1 Group, RAF Bawtry at Bawtry Hall near Doncaster initially in the same role, he was then appointed Flight Lieutenant Flight Control on 9 September 1946. On 30 June 1947 he was posted to HQ 3 Group as Air Traffic Controller Flight Lieutenant before his discharge on 3 September 1947.

He was later employed as Sales Manager at Brampton Fittings in Oldbury, West Midlands and in 1950 as Sales Manager for Hercules Cycles. In 1960 he went to work for MIS (Mann Reddington) eventually becoming Managing Director and in 1970 set up his own business, Crompton Sealed Roofs which he ran until his death in 1975.

Douglas died at Stourport on Severn Worcestershire on 9 April 1975 at the age of 54.

(7) P/O. Raymond Stanley Payne was born in 1922 at Bromley, Kent the son of Frederick Charles and Bertha Annie Payne nee Holdsworth. He had a sister Vera D. Payne born 1912 and a brother Herbert F. Payne born 1914.

1255586 Sgt. Raymond Stanley Payne was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 14 August 1943 (London Gazette 5 October 1943).

(8) P/O. Frederick Richard Sanderson was born at Woolwich, London in 1920 the son of Ronald Charles and Constance Annie Sanderson nee Raven later of Bedford. He had one sibling, a brother John H. Sanderson born in 1922.

Graduated from Course 36a July 20 - August 28 1942 at No. 6 Bombing and Gunnery School Mountain View

1320404 Flight Sergeant Frederick Richard Sanderson was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 17 July 1943 (London Gazette 14 September 1943)

He is commemorated on the Bedford Modern School War Memorial


(1) P/O. Samuel Norris was originally buried at South Nürnburg Cemetery and re-interred on 9 September 1947 at Durnbach War Cemetery, Tegernsee in Upper Bavaria - Grave Reference: 5.G.1

His epitaph reads

In loving memory

(2) F/O. Alfred John Birtles was originally buried at South Nürnburg Cemetery and re-interred on 13 November 1947 at Durnbach War Cemetery, Tegernsee in Upper Bavaria - Grave Reference: 5.G.5

His epitaph reads:

Proud and loving memories

Of our son and brother.

Sadly missed

(3) Sgt. Douglas John Purcell was originally buried at South Nrnburg Cemetery and re-interred on 13 November 1947 at Durnbach War Cemetery, Tegernsee in Upper Bavaria - Joint Grave Reference: 5.G.6-7

His epitaph reads

"With Thy Saints:

In glory everlasting"

(4) F/O. Thomas Henry Tabberer was originally buried at South Nürnburg Cemetery and re-interred on 13 November 1947 at Durnbach War Cemetery, Tegernsee in Upper Bavaria - Grave Reference: 5.G.4

No epitaph:

(5) P/O. Kenneth Wilson McTernaghan was originally buried at South Nürnburg Cemetery and re-interred on 13 November 1947 at Durnbach War Cemetery, Tegernsee in Upper Bavaria - Grave Reference: 5.G.3

No epitaph

(7) P/O. Raymond Stanley Payne was originally buried at South Nürnburg Cemetery and re-interred on 13 November 1947 at Durnbach War Cemetery, Tegernsee in Upper Bavaria - Joint Grave Reference: 5.G.6-7

His epitaph reads:

Loving memory of dear Ray,

In life, parted;

In death, we shall unite.

Mum, dad and Vera

(8) P/O. Frederick Richard Sanderson was originally buried at South Nürnburg Cemetery and re-interred on 13 November 1947 at Durnbach War Cemetery, Tegernsee in Upper Bavaria - Grave Reference: 5.G.2

His epitaph reads:

Through wakeful nights,

In sunshine and shadow,

We remember

Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - February 2017

With special thanks to Carole J. Hirst, the daughter of Flight Lieutenant Douglas Crompton, for providing details of her father's service record, biographical details and photographs of her parents and Stalag Luft 1.

Thanks also to Gavin Purcell for the image of Sgt. Douglas John Purcell's grave marker and for additional information. Thanks also to the sources quoted below.

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