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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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407 Squadron Crest
11.03.1944 No. 407 Squadron Wellington XIV HF311 -H F/O. Edmund M. O'Donnell

Operation: Anti Submarine Patrol

Date: 11th March 1944 (Saturday)

Unit: No.407 Squadron RCAF (Demon Squadron)

Type: Wellington XIV Leigh Light

Serial: HF311

Code: No prefix letters given -H

Base: Limavady, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Location: North Atlantic approx. 500 miles off West coast of Ireland

Pilot: F/O. Edmund Michael O’Donnell J/16923 RCAF Age 23. Missing

Pilot 2: F/O. Hugh Campbell Sorley J/20049 RCAF Age 24. Missing

Nav: P/O. Charles Grant J/18993 RCAF Age 29. Missing (1)

W/Op/Air/Gnr: P/O. Franklyn LeRoy Travers J/90591 RCAF Age 21. Missing (2)

W/Op/Air/Gnr: P/O. Reginald Carl Gaudet J/89118 RCAF Age 23. Missing

W/Op/Air/Gnr: P/O. Ivor Ernest Smithson J/89117 RCAF Age 23. Killed


Attacking a submarine at night in the middle of the ocean was a hazardous task at the best of times that required a great deal of skill and courage.

A very low level of attack was required to drop depth charges with any degree of accuracy which made air pressure altimeters marginal at best, and, for many crews deadly, if not corrected for pressure changes.

Left: P/O. Franklyn LeRoy Travers (courtesy Frank Travers)

While on patrol, aircraft would fly at a height of 1500 to 2500 feet which was considered to be the ideal altitude.

Coastal Command Wellington’s were equipped with the Leigh Light, which, after the aircraft had detected a U-boat with their ASV radar, provided a high intensity searchlight to illuminate the target. As they approached the target the pilot would bring the aircraft down to 500 feet and the light operator switched on the Leigh Light. Once the U-boat was caught in the beam, the pilot would immediately drop down to as little as 50 feet over the wave tops to press home the attack using 250lb depth charges. Taking the U-boat by relative surprise left little time to submerge and so the attacking aircraft would usually be met with a hail of 20mm canon and machine gun anti aircraft fire.

At 21:58 hours on the night of 11th March off the west coast of Ireland, Flying Officer O’Donnell and crew had made contact with U-256 which had surfaced to recharge her batteries. From German naval reports found after the war, as the Wellington approached on the bombing run it was seen to crash into the sea without being fired upon by the submarine.

What the real cause of the crash was remains unknown, but, perhaps due to an incorrect altimeter, the crew was unaware of their actual height in the darkness and crashed into the sea.

While the bodies of five of the crew were never recovered and have no known grave, P/O. Smithson’s body was washed ashore on July 9 1944 near Ballyconneely, County Galway, Republic of Ireland and identified by the metal identity disc around his wrist. He was buried the following day in the cemetery there.

Earlier on the 7th September 1943 this crew sank U-669 in the Bay of Biscay, northwest of Cape Ortegal, Spain, in position 43.36N, 10.13W, by depth charges. Commander of U-669 was Oblt. Kurt Kohl. The boat was sunk with all 52 hands. The actual target was listed as U-584, escaping with no damage.

Circumstantial report filed at the time of the loss

(1) Grant Creek in Saskatchewan is named after P/O. Grant.
(2) Travers Lake in northern Ontario is named after P/O. Travers.

Burial details:

F/O. Edmund Michael O’Donnell, Runnymede Memorial Panel 247. Son of Edmund Michael and Mary Katherine (née Cassin) O'Donnell of Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Right: F/O. Edmund Michael O'Donnell.

F/O. Hugh Campbell Sorley, Runnymede Memorial Panel 248. Son of John Neil and Eunice Ethel (née Blair) Sorley of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

P/O. Charles Grant, Runnymede Memorial Panel 250. Son of George and Ann Grant (née Duff) of Turtleford, Saskatchewan, Canada.

P/O. Franklyn LeRoy Travers, Runnymede Memorial Panel 253. Son of James E. and Mary O. (née Woodcock) Travers of Talbotville, Ontario, Canada.

P/O. Reginald Carl Gaudet, Runnymede Memorial Panel 250. Son of Carl and Vera Gaudet, of Powell River, British Columbia, Canada.

P/O. Ivor Ernest Smithson, Ballyconneely Catholic Cemetery. Son of James Oliver and Addie (née Cuningham) Smithson of West Windsor, Ontario and husband of Gladys Fay (née Wakefield) Smithson of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

Researched by Aircrew Remembered, researcher and RCAF specialist Colin Bamford for relatives of this crew.

Further information courtesy of Frank Travers, nephew of P/O Franklyn LeRoy Travers, also to Les Allison and Harry Hayward - "They Shall Not Grow Old" and from "uboat"
Source data: Service Files of the Second World War―War Dead, 1939–1947. Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada.

CHB 02.11.2011
CHB 28.06.2015 New format
CHB 04.03.2020 Crew photographs, content and links to commemorative features added

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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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