115 Squadron Lancaster I HK555 Fl/Lt. O’Halloran - Mid-air collision
Operation: Leuna, Germany (1)
Date: 4th/5th April 1945 (Wednesday/Thursday)
Unit No: 115 Squadron (motto: 'Despite the elements')
Unit: No. 186 Squadron
Type: Lancaster I
Base: RAF Witchford, Cambridgeshire
Base: RAF Stradishall, Suffolk
Location: Greifenthal, Germany
Pilot: Flt Lt. Thomas Anthony O’Halloran 183181 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
Pilot 2: Plt Off. Eric Laurence Luxton J/94582 RCAF Age 33. Killed
Flt Eng: Flt Sgt. Charles Edward Marchant 1604373 RAFVR Age 22. Killed
Nav: Flt Sgt. Wilfrid Gordon Carr 1683518 RAFVR Age 22. Killed
Air Bmr: Fg Off. Albert Edward Adams 149989 RAFVR Age 22. Killed
WOp/Air Gnr: WO. Gordon Reginald Saville Aus/428798 RAAF Age 24. Killed
Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Sgt. John Thomas Buckley 1690938 RAFVR Age ? Killed
Air Gnr (Rear): Sgt. Ernest Sheavills 651465 RAF Age 24. Killed
Pilot: Fg Off. James Arthur Gordon Beck DFC Aus/408434 RAAF Age 24. Killed
Flt Eng: Sgt. Peter McNiven 1826326 RAFVR Age ? Killed
Nav: Plt Off. Alan Edwin Bartlett 1399016 RAFVR Age ? Injured (2)
Air Bmr: Plt Off. William George Evans 196117 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
WOp/Air Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Sydney Raymond Bacon Aus/423037 RAAF Age 21. Killed
Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Sgt. Albert Richard Baker 2210627 RAFVR Age 33. Killed
Air Gnr (Rear): Sgt. George Ballinger 1592037 RAFVR Age 19. Killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
Visibility 10 miles Cloud 9/10 at 3000 ft Surface wind 9 knots westerly.
327 Lancasters and 14 Mosquitos of Nos 3, 6 and 8 Groups attacked the synthetic-oil plant at Leuna.
The target was cloud-covered, the bombing was scattered and only minor damage was caused
21 aircraft from the squadron were detailed to attack the synthetic-oil plant in Leuna. HK555 took off at 18:47 hrs.
When outbound, Lancaster I RA533 AP-P flown by F/O. James Arthur Gordon Beck Aus/408434 RAAF, collided at 20:20 hrs, with this 115 Squadron Lancaster. Wreckage from both aircraft was scattered between the Waldof Elgershausen and Greitfenthal, 7kms south of Sinn. Germany. All crew from HK555 were killed, 6 from RA533 were killed with 1 injured and survived.
A full detailed description of the event was made by the sole survivor, P/O. Alan Edwin Bartlett (2)1399016 RAFVR the navigator:
On the night of April 4th 1945, I was the navigator of Lancaster bomber RA533 of 186 Squadron, detailed to attack the Leuna oil plant at Nersbupg. The other members of the crew were: F/O. Ames Beck DFC, Fl/Sgt. William Evans, Fl/Sgt. Sydney Bacon, Sgt. Peter McNiven, Sgt. Albert Baker and Sgt. George Ballinger.
The timing of the attack was such that we were briefed to set course four minutes early and lose any time by carrying out the customary course alterations of .60° Port 120° Starboard .60° Port along a leg of the trip between a point north of Frankfurt and a second turning point on the town of Halberstadt for the amount of time we required to lose. The trip proceeded according to plan until we had turned onto this leg when I realised that I would arrive at Halberstadt in over five minutes and therefore warned the pilot of my intention to carry out a 'dog-leg' for that period of time.
The gunners were also warned, both by the pilot and myself of the necessity for maintaining a careful lookout for aircraft on converging courses and in the course of this manoeuvre they reported aircraft both to port and starboard, but clear of our own aircraft. We had turned onto the second leg of the 'dog-leg' when at approx. 20:20 hours we were rammed from the starboard by another Lancaster.
Visibility at the time was good, our height and airspeed were as briefed and our course true 116°. At the impact, the front of the aircraft was smashed in and I felt the gale on my black-out curtain. (The bomb-aimer was sitting at my side working H2S the rest of the crew were at their usual stations, the flight engineer 'windowing' from his position). The aircraft continued in level flight for about six seconds then lost its starboard wing and motors and went into a spin to starboard. The lights went out. The pilot gave the order for the emergency abandoning of the aircraft by yelling 'Go, Go, Go' over the intercom.
Above L-R RA533 Crew: F/O. James Beck DFC, Sgt. Peter McNiven, P/O. Alan Bartlett, P/O. William Evans, Fl/Sgt. Sydney Bacon, Sgt. Albert Baker and Sgt. George Ballinger.
I disconnected my oxygen supply and slapped the W/Ops. leg, clipped„ on my chute and dived towards the escape forward hatch. I brushed past the pilot, who was still attempting to hold the aircraft straight for us to leave. There was a mix-up in the bombing hatch, the bomb aimer trying to open it with assistance from the flight engineer, with bales of 'window' from the stowage abaft the pilot's position falling down in the hatch... However after a period of time which I judge to be about 15 seconds the hatch was open and I fell through head first, with clouds of 'window' brushing my face. I let myself clear of the aircraft, then pulled the rip cord. My chute opened at once and I felt hardly any shock of opening. I realised my hand was cut but checked up to find if any bones were broken. since none were I proceeded to uncross the lift webs of the chute and attempted to steer the chute towards a fire on the ground (the second Lancaster).
However, after about three minutes I made a good landing on the edge of a wood and was hung up in the trees. I operated the quick release and dropped a few feet to earth. I then headed towards the fire shouting and blowing my whistle to attract the attention of other survivors, as I was aware that I was well behind the path of the American spearheads, and in what I thought was 'friendly' territory. However, within- ten minutes I was picked up by the combat engineers of the (I think) 360 Battalion who informed me that I was lucky enough to fall on the fringe of a resistance pocket south of Giessen. They took me to their Colonel, but on the way, I stopped to identify the bodies of Bacon and Baker. Then I saw the Colonel I produced my identity card and asked whether he could spare some men to look for the four crewmen unaccounted for. He at once sent his entire company to search the area east of the wreckage, since I informed him the wind was westerly, and would blow chutes into the woods in that area. He then had me taken to the 67th Evacuation Hospital, attached to the 8th (Golden Arrow) Division, Ist. American Army, where my hand was treated and I was fed and given quarters. Throughout my stay with the American Forces, I had every kindness and consideration shown to me and I am very grateful to the staff of this hospital, especially Captain Larribee, the registrar, who did everything in his power to relieve me of any anxiety and worry. The following morning (Thursday) I reported to Captain Larribee and requested that I might be given transport to the location of the wreck so that I could search for survivors and documents, identify the dead, arrange for their transport to the care of Graves Registration Office, Quartermaster Corps, U.S Army.
(Hospitals do not handle the dead, and bodies are taken to these offices for identification and burial). On the arrival at the wreck I found five bodies had been recovered, These I identified. I made a search for the watches of the dead including my navigation watch, which the bomb aimer had been wearing, but they had all gone. Who had taken them I cannot say. I made enquiries as to where the bodies had been found. The W/Operator had also jumped but, he was too close to the ground and his chute had not checked him in time. The Mid Under Gunner had been thrown through his turret but the other bodies had been recovered from the wreckage. I am sure the pilot could have made his escape, but he held on to the controls to the very last in an attempt to straighten the aircraft so that the rest of the crew could jump.
I am sure that I owe my life to his heroism. Since the rear gunner had not been found I asked to be taken to where the rear turret had been blown by the bomb explosion and buried, 250 yards distant. On arrival there, I saw his boots sticking up from the ruins of the turret which had been driven eight feet into the earth. I assured the Q.T.O. captain who accompanied me from the hospital that the boots were filled, whereupon he detailed a party of German protected personnel who were lounging around, to recover the body, and thoughtfully told off a rifleman to see the work was quickly carried out. It was.
These men were from a hospital which had been overman and captured intact three or four days before. A bomb disposal squad was working on the wreck. I was able to inform their sergeant as to the bomb load, (One 'cookie' and 6 five hundred pounders). Of this load, two of the smaller bombs had detonated after the crash, but the 'cookie' and at least two of the 500 lb bombs had been recovered and made safe before I left the wreck. Then the officer-in-charge turned up I was able to assist him by giving him information as to the explosive charges in radio gear, armament and ammunition carried which was to be removed so that it would not fall into the hands of the civilian population, who were decidedly hostile in that area. I made arrangements for slightly damaged radio gear to be smashed for the same reason and had searched made for any charts and logs which had survived the crash. There was little trace of my compartment since a bomb had detonated beneath it. However, I was able to identify the H25 set but it had been squashed flat and was beyond further use. When I had completed this search I returned to the hospital. This hospital was located in tents off the main road south of Frankfurt between Herborn and Sinn.
I realised that it would now have to go to the Graves Registration to find where the dead would be buried and then attempt to return to my Unit to account for the accident. I was aware, that I had been reported 'missing' by this time, but since there were no communications open, and the roads west were blocked by eastbound transport, I enquired whether or not I could be evacuated by air to a British base. Captain Larribee thought so, but said he could guarantee transportation if I allowed myself to be evacuated with the walking wounded. This I could not do, since it would have meant that I could have had to abandon the dead. The following morning I again reported to Captain Larribee who informed me that the bodies of the second Lancaster crag had been found the previous day, and that there were no survivors.
The dead of both crews had been taken to the G.R.O. that night. Captain Larribee gave me a jeep and driver who took me to Diltenberg, the last known location of the G. R. 0. However the division had moved north and we had to go north to find this office. when we arrived there I made formal Identification of the dead and made sure the registration slips of my own crew were in proper order. I also attempted to identify the dead of' the other crew, but they were not of my squadron and I did not know them. However, I took their names.
Above: further photo of HK555 crew.
Conclusion of the loss according to the enquiry:
There seems little doubt that this accident was due to dog-legging in the stream. The rate of closing of two aircraft flying at 90 to each other at 200 mph is approximately 138 yards a second, thus at night, it is not possible for a 'look-out' always to give warning in time to avert a collision.
Then some delay caused in the abandoning of the aircraft RA533 caused by the jamming of the forward escape hatch 'window' storage in the nose of the aircraft has proved hazardous in many cases of emergency and this was yet another example.
It has been impossible to trace any further witnesses of this accident and the cause cannot be definitely established. It is probable that the alteration of course in the main bomber stream was a contributory cause of the accident, but with the cessation of hostilities in Europe, similar circumstances are not likely to occur again.
(1) The second most extensive chemical operation in Nazi Germany, the IG Farben Leuna works headed by Heinrich Bütefisch was a prime target for the Allied bombing offensive against German oil production.
(2) Alan Edwin Bartlett survived the war as a F/O. Sadly he passed away on the 07th March 2009. Buried/cremated at Putney Vale Cemetery and Crematorium on the 18th of March 2009. Predeceased by his wife, Dot.
Flt Lt. Thomas Anthony O’Halloran. Rheinberg War Cemetery. Grave 14.A.17. Born on the 19th November 1923. Son of Michael Anthony and Marion (née Cruse) O’Halloran of Rosmadda Arcadian Gardens, Hadleigh, Essex, England. He had an elder brother named Patrick O’Halloran.
He is remembered on the role of honour at his old school, Southend High School for Boys in Essex
Plt Off. Eric Laurence Luxton. Rheinberg War Cemetery. Grave 14.A.12. Born on the 01st October 1911 in Shelburn, Canada. Enlisted 12th August 1942. A butcher prior to service. Awarded pilot badge 12th November 1943. Son of Norman George (died 18th August 1951, age 81) and Mary Isabella Luxton (Née Yemen - died 25yj February 1963, age 92), of 850 Broadview Avenue,Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Epitaph: 'Truth, Duty, Valor, Such His Motto Was'.
Flt Sgt. Charles Edward Marchant. Nederweert War Cemetery. Grave IV.C.6. Son of Charles and Florence Marchant; husband of Jennie Donkin Marchant, of Hendon, Sunderland, Co. Durham England. Epitaph: 'A Beloved Husband & Father Who Died That We Might Live. Jennie And The Children'.
Flt Sgt. Wilfrid Gordon Carr. Rheinberg War Cemetery. Grave 14.a.14. Son of Wilfrid and Catherine Elizabeth Carr; husband of Georgina B. A. Carr, of Hallatrow, Somerset, England. Epitaph: 'Beloved Husband Of Georgina. Dearly Loved Son Of Catherine And Wilfrid. R.I.P'.
Fg Off. Albert Edward Adams. Rheinberg War Cemetery. Grave 14.A.11. Born in 2nd Qtr of 1923 in Flyde, Lancashier. Son of Albert Edward and Margaret Ann Ford (née Greenall) Adams of Thorton Cleverleys, Lancashire, England.
WO. Gordon Reginald Saville. Rheinberg War Cemetery. Grave 14.A.15. Born on the 23rd August 1920 in Lakemna, New South Wales. Enlisted on the 10th October 1952. Joined 115 squadron on the 02nd December 1944. Son of Ernest and Edith Blanche Saville; husband of Audrey Hilda Saville, of Punchbowl, New South Wales, Australia. Epitaph: 'The Dawn Is Not Distant... Love Is Eternal!'.
Sgt. John Thomas Buckley. Rheinberg War Cemetery. Grave 14.A,16. No further details - are you able to assist?
Sgt. Ernest Sheavills. Rheinberg War Cemetery. Grave 14.A.13. Son of Thomas and Mary Sheavills. Husband of Joyce Sheavills (née Long), of Bradford, Yorkshire, England. Epitaph: 'In Loving Memory Of A Dear Husband. One Of The Best The World Could Find'.
Fg Off. James Arthur Gordon Beck DFC. Rheinberg War Cemetery. Grave 14.A.20. Born on the 25th November 1920 in Launceston. Son of Frank Washington Beck and Margaret Anne Beck, of Launceston, Tasmania, Australia. Epitaph: 'Greater Love Hath No '.
Sgt. Peter McNiven. Rheinberg War Cemetery. Grave 14.B.2. No further details - are you able to assist?
Plt Off. William George Evans. Rheinberg War Cemetery. Grave 14.B.1. Son of William Henry and Ellen Evans. of Manchester, England. Epitaph: 'Our Lady Of Sorrow Pray For Him And Let Perpetual Light Shine Upon Him'.
Flt Sgt. Sydney Raymond Bacon. Rheinberg War Cemetery. Grave 14.A.10. Born on the 12th November 1923 in Sydney. Son of Stephen Frederick and Una Mavis Bacon, of Cremorne, New South Wales, Australia. Epitaph: 'Resting Where No Shadows Fall, In Perfect Peace He Awaits Us All'.
Sgt. Albert Richard Baker. Rheinberg War Cemetery. Grave 14.A.19. Born 4th Qtr of 1914 in Steyning, Sussex. Son of Henry George and Elizabeth (née Ralph) Baker of Steyning, Sussex, England.
Sgt. George Ballinger. Rheinberg War Cemetery. Grave 14.A.18. Son of Frank and Sarah C. Ballinger, of Allerton, Yorkshire, England. Epitaph: 'Dearly Loved'.
Researched by Kelvin Youngs (Webmaster) and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to National Archives Kew, International Bomber Command Centre IBCC, National Archives Australia NAA, Government of Canada Archives. Thanks to Lesley Iles for the Next-of-Kin details for Flt Lt. O’Halloran (Jul 2023). Other Next-of-Kin details updated by Aircrew Remembered (Jul 2023)
Other sources as quoted below: