27/28.04.1944 51 Squadron Halifax III MZ565 MH:O Flt.Sgt. O'Neill BEM , RAF Snaith, Kemexhe, Liege, Belgium
Date: 27/28th April 1944 (Thursday/Friday)
Unit: 51 Squadron
Type: Halifax III
Base: RAF Snaith, Yorkshire
Location: Kemexhe, Liege, Belgium
Pilot: Flt.Sgt. Joseph Herbert Patrick O'Neill BEM. 1312312 RAFVR Age 28. Killed (1)
Flt.Eng: Sgt. Alec White 1489085 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
Nav: WO2. Robert Chaplin R60394 RCAF Age 24. Killed
Air Bmr: Sgt. Robert Edward Burgum 1394350 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. William Royle Kinder 1540685 RAFVR Age 22. Killed
Air Gnr: Sgt. Robert Bernard Laroche 1895307 RAFVR Age 19 Killed
Air Gnr: Sgt. Stanley White 1437767 RAFVR Age 29. Killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
Took off at 23:57 hrs from RAF Snaith, Yorkshire to attack the railway yards at Montzen.
144 aircraft made up with 120 Halifaxes, 16 Lancasters and 8 Mosquitoes made up this bombing force. A terrible night of losses from Bomber Command who carried out 3 main operations to Friedrichshafen, Aulnoye and Monzen. Another 159 OTU aircraft took part in a diversionary sweep over the North Sea. 18 Lancasters were lost on the Friedrichshafen raid, 1 lost on the Aulnoye raid with 14 Haifaxes and 1 Lancaster lost on this Montzen operation. 35 aircraft lost this one night!
MZ565 was claim by Oblt Wilhelm Henseler 1./NJG1 - St Trond: 4,000m at 01:58. Also claimed by Flak of 3./gem Flak Abt 614 (“Halifax Liege 01:52”) Victory confirmed for Oblt Henseler 18th August 1944. (Nachtjagd Combat Archive (16 March 1944 - 11 May 1944) Part 2 - Theo Boiten)
A memorial plaque was placed at the nearby Church in Villers-L'Eveque on the 12th October 2002 by our friends at the East Surrey Aviation Group (now renamed 'Wings')
Some of the crew (courtesy Victoria Fifield)
51 Squadron lost 2 other aircraft and crews on this operation:
Halifax LV783 MH:Z Flown by 23 year old Sgt. Patrick Keenan from County Roscommon, Irish Republic. Killed with 5 other crew, 1 evading capture.
Halifax LW479 MH:E Flown by 23 year old Flt.Lt. Lewis Rothwell DFC. from Middleton, Manchester. Killed with 3 crew members, 3 taken PoW.
(1 ) Flt.Sgt. Joseph O'Neill received his BEM during his service with 158 Squadron. Flying a Halifax II W7784 NP:Q when after taking off at 17:50 hrs from RAF Rufforth the aircraft crashed shortly afterwards at Scagglethorpe Moor. 3 of his crew were killed, with the other 3 receiving multiple injuries. The aircraft is reported to have crashed at 18:02 hrs.
His citation reads (London Gazette on 7th May 1943):
'Sergeant O'Neill was captain and pilot of a Halifax aircraft carrying high explosive bombs and incendiaries which crashed and burst into flames shortly after taking off for an operational mission (Duisberg). Some members of the crew were trapped in the blazing wreckage and although Sergeant O'Neill was himself severely injured and burned and in a fainting condition through loss of blood, he resolutely refused to leave the scene of the accident. Disregarding his own injuries he worked unsparingly, directing and helping civilians in an attempt to save others in the wreckage. Without thought for himself, his efforts ceased only when he became unconscious. His coolness and great strength of will earned the unbounded admiration of all concerned.'
It was established that the cause was due to the bomb bays doors accidentally opened on take of, resulting in the aircraft during a shanked turn, side slipped into the ground.
Left: Memorial at Villers-l'Evêque - plaque shown to the right of the main memorial. Text reads:
Handley Page Halifax III MZ565 (MH:O) 51 Squadron Royal Air Force
This memorial was erected in remembrance of the seven crew members of Halifax MZ565 who lost their lives in the night of 27th/28th April 1944. Their crippled aircraft crashed at Fond du vivier, Villers-l'Evêque at approximately 3am. They gave their lives for our freedom. We will remember them: 'Until the dawn breaketh'
Above: Heverlee War Cemetery - with crew graves featured (courtesy Victoria Fifield)
Left: Plaque at the RAF Snaith Memorial Gardens at Pollington, Yorkshire for 51 and 150 Squadrons
Originally buried at St-Truiden, reinterred at Heverlee after end of hostilities.
Flt.Sgt. Joseph Herbert Patrick O'Neill BEM. Heverlee War Cemetery. Coll. Grave 6A. 1-4. Born at Edmonton, Middlesex on 9 May 1914 the son of Joseph O'Neill and Anne O'Neill nee Allshorn. He married Freda Caroline Long at Surrey NE in October 1936. Daughter Patricia came in 1937. At the time of the start of hostilities he was working as a Carpenter in Fleet, Hampshire. ( Details courtesy Dave Champion)
Sgt. Alec White. Heverlee War Cemetery. Grave 6.A.14. Son of Edwin and Jessie Winifred White, of Mullion, Cornwall, England. Grave inscription reads: "You, Like Other Heroes, Attained The Highest Distinction, Eternal Glory".
WO2. Robert Chaplin. Heverlee War Cemetery. Grave 6.A.16. Born 17th July 1912, Calgary, Alberta. Husband to Laura (née Hansen) Chaplin and father to Terence Robert Chaplin, born 2nd July 1941. Both parents predeceased him.
Sgt. Robert Edward Burgum. Heverlee War Cemetery. Grave 6.A.15. Son of Robert and Gladys Burgum, of Dartford, Kent, England. Grave inscription reads: "Cherished Memories Of Bobby A Brave, Loving And Devoted Son And Brother".
Sgt. William Royle Kinder. Heverlee War Cemetery. Coll. Grave 6A. 1-4. Son of W. A. and Florence Kinder, of Middleton, Manchester, England. Aunt: Mrs. L. Tong (nee Kinder) of 49 Symons Road, Sale, Manchester, England. Grave inscription reads: "You Live Deep Within Our Hearts Beloved And Unforgotten".
Sgt. Robert Bernard Laroche. Heverlee War Cemetery. Coll. Grave 6A. 1-4. Born in Lambeth on 3 November 1924 the oldest child of Robert George Laroche and Cecilia Lilian "Cissie" Laroche nee Dundas. (Details courtesy Dave Champion)
Sgt. Stanley White. Heverlee War Cemetery. Grave 6.A.13. Son of Hannah White, of Blackpool, Lancashire, England. Grave inscription reads: "In Loving Memory Of A Dear Son Who Gave His Life That We Might Live".
Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Victoria Fifield (relative of Sgt Robert Laroche), Yorkshire Air Accidents, Wings Museum in West Sussex, Neil and Pete at 51 Squadron Historical Society, Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses' Vol. 4, 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'. Aircrew Remembered own Archives. Thanks to John Jones for WO2 Chaplin's Next of Kin details and loss information.