24/25.03.1944 No. 625 Squadron Lancaster III ND641 CF-T W/O. Owen
Date: 24/25th March 1944 (Friday/Saturday)
Unit: No. 625 Squadron
Type: Lancaster III
Base: RAF Kelstern, Lincolnshire
Location: Albergen area, Netherlands
Pilot: W/O II. “Jack” John David Owen R/138002 RCAF Age 23. Killed
Fl/Eng: Sgt. “Bill” Wilfred Henry Broadmore 1437834 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
Nav: Sgt. “Tony” John Charles Anthony David Lavender 1398485 RAFVR Age 20. Killed
Air/Bmr: Fl/Sgt. “Spanky” Frank Berry Magee RCAF Age 24. Evaded (1)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. “Casanova” Percival Henry Simpkin 1388315 RAFVR Age 22. Killed
Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. “Al” Harry William Nixon R/175117 RCAF Age 22. Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. “Hugam” William Clark 1371877 RAFVR Age 22. Killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
This account was prepared and written by Jack Albrecht with assistance of the late Frank Magee - the only survivor of the crew during this operation.
Search for the sole survivor:
“Those noisy beggars!” - my grandmother admonished, waving her garden hoe skyward. Low overhead, a formation of four Maritime Command Lancasters thundered. Jockeying for position, en route to a flypast at RCAF Base Comox, a half mile to the southeast. With their passage the windows on our old house rattled in protest. It would be many years before I understood her hostility towards this noisy foursome. In reality it was not the reverberating disturbance of their passage but the fact that one of their deceased stable mates had taken her youngest son and his crew on their final trip to Berlin in March 1944. Since my youth at Comox aviation fuel has compromised a small percentage of my circulation.
My uncle, John “Jack” David Owen, joined up with the RCAF in April 1942 despite the protestations of my grandparents. After initial training at High River, Alberta, on Tiger Moths he was selected as a bomber pilot and underwent multiengine training on Cessna Cranes at Claresholm. By November 1942 he had logged a total of 240 hours. After the transatlantic crossing followed a whirlwind refresher course on Tiger Moths and Oxfords. At the Operational Training Unit at Tilstock he crewed up and checked out on Whitley’s, Halifaxes and finally on Lancasters. His crew was a mixed “bag”, symbolic of the Commonwealth war effort (As described above)
Above: Crew of ND-641 - 1944. Standing L-R: Sgt. Percival Simpkin, Sgt. John Lavender, Sgt. Wilfred Broadmore. Middle: Sgt. Harry Nixon. Kneeling: W/O Frank Magee, Sgt. William Clark.
A review of my uncle’s log book indicated a total of 23 red inked operational flights to enemy targets. Five of these had to be aborted due to equipment unserviceability including engine problems, oxygen failure and rear turret malfunction. Ten trips including the last was to the “Big City”, Berlin. The longest was to Stettin and was an incredible nine hour trip! The last entry for March 24/25, 1944 to Berlin had the following haunting comment under the Remarks column - “Missing - nothing heard”.
It took some time to fill in the missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. Shortly after the end of the war my grandfather received the following account from Frank Magee which filled in most of the missing pieces.
“Copy of account of operational flight of March 24-25: which was the date when Jack was reported missing, as written down by the bomb-aimer of the plane, which was a Lancaster bomber.
Left: Kelstern 1944 Frank Magee left with Jack Owen.
"We set course from base about 20:00 and headed for target, Berlin. One of our navigational aids failed about an hour out, but we still had to carry on. The winds during the whole trip were a way different from what we had been told on leaving base. We were in the first wave and as the wind was more or less behind us we arrived and overshot the target, no markers having been dropped as yet. We had a 100 mph gale to contend with heading back towards the target. We never did reach the target as it was time for all the bombers to head home; so we just dumped our load and headed for home.
We dodged flak and searchlights all the way back, and were way off track, and I think about an hour late. It was a clear night and I believe I saw the coast of Holland when the navigator called up to the engineer and asked him if we had enough gasoline for an hour’s flying, as it would take that long to reach England. The engineer said we were very low, and doubted if we would make it. Just then we could hear shells tearing through the kite, and as they came from exactly below we presumed it was flak. The plane was full of smoke and Jack opened the bomb doors to drop anything that might have stuck up and been on fire. However everything was gone and the draft cleared away the smoke. The mid upper gunner suggested that we do evasive action in case it happened again. Jack said, “Okay” and just started to do so when we were hit.
(Webmaster notes: ND641 was intercepted by Oblt. Martin Drewes (2) of Stab III./NJG1 at 6,000 mtrs with the Lancaster crashing at 00:20 hrs 50 km west of Rheine. This was his 16th claim - 3 being made on this night. The others: 57 Squadron Lancaster ND671, flown by 22 year old Australian pilot, P/O. George Alfred Hampton AUS/415527 killed with 4 crew, 2 taken PoW. 115 Squadron Lancaster LL694, flown by 21 year old, Fl/Sgt. James Arthur Newman from West Bromwich, Staffordshire, England, killed with 3 crew, 3 others taken PoW) (see Kracker Luftwaffe Archive on this site)
(Webmaster note 2: The Roman Catholic Church in Tubbergen, Holland, includes the gravesites for thirteen Bomber Command airmen—six from ND641 and seven from No. 405 Squadron Lanc PB174, F/L Virtue and crew, coincidentally both victims of Martin Drewes.
I could see tracer bullets flying past the nose so we all knew then it was a fighter. The plane immediately went into an almost vertical dive, and Jack shouted that he couldn’t control the kite, and shouted for the engineer to help him. I couldn’t get the escape hatch open during the dive, between them they managed to pull the plane out for a second or two. I flung open the hatch just as the inter-communication was cut; I could hear nothing over it. The engineer shouted my name and I saw him reaching for his chute so I jumped. I went down okay and landed in a small field just inside the Dutch border. I received immediate assistance from the Dutch Underground and was down in Belgium when Allied troops occupied the country".
Two days after I landed, the Dutch told me they had found the plane (not burned) with five bodies in it. Apparently the Germans later found the sixth.
I would just like to tell you how much I thought of Jack. He was a darn fine fellow, and a good pilot.”
This undated and unsigned document was stored in the attic and became part of our family history.
Above: Louth, England - 1943 "Lots of Mud". L-R: Al Normandin, Bill Broadmore, Jack Owen, Gordon Dark (RCNVR), Percy Simkin
My parents married in August 1944 and I entered the picture in January of 1946 - named John in memory of my uncle. During my childhood and formative years I often wondered of the whereabouts and welfare of the sole survivor. It was not until I had completed university that I had the time and resources to start a search. In 1974 I posted queries to the Air Historical Branch and Public Record Office in London, England. Mr. Hugh Tours from the Public Record Office rewarded me with handwritten notes from 625 Squadron after individual crew debriefings. This augmented the details from my uncle’s logbook but gave no information on the whereabouts of Frank Magee.
Between 1982 and 1987 my efforts waned and the trail grew cold. Then during a visit to my parents in the summer of 1987 I perused a copy of my father’s “Legion” periodical. This lead to a last ditch effort with a search request in the next edition’s “Lost Trails” section. Two months later I had a chance to review my father’s July/August edition featuring Hampton Gray’s heroic attack in a Corsair. A glance at “Lost Trails” on page 61 revealed my search in print.
On returning home that weekend we were surprised to find a letter in unfamiliar handwriting in the mail slot. My heart raced - I knew that this was a missing link in my quest. Sure enough the letter was from “Chuck” Laidlaw of Kamloops, a boyhood chum of Frank’s. The contained information was a little vague but proved invaluable. Their last contact was in 1965-67 when Frank was employed in a municipal hall in Mission or some other Fraser Valley town. Armed with this information I had to strike while the iron was hot. Through the B.C. Tel Directory Assistance Operator I obtained the only listing for a Frank Magee in Abbotsford. My fingers trembled as I dialed the number — intuition told me that if a man answered the phone I would be able to tell if I had finally succeeded. To the best of my recollection, the conversation went like this:
“Is this Frank Magee?”
“Is this Warrant Officer Frank Magee, RCAF. retired?”
“Yes” - suspiciously.
“Did you fly with 625 Squadron in March 1944 with a pilot named Jack Owen?” “Yes” - more suspiciously. Bingo!
After identifying myself and describing my tangential association through my uncle the tension melted away but I still had trouble controlling my tremor. After all these years and he was almost living in my backyard!
Two weeks later I met Frank and his effervescent wife, Vera, at their home in Abbotsford. Over lunch I learned of more intriguing pieces in the puzzle: After bailing out Frank parachuted to safety between Amelo and Hengelo near the Dutch-German border. He was immediately taken in by the Dutch Resistance and spent several days on the farm where Henk van Guens worked to avoid conscription to Germany as a slave labourer, before being moved by car and train to Belgium. After six months in the spartan life of an evader he was liberated when their town was overrun by the allies. On returning to England his first task was an unpleasant one - to tell Vera that her husband of three months, Percy Simpkin, had not survived their last mission. After the end of hostilities Frank returned to Canada. Vera followed two years later and they married in 1947. They have been soulmates ever since, raising their family in the splendour of the Fraser Valley. In appreciation of his heroic assistance, Frank sponsored Henk van Guens to immigrate to the Okanagan Valley after the war. Their friendship has continued to flourish ever since.
I was now left with two relatively simple tasks. The first was to visit the graves of my uncle and his crew in Tubbergen, Netherlands, to pay my respects 50 years after their last flight. With my adventuresome wife, Ruth, acting as navigator we struck off cross-country from Amsterdam in a rented car. The weather was horrific with blistering wind, pelting rain, driving sleet and even snow flurries - a bomber pilot’s nightmare! After several hours of wandering in this meteorological cauldron we found the needle in the haystack - the Roman Catholic Cemetery in Tubbergen. After a tip from Frank we also located Bertus Derksen who gave us a personal tour and narration during out visit. Fifty years prior he had been first on the crash site of Lancaster ND 641 and his memory had not been eroded with the passage of time. During our visit the incredible happened - the rain stopped, the clouds parted and the sun shone on the village and the cemetery. It was as if the resting souls knew we had come for a visit. This respite gave us time to appreciate how well kept the graves and headstones were of the two crews laid to rest here. As we left the cemetery the sun retreated and the storm returned with a vengeance for our return trip to Amsterdam.
In April 1996 we managed to complete the final link with a visit to London, England. After a check ride in a Tiger Moth at the Tiger Club in Headcorn and a visit to the Bomber Command Hall of Fame at RAF Hendon Museum, I was in the mood for another cross-country journey - this time by rail. Our destination was Grimsby in the Yorkshire Lowlands. The cabbie raised his eyes in bewilderment when this strange couple with Canadian and Filipino accents asked for a lift to Kelstern - the last and only home for 625 RCAF Squadron. We were in luck! Our driver was a spare time treasure hunter and provided ancient Roman coins as proof. He had found several in the locale of the old base. We set off and after a few erroneous zigs instead of zags located the commemorative cairn and head-on Lancaster profile, several crosses and memorial poppies. The only other reminders of a once bustling bomber base were the dilapidated concrete buildings relegated to farm storage barns and the ever present bone- chilling Yorkshire wind - the circle was complete, albeit in reverse order.
Right: Kelstern 1943, on left Sgt. “Hugam” William Clark with W/O. “Jack” John David Owen.
It is now over a decade since I located the sole survivor. During that time the friendship between our families has blossomed with visits, phone calls and Christmas cards. Each Remembrance Day now has a special significance and it is not complete without a call to Frank and Vera to confirm their well-being.
I am indebted to the Legion for completing this chapter in life for me - no, I will not forget.
Addendum: During a recent telephone conversation to review this article with Frank I was saddened to hear that Henk van Guens died suddenly from a heart attack in May 1988, at the age 78.
Two caterpillars and a goldfish:
In 1998, I wrote an article documenting the fate of Lancaster ND 641 and its crew on the evening of March 24/25, 1944, during the last major raid of the Battle of Berlin. The pilot, my uncle, Warrant Officer John Owen failed to return along with five of his crew mates - Sgt. Tony Lavender, Navigator; Sgt. Al Nixon, Mid-Upper Gunner; Sgt. Percival Simpkin, Signal Officer/Gunner; Sgt. Bill Broadmore, Flight Engineer; and Sgt. Bill Clark, Rear Gunner. Flt/Sgt. Frank Magee, Bomb Aimer, parachuted to safety and was liberated in 1944 as an evader. He returned to Canada after hostilities ceased and married the widow of his crew mate, Vera Simpkin.
In 1972, I initiated a search for Frank Magee. After 15 years, with the aid of an ad in the Legion Magazine’s “Lost Trails” department, the trail ended in Abbotsford. Just before publication of my article, “Uncovering the Lost Trail” (January/February 2001 issue), Dan Black, Managing Editor, commented that it is hard to predict the feedback 50 years post-event. My expectations were not high - I was wrong!
After a barrage of telephone calls from friends and relatives, I received a parcel by registered mail from Joe Sweeney of Crescent Valley, BC. It contained a photo album and documents describing the 50 year history of Frank Magee’s parachute and harness.
After landing in a farm field, just after midnight, in Albergen, Holland, he was ushered into a farmhouse with his bundled parachute. Frank was conscripted on the spot to feed the farmer’s infant children boiled milk - before being taken under the wing of the Dutch Underground. In war torn Holland, his silk parachute was a rare commodity. The farmer’s wife did not hesitate to use a portion to sew communion dresses for her four daughters. The remainder was set aside and transformed into an ornate chasuble for her seminarian brother - Father Herman Engberink was ordained on March 24, 1946, two years after the crash of ND 641. Father Herman was assigned to a mission in Gold Coast. En route, his ship collided with a French Liberty vessel in the English Channel and he was forced to abandon ship - sans personal belongings. After rescue by a Royal Navy Destroyer, he continued his journey to Gold Coast. Several months later, an unexpected parcel arrived containing his personal effects including the indestructible vestment.
He eventually immigrated to Canada to become the priest of St. Rita’s Church in Castlegar, BC. On March 24, 1996, he celebrate the Jubilee Year of his priesthood wearing Frank Magee’s parachute cum chasuble.
Father Herman’s nephew, Bernard, was the infant fed by Frank in the early hours of March 25, 1944. He grew up to become a Social Studies teacher. Each year he introduces the lesson on the Second World War wearing Frank’s parachute harness. He uses this artefact to embellish Frank’s adventure with the Dutch Underground safe houses through to his liberation near Liège, Belgium.
In a recent telephone conversation with Joe Sweeney, he informed me that Father Herman is still alive and returned to Holland for his retirement years.
On October 14, 1944, Warrant Officer F.B. Magee received a congratulatory letter from Leslie Irvin inducting him into the Caterpillar Club. Membership was automatic to allied air crew whose life had been saved by an Irvin Chute. Frank still proudly displays his Silver Caterpillar pin on his RCAF wedge cap! I find it amazing that a single parachute could have such long lasting and far reaching impact - from the ravages of war to the serenity of peace, religion and education.
Before his departure for Holland, the Castlegar Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion was instrumental in initiating a liaison between Father Herman and Frank Magee. Father Herman was able to express his gratitude and enlightened Frank of the durability of his silk canopy.
The next surprise came as a letter from Mrs. Joan Berry forwarded courtesy of Dan Black at the Legion Magazine. After reading her letter, the significance was obvious - in March 1944, she was married to Sgt. Bill Broadmore, my uncle’s flight engineer. His loss left her a devastated widow with an eight-month-old son, Peter. She could vividly recollect her last visit with Bill, her mother and sister, as well as receiving his daily letters for three days after he was reported missing. She subsequently remarried and immigrated to Canada with her husband and Peter. Joan was kind enough to forward a photocopy of an October 1944 letter from my grandfather that captures the tragic atmosphere of families coming to grips with the sudden loss of young lives during wartime. In corresponding with Peter, he informed me that my article had brought him closer to a father he had never known. I would later learn that my Legion article was instrumental in Joan and Peter reestablishing ties with the Broadmore clan in England after a 20 year hiatus. It also gave me closure to the puzzle of the epitaph inscribed on Bill Broadmore’s headstone in Tubbergan, Holland:
“In memory’s garden, my darling you always will be”. Joan admitted authorship of this touching line.
ADDENDUM - MEMENTO MORI
Many years after the crash of Lancaster ND641, Peter Broadmore came to realise just how little he knew of his father. Determined to find out more about him he began his research and then a chance oportunity to visit the Netherlands led him to his father's last resting place.
Memento Mori by Peter Broadmore is the story of his father and family: Aircrew Remembered is privileged to have been granted permission to reproduce it in its entirety.
The full spectrum of emotions pervades this beautifully written story - keep the tissues handy for the conclusion.
To read Memento Mori click here
A week later, I received a telephone call from John Munro of Chilliwack, BC. He informed me that Frank Magee’s story was not unique. He also participated in the March 24/25, 1944 raid on Berlin as a rear gunner of Lancaster ME 684 piloted by Flying Officer “Nobby” Clark. Their aircraft along with ND 641 and ED 317 (all from 625 Squadron) failed to return, falling to night fighters or flak. ED317, piloted by Flight Sergeant Jamieson, was lost with all crew members. John had vivid recall of that fateful mission many years ago. On the return leg, they were forced to abandon a flaming Lancaster riddled by flak. After “assisting” the mid-upper gunner, frozen by fear to exit via the rear escape hatch, John sought the safety of his parachute. All seven crew members survived - three evaders and four POWs. Like Frank Magee, John successfully evaded capture until liberated by advancing Allied forces. Despite this misfortune, he still had the appetite to fly a final combat mission in 1945. http://www.aircrewremembered.com/clark-norman-arth...
Further information on ED317 described here.
At war’s end, he returned to Thunder Bay, raised his family, worked as an electrician and learned to fly. He moved to BC and retired with his wife in Chilliwack, BC.
I was fortunate to meet John on several occasions after flying into Chilliwack Airport. Short in stature, he compensated with an energetic friendly personality. After a near miss, driving to his home, I was assigned to chauffeur duties for future visits. He admitted that his vision was not what it used to be. At his home, he had a den dedicated to his war years and aviation adventures. This included Resistance photographs, forged documents, and identity papers from his escapades as an evader. After a visit, he would load me up with fresh produce from his vegetable garden.
Sadly, his health took a sudden turn and he departed on his last mission on Friday, September 13, 2002. I spoke to him the day before and knew that he was at peace with his fate.
I am still incredulous that Frank and John could survive bailing out of aircraft from the same squadron on the same night, evading capture, the next 50 years, and then live within ten miles of each other unaware of their celestial connection - in the end they did know.
The Legend of John Goldsmith, DFC, AFC, CD:
On January 24, 2001, I received a parcel with a treasure trove of documents from John Goldsmith. His introductory letter noted that he had participated on the March 24/25 Berlin Raid - and returned intact. He enclosed the battle order for the raid listing all 17 aircraft and crew as well as his personal notes, and a contemporary newspaper article on the raid. A list of operational missions by 625 Squadron from October 1943 to April 1944 included target names, aircraft dispatched (3 to 19) and losses for each mission. Losses varied from nil to three per raid. In addition, he provided contact addresses for Tim Dougal, an Oxford professor writing a book on the history of 625 Squadron and Ramsay Turner, Honorary Secretary of 625 Squadron RAF Memorial Association.
A follow-up phone call proved him to be a wealth of knowledge. His memory remains sharp as a tack and contrary to regulations, he kept notes on each mission flown. Following the Berlin raid he had vivid recollection of the disastrous Nuremberg trip later that month - brilliant moonlight and repeated explosions of bombers falling to flak or night fighters forced him to retreat to the seclusion of his navigation cubbyhole.
He recalls the raid at the end of February 1944 that was preceded by a heavy snowfall. Before take-off, air crew were called out to assist ground crew in shovelling runways clear. On the take-off run, their aircraft was damaged, losing its radome. En route, the mid-upper gunner was incapacitated by cold exposure and other crew members took turns manning his position to successfully complete the trip.
Above: Crew Photo - May 1944. Front (L-R): P/O. John Goldsmith, navigator. P/O. Brad Bradshaw, pilot. Sgt. Skids Brakes, engineer. Back: Sgt. Bob Wright, wireless operator. Sgt. Jack Cavanaugh, rear gunner. Sgt. Butch Sutcliffe, mid-upper gunner. Missing: Jock Gunn, bomb aimer.
John completed his first tour with 625 Squadron and then volunteered with 156 Pathfinder Squadron. On his 44th operation, August 26/27, 1944 to Kiel, his credit account with Lady Luck hit a profound low. He was the volunteer navigator on Flt/Lt. Bob Etchells’ crew when they were mauled by a night fighter over the target. The combat resulted in the fighter retreating in flames but they did not escape unscathed - battle damage included two starboard engines disabled, port tail plane fragmented, bomb bay frozen open, and port main gear extended. The run for home base took a detour as the port inner engine caught fire - the mist shrouded North Sea beckoned. At this point, Lady Luck had second thoughts. Bob Etchells pulled off a textbook ditching at night on the unforgiving North Sea. All seven crew members survived, uninjured, to scramble into their leaking dinghy. It was none too soon as their Lancaster PB 302 slipped below the surface four minutes after ditching. The next day, they transferred to an airborne life raft dropped by an Air Sea Hudson. On the second day, they were plucked from their disintegrating craft by a Danish fishing boat. After transfer to an Air Sea Rescue Launch, they landed at Grimsby - 80 hours after leaving England. John has chronicled this adventure in the 1971 “The Lancaster at War” by Mike Garbett and Brian Goulding under the appropriate chapter “Seven more for the Goldfish Club”, a club exclusive to wartime air crew that survived a ditching. To read an account of the ditching see PB302
After this saga, John did not participate in wartime operations. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for gallantry in the performance of his duty while serving with 156 Squadron. The citation for the award read: “This officer has completed numerous operations against the enemy, in the course of which, he has invariably displayed the utmost fortitude, courage and devotion to duty.”
In October 1944, John returned to Canada and put in a request for flying duties that did not involve excursions over large bodies of water. He was promptly posted to the RCAF Meteorological Flight making 500 mile jaunts over the Atlantic between Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and Bermuda!
After hostilities ended, John was on the first course for radio-navigators that added wireless operators duties to his repertoire as a navigator. In May 1947 he was posted to 426 and 413 Squadrons, embarking on an Arctic adventure — Operations POLCO and Magnetic I and II. For his participation in hazardous mapping of our northern wastelands John was awarded the Air Force Cross.
Left: Wing Commander John Goldsmith DFC, AFC May 1972
Excerpts from the citation by the Minister of National Defence gives example of the dangers involved:
“The Navigator, Flying Officer Goldsmith, was responsible for successfully guiding the aircraft through dangerous and uncharted areas in the Arctic Islands. In order to reach observation points surrounding the Magnetic Pole, it was frequently necessary to fly above the over-cast for many hours. With the minimum of normal meteorological and navigational aids, and the unreliable compass reading areas, this officer invariably directed the aircraft to its destination, often necessitating a let down through clouds in the vicinity of high hills or dangerous waters. Flying Officer Goldsmith did not have the assistance of accurate maps and his own sketches of important areas have been accepted for incorporation into official Dominion Government charts. The outstanding matter in which Flying Officer Goldsmith adapted himself to the difficult methods of navigation required over the pole is worthy of the highest praise. The successful completion of this pioneering operation was directly attributable to the resolute direction, integrity and initiative of this officer and his skilfulness and courage has set a fulgent example which will be an inspiration to his comrades in the Royal Canadian Air Force.”
During these flights, he was credited with rediscovering the Spicer Islands located in the Foxe Basin south of Baffin Island. In 1952, John was further honoured by the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Resources with Goldsmith Channel being named to acknowledge his contribution to northern geography. This body of water is located between the northeast tip of Victoria Island and Stefansson Island. It is indeed a rare accomplishment for someone still living to have a geographical landmark named after them.
His military career included station adjutant at Goose Bay and a two year stint with the USAF in Hawaii, participating in the Korean Airlift in 1951/52. After completion of Staff College in Toronto, he was selected for training as an airborne intercept observer to fly in CF-100 all-weather fighters. In 1960, he was given command of 425 All Weather Fighter Squadron and promoted to Wing Commander - a unique accomplishment for a navigator! Under his leadership the squadron was awarded the Steinhart Trophy - Most Efficient Fighter Squadron in Air Defence Command.
John closed out his 33 year military career with postings to NORAD as Deputy Director of Operations in Great Falls, Montana and Director of Operations in St. Margaret’s, NB. For the next 10 years he ran a tax and financial consulting business in Vancouver, BC, retiring in 1988 to Sidney, BC where John and Vicki, his petite energetic soul mate, enjoy their immaculate ground-level townhouse overlooking tranquil Tsehum Harbour. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, John has an inexplicable affinity for water - a true Goldfish through and through!
With the benefit of John Goldsmith’s excellent reference library, I was able to solve the mystery of Pilot Officer Al Normandin. In a 1943 sepia photograph of my uncle and his crew, in the gumboot swallowing mud of Kelstern, he is identified as the mid-upper gunner. However, by March 1944 he had been replaced by Sgt. Al Nixon. Frank Magee could remember an earlier mission from which he and Al Normandin were ordered as “spare bods” on separate crews. In the crew bus they sat across from each other en route to the aircraft dispersals. On disembarking at his Lanc, Al held out his hand and wished Frank “Good Luck”. Frank shook his hand and responded, “I will see you for breakfast Al” - Frank kept his part of the bargain, Al Normandin failed to return. I found the answer in the appendix of Alan Cooper’s “Bombers Over Berlin”. The crew of Lancaster JB 122, piloted by Flt/Sgt. R. Gallop are all listed as killed on the January 30/31, 1944 Berlin raid. PO Al Normandin was listed as the mid-upper gunner of that crew. The cause of their demise (flak, night fighter or mid air collision) and place of rest are not noted - such are the fickle fates of war.
I found it remarkable that my original article brought to light two Caterpillars - Frank Magee and John Munro - and one Goldfish, John Goldsmith, alive and well over 50 years after their common connection as air crew of 625 Squadron over Berlin on March 24/25, 1944. It has increased my resolve not to forget on November 11th - a minute of reflection for my Uncle Jack and John Munro and a telephone call to Frank Magee and John Goldsmith to maintain contact.
(1) Frank Magee - born 17th August 1919, died on the 15th August 2013, two days short of his 94th birthday in Osoyoos, British Columbia, Canada.
(2) Martin Drewes - born on 20th October 1918 near Hannover - became a night fighter ace in the Luftwaffe - claiming 5 on the Mailly-Le-Camp operation alone. Eventually claiming a total of 43 allied aircraft flying mainly the Bf110. He survived the war emigrating to Brazil where he married a Brazilian lady. His wife died in 2010, he died later on the 13th October 2013 at Blumenau, Brazil age 94.
Above as described - Taken by taken by Frank Magee's daughter and son-in-law when they visited the cemetery to reunite Frank's aliquot of ashes with his crew mates. The red roses in the photo are symbolically pointed to Kelstern, England.
Tubbergen Roman Catholic Cemetery. Every Christmas Eve a candlelight vigil is performed at the cemetery and on Remembrance Day flowers are left at the graves. Mr. Mark Veldhuis, a local school teacher, organises this with the help of his students. Mark is also a volunteer at the Holten Canadian war cemetery Information Centre.
For acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty: Suggested decorations:—
R138002 W/OII J.D. Owen- DFM
1437834 Sgt. W.H. Broadmore- DFM. Both KIA, eyewitness account.
R109371 Sgt. F.B. Magee-DFM, Evader, eye witness account.
1398485 Sgt. J.A.C. Lavender KIA-DFM, eye witness account.
1388315 Sgt. P.H. Simpkin KIA-DFM, eye witness account.
R175117 Sgt. H.W. Nixon KIA-DFM, eyewitness account,
1371877 Sgt. W. Clark KIA-DFM, eye witness account.
W/O II. John David Owen. Tubbergen Roman Catholic Cemetery. Grave 3. Born on the 11th September 1920, the son of Percy Llewellyn Owen and Julia Ada Gaunt of Comox, British Columbia, Canada.
Sgt. Wilfred Henry Broadmore. Tubbergen Roman Catholic Cemetery. Grave 6. Son of James William and Ada Broadmore, of East Ham, Essex, England and husband of Joan Broadmore. Grave inscription reads:
In memory's garden, my darling
You always will be
Sgt. John Charles Anthony David Lavender. Tubbergen Roman Catholic Cemetery. Grave 4. Son of Percy Charles and Alice Mary Lavender, of Hutton, Essex, England. Grave inscription reads:
Greater love than this
No man hath,
That a man lay down his life
For his friends
Sgt. Percival Henry Simpkin. Tubbergen Roman Catholic Cemetery. Grave 5. Son of George H. and Alice J. Simpkin, of Kennington, London, England and husband of Vera F. Simpkin. Grave inscription reads:
Silent thoughts and memories
Keep you ever near us
Mum, dad and sister
Fl/Sgt. Harry William Nixon. Tubbergen Roman Catholic Cemetery. Grave 1. Son of Dalton Chester Nixon (deceased) and Clara May Cable of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Sgt. William Clark. Tubbergen Roman Catholic Cemetery. Grave 2. Son of Frank and Margaret Clark, of Ayr, Scotland. Grave inscription reads:
For ever remembered
Researched by Jack Albrecht and Frank Magee and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to sources as shown.
625 SQUADRON LOSS #21: ND641 ADDENDUM
The Mysteries of ‘Frank Magee’s’ Parachute and Mae West
After seventy-nine years we are most grateful to the Kleissen family, Mark Veldhuis and Maria Löbker-Ribbert for bringing closure to the loss of 625 Squadron's Lancaster ND641 and crew during the March 24/25, 1944 Berlin raid. This family safely kept Frank’s flight gear in their attic and have agreed to share the mysteries revealed. It is heartwarming to know this Dutch family was recognized by the President of the United States and a RAF Air Marshal for their risk and sacrifice in protecting a RCAF evader.
Above left: President Eisenhower’s Citation to the Kleissen Family. Righy: Air Marshal Tedder’s Certificate of Appreciation to the Kleissen Family. (Courtesy of Mark Veldhuis).
During the return leg ND641 was attacked twice by Oblt. Martin Drewes. The initial attack resulted in significant damage but ND641 was still controllable. However, the second resulted in catastrophic airframe damage, with immediate loss of control into a spiral dive. During the ensuing roller-coaster ride that resulted in an approximate 10,000 feet loss of altitude, it is conceivable that the flight engineer, Sgt. Wilf Broadmore’s parachute was deposited into the bomb aimer's compartment.
For a brief moment pilot and flight engineer were able to stabilize ND641. By this time the intercom was unserviceable and the flight engineer gestured to the bomb aimer to bale out immediately. Following this order Frank Magee clipped on the most available parachute and exited via the nose escape hatch.
Then ND641 almost immediately entered an unrecoverable flat spin with centrifugal force preventing any other members of the crew from abandoning the aircraft. Those of the crew still alive, did not survive.
It is quite likely that Frank Magee witnessed the demise of ND641 and his crew mates as he quietly descended to land on a freshly ploughed field of the Kleissen farm. He would learn two days later that he was the sole survivor.
Above: Map of ND641 Crash Site and Frank Magee’s Landing on the Kleissen Farm. (Courtesy of Mark Veldhuis).
Above left: 'Frank Magee’s' Parachute Pack, right: Sgt. 'Wilf' Broadmore's Parachute Pack (Courtesy of Mark Veldhuis)
Above left: Sgt. 'Wilf' Broadmore's Parachute cum Christening Dress. (Courtesy of Maria Löbker-Ribbert and Martin Klaassen) Right: Sgt. 'Wilf' Broadmore's Parachute cum Chasuble. (Courtesy of Mark Veldhuis)
Above left: Frank Magee’s silk escape map. Right: His 'converted' flying boots (Courtesy of Mark Veldhuis).
After liberation and return to the UK, Frank's first task was to visit the crew's two widows and families, ultimately marrying one of the widows. Unable to visit my grandparents he wrote them a detailed and compassionate letter regarding my uncle's actions and fate in the loss of ND641.
For two decades I had the good fortune of having Frank Magee as my 'uncle in absentia'. We often discussed the final moments of ND641. There was no mention of Wilf Broadmore's parachute or Ian Nicolson's Mae West. He never displayed any signs of survivor guilt during our time together.
His daughter and son-in-law, Drs. Verna and John Shepherd, visited the graves of the crew of ND641 in Tubbergen, the Netherlands, on March 25, 2016, to spread a small aliquot of Frank's ashes with the following statement: Gentlemen, we commend to you the mortal remains of your comrade in arms, Frances Berry Magee. He loved you as brothers and revered your memory every single day of his life.
This scenario provides a reasonable explanation as to how Frank Magee landed safely, owing his life to Sgt. Wilf Broadmore’s chute. .
However, the explanation for Frank Magee being in possession of P/O Ian Hay Nicolson's J21172 Mae West is much more perplexing. We do know that F/O I.H. Nicolson J21172 was KIA, nine days earlier during the March 15/16, 1944 Stuttgart raid. He was the Bomb Aimer of No. 7 Squadron's Lancaster ND557, P/O D.A. Carter and crew, which included P/O P.H. Hamby as 2nd Pilot. Falling to a Nachtjagd crew there were no survivors of this eight man crew:
ND557 MG-F NO. 7 SQUADRON: P/O CARTER AND CREW, Stuttgart March 15/16, 1944.
P/O D.A. Carter A410145 Captain MBK
P/O P.H. Hamby 170729 2nd Pilot Missing
F/O K.C. Dyer A422462 Nav MBK
F/O I.H. Nicolson J21172 A/B Missing
Sgt. R.G. Ryder 1238672 WOP Missing
F/Sgt G.A. Johnston A418535 AG/MU Missing
Sgt. H.P. Riddle 1587493 F/E Missing
F/Sgt R.S. Smith A417527 AG/RG Missing
Right: F/O Ian Hay Nicolson J21172, Nos. 12, 625 and 7 Squadrons. (Courtesy of LAC/Ancestry.ca).
Above left: 'Frank Magee’s' Mae West, right: P/O Ian Nicolson's Mae West. Courtesy of Mark Veldhuis.
The Mae West was a common nickname for the first inflatable life preserver, which was invented in 1928 by Peter Markus (1885–1974) with his subsequent improvements in 1930 and 1931 The nickname originated because someone wearing the inflated life preserver often appeared to be as physically endowed as the actress Mae West.
Dear Boys of the RAF:
I have just seen that RAF Flyers have a life-saving Jacket they call a “Mae West” because it bulges in all the “right places.” Well, I consider it a swell honour to have such great Guys wrapped up in me, – know what I mean?
Yes, it’s kind of a nice thought to be flying all over with brave men, even if I’m only there by Proxy in the form of a life-saving Jacket or a life-saving Jacket in my form. I always thought that the best way to hold a man was in your arms – but I guess when you’re in the air a Plane is safer. You’ve got to keep everything under control.
Yeah, the Jacket idea is all right and I can’t imagine anything better than to bring you boys of the RAF soft & happy landings. But what I’d like to know about that life-saving Jacket is – has it got shapely shoulders? If I do get into the dictionary – where they say you want to put me – how will they describe me? As a warm & clinging life-saving garment worn by Aviators? Or an Aviator’s Jacket that supplies the woman’s touch while the Boys are flying around nights? How would you describe me, Boys? I’ve been in Who’s Who and I know what’s what, but it’ll be the first time I ever made the dictionary.
noun informal, dated.
an inflatable life jacket, originally as issued to pilots during World War II.
1940s: from the name of the American film actress Mae West (see West, Mae), noted for her large bust.
West, Mae | west |
(1892–1980), US actress and playwright. She established her reputation on Broadway in her own comedies, Sex (1926) and Diamond Lil (1928), which are memorable for their spirited approach to sexual matters, before she embarked on her successful Hollywood career in the 1930s.
Above left: Mae West. (Courtesy of masterbombercraig.wordpress.com Right: Right: Mae West underneath parachute harness with two clips for parachute pack. (Courtesy of masterbombercraig.wordpress.com)
We also know that P/O Nicolson and Sgt F.B. Magee were members of the RCAF and received their Bomb Aimer training during the same time in Canada, before being posted overseas. After AFU, OTU and HCU courses in England P/O Nicolson served a short stint with a crew on No. 12 Squadron before being posted to 625 Squadron as F/O Nicolson on October 13, 1943, as the first contingent of the Squadron's formation. We suspect he was the Bomb Aimer of F/Sgt H.W. Gumbrell's crew. Sgt. Magee would arrive from 1667 HCU, at Kelstern on October 15, 1943, Bomb Aimer of F/Sgt J.D. Owen's crew. On December 15, 1943, F/Sgt Gumbrell and crew, who we assume by inclusion to have F/O Nicolson, were posted to No. 7 Pathfinder Squadron at RAF Oakington, 120 km south of Kelstern.
We postulate that Frank Magee and Ian Nicolson met and a friendship developed during their air bomber training courses, and at some point between their time at Halifax RAF Training Pool, or during their encounters on the voyage to the UK, or postings to AFU, OTU or HCU courses— they exchanged their Mae Wests as talismans to carry on operational flights, ensuring their survival for a postwar celebration. We have no proof of this theory as there are no survivors to provide supporting evidence. Sadly, the missing link of this puzzle would be the Mae West worn by F/O Nicolson during the March 15/16, 1944, Stuttgart raid, with the inscription SGT MAGEE. Unfortunately, this evidence if it did exist rests as minute fragments buried in the German countryside near Tannheim, as ND557 was lost with its full bomb load. It is unlikely that this exchange could have taken place at Kelstern, as by that time Ian Nicolson had been promoted to Flying Officer. Our contention for this scenario is that it is the most probable one under the circumstances, with the only other explanation being an accidental mixup during their time together at Kelstern. We firmly believe that this was an intentional and not an accidental act. The Kleissen family confirms Frank Magee was the only Allied ‘guest’ airman to visit their farm over the duration of the war. He was the only source for the parachute and Mae West located on the Kleissen farm.
It is quite possible Frank Magee was aware F/O Ian Nicolson was reported missing with his crew after the March 15/16, 1944 Stuttgart raid. The pact was broken and Lady Luck’s protective umbrella evaporated. As ND641 lifted off the runway at RAF Kelstern on March 24th, Frank quite likely had a premonition that this would be the last op for ND641 and her crew…
OPERATIONAL CAREER of W/O J.D. Owen and Crew
The Aircrew Remembered archive report on the loss of ND641 and her crew was the first of seventy-four for the 625 Squadron Project. That was five years ago and there has been water under the bridge in the interim. The mysteries revealed with the discovery of Frank Magee’s parachute harness and Mae West are cases in point. With this in mind we would like to include additional information that has come to light. This will include details that have surfaced in this time and some will also apply to the losses of the other two 625 Squadron aircraft that ‘failed to return from the same Berlin raid:
It is noteworthy that Mark Veldhuis was also contributor to the archive addendum on the loss of Lanc ME684, as well as a major contributor to that of No. 405 Squadron’s PB174. Coincidentally, this crew also fell to Martin Drewes and are buried alongside those of ND641 in Tubbergan’s RC Cemetery.
F/Sgt Owen and his novice crew arrived on October 15, 1943, at RAF Kelstern keen and eager to start their tour of operations. It did not take long for the reality of the situation to sink in.
On October 20th he joined W/O S. Burton’s crew as ‘second’ dickie for an uneventful attack on Leipzig. Two days later the crew were on the Battle Order for their indoctrination to the crucible of war, detailed for an uneventful raid on Kassel.
Between October 22nd and March 24, 1944, F/Sgt Owen and his crew would the run the gauntlet, accumulating a total of twenty-two missions against the enemy. It would be a rocky road with all of these night ops detailed to attack heavily defended targets deep in German territory: Berlin 7, Stuttgart 2, Frankfurt 2, Kassel, Stettin, Brunswick, Magdeburg and Leipzig.
Comments from W/O Owen’s Pilots Log provide insight of the challenges his crew encountered:
29/30.12.43 Berlin- Getting flak happy, landed at Coltishall.
20/21.1.44 Berlin- Abortive. Bill unconscious, Frank piloted.
28/29.1.44 Berlin- On return off track, GEE u/s, compass u/s, Port Inner put u/s with flak. Picked up by Mosquito and two Typhoons off French coast. Landed at Ford.
Six of these trips would be screened as abortive/abandoned task for a variety of reasons. These included “fuel failure on starboard engine”, “heavy leak in the oxygen system”, “starboard inner engine cut and port outer engine overheating and threatening of cut” and “owing to rear turret being unserviceable”.
Four of these abortive missions occurred in the first eight of the crew’s detailed attacks. In discussion with Frank Magee it was learned that this high rate of early returns, 50%, was unacceptable and F/Sgt Owen was called before the Squadron Commander to explain this aberration. As Frank recounted they were supportive of their Skipper in his assertions that the odds were already stacked against them and to proceed on a mission with unserviceable equipment would only increase their odds of ‘failing to return’. Their main concern was that they would be labelled Lack of Moral Fibre (LMF) by their squadron mates.
Following this setback the crew would only have one more abortive op on the January 20/21, 1944, Berlin raid with an early return “owing to the Flight Engineer taking ill”. After this raid their performance as a combat team was flawless.
However, the seven link, gold chain, protective cloak would be broken on January 30th when F/O Al Normandin, ‘volunteering’ as a ‘spare bod’ mid-upper gunner with the crew of P/O Roy Gallop flying Lancaster JB122, failed to return from another raid to the ‘Big City’. This would be a double blow with Owen crew losing their sole Officer ‘mid-upper’ and the Squadron their youngest, experienced Skipper—age eighteen! It is intriguing that Roy Gallop was posthumously commissioned, but this promotion was rejected by his family. https://aircrewremembered.com/gallop-roy.html
This crew remained intact with the exception of the mid-upper turret, operated by F/O Al Normandin for the first fifteen ops and Sgt Harry Nixon for the last seven.
In conversation with Joan Berry (Broadmore) we learned that this crew, early in their tour, became acutely aware of the slim chances of tour expiring before their luck ran out. At the time two of the crew were married, with one couple having an infant son. With survival at the fore of their thoughts there was a consensus the odds would be in their favour serving with a Pathfinder Force squadron. The Squadron ORB includes the posting to and from No. 156 PFF Squadron in February 1944— without the crew leaving RAF Kelstern. The reasons for this reversal are unknown.
NACHTJAGD WAR DIARIES, VOLUME ONE
Theo Boiten chronicles the sequence of events on the evening of March 24/25, 1944, revealing the circumstances that doomed this raid from the onset.
While the bomber stream was still over the English coast, the Laufende Reportage began passing bomber plots. The stream was accurately followed across the North Sea and aircraft of NJG 1,2,3 and 5 were directed to beacon Quelle near Hamburg. From there some were vectored north to intercept the stream west of the Island of Sylt. Other Zame Sau Gruppen were vectored into it over Flensberg. In addition elements of 1./NJG2, NJG5 and NJG6 were added to the fray 120 km north of Berlin.
At 22.16 hrs, nine minutes before the opening of the attack, all aircraft were ordered to fly to Berlin and remain with bombers as long as possible. During this raid a record of 279 1st Jagdcorps single- and twin-engined aircraft went into action! Several factors favoured the Nachtjagt mounting very effective Tame and Wild Boar operations over outward and homeward legs. The Nachtjagd controllers ignored a diversionary raid west of Paris and were able to feed the bulk of the Tame Boar force into the bomber stream from Sylt to Berlin—with clear skies and good visibility. A Nachtjägers dream! To top it off, an un-forecasted, northerly jet stream scattered the stream south of the briefed route. As a result homeward bound bombers were flying without Window protection, spread over a greater than 200 km front and 220 km long, extremely vulnerable to fighter interception. Under normal conditions, the stream would be eight km wide and one hundred km long—and many would pay the price.
The first Nachtjagd Abschuss was reported at 21.18 hrs before the bomber stream had crossed the Danish coast. For the next three and a half hours a one-sided battle raged resulting in the loss of seventy-two Bomber Command aircraft—9.1% of the detailed force!
625 Squadron would pay the price with three aircraft failing to return. Poor karma would place a number of the Nachtjagt’s experten ‘swimming’ amongst the bomber stream on the homeward leg, silhouetted by the rising new moon—a recipe for disaster of many bomber crews. These included Oblt. Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer, Ofw. Rudolf Frank, Hptm. Martin Drewes and Oblt. Dietrich Schmidt. Oblt. Schnaufer claimed the loss of 625 Squadron’s ME684 at 00.41 hours, his 51st victory; Hptm, Drewes ND641 at 00.20, his 16th and Oblt. Günther Rogge ED317 at 23:30 hrs, his 4th.
At 23.06 hrs Oblt. Schmidt claimed the destruction of a Lancaster at 6,000 m. near Erfurt, in a chilling attack recounted by his Bordfunker (Radio Operator), Fw. Kurt Schönfeld:
After departing Twente without runway lighting they entered cloud at 30 metres. During the ninety minute climb in cloud they encountered severe icing conditions, affecting their leading edge slats and props. Ice lumps smashed against the canopy perspex, St. Elmo’s fire danced around the dipole radar aerials. With the freezing level at 1000 metres their aircraft hung on the verge of a stall throughout most of the climb. At 4,000 metres the temperature was -30 degrees C, without cabin heating and temperamental heated flying overalls! They finally broke cloud into moonlight. The pilot sighted a bomber and was guided into thick cloud to within 40 metres but the aircraft remained invisible. Fw. Schönfeld had his pilot back off and start afresh, then guiding him very carefully back to 40 metres, carefully centring the target in his radar screen. Dieter pressed the buttons and the bomber caught fire at once…
This interception exemplifies the coordination of a Nachtjagd crew and the vulnerability of a bomber crew despite a thick cloak of cloud! They did not stand a chance. To the best of our knowledge we are unaware of a bomber returning to Base to raise the alarm of this dangerous scenario.
With this attack Oblt. Schmidt displayed remarkable situational awareness and combat moxie, with the knowledge that this aircraft was on the return leg— bomb bay empty. Four months later, under similar circumstances, Hptm. Drewes would almost end his combat career and life as a result of his impulsivity. Incredibly, his crew would survive their encounter with 405 Squadron Lancaster, PB174. It was a miracle that the rear gunner of F/L Virtue’s crew survived as an evader until liberated.
THE BOMBER COMMAND WAR DIARIES
24/25 March 1944
811 aircraft - 577 Lancasters, 216 Halifaxes, 18 Mosquitoes. 72 aircraft - 44 Lancasters, 28 Halifaxes - lost, 8.9 per cent of the force.
This night became known in Bomber Command as ‘the night of the strong winds’. A powerful wind from the north carried the bombers south at every stage of the flight. Not only was the wind not forecast accurately but it was so strong that the various methods available to warn crews of wind changes during the flight failed to detect the full strength of it. The bomber stream became very scattered, particularly on the homeward flight and radar-predicted Flak batteries at many places were able to score successes. Part of the bomber force even strayed over the Ruhr defences on the return flight. It is believed that approximately 50 of the 72 aircraft lost were destroyed by Flak; most of the remainder were victims of night fighters. The Berlin report says that 14 bombers were shot down by fighters in the target area.
The strong winds caused difficulties in the marking at Berlin with, unusually, markers being carried beyond the target and well out to the south-west of the city. 126 small towns and villages outside Berlin recorded bombs and 30 people were killed in those places. The majority of damage in Berlin was in the south-western districts. As usual, much housing was destroyed and about 20,000 people were bombed out. Approximately 150 people were killed. No industrial concerns were classed as destroyed but several important ones were damaged. 5 military establishments were badly hit including the depot of the Waffen-S.S. Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler Division in Lichterfelde.
This was the last major R.A.F. raid on Berlin during the war, although the city would be bombed many times by small forces of Mosquitoes…
PERSONAL WAR DIARY OF W/C JOHN GOLDSMITH DFC AFC
BERLIN: Date- March 24, Time Over Target- 2230, Flying Time- 7 hrs 15 mins,
Bomber Losses- 72, Loss Rate- 8.9%, 3 Sqn a/c
A very exciting raid. Extremely strong winds caused many problems (see my story below). Clear weather throughout and the flak and searchlights were the most I had yet encountered. South-west of the target there was a solid wall of searchlights stretching about 30 miles and many aircraft were ‘coned’. I had the pilot ‘dog-leg’ the aircraft so we could delay our passage through the zone until all the searchlights were busy with other aircraft. The manoeuvre worked and we got by with no problem. It seemed as though all the guns, searchlights and fighters in Germany were busy that night.
This was the last Berlin raid in what was known as the Battle of Berlin, which started on 18 Nov 1943. For the crews of the Lancasters the battle was a nightmare. Northern Germany seldom enjoyed clear weather in mid-winter, and that year conditions were exceptionally bad. Night after night, Bomber Command took off through the rain, sometimes through the snow, into conditions of freak winds and sudden icing, loaded to the aircraft’s limits with bombs and fuel for the 1,150 mile round trip. The winter, because of the longer nights, was the only feasible time of the year for making regular deep penetrations. Psychologically and physically it was the worst. Long hours at sub-zero temperatures dulled the brain, reflexes were slowed and mistakes were made.
Frostbite was common even among pilots and navigators; with the cabin that cold conditions elsewhere in the aircraft had to be experienced to be believed. The sky was lit by exploding aircraft as frozen gunners, numbed in their turrets, missed the shadow slipping below the fuselage that a few seconds later consigned them to oblivion…
The following is an extract from an article I wrote for Martin Middlebrook’s forthcoming book on the Battle of Berlin.
On March 24 1944, at the Navigator’s pre-mission briefing for the Berlin raid, the Squadron Navigation Leader informed me that I was to find a wind speed and direction hourly, and have my wireless operator transmit it back to Group Headquarters. I wasn’t pleased with the idea of being in an aircraft over enemy territory breaking radio silence, which would make it an easily identified target for German night fighters. When I made my feelings known the nav-leader explained that each squadron had been directed to select its best navigator for this job, and that the winds would be averaged and transmitted back to the bomber force to assist the navigators in their navigation plots. Although apprehensive I was rather flattered on being considered an expert navigator and agreed to be a ‘wind-finder’.
About an hour after leaving base we were well out over the North Sea as I took my last position fix with the GEE radar before the signals faded, as they usually did at that distance from the ground stations. This fix put our aircraft 25 miles south of track so I gave the pilot an alteration to port while I worked our a wind speed and direction. I found that the wind was from the north and 30 knots stronger than forecast. Some time later as we approached the German coast I picked up the island of Sylt on the H2S radar, and was rather shaken to find that we were going to pass the south end of the island rather than the north end as flight planned, which meant we were well south of track. After making more alterations of heading, to port, I worked out a new wind and found it was still northerly but over 100 knots!! I gave it to the wireless operator to send back to Group, and was dismayed when he gave me the re-broadcast wind from Group a short time later, as it showed a speed of only 65 knots.
As we continued our flight across Germany, just south of Denmark, we continued to drift south and I had to make more port alterations to our heading. The next wind I worked out gave a wind speed of 130 knots, which I found difficult to believe as I had never encountered a wind speed of over 75 or 80 knots before this night. Obviously the Group weather-experts couldn’t believe it either as they re-broadcast wind to the bomber force had a speed of only 75 knots!! My concern was eased when I was able to get some accurate pin-points as we passed over the Baltic Coast, and I became convinced that my winds were accurate. With all the alterations to port I had been making to stay on track our ground speed had fallen off, and we were behind our flight planned time. I was considering turning early onto our southerly heading for Berlin, but a quick estimate of our ground speed on that 300 (sic) mile or so leg was 350 (sic) knots, so we carried on to the flight-planned turning point. With this speed we had no problems with the flak or fighters on the final run to the target. We reached Berlin pretty well on time, and as we headed west, away from the target, we could see many bombers being coned by searchlights, as the bomber stream was scattered all over the sky. With the stream so widely scattered the ‘wind-finding’ aircraft were easily detected when they broke radio silence to transmit their winds. A few days later it was revealed that 40% of these aircraft never made it back to England!
John’s vivid account of the meteorological challenges created by this first encounter with the jet-stream provides insight of how this resulted in wide dispersal of the bomber stream. In addition, it reenforced his anxiety of the ‘wind-finders’ being sitting ducks for Nachtjagt experten—reaping the cream of the crop, Bomber Command navigators.
Personal Appeal by the author:
During research for this archive report two brief requests of the Squadron administration staff were found in the Library and Archives Canada/ancestry.ca file of W/O J.D. Owen R138002.
First request received by the Squadron Admin staff on 11 July, 1944 P.M.
LAC W Young M.
Could you kindly forward me any more information you may have received concerning W/O J.D. Owen R130082 reported missing from operations 24th/25th March 1944 over Berlin. Thank you in anticipation.
Second undated request.
102 Balfour Rd.
Would you please forward me any information concerning W/O Pilot Owen J.D. R138002 missing from operations on the night of 24/25th on Berlin.
I would appreciate this very much as I am a great friend of the above mentioned.
Thank you in anticipation.
I would be most appreciative if anyone aware of the fate of N.E. Young or family connections could contact me through the Help Desk.
This addendum is dedicated in memory of ND641's crew, in particular W/O Jack Owen and Sgt Wilf Broadmore for their efforts to enable their crew mate to bale out. We are now aware the parachute that saved Fl/Sgt Frank Magee's life was in fact 'Wilf' Broadmore's. We acknowledge the children's christening dresses and priest's chasuble were sewn from the silk of his chute—symbolic mementos of the crew and their ultimate sacrifice.
John Shepherd's graveside tribute to the crew provides insight of the term "crewing up", til death do us part. JEA
Mark Veldhuis Photos and Documentation.
625 Squadron ORB.
Aircrew Remembered Archive Reports.
Library and Archives Canada/Ancestry.ca. Canada, World War II Records and Service Files of War Dead, 1939-1947.
masterbombercraig.wordpress.com>Lancaster Mk’s>Safety Equipment.
Personal War Diary of W/C John Goldsmith DFC AFC
Roy Wilcock, Honorary Member of the 625 Squadron Project
Kelvin Youngs, Photo Editing.
Submission by Maria Löbker-Ribbert, Mark Veldhuis, and the Kleissen family in particular, as without their safekeeping of ‘Frank Magee’s’ flight gear, in immaculate condition, this addendum would not have germinated.