07/08.08.1944 50 Squadron Lancaster I LL922 VN:T Flt Lt Richard R. Palandri
Date: 7th/8th August 1944 (MondayTuesday)
Unit: 50 Squadron
Type: Lancaster I
Base: RAF Skellingthorpe, Lincolnshire.
Location: Frénaye 3 km East North East Lillebonne, France
Pilot: Flt Lt Richard Silvio Palandri 55026 RAFVR Age 26. Killed
Flt Eng: Sgt. Johnny B. Firth 1850441 RAFVR Age 19. PoW No: Not known. Camp: Stalag Luft Bankau
Nav: Flt Sgt Reginald John Owen 1395854 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
Air/Bmr: Flt Lt Edward H.E. Hearn DFC. 131973 RAFVR Age? - Evaded capture. (1)
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Arthur Donald Mellish 1602828 RAFVR Age 22. Killed
Air Gnr: Sgt. William Johnson 1690722 RAFVR Age 21 - Evaded capture.
Air Gnr: Flt Sgt Arthur Robson Meredith R179671 RCAF Age? - Evaded capture.
REASON FOR LOSS:
Taking off from RAF Skellingthorpe at 21:28 hrs to bomb tank emplacements in the woods at Secqueville-en-Bessin.
Some 60 plus days since the Americans had landed at Omaha beach they had only penetrated 20 odd miles into France such was the ferocity of the German resistance. The Americans were being held up by large concentrations of German armour and asked the RAF to bomb the German positions in and around the woods at Secqueville. En route to the target they received the order to cancel the operation and return as the Americans had captured the area concerned. They turned for home.
Rear L-R: Sgt. Mellish, Fg Off. Manus, Flt Sgt. Meredith and Sgt. Firth. Front: Flt Sgt. Owen, Flt Lt. Palandri and Sgt. Johnson
Very shortly afterwards they ware attacked by Luftwaffe night fighters and they were hit.
The pilot ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft. All but three did just that, baling out at about 23:59 hrs.
Three evaded capture with the assistance of the Marquis but Sgt. Frith was captured and taken PoW.
It is thought that the Luftwaffe pilot that shot them down was either Hptm. Heinz Rokker (2) or Lt. Johannes Strassner (3) both flying with 2./NJG2.
(1) Flt Lt Eddie Hearn was not the usual bomb aimer for this crew. Fg Off. Mick Manus was unable to fly on this operation due to sickness.
Above left: Sgt. William Johnson Right: Flt Sgt. Reginald John Owen (courtesy John Williamson)
(2) Hptm. Heinz Rokker - this was his 40th Abschuss and one of three this night. He was to survive the war with a total of 65 confirmed victories. (Above left)
(3) Lt. Johannes Strassner - this was his 7th Abschuss of the war. (of 8 in total) Wounded on the 15th/16th February 1945 in a crash at Ziesar near Burg. Passed away in Salzkotten 1998. (Above right)
Left and above: La Frénaye Churchyard, Seine-Maritime, France as taken by our Kate Tame during her visit in 2012.
Any relative who would like a higher resolution copy of the grave and church please don't hesitate to contact us.
The CWGC offered to move the crew graves to a military cemetery - they refused.
Flt Lt. Richard Silvio Palandri. La Frénaye Churchyard, Seine-Maritime, France. No further details as yet available.
Flt Sgt. Reginald John Owen. La Frénaye Churchyard, Seine-Maritime, France. Son of Albert and Maud Elizabeth Owen, of Sidcup, Kent, England.
Sgt. Arthur Donald Mellish. La Frenaye Churchyard, Seine-Maritime, France. Son of Arthur George and Florence Sarah Mellish, of Tooting, Surrey, England.
Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this crew Also some details from a Mr Philippe Mourand on this excellent website. Thanks to Johan Visschedijk for for pointing out the typo error (Mar 2021).
We are now in contact with one of the sons of William Johnson, who has kindly provided the following information:
"I am one of the sons of Sergeant William Johnson in 50 squadron.
He was the official rear gunner, but had swapped the mid upper gunner that fateful night, because, the mid upper wanted a spell as a rear gunner, which was considered the main gunner. The plane went into a tail spin on fire and my father said he was pinned down but Palandri managed to straighten her out, however instead of jumping out straight away my father said he jumped into the mid upper turret in such a temper and said he shot the German plane down, which had evidently followed them down.
He said the German aircraft was a twin engined night fighter. When he bailed out finally, he had to wrench the cords of the parachute, because they were so low to the ground and the explosion blow him upwards.
I met Johnny Firth many years later at the commemoration of the crash at Le Frenay and said he remembered getting bashed all over, when the plane was tale spinning and remembered my father cursing loudly. The locals in Normandy were still lamenting the fact that the full bomb load on board the Lancaster had killed two curious French school boys, who had gone to have a look.
My father was later picked up by the Marquis, who checked he wasn't a German by shouting German orders at him in a room and was recruited into the Marquis, in which he took part in sabotage, telegraph cables and ammo dumps etc.
He was eventually liberated by a Lancashire regiment and become a gunner instructor when he got back to England.
My father's friends and fellow crew mates nick named him Geordie because of where was from back in England.
I know my father was mentioned in a newspaper article, a local paper about his adventure in France, if you could look up that perhaps.
My mother and I went over to La Freney about 1997 for the reburial and commemoration of the three crew who were killed. That’s when I met Johnny Firth, who was only 19 in 1944, who I saw on the internet since then and hoped might be still alive. I also met the French woman, who lamented about the two school boys who lost their lives, when some of the Bomber’s munitions exploded after the crash.
My father often told me about a fateful night, when he and the Chef de Resistance were planning to blow up an ammo dump, but things went wrong and they were captured by the SS, but my father managed to escape, with the help of his French friend, who effectively saved his life by distracting the Germans by starting an argument in the staff car they were transported in.
I could give some more detail about a German artillery unit, taking over the farm where my father was hiding and he had to pretend he was dumb. In fact, whenever any Germans were around he had to pretend he was dumb.
He often talked of being caught in the Falais Pocket, where the Germans were being attacked by Typhoon fighter bombers and about a German tank, which he thought was a Tiger tank swivelling its gun at him.
He was with a French girl with a red dress and he reckoned that’s what saved their lives, because the Typhoon attacking them stopped firing its guns.
I’m sorry it all sounds far fetched, but he repeated the same stories over and over to me.
I think the plane he said he shot down after he climbed back into the turret was an ME 110."