Date: 7th/8th August 1944 (Monday/Tuesday)
Unit No: 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. KiA
Flt Eng: Sgt. John Bernard Firth 1850441 RAFVR Age 19. PoW No 86322 *
Nav: Flt Sgt Reginald John Owen 1395854 RAFVR Age 21. KiA
Bomb Aimer: Flt Lt. Edward Harty Elliot Hearn DFC and Bar. 131973 RAFVR Age? Evader (1)
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Arthur Donald Mellish 1602828 RAFVR Age 22. KiA
Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Sgt. William Johnson 1690722 RAFVR Age 21. Evader (2)
Air Gnr (Rear): Flt Sgt. Arthur Robson Meredith R179671 RCAF Age? Evader (3)
* Stalag Luft 7 Bankau nr. Kreuzburg O.S." (O.S. standing for Oberschlesien, Upper Silesia). Today called Bąków nr. Kluczbork (Poland).
Above: Rear L-R: Sgt. Mellish, Fg Off. Manus, Flt Sgt. Meredith and Sgt. Firth. Front: Flt Sgt. Owen, Flt Lt. Palandri and Sgt. Johnson
Above left: Sgt. William Johnson Right: Flt Sgt. Reginald John Owen (courtesy John Williamson)
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.
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.
LL992 was claimed by Uffz. Rolf Koch, his 1st Abschuss, from 4./NJG4 in the Yvetot-Lillebonne area at 1.300 m, at 23.47 hrs. (Nachtjagd Combat Archive (24 July 1944 - 15 October 1944) Part 4 - Theo Boiten)
(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.
Fg Off Hearn was awarded the DFC whilst with 50 Sqn. London gazette 23rd July 1943.
Citation reads "Flying Officer Edward Harty Elliot HEARN (131973), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 50 Squadron. Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (Flying). 1272592 Sergeant Cecil James Morley WILKIE, No. 50 Squadron. Distinguished Flying Medal. 938804 Sergeant Frank POINTON, No. 50 Squadron. 993249 Sergeant Stanley WILKINSON, No. 50 Squadron. One night in June, 1.943, Flying Officer Hearn and Sergeants Pointon and Wilkinson were air bomber, mid-upper gunner and flight engineer respectively of an aircraft, piloted by Sergeant Wilkie, detailed to attack Cologne. Whilst over the target area, the bomber was hit by anti-aircraft fire. The windscreen round the pilot's cabin was shattered and Sergeant Wilkie was blinded by flying splinters. Despite this he remained ac the controls. Flying Officer Hearn and Sergeant Wilkinson were injured by fragments of shrapnel. Nevertheless, the former uncomplainingly remained at his post ready to release his bombs whilst Sergeant Wilkinson went to the assistance of his pilot and the bombing run was completed. Still unable to see. Sergeant Wilkie remained at the controls, piloting his aircraft by touch, being aided in various ways by the flight engineer and by Flying Officer Hearn who directed him in avoiding the searchlights and continuous anti-aircraft fire to which the bomber was subjected. Some time later, whilst still over enemy territory, Sergeant Wilkie recovered his vision in one eye and soon succeeded in flying clear of the defences, afterwards flying the aircraft back to this country. In the course of the action Sergeant Pointon had one finger severed when his turret was damaged by a shattering blow. Although in considerable pain he remained at his post, constantly alert to the danger of fighter interference. In most harassing circumstances these members of aircraft crew displayed courage, fortitude and determination of the highest order".
He was awarded a bar to his DFC as a Flt Lt with 50 Sqn. London Gazette 16th January 1945.
(2) Statement by Sgt. William Johnson: "I took off in a Lancaster aircraft from SKELLINGTHORPE on 7 Aug, at 2200 hrs. I baled out at midnight over the coast near LE HAVRE, (N.W. EUROPE 1:250,000, Sheet 4, L42) and after hiding my flying equipment, I took my bearings and started walking South.
A short while later I reached a wood and began to scramble through the undergrowth. I came to some huts and was tiptoeing quietly by when I heard voices and a couple of shots. I then ran as fast as I was able, falling down a steep slope in my haste. I continued walking after that until I reached the outskirts of LILLEBONNE (L82) when I hid in some bushes for the hole of the day.
That night I was discovered by a French child, who went and fetched his father. I was taken to this man’s house and stayed with him for two nights, while he contacted the Maquis. On 9 Jun, (probably meant august) a member of the Maquis called and took me in a boat across the river SEINE to his house where I stayed for two days. After that I was moved to a small farm near BOURNEVILLE (probably meant Bonneville) (L81) where I remained for a fortnight and during that time I did a certain amount of sabotage with the Maquis.
About 25 Aug I went to TROUVILLE LA HAULE (L 81) and remained here until I made contact with British troops on 28 Aug. For the next four days I helped members of the Resistance movement round up Germans, and then I reported back to Brigade H.Q. at BONNEVILLE".
(3) Flt Sgt. Meredith statement: "We left SKELLINGTHORPE on a Lancaster plane at 10 p.m. on August 7, 1944. I parachuted at 11.59 p.m. and landed on the side of a hill. I walked to the farmhouse there. closer and with the help of the peasant, I burned my parachute, my Mae jacket etc. An hour later, the French took me to a farm in Triquerville where I stayed for three weeks. decided to contact the English who weren't very far away. I walked towards the Seine and got in touch with a Dutch war correspondent who led me to his patrol. I crossed the river. Seine with them and I contacted the intelligence services of the 49th Division who sent me back to England". (Armées.com)
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 which was turned down.
Flt Lt. Richard Silvio Palandri. La Frénaye Churchyard, Seine-Maritime, France. Hailed from Argentina. 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 Jack Block for the correction to aircraft serial (Oct 2015). Thanks to Johan Visschedijk for for pointing out the typo error (Mar 2021). Thanks to William Scott Johnson for the rewrite of his father's exploits. (Sept 2022). Other updates to fighter claim and DFC citations added by Aircrew Remembered (Sep 2022). Thanks to William Scott Johnson for the official Escape and Evasion statement for Sgt. William Johnson (Sept 2022).
Other sources listed below:
We are now in contact with one of the sons of William Johnson, who has kindly provided the following information for Sgt William Johnson:
The following depicts William Johnson’s experience in the wartime RAF as told by his youngest son, William Scott Johnson.
My father William Johnson, was unusual in aircrew, as he had been fully trained to be in an elite crack regiment, the RAF regiment, which he was coerced into joining. When he joined the RAF. He had joined because he wanted to fly. Anyway he managed to swap across to aircrew eventually after fully being trained in the regiment. I can imagine they were eager to get more people in that organisation of aircrew. His life seemed change after that, for he was treated like an officer, with eggs and bacon, a rarity in those days.
When he become a gunner, he was probably one of the fittest gunners they could have, because most of aircrew, were little more than civilians, fitness wise. Two of the things my father William Johnson had to do to train to be a gunner in a bomber, he mentioned, was clay pigeon shooting, and finally he had to train in an obsolete Avro Anson, using the turret in it. Later, he had to learn team work in a Wellington bomber with 5 crew, then a Short Stirling with 7 crew, the latter flew like a brick.
One night the flight engineer, who was both very young, about 19 at the time and very new forgot to change over the petrol cock and the engines just shut down and the Stirling just fell, like a brick, they didn’t glide those aircraft and my father, along with most of the crew had to bail out over England, leaving the pilot and flight engineer, my father hitting his head when he left the aircraft.
The flight engineer realising he had made a mistake switched the petrol cock and the aircraft gained height again and flew away. My father wasn’t a happy bunny. He told me something about a barking dog and an angry farmer, after he had been hanging on a tree all night long, by his parachute.
Another incident, when coming into the the new pilot bounced the Lancaster on landing and my dad panicking, grabbed the triggers of the four Brownings shot up the aerodrome making the personnel within it dive to the ground. He never talked of the aftermath of that.
When he and his fellow crewmen got operational, he told me about witnessing other aircraft being shot down, looking like burning rags and new crews occupying the other huts, after their first mission, the authorities picking up their effects, next morning, which saddened him. After a while he tried not get too close to them, as friends.
When attacked by fighters he would have to converse with the skipper telling him to corkscrew port or starboard and how he used to hose the tracer at the enemy. Most would just fly away if they new the rear gunner was awake.
He told me about another incident, of a B17 Flying Fortress, which landed at their base at Skellingthorpe and on flying away, the young pilot trying to show off to the British airmen and crashing loosing all on board.
He talked of flying daylight raids with the Americans, who had a different strategy to the British. The Americans tended to fly higher and so there were accidents with bombs clipping tailplanes off etc. Though I have seen footage of Lancasters doing that to each other.
After one night, he arrived back in the morning and there was no floor under his turret, he had got slightly wounded a small piece of shrapnel had went through one of his hands, but missed all the bones, luckily, he was offered a medal for that but he refused it.
He complained to me about the RN having potshots at them over 1944 landings on the Normandy beaches. They fired on anything that flew, to be on the safe side apparently.
On the fatal night when they were shot down, on their 20th operation, they were badly due for a rest and were about to go on leave, but were called back. Operation Secqueville, was conceived, in which Flt Lt. Richard R Palandri, he and the rest of the crew were the most veteran crew, took the lead.
The mid upper gunner asked my father, if he could have a go as the rear gunner that night, for rear gunner was regarded as the most important gunner position and my father consented and so my father was mid-upper for the night.
My father said to me that they were flying over Normandy near midnight and they had to abort the mission because he told me that the Americans had succeeded in taking the woods, but looking at the records and map, it was the Canadians who managed to capture these woods.
All of a sudden there was an almighty crash and the one of the wings was ablaze. Port or starboard, I can’t remember, and the aircraft went into a tail spin. My father who had got out of the mid-upper turret was pinned down, and said to me, he saw his life flash before his eyes.
By a miracle, the aircraft steadied and my father full of hell, scrambled back into the turret again cursing and swearing, he said to me, he saw the Junkers 88 and shot it down. I have found out recently that another witness from the RAF, said that two other Lancs had been shot down with no survivors before my dad’s was attacked, so maybe my father, might have saved other British aircraft from being shot down, I think now.
It was a consensus between my dad and me that the German fighter might have followed the Lanc down. I suppose he must have carried out the shooting after being told to bail out by the pilot. On his way out, he tried to persuade another member of the crew to bale out, but this crewman had a phobia about bailing out over the sea, so my father bid him goodbye and said he’d see him down below and bailed out himself. After landing on the ground, so his flight diary said, he saw the plane fly straight and level and expected them to all get out.
He buried his parachute and equipment, which was part of the drill, and then made for some woods. According to the records, he started running, and fell into a ditch, when he heard, what sounded like German voices. For some hours he walked through some woods and come across a French boy. Because he was very thirsty at that time he said in his schoolboy French eau, repeatedly, meaning water.
The boy took him to a building, probably a farmhouse, and he was interrogated, then someone burst in and shouted in German, to check him out. Of course my dad, not knowing a word of German did not respond. They found he was a gunner, so they brought him various bits of guns which did not fit together, he had to tell them.
The next two weeks he was helping them on operations, chopping down telegraph poles and general sabotage, until one night things went wrong, when they were going to blow up this ammo dump, when two German sentries found them. He and the Chef de resistance, dispatched the sentries, my father shooting one of them with his RAF Webley service revolver and the other had his throat cut by the Frenchman, which my father being a good natured man, actually was horrified at seeing and hearing it.
They were later captured and taken away by the SS. My father had been told of the dangers of being captured by this type of soldier. The hard faced SS officer interrogated the Chef de Resistance. They both used the crossover language of English, my father recalled and is interesting to note. They were both taken in a staff car and I suppose other vehicles, full of German SS guards. The brave Frenchman, for that’s obviously what he obviously was, hinted to my father, looking at the door handle probably in the back of the car. The Chef de Resistance, then picked an argument with one of the Germans, glancing at the door handle again and in that instance my father took his chance and wrenched the door handle, jumping out of the car and my father often quipped it wasn’t Roger Bannister who broke the 4 minute mile it was he.
He may have thought the Frenchman was going to make an escape as well, but unfortunately he didn’t. There ware bullets flying past him and the Germans never found out he was English, because of his swarthy looks and his growth had been stunted when he was young, which might have gone somewhere towards saving his life then. He blended in with the local Normans quite well. He got back to his new found French friends, the Maquis. Eventually my father told me, the farm where he was staying was taken over by a German artillery unit and he had to pretend he was dumb. I suppose special needs, you might term him in our days, because he spoke very little French.
After the war he used to work on building sites and he compared the German artillerymen to the workman he had to work with in England as very similar. Not that different.
He had been working and living with the French Marquis for about two weeks, when they were liberated by a Lancashire regiment. However he was picked up by a British truck, and the cockney sergeant on board, did not recognise, my dads accent, which was a Geordie accent and put him in the back with some German prisoners. After getting back to base, the officer in charge recognised his accent straight away fortunately, even offered him a medal. Sadly that officer got killed as the conflict progressed.
My father was given the job of rounding up German prisoners, who were in civilian clothing as a lot of SS soldiers tried to disguise themselves.
In the liberation, he witnessed some of the revenge on collaborators and was physically sick at a hanging of a middle aged man and women getting their hair shaved, in which he was also upset. He persuaded the former French resistance fighters to be humane with the prisoners, so he told me. That was the kind of man my father was. He was highly humane to animals and other people. Our family were cat lovers and saw them as comical little creatures and I still do.
When getting back to England, they were reluctant to let him fly again, other crews regarding him as bad luck, because he had been shot down. They made him a gunner instructor, till the end of the war.
RS 30.09.2022 - Addition of Escape and Evasion report for Sgt. Johnson
KTY 10.10.2015 Aircraft serial number corrected - with thanks to Jack Brook
RS 26.03.2021 - Narrative correction
RS 13.09.2022 - Replacement story and update to crew details
RS 30.09.2022 - Addition of Escape and Evasion report for Sgt. Johnson
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember
them. - Laurence
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