Operation: Training - formation flying practice
Date: 23 June 1944 (Friday)
Unit: No. 97 Squadron. Motto: "Achieve your aim."
Badge: An ogress pierced by an arrow, point downwards. The badge is indicative of accurate aim. Authority: King George VI, January 1937.
Type: Avro Lancaster III
Base: RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire
Location: Deeping Fen, Lincolnshire
Pilot: Fl/Lt. Edward Leslie John (Ted) Perkins 53366 RAF Age 24 - Killed (1)
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Frank Ernest Coxhead 1583248 RAFVR Age 20 - Killed (2)
Nav: Fl/Lt William James Hunt 152730 RAFVR Age 22 - Killed (3)
Air/Bmr: Fl/Sgt. John Fairbairn 1456224 RAFVR Age 30 - Killed (4)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Joseph Paul (Joe) Coman (5)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: W/O. Denis Gilbert Partos DFM 1394153 RAFVR Age 23 - Killed (6)
We appeal to anyone with further information and/or photographs to please contact us via our HELPDESK
Pilot Officer Ted Perkins and his crew were posted to No. 97 Squadron at RAF Bourn, Cambridgeshire in late 1943 or very early 1944 probably from an Operational Training Unit. On 14/15 January 1944 he was detailed for his first operational flight flying as second dickie on Lancaster JB299 OF-W captained by Sqn/Ldr. Charles Peter Craufurd de Wesselow DFC. The squadron detailed 21 aircraft for this raid on Brunswick involving 496 Lancasters and 2 Halifaxes. 38 Lancasters were lost including 2 from 97 Squadron of which 12 of their 14 crewmen killed and two taken as prisoners of war.
It would be a month later on 15 February before he flew operationally again but this time as captain and with his own crew. The crew were, Flight Engineer Sgt. Rosenberg, Navigator Bill Hunt, Air Bomber John Fairbairn, Wireless Operator Joe Coman and the two Canadian Air Gunners Sgts. J.K.Russell and M.H.McBride. For some reason Frank Coxhead, his usual Flight engineer did not take part in this raid. The target was Berlin, a daunting prospect for an experienced crew but for Ted Perkins and his crew a true baptism of fire. 891 aircraft were dispatched including 17 from No. 97 Squadron, the largest force ever sent to Berlin and the largest non-1000 bomber force sent to any target. The 2642 tons of bombs dropped was also a record. 43 aircraft were lost including one from 97 Squadron.
Frank Coxhead returned for the next operation and for all the ensuing operations the crew consisted of the same personnel.
Bombing operations followed with fearsome regularity and by the end of March 1944 Ted had 8 operations to his credit and the rest of the crew had 7.
The target for 30 March 1944 was Nuremberg and a force of 795 aircraft was despatched. The main force was under fighter attack throughout the raid and 95 aircraft or almost 12% of the force was lost, the biggest Bomber Command loss of the war.
In mid-April 1944 the Squadron was withdrawn from the Pathfinder Force and returned to No. 5 Group at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire.
The number of operations completed by Ted and his crew mounted steadily and by the of May Ted had completed 20 operations and the crew 19 (excluding Frank Coxhead who had completed 18)
The Operations Record Book records that on 5 June 1944, the eve of D-Day,"F/O Perkins and crew paid a visit to the USAAF at Alconbury and were impressed by the high quality of the navigational radar aids".
Ted and his crew do not figure in any of the missions on or immediately after the invasion of France. This may or may not be related to an incident involving Ted's two Canadian Air Gunners Sgts. J.K.Russell and M.H.McBride. It seems that at some point after their last operation of 27/28 May to St Valery-en-Caux they were responsible for smashing up the Sergeants' Mess and as a consequence of their actions had been sent to the Aircrew Refresher Centre at RAF Norton, Sheffield which was, in effect, a punishment or correctional centre. It was a sequence of events that inadvertently saved their lives yet sadly condemned another man to his death.
W/O. Denis Gilbert Partos was a veteran of at least 47 operations with 97 Squadron. Between 8 January 1943 and 16/17 June 1943 he flew 29 operations with Fl/Lt. Wallace Ian Covington's crew. He then disappears from the crew presumably on completion of his tour, the other members however continue on operations. He next appears on 15/16 March 1944 as a member of Sqn/Ldr. John Simpson's crew with whom he completes another 18 operations, the final one on 31 May/1 June 1944 against German artillery batteries near Grandcamp-Maisy in Normandy. The Squadron Operational Record Book contains no further mention of Ted Perkins' crew or that of John Simpson and Dennis Partos until Friday 23 June 1944.
Denis Partos joined Ted's crew on the 23 June but whether this was intended to be a permanent move or just for the day's practice flight is not clear. It also seems that since this was a training mission over England it was deemed that a second air gunner was unnecessary.
In the afternoon of 23 June 1944 six Lancasters of No. 97 Squadron were detailed for formation flying practice. Flying in two V formations and whilst attempting a gentle turn Lancaster ME625 captained by Fl/Lt. Henry Stewart Van-Raalte and flying immediately behind the lead plane became trapped in its slipstream and side slipped over Lancaster ND981 flown by Fl/Lt. Edward Perkins and dropped suddenly, removing the entire tail of Fl/Lt Perkins' aircraft and smashing the nose of his own. Both aircraft immediately spun to earth out of control. Ted Perkins' Lancaster, ND981, broke in two at 1000 ft. and at that moment one of the crew, Joe Coman managed to bale out. He landed safely but the rest of the crew perished as the aircraft crashed in flames.
On the ground, the crash was witnessed by villagers attending a fete in the Lincolnshire village of Crowland. They watched in horror as the two aircraft spun to the ground and crashed in flames.
The mid-upper gunner on the fourth aircraft of the six was Percy Cannings (see below). He said:
“We were told to execute a turn and something went wrong and the first plane got into the slipstream of the plane ahead of it, which sent it straight up in the air and back down again, narrowly missing us".
Lancaster ME625 crashed some 2 miles away from that of Fl/Lt. Perkins. Nobody was seen to bale out of this aircraft and there was no evidence to indicate that any of the occupants had left the plane. The aircraft embedded itself into the side of a dyke.
The crashes occurred near RAF Wittering who, in consequence undertook recovery of the bodies and their dispatch in accordance with the wishes of their respective families.
The funeral of Ted Perkins took place at Cambridge City Cemetery at 15.45 hours on Friday 30 June 1944 together with those of Jim Raalte, Alfred Lambert, Alan Arnold, Eric Peace and David Fletcher of Lancaster ME625, and accompanied by full military honours.
The bodies of Frank Coxhead, William Hunt, John Fairburn and Denis Partos were returned home to their respective families for burial in their own localities. Further details of their burials are given below.
For details of the crew of Lancaster ME625 click here
In 1979 the Lincolnshire Aircraft Recovery Group (LARG) decided to attempt to recover the wreckage of the two Lancasters. The wreckage recovered can be seen on display at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, East Kirby, Spilsby, Lincolnshire PE23 4DE. For further information visit www.lincsaviation.co.uk/
On Monday 23 June 2014, the 70th anniversary of the crash, relatives from as far away as Australia gathered for a memorial service and unveiling of a permanent memorial in the form of a plaque at Cloot House Farm. One of those actively involved in organising the ceremony, Julian Hall, kindly provided the following details of how the event came about.
In 2013 the author Chris Keltie visited Bomber Command veteran Percy Cannings whilst researching his book 'Riding In The Shadow of Death', and as he was leaving a volume of W.R. Chorley's 'RAF Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War' dropped open, on the page of the van Raalte air accident. Percy commented he witnessed the accident; as a mid-upper gunner in another aircraft in the same flight he had an uninterrupted view as the tragedy unfolded. Back they went for a longer chat.
Then in June 2013 Percy, his wife Bet and one of his daughters Sandy attended the book launch, and on their way home decided to try and find the crash site and the wooden cross memorial placed there in 2004 by the Lincolnshire Aircraft Recovery Group [LARG]. Although unsuccessful, at the time Sandy was on Twitter with friend and fellow aviation history enthusiast Di Ablewhite; by an amazing coincidence they realised that a propeller used on a memorial Di had worked to create had come from the van Raalte crash.
Sandy's sister Sharon Cannings then proposed creating a new more permanent memorial, and trying to contact the relatives of as many of the crews involved as possible; this so that they would know what happened to their relative if they were not already aware, and enable them to participate in commemoration of their loss. Having worked together on a previous project to locate any surviving members of Percy's wartime crews or their relatives, Sandy, Di and Sharon enlisted the help of friends Julian Hall and Julia Parker.
Then commenced months of research to find the relatives with everyone pitching in. A memorial plaque had to be designed and sourced - having created a rough design which was approved of, Julian carried on developing it to the completed design which now exists at Cloot Farm, Crowland in Lincolnshire, on whose land the aircraft crashed. A copy of the plaque is on display with some of the wreckage previously recovered by LARG, at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre [LAHC] at East Kirkby. Di, Julia and Julian collaborated on searching for the relatives, whilst Sandy and Sharon carried out the vital work of making sure that once the relatives were located and the plaque purchased, there would actually be somewhere to display it, and somewhere to hold a memorial service.
Finally, once as many relatives as possible were found in the time available, on 23rd June 2014, the group met with the relatives at RAF Wyton, wartime HQ of Bomber Command's Pathfinder Force, to which 97 Squadron belonged, and a very fitting place to commemorate their loss. Following the service everyone journeyed to Cloot Farm for the unveiling of the plaque. The following day everyone reconvened at the LAHC, home of 'Just Jane', an Avro Lancaster currently restored to taxying condition, with plans to make her only the third surviving Lancaster in the world in flying condition. This gave everyone the opportunity to get inside and see for themselves where their relatives had fought their war.
One of those attending the 70th Anniversary Service was Patrick Turner the Flight Engineer of the leading Lancaster. In an interview with the newspaper Spalding Today he recalled that Ted Perkins had a small car and as a prank the whole flight had lifted it onto an air raid shelter. Of course after the accident they were left with the job of getting it down.
(1) Fl/Lt. Edward Leslie John (Ted) Perkins was born on 4 April 1920 at Lambeth, London the son of Randle Perkins and Mary Gwendolyn Perkins nee Palmer. He had three siblings: William Randle Perkins (1915-1964) Agnes Mary Perkins (1922-2007) and Richard Henry Perkins (1924-2007)
Ted Perkins attended The John Fisher School from February 1930 to December 1935. Founded in 1929 with 20 pupils and originally a fee-paying boys Grammar School located in premises at Duppas Hill in Croyden London, the School moved to Peaks Hill, Purley, Croyden, in 1930. Ted was the 33rd pupil enrolled at the School.
In 1936, after leaving school he joined the RAF as an Aircraft Apprentice at No. 1 School of Technical Training based at RAF Halton, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. Co-incidentally he was a member of Entry No. 33 on to the three year Aircraft Engineering Training Course.
Although the dates and details are unknown, he later re-mustered as aircrew and trained as a pilot.
On 3 October 1943 569207 Sergeant Edward Leslie John Perkins was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) (London Gazette 16 November 1943). He was confirmed in this appointment and promoted to Flying Officer (war subs) on 3 April 1944 (London Gazette 2 May 1944). The date of his promotion to Flight Lieutenant is not known.
On 21 February 1942 he married Irene Frances Parker in Scarborough, Yorkshire: their daughter Judith A. Perkins was born in 1944.
He is commemorated on The John Fisher School Roll of Honour and the Old Haltonians Roll of Honour.
(2) Sgt. Frank Ernest Coxhead was born in 1924 at Belper, Derbyshire the son of Frank Percy and Martha Coxhead nee Saint, of 55, Coupland Place, Somercotes, Derbyshire. He had two brothers: Ronald Coxhead born 1926 and Alan T. Coxhead born 1934. Before joining the RAFVR he worked as an engineer at the Stanton Company's, Riddings Iron Works, near Alfreton, Derbyshire and was a member of the Belper ATC.
He is commemorated on the Somercotes War Memorial, Derbyshire.
The above photograph was kindly provided by Linda Wood. Frank Ernest Coxhead is seated far left on the 2nd row from the front. The picture would seem to have been taken at a training establishment but nothing further is known. If you have any further information about the other airmen or where it was taken please contact our helpdesk.
(3) Fl/Lt William James Hunt was born in 1922 at West Ham, Essex the son of Sydney Herbert Hunt and Maud Adeline Margaret Hunt nee McGill. His sister Marion A. Hunt was born in 1929 at Romford, Essex.
LAC 1334703 William James Hunt was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 9 July 1943 (London Gazette 26 October 1943). Confirmed in this appointment and promoted to Flying Officer (war subs) on 9 January 1944 (London Gazette 28 January 1944)
The date of his promotion to Flight Lieutenant is not known.
(4) Fl/Sgt. John Fairbairn was born in 1913 at Pontefract, West Riding of Yorkshire the only child of Frank Fairbairn (a Butcher) and Ada Mansford Fairbairn nee Mason of "Croft End" Aire Street, Knottingley, West Riding of Yorkshire. His father, a Private in the 2nd/6th Bn Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment) was killed on 18 April 1918 and is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial, Belgium.
In 1943 John Fairbairn married Ivy Brown at Pontefract and they lived at Pottery Cottage, Ferrybridge, Knottingley. Their son, Michael J. Fairbairn, was born at Leeds in 1944.
John Fairbairn is commemorated on the Knottingley War Memorial, West Riding of Yorkshire
(5) Sgt. Joseph Paul Coman was born in 1921 at North Bierley, West Riding of Yorkshire.
In 1944 he married Mary Swales at Cambridge. They were to have four children together: Christopher D. Coman born 1946, Judith C. Coman born 1948, Anthony P. Coman born 1950 and Anne Coman born 1956.
He died at Millom, Cumberland in 1990.
(6) W/O. Denis Gilbert Partos DFM was born in 1921 the third son and youngest child of Francis Ferdinand Partos (a General Merchant's Salesman) and Pauline Partos nee Jones, of Southgate, Middlesex. He had three siblings: Glyn Francis Partos (1913-1998) Florence Pauline Partos (1915-2004), and John Emil Partos (1920-1943. Francis Ferdinand was born a citizen of State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs (later Yugoslavia. He became a naturalised British Citizen on 20 March 1922 when his address was given as 123, Highbury Hill, London. All three of his sons served in the RAFVR.
Four days after the death of Denis Partos the news of his award of the Distinguished Flying Medal was promulgated in the London Gazette.
Sgt. John Emil Partos 1257165 RAFVR, an Air Bomber, was killed on 27 February 1943 when Wellington III BK268 ZL-C of 427 (RCAF) Squadron crashed near Woolfox Lodge Air Field, Rutland whilst returning from a raid on Cologne and killing five of the six crew. John Emil Partos is buried in a joint grave with his brother Denis Gilbert Partos at New Southgate Cemetery, Herefordshire (see details below)
Denis Gilbert Partos and John E. Partos are both commemorated in the Highbury County School Book of Remembrance
Their brother, F/O. Glyn Francis Partos 110929 RAFVR, survived the war and died at Malvern, Worcestershire in 1998.
Fl/Lt. Edward Leslie John (Ted) Perkins was buried on 23 June 1944 at Cambridge City Cemetery - Grave 14766
Sgt. Frank Ernest Coxhead was buried at Alfreton (Lea Brooks) Cemetery Derbyshire - Grave ref: Section B Grave 641.
His epitaph reads:
Worthy of remembrance
Fl/Lt William James Hunt was buried at Romford Cemetery, Essex - Grave ref: Section C.C. Grave 22
His epitaph reads:
Tranquil you lie,
Your memory hallowed
In the land you loved
Fl/Sgt. John Fairbairn was buried at Knottingley Cemetery, West Riding of Yorkshire - Grave 5224.
W/O. Denis Gilbert Partos DFM was buried at New Southgate Cemetery, Herefordshire - Grave ref: Sec. G. Joint grave 1662
Also buried in this joint grave is his brother Sgt John Emil Partos 1257165 RAFVR of 427 RCAF Squadron RAF killed 27 February 1943.
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for the family of Ted Perkins and all the other relatives and friends of the members of this crew - September 2017
With thanks to the sources quoted below.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember
them. - Laurence
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