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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.
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156 Squadron Crest
05/06.09.1943 No. 156 Squadron Lancaster III JA858 GT-Y F/O. John Charles Prichard

Operation: Mannheim/Ludwigshafen, Germany

Date: 05/06 September 1943 (Sunday/Monday)

Unit: No. 156 Squadron Motto: "We light the way"

Badge: A figure of Mercury holding a torch being indicative of the function of the unit as pathfinders.

Type: Lancaster III

Serial: JA858

Code: GT-Y

Base: RAF Warboys, Huntingdonshire (now Cambridgeshire)

Location: Near Bitche, Alsace Lorraine, France

Pilot: F/O. John Charles Prichard Aus/411825 RAAF Age 22 PoW No. 2483 Camp: Sagan and Belaria - L3 (1)

Fl/Eng: Sgt. Cyril Johnson 1506699 PoW No. 222826 Camp: Stalag Muhlberg-Elbe - 4B (2)

Nav: F/O. Torres Davey Ferres Aus/33506 RAAF Age 22 Pow No. 2362 Camp: Sagan and Belaria - L3 (3)

Air/Bmr: F/O. Charles Russell Norton Aus/24878 RAAF Age 32 PoW No. 3139 Camp: Sagan and Belaria - L3 (4)

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Walter Friend 908594 PoW No. 222695 Camp: Stalag Muhlberg-Elbe - 4B (5)

Air/Gnr (MU): Sgt. Dennis Grout 1350336 RAFVR Age 20 Killed (6)

Air/Gnr (R): F/Sgt. Harry James Simpson Aus/414604 RAAF Age 24 Killed (7)

We welcome contact from any relatives who may be able to add further information /photographs

Photograph of the crew of Lancaster JA858 GT-Y (Courtesy Julie Coussons)

Back Row left to right: F/O. (later Fl/Lt.) Torres Ferres, F/O. (later Fl/Lt.) John Charles Prichard, F/O. (later Fl/Lt.) Charles Russell Norton and F/Sgt. Harry James Simpson.

Front Row: Sgt. Cyril Johnson, Sgt. Dennis Grout and Sgt. George Campbell (later replaced by Sgt. Walter Friend)


Took off from RAF Warboys at 19.30hrs on a bombing mission to the twin towns of Mannheim and Ludwigshafen in south western Germany. A force of 605 aircraft comprising 299 Lancasters, 195 Halifaxes and 111 Stirlings was despatched on the largest raid of the war on Mannheim.

Special Equipment: H2S MkII, Gee MkII, Boozer MkI, IFF MkIII. see abbreviation

The route taken according to the RAF Loss Card was: Beachy Head - 4952N 0040E - 4937N 0300E - Mannheim - 4919N 0830E - 4937N 0300E - 4952N 0040E - Beachy Head.

It was almost sunset when Lancaster JA858 took off on 5 September 1943. Weather conditions were practically perfect with very little cloud and moderate visibility as F/O. John Prichard set course for Beachy Head. This was the Australian captain's twentieth operational mission; for the last seventeen of them five of his crew had been with him and flight engineer Sgt. Cyril Johnson had missed only one. Wireless Operator Sgt. Walter Friend was the new boy of the crew but having flown on the last seven missions he could hardly be described as inexperienced, in fact he was very experienced having completed his first tour of duty in the North African campaign.

Being with 156 Squadron they were part of the Pathfinder Force and a further 19 aircraft of the squadron flew on the mission that night, all of which returned safely. Though moderate flak was encountered at various points along the route it failed to bring down any of the attacking force but 51 aircraft did have to abort the mission mainly due to technical defect or manipulative error.

Zero hour was 23.00hrs and at Z-4 24 Blind Marker Illuminators marked the target followed at Z-3 by 9 Visual Markers in a raid described by Bomber Command as 'a model of all a Newhaven attack should be'. The Newhaven method involved Illuminators dropping flares over the target to light it up sufficiently for the Visual Markers to then mark the target with target indicators. This target was particularly well marked because the Blind Markers refrained from dropping markers and flares unless absolutely positive of their position. Consequently there was little loose bombing by the main force with 90% of the bombs falling within the main target area and 42% on the most vulnerable area of the target. The main force attacked in six waves commencing at Z+4 and continued until Z+48 some 12 minutes beyond schedule. Weather over the target was described as cloudless, slightly hazy with no moon but good visibility.

It was estimated that 100 to 150 searchlights were active in a ring round Mannheim. An intense barrage of heavy flak was raised at the start of the attack but soon ceased as a large numbers of fighters began operating in the area and only resumed during the later stages of the attack. 10 aircraft were lost to fighters over the target, 11 in the Saar Basin and around Kaiserslauten plus 8 more en route to or from the target. Only 5 aircraft were lost to flak, all of them over the target area bringing the total losses for the operation to 34.

Reconnaissance photographs were taken covering both towns on the 9th of September for the first time since the raid of 9/10 August and no attempt was made to separate the damage inflicted by each attack. Very severe destruction was evident over the target area but especially in the south and south east of both towns with the fully built up areas more than 46% destroyed or severely damaged. Over 50 Industrial concerns were affected many of the highest priority including the huge chemical plant of I.G. Farbenindustrie though in view of its enormous size damage here was comparatively slight. The heavy engineering plant of Heinrich Lanz A.G. covering 112 acres, a manufacturer of tank components and agricultural and military tractors, had all its buildings damaged or completely destroyed (see reconnaissance photograph below) whilst the smaller works of Joseph Vogele A.C. a producer of tank and tractor components was similarly hit. At least 9 other engineering works, all manufacturers of vital war material, were seriously damaged including Motorenwerke Mannheim A.G and Sulzer Bros.manufacturers of diesel engine for submarines and warships. Being at the confluence of the Rhine and Necker at a point where the Rhine is still navigable, the area was an important centre for the river and railway transport system. Severe damage was inflicted upon the inland docks, railway facilities and associated warehousing. Military and labour camps were burnt, many schools, churches, post offices, administrative buildings, considerable residential and commercial property destroyed or damaged.

Courtesy IWM

Reconnaissance photograph showing heavy damage to the Heinrich Lanz AG in Mannheim following the raid by Bomber Command on the night of 5/6 September 1943. Many buildings in the adjoining Lindhof district have been gutted by incendiary fires (bottom)

Lancaster JA858 had bombed the target and flying at 18000' had turned for home when an unseen German fighter attacked from the port quarter. In his report F/O. Prichard describes what happened next. ' Fire resulted in starboard wing : starboard inner feathered and extinguisher used. Realised that aircraft would probably blow up: gave order to abandon at 18000'. BA, FE and Nav left from front, acknowledgement from W/Op and MUG that they were going too. Tried to control descent. At 7000' I slid out thinking all had gone but Nav taken back next day to identify bodies of MUG and RG. I presume they were buried at Bitsch about 40km E of Metz'.

W/Op. Sgt. Friend stated that 'Our 2 gunners crashed with the kite when we were shot down. Skipper broke his back as his chute got torn on the kite when he jumped but he is o.k. The rest of us stopped shrapnel, mine was 3 little pieces the size of a pin's head. We had to get out as a fighter got us (in one main flank attack?) and she was in flames in a matter of seconds'.

The report of F/O Norton reveals nothing further and that of F/O. Ferres adds only that the aircraft crashed ' 1 or 2 miles from Volmunster in Alsace Lorraine'.

Scale 1" = 25 miles.

The following details of the interment in German prisoner of war camps together with the biographical and military service details of the four Australian crew members are taken from RAAF records in the National Archives of Australia references:

NAA, A9300 Prichard J.C.

NAA, A9300 Norton C.R.

NAA, A9301 414604 (re F/Sgt. H.J. Simpson)

NAA, A705, 166/33/69 (RAAF Accident Report)

Having fractured his spine on landing John Prichard was clearly in no position to attempt to escape and was taken to the SS hospital at Homburg some twenty five miles from Volmunster. After 10 days there he was moved briefly to Dulag Luft the transit camp for air force prisoners. On 19 September he arrived at Stalag Luft 3 (North Camp) at Sagan in Poland where he remained until 2 February 1944 when transferred to the sub camp five miles away at Belaria. On 28 January 1945 he was moved to Stalag Luft 3A at Luckenwalde 32 miles south of Berlin. Stalag Luft 3 was liberated by the Red Army on 22 April and by 10 May John Prichard was back in England and on 9 September 1945 after more than 3 years away from his homeland, stepped ashore in Australia.He was demobilised on 15 February 1946. Further details of the conditions in Stalag Luft 3 can be found in the report of F/O. Ferres who was also a prisoner of war there.

Charles Norton landed safely and evaded capture until 15 October. Travelling by night he walked to Sarrequemines. He says that a contact was made for him in Metz by an organisation but the contact turned out to be SS. Following his arrest he spent four days in Metz gaol and a further four days in Dulag Luft transit camp before being taken to Stalag Luft 3 where he remained a prisoner for the next 15 months. Just before midnight on 27 January 1945 with Russian troops barely 16 miles away the 11000 POWs of Stalag Luft 3 were marched out of the camp towards Spremberg. The journey was undertaken in freezing conditions (as low as 25 deg. C.) and 6 inches of snow, 2000 prisoners being assigned to clear the road ahead of the main group. In clothes ill suited to the conditions, given no food, water or medical supplies they endured a tortuous 57 mile journey to Spremberg. From Spremberg they were dispersed to various camps in Germany mainly by train. John Prichard and Charles Norton were among those sent to Stalag Luft 3A at Luckenwalde in cattle trucks crowded with 40 to 60 men per truck for the 80 mile journey. After liberation by the Red Army Charles Norton returned to the UK on 27 May and finally to Australia on 9 September 1945. He was demombed on the 26 November 1945 (effective 24 February 1946). (See report of Torres Ferres for further details of camp conditions, marches and transport by train etc.)

Torres Ferres said that after landing 'I had been wandering in a wood during the night and had "holed up" for a while before daylight when I thought I heard some Germans around. When I started again, in daylight, I came to and walked along a road and turning a corner walked into 6 SS troops'. He was taken to Dulag Luft transit camp near Frankfurt which he says was very crowded and short of beds, the prisoners being held in what he describes as 'same as usual cells'.However rations, bathing, sanitary and recreational facilities were all OK. W/op Walter Friend was also captured on 6 September and travelled with him to Dulag Luft transit camp.

On 9 September he was sent to Stalag Luft 3 arriving there two days later and his report gives an insight into conditions in the camp. Prisoners were accommodated in wooden huts with double tiered bunks, electric light, and coal for rooms in winter. There were 6 men to a room at first but this was later increased to 8. Each hut had a cooking stove and washroom with hot water for washing clothes once per week and the sanitary facilities were OK. There was also a camp kitchen and rations, when combined with supplies from Red Cross parcels, were quite good. Until September 1944 prisoners received one Red Cross parcel per week, after that they were cut to half a parcel per week. Recreational facilities were very good with a good field and equipment and there were good libraries and a theatre. There was a German radio receiver and his room had its own wireless. Clothing and footwear was issued as required all of it supplied by the Red Cross during his time there he had received six clothing parcels from home and England.

After the evacuation of Stalag Luft 3 and the trials of the march to Spremberg, Torres Ferres was one of 3000 prisoners sent by train to Marlag and Milag Nord the POW complex located around the village of Westertimke about 19 miles north east of Bremen. Arriving on 4 February they were accommodated 14 to a room in wooden huts with insufficient beds for their numbers. Electric light was intermittent, heating and rations were poor, water was in short supply due to lack of power and sanitary facilities were also poor. The German guards were incompetent and inclined to panic. They did however receive news in English via a German receiver.

On 10 April with allied forces already in Bremen the camp Commandant and most of the guards moved out but in the afternoon a force of over 100 SS Feldgendarmerie arrived and marched 3000 prisoners, including Torres Ferres, out of the camp and headed east. The next day the column was strafed by the RAF and several prisoners were killed. After repeated attacks over the next few days the Germans were offered and accepted the parole of the POWs in exchange for being allowed to march at night and rest during the day. Having marched 120 miles the column reached Lubeck on the Baltic coast on 28 April where on 2 May 1945 they were liberated by units of the British 2nd Army. Torres Ferres reported later that during the march the POWs were ill treated by their German guards who took no precautions to safeguard them from strafing attacks and provided no transport for their kit. Rations, water and medical supplies were in short supply and they were forced to sleep in fields. Torres Ferres returned first to England and eventually arrived in Sydney on 8 August 1945. He was demobilised on 1 February 1946.

Scale 1" = 40 miles

Photographs courtesy National Archives of Australia.

On 7 November 2015 and in response to our appeal for further information, Aircrew Remembered was contacted by Julie Coussons, the niece of Fl/Sgt. Cyril Johnson who kindly provided further details about her uncle and the photograph of the crew of Lancaster JA858 GT-Y.

On 22 March 2016 Aircrew Remembered was contacted by Christian Leiner from Brenschelbach in Germany who has been investigating the crash for several years. He kindly supplied photographs of the wreckage of Lancaster JA858 which he informs us crashed between the villages of Ormersviller and Volmunster. He also supplied a copy of the RAF ID card of Walter Friend the Wireless Operator of the crew and the obituary notice of John Charles Prichard.


(1) Fl/Lt. John Charles Prichard was born 21 April 1921 in the south Sydney suburb of Kogarah, Australia. The son of Arthur John Prichard he worked as a clerk for H.J Whittle and Sons Builders and Contractors before enlisting in the RAAF on 25 May 1941 at the age of 20. Following initial training he commenced pilot training and received his Flying Badge on 25 May 1942. He was commissioned on 24 June 1942 and sailed for the U.K. on 27 July arriving on 13 September and posted to No 6 (P) AFU at RAF Little Rissington in Gloucestershire for advanced pilot training. On 25 December he was promoted to Flying Officer and on 24 April 1943 posted to 156 Squadron at RAF Warboys where he commenced operational missions the following month. He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant with effect from 25 June 1944. He died in Devon, England on 3 January 2015 aged 93.

(2) Sgt. Cyril Johnson was born on 9 October 1921 at Salford, Manchester the son and first child of Thomas and Elizabeth Johnson nee George. He had eight siblings namely, Florence born 1929, Helen born 1930, Thomas E. born 32, Harry S. born 1934, Arthur born 1937, Elizabeth born 1938, Derek born 1940 and Leslie born 1943 . Before joining the air force Cyril lived with his family at 9 Earl Street, Pendleton, Manchester and worked in the W.H. Forrester Hardware store in Salford. After the war Cyril returned to his job at W.H. Forrester Hardware and later became the proprietor of the business. He married Evelyn Higgins and they had three daughters, Christine, Lynda and Helen. He lived at 11 Park Street, Irlam Oth Heights, Salford and died on 5 December 2005 aged 79.

(3) Fl/Lt. Torres Davey Ferres was born 8 January 1921 at Kew, Victoria, Australia. The son of William Davey Ferres he worked as a clerk in the Central Records Office for a period during 1936/37. From 1936 to 1939 he worked as a Metropolitan PMG Telephonist and later in 1939 until his enlistment on 30 August 1940 as a clerk at the Trade and Customs Department in Sydney. His address on enlistment was given as 39 Belle Vue Street, Cammeray, Sidney and his description was 5'6" tall weighing 128 lbs with fair hair and complexion. He served initially as a clerk but remustered to air crew on 7 December 1941 and was sent to Canada on 24 June 1942 for additional training. Commissioned on 9 October 1942 he arrived in the U.K. on 4 November and after postings to 27 OTU and 1662 HCU joined 156 Squadron on 28 April 1943. He was promoted to Flying Officer 9 April 1943 and Flight Lieutenant on 9 October 1944. On 18 August 1945 a mere ten days after his return to Australia he married his fiancée Beryl Jean Smith.

(4) Fl/Lt. Charles Russell Norton was born 6 September 1911 at Lismore, New South Wales, Australia. The son of William Unthank Norton he had worked for 10 years at William A Norton & Co of Lismore, then for 10 months at the Western Assurance Company in Sydney before being employed for two and a half years as an Insurance Inspector for the Phoenix Assurance Company Limited in Sydney. He enlisted at Brisbane 7 February 1941 at the age of 29 and served initially as a pay clerk being remustered for air crew on 14 September 1941. Commissioned on 6 November 1942 and promoted to Flying Officer on 6 May 1942 he was sent for training in Canada, arriving 15 May and subsequently to the U.K. where he was posted to 27 OTU and 1662 HCU before joining 156 Squadron on 25 April 1943. He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant 6 November 1944. After the war he returned to Australia and lived in Toronto, New South Wales where he died 20 November 1983 aged 72.

(5) W/O. Walter Friend was born on 25 December 1911 at Fulham, London the son of Montague Friend and Alice M. Phyffers. After leaving school Walter worked in radio construction before volunteering for the RAF on 5 December 1939. He served his first tour with No. 14, No. 15 and No.37 Squadrons in the Middle East. Whilst with No 37 Squadron on 4 October 1941, he was the front gunner on Wellington Z8768 LF-V on an operation to bomb Benghazi. Returning from the raid an engine caught fire and the aircraft ditched 25 metres off the coast near El Dabaa, Egypt and the crew were paddled ashore in their dinghy. Three of the crew were slightly injured including Walter Friend who received hospital treatment for an injured leg. Still with 37 Squadron on 2/3 March 1942 and flying from Luqa, Malta, Walter was the W/Op/Air/Gnr. of Wellington Z7911 LF-D. Returning from bombing shipping in Palermo harbour the aircraft overshot the runway at Luqa and crashed. There were no injuries.

Later in 1942 he returned to the UK where he converted to Lancasters and joined 156 Squadron. He was promoted to Flight Sergeant and on 3 June 1943 to Warrant Officer.

Right: an image of the German PoW tag issued to Walter Friend and sent to us by his son Ross. A somewhat strange anomaly surrounds the tag in that several reputable sources record his PoW number as 222695 yet the number on the tag would appear to be 222595

After returning to England in June 1945 he was admitted to RAF Hospital Cosford suffering from tuberculosis and severe malnourishment contracted whilst a prisoner of war. He remained in hospital until November 1945 when he was discharged from the RAF as medically unfit.

It seems that the time that Walter had spent in North Africa had made an impression upon him and he had fallen in love with the place for he wasted no time in returning there and eventually to South Africa where he took employment as a Radio Repair Engineer. Whilst in South Africa he also got married and shortly afterwards in 1949 he and his wife moved to Southern Rhodesia where he set up a Radio and Television Repair business and in due course the couple had three children.

In 1970 Walter decided to move his family back to the UK but not quite in a conventional manner. He built a caravan that became home for the five of them and towing it behind his Morris Minor they travelled through Rhodesia and South Africa to Cape Town where they boarded a boat to Barcelona in Spain. Over the next couple of months Walter and his family worked their way northwards through Spain and France and eventually to England.

However by 1976 Walter was missing Africa and once again returned to South Africa, this time only staying for 4 years before returning to the UK for good.

Walter Friend died in October 1991 aged 79 at Exeter, Devon where he was cremated.

See also

(6) Sgt. Dennis Grout. Born Birmingham 1921 the son of William Grout and Alice E. Grout nee Humpage of Small Heath, Birmingham and husband of Elizebeth Grout.

(7) Fl/Sgt. Harry James Simpson was born 24 June 1919 in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. The son of James and Edith Matilda Simpson he left school aged 15 and went to work for the firm of Hancock and Gore of Brisbane as a Sawyer until enlisting on 12 October 1941 also at Brisbane. His mother and deceased father were both British Australians. Prior to enlistment he lived with his mother and younger sister Joan at 99, Cavendish Road, Coorparoo, Brisbane and enjoyed dancing and all sports particularly swimming and shooting. He was described as 5'6" tall, with brown hair, brown eyes, a sallow complexion and weighing 136lbs. After failing elementary flight training he was remustered for air crew 17 March 1943 and transferred to an air gunnery course which he passed and was subsequently promoted to Flight Sergeant on 6 September 1942. Probably anticipating being sent abroad Harry married his fiancée Catherine Findlay Simmonds in the north Brisbane suburb of Windsor on 20 June 1943 and they set up home at 382, Alice Street, Maryborough near the RAAF base where Harry was stationed. Their time together was to be short lived as two months later Harry was transferred to Evans Head, New South Wales, then Sandgate, Brisbane, and Bradfield Park prior to embarking for the U.K. on 17 October 1942. Catherine never saw Harry again. Arriving in the U.K. 27 November Harry was posted to 27 OTU then 1662 HCU before joining 156 Squadron on 28 April 1943.


Sgt. Dennis Grout was buried at Choloy War Cemetery Meurthe-et-Moselle, France. Grave No. 1A.B.16 (6)

His epitaph reads:

He was young and brave

And gave his life

For King and Empire

Fl/Sgt. Harry James Simpson was buried at Choloy War Cemetery Meurthe-et-Moselle, France. Grave No. 1A.B.15 (7)

His epitaph reads:

His duty

Fearlessly and nobly done,

Ever remembered

Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of this crew - May 2015

With thanks to the sources quoted below.

RW 04.04.2016 Photographs of wreckage together with photograph and biographical details of W/O. Friend added

RW 13.04.2016. Obituary of John Charles Prichard added

RW 28.07.2016 Additional biographical details of W/O Friend and image of his German PoW tag added

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