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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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161 Squadron Crest
15/16.01.1943 161 Squadron (SOE) Halifax V DG285 MA:X Plt Off. H.S. Readhead

Operation: SOE (Special Operations Executive)

Date: 15th/16th January 1943 (Friday/Saturday)

Unit No: 161 Squadron

Type: Halifax MkV

Serial: DG285

Code: MA:X

Base: RAF Tempsford

Location: Crashed on the commune of Guichen in the region of Rennes, France.

Pilot: Plt Off. Harry Sanford Readhead 131647 RAFVR Age 31. KiA

2nd Pilot: Plt Off. Ronald Gray 137441 1288663 RAFVR Age 21. KiA

Flt Eng: Sgt. Stewart Mckenzie Anderson 572444 RAF Age 21. KiA

Nav: Plt Off. William Wallace Roy J16141 RCAF Age 23. KiA

WOp/Air Gnr: Flt Sgt. William Wilson 990531 RAFVR Age 25. KiA

Air Gnr: Sgt. Leslie Percy Manning 1320934 RAFVR Age 19. KiA

Air Gnr: Flt Sgt. Hedley Geoffrey Martins 1382848 RAFVR Age 28. KiA


A Special Operations Executive on two missions, a Ker (parcel drop for the Secret Intelligence Service south of Sion-les-Mines) and Crab 6 (container).

Above: Course No. 33 at 19 Operational Training Unit (OTU), RAF Kinloss on the 5th January 1942. Sgt. Harry. S. Readhead, 2nd Row 4th from the left. (Courtesy of Paul Markham)

DG285, piloted by Plt Off. Readhead, on his first operation of the year, was shot down by 13 Division Flak-Abterlieng 852 South of Rennes. All the crew were killed. According to 'Flights of the Forgotten' by K. A. Merrick: "The missing Halifax had set out from Tempsford on the night of 15-16 January with a load of four containers, one parcel and twenty pigeons; its burnt out remains with seven bodies on board were found four miles South of Rennes. It was never established if the aircraft had been shot down by flak or night fighters, but the time of the crash was logged at 22:30."

The crew were on a mission to drop a parcel of supplies for SIS operation Kreb just South of a village called Sion-les-Mines (Loire Atlantique), some 16km west of Chateaubriant in Northern France. They were also tasked to drop a Crab 6 supply container. It was the French Resistance who found the burned out wreck of the aircraft with the seven bodies still inside.

Burial details:

Plt Off. Harry Sanford Readhead. Rennes Eastern Communal Cemetery. Sec. 18. Plot 1. Row C. Coll. grave 8-13. Son of Christopher and Charlotte Readhead, husband of Eileen Alice Readhead, of Haberfield, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia (married in 1932).

Message received from Jennifer Frances who contacted us in November 2015:

"For our grandfather, our mother's father and our grandmother's husband, Harry Sanford Readhead, in memoriam.
An accomplished book publisher, Canadian, and married to the love of his life, Eileen Alice Napper, an Australian; had a dream of freedom, country and righteousness. Harry at 31, being a skilled pilot and multilingual took to the skies with Squadron 161 SOE RAF Tempsford but unfortunately for his wife, 2 small children and the generations to come, lost his life and all of his crew on Jan 16, 1943 in the commune of Guichen near Rennes, France mid mission.
We honour his sacrifice and dream with pride. Harry Sanford Readhead stands tall in our memories and now is comforted at his grave with the ashes of his beloved Eileen who passed away in 2007."

Plt Off. Ronald Gray. Rennes Eastern Communal Cemetery. Sec. 18. Plot 1. Row C. Coll. grave 8-13. Son of John and Eleanor Gray, of Rusholme, Manchester, England.

Sgt. Stewart Mckenzie Anderson. Rennes Eastern Communal Cemetery. Sec. 18. Plot 1. Row C. Coll. grave 8-13. Son of Hugh McKenzie Anderson and Isabella Anderson, of 10 Lawside Terrace, Dundee, Scotland.

Plt Off. William Wallace Roy. Rennes Eastern Communal Cemetery. Sec. 18. Plot 1. Row C. Coll. grave 8-13. Born on the 22nd June 1919 in London, England. Son of henry and Marion Ross (née Auld) Roy of Tottenham, Ontario, Canada.

Flt Sgt. William Wilson. Rennes Eastern Communal Cemetery. Sec. 18. Plot 1. Row C. Coll. grave 8-13. Son of Thomas and Helen Wilson, of Mauchline, Ayreshire, Scotland. He was the youngest of three children.

Sgt. Leslie Percy Manning. Rennes Eastern Communal Cemetery. Sec. 18. Plot 1. Row C. Grave 7. Son of Leslie E. Manning and Ethel M. Manning, of South Ockenden, Essex, England.

Flt Sgt. Hedley Geoffrey Martins. Rennes Eastern Communal Cemetery. Sec. 18. Plot 1. Row C. Coll. grave 8-13. Born on the 22nd March 1914. Son of Mr. D.H. Martins, of Victoria Road, Louth, Lincolnshire, England.

Flt Sgt. Martins was an Air Gunner with 161 Sqd (Special Services), which had been reformed at Newmarket in February 1942 from a nucleus supplied by 138 Sqd and the King's Flight. It joined with 138 Sqd in dropping supplies and agents over occupied Europe and took over the landing and pick-up operations for which it used Lysanders, Havocs and Hudsons. Martins’ crew had joined 161 Sqd from 19 OTU on 3 April 1942 and first flew in Whitleys on a mixture of bombing and supply drop operations to targets including the second and third Thousand Bomber Raids on Essen on 1-2 June 1942; and Bremen on 25-26 June 1942; and raids on St Nazaire, Duisberg, and Nuremberg. They also carried out Special Operations Executive agent drops and resupply missions over France and Holland on 16 different sorties. Martins is buried alongside his crew in Rennes Eastern Communal Cemetery, France. His medals were sent to his father, D. H. Martins, Esq., 23 Victoria Road, Louth, Lincs.

Researched by Michel Beckers for Aircrew Remembered September 2015. With thanks to Mr. Alion Dieudome for photographs of grave markers, CWGC graves and crew. Medal photographs from Michel Beckers collection. Thanks to Kate Steer, the grand-daughter on Plt.Off. Readhead for the correction to his surname (May 2019). Thanks to Brian Swann for Next of Kin details for Flt Sgt. Martins (Nov 2020). Other updates by Aircrew Remembered (Nov 2020). Thanks to Paul Markham for the OTU image for Plt Off. Readhead. (Oct 2023).

Other sources listed below:

RS 16.10.2023 - Addition of photograph of Plt Off. Readhead at 19 OTU

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Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Stan D. Bishop, John A. Hey MBE, Gerrie Franken and Maco Cillessen - Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Forces, Vols 1-6, Dr. Theo E.W. Boiton - Nachtjagd Combat Archives, Vols 1-13. Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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