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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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617 Squadron Crest
20/21.12.1943 No. 617 Squadron Lancaster I DV398 KC-Z Fl/Lt. Geoffrey Rice DFC

Operation: Liège

Date: 20/21st December 1943 (Monday/Tuesday)

Unit: No. 617 Squadron

Type: Lancaster I

Serial: DV398

Code: KC-Z

Base: RAF Coningsby

Location: Merbes-Le-Chateau, Belgium

Pilot: Fl/Lt. Geoffrey Rice DFC 141707 RAFVR Evaded, PoW (1)

Fl/Eng: Fl/Sgt. Edward Clarence Smith 540655 RAF Age 24. Killed

Nav: F/O. Richard Macfarlane 126044 RAFVR Age ? Killed

Air/Bmr: P/O. John William Thrasher J/19337 RCAF Age 23. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: W/O. II Chester Bruce Gowrie R/93201 RCAF Age 28. Killed

Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Thomas William Maynard 1386420 RAFVR Age 20. Killed

Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Stephen Burns 1217692 RAFVR Age 22. Killed


Taking off from RAF Coningsby at 17:58 hrs to bomb the Cockerel Steel Works (Fabrique Nationale - FN, gun factory) at Liège. Eight Lancaster were sent from 617 Squadron together with eight Mosquitoes in what had hoped to be a diversionary operation for the main effort this night to Frankfurt.

Some reports state that the aircraft was hit by flak, which may well have caused the final explosion which destroyed the aircraft over Merbes-Le-Chateau, Belgium. The latest edition of the 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vol's. 1 and  2', compiled by Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie state that a claim was made and accepted by Hptm. Kurt Fladrich (2) of 9./NJG4 with combat taking place at 20:29 hrs.

This crew had also taken part on the Dam buster operation in the second wave on the Sorpe Dam with Lancaster ED936 AJ-H - during this the aircraft touched the sea and the ‘upkeep mine’ was torn off. The pilot, Geoff Rice skilfully managed to keep the aircraft in the air and during the rapid climb the water collected washed back to the rear of the aircraft, so much so that the rear gunner, Stephen Burns, had to break the perspex canopy to release the water to avoid drowning! Their mission was aborted and they landed at 00:46 hrs.

(1) After several months evading capture Fl/Lt. Geoffrey Rice DFC was eventually caught and sent to Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria.

(2) This was the 7th claim for the night fighter ace, Hptm. Kurt Fladrich. Born on the 11th January 1918 he survived the war with a total of 15 abschüsse. Died on the 21st January 1995.

The Green plaque placed at the Sycamores Inn, Burbage in 2014. Geoffrey Price died in Taunton, Somerset on the  24th November 1981 at the young age of 64.

Burial details:

Fl/Sgt. Edward Clarence Smith. Gosselies Communal Cemetery. Row 2. Grave 15. Son of Clarence and Annie Smith, husband of Evelyn Sarah Smith, of Easthampstead, Berkshire, England.

F/O. Richard Macfarlane. Gosselies Communal Cemetery. Row 2. Grave 17. Son of Mr Daniel Macfarlane of Glasgow, Scotland.

P/O. John William Thrasher. Gosselies Communal Cemetery. Row 2. Grave 16. Born on 30th July 1920. Son of Charles De Vere Thrasher and Irene Agnes Thrasher, of Amherstburg, Ontario, Canada. Enlisted in RCAF on the 5th May 1941.

W/O. II Chester Bruce Gowrie. Gosselies Communal Cemetery. Row 2. Grave 13. Born on 15th April 1918. Son of Malcolm Alvery Gowrie and Phyllis Gowrie, of Tramping Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada. Enlisted RCAF March 1941.

Fl/Sgt. Thomas William Maynard. Gosselies Communal Cemetery. Row 2. Grave 14. Son of Sydney Thomas Maynard and Janet Isabella Maynard, of Wandsworth, London, England.

Fl/Sgt. Stephen Burns. Gosselies Communal Cemetery. Row 2. Grave 12. Son of John and Sarah Jane Burns, of Dudley, Worcestershire, England.

For further details our thanks to Ronald Stover, friend of the family of P/O. Thrasher. We are hoping that further information and photographs will follow soon.

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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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