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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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HMS Victorious
30.07.1941 828 Naval Air Squadron Albacore TB.I, Lt.(A) Robert ‘Robin’ Ross-Taylor

Operation: Kirkenes, Norway

Date: 30th July 1941 (Wednesday)

Unit No: 828 Naval Air Squadron (NAS)

Type: Fairy Albacore TB.I

Serial: Not documented

Code: Black 5L

Base: HMS Victorious

Location: In the vicinity of Kirkenes, Norway

Pilot: Lt.(A) Robert ‘Robin’ Ross-Taylor RNVR Age 26. PoW No. 3714 (1)

Observer: Sub-Lt.(A) Squire Clayton RNVR Age 22. PoW No. 106 (2)

Telegraphist/Air Gnr: LA.(A) Lionel William Miles DSM P/JX/138622 RN Age 21. PoW No. 23591 (3)

REASON FOR LOSS:

In June 1941 Germany launched Operation Barbarossa which threatened the survival of the Soviet Union. The British decided that the best way to show support for their new ally by attacking ports occupied by the Axis. The use of carrier-borne aircraft had previously shown to be effective especially in the attack of the Italian fleet at anchorage at Taranto in Italy and the Bismarck.

As part of Operation EF (1941) the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) attacked merchant vessels in the northern Norwegian port of Kirkenes and the northern Finnish port of Liinakhamari in Petsamo. The strike was intended to be a surprise attack, however, with the Arctic midnight sun conditions in midsummer surprise of darkness was not possible. The fleet was sighted by a shadowing German Dornier Do18 shortly before the strike aircraft were launched.

HMS Victorious launched two sub-flights of Albacores from 827 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) and 828 NAS together with Fulmars from 809 NAS to attack Kirkenes. 828 NAS were to attack ships around the the Tower of Kirkenes and Langfjord whilst 827 NAS concentrated on Holmengraafjord and an anchorage east of Reno Island.

Above: HMS Victorious in 1941 - RN official photographer Coote, R G G (Lt) - This is photograph A6152 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 4700-01)

It was originally thought that the attacking aircraft from 828 NAS hit the Kriegsmarine (German navy) ship Bremse with two torpedoes, two merchant ships with at least one torpedo each and another two merchant ships with probably one torpedo each.

The Bremse was an Artillerieschulschiff (artillery training ship). Battle damage assessment determined that the Bremse was not hit.

The striking force from HMS Victorious comprised twelve and nine Albacores respectively of 827 NAS and 828 NAS armed with torpedoes. At 14:30 hrs a fighter escort of nine Fulmer F.II of 809 NAS and a fighter patrol of three Fulmers F.II from the same Sqn.

The fighter escort, on making landfall, engaged with at least three Bf109s and six Bf110s. In the ensuing combat two Bf110s and one Bf109 were shot down for certain and confirmed. A further Bf110 was claimed as a probable. 809 NAS lost two aircraft but one pilot was seen to escape by parachute.

From 809 NAS, Sub-Lt. Tom Eadie Blacklock, Lt. Alastair Trevithic Easton and Sub-Lt. R.S. Miller became PoWs. Leading Airman (LA) Leslie Ernest Barrow FAA/FX.78373 RN is remembered on the Lee-on-Solent memorial.

The attacking Albacores, after dropping their torpedoes, shot down one Ju87 and claimed another as a probable.

Leading Airman (LA) Ernest Percival Fabien MiD FAA/SR.648, the air gunner from Albacore TB.I N4348 Black 4L, who claimed the probable Ju87 was killed by return fire and was buried at sea after his aircraft landed back on HMS Victorious. He is remembered on the Lee-on-Solent memorial.

The attacking force suffered heavy losses with 827 NAS losing six of its twelve aircraft and 828 NAS losing five of its eight aircraft.

Note: The above losses have been derived from official reports, however, these have been disputed by different authors.

From 827 NAS fourteen aircrew became PoWs and five were killed. From 828 NAS eleven aircrew became PoWs and seven were killed.

The Albacore TB.I of Lt. Ross-Taylor, Sub-Lt. Clayton and Leading Airman (LA) Miles was shot down but they all survived and became PoWs.

The strike against Kirkenes was a disaster. In the words of the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet, Admiral Sir John C. Tovey: “The material results of this operation was small and the losses heavy. This had been expected. The heaviest losses occurred in the squadrons from Victorious and there is no doubt that some of the survivors felt that an attack on such poor targets against heavy opposition was not justified and their morale was rather shaken until they appreciated the political necessity for the operation.” (The London Gazette, Wednesday, 26th May 1948).

(1) Robert Ross-Taylor was born on the 8th October 1915 in Cario, Egypt. He was a member of the Ipswich Aero Club and obtained his private pilots licence on the 7th January 1937.

Above: Robert Ross-Taylor from his Ipswich Aero Club Pilots licence.

Records show that Lt. Ross-Taylor and Sub-Lt. Clayton were both at Stalag Luft 3 and were moved to Stalag 3a, Luckenwalde on the 28th January 1945.

After the war he emigrated to Toronto, Canada. His profession was recorded as a book publisher.

Robert ‘Robin’ Ross-Taylor died in July 1970, aged 54, in Toronto, York County, Ontario, Canada.

(2) Squire Clayton was born on the 20th October 1919. At the time of his enlistment on the 1st of April 1940 he was a student and his home address was 19 Littlethorpe Hill, Hartshead, Liversedge, Yorkshire.

He enlisted in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) and after training he was posted to 828 NAS as an Observer in Fairey Albacores.

After the launching of Operation Barbarossa on the 22nd of June 1941, Churchill decided to support Britain’s new ally, Stalin, by striking the enemy and their communications in Norway. On the 30th July 1941, sixty aircraft were launched from HMS Victorious and HMS Furious to strike Kirkenes and Petsamo in NE Norway right on the Russian and Finnish borders. The raid was a complete disaster with fifteen aircraft were lost shot down. Twenty-five aircrew became PoWs and thirteen were killed.

Sub-Lt. Clayton was wounded and was immediately taken to the hospital of Stalag 322 at Kirkenes, a camp for soviet prisoners in which a very small number of British were held. He stayed in the hospital until the 18th of August 1941 when he was able to be transferred to the hospital of Dulag Luft at Hohemark. He arrived at Hohemark on the 21st of August and stayed until the 10th of September when he was fit enough to be transferred to a permanent camp.

Sub-Lt. Clayton was sent to Oflag 10c at Lubeck until the 8th of October 1941 when all the Allied officers were moved to Oflag 6b at Warburg.

In this camp, Sub-Lt Clayton would almost certainly have met Sqn Ldr. Roger Bushell who led the Great Escape from Stalag Luft 3 and was murdered by the Gestapo.

Oflag 6b was an army officers camp which ended up housing a number of RAF and RN officers. Some of the more notable officers held at Warburg were Sqn Ldr. Douglas Bader, Flt Lt. Sydney H. Dowse, Fg Off. Dominic Bruce, Fg Off. Peter Tunstall and Plt Off. Peter Stevens who was a German Jew who rather than keeping his head down for fear of discovery made eight separate escapes and was awarded the Military Cross (MC) after the war.

Fg Off. Sydney Hastings Dowse 86685 was one of the five ‘Great Escapers’ sent to the Concentration camp at Sachsenhausen. All five survived despite attempting to escape from the Concentration camp.

On the 30th August 1942, the camp was the scene of Operation Olympia, also known as the Warburg Wire Job. Of the forty-one men, only twenty-eight made it out of the camp as one of the ladders collapsed but of those twenty-eight, three Army officers made a home run back to England:

Maj. Albert Seymour Bertram Arkwright MC 38333, Royal Scots Fusiliers;
Capt. Augustus Henry Serocold Coombe-Tennant MC 65371, Welsh Guards;
Capt. Robert Joseph Fuller MC 50209, The Royal Sussex Regiment.

Because of this mass escape, the British PoWs were all moved with the Army to Oflag 7b at Eichstatt and the RAF to Oflag 21b at Schubin.

Sub-Lt. Clayton arrived at Oflag 21b on the 4th of September 1942 where he remained until April 1943 when all the PoWs were moved to Stalag Luft 3 as a result of another mass break out. This break out was thought up by Plt Off. ‘Eddie’ Asselin and led by Wg Cdr. ‘Wings’ Day in which thirty-three men escaped through a tunnel starting from the latrines. Nobody made a home run but two officers, Lt Cdr. James ‘Jimmy’ Brian Buckley, DSC and Fg Off. Jorgen Billy Thalbitzer, a Danish pilot who served with the name Thompson, apparently died in their attempt to cross by canoe from Denmark to Sweden.

Lt Cdr. Buckley was the original 'Big X' of the escape committee and as a fellow RN officer, it is probable that Sub-Lt. Clayton would have known him.

The body of Fg Off. Jorgen Billy Thalbitzer was washed ashore some time after the escape. The body of Lt Cdr. Buckley was never recovered.

Wg Cdr. Harry M.A. ‘Wings’ Day 05175 was one of the five ‘Great Escapers’ sent to the Concentration camp at Sachsenhausen. All five survived despite attempting to escape from the Concentration camp.

Sub-Lt. Clayton arrived at Stalag Luft 3 on the 14th April 1943 and remained there until the 28th January 1945 when the officers were forced marched away from the advancing Allies. After a week of marching, he reached Stalag 3a at Luckenwalde and was eventually liberated by the Russians on the 22nd April 1945. The prisoners had to live under Russian control in pretty grim conditions until the 20th May when they were finally flown home.

Sub-Lt. Clayton was promoted to Lt. whilst a PoW with seniority from 10th August 1943 and promulgated in the London Gazette on the 31st August 1943. Lt. Clayton signed his MI9 PoW questionnaire on the 21st May 1945.

Squire Clayton died on the 23rd June 2001, aged 81, in North Yorkshire, England.

(3) Lionel William Miles was born on the 5th August 1917 in Portsea, Portsmouth, Hampshire.

Naval Airman 1st Class (NA1) L.W. Miles was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) whilst with 815 NAS in July 1940. The general citation reads: “For daring, endurance and resource in the conduct of Hazardous and Successful operations by the Fleet Air Arm working with Coastal Command in France and over the Channel”. Promulgated in the London Gazette on the 5th July 1940.

Records show that Leading Airman (LA) Miles was transferred Stalag 8b, Lamsdorf to Stalag Luft 1 and then to Stalag Luft 6 on the 23rd March 1944.

Lionel William Miles died on the 23rd March 1972, aged 54, in West Moors, Dorset, England.

Burial details:

None - The three airmen survived the war.

Researched by Ralph Snape from Aircrew Remembered with thanks to Rob Pinnell for his biography of Squire Clayton.

Other references listed below:

RS 05.05.2022 - Initial Upload

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Acknowledgements
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', 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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