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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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No. 37 Squadron
18.12.1939 No. 37 Squadron Wellington IA N2936 LF-J Sgt. Ruse

Operation: Wilhelmshaven Harbour, North Sea

Date: 18th December 1939 (Monday)

Unit: No. 37 Squadron

Type: Wellington 1A

Serial: N2936

Code: LF-J

Base: RAF Feltwell, Norfolk

Location: Borkum

Pilot: Sgt. Herbert (Herbie) Ruse 564376 RAF Age ? PoW No. 13077. Camp: L1/357 (1)

Obs: Sgt. Thomas William Holley 515110 RAF Age 27. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. T. (Tom) K. May 580309 RAF Age? PoW No. ? Camp: 12A/8B/L1 (2)

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Cpl. Frederick James Taylor 533806. RAF Age 22. Killed

Air/Gnr: LAC. H. (Harry) A. Jones 540554 RAF Age ? PoW No.13066. Camp: 8B/357


Wellington N2936 took off at 09.40hrs with six other No. 37 Squadron Wellingtons from RAF Feltwell to carry out a raid at 14.000ft on Wilhelmshaven harbour to attack any battleships or cruisers. Having rendezvous at 10:30hrs over Yarmouth No. 37 Squadron Wellingtons flew in a diamond formation with 9 aircraft from both No. 149 Squadron and No. 9 Squadron.

The formation were attacked South of Wilhelmshaven at 12:30hrs by approx. 30/40 enemy aircraft and the attack continued until reaching Wilhelmshaven when heavy AA fire was encountered from both shore based batteries and Navel craft. No suitable enemy battleships or cruisers were seen. After leaving the Wilhelmshaven area the aircraft were followed for some 70/80 miles to the German coast by the enemy fighters.

A total of 12 aircraft were shot down on this operation. Situated on the island of Wangerooge the Germans had been tracking the bomber force for many miles using the experimental early warning Freya radar system and this information was passed on to the German fighters. Wellington N2936 was forced to land on Borkum, Fresian Islands, due to damage to the aircraft. The total loss for No. 37 Squadron from the operation: 21 killed, 1 injured who died of his injuries and 4 PoW. Only one aircraft of No. 37 Squadron returned to base. Lost: (N2904) (N2889) (N2888) (N2935)

Left: Wellingtons of No. 9 Squadron who also lost many crews on this operation. Right: Wilhelmshaven harbour

Above Newspaper cuttings (courtesy Austrian National Archives via Johann Heinrich)

Translation of text from newspaper articles:

To the great air battle over the North Sea: (left) One of the captured, who escaped the disaster over the North Sea on 18 December, the english Sergeant Herbert Ruse. He was lucky enough to be shot down over an Island. Ruse landed on a Frisian island and was the only one able to save itself from the machine, which immediately burned. (Right) In the great air raid over the North Sea, the English Sergeant Herbert Ruse could rescue himself from the burning, hostile plane, and was treated gallant as a prisoner by our pilots.

(1) Sgt. Herbert (Herbie) Ruse. Born in Long Melford, Suffolk Herbie Ruse was on his first mission when his aircraft was shot down and he became a prisoner of war for over 5 years. In 1955 15th May 564378 F/O. Herbert Ruse received the Queen's Commendation as Master Pilot for his valuable services in air. On the 15th May 1958 F/O. H. Ruse was promoted to the rank of Flight Lieutenant. In 1959 F/Lt. Herbert Ruse retired from the RAF as of 19th April.

(2) Sgt. T. (Tom) K. May. On the 19th April 1937 Tom May qualified for his Wings at No. 3 Flying Training School, RAF Grantham, having attended grading school at Yatesbury, Wiltshire. Sgt. May had been involved in a flying accident while serving with No. 37 Squadron on the 23rd July 1938 while flying passengers in Harrow K7017 37P to RAF Hendon. Took off from RAF Feltwell and on landing at RAF Hendon overshot the landing area, hit a tree and stopped at the bottom of a railway embankment. Sgt May the pilot was thrown out of the aircraft as it landed and was injured.

Airmen Sons Saved (courtesy The Daily Mirror Friday, December 29, 1939)

A man walked into a butchers shop in Long Melford, Suffolk yesterday and asked 'Did you get your brother's message last night?' The butcher knew that his brother, Sergeant Herbert Ruse, had been listed as 'missing' after an RAF raid on Heligoland.

But the customer told him that in a broadcast from Hamburg, as reported in the later edition of yesterday's Daily Mirror, Sergeant Ruse had sent a greeting to his mother. Mr Ruse hurried from the shop to tell his mother that the boy she mourned was alive and well in a German prison camp. Last night Mrs Ruse told the Daily Mirror 'I saw my son the night before he was sent out on the raid, but he did not tell me anything about it' It has been an unhappy Christmas for us, but knowing that he is alive has changed everything.

Another mother did not hear the German broadcast. Her son Flying Officer Peter Wimberley, twenty, of Westbourne Avenue, Emsworth, Hants has also been shot down in the raid. She did not know whether she would ever see him again. But now she knows that he is alive and only slightly wounded. 'Not until she opened her paper this morning did she know that Peter was safe' a family member of the family said.

The picture above shows aircrew in a prisoner of war camp. Sgt. Herbert Ruse far left. (courtesy John Nunn of the Heritage Centre in Long Melford, Suffolk)

L-R: 1: Sgt. Herbert Ruse 564376 RAF 37 Squadron Wellington IA N2936 PoW No: 13077 Camp: Stalag Luft Barth Vogelsang and Stalag Kopernikus. 19TH December 1939.

2: F/O. Peter Arabin Wimberley 39582 37 Squadron Wellington Ia N2888 PoW No: 633 Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria 18th December 1939.

3: Lt. R.A. Thurston 1071997 803 Squadron Aircraft: Skua L2873 - Fleet Air Arm PoW No: 222789 Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria and Stalag Lamsdorf. 14th September 1939.

4: F/O. R.D. Baughan 37922 144 Squadron Hampden I L4126 PoW No: 634 Camp Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria. 30th September 1939.

5: W/Cdr. Harry Melville Arbuthnot Day 05175 RAF 57 Squadron Blenheim IV L1138 PoW No: 37 Camp Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria. 13th October 1939. Part of the great escape and later spared by Hitler himself as it was thought that he was well known and possible “consequences” could emerge if he was murdered. (shown right)

6: F/O. Michael James O’Brien Casey 39024 RAF 57 Squadron Blenheim I L1141 PoW No: 24 Camp Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria. 16th October 1939. Part of the great escape and later murdered by Lux (killed during the siege of Breslau May 1945) and Scharpwinkel (“died” in a Soviet prison in May 1948).

7: Lt. Guy. B.K. Griffiths 803 Squadron Aircraft L2957 Skua - Fleet Air Arm PoW No: 635 Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria and Stalag Lamsdorf. 14th September 1939.

Burial details:

Sgt. Thomas William Holley. Sage War Cemetery. Grave Ref: 7. B. 4. Son of Desire Thomas Holley and Lilian Mary Holley of Clapham, London, England.

Cpl. Frederick James Taylor. Sage War Cemetery. Grave Ref: 7. B. 8. Son of Frederick and Margaret Taylor of Newcastle-on-Tyne. Husband of Olga Mary Taylor of Denton, Newcastle-on-Tyne, England.

Researched by: Kate Tame for Aircrew Remembered and for all the relatives and friends of the crew. With many thanks to Johann Heinrich who contacted us in December 2016 with newspaper cuttings and translation. Also to the Austrian National Archives. Other sources a quoted below.

KT 01.12.2016 Page updated with newspaper clippings/map. KT. Added PoW picture and names. 05.03.2017

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