19/20.09.1942 No. 15 Squadron Stirling W7578 LS-A Fl/Sgt. Russell-Collins
Date: 19/20 September 1942 (Saturday/Sunday)
Unit: No. 15 Squadron
Type: Short Stirling
Base: RAF Bourn, Cambridgeshire
Location: Noyers-le-Val, France
Pilot: Fl/Sgt. Charles Robert Russell-Collins 527236 RAF Age ? Killed
Flt/Eng: Sgt. James Marsden Pye 625225 RAF Age 21. Killed
Nav: Sgt. John Alan Richards 1386264 RAFVR Age ? Killed
W/Op: Fl/Sgt. Percy John Apps 637426 RAF Age 21. Killed
Air/Gnr: P/O Albert Birchall J/15411 RCAF Age 23. Killed (1)
Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Ian John Argo Henderson 625247 RAF Age ? Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. George Walter Albert Hamlet Vasil 1383563 RAFVR Age 21. Killed.
REASON FOR LOSS
68 Lancasters from 9, 44 and 61 Squadrons together with 21 Stirlings from 15, 149 and 214 Squadrons for a combined force of 89 aircraft took off in the early evening hours targeting Munich city centre. The raid was of marginal success as only 40% of the crews dropped their bomb loads within three miles of the city centre, the majority of the bombs falling in the suburbs to the south, east and west.
En-route to the target, Stirling W7578 was intercepted and shot down over eastern France by a Me110C night fighter from 7/NJG-4 flown by StabsFw Reinhard Kollak and his Bordfunker Hans Herman. The aircraft crashed near the small village of Noyers-le-Val, 20 kilometres north west of Bar-le-Duc, killing all aboard.
The lone Canadian, on an otherwise all RAF crew, was P/O. Albert (Ab) Birchall who was an experienced air gunner on his second tour having completed 46 missions over enemy held territory. P/O Birchall enlisted in the RCAF in May, 1940. After wireless training in Montreal he graduated as a W/Op/A/Gnr. with the rank of Flight Sergeant from No.1 Bombing and Gunnery School in Jarvis, Ontario. Prior to enlistment, he was employed as an apprentice by the New York Central Railroad in the repair shops at St.Thomas after graduation from Arthur Voaden Vocational School. He was also a notable athlete and baseball player. Albert arrived in England on Christmas Day 1940 and received his commission as a Pilot Officer on June 21, 1942.
Left: P/O Albert Birchall
Ten days earlier, on September 9, P/O Birchall, Sgt. Pye, Sgt. Vasil and F/S’ Apps and Henderson were force to bale out of Stirling BF352 after the aircraft developed engine trouble shortly after take off. The pilot, F/S Russell-Collins stayed at the controls and crash landed at Waterbeach Airfield, Cambridgeshire.
Tragically for the Birchall family a younger brother Roland would be killed seven months later when his Halifax crashed returning from a raid on Pilsen within a few kilometres of the site of Albert’s crash.
Interestingly, a first cousin of P/O Birchall was S/L Leonard Birchall who was to be named by Churchill as “The Saviour of Ceylon” for warning the Allies of an impending attack by the Japanese fleet. S/L Birchall was captured by the Japanese and became a figurehead for the PoW’s taking many beatings for standing up to his captors and demanding fair treatment of the prisoners.
Reinhard Kollak joined the Luftwaffe in 1933 at the age of 18 becoming a night fighter ace by the end of the war with 49 victories. His was the highest total for a non commissioned pilot in the Nachtjagdgeschwader which, was in itself, rather unusual, as most were commissioned officers. By all accounts Kollak was a modest man who shared the credit for his successes with his radio operator Hans Herman which was not the case for most Luftwaffe pilots. After the German surrender in 1945, Reinhard found it difficult to adjust to civilian life working at a number of administrative jobs for several years. Upon the founding of the Bundeswehr in 1956 he rejoined his beloved Luftwaffe where he remained until his retirement in 1967. He died at the age of 65 on 6 February 1980 and was buried with full military honours.
Hans Herman joined the Luftwaffe in 1938 at the age of 19 and served as Kollak’s Bordfunker until wars end. After the war ended he got a job with the German Federal Railroad, a position he held until his retirement.
Fl/Sgt. Charles Robert Russell-Collins. Noyers-le-Val Communal Cemetery, Meuse, France. Grave 7. Next of Kin details currently not available - are you able to assist completion of these and any other information?
Sgt. James Marsden Pye. Noyers-le-Val Communal Cemetery, Meuse, France. Collective Grave 1-4. Son of Aaron Primrose Pye and Daisy May Pye of Southwick, Sunderland, Co. Durham, England.
Sgt. John Alan Richards. Noyers-le-Val Communal Cemetery, Meuse, France. Grave 5. Next of Kin details currently not available - are you able to assist completion of these and any other information?
Fl/Sgt. Ian John Argo Henderson. Noyers-le-Val Communal Cemetery, Meuse, France. Collective Grave 1-4. Next of Kin details currently not available - are you able to assist completion of these and any other information?
Fl/Sgt. Percy John Apps. Noyers-le-Val Communal Cemetery, Meuse, France. Collective Grave 1-4. Son of Cecil Percy and Bessie Victoria Apps, of Blindley Heath, Surrey, England, husband of Evelyn Joan Apps.
P/O. Albert Birchall. Noyers-le-Val Communal Cemetery, Meuse, France. Collective Grave 1-4. Son of Thomas and Emily Birchall, of St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada.
Sgt. George Walter Albert Hamlet Vasil. Noyers-le-Val Communal Cemetery, Meuse, France. Collective Grave 1-4. Son of Emmanuel Vasil, and of Nellie Vasil, of Clyne, Glamorgan, Wales.
(1)Birchall Lake in northern Ontario
is named after P/O Albert Birchall and his brother Roland.
Researched by Aircrew Remembered, researcher and R.C.A.F. specialist Colin Bamford for relatives of this crew. With thanks to Mary Olde, Director of Administration, The Elgin Military Museum, St. Thomas, Ontario, for her assistance in the preparation of this article. Also to Pierre Vandervelden and his website 'In Memory' for the grave photograph.