27.08.1942 No. 15 OTU Wellington VIII HX566 Sgt. Michael H. Riddell
Operation: Delivery flight from RAF Portreath to the Middle East - via RAF Gibraltar
Date: 27th August 1942 (Thursday)
Unit: No. 15 Operational Training Unit (OTU), RAF Harwell, via No. 1 Overseas Air Delivery Unit (OADU), RAF Portreath
Type: Vickers Wellington Mk VIII (a variant intended for anti-submarine work)
Base: No. 15 OTU, RAF Harwell - for onward transit via No. 1 OADU, RAF Portreath, Cornwall
Location: Andalusia, Spain, on the coastline between Tarifa and Algeciras. Crash site near former Punta del Acebuche Coastal Battery (east of Tarifa and just west of Punta Carnero - see map)
Pilot: Sgt. Michael Hardwick Riddell 1316083 RAFVR Age 19. Killed
Pilot (2): Sgt. Leonard Sutherland 1075478 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
Obs: P/O. Edgar Whitaker 118618 RAFVR Age 30. Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Gordon Peter Taylor 962315 RAFVR Age 25. Killed
Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Charles Wesley Buchner R/109346 RCAF Age 22. Killed
Air/Gnr: W/O. Rodney Webber R/106709 RCAF Age 21. Interned (1)
BACKGROUND - REASON FOR LOSS:
Extensive further research since 2013 by relatives of the crew confirmed that HX566 took off from RAF Harwell on 20th August 1942 as one of 12 aircraft and arrived at RAF Portreath that evening. HX566 left RAF Portreath at 06:33 GMT on 27th August and was due to arrive at RAF Gibraltar at about 14:30 GMT. It was to re-fuel at Gibraltar en-route to Egypt, either via Malta or West Africa.
L-R: Sgt. Leonard Sutherland, P/O. Edgar Whitaker, Sgt. Gordon Peter Taylor, Sgt. Rodney Webber.
However, several Operational Record Book (ORB) entries relating to sorties by Gibraltar-based aircraft on Thursday 27th August indicate very poor weather conditions. Typically, these are shown as “cloud 8/10 at 1500 feet - drizzle” and “rain and thick fog 8/10 to N and W”.
Vickers Wellington Mk VIII
As the aircraft was approaching Gibraltar, Sgt. Webber RCAF (the only survivor) later stated to MI9 that “we hit a hill of about 1200 (feet) in the mist about 15:20 hours. The other members of the crew, who were killed are listed above. The aircraft caught fire, but I was got out by soldiers from a Spanish coastal battery about 300 (yards) away.” He described his later treatment (Note 1 below).
The Spanish Defence Ministry’s original 1942 ‘dossier’ of the incident, now obtained by relatives, broadly reflects Sgt. Webber’s de-briefing by MI9 upon his return to the UK. The ‘dossier’ indicates some confusion over the total number of crew and how many were killed. This may reflect that the aircraft caught fire and that, sadly, no personal effects of the crew were returned to the Next of Kin.
(1) - A: After 6 weeks, Sgt. Rodney Webber was released from a local Spanish hospital and sent to Miranda de Ebro Internment Camp. Whilst there for 5 weeks, he was interrogated (MI9 de-briefing report) by ‘two interpreters’ who he believed to be German. Repatriated via Gibraltar, he arrived in the UK on 31st December 1942 and was later posted to 158 Squadron RAF at Lissett, Yorkshire.
B: Promoted WO2, on 3rd April 1943 he joined the crew of Halifax MkII DT795 (Code: NP-N), piloted by Fl/Sgt. Frederick Henry Blake RCAF, which took off from RAF Lissett at 19.41 that day. The operational target was Essen and involved a total of 348 aircraft. The raid was successful, although 23 aircraft - 14 Halifaxes and 9 Lancasters - failed to return.
C: One reference source quotes Halifax DT795 as hit by flak, but another source reports the claim by Uffz Emil Heinzelmann (8./NJG1) to have shot down DT795 over Wapenveld, Netherlands, flying at 4,600m at 23:50 on Saturday 3rd April 1943. The full story can be read here.
Above: Graves at
Gibraltar (North Front) Cemetery (courtesy Bob Boston)
Left: Original grave marker for Sgt Michael Riddell and P/O
Edgar Whitaker (courtesy Jill Clayton French)
Sgt. Michael Hardwick Riddell. Gibraltar (North Front) Cemetery Plot 2. Row D. Joint grave 5. Son of Donald Hardwick, and of Beatrice Mary Riddell, of Anerley, London, England. Prior to service a Civil Servant (Board of Trade).
Sgt. Leonard Sutherland. Gibraltar (North Front) Cemetery Plot 2. Row D. Joint grave 6. Son of John William and Helen Sutherland, of Stromness, Orkney, Scotland. Prior to service a student (Aberdeen University).
P/O. Edgar Whitaker. Gibraltar (North Front) Cemetery Plot 2. Row D. Joint grave 5. Son of Arnold Whitaker, and of Ida E. Whitaker, of Alton, Hampshire, England. (also commemorated on the Alton War Memorial, shown below).
Sgt. Gordon Peter Taylor. Gibraltar (North Front) Cemetery Plot 2. Row D. Joint grave 4. Son of Joseph Cornelius and Edith Annie Taylor, husband of Nancy Margaret Taylor, of Bromley, Kent, England. A Commercial Artist before enlistment.
Fl/Sgt. Charles Wesley Buchner. Gibraltar (North Front) Cemetery Plot 2. Row D. Joint grave 6. Son of Wesley and Carrie Edith Buchner of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. His civilian ocupation was as a fireman.
(1) W/O. Rodney Webber. Amersfoort (Oud Leusden) General Cemetery. Plot 13. Row 5. Grave 96. Son of Fred W. and Onia Webber. Of Bellingham, Washington, USA. A former steelworker.
Right: Condolence letter from Rev Mayfield, RAF Chaplain at Air HQ Gibraltar, to Sgt Taylor’s father. The first letter had been returned after failing to reach Sgt Taylor’s wife, his nominated Next of Kin. (courtesy Michael Taylor)
19 Nov 1942
“ Dear Mr. Taylor,
Thank you for your letter of the 8th November. I was very glad to have it because it clears up a difficulty. I wrote to your son’s wife at the same time that I wrote to the families of the other members of the crew. His address as given in our records here, C/O. Pearce, High Street, East Ilsey. My letter was returned as undeliverable.”
Above: Alton War
Memorial (courtesy Curtis Museum, Alton)
Researched for, and by, known relatives of the crew: Jill Clayton French (for P/O Edgar Whitaker), Richard Omand (for Sgt Leonard Sutherland) and Michael Taylor (for Sgt Peter Taylor).
With particular thanks to: Keith Janes and Oliver Clutton-Smith for information about the loss; Bob Boston for grave photographs; Bill Chorley for information from “Bomber Command Losses, Volume 3”; Dr Theo E W Boiten and Mr Roderick Mackenzie for information from “Nightfighter War Diaries, Volumes 1 & 2”; Eric Munk for information about Halifax DT795; and Peter Elliott, Head of Archives, RAF Museum, Hendon.
Thanks also to Commonwealth War Graves Commission; British Library; Library and Archives of Canada; London School of Economics Library; Air Historical Branch, Ministry of Defence (Air); RAF Disclosures, Ministry of Defence (Air); Spanish Embassy, London; Spanish Ministry of Defence, Madrid; and Curtis Museum, Alton.