24/25.11.1943 No. 37 Squadron Wellington LN329 LF-N Fl/Lt. Taaffe DFM
Date: 24/25th November 1943 (Wednesday/Thursday)
Unit: No. 37 Squadron. 231 Wing. 205 Group. Northwest African Strategic Air Force (motto: Wise without eyes)
Type: Wellington X
Base: Djedeida No. 1, Tunisia
Location: Monte Ronchi
Pilot: Fl/Lt. Rae Jessep Taaffe DFM. NZ/41502 RNZAF Age 24. Killed
Pilot 2: Fl/Lt. Hedley William Fitch J/3485 RCAF Age 31. Killed
Obs: Fl/Lt Colin Havelock Wheatley J/16324 RCAF Age 24. Killed (1)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Denys William Croker 922939 RAFVR Age ? Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. John Shelton 1379941 RAFVR Age ? Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. William George Holme 1325759 RAFVR Age ? Killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
Taking off at 1930 hrs. with a total force of 75 aircraft to bomb the important ball bearing factory. The leading aircraft called to report the atrocious weather conditions resulting in many returning.
Most of the aircraft lost were in the mountains with LN329 crashing a around midnight on Monte Ronchi with its full bomb load.
From 37 Squadron Monthly Summary;
"Fourteen aircraft operated from Djedeida North to attack ball bearing factory at Turin. This was one of the most disastrous operations in the history of the squadron. Bad weather was accounted by all aircraft from north of Sardinia to the target and back on the entire route. Contrary to weather forecast provided for briefing. 10/10 cloud in banks with icing at comparatively low levels, was encountered from sea level to over 15,000feet".
"Only one aircraft identified Genoa, and jettisoned his bombs in the target area. This aircraft was captained by Fl/Sgt. McCullum. The remaining aircraft jettisoned their bombs with the exception of one aircraft captained by F/O. Wanlroth who bought all his bombs back to base. Two aircraft captained by Fl/Lt. Taafe and Fl/Sgt. Saunders did not return from this operation, and no news has been received of them and their crews. The crew of another aircraft captained by F/O. Gilbert baled out over Corsica, landed at Bastia and after being noted as missing for two days returned to Squadron suffering from minor injuries sustained when landing by parachute on the rocky slopes of the Corsican coast. The crew of yet another aircraft captained by W/O. Griffin baled out at Megrine owing to petrol shortage, and being unable to find base, all crew returned safely".
Wellington X HZ473 LF-W 24 year old, W/O. Tom Philip George Griffin 655579 RAF. Aircraft abandoned on return trip - near Megrine, Tunisia, all crew returned safe with minor injuries. (ran out of fuel due to severe weather conditions) Killed on the 01st October 1944.
Wellington X HZ513 LF-Y 22 year old, F/O. Colin Frank Gilbert AUS/415319 RAAF. Aircraft abandoned over Corsica. All crew safe with minor injuries. (ran out of fuel due to severe weather conditions)
Wellington X HF523 LF-H 22 year old, Fl/Sgt. Maurice Walter Saunders 1337027 RAFVR. Killed with all his 5 other crew.
40 Squadron also lost 3 aircraft and crews, 70 Squadron lost 3, 104 Squadron lost 2, 142 Squadron lost 5. Most, if not all in similar circumstance but on various other mountains.
During 2018 the research team Gruppo Ricercatori Aerei Caduti
from Italy carried out searches of the crash site and recovered various pieces from the Wellington.
(1) Fl/Lt Colin Wheatley survived with serious injuries when Wellington Ic R1773 crashed during a training exercise in England. Spending some 9 months in hospital recovering. Further details here
Crew were initially buried in the Credarola Cemetery with hundreds from the villages attending on the day of the funeral. Reinterred after the end of the war. The family of Sgt. John Shelton donated a plaque with the help from the village of Bardi.
Fl/Lt. Rae Jessep Taaffe DFM. Milan War Cemetery. Grave IV.A.10. Born on the 14th December 1918 at Frasertown, the son of Cecil Doyle Taaffe and Lucy Jane Taaffe (née Dowthwaite), of Hastings, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand. A total of 750 flying hours logged and on his 68th operational sortie. He was on his second tour, the first was served in 104 Squadron also in the Middle East.
Fl/Lt. Hedley William Fitch. Milan War Cemetery. Grave IV.A.12. Son of Hedley John and Rose Agnes Fitch and husband of Mary Bernadette Fitch, of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Grave inscription: "Loved Husband Of Bernadette, Father Of Hedley James Torento, Canada. R.I.P".
Fl/Lt Colin Havelock Wheatley. Milan War Cemetery. Grave IV.B.8. Born on the 20th June 1919 at Wilkie, Saskatchewan, the son of Mr and Mrs Wheatley of 1500 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal, Canada. His brother Fl/Sgt. Peter Wheatley served as a fighter pilot in the Middle East.
Fl/Sgt. Denys William Croker. Milan War Cemetery. Joint grave IV. C. 1-2. No further details - are you able to assist?
Sgt. John Shelton. Milan War Cemetery. Joint grave IV. C. 1-2. No further details - are you able to assist?
Sgt. William George Holme. Milan War Cemetery. Grave IV.A.14. Son of Evelyn Wray Holme and Lilla Kate Louise Holme and husband of May Mary Holme, of New Cross, London, England.
Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to the research by Errol Martyn and his publications: “For Your Tomorrow Vols. 1-3”, Auckland Library Heritage Collection
, Rob Jerram RAF Commands Forum
. Weekly News of New Zealand, Gruppo Ricercatori Aerei Caduti Piacenza
, other sources as quoted below: