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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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582 Squadron
23.12.1944 582 Squadron Lancaster III PB523 Flt Lt. Peter A. Thomas DFC

Operation: Cologne (Köln), Germany

Date: 23rd December 1944 (Saturday)

Unit No: 582 Squadron, Pathfinder Force (PFF), 8 Group

Type: Lancaster III

Serial: PB523

Code: 6O:J

Base: RAF Little Staughton, Huntingdonshire

Location: Opitter, 4 km (2½ mls) SE of Bree, Belgium

Pilot: Flt Lt. Peter Alfred Thomas DFC, 172593 RAFVR Age 22. KiA

Flight Engineer: Flt Sgt. Vivian George Hobbs 1816098 RAFVR Age 20. KiA

Navigator I: Fg Off. William Ewart Vaughan J24199 RCAF Age 30. PoW * (1)

Navigator II: Flt Lt. Ayton Richardson Whitaker 100053 RAFVR Age 27. PoW, Unknown Camp

Wireless Op/ Air Gnr: WO. Herbert Fuller 1515746 RAFVR Age? PoW **

Air Gnr (Mid Upper): Sgt. G. Fallon 3041124 RAFVR Age? PoW (2)

Air Gnr (Rear): WO1. Frederick William ‘Teddy’ Campbell R65080 RCAF Age 29. KiA

* Stalag Luft 1 Barth-Vogelsang, today situated in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.

** Stalag 3A and work camps (Also Oflag 3-6) Luckenwalde (was originally interrogation centre) Brandenburg, Prussia.

REASON FOR LOSS:

On the 23rd December 1944 27 Lancasters and 3 Mosquitoes of 8 Group were detailed to attack the Gremberg railway yards in Cologne (Köln), Germany of which 17 Lancasters were from the 582 Squadron.

The force was split into 3 formations, each lead by an Oboe equipped Lancaster with an Oboe Mosquito as a reserve leader. During the inbound flight, 2 Lancasters from 35 Sqn collided over the French coast and their crews were all killed.

On approaching the target, it was found that the cloud which had been forecast had cleared and it was decided to allow the bombers to break formation and bomb visually This move was made because the formation would have been very vulnerable to Cologne’s Flak defences during the long straight Oboe approach.

Unfortunately the order to abandon the Oboe run did not reach Sqn Ldr. Palmer, who was the Master Bomber, and he continued on with the designated role, even though the aircraft was already damaged by Flak.

PB120 was one of five aircraft from the Squadron that failed to return from operations.

The other four were:

Lancaster III PB120 6O:P - Hit by Flak and then shot up by Bf109s before crashing 7 km SE from the city centre of Cologne (Köln) (5 KiA, 2 PoW);

Lancaster III PB558 6O:A - Damaged by Flak and came under sustained fighter attacks. The entire crew baled out successfully over Allied held territory and returned to RAF Little Staughton on the 27th February 1945;

Lancaster III PB371 6O:V - Master Bomber. Shot down by Flak in the target area. Sqn Ldr. R.A.M. Palmer DFC and Bar was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) for his outstanding valour (6 KiA, 1 PoW);

Lancaster III PB141 6O:F - Shot down by German fighters. Two of the crew became trapped in the spinning aircraft but both miraculously survived after the aircraft fell 20,000 ft and crashed onto the marshalling yard. (6 PoW, 1 Mur).

Fg Off. Vaughan confirmed that he baled out and landed near Krefeld so as Flt Sgt. Hobbs, Flt Lt. Whitaker and WO. Fuller became PoWs it can be presumed that they also baled out around the same area. It has been reported that Flt Sgt. Hobbs was killed when his parachute failed to open properly.

Krefeld is some 50½ km (32 mls) NW of Cologne.

The aircraft crashed at Opitter, 4 km (2½ mls) SE of Bree and 64¼ km (40 mls) east of Brussels in Belgium.

Opitter is some 68 km (42 mls) WSW of Krefeld so it could be presumed that the aircraft was hit by Flak in the vicinity of Krefeld, before reaching the target and five of the crew baled out.

The reason for Flt Lt. Thomas attempting to fly the Lancaster to Allied held territory is unknown. Also it not known if WO1. Campbell had been killed aboard the aircraft or if he could not bale out because of injuries and subsequently perished in the crash.

The following is a statement made by Fg Off. Robert P. Terpening 424312 RAAF from 582 Sqn Lancaster III PB558:

"At about 13:15 hrs on the 23rd December, after parachuting into the village of Oppiter, near Bree in Belgium, I was taken by American troops to a crashed aircraft about 2 miles from the village. I identified the aircraft as a Lancaster and the squadron letters for 582. The aircraft was badly smashed and burnt out. The Americans told me of two bodies which had been found in the crash but which were too badly mangled to be identified.

They also handed me an identity disc and a small medal found on one of the bodies. The disc belonged to R65080 WO. F.W. Campbell. No other bodies had yet been found in the vicinity. Arrangements were made for the bodies to be buried in the village. churchyard at Oppiter. One grave marked Campbell and the other "Unknown British airman".

(1) William Ewart Vaughan was born on the 11th December 1914 in Toronto, Ontario. He was employed as a salesman prior to enlisting in the RCAF on the 8th April 1942.

Fg Off. Vaughan was captured near Krefeld on the night of the 23rd December and was transferred to Dulag Luft, Oberursel arriving there on the 27th December. On the 6th January 1945 he was moved to the transit camp at Wetzlar and then transferred to Stalag Luft 1, Barth-Vogelsang on the 9th January 1945.

On the 30th April 1945, the prisoners were ordered to evacuate the camp in the face of the advancing Soviet Red Army, but the Senior American Officer, Col. Hubert Zemke, refused to give the order. After negotiations between Zemke and Commandant Oberst (Col) Gustav Warnstedt, it was agreed that to avoid useless bloodshed the guards would go, leaving the PoWs behind. The next day, the first Soviet troops arrived and liberated the camp.

Fg Off. Vaughan was interviewed on the 11th May 1945.

(2) Sgt. Fallon was either injured aboard the aircraft or upon landing and became a PoW. It has been reported that he was confined to a hospital due to his injuries but managed to escape. No further details have been found.

He was not listed in the Squadron Operational Record Book (ORB) as having returned to operations nor that he was posted from the Squadron strength between January and May 1945. From this it can be assumed that he did not return to the Squadron.

Note: Some reference material confuses Flt Sgt. James Anthony Fallon 1572092, the Flight Engineer from 582 Sqn Lancaster III NE130 with Sgt. G. Fallon 3041124, the Air Gunner from this aircraft.

Burial details:

Flt Lt. Thomas DFC and Plt Off. Campbell were initially buried in the Opitter Roman Catholic Cemetery, Flt Lt. Thomas DFC as an “Unknown airman”, and both were laid to rest at the Heverlee War Cemetery and Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery respectively in November 1945. Flt Sgt. Hobbs was initially buried in the Hochneukirch Civil Cemetery and laid to rest in the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery on the 24th November 1947.

Flt Lt. Peter Alfred Thomas DFC. Heverlee War Cemetery 6.D.21. Grave Inscription: ’IN MOST SINCERE, EVERLASTING AND LOVING REMEMBRANCE OF OUR OWN DEAREST PETER’. Born during 3rd Qtr of 1922 in Cardiff, Glamorganshire. Son of Alfred Nicholas and Dorothea May Thomas, of North Cheam, Surrey, England.

Acting Flt Lt. Thomas was awarded the DFC whilst with 582 Sqn. London Gazette 1st June 1945.

Flt Sgt. Vivian George Hobbs. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery 30.E.18. Grave Inscription: ‘HIS DUTY DONE. HE GAVE ALL, HIS UNFINISHED LIFE. SADLY MISSED’. Born during the 2nd Qtr of 1924 in Cardiff, Glamorganshire. Son of George William and Gwendoline Florence Hobbs, of Cyncoed, Cardiff, Wales.

Above: Initial grave marker for Plt Off. Frederick W. Campbell

Plt Off. Frederick William Campbell. Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery XVII.B.7. Grave inscription: ‘ETERNAL REST GRANT UNTO HIM, O LORD; MAY HIS SOUL REST IN PEACE’. Born on the 1st January 1915 in Highland Village, Nova Scotia. Son of William True Campbell and Bertha Lillian (née Tomlinson) Campbell, of Pembroke, Hants Co., Nova Scotia. Husband of Dorothy Eleanor Francis (née Glennon) Campbell of Acton, London, England. They were married on the 8th December 1944.

WO1. Campbell was posthumously commissioned and promoted to J94493 Plt Off. on the 22nd December 1944.

Researched by Ralph Snape for aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew.

Other sources listed below:

RS 30.11.2023 - 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', Stan D. Bishop, John A. Hey MBE, Gerrie Franken and Maco Cillessen - Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Forces, Vols 1-6, Dr. Theo E.W. Boiton - Nachtjagd Combat Archives, Vols 1-13. 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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