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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. 170 Squadron
21/22.02.1945 170 Squadron Lancaster Mk.I NN744 TC:V Flt Lt. Thomas Cecil Birdwood Smith

Operation: Duisburg, Germany

Date: 21st/22nd February 1945 (Wednesday/Thursday)

Unit No: 170 Squadron

Type: Lancaster Mk.I

Serial: NN744

Code: TC:V

Base: RAF Hemswell, Lincolnshire

Location: Aijen (Limburg) Netherlands

Pilot: Flt Lt. Thomas Cecil Birdwood Smith 173785 RAFVR Age 28. KiA

Flt Eng: Flt Sgt. Leslie Robert Willis. 1604003 RAFVR Age 22. Injured (2)

Nav: Flt Sgt. John Claude Hartley 426587 RAAF Age 21. PoW (1) (2)

Bomb Aimer: Flt Sgt. Arthur Charles Morris Bates 1253523 RAFVR. Age? PoW (2)

WOp/Air Gnr: Flt Sgt. William Frederick Edward Mole 1587035 RAFVR. Age 21. PoW (2)

Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Flt Sgt. John Richard Downing 1517775 RAFVR Age? PoW

Air Gnr (Rear): Flt Sgt. Ronald Edward Price 1308587 RAFVR Age? PoW (2)

Note: No PoW numbers of PoW Camps listed for the captured aircrew

If you have any further information on the loss of this aircraft, crew, their relatives and friends than please contact us via the "add info" button at the top of this page. Update: friends of 'Papa Joe' Hartley contacted us in February 2015. Update: January 2016 Relatives of Flt.Sgt. Willis contacted us.

RAF Hemswell. Lincolnshire and Lancaster getting ready for take off (both courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

NN744 is briefly featured, as are 150 Sqn and 170 Sqn Lancasters, in the film "Night Bombers" which was filmed at RAF Hemswell in Lincolnshire. The video of the film is still available for purchase.


Lancaster NN744 took off from RAF Hemswell at 19:09hrs for an operation on Duisburg. One of 363 Lancasters that took off that night for Duisburg, escorted by 11 Mosquitoes.

16 aircraft from 170 Squadron took part in this operation and the returning crews reported that flak was heavy at the start of the bombing, but died down as the attack developed. Search lights were hampered by cloud and caused no difficulty to the crews.

Fire and smoke testify that the crew reports of good concentration of bombing was achieved. This was a successful operation and much damage was caused. 7 Lancasters were lost with 3 Lancasters crashing behind Allied lines in Europe. Lancaster NN744 may have been one of these aircraft as this might account for the crew not being listed with PoW numbers or camps. This was the last major operation by Bomber Command on Duisburg.

Duisburg after an earlier bombing operation (courtesy Imperial War Museum) Duisburg 21/22nd February 1954 (courtesy Australian War Memorial)

(1) Flt Sgt. John Claude Hartley was born 17th March 1923 in Cairns, Queensland, Australia. The Courier Mail, Brisbane Thursday 24th May 1945 states that eighty-two Queensland PoW now in England - Plt Off. J. C. Hartley of Cairns being one of them.

John Claude Hartley ‘Papa Joe’ remained in the RAAF after the war, retiring as a Wing Commander. Still living in his own home in Queensland, Australia in January 2015.

Right: John Claude Hartley ‘Papa Joe’ in 2015 (courtesy Howard Chetham)

He recalls the events of the 22nd February 1945:

"Our Lancaster was shot down by a night fighter using the Schräge Musik (upward firing guns) - both port engines were on fire and the fuel supply could not be shut off. I baled out and hoped that I would land in the British zone but the wind was taking me over the German lines. I tried to adjust my descent but as I thought the chute was going to candle, I abandoned the idea.
Shortly after I landed I was surrounded by German soldiers. When they started to look under the hedges I thought that they were going to shoot me. They were looking for our dugout which turned out to be quite sophisticated and well lit. The German officer in charge was quite high in rank, either a half or full Colonel, well spoken and could have been accepted in any Officers Mess back in England.
When they left the dugout they could see the flash of guns not so far away. The German officer looked and just said ‘Tommies’. His next comment was ‘what do you think of the war now?’ I replied: ‘I wish it was over.’ The officer said, so do I, my wife is in Potsdam.’
I was then taken to a prison camp and later transferred to Stalag VII-A Moosburg in Southern Bavaria where I remained until war end. The camp was liberated on the 29th April 1945 by the United States 14th Armoured Division."

(2) Flt Sgt. Leslie Robert Willis, Flt Sgt. John Claude Hartley, Flt Sgt. Arthur Charles Morris Bates, Flt Sgt. William Frederick Edward Mole and Flt Sgt. Ronald Edward Price had been involved in a flying accident on the 19th August 1944 while serving with 103 Squadron. Lancaster I LM293 took off at 22:29 hrs from RAF Elsham Wolds on an operation to Ertvelde Rieme to attack oil depot and fuel storage. The aircraft crashed on returning to base. No injuries reported.

Burial Details:

Flt Lt. Thomas Cecil Birdwood Smith. Jonkerbos War Cemetery, Netherlands. Grave Ref. 17.B.2. Born on the born 25th April 1916 in Poplar, London. Husband to Edith Vera Smith from Hornchurch, Essex, England.

Flt Lt. Smith had first been buried in Aijen cemetery.

Flt Sgt. Leslie Robert Willis. Steenwijkerwold (Kallenkote) General Cemetery, Netherlands. Grave Ref. Row 2. Grave 4. Born on the 12th January 1923. Son of Robert and Tracey I. (née Treacher) Willis from Slough, Buckinghamshire, England.

Flt Sgt. Willis was injured when the aircraft crashed and was taken to hospital where he died on the 6th April 1945.

Researched by: Kate Tame Aircrew Remembered and for all the relatives and friends of the crew.

Additional information and photograph of Mr. John Hartley kindly submitted to Aircrew Remembered in February 2015 by Howard Chetham of Queensland, Australia. Who has also supplied us with other information on RAAF aircrew which we hope to use in other articles. Also to Anthony Cannon, relative of Flt Sgt. Willis who contacted us in January 2016 - as well as ex RAF Harold Warburton who is assisting the Willis family research his loss. Thanks to Donald Grant for the information regarding the film "Night Bombers". (Nov 2020). Further updates by Aircrew Remembered (Nov 2020). Thanks to Paul Markham for the additional Next-of-Kin details for Flt Lt. Smith (May 2023).

RS 08.05.2023 - Update to Next-of-Kin detail for Flt Lt. Smith

Pages of Outstanding Interest
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CWGC: Your Relative's Grave Explained •  USA Flygirls •  Axis Awards Descriptions •  'Lack Of Moral Fibre'
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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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