Operation: Prahova, Romania
Date: 2/3 July 1943 (Friday/Saturday)
Unit: No. 40 Squadron - Motto: Hostem acolo expellere; ("To drive the enemy from the sky")
Badge: A broom. The broom was chosen to immortalise the frequent exhortation of Major 'Mick' Mannock, the famous World War I pilot, who served with the squadron, to 'sweep the Huns from the air!'
Type: Vickers Wellington Mark X
Base: Foggia Main, Italy
Location: Măceșu de Sus, Romania 45km south of Craiova
Pilot: F/O. Lawrence Franklin (Laurie) Tichborne Aus/425381 RAAF Age 27 (1)
Nav: Fl/Sgt. Leslie John (Les) Goodlet NZ404025 RNZAF Age 22 (2)
Air/Bmr: F/O. Anthony Thomas (Tony) Duff Aus/424291 RAAF Age 20 (3)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: F/O. Albert Ivan (Al) Poole 125481 RAFVR Age 24 (4)
Air/Gnr: F/O. John Charles (Spud) Murphy 152861 RAFVR Age 21 - Killed (5)
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Having crewed up at No. 21 Operational Training Unit at Moreton in Marsh Gloucestershire during September 1943 the five airmen were posted to No. 40 Squadron at Foggia Main in Italy in January 1944.
Laurie Tichborne, an ex-Electrical Labourer from Queensland was captain and eldest member of the crew whilst at the other end of the age scale was 20 year old bomb aimer and fellow Aussie, Tony Duff, whose most striking feature was perhaps his diminutive stature. Standing just 5' 1" he was one of the shortest officers in the RAAF and when seen alongside the 6' plus Laurie Tichborne presented an amusing sight.
Al Poole, the wireless operator was a 24 year old School Teacher from the then British Dominion of Newfoundland and had therefore enlisted in the Royal Air Force.
The rear gunner was John Murphy. Inevitably nicknamed "Spud" he was a native of Gloucester and being at Moreton-in-Marsh enabled him to get home more often than he might otherwise have been able. He and Laurie had forged a good friendship since meeting up at OTU.
The navigator of the crew was F/O. Bob Walsh about whom nothing further is known.
On 1 December 1943 the crew was posted to No. 311 Ferry Training Unit, also at Moreton-in-Marsh. After ferry training there followed 9 days leave from 22 to 31 December prior to flying out to join No. 40 Squadron in Italy.
Laurie Tichborne however, had arrived in the UK in April 1943 and somewhere among his training he had managed to meet a certain Miss Celia Fanning and in the few short months that they had known each other the couple had become very close. Their parting had been particularly hard to bear, there being no telling when they might see one another again, if ever.
10.30 hours on 9 January 1944 found the crew at Rabat–Salé airfield, Morocco, at the time being used as a stopover and landing field for Air Transport Command aircraft on the Casablanca-Algiers transport route. On the outbound route their Wellington DF542 had developed engine trouble 100 miles out from Portugal but with no explanation, came good and was OK for the rest of the flight. Following another stopover at Algiers they finally reached Foggia Main on 16 January where DF542 was given up (see photograph below)
Two days later Laurie flew as second pilot on an operation to Senigallia Railway in Central Italy and on 20 January flew the first operation with his own crew, a raid against the Plombino Railway on the West Coast of Italy.
Operations followed on a regular basis but not without incident. On one Al Poole for some reason, collapsed after delivering flashes and on 1 February their Wellington was hit by 6 bursts during a raid to Maribou in Yugoslavia. Part of the windscreen was blown away and petrol tanks holed but they managed to limp home.
In between ops a certain amount of steam was clearly being let off at riotous parties and after one such event Laurie wrote "Had a party at 104 Squadron. Merry - Not Arf. Had a door thrown at me."
At another "Had [party] tonight at 5th Army camp - drinking Sarti Cognac and Vesuvius special - champagne and cherry brandy in equal proportions. Really good".
On 17 February flying Wellington X HE237 'B' they bombed San Stefano. Laurie reported that they "had trouble all the way with 'B' but made the grade OK".
The next day Laurie recorded "Went to flight and told 'B' had been repaired. Ken Lyon was later blown up on take off in 'B'"
All the crew were killed except the rear gunner who was badly injured. Two days later because he had flown the aircraft the day before the crash, Laurie gave evidence at the Court of Enquiry about the trouble that he had experienced with the aircraft.
On 19 February a seemingly melancholy Laurie wrote "My sweetheart's birthday. I wish I was with her tonight and every night".
More operations interspersed with drinking parties and the odd spell of leave to Pompeii were to follow but so many ops were being scrambled (scrubbed) that Laurie recorded on 31 March "Briefed for ops and scrambled ditto last night. It's getting me down. If this keeps up I'll never get finished".
He need not have worried: the very next day they raided the Varese aircraft factory and although the parties were far from over operations also came thick and fast as did the ack ack on many of them. Though many friends were lost the Tichborne crew's luck held.
But it wasn't all doom and gloom: on Sun 23 April Laurie noted that, "Our entertainment officer is so tired of planning updates of parties - has placed up a notice 'PARTY EACH EVENING' "
For reasons unknown, in May 1944 Bob Walsh the crew's navigator, was replaced permanently by a 22 year old New Zealander, Les Goodlet.
Wellington LN921 pictured above, had been flown by P/O. R. Collins on the Porto Ferrajo (Elba) raid of 16/17 May 1944. Due to engine trouble the aircraft was unable to reach the target and returned early. The aircraft did not apparently fly again operationally and was SOC (struck off charge) as DBR (damaged beyond repair) following an accident on 30 May 1944.
Unlike the European Theatre, where a tour of operations was quite simply a matter of totting up the number of completed operations carried out by a crew, in the Middle East and Mediterranean a tour was calculated by reference to the number of completed operational flying hours, the number of hours constituting a tour being 250.
By the end of June 1944 Laurie Tichborne had completed 38 operations, 36 with No. 40 Squadron plus 1 at OTU and the Ferry Flight and in doing so had amassed a total of 232 hours of operational flying. With 18 hours to go he was perhaps looking at a further 2 or 3 operations to complete his tour. But because Laurie had flown one more operation than the rest of the crew the others (apart from Les Goodlet) would have completed about 226 hours with about 3 or 4 operations to go. All things being equal all except Les Goodlet would be home and dry by the end of July at the latest.
On 2 July Laurie Tichborne and his crew were detailed for an attacked on the Prahova oil refinery at Bucharest. No. 40 Squadron was to contribute 6 Wellingtons to the force of 31 Wellingtons, 9 Liberators and 8 Halifaxes of 205 Group despatched on this operation, the main object of which was to destroy the oil storage tanks of the refinery.
An hour after sunset the six aircraft of No 40 Squadron began taking off from Foggia Main. Fifth in line, Wellington ME990 piloted by Laurie Tichborne left at 22.12. It was Laurie's 39th op and apart from navigator Les Goodlet the crew had flown most if not all of them with him. They were a well drilled outfit as one would expect given their experience and as they busied themselves with their various routines Laurie headed approximately east north east towards the target.
Two hours later at 0045 hours they were within half an hour of the target when they were attacked by a hitherto unseen Junkers Ju88 resulting in several feet of the port wing being shot away.
Laurie instinctively began a corkscrew but the enemy fighter attacked again and this time set the starboard engine on fire. Laurie feathered the engine and losing height, jettisoned the bomb load before setting a course for Turkey. The fighter attacked a third time without effect but attacking yet again set the plane on fire aft. Laurie ordered 'Prepare to abandon' but at 4000 feet with the aircraft becoming out of control he ordered, 'Abandon'.
Description of Corkscrew Manoeuvre
Les the navigator jumped first followed by air bomber Tony and then Al, the wireless operator. By the time Laurie jumped the Wellington was down to 1500 feet and the aircraft blazing furiously. It had been impossible to reach the rear turret to check on Spud.
The bomber crashed in flames and exploded with red and green very cartridges exploding near the village of Măceșu de Sus some 45 miles south of Craiova.
Aircraft of the attacking force bombed on Target Indicators laid accurately by 614 Squadron.
Of the No. 40 squadron aircraft detailed, MF244 flown by Sgt, N Walters returned early due to oil on windscreen obscuring forward vision entirely, ME 990 and LP253 flown by Fl/Sgt. R.D. Sutcliffe were shot down by night fighters whilst the other three bombed the target and returned safely to Foggia. Flying only his second operation as captain Fl/Sgt. Sutcliffe RCAF and two other crew members were taken as prisoners of war whilst his rear gunner and navigator were both killed.
Liberator FW199 of No. 31 SAAF Squadron was also shot down by night fighters. The pilot, Captain R.D. Bird SAAF and his wireless operator were taken as prisoners of war whilst the other four crew members were all killed.
Laurie Tichborne landed heavily and spraining his ankle but somehow managed to walk, or hobble, in a westerly direction for the next six hours before being picked up by what he perceived to be local peasants who gave him food and the promise to take him to the Allies. True to their word they duly handed him over to the authorities at PoW camp Lagarul No. 13 where indeed the Allies were, albeit prisoners of war. He was interrogated by both Germans and Romanians for a couple of days before being taken to the camp itself on 6 July.
Laurie was shown the body of the rear gunner Spud Murphy. There were three holes (probably cannon shells) through his chest and he was buried in a small town on the Danube south of Craiova. Laurie was permitted to attend the funeral.
In a letter to his fiancée, Celia, Laurie tells her of the crash and Spud's death. He also tells of having been to see Al Poole the wireless operator who was in hospital with a badly injured foot sustained on landing. Al, he says, "was quite happy as three of his friends who had been missing for some time are there with him."
Lagarul De Prizionieri No. 13 was within the barracks of the 6th Mihai Viteazul Guard Regiment in Bucharest where a few large barrack buildings were used for housing the prisoners. The camp however was in the target area of the city of Bucharest which was frequently bombed by RAF, USAAF and Russian Air Force and later by the Luftwaffe.
Laurie was one of 70 officers accommodated in a room 70 ft x 35 ft lit by 3 x 20 watt electric lamps. He said in his liberation report that the bedding was OK and that because of the time of year heating was unnecessary. There was also a dining hall, showers and lavatories.
For the first five weeks breakfast consisted of ersatz tea, brown bread (jam sometimes); dinner was cabbage soup, brown bread, boiled macaroni and supper was cucumber salad, brown bread and curd cheese. He says that after the 5th week rations improved and were quite good.
Air Bomber Tony Duff was also captured and is thought to have been also held at Lagarul De Prizionieri No. 13 though nothing is known of the circumstances of his capture or subsequent release although a note in the records of the Australia Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial at Ballarat, Victoria states 'Held as POW in Bucharest Rumania Escaped to Switzerland 2/7/1944 RTA'. The date is clearly an error as he was not taken prisoner until 3 July.
Tony Duff is known to have survived the war and returned to Australia.
Al Poole, the Wireless Operator sustained a broken ankle when he landed in a field.
'I made a splint for the ankle out of corn stalks and the shrouds of my chute', he said. 'A little later a farmer went by in a cart and I fired a distress signal, but he didn’t stop. I lay in that field that night and the next day, getting good and thirsty.'
His was a story reminiscent of that of the pilot in that towards dusk he too was picked up by a group of country people who removed the splint and took him by truck to Bucharest where he was placed in a prison hospital with other Allied airmen.
'The hospital was staffed by Rumanians and we were treated well,' he said. 'Later I was moved to the school, where the treatment was also good. We were allowed outside only half an hour a day for exercise, but the food was adequate and those of us who had money could buy extras through the guards. The guards would give us money for rings, watches or any kind of jewellery.'
Les Goodlet also landed safely, was captured and made a prisoner of war. Alas nothing further is known of his experiences except that he was liberated and repatriated to New Zealand.
On 23 August 1944, with the Red Army penetrating German defences during the Jassy–Kishinev Offensive, King Michael I of Romania led a successful coup against the Axis and in a radio broadcast to the Romanian nation and army on the night of 23 August issued a cease-fire, proclaimed Romania's loyalty to the Allies and declared war on Germany. That night the PoWs were told the news and that since Romania was now on the side of the Allies, they were all free. But if the erstwhile prisoners thought their problems were over they were soon proved wrong.
The following morning German aircraft began raiding the city and continued to do so for a few days. Laurie Tichborne reported that 'Guns from various crashed aircraft plus guns supplied by [the] Romanians [were] set up in camp for [our] own protection. Had to go to well outside city for water supplies and it was then that we shot at snipers [sic].'
'Eventually on 31 August evacuated by fleet of B17s (Fortresses) of the American 15th Air Force and flown to Bari - Italy.'
And Al Poole recalled,
'We had just been told we were free. Our prison was a former boarding school in the centre of the city. We went out in the streets when the people thronged around and gave us cigarettes and wine. Even when the Germans were still there, people used to wave at us and give us the ‘V’ sign as they passed under our windows. Just as we were getting used to the idea of being free, the German planes appeared and started machine-gunning. We scooted back into the school. As the Germans withdrew, their aircraft ranged back and forth over the city, strafing and machine-gunning the people in the streets.'
On the 27 August they were removed to the airfield on the city’s outskirts to await evacuation by Allied aircraft from Italy and on 31 August Allied PoWs were evacuated by a fleet of B17s (Fortresses) of the American 15th Air Force and flown to Bari - Italy.
As they left, advance units of the Russian army were seen to enter the city.
Two months later Albert Poole was repatriated to Canada.
Laurie Tichborne was returned to RAAFLO Middle East from where he would normally have been repatriated to Australia. However he expressed a desire to be sent to the UK as he was engaged to Miss C. Fanning of 56, Milling Road, Edgeware, Middlesex and he desired to be married.
His request was duly granted and he arrived in the UK on 18 September 1944. Laurie and his fiancée were married before the year was out.
Laurie became a pilot instructor at No. 21 Operational Training Unit and was demobilised on 23 August 1946 having been promoted to Flight Lieutenant on 19 January 1945
(1) Fl/Lt. Lawrence Franklin Tichborne was born on 1 April 1917 at Blackall, Queensland, Australia the son of John Henry Tichborne (1875-1941) and Catherine Tichborne nee Mills (1879-1937). He had three siblings: Jean Thelma Tichborne born 1912; Clarence John Henry Tichborne (1914-2001) and Hazel Catherine Tichborne (1920-2003)
After leaving school he was employed as an Electrical Labourer
When he enlisted at Brisbane on 1 February 1942 he was 6' 0½" tall, weighing 158 lbs with a fair complexion, grey eyes and light brown hair.
After training at No.3 Initial Training School at RAAF Sandgate, Queensland, No. 5 Elementary Flying Training School at RAAF Narromine, New South Wales and No 8 Service Flying Training School RAAF Bundaberg Queensland he was awarded his Flying Badge and was promoted to Sergeant on 27 November 1942. His remained at No. 8 SFTS until 13 January 1943 when he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer and on 6 March embarked at Melbourne for the UK. On 18 April, the day after his arrival, he was postedtoNo. 11 Personnel Despatch and Reception Centre at RAF Brighton.
On 15 June he was posted to No. 20 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit at RAF Kidlington, Oxfordshire for training on Airspeed Oxfords and Avro Ansons followed on 31 August with a posting for to No. 21 Operational Training Unit at RAF Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire for night bomber training on Wellingtons. Whilst at 21 OTU he was promoted to Flying Officer on 14 July. On 1 December he was posted to No. 311 Ferry Training Unit also at Moreton-in-Marsh and on 16 Jan 1944 to No. 40 Squadron at Foggia Main, Italy.
After returning to the UK after his liberation he became a Pilot Instructor at No. 21 Operational Training Unit from 19 December 1944 until 24 September 1945.
He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant on 19 January 1945.
On leaving 21 OTU on 14 September 1945 his superior officers' reported that:
This officer carried out his duties in a most keen and conscientious manner. Very neat and smart in appearance.
This officer always sets a very high example. He is of the best type and should reach high rank in Regular Service
He was demobilised from the RAAF in the UK at 33 Personnel Despatch Centre (HQ for demobilisation Overseas - Discharge List 113)
On 28 October 1944 Laurie married Gladys Mary Cecilia Fanning in Annunciation RC Church at Burnt Oak, Middlesex. They went on to have three sons and three daughters.
After leaving the RAAF Laurie continued his career as a pilot for several years working as a civilian pilot for John Howard Construction in the Middle East. As a reservist, he was also called up for the Berlin Airlift, although his role in the operation is not known.
Lawrence Franklin Tichborne died at home in Mill Hill in the London Borough of Barnet of natural causes on 31 January 1987, aged 69 and predeceasing his wife Celia by 21 years.
(2) WO. Leslie John Goodlet was born on 9 May 1922 at Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand the son of Mr and Mrs A. C. Goodlet of 350 Cargill Road Dunedin.
In 1946 he married Nada May Scott
Leslie John Goodlet died in New Zealand in 1995
(3) Fl/Lt. Anthony Thomas Duff was born on 8 August 1923 at East Maitland, New South Wales Australia the son of Eric Duff. He enlisted at Sydney.
He was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation on 11 June 1943 (Commonwealth of Australia Government Gazette 9 September 1943) confirmed in this appointment and promoted to Flying Officer on 11 December 1943 (Government Gazette 15 June 1944). He was promoted to temporary Flight Lieutenant with effect from 11 June 1945 (Government Gazette 2 August 1945) and this appointment terminated on demobilisation on 6 September 1945 (Government Gazette 14March 1946)
He was demobilised on 6 September 1945.
Married to Mary they lived at Sydney, New South Wales.
The following notice concerning Anthony Duff was published in the Government Gazette of 7 January 1954
Department of Defence Production
Appointments effected under Section 47.—Anthony Thomas Duff (born 8.8.23), without probation as Chemist, Grade 1 (£620-£908), Third Division, Explosives Factory, St. Mary's, New South Wales, new office Cert. 52/1580, with effect on and from 9th October, 1953, or date of commencing duty, whichever is the later.— (Ex. Min. No. 64.)
It is believed that in his civilian career Tony was involved in the nuclear testing program run by the Government at a high level.
(4) F/O. Albert Ivan Poole was born on 18 March 1920 the son of Mr and Mrs A.W. Poole at Belleoram, Newfoundland and Labrador. Before joining the RAFVR in Newfoundland in 1941 Albert was a School Teacher.
After training as a wireless operator and air gunner he was commissioned, details of which are as follows:
798672 LAC Albert Ivan Poole was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 19 June 1942 (London Gazette 23 February 1943) confirmed in this appointment and promoted to Flying officer (war subs) on 29 December 1942 (London Gazette 7 May 1943).
He then served on the staff of the wireless school at RCAF Malton until being posted to the UK in May 1943.
He was further promoted to Flight Lieutenant (war subs) on 29 June 1944 (London Gazette 21 July 1944)
He married June Mary Faithfull at Fairlawn United Church, Toronto and they later had two daughters.
Albert Ivan Poole died at Grand Bend, Ontario in 1992.
(5) F/O. John Charles Murphy was born in 1923 at Gloucester, Gloucestershire the son of Arthur John Murphy (a Timber Importer's Traveller) and Doris Mary Murphy nee Charles, of Gloucester. He had a brother, Peter H Murphy born 1924
In 1939 the family lived at 16 Robinson Road, Gloucester.
1585618 LAC John Charles Murphy was commissioned as a Pilot officer on probation (emergency) on 23 July 1943 (London Gazette 5 October 1943) confirmed in this appointment and promoted to Flying officer (war subs) on 23 January 1944 (London Gazette 28 January 1944)
He is commemorated on the Gloucester War Memorial, Gloucester Park, Park Road Gloucester.
F/O. John Charles Murphy was buried at Bucharest War Cemetery, Romania - Grave reference: Plot 1 Row A Grave 2.
His epitaph reads:
'Thine eyes shall see
The King in His beauty
And behold the land afar'
On behalf of Aircrew Remembered, Roy Wilcock would like to thank Roger Tichborne, son of Lawrence Franklin Tichborne, for providing and permitting the use of, family photographs, extracts from his father's private diary and much invaluable information about his father and other members of the crew.
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - October 2018
With thanks to the sources quoted below.
RW 18.11.2018 Substantial additional material added courtesy Roger Tichborne.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember
them. - Laurence
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