Date: 16th/17th September 1944 (Saturday/Sunday)
Unit: 90 Squadron
Type: Lancaster I
Base: RAF Tuddenham, Suffolk
Location: Stoopepolder, Netherlands
Pilot: Fg Off. Paul William Tooley 152479 RAFVR Age 20. Killed
Flt Eng: Sgt. Roy Whittington 1851166 RAFVR Age 20. Killed
Nav: Fg Off. Harry Johnson 146308 RAFVR Age 23. Killed
Bomb Aimer: Fg Off. James Edward Brown 153303 RAFVR Age 23. Killed
WOp/Air Gnr: Fg Off. David Selwyn Thomas 169609 RAFVR Age 19. Killed
Air Gnr: Sgt. Eric John Smalldon 1607395 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
Air Gnr: Sgt. Leslie Mathers Gill 1681271 RAFVR Age 36. Killed
Researched by Henk Nooteboom, leading Dutch researcher and author based in the Netherlands - submitted to Aircrew Remembered July 2015.
REASON FOR LOSS:
Operation ‘Market Garden’, in Holland known as ‘the battle for Arnhem’, is the largest operation on Dutch soil during the Second World War. It starts with RAF attacks on targets that can be a hazard for the air fleet that will transport parachutists to Arnhem and Nijmegen. Two hundred Lancasters and 23 Mosquitoes bomb airfields near Hopsten, Leeuwarden, Steenwijk and Rheine. A second group, 48 Lancasters and 5 Mosquitoes were sent out to bomb flak positions near the bridge at Moerdijk. The Lancasters are drawn from three squadrons; the largest part, 24 aircraft, from 90 Squadron while 75 and 115 Squadron each contributed 12 aircraft.
The crew of LM169 L-R: Sgt. Roy Whittington, Sgt. Leslie Gill, Fg Off. James Brown, Fg Off. David Thomas (?), Sgt. Eric Smalldon and Fg Off. Paul Tooley. (courtesy Henk Nootenboom)
Above: Fg Off. Brown wearing the RAF 1941 pattern Sidcot flying suit, which was electrically wired for heated gloves and boots (Credit: Steve Hedley)
From 21:14 hrs the Lancasters started to take off from their bases at Tuddenham, Witchford and Mepal, all in the Cambridge area. It’s an easy mission in comparison with those over Germany; most of the aircraft are back after about three hours. There are no problems during the flight although some shots are fired at German night fighters.
Five Mosquitoes are detailed to mark the target. Two from 105 Squadron, flown by Flt Lt. Tidy and Flt Lt. Taylor, and one from 109 Squadron, flown by Fg Off. Mountains mark the target accurately with red ‘Target Indicators’. The other two 109 Squadron aircraft, flown by Flt Lt. Petts and Sqn Ldr. Burt can’t drop their loads due to technical reasons and bring their Ti’s back to Little Staughton. The flares that were dropped, gave enough light, and the Lancasters could drop their loads after identifying the targets visually. From heights between 9000 – 10,000 feet at least 384 x 1000 lbs and 140 x 500 lbs bombs are dropped. The bomb load of 75 Squadron was not reported.
LM693 crew; on the tail Plt Off. Peter Dooley, standing L-R; Fg Off. Wilfred Scanlan, Fg Off. Arnold Johnston, Flt Sgt. Uriah Butters, Plt Off. Douglas Dawson, Fg Off. Peter Bickford and Plt Off. Donald Flood. (courtesy Henk Nootenboom)
On the Dordrecht side of the bridge, the Keller family experienced the bombing close by:
Saturday night very heavy bombardment on Willemsdorp at 12:00 hours. The house rumbled and 3 sets of curtains fell from the wall. Got out of bed quickly and got dressed but too late for ….. Then we laid down on the floor near the toilet. Happily my wife is well again and out of bed for the whole week.
'Then it became calmer and outside was lit by 20 flares over the bridge. At v/d Zee fell 20 bombs, just past the barn, at 200 meters. At H. de Jong 3 cows were killed by fragments. There were holes in the road surface (of the bridge?) and the railroad bridge but these were not collapsed. The access to the bridge was heavily damaged, big holes everywhere. There was no more light in the house, so we all searched for batteries, lights and matches. Everything was very confused, so we all went back to bed.'
This is of course unknown to the pilots; they are, at first, excited about the mission and what they have seen. Remarks like ‘very concentrated bombing’, bridge is clearly hit’, perfect trip’ and ‘perfect attack’ are seen in the logbooks. One even uses the phrase ‘wizard prang’, meaning something like fantastic result.
There are only two disturbing facts; three crews reported to have seen a large orange-red fireball at 22:58 hours. And there are two planes missing. Likely these two facts are connected and that these two planes have collided with each other over the target. Flt Lt. Bruce Johnston wrote in his diary: ‘There was little opposition, but we lost Bickford and crew on this trip. It came as a shock to all of us. I saw a chop (RAF slang for crash or get killed), which must have been Bick. At first I thought it was too big to be a chop, but apparently it was not.’
The target, Northern end of Moerdijk Bridge, Maria polder is in the left upper corner. (courtesy Henk Nootenboom)
Lancaster LM169, plane ‘R for Robert’ from 90 Squadron flown by Fg Off. Paul Tooley crashes in the flooded area of the Stoopepolder. The complete crew are lost. The second Lancaster, LM693, ’T for Tommy’ from 115 Squadron crashed a little to the East, in the ‘Mariapolder’. The plane is loaded with 15 bombs, 11 x 1000 Lbs. and 4 x 500 Lbs. The bombs do not explode as they are armed only when leaving the airplane.
Sadly also this crew has no survivors. The 200 tons of explosives hardly damages the German guns, only a road is cut off. The crash of LM169 is quickly known at Strijen where mayor Bolman writes in his diary:
"Around 23:00 hours an Allied plane (type unknown) crashed in the flooded area of the Stoopepolder, between J. Schouwenburg and P. van den Berg. Plane totally destroyed. Nothing is known about its crew. No personal accidents.’ It’s five days later when he learns about the second aircraft: ‘At present it became clear that on September 16th another English plane has crashed, this time on a stretch of farmland of Mr. Van Vliet in the Mariapolder. The plane is totally destroyed. In all probability a collision has occurred with the other plane that came down on the same date. The bodies of the four airmen were buried on the spot by the Germans, their names are unknown to me as are the locations of the graves. This whilst other Germans have arrived in the meantime and they don’t know where the graves are."
Municipal official Cor Vos is a member of the recovery crew:
‘The two planes had crashed in the night of 16 to 17 September in the Mariapolder and the flooded area nearby. Mayor Bolman had told us to go and recover the bodies of the airmen, but German permission only came nine days later. When we finally arrived with two carts and seven men at the scene, we saw the wreckage of the plane that was completely shattered. The airmen were very sloppily buried by the Germans, some only partially. When we laid them in the coffins we noticed that watches and rings had already been removed!
This and many other loses are covered in the latest publication of Henk Strijenaar Nootenboom: Luchtoorlog Hoeksche Waard 1940-1945.
After we had recovered six bodies, we had to search for the seventh victim, which we found in the tail eventually. The area where the other plane had come down was flooded so we could not recover these crew members.
The first one to be buried at Strijen cemetery at September 25th is Douglas Dawson. There was much interest from the population , but all went quiet. Next day the other six men were buried, with only the names of Donald Flood, Peter Bickford and Wilfred Scanlan known.
All were buried ‘under the Dutch flag’ as there were no English flags available.
It was January 1946 before all the names of the victims are known.
The crew from ‘R for Robert’ was recovered and identified after the war by a team from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and buried at nearby Dordrecht.
We can say now that these men were the first casualties of ‘Market Garden’.
Crew graves at Dordrecht Cemetery (courtesy Moos Raaijmakers) Insert - mother of Fg Off. Thomas visiting his grave marker in 1947 (courtesy Henk Nootenboom)
Fg Off. Paul William Tooley. Dordrecht General Cemetery. Row A. Grave 13. Born 25th December 1923 in Nottingham. Son of Frederick William Johnson and Violet Margaret (née Garner) Tooley of Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, England.
His father was a member of the Great Britain Royal Aero Club and had served as a Flt Lt. in the Royal Air Force joining in 1919
Sgt. Roy Whittington. Dordrecht General Cemetery. Row A. Grave 9. Grave inscription reads: ‘THO’ FAR AWAY YOU ARE SLEEPING IN OUR HEARTS WE ARE THINKING THOUGHTS OF YOU.’ Son of Harry and Hilda Whittington, of Ryde, Isle of Wight, England.
Fg Off. Harry Johnson. Dordrecht General Cemetery. Row A. Grave 12. Grave inscription reads: ‘IN HEAVENLY LOVE ABIDING HIS DUTY NOBLY DONE.’Son of Fred Herbert and Lilian Ethel Johnson, of Hull, England.
Fg Off. James Edward Brown. Dordrecht General Cemetery. Row A. Grave 11. Grave inscription reads: ‘A LOVING HEART A SMILING FACE A BROKEN LINK WE CANNOT REPLACE.’ Born on the 4th January 1921 in Burnley. Son of William and Bertha Isabella (née Ainsworth) Brown of Nelson, Lancashire. Husband of Thelma (née Holmes) Brown of Nelson, Lancashire, England.
Fg Off. David Selwyn Thomas. Dordrecht General Cemetery. Row A. Grave 10. Grave inscription reads: ‘AT REST YN GORFFWYS.’ Son of John Llewellyn Thomas and Sarah Bowen Thomas, of Swansea, Wales.
Sgt. Eric John Smalldon. Dordrecht General Cemetery. Row A. Grave 8. Grave inscription reads: ‘TREASURED MEMORIES OF ERIC SON OF R. AND A. SMALLDONE OF EASTLEIGH, ENGLAND.’ Son of Albert John and Ruth Smalldon, of Eastleigh, Hampshire, England.
Sgt. Leslie Mathers Gill. Dordrecht General Cemetery. Row A. Grave 7. Grave inscription reads: ‘ONLY SON OF EDITH H. AND THE LATE HENRY GILL OF BIRKDALE SOUTHPORT ENGLAND.’ Son of Henry and Edith H. Gill, of Birkdale, Southport, Lancashire, England. M.Inst. R.A.
From ‘Luchtoorlog Hoeksche Waard’ researched and written by Henk Strijenaar Nootenboom, NL Books 2015. Available direct from the author - please contact us. Grave photographs courtesy Moos Raaijmakers. Dedicated to the crew and family of this aircraft. Thanks to Steve Hedley for the photograph of Fg Off. Brown and his NoK information (Dec 2021). NoK details for Fg Off. Tooley added by Aircrew Remembered (Dec 2021).
RS 14.12.2021 - Update to NoK details and addition of photograph for Fg Off. Brown
HN 18.07.2015 - Original upload
RS 14.12.2021 - Update to NoK details and addition of photograph for Fg Off. Brown
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