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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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77 Squadron
18/19.03.1945 77 Squadron Halifax VI RG529 Flt Lt. Edwin Ward

Operation: Witten, Germany

Date: 18th/19th March 1945 (Sunday/Monday)

Unit No: 77 Squadron

Type: Halifax VI

Serial: RG529

Code: KN:C

Base: RAF Full Sutton, East Riding, Yorkshire, England

Location: Merklinde near Dortmund, Germany

Pilot: Flt Lt. Edwin Ward 162829 RAFVR Age 24. KiA

Flt Eng: Sgt. Robert Alan Clark Pearce 1593715 RAFVR Age 21. KiA

Nav: Flt Sgt. John Alexander Anderson 195050 RAFVR Age 23. KiA

Bomb Aimer: Plt Off. Thomas MacDonald Kerr 191000 RAFVR Age? KiA

WOp/Air Gnr: Plt Off. Selwyn George De Vis 423449 RAAF Age 21. KiA

Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Flt Sgt. James Dyke 2221046 RAFVR Age 21. KiA

Air Gnr (Rear): Plt Off. William James Edwards 195404 RAFVR Age 21. Killed (1)

REASON FOR LOSS:

RG529 was one of twenty-two aircraft from the squadron that were detailed for this operation. However, only sixteen took off with RG529 launching at 00:47 hrs from RAF Full Sutton on the morning of 18th March 1945 to bomb targets at Witten in Germany.

Crews returning reported that some decoy markers were seen north of the target and one returning aircraft reported combat with a Fw190 but was undamaged. Similar combat occurred to another aircraft later and there were two sightings of Ju88 aircraft. Some light and heavy flak was encountered resulting in some damage to two aircraft. RG529 was the only aircraft that failed to return to base.

A claim for a 4-Mot was made by Hptm. Fritz Lau, his 24th Abschuss from 4./NJG1, 10 km NE of Witten at 5.200 m at 04:20 hrs.

The combat report by Hptm. Lau to the 18th/19th March 1945 reads as follows:

"At 03:39 hrs [sic - actually 03:49 hrs, according to Lau’s Flugbuch, or 03:50 hrs according to the Kriegstagebuch of II./NJG1. Author’s Note] on 19th March 1945, I took off from Werl airfield in Bf110 G9+MM for a dark and unguided Tame Boar night fighting sortie. I received orders to proceed to box "Ratte". I had only just arrived in the area when enemy activity started to the south of me. I headed in that direction and in the next instant I spotted a four-engined enemy aircraft ahead of me, flying at a height of about 5.200 m. At 04:15 hrs I attacked it from behind at a distance of some 80-100 m, aiming my first burst of gun-fire into the rear turret and the next into the left-hand wing, which immediately burst into bright flames near the outer engine, and trailed a long banner of smoke. The bomber started a wide left-hand turn, whilst rapidly losing height. When it had descended to a height of 2.000 m, it plunged down vertically and crashed at 04:20 hrs, about 10 km NE of the target. I never lost sight of the enemy aircraft from the moment of my first attack until it crashed ".

This claim was for either RG529 or 405 Sqn Lancaster III PB451. Both of the aircraft crashed at the same time within a very short distance of each other at Merklinde, some 4 km SSE of Castrop-Rauxel. (Nachtjagd War Diaries Volume 2 (April 1944 - May 1945) - Dr Theo E.W. Boiten & Roderick J. Mackenzie).

(1) Reference 1 page 218 names Plt Off. W.J. Edwards as the victim of a War Crime. An investigation into the circumstances described in Reference 1 has determined that the war crime did occur, however, Plt Off. W.J. Edwards was not the victim.

The war crime described in the reference has been extensively researched and concerns the murder of three crew members of 428 (Ghost) Squadron, RCAF, Lancaster X KB777.

The fate of Plt Off. William James Edwards’ and his crew was determined by an Investigation report from No. 20 Missing Research & Enquiry Unit (MREU). It was reported that two aircraft crashed in the Merklinde area of Castrop-Rauxel with both aircraft falling within a hundred yards of each other in circumstances which indicated a mid-air collision. Fifteen bodies were recovered, seven from Halifax VI RG529 and eight from Lancaster III PB451, and transferred to the mortuary of the military hospital at Lütgendortmund, some 3 km SE of Merklinde.

Local opinion was that the bodies were then taken to the main cemetery in Dortmund but the cemetery lists did not record any entries that could be associated with them. Searches of the surrounding cemeteries revealed no trace. However, information from the American Graves Registration Command (AGRC), revealed that there was an unmarked part of plot 17 that was opened and revealed fifteen bodies. The bodies recovered were positively identified, with the exception of two, by comparison with medical records and physical descriptions. The two exceptions were Flt Sgt. Dyke and Plt Off. Edwards who were the air gunners from RG529.

Had they been identified in the Dortmund cemetery records they would have been buried in graves marked as 110 to 125 inclusive.

A resident of Herbede, some 6 km WSW of Witten, claimed that by virtue of the colour of his uniform which was a different shade of blue for the RAAF, that Plt Off. De Vis was buried in the Herbede cemetery after having been found some distance away from the wreckage of an aircraft that crashed on the 18th/19th March 1945. However, subsequent investigations by the MREU determined that this was not Plt Off. De Vis. He had perished in the crash of 77 Sqn Halifax VI RG529 which occurred some 13 km north of the village of Herbede. Furthermore it was established that all of the bodies were found in the wreckage by the German authorities and that there could be no doubt that all of the crew died instantly.

The airman buried in the Herbede cemetery has yet to be identified.

Burial details:

Flt Lt. Edwin Ward. Rheinberg War Cemetery 13.F.13. Inscription reads: “A DEARLY LOVED SON AND BROTHER”. Son of Alton and Edith Ward, of Clayton, Yorkshire, England.

Sgt. Robert Alan Clark Pearce. Rheinberg War Cemetery 13.F.10. Inscription reads: "ABIDE WITH ME". Son of Albert Pearce, and of Ann Pearce, of Scarborough, Yorkshire, England.

Flt Sgt. John Alexander Anderson. Rheinberg War Cemetery 13.F.12. Inscription reads: “YEARS MAY PASS BUT MEMORIES WILL ALWAYS REMAIN. LOVING THOUGHTS. MUM AND DAD”. Son of Alexander Edward and Ruth Anderson, of Hounslow, Middlesex, England.

Plt Off. Thomas MacDonald Kerr. Rheinberg War Cemetery 13.F.11. No Further details.

Plt Off. Selwyn George De Vis. Rheinberg War Cemetery 13.F.9. Born on the 11th July 1923 in Brisbane, Queensland. Son of Frederick Selwyn de Vis and Hazel Doreen Victoria de Vis, of Magill, South Australia.

Flt Sgt. James Dyke. Rheinberg War Cemetery 13.F.14. Inscription reads: “A BEAUTIFUL SOUL IN A GARDEN OF REST. ALWAYS REMEMBERED BY MAM, DAD AND FAMILY”. Son of Arthur and Eleanor Dyke, of Longton, Stoke-on-Trent; husband of J. Dyke, of Longton, Stoke-on-Trent, England.

Plt Off. William James Edwards. Rheinberg War Cemetery 13.F.15. Inscription reads: “STEADFAST AND BRAVE. DUTY NOBLY DONE”. Son of William and Margaret Ellenor Edwards; nephew of Mr. R. Clingan, of Liverpool, England.

Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew. With thanks to Traugott Vitz for his work on the VitzArchive

Reference:

1. Footprints in the Sands of Time : RAF Bomber Command Prisoner-of -War in Germany 1939-1945 - Oliver Clutton-Brock - Chapter 8.

RS & TV 04.08.2021 - 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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