06/07.12.1944 169 Squadron Mosquito VI NT172 VI:A Flt Sgt. Robert J. Ware
Operation: BS (Bomber Support)
Date: 6th/7th December 1944 (Wednesday/Thursday)
Unit No: 169 Squadron, 100 Group (motto: 'Hunt and destroy')
Type: Mosquito VI
Base: RAF Great Massingham, Norfolk.
Location: Malmedy, Belgium
Pilot: Flt Sgt. Robert John 'Johnny' Ware 1338162 RAFVR Age 22. Injured (1)
Nav: Flt Sgt. Benjamin Russell Welland 'Ben' Soper 1607026 RAFVR Age 28. Unhurt (2)
REASON FOR LOSS:
The following is extracted from the Flying Battle Casualty Report involving Mosquito VI, NT172 dated 7th December 1944 from the OC 169 Sqn:
This crew was carrying out a high level Bomber Support patrol on the night of the 6th December 1944. Their estimated time of return was 22:14 hours, and as nothing was heard from this crew or aircraft till 11:00 hours on the 7th December 1944, they were presumed missing.
At approximately 11:00 hrs on the 7th December 1944 Operations advised that Mosquito aircraft NT172 had crashed near Malmedy and that the crew were in hospital.
On the night of the 9th December 1944, notification was received that the Navigator Radio, Flt Sgt. B.R. Soper, was on his way back to England in a Dakota, and having been interrogated at Air Ministry, he reported to this Unit yesterday.
The circumstances of this incident according to Flt Sgt. Soper are as follows:
While in the vicinity of Koblenz, at approximately 21:05 hrs, having completed their patrol, the Mosquito was fired on by heavy flak when at a height of approximately 15,000 ft. The starboard engine lost all power through loss of fuel and could not be feathered. The port engine also appeared to have been affected in that full power could not be obtained and the aircraft was not able to maintain height.
About 5 minutes afterwards, an enemy fighter fired for dead astern at extreme range. No strikes resulted on the Mosquito but it became necessary to take violent evasive action which involved considerable loss of height and turning to port with the good engine.
It then became apparent that the crew would have abandon the aircraft after a further attempt to feather the engine which was unsuccessful and having already jettisoned the drop tanks. The aircraft was headed to what was estimated to be the nearest part of the front line and abandoning was delayed to the last possible minute. Flt Sgt. Roper abandoned the aircraft at a height of approximately 5,000 feet and landed uninjured in a pine forest.
After taking a compass bearing he made his way in a north-westerly direction, taking every precaution to avoid any patrols, having on one occasion to hide himself and blacken his face. He discovered a box which on examination proved to be a German ammunition container, but after approximately 6 hours he discovered an American ammunition box in a disused gun position.
He then noticed what appeared to be sparks from a wood fire over a prominent hill and was finally was able to see the barrels of a heavy gun battery. He made his way very slowly and cautiously through entanglements and possible a mined area and finally reached the gun position of the 134th Bombardment Group, "D" Battery, United States 3rd Army. Hearing American voices, he disclosed his identity, was given every assistance and was sent first to Spa then to Virbiers, finally being sent to Brussels and on the 9th December was flown back in a Dakota via Northolt and reported to 107 PRC, London.
While in Brussels he was able to ascertain the condition and whereabouts of his pilot and information has subsequently been received from RAF Flying Control that Flt Sgt. Ware is in 32418 Nell Company Hospital and is suffering from shock and a broken leg. Flt Sgt. Soper also ascertained that the aircraft had crashed near Malmedy, hitting a house, exploded and completely burnt out. It was guarded by the American 3rd Army who were handing it over to the 2nd TAF.
(1) We are indebted to the family of the pilot Flt Sgt. Robert Ware who have provided his perspective of this night's events:
Above: Flt Sgt Johnny Ware, taken in 1943 (Courtesy of Luke Soper)
After we signed up for the RAF at Prewet Street in Bristol, we all went to Viceroy Court, which was an RAF receiving centre (near the Lords Cricket ground) where we picked up our uniform. I was to become AC2 (Aircraftman 2nd Class). Here our Sergeant would take us on a route march around the area and we used to stop off at a café for toast and jam, then back to the billet. Each night we ate at London Zoo, where all the aircrew ate. We left London after training and more exams, then there was physical training, and we went to Brighton for a course in Morse code, Aircraft Recognition and Basic Navigation. I was then accepted for aircrew training
There were still more exams which I passed and at the beginning of May 1942 I moved on to a grading school, a small training place at Newmarket Road called Marshalls Flying School, in Cambridge.
Starting on May 7th 1942 I did 12 hours training and went solo at 11 hours on June 1st. On June 2nd I had a grading test and I was then on the road to Pilot Training.
I was sent to ITW (Initial Training Wing) after flying solo. I flew a tiger moth at ITW at Stratford on Avon for 2 months. After ITW we were then selected for either Pilot Training or Navigator Training by a selection board. I was selected as a Pilot, this wasn’t positive, it could be changed.
Above: The Letitia which was used later as a hospital ship transporting wounded PoW’s back to England
After that I went to a distribution centre at Heaton Park, Manchester for a bit of Physical Training, then on to Greenock in Glasgow and boarded a troop ship called ‘Letitia’ and sailed to Canada landing in Halifax, Nova Scotia some 7 - 8 days later.
We all went to a receiving centre at Moncton, New Brunswick, which was a big camp receiving British trainees. We then boarded a train to the USA, but we never got there as the Yanks had joined the war by then and wouldn’t accept any more British trainees. So we hung around in Canada. Eventually we were put on a train and went through Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa, Kingston and around the great Lakes. On to Renora and Winnipeg which took 3 days and 2500 miles on to Regina ending up in Calgary. It was a wonderful experience, we went right across the Prairies on the Canadian National Railways.
Then on 1st September 1942 we all went to elementary Flying School at 31 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) Dewinton, Alberta on the Bow River, where we did horse riding and sports in our spare time. This was a civilian flying school where I was flying a Sherman, with Sgt. Bowie, this is where I got my elementary flying certificate after flying for 60 hours and numerous night landings.
Then on 1st January 1943 I went to Calgary 37 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) where I flew Harvards for 150 hours with Sgt. Smalley, Plt Off. Ralton, Pt Off. Waugh and Plt Off. McLannahan, here we did Low Flying, Spinning and Navigation. On March 10th 1943 I went to a flying instructors school at Trenton flying Harvards and the Fairchild Cornell for 60 hours, then on to Calgary and on to Ontario on the Great Lakes where I did more flying training and instructors training.
We got our ‘Wings’ before we went on leave. Then from Vancouver we had to get back to Calgary, so we started walking! After a while a Canadian Police Officer picked us up and took us back to Vancouver and told us to go back to the RAF base. We were then given a railway warrant to get to Calgary. From here a lot went back to the UK. I was selected to become a flying instructor and went to Ontario to do the course.
Above: Lieu Pastiuer
I did not like instructing, I just wanted to get on with flying myself, so:
I was sent back to England on the ‘Lieu Pastiuer ‘ a French Boat! and landed in Liverpool some 8 days later. From Liverpool I was sent to Harrogate to a receiving centre. From there I was posted to 12 (P) AFU for advanced training at Spittlegate, Grantham, where I flew Blenhaim Beauforts for 60 hours starting on 1st December 1943. We were grounded here which was very frustrating, due to thick fog.
After Grantham I was posted to 51 Operational Training Unit (OTU) at Cranfield, Bedfordshire, where I flew Bristol Beaufighters for 75 hours. Then went to BSTU for a further 20 hours flying on Beaufighters on 12 April 1944. Brief training followed this on duel Mosquitoes. Then I was off to Little Snoring in Norfolk to Mosquito training. After that I went to Great Massingham in Norfolk, and was posted to 169 squadron, flying operationally from Great Massingham on the Norfolk 100 (Special Duties) Group, Bomber Command. We were called the serrate squadron, because they were fitted with the serrate device, which picked up and ‘homed’ in on emissions such as Lichtenstein night fighter radar also we had ‘Gee’ navigational aids. From Great Massingham I did more than 30 trips over Germany or 210 hours from 21st April 1944 to 6th December 1944.
On December 6th 1944 I was shot down. This night I went up with my navigator, Ben Soper. It was a terrible night, cloudy, and very bad weather, but they said it was a clear night out over the sea off Norfolk and the weather was good above the clouds (of course!). We were carrying out high level Bomber Support patrol in the Koblenz area.
Robert with his wife Gwendoline - 1947
Doug Waite was also going out that night and we made a pact to talk to each other on the way out and on the way back. On the way out we spoke for a short time and said ‘talk again on the way back’. But I got hit by heavy flak at 15,000 feet and realised the Mossy was going down. Then I became the victim of an enemy night fighter. Violent evasive action led to further loss of height, the drop tanks were jettisoned and I struggled desperately to maintain flying speed long enough to reach the Allied front. Because I had lost all power and lost height I told my navigator to get out. I then took my helmet off and stuck it over the control column and jumped. It was rather low and it was rather late for my parachute to open. I was relieved to be out, as I knew that the aircraft was going to crash. I saw my Mosquito hit the ground with a flash, it was awful. I didn’t realise that I was going to break my ankle when I hit the ground, or what would happen to me after that, in fact I thought I was going to die.
Douglas Waite is a very close friend of the family to this day and regularly see one another. He recently RAF Great Massingham was a World War II RAF Heavy Bomber airfield located just to the east of the Norfolk village of Great Massingham. The airfield was built as a satellite airfield of RAF West Raynham in 1940. The airfield closed in 1945, although remained in use for storage until the 1950s. The airfield was sold in 1958 and returned to agricultural use. Although the runways are still present and still used, the control tower has been demolished.
I bailed out over Belgium and when I landed in a frozen field, breaking my ankle on impact I crawled for some distance out of the field and over a fence and into an ex US Army truck that was parked up in a field. The Battle of the Bulge was in operation at the time and the Americans had suffered considerable casualties. I hid there all night not really knowing what was going to happen to me, then in the early hours of the morning I heard voices, American voices, so I blew as hard as I could on my whistle to let them know I was there. I had already found a letter in the cab addressed to an American Soldier and there was a big white star on the bonnet so I knew it was American. I also knew I was somewhere near Liege.
At this time a telegram had been sent to my Mother and Father explaining my aircraft had been shot down and I was missing. I cannot imagine how they must have felt receiving this telegram, they had a day and a night to go through before they had the second telegram then a letter explaining that I had been found.
Douglas Waite had got back that night safe and sound, but was up all night in the control tower waiting for some word of me. He had tried to contact me on his way back but had no luck, and had a feeling something had happened to me.
The Americans had found my parachute and were looking for me. I could hear American voices getting closer and then an American Soldier, from the Medical Collecting Company, was stood in front of me. He asked if I was hurt and asked if I was the Airman that crashed last night. I told him that I thought he had broken my leg, in fact it was my ankle, so they put my leg in a splint and took me to their field hospital, Noll Coy Hospital, near Malmedy.
There an American Doctor met me and he looked at my ankle and said he had to get me to a proper hospital for an operation. I stayed there for 3 - 4 days then was put on a train from Liege to Paris. It was a most harrowing experience on the train as there were literally dozens of American Soldiers very badly injured and the train was stopping and starting all the time. I went to Hospital in Paris for another 3 - 4 days. Here a Nurse took my battle dress top to the cleaners for me. After that short stay I was taken to Orly Airport near the Eiffel Tower and was flown back to Britain in an American Dakota. There I was put in hospital in Tarrant Tushton in Blandford, Dorset and stayed there for 3 - 4 weeks where they did the operation on my ankle, putting in pins to hold the bones together.
Above left: Robert with 4 generations of the family, right: Robert Ware and his wife Gwendoline
Robert John Ware sadly died on the 24th February 2009. He rarely discussed his wartime career until his family researched his life and managed to get him to write a little of his wartime career. His wife Gwendoline died earlier in 1998. Both are buried at Haycombe Cemetery in Bath, Somerset.
(2) Luke Thomas Welland Soper, contacted Aircrew Remembered and provided the following information about his Grandfather, Ben Soper:
Benjamin Russell Welland Soper was born on 9th June 1916 in Kingsbridge, Devon. He qualified as a pharmacist and volunteered for the RAF and trained as a navigator in Manitoba, Canada.
Above left: Aircraftman Class 2 (AC2) Benjamin R.W. Soper, trainee aircrew; right: aircrew trainees, wearing their newly issued RAF 1941 Pattern Sidcot Flying Suits and boots. AC2 Benjamin R.W. Soper on the right (Courtesy of Luke Soper)
Above: AC2 Benjamin R.W. Soper standing 1st on the right, Circa 1942 with the remainder of his course at No 7. Initial Training Wing (ITW) which was formed on the 1st October 1940 at the Ballevista Hotel in Newquay. (Courtesy of Luke Soper)
After the war he worked for Timothy Whites as pharmacist manager in Totnes, Plymouth and St Austell. It is believed that Ben Soper met up with Johnny Ware in Totnes after the war.
Ben was married to Iris Sweett in 1943 and had two children, Luke's father, Paul was born in October 1944 and his sister Janet was born in 1948.
Benjamin Russell Welland Soper passed away in on the 27th January 1971 in Plymouth, Devon.
None - both crew survived the war.
Researched by Aircrew Remembered for the family of Flt Sgt. Ware, relatives and friends. With thanks to Alison Parsons and family of Flt Sgt Ware. Extract from the Flying Battle Casualty Report added by Aircrew Remembered (Nov 2023). Thanks to Luke Thomas Welland Soper for providing information and the photographs for his Grandfather, Flt Sgt. Benjamin R.W. Soper, and Flt Sgt. Johnny Ware (Nov 2023).
Other sources listed below: