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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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138 Squadron Crest
16/17.12.1943 No. 138 Squadron (SOE) Halifax V LL115 NF-A Fl/Sgt. John G.A. Watson

Operation: S.O.E. (Special Operations Executive)

Date: 16/17th December 1943 (Thursday/Friday)

Unit: No. 138 Squadron

Type: Halifax V

Serial: LL115

Code: NF-A

Base: RAF Tempsford, Bedfordshire

Location: Capel Green, Woodbridge, Suffolk

Pilot: Fl/Sgt. John George Addison Watson 1043277 RAFVR Age 22. Killed

Fl/Eng: Sgt. Norman Montague Gillis R/97720 RCAF Age 22. Killed

Nav: Sgt. John Robert Hoddinott 1585048 RAFVR Age ? Killed

Air/Bmr: Sgt. Herbert Donald King 1586586 RAFVR Age 26. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. George Osborne 1533381 RAFVR Age 20. Killed

Air/Gnr: P/O. James Pearcey J/20972 RCAF Injured (1)

Air/Gnr: Sgt. I. Scaellenberg Injured

Air/Gnr: Sgt. W.F. Sutherland Injured


Took off from RAF Tempsford, Bedfordshire at 20:30 hrs, on a special operation to drop ’12 containers and 5 packages’ in the hills at approximately 25 km south east of area of Carcassone, Portugal.

After being in the air for nearly 10 hours the Halifax returned encountering severe weather conditions (2), the crew decided to land at RAF Woodbridge (3) in Suffolk. During the landing the aircraft crashed into trees at Capel Green in the early morning of Friday 17th December at 05:30 hrs.

138 Squadron lost 3 aircraft this night, the others:
Halifax II LW280 NF-K flown by Fl/Sgt. T.M. Thomas crashed into the sea, 4 crew members being killed.
Halifax V LL119 NF-L Flown by F/O. R.W. Johnson was abandoned and crashed into the sea off Felixstowe, Suffolk - all the crew surviving.

(1) P/O. James Pearcey has been described as serving in the RAAF - we feel that he is as identified serving with the RCAF and later PoW No. 591 at Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria. He passed away on th e 31st July 1999 age 86.
(2) A terrible night for Bomber Command, severe fog had set in, together with very low cloud. 32 aircraft were wrecked in crash landings alone with 127 crew members being killed and a further 34 injured. The worst bad weather casualties for the RAF for the whole of the second world war.
(3) In 1943, Woodbridge was constructed as one of three airfields set up to accept damaged or fuel-short bombers returning from raids over Germany, it was therefore fitted with long, heavy-duty runways. It was initially called RAF Station Sutton Heath. The site at Woodbridge was chosen as it was 'nearly fog-free and had no obstructions for miles', although more than a million trees had to be cleared from Rendlesham Forest to take the new base. Following the events of this night the landing facilities at RAF Woodbridge were dramatically changed with a FIDO (3) installation.
(3) FIDO - Fog investigation and Dispersal Operation. A series of pipelines running either side of the runway into which petrol was injected under pressure, the petrol was then ignited through small holes in the pipes by burners fitted at certain intervals along its length. The resulting fire produced heat so intense that it literally burned the fog away from the immediate vicinity. FIDO became fully operational at Woodbridge in May 1944. It saved many other lives.

Burial details:

Fl/Sgt. John George Addison Watson. Houghton-Le-Spring Cemetery. Sec D. Grave 2789. Son of Jane Stafford Watson, of Chilton Moor, County Durham, England. Grave inscription reads: "He Died That We Might Live Peace Perfect Peace".

Sgt. Norman Montague Gillis. Rushden Cemetery. Grave 4. Son of Duncan and Florence Ethel Gillis, of Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada.

Right: Grave of Sgt. Norman Montague Gillis, adopted by Norman Parker.

Sgt. John Robert Hoddinott. Horsington Cemetery. Grave 432. NoK details currently not available - are you able to assist completion of these and any other information?

Sgt. Herbert Donald King. West Harptree Churchyard. Grave 294. Son of Herbert Tyler King and Hilda Annie King, of East Harptree, Bristol, England. Grave inscription reads: "Greater Love Hath No Man. He Gave His Life For His Country".

Sgt. George Osborne. Tynemouth Cemetery. Sec J. R.C. Grave 1808. Son of George and Mary Osborne, of North Shields, Tyneside, England. Grave inscription reads: "He Answered The Call He Gave His All He Died, A Hero, To Save Us R.I.P".

Researched for Norman Parker, and for relatives / friends of the crew. For further details our thanks to the sources as shown below.

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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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