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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 Crest
31/01.09.1943 77 Squadron Halifax II JD413 KN:G Flt Lt. John L. Wilson

Operation: Berlin, Germany

Date: 31st August/1st. September 1943 (Tuesday/Wednesday)

Unit No: 7 Squadron

Type: Halifax II

Serial: JD413 

Code: KN:G

Base: RAF Elvington, Yorkshire.

Location: Junction of Wiesenstraße and Südring in Datteln, Germany

Pilot: Flt Lt. John Leslie Wilson 412788 RAAF Age 26. KiA

2nd Pilot: Flt Sgt. Raymond William Barlow 1321808 RAFVR Age 22. KiA

Flt Eng: Sgt. James Frederick Hopkins 1212037 RAFVR Age? PoW No: 222719 *

Nav: Flt Sgt. John Jack Leicester 1434391 RAFVR Age? PoW No: 222731 * & **

Bomb Aimer: Sgt. Robert Alfred Sims 1316116 RAFVR Age 20. KiA

WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Edward Joseph Wilson 1029925 RAFVR Age 23. Injured (1)

Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Sgt: Jack Alexander Baxter 139006 RAFVR Age 21. KiA

Air Gnr (Rear): Plt Off. Kenneth George Sheward 146274 RAFVR Age 20. KiA

* Stalag 4b Mühlberg, Sachsen, Germany

** Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria)

Pilot: Flt Lt. John Leslie Wilson (courtesy of his son John Wilson)


Took off at 20:16 hrs. from RAF Elvington to attack Berlin. The aircraft suffered an engine failure on the way to Berlin but the crew, having turned back after a similar mechanical problem on an earlier mission, elected to continue on the three remaining engines. Partly due to the lack of power, the plane drifted South from its direct route back to the UK after dropping its bombs, it passed over the heavily-defended Ruhr industrial area.

The aircraft was only a month old and the crew were on their 19th mission. During the outbound flight, one of the engines caught fire and the hydraulic system also failed, forcing manual operation of many functions.

The extra efforts necessary were unpleasant as the sweat then froze! The pilot was permanently using the rudders to effect any effective control over the aircraft. Nonetheless and on three engines Berlin was reached, and bombed, after which the return flight to England was commenced.

This should have taken the aeroplane nearer to Cologne, but it strayed off track, lost height and was caught by the flak over Datteln.

JD413 was claimed by 3./schw. Flak Abt. 524. The aircraft crashed into boggy ground at Datteln near Recklinghausen at 02:23 hrs. (Nachtjagd Combat Archive (23 June - 22 September) 1943 Part 2 - Theo Boiten).

Sgt. Hopkins recalls that prior to the mission the undercarriage had been fully overhauled, but subsequent re-calibration of the compass was possibly not executed – which would explain why the aircraft was on a heading too far north. After being hit by flak, the pilot ordered the crew to jump, but remained at his post so that they could do so – thus sacrificing himself.

As a result of having two people on board with the same surname the pilot's wife, Mary Wilson, did not know whether he had died or not - for some eighteen months!

(1) A report made in 1943 by the 2nd police district of the city of Datteln referring to the 1st September says: "Around 2.23 a.m. and in the midst of strong Flak fire an enemy aircraft crashed burning into free field, about 100 metres south of 'Straße der SA' and about 100 metres west of the Secondary School." This report also says that three men were burned in the wreckage, and goes on: "One crew member lying close to the aircraft with severe burns was taken prisoner and taken to the First Aid Post. Another was encountered in the hamlet Hagem by a Polish civilian worker and handed over to this Police Station."

Note: The "Straße der SA" was renamed after the war and is today's "Südring".

It is said that Sgt. E.J. Wilson was taken to a Gelsenkirchen hospital where he died on 4th September, three days after the crash.

There were rumours that German physician Dr. F.H. at the First Aid Post had refused to treat him or even administer pain killers, saying "Let him croak, he did enough to us." After the war, a German woman reported him for this to the authorities. This came up during the doctor's denazification trial in which however another physician testified that, quite on the contrary, he had seen the accused in the First Aid Post dress the injuries of the burnt man. Another rumour, saying that Dr. F.H. had been tried for his refusal by a US court, could not be confirmed as his name is missing in the database of US trials.

It is remarkable that the remains of the KIA crew members, with the exception of Sgt. Wilson, were first buried in the Datteln cemetery before being transferred to Reichswald Forest Cemetery. Sgt. Wilson was buried in the US Cemetery at Neuville-en-Condroz (Belgium) before being transferred to Hotton War Cemetery. This appears to confirm that he was transported to Gelsenkirchen and having died there, perhaps buried either as "US airman" or without any specification, which would explain why he was taken away, obviously by the US forces, to a US cemetery in Belgium.

Burial details:

Flt Lt. John Leslie Wilson. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 18. A. 16. Inscription: ’IN LOVING MEMORY OF OUR DEAR SON "FOR EVER WITH THE LORD; AMEN, SO LET IT BE"'. Born on the 16th April 1917 in Ganmain, New South Wales. Son of Hugh Charles and Grace Louise Wilson, husband of Mary Wilson, of Hazelbrook, New South Wales, Australia.

Flt Sgt. Raymond William Barlow. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 18. A. 15. Inscription: ’HE DIED THAT WE MIGHT LIVE’. Son of William Henry and Hilda Barlow, of Romford, Essex, England.

Sgt. Robert Alfred Sims. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 18. A. 13. Inscription: 'GONE FROM US BUT NOT FORGOTTEN, NEVER SHALL THY MEMORY FADE'. Son of Alfred Jesse and Charlotte Sims, of Verwood, Dorsetshire, England.

Sgt. Edward Joseph Wilson. Hotton War Cemetery. Grave XI. C.4. Inscription: 'HIS DUTY NOBLY DONE. TREASURED MEMORIES TILL WE MEET AGAIN'.Son of George and Isabel Lydia Wilson, of Garston, Liverpool, England.

Sgt. Jack Alexander Baxter. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 18. A. 12. Born on 12 June 1922, registered in Wandsworth, London. His pre-war occupation was as a Railway Clerk. Son to Albert Edward and Helena (née Hilkin) Baxter.

Plt Off. Kenneth George Sheward. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 18. A. 14. Inscription: 'IN GOD'S SAFE HANDS, NOW AT REST'. Son of Harold and Edith Sheward, of Westbury-on-Severn, Gloucestershire, England.

Researched by Mike Harrison. With thanks to Andreas Wachtel for his tremendous research into this loss (as well as many others), John Wilson son of the pilot Flt Lt. John Leslie Wilson also to Dr. Benjamin Wilson, his son, who has also proven to be most helpful. To the MoD for photographs, Karl Gatzmanga and Rainer Raffalski for excavation photographs. Thanks to Steve Mahoney for the NoK details for Sgt. Baxter and additional information (Apr 2020). Loss information updated and narrative reorganised by Aircrew Remembered and also thanks to Traugott Vitz for the research into the death of Sgt. Edward J. Wilson (Jan 2023).

Other sources listed below:

Aircraft Recovery:

In 2005 the site of the crash was to be developed for a new sports hall and swimming pool.

During the excavation aircraft pieces were discovered and the contractors decided to call in experts in case unexploded ordnance were present.

Andreas Wachtel became involved with the project (Andreas was a leading expert on Bomber Command)

Eventually human remains were discovered and after extensive test it revealed that they were of the pilot, Flt Lt. John Wilson.

Finally, after a great deal of work by many concerned, the remains would be placed in the cemetery at Reichswald in 2006.

Above left: John Wilson with Hugo Bresser - the man who shot down JD413 - with the port inner propeller hub, still in the feathered position with right: John Wilson at his fathers grave. (courtesy of John Wilson)

The recovery of the aircraft (courtesy of of Karl Gatzmanga and Rainer Raffalski Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung)

RAF personnel prepare to lower the casket containing the remains into the grave. Surviving crew member, Mr Jim Hopkins, can be seen at the rear, right, of the photograph (courtesy RAF © Crown Copyright/MOD 2009)

Left: Jim received the Union flag which was used to drape the casket. Jim Hopkins stands for a moment in silent tribute after laying a wreath in memory of his fallen comrades of 66 years ago (courtesy RAF © Crown Copyright/MOD 2009

Left: John Wilson with Hugo Bresser at the exact spot of the crash. Right: The identity tags of Flt Lt. John Leslie Wilson - now on display at the Yorkshire Air Museum (courtesy of John Wilson)

‘Laid To Rest’: WWII Airmen Buried 63 Yrs After Being Shot Down - Monday, March 06, 2006 Source: MoD

Just short of 63 years after he was shot down as a young RAF airman, WWII RAF vet Jim Hopkins stood at a graveside in Germany as the remains of 3 of his fellow crew members on the ill-fated mission were finally laid to rest.

Just short of 63 years after he was shot down as a young RAF airman, WWII RAF vet Jim Hopkins stood at a graveside in Germany as the remains of 3 of his fellow crew members on the ill-fated mission were finally laid to rest.

The then Sergeant Jim Hopkins was a 19-year-old flight engineer on a Halifax bomber which was shot down while returning from a raid on Berlin in the early hours of September 1st, 1943. The aircraft was hit by flak from a gun position at Datteln, North-West of Dortmund.

Four men - Pilot Officer Ken Sheward, Flight Sergeant R W Barlow and Sergeants Robert Simms and John Baxter - died in the wreck. Badly-injured crew member, Sergeant Ted Wilson, was taken critically injured from the aircraft and lost his battle for life three days later. He is buried at the Hotten War Cemetery, near Namur in Belgium.

Poignantly, the single other survivor, aircraft navigator John 'Jack' Leicester, died at his home in Warrington only a week ago at the age of 88.

In another remarkable footnote to the final chapter of this wartime tragedy, also present for the burial ceremony, which was conducted with full military honours, were two members of the German flak battery which brought down the Halifax.

Jim Hopkins met his two erstwhile 'enemies' when he visited the crash site after the aircraft remains were found in June last year. The men struck up a firm friendship.

Discovered: The remains of the three missing crew were found in May 2005 during work to build a swimming pool. Only one, Halifax JD413 pilot, Flight Lieutenant John Leslie Wilson, was able to be identified. All three remaining crew have now been buried with full military honours at the Reichswald Commonwealth War Cemetery, near Kleve on the German-Dutch border, alongside the graves of the other two crew members.

The ill-fated mixed British and Australian crew of Halifax JD413, from 77 Squadron operating from RAF Elvington, near York, could have avoided the mission on the night of 31 August 1943. The aircraft suffered an engine failure on the way to Berlin but the crew, having turned back after a similar mechanical problem on an earlier mission, elected to continue on the three remaining engines.

It was partly because of lack of power that the plane, having drifted to the South from its direct route back to the UK after dropping its bombs, slipped from under cloud cover as it passed over the heavily-defended Ruhr industrial area.

It was an easy target for the German anti-aircraft battery crew made up, among others, of 16-year-old Hitler Youth members Hugo Bresser and Theo Stevermann, who had been conscripted from the Sixth Form of their local school.

After being shot down, Jim Hopkins spent the rest of the war in a POW camp at Mulberg on the River Elbe. After the war, he became a policeman in Birmingham, where he still lives today. Aged 83, he is long-retired.

His German nemeses were both drafted into the Wehrmacht six months after the aircraft came down. Herr Bresser was taken prisoner by the Americans near Aachen in February 1945, while Herr Stevermann swapped his uniform for civilian clothes and slipped through Allied lines to return to his home after his unit’s last position near Detmold was over-run in the final weeks of the war.

Herr Bresser went on to become a Roman Catholic priest and served for many years until his retirement in a parish near Datteln. Herr Stevermann also remained in the area, working in a local business.

Poignant: Jim explained how he felt seeing his comrades finally laid to rest:

"It was a bit sad. Quite a ceremony, well put on by the RAF and the British Army based at Rheindahlen. They organised everything. There were a number of unknown soldiers buried yesterday too.

"It was an emotional day. Standing there I could picture them as they were when we were flying together. It was our 19th mission together so we knew each other quite well. I felt sad but it was a good, albeit solemn ceremony. It was nice that the crew had a good send-off.

"There was an excellent attendance too, lots of officers came along which was also nice, along with a colonel from the Australian Army."

The night the aircraft went down is easily brought to Jim's memory:

"I don't really show emotion, which I don't mean in a disrespectful way. But yesterday, my thoughts really were of the crew and how we were back then."

In a separate ceremony at the Reichswald Cemetery, the remains of what could be up to 14 British soldiers from WW2 were interred, in a single coffin, with full military honours. The remains were discovered during construction work at Kleve, not far from the Reichswald Cemetery. The site was used as a temporary burial place in the last months of the war. It is believed the remains were missed when the graves were transferred to their final resting place after the end of the War.

Wreaths were laid at both ceremonies by Brigadier Max Marriner, Commander of the Army’s Rhine and European Support Group based at nearby Mönchengladbach, Group Captain Frank Simpson, Air Attaché from the British Embassy in Berlin and Lieutenant Colonel Sean Armstrong, Commanding Officer of the Rheindahlen Support Unit, part of Brigadier Marriner’s command.

Note: Sadly Jim Hopkins has passed away since this page was compiled.

RS & TV 09.01.2023 - Research by Traugott Vitz added and narrative update

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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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