Operation: Vohwinkel, Germany
Date: 31st December 1944 (Sunday)
Unit No: 218 (Gold Coast) Squadron
Type: Lancaster I
Base: RAF Chedburgh, Suffolk
Location: Solingen, Germany
Pilot: Fg Off. Roy William Woodrow 175154 RAFVR Age 23. Murdered (4)
Pilot 2: Flt Lt. George Neville Chandler 47598 RAF Age 25. KiA
Flt Eng: Sgt. Derek Morris 1591938 RAFVR Age 19. KiA
Nav: Sgt. William Neil ‘Willie’ Watson 1568847 RAFVR Age 22. Murdered (3 & 4)
Bomb Aimer: Flt Sgt. Cyril Henry Robert James 1399446 RAFVR Age 20. KiA
WOp/Air Gnr: Flt Sgt. John Leslie Stagg 428566 RAAF Age 21. KiA
Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Sgt. Joseph Carver 1595839 RAF Age 34. KiA (2)
Air Gnr (Rear): Sgt. Vernon Welbourne 1629751 RAFVR Age 20. PoW Unknown Camp (1)
Note: The Squadron was officially adopted by his Excellency the Governor of the Gold Coast and the peoples of the Gold Coast territories during Oct 1941.
REASON FOR LOSS:
Seventeen aircraft were detailed and briefed to carry out a daylight bombing operation on the Vohwinkel railway marshalling yard to the north of Solingen in Germany, with 154 other Lancasters from 3 Group.
The first of the seventeen to take off at 11:14 hrs was NF926 from “B” Flight. This was the crew’s 27th operation (26th for Sgt. Morris). NF926 may have been a Master or Secondary bomber as the crew included a 2nd pilot and had a bomb load which included Red Target Indicators (TI). Although not confirmed for this mission, designated pathfinders dropped their TI weapons and re-joined the stream on a second run over the target to drop the remainder of their weapons.
Note: A Bomber Squadron usually comprised 2 or 3 flights each with 8 aircraft. 218 (Gold Coast) Sqn had 3 flights.
The weather was marginal on route with largely 10/10th cloud and stronger than briefed winds but there was a clear patch of sky over the target with some heavy flak. Most crews could identify the marshalling yard visually, but the bombing on the target was not concentrated.
It was reported that over the target NF926 and NG330, flown by Fg Off. Robert H. Kench, either collided or the bombs from one bomber hit the other and both aircraft were seen going down in the target area. However, the circumstances leading to the loss of the two aircraft may never be properly established.
A report dated the 19th August 1947 from the No. 4 Missing Research and Enquiry Unit (MREU) stated that there were no actual eye-witnesses to the aircraft crashes as there was a large raid on at the time and most of the people were in air-raid shelters. The only people who would have witnessed the crashes were local officials and wardens and they had been moved from the area before the investigation team arrived.
The only reliable witness that could be found was one Herr Fritz Meinsen who was with the Solingen police at the time of the crashes. He remembered that two aircraft crashed on the 31st December 1944 but he was on duty in a bunker at the time. The next day he went to the aircraft crash sites, one on Frankenstraße in Solingen, and the other in Heidbergtal, then a part of Solingen. He said they were both four engine English bombers and also that they were Lancasters. The wreckage of both aircraft had been removed by the Wehrmacht.
The crash sites were visited by the investigation team but no traces of the aircraft were found. Additionally no other people in the area were found who could be questioned for further information. The investigation team could not establish which aircraft crashed at which location.
(1) Sgt. Welbourne was questioned as part of the investigation. He could not provide any information on the fate of his crew other than the aircraft had exploded and that he was still aboard the tail section of the Lancaster when it crashed to earth. He was extricated from the wreckage and taken to the Solingen town hospital for first aid treatment before being taken away by the Wehrmacht. He was admitted to a hospital in Düsseldorf but to date it has not been possible to establish the extent of his injuries or at which PoW camp he was later held. The National Archives (TNA) has no record of a Release Questionnaire for Sgt Welbourne.
Parts of the aircraft wreckage fell within an area spread out to the south and east of Sommerstraße 6 where the front fuselage came down;
At Kottermühlenstraße 16, about 1½ km to the south of Sommerstraße where a wing and part of fuselage was found;
On the railway line adjacent to Heidberg 2, about 800 m to the south of Sommerstraße where part of the fuselage and one engine was found;
and Frederichstraße 19, about 910 m to the south-east of of Sommerstraße where part of a wing was found.
No information has been found that records where the rear fuselage and tail turret had fallen.
(2) Sgt. Carver wrote a last letter, the timeline suggests that this was written the day before this fateful mission, to his wife which was never posted but was handed to his widow with the remainder of his possessions. The letter image and transcript of its contents has been provided by Angela Wheatley, a niece of John Carver.
I just received my laundry yesterday and to-day I got your letter telling me you had received the cash, boy, I was glad about that, I was getting worried in case you didn’t get it for rent day. Well my sweet I have just wrote to Mother telling her I had been building up hopes to you about being home for New Year, but darling I’m afraid after looking over the situation it’s about impossible, although we have done five since getting back, we still have three to do, and as there are only three more days left in the year, I’ll just have to be satisfied to get home shortly afterwards, as it will take at least two days to get cleared out and our passes made out, however my dear I will be away from this station as soon as I possibly can get away, so if I arrive home one day without letting you know I am coming don’t get too much of a shock. On Xmas day we had a very lazy day just like yourself but just on account of the weather over the ‘drome being dirty, we bombed Jerry the night before, so I expect Santa Claus wouldn’t get there that night, and I doubt if he has got there since, as we have been keeping him very busy the last few days. I can’t think of anything more to tell you darling so will make it short and write again soon, take care of yourself dear, see you soon, give my love to the children and my regards to all the folks,
Your loving hubby, Joe"
Above: Joseph Carver during training, 3rd row from front, 3rd from the right. (Courtesy of Angela Wheatley)
(3) The following is a letter and poem written by Sgt. ‘Willie ‘Watson which was found in the aircraft wreckage next to his body.
The following is a transcription of William's poem:
Hitler was dead. The years rolled by,
and everyman began to fly,
I took a trip, one winter day
that landed me up Springburn Way,
and oh, what changes there had been!
My eyes surveyed a wondrous scene.
The police had taken to the air,
and unsolved crimes were very rare.
A helicopter, seems to float,
with Ken Campbell in a white coat
directing aircraft, tram, and 'bus
from high above the Terminus.
A flying Bookie, Charlie Dines,
was very busy lifting lines,
until a Spitfire dashed right in
piloted by the dauntless Quinn
and quickly chased the betting crowd
round and round a wee white cloud.
John wirelessed for some speedy aid
and hardly had a call be made,
when there came racing thro’ the rain
Halliday in a Hurricane.
The hunt was on, the crowd made off,
but John’s engine began to cough.
"What cruel luck", John sadly cried,
as his engine sighed and died.
"Press on, Sergeant!" came the shout
as in great haste, old John baled out.
And so the end of John’s pursuit
was a descent by parachute.
But other police were o’er the town,
quietly flying up and down.
McMullan in a "Piper Cub"
patrolled with ease from pub to pub
I saw two more gallant airmen
Sandy MacDonald and Tom Glenn,
moving along street-corner fools
and dropping bombs on gambling schools.
Sandy McLeod was quite a spark
observing couples in the park,
from an enormous great balloon
towed by George Parker’s fast Typhoon.
While Jimmy Allan took a gander
in an out-of-date "Lysander".
They say Clem Herbert’s making quids
giving joy rides to the kids.
Charlie Garden and Dougie Carstairs
are busy effecting a few repairs
to their Mosquito, damaged last night
down Saracen St., in a running fight.
But work goes on behind the scene
where Bob Black and Jock Hazeldene
do good business in Gasolene.
As I at last made to depart,
I saw something that made me start,
my auld antagonist - Willie Bell
came roaring down the street like hell,
"Look out Watson!" He madly yelled,
"Can’t you see I’m jet propelled!"
The flying cops have come to stay,
at least that’s what people say.
In ninety years it may be true
but I’ll be dead and so will you
so now I bid you all Adieu!
Signed: Wm Watson
(4) The circumstances leading to the deaths of Fg Off. R.W. Woodrow and Sgt. W.N. Watson were determined by a British General Military Court convened in Hamburg, Germany between the 8th and the 17th July 1947.
One German citizen was charged in that he at Solingen, Germany on or about the 31st December 1944 in violation of the laws and usages of war, killed Flying Officer R.W. Woodrow and Sergeant W.N. Watson both of the Royal Air Force and PoWs.
The accused was Fritz Schulze who was a former Polizeimeister (Police Warrant Officer (WO)) employed at the former "Polizeirevier 27" (Department 27) at the Town-Hall on Potsdamerstraße in Solingen. He was also the Deputy Station Master as well as being a member of the Nazi party.
The court heard that an aircraft had crashed in the yard and workshop at Sommerstraße 6 in Solingen, a few km south of the target. The inhabitants, sheltering in a nearby air-raid shelter, heard the thump of the Lancaster hit the building.
Note: On modern day maps where the site of Sommerstraße 6 would be expected to be found there is a vacant plot. Research undertaken by Traugott Vitz in conjunction with the City Archivist of Solingen has found that in the 1960’s Sommerstraße was re-numbered and Sommerstraße 6 became Sommerstraße 11.
The former Sommerstraße 6 had been built in 1899 as a three-storeyed residential building with a two-storey annexe housing a plumber’s workshop on the ground floor and living accommodation above. The destroyed annexe was rebuilt in 1957 as a single-storey for a cobbler’s shop.
Above: Modern day photograph of the former Sommerstraße 6 now Sommerstraße 11 (Courtesy of Traugott Vitz)
A number of people who had been in air-raid shelters during the raid went to the scene of the crash including the inhabitant of Sommerstraße 6, a Frau Frieda Munkel, who saw the aircraft wreckage lying in the workshop. She also saw one airman who was trapped in the wreckage, waving his arms about and calling for help to get out. She testified that the airman did not appear to be wounded.
Frau Munkel left the scene to fetch her husband and returned with him a short time later and found several men from the SA in the yard. These men cleared the crowd away and refused to allow anyone near the yard. Frau Munkel and her husband returned to their home and shortly after arriving they heard three gunshots.
SA = Sturmabteilung = Paramilitary arm of the Nazi party.
The next day she and and her husband went into the yard and saw that the airman, who they had seen the previous day, was dead and there was congealed blood on his face which was not there before.
Frau Munkel recalled that the previous day, she had seen Schulze about the time of the incident standing near the entrance to her home. The second witness also saw Schulze on the path leading to the yard and shortly thereafter heard three gunshots. This witness returned to the yard and despite being blocked by the SA men managed to see the airman and thought that he was dead with blood on his right temple.
A third witness from the air-raid shelter also saw the airman trapped in the wreckage along with a second airman and claimed there was no sign of blood on either. This witness was called away and when leaving the scene saw Schulze with a pistol in his hand. Soon after passing Schulze the witness heard the sound of three gunshots and after arriving at home a further two gunshots were heard. This witness claimed that a neighbour had recalled seeing Schulze shoot the first airman.
A further witness recollected also seeing the first airman in the position described by other witnesses and that he did not appear wounded. This witness also saw the second airman in the wreckage and heard him groaning and moving his head. This witness was told to leave the yard by the SA men and returned to the air-raid shelter. This witness also recollects hearing three gunshots followed after a short interval a further two gunshots. When this witness returned to the scene the first airman appeared dead with blood coming from his right temple and that the second airman had traces of blood running down his hair which appeared to come from a wound to the top of his head.
Schulze gave evidence on his own behalf and claimed that on the day in question when his attention was drawn to the crashed aircraft he went to the scene. He had drawn his pistol because of instructions to be prepared for the possibility that enemy airmen, instead of surrendering, continued to fight, attempted to flee or disregarded the order “Hands Up”.
He further claimed that at the scene he only saw one airman in the wreckage who was burnt or covered in oil. He formed the opinion that the airman was dead. He denied that he, at any time, fired at the airman or anyone else. He further denied that any of the witnesses who said they saw him shoot were even there. After looking at the wreckage he returned to his home to look after his sick child.
The Solingen municipal cemetery records showed that 13 unknown airmen were buried in the Solingen-Gräfrath Cemetery on the 4th January 1945. Of the 13 bodies exhumed in August of 1946, 8 had multiple fractures typical of an aircraft crash, but in the case of two, that of Fg Off. Woodrow and Sgt. Watson, both had gunshot wounds to their skulls.
In the case of Sgt. Watson part of the damage to his skull was caused during the exhumation but the medical examiner was satisfied that his injuries could only have been caused from gunshots fired through the top of his head.
The court apparently were not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Schulze caused the death of the first airman, Fg Off. Woodrow. However, in a special finding the court found him guilty of the death of Sgt. Watson only and sentenced him to death by hanging.
Fritz Schulze was executed at Hameln prison on the 14th November 1947 at 09:02 hrs by Albert Pierrepoint, assisted by RSM Richard Anthony O’Neill and Edward J. Roper.
After the war the Commonwealth War Graves Commission reinterred the crew at the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery on the 27th Feb 1947.
Above: Reichswald Forest War Cemetery (Courtesy of the TWGPP)
Fg Off. Roy William Woodrow. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 1.E.10. Grave inscription reads: "HE STANDS AS A SYMBOL OF EVERYTHING FINE". He was born in the 2nd Qtr of 1921 in Bristol. Son of William Thomas and Mary Ellen Caroline (née Hayball-Pocock) Woodrow of South Ville, Bristol, England.
Flt Lt. George Neville Chandler. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 1.E.11. Grave inscription reads: "IN CONSTANT MEMORY OF "CHAN", DEARLY LOVED SON AND HUSBAND". Born on the 12th October 1919 in Wandsworth. Son of Charles Henry and Beatrice Maud Chandler, husband of Christine Chandler of Staithers Cottage, Mitchley View, Sanderstead, Surrey, England.
His younger brother Sgt. John Henry Chandler 1384677 RAFVR was KiA on the 30th July 1942. 148 Sqn Wellington 1c ES991 was on a mission to bomb Tobruk harbour and crashed into Little Bitter Lake. He was concussed and tragically drowned whilst the rest of the crew survived with minor injuries. Buried at the Fayid War Cemetery 2.D.24.
Above: Grave marker for Sgt. Morris (Courtesy of the TWGPP)
Sgt. Derek Morris. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 1.E.9. Grave inscription reads: "A BELOVED HEART AT REST. WIFE NAN. CHERISHED FOR EVER IN OUR HEARTS. MUM AND DAD". Born on the 17th May 1925 in Worksop. Son of Harry and Annie Elizabeth (née Rushforth) Morris of Worksop. Husband of Nancy May (née Horler) Morris of Newport, Monmouthshire, Wales.
Sgt. William Neil Watson. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 1.E.6. Grave inscription reads: ""BLESSED ARE THE PURE IN HEART: FOR THEY SHALL SEE GOD" ST. MATTHEW V.8". Son of Andrew Neil and Mary Watson of Dundonald, Ayrshire, Scotland.
Flt Sgt. Cyril Henry Robert James. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 1.E.12. Grave inscription reads: "OUR DEAR BELOVED SON. IN MEMORY HE ALWAYS WILL BE WITH US. R.I.P". Son of Maurice Walter and Mary Ann James of Catford, London, England.
Above: Flt Sgt. Stagg and his initial grave marker (Courtesy of his Service Record)
Flt Sgt. John Leslie Stagg. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 1.E.8. Grave inscription reads: "EVER REMEMBERED. HIS DUTY FEARLESSLY AND NOBLY DONE". Born on the 6th April 1923 at Morwell, Victoria, the son of Thomas Henry and Lillian May Stagg and husband of Thelma Ellen Stagg of Chilwell, Victoria, Australia.
Above: Sgt. Carver and his initial grave marker (Courtesy of Angela Wheatley)
Sgt. Joseph Carver. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 1.E.7. Grave inscription reads: "SWEET ARE THE MEMORIES, SILENTLY KEPT, OF ONE WE LOVED AND NEVER FORGET". Son of William and Mary Arm Carver of Newcastle–on-Tyne, England. Husband of Lily and father of Audrey, Ronnie and Alan, who sadly died before reaching his first birthday, of Benwell, Newcastle-on-Tyne, England.
Known as “Joe” to family and friends, he worked at many jobs including barman, grocer and auxiliary fireman.
Researched by Aircrew Remembered, researcher and specialist genealogist Linda Ibrom for relatives of this crew. Special thanks to Angela Wheatley (niece) for the photos, letter and info on sergeant Joseph Carver. With thanks to Ralph Snape for advising us of the correct crew positions (Jan 2018). Reviewed and updated by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered (Dec 2022). With thanks to Traugott Vitz for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’.
Thanks to ‘The War Graves Photographic Project’ for their great work.
Other sources listed below:
RS & TV 09.12.2022 - Additional information for Sgt. Welbourne
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember
them. - Laurence
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