29/30.07.1943 No. 78 Squadron Halifax II JB798 EY-P F/Sgt. Peter Aird Fraser
Date: 29/30 July 1943 (Thursday/Friday)
Unit: No. 78 Squadron - Motto: 'Nobody unprepared'.
Badge: A heraldic tiger rampant and double queued - approved by King George VI in November 1939. The theme of the badge was based on the Squadron's aircraft at the time, the Whitley, which had Tiger engines and twin tails.
Type: Halifax II
Base: RAF Breighton, East Riding of Yorkshire
Location: Bad Oldesloe, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany
Pilot: F/Sgt. Peter Aird Fraser Aus/413756 RAAF Age 22 - Killed (1)
Fl/Eng: Sgt. James Robert Nicholls 1413556 RAFVR Age 21 - Killed (2)
Nav: Sgt. William Moffatt Tattersall Hetherington R/132100 RCAF Age 28 - Killed (3)
Air/Bmr: F/O. Ralph Cameron Baillie J/17942 RCAF Age 21 - Killed (4)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. William Ernest Goodacre 1207073 RAFVR Age 29 - Killed (5)
Air/Gnr (MU): Sgt. Thomas Campbell 548217 RAF Age 25 - Killed (6)
Air/Gnr (R): Sgt. Gerald Harvey Woodcock R/140867 RCAF Age 24 - Killed (7)
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Its shipyards, U-boat pens, and the Hamburg-Harburg area oil refineries made Hamburg a natural target for Bomber Command throughout the war but a sustained attack over 10 days in the summer of 1943 was to prove particularly devastating.
Beginning on 24 July 1943 and lasting until 3 August 1943 a series of raids code named Operation Gomorrah was made by the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Forces. During the raids and resulting firestorm that destroyed most of the city, 42000 civilians lost their lives and a further 37000 were injured.
Over 3000 sorties were flown and almost 10000 tons of bombs were dropped destroying more than a quarter of a million homes and houses. 183 large factories and 4118 smaller factories were destroyed and 580 industrial concerns and armaments works destroyed or damaged. Hamburg never recovered sufficiently to reach full production again.
The RAF made three large raids as part of Operation Gomorrah : 24/25 July with 791 aircraft, 27/28 July with 787 aircraft and 29/30 July with 777 aircraft. A fourth raid on 2/3 August was unsuccessful when, due to bad weather, most of the 740 aircraft despatched returned, having failed to reach the target.
Operation Gomorrah saw the first use by the RAF of 'Window', strips of tinfoil dropped by some of the aircraft to jam German radar. It proved a great success and was carried by RAF bombers for the rest of the war.
PETER FRASER AND THE CREW
Having only arrived at RAF Brighton on 21 June, the Squadron wasted no time in putting Peter Fraser to work. The very next day he was detailed to fly as 2nd Dickie with F/Sgt. S Norris and his crew on a raid to Mulheim. The Squadron despatched 18 aircraft, 2 failed to return.
Peter's first operation as Captain was on 28 June, an operation to bomb Cologne. Of the 16 aircraft despatched by 78 Squadron one failed to return.
His crew included Ralph Baillie an experienced Air Bomber just returned to the squadron after six months hospitalised and convalescent with injuries sustained during a ditching in the North sea the previous December (see his biographical details below for a link to the story).
Ralph Baillie would remain an ever present with Peter's crew: the only other ever present being Flight Engineer James Nicholls.
His next operation was on 9 July to Gelsenkirchen but due to a starboard engine failure was forced to jettison his bombs and return home early. For this and all subsequent operations he flew Halifax JB798.
On the night of July 24/25 his was one of the 21 crews of 78 Squadron detailed for the first large raid of Operation Gomorrah against Hamburg. Having bombed the target they returned safely.
78 Squadron suffered no losses on the raid.
The following night the crew was detailed for a raid on Essen. Of the 23 Squadron aircraft despatched, one failed to return.
On 27 July Peter and his crew were again detailed for operations - the second large raid of Operation Gomorrah against Hamburg. This was the raid that resulted in the firestorm that destroyed so much of the city and in which an estimated 30000 people lost their lives.
78 Squadron contributed 24 Halifaxes to the 787 strong force despatched one failed to return.
Two nights later it was Hamburg again, the third and final successful large raid of Operation Gomorrah. Of 21 Squadron aircraft despatched two failed to return, the other being JD252 captained by Sgt. Peter F. Snape: to read the story of that loss click here
Peter Fraser's crew had remained almost the same for the previous four operations the only exception being that Harvey Woodcock's first operation was Hamburg on the 24 July. For the crew's final operation regular wireless operator Sgt. N. Simpson was replaced by William Goodacre for his first and sadly his last operation with the crew. Sgt. Simpson had flown on every previous operation with Peter Fraser and it can only be assumed that he was sick or on leave.
REASON FOR LOSS
The 21 Halifaxes of No. 78 Squadron detailed for the operation, began taking off just before sunset at 22:00 hours on 29 July: taking off thirteenth at 22.11 hours was Peter Fraser's Halifax, JB798.
Once airborne the aircraft turned north east towards Flamborough and the North Sea.
When formed the huge bomber stream of 340 Lancasters, 244 Halifaxes, 119 Stirlings, 70 Wellingtons and 4 Mosquitoes was to cross the 400 miles of the North Sea almost due east towards Denmark. 50 miles beyond the Danish coast the force was to turn south for the final 75 miles to the target of Hamburg where it was tasked with bombing the city's hitherto untouched northern and north eastern districts.
Briefed route: 54°30'N 07°00'E 54°30'N 09°44'E Hamburg-turn right 53°23'N 09°38'E 54°20'N 07°00'
Variable amounts of cloud were encountered across the North Sea but little beyond the Danish coast. Over Hamburg it was hazy but although visibility was good the attackers were hampered by the smoke of fires still burning from the previous raids.
En route the bombers encountered the usual night fighter attacks, the heaviest flak defences being centred at Neumünster with lighter support to the south of Kiel.
Flak over Hamburg was more intense than on 27/28 July starting strongly in co-operation with searchlights but then easing off noticeably. The number of searchlights had been greatly increased both en route and in the target area; an outer belt stretching in a semi-circle round the town from NE to SW, and inside this, other searchlights apparently acted as fighter guides.
Zero hour was 00:45 and the attack was opened by 25 Pathfinder blind-markers, 16 of which dropped their Target Indicators (TIs) between zero -8 and zero +1. Although timing was good the standard of accuracy was low and the TIs were scattered over a wide area on the eastern side of Hamburg with the main point of impact about 2-3 miles due east of the aiming point. The backers-up only succeeded in confounding the error and the bombing of the main force, attacking in six contiguous waves over a period of 45 minutes, was at first principally concentrated in an area 3 miles ENE of the aiming point and slightly short of the main concentration of markers.
The bombing subsequently crept back about 4 miles through the area previously devastated by firestorm, causing severe damage to the residential areas of the Wandsbek and Barmbek districts and parts of the Uhlenhorst and Winterhude. The bombing remained centred although tending to spread over a larger area. By Z+47 an area of 24 square miles was covered with incendiaries.
The city of Hamburg and the Final Plot of Night Photographs showing the distribution of bombs dropped during the raid of 29/30 July 1943.
699 of the 777 aircraft despatched bombed the target. Of the rest 4 bombed the alternative target and 47 failed due to technical and manipulative and other error or crew sickness etc. The other 27 were missing having failed to return. Observations suggest that 7 of them were lost to flak (6 over Hamburg) 1 over Bremervörde all having previously been coned and 11 were probably shot down by fighter, 3 outbound, 4 over target, 1 15 miles west of Hamburg, 1 near Spieka, 1 off Cuxhaven and 1 at the mouth of the Elbe. Another was seen to go down at Cuxhaven but the cause was unknown.
After leaving RAF Brighton no further news was received of either aircraft or crew until early 1944 when a telegram was received from the International Red Cross Committee quoting German information stated that Sgt. Woodcock, Sgt. Campbell and five unidentified members of the same crew were killed on 30 July 1943.
An extract from official German totenliste No. 179 confirmed this and stated that they were buried in the Cemetery Hellgrund VA in Bad Oldesloe special section, comrades grave, on 30 July 1943.
Following an investigation by No. 4 Missing Research and Enquiry Unit it was reported in 1948 that "The aircraft approached from the direction of Hamburg, it appeared to climb slightly in an attempt to land when one propeller fell off and the aeroplane disintegrated in the air. Pieces were scattered over a wide area. A Luftwaffe guard was placed over the wreckage and later the bodies removed to Bad Oldesloe".
Halifax JB798 was reportedly shot down by Luftwaffe gunners of the 8th Motorised Flak Division. It is not known where this occurred but it was presumably in the target area.
The briefed route required the bombers to turn right after bombing the target and head roughly north west to cross the coast between Bremerhaven and Cuxhaven before turning almost due west for home (see map of briefed route above). Bad Oldesloe being east of Hamburg Halifax JB798 would have necessarily turned left after bombing the target. The most likely explanation for this, based on the known evidence, would seem to be that Peter Fraser's aircraft was badly damaged and he was seeking suitable open country to crash land. To have turned right would have taken the aircraft deeper into the city, through further flak and with less chance of finding a suitable landing site.
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) F/Sgt. Peter Aird Fraser was born on 28 May 1921 at Harden, New South Wales, Australia the son of Lt. Col. Keith Aird Fraser, O.B.E., and Muriel Fraser later of Killara, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Educated at Sydney Church of England Grammar School he was afterwards employed as a Junior Chemist prior to enlisting in the RAAF at Sydney on 13 September 1941.
After training at No. 2 Initial Training School at RAAF Bradfield Park, Sydney and No. 5 Elementary Flying Training School at RAAF Narromine NSW, he embarked for San Francisco on 24 April 1942 his eventual destination being No. 10 Service Flying Training School at RCAF Dauphin, Manitoba Canada. He was awarded his Pilot's Badge and promoted to Sergeant on 25 September 1942 and on 31 October embarked for the UK and on arrival to No. 11 Personnel Despatch and Reception Centre.
He was later posted to No. 11 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit at RAF Shawbury, Shropshire and in February 1943 to No. 24 Operational Training Unit at RAF Honeybourne, Worcestershire for night bomber training on the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley. He was posted to No. 1658 Conversion Unit at RAF Ricall, North Riding of Yorkshire on 17 May and on 21 June 1943 to No. 78 Squadron at RAF Linton-on-Ouse.
He was promoted retrospectively to Flight Sergeant wef 25 March 1943
He is commemorated on Panel 122 of the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
A comprehensive biography of Peter Aird Fraser can be seen at https://rslvirtualwarmemorial.org.au/explore/peopl...
(2) Sgt. James Robert Nicholls was born in 1920 at Cardiff, Wales the son of Charles Robert Nicholls and Violet Nicholls nee Hampson of Fairwater, Glamorgan.
(3) Sgt. William Moffatt Tattersall Hetherington was born on 1 November 1914 at Regina Saskatchewan Canada the son of English born parents William Henry Hetherington (a Grocer born at Carlisle, Cumberland) and Emma Hetherington nee Tattersall (born at Burnley Lancashire) 2708 12th Avenue, Regina.
He had two sisters Norma Patricia Hetherington born c 1924 and Thelma Mary Hetherington born c 1915 and the family lived at 2150 McIntyre Street, Regina.
Educated at Hultaine School 1920-1927 and Scott Collegiate 1927-1932, Reina and
Bloor Collegiate, Toronto, Ontario.
After leaving school he was employed by the Saskatchewan Farm Loan Board as a Mortgage Clerk from 1932 to 1935 and as a Grocery Salesman for Ross MacDonald Co. of Winnipeg Manitoba from 1935 until enlisting in the RCAF
On 6 April 1936 he married Esther Ellen Percy at Regina; their daughter Beverley Anne was born later that year and they lived at 169 Connaught Crescent, Regina.
When he enlisted at Regina on 26 September 1941 he was 6' 0½" tall weighing 174 lbs with a dark complexion, brown hair and green eyes.
He played tennis extensively, and engaged in golf, badminton and swimming moderately. His hobby was stated to be amateur photography.
After training at No. 15 Service Flying Training School at RCAF Claresholm, Alberta, No. 4 Initial Training School and No 2 Air Observer School both at RCAF Edmonton, Alberta he was awarded his Navigator's Badge and promoted to Sergeant on 9 October 1942
He embarked at Canada on 28 October 1942 and disembarked in the UK on 4 November. The following day he was posted to No. 3 Personnel Reception Centre at RAF Bournemouth and on 21 December to No. 1 (Observer) Advanced Flying Unit at RAF Wigtown, Dumfries and Galloway Scotland.
On 23 February 1943 he was posted to No. 24 Operational Training Unit at RAF Honeybourne, Worcestershire for night bomber training on the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley. Promoted to Flight Sergeant on 9 April he was posted to No. 1658 Conversion Unit at RAF Ricall, North Riding of Yorkshire on 17 May.
He was posted to No. 78 Squadron at RAF Linton-on-Ouse on 21 June 1943
(4) F/O. Ralph Cameron Baillie was born on 28 June 1922 at River John, Pictou County, Nova Scotia, Canada the son of George William Baillie (a Farmer) and Mary Myrtle Baillie nee Cameron.
He had five siblings: Margaret Jean Baillie born c 1917, twins Alexander John Baillie (see below) and James Edward Baillie born c 1919, Elizabeth Kathryn Baillie born 1920 and a brother born and died 1923.
He was educated at River John School 1929-1937 and River John High School 1937-1939
Radio was his hobby and after leaving school he worked for three months as a Radio Servicer for Mrs O. McKay before becoming self-employed in the same trade.
He enjoyed swimming, boxing, skating and playing softball.
When he enlisted at Moncton New Brunswick on 12 September 1940 he was 5' 8½" tall weighing 142 lbs with a fair complexion, blue eyes and brown hair.
After training at No. 1 Wireless School at RCAF Montreal, Quebec, No. 6 Bombing and Gunnery School RCAF Mountain View, Ontario he was awarded his Air Gunner's badge and promoted to Sergeant on 13 October 1941.
He embarked for the UK on 2 November and on arrival was posted to No. 3 Personnel Reception Centre at RAF Bournemouth on 14 November from where he was posted to No. 1 Signal School at RAF Cranwell, Lincolnshire on 9 December.
On 24 March 1942 he was posted to No. 10 Operational Training Unit at RAF Abingdon Oxfordshire; to No 78 Squadron Conversion Flight on 7 August and No. 78 Squadron at RAF Linton-on-Ouse on 23 September. From 2 October his trade classification is changed to Temporary Air Bomber.
He was promoted to Flight Sergeant on 1 November 1942 and on 8 December 1942 he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer (J17942)
On 20 December 1942 he was one of only two survivors when his aircraft, Halifax DT509 ditched in the North Sea. To read the story of this loss click here
He was hospitalised for three months and afterwards convalescent until 5 June 1943 when he returned to duty with No. 78 Squadron at RAF Linton-on-Ouse.
Three days later on 8 June 1943 he was promoted to T/Flying Officer.
On March 23 1943 his brother Navigator F/Sgt. Alexander John Baillie R124717 RCAF was killed when his aircraft, Hudson BW260 crashed at Yarmouth aerodrome Nova Scotia shortly after taking off for a coastal patrol. All four crew and two of the five ground crew members who tried assist were killed in the crash and the ensuing explosion.
(5) Sgt. William Ernest Goodacre was born in 1913 at Doncaster the son of George Robert Goodacre (a Cowman) and Clara Goodacre nee Hoult He had five siblings: Alice Goodacre (1894-1982), Ida Nellie Goodacre (1895-1970), James Edward Goodacre (1897-1918), Jane Elizabeth Goodacre (1902-1972) and George William Goodacre (1904-1987).
In 1938 he married Lettie Doreen Armson at Leeds in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Their daughter Barbara J. Goodacre was born in 1942.
William Goodacre joined the RAFVR in 1940.
(6) Sgt. Thomas Campbell was born in 1919 at Salford Lancashire the son of William Campbell and Margaret Campbell nee Dooley. He had a brother William H. Campbell born 1914.
In 1940 he married Eileen McCarthy at Lambeth and later lived at Ewell, Surrey.
(7) Sgt. Gerald Harvey Woodcock known as Harvey, was born on 18 October 1918 at Bethany, Manitoba, Canada the son of English born father John Woodcock (a Farmer) and Canadian born mother Edith Pearl Woodcock nee Pinder.
He had four siblings Kenneth John Woodcock (1920-1945), Leslie Cyril Woodcock (1924-2005), James Ralph Woodcock (1928-2014) and Georgina Woodcock born c 1932 and the family lived at Scandinavia, Manitoba later moving to 410 Devon Road, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
His brother Kenneth John Woodcock died on 20 March 1945 whilst serving as a Rifleman with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles and lies in Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, Gelderland, Netherlands.
Harvey Woodcock was educated at Bethany Consolidated School 1925-1934.
After leaving school he worked mainly on his father's farm and occasionally as a Carpenter, Sawyer and Auto Mechanic.
He played baseball, hockey and his hobby was mechanics
When he enlisted at Winnipeg on 21 November 1941 he was 5' 7" tall weighing 137 lbs with a medium complexion, blue eyes and fair hair.
After training at No. 2 Bombing and Gunnery School RCAF Mossbank, Saskatchewan and No. 5 Bombing and Gunnery School RCAF Dafoe, Saskatchewan he was awarded his Air Gunners Badge and promoted to Sergeant on 25 September 1942
He embarked for the UK on 28 October 1942 arriving on 4 November 1942 and was posted the following day to No. 3 Personnel Reception Centre at RAF Bournemouth.
On 8 December he was posted to No. 10 Operational Training Unit at RAF Abingdon Oxfordshire for night bombing training on Armstrong Whitworth Whitleys and to No. 1652 Conversion Unit at RAF Marston Moor, North Riding of Yorkshire on 20 May 1943. His posting to No. 78 Squadron at RAF Linton-on-Ouse was on 30 June 1943. He was promoted to Flight Sergeant on 25 March 1943
Harvey Woodcock is commemorated on the War Memorial at Clanwilliam in the Rural Municipality of Minto-Odanah, Manitoba and in 1984 the Province of Manitoba honoured his memory with the naming of Woodcock Point on Crave Lake, Manitoba
BURIAL DETAILS, MEMORIALS AND EPITAPHS
(1) F/Sgt. Peter Aird Fraser was originally buried at Bad Oldesloe, Friedhof, Germany (Sonderabteilung i.e. Special Section) Plot H. Row V. Grave S. Exhumed and re-interred on 4 September 1946 at Hamburg Ohlsdorf Cemetery - Plot VI. Row B. Collective Grave 4 - 8.
His epitaph reads:
For King and Country
(2) Sgt. James Robert Nicholls was originally buried at Bad Oldesloe, Friedhof, Germany (Sonderabteilung i.e. Special Section) Plot H. Row V. Grave S. Exhumed and re-interred on 4 September 1946 at Hamburg Ohlsdorf Cemetery - Plot VI. Row B. Collective Grave 4 - 8.
His epitaph reads:
To the crew, from mum and dad.
At the going down
Of the sun & in the morning
We will remember
(3) Sgt. William Moffatt Tattersall Hetherington was originally buried at Bad Oldesloe, Friedhof, Germany (Sonderabteilung i.e. Special Section) Plot H. Row V. Grave S. Exhumed and re-interred on 4 September 1946 at Hamburg Ohlsdorf Cemetery - Plot VI. Row B. Collective Grave 4 - 8.
(4) F/Sgt. Ralph Cameron Baillie was originally buried at Bad Oldesloe, Friedhof, Germany (Sonderabteilung i.e. Special Section) Plot H. Row V. Grave S. Exhumed and re-interred on 4 September 1946 at Hamburg Ohlsdorf Cemetery - Plot VI. Row B. Collective Grave 4 - 8.
(5) Sgt. William Ernest Goodacre was originally buried at Bad Oldesloe, Friedhof, Germany (Sonderabteilung i.e. Special Section) Plot H. Row V. Grave S. Exhumed and re-interred on 4 September 1946 at Hamburg Ohlsdorf Cemetery - Plot VI. Row B. Collective Grave 4 - 8.
His epitaph reads:
He gave his life
That others might live
(6) Sgt. Thomas Campbell was originally buried at Bad Oldesloe, Friedhof, Germany (Sonderabteilung i.e. Special Section) Plot H. Row V. Grave S. Exhumed and re-interred on 4 September 1946 at Hamburg Ohlsdorf Cemetery - Plot VI. Row B. Grave 9.
His epitaph reads;
If love could have saved you,
You would never have died
(7) F/Sgt. Gerald Harvey Woodcock was originally buried at Bad Oldesloe, Friedhof, Germany (Sonderabteilung i.e. Special Section) Plot H. Row V. Grave S. Exhumed and re-interred on 4 September 1946 at Hamburg Ohlsdorf Cemetery - Plot VI. Row B. Grave 10.
His epitaph reads
Greater love hath no man
Than he who giveth his life
For his loved ones
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - April 2018
With thanks to the sources quoted below.