28/29.07.1942 No. 75 Squadron Wellington III BJ661 AA-X Fl/Sgt. John E. Gilbertson
Operation: Hamburg, Germany.
Date: 28/29th July 1942
Unit: No. 75 Squadron (New Zealand)
Type: Wellington III
Location: IJesselmeer, Holland (Known by the allies as Zuider Zee)
Base: RAF Feltwell, Norfolk.
Location: IJesselmeer, Holland
Pilot: Fl/Sgt. John Edward Gilbertson NZ/41894 RNZAF Age 22. Killed
Nav: Fl/Sgt. Martin John Byrne NZ/404529 RNZAF Age 32. Killed
W/OpAir/Gnr: Sgt. Ron P. Callaghan NZ/411739 RNZAF PoW No: 25141 Camp 8b 344. (Stalag VIIIB-Poland) From Gisborne, New Zealand
W/OpAir/Gnr: Sgt. Alan W. Rutherford NZ/404572 RNZAF PoW No: 25149 Camp 8b 344.(Stalag VIIIB-Poland) From Auckland, New Zealand
Air/Gnr: Sgt. William Arthur Titcomb 1291758 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
Took off from Feltwell, Norfolk at around 23:00 hrs. Carrying 3.240 lb's. of 4 lb. incendiary sticks. Completed their bombing run and had set a course for home when at 03:05 hrs they were then attacked from under the fuselage (A blind spot) by a German night fighter piloted by Oblt. Wolfgang Kuthe in a Bf110. The wellington was raked by both machine guns and 20 mm. cannon.
Fl/Sgt. Gilbertson fought to maintain control whilst the gunners returned the fire but the turrets failed to turn as the mechanism had been shot away. The navigator, Fl/Sgt Byrne had been shot in the back but managed to clip on his parachute before he collapsed back in his seat.
The aircraft then hit the water - Sgt. Callaghan and Sgt. Rutherford were in the middle of the aircraft and when it broke in two they floated through the opening, wearing the Mae West lifejackets. A rescue launch picked them both up in the early hours of the morning and both were extremely well treated by the Germans. At one point they were even taken out to a local beer garden by Luftwaffe Officers!
It is now almost certain that one of these officers was the Pilot who shot them down Oblt. Wolfgang Kuthe.
From a model built a photographed by Heinz Johannson (sent to Aircrew Remembered 2013)
The crew of Wellington BJ661- front Fl/Sgt. Gilbertson, L to R: Sgt. Titcomb, Sgt. Rutherford, Sgt. Callaghan, Fl/Sgt. Byrne. (courtesy of R.P. Callaghan)
The Germans decided to lift the Wellington within hours of the loss in order to discover more about the Gee systems fitted. Fl/Sgt. Gilbertson and Fl/Sgt. Byrne were found in the cockpit still at the controls. Sgt. Titcomb's body was washed up on the shore some days later. All the crew killed were treated by the German's to full military funerals.
Sgt. Ron Callaghan and Sgt. Alan Rutherford spent the remainder of the war in Stalag VIIIB. Ron Callaghan died in 1986, no further details on Alan Rutherford.
Oblt. Wolfgang Kuthe was killed on the 14th April 1944 during an air test he is thought to have blacked out during a 45 degree dive. His aircraft hit a concrete base of a fuel pump and the aircraft exploded and disintegrated.
German Salvage vessel BP36
Photographs above show the recovery of BJ661 with the German Salvage vessel BP36. (courtesy of Michel Beckers - from the originals)
Amazing photographs taken shortly after the two survivors were picked up - left shows Sgt. Rutherford and the right shows Sgt. Callaghan (courtesy of Michel Beckers - from the originals)
Amsterdam New Eastern Cemetery (courtesy C.W.G.C)
John Edward Gilbertson. Amsterdam New Eastern Cemetery. Plot 69. Row E. Grave 17. Son of Ernest E. H. and Laurie I. Gilbertson, of Waipawa, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand.
Martin John Byrne. Amsterdam New Eastern Cemetery. Plot 69. Row E. Grave 18. Son of John and Florence Byrne, of Cambridge, Auckland, New Zealand.
William Arthur Titcomb. Harderwijk General Cemetery. British Plot 2, Grave 15. Son of Arthur Charles and Annie Ida Titcomb, of Eltham, London, England.
With thanks to Michel Beckers for the supply of these amazing photographs of the recovery. These were taken from copies of the originals. We are not able to show the real quality of these on the web. (others supplied - which we have withheld)
The complete story of this loss can be found in the book 'Failed to return' by Roy Conyers Nesbit. We would be happy to direct relatives/researchers where this book can be purchased.