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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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419 Squadron Crest
21/22.1.1944 419 RCAF Squadron Halifax III JD420 VR-D F/Sgt Vernon Lorraine 'Doug' Hawkes

Operation: Magdeburg

Date: January 21/22 1944 (Friday/Saturday)

Unit: 419 (Moose) Squadron RCAF - Motto: Moosa aswayita (Cree language) "Beware the moose"

Type: Halifax III

Serial: JD420

Code: VR-D

Base: RAF Middleton St. George, County Durham

Location: Neuenfelde near Elsfleth on the Weser, Germany

Pilot: F/Sgt Vernon Lorraine 'Doug' Hawkes R131972 RCAF Age 27 - PoW No.270041 Camp: Stalag Mühlberg (Elbe) - 4B (1)

Fl/Eng: Sgt Donald Maurice Board 1604784 RAFVR Age 25 - PoW No. 270009 Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria - L3 (2)

Nav: W.O.II William Johnson Kennedy Fletcher R143004 RCAF Age 24 - Killed (3)

Air/Bmr: F/O. Frank Elmer Houison* J25529 RCAF Age 24 - PoW No. 3364 Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria - L3 (4)

W/Op/Air/Gnr: W.O.II Donald Raymond McDevitt R103819 RCAF Age 23 - PoW No. 270064 Camp: Stalag Mühlberg (Elbe) - 4B (5)

Air/Gnr: W.O.II Wilfred Henry Barnes R130395 RCAF Age 20 - PoW No. 270003 Camp: Stalag Mühlberg (Elbe) - 4B (6)

Air/Gnr: Sgt Al M. Bowman R155285 RCAF Age ? - PoW No. 270012 Camp: Stalag Mühlberg (Elbe) - 4B (7)


Note: * J25529 F/Lt. Houlson, F.E., Library and Archives Canada/ancestry.ca., website also gives his rank as F/O and spellings: Howison, F. and Houison, F.

Information provided by Dean Black, Executive Director RCAF Association notes J25529 is Flight Lieutenant Frank Elmer HOUISON. He was promoted to that rank on 16 April 1945, but was a flying officer when he was shot down.



We appeal to anyone with further information and/or photographs to please contact us via our HELPDESK



INTRODUCTION


On 21 January 1944 14 crews of 419 Squadron were detailed and briefed for the first attack in strength of the war on Magdeburg, the capital city and the second largest city of the state of Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. They were to be part of a total force of 648 aircraft comprising 421 Lancasters, 224 Halifaxes and 3 Mosquitoes despatched for the raid.

Zero hour was set at 2300 hours with the Primary Blind Markers of the Pathfinder Force opening proceedings at Z-5 followed by the usual variety of Visual Markers, Visual Backers-up and Supporters.

The main force was to attack in five waves as follows:

1. 116 Lancasters from Z to Z+4

2. 97 Halifaxes from Z+4 to Z+8

3. 96 Halifaxes from Z+7 to Z+11

4. 85 Lancasters from Z+11 to Z+15

5. 117 Lancasters from Z+14 to Z+18

The briefed route was due east across the North Sea before turning south east to cross the German coast in the Cuxhaven area and continuing south east to a point midway between Bremen and Hamburg then roughly east south east towards Berlin for about 100 miles before turning almost directly south to the target of Magdeburg.

After bombing they were to head south west then north east back to the mid-point between Bremen and Hamburg and from there return via the same route as the out-bound leg. (See map)


The 14 crews of 419 Squadron were to bomb in the third wave, one of their number would be that of Flight Sergeant 'Doug' Hawkes flying Halifax JD420 VR-D.


REASON FOR LOSS


The first of the 14, Halifax JP119, took off from RAF Middleton St. George at precisely 1931 and by 1958 all were airborne. Doug Hawkes having taken off seventh at 1946 set course to cross the English coast at Whitby for the 300 odd mile flight across the bleak North Sea. The aircraft was carrying a bomb load comprising 2 x 1000 MC N Inst., 810 x 4lb Incendiaries, 90 x 4 lb 'x' type and 24 x 30 lb Incendiaries. Special equipment on board was Gee, Monica, Window, Special Tinsel and Tinsel (see abbreviations)


As was becoming a frequent occurence of late, the German controller followed the progress of the bomber stream across the North Sea and even before crossing the German coast many night fighters had infiltrated the stream.

Crossing the German coast the force then encountered intense flak in the Elbe Estuary, Bremerhaven, Cuxhaven and Wilhelmshaven.

Although weather over the English bases was 10/10ths medium cloud, this had gradually diminished en route and arriving over the target area it was found that there was only variable patchy cloud, visibility was good and there was no moon.

The attack opened prematurely with 2 Primary Blind Markers attacking at Z-6 and 27 aircraft of the main force bombing before zero hour. Overall, the Pathfinders opened accurately but backers-up and the main force were led astray by decoy markers and the raid became scattered.

Over the target area, the force encountered moderate opposition with a loose barrage up to 20000 feet, searchlights in the east of the city and balloons at 8000 feet.

Doug Hawkes and his crew in JD420 duly reached the target without mishap and after dropping their bombs turned for home.

The best part of an hour later they were still making good progress but their luck was about to run out.

A later statement by air bomber Frank Houison explains some of what happened next:

'Over enemy territory aircraft suddenly rocked by heavy flak - P.O. [Port Outer] engine u/s and splinters entered through nose, navs compartment and pilot cockpit (BAs [Bomb Aimer's] left shoulder grazed, P wounded in R arm, Nav wounded in pit of stomach - dead - by large splinter which sheared off side of the radio which was rendered u/s. BA took over navigation. 1 minute later the Port Inner engine seized up and feathered - lost height rapidly for a few seconds - control regained. Decided to abandon - couldn't make height and (?) probably damaged. Baled out and reached ground without further injury.'

Skipper Doug Hawkes added:

'On January 21/22 my life was saved through the use of one of your seat pack parachutes. All my crew except the navigator landed in similar fashion without injury.'

The six surviving crew members were taken as prisoners of war. Doug Hawkes, Don McDevitt, Wilf Barnes and Al Bowman were eventually sent to Stalag 4B at Mühlberg (Elbe) where they remained until after liberation by Russian forces in April 1945. Don Board and Frank Houison were taken to Stalag Luft III Sagan and Belaria where Frank Houison is known to have worked on the tunnel used in the Great Escape. They were liberated in May 1945.


Theo Boiten confirms the fate of this aircraft in the Nachtjagd Combat Archives (NCA) 1944 entry:

'419 Sqn Halifax JD420: hit by 2.-6./schw. Flak Abt. 390 (o), 2./schw. Flak Abt. 542 (o) and 4./schw. Flak Abt. 531 (o), crashed at Neuenfelde, [about 2 miles] NNW Elsfleth at 00.06 hrs.'

Decoded by Theo, he confirmed that the a/c was shot down by seven Flak batteries: 2-6 of heavy Flak Abt[eilung] 390 and one each of 542 and 531.

Theo and Rod MacKenzie are in the process of publishing the expanded NCA with a completion date of 2020, in 12-15 volumes. Two additional volumes on the Med and Eastern Front Nachtjagd are planned to cap off this project in 2021. This lifelong mega-project is eagerly anticipated by the historical aviation community. The Trojan task of expanding the two volume Nachtjagd War Diaries into the 14-19 volumes of the Nachtjagd Combat Archives has been monumental and painstaking, their research diligent and unbiased. Both Theo and Rod have been most gracious with their time in responding to our queries in researching the reasons for losses of numerous 625 Squadron Lancs and their crews.



Despite the poor application of the attack on Magdeburg of 21/22 January 1944, considerable damage was caused in the south west suburbs of the city, involving a number of priority factories.

Losses sustained on the raid were 35 Halifaxes and 22 Lancasters, a total of 57 aircraft, represented 8.8 per cent of the total force, 75 per cent of which probably fell to night fighters. The loss rate for the Halifaxes however was a staggering 15.6 per cent.

419 Squadron suffered another loss that night. Skippered by Flight Lieutenant Arthur George Hermitage, J/3747 RCAF, Halifax JD466 VR-E crashed at Borne: there were no survivors. The dead were initially buried at Borne Gemeinde Cemetery on 26 January 1944 and re-interred at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery on 5 July 1947



AFTERMATH


Mr. William Fletcher, the navigator’s father, received a letter dated 28th January 1944 from W/C W.P. Pleasance, C.O. of No. 419 (RCAF) Squadron, confirming the preceding telegram that their son was missing on operations to attack an important German industrial target. He continued: 'During the two months your son was with us, he had successfully completed two attacks on the enemy. These were on Frankfurt and Berlin. Although he was with us for such a short time, he set a very high standard of Navigation and that combined with his quiet confident manner, made him a popular and valued member of this Squadron'…


Mr. Fletcher received a second letter, dated March 20 1944 from S/L W.R. Gunn, RCAF Casualties Officer, informing him that information had been received via the International Red Cross Society in Geneva, from enemy sources, that his son had lost his life on January 21 1944.

S/L Gunn added that taking into account the source, that pending further confirmation his son would still be considered 'missing'. This would prove to be a lengthy process.

However, W.O. Fletcher’s parents would receive confirmation of his death in a rather unusual manner. Form P.64 for the Department on National Defence, Estates Branch, was completed by his mother on September 26, 1944. In the section headed:

USE SPACE BELOW FOR ANY ADDITIONAL REMARKS YOU MAY WISH TO MAKE, she wrote:

'John joined the R.C.A.F. direct from university. Although he is listed "Presumed Dead" his pilot wrote from a German Prison Camp that John (navigator on a Lancaster) was instantly killed Jan. 21/44 over Magdeburg and was buried near Bremen. The other six members parachuted and are all prisoners of war.'




TRANSCRIPTS OF DOCUMENTS AND LETTERS IN THE SERVICE FILE OF WILLIAM JOHNSON KENNEDY FLETCHER

1

D.P.S. (Director of Personal Services) Minute 1

1. No. 419 R.C.A.F. Squadron reported the Halifax aircraft, JD420, with a crew of 7 failed to return from the operational attack on Magdeburg. It left base at 19.46 hours on the 21st. January, 1944, after which no further news was received. The aircraft was due to return to base at approximately 02.46 hours, on the 22nd. January, 1944.

2. A telegram from the I.R.C.C. quoting German information, stated that six members of this crew were taken Prisoners of War, and that one unknown was killed on the 22nd. January, 1944. As this completes the crew of seven, it is possible to assume that the one unknown is W.O.2. Fletcher, the remaining member of this crew.



3. An extract from official German totenliste No. 208, confirms the information stated in paragraph two. There are no burial particulars notified, and as no confirmatory evidence of burial has been received regarding W.O.2 Fletcher, action was not taken to reclassify him to “Missing Believed Killed in Action”.

4. In view of the evidence received, and the lapse of time, it is accordingly submitted that the death of CAN/R143004 W.O.2. W.J.K. Fletcher, be presumed, for official purposes to have occurred on the 22nd. January, 1944.

5. The remaining five R.C.A.F. members of this crew are now Prisoners of War, and the one remaining member of this crew was not R.C.A.F. personnel.

10-16/8/44 Approved

A.B. Matthews

Wing Commander for Director of Personal Services




2


From:- Air Ministry, S.14 Can., 2, Seville Street, Knightsbridge,

London, S.W.1.

To:- Officer Commanding, No.4 Missing Research and Enquiry Unit,

℅ S4 G.M.R.S., Royal Air Force, British Air Forces of Occupation,

℅ British Army of the Rhine.

Ref:- P.412881/S.14 Cas, C.7.

Date:- 19th September, 1947.

Informative Memorandum


Halifax JD.420 was reported missing the night of 21/22nd January 1944, during an attack on Magdeburg with the following

crew:-

R.131972 F/Sgt. Hawkes, V.L. Pilot Safe

R.143004 F/Sgt. (now W.O.2.) Fletcher, W.J.K. Nav. P.D.

J.25529 F/Lt. Houlson, F.E. A/B Safe

1604784 Sgt. Board, D.M.F/E Safe

R.103819 W.O.2. McDevitt, D.R.Wop/A.G. Safe

R.130395 W.O. Barnes, W.H.A/G Safe

R.155285 Sgt. Bowman, A.M. A/G Safe

W.O.2. Fletcher was killed in the aircraft before the remainder of the crew baled out successfully. German documents state that the aircraft crashed at 00.06 hours on 22nd January, 1944, at Neuenfelde near Elsfleth on the Weser. Pieces of the body of the unknown were found and buried on 27th January, 1944, in Oldenburg New Cemetery, Section I, Field III, Line W, Grave 52. It is requested that the burial particulars, as given above, may be checked, the grave registered, and final F.3372 raised, when the Kreis in question is being cleared.

Copy to:- R.C.A.F. (Signed) J.A. STURCH



3

4 MREU/1115/14/3/P.4.

1. American Graves Registration Command, whilst operating in the area of Kreis Oldenburg, removed an unknown airman from Oldenburg New Cemetery, Plot III, Row W, Grave 52 and concentrated him into Neuville-en-Condroz, Belgium. Apparently this Casualty was found to be British, returned and reburied into RHEINBURG B.M.C. Plot VII, Row C, Grave 21. A note which appears on the attached Exhumation Report shows: “Presumed to have died at Elsfleth, Kreis Wesermarsch.”

2. In an endeavour to obtain information regarding this casualty I proceeded to the Church Community Office Oldenburg. Cemetery record shows that the airman was delivered by members of the Fliegerhorst Oldenburg on the 24 Jan 1944, and buried on the 27 Jan 1944.

3. During the cause of investigation I visited the u/m places:-

ELSFLETH The Stadtkreisdirektor, Herr EILERS, was unable to supply information regarding the place of the crash.

DELMENHORST I interviewed Herr Martin CARSTENSEN, residing at 31, Goethestrasse who was a chief-clerk of a Flak battery situated in the area of Elsfleth. From him I learned that during the winter of 1943/44 a 4 engined bomber was shot down by Flak at a place called NEUENFELDE, M.R. L.54/R.4518.

4. The u/m witnesses were also interviewed, from whom I received the following statements.

Herr Renken, Hinrich, Farmer, Neuenfelde

Frau Thuemler, Willy, Neuenfelde

Herr Beusing, Farmer, Neuenfelde

Herr Munderloh, Johann, Farmer, Neuenfelde

Aircraft:-

Between the 18/24 Jan. 1944 at approximately 23.00 hours a 4 engined [sic] aircraft was seen approaching Neuenfelde from the Bremen direction and crashed into a field belonging to Herr Buesing. The wreckage of the aircraft was scattered into pieces and went on burning for several hours. The scene of the crash was temporarily barricaded by the Luftwaffe so that none of the inhabitants could approach the scene of the incident.

Aircrew:-

Remains of human flesh and bones of what was believed to account for one or two bodies were recovered from the scene of the crash. They were placed into a wooden box and removed by members of the Luftwaffe from OLDENBURG Airfield, and buried in OLDENBURG New Cemetery as recorded in para. 1. The fate of the remaining crew members is unknown.

5. A copy of a letter from the Fliegerhorstkommandantur Oldenburg is attached.

6. According to a German Flak Report from the former Luftgau XI a HALIFAX aircraft crashed near Neuenfelde on the 21 Jan. 1944.

7. It is requested that a list showing all the unaccounted crew members of Halifax aircrafts which were reported missing in the area referred to in this report, may be forwarded to this Section.

Your observations and comments are requested at an early date.

(Signed) C.G. MINCHINTON S/LDR.

Officer Commanding

“G” M.R.E.S. No.4 M.R.E.U. R.AF.



Information from JD420’s mid-upper gunner, F/O Barnes, after liberation, provides some insight that the daily life of a POW was not without risk.


4

QUESTIONNAIRE FOR COMPLETION BY R.C.A.F. RETURNED EVADERS ESCAPERS OR PRISONERS OF WAR

Question 4. Have you information of any Royal Canadian Air Force or Royal Air Force personnel other than members of your owncrew? The Casualty Branch is anxious to know details of any prisoners of war who have not come back. Please write down as many names as you can remember of those who have tried to escape or have died since the camps were evacuated,or whether shot, accidentally killed. Any information of this nature which you can supply will help us to piece together details and eventually report to the next-of-kin, of those who have not come back.

F/SGT. JONES (DFM) R.A.F. Killed one night in February by the German guards on the camp.

W/O.2 MALLERY, BERT (RCAF). Killed one day end of April, or March (not certain) by a low flying Ju.88, over the camp.

Name BARNES, WILFRED H.

Rank F/O. [sic]

Service No. J.19769

Unit at time of capture 419 Sqd

Date of completion of this form 17.5.45



The period of time of greatest risk for POWs was during the collapse of the Third Reich at war’s end. Two Aircrew Remembered archive reports give vivid testimony of the hazards faced by POWs as the German military did everything in their power to prevent their escape, while avoiding being overrun by the Soviet Army. AR LINKS: ND571 and LM513.

http://www.aircrewremembered.com/sidebotham-george...

http://www.aircrewremembered.com/dowden-max-eugene...



It would not be until the following letter written on 27th July, 1950, by W/C W. R. Gunn, that the Fletcher family would finally receive official confirmation of their son’s death:


5

R143004 (DPC)

Mr. W.C. Fletcher

Box 30,

Hatzic, B.C.

27th July, 1950.


Dear Mr. Fletcher:

It is with regret that I refer to the loss of your son, Warrant Officer Class II William Johnson Kennedy Fletcher. A report has, however, been received from our Missing Research and Enquiry Service concerning you son.

Investigating Officers of this Service have ascertained that your son’s aircraft crashed at Neuenfelde which is twenty miles north west of Bremen.

Your son’s body was recovered from the wreckage by members of the German Air Force from Oldenburg airfield and buried in Oldenburg New Cemetery. Oldenburg is thirteen miles south west of Neuenfelde.

In accordance with the agreed policy of the Nations of the British Commonwealth that all British aircrew buried in Germany would be moved to British Military Cemeteries located in Germany, your son was moved to the permanent British Military Cemetery eleven miles north west of Duisberg, Germany. The cemetery is known as the Rheinberg British Military Cemetery. He was laid to rest in plot 7, row C, grave No. 21.

This British Military Cemetery and the graves will be reverently cared for and maintained in perpetuity by the Imperial War Graves Commission (of which Canada is a member). The Commission will also erect a permanent headstone at your son’s resting place.

It is my earnest hope that you will be comforted with the knowledge that your son’s resting place is known, and that it will be permanently maintained, and I would like to take this opportunity of expressing to you and the members of your family my deepest sympathy in the loss of your gallant son.

Yours sincerely,

for (W.R. Gunn) W/C

R.C.A.F. Casualties Officer,

for Chief of the Air Staff.

PFF:GB



BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW



(1) F/Sgt Vernon Lorraine 'Doug' Hawkes was born on 17 May 1916 at Calgary, Alberta Canada the son of Vincent Lambert Hawkes and Jemima Fraser Hawkes nee Crockett. He had three siblings: Murray Gordon Hawkes born 1914, Hazel Alberta Hawkes (1918-1997) and Paul Vincent Hawkes (1920-1997)

He crewed up at No. 22 Operational Training Unit at RAF Wellesbourne Mountford, Warwickshire. He and his crew moved to 1659 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Topcliffe on 15 October and to 419 Squadron at RAF Middleton St. George, County Durham on 20 November 1943. These movements are the same as those of William Fletcher.

Doug Hawkes was married on 26 April 1947. He and his wife had 5 children

He died on 2 February 2012 at Calgary aged 95


(2) Fl/Eng: Sgt Donald Maurice Board was born on 27 May 1918 at Axbridge, Somerset the son of Maurice James Board (a Farmer, Dairyman and Cheesemaker) and Gladys Irene L. Board nee Frost. He had five siblings: Alan J. Board born 9 Feb 1916, William R Board born 27 Feb 1917 and three others - details unknown.

In 1939 the family lived at Hill Farm, Bridgewater, Somerset where Donald and his brothers worked as General Farm-workers.

Donald Maurice Board, formerly of Chilton Polden and Henlade, Somerset passed away peacefully on May 17 2006, aged 87. His funeral service was held at St. Edward's Church, Chilton Polden on Thursday, June 1 2006 at 3.30 p.m.

(3) W.O.II William Johnson Kennedy Fletcher was born on 26 November 1919 at Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada the only son of William Chesney McClure Fletcher (a Farmer) and Elizabeth Guy Fletcher nee Stuart.

He had a sister, Mary Bill Fletcher born c 1921 and a half sister, Ann Oliver MacLachlan b c 1912 (wife of Fl/Lt. S.M. MacLachlan)

The family lived at Hatzic 50 miles east of Vancouver where William attended the local school from 1926 until 1933 followed by the nearby Mission High School until 1937 when he was 18. From 1938 until 1941 he was an undergraduate of the University of British Columbia where he studied Mathematics and French. He had completed his third year of French and Mathematics and six units of the fourth year prior to enlisting at Vancouver on 14 November 1941. He played basketball, lacrosse and handball moderately and was also a musician.

On enlistment he was 5' 9" tall weighing 153 lbs with a medium complexion, blue eyes and brown hair.

After training at Observer Air School RCAF Lachin, Quebec, 17 Elementary Flying Training School at RCAF Stanley, Nova Scotia and No. 9 Air Observer School at RCAF St. John, New Brunswick he was awarded his Navigator's Badge and promoted to Sergeant on 30 December 1942. There followed two weeks of pre-embarkation leave before embarkation on 26 January 1943.

On 5 February, the day after disembarking in the UK he was posted to No. 3 Personnel Reception Centre at Bournemouth. He was to remain there until 15 June when he was posted to No. 3 Observer Advanced Flying Unit at RAF Penrhos, Caernarvonshire where on 30 June he was promoted to Flight Sergeant. On 27 July he was posted to No. 22 Operational Training Unit at RAF Wellesbourne Mountford, Warwickshire and on 15 October to 1659 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Topcliffe, North Riding of Yorkshire. He was posted to 419 Squadron at RAF Middleton St. George, County Durham on 20 November 1943. He was promoted to W.O.II with effect from 30 December 1943.

He was hospitalised, for reasons unknown, on three occasions, 11 to 19 Dec 1941, 6 to 11 April 1942 and 4 to 19 June 1942.






(4) F/Lt Frank Elmer Houison was born c 1919 at Hamilton City, Ontario, Canada the son of Frank Houison and Mary Barbour Houison nee Mitchell.

Whilst a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft III he worked on the tunnel used in the Great Escape but was unsuccessful in the lottery for those chosen to escape.

He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant on 16 April 1945.

Post-war he was for a time, President of the National Prisoner of War Association of Canada.


(5) W.O.II Donald Raymond McDevitt was born on 31 December 1920 at Hugheneden Alberta Canada the son of Victor McDevitt and Emma Bell McDevitt nee Timm. He had five siblings: Frederick McDevitt (1915-1964), Albert McDevitt born 1917, Belva Ellen McDevitt born 1919, Fay McDevitt born 1922 and Leo McDevitt (1927-1975)


(6) W.O.II Wilfred Henry Barnes was born on 6 February 1923 at Sundridge, Parry Sound, Ontario, Canada the son of Henry George Barnes and Lucy Barnes nee Sturch.

In 1945 he married Shirley Elizabeth Smith at Winnipeg, Manitoba. They had a daughter Laura Elizabeth Barnes (1949-1993) and five more children.

Wilfred Henry Barnes died on 13 November 1979 at Petersburgh, Ontario aged 56


(7) Sgt Al M. Bowman - nothing further known - if you have any information please contact our helpdesk



BURIAL DETAILS, MEMORIALS AND EPITAPHS



W.O.II William Johnson Kennedy Fletcher was originally buried at Oldenburg New Cemetery and was re-interred on 21 December 1948 at Rheinberg War Cemetery - Plot 7, Row C, Grave No. 21. (But see earlier transcript of MREU report - 4 MREU/1115/14/3/P.4.)

His epitaph reads

Happy Memories





On 4 July 1957 the memory of William Johnson Kennedy Fletcher was honoured by the Province of British Columbia with the naming of Mount Fletcher located between Chehalis and Stave Lakes, New Westminster Land District 49° 25′ 41″ N, 122° 4′ 10″ W













References:

John MacLachlan, nephew of W.O.II W.J.K. Fletcher

Library and Archives Canada/ancestry.ca

Commonwealth War Graves Commission website

Theo Boiten, author NWD, NCA

Aircrew Remembered: JD420 datasheet

Dean Black: Executive Director RCAF Association


Photo Credits:

R.C.A.F ID Card and German Death Card - Library and Archives Canada/ancestry.ca.

Canada WWII Service Files of War Dead, 1939-1947, File 27518 Images 283 and 298

Map of JD420 Loss and W.O.II Fletcher’s burial history - JEA

Fletcher Family Collection


Co-authors:

Roy Wilcock

Maureen Hicks

Submission by John MacLachlan, Jack Albrecht and Nic Lewis


Author’s note:

This archive report germinated from a serendipitous encounter with JD420’s navigator’s namesake nephew. He provided a name, service number and family photos.

The particulars of this loss illustrate the vagaries of war. It is difficult to visualize the sequence of events of this loss that resulted in the instant death of a crew member, rendered a four engine bomber uncontrollable, yet the six surviving airmen were able to parachute to safety without apparent injury—the result of a seven battery Flak barrage. It boggles the mind.

The most plausible explanation of these forensic circumstances would include multiple radar directed Flak hits to the wings and engines with multiple failures, an isolated shrapnel fragment penetrating the fuselage, fatally injuring the navigator, without major structural failure allowing the remaining crew to bale out—a miracle to say the least.

The time and location of this loss and the fact that the aircraft burned on impact but did not explode suggests that F/Sgt. Hawkes and his crew had successfully bombed the target and were homeward bound when their luck ran out.

Interestingly, the ambiguity of the date of loss for JD420 and death of W.O. Fletcher were resolved by the RAF/RCAF/CWGC authorities by resorting to the precise documentation of the German military.

The RCAF Casualties Officer was compassionate and considerate when he elected not to inform W.O. Fletcher’s parents that his remains were temporarily relocated to an American cemetery in Belgium. Fortunately, this error was rectified.

It is noteworthy that it took the authorities over five years past war’s end to officially inform W.O Fletcher’s family of his fate. However, as a result of the pilot, F/Sgt. Hawkes, writing them as a POW, they were aware of his fate, possibly before the authorities. This act would have significantly reduced their anxiety and mental anguish—symbolic of bomber crew camaraderie.

JEA/RW 24.09.2019

Pages of Outstanding Interest
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Acknowledgements
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', 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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