20/21.05.1943 No. 149 Squadron Stirling III BK714 OJ-L Sq/Ldr. Howell
Operation: Rostock, Germany
Date: 20/21st April 1943 (Tuesday/Wednesday)
Unit: No. 149 Squadron
Type: Short Stirling III
Base: RAF Lakenheath
Location: Tarp, 6km NNE of Esbjerg, Denmark
Pilot: Sq/Ldr. Thomas Leach Howell 39418 RAF PoW No: 1222 Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria
Fl/Eng: Sgt. G.W. Herring 570229 RAF PoW No: 1069 Camp: Stalag Kopernikus
Obs: Sgt. Eric Lewis 1097776 RAFVR Age 20. Killed
Ai/Bmr: Sgt. F.L. Parker 1332425 RAF PoW No: 1088 Camp: Stalag Kopernikus
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. A. Dowie 1295004 RAF PoW No: 1064 Camp: Stalag Luft Barth Vogelsang
Air/Gnr: P/O. Mark Standing Winston 132384 RAF PoW No: 1230 Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria
Air/Gnr: Sgt. G.A.C. Carter 1388704 RAF PoW No: 1059 Camp: Stalag Kopernikus
REASON FOR LOSS:
Took off at 22:08 hrs from RAF Lakenheath to attack the town of Rostock 600 miles from England and one of the furthest targets for Bomber Command. Weather was good with a full moon and no cloud so target markers were accurate, resulting in the total devastation of the centre of the town.
The attack took place between 00:59 hrs and 01:45 hrs. German reports at the time state that 13 Industrial units and 380 houses completely destroyed. A large chemical plant was also hit halting all production. 586 people were killed on the ground.
It also cost the allies - out of 339 aircraft that left on the raid 22 aircraft were lost, 130 aircrew were killed, 20 made PoW and 7 interned for a short while in Sweden. The majority succumbed to the very heavy flak encountered and others to the Luftwaffe night fighters who had a difficult time locating them, as the allied bombers had been instructed to fly in and out at between 1,000 and 5.000 ft making them difficult for the German controllers to track. This the reason the majority fell easy prey to the flak units operating with co-ordinated searchlights.
Left: Front turret of a Stirling showing what it would have looked lie prior to crash landing.
When crossing the Danish coast near Esbjerg the Stirling was caught by such search lights. While trying to escape these BK714 flew too low and suddenly “landed” in a field in Tarp at 00:20 hours. When the Stirling hit the ground the nose turret was ripped off and came under the aircraft killing the observer Sgt. Lewis.
Above as described. Sq/Ldr. Thomas Howell 3rd from left with his Air Gunner, P/O. Mark Standing Winston on his left. Others L-R: named as Baker, Lyons, Broderick and Lockwood.(courtesy Peter Howell)
The crew had however been extremely lucky since they had “landed” across the tank ditches and minefields surrounding Esbjerg airfield. Pilot, Sq/Ldr. Howell, Navigator, Sgt. Parker, W/Opr. Sgt. Dowie, Engineer, Sgt. Herring, Mid upper gunner, P/O. Winston and rear gunner, Sgt. Carter were made PoW as soon as they left the aircraft due to having “landed” next to German soldiers guarding the airfield.
The crew were taken to the guardroom in the airfield and kept there until they could be sent to Dulag Luft in Oberursel for interrogation. From there Howell and Winston were sent to Stalag Luft III Sagan while the rest were sent to Stalag Barth and on to Stalag Kopernikus.
Later Parker, Herring and Carter were sent to Stalag 357 Thorn/Fallingbostel while Dowie ended up in Stalag Luft IV Gross Tychow.
The son of the pilot, Peter Howell contacted us in March 2017 and explained that his father survived an earlier crash landing and submitted his fathers notes on this:
"In the autumn of 1941 31 Sqdn had a detachment of DC2s in the Middle East stationed at Bilbeis on the edge of the Nile Delta, North East of Cairo. The airfield was a marked out area on the desert, and from this base mixed loads of freight and passengers were flown out to different points in the Western Desert. Mersa Matruh was usually used as an en route refuelling point.
On the 8th December 1941 (we) were detailed to take some freight and about fifteen passengers to a desert landing ground called Fort Madelena, a short distance on the Egyptian side of the frontier with Libya. The front between our forces and the enemy was on the Libyan side of the frontier. In addition to David Lord (see note below)and myself we carried an extra crew member who, amongst his other duties, manned a Lewis gun mounted on the top part of the starboard passenger door. Half a year later my log book covering this period was destroyed at Myitkyina so that unfortunately I don't have a record of his name.
It was David Lord's turn to fly the aeroplane, and I was in the right hand seat acting as his Co-Pilot. I suppose we were fifteen or twenty miles short of Fort Madelena and flying at 2000ft when we both noticed activity about ten miles away on our port beam. Little aeroplanes were diving down and climbing up again and clouds of dust were rising into the air. We gazed in fascination at our first glimpse of war from the air as someone on the ground was being bombed and machine gunned. This went on for a couple of minutes when something made me glance over my right shoulder in the opposite direction. Diving down towards us from about the four o'clock position were four fighters, which for a second or two I thought were Hurricanes until I saw lights twinkling along the leading edges of their wings.
My reaction to the sight of the twinkling lights was to jerk the control column forward to avoid the shots. David Lord meanwhile initiated a descending turn to the right while bullets and cannon shells struck the aeroplane putting out an engine and causing other damage. Although I wasn't aware of what was going on in the cabin, the third member of the crew was firing his Lewis gun spiritedly in the direction of the enemy. What happened subsequently is a kaleidoscope of disjointed memories. I do not remember if the fighters made a second attack but I think not. I remember David Lord being cool, and with the two of us struggling with the controls, putting the aeroplane down on the desert in a cloud of dust and the noise of rending metal. Astonishingly there was no fire, and we were able to scramble out to safety. Bullets had come into the cockpit piercing the hydraulic tank situated above and behind the co-pilots seat, so that I was soaked in fluid and had been hit in the shoulder. Instruments in front of David Lord had been shattered, one of the passengers had been killed and others injured and shaken.
Shortly after some army trucks arrived, and we were taken to a nearby landing ground occupied by a fighter squadron from whence I was taken to a casualty clearing station to be operated upon, and David Lord and the airman/gunner returned to our base."
David Samuel Anthony Lord 49149 RAF later received the DFC in 1943 - he was also awarded the highest honour of the Victoria Cross, sadly posthumously. He was killed on the 19th September 1944 whilst serving with 271 Squadron.
The VC citation gazetted on the 13th November 1945 for this action reads:
"Fl/Lt. Lord was pilot and captain of an aircraft detailed to drop supplies to our troops, who were closely surrounded at Arnhem. For accuracy this had to be done at 900 feet. While approaching the target at 1,500 feet the aircraft was severely damaged and set on fire. Fl/Lt. Lord would have been justified in withdrawing or even in abandoning his aircraft but, knowing that supplies were desperately needed, he continued on his course. Twice going down to 900 feet under very intense fire, he successfully dropped his containers. His task completed he ordered his crew to abandon the aircraft, making no attempt himself to leave. A few seconds later the aircraft fell in flames, only one of the crew surviving. By continuing his mission in a damaged and burning plane, twice descending to 900 feet to ensure accuracy, and finally by remaining at the controls to give his crew a chance of escape, Fl/Lt. Lord displayed supreme valour and self-sacrifice."
He is buried at the Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery. Grave 4.B.5. Born on the 18th October 1913 in Cork, Ireland, the son of Samuel Beswick Lord, and of Mary Ellen Lord, of Wrexham, Denbighshire, Wales.
149 Squadron lost another crew on this operation, the other:
Stirling III BK698 OJ-G Flown by 28 year old Fl/Lt. George Ivan Ellis NZ/414269 RNZAF from Canterbury, New Zealand - missing with 6 other crew members, another New Zealander, 27 year old Fl/Lt. David Ian McNarey NZ/405299 RNZAF of Otago, New Zealand is buried at Lemig Cemetery after his body was washed ashore near Thyboron some time later on the 11th May 1943.
Sgt. Eric Lewis. Esbjerg Cemetery, Denmark Plot: Coll. grave A. 10. 10-15. Son of Alfred and Jean Lewis, of Kendal, Westmorland, England. Grave inscription reads: “Death Doth But Hide He Is Just On Christ’s Other Side.”
Researched Michel Beckers for Aircrew Remembered December 2016. With many thanks to Peter Howell (son of the pilot) additional information and photographs - March 2017. Grave photo courtesy Søren C. Flensted - others from the Michel Beckers collection.