431 RCAF Squadron Lancaster X KB859 SE-U Fl/Lt. Pat J. Hurley
Date: March 31, 1945 (Saturday)
Unit: No. 431 RCAF Iroquois Squadron (motto: hatiten ronteriios - 'Warriors of the air')
Type: Lancaster X
Serial Number: KB859
Base: RAF Croft, Yorkshire
Location: Hittfeld, 10 km south of Hamburg
Pilot: Fl/Lt.. Patrick Joseph Hurley J35426 RCAF Age 22 POW (1)
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Laurence John Mercer 1893245 RAFVR Age 20 KIA (2)
Nav: F/O. Martin Hartog J40430 RCAF Age 20 KIA (3)
Air/Bmr: F/O. Frederick Roy Alty J38392 RCAF Age 19 KIA (4)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: P/O. Albert Dorey J94186 RCAF Age 27 KIA (5)
Air/Gnr: F/O. Patrick Blake Dennison J44151 RCAF Age 21 KIA (6)
Air/Gnr: F/O. John Joseph Casey J43953 RCAF Age 20 KIA (7)
The story of KB859 starts in 1943 in Canada and England, coming to a tragic end at 09:07 on March 31, 1945, two months before war’s end. Marg Liessens, three months old at the time, never had the opportunity to meet her father, P/O Albert Dorey. She has dedicated the following tribute to her father after extensive research, including three visits to the crash site of KB859 and eight to pay her respects at his grave in the Becklingen War Cemetery, Soltau, Germany. We are most grateful to her for sharing this memorial to her father and the crew of KB859, posted on The Military Museum website. The Mural of Honour, of which this tribute is a small part, hangs in the Atrium of the Military Museums located in Calgary, AB.
Mural of Honour, Military Museum and Painting: Lancaster in Flames
P/O Albert Dorey
Early on the morning of 31 March 1945, Albert and his crew climbed aboard Lancaster KB859 (SE-U) for a daylight mission to bomb the U-Boat shipyards in Hamburg, Germany. It was his 21st mission. As their formation of Lancasters arrived over the target, they came under attack by a squadron of Me 262 jet fighters which strafed their aircraft.
As the pilot struggled to regain control of the damaged plane, he ordered everyone to bail out. Of the three men who got out, only the pilot survived. The other four airmen, including Albert, went down with the plane and perished in the crash.
KB859 Crew Photo: Back row, l. to r., P/O A. Dorey, Sgt. L.J. Mercer, F/O P.B. Dennison, F/O J.J. Casey.
Front row, l. to r., F/L P.J. Hurley, F/O M. Hartog, F/O F.R. Alty.
Albert Dorey's Early Years
Albert Dorey was born in London, Ontario, on August 24, 1917 to Arthur and Florence Dorey. He attended Beal Technical School in London, Ontario prior to taking employment at Penman’s Ltd. as a machine operator. His hobbies were hunting, fishing, skating, baseball and swimming. On August 19, 1939, Albert married Jean Pierce in London, and they moved into a small home that his father had helped build.
Albert enlisted with the RCAF on February 10, 1943, and soon afterwards left for No.2 Manning Depot in Brandon, Manitoba. In April, he transferred to No.5 Bombing and Gunnery (B&G) School in Dafoe, Saskatchewan.
Albert then traveled to Calgary, Alberta to study wireless radio operation at No.2 Wireless School, and remained there until the end of January 1944. The first entry in his log book is dated August 10, 1943 when he flew as a passenger for air experience in a Norseman IV. During his time in Calgary, he also flew the Fleet Fort II, Yale, Anson and Bolingbroke Bomber (shown in photo). Before leaving for overseas, he spent time at No.2 B&G in Mossbank, Saskatchewan.
Albert Dorey Gunnery Training, Sgt. Albert Dorey
Albert left for Liverpool, England on April 10, 1944 and was assigned to the Advanced Flying Unit at Millom, Cumberland where he flew in Ansons for bombing and navigation experience. He was taken on strength with the 431 Iroquois Squadron on October 24, 1944.
Albert Dorey's Flight Missions
Albert’s first Operational Flight was December 21, 1944 in an attack of the Nippes rail yards at Cologne, Germany. He then went on to complete the following missions:
Mission Date: Target: Log Book
24 Dec 1944: Dusseldorf: Lohausen airfield
28 Dec 1944: Opladen: Rail yards
6 Jan 1945: Hanau: gun turret shot off
14 Jan 1945: Merseburg: Leuna synthetic oil plant
16 Jan 1945: Zeitz: Synthetic oil plant
28 Jan 1945: Stuttgart: marshalling yards
2 Feb 1945: Wiesbaden
4 Feb 1945: Bonn
7 Feb 1945: Goch: in support of the 1st Canadian Army
20 Feb 1945: Dortmund: numerous fighters, incendiary damage
23 Feb 1945: Pforzheim: landed at Manston
27 Feb 1945: Mainz
1 Mar 1945: Mannheim
5 Mar 1945: Chemnitz
7 Mar 1945: Dessau
11 Mar 1945: Essen
12 Mar 1945: Dortmund
14 Mar 1945: Zweibrucken
15 Mar 1945: Hagen
31 Mar 1945: Hamburg: Albert’s last mission
The Last Flight of KB859
It was on his 21st mission on March 31, 1945, that the crew of KB859 failed to return. Eight Lancasters and three Halifaxes were lost on this raid; it was Bomber Command’s last double-digit loss of the war from a raid on one city. Reports from returning aircrews said that Messerschmitt 262 twin-engine jets had attacked their Lancaster.
Remarkably, pilot Pat Hurley survived the attack. The following is his account of the last flight of KB859, recalled by his son Bruce:
On March 31, the crew of KB859 was on a daylight bombing raid on the Blohm & Voss shipyards over Hamburg. That day, 361 Lancaster bombers were split into three groups and their plane had slot #13 in the third and last formation.
Through an apparent navigation error by the wing commander, this group was fifteen minutes later than the first two. The fighter aircraft sent to protect the bombers had already swung back toward England, assuming everyone had completed their bombing runs. By the time KB859 and other planes in the third formation were over the U-Boat shipyard, enemy fighters were airborne.
Their plane was hit and badly damaged by German fighters. Internal communications were also knocked out so the pilot did not know how many of the crew were killed or injured by the strafing.
With their plane going down, the pilot thought he could attempt a belly landing in a farmer's field, but when he finally realized he was not going to make it, he yelled for everybody to bail out. But by this time the plane was so low that when he finally got out himself, his parachute barely had time to open.
Pilot Pat Hurley was the only one of the crew to survive. He also said that the only reason he survived the jump was because he landed in a huge manure pile. Their plane crashed into a farmhouse and exploded.
When Pat was able to stand up, he saw farmers approaching him on one side with scythes and pitchforks and the Gestapo coming from the opposite direction with their pistols drawn. He turned himself over to the German troops because he suspected that he would not survive an encounter with the people whose farmhouse had just been destroyed by their plane.
Crash site, 1932, Crash site, 1990
Crash site 2022, Crash site, 2017 Marg Liessens.
Pat Hurley spent the remainder of the war as a POW, and like everyone else in the crew, including Albert Dorey, he was reported as missing in action and presumed dead by his family. They did not know he was alive until he and other POW’s were liberated by Russian soldiers and eventually turned over to British forces in May 1945.
The aircrew were originally buried in Hittfeld Civil Cemetery, Germany, in a common grave since at the time identification was considered impossible. When the bodies were moved to Becklingen War Cemetery, Germany in August 1946, identification was confirmed and each crew member buried individually.
A Remarkable Reunion
Among Albert’s personal possessions, was a photo of his baby daughter Margaret, just 3½ months old at the time of his death. Albert was also wearing something else at the time his plane was shot down, an engraved bracelet.
In 2005, sixty years after his death, his daughter, Marg Liessens, discovered the bracelet had survived the war when it was sent to her by a relative. Marg is shown holding the same bracelet that her father Albert is wearing in the crew photograph. The bracelet now resides with the Bomber Command Museum of Canada in Nanton, Alberta.
P/O Albert Dorey’s Bracelet, Daughter Marg Liessens. P/O Albert Dorey’s Bracelet.
Sponsored by Marg Liessens in memory of the crew of KB859, and for her Father, P/O Albert Dorey WAG (1917 - 1945).
ROYAL CANADIAN AIR FORCE
Dear Mrs. Dorey,
Before you receive this letter you will have had a telegram informing you that your husband Flight Sergeant Albert Dorey is missing as a result of air operations.
At approximately 06.30 hours on the morning of the 31st instant (sic), Albert and members of his crew took off from this aerodrome to carry out operations over HAMBURG, but unfortunately failed to return. It is with regret that I write to you this date to convey the feelings of my entire Squadron. Albert was popular with this Squadron, and was one of my ‘Ace’ Wireless Operators. Your husband had twenty sorties to his credit and a total of 150 operational hours over enemy territory.
There is always the possibility that your husband may be a prisoner of war, in which case you will either hear from him direct, or through the Air Ministry, who will receive advice from the International Red Cross Society.
Albert’s effects have been carefully gathered together and forwarded to the Royal Air Force Central Depository, where they will be held until further news is received, or in any event for a period of at least six months, before being forwarded to you through the Administrator of Estates, Ottawa.
May I offer my most sincere sympathies as well as those of my Officers and men, in your anxiety.
(W.F. McKinnon) W/Cdr
No. 431 (R.C.A.F.) Squadron
Mrs. A.J. Dorey,
94, Devonshire Ave.,
OFFICIAL GERMAN DOCUMENT by Airfield Commander A21/X1, Lüneburg:
A Lancaster aircraft was shot on 31.3.45 at 9.07 hours near Hittfeld.
J38392 F/O F.R. Alty was found dead and buried on 2.4.45 in the Hittfeld Cemetery.
The demise of KB859 is described in the Missing Research and Enquiry Service investigations to resolve the fate of the crew, which up until war’s end was recorded as Missing in Action. For the families this was a time of extreme mental anguish.
11th, February 1946
Officer i/c No. 15 Search Section,
No. 3 Missing Research & Enquiry Unit,
Royal Air Force, ℅ Research Bureau Unit,
Control Commission in Germany (B.E.)
Gottingen, British Army of the Rhine.
Casualty Enquiry No. G. 666
With reference to your 15 MRES a/c plate bearing engine No. 901 dated 29th December 1945, it has been established that the aircraft in question was Lancaster KB.859 which was posted missing following a sortie against Hamburg on 31st March 1945.
The crew consisted of the following:—
Can. J.35426 F/O (A/F/L) P.J. Hurley Pilot
Can. J.40430 F/O M. Hartog Navigator
Can. J.38392 F/O F.R. Alty Air Bomber
Can. R.209929 F/Sgt. A. Dorey W/Operator
Can. J.44150 F/O P.B. Dennison Air Gunner
Can. J.43943 F/O J.J. Casey Air Gunner
1893245 Sgt. L.J. Mercer Air Gunner
F/L Hurley returned to this country and F/O’s Hartog, Alty and Casey were reported as buried in Hittfeld (L54/553) Cemetery. No news was received of the three remaining members of the crew.
It seems probable that the statement in the attached report that two bodies were not buried until 18 days later is accounted for by the fact that the body of the airman who was killed when bailing out was not found for some time afterwards and that the body of the rear gunner was not released from his turret until later.
You will no doubt arrange for the graves to be registered and suitably inscribed in due course.
Signed W. Toynton
for Director of Personal Services.
The November 22, 1945, Report on War Graves Investigation, by F/O McKay to the Under Secretary of State for Air, provides the details of the demise of KB859 and her crew.
I have the honour to refer to your signal PC. 3315 dated 20th October 1945, and to ours P. 115 dated 26th October 1945.
2. A visit was paid to Hittfeld and the records in the cemetery were inspected at the local vicarage. The inspection disclosed the fact that four unknown Royal Canadian Air Force personnel were buried in the cemetery on the 2nd April 1945. No names were recorded in the records and the entry merely shows “Four unknown R.C.A.F. AIRMEN”.
3. The other R.C.A.F. airmen are recorded as having been buried in the same cemetery on the 17th of April 1945.
4. The vicar remembers the crash on 31st March 1945 and believed that other aircraft crashed on the same day in the near vicinity. He also remembers two of the crew being taken prisoner.
5. A visit was then paid to the local police who produced a statement of his knowledge of the crashes. This is attached at Appendix “A”.
6. It would therefore seem from this statement that no less than three aircraft crashed on the 31st March 1945, but from the aircraft that crashed actually in Hittfeld six bodies were buried. This seems to tie up with the six names in your signal. The only doubt being that the inscriptions on the graves and the entries in the parish records show that two of the six were buried some eighteen days after the first four.
7. Listed hereunder are the inscriptions on the graves at Hittfeld:—
Three graves together.
left to right:
Unknown airman, R.C.A.F. ? Buried 30.3.45.
Unknown airman, R.C.A.F. Buried 30.3.45.
Unknown airman, R.C.A.F. Buried 17.4.45.
Two graves together with one separate.
left to right:
Unknown airman, R.C.A.F. Buried 30.3.45.
Unknown airman, R.C.A.F. Buried 17.4.45.
Unknown airman, R.C.A.F. Buried 30.4.45.
I have the honour to be,
Your obedient servant,
Signed ?? McKay F/O
Command No. 3 Sgd. 8401 (D)
Under Sec. of State for Air,
Kingsway, W.C. 2.
Note: The date of burial documented as 30.3.45 is a clerical error, not a typo. These airmen could not have been buried the day before before they died. As noted in the text above this date should be 2.4.45.
25th October, 1945
Constabulary Station Hittfeld
Reg. Bez Lüneburg
To: F/O McKay, No.3 Squadron 8401 (D) Wing
Subject: Crashed Canadian aircraft in and near Hittfeld.
The Canadian four-engined bombers crashed on 31st March, 1945. They were the last aircraft which were shot down, or crashed in this district. My verbal supposition that one of these aircraft crashed one or two days later was incorrect.
The crash occurred on 31st March, 1945, about 9 A.M. as follows:
One bomber at Hittfeld by the road leading out of the village to the Autobahn, on the garden land of Messrs. Hagel, damaging a shed. This aircraft was blown up in the air by a hit or an internal explosion, so that only the fuselage with the wings fell in the garden, and caught fire immediately. The tail-end of the aircraft came down in the fields of the Parish Lindhorst (Kreis Harburg) about three kms from the fuselage. Three men bailed out of this aircraft. One was killed immediately from a broken neck and other grave injuries as his parachute failed to open. This airman was found at the point where he fell about 100 meters southwest of the bridge over the Autobahn by the main road from Hittfeld to Lindhorst. The rear gunner also was killed immediately and trapped in the metal parts. Four further bodies were found in the fuselage of the aircraft at Hittfeld some completely burnt. According to the former Fluko station (aircraft reporting station) in Hittfeld two more men were taken prisoner by the flak auxiliaries and soldiers. The prisoners were taken away by the Wehrmacht to a camp of which I never discovered the name. Personal papers of the dead and the prisoners were checked by the salvage party from the Fliegerhorst Lüneburg; in any case all papers were taken away and nothing was known here. The internment took place in the churchyard with a funeral procession composed of Belgian and French P.O.W. who were in Hittfeld, whom I released from their work for the salvage work and for the burial…
Sergeant of Police.
The Investigation Report by F/L W.R. Rainford submitted on June 18, 1946, on behalf of No. 15 Section No. 4 M.R. & E.U. R.A.F. (Germany) describes the difficulty encountered in identifying the six crewmen who lost their lives in this combat. It explains the delay in informing families that their sons would not be returning home.
INVESTIGATION REPORT: KB859, Missing 31 March 1945
RESULT OF INVESTIGATION AND FINDINGS
As instructed I proceeded to Hittfeld (MR L54/S53) to finish the enquiry which had preceded and to arrange for suitable inscription on the graves.
This has already been reported on, and the wreckage is still in the position previously given.
From previous information given, and from a check on this information there is no doubt that the six air crew killed in the crash of this Lancaster KB859, are those which were buried in the cemetery at Hittfeld, four on April 1st 1945, and two on April 17th 1945. The reason for the delay in burying of the two latter is because the rear gunner was not discovered in the wreckage of the turret, till a search was instigated for the two missing members of the crew and the sixth member was discovered some distance away with a broken neck. It is possible that the pilot was concerned about the fate of his crew and mentioned the number of bodies which should be accounted for.
Though the six men were buried as “unknown airmen” the aircraft from which they came has definitely been established and so the six bodies must be those of the six men mentioned in the enquiry.
From evidence of the local vicar, and the cemetery keeper, the bodies were in such condition that identification was impossible and so I have not recommended exhumation.
The bodies are buried in one plot with six crosses. Graves 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 in Row 2. I have given instructions to the cemetery keeper and to the Burgermeister that the six crosses are to remain in the one plot. The words “unknown airmen” are to be painted out, and that a wooden plaque is to be erected bearing the words:
J40430 F/O M. Hartog R.C.A.F.
J38392 F/O F.R. Alty R.C.A.F.
R209929 F/SGT A. Dorey R.C.A.F.
J44150 F/O P.B. Dennison R.C.A.F.
J43953 F/O J.J. Casey R.C.A.F.
1893245 SGT L.J. Mercer R.A.F.
Killed in Action March 31st, 1945
Nothing further to be gained by exhumation.
Case considered closed.
D. Griffith S/L
Officer I/C 15 Section, MRES.
Wooden crosses to be substituted by wooden plaque bearing the six names. Request confirmation they should be buried in a “Comrades” grave.
Wing Commander, Commanding
No. 4 M.R.E.U. R.A.F.
Initially the following document does not appear to be related to the loss of Lancaster KB859. However, in time it would prove to include a vital clue that would help to solve the forensic jigsaw puzzle involved in the identification of the KB859’s crew, reported as missing. The mentioned bracelet would prove to be a key piece of the puzzle. It is interesting that the soldiers of the 7th Armoured Division were not aware that the standard Mosquito crew was two, not four.
Second Tactical Air Force
4th May, 1945
I have the honour to state that information has been received from 7th Armoured Division that a Mosquito aircraft crashed about the beginning of April, 1945 just south of Hulfeld (sic), Map Reference S.497345.
2. This aircraft contained a crew of four, none of whom are recognizable. The only identification is the enclosed bracelet.
3. The Army authorities have been requested to give burial information, which will, on receipt be forwarded to the Air Ministry.
I have the honour to be,
Your obedient servant,
Second Tactical Air Force, R.A.F.
The Under Secretary of State,
Air Ministry (P.4 Cas.)
73-77 Oxford Street, W.1
Air Vice Marshal/ Estates Branch
Oct. 13, 1945.
We are in receipt of your letter of Oct. 4th regarding the death in action of our dear son Albert Dorey, Pilot Officer.
We wish to thank you and the members of your staff for every expression of kindness and sympathy you have shown in the letters we have received during these anxious months that have passed since he was first reported missing, please accept our appreciation and many thanks.
We have received no information as yet as to the disposition of his effects, among them were a few articles given him by relatives which he intended to forward to us, also you stated in your letter of May 29th that a bracelet belonging to my son was recovered.
We would be glad if it were possible that we could receive this especially it was a family gift to Albert before he left for overseas.
Now in closing again we would thank you for every kindness and information you have forwarded.
Very Sincerely Yours
Arthur E. Dorey and family.
Handwritten correspondence, from P/O Albert Dorey’s widow, provides a window into the uncertainty, mental anguish and desperation resulting from his death.
R.C.A.F. Casualty Section
94 Devonshire Ave.
Sometime ago I received word my husband R209929 Flight Sergeant Albert Dorey was reported missing. Now his folk have had news about possible death and yet I have waited but have not had any word at all from you.
Could it be that I have not been notified or is it not true and I may still have the hope of his near return to our home.
Trusting I may hear from you in the very near future I remain
Mrs. Albert Dorey
It is apparent that these two letters crossed paths!
Ottawa, Canada, 19th June, 1945.
Mrs. Albert Dorey,
94 Devonshire Ave.,
Dear Mrs. Dorey,
Further to my letter of May 29th, advice has now been received from the Royal Canadian Air Force Casualties Officer, Overseas, that an official report from a Service unit in Germany corroborates that your husband, Pilot Officer Albert Dorey, lost his life on March 31st, 1945, and was buried in the Military plot in the cemetery at Hittfeld, ten miles south of Hamburg, Germany.
As the former reports regarding your husband’s casualty have now been officially confirmed, Presumption of Death action is being instituted by the Air Ministry and when his death has been officially presumed you will be so advised by registered letter from the Chief of Air Staff.
May I again extend to you and the members of your family my deepest sympathy.
R.C.A.F. Casualty Officer,
for Chief of Air Staff.
Department of National Defence
Attention Records Office
On my husband’s, Albert Dorey P/O xJ94186, death was he buying a war bond or bonds or war saving certificates.
Also did he have any pay in banks in Engla…
or any he did not collect. If at all possible I would appreciate having them.
Enclosed is my application for the War Savings Gratuity.
Trusting to hear from you soon I remain,
Left: 12 Letter from P/O Albert Dorey’s widow to DND.
Documentation from the Estates Branch of the Department of National Defence, dated 23rd October 1945 was completed by Annie Jean Dorey on 30th October and received back at the Estates Branch on Oct. 31, 1945.
Lt. Col Wellwood,
℅ Paymaster General,
94 Devonshire Ave
December 10, 1945
Today I called Capt. Millman regarding the War Service Gratuity and he told me to write directly to you.
Since I have not heard about it for some time I was beginning to get very anxious because I rather need some money. That is a rather crude way of putting it but I am anxious.
Trusting I have not inconvenienced you I remain.
Mrs Annie Jean Dorey
(Albert Dorey P/O J94186 formerly R209929)
DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENCE
STATEMENT OF WAR SERVICE GRATUITY
December 18, 1945
WAR SERVICE GRATUITY $407.90
Total Amount Payable $407.90
Issued Jan. 7, 1946 ?
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW:
1. F/L P.J. Hurley. We would appeal to anyone with further information and/or photographs to please contact us via our HELPDESK
2. Sgt Laurence John Mercer. We would appeal to anyone with further information and/or photographs to please contact us via our HELPDESK ( http://www.aircrewremembered.com/helpdesk/)
3. F/O Martin Hartog was born on April 3, 1923 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He received his education at Prince Edward School and East Kildonan College (Commercial). Employed as a clerk. Hobbies included model aircraft, reading fiction and adventure. No sports interests.
Selection Board No.2 E.F.T.S.: Eliminated. Flying Time 13:00 hours. Failed to solo. His landings were erratic, often dangerous. Recommendations of No. 2 E.F.T.S.—Navigator.
R.C.A.F. TRAINING REPORT
No. 7 Air Observer School: 23/Aug/43 - 14/Jan/44
Remarks: Quiet and intelligent and industrious. Good type. Above average both ground and air and carefully plans all work.
J.M. MacLachlan F/L
RECORD OF SERVICE
Promotions: AC2 9/11/41; LAC 11/6/43; T/Sgt 14/1/44; P/O 14/1/44; T/F/O 14/7/44.
Navigators Badge 14/1/44.
Halifax Embarked 5/3/44
UK Disembarked 14/3/44
431 Squadron 24/10/44
4. F/O Frederick Roy Alty was born on June 26, 1924 in South Shields, England. He received his formal education at John Norquay and John Oliver High Schools. At the time of enlistment on November 12, 1942 he was employed as a reamer. Hobbies included reading and sports, bowling and skating.
RECORD OF SERVICE
Promotions: AC2 12/11/42; LAC 11/6/43; T/Sgt 12/11/43; P/O 12/11/43
Air Bombers Badge 12/11/43
Halifax Embarked 4/4/44
UK Disembarked 11/4/44
431 Squadron 24/10/44
5. P/O Albert Dorey. We are grateful to his daughter, Marg Liessens for the biography included in the introduction.
RECORD OF SERVICE
Promotions: AC2 10/2/43; LAC 28/7/43; T/Sgt 13/3/44; T/F/Sgt 13/12/44; P/O 11/1/45
Note—Promotion to Pilot Officer preceded his last operation. The ORB and documents stating his rank as Flight Sergeant are in error.
Halifax Embarked 10/4/44
UK Disembarked 18/4/44
431 Squadron 24/10/44
Applicant for AIRCREW
February 10th, 1943
INTERVIEWING OFFICER’S ASSESSMENT: A bright, clean pleasant lad, frank and I believe has plenty of spunk. Would like to be a pilot but accepts selection. Has done considerable reading and understands various planes fairly well. Is quick at grasping ideas. Has always liked tinkering. Fond of electrical, woodwork and mechanics.
RECOMMENDED FOR. Std. Aircrew (Deferred)
(H.C. Graham) P/O.
FINDINGS OF THE A.C.S.B. AS IN ACCORDANCE WITH THEIR CATEGORIZATION: Clean living Christian boy. Well motivated toward Service. Keen, alert, responsible. Selected as W.S.
ATTITUDE. Keenly enthusiastic, Confidence. Self-reliant.
J.M. Calnek. F/O
R.C.A.F. TRAINING REPORT
WIRELESS OPERATOR (AIR GUNNER) AND AIR GUNNER
No. 2 Bombing and Gunnery School: 31/Jan/44 - 13/Mar/44
Remarks:- Outspoken, Pleasant and reliable. Average student.
R.A.F. - TRAINING REPORT
ADVANCED W/T (PRE - O.T)
16.5.44 - 19.6.44
Remarks:- A very good all round Operator, who has worked hard throughout course, and should be an asset to a crew. Discipline excellent.
6. F/O Patrick Blake Dennison was born on November 27, 1923 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He received his education at Corpus Christi Sep. School and St. Patrick’s College, to Junior Matriculation and three subjects of Senior. At the time of attestation on October 16, 1942, he was employed by Bell Tel Co., Ottawa as a Morse Code Operator. His athletic interests included football, hockey, and basketball (moderate).
RECORD OF SERVICE
Promotions: AC2 1/12/42; LAC 9/7/43; CPL 18/10/43; SGT 7/4/44; P/O 7/4/44; F/O 7/10/44.
Air Gunners Badge 7/4/44
Halifax Embarked 25/5/44
UK Disembarked 2/6/44
1659 C.U. 9/9/44
431 Squadron 24/10/44
ROYAL CANADIAN AIR FORCE
REPORT ON PUPIL AIR BOMBER
No. 1 I.T.S. 3-5-43 - 9-7-43
Remarks: A quiet, sincere, conscientious airman with a pleasant manner. A steady worker who has good spirit and deportment.
Assessment of Character & Leadership: 106
(E.W. Kenrick) Wg. Cmdr.
No. 1 I.T.S., R.C.A.F., Toronto
R.C.A.F. SUSPENSION REPORT
NAVIGATOR OR AIR BOMBER
7 B & G. S. PAULSON, Manitoba
8 Oct/43 - suspension 19 Dec/43
Report by Chief Instructor: Failed to make satisfactory progress in air bombing. Bombing errors were very high.
(E.A. Dixion) S/L Chief Instructor.
COMMANDING OFFICER’S RECOMMENDATIONS - regarding suitability of this pupil for other training:
Remarks: Keen to remain in aircrew. Did very well in ground work. Re-selected to Air Gunner.
(AUTH: A.F.A.O. A.44/5
(H.E. Stewart) W/C
R.A.F. - AIR GUNNER
NO. 82 OPERATIONAL TRAINING UNIT
20.6.44 - 27.8.44
Remarks: This gunner is a little slack and needs pushing. He has done fairly well on training.
R.M. Cox. W/Cdr.
Training Wing, No. 82 O.T.U.
7. F/O John Joseph Casey was born on April 8, 1925 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He received his formal education at St. George’s School and St. Patrick’s College, Matriculation course. Prior to signing up with the R.C.A.F. on September 1, 1943, he was employed as an office boy, clerk and farm labourer. Hobbies included reading and dancing and sporting interests hockey, football, baseball and swimming. As a student he was an Army School Cadet
Other information: One brother was killed overseas with the R.C.A.F. Pilot, R54313 F/Sgt Raymond Francis Casey, died when his aircraft crashed at 04.00 on July 14, 1942, in woods near Canterbury after being damaged whilst on active operations.
It is noteworthy that John Casey and Blake Dennison, went to school together at St Patrick's College, Ottawa. One of KB859’s ground crew, Len McCarthy was also a St. Pat’s alumni. Sadly, he would be the only one of the trio to return to his home and family.
RECORD OF SERVICE
Promotions: LAC 20/9/43; LAC 28/2/44; T/Sgt 7/4/44; P/O 7/4/44; T/F/O 7/10/44.
Air Gunners Badge 7/4/44
Halifax Embarked 25/5/44
UK Disembarked 2/6/44
82 O.T.U. 20/6/44
1659 C.U. 9/9/44
431 Squadron 24/10/44
Applicant for AIRCREW
1st Sept. 1943
INTERVIEWING OFFICER’S ASSESSMENT: Very good type. Very keen for aircrew. His brother is Sgt-Pilot overseas and was killed after a raid landing his aircraft. Clean cut and well mannered. Good aircrew material.
Recommend for Aircrew.
S.P. Fall F/L
R.C.A.F. TRAINING REPORT
WIRELESS OPERATOR (AIR GUNNER) AND AIR GUNNER
No. 10 Bombing and Gunnery School.
17-1-44 - 7-4-44
Remarks:- Extremely young but possible Officer material at a later date.
No. 10 Bombing and Gunnery School
R.A.F. - TRAINING REPORT
No. 82 Operational Training Unit
29.6.44 - 27.8.44
Remarks: This gunner should be watched but with a little more experience should be a good gunner.
R.M. Cox. W/Cdr.
Training Wing, No. 82 O.T.U.
NO. 1659 (R.C.A.F.) Con. Unit.
Remarks: Above average a/g on all ground training. Should be a very good operational gunner. An average crew member in the air. Keen and willing to learn.
Gunnery Leader, Will Laurence. F/Lt.
No. 1659 (R.C.A.F.) Con. Unit.
31st March, 1945.
Dear Mr. Casey,
…It is with regret that I write to you this date, to convey the feelings of my entire Squadron. Johnnie was very popular with this Squadron and was one of my “Ace” Gunners. He had already completed 25 operational sorties, and a total of 176 operational hours over enemy territory …
(W.A. McKinnon) W/Cdr.
No. 431 (RCAF) Squadron.
26 Oct., 1945
Officer i/c Estates
R.C.A.F. O/S H.Q.
CAN/J453953 F/O CASEY
1. The above mentioned officer was reported missing on the 31st March, 1945, and was subsequently presumed killed.
2. The enclosed ring, property of F/O Casey, has been received in this Branch and is forwarded to you for disposal.
3. Kindly receipt and return the attached copy to this Branch.
(J.S. Harris), Wing Commander,
Becklingen War Cemetery: KB859 Crew Headstones
2. Sgt John Laurence Mercer was reinterred at the Becklingen War Cemetery, Germany, 14.C.12. Son of George William and Emily Phyllis Gladys Mercer of Shoreditch, London; husband of Gladys May Mercer of Shoreditch.
His epitaph reads:
Forever in our thoughts
And always in our hearts
3. F/O Martin Hartog was reinterred at the Becklingen War Cemetery, Germany,
14.C.10. Son of Martin and Ida Hartog of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
His epitaph reads:
Rest in peace, dear Jack.
With love, mom and dad,
Mart, Monte & Jimmie,
Ida, Tony & June
4. F/O Frederick Roy Alty was reinterred at the Becklingen War Cemetery, Germany,
14.C.11. Son of Frederick Roy and Florence Alty, of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
5. P/O Albert Dorey was reinterred at the Becklingen War Cemetery, Germany, 14.C.7.
Son of Arthur Ernest and Florence Mable Dorey of London, Ontario, Canada; husband of A. Jean Dorey of London.
His epitaph reads:
“Being justified by faith,
We have peace…through
Our Lord Jesus Christ”
Original marker and newspaper clipping
6. F/O Patrick Blake Dennison was reinterred at the Becklingen War Cemetery, Germany, 14.C.8.
7. F/O John Joseph Casey was reinterred at the Becklingen War Cemetery, Germany, 14.C.9.
THE BOMBER COMMAND WAR DIARIES
31 March 1945
469 aircraft — 361 Lancasters, 100 Halifaxes, 8 Mosquitoes — of 1,6 and 8 Groups attempted to attack the Blohm & Voss shipyards, where the new types of U-boats were being assembled, but the target was completely cloud-covered. The local report describes ‘considerable’ damage to houses, factories, energy supplies and communications over a wide area of southern Hamburg and Harburg. 75 people were killed.
8 Lancasters and 3 Halifaxes were lost, a number being victims of an unexpected intervention by the Luftwaffe day-fighter force. This was Bomber Command’s last double-figure aircraft loss of the war from a raid on one city.
Clarence Simonsen, Bomber Command Museum Canada researcher, has provided significant information on the loss of KB859, in his “Lest we forget” tribute to P/O Dorey and his daughter, Marg Liessens.
On March 31, 1945, an unpredicted sequence of events resulted in the outcome described in the Bomber Command War Diary summary for this raid. For reasons not known the RCAF Squadrons were late in initiating their bomb runs. By this time the RAF Squadrons and protective fighter cover were safely established on the homeward leg. The Luftwaffe day-fighter force that materialized was a gaggle of Me 262 jets rocketing through the the high undercast layer, estimated at 12- 15 aircraft. With a speed of 500 mph (542 mph at 19,686 ft.) and armed with four 30 mm cannons and some with a rack of twelve 55 mm R4M rockets slung under each wing, it was no contest. Outgunned and unable to react with evasive action, some bombers found themselves being attacked by three jet aircraft simultaneously. One can be quite certain at this late phase of the war that the pilots operating these jet aircraft were the cream of the crop. In short order, eight heavy bombers were shot down in flames.
Me 262 Attacks
Mark Postlethwaite’s rendition of the Hamburg raid,
Courtesy of The Aviation Art Museum
After bombing KB859 turned south and was repeatedly attacked and badly damaged by rocket fire from a number of Me 262s. With the intercom knocked out, F/L Hurley lost contact with his crew, unaware of how many were killed or injured. With this in mind and his aircraft going down, he decided to attempt a forced landing in a field. Realizing that he was unable to maintain control, and with potential, dire consequences, he gave the order to bail out. Shortly afterwards, KB859 exploded in mid-air, the tail section landing at the Parish of Lindhorst and the main fuselage and wings with engines falling three kilometres away, adjacent to the village of Hittfeld.
F/L Hurley was ejected by the blast at 200 feet AGL. His parachute had not fully deployed when he landed in a manure pile, saving his life. F/O J.J. Casey was found deceased in his turret and mid-upper gunner, F/O P.B. Dennison, had been ejected or bailed out, too low for his chute to open and the four remaining crewmen, including
F/Sgt. A. Dorey, were found badly burned in the fuselage.
No. 6 RCAF Group’s Daily Operations Record for the March 31, 1945, Hamburg raid provide graphic details of the horrific, whirlwind encounter with the Luftwaffe’s Me 262 jet fighters. Flak alone accounted for seven heavies returning to their bases without loss of life. They were the lucky ones.
Intelligence Officer post-raid debriefings disclosed that fifty-two crews had experienced one or more combats or encounters (firing in defence of another aircraft). Twenty-eight crews survived a single attack, five; two attacks, seven; three attacks; four; four attacks, and one crew suffered five assaults, claiming one Me 262 destroyed in the process! Two of these encounters deserve special mention:
No. 427 Squadron’s Lancaster III, NX552 (ZL-S), skippered by F/O D. McNeill was engaged by a Ju 88, Me 163 and Me 262. They were hit in the elevators, rudders and fuselage. Some strikes were seen on the Me163 and it rolled into a vertical dive, emitting black smoke, and was lost from view in the clouds below. It was claimed destroyed.
No. 433 Squadron’s Lancaster I, RA513 (BM-Y), F/O D. Pleiter and crew were hit by flak, not serious. They were also attacked four times by Me 262s. Strikes were seen on one and it dove trailing smoke. It was then chased down by 3 Mustangs. The other was fired upon as it was attacking another Lancaster, it dove down trailing smoke. The other Lancaster was seen to burn and breakup in the air with no parachutes. One Me 262 was claimed damaged, and one probably destroyed.
When the dust had settled eight bombers were lost, at least seven from Me 262 attacks, one equipped with rockets. Thirty-three airmen were KIA and twenty-five taken as POWs — spared at this late phase of the war from the forced march west, in atrocious conditions. The Luftwaffe would suffer the loss of three aircraft with two probably destroyed and three damaged. A tragic, lopsided loss for the Canadian Squadrons of No. 6 Group, fortunately not to be repeated.
However, this would be the Luftwaffe’s swan song. Overwhelmed by the Allied air forces and starved for fuel and experienced aircrew, their glory days were history. It is most symbolic and gratifying that the last RCAF wave of the March 31,1945 Hamburg raid, without significant fighter escort, was able to fend off the last gasp of secret weapons — in the process defending each other in their gaggle. They had run the proverbial gauntlet and survived. The end was in sight. Sadly, thirty-three young airmen would not be present for the celebrations and continue on to realize the full potential of their lives.
Air Chief Marshal “Bomber” Harris referred to the Avro Lancaster as his “Golden Sword” in the air war against the Third Reich. However, Clarence describes a design flaw that would account for the deaths of many Bomber Command airmen.
This related to the confined space the seven crew members found themselves in, in the dark of night, for up to seven hours per sortie — to be suddenly confronted with the order from their Skipper to bail out. The time required to comply with this order was critical and could be reduced to a matter of seconds, depending on the damage inflicted. Five of the crew members could not wear their parachutes and each had a designated storage area.
Six emergency escape routes were available, which initially sounds more than adequate. However, the three roof hatches were restricted to use for water ditching or ground crash landings. They were not designed for parachute escape but on rare occasion this was the route of last resort. http://www.aircrewremembered.com/deas-william-ingl...
Lancaster Emergency Exits
The crew was isolated by distance and the main spar, into the five up front (pilot, flight engineer, bomb aimer, navigator and wireless operator) and the two gunners in the back. The rear gunner had the option of rotating his turret 180 degrees, opening his two rear sliding doors and rolling backwards into the slipstream, free of obstructions, or jumping with the mid-upper via the starboard door. This would have taken more time and involved the risk of contacting the horizontal stabilizer.
For the five crew members up front the situation was much more complex with the nose escape hatch forming the proverbial bottleneck. Keeping in mind that it was imperative that one’s parachute had to be securely clipped to the crewman’s harness before exiting the hatch, that measured a measly 22 X 26.5”. This could prove to be a very stressful, time consuming procedure — definitely not the time for an obese frame!
The order for bailing out was usually: bomb aimer, nav, wireless op, flight engineer — with the Skipper last to jump. A handicap that would cost many their lives, as time and altitude evaporated before their eyes!
As Clarence noted: The size of the escape hatch was a problem, as each aircrew member had to force his way through the narrow opening, while wearing his parachute, wasting an agonizing amount of time that cost many lives.
RAF stats included survival rates for bailing out of different aircraft:
American Bomber - 1’’ wider - 43% survival rate
RAF Halifax - 2” wider - 29% survival rate
RAF Lancaster - 11% survival rate
This problem of escape hatch size and single location was identified in 1943 but not corrected until after the war.
No. 431 (RCAF) IROQUOIS SQUADRON AND “MINNIE SIMCOE” DFC
No. 431 Squadron was initially formed on 11th November 1942, a bomber unit with No. 4 Group flying Wellingtons. The Squadron began operations on the 2nd March, 1943, as part of No.6 RCAF Group.
The Squadron’s code was “SE”. The Squadron crest featured an Iroquois head, the motto read “The Hatiten Ronterios”, (“Warriors of the Air”). Nose art of 431 aircraft often featured the head of an Iroquois and a blood dripping tomahawk was painted on the aircraft following a successful op.
After a brief stationing at Tholthorpe, operating Halifax’s, the Squadron was transferred to Croft, in December 1943. Later equipped with Lancasters, 431 Squadron would operate until war’s end. Over the course of the war this Squadron would complete over 3,000 operational sorties in the European theatre, disbanding on 12th June, 1945.
L., W/C Ralph Frederick Davenport, Commander from 14 January 1945 to 11 March 1945 (KIA). R., W/C W.F. McKinnon, Commander from 18 March 1945 to 15 June 1945, returned to Canada.
During the last eighteen months of the war, the Squadron was adopted by the city of Simcoe, Ontario. Citizens displayed their support for the airmen’s efforts by sending a steady stream of cigarettes, chocolate, candy, gum, toothbrushes, toothpaste and knitted garments — a volunteer effort by Simconians. As a tribute, airmen painted the town’s name on their aircraft’s nose art.
On 11th November, 1944, No. 431 Iroquois Squadron celebrated its second anniversary with several special events documented with photos by the Canadian Press. Minnie Simcoe was introduced as the Squadron’s new mascot and Lancaster Mk. X, KB801, was christened, “Simcoe Warrior”, with a Coke bottle by Nursing Sister, Louise Dawson.
Christening Lancaster KB801 with a Coke bottle.
The Simcoe Chapter of the Imperial Order of Daughters of the Empire (IODE) sent the Squadron a doll modelled after Princess Pocahontas. She was received with much enthusiasm by the Squadron and airmen, becoming known as Minnie Simcoe. Crews would vie to have “Minnie” accompany them on an op, believing that she was a good luck talisman, ensuring their safe return to Base. She never failed to live up to this expectation and her ops were duly recorded in the Squadron’s Operational Record Book (ORB). It records her baptism to fire on 2nd November, 1944, with a raid to Dusseldorf. The ORB indicates that she participated in at least twenty operations over enemy territory.
CONFIRMED OPERATIONS FLOWN BY MINNIE SIMCOE DFC
1. November 1, 1944 to Oberhausen (W/C E.M. Mitchell KB-808 SE-U)
2. November 2, 1944 to Dusseldorf (F/O Rhodes SE-N)
3. November 4, 1944 to Bochum (aircraft and pilot not known) *Not in Logbook
4. November 6, 1944 to Gelsenkirchen (F/O Rhodes SE-N)
5. November 16, 1944 to Julich (S/L H.M. Smith; Lancaster KB-808 SE-U)
6. November 18, 1944 to Munster (F/L Chisholm SE-Q)
7. November 21, 1944 to Castrop/Rauxel (P/O A.C. Pitzek; Lancaster KB-788 SE-C) *Not in Logbook
8. November 27, 1944 to Neuss (F/L R.W. Harrison; Lancaster KB-815 SE-K)
9 November 30, 1944 to Duisburg (S/L F.E. Guillevin; Lancaster KB-815 SE-K)
10. December 4, 1944 to Karlsrhue (S/L F.E. Guillevin; Lancaster KB-815 SE-K)
11. December 5, 1944 to Soest (F/L D.S. Borland; Lancaster KB-809 SE-Q)
12. December 6, 1944 to Osnabruck (F/L B.M. Adilman; Lancaster KB-809 SE-Q)
13. December 28, 1944 to Opladen (F/L R.R. Haw; Lancaster KB-815 SE-K)
14. December 30, 1944 to Cologne (W/C E.M. Mitchell; Lancaster KB-808 SE-U)
15. January 2, 1945 to Nuremburg (F/O A.P. Huchala; Lancaster KB-819 SE-J)
16. January 5, 1945 to Hanover (F/L J.C. Henry; Lancaster KB-774 SE-D)
17. January 6, 1945 to Hanau (S/L H.L. Kay; Lancaster KB-815 SE-K)
18. January 7, 1945 to Munich (F/L J.R. Lightbown; Lancaster KB-806 SE-X)
19. January 14, 1945 to Mersburg (W/C E.M. Mitchell; Lancaster KB-808 SE-U)
20. January 16, 1945 to Zeitz (F/O E.C. Tuckey; Lancaster KB-810 SE-H)
On 14/15 January, Minnie Simcoe flew with the Squadron’s Commanding Officer, W/C Eric Martin “Marty” Mitchell, following which she was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross — the only mascot to be awarded this distinction!
W/C ‘Marty’ Mitchell and Minnie Simcoe DFC
On 31st January, 1945, Minnie Simcoe was screened from further operations and presented to W/C Mitchell, posted to other duties. Her subsequent travels and whereabouts were unknown.
The Bomber Command Museum of Canada (BCMC) was the common link between Clarence Simonsen and Marg Liessens, P/O Albert Dorey’s daughter. Marg had a special relationship with the Nanton Lancaster Air Museum, precursor to the BCMC. Clarence contacted Marg, to see if she could come up with a replica. Living close to Simcoe, ON, and having friends living there, she contacted them for their help. The creator of the original “Minnie” remains unknown. However, through an ad in the Simcoe Reformer, Myrle Smith volunteered to create a replica for the museum. On August 23, 2008, Marg presented this Minnie Simcoe replica to the staff of the BCMC.
Replica Minnie Simcoe, Myrle Smith, Minnie Simcoe, Marg Liessens.
Nanton Lancaster Society president, Rob Pedersen, accepting Minnie Simcoe from Marg Liessens, August 23, 2008.
Following the Canada-wide publicity generated by Minnie Simcoe’s replica’s flight with the Snowbirds’ Major, Robert Mitchell at the Rocky Mountain House Airshow, on August 13th, 2008, the original “Minnie” was located in a trunk in the home W/C Mitchell’s daughter, Kathy Mitchell.
Captain Jennifer Jones, Minnie Simcoe, Marg Liessens and Minnie Simcoe with Major Robert Mitchell
Peter Mitchell and Minnie Simcoe DFC in the cockpit of the museum Lancaster). Kathy Mitchell and original Minnie Simcoe DFC.
The photo below records the flight of the original Minnie Simcoe DFC in 2009 with Snowbirds pilot, Major Chris Bard — her first flight with No.431 Squadron in sixty-four years! Thanks to the efforts of Marg Liessens for bringing this reunion to fruition.
In 1954, 431 Squadron reformed as 431 (Fighter) Squadron and on 9th August 1977 metamorphosed into the 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, existing to the present day. The Snowbirds Demonstration Team is a Canadian icon, exemplifying superior teamwork, discipline and dedication with their precision aerobatic manoeuvres, countrywide.
This archive report would not have been possible without the input and guidance by Marg Liessens and the research by Clarence Simonsen in his tribute to P/O Albert Dorey.
The details provided in this archive report give a vivid picture of the dangers confronting Bomber Command aircrews during the final months of the war — in particular the stark realities of daylight bombing raids deep over Germany against an enemy bent on defending the Homeland to the bitter end.
It is fascinating to follow F/L Hurley’s crew, of diverse backgrounds, mould into a very competent combat team, running the gauntlet through two thirds of their first tour. Little did they know as they accelerated down the departure runway at Croft, early on the morning of March 31st, 1945, six of them would not be alive in three hours.
The fickle finger of fate would conjure a chain of events resulting in the last wave of bombers arriving late over the target, without fighter escort, in bright daylight, with enemy jet fighters between them and the protective cloud layer below. One can only imagine the taste of raw adrenalin as they witnessed these ‘sharks’ slash through their formation, dealing death and destruction — unable to fight back or take evasive action. The damage inflicted by cannon and rockets was devastating.
It was miraculous that F/L Hurley was able to survive this crash and walk away. A multitude of factors contributed to his golden horseshoe halo: As the pilot he was wearing his parachute when KB859 exploded mid-air, at an extremely low altitude. The explosion quite likely ejected F/L Hurley vertically, giving him a height advantage for his chute to more fully deploy. The cushioning effect of landing in a manure pile saved him from severe injury. The fact he surrendered to military officials rather than angry civilians was fortuitous, as at this phase of the war murder by bombed out civilians was a distinct reality. He was indeed a very lucky man.
KB859’s Rear Gunner, F/O Casey deserves special mention as the youngest and most combat experienced of her crew. It is apparent that he was sought after as a ‘spare bod’ for other crews, having flown on at least five more ops than the rest of his crew. It is impossible to imagine his frustration as he observed enemy jet fighters unleash a barrage of fire, beyond his range to retaliate and defend his crew mates.
F/Os Casey and Dennison were unusual in that they were both commissioned on the same day they received their Air Gunner badges. This attests to their strength of character and leadership qualities, despite their youth. The majority of gunners would not achieve officer status until completion of their first operational tour.
It is worth noting the role and responsibly the gunners played in the chances of a crew surviving their tour of ops — often overlooked for their contribution. One slip by the duo behind the main spar and it was game over.
The fact that F/L Hurley survived this crash was miraculous and fortuitous, providing insight into the final moments of crews less fortunate under similar circumstances. Although in his post liberation statement, he bailed out, it is much more likely that he and F/Os Alty and Hertog were ejected from KB859. A pile of manure being the difference between life and death. F/O Alty would have been in the process of baling out through the nose escape hatch, without time to pull the ripcord. The remaining four were trapped in the fuselage remnant.
It would have been difficult for F/L Hurley to not suffer from some degree of survivor guilt being the only one of his close knit crew to walk away from the smouldering remains of KB859 and his combat ‘family’ — Why me? A review of 625 Squadron’s seventy-four losses shows that eight (11%) of those with a sole survivor: six bomb aimers (75%!), one pilot and one flight engineer. This tends to support Clarence Simonsen’s criticism of the Lanc’s forward escape hatch limitations.
It is worth noting the protocol to be followed when the ‘Bail out’ order was given by the Skipper: The bomb aimer’s task was to remove the nose escape hatch, and jump, leaving room for the remainder of the front five to follow suit. Even though the gunners had the roomiest and proximal route, not one was a sole survivor — dead, wounded or manning their weapons to provide their crew mates a chance of survival. Unfortunately, the time frame from the order to abandon aircraft, before incapacitating spin, breakup or impact, was sufficient for only one crewman to escape — the bomb aimer.
F/O Casey would have been the first crew member to spot the rapidly approaching threat and raised the alarm of pending combat. F/L Hurley would have ordered all able crew to clip on their chutes. Cramped in his turret, F/O Casey would be the only one unable to comply with this order. With the loss of the intercom link the two gunners would be unaware of any further orders given by their Skipper — in particular the one to abandon aircraft. Under these circumstances their duty was to defend their crew mates from further attack and they did so to the bitter end, if not killed or wounded.
With this in mind, taking into consideration this crew’s combat experience and applying the 625 Squadron Project criteria for decoration suggestions, we come up with the following recommendations:
F/L P.J. Hurley J35426: DFC POW
Sgt L.J. Mercer 1893245: DFM KIA
F/O M. Hartog J40430: DFC KIA
F/O F.R. Alty J38392: DFC KIA
P/O A. Dorey J94186: DFC KIA
F/O P.B. Dennison J44151 VC KIA, see text above
F/O J.J. Casey J43953 VC KIA, see text above
For those interested in a loss that exemplified the importance of the actions of a rear gunner, we refer you to the archive report on the loss of Lancaster ND811 which covers the exploits of S/L Baz Bazelgette VC DFC and his crew — in particular those of his rear gunner, F/O Douglas Cameron. http://www.aircrewremembered.com/bazalgette-ian-wi...
At this late phase of the war it is apparent that colonial discrimination continued to be a controversial issue. The fact the RCAF Squadrons of No. 6 Group were based 200 miles north of Reading, the primary marshalling point for the bomber stream before setting forth to the target, was a double handicap for each mission. This would have added up to two hours of flight time to each op. Outbound this would not have been a major factor. However, on the return journey suffering from combat fatigue, with wounded crew, battle damage and low on petrol, the repercussions could be serious. We will never know how many of the crews, lost without a trace, were the result of this handicap, swallowed by the North Sea after ditching or crashing.
It was common knowledge to aircrew their greatest threats of failing to return were the Nachtjagd and flak. In addition these threats were reduced by minimizing the time of exposure, with the element of surprise by being first to bomb and be on the homeward journey. Less time for the German controllers to identify the target, vector night fighters and alert flak batteries.
Unfortunately, the Canadian crews were handicapped by distance and prone to being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. To make matters worse on two raids they had the added misfortune of encountering German technological advances in weaponry. During the March 31, 1945 daylight raid, in broad daylight, they were confronted with Me 262 jet aircraft, equipped with cannons and rockets. They did not stand a chance. For the surviving crews, the return leg to Base would have left them contemplating their chances of a similar fate before war’s end.
The critical, August 17/18, 1943, bombing raid on the Peenemünde V-2 rocket facility would also prove to be costly for No.6 Group Squadrons. Last to bomb, they were intercepted by Nachtjagd aircraft that had been equipped with a new weapon system, schräge musik, twin upward-firing cannons fitted into the rear cockpit of Me 110s.
Bomber Command would lose 40 of 596 aircraft dispatched on this raid, representing a 6.7% loss rate. 5 Group would lose 17 of 109 aircraft (15.5%) and the Canadians of 6 Group, 12 of 57 for a staggering 21% loss rate!.
Rookie 20 year old Lt. Dieter Musset and his Bordfunker, Ogefr. Helmut Hafner, with this new weapon system, would claim four Viermots (three Lancasters and a Halifax) in a mere fourteen minutes — their first victories in combat!
Squadron Intelligence Officers would be left scratching their heads with the increasing numbers of aircraft mauled by a night fighter, with near vertical cannon strikes from an unseen attacker — clues indicating the introduction of a new weapon system, twenty months before war’s end. If the evidence provided after the Peenemünde raid was not enough, the catastrophic March 31, 1944, Nuremberg raid would result in chilling eyewitness accounts of schräge musik in action, in moonlight conditions. Incredibly, RAF High Command attributed the multitude of brilliant, often multicoloured explosions, as the effect of enemy “Scarecrow” shells designed to simulate exploding bombers. It is interesting to note that they were never observed on daylight raids. In retrospect, review of German records finds no evidence of the production of “Scarecrow” shells. The grim reality was that these were in fact exploding bombers. The multicoloured flashes signalled the demise of a Pathfinder crew, referred to by the Nachtjagd crews as “Christmas trees”, indicating that one more experienced RAF bomber crew would not be returning to mark or bomb the Reich.
Comment: It was also believed by some that RAF commanders put forward the ‘Scarecrow’ story to mislead crews from thinking and worrying about sitting on top of a ‘time bomb’, which of course sadly, they were doing just that. Maureen Hicks
Although much less of a concern, another hazardous threat of operating in the bomber stream was being being struck by ordnance dropped by aircraft above. It is noteworthy that the crew of KB859 encountered this situation on the 20 Feb, 1945, Dortmund raid but managed to return to Base to fly another day. On the next raid, February 23, on Pfrozheim, No. 625 Squadron’s Lancaster PD204 suffered the same mishap, but with much more dire repercussions. http://www.aircrewremembered.com/paige-d-r.html
It is disconcerting that as early as 1943, RAF decision makers had knowledge of a German weapon system, the Lanc’s flawed forward escape hatch and the 6 Group routing handicap, yet did not take appropriate remedial action to save lives of Bomber Command aircrew.
Those interested in a sobering example of colonial discrimination are invited to review the Coastal Command career of W/C Ralph Viral Manning RCAF.
Comment: Discrimination between social classes, race and religion has run across British Society for hundreds of years, which inevitably flowed into the armed services, leading to thoroughly incompetent, unsuitable commanders from titled or upper class or wealthy backgrounds becoming the decision makers, commanders, generals, admirals etc (the ‘old Boys Network’). The poor and less educated filled the ranks – the cannon fodder – World War One’s ‘Brave young lions led by aging incompetent donkeys’. Century after century the British Army and Navy have been poorly led and equipped and many battles were only won through the sheer bravery, grit and determination and ingenuity of non-commissioned officers and young working class men plus a large measure of good luck as in the Falklands War. And we still see it happening today as UK governments of all political persuasion cut defence budgets and place incompetent ‘old Boys Network’ pals as the decision makers. So the Canadians and other ‘Empire’ Airmen were not alone in facing unconscious bias discrimination – quite possibly it’s been down to incompetent and unsuitable commanders making the wrong ‘life and death’ decisions (the ‘Old Boys Network’ - Not what you know but WHO you know!). It’s very striking to me looking back through history that often the best officers and commanders in the Army, Navy and Air Force have been ‘ordinary’ men promoted through the ranks because of their ingenuity, intelligence and outstanding performances in the theatres of war. MH.
Marg Liessens is to be commended for her ongoing endeavours to ensure that the sacrifices made by members of the Royal Canadian Air Force and Services in the First and Second World Wars, do not fade with the passage of time. Her efforts are exemplified in this archive report on the loss of Lancaster KB859.
She was aware that the death of Rear Gunner, F/O J.J. Casey was the second son of the Casey family who would not be returning home. This would act as the catalyst for Marg to research the seventy-six Canadian families who would suffer the loss of two or more sons serving with Bomber Command — ‘failed to return’ from operations. Three families would lose three sons, four would lose twins; two sets on the same day and at least one set in the same accident.
Comment – Sadly many British families lost more than one son in RAF Fighter Command (it’s said that RAF - as well as Army and Navy – decision makers believed an element of comradeship and competition between brothers would lead to exceptional performances! and general morale. MH.
This list would include four losses by No. 625 Squadron:
W5009: 30/3/44 S/L Nicholls and Crew. The Anderson family would lose their oldest son, mid-upper gunner, Lloyd. Previously they had lost twins, William and James. http://www.aircrewremembered.com/nicholls-thomas-m...
LL956: 14/10/44 F/O Hannah and Crew. The Hannah family would lose their eldest son, Lloyd, three months before his younger brother, Pilot, F/O Harold Hannah, both under harrowing circumstances. http://www.aircrewremembered.com/hannah-lloyd-albe...
NG239: 15/12/44 F/O Bruce and Crew: The Wilmot family would lose their son, mid-upper gunner, P/O Earl Wilmot ten weeks after brother, Brian, failed to return. http://www.aircrewremembered.com/AlliedLossesIncid...
Marg has dedicated a significant portion of her retirement travelling Europe and Canada, visiting a long list of Commonwealth War Memorial Cemeteries. She visits the cemeteries to take photos of the grave markers for submission to VAC for their Virtual War Memorial. While building a cemetery database for photographs, she also makes note of any errors in the 'Additional Information' section of the individual's CWGC page, that she happens to see and then submits them to CWGC. To date she has visited and researched an estimated one hundred and seventy cemeteries, resulting in numerous amendments to this site.
Perhaps her most sobering discovery was the loss of the Mochrie brothers:—
“Here are the 4 brothers (not Canadian) – no known graves and 3 lost on the same day. Of all the research I have done and the number of brothers and fathers/sons lost that I have come across, this set shook me the most.
Mochrie Brothers: Robert, Matthew, James all KIA Sep 25/15 and are commemorated on the Loos Memorial, France, and Andrew – commemorated on the Arras Memorial, France, Jun 9/17.”
It is impossible to imagine the profound grief this family experienced with the telegrams notifying them that their boys would not be coming home.
Comment: Both my grandfathers and their brothers, cousins, friends and neighbours were recruited altogether during WW1 and not many returned! Those that did return were often disabled and/or mentally scarred. MH.
Personal Effect of P/O Albert Dorey: Photo of his daughter Margaret, age five weeks. He would have been proud to know that his life has not been sacrificed in vain.
Marg Liessens, age 5 weeks, daughter of P/O Albert Dorey
Old runway at RAF Croft, May 12, 2019
Marg we are most grateful to you for showing us how “to dance in the rain”.
JEA and the ‘Crew’.
Marg Liessens and Clarence Simonsen
1. Military Museums: Mural #114, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
2. Dedication, World Press: Clarence Simonsen
3. Library and Archives Canada/Ancestry.ca: Canada, World War II, Service Files of War Dead, 1939-1947 for RCAF crew members of KB859.
4. Bomber Command Museum of Canada: Minnie Simcoe DFC:
5. Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book, 1939-
1945, Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 17/18 August, 1943,
Peenemünde Raid, pp 422-4. 31 March, 1945, Hamburg Raid, page 690.
6. Nachtjagd War Diaries Volume One, 17-18 August 1943, Schräge Musik,
7. 6 Bomber Group.ca:
Reg Price DFC
NOTE: Reg served his tour of operations with No. 625 Squadron between October, 1943 and May, 1944. He and his crew were the second original crew to tour expire after a total of 31 ops, all night raids, including seven to the ‘Big City’, Berlin and the March 30/31, 1944, Nuremberg raid. During a recent telephone call he was adamant that given a choice he would have preferred to fly his ops at night, rather than by day. His rational was that he felt more protected in the “cocoon of darkness”, rather than being exposed to the vivid reality of seeing comrades fall to fighters and flak in broad daylight.
However, he noted the exception of moonlight conditions that tilted the table with a handicap that was even more feared than daylight— Invisible Nachtjagd crews stalking and intercepting the bomber stream from below, with individual heavies silhouetted in near daylight conditions. Shades of Nuremberg, Mailly le Camp and Vierzon!
Clarence Simonsen, Bomber Command of Canada Researcher.
Submission by Marg Liessens, Clarence Simonsen and Jack Albrecht.