Mission: Night training exercise
Date: 20th September 1941
Unit: No: 16 O.T.U.
Type: Hampden I
Location: Croughton, Oxfordshire.
Pilot: P/O. Nicholas Petrus van der Merwe 778400 R.A.F.V.R. Killed
W/Op/A/Gnr: Sgt. John Howard Ixer 1283378 R.A.F.V.R. Age; 21, Killed
Obs: Sgt. Derek Alfred John Paine 1259273 R.A.F.V.R. Age; 20, Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt Robert Leagas 910873 R.A.F.V.R. Killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
On Saturday 20th September this aircraft together with it's crew of four took off from Croughton which is the satellite airfield for Upper Heyford on a night flying exercise. Unfortunatly for this crew they were unaware of a lone German JU88 night-fighter which was sharing the same air space!
Oblt. Paul Semrau (I/NJG2) and his crew had picked out the airfield of Upper Heyford for their next target and released their bomb load which fell in a line across the airfield.
At the same time, Sgt, Van Der Merwe was preparing to land back at Croughton after completing their exercises - it is not known if the pilot had been informed that there was a German night-fighter operating in the area.
Witnesses on the ground heard a burst of cannon and machine gun fire, before they saw a Hampden catch fire in the air. Sadly, the aircraft crashed near the airfield where it was totally destroyed, killing all four crew.
It is worth mentioning that on the 7-8th February 1945, Oblt (now Major) Paul Semrau died with the rest of his crew when his Ju 88G-6, Wnr.620562 from Stab/NJG2 was shot down by F/L Sleep in a Spitfire at Twente. Major. Paul Semrau was buried with his crew with full military honours. His final score as a night-fighter ace stood at 46 victories.
16 O.T.U. Hampden's in flight
Above left: Sgt Robert Leagas right: Oblt. Paul Semrau (I/NJG2)
Front nose section showing where the piece found at the crash site is likely to come from
Funeral procession leaving the camp at Upper Heyford for the cemetery - photo thought to be taken from the old fire station tower
The funeral parade about to enter the Cemetery
The same area, photo taken in 2008
(Courtesy Mike Harrison)
Shown above left Upper Heyford Cemetery and right Kingsbury (St. Andrew) Churchyard where Sgt. Derek Alfred John Paine is buried
P/O. Nicholas Petrus van der Merwe Upper Heyford Cemetery. Sec B, Grave 79.
Son of Pieter Jacobus Theron van der Merwe and of Stoffelina Cornelia van der Merwe (nee Maartens); husband of Beryl Gwendolyn van der Merwe (nee du Barry), of Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia.
Sgt. John Howard Ixer Upper Heyford Cemetery. Sec B, Grave 77.
Son of Ernest Charles and Gertrude Agnes Ixer, of Sanderstead, Surrey
Sgt. Derek Alfred John Paine Kingsbury (St. Andrew) Churchyard. Sec H, Grave 10
Son of Alfred Arthur Greenwood Paine and Edith Agnes Paine, of Edgware
Sgt Robert Leagas Upper Heyford Cemetery. Sec B, Grave 78.
Son of Henry Matthew and Louisa Gladys Leagas, of Eastwood, Essex
With thanks to the following: Mike Harrison for grave photo's, Bill Chorley - "Bomber Command Losses", Theo Boiten - "German Nightfighter War Diaries", Martin Middlebrook "Bomber Command War Diaries". The superb work of the C.W.G.C.