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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..
Mission: Villers-Bocage

Date: 30th June 1944 (Friday)

Unit: No. 51 Squadron

Type: Halifax III

Serial: LV782

Code: MH-T

Base: R.A.F. Snaith, Yorkshire

Location: Caan, France

Pilot: Fl/Sgt. John Robert Alfred Cooke (Bob) 1336866 R.A.F.V.R. Age 21. Killed

Fl/Eng: Sgt. Harry Perkins (Perks) 1181759 R.A.F.V.R. Age 24. Killed

Nav: F/O. Tony Negrich J/22062 R.C.A.F. Age 22. Killed

Air/Bmr: W/O. II Wendell Clifford Waye R/154885 R.C.A.F. Age 21. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Harry Barron 15565406 R.A.F.V.R. Age 23. Killed

Air/Gnr: Sgt. Alfred Edgar Jukes 1583474 R.A.F.V.R. Age 21. Killed

Air/Gnr: Sgt. Charles Martin Allen 1385431 R.A.F.V.R. Age 26. Killed


The crew that flew T ‘Tommy’ on this operation had arrived at RAF Snaith at the beginning of May 1944, becoming one of the crews of C Flight, 51 Sqn.

Their first operation was to bomb Morsalines, France on 9th May in MH-S “Sugar”. This was the first of 18 successful operations against transport targets and V1 sites in France and Belgium during May and June.
Their 19th mission, from which they did not return, was a daylight bombing operation;

51 Squadron Halifax III LV782 MH-T Fl:Sgt. John Robert Alfred Cooke F:O. Tony Negrich
Above left: Fl/Sgt Cooke, right: F/O. Negrich

In the early evening of 30th June 1944, flying this time in MH-T, they took off from Pollington, South Yorkshire at 18.00 hrs, with the rest of 51 Sqn to join the force of 266 heavy bombers attacking a large formation of enemy armour at Villers Bocage.
This key target, south west of Caen, Normandy, was a Panzer Corps that had been assembled to counter-attack the Allies’ invading forces the following morning. It was essential therefore to attack them that evening.

51 squadron Halifax III MH-T Sgt. Harry Perkins
Sgt. Harry Perkins (Perks) (Courtesy James Seymour)

The master bomber, a Lancaster LL620 JI-T from 514 Squadron flown by F/O. Douglas A. Woods R.A.A.F. ordered the bombers to reduce height because of cloud cover over the target,from 12,000 to 4,000 feet.
Only a small number of aircraft at the end of the bomber stream including T ‘Tommy’ were able to do so, the order being received too late for all the others.
5 aircraft (‘C’ flight, 51 Sqn.) made a steep dive to this very low height. In doing so they speeded up and caught up those above them.
They were then vulnerable to both to flak and to bombs falling from the mass of aircraft above them.

51 Squadron Halifax III LV782 MH-T Sgt. Harry Barron W:O. II Wendell Clifford Waye
Above left: Sgt. Barron, right: W/O. II Waye

Speaking in 1996, eye witness Eric Millett, who had been flying in MH-S – another of the low flying aircraft – recounted how he had seen the wing of T ‘Tommy’ “fold up” from the wing root. This was just after he had seen the Master Bomber’s Lancaster blow up. He remembered also hearing a bomb scrape the fuselage of S-Sugar, suggesting that it was more than possible that a bomb had hit T-“Tommy” from above and that a similar fate had almost befallen him and his crew.

51 Squadron Halifax III LV782 MH-T Sgt. Charles Martin Allen Sgt. Alfred Edgar Jukes
Above left: Sgt. Allen, right: Sgt Jukes

He remembered this operation so clearly after more than 50 years because about a minute later anti-aircraft fire blew away the front 6ft of the nose of his aircraft. Flt. Lt. Jim Feaver, the pilot of S ‘Sugar’ nursed his damaged aircraft home, for which he was awarded the DFC; however MH-T crashed onto farmland between Cahagne and Le Quesnay, Calvados, on the farm of Monsieur Alain Aubrée.

All the crew members were posted missing and it was not until the 13th September that news from the RAF Liaison Officer HQ Second Army confirmed that their temporary graves had been found at map reference 740580 or 739580. This area had changed hands in the fighting no less than five times during the Normandy campaign before finally being taken by the Americans.

51 Squadron Halifax III LV782 MH-T June 1944
51 Squadron pilots with Fl/Sgt Cooke behind the commanding officer. Taken in June 1944.

The operation was considered very successful and bombing classed as very accurate. 1,100 tons were dropped and the German attack failed to take place.

In total 3 aircraft were lost on this operation, the two described and also another Lancaster from 514 Squadron which is understood to have collided with a 15 Squadron Lancaster PB178 JI-P piloted by P/O. Jack E.K. Hannesson R.C.A.F. killed with 4 other crew members and a further 2 injured after it crashed at Pittsam Farm, near Midhurst, Sussex. The other aircraft returned safely. A 75 Squadron Lancaster, LL942 exploded in an accident on the ground after bombing up - no injuries reported.

51 squadron Halifax III LV782 MH-E

51 squadron Halifax III LV782 MH-E  crew graves
Tilly-sur-seulles War Cemetery and Bretteville-sur-laize Canadian War Cemetery (Courtesy C.W.G.C)

Burial details:
The crew were initially buried near the crash site at Cahagnes, but later exhumed to various cemeteries on the 14th June 1945.

Fl/Sgt. John Robert Alfred Cooke. Tilly-sur-seulles War Cemetery. Grave XI.G.3
Further information:
Son of Henry John and Hilda Jeanne Cooke of Epsom, Surrey. On leaving school, Bob had worked in the accounts department of an engineering firm in Dorking, Surrey as well as being a member of the Home Guard before volunteering for the air force on his eighteenth birthday, the 4th of February 1941. He was called up that August and after initial training he went to South Africa, returning in May 1943 as a pilot. After conversion to multi engine aircraft at Lossiemouth he met the other members of the crew at 1652 O.T.U. at Marston Moor. On completion of their training they were posted to 51 Squadron at Pollington Airfield. (R.A.F. Snaith), South Yorkshire.
The epitaph chosen by his father, on Bob’s grave in Normandy reads -

Into the mosaic of victory
Is placed this precious piece
Enshrined in our hearts.

Sgt. Harry Perkins. Tilly-sur-seulles War Cemetery. Grave XI.G.4
Son of Edward George and Ada Lilian Perkins, of Coleford, Somerset.

F/O. Tony Negrich. Bretteville-sur-laize Canadian War Cemetery. Grave XVIII.F.4
From Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, Canada. However, no further family details as yet.

W/O. II Wendell Clifford Waye. Bretteville-sur-laize Canadian War Cemetery. Grave XVIII.F.3
Son of James H. and Georgie Waye, of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

Sgt. Harry Barron. Tilly-sur-seulles War Cemetery. Grave XI.G.5
Further information:
Son of Harry and Margaret (nee Mallon) Barron and brother of George, Mary and Patrick Barron of Thornaby on Tees, Yorkshire.
Christened Henry but known as Harry, he was born on May 1st 1921 at Stockton on Tees. He did part of his training at Blackpool and Truro converting to Halifaxes in November 1942.

Sgt. Alfred Edgar Jukes. Tilly-sur-seulles War Cemetery. Grave XI.G.1
Son of Alfred and Annie Jukes, of West Bromwich, Staffordshire

Sgt. Charles Martin Allen. Tilly-sur-seulles War Cemetery. Grave XI.G.2
Further information:
Son of William and Beatrice Anne Allen. After his loss, his girlfriend subsequently married Bob Hardisty, the well known professional footballer.

Compiled by Linda Ibrom with research by James Seymour, nephew of the pilot Bobby Cooke, Lancelot Howard Barron and from various eye-witness reports and with the assistance from Fl/Lt. Ricky Pearce D.F.M. This page of remembrance is dedicated to all the relatives of the crew.
With thanks also to Bill Chorley - "Bomber Command Losses Vol. 5", Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - "Bomber Command War Diaries", Les Allison and Harry Hayward - "They Shall Not Grow Old", Commonwealth Graves Commission.

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