25/26.06.1942 No. 70 Squadron Wellington IC DV564 L F/Sgt. Stewart
Operation: Enemy concentrations roughly between Mersa Matruh and Sidi Barrani
Date: 25/26 June 1942
Unit: No.70 Squadron
Type: Vickers Wellington IC
Base: Landing Ground 104, Qotafiyh II 10 miles west of El Dabaa, Egypt
Location: Crash landed back at base.
Pilot: F/Sgt. Stewart RNZAF - Safe
2nd Pilot: Sgt. W.J. Brown 655441 - Safe but wounded
Nav: F/O. Thomas Edward White Howes DFC Aus/404900 RAAF Age 21 - Safe
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. K.E. Calvert MiD 1311025 - Safe but wounded
Air/Gnr (Front): Sgt. Payne - Safe
Air/Gnr (Rear): F/Sgt. Gordon James Wagner R/59564 RCAF Age 21 - Killed
We appeal to anyone with further information and/or photographs to please contact us via our HELPDESK
Rommel's second offensive began at El Agheila, Libya on 21 January 1942 and though he made rapid advances he was eventually stopped by the Allies on 4 February at Gazala some 40 miles west of Tobruck, the new front extending for 50 miles in a south easterly direction from Gazala to Bir Hakheim.
On 26 May, Rommel began a new attack and on 21 June when Tobruck fell to Axis forces, 35000 Allied troops surrendered. By 25 June Axis forces, having rapidly pushed the Allies back into Egypt, were some 150 miles east of Tobruk, their columns advancing along the coastal region of northern Egypt. Constantly falling back, the Allied ground forces called upon the RAF to attack and harass the advancing Axis columns.
REASON FOR LOSS:
Fourteen aircraft of No. 70 Squadron were detailed to bomb enemy columns roughly between Mersa Matruh and Sidi Barrani. The operation was to be carried out by all the Wellington Squadrons aided by illuminations provided by Fairey Albacores.
At 21.30 hours on the evening of 25 June 1942 the first of the Wellingtons of No. 70 Squadron took off from Landing Ground 104: DV564 was up at 21.40 and by 21.55 all fourteen were airborne. According to the No. 70 Squadron records the operation:
"was a great success in that all aircraft were able to find worthwhile targets. Many of the bombs straddled badly dispersed M.T. causing fires and explosions. Each aircraft was carrying 17 x 250 lb Rodded bombs*, so it is reasonable to suppose that considerable damage was done and in fact this is suggested by the Axis broadcasts. Several of the aircraft after their bombing runs came down and machine gunned the enemy. On the whole an operation which made the aircrews feel they were really assisting directly in the War and one, which case of location and size of target called forth such comments as 'just like OTU'."
* Roddie or rodded bombs: bomb fitted with a rod in the nose so that it would explode above the ground - used in anti-personnel ops.
Having bombed the column of vehicles and motor transports in the Ras El-Kanayis area, Wellington DV564 piloted by Flight Sergeant Stewart returned for a number of strafing runs with second pilot Sergeant Brown and wireless operator Sergeant Calvert operating the two beam (waist) guns.
Flying at 2000 feet the Wellington was surprised by an enemy fighter that raked the sides of the aircraft with cannon fire, causing a complete failure of all lighting and rendering the inter-communication equipment unserviceable whilst the interior became full of smoke.
Using the handle of his illuminated compass as a torch, navigator Flying Officer Thomas Howes went aft to assess the damage. He discovered the second pilot and wireless operator had been wounded in the legs and body. He assisted the two men to the cabin where he found flames from an electrical resistance spreading up the walls. He eventually managed to extinguish the fire by disconnecting the accumulators.
Making his way along the plane he saw that the rear turret was also on fire and found the rear gunner Gordon Wagner severely wounded with his clothing on fire.
Extinguishing the gunner's burning clothes the 9 stone navigator then attempted to extricate the 13 stone, 6ft 4ins. gunner from the turret, a feat that with some slight assistance and not a little difficulty, he accomplished. It was then seen that the gunner's leg had been severed. Thomas Howes gave him an injection of morphia [sic] and endeavoured to apply a tourniquet. He then returned to attend to the other two wounded crew members and after dressing their wounds and administering morphia extinguished the remaining fires.
The aircraft was indeed badly damaged with the retractable undercarriage shot away and on the way back to base Gordon Wagner sadly passed away, just two days after his 21st birthday.
Safely reaching Landing Ground 104 Flight Sergeant Stewart made his approach; No. 70 Squadron ORB records that "the pilot had to make a belly landing which was successfully done, well off the flare path so as not to impede the landing of other aircraft". Such consideration was presumably much appreciated by the pilots of the four Wellingtons that were yet to return.
The Squadron ORB also pays tribute to wireless operator Sergeant Calvert who "in spite of his wounds continued to send out messages" and of the navigator Thomas Howes who "dressed wounds, gave injections and did all he could for the injured".
And concludes "This appears to be a case where initiative and good crew drill were instrumental in bringing the aircraft back to its LG. All members seem to be worthy of the highest praise"
For his actions that night, Flying Officer Thomas Edward White Howes was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal promulgated in the London Gazette of 18 August 1942 and recording that:
"In the most harassing circumstances this officer displayed great courage and devotion to duty"
For his part in the action Sergeant K.E. Calvert was Mentioned in Dispatches announced in the King's Birthday Honours 1943 (London Gazette of 2 June 1943).
Wellington DV564 was probably shot down SW of Mersa Matruh at 00.09 hours on 26 June 1942 by the then Leutnant later Hauptman Heinz Rökker (see Biography No 7 below) flying a Ju88 of 1./NJG.2. This was the 3rd of his 64 Abschüsse of the war.
(1) F/Sgt. Stewart - Nothing further known. If you have any information please contact our helpdesk
(2) 2nd Pilot: Sgt. W.J. Brown - Nothing further known. If you have any information please contact our helpdesk
(3) Fl/Lt. Thomas Edward White Howes DFC was born 8 August 1922 at Brisbane, Queensland, Australia the son of W.E. Howes and Mildred Howes of Sidney House, Coronation Drive, Toowong, Brisbane. He was educated at Geelong Grammar School, Victoria and passed the Leaving Certificate (Senior) and also did a course in aeronautics. He was always very keen on flight and constructed perfect scale models of aircraft. After leaving school he worked in the Freight Office of Quantas Empire airways Ltd., as a Clerk and later as a Traffic Officer.
When he enlisted at Brisbane on 6 December 1940 aged 18 he was 5'4½" tall weighing 112 lbs with a fair complexion, brown eyes and dark brown hair. After training at No. 2 Initial Training School RAAF Bradfield Park he embarked at Sydney for Canada on 21 March 1941. In Canada he trained under the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS) at No 2 Air Observers School at RCAF Edmonton, Alberta and No 2 Bombing and Gunnery School at RCAF Mossbank, Saskatchewan where on 18 August 1941 he was awarded his Observers Badge and promoted to Sergeant. On 20 August 1941 he was posted to No 1 Air Navigation School RCAF at Rivers, Manitoba.
He was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on 15 September 1941 and later proceeded to Halifax, Nova Scotia from where he embarked for the UK on 22 September. On disembarking there on 27 October 1941 was posted to No. 23 Operational Training Unit at RAF Pershore, Worcestershire, No. 15 OTU for conversion to the Vickers Wellington. After completion of his training there he was posted to RAF Harwell, Berkshire on 19 January 1942.
Thomas Howes was promoted to Flying Officer with on 15 March 1942 and 9 days later joined No 70 Squadron in the Middle East.
The Australian War Memorial biography of Thomas Howes record that:
"Howes' first mission on 28 April was against German supply shipping anchored at Benghazi. With targets ranging from shipping and airfields to road convoys and supply dumps at Martuba, Derna, Tmimi, Gambut and Gazala Wadi, Howes flew 13 night missions through May and June 1942 before a night attack on German transport in the Ras El Kanyis [sic] area on the night of 25 June.... A photograph of the Wellington being retrieved the next day shows sections of the fuselage completely burned through, revealing the geodesic structure.
The squadron moved the next day to LG 224 (northwest of Cairo) in the wake of the allied retreat, and Howes was flying again on 4 July, with targets concentrating at Tobruk and Gazala. He flew another six missions up to 16 July before taking leave and transferring to 104 (Wellington) Squadron, RAF, then based at Kabrit, on 8 September. Flying missions mainly at night, his first operation on 22 October was abandoned due to cloud but three days later his Wellington was bombing targets at Wadi Watrum. Howes flew five missions in November and two in December against such targets as night-time German supply columns (on 4 November - 'started a good fire'), Haneish and shipping in Tobruk harbour. His missions slowed after January, with only six more to May 1943 mainly against targets on the Italian mainland. Having flown 44 operational missions, it appears that Howes took on a navigator training role with 203 Group; he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant on 15 September 1943 just prior to moving to RAF Aquir in Palestine, (south of Tel-Aviv) on 22 September. On 6 May 1944 Howes embarked from the Middle East for Australia, arriving on 4 June. He applied to be transferred to the RAAF Reserve on 16 March 1945, enabling him to rejoin Qantas. He remained with the RAAF Reserve until at least the late 1950s and later served as a First Officer/Navigator on Qantas Boeing 707 V-Jets for many years. During the Vietnam War, he served as a navigator on the Qantas 'Skippy' troop flights to and from Vietnam".
In 1975 Thomas Howes was living at West Pymble, Sydney.
(4) Sgt. K.E. Calvert MiD. Nothing further known. If you have any information please contact our helpdesk
(5) Sgt. Payne - Nothing further known. If you have any information please contact our helpdesk
(6) F/Sgt. Gordon James Wagner was born on 24 January 1921 at Grace Hospital, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada the son of London, England born parents Montague Frank Wagner and Florence Ethel Wagner nee James. Montague Wagner was a Steward for Canadian Pacific Railways and the family lived at 273 Roseberry Street, St James, Winnipeg, Manitoba. Gordon Wagner was educated at Assiniboia and St. James Schools leaving in 1939 before taking up employment at Parkhill Bedding in Winnipeg as an Upholsterer. Also in 1939 he took a 1 year Diesel Engine Correspondence Course. His hobbies were Field Sports, Basketball, Golf, Speed Skating and Model Aircraft.
After trying for three years to get into the RCAF he finally succeeded and enlisted at Winnipeg on 18 July 1940 aged 19. Gordon was 6' 4" tall weighing 160lbs with a ruddy complexion, blue eyes and dark brown hair. He trained at No. 2 Initial Training School, RCAF Regina Saskatchewan, No. 2 Wireless School RCAF Calgary, Alberta and No. 2 Bombing and Gunnery School, RCAF Mossbank, Saskatchewan, Gordon was awarded his Air Gunners Badge on 17 March 1941 and promoted to Sergeant.
He embarked for the UK where he arrived on 19 April 1941 and was posted briefly to the Personnel Dispersal Centre at RAF Uxbridge before No. 2 Radio School, RAF Yatesbury, Wiltshire.
On 11 August 1941 he was posted to No. 27 Operational Training Unit at RAF Lichfield and No.15 OTU RAF Harwell, Berkshire on 21 December 1941. He was posted to the Middle East on 29 December 1941 and later to No. 70 Squadron. He was promoted to Flight Sergeant on 1 January 1942.
The memory of Flight Sergeant Gordon James Wagner was honoured by the Province of Manitoba with the naming Wagner Island, Stevenson Lake, Manitoba, Canada. (Details kindly provided by our Colin Bamford)
(7) Hauptman Heinz Rökker was born on 20 October 1920 in Oldenburg, Germany. He joined the Luftwaffe in October 1939 and began his flight training with Flieger Ausbildungs Regiment 22 at Güstrow in July 1940. He attended Blindflugschule 5 in Belgrade before completing his training in September 1941 at Nachtjagdschule 1. Rökker was then posted in May 1942 to 1 staffel, Nachtjagdgeschwader 2 (NJG 2) operating in the Mediterranean theatre. Carlos Nugent was also posted to 1./NJG 2 in May 1942 and became Heinz Rökker's Bordfunker (wireless/radar operator). Rökker shot down a RAF Bristol Beaufort by day on 20 June 1942, over the Mediterranean. His aircraft received several hits from return fire during the action, but he landed safely.
From airfields in Libya, Rökker flew deep penetration 'intruder' missions over Egypt, claiming four Vickers Wellington twin-engined bombers destroyed. Although in August 1942 1./NJG 2 was briefly relocated to Belgium, the staffel was relocated back to the Mediterranean theatre based in Sicily in February 1943.
In July 1943, 1./NJG 2 were back in Europe to undertake Reichsverteidigung (Defense of the Reich) duties. Rökker claimed 3 victories on each of the nights of 15/16 March 1944, 22/23 March and 24/25 March. With 20 kills, Rökker was made Staffelkapitän of 2 staffel, NJG 2 in April 1944.
On the night of 6/7 June, he then claimed 5 RAF bombers over Normandy. Rökker was awarded the Ritterkreuz in July 1944, and recorded his 40th kill on 7/8 August. On 4/5 November he claimed 4 more enemy aircraft and recorded three more victories on the night of 3/4 February to take his score to 52. He claimed six enemy aircraft on the night of 21/22 February.
Rökker was awarded the Eichenlaub in March for 60 victories. On the night of 15/16 March, Rökker recorded 4 enemy aircraft shot down as his last victories of the war, including a Mosquito shot down over his airfield at St Trond.
As a Luftwaffe night fighter pilot, he mainly flew the Junkers Ju 88 G-1. Rökker was credited with 64 victories in 161 missions. He recorded 63 of his victories at night, including 55 four-engined bombers.
Carlos Nugent flew almost 150 missions with Rökker, participating in 62 of his 64 victories, and on 28 April 1945 became one of the few Bordfunker's decorated with the Knight's Cross.
Heinz Rökker received the following awards during his Luftwaffe career:
Eisernes Kreuz (Iron Cross 1939) 2nd Class (3 July 1942) 1st Class (14 August 1942)
Verwundetenabzeichen (Wound Badge)
Frontflugspange (Night Fighter Operational Clasp)
Ehrenpokal (Honour Goblet) der Luftwaffe (12 June 1944)
Deutsches Kreuz im Gold (German Cross in Gold) on 13 June 1944 as Oberleutnant in the 2./NJG 2
Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes (Knight's Cross) on 27 July 1944 as Oberleutnant and Staffelkapitän of the 2./NJG 2
Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub (Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves) on 12 March 1945 as Hauptmann and Staffelkapitän of the 2./NJG 2
BURIAL DETAILS AND EPITAPHS
F/Sgt. Gordon James Wagner was buried at El Alamein War Cemetery - Plot XXXII. Row G. Grave 23
His epitaph reads:
Rest in peace
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - November 2016
With thanks to the sources quoted below.