07/08.03.1945 No. 171 Squadron Halifax III NA111 6Y-Y A/Fl/Lt. John Michael Stone
Operation: Bomber Support (Münster, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany)
Date: 7/8 March 1945 (Wednesday/Thursday)
Unit: No. 171 Squadron - Motto: Per dolum defendimus - We defend by confusion or Confound the enemy
Badge: In front of an eagle displayed a portcullis
Due to protracted discussions in correspondence between the Commanding Officer of No. 171 Squadron and the Chester Herald responsible for RAF heraldry concerning its style and content, the badge and motto were not received by the squadron until after its disbandment on 27 July 1945. To read a comprehensive account of the matter click here
Type: Handley Page Halifax III
Base: RAF North Creake, Norfolk
Location: Possibly between Dortmund and Iserlohn, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Pilot: A/Fl/Lt. John Michael Stone 150446 RAFVR (1) - PoW - details not known (1)
Fl/Eng: F/Sgt. Sidney Stuart 1591022 RAFVR Age 20 - Killed (2)
Nav: F/O. Kenneth George Thomas J36319 RCAF Age 21 - Killed (3)
Air/Bmr: F/O. Harold Alexander Coutts J35810 RCAF Age 31 - Killed (4)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: F/Sgt. John Wyatt 1536328 RAFVR Age ? (5)
Special W/Op. F/O. Donald Charlton Biggar 159528 RAFVR Age 24 - Killed (6)
Air/Gnr (MU): F/Sgt. Alexander Wightman Ferme 1056421 RAFVR Age 24 (7)
Air/Gnr (R): F/Sgt. Neville Percy Baker 1603771 RAFVR Age 22 - Killed (8)
We appeal to anyone with further information and/or photographs to please contact us by clicking the add information link at the bottom of this page.
No. 171 Squadron was initially formed at Gatwick on 15 June 1942. Flying the Curtiss Tomahawk I, IIA and the North American Mustang IA the squadron operated as a tactical reconnaissance unit of Army Co-operations Command until 31 December 1942 when it was disbanded, its aircraft passing to No. 430 Squadron.
On 8 September 1944 the Squadron was reformed to operate as a bomber support squadron of 100 Group that had been formed on 11 November 1943 to consolidate electronic warfare and countermeasures.
The Squadron was to receive 20 new Halifax IIIs but prior to their delivery to North Creake they were sent to St. Athan to have Mandrel and Window equipment fitted.
In order for the squadron to become operational immediately, "C" flight of No. 199 Squadron, also based at RAF North Creake in Norfolk and equipped with Short Stirling III bombers, was allocated to No. 171, Squadron undertaking its first operation on 15 September.
In early October 14 Halifax crews were posted in from the squadrons of No. 4 Group.
It was 21 October before the first two of the new Halifax IIIs (NA674 and NA107) were delivered and the Squadron wasted no time in putting the two new Halifaxes into service with both flying a special mission on the day of their delivery and one of them, NA674, on each of the two following days.
It would be the end of November before all 20 Halifax IIIs had been delivered to the Squadron.
After 21 November Stirlings no longer flew operationally with the Squadron and were eventually absorbed within the Command or offered to No. 43 (Maintenance) Group.
From its formation in September 1944 until the end of the war in Europe No. 171 Squadron operated in a Radio Countermeasures (RCM) role over the North Sea and Germany dropping "Window" (strips of aluminium foil dropped to flood German radar with false echoes) and operating the Mandrel transmitter (to jam the German ground based air search radar systems Freya and Würzburg).
Squadron Stirlings flew 87 sorties in 22 RCM operations without loss and the Squadron Halifaxes flew 1496 sorties in 95 RCM operations with the loss of 4 aircraft (0.3%).
The Squadron was finally disbanded on 27 July 1945.
Flying Officer John Stone and his six crew members were posted to No. 171 Squadron at RAF North Creake from No. 51 Squadron at RAF Snaith, East Riding of Yorkshire on 1 October 1944.
For operations with 171 Squadron the crew needed an additional crew member trained in the use of Mandrel and Window. To fulfill the role of Special Wireless Operator the crew acquired the services of Flying Officer Donald Charlton Biggar. Aged 24 he was an old boy of the prestigious St. Bees School in Cumbria. He was posted to 171 Squadron from 214 Squadron at RAF Oulton in Norfolk on 18 October.
With the crews now in place all that was lacking was some Halifaxes for them to fly; and though these had gradually filtered through from St Athan during October and November it was not until 5 December that John Stone and his now seven crew members flew their first operation for which they were allocated Halifax NA674, one of the first two delivered to the squadron on 21 October.
For the next three months the crew flew operations on a regular basis; the majority of them entailing Mandrel. With one exception (presumably because of leave) the crew comprised the same personnel and by the end of February 1945 had completed sixteen operations
On 7 March the crew was detailed for its seventeenth and what was destined to be its last operation.
REASON FOR LOSS
The Squadron Operations Record Book records that on 7 March 1945 twelve Halifaxes were detailed for operations - two for Mandrel and ten for combined Window/Mandrel and Bombing. The first aircraft was away at 17.01 and the twelfth at 17.25. Bombs were dropped on Munster, one crew reporting a large explosion seen through cloud after bombing. One aircraft failed to return. The mission was carried out successfully".
Halifax NA111 captained by John Stone took off at 17.20: his was one of those detailed for Window/Mandrel and Bombing.
Special RCM equipment on board was as follows:
1-T1661P 2 Power and 1-T1661Q (Transmitters: part of the American Mandrel Electronic Warfare radar jammer, 63-103, 92-113, 143-203Mhz and also Mandrel-I 85-135MHz)
1-T1408B Type 300 and 1-T1408G 3VCO (Transmitters: part of the Mandrel-I radar jammer, 68-78 and 128-148 MHz bands. Used with Type 68 modulator, and Type 300 power unit of 1.2KW at 80V)
4-TR1657 Type 5 (Transceiver: Mandrel-III Electronic Warfare radar jammer, 148-196MHz)
2-MOD Type 4 (Presumably 2 more transmitters - no further details known)
The Specialist Operator of above equipment was Flying Officer Donald Biggar.
The bomb load consisted of 2 x 500 Medium Capacity Mk2, 2 x 500 Clusters Mk1 and 2 x 750 Clusters Mk1.
The following details are taken from danish aviation site Luftkrig http://www.luftkrig1939-45.dk/
During the night two window forces operated, the northern of which covered the attacks on Hamburg and Schleswig- Holstein. The southern window strength consisted of 9 Halifaxes from No. 171 Squadron and 6 Liberators from No. 223 squadron. Seven Halifaxes bombed Münster between 20.44 to 21.02 from heights between 18ooo and 20,000 feet. Two Halifaxes had problems with the electrical system and dropped their bombs elsewhere.
Fl/Lt. J. M. Stone was the pilot of Halifax III NA111 6Y-Y of No. 171 Squadron and was a part of the special Window Force. The Halifax brought large amounts of Window and Mandrel jamming equipment. NA111 crashed at Langschede southeast of Dortmund. Only Fl/Lt. J. M. Stone survived but was badly injured.
Although there is no record of the early part of the journey the following statement by Pilot Fl/Lt. John Stone takes up the story on approach to the target.
"We were proceeding on a course of approximately 350° on the last leg to the target. At 7½ minutes before zero hour, the Navigator F/O. Thomas informed me over the intercom that we were ½ minute behind schedule and that we had 8 minutes to go. A minute later, we were attacked by fighter without previous warning from either of the gunners. My first order to put on parachutes was issued immediately. There was no acknowledgement from any of the crew. The F/E [Flight Engineer] then informed me that P/O [Port Outer] engine was on fire - intercom very faint. I acknowledged and feathered. A/C [aircraft] at this time was in steep spiral to port, which I was not able to control properly, as the rudder controls had been affected. I asked the B/A [Bomb Aimer], F/O. H.A. Coutts to come up and help me hold the aileron control while I tried to put the fire out. He answered immediately "OK Skipper, coming up" and appeared in the hatch way between my cockpit and the nose. Meanwhile, the P/O had feathered itself, and by holding the aileron control fully to starboard, I was able to get the plane out of the spiral. Immediately we were on an even keel, and whilst the B/A was just climbing the steps from the nose, we received a second burst approximately 30 seconds after the first. The rudder controls were completely severed, and A/C again veered slightly to port despite full opposite aileron. I immediately gave the order to bale out. No acknowledgements, although the intercom was still faintly serviceable as I could hear my own voice through in my headphones. B/A disappeared from hatchway - I heard a bang in the nose and a cold rush of air, as though the front escape hatch had been opened, reached me. It might, however, have been a shattering of the B/As perspex vision panel. 20 seconds after I had given the order to bale out, the aileron control was snatched from my hand and the A/C turned over on its back and began to descend rapidly in an inverted spin. 10 seconds after inversion one of the 500 lb bombs exploded and I was blown clear through the dinghy escape hatch above my head. A great number of 2 foot square sections of A/C accompanied or passed me in my descent. I saw no sign of any other parachutes in the limited area of my vision".
John Stone was the only survivor. The remains of the other crew members were recovered by the Germans and buried at Dortmund Main Cemetery. On 6 May 1947 they were re-interred at Reichswald Forest War Cemetery.In a letter of 9 January 1946 to the father of F/O. Kenneth George Thomas the Chief of Air Staff in Ottawa says that:
"He [Stone] states that he overheard one guard telling another that the aircraft crashed approximately 10 miles from Serlohn [presumably Iserlohn] which is a small town south east of Dortmund, Germany"
On 22 June 2018 we were contacted by researcher John Jones who told us:
"According to Nachtjagd War Diaries this aircraft was shot down near Langschede SE Dortmund.
I have 2 possibilities for the night fighter.
1. Oblt Hans-Heinrich Breitfeld 9/NJG5
2. Oblt Rehkate III/NJG5. He made claims for two Halifax aircraft.
Unfortunately there is no location, time, or squadron".
John Stone was captured and became a prisoner of war. Fortunately his incarceration was short lived. He was released by Allied forces and repatriated to the UK where he arrived on 3 April 1945.
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) Fl/Lt. John Michael Stone was possibly born in 1923 at Sheffield in the West Riding of Yorkshire the son of John W. Stone and Mary L. Stone nee Roberts.
He married Joan Sidebottom at Glossop in 1944; a daughter Wendy Diana Stone was born on 6 December 1944 and a son Michael A. Stone was born in 1946.
1802023 Leading Aircraftsman John Michael Stone was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 26 May 1943 (London Gazette 27 July 1943), promoted to Flying Officer on probation (war subs) on 26 November 1943 (London Gazette 26 November 1943) and promoted to Flight Lieutenant (war subs) on 26 May 1945 (London Gazette 25 June 1945)
According to No. 171 Squadron records he was promoted to Acting Flight Lieutenant on 1 December 1944
(2) F/Sgt. Sidney Stuart was born at Northgate Cottage, Choppington, Northumberland on 22 November 1924 the son of Robert Henry Stuart and Catherine Stuart nee Hedley, of Guide Post, Northumberland. He had seven siblings: Edna May Stuart (1912-1972), Robert Henry Stuart (1913-1973), Stanley Stuart (1916-1994), Olive Stuart (1918-1999), Evelyn Stuart (1923-1997), Alan Stuart (1928-2009) and Catherine Stuart born 1930.
He was promoted to Flight Sergeant wef 10 January 1945
He is commemorated on the Guide Post War Memorial, Morpeth Road, Choppington
Sgt. Henry Stanton, Air Gunner of Halifax NA674 of 171 Squadron and killed 9 December 1944 was also from Choppington. He is also commemorated on the Guide Post War Memorial.
(3) F/O. Kenneth George Thomas was born on 13 September 1923 at Toronto, Ontario Canada the son of Victor Vernon Thomas and London, England born mother Joyce Annie Julia Thomas nee Broad. He had one sibling, Ruth Helen Thomas (1927-1996) and the family lived at 48 Peterboro' Avenue, Toronto. He was educated at Regal Road Public School, Toronto (1932-36), and Oakwood Collegiate Institute (1936-41). After leaving school he worked as a Press Helper for the Dominion Bridge Company of Toronto. He played tennis moderately, golf, rugby and skiing occasionally.
When he enlisted at Toronto on 3 August 1942 he was 5' 8½" tall weighing 135 lbs with a fair complexion, be eyes and reddish hair.
After training at No. 6 Initial Training School at RCAF Toronto, No. 4 Air Observer School at RCAF London, Ontario, he was awarded his Air Navigators Badge and promoted to Sergeant on 1 October 1943. He was also commissioned as a Pilot Officer on the same date.
On 22 October 1943 he embarked for the UK where he disembarked on 30 October and was posted to No. 3 Personnel Reception Centre at RAF Bournemouth the following day. On 25 January 1944 he was posted to No. 1 (Observer) Advanced Flying Unit and on 14 March to No. 22 Operational Training Unit. Promoted to Flying Officer on 1 April 1944 he was posted to 41 Base on 9 June and after conversion training at 1663 Conversion Unit at RAF Rufforth, North Riding of Yorkshire he was posted to No. 51 Squadron on 18 August
He was posted to No. 171 Squadron at RAF North Creake Norfolk on 1 October 1944.
He married Joyce Gladys Jane Sutton at Moordown Parish Church, Bournemouth on 27 May 1944. Their daughter Janis H Thomas was born at Bournemouth in 1945.
At the time of his death his widow lived at 11 Lystra Road, Moordown Bournemounth Hampshire.
(4) F/O. Harold Alexander Coutts was born at Provost, Alberta, Canada on 30 November 1913 the son of David Allen Coutts (a Merchant - Grocery and Dry Goods Store) and Effie Maud Coutts nee Hinkson. He had one sibling Allen Garfield Coutts born c 1910 and the family lived at Hughenden Alberta. He was educated at Hughenden Public School, 1920-27, Hughenden High School and Victoria High School, Edmonton (1927-1934) and the University of Alberta Dental School 1935-1936.
After leaving school he was employed as a Salesman by the Fuller Brush Company of Lacombe during 1936/37, as a Clerk by the Army and Navy store at Edmonton in 1937, as a Salesman by the Publishers Guild in Edmonton during 1938 and as a Salesman by Monarch Life Insurance Company of Edmonton from 1938-1942. He also worked briefly for two periods during 1937 and 1938 as a Clerk in his father's store in Edmonton.
On 6 August 1941 he married Gloria Pauline Hendricks on at Hardisty, Alberta.
After marriage family lived at 11316 103 Avenue Edmonton, 10738 80 Avenue Edmonton and Calgary where on 14 March 1944 their son David Charles Coutts was born.
He enlisted at Edmonton on 30 June 1942 when he was described as being 5' 7¼" tall weighing 134 lbs with a fair complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. He stated that he engaged in the following sports: basketball (occasionally) golf (moderately) hockey (extensively) and swimming (occasionally)
After training at No. 4 Service Flying Training School and No. 7 Initial Training School at RCAF Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, No.5 Bombing and Gunnery School at RCAF Dafoe, Saskatchewan and No. 7 Air Observer School at RCAF Portage la Prairie in Manitoba he was awarded his Air Bombers Badge and promoted to Sergeant on 17 September 1943. On the same date he was also commissioned as a Pilot Officer.
He embarked for the UK on 22 October 1943 where he arrived on 30 October and the following day was posted to No. 3 Personnel Reception Centre at RAF Bournemouth.
He was posted to No. 3 (Observer) Advanced Flying Unit on 25 January 1944 to No. 20 Operational Training Unit on 14 March 1944 (Course No. 94 from 14 March to 1 June)
On 17 March he was promoted to Flying Officer and on 9 June he was posted to 41 Base.
On 18 August he was posted to No. 51 Squadron and on 1 October 1944 to No. 177 Squadron at RAF North Creake, Norfolk.
(5) F/Sgt. John Wyatt promoted to Flight Sergeant wef 16 June 1944- no further details.
If you have further details for this crew member or any of the others please do so via the 'add information' link at the bottom of this page.
(6) F/O. Donald Charlton Biggar was born in 1920 the son of William Thomson Biggar and Winifred Mary Biggar nee Jenkins, of Montrose, Dalbeattie, Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland.
He was posted from No. 214 Squadron at RAF Oulton, Norfolk to No. 171 Squadron at RAF North Creake, Norfolk on 18 October 1944
1108038 Flight Sergeant Donald Charlton Biggar was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 20 August 1943 (London Gazette 7 December 1943 confirmed in this appointment and promoted to Flying Officer (war subs) on 20 February 1944 (London Gazette 10 March 1944).
He is commemorated on the St Bees School War memorial, Cumbria
(7) F/Sgt. Alexander Wightman Ferme was born in 1920 at Broxburn, West Lothian, Scotland the son of James Hope Ferme, and of Helen Samuel Ferme nee Wightman of Broxburn, West Lothian. He had three siblings: James Hope Ferme born 1923, John Wallace Ferme born 1925 and Helen Samuel Ferme born 1926.
He was promoted to Flight Sergeant wef 21 December 1944
He is commemorated on the Scottish National War Memorial, Edinburgh Castle, Scotland.
(8) F/Sgt. Neville Percy Baker was born at Portsmouth in 1923 the son of Thomas Edward and Hephsibah Pursey Baker nee Hill later of Camberley, Surrey. He had elder twin brothers Edward A. Baker and Thomas E.A. Baker born 1918.
He was promoted to Flight Sergeant wef 26 November 1944
BURIAL DETAILS, MEMORIALS AND EPITAPHS
(2) F/Sgt. Sidney Stuart was originally buried at Dortmund Main Cemetery, Nordrhein-Westfalen Germany Plot 17 Row 3 Grave 89. Exhumed and re-interred on 6 May 1947 at Reichswald Forest War Cemetery Nordrhein-Westfalen Germany, Plot 18 Row G Grave 12
(3) F/O. Kenneth George Thomas was originally buried at Dortmund Main Cemetery, Nordrhein-Westfalen Germany Plot 17 Row 3 Grave 87. Exhumed and re-interred on 6 May 1947 at Reichswald Forest War Cemetery Nordrhein-Westfalen Germany, Plot 18 Row G Grave 10
His epitaph reads:
"I have finished my course
I have kept the faith"
Mother, Joy and Janis
(4) F/O. Harold Alexander Coutts was originally buried at Dortmund Main Cemetery, Nordrhein-Westfalen Germany Plot 17 Row 3 Grave 83. Exhumed and re-interred on 6 May 1947 at Reichswald Forest War Cemetery Nordrhein-Westfalen Germany, Plot 18 Row G Grave 6
(5) F/Sgt. John Wyatt was originally buried at Dortmund Main Cemetery, Nordrhein-Westfalen Germany Plot 17 Row 3 Grave 85. Exhumed and re-interred on 6 May 1947 at Reichswald Forest War Cemetery Nordrhein-Westfalen Germany, Plot 18 Row G Grave 8
(6) F/O. Donald Charlton Biggar was originally buried at Dortmund Main Cemetery, Nordrhein-Westfalen Germany Plot 17 Row 3 Grave 88. Exhumed and re-interred on 6 May 1947 at Reichswald Forest War Cemetery Nordrhein-Westfalen Germany, Plot 18 Row G Grave 11
His epitaph reads
The angel of the Lord
Encampeth round about them
That fear Him
(7) F/Sgt. Alexander Wightman Ferme was originally buried at Dortmund Main Cemetery, Nordrhein-Westfalen Germany Plot 17 Row 3 Grave 86. Exhumed and re-interred on 6 May 1947 at Reichswald Forest War Cemetery Nordrhein-Westfalen Germany, Plot 18 Row G Grave 9
(8) F/Sgt. Neville Percy Baker was originally buried at Dortmund Main Cemetery, Nordrhein-Westfalen Germany Plot 17 Row 3 Grave 84. Exhumed and re-interred on 6 May 1947 at Reichswald Forest War Cemetery Nordrhein-Westfalen Germany, Plot 18 Row G Grave 7
His epitaph reads
Not gone from memory,
Not gone from love
But gone to
Our Father's home above
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - March 2018
With thanks to the sources quoted below.