Operation: Operation 'Queen' Düren
Date: 16 November 1944 (Thursday)
Unit: 625 Squadron - Motto: We Avenge
Squadron Badge: Within a circular chain of seven links, a Lancaster rose; The Lancaster rose stands for the aircraft used, the seven links the number of personnel in one such aircraft
Type: Lancaster I
Base: RAF Kelstern, Lincolnshire
Location: Düren, Germany
Pilot: F/O. James Ross Copland NZ426165 RNZAF Age 24 - Killed (1)
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Donald George Bayliss 1622664 RAFVR Age 20 - Killed (2)
Nav: Fl/Sgt. Kenneth Martin 1514078 RAFVR - Killed (3)
Air/Bmr: Fl/Sgt. John Meredith Taylor 1419271 RAFVR Age 22 - Killed (4)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Grahame Arthur Levings 1606948 RAFVR Age 19 - Killed (5)
Air/Gnr (MU): Sgt. Kenneth Sawkins 1318133 RAFVR Age 20 - Killed (6)
Air/Gnr (R): Sgt. Henry Sapsed 1897020 RAFVR Age 24 - Killed (7)
We appeal to anyone with further information and/or photographs to please contact us via our HELPDESK
The five airmen had crewed up on 29 February 1944 at 83 Operational Training unit based at RAF Peplow in Shropshire. Captain of the crew Ross Copland was a 24 year old former Farm Hand from New Zealand and one of ten children born to his parents James and Irene Copland. His navigator, Kenneth Martin, is somewhat of a mystery in that apart from being a member of the RAFVR nothing more is known of him (If you can help please contact our helpdesk).
Bomb aimer John Taylor was 21 and from Cwmbran, Wales, the only child of Builder John Taylor and his wife Rhoda.
Grahame Levings, the crew's wireless operator had actually been born Grahame Arthur Wadey but for some unknown reason he had joined the RAFVR under the name Levings. Aged 18 he was the youngest member of the crew and another only child, the son of Arthur and Ada Wadey of Westhampnet, Sussex.
Completing the crew was air gunner Ken Sawkins aged 19 from West Harting in Sussex.
With training at 83 OTU completed successfully the crew were posted on 25 May to Course 97 at 1656 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Lindholme in the West Riding of Yorkshire for training on the Handley Page Halifax. However, as the four engine Halifax heavy bomber required a crew of seven they were allocated a flight engineer and a second air gunner when training began at 1656 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Lindholme.
Filling the position of Flight Engineer was 20 year old Yorkshireman Donald Bayliss. Born in Sheffield, he had two sisters and had been an Office Boy at a Steel Works prior to joining the air force.
The second air gunner to join the crew was Henry Sapsed from West Ealing, Middlesex. Aged 23 he was the youngest of four children born to John and Maud Sapsed. His mother Maud had sadly died in 1937 and his brother, Lance Corporal John Sapsed of the Royal Fusiliers, had been killed in Belgium in 1940.
Nicknamed Copland Cads, the crew are pictured above with Ross Copland extreme left on the back row and Arthur Wadey (Levings) front left. If you are able to identify the other members of the crew please contact our helpdesk
After further training on Avro Lancasters at 1 Lancaster Finishing School, RAF Hemswell in Lincolnshire, the crew was deemed ready for operational flying and on 10 August was posted to 100 Squadron at RAF Waltham near Grimsby in Lincolnshire.
The next two weeks were spent in acclimatisation and further training until on the night of 25/26 August Ross was detailed for his first operation, a raid on the Opel motor factory at Rüsselsheim near Frankfurt, a round trip of some eight and a half hours.
Flying as second pilot, colloquially known as Second Dickey, Ross was to fly with the crew of F/O. I. G. Smith, one of eighteen detailed for the operation by 100 Squadron. Though one of the Lancasters failed to return F/O. Smith's flying LM584 successfully completed the operation and returned safely to base.
Ross' introduction to operational flying was at an end and four nights later he flew as captain of his own aircraft with his own crew on a raid to Stettin which was successfully completed.
Operations involving the Ross Copland crew followed regularly throughout September with raids on Le Havre, Frankfurt, Calais, Neuss, Cap Gris Nez and on 16/17 September Leeuwarden airfield as part of Operation Market Garden.
Probably due in part to 7 days leave the crew was not involved in further operations until the night of 14/15 October when they were detailed for a raid on Duisburg. It was to be their last operation with 100 Squadron as on 15 October the crew was posted to 625 Squadron at RAF Kelstern in Lincolnshire.
Their first operation with 625 was on 25 October, a raid on Essen was followed quickly by three consecutive raids on Cologne on 28, 30 and 31 October and after raids on Düsseldorf (2 November), Bochum (4 November) and Gelsenkirchen (6 November) were all negotiated safely, the crew enjoyed 10 days without further involvement in operations perhaps also due in part to another period of leave.
OPERATION QUEENAs a prelude to Operation Queen, Bomber Command was requested to bomb Düren, Jülich, and Heinsburg in order to cut communications behind the German lines which were about to be attacked by American First and Ninth U.S. Armies between Aachen and the Rhine.
The operation was aimed against the Rur River, as a staging point for a subsequent thrust over the river to the Rhine into Germany.
As 16 November dawned Ross and his crew knew nothing of what the day or Bomber Command had instore for them but in due course they learned that they were detailed for the daylight raid on Düren some 20 miles east of Cologne. It would be operation number 21 for Ross and 20 for the others. (The RAF loss card records it as number 19 for Ross)
485 Lancasters and 13 Mosquitoes were to attack Düren and 625 Squadron was to provide 20 Lancasters and crews for the raid.
Mike Edwards, great nephew of pilot F/O. Ross Copland would very much like to have contact with relatives of the other crew members of Lancaster NG238. If you are such a relative and would like to be put in touch with Mike please contact our helpdesk
REASON FOR LOSS
With Ross Copland at the controls, Lancaster NG238 took off ninth in line at 12.58 and by 13.18 all 20 of 625 Squadron were airborne. The Lancaster was carrying a full bomb load comprising 1 x 4000lb MC, 7 x 500lb MC and 6 x 1000lb MC and was equipped with H2S ground scanning radar and Fishpond fighter warning system - for more information on these see abbreviations
Turning south the formation headed for Cottesmore and from there south west to Bradwell Bay across the North Sea to the Lille area then almost due east to a point just south of Liège before turning in a north easterly direction to the target of Düren. With luck they should be home by 6 p.m. and in plenty of time to get spruced up and down to the pub for a pint or two before closing time.
The Lancasters of 625 Squadron, bombing from 10000 feet between 1530 and 1536 delivered their deadly bomb load and turned for home.
19 Lancasters made it back to Kelstern but alas, NG238 was not one of them and nothing further was heard from or of the crew. It was to be three long years before their families discovered the fate of their loved ones.
The 625 Record of Events entry for the operation reads:
'Bombing attack on Duren
20 aircraft were detailed for this operation, which was attacked in daylight, the weather over the target being fairly good. Very little opposition was encountered, and many explosions and fires were seen in the target area'.
And quite amazingly concludes with:
'All our aircraft returned safely to Base'
(This error was corrected in the 625 Squadron Summary of Events which reads '...All our aircraft with the exception of 'E2' which was reported missing, returned safely.')
In an attack lasting 36 minutes 474 aircraft delivered 2751 tons of incendiaries and high explosive bombs on Düren completely destroying the town. 99.2% of dwellings were destroyed and 3106 people were killed. More than 40000 survivors were necessarily evacuated to central Germany with just four people choosing to remain in the town. It was not until the summer of 1945 that the citizens of the town began to gradually return and in the months that followed the removal of debris and reconstruction of the town began.
It was 1946 before the Missing Research and Enquiry Unit began investigations in the Düren area and on 17 June 1946 Section 4 MREU made its report to the Officer Commanding 4 MREU.
Whilst investigating several Casualty enquiries at Dueren [sic] I was informed at the Burgermeisters Office that there were several RAF graves in the Stadt Garten, Schenkelstrasse, containing four unknowns and one airman called "LYARD". On proceeding there I found among the rubble of bombed houses, (the town is almost completely destroyed), five graves. Facing South, the crosses of grave nos. 1, 2, 3, 5 bore the inscription "UNKNOWN BRITISH AIRMEN" ..No 4 the inscription "1897020 C.E. SAPSED".
B. AIRCRAFT: Very few remains of a four engined [sic] aircraft are to be seen scattered through the rubble near the grave. Most parts had been salvaged by a scrap merchant where I went later. At his dump identification of any particular aircraft was rendered impossible by the presence of several aircraft salvaged from the surrounding district.
The following means of identification were obtained from the scanty remains at the place of the crash:-
Plate on an Oleo leg: Type No. A 6995 B Serial: JM.55645
The name Merlin was found on the top of an engine which was partly buried in the ground.
Two machine guns .303 Mk II Serial Nos. BY 96977 and BY 97818
C. AIRCREW: As a complete evacuation of Deuen [sic] took place after the big air attack on the 16th November 1944 no eye witness could be found in spite of a circular regarding the crash sent out by the chief of Police. I interviewed a number of people who stated that the a/c had certainly not crashed before the morning of the 16th Nov. 1944, when they had visited the Stadt Garten for the last time: the wreckage was found on their return to Dueren in March 1945. Statements about the crew were scantier still - portraying well the general state of affairs at Dueren [sic], a most uncooperative town in all respects.
D. EXHUMATION: See Appendix A [not found]
E. REGISTRATION: No information could be obtained from Mil Gov. which incidentally did not even know of the existence of the graves, as to whether they had been registered by the former Town Mayor as the files had been removed.
F. CONCLUSION: There is a strong possibility in my opinion that the above a/c crashed during the attack on Dueren on the 16th November 1944. I think it likely that the bodies lay exposed for several months and were only buried when the town awoke to some sort of life again in the Spring of 1945.
A positive identification for Air Gunner 1897020 SAPSED seems proved.
The exact number of the crew buried in the other four graves is difficult to ascertain, we may however assume it to be 3-4. As to the whereabouts of the rest of the crew I should not like to venture a definite opinion until the aircraft has been identified by Air Ministry. If there are no members of the crew alive, I think it very likely that their scattered bones were buried with the many dead after the devastating attack on Dueren when clearing up of the ruins commenced. As far as I have been able to ascertain at D [üren] so far, there seems no possibility of any member of this crew being buried at the town cemetery (Neur Friedhof)
G. GRAVES: The graves are in very good condition, and the Burgermeister has undertaken to keep them well supplied with flowers and evergreen plants until such time as the GCU will carry out their transfer to a British Cemetery.
Later that year, Fl/Lt Firth of 19 Section 4 MREU and now in the knowledge that the aircraft in question was probably Lancaster NG238 conducted further enquiries. In his report to the Air Ministry (S.7 Cas) dated 15 January 1947 he writes:
Whilst carrying out investigations in the area of Kreis Duren several new facts came to light and statements of witnesses were obtained which throw new light on the crash reported in our Ref. 4 MREU/198/H.001 dated 17 June 1946 and referred to in your letter P.425518/S.7.Cas.C.7/R.C. dated 8 October 1946 (Encl 1 and 2)
Aircraft: According to eye-witnesses the aircraft (assumedly NG238 - see below) seems to have crashed in the first part of the large-scale attack on Duren in the afternoon of the 16th November 1944. If my assumption is correct (a thorough counter check was made on all facts known), the aircraft disintegrated in the air, the turret falling on a small factory situated [at] 25 Ruttger von Scheven Strasse, Duren, and the engines round the Statue of the Virgin Mary at the Alte [sic] Teich, approx. a 100 yards from the turret.
The turret is still to be seen and the following machine gun numbers could be obtained:-
.303 MkII + BY 109433 and BY 111324
The engines (seen immediately after the attack by Lorken and Treuling) [witnesses of 133 and 137 Monschauerstrasse Duren respectively] have been salvaged by an iron monger who broke them up rendering identification impossible. A part of the reduction gear housing together with the bent airscrew is however still there and the following numbers could be obtained:-
D.W.G. 6519a-O Serial No. N.K. A.K. 8177
This tallies with the number obtained by M. 7667 Pte Smith H.H.B. 2nd Canadian M.A.C., C.A.O.F. on his visit to Duren in October 1945 (See Appendix B). He was in search of his brother and obtained information about several crashes which were forwarded to this Section by No. 2 MREU.
Aircrew: It would appear that the first member of the crew to be found was Sgt. Sapsed [rear gunner of NG238], whose body, according to Gotthe Jr. [a witness of 79, Wiesenau, Mariaweiller nr Düren] was discovered in the ruins of his father's factory in July 1945. He also states that a pay book was found on the body and removed by a British Army Officer. This would be borne out by the fact that the cross on his grave in the Stadgarten [sic] Duren, bears his correct Service Number (as contained in referenced A.M. letter) whereas it will be seen from the attached exhumation reports (Appendix A) that markings with his "last three" only were found on body at the exhumation. Several months later 5-6 bodies were found - badly smashed and decomposed as they had been lying exposed since the day of the crash. According to Jacobs, his interpreter, the then Town Major ordered them to be interred beside the grave(s) containing the remains of the crew of Lancaster NF979. This tallies with Smith's information that 5 bodies were found and that the Sergeant carrying out the interment, tried to make "three complete bodies from remains".
I am of the considered opinion that all members of the crew of Lancaster NG238 perished in the crash. With the exception of Sgt. Sapsed, who was buried under the ruins of Gothe's factory, which was hit at the end of the attack, and whose body is therefore better preserved, the bodies were lying in the open for a considerable time. Duren was evacuated immediately after the attack (the Gothes e.g. did not even go back to their factory on the eve of the attack) and did not return until the British troops began to occupy the town several months later. It is also possible that fragments of bodies were buried in later sealed off craters together with the many civilian dead (a theory confirmed by the ex-Chief of Police). I am of the opinion that the remains of the bodies were buried in graves 1-3 in the Stadgarten [sic], the Map Reference contained in Smith's report being that of this location. It is assumed that grave 5 contains the remains of [the crew of] Lancaster NF979
(For details of this crew see http://aircrewremembered.com/anderson-john-graham.htm
The remains were recovered by 55 graves Concentration Unit from a mass grave in Duren in September 1946. The grave location was given as map reference 1346.
The circumstances of this case and the exceptionally long delay before the remains of the crews of Lancasters NG238 and NF979 were found and buried by the returning citizens of Düren it was impossible to safely determine which remains were those of each individual crew. With the exception of those of Sgt. Henry Sapsed, which were interred in a separate grave, the remains of both crews were necessarily re-interred in one communal grave at Venray War Cemetery, Limburg, Netherlands on 1 October 1946, six of the seven headstones marking the grave being shared by members of each crew. (See burial details below).
Four aircraft were lost on the Düren operation, the other three were:
Lancaster I NF979 EM-B of 207 Squadron piloted by John Graham Anderson NZ/421344 RNZAF age 32 crashed at Düren (For further details see earlier
Lancaster III PB609 GT-? of 156 Squadron piloted by W/Cdr. Donald Buchan Falconer DFC, AFC, 87052 RAFVR age 28 undershot the runway on return to base. There were no injuries or fatalities.
Lancaster III PB648 AS-B of 166 Squadron piloted F/O. Edward Thomas Coles J/35865 RCAF aged 21 - all 7 crew were killed.
On behalf of Aircrew Remembered, Roy Wilcock would like to thank Mike Edwards for his significant assistance in compiling this account and providing otherwise unavailable details and photographs of his great uncle, Flying Officer James Ross Copland.
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) F/O. James Ross Copland (known as Ross) was born on 18 September 1920 at Tillyfour, Chertsey, Ashburton, Canterbury, New Zealand the son of James Copland and Irene Winifred Copland nee Ross, later of Pukerau, Gore District, Southland, New Zealand.
He had nine siblings: Irene Margaret Copland (1911-2005), Eileen Mary Copland (1912-1996), Winifred Annie Copland (1914-2000), Jean Leslie Copland (1916-2010), Ruby Honor Copland (1918-2011) Georgina Isla Copland (1919-2008), Douglas Gardiner Copland (1922 - 2003), Allan McAra Copland (1925-2017) and Heather McAlrea Copland (1932-1949).
Ross Copland was educated at Kaiwera School (1925-1932) and later studied a correspondence course. After leaving school he worked as a Farm Hand for his father.
He enlisted at Blenheim (RNZAF Woodbourne) on 30 May 1942 - age at entry into RNZAF 21 years and 254 days.
On enlistment he was described as being 5'10" tall with a fresh complexion blue eyes and brown hair.
After training at 2 Service Flying Training School at RNZAF Woodbourne, Initial Training Wing at RNZAF Rotorua, 1 Elementary Flying Training School at RNZAF Taieri and 2 Service Flying Training School at RNZAF Woodbourne (Course 36B) he was awarded his Flying Badge on 10 May 1943 and on 2 July 1943 promoted to Sergeant.
The following day he went on Special Leave prior to embarkation for the UK on 12 July. He disembarked in the UK on 3 September and the next day he was posted to 12 Personnel Reception Centre at Brighton where he remained until posted to 15 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit (15 (P) AFU) - group 23 at RAF Babdown Farm, Gloucestershire on 16 November 1943. Here he was on Course No. 67 until 29 February 1944 and trained on the twin-engine Airspeed Oxford. As part of his training at 15 (P) AFU he was posted on to Course 223 at No. 1 Beam Approach Training School at RAF Watchfield, Wiltshire from 22 December 1943 to 4 January 1944 and where, on 2 January 1944, he was promoted to Flight Sergeant.
Posted to 83 Operational Training Unit at RAF Peplow in Shropshire he and his newly formed crew joined Course No. 13 from 29 February 1944 to 15 May 1944 for training on Vickers Wellingtons. Whilst at 83 OTU Ross was commissioned as a Pilot Officer (temporary) on 5 May 1944.
On 25 May 1944 he and his crew was posted to Course 97 at 1656 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Lindholme in the West Riding of Yorkshire for training on the Handley Page Halifax and afterwards to 1 Lancaster Finishing School at RAF Hemswell in Lincolnshire for similar training on Lancasters.
On 10 August 1944 Ross and his crew were posted to 100 Squadron at RAF Waltham near Grimsby in Lincolnshire where he was promoted to Acting Flying Officer on 26 August. The crew was posted to 625 Squadron at RAF Kelstern, Lincolnshire on 15 October and where Ross was promoted to Flying Officer on 6 November.
(2) Sgt. Donald George Bayliss was born on 3 December 1923 at Sheffield, West Riding of Yorkshire the son of Alfred Bayliss (a Hot Drop Stamper) and Florence Gertrude Bayliss nee Crook. He had two siblings: Olive Bayliss born 1918 and Diana Bayliss born 1919
In 1939 the family lived at 122 The Oval Sheffield. At that time Donald Bayliss was employed as an Office Boy at a steel works.
(3) Fl/Sgt. Kenneth Martin - Nothing known - if you have any information please contact our helpdesk.
(4) Fl/Sgt. John Meredith Taylor was born on 22 June 1922 at Newport, Monmouthshire, Wales the only child of John A. Taylor (a Builder) and Rhoda Louis Taylor nee Meredith. In 1939 the family lived at 69 Belle Vue Street Cwmbran, Monmouthshire.
John Meredith Taylor is commemorated on the Rood Screen at St Gabriel's Church, Old Cwmbran, Monmouthshire, Wales
(5) Sgt. Grahame Arthur Levings was born Grahame Arthur Wadey in 1925 at Westhampnet Sussex the only child of Arthur George Wadey and Ada Frances Wadey nee Anderson. His mother died in 1930 and later the same year his father married Annie Elmore Huthwaite nee Rose at Brentford: a daughter, Patricia A. Wadey was born in 1933
(6) Sgt. Kenneth Sawkins was born in 1923 at West Harting, Midhurst, Sussex the son of Arthur Sawkins (a Working Foreman at a Brick and Tile Works) and Gladys Sawkins nee Hill later of West Harting, Sussex. He had one sibling, Ronald H. Sawkins born 1928
In 1939 the family lived at 2b Grove Cottage, West Harting, Sussex
(7) Sgt. Henry Sapsed was born in 1920 at Brentford, Middlesex the son of John Harman Sapsed and Maud Sapsed nee Bennett. He had three siblings: Maud M. Sapsed born 1912, John C. Sapsed born 1913 and William Sapsed born 1915.
Maud Sapsed died in 1937 at Brentford aged 51.
Henry's brother, Lance Corporal 6456855 Charles John Sapsed, 2nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), died between 30 May 1940 and 4 June 1940 aged 26 and was buried at Coxyde Military Cemetery West-Vlaanderen, Belgium Grave VI. C. 1.
BURIAL DETAILS, MEMORIALS AND EPITAPHS
The Stadtgarten where the crew were originally buried.
(1) F/O. James Ross Coplandwas originally buried at Düren and re-interred on 1 October 1946 at Venray War Cemetery, Limburg, Netherlands - Coll. Grave V.C. 5-8 (He shares his headstone with F/O. Joseph Norman Clark NZ/415076 RNZAF of 207 Squadron)
(2) Sgt. Donald George Bayliss was originally buried at Düren and re-interred on 1 October 1946 at Venray War Cemetery, Limburg, Netherlands - Coll. Grave V.C. 5-8 (He shares his headstone with F/O. John Graham Anderson NZ/421344 RNZAF of 207 Squadron)
His epitaph reads:
You flew one day
And with God remain
May he in His mercy
Grant we meet again
(3) Fl/Sgt. Kenneth Martin was originally buried at Düren and re-interred on 1 October 1946 at Venray War Cemetery, Limburg, Netherlands - Coll. Grave V.C. 5-8 (He shares his headstone with Sgt. James Donald Rushworth 1399814 RAFVR of 207 Squadron)
(4) Fl/Sgt. John Meredith Taylor was originally buried at Düren and re-interred on 1 October 1946 at Venray War Cemetery, Limburg, Netherlands - Coll. Grave V.C. 5-8 (He shares his headstone with Fl/Sgt. Thomas Leslie Wright 1678692 RAFVR of 207 Squadron)
(5) Sgt. Grahame Arthur Levings was originally buried at Düren and re-interred on 1 October 1946 at Venray War Cemetery, Limburg, Netherlands - Coll. Grave V.C. 5-8 (He shares his headstone with Fl/Sgt. Stanley Eccleston 1684843 RAFVR of 207 Squadron)
(6) Sgt. Kenneth Sawkins was originally buried at Düren and re-interred on 1 October 1946 at Venray War Cemetery, Limburg, Netherlands - Coll. Grave V.C. 5-8 (He shares his headstone with Sgt. Philip Charles Russell 842512 RAF (A) of 207 Squadron)
His epitaph reads:
Grant him, O Lord
(7) Sgt. Henry Sapsed was originally buried at Düren and re-interred on 1 October 1946 at Venray War Cemetery, Limburg, Netherlands - Grave V.C. 4
His epitaph reads:
Memory is a golden chain
That links us
Til we meet again.
Dad, Maudie and Bill
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for Mike Edwards and all relatives and friends of the members of this crew - December 2019
With thanks to the sources quoted below.