The Last Flight of Halifax JB837
25/26th May 1943
The Düsseldorf Raid of 25th/26th May 1943

May 25th

10.00

WAAF Patricia Day of Pathfinder Force Squadron 156 (based at Warboys in Huntingdonshire) records in the Operational Record ledger that senior officers are notified that the target is Düsseldorf. Target marking is confirmed as Musical Parramatta - the codename for blind bombing by Oboe radio signals.

Mid morning

A Battle Order appears in the crew room of all the Bomber Command Squadrons. The crew who are named on the Battle Order are notified of the time to attend Briefing.

Early evening

At the briefing, the crew learn the target, route, bomb load and aiming point, and are given the weather forecast for the whole journey.

Although most of Bomber Command's sorties are carried out in radio silence, it is necessary before a raid to test the bomber's radios. The German Funkhorchdienst (Signals Intelligence Organisation) has learned to listen out for increased radio activity which precede a raid, and while the amount of radio traffic might indicate an approximate number of bombers taking part, the target is unknown. They know a large raid is assembling. Nachtjagd crews are gathered for a briefing from their Kommandeur or his deputy in their Bereitschaftsraum (Ready Room)

Late evening

About an hour before the raid is due to begin, the aircrew are taken by trucks to their aircraft, most carrying flasks of hot coffee, boiled sweets and chocolates to help them maintain their energy levels over the next few hours in freezing conditions. The aircraft wait at dispersal, watching for the green Very flare from the Control Tower which indicates that the mission is on. As each aircraft takes off, at one minute intervals, they are waved off by ground crew and WAAFs.

Lancasters of 1 Group meet on a moonless night off the coast of East Anglia at 16,000ft (4800m) and continue climbing so as to be as high as possible on reaching the enemy coast, to bomb from the maximum possible height.

Wellingtons of 1 Group meet nearby, above cloud at 12,000ft (3650m) and continue climbing in order to cross the enemy coast at a height of not less than 16,000ft.

Freya radars, the first line of defence in the German Kammhuber Line, detect the RAF aircraft as they leave the English coast. NJG1 night fighters are scrambled.

Halifax HR806 LQ-D suffers an engine failure on takeoff from Topcliffe, Yorkshire and crashes. All 7 crew survive.

May 26th

As the bomber stream approaches the Dutch coast, short-range Wurtzburg radars pick up the location of the bombers and the location of the night fighters. Ground controllers radio the information to the fighters so that they can close in to within two miles of the bombers. The night fighters' onboard Lichtenstein radars help them to locate their targets.

Just after midnight, F/S G.D.R. Lawrence takes off from Wickenby 11 minutes late in a 12 Squadron Lancaster because of a late aircraft change. He arrives late at the Dutch coast, but cannot maintain air speed and height. The rear gunner's oxygen tube has become detached, so the Flight Engineer goes back to assist wearing a portable oxygen bottle. The oxygen bottle runs out and the engineer falls unconscious. F/S Lawrence has to abort the mission.

01.00

The Gee Eastern Chain signals are switched on at Daventry and its slave stations to provide navigational guidance to the Gee-equipped bombers.

The bomber stream finds broken strato-cumulus over the Dutch coast, with cloud increasing towards the target at higher levels.

01.24

Oblt. Manfred Meurer of 3./NJG1 shoots down his 29th claim, Wellington HE990 SE-Z at 17,000ft (5200m) west of Venlo (some sources cite Oostrum, Limburg, but this is very unlikely). 3 crew are killed, and the Pilot R.T. Barclay and Navigator K. Dix are taken prisoner. Loss 1 (losses are shown in chronological order on the map at the bottom of this page.)

01.28

The first of the Pathfinder Force Mosquitoes drops red Target Indicator flares over the target.

01.30

The second of the Pathfinder Force Mosquitoes drops red Target Indicator flares over the target, and the first of the Main Force first wave bombers aims at the red Tis.

A significant error now occurs. It is 14 minutes before the next Mosquito drops its red TIs, during which time the 'backers up' have dropped 11 clusters of green TIs. Red TI flares burn out in 3-4 minutes, which means that for more than 10 minutes, no red TI markers have been visible to the 'backers up'.

01.36

Oblt. Eckart-Wilhelm von Benin of 6./NJG1 shoots down Wellington HF488 EX-U at 15,400ft (4700m) 8km north of Maastricht, his 13th claim. 4 crew are killed and 1 taken prisoner. 2

Oblt. Manfred Meurer of 3/NJG1 shoots down Lancaster LM320 HW-C at 22,300ft (6800m) 10km southeast of Roermond, his 30th claim. All 7 crew are killed. 3

01.40

Oblt. Wilhelm Telge of StabII/NJG1 shoots down Halifax W7813 KN-C at 15,000ft (4600m) 25km northeast of Hasselt, his 2nd claim. All 7 crew are killed. 4

01.43

Pilot Officer N.E. Burton, Captain of Lancaster R5677 flying out of Syerston can see no red or green TI markers, so makes a timed run from the yellow TIs at Bedburg, and Air Bomber Sgt. A.L.Rookes releases his 4000lb 'cookie' and 12 x Small Bomb Containers (SBC), each containing over 200 x 4lb incendiaries onto fires he can dimly see through 9/10ths cloud. There is heavy accurate predicted (radar-guided) flak, so the Lancaster dives to gain speed to leave the defended area as quickly as possible, then climbs back to its operational ceiling for the return journey, landing back at Syerston at 03.40

106 Squadron Log

01.51

Hptm. Kurt Liedke of 1.NJG1 shoots down Lancaster ED660 SR-U at 19,300ft (5900m) 25km northwest of Hertogenbosch, his 2nd claim. All 7 crew are killed. 5

While some aircraft have strayed many miles from the planned route, Navigator Sgt John Richardson has done an excellent job in guiding Halifax JB837 KN-D on a direct course from Aachen to Düsseldorf with the yellow TIs at Bedburg only 5 miles ahead. 1 mile south of Julich, Major Walter Ehle of StabII/NJG1 closes in on the Halifax at 15,700ft (4800m) and opens fire. The aircraft explodes with such force that two Stirling bombers flying close by are knocked down by the blast, EF361 MG-B and BF534 LS-L. All 21 crew of the three aircraft are killed. The Halifax is Ehle’s 18th claim.6,7,8

With no aerodynamic lift remaining, it takes less than 60 seconds for all three damaged aircraft to reach the ground. The wreckage of Halifax JB837 is scattered between Jülich and Elsdorf. The remains of Stirling EF534 (below) fall just over a mile south of Jülich.

Stirling LS-L
The tail and rear gun turret of LS-L lying on its starboard side

Stirling BF361 hits the ground just under 2.5 miles further south west (below).

. Stirling MG-B

01.55

Major Walter Ehle of StabII/NJG1 shoots down Stirling EH887 HA-Z at about 14,400ft (4400m) 8km south of Julich, his 21st claim. 7 of the crew are killed, but one trainee pilot on his first mission, Sgt. F.W. Bennett, is taken prisoner.9

02.08

Oblt. Manfred Meurer of 3./NJG1 shoots down Lancaster W5001 EM-J at 21,600ft (6600m) 5km west of Nijmegen, his 31st claim. 4 of the crew are killed. One of the two survivors, Pilot W/C T.A.B. Parselle is blown out of the aircraft still strapped in his seat and survives. He is taken prisoner, and after the war becomes Commandant of RAF College Cranwell.10

02.09

Lancaster ED768 PO-N is shot down by flak. 3 of the crew are killed, but 4 taken prisoner.11

Navigator Sgt.L.C.Carpenter of Lancaster W4842 cannot find the yellow TIs to guide his Captain Sgt.E.A.Robbins to the target, but spots a cluster of green TIs. Air Bomber Sgt. L. Calvert releases his 4000lb 'cookie' and 12 SBCs from 20000ft, but sees no results. The Pathfinder Forces red TIs are 'exceptionally scattered'.

It is believed that the Oboe Mosquitoes' target marking has been accurate, so in their post-raid analysis, Bomber Command concludes that the Germans have deployed numerous decoy red TI markers to confuse the bomb-aimers. WAAF Patricia Day's Operational Record indicates that the gap in red TI marking after 1.30 resulted in scattered green TI marking, and that two red TIs reported at 02.07 and 02.10 were one and a half miles apart, resulting in two separate green TI target areas being created, suggesting the use of decoys.

106 Squadron Log

02.10

Obf. Hermann Sommer of 1./NJG1 shoots down Lancaster ED600 EM-P at 18,300ft (5600m) 2km east-north-east of Horst, Holland, his 14th claim. All 7 crew are killed.12

02.12

Air Bomber Sgt. R.A.James of 106 Squadron flying at 20,000ft in Lancaster R5572 sees a cluster of green TIs in his sights through 5/10ths cloud but no red TIs, and releases his 8000lb HE bomb. It is seen to burst slightly to port of the TIs. Captain F/O C.V. Stephens reports a scattering of small fires, little heavy flak and few searchlights. There is evidence of fighters, and condensation trails cause some interference with visual identification.

106 Squadron Log

02.15

Ltn. Bruno Heileg of Erg./NJG2 shoots down a Stirling, probably BK602 AA-R, 10km northeast of Antwerpen, his 1st claim. The plane comes down in the north sea and all crew killed. One body is subsequently recovered from the sea off Dunkirk and 3 off Bergen op Zoom. 13

Stirling BK611 LS-U (nicknamed 'Te-Kooti') is hit by flak southwest of the target. The pilot F/Sgt J.O.Wilson jettisons his bomb load and sets a homeward course. In the confusion, the mid-upper gunner Sgt E.I. Seabolt bails out and is taken POW. The aircraft crashes at Venlo, Limberg, and the pilot and two other crew are killed: the remaining 3 survivors are taken prisoner.14

02.20

Sgt. Stone, the rear gunner of Pilot Officer P.R. Ford's Lancaster from 12 Squadron sights a Messerschmitt 600 yards astern, but is unable to engage the enemy because the rear turret is unusable because of a burst hydraulic pipeline. The Lancaster is homeward bound at 20,000ft, 12 miles west of Krefeld, when the night fighter attacks from the starboard quarter. The aircraft corkscrews starboard and the night fighter breaks away to port, firing 4 cannons from 200 yards. The mid upper gunner Sgt. Hatch replies from 150 yards, but neither aircraft is hit.

02.26

Oblt. Willhelm Telge of StabII/NJG1 shoots down Wellington HE590 OW-P at 12,700ft (3900m) 5km south of Mechelen, his 3rd claim. All 6 crew are killed.15

02.33

Bombers on the return route from the target face heavy headwinds of between 40 - 60 mph, assisting the night fighters in their attacks. Many aircraft stray from the planned flight path and cross heavily defended areas such as Rotterdam, the Hague and Amsterdam.

Fw. Heinz Vinke of 11./NJG1 shoots down a Stirling, probably EH876 WP-J, at 9500ft (2900m) 5km west of Ijmuiden, his 26th claim. The aircraft crashes into the sea off the Dutch coast, and one body is subsequently recovered and buried at Den Burg Cemetery. 16

Ltn. Heinz Strüning of StabII/NJG1 shoots down Wellington HE235 AS-H at 15,400ft (4700m) near Loosduinen, his 28th claim. The aircraft is lost without trace, and all 5 crew presumed killed.17

02.35

Major Walter Ehle of StabII/NJG1 shoots down Wellington HE699 AS-M at around 10,600ft (3250m) 3km north of Nederwert, his 22nd claim. All 5 crew are killed. 18

Lancaster W4998 HW-J is shot down by flak from gemischte Flak-Abteilung 591 (Mixed Anti-Aircraft Division 591) near Het Voorst, 13km northwest of Venlo, Holland. 5 crew are killed, but 2 taken prisoner. Bomb aimer F/Lt S.W.J. Coventry evades arrest until he is caught in Paris on 6th June 1943,19

02.48

Uffz. Georg Kraft of 12./NJG1 shoots down Stirling BK659 BU-N at 8,500ft (2600m) 25km north west of Den Helder, his 9th claim. All 7 crew are killed. 20

03.04

Uffz. Georg Kraft of 12./NJG1 shoots down a Stirling, probably BK710 OJ-A, at 2,600ft (800m) 40km west of Vlieland, his 10th claim. The aircraft may have been struggling to maintain height or manouevre as it is flying dozens of miles north of the expected return route. It crashes into the sea, and the body of one of its seven man crew is subsequently recovered off the coast of Heligoland. 21

03.05

Oblt. Hermann Greiner of 11./NJG1 shoots down a Lancaster, probably ED967 GZ-F at 13,100ft (4000m) 35km west of Den Helder, his 5th claim. All 7 crew presumed killed. 22

03.25

Oblt. Hermann Greiner of 11./NJG1 shoots down Lancaster ED695 PO-J at 3,200ft (1000m) 15km north of Bergen-am-Zee, his 6th claim. The aircraft should not be flying this low, so may have been damaged before being shot (it is also possible there has been a typographical error in recording the height - such errors were common). It turns back to shore and crashes onto a beach 10 miles south of Dan Helder, Holland. 2 crew are killed, but 5 taken prisoner. The Flight Engineer Sgt S G Keirs of the RAAF later recalls 'We were shot down by a fighter. Extensive damage to all motors and tanks. The Captain ordered ditching drill – drill carried out. All the crew acknowledged orders as far as I can remember. The aircraft was out of control for a few minutes only. Aircraft crashed in flames – it had burst into flames when hit. When I emerged from the aircraft I found only four others of the crew out. The mid upper gunner Sgt Birbeck (RCAF) and the rear gunner [K R Langhorne] must have still been in the aircraft which was burning fiercely – we attempted to approach but could not get near aircraft because of heat – ammunition began to explode and became dangerous. (I was) captured 3 days later by a flak unit' 23

03.42

Ltn. Werner Hopf of 2./NJG1 shoots down Lancaster ED834 WS-Z at 18,000ft (5500m) 2km south-south east of Vlissingen, his 6th claim. The aircraft is nearly 50 miles south of its intended return route, so may have already been damaged or malfunctioned, and has set a course to return directly to base rather than follow the planned bomber stream route. All 7 crew are killed. 24

Raid Losses

Aircraft Losses in Chronological Order

No.
Time
Aircraft
Serial No
X1D
Squadron
Airfield
Cause
1 01.24 Wellington HE990 SE-Z RCAF 431 Burn, Selby Oblt Manfred Meurer
2 01.36 Wellington HF488 EX-U 199 Ingham Oblt Eckart-Wilhelm von Bonin
3 01.36 Lancaster LM320 HW-C 100 Grimsby Oblt Manfred Meurer
4 01.40 Halifax W7813 KN-C 77 Elvington Oblt Wilhelm Telge
5 01.51 Lancaster ED660 SR-U 101 Holme-on-Spalding Moor Hptm Kurt Liedke
6 01.51 Halifax JB837 KN-D 77 Elvington Maj Walter Ehle
7 01.52 Stirling EF361 MG-B 7 Oakington Maj Walter Ehle
8 01.52 Stirling BF534 LS-L 15 Bourn Maj Walter Ehle
9 01.55 Stirling EH887 HA-Z 218 Downham Market Maj Walter Ehle
10 02.08 Lancaster W5001 EM-J 207 Langar Oblt Manfred Meurer
11 02.09 Lancaster ED768 PO-N 467 Bottesford FLAK
12 02.10 Lancaster ED600 EM-P 207 Langar Ofw Hermann Sommer
13 02.15 Stirling BK602 AA-R 75 (NZ) Newmarket Lt Bruno Heilig
14 02.15 Stirling BK611 LS-U 15 Bourn FLAK
15 02.26 Wellington HE590 OW-P RCAF 426 Dishforth Oblt Wilhelm Telge
16 02.33 Wellington HE235 AS-H 166 Kirmington Lt Heinz Struning
17 02.33 Stirling EH876 WP-J 90 Ridgewell Fw Heinz Vinke
18 02.35 Wellington HE699 AS-M 166 Kirmington Maj Walter Ehle
19 02.35 Lancaster W4998 HW-J 100 Grimsby FLAK
20 02.48 Stirling BK659 BU-N 214 Chedburgh Uffz Georg Kraft
21 03.04 Stirling BK710 OJ-A 149 Lakenheath Uffz Georg Kraft
22 03.05 Lancaster ED967 GZ-F 12 Wickenby Obtl Hermann Greiner
23 03.25 Lancaster ED695 PO-J 467 Bottesford Obtl Hermann Greiner
24 03.42 Lancaster ED834 WS-Z 9 Bardney (satellite of Waddington) Lt Werner Hopf

Postscript

Three other aircraft are lost to flak, but the times are not recorded:

Two Halifaxes from 77 Squadron, Elvington claim some revenge for the loss of two of their colleagues KN-C and KN-D by shooting down two of four night fighters claimed by RAF air gunners. German records show no loss of nightfighters on 26th May 1943.

Four RAF aircraft are damaged by incendiary bombs dropped by other RAF planes over the target area.

63 aircraft have abortive sorties, 60 because of technical defects, 2 because of sickness of crew, and 1 arriving too late at the turning point.

When the 12 Squadron Lancaster of F/O F.T. Wright returns to Wickenby from the sortie, he discovers that Wireless Operator F/S T.A. Routledge has died of anoxia, having failed to plug into the oxygen supply and had been without oxygen for 52 minutes at over 20,000ft.

Halifax HR747 of 51 Squadron returns to Snaith in Yorkshire with only three engines operational. P/O D.J. White overshoots the landing and the hydraulic system fails. With the undercarriage stuck in the down position, the aircraft is unable to climb and after a forced landing, the bomber crashes into trees, coming to a halt in a ditch. All seven crew survive.

Wellington HE859 of 429 Squadron returns to East Moor in Yorkshire having been damaged by flak as it approached the target. The flak has punctured a tyre and caused the liferaft to deploy. The severe vibrations caused by the tethered liferaft caught in the slipstream forces the pilot to jettison his bombs and return to base. He is made to wait until all other aircraft return before being given permission to land in case he crash lands and becomes a hazard to other returning aircraft. When he is finally allowed to land, he veers off the runway and crashes nose down. All 5 crew are unhurt.