Crash Landing 3.30am March 16 1944
by Ken Russell
were sent to Stuttgart
7 bombers were lost".
One of those bombers, near to the end of the Second World, crashed
on Brierley Hill. This is the story behind the statistics.
later to become one of Canada's most famous airmen joined the
Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) on April 21 1937. Five years later
7 other young men - Flying Officer Earl Kirk, Harold G Facey (known
as Harry or Abe), Flying Officer E F Bush, H D Hagan, C E Robertson
(known as Robby), DR McEvoy (Don) and Robert Furneaux joined the
RCAF. At the same time Sergeant Clifford Adams joined the RAF.
All were volunteers because neither air force conscripted men.
The lives of these 9 men were to become inextricably linked in
life as well as death as members of the RCAF 425 Squadron, which
was for a time based at RAF Tholthorpe(2)
in North Yorkshire. St-Amour was Station Adjutant and 7 of the
men were to be the first crew of Halifax Mk3 bomber NLW 413 known
as "Q for Queenie". Robert Furneaux was to join the
RCAF 425 Squadron based
The crew that night were
"F/O Earl Kirk (pilot), F/O Harold G Facey navigator
known as Harry, or by the crew as Abe, F/O H D Hagen radio
operator, F/O E F Bush air bomber, Sgt Clifford Adams flight
engineer, Sgt C E Robertson rear gunner known as Robby,
Sgt D R McEvoy mid-upper gunner known as Don).
My interest in RCAF 425 Squadron was accidentally roused when
I was considering what I might contribute to a new book on recollections
of World War II to be published later this year.
(3) Remembering that an aircraft had crashed in
Adelaide Street, I consulted Stan Hill's book(4)
"Devastation was caused to the
houses in Adelaide Street (Brierley Hill) at 3.30am on 16 March
1944, when a damaged Halifax Mk 3 bomber No LW 413, returning
from a massive raid on Germany, crashed".(5)
This stimulated a raft of questions including what happened
that night to cause the aircraft to crash. Why hadn't it landed
at RAF Halfpenny Green or one of the other air bases across England?
What happened to the crew, who were they, and very much to the
forefront were any of them still alive sixty years later? If they
were alive would finding them be like searching for a needle in
haystack? These questions, and many others which cropped up during
my searches, set me off on enquiries at libraries, websites, airmen's
organisations, the RAF and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF),
newspapers, airmen from World War II.
A newspaper image of the
crash site in Adelaide Street
The County Express, then a weekly paid newspaper, described the
scene before the crash as:
"A great ball of fire flashing
across the sky, lighting up the whole street in a shimmering
Four houses were wrecked, four more badly damaged and 50 nearby
houses were slightly damaged. Mrs. Bessie Rowbottom aged 32, was
staying the night at her parents' home, was the only fatality.
She lived at Collis Street, Amblecote and worked as a clerk for
a local firm of builders. The wife of an air gunner, she went
to the cinema every Wednesday night and stayed the night at the
home of her parents, Mrs and Mrs Westwood of 80 Adelaide Street.
Her parents, who were rescued by a Civil Defence team and local
residents, sustained bruises. There were a few other minor casualties.
Halifax MkV bomber KW-Q known as "Q
Mrs Rowbottom's funeral was held at Bank Street Methodist Church
on March 21 1944,(7)
where she had been active all her life. Representatives from all
walks of life were in attendance and the church was full to overflowing.
Outside hundreds of people assembled. A large crowd was present
at Brockmoor Parish Church where she was interred and her grave
can still be seen. The RAF Historical Branch, whom I had discovered
in the past, has considerable information in its archives, was
able to assist with the following:
"425 Squadron Halifax LW13 KW-Q,
affectionately known by the crew as Queenie, was on a bombing
operation on Stuttgart Germany becoming airborne at 1905 hours
from RAF Tholthorpe. The aircraft was abandoned, out of petrol
and crashed at 0340 hours onto property in Adelaide Street,
Brierley Hill on the northern side of Halesowen in the western
suburbs of Birmingham. Three houses were demolished and three
others were badly damaged. One person on the ground died and
another was injured".(8)
Second shot showing the
damage caused in Adelaide Street
The aircrew were listed as F/O Kirk RCAF, Sgt C Adams, F/O HG
Facey RCAF, P/O K F Bush, F/O H D Hagan RCAF, Sgt CE Robertson,
and Sgt DR McEvoy. One of the keys to the events of March 13/14
were the crew, if any were still alive and could contact be made.(9)
From the information in the RAF Archives it appeared that three
of the men were Canadian and four were English. The first clue
to the accuracy of this information came from an unusual source.
In the village in Leicestershire in which I live I have a friend
named Jack Gubbins, who I remembered flew throughout the war in
Halifax Bombers with the RCAF. When I checked with him I was informed
that RCAF aircrew always had an English Flight Engineer because
the Canadians did not train any. This suggested that only one
of the crew was English and the remainder Canadian. By an unusual
coincidence my friend was also on the raid on Stuttgart that same
night and could remember details.
Using the website I was able to uncover a considerable amount
of information about RAF Tholthorpe. Using contacts in the Methodist
Church I found Geoffrey Wood, on whose land the airfield stood.
He proved an invaluable source of information. This led to the
discovery of the Adjutant of RCAF 425 Flight Lieutenant Real St-Amour
and his extensive records of the Squadron's activities, which
contained details of the men who served. His daughter Chantal
Gaudreault was very diligent in searching these and in providing
information from other sources. This led to my locating Ed Bush,
still alive and able to provide information as to what happened
before the aircraft crashed. In an interview by email Ed(10)
"We were hit by flak, but whether
on the way to Stuttgart, or coming back I cannot remember. When
the pilot Earl Kirk asked the mid-upper gunner for a damage
report, he replied, 'there's a hole as big as a washtub in the
port wing'. When we arrived back over England, we were dangerously
short of fuel at about 4000 feet, with a solid cloud base below.
The pilot did not dare go down to look for an airfield, and
so gave the order to abandon aircraft at about 3,500 feet. I
landed in a pasture unhurt, gathered the chute in my arms and
made way to a farmhouse. The farmer took me for a Jerry at first,
until I had got out of my flying suit, and the Canada badges
on my shoulders confirmed my identity, on which the good man
invited me in, and he and family couldn't do too much for me.
I sent my parents his address and they sent him a food parcel"
He wrote to them:
"A policeman conducted me to
the police station in High Street Brierley Hill. Only Don McEvoy,
the mid-upper gunner sustained any injury, having landed on
a roof. A sprained ankle, I believe. We returned to Tholthorpe
by train, carrying our parachutes, with two changes to reach
Tholthorpe, 14 miles north of York."
Mr Bush wrote:(8)
"My crew was shot down in mid-June
over Boulogne. Don McEvoy and Sgt Clifford Adams, the RAF flight
engineer, were found dead in their chutes, shot presumably by
ground fire. Harry Facey and my replacement, a chap by the name
of Stubbs, became POWs, and the skipper (Earl Kirk) and radio
operator were hidden by a farmer, living three months in a hayloft
until the region was liberated by allied troops".
The Broader Scene
So far this account has been at the micro level. I now turn the
macro picture into which this flight fitted. All events are linked
in one way or another, but not always visibly. The origins of
the flight on March 15/16 go back to June 22 1942(11)
when the formation of the fifth RCAF heavy bomber squadron was
authorised and in its title the words "French-Canadian"
were included after the Squadron Number, which made it unique
in the history of the RCAF. Prior to this St-Real travelled the
whole of Canada recruiting French Canadians to the Squadron. Three
days later at RAF Dishforth it came into existence as part of
No 4 Group Bomber Command. In October 1942 the squadron became
operational flying Wellington bombers. At that time the name "Alouette"
was attached to the squadron's name. This was very appropriate
as the alouette, translated skylark, is the official emblem of
the French-Canadians. The emblem of the squadron very appropriately
shows a skylark in full flight and bears the official motto "Je
te plumerai". Recruitment of personnel to the squadron although
strongly French-Canadian embraced a wide range of nationalities
and in particular RAF Flight Engineers who were recruited from
the United Kingdom.
This early history of the squadron sets the scene for the presence
of Flight Engineer Clifford Shaw as a member of the crew of Queenie
on the night of March 15/16 1944. In January 1943 the squadron
was transferred to 6 Group but then went to the Middle East from
May to November 1943 on detachment. On the squadron's return it
converted to Halifax bombers and from February 1944 was based
at Tholthorpe, North Yorkshire. Bomber Command Raids
The wider picture into which the flight fits now unfolds. Bomber
Command crews sustained very heavy losses and the number of aircraft
destroyed was high. Following each raid the crew of each aircraft
met with a debriefing officer, who recorded their comments about
all aspects of the raid. These were then amalgamated into a report
of the night's activities. The immediate picture is described
by Theo Boiten in "Night Airwar - Personal Recollections
of the conflict over Europe 1939-45"
"From the 55 raids mounted by
Bomber Command between the end of August 1943 and the end of
March 1944 (roughly the period spanning the Battle of Britain),
a staggering 1,578 aircraft failed to return. This represented
an average rate of loss of 5% per raid, or twice the front line
strength of the Command. This meant that only some 20 per cent
of the bomber crews successfully managed to complete a tour
of 30 operations in this period of the airwar".(12)
Night Raid Report
Following each Bomber Command raid a Night Raid Report was compiled.
What follows are selections from the Night Raid Report(11)
for the night of March 15/16 1944 into which Q for Queenie fits.
SUMMARY 861 aircraft were
sent to Stuttgart, but delivered a rather scattered attack, centred
outside the town. Useful industrial damage was however caused
in suburbs and outlying villages. Fighters were extremely active,
and 36 bombers and 7 fighters were lost.
WEATHER FORECAST Midnight
frontal positions: Warm from St. Abbs Head to Holyhead. Bases:
Fit all night; visibility above 1 mile except locally. Little
cloud in south much medium and some low cloud in north. Safe diversions
until 0300 in Training Groups and south coast. Germany: N. plain:
6-8/10ths. Strato-cumulus, with large clearances. Many clear areas
in S. Germany and middle Rhine. East of 14 degrees E: convection
cloud, tops probably not above 15,000'. Stuttgart: good chance
of less than 4/10ths. Strato-cumulus, tops below 8,000.
STUTTGART - PLAN OF ATTACK
Method of attack: The attack was planned as a NEWHAVEN with emergency
skymarking. It was to be opened by Blind Marker Illuminators with
green Target Indicators (TI) and white flares (the first bundle
to be released with the TI and the rest at 10 second intervals).
If more than 7/10ths cloud, they were also to drop R/P flares
(Green with red stars). If H2S (radar device in the belly of the
aircraft, which scanned the ground giving a picture of the terrain)
was unserviceable (u/s) they should retain all markers and act
as Supporters. Visual markers were to mark the exact aiming point
with mixed salvoes of red and green TI, after definite visual
identification. If this was impossible, they were to hold their
TI and bomb on H2S, or at the centre of green TI or at release
point flares. Blind backers up were to aim bombs at the centre
of all TI if they attacked before zero+9 and a NEWHAVEN was in
progress. If not, drop R/P flares blindly. If they bombed after
zero+9, they were to drops reds and R/P flares blindly. In either
case, if their H2S was u/s, they were to hold their markers and
act as Supporters. Visual backers up were to keep the aiming point
marked with red, aimed at the centre of all mixed salvoes, or
at the centre of all TI If no TI were visible, they were to drop
bombs blindly. The Supporters were to bomb blindly or, if their
special equipment was u/s, visually on a good Dead Reckoning (DR),
or at the centre of all TI or R/P flares on a heading of 010degreesN.
Main force aircraft arriving early in the attack were to aim at
the large mixed salvoes; but if these were not visible, at the
centre of reds, overshooting by 2 seconds. If cloud obscured the
TI they were to aim at the centre of P/P flares on a heading of
010degreesN. They were not to drop incendiaries before zero hour.
DIVERSIONS ETC. One Mosquito
was to drop TI as spoof routemarkers 18 miles from Munich, then
attack Munich with bombs and TI. A minute later 9 other Mosquitoes
were to follow up with more TI on the city. All these aircraft
were to drop WINDOW (metal strips to confuse radar). Another 9
Mosquitoes were to attack Stuttgart. The main force was to drop
WINDOW at the rate of 2 bundles per minute within 30 miles of
the target and one minute for the rest of the trip.
SORTIES No of aircraft dispatched
861 No of aircraft reporting attack on primary area 778 (90.2%)
Number of aircraft reporting attack on alternative area 5 (0.6%)
Number of abortive sorties 44 (5.1%) Number of aircraft missing
NARRATIVE OF ATTACK The marking
was poor, in both timing and spacing. The main reason was that
winds were more unfavourable than had been forecast and that the
extra 5 minutes which crews had been instructed to allow proved
insufficient. The first marker went down at zero - 1 instead of
zero - 5 and most crews were anything from 3 to 15 minutes late.
Many TI were aimed at one which an early visual marker is believed
to have dropped on a decoy, although there is no evidence to show
where this concentration occurred. The attack was scattered over
a large area mostly to the SW of the target.
DAY RECONNAISSANCE Photographic
cover was not obtained until 25 March by which time aircraft of
USBC (United States Bomber Command) had delivered a daylight attack
on Vereinigte Kugellarger Fabrik GmbH. Some of the damage revealed
must, therefore, be attributed to the latter operation. The weight
of the attack under review evidently fell outside the town, although
a certain amount of destruction was caused in no less than 14
villages and suburban districts. This includes useful industrial
damage to the Daimler Benz works at Unterturkheim and the Kodak
factory at Wangen and the part destruction of the large railway
viaduct carrying the Bad Cannstadt Kornwetheim main goods lines
across the river Necker. A direct hit brought down the steel frame
of one span between piers 200' apart, thus necessitating a diversion
of traffic from the direct line. Eight hits were also scored on
the autobahn 6 miles south of the town. A few incidents occurred
in Stuttgart itself.
ENEMY DEFENCES The heavy
guns of Stuttgart fired a loose barrage of slight to moderate
intensity. A little predicted unseen fire was encountered on the
run in; and concentrations were fired at the marker flares. There
was little light flak and practically no searchlight activity.
The route was free of trouble except at Abbeville and Mannheim.
Nine aircraft were seen shot down by flak; 5 on the outward journey
at Le Havre, Chartres, Chaumont, Epinal and Freiburg; 3 over the
target; and one at Strasbourg on the way home.
Fighters were very active. The southerly route, crossing the German
frontier near the Swiss border, was again followed, but for the
first time since this route came into regular use, the enemy succeeded
in intercepting our bomber stream before the target was reached.
Fighters were split into 2 forces, one concentrating near Metz
for the purpose of harassing our aircraft en-route, while the
other was in the north and brought southwards to the target area.
The former force provided stiff opposition from the time our aircraft
reached Epinal resulting in 24 combats and 10 losses between this
point, and the second force were present in large numbers over
Stuttgart, where they made 23 attacks, and destroyed 2 bombers.
Two further losses were caused by freelance fighters before Strasbourg
was reached, and 2 more by GCI patrols in the Florennes area.
Altogether, 17 aircraft are known to have been shot down by fighters,
25 returning bombers reported damage from the same cause. Neither
the attack on Amiens nor the diversion at Munich distracted the
fighters to any considerable degree. Six enemy aircraft were shot
down in combat - 3 JU 88s by Lancasters of 5 Group, and a JU 88,
ME109 and FW109 by Halifaxes of 4 Group. Another FW 190 was destroyed
in a collision with a Lancaster.
CASUALITIES No of aircraft
missing 36 (4.2%) No of aircraft damaged (63) flak 12, fighter
25, British incendiaries 14 and other causes 12.
FIGHTER OPERATIONS Ten Mosquitoes
of 100 Group were sent on patrols in support of the Stuttgart
raid. Eight completed their patrols without sighting any enemy
aircraft. One was lost without trace. Twenty-eight Mosquitoes
of ADGB patrolled enemy airfields in France, Holland, Belgium
and Western Germany; and 8 Mosquitoes of 2 Group attacked other
airfields in France and the Low Countries. No other causalities
Of the crew of the Halifax Q for Queenie flying on March 15/16
only three eventually survived World War 2 - F/O Earl Kirk, P/O
Edward Bush, F/O Harold Facey.
Piercing together the events of March 15/16 1944 has been like
finding one piece of a jigsaw puzzle and then attempting to find
out the rest to see the whole scene. Or, like dropping a stone
into a pond and watching the circles spread outwards. There is
still other information to be gleaned. Although, Flight Engineer
Clifford Adams grave is buried in a Commonwealth War Graves Commission
grave and details of his death recorded, little else is know about
him. Details of the final flight of the crew of Q for Queenie
are limited to Ed Bush's account and some brief details in the
Night Raid Report. This is still to be explored. The reasons why
these 6 brave Canadians volunteered to fight in World War II are
unknown. Their lives following the war are unexplored - those
who die in war are commemorated, but the lives of those who face
the peace are rarely mentioned.
|If you are interested in more information about Commonwealth
Air Service Personnel please vist the website maintained by
Matt Lacroix at www.bombercrew.com
Material in parenthesis this has been inserted by the author to
explain initials or technical material.
I am deeply indebted to Chantal Gaudreault, daughter of Real St-Amour,
who searched diligently her father's extensive records for information
and who continues to maintain a personal interest. Ed Bush's contribution
has been crucial to the events of March 13/14 and to providing
links with the other crew members. Geoff Wood was a constant source
of help about RAF Tholthorpe. Stan Hill can always be relied upon
for enthusiastic support for articles for the Black Countryman.
My essential other half Nichola Pell has provided her unfailing
tender loving care. An enterprise of this magnitude depends on
a whole range of people with different skills, knowledge and experience
and gratitude is also expressed to the following:
Captain Brendan Bond, Paul Bush, Claire Davis, Susan Dickinson,
Hugh Halliday, Guy Jefferson, Diane Kirk, Nicola Laugharne, Pierre
Leduc, Greg McCooeye, Denise Pannell, Lee Smith, Sue Warnes, and
1 Sadly, as this paper was being completed LCol
(Hon) Real St-Amour MBE, MID,CD EscadrIlle 425 AIouette, one of
the great men of the RCAF, died on December 27 2004. In a follow
up I will deal more fully with his life.
2 RAF Tholthorpe is extensively dealt with on
the excellent website www.airfieldhistoriesuk.fsnet.co.uk. There
is also information on www.airfields-in-yorkshire.co.uk/tholthorpe/
3 The Leicestershire and Rutland Family History
Society, of which I am a member, asked for contributions for a
book dealing with war time memories.
4 Stan Hill, Brierley Hill in Old Photographs,
6 County Express, March 18 1944.
7 County Express, March 25 1944
8 RAF Historical Branch
9 For a descriptive account see Ray Jones, The
Crash, The Blackcountryman (Vol 37 No 3, pp3-38)
10 Edward Bush October 26 2004.
11 See 425 Squadron by A. P. Heathcote in the
Roundel Volume 9 Nos 3, 4, 5, 6 April-July 1957
12 Theo Boiten, Night Airwar - Personal Recollections
of the conflict over Europe 1939-45 1999 Crowood Press
13 Bomber Command Report on Night Operations
15/16 Match 1944, Night Raid Report No 553, 2 June 1944.
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