Crash Landing 3.30am March 16 1944

by Ken Russell

"861 aircraft 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.

Real St-Amour(1) 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 crew later.

RCAF 425 Squadron based at Tholthorpe
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) which reported:

"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 red glow".(6)

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 for Queenie"

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) told me:

"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.


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 35 (4.2%)

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 were sustained.

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


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 Sylvester Williams.

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 There is also information on
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, Sutton 1994
5 Ibid
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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