The Gordon crew – 1944. Jack Bell and Carl ‘Bob’ Freeman

Jack and Bob

On the left Jack Bell, Navigator and Carl Freeman, Flight Engineer. Both, along with the rest of their crew perished on the night of November 20th 1944 on one of the infamous Homberg Ops.
© Mark Rae/ Anthony Freeman, respectively

I alluded in a previous post about a song (listen to it here) that Mark is working on in memory of his grandfather Jack Bell, Navigator with the Gordon crew, lost on the 20th November 1944, that there would be one to follow and here it is.

I also mentioned in that post that subsequently, after hearing from Mark, I was contacted by Anthony, whose father was a Flight Engineer. It took a bit of thinking for me to realise that in fact they were both in  Ron Gordon’s crew……..

Many thanks to Anthony for sending this, his own research on the Gordon crew and his father Sgt. Carl ‘Bob’ Freeman. What I have tried to do is present the crew history in the same basic format that I normally present crew/ Op histories. Additional to this in this case, is the Op summary from Form 541 ‘Detail of Work Carried Out’, which wonderfully, Anthony has transcribed for the entire history of the crew. Extra to this is a number of quotes from other sources relating to the crew’s last fateful Op to Homberg on the 20th November 1944.

In addition to this, I have also added extracts taken from summarised records of letters sent home by the Navigator Jack Bell, that Mark very generously supplied when we first started talking by email a while back.

For the sake of clarity regarding Jack’s comments, the main body text is laid out as plain, with Op dates in Bold. Jack’s comments are bold italic. This is the first time I have been able to (clearly with the generous contributions of Anthony and Marc), present an Op history for a crew with such a personal content – many thanks gentlemen.

Prior to arriving at Mepal, Jack’s letters touch on a few details of training and the new crew he is part of….

30.6.44. “At Methwold, near Brandon, Norfolk – billet is 2 miles from Mess (Brandon Station)- (hut is in middle of wood).”

24.7.44. “Bill Otway is W.OP. We have a very nice Flight Engineer now Bob Freeman (which brings our crews number of kids to 10 – (which must be quite a record).”

29.8.44. R.Gordon and crew arrive on posting from 31 Base.

3.9.44. War Ops –  Attack Against The Airfield At Eindhoven
Lancaster Mk.I ND911 JN-V
Ten aircraft took off as detailed to attack the airfield at Eindhoven. All were successful in bombing visually and a good concentration of bombing was achieved. AA fire was slight, but accurate and three of our aircraft suffered minor damage. No enemy fighter opposition was encountered
Ron Gordon 2nd Dickie op with Sam Wilson’s crew.

5.9.44. War Ops –  Attack Against Le Havre
Lancaster Mk.I  ME753 AA-N
Twenty-five aircraft took off as detailed to attack the above target in favorable weather. Opposition was negligible and a very successful raid was accomplished, most bombing being visually carried out.
Starting crew for tour were;
F/S Ronald Gordon – Pilot.
P/O John Bell – Navigator.
F/S Albert Weston – Air Bomber.
Sgt. William Otway – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. Carl Freeman – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. Sidney Hone – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. James Forrester – Rear Gunner.

6.9.44. War Ops – Attack Against Harqueboc Near Le Havre
Lancaster Mk.I HK562 AA-L (Lucy)
Twenty-four aircraft took off to attack the German Army Headquarters situated at Harquebus (near Le Havre). All aircraft bombed the target according to the Master Bomber’s instructions and a very accurate raid was reported. Fires were seen to be still burning from the previous day’s attack on Le Havre. Once again no opposition was encountered

8.9.44. War Ops –  Attack Against Doudenville
Lancaster Mk.I ME751 AA-M (Mother)
Twenty-three aircraft took off as detailed to attack enemy defense positions at Doudenville on the outskirts of Le Harve. Weather conditions were very unfavourable over the target area and crews had great difficulty in seeing the markers. Only ten aircraft dropped their bombs before the Master Bomber gave instructions to abandon the mission. The remaining thirteen aircraft brought their bombs back to base. Considerable light flak and machine gun fire was encountered over the target area

10.9.44. War Ops –  Attack Against Montvilliers
Lancaster Mk.I ME751 AA-M (Mother)
Twenty-seven aircraft took off and attacked Montivilliers in the Le Harve area. All crews dropped their bombs on the target and a very concentrated raid developed. No fighters were encountered and only slight opposition was met from ground defenses

12/13.9.44. War Ops –  Attack Against Frankfurt
Lancaster Mk.I NN710 AA-Q (Queenie)
Of the twenty-two aircraft detailed, twenty took off to attack the above target. Most crews were able to identify the target by the river and several could see the railway yards. Fighters were fairly active and one aircraft (Captain AUS421308 F/O J Bateman) claims to have destroyed an enemy aircraft and another had an inconclusive combat. All aircraft returned safely to base and reported a good and accurate raid.

14.9.44. “My skipper Ron Gordon (university scholarship) getting commission”.

17.9.44. War Ops – Attack Against Emmerich
Lancaster Mk.I HK597 JN-N/P?
Ten aircraft took off as detailed to attack the above target and all aircraft dropped their bombs as ordered. Much accurate light AA fire and searchlights were encountered, but all aircraft returned safely to base.

28.9.44. War Ops –  Attack Against Calais
Lancaster Mk.I NN710 AA-Q (Queenie)
Twelve aircraft took off to make an attack on the defended localities near Calais. One aircraft landed at Woodbridge owing to a technical failure discovered shortly after take off. Of the remainder only one aircraft found a break in the clouds through which to bomb the markers. Ten aircraft had to abandon their mission after circling the target area for a considerable time

3.10.44. War Ops – Attack Against West Kappelle Dyke
Lancaster Mk.I ME753 AA-N
Twenty-one aircraft took off to carry out the above attack. Twenty aircraft were successful in bombing, although some crews had to make two or three attempts owing to the cloud base being 3/4000 feet. Bombing was reported to have been fairly good and some flooding was seen. One aircraft had to bring its bombs back owing to technical failure

5.10.44. War Ops –  Attack Against Saarbrucken
Lancaster Mk.I NN710 AA-Q (Queenie)
Thirty-one aircraft too off as detailed to attack the railway center at Saabrucken. They all reached the target but only fourteen attacked before the Master Bomber issued instructions to abandon the mission. Bombing appeared scattered and the raid was unsatisfactory. The aircraft captained by NZ427481 F/Sgt A Galletly failed to return

6.10.44. War Ops – Attack Against Dortmund
Lancaster Mk.I NN710 AA-Q (Queenie)
Twenty-nine aircraft were detailed to attack Dormund, but one of these was withdrawn owing to technical failure. Twenty-six aircraft attacked the target in good weather and a very accurate and concentrated raid was reported, large fires being left burning. AA fire was moderate but fighters were active and the aircraft captained by NZ427798 F/Sgt W Farr had a series of combats during which the enemy aircraft was claimed as being destroyed. One aircraft returned early and landed at Woodbridge owing to technical failure and another captain NZ411048 F/O K Southward failed to return.

7.10.44. War Ops –  Attack Against Emmerich
Lancaster Mk.I NN710 AA-Q (Queenie)
Twenty-six aircraft took off as detailed to attack Emmerich in support of the advancing allied armies. They all bombed the target successfully and a concentrated and accurate raid reported, the target being entirely covered with smoke. Moderate heavy AA fire was encountered and a few of our aircraft suffered minor damage.

9.10.44. “Trip to the cinema with 2 navigators F/O Jack Chapman (John Talbot Chapman) and P/O ‘Tubby’ Baker (Ronald Thomas Ewen Baker). Tubby is 21 and F/O Charlie Piesse (Charles Alexander John Piesse) is 34, both New Zealanders.”

10.10.44. “Afraid there isn’t much to write about just now, if we do anything we aren’t supposed to say much about it,  otherwise we just sit about waiting. Of course every day we report in the morning & look over our plane.  We share Q Queenie with another crew but have also flown in a few others. The ground crews keep them in smashing condition, a big change from some of the kites we used to fly.”

14.10.44. War Ops – Attack Against Duisburg
Lancaster Mk.I NF935 AA-P
Thirty-one aircraft took off at dawn to attack Duisburg. Except for one aircraft which returned early they all dropped their bombs in the built up areas of the town which was identified visually and with the aid of markers. A moderate heavy barrage was encounter from the target area and a few of our aircraft suffered minor damage. One aircraft was damaged in the bomb bay which necessitated it landing at Woodbridge on return

14/15.10.44. War Ops –  Attack Against Duisberg
Lancaster Mk.I  NF935 AA-P
Twenty-nine aircraft were detailed to make a further attack on Duisburg. Unfortunately, however, three aircraft had to be withdrawn. One aircraft returned early owing to the rear turret being unserviceable. The remaining twenty-five aircraft took part in a very successful attack in excellent visibility and large fires were seen to break out and add to these already burning from the morning attack. AA opposition was negligible and searchlights did not operate until late in the raid. One aircraft had an inconclusive combat with an enemy fighter .

15.10.44. “Got Staff Officer”.

16.10.44. “Daily Express am…had a lot about 2 raids on Duisberg”.

18.10.44. War Ops –  Attack Against Bonn
Lancaster Mk.I ME753 AA-N
The same sixteen aircraft were again detailed to attack Bonn and this time they were able to carry out the operation. For the first time the aircraft attacked flying in formation. Some moderate heavy AA fire was met over the target, but no fighter opposition was encountered.

19/20.10.44. War Ops – Attack Against Stuttgart (2nd Wave)
Lancaster Mk.I NF935 AA-P
Twenty-eight aircraft were detailed to attack the above target. The raid was carried out in two waves. Thirteen aircraft took part in the first wave and successfully dropped their bombs with the aid of markers and flares, in weather condition of 9/10th cloud. AA opposition was moderate and a few enemy fighters were active. Fifteen aircraft took part in the second wave five hours later and all aircraft dropped their bombs with the aid of flares through 10/10th cloud. The glow of fires indicated that those burning were concentrated around the aiming point. AA opposition was lighter than that encountered by the first wave, but fighters were active and four of our aircraft had inconclusive combats.

21.10.44. War Ops – Attack Against Flushing
Lancaster Mk.I NF935 AA-P
Twenty-five aircraft too off to attack Flushing. All crews were able to identify the target visually and bombing was reported to be very accurate. AA opposition was moderate. One aircraft, Captain 176437 F/O J Johnson, failed to return, but was seen to be shot down over the target by heavy AA fire

R Gordon commissioned to Pilot Officer

22.10.44. War Ops – Attack Against Neuss
Lancaster Mk.I ME753 AA-N
Nine aircraft took off to attack the above target. Eight of the aircraft successfully bomb through 10/10ths cloud which made results unsatisfactory. The other aircraft attack Munchen-Gladbach being unable to reach the primary target on time.

23.10.44. War Ops – Attack Against Essen
Lancaster Mk.I ME753 AA-N
Twenty-seven aircraft took off to attack the above target. 10/10ths cloud prevailed over the target area, but all aircraft were successful in attacking with the aid of marker flares. AA opposition was moderate but no enemy fighters were seen.

R Gordon promoted to Flying Officer

24.10.44. “Yesterday we went to Cambridge for wet dingy drill in the baths & stayed there afterwards. Bob freeman the Flight Engineer & I went on the river in a canoe then had about three drinks. The others went to a show.”

25.10.44 “Just landed, cutting from Telegraph ‘Monday night attack on Essen by Sgt. A. Weston, he is both our Bomb Aimer and is a F. Sgt. But was wearing his overcoat without his crown on the stripes.”

25.10.44. War Ops –  Attack Against Essen
Lancaster Mk.I NF935 AA-P
Twenty-six aircraft too off to attack the above target. Twenty-three of these successfully attacked and bombing was good, (sic) built up areas and factories being identified visually. One aircraft brought its bombs back owing to the failure of the bombing equipment when over the target and two other aircraft returned early owing to technical failure.

Daughter born to Sgt C R Freeman 27/10/1944

26.10.44. “6 Ops in 7 days is going some. No doubt you read about the Essen night trip through snow storms tec…. Ron had been flying through cloud on instruments for so long on the way there, he decided to go back over the cloud. I told him it would be a solid bank from the deck to 20,000 feet over France – but clear at base – but thought it would be OK – it was too. We had a much better trip that way than the others  did near the deck and the gunners were watching blue lights running up and down their gun.”

27.10.44. “Got a kite of our own – ‘X for X-Ray’ – a nice new one hope she is as good as the others we have been flying.”

28.10.44. War Ops – Attack Against Flushing
Lancaster Mk.I NN710 AA-Q (Queenie)
Thirteen aircraft took off to attach the above target. The weather was good and bombing was reported as very accurate. One large explosion was seen at the end of the raid. Opposition from AA fire was slight but a few aircraft suffered minor damage.

30.10.44. War Ops – Attack Against Cologne
Lancaster Mk.I HK562 AA-L (Lucy)
Twenty-one aircraft were detailed to attack the above target during daylight, but the operation was postponed until the evening. All aircraft attacked the target and although a concentration of markers was achieved the results were unobserved owing to 10/10ths cloud. Moderate AA opposition was encountered and one aircraft received slight damage

31.10.44. War Ops –  Attack Against Cologne
Lancaster Mk.I NF935 AA-P
Eighteen aircraft took off in the evening to make a further attack on Cologne. 10/10th cloud cover prevailed over the target area, but markers were well placed and a good glow from the fires beneath the cloud was observed on leaving. AA opposition was slight and no enemy fighters were seen.

10.11.44. “Remember I told you that we flew an awful lot in Oct., well it appears that we broke all records for sorties flown and bombs dropped etc. and our crew flew as much as anyone. It should shorten the war, hope so anyway.”

12.11.44. “I am in 75 New Zealand Sqdn. (only 1 N. Zealander – Bill Otway the WOP).”

15.11.44. War Ops – Attack Against Dortmund
Lancaster Mk.I PB689 AA-X (X-Ray)
Twenty-five aircraft took off to attack an oil refinery plant at Dortmund in daylight. All aircraft were successful in bombing in formation through ten tenths cloud with tops 10,000ft and a concentrated raid was reported. Flak was reported as being fairly accurate by the leading aircraft, but none of our aircraft were hit.

16.11.44. War Ops – Attack Against Heinsberg
Lancaster Mk.I PB689 AA-X (X-Ray)
Twenty-five aircraft were detailed to attack an oil refinery target at Stekrade but this operation was cancelled and twenty-five aircraft later took off to attack Heinsberg in support of the advancing American Army, carrying 8000lb, 4000lb, 1000lb and 500lb bombs. All crews were successful in bombing the town which was identified visually. On leaving, the whole town appeared to be covered in a thick pall of smoke. Flak was fairly intense but only two of our aircraft received minor damage

Sgt C R Freeman was not a crew member on this raid, his place as Flight Engineer having been taken by Sgt J Huckle

18.11.44. “Just been to see Mick’s photograph of our last target, it is very good and the target was completely obliterated. It is nice to think that this helps the lads attacking on the ground below. Did Jenny send those boots? Did I tell you that our Sgdn. broke Bomber Command record for no. of sorties last month. The Wing Co. got a DSO for it and is pretty bucked. The weather is deadly and we have only done a couple since returning from leave. Bob is in hospital with ear trouble and Bill Otway the W/Op in in with an ulcerated throat. They should be OK soon. We had to fly yesterday with a different Flight engineer, it was a good trip and Mick did his stuff as usual.”

20.11.44. War Ops – Attack Against Homberg
Lancaster Mk.I PB689 AA-X (X-Ray)
Aircraft Failed to Return – All Crew Killed
Twenty-eight aircraft took off to attack the oil refinery plant at Homberg. Twenty two aircraft in daylight attacked the target in ten-tenths cloud with tops at 23,000 feet which made formation flying very difficult. Results of the bombing could not be observed, but it is considered that the raid was unsatisfactory. One aircraft AA/J returned early owing to icing trouble and two aircraft bombed last resort targets at Duisbueg and Hamborn. Three aircraft failed to return, these were captained by AUS419328 F/O P McCartin, 152402 F/O H Rees, 185116 F/O R Gordon. One aircraft captained by 184310 F/O D Atkin landed at Trangmere.

Details later obtained by the Air Ministry (Casualty Branch) describe the loss of AA-X as follows:

“information obtained from captured German Documents has disclosed that the Lancaster aircraft in which he was flying was shot down by heavy anti-aircraft fire at 3.15am, on the 20th November, 1944, at Baerl, about two miles north-east of Mors. Mors lies five miles from the target Homberg, and 11½ miles south of Wesel, Western Germany. The aircraft exploded in the air and was almost completely destroyed.’

F/O Ronald Gordon RAFVR 1580245/ 185116. Pilot.
Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany.
Coll. Grave 29 B1-16.

F/O John Robson Bell RAFVR 173943. Navigator. Died age 34.
Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany.
Grave 29 B1-16.

F/Sgt Albert John Weston RAFVR 1115103. Air Bomber. Died age 29.
Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery Germany.
Coll. Grave 29 B1-16.

P/O Louis David Sampson RAFVR 186413. Wireless Operator. Died age 28.
Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery Germany.
Grave 29 C2.

Sgt Carl Robert Freeman RAFVR 189608. Flight Engineer. Died age 33.
Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany.
Grave 25 G5.

Sgt Sidney George Hone RAFVR 2221190. Mid Upper Gunner. Died age 35.
Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany.
Grave 25 G14.

Sgt James Leonard Forrester RAFVR 3010665. Rear Gunner. Died age 19.
Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany.
Grave 25 G3.

An even sadder footnote to the boy’s loss is that they left, not only wives, sister, brothers, mothers and fathers behind, but also to Anthony’s estimation at least 13 young children. Anthony observes;

“With the birth of my sister there were 11 children rendered fatherless from that one crew. Could there have been more? Louis Sampson had two children at the time of his death and as he was from the ‘pool’ his children would not have been included in the original 10. The family of Sidney Hone, who was from Birmingham, came and stayed with us for the Coronation. We lived in SW London!  There were three children, the youngest would have certainly have been born while their father was in the Air Force.”

The bodies of the crew were originally buried in the Forest Cemetery of Lohmannscheide, Mörs. The body of Carl in grave 80 and the bodies of Sgt Forrester, P/O Bell, F/S Weston and P/O Sampson in graves 78, 79, 81 and 92 respectively. In the move from their initial burial place they became separated and were reburied apart from each other…….

The crew’s Wireless Operator, Sgt A Otway, had on this occasion been hospitalized and thus was not on this operation. His place was taken by P/O Louis David Sampson.

Sgt Bill Otway returned to New Zealand and was still alive and well (in May 2008) when Anthony  had a telephone conversation with him. However, his recall of these events (he denied membership of this crew, claiming to only have been in Harry Yates crew with whom he completed his tour) for whatever reason were limited! It is not possible to imagine what effect the loss of his fellow crew members would have knowing that but for some quirk of fate …

Bill Otway had flown all ops with the Gordon crew prior to the final fateful Homberg op. The following information is from ‘Luck and a Lancaster’ By Harry Yates, a Pilot who flew with 75(NZ) Squadron;

The terrible news, though, was that three others were logged missing. All three were fine and experienced crews, close to the end of their tours. Ron Gordon and his five English crewmates were on number twenty eight (incorrect from my tally up and partially corrected later in the book). They all died, together with a pool W/Op who had just married and moved to the village. The W/Op whose place he had taken was a New Zealander, F/S Bill Otway. A throat infection had saved his life. Despite pleading with the MO to ley him stay, he had been dispatched to Ely Hospital for two days. Now he must come to terms with the severance of six friendships and ask himself a thousand times the unanswerable question, ‘Why them and not me?

Ironically, Bill Otaway then ended up joining Harry Yates’s crew after their W/Op went AWOL.

His place in the crew was taken by F/S Bill Otway, the New Zealander who was grounded by the MO immediately before his crew were lost over Homberg on 20 November . Bill had flown twenty five trips with them. He had been out of action since. But I knew his old crew were well regarded on station. There was no doubt in my mind that he was the man we wanted. The only drawback was that we would have 2 Bills on board’……


Of the three crews (21 men), eight survived as prisoners of war


From – The Bomber Command War Diaries. An Operational Reference Book 1939-1945 by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt
183 Lancasters of No 3 Group made a G-H attack on the oil plant at Homberg but the weather was stormy and many aircraft were not able to maintain formation with the G-H aircraft on the bombing run. The bombing through cloud, was belived to have been scattered. 5 Lancasters lost

From – Forever Strong by Norman Franks,
S H Richmond recalls how at least one of the Lancasters failed to get back:
“We had successive daytime trips to the oil refinery at Homberg, across the Rhine from Dusseldorf and Duisberg. We were operating on one trip with some Halifaxes which had about 1000 feet ceiling on us as we moved to drop our bombs. The Halifaxes, using instruments, converged above us and as I was giving the pilot my instructions to head up to the target, all hell was suddenly let loose over the intercom. The mid-upper was shouting at the top of his voice. Later it was ascertained that a Halifax had moved in above us and had dropped its bombs, so that an 8000 pound ‘cookie’ just missed the mid-upper gunner and our fuselage, falling between the wing and the tailplane. In the same raid, one of our Lancasters had its tailplane knocked off in the same way!”

Excerpt from the diary of F/L Richard P Perry, 218 (Gold Coast) Squadron
November 20, 1944   . Day raid on Homberg, trip #10
“Really duff met, we hit cloud at the Belgium coast and it stayed with us, with few breaks, till we reached the target. Once again we bombed on GH over 10/10 cloud and no flak. Carrying a ‘cookie’ and 14/500’s. In cloud all the way back till we were over the Channel when it cleared until we reached the English coast where it thickened up again. What a sight coming back. Hundreds of aircraft all leaving BLACK vapour trails behind them and, at one stage, climbing up to 24,000 feet to get over CuNimbs. On this trip we actually saw three aircraft destroyed by bombs dropped from aircraft above them, and swerved away, ourselves, from beneath one that would have passed right over us with it’s bomb doors open. I’ll always remember our mid-upper, Dennis (Outhwaite), yelling out the instruction to serve right.”

Excerpt from the account of Sgt John Gray, 75 (NZ) Squadron, on being shot down
“Was on a daylight bombing operation detailed to attack the refinery at Mors-Homberg near Duisberg. At 15.00hrs the starboard outer motor packed up and was forced to leave the G-H formation at 15.15hrs. We bombed the target 2 minutes later, we got a direct hit by flak and burst into flames, the tanks exploded and the aircraft broke up in mid air – I bailed out at about 17000ft,”

John Gray was the only member of F/O P McCartin’s crew to survive. He spent the remainder of the war in a POW camp.

The Gordon crew were one of 3 a/c lost that night on the raid on the Leuna synthetic oil refinery at Homberg. The Squadron was sent back the following night to the same target. One of the other aircraft lost that night, was piloted by Patrick  ‘Leo’ McCartin. Only the rear gunner, John Gray, survived from that crew. The third aircraft, with the Hubert Rees crew on board were more fortunate – all survived and became PoW’s.

2 thoughts on “The Gordon crew – 1944. Jack Bell and Carl ‘Bob’ Freeman

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s