Flying Officer William Harcourt Coleman, DFC and crew, 1939-40.

MemorialDrive[3]

As always, many thanks to Chris, for the following very detailed post about William Coleman, one of the founding members of 75(NZ) Squadron RAF………

My home suburb of Devonport in Auckland is situated at the end of a peninsula, accessed by Memorial Drive, an avenue of Pohutukawas and Norfolk pines. Each side of the road is lined with memorial plaques, in honour of the sons of the borough that were lost in the First and Second World Wars.

One of these plaques, I recently discovered, is dedicated to William Harcourt Coleman, one of the founding members of 75 (New Zealand) Squadron.

WHColeman-plaque[3]

I know the Coleman family well, and there is quite a connection between our two families, on my mother’s side – she grew up in the same street as William’s first cousins, and her mother (my grandmother) and William’s aunt were best friends. My boys play cricket and rugby with the Coleman boys, and to see the family likeness in photos of William is quite un-nerving!

WilliamHarcourtColeman-crop[4]

Flying Officer William Harcourt Coleman, DFC Photo: Weekly News, via Auckland War Memorial Museum.

William Harcourt Coleman was born on the 29th of November 1916, in Christchurch, NZ., son of Vernon Harcourt & Claudia May Monica Coleman (née Dunphy, later Walton). The family was originally from Devonport in Auckland, but had moved South at some point .

Educated at Christchurch Technical College, William Coleman must have caught the flying bug early, as he was a member of the Christchurch Gliding Club by the age of 15.

William moved back to Devonport with his mother, and was listed as a Pilot under training with Auckland Aero Club, Mangere, by February 1935, training under Squadron Leader D. M. Allen. He gained his ‘A’ Licence on 14 December 1935, aged 19.

In 1936 he was recommended for an RAF Short Service Commission, and sailed for England on 14 January 1937, probably responding to RAF recruiting advertisements that appeared in the New Zealand press at the time, and before the New Zealand Government air training scheme came into operation.

William arrived in the UK on 17 Feb 1937.

He was accepted into the RAF, granted a Short Service Commission, and posted to 11 E & RFTS (No. 11 Elementary & Reserve Flying Training School, Perth, Scotland) on 5th April 1937 as Pilot under training, probably on Tiger Moths.

From there he was posted to RAF Personnel Depôt on 31st May 1937, and then to 6FTS (No. 6 Flying Training School), Netheravon, on 5th Jun 1937, flying Hawker Hart and Hawker Fury biplanes.

He won his Pilots wings on 4th Sep 1937, and on 8th January 1938 was posted to 97 Squadron, flying Handley Page Heyford, and Armstrong Whitworth Whitley bombers.

He attended a navigational course at the Civil Air Navigation  School, Air Service Training Ltd, in Ansty from 13th February – 12th May 1938, flying Avro Cadets, Hawker Harts, and  Handley Page Harrow & Armstrong Whitworth Whitley bombers.

Then, in January 1939 he was briefly attached to 166 Squadron, RAF Leconfield, flying Handley Page Heyford bombers.

In 1937, the New Zealand government had purchased 30 of the latest Vickers Wellington bombers, and was now assembling a small group of pilots, aircrew and technical staff to accept the aircraft as they came off the production line, prepare them, and train for the very-long-distance delivery flights back to New Zealand. The plan was to fly them back in 5 flights of 6 aircraft each.

The “New Zealand Flight” had been formed at RAF Marham on 1st June 1939, made up of an initial recruitment of New Zealanders already with the RAF in England, then a group arriving from New Zealand later in June, led by Squadron Leader Cyril Kay, and some RAF personnel, mainly ground crew with experience on Wellingtons. William transferred to the RNZAF on a Short Service Commission on 7th July 1939 and joined the Flight at Marham.

When war broke out on 3rd September 1939, he was one of eighteen New Zealanders in the Flight – twelve pilots and six ground crew. Their Commanding Officer was Squadron Leader Maurice W. Buckley, a veteran of the First World War, and early aviation pioneer in New Zealand.

1NZFlight-officers1939[3]

The original 12 Pilots of No. 1 (N.Z.) Flight at Marham in 1939. W.H. Coleman second from right, between Fred “Popeye” Lucas and Bill Williams. W/C Maurice Buckley sixth from left; S/L Cyril Kay, fifth from left. The Wellington Mark 1C in the background has had gun turrets and other armaments removed for the flight back to New Zealand. From “The Restless Sky”, by A.V.M. Cyril Kay, C.B, C.B.E, DFC.

At this point, only six Wellingtons had been delivered – these first six were to make up No. 1 New Zealand Flight, the first batch of aircraft to fly home, expected to depart for New Zealand on 1st October 1939.

William was listed to fly as 2nd Pilot on Wellington NZ310:
Vickers Wellington 1C, NZ310, ZM-ZAF
Captain F/O A B Greenaway, 2nd Pilot P/O W H Coleman
Crew: Cpl W Pomeroy, AC1 A E Emery, AC1 E P Williams.

With the declaration of War, the New Zealand Government immediately placed the Wellingtons at the disposal of the British Government.

The men themselves were for some weeks uncertain about their future. They wanted to stay and fight but were keen to stay together as a complete unit. Both Jack Baldwin, Air Office Commanding No. 3 Group RAF Bomber Command, and  Air Chief Marshal Sir Edgar Ludlow-Hewitt, AOC in C, Bomber Command, agreed and supported Buckley’s request to form a Dominion Squadron within the RAF.

Around this time, the unit came to be known as the New Zealand Squadron, even though not yet formally established as such.

In January 1940 the New Zealand Squadron moved from RAF Marham to RAF Stradishall for a short period, then on 16th February 1940 to RAF Feltwell in Norfolk.

The NZ Government approved the formation of a New Zealand Bomber Squadron within the RAF on 1 March 1940. A month later (8 April) the British Air Ministry officially approved the formation of No. 75 (New Zealand) Squadron, to be formed around the existing New Zealand Flight.

On 1st April a formal ceremony was held to mark the formation of 75 (NZ) Squadron, attended by the NZ High Commissioner Bill Jordan, Inspector General of the RAF, ACM Sir Edward Ludlow Hewett, and head of No. 3 Group Bomber Command, AVM Sir Jack Baldwin.

FeltwellMarchPast1April1940[4]

March-past by original members of the NZ Flight (W.H. Coleman left end of fifth row?). From “Popeye’s War”, by Lorie Lucas.

Formation of the squadron required that a second (“B”) flight be created to complete establishment. This took place on 29 May 1940.

Pilot Officer Coleman’s first operational sortie was one of the Squadron’s earliest, a leaflet drop by three 75 (NZ) Squadron Wellingtons to Nienburg, Petershaven and Minden in north-west Germany, on the night of 6/7 April 1940.

6/7 April 1940. Raid No. PCB.146  – Reconnaissance and Nickel operations to Nienburg, Petershaven and Minden

Wellington 1.A serial no. P.9210, code AA-?.
Up 19.15; Down 03.20 (landed Bircham Newton)

P/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (1)
P/O Ian Ronald Gow, RAF (40820), Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
A/C Edwards, RAF, W/T Operator
A/C Shuttleworth, RAF, Front Gunner
A/C John Dowds, RAF (632780), Rear Gunner

– See the Captain’s report in the attached entry from the 75 (NZ) Squadron Operational Record Book (ORB) Form 541

6th april cropped and cut

20 April 1940 – Vickers Wellington B 1.C R.3159 received from Vickers Armstrong Ltd., Weybridge, Surrey. She was coded “AA-K” and later became the Coleman crew’s regular “kite”.

21/22 April 1940. Bombing raid on Aalborg aerodrome, Denmark.
Wellington 1.A P.9212, AA-F.
Up 18.35; Down 01.05

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (2)
P/O Ian Ronald Gow, RAF (40820), 2nd Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
A/C William Eric Nevill, RAF, W/Operator
A/C Shuttleworth, RAF, Front Gunner
A/C John Dowds, RAF (632780), Rear Gunner

Note: William’s rank now listed as Flying Officer.

– See the Captain’s report in the attached entry from the 75 (NZ) Squadron Operational Record Book (ORB) Form 541.

second op crpd and joined

7/8 May 1940. Bombing raid on Stavanger aerodrome.
Wellington 1.C R.3159, AA-K.
Up 19.10; Down 01.43

Crew as above (3).

– Captain’s Report, dated 8 May 1940 (text reproduced below):

OperationalReport8May1940[5]cpd and cut

Target:- Bombing raid on STAVANGER aerodrome.
As Captain of aircraft R.3159 “K” I took off from Base at 19:00 hours and set course in formation with two aircraft of 75 (NZ) squadron. Coast was crossed at 1930 hours. The North Sea crossing was made at approximately 3,500 feet due to cloud. A submarine was sighted at 20:26 hours, on the surface, at 20:35 position BFWY 5550. No action was taken. Low cloud was encountered about 100 miles off the Norwegian coast, appeared to be 10/10th, height of top estimated 6000 to 7000 feet. My aircraft was still in formation with other two aircraft at 22:00 hours. Target was covered with cloud and leader made a sweep of the area but no break in the cloud could be found, but the mountains could be seen at one period protruding through the low cloud.

At 22:31 DR position was Stavanger and the Leader set course for Base. During this time it was still twilight and no difficulty was experienced in maintaining a formation on the return journey, when bad visibility and cloud necessitated breaking up. At 00:05 hours bombs were jettisoned from 8,000 feet. Navigation was carried out by DR and Loop bearings and fixes on the return journey. Homing bearings were used on nearing English coast. Coast was crossed north of Bircham Newton at 01:24 hours and landing was made at Base at 01:38 hours.

Whilst approaching Stavanger it was interesting to note that Motala was picked up on the loop and used until the reading coincided with Stavangers bearing from Motala. Stavanger, the aircraft and Motala were then in a line, however little use could be made of this information.

Time in Air:-                       6 hours 35 minutes
Distance covered:-            992 miles
Petrol Consumed:-            511 gallons
Petrol Miles per Gallon:-  1.94
Petrol Gallons per hour:-  78.6

12/13 May 1940. Bombing Attacks on Target A.J.8 (Krefold – Verdingen)
Wellington 1.C R.3159, AA-K.
Up 21.10; Down 02.00

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (4)
P/O Ian Ronald Gow, RAF (40820), 2nd Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
A/C William Eric Nevill, RAF, W/Operator
A/C John Dowds, RAF (632780), Rear Gunner

Note: None of the three aircraft detailed for this attack carried Front Gunners. Apparently the practice at the time was for the Wireless Operator to man the front guns as the aircraft neared enemy territory.

Captain’s remarks: 12 bombs were released in a stick from 11,000 feet. Results of bursts not observed but fires started from previous attacks. Four bombs dropped in a stick from 10,000 feet at 23.06hrs by TCB.194 after locating target at 23.05hrs, these noticed to burst each side of existing fires. A further 4 bombs dropped.

– Captain’s Report, dated 12 May 1940:

I took off from Feltwell at 21:08 hours and set course for Felixstowe, arriving at 21:34 hours.

Landfall was made on Dutch coast at West Kappelle at 22:07 hours. Numerous fires were seen during the leg to target. Black-out was good, though the moon was helpful and only patchy cloud was experienced, vertical visibility from 10,000 feet was difficult. Dutch searchlights proved annoying, and A.A. fire was experienced until appropriate signals were given. Target was located at 11:05 hours by the large bend in the river Rhine, which was only visible by the reflection of the moon in certain positions. Four bombs were dropped in stick, from 10,000 feet from North East to South West. Two bombs were observed to burst either side of existing fires. The cross roads were not visible. Light A.A. and searchlights were experienced, but were inaccurate.

Mechanical transport was observed on secondary road running S.W N.E. Movement was to the S.W. A stick of four bombs were dropped. One was observed to burst at head of column moving west, on the road leading out west of the town and a burst was seen between the first two vehicles. No. 18 bomb hung up and was jettisoned in region of target. Further to the east great numbers of searchlights were active in the Ruhr area.

After bombs had been released aircraft dived to 1,800 – 2,000 feet heading approximately east, and gunners opened fire on searchlights. The front gun caused three searchlights to be immediately doused, and accurate flak fire which was being experienced ceased. The rear gunner also reported searchlights dowsed upon bursts from his guns. A landfall was made at Ramsgate at 00:58 hours and arrival at Base was 01:39 hours. A landing was made at 02:00 hours.

15/16 May 1940. Bombing Attack on Target A.7 (Holten Sterkrade) and Target A.H.18 (Bridges at Turnhout)

Wellington 1.C R.3159, AA-K.
Up 21.40; Down 01.15

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (5)
P/O Ian Ronald Gow, RAF (40820), 2nd Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
A/C William Eric Nevill, RAF, W/Operator
A/C Shuttleworth, RAF, Rear Gunner

– Captain’s Report, dated 16 May 1940:
Night Operation on Target A.H.18. I took off from Base for target allotted at 21:40 hours. Bomb load consisted of 12 – 250 lb bombs, 50% of which were long delay and 50% N.D.T.

Arrived vicinity of target at approximately 23:10 hours, but due to haze and poor visibility accentuated by the moon, observations became difficult. A search was made for the target by attempting to intercept canal between the town of Antwerp whose fires were burning, and Turnhout. Height was reduced to 2,000 feet in attempts, covering period 23:10 – 00:05 hours, to sight the canal and run on to target. At one stage the canal was observed momentarily reflected, but in attempting to turn on to it, it was lost. Eventually, efforts were abandoned and landing was made at base with the bomb load.

Observations. Whilst in the vicinity of Brasschaet Aerodrome at 2,000 feet a balloon cable was reflected clearly against the moon, extending above the aircraft. A watch was kept but the balloon was not sighted.

A.A. Fire. First experienced over Westkapelle area, but ceased upon appropriate signal given. Occasional fire was seen coming from outskirts of Antwerp, and about 8 miles NE. It was inaccurate. No signal was given from the aircraft for fear of unnecessarily giving away it’s position. Spasmodic fire was also experienced whilst near the target but was disregarded.

Searchlights. Several were seen near Westkapelle and held us, but were extinguished when signal was given from our aircraft. Two momentarily held us near the target, one white and one blue. The blue light came on suddenly and caught the aircraft immediately but apparently we were not observed, the beam wandered.

Enemy Aircraft. None were observed.

Weather. No cloud over target area, but haze vertical visibility difficult even from 2,000 feet. At times fields could be seen but only when the aircraft was in certain positions relative to the moon. A certain amount of very high cloud cir. stratus was observed, but it did not aggravate the situation. Cloud base over Norfolk was 5,000 feet, eventually came 10/10ths at 3,000 feet broken clouds were encountered and bumps were violent. Aircraft emerged from cloud at 2,000 feet.

Navigation. Landfall was made on the Dutch coast on journey out three miles south of Westkappelle at 22:56 hours. Return journey was completed on DR and a landfall was made on the English coast at Aldenburgh at 00:49 hours, and two homing bearings were obtained from Feltwell. A landing was effected at 01;15 hours, ETA Base was 01:14 hours.

Remarks. Blackout was good, with the exception of a group of numerous coloured green, blue, and orange lights seen at Flushing. Fires at Antwerp were very prominent.

Time in Air –    3 hours 35 minutes.
Miles Flown –   542.
Petrol –            550 gallons

17/18 May 1940. Bombing Attacks on Targets A.64, A.72, A.79, M.435, M.464, M.458, AC.6 and AC.7.
Six aircraft were detailed to make attacks on targets in the Ruhr area. Widespread fog on return necessitated aircraft being diverted to other aerodromes.

Wellington 1.C R.3159, AA-K.
Up 22.15; Down 02.35

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (6)
P/O Ian Ronald Gow, RAF (40820), 2nd Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
A/C Walter Stanley Kitson, RAF, (580055), W/Operator
A/C John Dowds, RAF (632780), Rear Gunner

– Captain’s Report, dated 18 May 1940:
Bombing attack on targets A.64, M.435, M.464.

Raid Number. TBC.215
Results. Due to low cloud and bad visibility, rain and severe icing, combined with intense A.A. and Flak Fire and innumerable searchlights, when the machine emerged from the cloud base, the target was not bombed. At one period during 00:18 hours – 01:00 hours target A.64 and target M.435 were observed, and preparations were made for bombing. However, the target became lost before action could be taken, further searches proved fruitless, so bombs were brought back to Base. At one time the aircraft was over the center of the Ruhr area and as precision bombing was hopeless, and in view of recent orders, concerning promiscuous bombing, the bombs were not dropped.

Observations. None could be made in the vicinity of the target or the Ruhr because of the weather conditions; and when attempts were made to emerge from cloud over the Ruhr at 6,600 feet, searchlights and A.A. Fire made reconnaissance impracticable.

A.A.Fire. Proved intense and amazingly accurate despite use of cloud base at 6,600 feet. Black bursts were seen 50 to 70 yards directly ahead of aircraft, and two reports were heard and felt immediately below the aircraft. The rear gunner reported bursts on aircraft level on either side and to the rear, also intense light flak in target areas. The machine was holed but no damage was done.

Searchlights. Observed in great numbers, blue, red, and white, and held the aircraft whenever it emerged from cloud. When one was dowsed, another came on to the aircraft. At one time it was estimated the aircraft was held by practically a dozen beams.

Enemy Aircraft. None observed.

Weather. Clear with bright moon on the journey to the Dutch Coast. At approximately 15 miles east of Rotterdam – where landfall was made – at 11,500 feet, the ground was obscured by 10/10ths cloud at 9,500 feet. The moon became partially obscured by high alto stratus cloud. Upon ETA the aircraft emerged from cloud at 8,000 feet and a further 10/10ths layer was found at 7,500 feet, the base of which was found to be roughly 6,600 feet. Vertical visibility was bad and rain and ice was then encountered along with the searchlight and A.A. opposition. On the return journey the area over the North Sea proved to be clear, until arrival at the English Coast, where our landfall was made at Felixstowe at 02:11 hours, and a course was set for base, and cloud broken at 400 feet when ground mist became apparent. Landing was made at Base at 02:35 hours.

Navigation. One back bearing was obtained on journey out before crossing the English Coast. Remainder of the journey to target was carried out by D.R.  Homing bearings were obtained upon return journey upon striking the Coast.

Petrol Consumption. Amount Taken :- 567
Amount Used:- 367
Miles Per Gallon:- 1.7
Miles Covered:- 620
Oil Used (Port):- 2 Gallons
Oil Used (Starboard):- 2 1/2 Gallons
Time in Air:- 4 hours 20 minutes

19/20 May 1940. Bombing Attacks Over Enemy Territory (Haybes).
Seven Wellington aircraft from this Unit were detailed to make an attack on the above target. All crews experienced accurate A.A. fire during bombing, only a few going unscathed. Four aircraft received moderate to minor flak damage. One aircraft had a 5″ shell pass through the port aileron without exploding. Aircraft control was not lost.

Wellington 1.C R.3159, AA-K.
Up 22.15; Down 02.35

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (7)
P/O Ian Ronald Gow, RAF (40820), 2nd Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
A/C Walter Stanley Kitson, RAF, (580055), W/Operator
A/C Shuttleworth, RAF, Rear Gunner

– Captain’s Report, dated 19/20th May 1940:
Airborne at 21:46 hours with 6 – 250 lb N.D.T Bombs, 6 x Containers of 4 lb Incendiaries.
Raid number KCB.241   Time Off 21:46   Time Landed 02:20.

Target “A”.
Runs made from East to West and bombs dropped in three salvoes. One bomb was observed to drop wide of the target and the other two salvoes were observed to fall on the road on either side of the bridge.

Target “B”.
Five containers were dropped in the wood about half a mile south of the road through Haybes in the centre of a ring of searchlights. Five fires were seen to be in the progress on leaving the target. In the region of 51 43N 01 40E at 22:30 hours gunfire was observed on the surface of the water. The flashes observed seemed to be rather heavier guns than those used for A.A. No traffic was observed on the railways or roads in the vicinity of the targets.

Light flak encountered on both targets “A” and “B” reaching up to 6,000 feet. Fire not particularly accurate at “A”, but as other planes were in the vicinity the flak may have been intended for them. At “B” flak fire accurate and intense. No heavy A.A. encountered.

A great number of searchlights at Charleroi and Haybes. Machine picked up very accurately by searchlights at both places named above. Evasive action taken by altering speed and height, but aircraft still held.

No enemy aircraft observed.

Over target “A” weather was clear with a slight ground haze. Targets well illuminated by moonlight from the Southwest. Over target ”B” there was a layer of alto-stratus cloud with base at 8,000 feet, moon effectively obscured by this cloud bank, though ground could be recognised.

Navigation was by D.R. and Map reading over major portion of operation. On returning over the French coast an M/F bearing was obtained and one homing bearing used at the English coast.

A parachute flare was dropped over target “A”, though was not found particularly helpful. On the first attack on target “A” the six 250 lb G.P. bombs did not release and eventually had to be dropped as a single bomb, two bombs and then a salvo of three. One container of incendiaries did not release.

Time in Air – 4 hours 35 minutes. Miles per Gallon – 1.6. Distance covered – 635 miles.

21/22 May 1940. Bombing Operations Over Enemy Territory (Aachen and Dinant).
Eight Wellington Aircraft from this Unit were detailed to make an attack against the above targets.

Wellington 1.A L.7784, AA-D.
Up 21.40; Down 02.15

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (8)
P/O Ian Ronald Gow, RAF (40820), 2nd Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
A/C William Eric Nevill, RAF, W/Operator
A/C John Dowds, RAF (632780), Rear Gunner

– Captain’s Report, dated 22 May 1940:

2. Bomb Load. 12 x 250 lb G.P.  N.D.T. bombs.

3. Raid No. KCB 249.

4. Crew. As above.

5. Results. A stick of 12 x 250 lb bombs was dropped at 00:02 hours from 400 yards early and the last burst was seen about 300 yards late. The stick was dropped approximately at right angles across the target.

6. A.A. Fire. Light flak was seen below aircraft at 6,000 feet. Heavier flak was observed reaching 10,000 feet and a certain amount of A.A. which did not appear very accurate. Other friendly machines were over the target at the same time and this apparently complicated the enemy A.A. and searchlight defences which in our case were not particularly intense.

7. Searchlights. Numerous searchlights were seen in the vicinity of Masstrecht and the target. They held the aircraft only momentarily, and it was obvious the other aircraft presence were making their task difficult.

8. Enemy Aircraft. The presence of enemy aircraft over and in the vicinity of the target was made apparent by the firing of three starred cartridges. At one stage these cartridge were seen followed by a white light switched on on the aircraft.

9. Weather. Clear sky over target with moon lightly obscured at times by high Currus. A very light haze covered the area but did not prove difficult re visibility.

10. Navigation. D.R. was used via Felixstowe and Dunkirk. Landfall on the outward journey was made on the French Coast at 22:50 hours and new course was set for target. The return journey was made on D.R. also and two or three homing bearings were used to check course to Base, Base was reached at 02:03 hours and a landing was made at 02:15 hours.

11. General Remarks. None.

Time In Air:- 4 hours 35 min.
Total Miles Covered. 622 miles.

wellington[1][4]

Wellington L.7784, AA-D, the “Wimpy” flown by the Coleman crew on 21/22 May 1940. – NZ Bomber Command Assn archives.

Note: This night saw 75 (NZ) Squadron’s first operational loss, F/O Collins’ crew hit by AA fire while attacking the bridge at Dinant, Belgium. Both pilots were killed in the crash but the other crew-members bailed out safely, thanks to courageous efforts by John Collins in controlling the burning aircraft long enough to enable them to escape at low level. They survived and were captured.

23/24 May 1940. Bombing Operations Over Enemy Territory.
Five aircraft from this Unit were detailed to make individual attacks on communication targets in France and Belgium.

Wellington 1.C R.3159, AA-K.
Up 21.30; Down 01.40

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (9)
P/O Ian Ronald Gow, RAF (40820), 2nd Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
A/C William Eric Nevill, RAF, W/Operator
A/C Shuttleworth, RAF, Rear Gunner

– Captain’s Report, dated 24 May 1940:
Bomb Load. 12 – 250 lb G.P. N.D.T.

Results. Target could not be located due to rain and bad visibility and 10/10th cloud at 6,000 feet in target area. At 23:20 a convoy estimated aproximately 50 vehicles with lights was observed on the road between Wavre and Gembloux, and a stick of six bombs was dropped. Two bursts were reported on or near the road as it was clearly seen momentarily in the bursts. An attempt was made to drop a second stick but all the convoy lights had been doused on the first burst. Finally a second stick was dropped on a row of searchlights bordering Namur. Two were estimated as direct hits.

Observations & Reconnaissances. Nil.

A.A. Fire. None was experienced over the convoy which was bombed from 5,400 feet but light and heavy accurate flak was experienced at that height at Namur at 23:28 hours.

Searchlights. Very numerous about Namur but due to the drizzle and mist at the time proved ineffective and passed over the aircraft many times without holding it.

Weather. Base cloud over the target was 6,000 feet to 10,000 feet. Light rain and mist made observations difficult. The moon, not being apparent, made lights only indication of ground. Conditions remained similar on return journey to Belgian Coast and rain squalls were skirted and lightning was seen on the Belgian Coast. Upon arrival at English Coast visibility increased until a clear sky and moonlight was experienced at base.

Navigation. Journey out via Felixstowe and Ostend was made on D.R. and journey home with the added use of three homing bearings. Base was reached at 01:20 hours and a landing made at 01:40 hours.

Time in Air :-  4 hours 10 minutes.
Total Mileage :- 620 miles.

28/29 May 1940. Bombing Operations Over Enemy Territory (Rouers and Menin).
Three aircraft from this Unit were detailed to make individual attacks on the above target.

Wellington 1.C R.3165, AA-L.
Up 23.05; Down 02.00

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (10)
P/O Ian Ronald Gow, RAF (40820), 2nd Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
A/C Green, RAF, W/Operator
A/C John Dowds, RAF (632780), Rear Gunner

– Captain’s Report, dated 29 May 1940:
2. Bomb load consisted of one container of incendiaries (4lb) and 11 x 250 lbs G.P. N.D.T. bombs.

3. Raid No. NCB.314

4. Results. Arrived in vicinity of target at 23:15 hours D.R and glided down from 5,000 feet to 1,200 feet, but low cloud and mist made visibility impossible and due to strict orders given that no bombs were to be dropped except on target or alternative targets, bombs were brought back. A flare was dropped, but though the aircraft circled, it could not be seen. It was sighted by the following aircraft who later reported it as being valueless due to low cloud and mist.

5. A.A. Fire. None observed.

6. Searchlights. A small number were active around the target area but the aircraft was flown directly through them and was not picked up.

7. Observations & Reconnaissance. Dunkirk was seen to be burning and from the repeated flare up of fires it appeared as though oil or petrol was alight. In the vicinity of Lillie a glow patch was reflected on the low cloud, no fires could be seen. Ground activity was apparent in this area by repeated flashes of artillery. Black out was good, only occasional desultory lights were seen.

8. Enemy Aircraft. None observed.

9. Weather. On journey out cloud extended in broken layers from 1,000 feet to 8,000 feet. Rain and thunder conditions experienced crossing channel. In target area, broken layers of cloud 8/10th was encountered. At 1,200 feet cloud layers were still below the aircraft. Vertical visibility through holes in layers was bad. At times only the moving reflection of light on the mist and cloud indicated enemy searchlights were endeavouring to locate aircraft.

10. Navigation. Journey out was completed on D.R. and target area was reached on E.T.A. i.e. 23:15 hours. A course was set for base at 23:30 hours and three homing bearings enabled the navigator to reach base at 01:50 hours and a landing was made at 02:00 hours.

31 May/1 June 1940. Bombing Attacks on Target G.1. (Nieuport).
Nine aircraft were detailed to make an attack against the above target.

Wellington 1.C R.3159, AA-K.
Up 22.25; Down 01.05

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (11)
P/O Ian Ronald Gow, RAF (40820), 2nd Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
A/C Green, RAF, W/Operator
A/C Shuttleworth, RAF, Rear Gunner

Captain’s Report, dated 31 May 1940:
2. Bomb load. 14 – 250 lbs G.P. fused D.A. & N.D.T.

3. Raid No. – PCB320.

4. Results. Three sticks were dropped from 7,000 feet comprising of 4, 5, and 5 bombs respectively across the target. The first stick caused violent explosions and a large fire in a building. These explosions continued throughout the duration of the attack and could still be seen some time after leaving the area. The 2nd and 3rd sticks were seen to burst near the first stick, but no accurate observation could be made regarding effect.

5. Observations, reconnaissance etc. No rail or road movement seen. Small moving lights were observed out to sea and on the beach in the defended area.

6. A.A. Fire. Desultory and not very accurate.

7. Searchlights. None around target though 3 held the aircraft for about 30 seconds south of the area.

8. Enemy Aircraft. No enemy aircraft were seen.

9. Weather. After crossing the English coast on journey out cloud 10/10 reaching 7,500 feet was encountered. Cloud 9/10 base approximately 10,000 feet. Over target area cloud at 7,500 feet dispersed and haze was very evident and made observations difficult. Upon return journey weather was similar and haze at 2,000 feet was experienced after English coast crossed.

10 Navigation. Navigation was by D.R. Homing was resorted to near the English coast to prevent any possibility of flying over Harwich.

11. General Remarks. Difficulty was experienced in locating target due to haze and poor visibility, a flare was used and the canal leading to target located. The first stick caused a fire which was used as a mark for dropping the further two sticks.

3/4 June 1940. Bombing Attacks on Target A.28 (Dusseldorf).
Eight aircraft were detailed to make individual attacks on the above target. Heavy A.A. fire was reported in the region of Rotterdam airport. Searchlights were also experienced in great numbers over a wide area. The weather was good but a slight ground haze made targets difficult to locate. Fog was encountered on return to base, necessitating some aircraft having to divert to other airfields.

Wellington 1.C R.3159, AA-K.
Up 21.30; Down 02.55

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (12)
P/O Ian Ronald Gow, RAF (40820), 2nd Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
Sgt Green, RAF, W/Operator
Sgt John Dowds, RAF (632780), Rear Gunner

Bomb Load; 8 x 250 lb G.P fused NDT, 1 x 250 lb G.P fused 8 hour delay, and 1 container of   incendiaries.

Dropped a stick of 9 – 250lbs. G.P. and one container of incendiaries across the target. Near misses were observed and fires were started in the proximity of the target. A dull red fire emitting clouds of black smoke was also seen near the Eastern boundary. Owing to the industrial haze accurate observations could not be made.

5 June 1940. P/O F.T. Poole posted to this unit from 214 Squadron, Stradishall. Frank Poole, a New Zealander granted short term service commission with the RAF just after war broke out, became William’s 2nd Pilot.

5/6 June 40. Bombing Attacks on Cross-Roads and Marshalling Yards at Cambrai.
Seven Wellington aircraft were detailed to carry out attacks against the above target. Two aircraft carried 6 x 500 lb G.P. bombs, and the other five carried 12 x 250 lb G.P. bombs

Wellington 1.C R.3159, AA-K.
Up 22.25; Down 01.45

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (13)
P/O Ian Ronald Gow, RAF (40820), 2nd Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
Sgt Green, RAF, W/Operator
Sgt Shuttleworth, RAF, Rear Gunner

7/8 June 40. Bombing Attacks on Chimay, St. Valery, Abbeville, Pont Remy.
Eight aircraft were detailed to carry out individual attacks on targets but one was one hour late in taking off due to enemy air raid alarm, arrived to find target covered in fog and returned to Base with bomb load intact.

Wellington 1.C R.3159, AA-K.
Up 22.45; Down 02.45

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (14)
P/O Frank Twain Poole, RAF, 2nd Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
Sgt Green, RAF, W/Operator
Sgt John Dowds, RAF (632780), Rear Gunner

Target Abbeville.

9/10 June 40. Attacks Against Communications Targets.
Seven crews were detailed to make individual attacks on Communications targets at Rocroi & G5; Rocroi & Revin; Charleville & G6, and G9. Little enemy activity was observed between Dunkirk and Charleville, although the latter target was heavily defended.

Wellington 1.C R.3159, AA-K.
Up 22.10; Down 02.05

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (15)
P/O Frank Twain Poole, RAF, 2nd Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
Sgt William Eric Nevill, RAF, W/Operator
Sgt Shuttleworth, RAF, Rear Gunner

Target Charleville and G.6. Started four large fires in area of G.6, and dropped stick of 4 – 250lbs. bombs on CHARLEVILLE starting two large fires of a dull red and circular nature.

11/12 June 40. Operations.
Six aircraft and crews proceeded on Special Duty to “PAMELA” as below. Attacks on the Black Forest, in an effort to cause widespread forest fires.

Wellington 1.C R.3166, AA-M.
Up ??.??; Down 0?.??

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (16)
– rest of crew as above?

14/15 June 40. Incendiary Raid on Black Forest East of Achern and Oberkirch.
One aircraft took part in raid with four aircraft from No. 37 Squadron*, and he carried 6 – 250lbs. containers holding 10 – 25lbs. incendiary bombs each. These bombs were dropped in target area and fires started, but due to torrential rain encountered, slowly extinguished. No road, rail, river or seaborne traffic observed. No A.A. fire in target area, slight at OSTEND, GHENT and STUTTGART. Ice formation experienced from 7000 – 13000ft. 10/10 cloud over most of route. Navigation by D/R. Two thirds of flight carried out on instrument panel.

Wellington 1.C R.3159, AA-K.
Up 21.45; Down 04.40

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (17)
P/O Frank Twain Poole, RAF, 2nd Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
Sgt William Eric Nevill, RAF, W/Operator
Sgt John Dowds, RAF (632780), Rear Gunner

Navigation to and from the target was by D.R. No winds could be found; the Met winds were only accurate over the first leg of the flight. One fix was obtained on return, which placed the aircraft’s position over London at 03.58hrs. Two drift sights were possible over France by using the rear gun sight on fires observed. The aircraft landed safely at 04.40hrs.

*Note No. 37 Squadron was also based at RAF Feltwell at the time.

17/18 June 1940. Bombing Attacks on Target A.73.
Seven Wellington aircraft from this Unit were detailed to make individual attacks against the above target in the RUHR district.

Wellington 1.C R.3159, AA-K
Up 22.30; Down 02.40

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (18)
P/O Frank Twain Poole, RAF, 2nd Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
Sgt William Eric Nevill, RAF, W/Operator
Sgt William Donald Francis Annan, RNZAF, (NZ391377), Rear Gunner

Carried out the attack on a heading of 120° Mag. and observed the bomb bursts straddling the road/railway and on to the target. Two bomb bursts among the rest appeared much larger. The incendiary fires that started shortly faded in intensity, indicating less flammable undergrowth or construction material.

19/20 June 1940. Bombing Attacks on Targets M.39 and L.82.
Five of the eight aircraft from this Squadron to carry out attacks carried 5 – 500lbs. S.A.P. bombs, two others 5 – 500lbs. G.P. bombs and remaining machines loaded with 9 – 250lbs. bombs and one case of incendiaries. Weather was good over whole part of route and moon was to pilot’s advantage, and all aircraft located and attacked targets, with exception of LCB.474 who attacked rail and road bridges at DUSSELDORF. Searchlights numerous over AMSTERDAM and OSNABRUCK and balloons noticed to flying over all main towns on route. Only one enemy machine seen, an ME109 off Dutch coast, but did not attack. Navigation was by D/R and visual fixes and homing bearings.

Wellington 1.C R.3159, AA-K
Up 22.30; Down 03.15

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (19)
P/O Frank Twain Poole, RAF, 2nd Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
Sgt William Eric Nevill, RAF, W/Operator
Sgt William Donald Francis Annan, RNZAF, (NZ391377), Rear Gunner

24/25 June 1940. Bombing attacks on targets F.19 & A.108.
Eight Wellington aircraft took part in attacks, which were successfully carried out, bomb bursts observed, and fires seen to start, while thick haze in target area made identification difficult. Two balloons observed to be flying over KASSEL area, and a flare path extinguished at KESSEL aerodrome on approach of first aircraft. A.A. Fire extremely thick and fairly accurate, over both targets. Searchlights very numerous, and weather fair throughout, except for haze. Navigation by D/R, visual fixes, and homing bearings. All aircraft returned safely.

Wellington 1.C R.3159, AA-K
Up 22.25; Down 03.15

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (20)
P/O Frank Twain Poole, RAF, 2nd Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
Sgt William Eric Nevill, RAF, W/Operator
Sgt William Donald Francis Annan, RNZAF, (NZ391377), Rear Gunner

Located Dortmund and dropped a flare to illuminate the target (Factory A.108) better. However, the flare became expended before the bomb run was completed. No further flares were dropped owing to thick haze. Attacked blast furnaces in the vicinity of A.108 from 9,000 feet at 00:35 hours. Strikes were observed but no material damage determined. A few small fires started, but did not last more than 2 minutes

26/27 June 1940. Bombing attacks on targets M.431, H.49, AND M.122.
Targets successfully attacked by eight aircraft taking part from this unit, and large explosions and bomb bursts observed, on aerodromes and buildings at M.122, with large fires being started, which were visible until coast was crossed. At H.49 damage not observed, but felt to be severe. During operations, a number of dummy flare paths observed, and balloons seen at 10,000 feet over HAMM. A.A. fire on the whole was very heavy, both heavy and light flak experienced, and searchlights intense. The weather was not good, thunderstorms prevalent making observations difficult in most areas, and icing experienced above 8,000 ft in clouds. Navigation by D/R, visual fixes and homing bearings.

Wellington 1.C R.3235, AA-?
Up 22.10; Down 02.35

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (21)
P/O Frank Twain Poole, RAF, 2nd Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
Sgt William Eric Nevill, RAF, W/Operator
Sgt William Donald Francis Annan, RNZAF, (NZ391377), Rear Gunner

Bomb load dropped in one salvo, estimated hit target in SE corner. Numerous small fires started, which caused small explosions sometime after target had been left.

28/29 June 1940. Bombing attacks on Target C.37.
Eight aircraft from this unit detailed to carry out attacks on above target, Chemical works at KOLN. CB.525 was unable to identify target accurately owing to thick haze and engine trouble, so bombed WAALHAVEN aerodrome at ROTTERDAM. Bursts observed and hits registered during all attacks, and fires started. CB.529 also could not pin-point target, so bombed blast furnaces at COLOGNE. Many balloons seen over all main areas in RUHR, and A.A. fire particularly heavy, also over ANTWERP. Fog experienced on return to base with result that three aircraft had to land at WITON.

Wellington 1.C R.3235, AA-?
Up 22.25; Down 02.20

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (22)
P/O Frank Twain Poole, RAF, 2nd Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
Sgt William Eric Nevill, RAF, W/Operator
Sgt William Donald Francis Annan, RNZAF, (NZ391377), Rear Gunner

Made full use of small lake and patch of woods to West of target [for purposes of identification], and bombs dropped in stick from 11,000ft, but no bursts seen due to intense searchlight activity, while hits assumed to be registered.

30 June / 1 July 1940. Bombing attacks on forest south of FRANKFURT.
Six aircraft from this unit started out to attack above target, but unfortunately one CB.543, had to return to base with a burst oil pipe in the rear turret after some time in air. Target was located and bombed, and fires were started, but did not persist. Village of WALLDORF was bombed inadvertently. Little inaccurate light flak experienced over FRANKFURT, but heavy over RUHR, and many hundreds of searchlights operating in latter, but only a few in target area itself. Weather good throughout trip, but fog was experienced on return to base, resulting in three aircraft being directed to WYTON, where they landed safely.

Wellington 1.C R.3235, AA-?
Up 21.45; Down 02.50

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (23)
P/O Frank Twain Poole, RAF, 2nd Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
Sgt William Eric Nevill, RAF, W/Operator
Sgt William Donald Francis Annan, RNZAF, (NZ391377), Rear Gunner

A line of fires two miles long laid on course 230 degrees Mag. from FRANKFURT. Attack carried out from 11,000ft. Target area left at 00.25hrs, and for distance of 15 miles 14 fires still seen to be burning until cloud obscured them. Thought that fires would not spread to any degree.

2/3 July 1940. Bombing Attacks on Target A.28 in RUHR.
Five Wellington aircraft of this Unit were detailed to make individual attacks on Target A28 in the Ruhr Valley. Owing to poor weather conditions over the whole of the target area, they diverted to alternative targets.

Wellington 1.C R.3235, AA-?
Up 21.45; Down 02.45

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (24)
P/O Frank Twain Poole, RAF, 2nd Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
Sgt William Eric Nevill, RAF, W/Operator
Sgt William Donald Francis Annan, RNZAF, (NZ391377), Rear Gunner

CB.557 reports that no attacks were made by him. Aircraft returned to base.

6/7 July 1940. Bombing Attacks on Target D.1 – Submarine Yards at BREMEN.
Five Wellington aircraft of this Unit were detailed to make individual attacks on D.1. The operation was not a complete success due to the extremely bad weather encountered. Only two aircraft reached target and dropped their bomb load.

Wellington 1.C R.3235, AA-?
Up 21.40; Down 03.40

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (25)
P/O Frank Twain Poole, RAF, 2nd Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
Sgt William Eric Nevill, RAF, W/Operator
Sgt John Dowds, RAF (632780), Rear Gunner

F/O Coleman’s crew got a fleeting glimpse of the target through a break in the clouds and dropped one stick of their entire bomb load from 8,000ft. No results possible.

They had to abort the mission after their trailing aerial was lost due to a lightning strike, meaning loss of communications. They returned and had to divert to RAF Abingdon because of bad weather at base, eventually landing at 03.45 hours.

8/9 July 1940. Bombing Attacks on Alternate target (Z61) for A.73 – Benzine Plant at MORS.
Six Wellington aircraft from this Unit were detailed to make individual attacks against target A73 (Benzine Plant at Mors). The alternate target was Z61.

Wellington 1.C R.3235, AA-?
Up 21.40; Down 01.50

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (26)
P/O Frank Twain Poole, RAF, 2nd Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
Sgt William Eric Nevill, RAF, W/Operator
Sgt William Donald Francis Annan, RNZAF, (NZ391377), Rear Gunner

Bombs and incendiaries seen to burst S.E. of WAALHAVEN aerodrome by CB.591. No fires were seen. No hits on aerodrome. They observed two enemy aircraft taking off but no contact was made.

18/19 July 1940. Bombing Attacks on Target K.56. (Rottenburg Airfield)
Six Wellington aircraft from this Unit were detailed to carry out the above attacks. Heavy A.A. fire was accurate and intense from 10,000 feet to 14,000 feet over Oldenburg, Bremen and Hamburg. Searchlight activity was very active over the whole area. The weather was 10/10ths cloud up to 12,000 feet en route to the target, but in the target area it was fine and clear.

Wellington 1.C R.3235, AA-?
Up 21.40; Down 04.00

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain (27)
P/O Frank Twain Poole, RAF, 2nd Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
Sgt William Eric Nevill, RAF, W/Operator
Sgt Shuttleworth, RAF, Rear Gunner

Unable to locate primary target accurately, so carried out an attack on an alternate aerodrome, at UTERSEN. Results not observed.

On the night of 20/21 July the squadron had its second loss, F/O Samuel Miles McKenzie Watson and crew, in Wellington 1C R.3165, AA-L, the aircraft the Coleman crew had flown on 28/29 May. Detailed to attack Horst (Gelsenkirchen), they were shot down by a night fighter, all killed.

“About this time, Flying Officer Coleman, one of the New Zealand Flight originals, was awarded the DFC. After some celebratory drinks in the mess as a warm-up, he went along with Bill (Williams) and Popeye (Lucas) to Lakenheath, where the wives had turned on a special hero’s supper.”
– From “Popeye’s War”, by Lorie Lucas.

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF
Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) AWMM London Gazette, September 1940
Citation DFC (22 Oct 1940):
Flying Officer Coleman took part in twenty seven bombing attacks on Germany, Holland, Belgium and France since the beginning of 1940, one major bombing attack on Denmark and one night reconnaissance and raids over Germany. By his consistent determination and outstanding skill as captain of aircraft this officer set an example of the highest order.

Presumably at the same time, his Navigator, Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF, was awarded the DFM:
Citation DFM (13 Sep 1940): Not available. The Squadron Commander’s recommendation for this award was:
“This airman has, since the beginning of the year, been employed as an Air Observer on operations against the enemy. He has been a member of Flying Officer Coleman’s crew on all flights that this officer has made.

His courage and devotion to duty coupled with his skill as a Navigator and Bomb Aimer, has enabled Flying Officer Coleman to produce consistently good results. He has taken part in operations as follows: 1 night reconnaissance and “Nickel” raid into Germany, 1 major bombing attack on Norway, 1 major bombing attack on Denmark and 27 major bombing attacks on Germany, Holland, Belgium and France.”

“Next day they were all on call, but the target that night was scrubbed when the weather packed in.
The met report for the night of 25/26 July forecast 10/10ths cloud with visibility of less than one mile. Popeye’s target this night was the aircraft works at Gotha, and others in the flight went off to Kassel.”
– From “Popeye’s War”, by Lorie Lucas.

25/26 July 1940. Bombing Attacks on KASSEL, targets F.10, M.434.
Of the nine Wellington aircraft taking part in the above operations from this Unit, one GB.661 (F/O Coleman) failed to return, and Squadron thus suffered its third loss since operations began.

Wellington 1.C R.3235, AA-?
Up 21.20?;  – missing

F/O William Harcourt Coleman, RNZAF, Captain
P/O Frank Twain Poole, RAF, 2nd Pilot
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, RAF. (518807), Navigator
Sgt John Dowds, RAF (632780), Front Gunner
Sgt William Eric Nevill, RAF, W/Operator
Sgt William Donald Francis Annan, RNZAF, (NZ391377), Rear Gunner

Note: There had been a change in policy, and crews from this operation forward went back to carrying Front Gunners, ie., six-man crews rather than the five-man crews that had been the norm over the past few months.

No-one knows for sure what happened, but the crew made it to the target and dropped their bombs. The official report said: “Wellington 1C R3235 on the way back from the attack on the marshalling yards in NW Germany, the wireless operator’s Mayday signal came through, but nothing more.”

The crew was listed as “Missing”.

Squadron and family members did not find out what happened to the crew until years later.

Kassel was heavily defended, as confirmed by F/L Adams and other crews who had to undertake violent evasive action to avoid being struck. So it’s possible that Coleman’s aircraft received serious flak damage over the target, but was not totally disabled, allowing the crew to head off westward, with Coleman managing to stay airborne for 320km, almost making it to the coast of Holland.

Early on the morning of 26th July, 1940, Wellington B.IC R3235 of 75 (New Zealand) Squadron, RAF, crashed into the Ijsselmeer, the inland sea near Amsterdam, 1km east of Uitdam. There were no survivors. The bodies of the airmen washed ashore, that of F/O Coleman on the 3rd of August, 1940.

All 6 crew members were buried in the Amsterdam New Eastern Cemetery:
F/O William Harcourt Coleman, DFC, RNZAF (397811 / NZ2526). Age 23. (Plot 69. Row A. Grave 21).
P/O Frank Twain Poole, RAF, (42722). Age 25. (Plot 69. Row A. Grave 17.)
Born 14 Aug 1915, son of of Charles Herbert and Mary Jane Poole, of Invercargill, Southland, New Zealand.
Sgt Norman Wilson Brown, DFM, RAF. (518807). Age 24.
Sgt William Eric Nevill, RAF. Age 23.
Born 1917, the son of William Thomas Nevill, and of Violet Gertrude Nevill, of Edmonton, Middlesex.
Sgt John Dowds, RAF (632780). Age 19. (Plot 69. Row A. Grave 23)
Son of Mr. and Mrs. D. Dowds, of Musselburgh, Midlothian.
Sgt William Donald Francis “Don” Annan, RNZAF, (NZ391377). Age 20.  (Plot 69. Row A. Grave 19.)
Son of Fredrick Andrew John Annan and of Annie Isabell Annan (nee MacRae), of Napier, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand.

Headstones2

– from Freedom Is Not Free (http://www.basher82.nl/).

Three of the New Zealanders in the crew were reported missing in the Weekly News, and copies of the photos that were published are now held by the Auckland War Memorial Museum:

NZCrew-photos-WN[3]

Many thanks to the Coleman family for sharing information and giving permission to post this tribute.

References: A History of No 75 Squadron, RNZAF, Part II, Chap 1, Operational Diary – 75 (NZ) Sqn RAF, 1937-1940, Development of the New Zealand Flight and operations flown during the ‘Phoney War’ period, compiled by Sqn Ldr R.C.Macfarlane, AFC, RNZAF (Rtd).; 75 (NZ) Squadron ORB’s and Appendices; Auckland Museum Online Cenotaph; Errol Martyn via the Wings Over New Zealand forum; “Popeye’s War”, by Lorie Lucas; “The Restless Sky”, by A.V.M. Cyril Kay, C.B, C.B.E, DFC.; Freedom Is Not Free (http://www.basher82.nl/).

3 thoughts on “Flying Officer William Harcourt Coleman, DFC and crew, 1939-40.

  1. Reg Mulder

    Great story but with some confusing errors (besides the misspelling of village names)

    head off westward, with Coleman maintaining control over some 150 nautical miles, crossing the Danish coast.

    From Kassel to the west will not bring you over the Danish coast. Not even the Dutch coast. It brings you to the coast of the IJsselmeer, a Dutch inland sea east of Amsterdam.

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    Reply
  2. Brian Benson

    With the events this week which again recognised the contribution made by Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain it is perhaps worth remembering that Bomber and Coastal Commands looses when attacking the airfields in Europe and the invasion barges in the channel ports during the period were far greater.
    Forty-seven New Zealanders lost their lives, including 15 fighter pilots, 24 bomber and eight coastal aircrew.
    In total 718 Bomber Command crew members, and 280 from Coastal Command were killed between 10 July and 31 October 1940.

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