N. Thorpe crew 5.1.44 †

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The Thorpe crew
Left to right: Allen Francis (Wireless Operator), John Duke (Flight Engineer), Noel Thorpe (Pilot), Frederick Saffill (Mid Upper Gunner), George McManus (Navigator), H. Hark (Rear Gunner), Joseph Alfred (Air Bomber)
image and caption supplied by Noel Russell.

03/01/1945 – Attack Against Dortmund Oil Refinery
Fourteen aircraft were detailed to attack Dortmund Oil Refineries in daylight. Crews bombed by instruments in ten tenths cloud. Results were unobserved. The aircraft carried 4,000 H.C., 500 M.C. 500 G.P. 500 ANM and Munro bombs. NZ42397 F/L L. Hannan landed at Mendalsham on return, but reached base later the same evening.

Lancaster Mk.I LM266 AA-F “The Seven Sinners”
Hit by flak once (AIR14/ 3463 Damage reports)

F/O Donald Percy Leadley, RNZAF NZ427062 – Pilot.
F/S Noel Thorpe, RNZAF NZ428168 – 2nd Pilot.
F/S Donald A. Day, RAFVR 1602082 – Navigator.
F/S Robert A. ‘Bob’ Gill, RAFVR 1292170 – Air Bomber.
Sgt. W. Pugh, RAFVR – Wireless Operator.
F/S R. Clare, RAFVR – Flight Engineer.
F/S Phillip Baden Baker, RNZAF NZ416976 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. Keith Kitchener Heslop, RNZAF NZ425422 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 12:39 – Landed 17:35
Flight Time 04:56

05/01/1945 – Attack Against Ludwigshafen
Twenty one aircraft attacked Ludwigshafen, carrying 4,000 H.C., 500 ANM., 500 G.P. 500 M.C., and Munro bombs. Visibility was clear. H/F was met, but all aircraft returned safely. A scattered raid was reported.

Lancaster Mk.I LM276 AA-S
Hit by flak twice (AC)

F/S Noel Humphrey Thorpe, RNZAF NZ428168 – Pilot.
Sgt. George William Mcmanus, RAFVR 1806217 – Navigator.
Sgt. Joseph McKenzie Alfred, RAFVR 1810280 – Air Bomber.
F/S Allen Francis, RNZAF NZ427272 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. John Lawrence Duke, RAFVR 2210530 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. Frederick Henry Saffill, RAFVR 1882066 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. H. Hark, RAFVR – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 11:24 – Landed 17:42
Flight Time 06:18

06/01/1945 – Attack Against Neuss
Fifteen aircraft were detailed to attack Neuss but the operation was cancelled just prior to ‘take-off’. However, one hour after this cancellation, the operation was put on again. The fifteen crews were briefed a second time and eleven aircraft made an accurate attack on Neuss. Four aircraft captained by F/O Cumberpatch, F/S Russell, F/O Crawford and F/lt. Hannan had technical trouble and returned early. On this attack the aircraft carried 4,000 H.C., 500 ANM., and Munro bombs. Cloud was nine to ten tenths. Crews bombed with the aid of instruments and sky markers.

Lancaster Mk.I HK576 AA-G

F/S Noel Humphrey Thorpe, RNZAF NZ428168 – Pilot.
Sgt. George William Mcmanus, RAFVR 1806217 – Navigator.
Sgt. Joseph McKenzie Alfred, RAFVR 1810280 – Air Bomber.
F/S Allen Francis, RNZAF NZ427272 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. John Lawrence Duke, RAFVR 2210530 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. Frederick Henry Saffill, RAFVR 1882066 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. H. Hark, RAFVR – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 16:01 – Landed 21:07
Flight Time 05:06

11/01/1945 – Attack Against Krefeld
Nineteen aircraft were detailed to attack Krefeld, carrying 4,000 H.C., 500AMN., 500G.P., 500 M.C., 250 G.P., and Munro bombs. Seventeen aircraft bombed the target in tenths cloud with special equipment and two aircraft bombed last resort. Slight H/F was met over the target, but no fighters were seen.

Lancaster Mk.I ME751 AA-M

F/S Noel Humphrey Thorpe, RNZAF NZ428168 – Pilot.
Sgt. George William Mcmanus, RAFVR 1806217 – Navigator.
Sgt. Joseph McKenzie Alfred, RAFVR 1810280 – Air Bomber.
F/S Allen Francis, RNZAF NZ427272 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. John Lawrence Duke, RAFVR 2210530 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. Frederick Henry Saffill, RAFVR 1882066 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. H. Hark, RAFVR – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 11:48 – Landed 17:00
Flight Time 05:12

13/01/1945 – Attack Against Saarbrucken
Eighteen of nineteen aircraft detailed carried out a successful daylight attack on Saarbrucken Marshalling Yard, carrying 4,000 H.C., 500AMN., 500G.P., 500 M.C., 250 G.P., and Munro bombs. W/Cdr Baigent in ‘A’ had to return with his full load after reaching the target owing to technical trouble which prevented release of bombs. Crews bombed on special equipment. The Marshalling Yard was visible and many bursts were seen on the target. No opposition reported. All aircraft were diverted owing to bad visibility at Base.

Lancaster Mk.I NG449 AA-T
landed at Port Reath

F/S Noel Humphrey Thorpe, RNZAF NZ428168 – Pilot.
Sgt. George William Mcmanus, RAFVR 1806217 – Navigator.
Sgt. Joseph McKenzie Alfred, RAFVR 1810280 – Air Bomber.
F/S Allen Francis, RNZAF NZ427272 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. John Lawrence Duke, RAFVR 2210530 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. Frederick Henry Saffill, RAFVR 1882066 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. H. Hark, RAFVR – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 11:42 – Landed 18:37
Flight Time 06:55

15/01/1945 – Attack Against Langendreer
Eighteen aircraft were detailed to attack Langendreer, carrying 4,000 H.C., 500AMN., 500 M.C., 250 G.P., and Munro bombs. One aircraft ‘D’ captained by F/O Leadley failed to reach the target owing to starboard inner engine failing. No results were observed owing to ten tenths cloud. Flak was slight over the target. No fighter opposition was encountered.

Lancaster Mk.I ME751 AA-M

F/S Noel Humphrey Thorpe, RNZAF NZ428168 – Pilot.
Sgt. George William Mcmanus, RAFVR 1806217 – Navigator.
Sgt. Joseph McKenzie Alfred, RAFVR 1810280 – Air Bomber.
F/S Allen Francis, RNZAF NZ427272 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. John Lawrence Duke, RAFVR 2210530 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. Frederick Henry Saffill, RAFVR 1882066 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. H. Hark, RAFVR – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 11:37 – Landed 16:57
Flight Time 05:20

16/01/1945 – Attack Against Wanne Eickel
Seventeen aircraft attacked Wanne Hickel in ten tenths cloud, tops 6/7000 feet, carrying 4,000 H.C., 500 G.P. 500 ANM, 500 M.C. 250 G.P. and Munro bombs. Crews bombed with the aid of instruments and sky markers. Flak was moderate. The general impression was that bombing was concentrated on markers and red glow seen through cloud. The aircraft captained by NZ426235 F/S Wood, J, was attacked by a F.W. 190. The rear gunner opened fire, but no hits were observed and our aircraft suffered no damage. The aircraft captained by NZ414376 F/L T. Blewett unfortunately crashed in this country. The captain and Air Bomber NZ426234 F/O J. Wilson were killed. The Navigator 1398282 F/S Cornell, B.T. died later as a result of severe injuries.

Lancaster Mk.I ME751 AA-M

F/S Noel Humphrey Thorpe, RNZAF NZ428168 – Pilot.
Sgt. George William Mcmanus, RAFVR 1806217 – Navigator.
Sgt. Joseph McKenzie Alfred, RAFVR 1810280 – Air Bomber.
F/S Allen Francis, RNZAF NZ427272 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. John Lawrence Duke, RAFVR 2210530 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. Frederick Henry Saffill, RAFVR 1882066 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. H. Hark, RAFVR – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 23:32 – Landed 04:33
Flight Time 05:01

22/01/1945 – Attack Against Duisburg
Fifteen aircraft attacked Duisburg carrying 4,000 H.C., 500 ANM., 500 G.P. (I.D) 250 G.P. and Munro bombs.Visibility was good. Crews saw the Rhine. Fires and explosions were seen coming from a concentrated area. A successful attack was reported. No opposition encountered.

Lancaster Mk.I ME751 AA-M

F/S Noel Humphrey Thorpe, RNZAF NZ428168 – Pilot.
Sgt. George William Mcmanus, RAFVR 1806217 – Navigator.
Sgt. Joseph McKenzie Alfred, RAFVR 1810280 – Air Bomber.
F/S Allen Francis, RNZAF NZ427272 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. John Lawrence Duke, RAFVR 2210530 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. Frederick Henry Saffill, RAFVR 1882066 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. H. Hark, RAFVR – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 17:15 – Landed 21:51
Flight Time 04:36

01/02/1945 – Attack Against Munchen Gladbach
Seventeen aircraft bomber Munchen Gladbach. No results were observed owing to cloud being ten tenths over the target.

Lancaster Mk.I ME450 AA-W

F/S Noel Humphrey Thorpe, RNZAF NZ428168 – Pilot.
Sgt. George William Mcmanus, RAFVR 1806217 – Navigator.
Sgt. Joseph McKenzie Alfred, RAFVR 1810280 – Air Bomber.
F/S Allen Francis, RNZAF NZ427272 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. John Lawrence Duke, RAFVR 2210530 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. Frederick Henry Saffill, RAFVR 1882066 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. H. Hark, RAFVR – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 13:02 – Landed 18:45
Flight Time 05:43

03/02/1945 – Attack Against Dortmund
Sixteen aircraft attacked Dortmund in clear weather, carrying 4,000HC 500MC, 500ANM, 250 G.P and Munro bombs. Bombing was very accurate and fires were going well when aircraft left the target. One large explosion was seen. Searchlights were numerous in the target area, but flak was negligible. Fighters were active. AA”M” captained by S/L J.L. Wright, had three combats and claims one M.E. 110 destroyed. JN”X” captained by F/O R.B.Crawford crashed on landing, fortunately there were no fatal casualties among the crew. Four were taken to hospital.

Lancaster Mk.I HK597 JN-N

F/S Noel Humphrey Thorpe, RNZAF NZ428168 – Pilot.
Sgt. George William Mcmanus, RAFVR 1806217 – Navigator.
Sgt. Joseph McKenzie Alfred, RAFVR 1810280 – Air Bomber.
F/S Allen Francis, RNZAF NZ427272 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. John Lawrence Duke, RAFVR 2210530 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. Frederick Henry Saffill, RAFVR 1882066 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. H. Hark, RAFVR – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 16:32 – Landed 21:33
Flight Time 05:01

09/02/1945 – Attack Against Hohenbudburg
Twenty one aircraft were detailed to attack Lutskendorf, but the target was changed during the afternoon to Hohenbudberg. This operation was carried out in 8/10th cloud with tops about 10,000. Flak was slight to moderate and S/L effective. A scattered raid was reported.

Lancaster Mk.I HK597 JN-N

F/S Noel Humphrey Thorpe, RNZAF NZ428168 – Pilot.
Sgt. George William Mcmanus, RAFVR 1806217 – Navigator.
F/S Joseph McKenzie Alfred, RAFVR 1810280 – Air Bomber.
F/S Allen Francis, RNZAF NZ427272 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. John Lawrence Duke, RAFVR 2210530 – Flight Engineer.
P/O Jones ?, RAFVR – Mid Upper Gunner.
W/O Robert John Torbitt, RAFVR 1033159 – Rear Gunner.
P/O Gwyn Duglan, RAFVR 179249 – Mid Under Gunner

Take Off 03:58 – Landed 08:34
Flight Time 04:36

23/02/1945 – Attack Against Gelsenkirchen
Sixteen aircraft attacked Gelsenkirchen as detailed. There was ten tenths thin cloud over the target with horizontal visibility between 500/ 1000 yds. Formation keeping was very difficult in these conditions, but crews reported quite a good bombing concentration on special equipment and leaders. Opposition from flak was very slight and no fighters were seen. F/S Barr, D. landed at Warboys.

Lancaster Mk.III LM733 AA-R

F/O Noel Humphrey Thorpe, RNZAF NZ428168 – Pilot.
Sgt. George William Mcmanus, RAFVR 1806217 – Navigator.
F/S Joseph McKenzie Alfred, RAFVR 1810280 – Air Bomber.
F/S Allen Francis, RNZAF NZ427272 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. John Lawrence Duke, RAFVR 2210530 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. Frederick Henry Saffill, RAFVR 1882066 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. H. Hark, RAFVR – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 11:55 – Landed 17:23
Flight Time 05:28

25/02/1945 – Attack Against Kamen
Eighteen aircraft were detailed to attack Kamen. Thin stratus cloud in layers covered the target area, but at times crews were able to make out the target and report a considerable white smoke followed by thick black smoke rising to a good height. Accurate H/F was experienced. AA”B” captained by F/S Klitscher is missing from this operation

Lancaster Mk.I ME450 AA-W

F/O Noel Humphrey Thorpe, RNZAF NZ428168 – Pilot.
Sgt. George William Mcmanus, RAFVR 1806217 – Navigator.
F/S Joseph McKenzie Alfred, RAFVR 1810280 – Air Bomber.
F/S Allen Francis, RNZAF NZ427272 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. John Lawrence Duke, RAFVR 2210530 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. Frederick Henry Saffill, RAFVR 1882066 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. H. Hark, RAFVR – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 09:47 – Landed 15:07
Flight Time 05:20

26/02/1945 – Attack Against Dortmund
Eighteen aircraft attacked Dortmund as detailed. Cloud was ten tenths over the target with tops 5-6,000 ft. No results were seen but bombing is thought to be concentrated. NZ428168 F/O N.H. Thorpe crashed in this country after passing over base in formation. Four members of the crew were killed.

Lancaster Mk.I ME450 AA-W

F/O Noel Humphrey Thorpe, RNZAF NZ428168 – Pilot.
Sgt. George William Mcmanus, RAFVR 1806217 – Navigator.
F/S Joseph McKenzie Alfred, RAFVR 1810280 – Air Bomber.
F/S Allen Francis, RNZAF NZ427272 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. John Lawrence Duke, RAFVR 2210530 – Flight Engineer.
F/S Frederick Henry Saffill, RAFVR 1882066 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. H. Hark, RAFVR – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 10:52 – Landed 16:10
Flight Time 05:18

The return from Dortmund
Official reports indicate that ME450 returned in formation and flew with other aircraft of the Squadron over the Station. As was customary, the aircraft would turn, separate and then format before approach and landing. For some reason unknown, whilst executing a gentle turn, ME450 appears to have suffered either an engine failure or catastrophic failure that resulted in it crashing into the ground North West of Mepal, near the village of Chatteris.

What follows is my assemblage of information from the relatives of aircrew at Mepal. It provides detail, some potentially uncomfortable, some that others might challenge, but, personally, I think its worth laying out all I have been given about that day.

My first observation is that, having taught in Higher Education for now 20 years, I know the highs and lows of working with and within the context of this piece I shall say ‘commanding’ young men in their late teens and early twenties. Over the years I have been proud, surprised and sometimes left speechless with their dedication, effort, team spirit and sheer focus on a job. At the same time I have been left speechless at their poor judgement, immaturity and failure to consider the severity of a spontaneous but ill informed idea.

We can but imagine the relief of seeing your home runway after an Op, even in 1945. Whilst close to the end of the War, Ben Klitcher’s crew had failed to return form an Op only the previous day .

Chatter between the boys as their aircraft returned home spontaneously gelled around a race – a simple challenge within the aircrew as to who would get home first, some perhaps grinned or grimaced and refused to take up the challenge, others perhaps, seeing the chance for a victors pint at Chequers, could not resist the flying glove cast down in front of them – throttles were pushed forward and the race was on………

ME450 arrived over base in formation then broke off with the intention of landing. It appeared that a loss of power then occurred in both starboard engines, with smoke coming from the starboard outer. The aircraft lost height in a gentle right turn and crashed NW of the airfield near the village of Chatteris, Cambridgeshire, at 16.10hrs. Four of the crew died in the crash, including the pilot, navigator, air bomber and M/U gunner. The wireless operator (F/S Francis), flight engineer, (Sgt Duke), and the rear gunner, (Sgt Hark), escaped injured. But Sgt Duke died from his injuries two days later.

One postulation, repeated almost exactly to me by 2 sources speculate that the Flight Engineer Sgt. Duke accidentally turned the wrong taps and in doing this stopped the two starboard engines in the turn. The crew had become concerned by his behaviour on previous Ops – one incident involving the brandishing of his service revolver in the aircraft had resulted in the rest of the crew refusing to fly further with him unless his gun was returned to the armoury.

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ME450 crash site outside Chatteris February 1945

Three photographs that record the catastrophic devastation caused to ME450 after it had crashed near Chatteris gas works (the storage tower can be seen in the background in all pictures.
© Noel Russell

F/O Noel Humphrey Thorpe, RNZAF NZ428168 – Pilot.
Killed age 21.
Son of Humphrey and Lilian Winifred Thorpe, of Auckland City New Zealand.
Buried Ilford (Barkingside) Cemetery, Essex, England.
Grave location – Grave 2856.

Sgt. George William Mcmanus, RAFVR 1806217 – Navigator.
Killed age 35.
Buried Cambridge City Cemetery, Cambridgeshire, England.
Grave location – Grave 15515.

F/S Joseph McKenzie Alfred, RAFVR 1800280 – Air Bomber.
Killed age 23.
Son of Bertha Alfred, of Port of Spain, Trinidad.
Buried Cambridge City Cemetery, Cambridgeshire, England.
Grave location – Grave 15516.
‘In loving memory
Of my own darling,
Gone but not forgotten.
Mother’

F/S Allen Francis, RNZAF NZ427272 – Wireless Operator.
Injured

Sgt. John Lawrence Duke, RAFVR 2210530 – Flight Engineer.
Died of injuries 2 days later age 19.
Son of John Horace and Gladys Duke, of Stockport.
Buried Stockport Crematorium, Cheshire, England.
Grave location – Panel 3.

Sgt. Frederick Henry Saffill, RAFVR 1882066 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Killed age 29.
Son of Henry and Alice May Saffill, of Maldon; Husband of Eva Joan Saffill, of Maldon.
Buried Maldon Cemetery, Essex, England..
Grave location – Row 62. Grave 95.
‘So young, so active
So full of life;
He gave his life
That we might live’

Sgt. H. Hark, RAFVR – Rear Gunner.
Injured

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