Tag Archives: Arthur Leslie Archibald Oakey

Munster Viaduct 21st March, 1945 – mea culpa

I have been mulling over my previous post regarding the fateful events of the Munster raid for the Squadron and have, until I feel I have a better and, it would suggest through subsequent research, a much bigger picture of the circumstances, decided to remove the original post.

In hindsight, I gathered together what information I had and probably tried to create too big a picture with it. In doing so, I think by inference, I suggested positions and actions that were too heavily based on conjecture and not enough on definitive information.

Clearly, what happened on the 21st of March were based on a series of circumstances, the result of which led to the loss of 3 of the Squadrons aircraft and the lives of 12 airmen. The true story may never be known, but the effort needs to be made to try.

If anybody has any information relating to this raid, including identification of the other Squadrons that flew on the Op and in particular any crew comments from the respective Form 541’s I would be very interested in seeing them – I already have information from 115, 514 and 218 Squadrons respectively, but I think more Squadrons might have taken part – I am keen to try to understand from the comments in these logs any additional information relating to the timing or position of 75(NZ) under the main stream.

I would also be grateful for any general information on bombing tactics, regarding formation and structure to a raid. I believe 75(NZ) lead the Op that day, but would like to understand if this is correct, what implications it might have had regarding bombing height and target marking.

Finally, despite the general and ongoing request for logbooks, I would be very interested to see any logbooks that are from individuals that flew on this Op – particularly to try to identify the G-H leaders and gather any other notes or observations about the raid.

many thanks in advance

Simon

Munster Viaduct 21st March, 1945 – The final operational losses for 75(NZ) Squadron

IMG_5223 cropped to munster

The route for the Munster Viaduct Op
courtesy Steve Smith

My previous post about Robert William ‘Boby’ West, Wireless Operator with the Barr crew, one of 3 Lancasters to be lost from 75(NZ) Squadron, on the Munster Viaduct Op of the 21st March 1945, started a bit of a research activity, to try to understand what happened that afternoon.

I must confess, when normally doing a post, I will assemble a starting crew list and then trawl through Form 541 of the Squadron Operational Record Books to assemble a raid history for the crew. Sadly, in many cases, the terminating Op of this list results in the loss of that crew – the word ‘missing‘, instead of a down time is enough of an epitaph for the boys as far as Form 541 is concerned.

In email correspondence with Malcolm, Margaret’s husband, he alluded to a question over the reason for the loss of Boby and his crew mates and it perhaps slightly shames to me to admit that it was only at this point that I actually began to read the notes for this Op – expanding my attention beyond the word ‘missing’

In advance of the rest of this post, I’d like to thank Margaret and Malcolm, Kevin and especially Steve for helping me piece together information that sheds a few more perhaps fractured beams of light on the events of that March afternoon.

I would also like to stress that in no way does the following post look to apportion responsibility for what happened that day – there are too many gaps to be definitive, I have simply tried to gather information and present it in a logical order. Having said this, this is perhaps the most difficult post I have put together, including those dealing with the loss of my father.

Form 541 of 75(NZ) Squadron contains a consistent series of observations regarding the events of that afternoon………

P/O John O’Malley RA510 AA-E – ‘Bombing was upset when bombs from another formation fell through – it appeared as though the leader overshot the tracking pulse.’

S/L Jack Wright EF190 AA-F‘Converging aircraft dropped bombs from above us. Attempted to swing off in effort to avoid bombs.’

F/O Trevor Cox PB418 AA-C – ‘Should have followed JN-Z but as he was weaving considerably it was found better to go ahead and bomb on AA-F, following was very difficult owing to the fact that another squadron was bombing from height up.’

W/O Fred Bader LM276 AA-S‘Impossible to assess owing to bombs falling from above and need for evasive action.’

F/S Tom Good HK561 AA-Y‘Bombed in steep turn when cookie fell 10 feet to port.’

F/L Russ Banks RF129 AA-M‘Leader overshot target and bought Squadron over other Aiming Point where bombs were falling all around aircraft and had to S turn to come over Aiming Point.’

F/O Duncan Stevenson PP663 JN-Z‘G.H. went u/s just before the final run to target. Attempted a visual run on the railway lines east of the viaduct, but bomb aimer had not time to reset the time interval after swerving to avoid bombs from aircraft from another Squadron at about 20,000 ft. ‘

F/O Les Sinclair NG322 JN-F‘Leader lost when formation was broken by bombs falling from above.’

F/O Wi Rangiuaia HK563 JN-W‘Formation broken by falling aircraft and bombs from aircraft above.’

F/L Bill Alexander HK593 JN-X‘Found difficulty in following original leader JN-F as he was constantly weaving and forced out of formation by slip -stream and on final run up so connected with nearest available aircraft JN-D.’

Loss of G-H tracking
G-H was the final development of transmitter based navigation systems used by Bomber Command and it would appear, particularly 3 Group, to guide aircraft to a target and also to set and synchronise the release of bombs over the target. A ‘G-H Leader’ would bomb on a transmitted signal from the UK, with usually another 2 aircraft following in close formation would then release their bomb load at the same time. This process would then be repeated a number of times with the following aircraft and their respective G-H leaders.

RAF Waterbeach Station ORB Records“GH run was short by aircraft off track” 

No.3 Group ORB (Air25/54) – Weather Clear Good Vis. – ‘Although some good results were achieved this attack was a bit of a shambles. GH co-ordinates for the two aiming points were reversed and the main weight of the attack fell on the smaller of the two. Two aircraft were destroyed by flak and one by falling bombs.’

The G-H leaders, so far identified, for 75(NZ) on that Op were;
F/O Sinclair JN-F
F/O Eggleston AA-U
S/Ldr Wright  AA-F (G-H u/s)

Twenty one aircraft took off from Mepal – this would suggest based on 3 G-H leaders, that the aircraft were split into 3 groups of seven – the ‘uneven’ 7th, or 1st, being the G-H leader at the front of each group, the others in the group either flying in line or in a ‘v’, 3 aircraft on either side of the Leader. As noted in the comments by Chris, smaller figures would normally format behind a G-H Leader, so it strongly suggest that within the 21 aircraft, there were other, as yet unidentifed G-H Leaders

Sinclair’s and Egglestone’s comments are perhaps relevant based on this possible ordering;
F/O Les Sinclair NG322 JN-F‘Leader lost when formation was broken by bombs falling from above.’
F/O Val Egglestone PB427 AA-U‘Poor lead in and bombs appeared to fall south of Aiming Point.’

These comments seem to feel like a comment regarding another leading aircraft and by simple elimination, this suggests S/Ldr Wright (simply because at this point he is the only other identified G-H leader), may have been the LEAD, lead aircraft for the Squadron that day. The note that the G-H was u/s (unserviceable) adds a terrifying immanency to the events that were to unfold as the Squadron approached the target……

The note from No.3 Group ORB (Air25/54) –
GH co-ordinates for the two aiming points were reversed and the main weight of the attack fell on the smaller of the two.
perhaps suggests that the overshoot was a result of the G-H coordinates ‘swapping around’, thus causing the overshoot as a result. Though perhaps what is not clear is whether this affected all aircraft in the Op or just those of 75(NZ). Clearly, at the point the error was realised, action had to be taken to try to get the Squadron back on course, relative to the primary aiming point.

F/L Russ Banks RF129 AA-M‘Leader overshot target and bought Squadron over other Aiming Point where bombs were falling all around aircraft and had to S turn to come over Aiming Point.’

No.218 Squadron ORB (No.31 Base) F/Lt. Les Harlow DFC who flew a number of Base Leader operations makes an interesting comment – ‘Formation was fairly compact but stream ahead was well off track and the Base ahead was scattered.’

F/O Arthur ‘Tiny’ Humphries (Navigator NG449 AA-T – Jack Plummer crew)
“On this daylight raid to Munster things went reasonably well until we were almost coming up to the target, flying in formation. But something went wrong with the leading aircraft and we overshot the turning point and flew on for quite some distance. Then we turned onto the target but now on the wrong heading and in fact, under-flew another squadron bombing from above. At that stage the flak was very, very heavy. We didn’t get hit by falling bombs, although there were bombs falling all around us. We were hit by flak, in one engine which went on fire and another engine got hit on the other side.”
(page 156 ‘Forever Strong, The story of 75 Squadron RNZAF 1916-1990. Norman Franks, Random Century)

It would seem that 75(NZ) were due to bomb first – with this final error and desperate need for correction, the delay and advancing Squadrons meant the outcome was almost enevitable………

Bombed from above
No.195 Squadron ORB (No.31 Base) –
‘Some aircraft bombed from below our height at 18,000ft.’

Arthur Robson, Wireless Operator with Alfred Brown’s crew :-
“A bomb or bombs hit the front of the aircraft. One knocked the nose right off, taking (James) Wood with it as he huddled over his bomb sight. ‘The was a massive explosion and the Window the Flight Engineer was throwing out was whirling through the aircraft’. Robson had already seen what he thinks was the third 75 Lancaster going down – ‘the one in which they were all killed – It was all buckled up, hit right in the bloody middle’………..”
(page 494 ‘Night after Night – New Zealanders in Bomber Command, Max Lambert, Harper Collins)

Arthur’s description ‘hit in the bloody middle’ is ambiguous – though if applied to a hit by flak, the likelihood of seeing the aircraft ‘all buckled up’ is dubious – it would have almost certainly exploded if the strike was prior to the dropping of its payload. His description of the subsequent events in his own aircraft make it clear that a bomb strike from above in the center of a Lancaster- even without detonation –  would certainly have resulted in a catastrophic structural failiure.

The ensuing loads on the remaining airframe and the effects on the aircrew tend to suggest little chance of survival. Interestingly, the only body recovered was that of Alwyn Amos, the Rear Gunner. I do not know if he was found within wreckage or clear of wreckage, but it would suggest a pattern evidenced before regarding survivors in the Squadron, where the rear portion became detached and the occupant was able to exit the broken end (Jack Hayden, Roberts crew, Berlin Op – was sent to rear of a/c to check rear gunner after fighter attack. The aircraft then exploded and he fell out of the open end of the fuselage. John Gray, rear gunner with the McCartin crew, Homberg Op. The aircraft exploded and he came round in the detached rear portion of the fuselage).

I will observe before anybody else does that these 2 examples are both the result of explosions not falling bombs, however, I think I am trying to identify a structural failure (probably at the incomplete cross section at the mid upper turret) which might at least allow the back of a bomber, Stirling or Lancaster a separation from a much heavier mass within the rest of the aircraft.

The ensuing forces on the occupants of an aircraft in rapid decent would have made escape impossible. The final impact, if still with a full bomb load would have been utter.

The only losses on the Munster Op were the 3 Lancasters from Mepal.

They were the Squadron’s last operational losses of the war.

Ake Ake Kia Kaha

Robert William ‘Boby’ West, Wireless Operator – Barr crew

Bobby In Flying Gear 6th June 1943 cropped and b&W

Robert Willian ‘Boby’ West, Wireless Operator with the Barr crew. Killed 21st March 1945 on the Munster Viaduct Op.
© Margaret Fox

I had the pleasure of spending time with Margaret and Malcolm Fox at this last Winters 75(NZ) Squadron Reunion. Margaret’s brother was ‘Bobby’ West, Wireless Operator with Derek Barr’s crew, who were all lost n the 21st March 1945 on the Op to the Munster Viaduct.

Bobby @ EvantonNov 1942-1

No.8 AGS RAF Evanton, Rosshire
Bobby during his RAF training, front row far right.
© Margaret Fox

Bobby's letter from EvantonScotland 30th Nov 1942 joined

Dear Mam and Dad
Well I have arrived here at last after a twenty two hour train journey. The first thing they did to us on arriving here was to make each one of us a leading aircraftsman as you will see by the address. We will pass out here on the 23rd of December so I am afraid I shall not be home for Christmas but I should be home for New Year. The pay we get now is 7 shillings per day of course us unmarried men have to pay income tax off that but still I think I will be able to save something from now on. It seems to be a good camp this, the food is great and there is plenty of entertainment to go to every night inside the camp, but still I will let you know as much as I can. Later I will have to be more careful now because all letters coming from North of Inverness are liable to be censored. Well I am very tired after the journey so think I’ll close now and go to bed so for now cherrio.
Love to all
Boby
p.s. There is snow on all the hills around here and oh boy is it chilly. Not arf.
Boby
© Margaret Fox

Bobby's citation  08061944

Bobby’s citation for his Mention in Dispatches. The date shows that he would still have been in training, however the act that resulted in the MiD is not known….
© Margaret Fox

17.1.45. Administration
176130 F/O M. Watson and 1394583 F/S Barr. D.S. and crews arrived on posting from No.31 Base

22.2.45. War Ops – Attack Against Osterfeld
Lancaster Mk.I NG322 JN-F
F/S  Derek Singleton Barr RAFVR 1394583/190947 – Pilot
F/S  Arthur Leslie Archibald Oakey RNZAF NZ4213810 – Navigator
Sgt.  Dryden Stewart RAFVR 1673061 – Air Bomber
W/O  Robert William West, MiD, RAFVR 1077746 /195545 – Wireless Operator
Sgt.  Clifford Isaac Stocker RAFVR 1587275 – Flight Engineer
Sgt.  Bruce Henry Nichol RAFVR 746205 – Mid Upper Gunner
W/O  Alwyn Amos RAFVR 1578224 – Rear Gunner

23.2.45. War Ops – Attack Against Gelsenkirchen
Lancaster Mk.I NG322 JN-F
same crew

26.2.45. War Ops – Attack Against Dortmund
Lancaster Mk.I NG322 JN-F
Same crew

27.2.45. War Ops – Attack Against Gelsenkirchen
Lancaster Mk.I NG322 JN-F
Same crew

1.3.45. War Ops – Attack Against Kamen
Lancaster Mk.I PB418 AA-C
Same crew

2.3.45. War Ops – Attack Against Cologne (Aborted)
Lancaster Mk.I HK593 JN-X
Same crew

4.3.45. War Ops – Attack Against Wanne-Eickel
Lancaster Mk.I NG448 JN-P
Same crew
F/O Barr & crew, suffered a failure of their starboard-outer engine following take-off. The aircraft was flown to the Wash where the bomb load was jettisoned and then returned to base, landing at 10.58hrs.

5.3.45. War Ops – Attack Against Gelsenkirchen
Lancaster Mk.I NG322 JN-F
Same crew
On the way homeward, crews encountered slight, heavy flak. NG322, F/O Barr and crew, received minor shrapnel damage to the mainplane.

6.3.45. War Ops – Attack Against Wesel
Lancaster Mk.I PB820 JN-V
Same crew

9.3.45. War Ops – Attack Against Dattelen
Lancaster Mk.I NG322 JN-F
Same crew

10.3.45. War Ops – Attack Against Gelsenkirchen-Buer
Lancaster Mk.I LM266 AA-F ‘The Seven Sinners’
Same crew

12.3.45. War Ops – Attack Against Dortmund
Lancaster Mk.I HK554 JN-Z
Same crew

14.3.45. War Ops – Attack Against  Heinrich Hutte
Lancaster Mk.I NG448 JN-P
Same crew

17.3.45. War Ops – Attack Against Auguste Viktoria
Lancaster unknown
Same crew
Of the original crew list, F/O Barr’s aircraft became unserviceable before T/O and was withdrawn, leaving 19 aircraft and crews for the mission.

Bobby's Last Letter 17 03 1945 IMG

Bobby’s last letter home.
Dear Mam and Dad
Just a few lines to let you know that I’m still OK and getting along fine and that I’m looking forward to the 29th when I come on leave again. A bit of fresh news is that I have only one more bloke to see and pass and I shall get a commission which will be a nice thing to have won’t it, the only snag is seeing myself in one of those big hats I will look a mess. I have only twelve more trips to do now so I should be nearly finished by the time I come on leave. The weather is still fine down here and it has been like summer for quite a while. Tell Margaret that I am still saving those sweets and chocolate up for her and if I don’t send it I’ll bring it for her when I come. I think this is all for the time so I’ll say cheers for now, Love to all
Boby xxxxxx
© Margaret Fox

18.3.45. War Ops – Attack Against Bruchstrasse
Lancaster Mk.I RA564 JN-P
Same crew

21.3.45. War Ops – Attack Against Munster Viaduct
Lancaster Mk.I Lancaster Mk.I RA564 JN-P
Same crew
AIRCRAFT FAILED TO RETURN
RA564 was bombing the target at Munster when it was struck by a bomb falling from another aircraft flying above, which exploded. There were no survivors. Only the body of the rear gunner was found and buried at Margraten, Holland. The other crew members have no known graves.

The ORB describes the fate of the Barr crew ‘believed shot down by flak in target area’. this clearly conflicts the previous description.

It is clear from the Ops notes recorded from the participating crews that there was an error regarding formations – with another Squadron (at this point unknown) bombing from  20,000ft – it is difficult to know if this Squadron was ‘high’ or if the 75(NZ) aircraft were below the main force……..

F/O  Derek Singleton Barr RAFVR 1394583/190947.  Pilot
Died age 29.
No known grave. Commemorated on Panel 266, Runnymede Memorial.
F/S  Arthur Leslie Archibald Oakey RNZAF NZ4213810. Navigator
Died age 33.
No known grave. Commemorated on Panel 285 Runnymede Memorial.
Sgt.  Dryden Stewart RAFVR 1673061. Air Bomber
Died age 22.
No known grave. Commemorated on Panel 273 Runnymede Memorial.
P/O  Robert William West, MiD, RAFVR 1077746 /195545. Wireless Operator
Died age 22.
No known grave. Commemorated on Panel 269 Runnymede Memorial.
F/S  Clifford Isaac Stocker RAFVR 1587275. Flight Engineer
Died age 30.
No known grave. Commemorated on Panel 273 Runnymede Memorial.
Sgt.  Bruce Henry Nichol RAFVR 746205. Mid Upper Gunner
Died age 26.
No known grave. Commemorated on Panel 276 Runnymede Memorial.
W/O  Alwyn Amos RAFVR 1578224. Rear Gunner
Died age 24.
Buried Venray War Cemetery, Netherlands.

Dads Last Letter to Bobby 21st 031945 IMG

Excruciatingly, Bobby’s Father replied to his last letter on the day he and his crew mates were killed.
Dear Boby
Just a few lines hoping you are still keeping A1 as it leaves us the same here. We have Denis at home for 10 days and he goes back on Friday 30th so if you get home on the 29th you will see him. Well Boby, your Mam would like to see you come home with that big hat on.
We have got your coupons put away and you will get your coat all right and stick in and get the hat to go with it. Mam had a letter from Stan this morning and he seems to be going all right they had a test on Saturday morning and he got 62%.
Stan says he met a nice girl where he’s at and he even went to see her Father and Mother they’re not to bad he says, he is coming home at Easter. Well I think this is all this time. So will close now
With best love
Dad and Mam and All xxxxxxxx
From Margaret xxxxxxx
© Margaret Fox

75(NZ) lost 3 aircraft in this raid the other 2 were as follows;

Plummer crew
Lancaster Mk.I NG449 AA-T
‘Aircraft failed to return, seen to be shot down by flak over target.’

F/Lt. Jack Plummer, DFC, RNZAF NZ42451. Pilot
Died age 29.
Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany.
F/O Arthur Leonard Humphries, DFM, RNZAF NZ428244. Navigator
Shot down
PoW No. 65026. PoW camps – Stalag VIF and XIB. Safe UK 11 May 1945.
F/O Edgar John Holloway RNZAF NZ429923. Air Bomber.
Died age 29.
Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Germany.
F/O Joseph James ‘Joe’ Wakerley RAFVR 1325219/169159. Wireless Operator.
Shot down
PoW No. not known. PoW camps, Oflag 79 ?. Safe UK – NK.
Sgt Maurice Fell RAFVR. Flight Engineer
Shot down, wounded, baled out.
PoW No. not known. PoW camps – Stalag XIB.
F/O Russell James Scott RNZAF NZ42898. Mid Upper Gunner.
Died age 23.
Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery Germany.
F/Sgt Alexander Malcolm MacDonald RNZAF NZ426070. Rear Gunner
Shot down in flames, baled out.
Successfully evaded capture. Safe UK 7 Apr 1945.

Brown crew
Lancaster Mk.III LM733  AA-E
‘Aircraft failed to return and was seen to break in two over target, possibly due to bombing from above but may have been flak.’

F/O Alfred Errol Brown RNZAF NZ429139. Pilot.
Died age 25.
Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany.
F/S Arthur Donald Baker RNZAF NZ4214043. Navigator
Shot down, baled out
PoW No. and PoW camps not known. Safe UK 21 Apr 1945.
F/S James Haswell Wood RNZAF NZ425811. Air Bomber
Died age 29.
Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery Germany.
F/S Arthur Elliott Robson RNZAF NZ4210853. Wireless Operator
Shot down.
PoW No. not known, PoW camps – Stalag XIB. Escaped on the march, recaptured and again escaped. Safe UK 21 Apr 1945.
F/S R. H. Lawrence RAFVR 1607264. Flight Engineer.
Shot down.
PoW No. and PoW camps and Safe UK not known.
Sgt.  J. Grierson RAFVR 1593931. Mid Upper Gunner.
Shot down.
PoW No. and PoW camps and Safe UK not known.
Sgt. H. Barraclough RAFVR 1590144. Rear Gunner.
Shot down.
PoW No. and PoW camps and Safe UK not known.

Having researched this post, I must confess I realised it was only Malcolm’s remark in an email, regarding a question over the exact reason for the loss of Bobby and his crew mates, that made me look further. I was struck by the repeated references in the crew remarks for this raid in Form 541 of falling bombs and the need to constantly avoid them and also that the G-H guidance had appeared to fail. Of course I felt I needed to do some digging and contact a few people for their opinions.

What I have pieced together is certainly interesting and will be posted next when I have drawn it all together………..