Tag Archives: John Calverley Crabtree

Norman McRitchie – Pilot. A bit of a mystery……

Katherine contacted the blog at the beginning of November regarding her Great Uncle Norman McRitchie;
‘At about 0900, 20,000 feet above Duisburg, in Happy Valley (the Ruhr), he was hit by an anti-aircraft shell leaving him temporarily blinded. His bomb-aimer directed them out of the danger area, where he handed over controls, since the bomb-aimer had flown with him on previous operations on Stirlings and had often sat in the second dickey seat handling the controls when things were quiet. About an hour and a half later he told the bomb-aimer he was going to take over the controls again and try and land the Lancaster, blind or not. The bomb-aimer guided him on the runway, the flight-engineer lowered the undercart and the bomb-aimer recited the heights as they glided down, judging that the height was about right to land the bomb-aimer said “Put her down skipper” He eased back the wheel, the Lancaster hit, bounded, hit, bounded, then she was rumbling along the runway as he killed speed with the footbrakes.
The sad part of my Uncle’s story that isn’t in the newspaper article; was that while he was grounded his crew went out with another pilot and never returned, right up until his death in 2004 he still maintained & visited the widows of his crew members’.

Based on this fascinationg tale, I did some digging to put together a crew list and Op history for Norman and the boys that flew with him……..

Norman and crew arrive on base 13th September 1944 from No.31 Base

16.9.44. War Ops – Attack Against Moredijk
Lancaster Mk.I HK953 AA-H/ JN-X?
Norman McRitchies completes 2nd Pilot Op with Gerald Moore’s crew.

20.9.44. War Ops – Attack Against Calais
Lancaster Mk.III PB520 AA-G
F/S Norman McLeod McRitchie RNZAF NZ421484. Pilot
Sgt. P. Purdy RAFVR. Navigator
Sgt. F. Jolliffe RAFVR. Air Bomber
Sgt. John Calverley Crabtree RAFVR 1492180. Wireless Operator
Sgt. Charles Ronald Starkey RAFVR 1863956. Flight Engineer
Sgt. R. Creasey RAFVR. Mid Upper Gunner
Sgt. M. Whitehead RCAF R.201795. Rear Gunner

23.9.44. War Ops – Attack Against Neuss Marshalling Yards
Lancaster Mk.I LM266 AA-A ‘The Seven Sinners’
Sgt. H. White replaces Sgt. Creasey as Mid Upper Gunner.

25.9.44. War Ops – Attack Against Calais
Lancaster Mk.III PB418 AA-C
Henry Abrahams replaces John Crabtree as Wireless Operator.
Sgt. Cyril Brewer replaces Sgt. H. White as Mid upper Gunner.
Sgt. Edward Cooper replaces Sgt. M. Whitehead as Rear gunner

26.9.44. War Ops – Attack Against Calais/ Cap Gris Nez
Lancaster Mk.I NG113 AA-D
John Crabtree returns as Wireless Operator.
Sgt. R. Alderson replaces Cyril Brewer as Mid upper Gunner.
Sgt. M. Whitehead returns as Rear gunner

14.10.44. War Ops – Attack Against Duisburg – ‘Operation Hurricane’ (raid 1 of 2)
Lancaster Mk.I HK554 JN-F
Sgt. G. Bolland replaces Sgt. Alderson as Mid upper Gunner.

These two significant day and day/night special operations against Duisburg received little mention in historical records.
On 13 October, Sir Arthur Harris received this directive for Operation ‘Hurricane’:

To demonstrate to the enemy in Germany the overwhelming superiority of the Allied Air Forces in this theatre, it is the intention to apply within the shortest practical period, a maximum effort of RAF Bomber Command and the US VIIIth Air Force, against objectives in the densely populated Ruhr’.

After a period of 48hrs with all RAF bomber operations suspended, 1,013 aircraft – 519 Lancasters (31 from Mepal), 474 Halifaxes and 20 Mosquito’s – were dispatched after first light to Duisburg, along with an RAF fighter escort. 3.574 tons of high explosive bombs and 820 tons of incendiaries were dropped, for the loss of 14 aircraft.

A moderately heavy AA barrage was encountered which caused crews some concern. Moderate flak damage was reported and one aircraft, ME753, flown by F/O Plummer, lost its Perspex nose-dome entirely, allowing freezing slipstream to rush through the aircraft. Plumber took most of the blast for the rest of the flight home and his hands became literally frozen to the control column. After landing, the ground crew had to dismantle the stick with his hands still attached, so he could be taken to the medical section for appropriate treatment after removal of the flying controls.

See an earlier post about this incident here.

Another aircraft received serious damage in the bomb bay, which necessitated a diversion to RAF Woodridge for an emergency landing.

There appears to be no further reference to the McRitchie crew past this Op – there also appears to be no reference to the events related by his Great Niece – that relate specifically to the crew.

One must wonder if the story related to Katherine is actually based on the experiences of the Plummer crew on the Duisburg Op of the 14th October. Having said this, the disappearance of the crew, or at least Norman after only 6 Ops (including his 2nd Dickie flight) is quite a mystery – and the detail she included in her original message suggests knowledge of a specific event that appears to have been lost in the ORB’s……..

Records show that at least 2 of the McRitchie crew did remain with the Squadron after the Duisburg Op. Wireless Operator John Crabtree and Flight Engineer Charles Starkey flew a number of Ops with Leslie Martyn’s crew;

11.11.44. War Ops – Attack Against Casrop Rauxel
Charles Starkey joins crew as Flight Engineer

15.11.44. War Ops – Attack Against Dortmund
Charles Starkey continues with crew as Flight Engineer

16.11.44. War Ops – Attack Against Heinsberg
Charles Starkey continues with crew as Flight Engineer

20.11.44. War Ops – Attack Against Homberg
Charles Starkey continues with crew as Flight Engineer
John Crabtree joins crew as Wireless Operator

21.11.44. Gardening Ops – Mining in Oslo Fjord
Lancaster Mk I NN745 AA-A
FAILED TO RETURN
F/L Leslie Arthur Martyn RNZAF NZ417082. Pilot
Died age 35.
Lost without trace, commemorated on Panel 262 Runnymede Memorial.

F/O Thomas Isaac Elliot RNZAF NZ421364. Navigator
Died age 24.
Lost without trace, commemorated on Panel 262 Runnymede Memorial.

P/O Allan Roy Frank Dunkerley RAAF AUS.423083. Air Bomber.
Died age 33.
Lost without trace, commemorated on Panel 258 Runnymede Memorial.

F/Sgt John Calverley Crabtree RAFVR1492180. Wireless Operator
Died age 35.
Lost without trace, commemorated on Panel 216 Runnymede Memorial.

Sgt Charles Ronald Starkey RAFVR 1863956. Flight Engineer.
Died age 20.
Lost without trace, commemorated on Panel 238 Runnymede Memorial.

Sgt George Lindsay RAFVR 1624589. Mid Upper Gunner
Died age 21.
Lost without trace, commemorated on Panel 233 Runnymede Memorial.

P/O Andrew Roy Wright RCAF J.88789. Rear Gunner
Died age 21.
Lost without trace, commemorated on Panel 253 Runnymede Memorial.