Missing in Action, March 1944

Possibly a five-man Halifax crew

In March 1944, 12 Squadron took part in raids into Germany and occupied France.

Dave's plane, ND439, flew to Berlin in February and to Leipzig and Stuttgart in March. In his last week, my uncle's squadron flew to Frankfurt twice, and to Bergerac, Angouleme and Lyon. On the 24/25 March it was part of the fateful raid on Berlin.

We have tentatively identified the airmen by assuming that these are the regular crew. Those to the left are possibly the five of a Wellington crew whereas those below would be the seven of a Lancaster crew.

Seven-man Lancaster crew

If we assume that the picture to the right shows the crew of the Berlin raid, we can identify them as:

PC Emms, mid-upper gunner | Plant, wireless operator | Bramall, navigator | Brown, rear gunner

McPherson, bomb aimer | Bates, pilot | PG Hendon, flight engineer

We believe the second picture was taken some time after the first. Notice the difference in facial expression between the two photographs.

The details we have of the night my uncle was killed, 24/25 March 1944, have been compiled from official records by a number of different people. Some useful books are listed below.  We have used secondary sources as well as the squadron log - thanks to Alan Wells.

Take off was 18.39 from Wickenby. There were 811 aircraft in the attack, 557 Lancasters, 216 Halifaxes, and 18 Mosquitoes whose job was to attack Berlin as part of "Bomber" Harris's terror campaign. That night was to become known as the "night of the strong winds" because unusually strong winds meant that the majority of the force was scattered south of the planned route.

72 aircraft were lost, 8.88 percent, most of them while returning to Britain. 44 were Lancasters.

Map of losses

My uncle's plane was shot down by a night fighter at 24,000ft on the outward flight and crashed at Kolrep approximately 12 km NW of Kyritz, on the main road to Pritzwalk, north-west of Potsdam and Berlin. Three bodies were located after the war but Sgt Emms and my uncle were never found.

There were 7 crew in the Lancaster:

F/Sgt. CJ Bates, pilot, and Sgt. HF McPherson, bomb aimer, who became prisoners of war; Sgt. PGW Hendon, flight engineer (20), F/Sgt. JA Brammall, RCAF, navigator (20) and Sgt. R Plant, wireless operator (22), who were buried in Berlin after the war; Sgt. PC Emms, middle gunner and Sgt. David Brown, rear gunner (19) are remembered on the Runnymede memorial.

There were higher casualties that night than on any of the 19 bombings of Berlin, 1943-4. Heavy ground and air resistance took advantage of the crews who had lost their course or bearings in the extreme weather. Four of Wickenby's Lancasters failed to return.

Two books we found useful were 'The Berlin Raids' by Martin Middlebrook and 'Lancaster Target' by Jack Currie