Halifax V9979 was one of six No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack the battle cruisers (Scharnhorst and Gneisenau) in Brest harbour on the 30th December 1941 (daylight raid).
Its seven-man crew comprised:
- Stuart Auldjo Middleton (Pilot)
- Robert Alexander Fisher Frew (2nd Pilot)
- Leslie John Percival Foster (Observer)
- John Albert Orton (WOP / AG)
- Peter Clement Godwyn Maflin (WOP / AG)
- Matthew George Kipling (Air Gunner)
- Arthur Stanley Greenwood (Flight Engineer)
The squadron’s Operations Record Book shows “V9979 was observed to receive a direct hit under the port wing, but though its descent was followed well down to within two or three thousand feet evasive action prevented eye witnesses from following it right down, so it is not known whether he was able to regain control and bale out on time”.
V9979 during a raid on the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in December 1941
[Courtesy of Linzee Duncan]
Wartime activities relating to the loss
On 31st December 1941 the squadron informed Bomber Command, the Air Ministry and the RAF Records Office that the aircraft and crew were missing.
A telegram, along with a follow up letter from the Commanding Officer, was sent to the next of kin of each crew member advising them that he was “missing as the result of air operations on 30th December 1941”.
The crew’s kit and personal belongings were removed from their lockers and catalogued; kit was returned to stores and personal belongings sent to the RAF Central Depository at RAF Colnbrook.
The Air Ministry Casualty Branch, which was responsible for investigating, monitoring and reporting on the status of missing aircraft and airmen, subsequently published the following information regarding the crew:
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 109 (Flight 19/02/1942) reported SA Middleton, RAF Frew, JA Orton, PCG Maflin, LJP Foster, MG Kipling and AS Greenwood as “missing”
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 138 (Flight 02/07/1942) reported SA Middleton, RAF Frew, JA Orton, PCG Maflin, LJP Foster, MG Kipling and AS Greenwood “previously reported missing” as “now presumed killed in action”
Note: Presumption of death enabled a death certificate to be issued; personal belongings could then be sent to the next of kin, along with any monies due.
Post War search for the missing crew members
After the war, an investigation officer from the Royal Air Force Missing Research and Enquiry Service (MRES) was tasked with locating the remains of the missing crew member(s).
Original German documents, burial records and eye witness accounts were utilised to establish the location of the crash site, the cause of the loss and the initial fate of the crew; information was recorded in a MRES Investigation Report.
As part of the process, any remains that were located were exhumed, identified (wherever possible) and concentrated (reinterred) at one of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) Cemeteries in the country that they fell, in accordance with Government policy at the time.
Graves were marked with a simple wooden cross, which was replaced by the familiar CWGC headstone during the 1950’s.
Missing airmen who could not be found, or formally identified, had their names commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, which was unveiled in 1953.
CWGC records do not show where the remains of the crew members were located but show that they were concentrated (reinterred) at BREST (KERFAUTRAS) CEMETERY as follows:
- FOSTER, LESLIE JOHN PERCIVAL, Pilot Officer, ‘68739’, Plot 40. Row 1. Grave 12.
- FREW, ROBERT ALEXANDER FISHER, Pilot Officer, ‘104518’, Plot 40. Row 1. Grave 22.
- GREENWOOD, ARTHUR STANLEY, Sergeant, ‘570897’, Plot 40. Row 1. Grave 11.
- KIPLING, MATTHEW GEORGE, Sergeant, ‘614312’, Plot 40. Row 1. Grave 6.
- MAFLIN, PETER CLEMENT GODWYN, Sergeant, ‘911942’, Plot 40. Row 2. Grave 18.
- MIDDLETON, STUART AULDJO, Squadron Leader, ‘90371’, Plot 40. Row 2. Grave 10.
- ORTON, JOHN ALBERT, Sergeant, ‘964519’, Plot 40. Row 2. Grave 17.
Location of Loss
Porspoder, NW France
P4 Casualty File
The following Casualty File is available at the National Archives:
AIR 81/11291 Squadron Leader S A Middleton, Pilot Officer R A F Frew, Pilot Officer L J P Foster, Sergeant J A Orton, Sergeant P C G Maflin, Sergeant M G Kipling, Sergeant A E Greenwood: killed; aircraft shot down and crashed near Porspoder, France, Halifax V9979, 35 Squadron, 30 December 1941.
WR Chorley (Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses)
“From eyewitness statements it is reported that the bomber, with one engine ablaze, passed low over the village of Lanildut [Finistere], NW of Brest, pursued by a fighter which in turn was shot down by Sgt Kipling just moments before the Halifax hit the sea, finishing up on rocks at Porspoder a few kilometres to the north of Lanildut. Soon after the crash the Germans requisitioned some seaweed boats and having searched the area returned to the small harbour at Mazou with a number of badly burned bodies though it is believed some were still alive. All were examined by a German doctor but those who had survived succumbed to their injuries. A few days later a teenage girl found the body of the wireless operator whom she identified from his tag as Sgt Maflin”