Halifax R9496 was one of thirteen aircraft dispatched by No. 35 Squadron to a forward base at RAF Kinloss on 27th March 1942 in readiness for an attack on the Battleship Tirpitz.
On the night of 30th / 31st March 1942 it was one of twelve aircraft which took part in a raid on the battleship which was moored in Fættenfjord, Norway.
Its seven-man crew consisted of:
- William Bruce Archibald (Pilot)
- Leslie John Nelmes (2nd Pilot)
- Geoffrey Hillam Gurr Murray (Observer)
- Archibald McCulloch McLaren (WOP / AG)
- James Frederick Staff (WOP / AG)
- Douglas Francis (Air Gunner)
- Samuel Palmer (Flight Engineer)
R9496 failed to return and the squadron’s operations record book shows “This aircraft took part in a raid on the Norwegian Coast and is missing; no further details are given”.
War time activities relating to the loss
On 31st March 1942 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 / 31st March 1942”.
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. 134 (Flight 04/06/1942) reported WB Archibald, AM McLaren and D Francis as “missing, believed killed in action” and LJ Nelmes, GHG Murray, JF Staff and S Palmer as “missing”
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 147 (Flight 27/08/1942) reported WB Archibald, AM McLaren and D Francis previously reported “missing, believed killed in action” as “now presumed killed in action”
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 199 (Flight 11/02/1943) reported GHG Murray “previously reported missing” as “now presumed killed in action”
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 240 (Flight 10/06/1943) reported LJ Nelmes, JF Staff and S Palmer “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 next of kin, along with any monies due.
Post War search for the missing members of the crew
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 Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede, which was unveiled in 1953.
CWGC records do not show where the remains of WB Archibald, AM McLaren and D Francis were located but show that they were concentrated (reinterred) at TRONDHEIM (STAVNE) CEMETERY as follows:
- ARCHIBALD, WILLIAM BRUCE, Flight Sergeant, ‘533809’ Grave A IV British. K. 2.
- McLAREN, ARCHIBALD MCCULLOCH, Sergeant, ‘993204’ Grave A IV British. K. 5.
- FRANCIS, DOUGLAS, Sergeant, ‘632346’ Grave A IV British. K. 1.
[Courtesy of Linzee Duncan]
The remains of the remaining crew members were not located, or could not be identified and, as such, their names are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial as follows:
- NELMES, LESLIE JOHN, Sergeant ‘1152271’ Panel 90.
- MURRAY, GEOFFREY HILLAM GURR, Flight Sergeant ‘407094’ Panel 111.
- STAFF, JAMES FREDERICK, Sergeant ‘959971’ Panel 94.
- PALMER, SAMUEL, Sergeant ‘526215’ Panel 91.
[Courtesy of Clive Lewis]
WR Chorley (Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War)
Shot down in the target area
Allied Airmen Memorial
In 1985, a memorial was erected at the head of Faettenfjord in memory of the allied airmen (including those from No. 35 Squadron) who lost their lives in the attacks on the German battleship Tirpitz in 1942.
[Courtesy of Linzee Duncan]
- GHG Murray’s service file is digitised in the Australian Archives; there are no details regarding the loss