Halifax HR812 (28/06/1943)

Halifax HR812 was one of six No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack Cologne on the night of the 28th / 29th June 1943.

It was carrying 1 x 2000lb HC, 1064 x 4lb incendiaries and  76 x “4x” incendiaries. Its designated Path Finder role was Main Force

Its seven-man crew comprised:

  • Graham Thomas Beveridge (Pilot)
  • Stanley Kiran Gordon-Powell (Navigator)
  • Henry Charles Billett (Air Bomber)
  • Roger James Taylor (Wireless Operator)
  • Francis Cyril Compton (Air Gunner)
  • William Hughes (Air Gunner)
  • Leslie Ernest Carey (Flight Engineer)

The route was Base, 5122N 0320E, 5028N 0632E, Target, 5135N 0340E, Orfordness, Base

HR812 failed to return and the squadron’s Operations Record Book shows “This aircraft is missing. No message received”

Wartime activities relating to the loss

On 29th June 1943 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 28th / 29th June 1943”.

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. 281 (Flight 16/09/1943) reported GT Beveridge, FC Compton, W Hughes and LE Carey as “missing”
  • Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 373 (Flight 20/04/1944) reported GT Beveridge, FC Compton and W Hughes “previously reported missing” as “now presumed killed in action”
  • Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 502 (Flight 10/05/1945) reported LE Carey “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.

No. 35 Squadron’s Operations Record Book shows the following information was received relating to the crew:

  • 04/09/1943: Information received from the Air Ministry that Sgt Beveridge, missing on 28th / 29th June 1943, was killed
  • 05/10/1943: Information received from the Air Ministry that Sgt Gordon-Powell, missing on 28th / 29th June 1943, is a prisoner of war
  • 25/11/1943: Information received from the Air Ministry that Sgt Billett, missing on 28th / 29th June 1943, is a prisoner of war

Crew members who survived the crash and were captured / imprisoned

SK Gordon-Powell, HC Billett and RJ Taylor survived the crash and were captured, interrogated and imprisoned for the remainder of the war.

Their POW Liberation Questionnaires, which were completed as part of the repatriation process at 106 Personnel Reception Centre (RAF Cosford) in 1945, show the following details:

  • HC Billett
    • Evaded: Jun-43 to Jul-43 (Betrayed)
    • Captured: Bordeaux 24/07/1943
    • Imprisoned: Stalag Luft VI, Heydekrug Oct-43 to Jul-44 (Evacuated)
    • Imprisoned: Stalag 357, Thorn Jul-44 to Aug-44 (Relocated)
    • Imprisoned: Stalag 357, Fallingbostel Aug-44 to Apr-45 (Evacuated)
    • Repatriated: May-45
  • SK Gordon-Powell
    • Evaded: Jun-43 to Jul-43 (Betrayed)
    • Captured: Paris 15/07/1943
    • Held: Fresnes Jul-43 to Aug-43
    • Interrogated: Dulag Luft Sep-43
    • Imprisoned: Stalag IVB Sep-43 to Dec-43 (Escaped / Recaptured)
    • Imprisoned: Stalag IVD Dec-43 to Aug-44 (Escaped / Recaptured)
    • Imprisoned: Stalag IVB Aug-44 to Mar-45 (Escaped)
    • Repatriated: May-45
  • RJ Taylor
    • Captured: Near Liege 02/07/1943
    • Imprisoned: Stalag Luft VI, Heydekrug Jul-43 to Jul-44 (Evacuated)
    • Imprisoned: Stalag 357, Thorn Jul-44 to Aug-44 (Relocated)
    • Imprisoned: Stalag 357, Fallingbostel Aug-44 to Apr-45 (Evacuated)
    • Repatriated: May-45

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 Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede, which was unveiled in 1953.

CWGC records show that the remains of GT Beveridge, FC Compton, W Hughes and LE Carey were located at Brusthem (St Trond) Cemetery

hr812-concentration

Their remains were exhumed, identified and concentrated (reinterred) at HEVERLEE WAR CEMETERY on 19th March 1947 as follows:

  • BEVERIDGE, GRAHAM THOMAS Pilot Officer ‘146337’  Grave 9. F. 7.
  • CAREY, LESLIE ERNEST Sergeant ‘R/125005’ Coll. grave 6. D. 1-20.
  • COMPTON, FRANCIS CYRIL Sergeant ‘1322681’ Coll. grave 6. D. 1-20.
  • HUGHES, WILLIAM Sergeant ‘1494700’ Coll. grave 6. D. 1-20.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Theo Boiten (Nachtjagd Combat Archive)

Nightfighter Claim; Lt. Heinz Wolfgang Schnaufer, Stab II./NJG1, Near Wandre, 7km NE Liege (Belgium) (Lurch), 5300m, 01.45

Wim Govaerts

The following extracts are from documents kindly sent to me by Wim Govaerts:

hr812-schnaufer-extract Extract from Schnaufer’s Log Book

Claim.JPG

In his report, Schnaufer recorded: “I took off at 00.52am on 29.6.1943 for a night-time patrol in the Lurch Raum. At 01.38, I was directed onto an enemy aircraft on a bearing of 100°, at an altitude of 5,300m, which I identified above and to my left from a distance of about 200m as a Halifax at 01.40am. After a short time I made my first attack from behind and below, which set the right outside engine on fire, whereupon the Halifax fell away. I followed the burning aircraft until impact, which occurred at 01.45am near Wandre, 7km north-north east of Liege”

Note: The MRES report confirms that the aircraft crashed on an embankment of the River Meuse at Souverain (Wandre)

german-doc-9photo

Wreckage of Halifax HR812 [Courtesy of Wim Govaerts]

Bomber Command Loss Card

  • 162/134 Beveridge G 1334486 shot down 29.6.43 Buried 1.7.43 St Trond
  • 169/415 2 unknown belonging 162/134 recovered later and buried 3.7.43 St Trond
  • 284A We got shot down and I had to jump as plane was on fire. Landed safely and spent a month in the country before I was caught.
  • Billett says “Carey alive and uninjured following attack and until I left aircraft at 15,000 feet. Aircraft on fire in port wing. Beveridge alive and uninjured following attack and at controls when I jumped. I know nothing of Hughes or Compton.
  • Taylor says: “On capture I was given to understand that Beveridge was dead. No news of Hughes or Carey”

SK Gordon-Powell Escape Attempts

SK Gordon-Powell made 6 escape attempts. On his sixth attempt, he escaped from a fatigue party with a South African soldier (AM Kuhn). He reached Flensburg via Berlin and crossed into Denmark where he was put aboard a Danish trawler which took him to Helsingborg, Sweden (arriving on 17th April 1945).

London Gazette (08/03/1946)

SK Gordon-Powell was awarded the Military Cross for his efforts. The citation reads:

On the night of the 28th June 1943, Warrant Officer Gordon-Powell was the navigator of a bomber aircraft that was shot down over Liege.  He at once took steps to evade capture and joined up with some members of an underground movement who attempted to take him to Bordeaux.  Whilst passing through Paris, the party was ambushed and Warrant Officer Gordon-Powell was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Stalag IVB.  During his captivity, covering a period of nearly two years, he made several attempts to escape.  On four occasions he managed to travel some miles from the camp and only by experiencing bad luck was he recaptured.  His fifth effort was made in company with another prisoner in January 1945.  Both managed to reach Berlin, having secured civilian clothing and, posing as French workers, they ultimately reached the Danish frontier where, owing to a dense blizzard, they inadvertently walked into a German customs guard who arrested them.  Warrant Officer Gordon-Powell was sent back to Stalag IVB where he was told that if he attempted to escape again he would be shot.  In spite of this threat he made a sixth effort on 21st March 1945.  With the same companion who accompanied him on the previous attempt he again reached Berlin.  Here the two escapers made contact with a Dutch doctor who fed and hid them for two days.  Both subsequently travelled by train to the Danish frontier which they crossed by wading through a swamp which almost enveloped them.  After walking some miles into Denmark they sought refuge with a resistance movement the members of which facilitated their passage to Sweden.  Both reached Helsingborg where they were met by the Danish Vice-Consul who arranged for their journey to Stockholm in April 1945.