Halifax HR878 (31/08/1943)

Halifax HR878 was one of eighteen No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack Berlin on the night of the 31st August / 1st September 1943.

It was equipped with Gee, H2S and Monica and was probably carrying 2  x TI red LB, 2 x TI red, 2 x 1000lb GP and 2 x 500 MC. Its designated Pathfinder role was as a Blind Marker.

Its seven-man crew comprised:

  • Wilfred Surtees (Pilot)
  • George Newsham (Navigator)
  • Henry George Wilfred Wooley (Air Bomber)
  • Herbert Arthur Penny (Wireless Operator)
  • James Russell Griffin (Air Gunner)
  • Thomas Henry Sutton (Air Gunner)
  • Edward James Brown (Flight Engineer)

The route was 5315N 0400E, North Texel, 5147N 1108E, Berlin, 5100N 2930E, 5030N 0720E, Cayeux, Beachy Head.

HR878 failed to return and the squadron’s Operations Record Book shows “This aircraft is missing, nothing being heard from it after take off”

Wartime activities relating to the loss

On 1st September 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 31st August / 1st September 1943”.

An example of the telegram that was sent

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. 307 (Flight 18/11/1943) reported G Newsham, JR Griffin, TH Sutton and EJ Brown as “missing”
  • Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 416 (Flight 24/08/1944) reported G Newsham, JR Griffin, TH Sutton and EJ Brown “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:

  • 10/10/1943: Information received from Air Ministry that P/O Wooley, missing on 31st August / 1st September 1943, is a prisoner of war
  • 16/10/1943: Information received from Air Ministry that S/L Surtees, missing on 31st August / 1st September 1943, is a prisoner of war
  • 23/11/1943: Information received from Air Ministry that F/O Penny, missing on 31st August / 1st September 1943, returned safely to the UK on 11th November 1943

Crew members who survived the crash and evaded capture

HA Penny survived the crash and evaded capture as follows:

  • Evasion Route: Holland / Belgium / France / Spain / Gibraltar (Comet Passage 66 [No. 175]
  • Repatriated: Whitchurch 11/11/1943

Crew members who survived the crash and were captured / imprisoned

W Surtees and  HGW Wooley 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:

  • W Surtees (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
    • Captured:
    • Imprisoned: Stalag Luft III, Sagan
    • Repatriated:
  •  HGW Wooley (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
    • Captured:
    • Imprisoned: Stalag Luft III, Sagan
    • Repatriated:

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 do not show where the remains of G Newsham, JR Griffin, TH Sutton and EJ Brown were located but show that they were concentrated (reinterred) at KUINRE GENERAL CEMETERY as follows:

  • BROWN, EDWARD JAMES Pilot Officer ‘52566’  Row 22. Grave 40D.
  • GRIFFIN, JAMES RUSSELL Flight Sergeant ‘848343’ Row 22. Grave 40E.
  • NEWSHAM, GEORGE Flight Lieutenant ‘79755’ Row 22. Grave 40C.
  • SUTTON, THOMAS HENRY Sergeant ‘1033490’ Row 22. Grave 40B.

[Source: TracesofWar]


Theo Boiten (Nachtjagd Combat Archive)

Nightfighter Claim: Oblt. Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer, 12./NJG1, 700m N. Kuinre NW Meppel (Holland), 4500m, 22.41

World War II Allied Aircraft Crashes in The Netherlands and North Sea

  • Outbound, hit by flak, causing damage to the starboard wing; finally shot down by Oblt. Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer
  • Crashed about 1.5km east of Kuinre
  • Some small parts recovered by Royal Netherlands Air Force in 1964)

HR878 [Source http://www.airwar4045.nl]

Bomber Command Loss Card

  • Lengthy text which needs to be deciphered
  • Shot down by nightfighter from below, over Zuiderzee at 16000ft. Target not bombed, aircraft destroyed

London Gazette (08/06/1944)

HA Penny was Mentioned in Despatches as a result of his actions. The citation reads:

On 31st August 1943, Flying Officer Penny was the wireless operator (air) of a Halifax aircraft detailed to attack Berlin.  Shortly after crossing the Dutch coast the Halifax caught fire and the pilot lost control.  Flying Officer Penny, who escaped by parachute, alighted safely in a defence zone and immediately set out to avoid capture.  He overcame innumerable obstacles and, showing great determination, walked alone by day and night over very rough country.  His efforts to evade capture were rewarded and he succeeded in returning to this country on 10th November 1943.