Halifax HR880 was one of twenty two No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack Turin on the night of the 16th / 17th August 1943.
It was equipped with Gee, Navigational Aid Y [H2S], Monica and Window.
Its seven-man crew comprised:
- Patrick Archibald Haggarty (Pilot)
- Ronald Denis Ferguson (Navigator)
- Morris John Alfred White (Air Bomber)
- Ronald Leonard Hooper (Wireless Operator)
- Alan Henry John Sumner (Air Gunner)
- Robert William Griffiths (Air Gunner)
- George Connelly Mutch (Flight Engineer)
The route was Selsey Bill, 4822N 0020E, North end of Lac du Bourget, Target, South end of Lac du Bourget, 4750N 0000E, 4916N 0040W, Selsey Bill
HR880 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 17th August 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 16th / 17th August 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. 293 (Flight 14/10/1943) reported PA Haggarty, MJA White, RW Griffiths, AHJ Sumner and GC Mutch as “missing”
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 293 (Flight 14/10/1943) reported MJA White, RW Griffiths, AHJ Sumner and GC Mutch “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:
- 08/02/1944: Information received from Air Ministry that RD Ferguson, missing on 16th / 17th August 1943, is safe in a neutral country
- 27/10/1944: Information received from Air Ministry that RD Ferguson, missing on 16th / 17th August 1943, arrived in the UK on 6th October 1944
Crew members who survived the crash and were captured / imprisoned
RD Ferguson survived the crash and was captured / hospitalised. It is understood that he escaped from Turin Hospital on 8th November 1943.
His evasion report, which was completed on his return to the UK, shows the following details:
- RD Ferguson (Report yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
- Imprisoned: Turin (Escaped from hospital 08/11/1943 and evaded; no details available)
- Repatriated: Oct-44
RL Hooper survived the crash and was captured, interrogated and imprisoned for the remainder of the war.
His POW Liberation Questionnaire, which was completed as part of the repatriation process in 1945, shows the following details:
- RL Hooper (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
- Imprisoned: Stalag 357
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 suggest that the remains of PA Haggarty, MJA White, RW Griffiths, AHJ Sumner and GC Mutch were located at Torino
Their remains were exhumed, identified and concentrated (reinterred) at MILAN WAR CEMETERY in October 1945 as follows:
- GRIFFITHS, ROBERT WILLIAMS, Flying Officer ‘116501’ Joint grave I. C. 1-2.
- HAGGARTY, PATRICK ARCHIBALD, Squadron Leader ‘42500’ Grave I. B. 10.
- MUTCH, GEORGE CONNELLY, Sergeant ‘575761’ Grave I. B. 8.
- SUMNER, ALAN HENRY JOHN Flight Lieutenant ‘126845’ Joint grave I. C. 1-2.
- WHITE, MORRIS JOHN ALFRED, Flight Lieutenant ‘120889’ Grave I. B. 12.
Bomber Command Loss Card
Cause / Location of Loss
The aircraft crashed at Front Canavese, shot down by Lieutenant Pilot Cesare Balli, 232 Squadron (59th Interceptor Group). Balli took off from Venegono at 00:48 in Reggiane Re. 2001 (CN Version) Serial No. MM90756.
A newspaper article from the time (17th / 18th August 1943) shows the wreckage of the Halifax, along with a photograph showing some of the damage caused during the attacks on Turin. It should be borne in mind that this was a wartime publication and therefore deeply critical of the allied bombing raids.
Information and newspaper cutting courtesy of Luca Gabriele Merli and Katia Ottone