Halifax HR985 was one of twenty four No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack the railway and marshalling yards at Cannes on the night of the 11th / 12th November 1943.
It was equipped with Gee, Nav Aid Y (H2S), Fishpond and Monica and was carrying 2 x 1000lbs GP and various target indicators. Its designated Path Finder role was Visual Marker
Its seven-man crew (plus a 2nd Dickie) comprised:
- Ronald William Daniel (Pilot)
- John Muir Candlish (2nd Dickie)
- John Wilfred Harrison (Navigator)
- Leslie Dennis Hosking (Air Bomber)
- Albert John Thomson (Wireless Operator)
- Donald Wood (Air Gunner)
- Frank George Bell (Air Gunner)
- William Phipps (Flight Engineer)
The route was as follows: Base, Selsey Bill, 49°20N 00°00E, 47°25N 01°00E, 43°18N 06°35E, Cannes, 43°40N 07°12E, 47°35N 01°20E, 49°20N 00°00E, Selsey Bill, Base
HR985 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 12th November 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 11th / 12th November 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. 335 (Flight 27/01/1944) reported JM Candlish, LD Hosking, JW Harrison, AJ Thomson, FG Bell, D Wood and W Phipps as “missing”
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 449 (Flight 07/12/1944) reported LD Hosking “previously reported missing” as “now presumed killed in action”
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 491 (Flight 19/04/1945) reported JM Candlish, JW Harrison and FG Bell “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:
- 19/01/1944: Information received from Air Ministry that F/O Wood and F/S Bell, missing on 11th / 12th November 1943, were killed
- 06/04/1944: Information received from Air Ministry that P/O Daniel, missing on 11th / 12th November 1943, returned to the UK on 24th March 1944
- 03/05/1944: Information received from Air Ministry that JW Harrison, missing on 11th / 12th November 1943, was killed
- 16/06/1944: Information received through German Official Totenliste from Air Ministry that F/L Candlish, P/O Harrison, F/S Thomson and Sgt. Phipps, missing on 11th / 12th November 1943, were killed.
Crew members who survived the crash and evaded capture
RW Daniel survived the crash and evaded capture as follows:
- Evasion Route: France (Shelburn Line, Operation Bonaparte V)
- Repatriated: Dartmouth 24/03/1944
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 has confirmed that its records show that the remains of JM Candlish, LD Hosking, JW Harrison, AJ Thomson, FG Bell, D Wood and W Phipps were located at Lisieux Civil Cemetery (Calvados).
Their remains were exhumed, formally identified and then concentrated (reinterred) at St Desir War Cemetery as follows:
- WOOD, DONALD, Flying Officer ‘151327’ Grave VII. E. 1.
- CANDLISH, JOHN MUIR, Flight Lieutenant ‘J/4894’ Grave VII. E. 2.
- THOMSON, ALBERT JOHN, Flight Sergeant ‘1077841’ Grave VII. E. 3.
- BELL, FRANK GEORGE, Warrant Officer Class II ‘R/62147’ Grave VII. E. 4.
- HARRISON, JOHN WILFRED, Pilot Officer ‘J/18220’ Grave VII. E. 5.
- PHIPPS, W [William], Sergeant ‘622605’ Grave VII. E. 6.
- HOSKING, LESLIE DENNIS, Flight Lieutenant ‘136064’ Grave VII. E. 7.
Theo Boiten (Nachtjagd Combat Archive)
Nightfighter Claim: Uffz. Herbert Treff, 2./JG2, Lisieux, 4500m, 00.58. (Claim not listed in OKL/RLM confirmed Abschussubersicht 2./JG2)
Bomber Command Loss Card
Wording on reverse of card
Homebound, straight and level at 15,000 feet, rear gunner reported “aircraft in flames flying astern of them” I dived to port and saw the aircraft on fire about 1 mile astern. Levelled out at 14,000 feet at 200 knots, attempted to reach aircraft a mile or two ahead at 14,000 feet. A few seconds later attacked by nightfighter. Rear Gunner did not observe approach, no indication from fishpond or monica fishpond xx xx xx. Pilot saw yellow tracers passing cockpit on starboard side without hitting Halifax. Turned to starboard and dived slightly. Attack apparently on starboard quarter below and astern bringing Halifax into line of fire. Cannon shell entered cockpit xx xx xx xx xx fire started. Cables apparently severed at base of control column but rudder undamaged. Pilot gave order to abandon aircraft. Pilot left through top hatch – descent occupied about ½ minute. Nightfighter seen to crash. Halifax crashed and exploded. Pilot landed near Gacé (48°47‘N 00°15‘E)