Halifax HX270 (20/12/1943)

Halifax HX270 was one of twenty one No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack Frankfurt on the night of the 20th / 21st December 1943.

It was equipped with H2S, Fishpond, Monica, GPI and API and carrying 6 x 1000lb TI. Its designated Path Finder role was Blind Marker.

Its seven-man crew comprised:

  • James Henry Wright (Pilot)
  • Sidney Colin Rive Mackie (Navigator)
  • Harold Matthews (Air Bomber)
  • William Robert John Dingle (Wireless Operator)
  • Thomas Andrew Robson (Air Gunner)
  • Winston Barrington (Air Gunner)
  • William McRae Sinclair (Flight Engineer)

The route was: 5130N 0440E, 5032N 0510E, 5015N 0730E, Target, 5005N 0902E, 5030N 0900E, 5032N 0510E, 5130N 0440E, Hornsea

HX270 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 21st December 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 20th / 21st December 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. 348 (24/02/1944) reported JH Wright, SCR Mackie and TA Robson as “missing”
  • Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 433 (12/10/1944) reported SCR Mackie and TA Robson “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:

  • 02/02/1944: Information received from Air Ministry that F/L Wright and F/L Mackie, missing on 20th / 21st December 1943, were killed. Also that Sgt Barrington was captured
  • 18/02/1944: Information received from Air Ministry that WRJ Dingle, missing on 20th / 21st December 1943, is a prisoner of war
  • 19/02/1944:  Information received from Air Ministry that WM Sinclair, missing on 20th / 21st December 1943, is a prisoner of war
  • 26/10/1944: Information received from Air Ministry that H Matthews, missing on 20th / 21st December 1943, is a prisoner of war

Crew members who survived the crash and were captured / imprisoned

H Matthews, WRJ Dingle, W Barrington and WM Sinclair 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:

  • H Matthews (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
    • Evaded before being captured
    • Captured: (May 1944?)
    • Imprisoned: Stalag Luft I, Barth 
    • Repatriated
  • WRJ Dingle (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
    • Captured:
    • Imprisoned: Stalag IVB (Mühlberg)
    • Repatriated
  • W Barrington (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
    • Captured:
    • Imprisoned: Stalag IVB (Mühlberg)
    • Repatriated:
  • WM Sinclair (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
    • Evaded before being captured
    • Captured: (January 1944?)
    • Imprisoned: Stalag IVB (Mühlberg)
    • 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 show that the remains of JH Wright, TA Robson and SCR Mackie were located at Brusthem (St Trond) Cemetery

hx270-concentration

Their remains were exhumed, identified and concentrated (reinterred) on 25th March 1947 as follows:

  • MACKIE, SIDNEY COLIN RIVE Flight Lieutenant ‘NZ.413713’ HEVERLEE WAR CEMETERY Coll. grave 5. B. 20-22.
  • ROBSON, THOMAS ANDREW Pilot Officer ‘NZ.414893’ HEVERLEE WAR CEMETERY Coll. grave 5. B. 20-22.
  • WRIGHT, JAMES HENRY Flight Lieutenant ‘NZ.414717’ HEVERLEE WAR CEMETERY Coll. grave 5. B. 20-22.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

WR Chorley (Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War)

Believed to have crashed to the east of St Trond (Belgium)

Extract from an article entitled “BOB DINGLE – PATHFINDER AT WAR AND IN THE ANTARCTIC” by Herbert J.G. Dartnall

Halifax HX270 (M) took off at 1730 hours. Unfortunately, soon after take-off their airborne, ground scanning radar system (H2S) failed, so that they were unable to drop their target markers. Despite this they continued on and bombed the target with high explosives and incendiaries. Up until then the flight had been uneventful and no damage had been experienced from either the ground defences (flak) or night-fighters. However, on their way back home and shortly after crossing the German/Belgian border at an altitude of about 20 000 feet, one of the inner engines inexplicably caught fire. All attempts to extinguish the fire were unsuccessful, and when the fire spread to the main fabric of the aeroplane close to where the marker flares were stored, the pilot had no option but to give the order to bail-out.

Bob vividly recalled the barks and growls of countless dogs thousands of feet below as he floated down, disturbed by the sound of hundreds of aeroplane engines passing overhead. He landed alone in a ploughed field and after burying his parachute he began to walk in a SW direction until 0500 hours next morning. He spent the day hidden in a haystack near Wellen, Belgium, and at dusk he began walking again in a SW direction. About half an hour later he spoke to a farmer who took him home. Three hours later a man arrived with a bicycle who took him to a small town where he spent the night with a family whose name was never known to him. On the morning of 22nd December he cycled to a farm where he met up with his flight engineer, Flight Sergeant William (Bill) Sinclair. Two members of this unnamed family then cycled with them to Neder Rechem some miles away, where they spent the night with the leader of the local underground. They had successfully linked up with the escape chain run by Walthère Dewé – a noted resistance leader during both world wars who was shot and killed some weeks later. Next day Bill and Bob caught a tram to Liège where they spent the next 13 days in hiding. On 5 January 1944 they were joined by Sgt H.L. Pike, an RAF Observer (navigator). The following day they were to be taken by train to Brussels but a random search of their train by the Gestapo revealed that although their identity cards passed scrutiny they did not have work permits. Taken prisoner, they were initially held in the civilian prison at Liège for six days in solitary confinement. Bob was sent to Stalag IVB (Mühlberg) where he spent the rest of the war as a POW.

Stalag IVB was liberated by the Russians on 23 April 1945 but it was several days before Bob and the rest of his fellow POWs were allowed to cross the River Elbe and make contact with other allied troops. Their return journey to the United Kingdom was in three stages – they marched/ walked most of the distance from Mühlberg to Halle; air transport from Halle to Brussels; then air transport from Brussels to an airfield near Harwell, Oxfordshire.

Published with kind permission of the author

W Barrington

Various sources record that Flight Sergeant Winston Barrington’s mother, (who lived in Germany with his German stepfather) regularly visited him at the prison, with the cooperation of the camp authorities. Eventually, she was smuggled into the camp and lived with the prisoners until it was liberated,