Halifax JB785 (20/04/1943)

Halifax JB785 was one of thirteen No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack Stettin on the night of the 20th / 21st April 1943.

It was carrying 2 x 1000lb GP and 5 target indicators. Its designated Path Finder role was Visual Marker

Its seven-man crew comprised:

  • WS Sherk (Pilot)
  • RG Morrison (Navigator)
  • MS Keon (Air Bomber)
  • GG McGladrey (Wireless Operator)
  • GFD Murray (Air Gunner)
  • HT Woonton (Air Gunner)
  • DG Bebensee (Flight Engineer)

The squadron’s Operations Record Book shows “At 01.08 aircraft was hit by incendiaries dropped by aircraft coned above. Incendiaries fell through pilot’s escape hatch, setting pilot’s seat on fire and exploding in engineer’s compartment. Aircraft was out of control and pilot gave order to abandon aircraft and crew proceeded to do this. Pilot then managed to bring aircraft under partial control and cancelled order to bale out but found that rear gunner and bomb aimer had already abandoned aircraft”

The aircraft landed back at Graveley at 06.33

Wartime activities relating to the loss

On 21st April 1943 the squadron informed Bomber Command, the Air Ministry and the RAF Records Office that two of the crew (MS Keon and HT Woonton) were missing.

A telegram, along with a follow up letter from the Commanding Officer, was sent to the next of kin of MS Keon and HT Woonton advising them that he was “missing as the result of air operations on 20th / 21st April 1943”.

An example of the telegram that was sent

Their 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 provided No. 35 Squadron with the following information regarding the crew:

  • 01/06/1943: Information received from Air Ministry that F/S Keon, missing on 20th / 21st April 1943 is a prisoner of war
  • 08/06/1943: Information received from Air Ministry that F/S Woonton, missing on 20th / 21st April 1943 is a prisoner of war

Crew members who were captured / imprisoned

MS Keon and HT Woonton 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:

  • MS Keon (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
    • Captured:
    • Imprisoned: Stalag Luft I, Stalag Luft VI, Stalag 357
    • Repatriated:
  • HT Woonton (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
    • Captured:
    • Imprisoned: Stalag Luft I, Stalag Luft VI, Stalag 357
    • Repatriated:

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Halifax JB785

The AM Form 78 (Movement Card) shows that the aircraft was classified as Cat FB/AC. It was repaired on site and returned to the squadron on 16th May 1943

The AM Form 1180 (Accident Card) shows “Aircraft struck by incendiary bomb, jamming the controls – two of the crew baled out”

Award Citations

WS Sherk was awarded the Bar to the Distinguished Flying Cross and RG Morrison, GG McGladrey and DG Bebensee the Distinguished Flying Medal for their actions during the incident.

The citation reads:

One night in April, 1943, P/O. Sherk, F/O’s McGladrey and Morrison, and Sgt. Bebensee were pilot, wireless operator, navigator and flight engineer respectively in an aircraft which attacked Stettin. Whilst over the target area the bomber was struck by falling incendiary bombs. One of them, which lodged behind the pilot’s seat, jammed the aileron and rudder controls. Flames and smoke rapidly filled the cockpit, and P/O Sherk’s clothing caught alight. The aircraft began to lose height, diving steeply. P/O Sherk endeavoured to regain control, whilst F/O McGladrey attempted to subdue the flames. Meanwhile Sgt. Bebensee struggled to free the locked controls. Just as the situation appeared hopeless the pilot regained control, and a course was set for home as F/O McGladrey extinguished the fire. Much of the navigational equipment had been lost, but F/O Morrison, displaying great skill, was able to plot accurate courses. Sgt. Bebensee, who worked untiringly for three-quarters of an hour, succeeded in freeing the controls. Eventually P/O Sherk flew the badly damaged bomber back to this country.