Halifax LW326 (25/11/1943)

Halifax LW326 was one of twenty one No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack Frankfurt on the night of the 25th / 26th November 1943.

It was equipped with Monica, IFF, Gee, Nav Aid Y (H2S) and Fishpond and was carrying 3 x 1000lbs MC and various flares and target indicators. Its designated Path Finder role was Visual Marker

Its seven-man crew comprised:

  • DEA Lander (Pilot)
  • NSF Palmer (Navigator)
  • GF Collier (Air Bomber)
  • AJ Wickersham (Wireless Operator)
  • JG Steele (Air Gunner)
  • DAA Swain (Air Gunner)
  • DPM Thomson (Flight Engineer)

The route was 50°20’N 01°30’E, 50°15’N 08°00’E, Frankfurt, 50°00’N 09°00E, 49°45’N 09°00’E, 50°20’N 01°30’E, Beachy Head, Reading

LW326 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 26th 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 25th / 26th 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. 350 (Flight 02/03/1944) reported AJ Wickersham as “missing”
  • Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 468 (Flight 08/02/1945) reported AJ Wickersham “previously reported missing” as “now presumed killed in action”
  • Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 483 (Flight 22/03/1945) reported DAA Swain “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:

  • 18/03/1944: Information received from Air Ministry that AJ Wickersham, missing on 25th / 26th November 1943, was killed

Crew members who survived the crash and were captured / imprisoned

DEA Lander,  NSF Palmer, GF Collier, DPM Thomson and JG Steele 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:

  • DEA Lander
    • Captured: Malmedy 26/11/1943
    • Imprisoned: Stalag Luft I, Barth Dec-43 to May-45 (Liberated)
    • Repatriated: May-45
  • NSF Palmer
    • Captured: Malmedy 26/11/1943
    • Imprisoned: Stalag Luft I, Barth Dec-43 to May-45 (Liberated)
    • Repatriated: May-45
  • GF Collier
    • Captured: Malmedy 26/11/1943
    • Imprisoned: Stalag Luft I, Barth Dec-43 to May-45 (Liberated)
    • Repatriated: May-45
  • JG Steele
    • Captured: Malmedy 26/11/1943
    • Imprisoned: Stalag IV-B, Muhlberg Dec-43 to Apr-45 (Liberated)
    • Repatriated: May-45
  • DPM Thomson
    • Captured: Malmedy 26/11/1943
    • Interrogated: Dulag Luft, Frankfurt Dec-43
    • Imprisoned: Stalag IV-B, Muhlberg Dec-43 to Apr-45 (Liberated)
    • Repatriated: May-45

Post-War search for the missing crew member(s)

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 DAA Swain’s remains were located at the Henri Chapelle US Cemetery. However, the MRES officer recorded that the remains had initially been buried in the Military Cemetery at Malmedy, before being exhumed and moved by US Army personnel.

lw326-concentration
His remains were exhumed, identified and concentrated (reinterred) at Hotton War Cemetery on 29th April 1947 as follows:

  • SWAIN, DONALD ARTHUR ALFRED Flight Sergeant ‘647531’ Grave IV. C. 3.

The MRES report relating to the loss suggests that AJ Wickersham’s remains were initially “found in a field at Born in December 1943” and buried at a churchyard in Born (Liege).

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has advised that its records confirm that his remains were located at Recht (Born) Communal Cemetery, Liege

His remains were exhumed, identified and concentrated (reinterred) at Hotton War Cemetery as follows:

  • WICKERSHAM, ALBERT JAMES Flight Sergeant ‘1332147’ Grave VI. G. 18.


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Theo Boiten (Nachtjagd Combat Archive)

Nightfighter Claim(s): Maj. Wilhelm Herget, Stab1./NJG4, 5km NW St Vith, 5800m, 03.35 and Lt Wilhelm Henseler, 4./NJG1, Medell, 6km NE St Vith, 3800m, 03.46. Both claims were confirmed

Bomber Command Loss Card

  • All baled out of aircraft except rear gunner who was killed
  • 2 Unknown with 5 POW XX 26/11 XX XX XX
  • On 25/11, D Swain (rear gunner) was killed when the aircraft crashed. Confirmed by Germans and Swain deceased, buried Malmedy
  • Wickersham buried 27/12 in Born (XX with whole crew of 408 Squadron DS578 20/12)