Halifax W7851 was one of eleven No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack Nuremberg on the night of the 8th / 9th March 1943.
It was equipped with H2S and was carrying 4 x 250lb bombs and 24 Flares. Its designated Path Finder role was Groundmarker.
Its seven-man crew comprised:
- John Hilton Brown (Pilot)
- Gomer Donald Waterer (Navigator)
- Albert George Murray Coulam (Air Bomber)
- David Aitken Sibbald (Wireless Operator)
- Patrick Flynn (Air Gunner)
- Stanley Seymour Vinicombe (Air Gunner)
- Alan Tacey (Flight Engineer)
The route was Pevensey, Cayeux, 4917N 0826E, Nurnburg, 4910N 1100E, 4917N 0826E, Cayeux, Pevensey
The squadrons’s Operations Record Book shows “This aircraft failed to return”
Wartime activities relating to the loss
On 9th March 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 8th / 9th March 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. 226 (Flight 29/04/1943) reported JH Brown, P Flynn and SS Vinicombe as “missing”
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 316 (Flight 09/12/1943) reported SS Vinicombe “previously reported missing” as “now presumed killed in action”
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 318 (Flight 16/12/1943) reported P Flynn “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:
- 06/04/1943: Information received that S/L Waterer, missing on 8th March 1943 is a prisoner of war
- 09/04/1943: Information received that F/O Brown, F/S Flynn, F/S Vinicombe were killed. Sgt Tacey and F/S Coulam of the same crew, are prisoners of war.
- 01/06/1943: Information received from Air Ministry that F/S Sibbald has arrived in the UK
Crew members who survived the crash and evaded capture
DA Sibbald survived the crash and evaded capture as follows:
- Evasion Route: France / Spain / Gibraltar (Comet Passage 43 [No. 96])
- Repatriated: Hendon 25/05/1943
Crew members who survived the crash and were captured / imprisoned
AGM Coulam, GD Waterer and A Tacey 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:
- AGM Coulam
- Captured: Near Arras 09/03/1943 (Injured)
- Hospitalised: Luftwaffe Hospital, Arras Mar-43
- Hospitalised: Hohemark, Frankfurt Mar-43 to Apr-43
- Hospitalised: Obermasfeld Apr-43 to May-43
- Hospitalised: Kloister Haina May-43 to Oct-43
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft VI Heydekrug Dec 43 to Jul-44
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft 357 Oerbke July-44 to May-45
- Repatriated: May-45
- GD Waterer
- Captured: Near Cambrai 09/03/1943
- Interrogated: Dulag Luft Oberursel, Frankfurt Mar-43 to Apr-43
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft III, Sagan Apr-43 to Jan-45
- Imprisoned: ? Tarmstedt Feb-45 to Apr-45
- Repatriated: May-45
- A Tacey
- Captured: North of Cambrai 10/03/1943
- Imprisoned: Stalag 344, Lamsdorf Mar-43 to Jan-45
- Work Camp Brunswick Jan-45 to Apr-45
- Repatriated: Apr-45
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 Brown, SS Vinicombe and P Flynn were concentrated (reinterred) at CAMBRAI (ROUTE DE SOLESMES) COMMUNAL CEMETERY as follows:
- BROWN, JOHN HILTON Flying Officer ‘10928’ Plot 1. Row B. Grave 1.
- FLYNN, PATRICK Flight Sergeant ‘1174414’ Plot 1. Row B. Grave 2.
- VINICOMBE, STANLEY SEYMOUR Flight Sergeant ‘413286’ Plot 1. Row B. Grave 3.
Theo Boiten (Nachtjagd Combat Archive)
Nightfighter Claim: Oblt. Ludwig Meister, I./NJG4, Ors nr Le Cateau-Cambresis (France) (7 B), 3300m, 00.30
Information on activities at the time of the loss
A letter (dated 2nd September 1943) from the Air Secretary to the family of F/S Vinicombe shows the following information:
[Courtesy of Errol Martyn]
Evasion Report Numbers (National Archives)
- WO208/3313/1214 DA Sibbald