Halifax W7873 (16/04/1943)

Halifax W7873 was one of ten No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack Pilsen on the night of the 16th / 17th April 1943.

It was equipped with Nav Aid Y (H2S) and was carrying 4 x 250lb and 24 Flares

Its seven-man crew comprised:

  • Wyndham Rhydian Owen (Pilot)
  • John Reid Martyn (Navigator)
  • George Cruickshank (Air Bomber)
  • David Ronald Bradley (Wireless Operator)
  • Cyril Bourne (Air Gunner)
  • Joseph William Young (Air Gunner)
  • William George Allen (Flight Engineer)

The route was Cayeux, 4937N 0205E, 4920N 0700E, 4855N 1230E, Pilsen, 4950N 0550E, 4937N 0205E, 5010N 0130E

W7873 failed to return and the squadron’s Operations Record Book shows ” This aircraft is missing. No messages received.”

Wartime activities relating to the loss

On 17th April 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 16th / 17th April 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. 243 (Flight 17/06/1943) reported G Cruickshank,
    JR Martyn and C Bourne as “missing”
  • Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 324 (Flight 23/12/1943) reported JW Young “previously reported missing believed killed in action” as “now presumed killed in action”; also G Cruickshank and C Bourne “previously reported missing” as “now presumed killed in action”
  • Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 328 (Flight 06/01/1944) reported JR Martyn “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:

  • 01/06/1943: Information received from Air Ministry that F/L Owen, missing on 16th / 17th April 1943 is a prisoner of war; also that Sgt Young was killed
  • 22/06/1943: F/S Bradley and F/S Allen, missing on 16th / 17th April 1943, returned to the UK
  • 23/07/1943: Information received from Air Ministry that P/O Cruickshank, Sgt Martyn and F/S Bourne, missing on 16th / 17th April 1943 were killed

Crew members who survived the crash and evaded capture

DR Bradley and WG Allen survived the crash and evaded captured.

Their Evasion Reports, which were completed on their return to the UK, show the following details:

  • DR Bradley
    • Baled Out / Landed: Nr Villiers Le Thour
    • Evasion Route: France / Spain / Gibraltar
    • Repatriated: Hendon 22/06/1943
  • WG Allen
    • Baled Out / Landed: Nr Villiers Le Thour (Sprained Ankle)
    • Evasion Route: France / Spain / Gibraltar
    • Repatriated: Hendon 22/06/1943

Crew members who survived the crash and were captured / imprisoned

WR Owen survived the crash and was captured, interrogated and imprisoned for the remainder of the war.

His POW Liberation Questionnaire, which was completed as part of the repatriation process at 106 Personnel Reception Centre (RAF Cosford) in 1945, shows the following details:

  • WR Owen (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
    • Captured:
    • Imprisoned: Stalag Luft III
    • 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 do not show where the remains of G Cruickshank, JR Martyn, C Bourne and JW Young were located but show that they were concentrated (reinterred) at LIESSE COMMUNAL CEMETERY as follows:

  • BOURNE, CYRIL Flight Sergeant ‘933423’  Mil. Plot. Row A. Coll. grave 3-6.
  • CRUICKSHANK, GEORGE Pilot Officer ‘136732’ Mil. Plot. Row A. Coll. grave 3-6.
  • MARTYN, JOHN REID Flight Sergeant ‘R/133280’ Mil. Plot. Row A. Coll. grave 3-6.
  • YOUNG, JOSEPH WILLIAM Sergeant ‘1216336’ Mil. Plot. Row A. Coll. grave 3-6

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Theo Boiten (Nachtjagd Combat Archive)

Nightfighter Claim: Lt. Helmut Bergmann, Stab III./NJG4, Nr Sevigny 15km NW Rethel (France) (Krebs), 5800m, 23.03

Bomber Command Loss Card

  • Outward bound whilst flying straight and level at 16000ft in Champagne area, burst of flak under aircraft at 22.56. More text which needs deciphering

DR Bradley / WG Allen Evasion Report

About 22.55hrs, on our way to the target, we were hit by flak about 30km west of Reims. The aircraft was set on fire and went out of control. The captain gave the order to stand by to bale out, but we heard no further word from him afterwards. We baled out after G Cruickshank.

Evasion Report Numbers (National Archives)

  • WO228/3313/1252 DR Bradley
  • WO228/3313/1251 WG Allen