Halifax HX317 was one of the twenty one No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack Magdeburg on the night of 21st / 22nd January 1944
It was equipped with IFF, Gee, Nav Aid Y (H2S), Monica and Fishpond and was carrying 3 x 1000lb GP T.Inst and various Target Indicators. Its designated Path Finder role was Blind Backer Up.
Its seven-man crew comprised:
- TW Hill (Pilot)
- VM Hanks (Navigator)
- WC Lawes (Air Bomber)
- SG Murrell (Wireless Operator)
- RC Bailey (Air Gunner)
- PR Jung (Air Gunner)
- W McCulloch (Flight Engineer)
The route was as follows; 5430N 0500E, 5430N 0640E, 5320N 0931E, 5247N 1200E, Target, 5155N 1118E, 5320N 0931E, 5430N 0640E, 5430N 0500E
HX317 failed to return and it was reported as “missing, nothing being heard of it after take off”
Wartime activities relating to the loss
On 22nd January 1944 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 21st / 22nd January 1944”.
An example of the telegram that was sent out
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. 362 (Flight 23/03/1944) reported RC Bailey and TW Hill as “missing”
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 377 (Flight 27/04/1944) reported TW Hill “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.
The squadron’s Operation Record Book shows the following information relating to the crew:
- 14/03/1944: Information received from Air Ministry that PR Jung, missing on 21st / 22nd January 1944, was a a prisoner of war and that TW Hill and RC Bailey had been killed.
- 30/03/1944: Information received from Air Ministry that SG Murrell, WC Lawes and VM Hanks, missing on 21st / 22nd January 1944, were prisoners of war.
- 19/04/1944: Information received from Air Ministry that W McCulloch, missing on 21st / 22nd January 1944, has died whilst a prisoner of war.
Crew members who survived the crash and were captured and imprisoned
VM Hanks, WC Lawes, SG Murrell and PR Jung 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:
- VM Hanks (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft VI (Heydekrug) / Stalag Luft IV (Gross Tychow)
- WC Lawes (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft VI (Heydekrug) / Stalag 357
- SG Murrell (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft VI (Heydekrug) / Stalag 357
- PR Jung (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft I, Barth
W McCulloch was captured and died in captivity (7th March 1944)
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 TW Hill and RC Bailey were located at Mockern Cemetery (Stradtfriedhof).
Their remains were exhumed, identified and concentrated (reinterred) at BERLIN 1939-1945 WAR CEMETERY on 19th July 1947 as follows:
- BAILEY, REGINALD CHARLES Flight Sergeant ‘1398336’ Grave 6. H. 6.
- HILL, THOMAS WILLIAM Pilot Officer ‘169912’ Grave 6. H. 7.
W McCulloch’s remains were located at Altengrabow Cemetery (Standortfriedhof).
His remains were exhumed, identified and concentrated (reinterred) at BERLIN 1939-1945 WAR CEMETERY on 4th December 1947 as follows:
- McCULLOCH, WILLIAM Flight Sergeant ‘1367884’ Grave 1. Z. 17.
Theo Boiten (Nachtjagd Combat Archive)
Hit by 2./schw.Flak Abt. 495 and crashed near Stegelitz at 23.22hrs. Also hit and set on fire by an unidentified Nachtjager
WR Chorley (Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War)
Shot down by a nightfighter in the target area