Halifax HX324 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:
- John Johnstone Jagger (Pilot)
- John Ralph Humberstone (Navigator)
- Thomas Patrick McGarry (Air Bomber)
- Donald Smedley (Wireless Operator)
- Eric Hie (Air Gunner)
- Nelson John Rapere (Air Gunner)
- William Percival (Flight Engineer)
The route was 5430N 0500E, 5430N 0640E, 5320N 0931E, 5247N 1200E, Target, 5155N 1118E, 5320N 0931E, 5430N 0640E, 5430N 0500E
HX324 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 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”.
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. 364 (Flight 30/03/1944) reported JJ Jagger, E Hie, NJ Rapere and W Percival as “missing”
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 497 (Flight 20/04/1945) reported JJ Jagger and E Hie “previously reported missing” as “now presumed killed in action”
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 502 (Flight 10/05/1945) reported NJ Rapere “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:
- 29/02/1944: Information received from Air Ministry that JR Humberstone and D Smedley, missing on 21st / 22nd January 1944, were prisoners of war.
- 30/03/1944: Information received from Air Ministry that McGarry, missing on 21st / 22nd January 1944, was a prisoner of war (but wounded)
Crew members who survived the crash and were captured / imprisoned
TP McGarry, JR Humberstone and D Smedley 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:
- TP McGarry
- Captured: Dannenberg 23/01/1944 (Injured)
- Hospitalised: Stalag XC, Bremervorde Jan-44 to Mar-44
- Hospitalised: Luftwaffe Lazerette, Wismar Mar-44 to Apr-44
- Interrogated: Dulag Luft, Frankfurt Apr-44
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft I, Barth Apr-44 to May-45
- Hospitalised: POW Hospital, New Brandenburg ?
- Repatriated: May-45
- JR Humberstone
- Captured: Dannenberg 23/01/1944
- Interrogated: Dulag Luft, Frankfurt Jan-44 to Feb-44
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft III, Sagan Feb-44 to Jan-45
- Imprisoned: Marlag und Milag Nord, Westertimke (Tarmstedt) Feb-45 to Apr-45
- Repatriated: May-45
- D Smedley
- Captured: Bourge-Bie-Magdeburg 23/01/1944
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft VI, Heydekrug Feb-44 to Jul-44
- Imprisoned: Stalag 357, Thorn Jul-44 to Aug-44
- Imprisoned: Stalag 357, Fallingbostel Aug-44 to Apr-45
- Repatriated: May-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.
The MRES report shows that the remains of JJ Jagger, E Hie, NJ Rapere and W Percival were located at Lüchow and exhumed on 27th May 1947. It was not possible to positively identify any of the airmen and, as such, the remains were concentrated (reinterred) at Soltau, Becklingen and their names recorded on the Runnymede Memorial as follows:
- HIE, ERIC Flight Sergeant ‘1103376’ Panel 218.
- JAGGER, JOHN JOHNSTONE Squadron Leader ‘123520’ Panel 200.
- PERCIVAL, WILLIAM Flight Sergeant ‘621831’ Panel 221.
- RAPERE, NELSON JOHN Flight Sergeant ‘633193’ Panel 221.
Note: The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has advised that the grave(s) at Soltau, Becklingen would have a headstone marked “An airman of the 1939-1945 War” with the inscription “Known unto God” at the bottom. It also advised that there are 47 headstones with this inscription at Becklingen.
Theo Boiten (Nachtjagd Combat Archive)
Nightfighter Claim: Hptm. Eduard Jacob, 3./NJG2, 22.30
The MRES team established that the aircraft crashed 1/2 km W of Rehbeck, Germany and an eye witness report in their findings stated: “A four engine aircraft was observed approaching Rehbeck from the Southeast at approximately 22:00 on 21st January 1944. It was flying at a very low altitude and when about ½km west of Rehbeck at a height of approximately 100 metres it exploded in the air. The bombs had been jettisoned prior to the explosion. Cannon fire was heard and it is assumed that the aircraft was shot down by a nightfighter. The aircraft burned for approximately ½ hour. Debris from the wreckage was scattered over an area of about 500m in diameter. On the following day the Luftwaffe took the remains of the wreckage to Salzwedel. The remains of the aircrew were taken to Lüchow by the Burgermeister of Weitsche and buried in the new cemetery, Lüchow”.