Lancaster ND597 (24/03/1944)

Lancaster ND597 was one of fourteen No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack Berlin on the night of the 24th / 25th March 1944.

It was equipped with IFF, Gee, Nav Aid Y (H2S) and Fishpond and was carrying various Target Indicators. Its designated Path Finder role was Visual Marker.

Its seven-man crew comprised:

  • Richard Thomas Fitzgerald (Pilot)
  • John Francis Savage (Navigator)
  • William Scott Muego (Air Bomber)
  • Robert Alexander Brewington (Wireless Operator)
  • Frederick Kenneth Smith (Air Gunner)
  • Stanley Harvey Boulton (Air Gunner)
  • Cecil John Dineen (Flight Engineer)
Aircrew + ground 35sqn

The crew with their ground crew [Source: Pathfinder Museum]
Back Row L to R, Dineen, Muego, Fitzgerald, Smith, Savage, Brewington, Boulton

The route was Base, 5440N 0430E, 5515N 0940E, 5420N 1222E, 5306N 1352E, Berlin, 5205N 1300E, 5150N 1300E, 5240N 0800E, 5250N 0400E, Cromer, Base

ND597 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 25th March 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 24th / 25th March 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. 394 (Flight 15/06/1944) reported RT Fitzgerald, JF Savage, RA Brewington, FK Smith and CJ Dineen as “missing”
  • Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 525 (Flight 12/07/1945) reported RT Fitzgerald and RA Brewington “previously reported missing” as “now presumed killed in action”
  • Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 526 (Flight 19/07/1945) reported CJ Dineen “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:

  • 16/05/1944: Information received from Air Ministry that F/S Boulton and F/L Muego, missing on 24th / 25th March 1944, are prisoners of war; also that F/S Smith was killed
  • 10/11/1944: Information received from Air Ministry that P/O Savage and three unknown, missing on 24th / 25th March 1944, were killed

Crew members who survived the crash and were captured / imprisoned

WS Muego and SH Boulton 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:

  • WS Muego
    • Captured: Nr Welsleben (Wounded) 24/03/1944
    • Hospitalised: POW Reserve Lazeret, Magdeburg Mar-44 to Apr-44
    • Interrogated: Dulag Luft, Frankfurt Apr-44
    • Hospitalised: Hohemark Hospital, Frankfurt Apr-44
    • Hospitalised: POW Reserve Lazeret, Schliez? Apr-44 to Jun-44
    • Imprisoned: Stalag Luft III, Sagan Jun-44 to Jan-45
    • Imprisoned: Stalag III-A, Luckenwalde Feb-45 to May-45
    • Repatriated: May-45
  • SH Boulton
    • Captured: Nr Schonebeck  25/03/1944
    • Imprisoned: Stalag Luft VI, Heydekrug Apr-44 to Aug-44
    • Imprisoned: Stalag 357, Thorn Aug-44 to Sep-44
    • Imprisoned: Stalag 357, Fallingbostel Sep-44 to Apr-45
    • 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 the remains of RT Fitzgerald, JF Savage, RA  Brewington and CJ Dineen were located at Welsleben Cemetery.

nd597-concentration

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s records suggest that the remains of FK Smith were located at Schonebeck (Foreigners Cemetery), although other reports show his remains were located at Welsleben Cemetery (further research required).

nd597-concentration1

All the remains were exhumed, identified and concentrated (reinterred) at Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery on 2nd June 1947 as follows:

  • BREWINGTON, ROBERT ALEXANDER Warrant Officer ‘405673’ Grave 2. D. 15.
  • DINEEN, CECIL JOHN Flying Officer ‘53475’ Grave 2. D. 12.
  • FITZGERALD, RICHARD THOMAS Squadron Leader ‘295249’ Grave 2. D. 13.
  • SAVAGE, JOHN FRANCIS Flying Officer ‘426690’ Grave 2. D. 14.
  • SMITH, FREDERICK KENNETH Flight Sergeant ‘1433744’ Grave 2. D. 16.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Bomber Command Loss Card

[Source: RAF Museum]

“Muego states his aircraft was attacked and set on fire by fighters about 40 miles south west of Berlin on 24th / 25th March. The aircraft blew up about 3,000 feet. FK Smith was killed, his body being identified at Wesserbieben (Welsleben) by the M/UG S Boulton. Muego thinks that he and Boulton were the only survivors of the explosion but has no positive evidence of the death of the others”

Theo Boiten (Nachtjagd Combat Archives)

Flak Claim:  “Coned by Flakscheinw. Abt. 108, hit by 4. & 5./schw. Flak Abt. 495, exploded and crashed at Welsleben at 23.15 hrs. Note: claimed as ‘Fortress Welsleben 23.15 hrs’”

WR Chorley (Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War)

Homebound, attacked by fighter and exploded, crashing at Welsleben. The two survivors were ejected by the blast, WS Muego being badly wounded.

Extract from an article written about S Boulton  1983

The outward route was completed without incident. Flying in a 60-miles-wide echelon, the Pathfinders’ aircraft ran in over Denmark. in an effort to fox the German defences as to the destination, and then dog-legged three times to reach Berlin.

The bomb aimer. Flight Lieutenant “Jock” Scott Muego, who was the bombing leader, could not see the target at A-apple’s original height of 12.000ft. so they made further runs over the city at 6,000ft. and 3.000ft.

Still it was impossible to identify the exact target visually, as was required, so Muego concluded that the markers could not be dropped for fear of misleading the main bomber force. Instead, the 4,000lb. bomb was dumped on Berlin.

At about 23.30hrs. A-apple began climbing out of the target area and had reached 6,000ft. Search-lights came to life, licking the sky with long, brilliant fingers of intense light as they sought the Pathfinder aircraft.

This was the customary sign that German night-fighters were lurking in the vicinity. The gunners intensified their vigil.  Suddenly, a Messerschmitt 210 twin-engine fighter came in from the starboard bow, guns blazing. There was a great flash and the starboard outer engine was put out of action. The pilot calmly feathered it and continued on three engines.

Warrant Officer Boulton’s mid-upper turret had also been hit. “The top of the turret was ripped away at the rear,” he said. “I was damned lucky not to have been killed. I could see the Messerschmitt’s incendiary bullets glowing green as they ploughed into the Lancaster’s starboard wing. We hardly had time to retaliate.”

Then began the nightmare struggle for survival. He saw the starboard inner engine catch fire and the entire wing swept by flames. Cut off from the intercom system and so unable to communicate with the rest of the crew, he dropped from his turret into the fuselage.

The aircraft by this time was in a steep dive. He checked automatically to see if the rear gunner. Flight Sergeant Smith, had managed to get his parachute, which had been parked, as required, in the fuselage within arm’s reach of the turret doors. It had gone.

A-apple’s dive steepened to the point where Warrant Officer Boulton had to cling to the fuselage stanchions for support. He realised that the crew must abandon the aircraft, and rapidly. He could see no other crew members, who were doubtless heading for the escape hatch in the nose.

He grabbed his own parachute and clipped it on to his harness, and began to inch his way aft to the Lancaster’s main door.

“The dive was so steep and the speed so great that I found myself climbing up the fuselage, hanging on to the struts to pull myself upwards.” he said. “That was the most terrible part of it — a struggle for life. Frankly, in my mind I thought I had ‘had it’. I thought: This is the end’.”

Realisation that “the Reaper” was beckoning gave him strength. He reached the door, opened it, and without hesitation baled out. As he floated on his back before his parachute opened, the stricken Lancaster blew up.

The unused target indicators, he concluded, had exploded, and the bomb aimer, when they met many years afterwards, confirmed that he had been blown out of the aircraft.

The bomb aimer, Flight Lieutenant Muego. and he were the only survivors. The pilot, an Australian whose tunic bore the ribbon of the D.F.C., was killed and is buried in Berlin. The navigator, Flying Officer Jock Savage, R.A.A.F.: the Flight Engineer. Flying Officer Johnny Dineen; and the wireless operator, Warrant Officer Bob Brewington, also died.

And when he had landed safely and was trying to establish his bearings, Warrant Officer Boulton found the body of Flight Sergeant Smith, his parachute only half open. “He was lying there apparently quite peacefully,” he said. “He didn’t appear to be wounded. I stayed for a few moments remembering the long time we had been together, but there was nothing I could do.”

Extract from WS Muego’s POW Log

17th – 22nd April [1945]

For the past week we have been expecting to be relieved by the Americans from the bridgehead across the Elbe. As the week went by and nothing happened we turned to the east. The Russians opened up an attack and we expected them to cut us off. On the 20th the goons pulled out and we waited patiently. On the 21st we heard the front approach and Luckenwalde started to burn. The goons appeared to be in utter confusion and many comical instances occurred. At 6.00am on 22nd, the Russian armoured search car appeared at the camp. We were all organised and for the last 48 hours had been running things ourselves. About 11.00hours, the first Russian tanks appeared and they were very impressive. All their lorries, trucks, cars, jeeps etc are American. Their tanks however, Russian made are very fine. Each man in the spearhead which came through here was armed to the teeth. The troops, young, 18-25 are tough looking babies and their officers look very good types indeed. 

For a year now, I have been looking forward to this day. However, now that it has come I find myself somewhat disillusioned. I had expected to be full of life but find myself somewhat weary. I realise now that nothing but Margaret’s voice on the phone will suffice. How I long for that day. As it is here, I am just waiting. I hope we won’t go from Odessa – I long to go back via the Americans and France to Britain. That would be the speediest way out for us and I long for that to come true. However, until something is organised we will remain here and hope that all will be easy. I doubt it, but I hope.

At the moment our existence is merely one of uncertainty. We are free, but we are not free – rather a complex situation