Lancaster ND643 (03/05/1944)

Lancaster ND643 was one of fourteen No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack Montdidier on the night of the 3rd / 4th May 1944.

It was equipped with IFF, Gee, Nav Aid Y (H2S), Fishpond and Carpet and was carrying 1 x 4000lb, 11 x 500 MC and 2 x 500 GP LD. Its designated Path Finder role was Main Force

Its seven-man crew comprised:

  • Colin Elton (Pilot)
  • John Hugh Ferguson (Navigator)
  • Reginald George Samuel Russell (Air Bomber)
  • Kenneth Anthony Oswald (Wireless Operator)
  • Howard James Norman (Air Gunner)
  • John Thomas Fenton (Air Gunner)
  • Albert Royden Tranter (Flight Engineer)

The route was Reading, Selsey, Target, 4937N 0245E, 4925N 0235E, 5017N 0020E, Reading, Base

ND643 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 4th May 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 3rd / 4th May 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. 415 (Flight 17/08/1944) reported C Elton, JH Ferguson, RGS Russell, KA Oswald, JT Fenton, HJ Norman and AR Tranter as “missing”
  • Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 509 (Flight 31/05/1945) reported C Elton, RGS Russell, JT Fenton, HJ Norman and AR Tranter “previously reported missing” as “now presumed killed in action”
  • Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 521 (Flight 05/07/1945) reported JH Ferguson “previously reported missing” as “now presumed killed in action”
  • Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 526 (Flight 19/07/1945) reported KA Oswald “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:

  • 04/10/1944: Information received from Air Ministry that C Elton, AR Tranter, HJ Norman, JT Fenton and RGS Russell, missing on 3rd / 4th May 1944, were killed; also that two unknown were killed
  • 13/01/1945; Information received from Air Ministry that two unknown, assumed to be JH Ferguson and KA Oswald, missing on 3rd / 4th May 1944, were killed

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 C Elton, JH Ferguson, RGS Russell, KA Oswald, JT Fenton, HJ Norman and AR Tranter were located but show that they were concentrated (reinterred) at MONTDIDIER FRENCH NATIONAL CEMETERY as follows:

  • ELTON, COLIN Pilot Officer ‘171397’  Grave 5817.
  • FENTON, JOHN THOMAS Sergeant ‘1283600’ Grave 5816.
  • FERGUSON, JOHN HUGH Pilot Officer ‘J/86519’ Grave 5821.
  • NORMAN, HOWARD JAMES Sergeant ‘1586301’  Grave 5815.
  • OSWALD, KENNETH ANTHONY Flight Sergeant ‘1332102’ Grave 5820.
  • RUSSELL, REGINALD GEORGE SAMUEL Sergeant ‘1399883’ Grave 5818.
  • TRANTER, ALBERT ROYDEN Sergeant ‘1581787’ Grave 5819.

[Source: Find-a-Grave]


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Bomber Command Loss Card

  • Place of Loss: North Side of Montdidier
  • Cause of Loss: Night Fighter
  • Aircraft exploded in the air

Theo Boiten (Nachtjagd Combat Archives)

Possible nightfighter claims:

– Oblt. Jakob Schaus, 4./NJG4, N Paris 3500m 00.16
– Hptm. Helmut Bergmann, 8./NJG4, N Paris 2000m 00.26
– Hptm. Helmut Bergmann, 8./NJG4, N Paris 1600m 00.39

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

Hit by cannon fire from a nightfighter and blew up over the north side of the target area