Lancaster ND645 was one of fourteen No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack Frankfurt on the night of the 22nd / 23rd March 1944.
It was equipped with IFF, Gee, Nav Aid Y (H2S) and Fishpond and was carrying 1 x 1000lb MC, 2 x 500lb MC and 1 x 4000lb HC [Minol] and various flares / target indicators. Its designated Pathfinder role was Blind Marker Illuminator
Its seven-man crew comprised:
- Thomas Rowe (Pilot)
- Edmund Howard Williams (Navigator)
- Alexander Grant (Air Bomber)
- Fred Haigh (Wireless Operator)
- Harry Gray (Air Gunner)
- Malcolm Ross Hunter (Air Gunner)
- Abel Simpson (Flight Engineer)
The route was Base, 5405N 0400E, 5220N 0845E, Target, 4948N 0830E, 4945N 0710E, 5105N 0240E, Base
ND645 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 23rd 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 22nd / 23rd 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 EH Williams, A Simpson and MR Hunter as “missing believed killed in action; also F Haigh as “missing”
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 501 (Flight 10/05/1945) reported MR Hunter “previously reported missing believed killed in action 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:
- 11/05/1944: Information received from Air Ministry that T Rowe and A Grant, missing on 22nd / 23rd March 1944, are prisoners of war; also that EH Williams, MR Hunter, H Gray and A Simpson were killed
Crew members who survived the crash and were captured / imprisoned
T Rowe and A Grant 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:
- T Rowe (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft I, Barth
- A Grant (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft I, Barth
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 EH Williams, MR Hunter, A Simpson and H Gray were located at Giessen Cemetery
Their remains were exhumed, formally identified and concentrated (reinterred) at HANOVER WAR CEMETERY on 1st May 1947 as follows:
- SIMPSON, ABEL Sergeant ‘1031549’ Grave 4. E. 9.
- WILLIAMS, EDMUND HOWARD Pilot Officer ‘171772’ Grave 4. C. 8.
- HUNTER, MALCOLM ROSS Pilot Officer ‘421982’ Grave 4. C. 7.
- GRAY, HARRY Pilot Officer ‘420662’ Grave 4. C. 10.
The remains of F Haigh were not located (or could not be formally identified) and, as such, his name is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial as follows:
- HAIGH, FRED Flight Lieutenant ‘101522’ Panel 202.
[Courtesy of Clive Lewis]
Theo Boiten (Nachtjagd Combat Archive)
Nightfighter Claim: Hptm. Paul Zorner, 8./NJG3, Giessen Area, N target Frankfurt, 5900m, 21.43
WR Chorley (Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War)
Exploded, throwing clear the two survivors in the general vicinity of Hanover
Bomber Command Loss Card
Rowe: I was extremely lucky in getting out unhurt, slightly sprained my foot on landing
National Memorial Arboretum