Lancaster ND708 was one of twelve No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack Stuttgart on the night of the 15th / 16th March 1944.
It was equipped with Gee, H2S, Fishpond and API and was carrying 5 x 2000lb HC. Its designated Pathfinder role was Supporter
Its seven-man crew comprised:
- Arthur Ganderton (Pilot)
- Joseph William Samuel Burden (Navigator)
- Colin Oswald Gibbons (Air Bomber)
- George Bagnall (Wireless Operator)
- Arthur Henry Weller (Air Gunner)
- Harry Roy Lowman (Air Gunner)
- John Stewart Martin (Flight Engineer)
The route was Reading, Selsey Bill, 4918N 0005W, 4810N 0130E, 4755N 0900E, Target, 4907N 0915E, 4825N 0740E, 4905N 0325E, 5000N 0715E, Selsey Bill, Reading (needs to be confirmed as some text is unreadable)
ND708 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 16th 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 15th / 16th 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. 389 (Flight 01/06/1944) reported JWS Burden, G Bagnall and AH Weller as “missing”
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 513 (Flight 07/06/1945) reported JWS Burden,G Bagnall and AH Weller “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:
- 17/05/1944: Information received from Air Ministry that A Ganderton, missing on 15th / 16th March 1944, is prisoner of war
- 08/06/1944: Information received from Air Ministry that HR Lowman, missing on 15th / 16th March 1944, is prisoner of war
- 15/06/1944: Information received from Air Ministry that CO Gibbons and JS Martin, missing on 15th / 16th March 1944, were captured
Crew members who survived the crash and were captured / imprisoned
A Ganderton, CO Gibbons, HR Lowman and JS Martin 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:
- CO Gibbons
- Captured: River Rhine, near Kappeln 17/03/1944
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft VI, Heydekrug Mar-44 to Jul-44 (Evacuated)
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft IV, Gross Tychow Jul-44 to Feb-45
- Imprisoned: Stalag XI-B, Fallingbostel Mar-45 to Apr-45
- Repatriated May-45
- A Ganderton (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft III, Sagan
- JS Martin (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft VI / Stalag 357
- HR Lowman (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft VI / Stalag Luft IV
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 G Bagnall, JWS Burden and AH Weller were located at Lahr Cemetery
Their remains were exhumed, identified and concentrated (reinterred) at Durnbach War Cemetery on 6th August 1948 as follows:
- BAGNALL, GEORGE Sergeant ‘1577534’ Grave 2. G. 28.
- BURDEN, JOSEPH WILLIAM SAMUEL Sergeant ‘753568’ Grave 2. G. 27.
- WELLER, ARTHUR HENRY Sergeant ‘1359082’ Grave 2. G. 26.
JWS Burden’s Temporary Cross [Courtesy of Alan Chapman]
Theo Boiten (Nachtjagd Combat Archive)
Nightfighter Claim: Oblt. Gunther Koberich, 6./NJG2, Strassburg area; 6200m 23.00. Also claimed by Flak of 5./schw. Flak Abt. 460, 2./schw. Flak Abt. 906, 3./schw. Flak Abt. 436 and 4./schw. Flak Abt. 418. Victory probably credited to Flak.
WR Chorley (Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War)
Homebound, shot down by a nightfighter and crashed at Niederschopfheim, 9km nne of Lahr / Schwarzwald,