Lancaster ND762 (22/05/1944)

Lancaster ND762 was one of sixteen No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack Dortmund on the night of the 22nd / 23rd May 1944.

It was equipped with Gee, Nav Aid Y (H2S), IFF, GPI, Fishpond and Carpet and was carrying 2 x LB TI Green, 2 x TI Green, 6 x 1000lbs, 2 x 500lbs and 1 x 4000lbs. Its designated Path Finder role was Visual Centrer

Its eight-man crew comprised:

  • Ernest Holmes (Pilot)
  • John Kennedy Stewart (Navigator)
  • Derrick Ernest Coleman (Air Bomber)
  • Harold Thomas Maskell (Set Operator)
  • Frank Joseph Tudor (Wireless Operator)
  • Albert William Cox (Air Gunner)
  • Alistair Stuart McLaren (Air Gunner)
  • John Robert Cursiter (Flight Engineer)

The route was Flamborough, 5315N 0330E, 5307N 0445E, 5212N 0715E, Target, 5110N 0734E, 5100N 0625E, 5143N 0450E, Orfordness

Lancaster ND762 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 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 22nd / 23rd 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. 418 (Flight 31/08/1944) reported JK Stewart, AW Cox and AS McLaren as “missing believed killed in action” also HT Maskell and JR Cursiter as “missing”
  • Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 535 (Flight 06/09/1945) reported JK Stewart, AW Cox and AS McLaren “previously reported missing believed killed in action” as “now presumed killed in action; also JR Cursiter “previously reported missing” as “now presumed killed in action”
  • Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 541 (Flight 04/10/1945) reported HT Maskell “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:

  • 13/09/1944: Information received from Air Ministry that E Holmes and DE Coleman, missing on 22nd / 23rd May 1944, are prisoners of war
  • 12/10/1944: Information received from Air Ministry that JR Cursiter, missing on 22nd / 23rd May 1944, was killed

Crew members who survived the crash and were captured / imprisoned

FJ Tudor survived the crash and was captured, interrogated and imprisoned for the remainder of the war.

His 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:

  • FJ Tudor
    • Captured: Holland 22/05/1944 (Concussion and Broken Leg)
    • Hospitalised: Luftwaffe Hospital, Amsterdam May-44
    • Imprisoned: Stalag Luft VII, Bankau Jun-44 to Jan-45
    • Imprisoned: Stalag III-A, Luckenwalde Feb-45 to May-45
    • Repatriated: May-45

E Holmes and DE Coleman survived the crash and evaded capture before being betrayed, 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:

  • E Holmes
    • Evaded: 22/05/1944 to 17/06/1944 (Betrayed)
    • Captured: Antwerp (17/06/1944)
    • Imprisoned: Stalag Luft III, Sagan Jul-44 to Jan-45
    • Imprisoned: Marlag und Milag Nord, Westertimke (Tarmstedt) Feb-45 to Apr-45
    • Repatriated: May-45
  • DE Coleman
    • Evaded: 22/05/1944 to 17/06/1944 (Betrayed)
    • Captured: Antwerp (17/06/1944)
    • Imprisoned: Stalag Luft III, Sagan Jul-44 to Jan-45
    • Imprisoned: Marlag und Milag Nord, Westertimke (Tarmstedt) Feb-45 to Apr-45
    • Repatriated: May-45

Post War search for the missing crew member

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 JK Stewart, HT Maskell, AW Cox, AS McLaren and JR Cursiter were located but show that they were concentrated (reinterred) at EINDHOVEN (WOENSEL) GENERAL CEMETERY as follows:

  • McLAREN, ALISTAIR STUART Sergeant ‘1891777’ Plot KK. Grave 55.
  • COX, ALBERT WILLIAM Flight Sergeant ‘1314241’  Plot KK. Grave 56.
  • STEWART, JOHN KENNEDY Flight Lieutenant ‘129742’ Plot KK. Grave 57.
  • MASKELL, HAROLD THOMAS Flying Officer ‘139295’ Plot KK. Grave 58.
  • CURSITER, JOHN ROBERT Sergeant ‘1570690’ Plot KK. Grave 70.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Theo Boiten (Nachtjagd Combat Archive)

Nightfighter Claim: Oblt. Hans-Heinz Augenstein, 12./NJG1, nr. Eindhoven, 5400m, 01.21

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

Homebound and flying at 18,000ft, when picked up by a nightfighter. The brief engagement that followed was ended at 01.29 when the aircraft exploded, throwing out the three survivors, the debris from the bomber falling between Middlebeers and Vessem.

Bomber Command Loss Card

Lancaster shot down by nightfighter below unseen at 16000ft over Middlebeers. Aircraft on fire in the air. Aircraft abandoned in air. Ultimate cause of loss due fire. Target bombed, aircraft destroyed.

Crew Memorial

P1240346.jpg

A memorial to the crew in Vessem, Holland was unveiled by E Holmes on 29th September 2018
– more details –

Photograph by kind permission of Heemkundevereniging De Hooge
(Copyright resides with the original photographer)