Lancaster PB199 was one of sixteen No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack Dortmund on the afternoon of the 29th November 1944.
It was equipped with H2S, GPI and Fishpond and was carrying 1 x 4000lbs HC Minol, 5 x 1000lbs MC and 6 x 500lbs MC. Its designated Path Finder role was Blind Secondary Marker
Its seven-man crew comprised:
- John Herbert Thorpe (Pilot)
- Geoffrey Simpson (Navigator)
- Gilbert Victor Williams (Air Bomber)
- James Alexander Mathison (Wireless Operator)
- James Arthur Wynn (Air Gunner)
- William Turnbull (Air Gunner)
- John Mitchell Cruickshank (Flight Engineer)
The route was as follows: Base, Orfordness, 5100N 0400E, 5053N 0550E, 5110N 0705E, Target, 5150N 0725E, 5150N 0650E, 5100N 0400E, Orfordness, Base
PB199 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 29th November 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 29th November 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. 581 (Flight 23/05/1946) reported JH Thorpe, G Simpson, JA Mathison, JA Wynn and JM Cruickshank “previously reported missing” as “now presumed killed in action”
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 584 (Flight 30/05/1946) reported W Turnbull “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.
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 the crew were not located, or could not be identified and, as such, their names are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial as follows:
- CRUICKSHANK, JOHN MITCHELL Flight Sergeant ‘1568887’ Panel 216.
- MATHISON, JAMES ALEXANDER Flight Sergeant ‘1344764’ Panel 220.
- SIMPSON, GEOFFREY Pilot Officer ‘185530’ Panel 212.
- THORPE, JOHN HERBERT Flying Officer ‘172216’ Panel 209.
- TURNBULL, WILLIAM Flight Sergeant ‘1820580’ Panel 222.
- WYNN, JAMES ARTHUR Pilot Officer ‘185570’ Panel 213.
- WILLIAMS, GILBERT VICTOR Flying Officer ‘416053’ Panel 258.
[Courtesy of Clive Lewis]
The following link provides information on JH Thorpe’s operational sorties as Captain of a No. 35 Squadron aircraft and the composition of his crew on these sorties