Lancaster PB683 (23/12/1944)

Lancaster PB683 was one of ten No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack the Gremburg Marshalling Yards (Cologne) on the morning of 23rd December 1944.

It was carrying 11 x 1000lb MC.

Its seven-man crew comprised:

  • George Simpson Lawson (Pilot)
  • John Geoffrey Faulkner (Navigator)
  • Norman Brown (Air Bomber)
  • John Seymore Winter (Wireless Operator)
  • Alexander Stewart Fleming (Air Gunner)
  • Lawrence White (Air Gunner)
  • Albert Sutcliffe (Flight Engineer)

The route was Base, 5030N 0500E, 5036N 0620E, Target, 5110N 0400E, Southwold, Base

PB683 failed to return and the squadron’s Operations Record Book shows “This aircraft is missing; it is reported to have collided with No. 35 Squadron aircraft PB678 at 51.07N 01.34E at 11.33 hours at 10,000ft”.

Air Sea Rescue Operations

No. 27 Air Sea Rescue /Marine Craft Unit’s Operations Record Book shows that launches 180, 189 and 2549 were sent out to search the area of North and South Foreland at 12.00 hrs on the 23rd December 1944.

Launch 2549 returned with 4 bodies. Launch 180 intercepted the Shepperton Ferry and received 2 bodies from that vessel. Wreckage was seen at ‘130 degrees, S.Fld, 11 mls’.

2 Spitfires and 1 Walrus were also involved in the search.

It is understood that three of the recovered bodies were formally identified at Ramsgate Mortuary as those of GS Lawson, N Brown and AS Fleming. The others were from the crew of PB678.

Wartime activities relating to the loss

On 23rd December 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 23rd December 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. 497 (Flight 26/04/1945) reported GS Lawson, N Brown and AS Fleming as “killed in action”; also JG Faulkner, JS Winter, L White and A Sutcliffe as “missing”
  • Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 585 (Flight 06/06/1946) reported JS Winter, L White and A Sutcliffe “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:

  • 27/01/1945: Information received from Air Ministry that the body of G Faulkner, missing on 23rd December 1944, was picked up by French Gendarmes

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.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) records show the following burial information for GS Lawson, N Brown and AS Fleming:

  • LAWSON, GEORGE SIMPSON Flying Officer ‘149628’ MARGATE CEMETERY, KENT Sec. 50. Grave 16252.
  • BROWN, NORMAN Flight Lieutenant ‘115788’ EASTBOURNE (OCKLYNGE) CEMETERY Plot V. Grave 287.
  • FLEMING, ALEXANDER STEWART Sergeant ‘1595708’ BATHGATE (BOGHEAD) CEMETERY Compt. B. Grave 14.

JG Faulkner’s body was washed up on the French Coast (date unknown) and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) records show the following burial information:

  • FAULKNER JOHN GEOFFREY Flight Lieutenant ‘84712’ DIEPPE CANADIAN WAR CEMETERY, HAUTOT-SUR-MER M. 61.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) records show that the remains of JS Winter, L White and A Sutcliffe were not located, or could not be formally identified and, as such, their names are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial as follows:

  • WINTER, JOHN SEYMORE Flight Sergeant ‘1231043’ Panel 223.
  • SUTCLIFFE, ALBERT Flight Sergeant ‘1092752’ Panel 222
  • WHITE, LAWRENCE Sergeant ‘1595759’ Panel 240.

[Courtesy of Clive Lewis]


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Lancaster PB683

The AM Form 1180 (Accident Card) shows “In flight, collided with Lancaster PB678 and both aircraft crashed. 10 parachutes seen to open. Aircraft had communication trouble which may have prevented the crew warning pilot of approach of other aircraft”

“Heroic Endeavour -The Remarkable Story of One Pathfinder Force Attack, a Victoria Cross and 206 Brave Men” by Sean Feast.

The complete story of the attack on Gremberg Marshalling Yards on 23rd December 1944 (190 pages)