Lancaster ME361 was one of eight No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack the Deutsche Erdoel refinery at Hemmingstedt, near Heide on the night of 7th / 8th March 1945.
It was equipped with H2S, Fishpond, Loran and Carpet and was carrying 3 x 1000lb B2 Yellow, 3 x 1000lb B4 Yellow, 3 x 1000 ANM.59 and 4 x Cluster Projectiles. Its designated Path Finder role was Master Bomber
Its eight-man crew comprised:
- DB Everett (Pilot)
- JM Aylieff (Navigator)
- CG Mitchell (Air Bomber)
- CO Russell (2nd A/B)
- RC Chapman (Wireless Operator)
- AHJ Pidgeon (Air Gunner)
- RM Weller (Air Gunner)
- KG Munro (Flight Engineer)
The route to and from the target was as follows: 5330N 0045E, 5520N 0420E, 5545N 0900E, 5500N 1015E, Target, 5405N 0850E, 5440N 0700E, 5435N 0340E, 5300N 0100E, Base
ME361 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 8th March 1945 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 7th / 8th March 1945”.
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. 338 (Flight 20/09/1945) reported DB Everett, JM Aylieff, CG Mitchell, CO Russell, RC Chapman, AHJ Pidgeon, RM Weller and KG Munro as “missing”
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 592 (Flight 11/07/1946) reported CG Mitchell “previously reported missing” as “now presumed killed in action”
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 593 (Flight 18/07/1946) reported KG Munro “previously reported missing” as “now presumed killed in action”
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 594 (Flight 25/07/1946) reported DB Everett, JM Aylieff, CO Russell, RC Chapman, AHJ Pidgeon and RM 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.
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 all the missing crew members were located at Hemmingstedt.
Their remains were exhumed, identified and concentrated (reinterred) at HAMBURG CEMETERY on 2nd August 1946 as follows:
- AYLIEFF, James Martin Flying Officer ‘177980’ Grave 5A. J. 3
- CHAPMAN, Reginald Clifford Flight Lieutenant ‘122930’ Grave 5A. J. 2.
- EVERETT, Daniel Bulmer Squadron Leader ‘155223’ Grave 5A. J. 8.
- MITCHELL, Charles G. Flight Lieutenant ‘J/20407’ Grave 5A. J. 7.
- MUNRO, Kelvin Gordon Pilot Officer ‘7122’ Grave 5A. J. 1.
- PIDGEON, Albert Henry John Flying Officer ‘171882’ Grave 5A. J. 6.
- RUSSELL, Clifford Owen Flight Lieutenant ‘138894’ Grave 5A. J. 5.
- WELLER, Reginald Martin Flying Officer ‘155190’ Grave 5A. J. 4.
WR Chorley (Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War)
[Master Bomber] Shot down at 22.00 in the target area
German Archives (Courtesy of Rod MacKenzie)
German documents (now held in archives around the world) record that ME361 caught fire in the air and crashed near Hemmingstedt at around 22.00hrs . It is understood that these files also contain unconfirmed claims for the loss by both a nightfighter and various flak batteries.