Lancaster NG440 was one of ten No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack the Blohm and Voss Works in Hamburg on the night of 8th / 9th April 1945.
Its designated Path Finder role was Visual Centrer.
Its eight-man crew consisted of:
- Melville Max Victor Lewis Muller (Pilot)
- Harry Cobb (Navigator)
- Patrick Baring Oates Ranalow (Air Bomber)
- John Leslie Vickery (Set Operator)
- Thomas Broadley Robinson (Wireless Operator)
- Charles Wilce (Air Gunner)
- Robert Christie Webster (Air Gunner)
- Andrew Coulter Barr (Flight Engineer)
The route was Whitby and Wash, 5430N 0300E, 5435N 0835E, 5410N 1005E, Hamburg, 5330N 0957E, 5325N 0930E, 5235N 0910E, 5132N 0545E, 5140N 0410E, 5245N 0410E, 5430N 0030E
NG440 failed to return from the operation 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 9th April 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 8th / 9th April 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. 547 (Flight 08/11/1945) reported MMVL Muller, H Cobb, PBO Ranalow, JL Vickery, TB Robinson, RC Webster and AC Barr as “missing”
No. 35 Squadron’s Operations Record Book shows the following information was received relating to the crew:
- 23/06/1945: Information received from No. 151 Repair Unit that an aircraft, believed to be NG440, had been located near Rotenburg. One member of the crew F/S Wilce, the tail gunner, was uninjured, but the remainder were believed to have been killed.
Crew member(s) who survived the crash and were captured / imprisoned
PBO Ranalow survived the crash and was captured and hospitalised; he died of his injuries on 10th April 1945
C Wilce survived the crash and was captured, interrogated and imprisoned for the remainder of the war.
His POW Liberation Questionnaire, which was completed as part of the repatriation process at 106 Personnel Reception Centre (RAF Cosford) in 1945, shows the following details:
- C Wilce
- Captured: Wohlsdorf 09/04/1945
- Imprisoned: Rottenburg Airfield Apr-45
- Imprisoned: Pinneburg Apr-45
- Imprisoned: Ludwigslust Apr-45
- Imprisoned: Labenz Apr-45 to May-45
- Repatriated: May-45
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 MMVL Muller, H Cobb, JL Vickery, TB Robinson, RC Webster and AC Barr were located at Rotenburg Cemetery, Germany.
The remains of PBO Ranalow (who died of his injuries) were also buried there.
Their remains were exhumed, identified and concentrated (reinterred) at BECKLINGEN WAR CEMETERY on 8th July 1946 as follows:
- BARR, ANDREW COULTER Flight Sergeant ‘1113965’ Joint grave 11. B. 10-10A.
- COBB, HARRY Flight Lieutenant ‘121906’ Joint grave 11. B. 10-10A.
- ROBINSON, THOMAS BROADLEY Flying Officer ‘158124’ Grave 11. B. 11.
- MULLER, MELVILLE MAX VICTOR LEWIS Squadron Leader ‘128129’ Grave 11. B. 12.
- WEBSTER, ROBERT CHRISTIE Flying Officer ‘173076’ Grave 11. B. 13.
- VICKERY, JOHN LESLIE Flying Officer ‘163864’ Grave 11. B. 14.
- RANALOW, PATRICK BARING OATES Flight Lieutenant ‘130989’ Grave 14. B. 14.
Theo Boiten (Nachtjagd Combat Archive)
Possible Nightfighter Claim: Lt. Bruno Rupp, 4./NJG3, Rotenburg-Hannover Area
Note: Theo Boiten has advised that this is still the latest information that he has (December 2015)
Bomber Command Loss Card
Crashed near Rotenburg
“Wilce: Aircraft hit in nose, probably by flak. Aircraft on fire and his turret broke away and he baled out. He saw no more of the aircraft or the crew. Ranalow was seriously injured and died in a German hospital within a few hours”
Map of Locations