Halifax L9527 was one of nine No. 35 Squadron aircraft which took off from Stanton Harcourt to attack the Battleship Scharnhorst (anchored at La Pallice) on 24th July 1941 (daylight raid).
Its seven-man crew comprised:
- Clarence Arthur Godwin (Pilot)
- Greville Gascoyne Esnouf (2nd Pilot)
- Arthur George Eperon (Observer)
- Eric Oswald Thomas Balcomb (WOP / AG)
- Reginald Thomas Rudlin (WOP / AG)
- Sidney Harry James Shirley (Air Gunner)
- Conrad Howard Newstead (Flight Engineer)
The squadron’s Operations Record Book shows “As the squadron approached the target area, a very heavy barrage of A.A. fire was immediately put up, and some 30 enemy fighters were observed, some in the air and others taking off from aerodromes in and about La Rochelle. The squadron proceeded in echelon formation as planned but the intensity of the A.A. fire not only damaged several aircraft, but one, L9527, captained by F/Sgt. Godwin, was seen to go down in a slow spiral with smoke coming from one or two of its engines”.
Wartime activity relating to the loss
On 24th July 1941 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 24th July 1941”.
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 Communique No. 81 (Flight 09/10/1941) reported GG Esnouf, CA Godwin, CH Newstead, RT Rudlin and SHJ Shirley as “missing, believed killed in action”
- Air Ministry Communique No. 112 (Flight 26/02/1942) reported GG Esnouf, CA Godwin, CH Newstead, RT Rudlin and SHJ Shirley “previously reported missing, believed killed in action” as “now presumed killed in action\”
Note: Presumption of death enabled a death certificate to be issued; personal belongings could then be sent to the next of kin, along with any monies due
The squadron record book shows the following notifications were received in relation to the crew:
- 07/08/1941: Telegram received from International Red Cross Society states that PO Eperon (Wounded) and Sgt Balcomb of F/S Godwin’s crew are prisoners of war.
- 17/08/1941: Information received, passed on from International Red Cross Society that F/S Godwin, captain of an aircraft missing during the attack on the Scharnhorst on 24th July 1941 and the remainder of the crew, except PO Eperon and Sgt Balcomb, already reported prisoners of war, were killed.
Crew members who survived the crash and were captured / imprisoned
AG Eperon and EOT Balcomb, baled out of the aircraft and were captured, interrogated and imprisoned for the remainder of the war.
Their POW Liberation Questionnaires, which were completed as part of the repatriation process at No. 106 Personnel Reception Centre (RAF Cosford) in 1945, show the following details:
- AG Eperon
- Captured: La Rochelle (Leg Wound) 24/07/1941
- Interrogated: Dulag Luft Oberursel, Frankfurt Aug-41 to Sep-41
- Imprisoned: Oflag X-C, Lübeck Sep-41 to Oct-41
- Imprisoned: Oflag VI-B, Warburg Oct-41 to Oct-42
- Imprisoned: Oflag XXI-B, Schubin (Poland) Oct-42 to Apr-43
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft III, Sagan Apr-43 to Jan-45
- Imprisoned: Marlag und Milag Nord, Tarmstedt Jan-45 to Apr-45
- Repatriated May-45
- EOT Balcomb
- Captured: La Rochelle (slight wound over eyes) 24/07/1941
- Interrogated: Dulag Luft Oberursel, Frankfurt Jul-41 to Aug-41
- Imprisoned: Stalag IIIE, Kirchhain Aug-41 to Mar-42
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft III, Sagan Mar-42 to Jun-43
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft VI, Heydekrug Jun-43 to Jul-44
- Imprisoned: Stalag 357, Thorn Jul-44 to Aug-44
- Imprisoned: Stalag 357, Fallingbostel Aug-44 to Apr-45
- Repatriated: Apr-45
Note: EOT Balcomb escaped the marching column on 15th April 1945 and he joined french POW in a farmhouse. He was liberated by the 11th Armoured Corps three days later (18th April 1945)
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 do not show where the remains of of the five missing crew members were located but show that they were concentrated (reinterred) at ANGLES COMMUNAL CEMETERY as follows:
- ESNOUF, Greville Gascoyne, ‘929408’, Joint grave 2.
- GODWIN, Clarence Arthur, ‘745859’, Joint grave 2.
- NEWSTEAD, Conrad Howard, ‘567204’, Grave 3.
- RUDLIN, Reginald Thomas, ‘912084’, Grave 1.
- SHIRLEY, Sidney Harry James, ‘804422’, Grave 4.
Journey to the target
The squadron’s Operations Record Book describes the journey to the target as follows:
“The aircraft took off and proceeded via Lizard Point to a point 50 miles west of Ushant and then direct to the target. The journey from base to the turning point was made at a height of 1,000 feet and below, with the climb to the bombing height taking place between this point and the target. 19,000 feet was the intended bombing height but only 15,000 feet was reached before arrival at the target area. The weather was excellent, brilliant sunshine and no cloud, with perfect visibility.
An enemy destroyer was passed in the proximity of the Île d’Yeu, which, apparently believing itself to be under attack, commenced evasive action and opened fire, but did no damage”.
It was assumed that the destroyer warned the authorities of the impending attack and the German defences were fully prepared for the arrival of the aircraft.
The aircraft was hit by flak and attacked by day fighters from I Gruppe/Jagdgeschwader 2 (I/JG 2) which was based at Brest Nord and 2 Staffel Ergänzungsgruppe/JG 53 (2 Erg/JG 53) based at Vannes-Meucon. It crashed at a farm (“Le Terrier Du Four”) near the small town of Angles in France
[Courtesy of Chris Goss]
P.4 (Cas) Casualty Branch Files
The following casualty file is available at the National Archives:
AIR 81/7864 Flight Sergeant CA Godwin, Sergeant CH Newstead, Flight Sergeant SHJ Shirley, Sergeant GG Esnouf, Sergeant RT Rudlin, Sergeant LH Newstead: killed; Flight Lieutenant AG Eperon, Sergeant EOT Balcomb: prisoners of war; aircraft shot down near La Rochelle, Halifax L9527, 35 Squadron, 27 April 1941.
EOT Balcomb’s Ashes
The ashes of EOT Balcomb were placed alongside his crew mates at Angles upon his death
[Courtesy of David Forsyth]
75th Anniversary Commemoration Service
A Commemoration Service was held in Angles on the 75th Anniversary of loss …. read more
Floral tributes at the graves following the 75th Anniversary Commemoration Service