Halifax JB786 was one of twenty three No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack Berlin on the night of the 23rd / 24th August 1943.
It was equipped with IFF, Gee and Nav Aid Y (H2S) and was carrying 8 x 500lbs MC and various target indicators. Its designated Path Finder role was Backer Up
Its seven-man crew comprised:
- Albert Ernest Arter (Pilot)
- Roy Horsburgh (Navigator)
- Duncan McIntyre Miller (Air Bomber)
- Allan Roland Ball (Wireless Operator)
- John Joseph Butler (Air Gunner)
- Peter Golding Boyce (Air Gunner)
- Edwin George Cooper (Flight Engineer)
The route was East Coast, 52°50N 03°30E, Egmond, 52°50N 09°30E, 52°05N 13°47E, Berlin, 52°50N 13°40E, Mano Island, 55°00N 07°00E, East Coast
JB786 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 24th August 1943 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 / 24th August 1943”.
Extract from letter sent to the family of R Horsburgh
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. 301 (Flight 04/11/1943) reported AE Arter, JJ Butler and EG Cooper as “missing believed killed in action”
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 449 (Flight 07/12/1944) reported AE Arter and JJ Butler “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 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:
- 30/09/1943: Information received from Air Ministry that Sgt Boyce and F/O Horsburgh, missing on operations 23rd / 24th August 1943, are prisoners of war and that F/S Arter, F/O AR Ball and Sgt Butler were killed [Note incorrect information regarding AR Ball]
- 26/10/1943: Information received from Air Ministry that F/O AR Ball, missing on operations 23rd / 24th August 1943, is a prisoner of war
- 02/11/1943: Information received from Air Ministry that Sgt Miller, missing on operations 23rd / 24th August 1943, is a prisoner of war
Crew members who survived the crash and were captured / imprisoned
AR Ball survived the crash and was captured and hospitalised with serious head injuries.
Information obtained to date shows the following:
- Hospitalised: Various Lazarett Aug-43 to Nov-43
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft III, Sagan Nov-43 to Sep-44
- Repatriated: (Via Sweden) 17/09/1944
- Hospitalised: RAF Hospital Weeton Sep-44 to Nov-44
- Hospitalised: Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead Nov-44 until recovered (*)
[Courtesy of Juliet Stockford]
(*) Became a member of the Guinea Pig Club
It is understood that DM Miller suffered a broken leg and was hospitalised after his capture. It is believed that he was repatriated during 1944 (Further research required)
R Horsburgh and PG Boyce
R Horsburgh and PG Boyce survived the crash 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 106 Personnel Reception Centre (RAF Cosford) in 1945, show the following details:
- R Horsburgh
- Captured: South of Eberswalde 24/08/1943 (Slight facial wound)
- Interrogated: Dulag Luft Obereusel, Frankfurt Aug-43 to Sep-43
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft III, Sagan Sep-43 to Jan-45
- Imprisoned: Stalag III-A, Luckenwalde Feb-45 to Apr-45
- Repatriated: May-45
- PG Boyce (*)
- Captured: Berlin Aug-43
- Imprisoned: Stalag IV-B, Muhlberg Sep-43 to Feb-45
- Labour Camp: Rodewisch Feb-45 to Apr-45
- Repatriated: May-45
(*) Initial research suggests that at some point in time (date currently unknown) PG Boyce changed identities with an American soldier (Private Bernard Pizzo) and escaped from Stalag IV-B and ended up in Stalag Luft III, Sagan [It is presumed that this would have been at a time when American prisoners were being evacuated] Further research required
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 AE Arter, JJ Butler and EG Cooper were located at Doeberitz Standortfriedhof.
Their remains were exhumed, identified and concentrated (reinterred) at BERLIN 1939-1945 WAR CEMETERY on 29th October 1946 as follows:
- BUTLER, JOHN JOSEPH Sergeant ‘1268653’ Grave 4. B. 20.
- ARTER, ALBERT ERNEST Flight Sergeant ‘1256391’ Joint grave 4. B. 22-23.
- COOPER, EDWIN GEORGE Sergeant ‘1219550’ Joint grave 4. B. 22-23.
Theo Boiten (Nachtjagd Combat Archive)
Nightfighter Claim by Oblt. Lenz Finster, 2./NJG, nr. Schönerlinde (Germany), 5500m, 00.54hrs (Also, Flak Claims Halifax Schönerlinde 5300-4600m. 00.51-54 hrs) by 1.-5./schw. Flak.Abt. 605, 3./schw. Flak.Abt. 902 (Eisb.), 6./schw. Flak.Abt. 123, 1.-5./schw. Flak.Abt. 154, 3. & 4./schw. Flak.Abt. 662; claim by Oblt. Finster not listed in OKL/RLM 2./NJG1 Confirmed Abschussubersicht)
Air Historical Branch
The MRES report states that “no information is held re the exact location of JB786, but it must be assumed to be in the Berlin area. However, captured German documents show the crash site as Schonerlinde-Lindenhof (Map Reference N53 Z86)”
A report from R Horsburgh whilst a POW states: “On the night of the 23rd August, 1943 when operating over enemy territory, we encountered heavy opposition from the enemy defences. My aircraft was struck several times, wounding myself and the pilot and holed one of the tanks in the fuselage, filling the fuselage with fumes and smoke. We were then attacked and the starboard wing set on fire, and I think it was during this time that Sgt. BUTLER was killed as we got no reply from him on the intercom. I heard F/Lt. BALL who was down in the fuselage say that he thought Sgt. Butler was dead. I was next to the Captain, F/Sgt. ARTER, in the second pilot’s position assisting him in endeavouring to evade the enemy attacks. I think he must have been hit in the chest because he was crouched over his controls and did not answer me. He was, however, still quite conscious and capable of taking charge as he looked towards the wing which was on fire and motioned me to bale out. I gave him his chute and he gave an order over the intercom for the crew to bale out. The aircraft was at this time going down in a steep dive. As I could do nothing further I went down to the front escape hatch which I opened. I found Sgt. MILLER who was lying beside it with a broken leg. I went to assist him but he told me to get out first as he could manage easily by himself now that the hatch was open. I left and he followed me. Soon after I left the aircraft, I saw it apparently turn on its back and dive blazing into the ground. Later I heard Sgt. Miller was in hospital and should recover in the normal course of events. I know nothing of the fate of F/Sgt. Arter or Sgt. COOPER. I should be grateful if you could bring to the notice of our Squadron Commander the conduct of F/Sgt. Arter whose devotion to duty when probably severely wounded kept the aircraft in control, thus allowing the survivors of his crew to escape.”
DM Miller Letter
In a letter to R Horsburgh in 1984, DM Miller wrote “I got a canon splinter in my right leg which severed the nerves to my foot and, when the kite blew up, I think I must have been thrown or sucked through the escape hatch with my left hand clutching the D-ring of the chute. In any event I came down by chute while unconscious and must have hit the deck very heavily as the fibula in the right leg was shattered and my left shoulder was also injured.”
Memorial Wreath laid at RAF Graveley by Juliet Stockford (daughter of AR Ball) to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the loss of the aircraft (23th August 2018)