Unlucky twenty four


THE AIRCRAFT PANEL below is part of the online IWM Collection.

It was recovered from the Hermann Göring aeronautical research institute in Völkenrode near Braunschweig – Brunswick in English – at the end of the Second World War, when the huge secret facility was taken over by the British Ministry of Aircraft Production (MAP).

Professor William Jolly Duncan, a senior scientist specialising in aerodynamics and according to the IWM Collections web page,  he sent it to the Air Ministry in London in January of 1945. It was passed to the museum in 1946(1).

Professor Duncan was part of a specialist team by headed by Alfred Hubert Roy Fedden a noted aero engine designer who had designed a number of engines for the Bristol Aircraft Company before joining MAP(2).

The team visited the site on 14 June 1945 as part of their mission(3) to gather information and materials etc from the research facility ahead of the Russians under whose jurisdiction the site fell – and of course the Americans and the French; all of whom wanted to capitalise on the advances in aircraft technology made by the German scientists.

After the initial mission, MAP took over the Völkenrode research facilities – a 1,000 acre site with more than 60 buildings, including five wind tunnels, one large enough to put a full-size fighter aircraft inside. During the war fifteen hundred staff worked on airframe, aero engine and aircraft weapons development and testing.

A Messerschmitt bf 109 fighter suspended in a wind tunnel at Hermann Göring aeronautical research institute, 1940.
Image: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2006686908/resource/ 
Library of Congress (Prints and Photographs Division) Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Although Brunswick was targeted over 40 times during the war, site appears to have escaped major damage(4).

In order to maintain the site’s secrecy, there were no obvious aircraft-related structures such as runways, all power supplies were buried underground and there were no railway lines to the site. Most buildings were low-level structures without chimneys and all were well camouflaged(5).

The panel comes from a Handley-Page Halifax II bomber, serial HR697 (ZA-F). It served with No 10 Squadron RAF and was one of ten Halifax bombers shot down on the night of 28/29 June 1943 when RAF Bomber Command sent 608 aircraft to attack Cologne(6).

Panel from the forward fuselage area of Handley Page Halifax bomber HR697.
IWM catalogue number EPH 4623. © IWM

It shows 23 successful missions flown to German and French targets – including four to Essen, three to Berlin, the twenty-first operation (to Wuppertal) marked by a ‘gold key’. The final mission symbol was painted by the Germans after the panel was recovered from the aircraft’s wreckage.

Seven of the crew died as a result of the attack and crash and are buried at Jonkerbos War Cemetery in the Netherlands(7) (8).

The eighth – Flight Engineer Sergeant Robert Shannon, RAAF – became a prisoner of war.

According to his Ex-Prisoner of War Questionnaire (completed 2 May 1945), he was transferred to the Aircrew Interrogation Centre – commonly known as ‘Dulagluft’ near Frankfurt – on 2 July 1943 as PoW no 350(9), presumably from a local prison in Belgium.

On 15 July 1944 he was sent to Stalagluft 6 Prisoner of War camp in East Prussia, remaining for just over a year.

He was moved to Stalagluft 357 at Thorn in Poland on 18 July 1944 for a month until that camp was relocated to Fallingbostel in Germany.

Here he stayed for eight months from 12 August 1944. On 14 April 1945 he and another prisoner escaped from a column of POWs which were being withdrawn as the Allies were advancing.

They left in six columns, each of 2,000 prisoners. Both made it back to Britain(10).

The pair were very lucky.

Arriving in Gresse after a 10-day forced march of over 100 kms they were attacked by RAF ground attack aircraft who mistook the lines of men for German infantry. Sixty men died and many were injured in the attack.

An added poignancy to the story is that the crew –

Pilot Officer Roy Hamilton Geddes, Royal Australian Air Force
Sergeant Robert Stirratt White, Royal Air Force
Pilot Officer Herbert Ernest Cross, Royal Air Force
Sergeant David Brown, Royal Air Force
Flight Sergeant Clifford Entwistle, Royal Air Force
Pilot Officer Reginald Eric Bradshaw, Royal Air Force
Sergeant Albert William Booth Royal Air Force and Sergeant Robert Shannon Royal Australian Air Force

– were well on their way to completing their operational tour of 30 missions.

Roy Geddes (who had been promoted to Pilot Officer less than a week earlier) had returned to flying earlier in June after being injured in a crash involving another No 10 Squadron Halifax. They were returning from an operation over Dortmund on 5 May 1943.

Five of the crew he was flying with were killed when the aircraft – clipped Hood Hill, near Sutton Bank in North Yorkshire (11) (12).

In the bottom right hand corner of the panel are the names of Leutnant Johannes Hager and Unteroffizier Hubert von Bergen, the Luftwaffe crew that shot the aircraft down at 01:27 on 29 June 1943.

They flew with 4./NJG1, a night fighter unit and engaged the Halifax at around 18,000 feet. It crashed one kilometre northwest of Maastricht(13).

Johannes Hager would end the war with more than forty victories (sources credit him with between 42 and 48) and die in September 1993(14).

How the panel got to the research station and why exactly it was there is not known at this time, but the names of the German crew and the addition of the final mission marking on the panel suggest that it may have been presentation piece.


(1) http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30084551 (Retrieved 25 May 2017)

(2) http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Roy_Fedden (Retrieved 1 June 2017)

(3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fedden_Mission (Retrieved 1 June 2017)

(4) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Braunschweig_(October_1944)#Overall_destruction_rate_and_amount_of_rubble

(5) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luftfahrtforschungsanstalt

(6) http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20070706011932/http://www.raf.mod.uk/bombercommand/jun43.html (Retrieved 1 June 2017)

(7) http://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/206210/JONKERBOS%20WAR%20CEMETERY (Retrieved 1 June 2017)

(8) https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.419623834816738.1073741826.277896255656164&type=3 (Retrieved 23 June 2017)

(9) Footprints on the Sands of Time – RAF Bomber Command Prisoners of War in Germany 1939-45, Olover Clutton-Brock, (2003)

(10) WO 344/283/1, UK National Archives, Kew, England. Consulted 27 June 2017.

(11) http://www.yorkshire-aircraft.co.uk/aircraft/planes/43/jd105.html (Retrieved 23 June 2017)

(12) http://rafassocstowmarket.onesuffolk.net/assets/Uploads/George-Ward-Story.pdf (Retrieved 23 June 2017)

(13) Luftwaffe Night Fighter Claims: Combat claims by Luftwaffe Night Fighter Pilots 1939 – 1945, John Foreman and Simon W Parry (2003).

(14) http://en.ww2awards.com/person/29227 (Retrieved 20 June 2017)

Scapa Flow, Operation ZZ and a final act of defiance


A British tug alongside the sinking German destroyer G102 at Scapa Flow. Image © IWM (SP 1631)

JUNE 21 1919 and another day breaks over the huge natural harbour – 120 square miles – of Scapa Flow in the Orkneys but before it is over the greatest recorded loss of shipping in a single day will have occurred there. 

Scapa Flow use as a safe haven for ships dates back to Viking times but it was first used by the Royal Navy in 1812 as an anchorage for trading ships to the Baltic coast. Recognising the importance of the harbour and that of the cargo ships, two Martello towers were built to protect the waiting ships until their Royal Navy escort arrived to take them across the North Sea.

Time and conflicts passed and regular use of Scapa by the Royal Navy waned.

In the early 20 century the Admiralty decided that its base at Rosyth near Edinburgh on the Firth of Forth could be disabled by mines sown across the estuary – effectively confining Royal Naval ships to harbour and so Scapa, with its rapid access to open waters, was to become the home of the Grand Fleet.

All the facilities needed for the effective use and protection of the harbour – artillery batteries, anti-submarine defences (including hydrophones), a mine field, blockships and later a Royal Naval Air Station – were built and by the outbreak of the First World War the base was ready to face the German threat.

In May 1916 Grand Fleet units sailed to meet the Imperial German Navy’s High Seas Fleet off the coast of Denmark. The encounter would be the greatest sea battle of the First World War – the Battle of Jutland.

The battle would involve some 100,000 sailors and around 250 ships; around 8,500 men and 25 ships would never see their home ports again.

On 5 June 1916 – for days after the battle had concluded Lord Kitchener the British Minister of War arrived at Scapa Flow to board HMS Hampshire for talks with Britain’s Russian allies.

The cruiser would never complete her voyage.

Having left harbour and trying to avoid a storm, she sank in around 20 minutes, almost certainly having hit a German submarine-laid mine off the Orkneys.

A dozen men survived from the 735 crew.

Kitchener and his thirteen staff all perished.

Just over a year later on 9 July 1917, HMS Vanguard having returned from a naval exercise would explode just before midnight killing 843 men. An explosion in the cordite room is believed to have been responsible for the ship’s loss.

On 21 November 1918, with the Armistice in force talks between all sides proceeding and disagreement over what should happen to the German Navy, Operation ZZ came into effect.

Seventy German warships sailed to an agreed point to be met by the 193 Royal Navy ships and then escorted in internment at Scapa Flow, to be held until their fate was decided. The flotilla stretch for 19 miles and was six miles wide with the German ships surrounded on all side.

Having arrived and isolated from with little news about what was happening at the talks and from their homes in Germany, time dragged and rumours flourished amongst the German crews.

Rear Admiral Ludwig Van Reuter, disgruntled by what he saw as the discreditable way his government were behaving both at the talks and in Germany but determined to act with honour sent a note to his captains which read:

‘It is my intention to sink the ships only if the enemy should attempt to obtain possession of them without the assent of our government. Should our government agree in the peace terms to the surrender of the ships, then the ships will be handed over, to the lasting disgrace of those who have placed us in this position.’

At 10:00 on 21 June 1919, with the majority of the Royal Naval ships out of harbour exercising and believing that the peace talks had failed and the Royal Navy was going to seize the German ships, he ordered that all the ships should hoist their ensigns for one last time and then scuttle themselves.

SCUTTLING OF THE GERMAN FLEET AT .SCAPA FLOW, JUNE 1919 . The battlecruiser SMS Hindenburg half sunk at Scapa Flow. Copyright: © IWM (Q 70580). Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205315974

As night fell that day 52 ships – including 15 of the 16 battleships – had settled on the floor of Scapa Flow.

Nine German sailors were killed when British sentries, believing they were under attack, fired on life boats approaching the shore.

More information (all sources retrieved 26 May 2017)

Scapa Flow:





Battle of Jutland:

Lord Kitchener:

Operation ZZ:




Flying low-level down the Champs-Élysées


SEVENTY FIVE YEARS AGO TODAY a single RAF aircraft undertook an audacious mission to boost the morale of the French population.


Image: A trade advertisment for the Bristol Aircraft Company’s ‘Beaufighter’ depicting Gatward and Fern dropping a French tricolour banner over the Arc de Triomphe on 12 June 1942. From http://www.vintagewings.ca/VintageNews/Stories/tabid/116/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/450/Ten-Minute-Triumph-Over-Tyranny.aspx

NINETEEN FORTY ONE wasn’t a good year for Occupied France and there was no reason to think that 1942 would be any better.

The Occupation continues to make daily life in France – and indeed in all the countries  under German control – difficult in many ways.

France is physically and ideologically divided. Troops are on the streets of the Occupied Zone. The Résistance and German authorities continue the cycle of assassinations and reprisals.

Power struggles between Guallist and communist factions split the Résistance.

Factories have been taken over to manufacture products for the Germans.

Rationing continues for the French population.

Mass arrests of communist sympathisers started in 1941 and Jewish citizens are coming under increasing scrutiny – not just from the Germans directly but through the occupying forces using the French authorities and their Vichy allies to enforce the new order.

Unable to lure foreign workers to Germany itself by the promise of better rations, the German controlled Service du Travail Obligatoire (a scheme whereby more than half a million people were forcibly sent to work in Germany) was just starting.

After the evacuation at Dunkirk and the destruction of units of the French naval fleet by the Royal Navy in August 1940, many felt in France and elsewhere felt Britain needed to show its support.

Thus Operation SQUABBLE was born.

Organised by the Special Operations Executive and Air Chief Marshal Sir Philip Joubert de la Ferté (himself of French descent) the original plan was for a single attacking aircraft to fly along the mile-long Avenue des Champs-Élysées just as the German Army were parading there and – if the opportunity presented itself – attack the nearby former French Ministre de la Marine (now occupied as the Germany Naval headquarters in France).

Sir Philip was Commander-in-Chief of Coastal Command, the branch of the RAF that operated closely with the Royal Navy and – critical in these circumstances – attack small targets at low level.

Coastal Command had both the aircraft and the aircrew to mount an attack such as this.

Flight Lieutenant Alfred Kitchener ‘Ken’ Gatward was a leading anti-shipping attack expert and was offered the chance of carrying out the attack. It was stressed that it would be an ‘unsafe’ mission using a single aircraft without further support.

Gatward and his navigator, Flight Sergeant Gilbert ‘George’ Fern immediately started planning the flight and honing their skills by carrying out attacks on an abandoned wreck in the English Channel.

The day of the attack dawned and improving weather – that is the lack of cloud cover – forced the pair back to England while they were over France.

This happened not once but three times and without the advantage of surprise the mission was doomed.

So on 12 June 1942 the aircraft left the Coastal Command airfield at Thorney Island, Hampshire (just outside Portsmouth) for what the crew had decided would be the final attempt. They had decide that there was to be no more practising.

This was it.

They would fly the whole mission at low level to give them the best chance.

Crossing the French coast half an hour after take-off, they managed to avoid both fighter aircraft and flak positions.

At one point some 30 feet (10 metres above the ground) the aircraft scattered a murder of crows. One lodged in the engine air intake, causing the motor to overheat.

Still they flew on.

Approaching Paris from the south they rounded the Eiffel Tower and then headed for the Arc de Triomphe at the top of the Champs-Élysées.

Their canons primed and ready, they reportedly flew at less than roof top height down the Champs-Élysées. But not until they had sent one of two banners (made from a French naval ensign back in Britain) fluttering down on the Arc de Triomphe.

But their German army quarry eluded them. The military parade – something that happened every day after midday – was nowhere to be seen.

Instead the crew saw groups of French people happily waving to the aircraft.

At the other end of the Avenue, the Place de la Concorde with its fountains and the Luxor monument grew ever larger.

Swinging around the 75-foot Egyptian obelisk they lining up on their second objective, the Naval Headquarters.

Gatward fired a volley of 20mm shells into the building before dropping the second banner and making off north towards Gare Saint Lazare railway station and then coming around westward to return to England – again at low level.

Landing at RAF Northolt not far from central London, he and Fern delivered 60 photographic images of Paris.


One of the images taken by Flight Sergeant George Fern as the Beaufighter entered the Place de la Concorde at low level. It shows the Grand Palais exhibition hall with a sign publicising a German propaganda exhibition entitled the ‘La Vie Nouvelle’. This and others were published in LIFE magazine. Image by Flight Sergeant George Fern, DFM, RAF. From http://www.vintagewings.ca/VintageNews/Stories/tabid/116/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/450/Ten-Minute-Triumph-Over-Tyranny.aspx


The Bristol Beaufighter Mark IC aircraft (T4800 'ND-C', of No. 236 Squadron RAF) flown by Flight Lieutenant Gatward and Sergeant Fern on the ground at Wattisham, Suffolk. Image copyright IWM, IWM catalogue reference C2733. Original source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205211341

The Bristol Beaufighter Mark IC aircraft (T4800 ‘ND-C’, of No. 236 Squadron RAF) flown by Flight Lieutenant Gatward and Sergeant Fern on the ground at Wattisham, Suffolk. Image copyright IWM, IWM catalogue reference C2733. Original source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205211341

In 2012 Gatward’s Second World War medal group, together with memorabilia about the flight were sold at auction for £51,000.


Image: Wing-Commander A K Gatward, Commanding Officer of No. 404 Squadron RCAF in another Beaufighter later in the war. IWM catalogue number: MH 7660. © IWM

Sources and more information