F/O RAFVR in 78 Squadron, Group 4
On the night of July 29/30th 1943 a force of 757 aircraft left Bomber Command airfields in England to attack the port of Hamburg in Germany. The force was made up of 340 Lancasters – 224 Halifaxes – 119 Stirlings – 70 Wellingtons and 4 Mosquito Pathfinders. The mission was recorded as being successful. The losses suffered by the attacking force totalled 28 aircraft, 11 Lancasters – 11 Halifaxes – 4 Stirlings and 2 Wellingtons.
My late brother, 131566 Flying Officer K Wilson who was a Flying Officer RAFVR in 78 Squadron 4 Group Bomber Command, was flying as Navigator in Halifax JD 252 which was one of the Halifaxes that did not return from the raid. On the 30th of July 1943 a body was recovered from the sea near Bridlington by the Air Sea Rescue Services and was later identified as that of the W/O of Halifax JD 252 – 1111494 Sgt G.M Gibb who after identification was buried in Driffield Cemetery with full Military Honours on the 4th of August 1943 – Military Marker Grace 6227 – I have visited his grave and placed a floral tribute on it. The other six crew members of Halifax JD 252 were not found and it was assumed they lost their lives at sea and their names are commemorated on the panels at the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede.
When WWII ended in 1945 the MOD imposed a 30 year rule which prevented any research into missions flown by the RAF over enemy territory being undertaken which resulted in my Mother and Father going to their graves not knowing the fate of my brother ( the navigator of Halifax JD 252 ).
After the declassification of the missions flown by the RAF during WWII was activated in 1975 I decided to carry out research into the steps that my brother has taken from joining the RAF as a VR in 1939 until the loss of his aircraft Halifax JD 252 on the 29-30th of July 1943. I did not carry out my research with the intention of writing a book but it was to try and find out what happened to my brother 131566 Flying Officer Kenneth Wilson who was the navigator of Halifax JD 252. After the aircraft had been reported missing as both our parents had gone to their graves not knowing what had happened to the Official Secrets Act etc. It was ex RAF personnel who had read my research documents who persuaded me to try and turn my research and documents into a colour illustrated book (entitled No Known Grave) to record for future generations what it was like for a family to receive the so called “Dreaded telegram” during WWII and who have a loved one with no known grave as a result of the conflict.
At the time that I wrote the manuscript for the book people did not have computers and I did not have a typewriter or any experience in the field of writing so my manuscript was written with a pen on paper which I then sent to a professional firm to be printed as a manuscript before going to be published.
If I could have foreseen that when the book eventually published Her Majesty the Queen (the head of the three Armed Forces) – Dame Vera Lynn – David Jason etc would read it then I don’t think that I would have attempted to write it however some good has come out of it as I have received several letters from people in our country and countries abroad who have read the first issue of my book and who were asking if I could research the loss of their loved ones who sacrificed their lives whilst serving in the RAF to find out if their fallen loved ones have a Military Marker Grave as they have been unsuccessful in their efforts in doing so. I have been able to trace the final resting place of several of their loved ones and therefore I feel that I have been able to do for them that no one could do for my Mother and Father due to the war time restrictions etc. Although I have done these researches voluntarily they are very rewarding as I am in receipt of letters from them containing photographs of them standing by the Marker Grave that I have managed to trace for them also it has helped to keep my mind active in my old age.
Finally, I am in the process of writing an updated version of my book which contains many more photographs – documents – Her Majesty the Queens letter – Dame Vera Lynn’s two letter etc. If all goes well and the second edition is published I will forward a copy to you for the archives. The first edition, which sold out, raised much money for charity.
John Wilson (RAF Veteran)
78 Squadron Halifax II JD252 EY-W Sgt. Peter Snape Hamburg, July 1943
Operation: Hamburg, Germany.
Date: 29/30th July 1943 (Thursday/Friday)
Unit: No. 78 Squadron
Type: Halifax II
Base: RAF Breighton, Yorkshire
Location: North Sea
REASON FOR LOSS:
Took off at 22.30 hrs from RAF Breighton, Yorkshire to bomb the port and city of Hamburg joining 776 other aircraft on the third raid on this target within the last five days. 340 Lancasters, 244 Halifaxes, 119 Stirlings, 70 Wellingtons and 4 Mosquitoes made up the force.
The idea was that the target be approached from the north to concentrate on the northern area of Hamburg which had not been bombed on previous occasions. The pathfinders dropped their markers too far east of the city. 707 aircraft got through to the target, dropping a total of 2,318 tons of bombs on residential areas – no figures are available as to the casualties on the ground for this raid although it is known that over 40,000 were killed during that week and over 16,000 residential buildings were destroyed.
The worst incident was when bombs hit a large department store in Wandsbek – the building collapsed and blocked exits from a shelter that was in the basement – 370 people died from poisoning by the fumes from a coke store nearby. An amazing 1,200,000 people fled the city after these raids.
The allies lost 31 aircraft on this operation with 176 aircrew losing their lives and a further 17 being made pow. Most of the aircraft were shot down by the Luftwaffe night fighters, although 14 were shot down by searchlight assisted flak over the target area.
No details or claims have been made for this loss. Another 78 Squadron was also lost on this operation:
Halifax II JB798 EY-P Flown by Fl/Sgt. Peter A. Fraser RAAF who along with his 6 other crew members were all killed and buried in Hamburg.
Some publications have the Bomb Aimer listed incorrectly as F/O. C.E. Burns.
All but one of the crew are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial (panel numbers below). Sgt. George Gibb‘s body was picked up by an air sea rescue launch and after identification was buried in Driffield Cemetery on Wednesday 4th August 1943.
Pilot Sgt. Peter Francis Snape. 1434323 RAFVR Age 22. Killed. Panel 165. Son of Frank and Harriett Evelyn Snape, of Rugby, Warwickshire, England.
Fl/Eng Sgt. Leonard James Dugard. 920070 RAFVR Age 27. Killed. Panel 148. From Brighton, Sussex, N.o.K details currently not available
Nav F/O. Kenneth Wilson. 131566 RAFVR Age 22. Killed. Panel 130. Son of Zachariah Wilson, and of Winifred Wilson, of Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England.
Air/Bmr F/O. Charles Eric Burras. 135685 RAFVR Age 20. Killed (1). Panel 123. Son of Charles and Elizabeth Ann Burras, of Liverpool, England.
WOp/AG Sgt. George Muir Gibb. 111494 RAFVR Age 21. Killed. Driffield Cemetery. Grave 6227. Son of John Purvis Gibb and Margaret Muir Gibb, of Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland.
Air/Gnr Sgt. Edward George Nickels. 1811748 RAFVR Age 19. Killed. Panel 160. Son of George Edward and Florence Caroline Nickels, of Wood Green, Middlesex, England.
Air/Gnr Sgt. Cecil Raymond Langley. 1603246 RAFVR Age 20. Killed. Panel 156. Son of Mrs F. Langley from Hays End, Middlesex, England.
Page of Remembrance created for John Wilson (ex RAF) Brother of F/O. Kenneth Wilson and dedicated to the crew of Halifax JD252. With thanks to the following, Bill Chorley – ‘Bomber Command Losses Vol’s. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions’, Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie – ‘Nightfighter War Diaries Vol’s. 1 and 2’, Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt – ‘Bomber Command War Diaries’, Commonwealth War Graves Commission.