Tragic loss of 2 of the North Luffenham leaders – night of 2nd September 1941 . Gp Capt Barrett DSO+bar, DFC & Wg Cdr Valentine DSO and their crew.

St Georges Barracks Heritage. RAF North Luffenham heritage. RAF Woolfox Lodge Heritage

On the night of 2 September 1941 at 2030 hours Manchester L7388 lifted off on a raid to Berlin carrying a crew of 7 men. Over Berlin the aircraft was shot down by flak and crashed in the Schronefeld district of Berlin. All crew were killed and are buried in a Berlin War Cemetry. The aircraft was carrying 2 of the handful of the stations ‘executive’ senior officers, with the loss of both 61 Squadron Commander and the Station Commander.

Wg Cdr Valentine’s Manchester crew – first eight headstones from the left

The raid on Berlin consisted of 49 aircraft and Wg Cdr Valentine’s Manchester was one of 5 aircraft lost that night (1 Manchester, 2 Hampdens and 2 Halifax). The overall losses that night for targets in Berlin, Frankfurt and minor operations, consisted of 12 aircraft out of the nights total of 201 sorties. This is a 6 percent loss rate. This would involve the loss from active duty of about 70 men for that night, although some of which would become POWs.

The loss of the 61 Squadron Commander and the Station Commander must have been a serious blow. The rules were changed after the loss, to ensure that squadron and station commanders could not fly operations together without special permission.

It is possible that as 61 Squadron (as with other Manchester squadrons) was struggling to get reliability out of the Manchester, that the flight was intended to show leadership from the front. The Manchester was withdrawn from service in June 1942 and was replaced by the Avro Lancaster powered by 4 reliable Merlin engines.

Group Captain J F T Barrett (DSO +bar, DFC) was 43 years old at the time of his death. His headstone also carries the epitaph – ‘A great gentleman’. I will see if I can get the medal citations for both of these commanders.

On the aircraft that night 5 other men, including another airman with a DSO – Flt Lt A B Harrison. I wonder what his citation is for? The other crew members were Sgt Dowse, Sgt Nicholson, Sgt Hamer RNZAF and Fg Off Duckworth. We will remember them.

The crew resides in a Berlin war cemetary – where there are 2601 WW2 aircrew (1828 RAF, 215 RAAF, 516 RCAF, 42 RNZAF, 5 Polish). Most are from the main bomber offensive later in the war.

In the book Avro Manchester by Robert Kirby, there is an account by Wg Cdr Weir DFC in the Forward. Weir replaced Valentine in command. He mentions that one night he was wounded by anti aircaft fire and was on sick leave, when he was informed that the squadron commander, Wg Cdr George Valentine was missing on a trip to Berlin, taking the station commander with him. He says “I was recalled immediately to take command of 61 squadron . At this time we did not seem to be a very effective part of the war effort. Morale was at a low level”. (in March 1942 conversion to the Lancaster started). I think this would be tough command, to lead a squadron with an aircraft that increased the chance of ‘going for a Burton’. Desperate times.

Avro Manchester

References: Bomber Command War Diaries, Bomber Command Losses, Avro Manchester by Robert Kirby. St Georges Barracks development https://www.stgeorgesrutland.co.uk/the-masterplan/

Memorials in North Luffenham and Edith Weston

RAF North Luffenham stained glass memorials in Edith Weston and North Luffenham churches

Church windows in Edith Weston and North Luffenham. The champion who made this happen was Rev Brian Nicholls (he had served in the RAF).

RAF North Luffenham
Memorial windows in Edith Weston Church
RAF North Luffenham – memorial stained glass in Edith Weston church
Memorial on the Edith Weston Church gate to crashed Lancaster in Edith Weston
Gates presented to the village of North Luffenham in commemoration of the RAF finally leaving the station. The gates are located near the Fox pub and guard the entrance to the cricket ground.
Swift to reply – RAF North Luffenham station crest
Boards from Officers’ Mess – list of station commanders RAF North Luffenham

Remembrance – Resting in North Luffenham churchyard

Commonwealth war graves in North Luffenham churchyard from RAF North Luffenham

Bomber Command Memorial in London

There are 40 Commonwealth Wargrave headstones in North Luffenham churchyard and the graves fall into 4 time periods:

World War 1 – 2 Army Privates – Adams and Steel – details not recorded in this blog.

World War 2, RAF, RNZAF, RAAF, RCAF – 18 graves.

Cold war – Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) – 11 graves.

Remainder Other Royal Air Force and Services graves, all post war.

This post provides details about the 18 World War 2 graves: 16 aircrew. 7 RAF (including an Irishman), 6 Canadian, 4 New Zealand, 1 Australian and 2 RAF groundcrew. This is minor fraction of men killed – see post the butchers bill this blog. Also men killed in crashes – were often sent home to be buried in their home parishes. Youngest man buried in North Luffenham was F/sgt Campbell at 19 years old and oldest was Sgt Douglas at 30 years old. The average being about 23 years old.

This is what I have found out about the men so far. Most of the information comes from the books Royal Air Force – Bomber Command Losses – 1941, 1942 and Volume 7 Operational Training Units (OTU) by W.R. Chorley. Also the Bomber Command War Diaries by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt provide information about the wider effort on a particular day.

7.9.41 Sgt Eric Horton RAF 943238 Wireless Operator/air gunner. 144 Sqn RAF. One of four crew killed in a crash of Hampden AD936 on takeoff for Berlin at 20:52. Crashed on the Empingham to Ketton road. I don’t know where the rest of the crew is buried.

The raid that night consisted of 197 aircraft and 15 aircraft were lost – 8 Wellingtons, 2 Hampdens (including AD936), 2 Whitleys, 2 Stirlings and 1 Manchester.

Sgt E Horton

20.9.41 Sgt Harold Douglas Weaver RCAF R62250 Air Observer. 144 Sqn RAF. One of four crew killed in a crash of Hampden K3030 on approach to land after an operation to Frankfurt at 22:05. Crashed into high tension cables alongside the Mortcott to Uppingham Road some 2 miles SE of the airfield. I don’t know where the rest of the crew is buried.

K3030 was one of 34 aircraft sent to Frankfurt but they were recalled because of worsening weather, some did bomb Frankfurt, no aircaft were lost but 3, including K3030 crashed in England. On the main raid to Berlin of 74 aircraft, none reached Berlin and 3 Wellingtons and 1 Whitley failed to return and 12 more aircraft crashed in the UK! Bad weather leading to many casualties, including Sgt Weaver.

Sgt Weaver RCAF

9.11.41 Aircraftsman 1st Class – George Roberts RAF and Aircraftsman 2nd Class – Frederick George Malin. RAF. These 2 ground airmen were killed in the airfield control caravan by an aircaft landing which ‘swung’ into the caravan. The 2 airmen were killed and another injured.

The Hampden (AE311) had been on operations to Hamburg and crashed at 23:43. The crew were not recorded as being injured. There were 106 aircraft on the raid and 1 Welligton was lost.

AC1 G Roberts RAF
AC 2 F G Malin

25.1.42 Sgt Albert Barclay Wright RAF Wireless Operator/air gunner. 408 Sqn RCAF. One of four crew killed in a crash of Hampden AD782 on takeoff for Brest to bomb the German capital ships at 1737. Crashed after stalling at 1500 feet and eye witnesses said it dived straight into the ground near the Lyndon to Wing Road. Cause unknown. I don’t know where the rest of the crew is buried.

The Bomber Command War Diaries say that 61 aircraft were dispatched and no aircraft were lost. ( I have yet to cross check this with other records)

Sgt A B Wright RAF

9.3.42 Flight Sergeant Fernand Fagan Mackinnon RCAF. Wireless Operator/air gunner. and Sgt William Douglas Morris RAF Wireless Operator/air gunner. Three crew killed in a crash of 408 Sqn RCAF Hampden AD842 on takeoff to go ‘gardening’ i.e laying an anti shipping mine at 01:52. Target area was the Friesian Islands, north Germany. The Bomber Command War Diaries say that no aircraft were lost which does not tally with this loss.

Sgt Morris’s headstone also records the loss of his brother, Thomas, lost at sea 14 Oct 41. Engine Room Artificer 4th Class – on HMS Fleur-de-Lys -Thomas Cope Morris aged 32.

Stalled after takeoff and struck an ‘armadillo’ on the airfield and burnt. The pilot escaped with injuries. (wikepedia says an Armadillo was an extemporised armoured fighting vehicle produced in Britain during the invasion crisis of 1940-1941. Based on a number of standard lorry (truck) chassis, it comprised a wooden fighting compartment protected by a layer of gravel and a driver’s cab protected by mild steel plates. Armadillos were used by the RAF Regiment to protect aerodromes and by the Home Guard.[1] )

Flt Sgt F F Mackinnon RCAF

Sgt W D Morris

12.4.42 Flt Sgt David Lloyd Carnegy Liddell RNZAF. Crash of 144 Sqn Hampden AT155 on an air test at 1540 – crashed at Ridlington – 2 killed.

29.9.42 Sgt Ronald George Walters RCAF. 29 OTU training accident. Wellington DV834. Swung on take-off and crashed and burnt. It was thought that the pilot’s slender build was a contributory factor in the accident. Flt Sgt L. L Jones RCAF was killed and the other crew injured. Sgt Walters died the day after of his injuries. Flt Sgt L L Jones was born in Toronto Canada – however, after the accident he was ‘claimed’ by Cornish relatives and he is buried in St Just Cornwall.

Sgt R G Walters

7.2.43 Sgt Leonard Francis Croker 413031 Air bomber RNZAF and Sgt Tom Lindley Pilot RNZAF

Crash of Wellington N2761 From 11 OTU from RAF Westcott, Buckinghamshire on a training flight. Crashed at Fletcher Field near Ashley 5 miles WNW of Corby – 3 killed and 2 buried at North Luffeham. Luffenham must have been the closest RAF base and therefore, recovered the men.

RAF North Luffenham

27.2.43 Flt Sgt Richard Hubert Lewis – Air Gunner RCAF and Flt Sgt Keith Lauchlan Cambell – Navigator RCAF

Killed in Wellinton BK268 of 427 Sqn from RAF Croft. Crashed on Ops to Koln, Crashed while returning to Croft with one engine on fire. Crashed near Woolfox Lodge – 5 killed 1 injured. That night 427 aircraft were dispatched and 4 Wellingtons, 3 Lancasters, 2 Halifaxes and 1 Stirling were lost.

RAF North Luffenham
Flt Sgt R H Lewis RCAF
RAF North Luffenham
Flt Sgt K L Campbell

5.3.43 Sgt Brendan Francis Mullet RAF – Wireless operator/air gunner and Sgt Kenneth Hughes Long – Pilot RAF

Killed in 29 OTU Wellington BK390 on a training flight – took off at 0159 from North Luffenham and crashed into houses in North Coates, Cambridgeshire, 4 killed and 1 injured. Sgt Mullet was one of the Irish Volunteer Legion. One of up to 200,000 Irish Volunteers serving in armed forces in World War 2.

Sgt B F Mullet . Irish Volunteer Legion

Sgt K H Long RAF

12.5.43 Sgt John Angus Douglas RAAF. 29 OTU from RAF North Luffenham – killed in crash of Wellington BK123. Tookoff at 1215 on training . Crashed at 1240 at Scottlethorpe – 5 miles SSW of Sunthorpe – 3 killed.

2.5.42 Flt Sgt J R Young RCAF – Pilot and Sgt H Morrison RNZAF Observer. Killed in the crash of Belnheim L9206 from 13 OTU. Took off from RAF Bicester on a navigation exercise and crashed at 11:35, 3 miles east of Billesdon – 8 miles SSE of Leicester. Dived into ground and exploded killing all 3 crew.

Flt Sgt Young RCAF

Sgt H Morrison RNZAF

WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.

Squadron Leader James Donald Dickson RCAF. DFC. AFC. DFM. CD . WW2, Korea – bomber, transport and Sabre pilot

Notes on Squadron Leader James Donald Dickson RCAF RAF North Luffenham

One of the war graves in North Luffenham churchyard is that of Squadron Leader Dickson, Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). This airman clearly had an eventful career flying in the Royal Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force. His service started on October 23, 1940 and appears to have continued until his death on 26 July 1953.

Commissioned in Jun 1942. I have not verified the fact, but it appears his cause of death was polio. There were epidemics in the 50s of polio. it seems cruel that having survived many 2 wars, operational sorties, night fighters, bad weather and all the other hazards associated with military operational flying that he was cut down by what we now see as preventable disease.

The citation for his Air Force cross is shown below. I have not yet been able to ascertain how many hours he had recorded in this logbook, but clearly flying Wellingtons on operations in 57 Squadron RAF and being awarded his distinguished flying medal (DFM) must be an interesting story.

Followed by the award of a distinguish flying cross (DFC) flying Halifax’s on 419 Squadron also must have many stories. He also received mention in dispatches. I’ll try and see if I can find the citations for these decorations.

it also appears that Dixon had another connection with North Luffenham on 8 October 1942 when he was piloting Wellington X3 719 which hit a power line near North Luffeham. Heavy damage was caused to the aircraft nose, both propellers and starboard main plane but he was not court-martialled.

The award of the Air Force Cross (AFC) relates to outstanding leadership and flying in support of the Korean war airlift. The citation is below. A truly outstanding aviator.

The lost and unknown graves in an 8 month period

Using the books : Bomber Command Losses 1941 and 1942 – I put togther this table and it is a source of hurt that there is a high percentage of crew with no known grave. These are recorded on the Runnymede Memorial. The Bomber Command memorial in London is a specific tribute to the members of Bomber Command. A very moving memorial.

Bomber Command memorial in Piccadilly, London

Why so many unknown graves – the missions at this time were a mix of bombing and mine laying – mostly at night and in bad weather. Some aircraft hit by flak or nightfighter cannon fire exploded when main fuel tanks or bombs were hit and even though the wreckage was on land remains were not recovered. This was at a time when night navigation was difficult and also meterology information was rudimentary at this stage of the war. No airborne radar navigation or GPS – just maps, compass, airspeed indicator and stopwatch, so 1dead reckoning’ navigation. Also the forceast and meterology were primitive by modern standards. Flying in winter and having severe icing must have also caused many casualties. Planning and dead reckoning at night must have been extremely challenging for the young men. Some radio direction finding equipment – but not sure what was available to 61 and 144 Squadron at the time we are looking at.

A table showing the figure for operations at North Luffenham and Woolfox Lodge. Killed, POW, no known grave and airframes.

There were recorded occurances of pilots and naviagtors reading the compass wrongly and compass design was changed. So a course flown 180 degrees out – meaning hundreds of miles into the Atlantic. The cross bar should be toward the red north pointer.

Bomber compass – correct orientation – the cross tag aligned to north.
Bomber compass – wrong and probably fatal setting of a compass – easy to be 180 degrees out
Aicraft compass – later design, maing it harder to set incorrectly

An evader from North Luffenham. It was a long way home for Sgt Albert Wright

From all the aircraft lost from RAF North Luffenham I can only find one airman who managed to evade capture and escape back to Great Britain. The airman was Sgt Albert Wright, a Canadian serving in the Royal Air Force. He was shot down in an Avro Manchester on 31 December 1942 whilst attacking Brest. He finally made it back to Greenock in Scotland on 5 October 1942. 9 months ot make it back to the UK and a journey across Europe.

There is a comprehensive record of the thousands of escapers and their escape lines in Western Europe in 1940 to 1945. This is in a book called ‘RAF Evaders’ by Oliver Clutton-Brock.

While the story of Albert Wright’s escape is in the book, it is one of those books where you can open any page and find incredible stories on every page, I am not exaggerating!. The book records the stories of the evaders but also illuminate stories of the people that ran the escape lines to return Allied airmen to the fight. Their story is also incedible.

This is what the book records about Albert Wright:

Sgt Wright was the mid upper gunner of an Avro Manchester of 61 Squadron, which lost three of its aircraft and 23 airmen on attack on the German battle cruisers, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau at Brest, on the nights of 31 January/1st of February 1942.

14 of the 23 airmen were killed, eight taken prisoner, and only Wright evaded capture. Hit by heavy flak defending the port, Wright’s Manchester was too low for the crew to bail out. Pilot Officer J R B Parsons had no choice but to land his aircraft as best he could.

Wright survived the crash, and so too did the rear gunner, Sgt Griffiths. Griffiths had a broken leg, and though Wright helped him out of the blazing Manchester, Griffiths was taken prisoner. Wright was soon found and sheltered by local Bretons.

After several days he was told about an organisation headed by a French Canadian called O’Leary, who would soon have him on his way to England by submarine. Unfortunately, the Germans arrested those that were about to help him and he found himself trapped in Brittany. Continually moved from house to house.

In mid-March he went to the Château Trefrey, home of the Compte and Contesse de Poulpiquet, where he stayed until May, when the Contesse herself helped him get to Quimper.

Another guide, a Jewish psychiatrist, took him as far as the demarcation line (the line between Nazi and Vichy control), where a young girl saw him across. She left him at a prearranged point where he walked on alone to a car. The driver of which, waiting to take him to LaHayediscards was Dr Vourc’h, one of those who would help them earlier in Brittany. Dr Vourc’h had to make good his escape to Vichy France, when he learnt that he was a wanted man by the Gestapo. He now took Wright to Montlucon. But on failing to make contact with the next human link in the chain, he escorted him to the American consulate in Lyon.

It was still possible at that time, June 1942, for telegraphs to be sent between Vichy France and England and while he was in Lyon Wright received the wonderful news that his wife had given birth to a son. The US vice consul, George Whittingdale, saw that Wright was well looked after. Within a few days someone from the PAO line took him and Dr Vourc’hht to Marseille. Wright was introduced to Pat O’Leary himself. Taken to an apartment, Wright actually arrived wearing a dinner jacket.

In reading this account I found that O’Leary had a very interesting past, but in the end he was betrayed by a man called ‘le Neveu’. After being arrested in Toulouse on 2 March 1943 O’Leary was sent to concentration camps and he was liberated in Dachau on 29 April 1945, later he was awarded the George Cross. His betrayer was a Gestapo agent and he himself was liquidated by the French ‘maquisards’ on the liberation of France in 1944

Back to Albert Wright’s story: Wright was moved to another safe house where other airmen had been placed. On 11 May a group of airmen and four Belgians who wished to join the armed forces, were all moved down the line, Banyons on 9 June. Setting off with 2 Spanish guides, it took the 12 men two days on foot to reach Spain, on 11 June the guides taking them to within 20 km of Gerona.

The escapers now split up into pairs but Wright was caught by Spanish police on a train to Barcelona. Wright was thrown into a police cell at Barcelona, before being transferred to a Spanish concentration camp, where all his hair was shaved off. He was released from the concentration camp on 23 September and was one of those to return to Scotland on HMS Malaya a week later.

What happened to Sgt Wright from the rest of the war and after the war is not recorded in the book.

a brave and tragic story – pilot officers Matthews and Williams – 9/10 Jan 42

I find the story of what happened to a 61 Squadron Manchester which crashed on the night of the 9th and 10th of January 1942, to be particularly tragic, because of the impossible situation that the airmen found themselves in. The situation is still occurring today where equipment is rushed into service and the operators have to make do. It is perhaps something that will always happen, recent examples would be Tornado pilots in the Gulf conflict never having practised with a particular real munition, and the first time they use it is on an operation at 200 feet at night.

This story is about the Avro Manchester, the forerunner of the Lancaster, having engines that did not deliver the power, leading to consequences like this story. The story can only be seen as bravery against an impossible situation.

The story is reflected in the book by Robert Kirby called Avro Manchester, the legend behind the Lancaster. This book documents the history of the aircraft, the losses, units and individual stories of operations. 61 Squadron was based at North Luffenham, and operating from RAF Woolfox Lodge.

On the night of the 9th and 10th of January 1942, 61 Squadron launched 12 aircraft as part of an operation to attack Nazi ships in Brest and Cherbourg. One of those aircraft serial number R5789 captained by Pilot Officer DS Matthews got airborne into the pitch black night.

There were eight people on board, the two pilots: Pilot Officer DS Matthews (already had a distinguished flying medal) and pilot officer TIR Wilson. On board was a flying control officer, Flying Officer CA Giles who was along for the ride. It was his first operation. Sgt Lorimer Sgt Fryer, Pilot Officer SP Walsh (presmably the navigator), Sgt Brown and Pilot Officer Lancaster (another passenger) made up the rest of the crew.

R5789 had reached a few thousand feet over the Wiltshire Hampshire border when the starboard engine lost power and caught fire. The propeller was feathered and the fire extinguished, but their position was immediately desperate.

With a full bomb load and most of the fuel still remaining their height loss was rapid and irreversible. In the pitch darkness Matthews had no idea of their precise position and bravely elected not to jettison the bombs for fear of killing innocent civilians.

The captain first steadied the aircraft while six of the crew bailed out, having safely accomplished this, the two pilots maintained their discipline and attempted a blind forced landing. Regrettably on this cruel night fate was against them and as Matthew.s flared for landing the aircraft crashed at a shallow angle into a belt of trees at Tidworth near Wiltshire Cross at 06:20. Both pilots were killed and the aircraft burnt and later the bomb load exploded.

To their eternal credit, in forfeiting their own lives the two pilots saved six more in the crew and avoided any casualties on the ground. Crash investigators were later unable to pinpoint the specific cause of the engine failure and speculated that icing may have been a contributory factor. Flying Officer Lancaster and the remainder of the crew escaped with minor injuries.

Having spent quite a lot of time on Salisbury plain I can picture the rows of beech trees that make up long lines of massive hedges across what is mainly a barren plain.

Pilot Officer Matthews was recorded in the London Gazette 7 March 1941 as being awarded a Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM). I have yet to find the citation. Matthews also had an incident on the 15 January 1940 when he was the pilot of a Handley Page Hereford from 14 OTU at RAF Cottesmore. He took off on a bombing exercise and the aircraft had engine failure and force landed at 13:25 to the SW of Pickworth, 8 miles SSW of Sleaford Lincs. There were no injuries sustained. (source Bomber Command Losses Vol 7 – OTUs)

That is the story. I think they were unlucky to hit one of these big beech hedges. Ultimately it’s because the engines were not fit for purpose. This of course led later to Avro putting four Merlin engines on the Manchester fuselage with a redesigned wing, and the Lancaster was born.

How brave to try and land a fully loaded bomber at night, I find it tragic and this story always brings a lump to my throat.

Squadron Leader Peter Stevens MC – a remarkable story – a German jew flying for the RAF and POW escaper

Squadron leader Peter “Steve Stevens” MC (Military Cross).
Royal Air Force 144 Squadron. This an example of the amazing stories of deeds done by people who were based at North Luffenham in WW2.

Sqn Ldr Peter Stevens (Copyright Marc Stevens)

Peter Stevens (born George Franz Hein) was the only German Jew known to have flown bombers in the RAF in World War II. He was sent to safety in London from Germany by his widowed mother in early 1934 when he was aged 14 to avoid the rise of Nazi antisemitism. Hein learned english and graduated from Regent Street Polytechnic in 1936. After a year at LSE he began working, but immaturity and bad feelings towards his mother got in the way. Gambling away the remainder of his family fortune (which had been sent to England for his care and that of his two siblings) Hein got into trouble with the law. In July 1939 he was sentenced to 3 months for petty theft. Released from prison six weeks early on September 1 (which was the day the Germans invaded Poland). Hein then committed identity theft taking the name of a dead polytechnic classmate, Peter Stevens.

Rather than reporting to the police station as an enemy alien (which would have meant internment for the duration) Hein as Peter Stevens reported to an enlistment station and joined the Royal Air Force for training as a fighter pilot. Selected instead for bombers, he was the object of a Metropolitan police manhunt during the 18 months he trained, and for five months he was flying combat operations as a Hampden pilot from North Luffenham.

Joining 144 Squadron at North Luffenham in April 1941, Stevens flew 22 combat operations before his aircraft was damaged by flak over Berlin on September 7, 1941. He ordered his crew to bail out and one rear gunner Sgt Ivor Roderick Fraser was killed when his parachute failed to open. Sgt Fraser has no known grave, but he is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial. The other air gunner, Sgt Thomas was captured and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war.

Sqn Ldr Stevens (copyright Marc Stevens)

Stevens realised that the aircraft was marginally flyable and made it back as far as Amsterdam before he ran out of fuel, and force landed in a farmers field. He destroyed the secret bits of the aeroplane and set fire to the wreckage before setting out cross-country with his navigator, Sgt Alan Payne. They were captured by German troops within a day.

Stevens as a POW in his own country was without protection under the Geneva Convention (as he was still a German citizen). For three years and eight months he lived with the knowledge that the Nazis could take him out of the prison camp at any time and shoot him. Nonetheless, he went on to become one of the most ardent escapers of the war. Stevens made eight escape attempts, and got outside the wire three times, but was captured each time. Stevens was imprisoned in 4 diferent camps over his captivity. These were Lubeck (10C), Dosel Bie Wurberg (6B), Braunshweig (21B) and finallt Stalag Luft 3 (L3). In Stalag Luft 3 Sagan in Poland (where the great escape took place) he was head of contacts the term for ‘scrounging’ in the East Compound ‘X’ organisation from April 1943 to evacuation in late Jan 1945.

In October 1941 just a month after being captured, he and a Canadian pilot Mike Lewis jumped off a Nazi prison train in a hail of bullets, and they went home to see Stephen’s mother in Hanover. They were looking for civilian clothing, food and money, they discovered instead that Stephen’s mother had committed suicide six weeks before the outbreak of hostilities.

This man spent 3 years and 7 months in captivity. He was one of 11,000 Bomber Command POWs – of which 1 in 20 failed died in captivity ( for a full account of Bomber Command POWs read Olvier Clutton-Brocks book – Footprints on the sands of time).

On May 17, 1946 Stevens was awarded the Military Cross (MC) for his escape activities, one of only 69 members of the Royal Air Force to receive the medal for bravery on the ground (see citation in the London Gazette below). Another of his escape attempts was characterised in a London newspaper on May 18, 1946 as the boldest escape attempt of the war. This man spent 3 years and 7 months in captivity before being liberated in April 1945.

The London Gazette. Of TUESDAY, the 14th of MAY, 1946

Military Cross

Flight Lieutenant Peter STEVENS (88219), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 144 Squadron. Flight Lieutenant Stevens was the captain of a Hampden aircraft detailed to bomb Berlin on 7th September, 1941. After the mission had been completed the aircraft was hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire and had to be crash-landed subsequently, on the outskirts of Amsterdam. Flight Lieutenant Stevens set fire to the aircraft, destroyed all documents and then, in company with the navigator, commenced to walk towards Amsterdam. They met a farmer who took them to his house and gave them food, at the same time promising to put them in touch with an organisation. Both walked across country for an hour, and then hid in a hut on a football field. They were later found toy German Feldgendarmerie and taken to a Military prison, remaining therefor two days. They were then sent to the DulagLuft at Oberussel.

Flight Lieutenant Stevens was moved to Lubeck on the 20 th September, 1941. On 6th October, 1941, (he was entrained for Warbur and during the journey he made his escape, accompanied by another officer, by crawling through a ventilator and dropping to the ground while the train was in motion. Shots were fired and the train was stopped but he and his companion managed to reach a wood where they hid until the departure of the train. Shortly afterwards they jumped on a goods train and reached Hanover on 8th October. Here Flight Lieutenant Stevens made contact with some pre-war acquaintances who provided him with food, money and civilian clothes. He, with his companion, then entrained for Frankfurt. Here they were challenged by Railway Police and arrested being subsequently sent to Oflag Vi.B. at Warburg.

On 1st December, 1941, Flight Lieutenant Stevens made a further attempt to escape by disguising himself as a German Unter-Offizier. He led a party of 10 officers disguised as orderlies, and two officers disguised as guards with dummy rifles, and all marched through the gates of the camp. They had to return however, as the sentry was not satisfied that the gate pass was correct. Flight Lieutenant Stevens marched his party back to the compound and the sentry (the goon) was then quite unaware that the party was not genuine. A similar plan of escape was therefore, adopted a week later, but on this occasion the sentry was immediately suspicious and demanded of the party their pay-books. The party then had to disperse hurriedly but two of its members were arrested.

In September, 1942, Flight Lieutenant Stevens was moved to Oflag XXIB at Schubin. Here he made a fourth attempt to escape and managed to get away by means of a tunnel, carrying forged identity papers, wearing a civilian suit and carrying a converted great-coat. He took a train to Berlin, arriving there on the evening of 5th March, 1943. He bought a railway ticket to Cologne and, when on the journey to that town, he was asked for his identity card by a Gestapo official. The latter discovered that it was forged, and Stevens was then arrested and returned to the Oflag XXIB, receiving as a punishment 14 days in the cells (called the ‘cooler’).

Flight Lieutenant Stevens made a further attempt on 21st April, 1943. But it was unsuccessful and he served a sentence of 7 days in the cells. He was ultimately liberated by the Russian forces arrving at Stalag IIIA on the 21st April, 1945.

Sqn Ldr Stevens medals incluing military cross for escape activity (copyright Marc Stevens)

The amzing story does not end there.Stevens was naturalised as a British citizen in 1946 and then recruited to MI6 in 1947. He served five years in MI6 as an operative against the Soviets in Germany.

He emigrated to Canada in 1952, married in 1953 and had two sons. Stevens died of a heart attack brought on by chemotherapy in 1979 in Toronto. If that is not a remarkable story – what is?

Written by his son Marc, the biography of Peter Stevens called ‘Escape, Evasion and Revenge was published by Pen and Sword aviation in 2009. Further information at http://aircrewremembered.com/peter-stevens-mc.html

Dad and his sons in Canada. Copyright Marc Stevens

References

The following books = provide detailed information for research:

  • The Bomber Command War Diaries – outlines day by day missions flown, by whom and where.  Of great relevance to North Luffenham was the Channel Dash 12 Feb 42 – where the 2 Nazi battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the light cruiser Prinz Eugen dailed from Brest through the English Channel in a carefully prepared and well-executed operation. Bomber command launched 3 waves to find the ships in bad weather and low cloud, the operation was called Op FULLER. 144 Sqn from N Luff lost 2 aircraft, 1 aircraft AE141 was hit by flak and was wrecked while making an emergency landing at Norwich killing 1 crew member. Another aircraft AT175, was lost without trace – the crew of 5 included the Squadron Commander Wg Cdr Simmonds.
  • Bomber Command Losses – 1941 and 1942. This provides a day by day detail of losses and occasion chapter summaries. I have used these to collate the losses from July 1941 to April 1942 for 61, 144 and 408 Canadian Squadrons to get a picture of losses.
  • 5 Group Bomber Command – An operational record by Chris Ward. A history of the Group and detail information on the Squadrons.
  • Hampden references:
    • Hamden Special by Chaz Boyer – provides full history of the type and points of history. No pictures of North Luffenham but representative pictures 5 Group operations/squadrons, bomb loads and aerial mines.
    • Hampden Squadrons in Focus by Mark Postlethwaite. Excellent photographic record of Hampden Squadrons. Picture of 144 Squadron in front of a hangar at N Luff before the Sqn transferred to Coastal Command to re-role as torpedo carriers.
    • Handley Page Hamden and Hereford by Alan W Hall. Warpaint Series no 57. More pictures and camouflage colour schemes
  • Avro Manchester – The legend behind the Lancaster by Robert Kirby. The full story of the Manchester and its ill-fated existence. Includes detail about all Manchester losses including those lost from 61 Sqn at N Luff/Woolfox Lodge. Some very courageous and tragic stories of desperately trying to operate the aircraft, but ultimately failing due to the technology not being up the task.
  • RAF Evaders by Oliver Clutton-Brock. A fascinating book outlining the escapers and their escape lines over 1940 to 1945. This is a book you can open any page and read about amazing journeys and courage. For North Luffenham, out of all the airmen who did not return I could only find one man who was an evader – Sergeant Albert Wright – Upper Gunner in a 61 San Manchester shot down and crash landed near Brest on the night of 1 Feb 1942. He finally returned to the UK at the end of September.
  • The Strategic Air Offensive aginst Germany 1940 to 1945. This is a 3 volume reference by Sir Charles Webster and Noble Frankland published by HMSO in 1961 as the official history of the Second World War. Volume 1 ‘Preparation’ covers the background of my snapshot ( July 1941 to June 1942). By this stage of the war daylight bombing had been proven to be a lost cause due to the severe losses of Wellingtons and Hampdens in daylight to 20 mm armed fighters (Heligoland 18 Dec 39 – 10 out of 22 returned). The drift into ‘area’ bombing had happened and we find 61 and 144 Squadron at North Luffenham prosecuting raids into Germany and most sorties directed to the the battleships in port on the west coast of France and the conduct of mining sorties to support the Battle of the Atlantic. So a day bomber design was being used to operate at night and over the sea.
  • Escape, Evasion and Revenge. By Marc H Stevens. Story of a German jew called Georg Ranz Hein, who was sent by his mother to Britain to escape the rise of the Nazis. He committed identify theft to avoid be locked up as an alien in 1939 and joined the RAF. He completed 22 missions flying the Hampden bomber, but was shot down and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner. He became an escaper and 3 times escaped. This book plots the rise of the Nazis in Germany and the life in the RAF and in the prisoner of war camps. Amazing story.
  • Before the Storm. By Robert Jackson. The story of Bomber Command 1939 to 1942. Covers the history of the RAF bomber force from the end of the first world war and gives the context as to why the RAF entered the war with a lot of substandard tactics, aircraft and training. The bravery of the crews is not at question and the scale of some losses from tactical failures was sometimes extreme. The change from daylight bombing and massive losses to fighters and the switch to night attacks. Also traces the efforts of the French air force in the blitzkreig. This is a comprehnsive accout of the early years.

Correspondence with a family member.

4 Comments

  1. Nicholas Minns permalinkHello, I have been researching my uncle who was based at Woolfox Lodge in 61 Squadron. He was killed on the night of 6/7 April 1942 on the way to, or on the way back from Essen. Only three crew members could be identified by their tags, and a fourth tag had IV/144/IV Woolfox inscribed on it. Do you have any idea what this referred to? The Germans thought it was a crew name, and then that it might have been a dog’s name.
    Thanks,Reply
    • rutlandhampdens permalinkNicolas, Thank you for posting and discussing this. The only explanation I can think off as I have seen it used in the early 1980s in the RAF – is that ID tags used to be made of a fireproof material and everyone had 2. The details were put on the tags by using letter punches. I have sent hem used to tag piece of flying equipment such as life vests, parachutes etc as they are durable and were easy to use in this manner. Whilst your uncle was on 61 Sqn the safety equipment or other items of equipment e.g navigation may have been used in a pool in the North Luffenham/Woolfox operation. This is of course all just a theory. Many thanks of posting. If you have any other information I would be happy to post it if you are willing to do so – of course with agreement. Scanned log book entries/photos would be welcome. I will e-mail you my contact details.Reply
  2. Shaun McDermott permalinkIs this still going?My father flew his first tour from North Luffenham first on 61 Sqn then on 144 Sqn. During his time there, completing his 200+ hour fist tour, 144 Sqn lost 39 a/c on Ops. My father was awarded an immediate DFM after a daylight raid in the battleships at Brest on 24/12/41. If you need any other info just shout.Reply
    • rutlandhampdens permalinkShaun, sorry not posted recently but would like to post more. So many thanks for posting a comment. If you have any photos or his log book – I would be very interested to see these – if you would be willing to scan the pages that would be excellent and if you are content we could post them subject to you being happy about the content before it was posted etc. I will e-mail you may contact details and it would be good to have a chat if you are willing to contribute etc. Many thanks