Shot down – the fate of one mid upper gunner

A No 57 Squadron mid-upper gunner, Sergeant 'Dusty' Miller, 'scans the sky for enemy aircraft' from a Lancaster's Fraser Nash FN50 turret. This image was part of a sequence taken for an Air Ministry picture story entitled 'T for Tommy Makes a Sortie', which portrayed the events surrounding a single Lancaster bomber and its crew during a typical operation.

A No 57 Squadron mid-upper gunner, Sergeant ‘Dusty’ Miller, ‘scans the sky for enemy aircraft’ from a Lancaster’s Fraser Nash FN50 turret. This image was part of a sequence taken for an Air Ministry picture story entitled ‘T for Tommy Makes a Sortie’, which portrayed the events surrounding a single Lancaster bomber and its crew during a typical operation.

Vertical aerial photograph showing an Avro Lancaster over the target area during the daylight raid on Adolf Hitler's chalet complex and the SS guard barracks at Obersalzburg near Berchtesgaden, Germany, by 359 Avro Lancasters and 16 De Havilland Mosquitos of Nos. 1, 5 and 8 Groups. Clouds of smoke from exploding bombs obscure most of the target, but the roofs of the Platterhof Pension can be seen at lower right.

Vertical aerial photograph showing an Avro Lancaster over the target area during the daylight raid on Adolf Hitler’s chalet complex and the SS guard barracks at Obersalzburg near Berchtesgaden, Germany, by 359 Avro Lancasters and 16 De Havilland Mosquitos of Nos. 1, 5 and 8 Groups. Clouds of smoke from exploding bombs obscure most of the target, but the roofs of the Platterhof Pension can be seen at lower right.

On Friday 16th March 1945 RAF Bomber Command sent 277 Lancasters to bomb Nuremburg, the last major raid on the city. The Luftwaffe demonstrated that their night fighters were still a potent force, shooting down 24 Lancasters, after they found their way into the bomber stream as it approached the target.

For each of the seven men on those 24 aircraft there would be terrifying experiences that night, many ending in oblivion. For the all the families of those crews there would be a long period of uncertainty before they learned whether their ‘missing’ sons were dead or not. Even when a death was confirmed there was rarely very much information available on how a loved one met his end.

Michael Goldstein was only five years old at the time. He would rely on the efforts of his uncle Ron to discover the fate of his father, Jacob ‘Jack’ Goldstein, who was a mid upper gunner on Lancaster RF154 (AS-B), nicknamed TARFU (‘Things Are Really ****** Up’):

They were due on the target, the central marshalling yards of Nuremberg, at 9.34pm. By 9.30pm, they were at 20,000 feet and on their approach to the target, which they could see in flames ahead of them. There had been some trouble with the rear guns en route, firing short bursts spontaneously, and again at this time.

There was some flak, and then fighter flares to both port and starboard. They were within seconds of releasing their bombs. And then it happened. My father was heard to shout “Corkscrew p…” — it was thought he was going to say “…port” but he didn’t get that far. By the time the rear gunner (Bob Green) yelled “Corkscrew Skipper for Christ’s sake!” it was too late.

There were shells ripping through the fuselage and starboard wing root which caught fire. The port wing was also on fire, and the bomb bay had also been hit, letting off the incendiaries and setting light to the aircraft floor. The extinguishers were emptied but to no avail. There was no option but to abandon the aircraft.

The bomb aimer (Chuck Goddard) got out first through the front escape hatch, then the flight engineer (Ted Hull). The navigator (Lefty Ethrington) first became stuck in that hatch by his parachute, but after a struggle managed to escape. In the rear turret, the guns had elevated and jammed the foot of the rear gunner (Bob Green); he manually cranked his turret round to ‘beam’, opened the turret doors, leaned out and pulled the ripcord; the opening parachute pulled him out, with his boots left behind.

The way out for the wireless operator (Alf White) was through the normal rear entrance towards the tail; as he made his way there, he passed my father still slung in his harness in the mid-upper gun turret, and slapped his legs in case he had not heard the pilot’s order to bale out.

Throughout this time the pilot (Bud Churchward) struggled to keep the ‘plane on an even keel. He saw the three get out through the front hatch, but would not be able to see the others exit via the rear. When he thought they were all gone, he gave a roll call to check, receiving a response only from the rear gunner (Bob Green). After Bob told him he was going, Bud asked if there was anyone still there. Not hearing any more, he assumed all had jumped. So he himself baled out.

It now seems fairly certain that my father did not bale out of the aircraft, and was likely already dead while still airborne. No-one heard him after his cry: “Corkscrew p…”, and no-one saw him leave; he was still in his harness when Alf White left. An Investigation Report, dated 6 December 1946, from the No 3 Missing Research and Enquiry Unit, British Armed Forces of Occupation, to the Air Ministry London, relating to Lancaster RF154 (my father’s aircraft on that fateful night) contains information about my father’s original burial (described below), and includes the following statement:

“…The other six crew members were taken prisoner, but the deceased [my father] had crashed with the burning aircraft…”

There is, however one anomaly. The aircraft was seriously on fire as it fell from the sky, as the six 1000lb incendiaries had been set off by the shells of the fighter which brought the aircraft down. The 4000lb bomb had not been released when the aircraft was hit, so would have been in the bomb bay when falling to the ground; if it was still in the aircraft when it crashed, which would have caused huge damage on impact. There are some suggestions (for example, from other crew on the raid that night) that the aircraft exploded before hitting the ground. Yet my father did not suffer major burning.

The exhumation report dated 24 June 1947, on my father’s reburial in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Durnbach, Bavaria, describes his clothing and equipment as: “Remains of RAF BD, Sgt’s chevrons, airman issue shirt, long woollen underwear, blue aircrew sweater, blue aircrew socks, airman issue braces. Issue flying boots, escape type. Remains of mae west, and electrically heated flying suit”. The fact that he was buried and re-buried in full flying gear is consistent with the body being very damaged.

German records show that at 9.31pm on 16 March 1995, a Lancaster bomber was shot down by Feldwebel (Sergeant) Schuster from Luftwaffe unit I./NJG5, north of Nuremberg. By all accounts, his aircraft was a Junkers JU88. The Lancaster crashed near Kammerstein, which is in the administrative region of Roth, Bavaria, south of Nuremberg.

As mentioned above, there is an Investigation Report to the Air Ministry dated 6 December 1946, the full text of which is:

“Herr Koelisch, Pfaffenhofen, near Roth was detailed on 17 March 1945 [the day after the night my father’s aircraft was shot down] by an officer from the Luftwaffe Station at Roth to proceed to the New Cemetery at Schwabach and bury seven English [sic] Flyers — the dead members of two crews who crashed near Schwabach in the evening of 16 March 1945. Six of these flyers were brought to the churchyard from a crash in the Penzendorfer Strasse, Schwabach, and Koellisch said that 3 were Canadian and 3 were English. (The aircraft was Lancaster I, PD275, and the seventh crew member, another Canadian, was captured by the Germans and became a Prisoner of War).

After their burial another English flyer was brought from a crash near Kammerstein. The other six crew members were taken prisoner, but the deceased [my father] had crashed with the burning aircraft. All the papers belonging to these Airmen had been taken by the Luftwaffe authorities in Roth. They were the only aircraft to crash in this area on 16 March 1945, therefore the airman taken from the crash at Kammerstein must be Sgt Goldstein. Sgt Goldstein was buried with the other six airmen in a communal grave in the New Cemetery at Schwabach”.

A ‘Graves Concentration Report Form’ completed 2 July 1948 identifies the six other airmen originally buried with my father in Schwabach — P/O Malyon, F/O Kerr and F/Lt Daymond from RCAF; and Sgt Hathaway, P/O Woffenden and Sht McNicol from RAFVR. My father was described as ‘Body 1’ of seven.

They were all reburied, in individual graves of course, on 18 June 1948 at the Commonwealth War Grave cemetery at Durnbach, near Bad Toltz in Bavaria. This is the most southerly of all the Commonwealth War Graves in Germany, and is about 30 miles south of Munich. My father’s grave identification is plot XI, row K, grave 22.

All six survivors of my father’s aircraft crew were captured by the German forces:

Alf White was captured immediately, as his parachute took him onto the lawn of Nuremberg Prison! Lefty Ethrington landed about 10 miles south-west of Nuremberg (his reckoning is likely to be reliable as he was the flight navigator); he was significantly burned, so by the next morning (Saturday 17 March 1945) he was badly in need of medical attention, so gave himself up to a small village near to Kammerstein. Ted Hull’s experience was also seriously burned about the face, and was captured early the next morning (Saturday 17 March 1945). All three (Alf, Lefty and Ted) were taken to Munich for interrogation and then to Nuremberg POW camp, as were Chuck and Bob.

Bud Churchward was not captured for several days, but ended up in a prison in Stuttgart before being marched east. He was liberated by the US Army and did not meet up with the rest of the surviving crew until his return to England.

But Ted Hull’s story of his capture is the most traumatic and relevant to this story. When he was captured on the morning after the crash, he was taken to a nearby camp where he was interrogated by two SS officers for about an hour. They accused him of being Jewish and coming from ‘a Jewish squadron’.

He was told: ‘Your mid-upper gunner is a Jew, and so are you”. Evidently, the German authorities had identified my father as Jewish from his name (he didn’t change his name when enlisting as some other Jewish men did) and also from his identity tags which gave the person’s religion. Ted was in a bad way, but was interrogated three times along the same lines.

He cannot recall how long he was in that camp, and was clearly in a state of shock as well as suffering from his untreated injuries. In his mind he thought he saw my father amongst a small group of men being taken by armed guards to some pits, which he took to be mass graves. For many years after his release, he still maintained that he had seen my father at the camp and was convinced that he had been shot there. But this is inconsistent with all the other information available. Ted described my father as being ‘very distinctive … and not easy to miss’. However, my father’s service record gives his height on enlistment as 5’ 2¼”, which would make it difficult to mark him out in a closely guarded group.

For the whole story see BBC People’s War – The night my father was killed in action

A large Nazi eagle and swastika towers above part of a damaged grandstand at the former Nazi Party rally site in Nuremburg.

A large Nazi eagle and swastika towers above part of a damaged grandstand at the former Nazi Party rally site in Nuremburg.

Nuremburg bomb damage

Nuremburg bomb damage

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