A letter from a Bomber Command Group Captain

Farmers gather in the wheat, undisturbed by the presence of these Halifaxes of an unidentified No 4 Group squadron in Yorkshire, August 1943.

Farmers gather in the wheat, undisturbed by the presence of these Halifaxes of an unidentified No 4 Group squadron in Yorkshire, August 1943.

The wireless operator of a Handley-Page Halifax of No. 35 Squadron RAF, in his position prior to take-off at Linton-On-Ouse, Yorkshire.

The wireless operator of a Handley-Page Halifax of No. 35 Squadron RAF, in his position prior to take-off at Linton-On-Ouse, Yorkshire.

Following the raid on Berlin on the 23rd August 1943 it was the task of various senior officers to sit down and write a number of letters.

The Commanding Officers of many of the different Bomber Command Squadrons participating in the raid would all have written words very similar to the following:

Royal Air Force

Graveley, Hunts
25 Aug 1943
Ref: GY/927/P.1.

Dear Mrs Powell

I am writing to express my sympathy in your anxiety over your son who was reported missing on the night of the 23rd August 1943.


Your son’s aircraft was engaged in an important mission against the enemy, but we are not in possession of any details of the events leading up to the failure of the aircraft to return to the base, and very often it takes some while for any definite news to reach us.

Experience up to the present has shown that quite a fair proportion of our flying personnel who are reported missing in operations against the enemy have managed to make a safe descent by parachute or in the aircraft itself. Therefore I am able to assure you that there must be some hope that your son is safe and a prisoner in enemy hands.


Your son was very well reported on by his Squadron Commander, and I am sure that he and his companions gave a very good account of themselves under whatever circumstances prevented them from bringing their aircraft back. I am indeed sorry to lose such first class men and can only hope they have been able to make a safe landing.

Please accept my sincere sympathy in your anxiety and let me know if there is any way in which I can help.

Yours sincerely
H Graham
Group Captain commanding
RAF

During the course of the war over 60,000 such letters were written from RAF Bomber Command bases. The letters would have been received by families who were recovering from the shock of receiving a Telegram a day or two earlier, informing them that their son or husband was missing. The letters held out some hope that the missing man may have survived. A period of uncertainty followed.

All too often that uncertainty lasted for months, sometimes for years. Usually if a man had been taken prisoner of war some definite news would be forwarded by the Red Cross within the next couple of months. If not taken prisoner there was was very often no certainty as to what had happened to him. No news meant a long lingering hope that somehow he had survived and was perhaps on the run in occupied Europe.

In this case there was good news. The wireless operator/ air gunner Daniel David Cleary, who had volunteered for the RAF at the age of 18 in 1940, was taken prisoner on 24th August and sent to Stalag IVB, Muhlberg on Elbe on the 1st September 1943. His family were informed by Telegram at the end of September 1943. He remained PoW at Muhlberg on Elbe until liberated by the Russians on 23rd April 1945.

All of the original letters and telegrams relating to David Cleary can be seen at Terorflieger: The War Log of a Captured Airman – the website also includes copies of all the original material collected by him during this period – “a collection of photos, sketches, news cuttings, letters, poetry, mementos and ephemera.”. See for example the cutting from the Sunday Times on page 127.

Halifax B Mark II Series 1A, HR861, on the ground prior to delivery to No. 35 Squadron RAF at Graveley, Huntingdonshire. HR861 was lost over Nuremberg, 11 August 1943.

Halifax B Mark II Series 1A, HR861, on the ground prior to delivery to No. 35 Squadron RAF at Graveley, Huntingdonshire. HR861 was lost over Nuremberg, 11 August 1943.

The following figures give a breakdown of Bomber Command casualties:

The Air Ministry was able to compile the following figures up to 31 May 1947:

Killed in action or died while prisoners of war 47,268
Killed in flying or ground accidents 8,195
Killed in ground-battle action 37
Total fatal casualties to aircrew 55,500
Prisoners of war, including many wounded 9,838
Wounded in aircraft which returned from operations 4,200
Wounded in flying or ground accidents in U. K. 4,203
Total wounded, other than prisoners of war 8,403

Total aircrew casualties 73,741

RAF Info provides a comprehensive analysis of these figures by year and also by nationality, providing figures for the Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, Poles, French, Indians, Norwegians, South Africans and Americans who are amongst those who were casualties, as well as the 51 women.

The wreckage of Handley Page Halifax Mark II, JD379 'KN-M', of No. 77 Squadron RAF based at Elvington, Yorkshire, lying in a cleared fir plantation at Queloh, north-west of Eschede, Germany, after being shot down by a night fighter while returning from a major night raid on Berlin on 24 August 1943. 3 members of the crew, including the pilot, Pilot Officer A Massie, were killed and the 4 survivors were made prisoners of war. JD379 was the 25th victim of the Luftwaffe night-fighter 'ace', Oberleutnant Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer.

The wreckage of Handley Page Halifax Mark II, JD379 ‘KN-M’, of No. 77 Squadron RAF based at Elvington, Yorkshire, lying in a cleared fir plantation at Queloh, north-west of Eschede, Germany, after being shot down by a night fighter while returning from a major night raid on Berlin on 24 August 1943. 3 members of the crew, including the pilot, Pilot Officer A Massie, were killed and the 4 survivors were made prisoners of war. JD379 was the 25th victim of the Luftwaffe night-fighter ‘ace’, Oberleutnant Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer.

The damaged tail section of Handley Page Halifax B Mark II Series I, HR782 'MH-V', 51 Squadron RAF, following its collision with an Avro Lancaster while returning from a raid on Munchen-Gladbach on the night of 29/30 August 1943. HR782 was ten miles from its temporary base at Ossington, Nottinghamshire, when the Lancaster, apparently on a reciprocal course, collided with the aircraft, damaging the port propellers, gashing the fuselage and tearing off the upper port fin. The pilot, Flying Officer R Burchett, found the aircraft uncontrollable at less than 180 miles per hour, but made a good landing at Ossington despite overshooting the runway. HR782 was repaired and flew on further operations before it was finally lost on a raid to Leipzig on the night of 3/4 December 1943.

The damaged tail section of Handley Page Halifax B Mark II Series I, HR782 ‘MH-V’, 51 Squadron RAF, following its collision with an Avro Lancaster while returning from a raid on Munchen-Gladbach on the night of 29/30 August 1943. HR782 was ten miles from its temporary base at Ossington, Nottinghamshire, when the Lancaster, apparently on a reciprocal course, collided with the aircraft, damaging the port propellers, gashing the fuselage and tearing off the upper port fin. The pilot, Flying Officer R Burchett, found the aircraft uncontrollable at less than 180 miles per hour, but made a good landing at Ossington despite overshooting the runway. HR782 was repaired and flew on further operations before it was finally lost on a raid to Leipzig on the night of 3/4 December 1943.

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