Vickers Wellington, Roscommon, March 1943
On the evening of 28 February 1943, 437 bombers of the Royal
Air Force set out to bomb the occupied French city of Saint
Nazaire and the port there that housed a massive German U-boat
base. 409 aircraft made it to the target, dropping bombs
that destroyed large parts of the city and leaving 39
dead. One of those aircraft found itself over neutral
Ireland in the early hours of March 1st, with almost empty fuel
tanks. A detailed summary of the raid is provided on the 38 Group
Squadrons Reunited website.
In Ireland, the local populace of the townlands of Miltown and
Ballybane in Roscommon were greeted that morning with the
presence among them of six young foreign airmen and the
smouldering wreckage of an aircraft smashed in fields. The
Irish Army and Gardai, the Police, descended on the area and the
story began to emerge.
The following day, an unsigned summary report to Army G2 Branch included the following records:
"Between 00.10 and 02.15 hours on 1st March, 1943, an
aircraft heard by LOPs Howth to Bray, Military Sandycove,
Killiney and Garda Greystones, east circling and moving North
and South was later heard by Garda Arklow over post moving
West. It was subsequently heard by Garda Shillelagh, Carlow,
Athy, Ballybrittas, Monasterevan, Clonbolloge, Athlone and
Williamstown moving North West.
The aircraft crashed in a field in Ballybane 2 miles from Ballinlough, Co. Roscommon, at approximately 02.15 hours on 1st March 1943."
On the 10th of March, Capt. M Cumisky of the Irish Air Corps
submitted a summary report which recorded:
"Crash of Wellington Bomber at Ballybane, Ballinlough, Co.
Roscommon on 1/3/43.
I append report in connection with the crash of the above mentioned aircraft on the 1st March 1943.
Type of Aircraft
Wellington Bomber Mark III fitted with Bristol Hercules
Condition Aircraft crashed almost vertically on a ploughed field and was completely destroyed.
Armament Six Browning Machine Guns (unservicable) and about 1,000 rds. of ammunition were removed from the wreck. The major portion of ammunition was burnt and damaged
Mission Returning to its base in England
Cause of crash Shortage of fuel. Crew of six bailed out.
The aircraft went on fire after crashing and the wreckage
was strewn over four separate fields. There was no trace
of bombs, flares or other dangerous articles. The
Command Engineer is arranging to have remains of wreck
collected and brought to Athlone.
The aircraft involved in the crash was a Vickers Wellington Mark III bomber. It carried the Air Ministry serial number X3563, along with the markings of 427 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, in this case the letters ZL and T. ZL was the code for 427 Squadron and T was the individual letter assigned to the aircraft at that time. This contemporary 1942 specification sheet comes from the archives of Flight magazine and provides a basic impression of the aircraft. At this stage of the war, the Wellington was being steadily removed from front line Bomber Command use, being replaced by the larger four engined Halifax and Lancaster.
The reports by Kevin Hora in 1993/94 concluded that the aircraft serial number was "T3563", it is thought this stemmed from the crew log books, aircrew had a habit of recording only the numbers from the aircraft serials, and in this case, the number 3563 and the aircraft letter T must have become transposed together. The serial T3563 was never applied to an aircraft, finding itself in a 'Black out block' instead, blocks of serial numbers not used in an effort to confuse German intelligence as to the actual numbers of aircraft being built.
Telegrams in the service file of Malcolm B Summers indicate
that, as related by the crew in 1993, their aircraft was
equipped with the TR1335, 'GEE' navigational aid.
On the day of the crash, Lt J Ryan of the Irish Air Corps
workshops along with a party of enlisted men, traveled from
Baldonnel to Roscommon for the purposes of establishing what if
any of the aircraft was to be salvaged. His conclusions
were forwarded to the Air Corps on the 5th March as follows:
"I have the honour to report that on the 1st inst. at 10.00
hours I left for the above job in Air Corps trailer No.
ZD.1758 with a driver, one N.C.O. and six men. I reported to
Comdt. Power, Intelligence Officer, at Athlone Barracks at
13.00 hours and arranged with him that I would visit the crash
near Ballinlough and remove any equipment of interest to the
Air Corps and that the Command Engineer would then bring the
remaining wreckage to Athlone. I reached the scene of the
crash about 16.00 hours. The aircraft was a British Wellington
Bomber Mark III with Bristol Hercules engines which had
crashed on the night of the 28/2/43 after her crew of six had
left her by parachute. It had crashed almost vertically
on a ploughed field and was completely destroyed. The only
equipment I removed was six Browning .303 machine guns and
about 1,000 rounds of ammunition. All the guns were
un-serviceable and the major portion of the ammunition was
bent and damaged. The two engines were completely smashed, not
a single cylinder remaining on either of them. I went
carefully through the debris to make sure that no bombs,
flaresor other dangerous articles remained. The wreckage is
strewn over four separate fields and it was too late when my
inspection was finished to ascertain the names of the owners
and what claims for damage they proposed to submit. This
matter however will be attended to by the Officer in charge of
the Engineer Company when the clearing up of the wreckage has
been completed. I continued with my party to Boyle Military
Barracks where quarters were provided for the night."
Lt Ryan in his report records the crash as being in Garranlahan, the name of two townlands to the west of the Ballybane townlands.
The crew of X3563 were released immediately and allowed to
return across the border to Northern Ireland. The Irish
Army report contains no information what so ever about the
dealings with the crew. This information was gleaned some
50 years after the events by Kevin Hora in his contacts with the
The same situation had arisen only two weeks prior to to five
of their British squadron mates from 427 Squadron when their
Wellington, serial number, Z1676, was returning from a raid on
the German U-boat pens in the French city of Lorient on the
night of February 17th, 1943. Unable to get a a reliable
navigation signal on their loop equipment, they were forced to
crash land the aircraft due to fuel shortage in a field near
Waterford. Those five airmen, F/Sgt.s Holloway and G C
Slater, W/O Ross, Sgt.s Taylor and Thomas were interned in the
Curragh Camp. Thomas was invalided back to the UK due to
illness, Taylor feigned mental illness and was released, and
Ross injured himself playing rugby and was released. They
were the last Allied personnel interned during the war.
One might expect the same to have happened to the crew of
Wellington X3563 but it would appear that the crew of Z1676 were
interned as a sop to the German legation in Ireland, who had
learned that the American crew
and passengers of a bomber that crashed in Galway had been
released some weeks before.
The veterans testimony was summarized as follows by Kevin Hora as follows:
"Having been informed of the previous nights incidents,
Custume Barracks, Athlone, despatched a Commandant and driver
to pick up the crew. They drove first to Castlerea, where they
picked up Sgts Blue and Somers. From there, they made their
way to Corry's of Kilsallagh, where they found Sgt Grover, who
was, according to Sgt. Chalk" almost out of sight in a big
featherbed, complete with a thermos of coffee and cigarettes
on a bedside table ". The next stop was Williamstown, and
while they were there the Red Cross presented them with two
1,500 page editions of the works of Lord Clive, to be read
during their internment. Before they left Williamstown, in
gratitude for the generous and welcoming hospitality of the
Gardai, they made them a gift of their torches as token
Leaving Williamstown in the afternoon, they arrived at Custume Barracks, Athlone, at four o' clock where they were met by the Colonel in charge and invited to dinner. When asked about their flight, they freely admitted that they had been on a bombing mission. Afterwards, Sgt Southwood was taken aside and informed by Commandant Power that they would be escorted to the border that night where the Irish Army had arranged to hand them over to the RAF. While such a move in itself was hardly to be expected from a country in Ireland's position, it was at the border that Commandant Power was forced to break the rules a little further. After waiting in a secluded spot for the RAF, who failed to arrive, he took the decision to cross the border with them. Taking them to Newtown Butler police station, he handed them over to the British authorities and, despite a frosty reception, stayed the night."
The comings and goings on a Royal Air Force unit were recorded
in the Operations Record book or ORB.
The RAF investigation into the loss of X3563 includes a Form
765 "Report on flying accident or forced landing not
attributable to enemy action".
The crew are listed on this as:
Captain - Southwood, L. G. - Sgt - 656200 - Uninjured
Co. Pilot - Summers, M. B. - Sgt - R128658 - Uninjured
Navigator - Grover, J. C. - Sgt - R96255 - Uninjured
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner - Blue, J. H. - Sgt. R79384 - Uninjured
Bomb Aimer - Puffer, A. W. - F/Sgt - R105122 - Injured
Air Gunner - Chalk, W. W. N. - Sgt - R100601 - Uninjured
A copy of this was to be found in the service file for M B
A report by Sgt Southwood as pilot is included and reads:
"After bombing Target, we set course for BASE, flying over
10/10th cloud, so were unable to get pinpoint on the French
Coast. The S.B.A. was turned on but received no
beam. Loop bearings gave us a position Line over East
Anglia and we then tried various methods of attracting
attention without success. Eventually we obtained a
"Fix" giving us a position over Ireland but as the petrol
gauges were reaching zero we were unable to reach England, so
we baled out after flying 8 hrs, 20 minutes."
SBA referred to the Standard Beam Approach system carried on
the aircraft, an already outdated prewar blind landing aid.
The crew of Vickers Wellington X3563 consisted of five airmen
from Canada and one from Wales. All except Malcolm Summers
were part of an established five man crew which went on to
complete a tour of duty together during 1943. Sgt
Summers had been posted to the Squadron on February 25th, so his
first mission turned into quite an adventure. He had been
assigned to the crew to allow him gain combat experience.
The Canadians, Blue, Puffer, Chalk and Grover it is assumed
started their tour of duty in October 1942 with a posting to 419
Squadron after crew training with 22 Operational Training
Unit. There is little mention of any of the men in the
records of 419 Squadron, except for three possible missions
flown by a "F/Sgt Grover". They are mentioned finally in
November 1942 under a paragraph reading:
"The Squadron ceased to be operational.”… “Twelve of our crews were attached to No. 1659 Conversion Unit for training on Halifax aircraft. The following of our aircrew were posted to No. 427 Squadron, which was now commencing to form at ?????: Names included are
Sgt Blue, J H (W/Op.A.G.)…Sgt Chalk W N (A.G.), Sgt. Grover, J C (Navigator), Sgt Puffer A W (Obs B/A)
It is not known not known if Lyndon Southwood met with Grover, Puffer, Chalk and Blue at 22 OTU, but this seems likely.
They are first mentioned in the Operations Record Book of 427
Squadron, flying as a five man crew on 7th February 1943.
Some members of the crew had flown missions individually with
other crews in the weeks prior to this. They continued to fly
during February usually with one extra crew member, but always
with Southwood, Grover, Blue, Puffer and Chalk.
The Operations Record Book for 427 Squadron detailed the nights
operations as follows:
[Form 540, 28 Feb. 1943] "Three aircraft were detailed for
daylight bombing operations bit this was scrubbed. Six
aircraft were detailed for a bombing raid on the Submarine
base at ST. NAZAIRE. Only five took off then being one
non-starter due to mechanical trouble. One aircraft
piloted by Sgt Hartney is missing and one aircraft piloted by
Sgt Southwood ran out of petrol over Southern Ireland and the
Crew parachuted to safety."
The "Sgt Hartney" was actually Sgt W E Harwood, and he and his
crew of five were killed that night over France by a German
[Form 541, Feb. 1943] "Target ST. NAZAIRE. Bomb Load
- 1 x 4,000lb. This aircraft was airborne at 1810 hrs.
and crashed in Northern (sic) Ireland. Crew baled out
and all safe. F/S Puffer suffered leg injuries."
This part of the ORB does state Northern Ireland, but was typed up at the time and could be expected to contain this type of error.
They flew only one more mission with 427 Squadron on April 28th, and shortly after were posted to 429 Squadron. 427 Squadron was due to be re-equipped with Halifax heavy bombers, but the B Flight Commander took 11 of 427's Wellingtons and 5 of the crews to create the new 432 Squadron, whilst L G Southwood and his crew were amongst a number of 427 crew who went to 429 Squadron to continue flying Wellington bombers.
At this time, the roles of navigator and bomb aimer are changed
within the crew. Puffer was now the navigator, and Grover
the Bomb Aimer
With 429 Squadron they again flew from May 1943 on missions to
targets in Germany along with a small
number of sea mine dropping flights. August 1943 next saw them posted to 432 Squadron, where they
flew mainly sea mine dropping flights, until the night of September 22nd, when Wellington LN394
crashed on take off from Eastmoor airfield, failing to get airborne and coming to rest with undercarriage
collapsed. No one was injured it seems and the aircraft itself, LN394, was later repaired.
They are not mentioned again in the 432 Sqn ORB and it is
assumed that they were posted out of the Squadron as a group or
individually. We do know what became of Sgt Puffer sadly
due to his post war death in 1952, and his postings are
Sgt Lyndon George SOUTHWOOD 656200
Lyndon was the only non-Canadian on board the aircraft. He was a Welshman, the crew captain and first pilot. Lyndon was born in 1917 in Newport district, the son of Joseph and Anne Waters. In 1939, he was registered as a sheet mill worker. He married in 1949 to Nancy, and they lived happily until his death in October 1998 in Bridgend, Wales. He attended reunions in Canada in the 1980's
On 22 September 1943 he received a Commission as a Pilot Officer. He did not do a second tour of duty but trained as, and qualified as, a flight instructor, a role he performed for the rest of the war. He was promoted to Flying Officer on 22 March 1944 and to Flight Lieutenant on 22 September 1945.
Sgt Malcolm Barnes SUMMERS R/128658 RCAF
Malcolm was the second
pilot on X3563 on the night of Feb 28th/March 1st 1943 and was flying
his very first combat mission.
The son of Waldo and Ethel Summers, he was born in Malcolm
Summers enlisted in August 1941. He arrived in the UK on
1st September 1942 and was posted to 3 PRC and thence to 12 (P)
AFU on September 12th. From there he went to 22 OTU on
10th October 1942 and was posted to 427 Squadron only on 25 Feb
1943. He flew his first operational mission with the
Southwood crew, on the fateful night they ended up in
Ireland. Following the mishap in Ireland, he was given
command of a crew of his own and was soon posted to 426 squadron
on 6th May 1943 and flew with that unit until he was shot down
on October 7th 1943. He had received his commission as an
officer in July 1943. He and five men from his crew were
killed while two more men from Lancaster DS689 managed to evade
capture and escaped to Spain.
P/O M B Summer J18532 was buried with his crew mates at
Rachecourt-sur-blaise, near Wassy, south of St Dizier, in 1943
and the local populace maintained the unmarked graves until such
time as liberation allowed information to flow back to the UK
and then Canada. By 1945, his mother was writing to the
RCAF asking still if her sons identity had been firmly
established. It would be 1947 before his parents would
learn of his final fate. The remains were exhumed at that
time and identities confirmed. The six men remain the only
burials in this local French cemetery. The graves
are also marked by a French language plaque which commemorates
F/Sgt John Carleton GROVER R/96255 RCAF
F/Sgt Grover was the aircraft's navigator. His commanding officers heaped blame upon him for the loss in their conclusions to the investigation carried out after the loss of Wellington X3563, but not withstanding that, he did continue flying in the Southwood crew. The veterans were able to explain that his role as crew navigator was taken up by Alan Puffer, and John took on the bomb aimer role. This role change is
Born in July 1914 in Ontario to Kathleen and George Grover, he
grew up in Montreal, being found there in the 1921 census of
He enlisted in Ottawa in May 1941 and was posted to Toronto for
initial processing that summer. His training as an
observer, the term used at that time for navigator, took him to
1 AOS at Malton in September 1941, 1 BGS in February 1942 and 2
ANS before being posted overseas in June 1942. He married
in 1942, prior to his departure overseas.
He was repatriated in November 1944 back to Canada, having been
promoted to officer in November of the previous year. He
was released from duty in the New Year of 1945.
John Grover passed away in 1993. His family donated his
wartime records to the Trent
University Peterborough, Ontario.
Sgt John Henry BLUE R/79384 RCAF
John Blue held the trade of Wireless Operator/Air Gunner on the crew. John enlisted in Montreal in April 1941, and following completion of his basic military training, was posted to No. 1 Wireless School, that September. This was followed in February 1942 by a posting to No 8 Bombing and Gunnery School at Lethbridge, Alberta. He graduated from there at the end of March 1942 and was posted to England almost directly afterwards. It is not known what he was posted to after his time with 432 Squadron but he didn't return to Canada until August 1945.
The Canadian Legion listed a F/Lt John Harry BLUE J18846 as
having passed away on 6th May 2004, aged 83. He had been a
member of Col. John Bourque Branch, Sherbrooke, Quebec.
F/Sgt Alan Willett PUFFER R/105122 RCAF
Alan Puffer was originally the Bomb Aimer for this crew, but later the navigator.
Born in October 1920 in Toronto to Alice Maud and DeWillett S
After his time flying with the Southwood crew, he was posted to
a number of administrative postings during the winter of 1943/44
and between January and May 1944, was posted to 1 (O) AFU, where
it is expected he was posted as a navigation instructor.
After a short period of leave back in Canada, he was posted back
to the UK and was later posted to 419 Squadron flying on
Lancaster bombers, and here he flew another tour of duty with
Bomber Command through until VE day.
He sailed back to back to New York in May 5 1945 on the SS
Lejeune, identifiable by his officers serial number J19142 and
trade of Nav.B., Navigator Bombardier.
He was killed in 1952 in car accident and is buried with his
parents in Park Lawn Cemetery in Toronto. The photo shown
comes from the 1950 University of Toronto Yearbook,
Sgt William Norman CHALK R/100601 RCAF
Bill Chalk was an Air Gunner on the Wellington.
Born in 1912 to Mary and William Chalk. William Chalk
died in on 28 February 2001 in London, Ontario.
Theses photos of the crew members are in the Hora report from
1994, and it is hoped that the families can find the original
photos again to rescan them in a clearer format.
The crew in this five man photo are, left to right: Blue, Grover, Chalk, Puffer and Southwood.
In this image above, the four airmen are from the left, Blue,
Southwood, Grover and Chalk next to a Wellington bomber.
The window displays the Wellingtons geodetic method of
In later years the four survivors after 1952 stayed in contact
and met at reunions. Some photos from these are shown
Left to right: Lyndon Southwood, Norman Chalk?, John
Blue, Douglas Puffer, brother of Alan Puffer, John Grover
Left to right: John Grover, ???, Lyndon Southwood
This wonderful group shot was left by John Grover and shows him
with a group of trainees over the winter of 1941/42. The
surnames recorded allowed the names to be confirmed by a
historian of the British Common wealth Air Training Plan.
1) Sgt. Robert Fred Lindsay ANDERSON (R/103209) (Waterloo, ON);
2) Sgt. Shannon Stanley Joseph Hobb SMITH (R/904458);
3) Sgt. Everett Kingsley SEIGEL (Toronto, ON);
4) Sgt. Leslie Arthur Jacob PRIME (AUS402902) ( Cremorne, NSW, Australia);
5) Sgt. John William MOORE (AUS403943);
6) Sgt. William Lesley LOTT (R/99690) (London, ON);
7) Sgt. John Sanfield CLIFFORD (R/95600);
8) Sgt. G.W. DUNN (Toronto, ON);
9) Sgt. Thomas BAILLIE (R/99629) (Stratford, ON);
10) Sgt. Alfred George ROWE (R/102799) (Toronto, ON);
11) Sgt. Donald Chesley KING (R/104886) (Verdun, PQ);
12) Sgt. Elmer Warrenner BELL (Hanover, ON);
13) Sgt. Robert Andrews FEE (R/90718) (North Bay, ON); and
14) Sgt. Vernon Peter Bruce HILL (R/103165) (St. Catharines, ON).,
Converted to digital format by Dennis Burke with addition of information in 2018, Dublin and Sligo. it wouldn't be possible without the great assistance of the families and friends of the Southwood, Grover, Puffer, Chalk and Blue families. A big thank you to Kevin Hora. If you have information on any of the people listed above, please do contact me at email@example.com