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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.

"Sir,
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 engines.
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.

Wellington

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 veterans.

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 mementos.
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 Summers.

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 nightfighter aircraft.

[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 described below.


Sgt Lyndon George SOUTHWOOD 656200
Seeking photoLyndon 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

M B Summers Malcolm was the second pilot on X3563 on the night of Feb 28th/March 1st 1943 andMalcolm Barnes Summer 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 Commonwealth burials in this local French cemetery.  The graves are also marked by a French language plaque which commemorates their deaths.

F/Sgt John Carleton GROVER R/96255 RCAF

J C Grover
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 Canada.

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
Seeking photoJohn 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.
A W Puffer

Born in October 1920 in Toronto to Alice Maud and DeWillett S Puffer.

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, Torontonensis.

Sgt William Norman CHALK R/100601 RCAF
Seeking photoBill 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. 

X3563 Crew
The crew in this five man photo are, left to right:  Blue, Grover, Chalk, Puffer and Southwood.

Southwood Crew

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 construction.

In later years the four survivors after 1952 stayed in contact and met at reunions.  Some photos from these are shown below.

Southwood crew
          reunion

Left to right:  Lyndon Southwood, Norman Chalk?, John Blue, Douglas Puffer, brother of Alan Puffer, John Grover

Southwood crew
          reunion
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.

Grover training
          group
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 dp_burke@yahoo.com