For Freedom: Remembering the lost 408 Squadron bomber crews of the Hamburg raids

News Article / November 8, 2017

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On July 29, 2017, relatives of the crew of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 408 “Goose” Squadron’s Lancaster LL-687, nicknamed “Berlin Special”, unveiled a memorial plaque near the German town where the aircraft was shot down. Three other aircraft from 408 Squadron were also lost that day. This was an unimaginable loss for Goose Squadron. With the 73rd anniversary of these events recently past and Remembrance Day approaching, it is fitting to remember and honour those men who sacrificed so much.

By Christine YellowLees

On July 29, 2017, relatives of the crew of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 408 “Goose” Squadron’s Lancaster LL-687, nicknamed “Berlin Special”, unveiled a memorial plaque near the German town where the aircraft was shot down. Three other aircraft from 408 Squadron were also lost that day. This was an unimaginable loss for Goose Squadron. With the 73rd anniversary of these events recently past and Remembrance Day approaching, it is fitting to remember and honour those men who sacrificed so much.

Someone yelled on the intercom, ‘We’re hit!’, and as I glanced at the engine panel to see the condition of the engines, the Skipper gave the order to ‘Bail out!’

This passage from Royal Air Force (RAF) flight engineer Sergeant David Scott’s diary likely echoes similar experiences among several other crews from 408 Squadron, part of the Bomber Command’s No. 6 Group, in the wee hours of July 29, 1944.

Sergeant Scott and his crewmates were in Lancaster LL-687, which took part in a bombing raid targeting the port town of Hamburg, Germany. This operation ended with a record loss of Canadians from the squadron on a single operation during the entire war. From the 239 aircraft that No. 6 Group, the only Royal Canadian Air Force group in Bomber Command, put in the air that night, four of the 22 that went missing were from 408 Squadron, including LL-687. Lancaster DS-634 and LL-725, and Halifax NP-716 also failed to return from the operation.

Of the 31 men of these four crews, 24 were killed and seven captured as prisoners of war. Sergeant Scott was one of the few men who was able to bail out of his aircraft. He landed, alone, in a small German village. None of his crewmates survived.

After his landing, Sergeant Scott was discovered by villagers and escorted to the police station. From there, he was sent to the railway station, where “the lorry stopped at Stade police station, and most of P/O [Pilot Officer] Boehmer’s crew got on board. Apparently, they too had been shot down and all had managed to escape from the aircraft except the bomb aimer and engineer. I was especially sad about the latter as he had been a good friend.”

Pilot Officer Boehmer’s crew were in Lancaster DS-634 when it crashed near Spieka, Germany. These men and Sergeant Scott were the seven who survived and were taken prisoner. Unfortunately, the other two crewmen of DS-634, Sergeant Scott’s friend flight engineer Sergeant Bernard Hofforth and bomb aimer Pilot Officer Ernest Goodwin, were killed in action. They are both buried in the Becklingen War Cemetery in northern Germany.

The crews of LL-725 and NP-716 perished during the raid. The men of NP-716 were initially buried in a mass grave outside the town of Meldorf, Germany. Shortly after the war, they were reburied at the Kiel War Cemetery. The bodies of the crew from LL-725 were never found. Their names are remembered on the Runnymede Memorial in England.

The recent ceremony honouring the crew of LL-687, was held at a cemetery in Spreckens, Germany, the initial resting place for five of the Canadians on board. They are now buried in the Becklingen War Cemetery. The remaining two, mid upper gunner Pilot Officer Harold Truscott and wireless operator Flight Lieutenant Gordon Croucher, were never found. Their names are inscribed on the Runnymede Memorial.

The ceremonial unveiling of the LL-687 plaque, spearheaded by Lloyd Truscott, Pilot Officer Truscott’s nephew, is the result of a 42-year journey to piece together the events surrounding the Lancaster’s final sortie. Mr. Truscott’s discovery of Sergeant Scott’s diary, which was digitized and published online by his son, Craig, brought to light further information about the crash. Along with the Truscott and Scott families, several relatives of fellow crewmember Flight Lieutenant Gordon Croucher, including Jean-Claude Charlebois, have been involved in the Lancaster LL-687 EQ-M Memorial Group. Aside from raising funds to erect the plaque, they are dedicated to sharing the story of the “Berlin Special” crew and connecting families of these 408 airmen.

The loss of 31 men from a single bomber squadron would have a profound effect on the survivors. Back in England, their friends and colleagues could only hope that the missing crews had managed to escape their stricken aircraft and were “enjoying” the dubious hospitality of their German captors. They knew that it would be weeks, if not months, before word was received. In the meantime, they had a job to do and mentally prepared for the next bombing mission, saying a silent prayer that they would not suffer a similar fate in the deadly skies over occupied Europe.

While members of 408 Squadron mourned the loss of their comrades, families of the missing men faced a different ordeal. Each family would have received a short telegram informing them that their loved one was “missing”. With this one word, families were sentenced to an emotional limbo, where hope fought a daily battle with grief, and the arrival of a letter or telegram was dreaded. When the awful possibility of death was finally confirmed, there were no remains to bury or grave to visit. Their loved one rested in a foreign cemetery or a final unknown resting place.

Ceremonies such as the one for the crew of Lancaster LL-687 are so very important. Often organized by family members who knew little of the individuals they are remembering except through relatives’ stories, they provide a measure of closure to families forever marked by the tragedy of war. The events both honour and grieve the sacrifice made by so many young Canadians during the war.

We remember them.

Crew of Lancaster II DS-634 coded EQ-A, crashed at 01:30 west of Spieka, Germany. Of the eight crewmen, two were killed and six were taken prisoner:

Pilot Officer G. Boehmer – RCAF (prisoner of war)

Sergeant Bernard Mathew Hofforth – RCAF

Warrant Officer Class 2 L. Phipps – RCAF (prisoner of war)

Pilot Officer Ernest Albert Goodwin – RCAF

Sergeant L. Rourke – RAF (prisoner of war)

Sergeant A. Ducharme – RCAF (prisoner of war)

Flying Officer S. Coffe – RCAF (prisoner of war)

Flight Sergeant E. Wulff – RCAF (prisoner of war)

Crew of Lancaster II LL-687 coded EQ-M, crashed near Spreckens, 56 kilometres west of Hamburg. Of the eight crewmen, seven were killed and one was taken prisoner:

Flying Officer Donal Thomas Ryan – RCAF

Sergeant David Scott – RAF (prisoner of war)

Pilot Officer Robert Daniel Whitson – RCAF  

Pilot Officer Alan Howard Durnin – RCAF

Flight Lieutenant Gordon Croucher – RCAF

Pilot Officer Joseph Laurent Andre Blais – RCAF   

Pilot Officer Harold Edmund Truscott – RCAF  

Pilot Officer John Alexander Kay Imrie – RCAF   

Crew of Lancaster II LL-725 coded EQ-C, failed to return from operation over Hamburg. Aircraft was lost without a trace. All eight crewmen were killed:

Pilot Officer John Harold Alexander McCaffrey – RCAF

Pilot Officer Rex Harris Mitchell – RCAF

Sergeant Francis Fearns (in English) – RAF

Flying Officer Gordon Everett Cameron – RCAF

Pilot Officer Arthur Frank Marsden – RCAF

Pilot Officer Lorne Francis Cassidy – RCAF

Flight Sergeant Albert Edward Candline – RCAF

Sergeant George Richard Harvey (in English) – RAF

Crew of Halifax VII NP-716 coded EQ-P, failed to return from operation over Hamburg. It was claimed they were shot down at 01:29 by Lieutenant Rolf Ebhardt of 8NJG1. All seven crewmen were killed:

Squadron Leader Gerald Bennett Latimer – RCAF

Sergeant Richard Strickland Westrope (in English) – RAF

Second Lieutenant A. A. Hauzenberger (no information) – United States Air Force

Warrant Officer Class 1 John Dingwall – RCAF

Flying Officer Quinten Thomas Russell Grierson – RCAF

Flying Officer Clarence Francis McDougall – RCAF

Flying Officer Jerry Taylor Guthrie – RCAF

Note: Many of these men were commissioned posthumously, following the end of the war. This list reflects ranks as published by the Canadian Virtual War Memorial (CVWM) and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

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