Pilot Officer Robert Edward Roberts RAAF

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A slightly nervous and young looking Robert Roberts soon after receiving his pilot wings.

 

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Arthur Twenty-two-year old Robert Edward Roberts time on the squadron was tragically brief, a little over two months before his untimely death over Witten on December 12th 1944.

Before “Bob” joined the RAAF he was training to become a school teacher, the young Aussie was a gifted individual, he played the violin was also a first class dancer, winning a number of local prices in the process.  This was not the end of “Bobs” talent, he was also an award  winning long distant runner at the Thebarton Technical High School.  Bob was also good with his hands, he had been awarded a number of prices at the Adelaide Centenary Show in 1936 for his craft work.  

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Robert and crew seen here at No.3 LFS.

On completion of his Lancaster conversion at No.3 Lancaster Finishing School, Bob and his crew joined the squadron on September 30th 1944, at the time the squadron was based at RAF Methwold. The crew joined “B” Flight under the command of the highly respected third tour veteran, Squadron Leader Peter Dunham DFC.  Bob flew the customary second pilot operation with F/Lt Jack Arbury on October 5th 1944 to Saarbrucken. Two days later Bob took his crew to Kleve, in daylight, followed by Stuttgart and Essen before the months end. November started with a flurry of operations, Homburg on the 2nd, Solingen on the 4th and a return trip on the 5th, all flown in daylight. The crews next trip was not until the 29th when they went to Neuss.  It had been a busy month for the Roberts crew, a month that had shown them to be a capable and determined team. The first week of December 1944 would see the squadrons final war-time move, this time  to RAF Chedburgh, Suffolk. Bob was not required to fly operationally during this period, he did however get some flying time, on December 7th and 11th he  carried out  two GH bombing exercises, both of which were successful. Bobs first  operation on the month was on  December 12th, No.218 Squadron briefed 12 crews for an attack on the Ruhrstahl steelworks at Witten. An all 3 Group affair, the force of 140 Lancaster’s would be escorted to and from target by RAF Mustang and Spitfires. Bob was aloft at 11.22 hours in Avro Lancaster Mk.I PB674 HA-Q loaded with a typical bomb load of one 4000lb cookie and 15x500lb MC bombs. The squadron experienced  the customary flak defences on route to target,  however it was over the target that trouble really began. Positioned as lead group, 218 Squadron along with 195 Squadron made up the spear head of the stream, as the force settled down to their GH runs a number of Bf-109’s and FW190 carried out a determined attack, catching the escorting fighters off guard. The crews frantically fired off Vary flares to try and attract the attention of the missing escort,  the German pilots obviously aware that the spear-head was  vulnerable made a number of attacks on the lumbering Lancasters, inflicting casualties to both 218 & 195 Squadron, who were particularly hard hit.  Five Lancasters were either badly damaged or shot down in the encounter before the timely arrival of the escorting Mustangs. One of these was the Lancaster flown by Bob. Such was the ferocity  and speed of the attack none of the returning crews could confirm the actual  cause of loss that befell Bob and crew.  A Lancaster was seen to explode after the initial fighter attack, whether this was Bob’s aircraft  is unclear, the wreckage of Lancaster PB674 HA-Q fell near Holthausen, Waltrop, 14 miles north of the aiming point, taking with it all seven crew. The bodies of the crew were initially buried in a communal grave at Waltrop.

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The crews original grave marker.

Robert, the talented young Aussie  had flown eight operations before his death over Germany, he and the rest of his crew are buried in the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery.

I would like to thank Don Roberts, Bob’s brother for copies of the photographs and details on his brother.