SWEET PEA : April 28th/29th 1943 : Black day for 218 Squadron

Arthur On the evening of Thursday April 29th 1943 eight crews of No.218 (Gold Coast) Squadron were assembled in the briefing room at RAF Downham Market.   The crews all experienced stood to attention when the senior officers walked into the room. At the head was the enigmatic Wing Commander Donald Saville DFC, on reaching the raised dais the crews were ordered to sit down and make themselves comfortable as each of the section leaders gave a brief but detailed report on the forth coming operation. Australian Saville, a slightly built man had only recently assumed command of the squadron on departure of Wing Commander Aubrey Morris DFC who was attached to RAF Station Mildenhall on the 28th March. Easy going and with a total lack of bull Saville’s approach made for a relaxed atmosphere at briefing, however when Saville spoke everyone listened, he was a no nonsense commander, the type that brought out the best in his men. The assemble crews were each given individual “Gardens” to plant their mines, the Garden area for the night would be SWEET PEAS situated in the Cadet Channel along the Helsinki – Malmo shipping lanes. ( Click here for a map of “Garden Areas“) The Mark I Stirling’s would carry 3 x 1500lb mines while the Mk.III would carry four mines.

Loading 1500lb sea mines

Ground crew hoist two 1500lb sea mines into the bomb bays of a 218 Squadron Stirling.

Wing Commander Donald Teale Saville DFC at 39 years-old was an experienced pilot having started his flying career in 1927 when he joined the RAAF as an air cadet at Point Cook. During the 1920’s and 1930’s he flew with No.17 (F) Squadron, No.207 (B) Squadron and No.23 (F) Squadron based at RAF Kenley. On relinquishing his commission in 1932 he returned to Australia where he became a civilian instructor, he then flew with Australian National Airways, before he re- joined the RAF in 1939. After completion of his Wellington conversion at No.21 O.T.U Saville was posted in September 1941 to No.12 Squadron based at RAF Binbrook, the squadron was at the time equipped with the Vickers Wellington, he transferred to No.458 RAAF Squadron as a flight commander and ultimately commanded No.104 Squadron in the Mediterranean, he had by the time he assumed command of No.218 Squadron completed 47 operations.

With the briefing over the assembled crews headed to the locker rooms and emptied their pockets of any items that could be of interest to the enemy should they be shot down and captured. The crews were then issued with their survival packs and parachutes by the attentive young WAAFs, it was then onto the crew bus and out to the various dispersals.   The first crew away at 20.53hrs was that of Pilot Officer John Crooks aboard Short Stirling Mk.I EF353 HA-C, within minutes he was followed by the experienced Flight Lieutenant Wilbur Turner RCAF in Stirling MK.III BF400 HA-I. Aboard and flying for operational experience was Flying Officer John Phillips who had only arrived on the squadron 48 hours prior. Next away was B flight commander Squadron Leader Ernest Sly AFM at the controls of his now regular mount BK687 HA-R, Frank Sly had been on the squadron since November 1942 and in that time had shown himself to be a excellent pilot and flight commander, he would be awarded a well deserved DFC in May 1943.Accompanying Sly was Sergeant Thomas Nichols who was a recent arrival on the squadron from No.1657 Conversion Unit this was his first operation. The next Stirling aloft was skippered by Flight Lieutenant Gordon Berridge, his navigator was the experience Pilot Officer James Traynor who was up until recently crewed with Flight Lieutenant Edward Bickenson who was kicking his heels at Downham Market awaiting posting on completion of his first tour, this would be James 26th operation.This would be Gordon’s 18th operation as captain, on his previous trip he had taken Sergeant Arthur Aaron to Duisburg as 2nd pilot. At 21.00hrs Stirling Mk.III BK700 HA-L lifted off Downham Markets main runway, at the controls was 29-year-old New Zealander Flight Lieutenant James Neilson, this as it would turn out would be the New Zealanders 26th and final operation with the squadron. Four minutes later Pilot Officer Denis Brown and crew were setting course for their departure point over Cromer, this would be their 11th operation.  The squadron Operational Records Book records this crew arriving via the Halifax equipped No.138 Squadron based at RAF Tempsford on March 10th however there is no record of this crew operating with No.138 Squadron. The seventh crew airborne was that of 25-year-old Canadian Pilot Officer Robert Bryan in BK705 HA-K, he was almost immediately followed by Sergeant Kenneth Hailey and crew on their 12th operation. Two nights before the crew had been subjected to a real pasting while over Duisburg, coned by flak while over the city their Stirling was badly hit by heavy flak inflicting serious damage to the fin and rudder, both rear and mid upper turrets were hit and damaged, thankfully the crew were uninjured, however such was the damage that their regular Stirling BK706 HA-O was being repaired and not available for the night operation.

No.218 Squadron was not the only squadron aloft from No.3 Group, twenty five other Stirling’s drawn from numbers 15 – 75 (NZ) – 90 and 214 Squadron would also be operating along with two Lancaster’s of No.115 Squadron. The group was allocated various mining areas included the Great Belt (Broccoli) the Fehmarn Channel, the Cadet Channel and the west Baltic, 15 Squadron would mine both Sweet Pea and Pollock, 90 Squadron the Quince minefield the New Zealanders of No.75 were given the Radish area while 214 was given four separate mining areas, Pumpkin-Asparagus-Broccoli and Radish. Also briefed were eleven Wellingtons and twenty five Lancaster’s of No.1 Group, eighteen Wellingtons and sixty Halifax’s of No.4 Group. Number 5 Group dispatched forty one Lancaster’s while No.6 RCAF Group contributed eighteen Wellingtons and nineteen Halifax’s, in all two hundred and twenty six aircraft were briefed on what would be one of Bomber Commands largest mining raids, sadly it would also turn out to be the heaviest loss of aircraft while minelaying during the war. Once clear of Cromer and the trigger happy Royal Navy the crews settled down for the long flight over the inhospitable North Sea. Broken cloud between 800-1000ft with slight drizzle was encountered on route until reaching the Danish Coast when conditions began to deteriorate. The crews who had been instructed to mine from 800ft a perilously low attitude encountered heavy rain and 8/10th clouds varying in height between 2 – 3000ft over Denmark and on route to the Garden areas, this resulted in the crews gaining altitude to miss the murk and try and identify their positions, above the clouds visibility was clear.

For the eight crews drawn from No.218 Squadron the route so far had been relatively uneventful with only spasmodic flak encountered.The Germans defences accustomed to Bomber Commands mining activity were well versed in tracking the low flying bombers, the flak and Himmelbett controlled Bf110 and JU88s from the resident Nachtjägeschwader3 were waiting for the bombers as they crossed the Danish Coast. Over the next sixty minutes 218 Squadron and the crews of No.3 Group found themselves in a bitter struggle with an experienced and capable foe. The group was briefed to mine between 23.29hrs and 00.57hrs, the first indication of trouble was at just after midnight, and all eight crews had managed to locate their garden and successfully plant their mines and were now on the return leg.Pilot Officer Denis Brown and crew were over Denmark when they were attacked by a Bf110 flown by Lt Günther Holtfreiter of II./NJG3. The crews flight engineer Sergeant Walter Lowery recalls the encounter ;

The crew

The crew of Pilot Officer Denis Brown seen here at No.1657 HCU

I was making out my engineers log when we were attacked, I am not sure how many bursts were fired but the port wing was badly hit. My compartment which I shared with the wireless operator Flying officer John Scott was also hit rendering the radio useless. The night fighter attacked from behind and underneath, and although the rear gunner was not hit he reported his guns out of action. The fighter was now in full view, but the mid upper gunner, Sgt Les Turner could not get his guns to bear as the fin and tailplane were in the way. All this happened in a very short space of time. The skipper took evasive action and dived to about 2000ft where it appeared we lost the fighter. It was then the troubles started. I noticed the fuel pressure was dropping on the port inner engine, the pilot reported the loss of power. I opened the inter-engine balance cock to try and get the fuel from the outer tanks with no success, I was forced to feather the airscrew. With the aircrew “windmilling” the pilot found it difficult to control the aircraft, therefore the port outer was feathered. We were by now turning in a fairly tight circle and losing height, the pilot reported over the intercom that he could not control the aircraft on his own. Sergeant Jones the bomb aimer, who acted as assistant pilot on takeoff, was locked in the front turret, he acted as another gunner when not over the target area. I moved forward and opened the doors to let him out of the turret to assist Denis. The pilot had the control column hard back with full starboard aileron while the bomb aimer sitting in the second pilot’s seat with his back braced against the seat was giving hard starboard rudder, it was taking the combined strength of both to keep the Stirling aloft. The pilot in an attempt to gain more control ordered me to give the inner engine another go ,however this idea was almost immediately given up on. The skipper informed the crew other the intercom that he would make one last attempt to get more control failing this he would give the order to bailout. After a few minutes he said “it was no use abandon aircraft”. The wireless operator was trying to fix his set, I tapped him on the shoulder and told him to “bail out” which he acknowledged. I proceeded with the mid upper gunner towards the bailout position which was the hatch at the rear. The aircraft was now in a tight turn making quite a noise. By the time I reached the hatch I was forced to get down on my hands and knees due to the centrifugal force, I had a little trouble opening the hatch. With the Les shouting “straight out” I knew we were now very low, I also knew that if we stayed in the aircraft we had no chance. I took the lesser of the two evils and jumped. I heard the noise of the aircrafts engines and saw it turn into the ground and explode, Les parachute only just managed to fully open when F-Freddie below up directly beneath him.

Sadly the brave pilot and four of his crew were killed in the explosion, there were only two survivors Sergeant Lowery landed at Bisgaard farm at Vronding while Sergeant Turner landed near Korup the time was 00.16hrs. Short & Harland built Stirling BF447 HA-F   crashed Kjaergaard in Vronding. The bodies of the crew were removed by the Luftwaffe from the nearby airfield at Ry and taken to Esbjerg where they were buried on May 7th in the Fovrfelt Cemetery. An attempt to remove the wreckage was undertaken with the use of a crane, however excavation proofed impossible, only one battered engine was removed and subsequently dumped in a field. The crater was then filled in using an old abandoned car.Sergeant Leslie Turner was captured in Vronding at 11am on May 15th by the Danish Police after a local Farmer had spotted him in his outhouse loft. Taken to Hosens he was handed over to the German Commandant of Ry airfield, Major Stetten. Leslie took the familiar route of all captured airman, firstly interrogation at Dulag Luft at Oberursel near Frankfurt then onto Stalag Luft I Barth. A series of camp moves over the next two years found Leslie finally imprisoned at Stalag Luft 357 Fallingbostel. It was while at 357 Leslie and his fellow prisoners were forced to move camp in treacherous weather conditions before overrun by Russian troops, he was finally liberated by Allied Troops in May 1945. Walter Lowery spent a week “touring” Denmark, he recalls ; “

I can say very little about where I went during my time on the run. Due to having no escape kit it was mostly moving at night, hedges and gullies. I ate what I could find, raw potatoes, milk out of milk urns was my staple diet. I wanted to get to Sweden and I finally decided that I would have to make contact with someone. I was saved the trouble by a farmer who raked the hay from over the top of me in a barn near Horsens. He took me into the farm house and gave me some food. Unfortunately I could not do it justice as my stomach was not too happy with the raw potatoes. By hand signals and gesticulations he indicated that the Germans and local police knew I was in the area, so I left in a hurry just as the sun was setting. While on a little side road was I seen by a man on a bicycle, he could not spoke English, but asked “ENGLISH?” I said yes. He showed me a brief case which was filled with what looked like sewing machine details. He seemed to want me to get a boat and sail back across the North Sea, I tried to tell him I wanted to go to Sweden. We moved to the main road at Horsens, he pushing his bike pretending to light my imaginary cigarette with his pipe when two Germans patrol cars raced past, on reaching the outskirts of Hosen I started walking slightly behind him. The end came very quickly when I entered the town and the main street. A big police car with three Danish police pulled up alongside me, and one asked in perfect English “Are you English”. I ask you what a bloke to do is, I was taken immediately into captivity. Thankfully my friend the sales man was way ahead of me and not mentioned. I was taken to Dulag Luft in Germany, I spent time in Stalag Luft I Barth, Stalag Luft VI, Heydekrug, Stalag Luft IV Gross Tyskow. I was put in the “Cooler” along with Johnny O’Reilly and his pilot for trying to escape, finally at the end of the war during the forced march I got a bit of cannon splinter in my ankles courtesy of strafing fighters. The wounded were re taken by the Americans at a French Prison hospital near Schwerin. I was repatriated back to England and spent over two months in Hospital at RAF Cosford”

BF515 Flight lieutenant  Gordon Berridge, pilot

Flight lieutenant Gordon Berridge.

The crew of Stirling BF515 HA-N Nuts were all experienced having attacked some of the most heavily defended targets in Germany, including Berlin, however this was only the crews third mining operation, 39 year old Gordon Berridge had attacked Turin more times. At 00.56hrs the Stirling was attacked by Unteroffizier Berg of 7./NJG3 over Kalundborg. The Me110 had been vectored onto the Stirling by the “Seehund” radar station, the encounter resulted in the Stirling exploding in mid and burying itself into a moor at Tagerup a few miles west of Ruds Vedby, there was no survivors. Only the bodies of the bomb aimer Flying Officer Thomas Wheelhouse and rear gunner Sergeant John Bolton were found near the crash site. Both airmen were buried in the Kobenhavn Bispedjerg Cemetery on May 7th. It would not be until after the war the crash site was excavated and the remains of the remaining crew found. The remains of this gallant crew were buried in one coffin on April 4th 1946 at the Reerslev Cemetery. Such was the feelings of the local community that over 300 local residences attended to pay their respect as the coffin was carried to the grave by six former members of the Danish resistance. The service was read by Reverend P Logstrup, in attendance were six serving officers of the RAF. On completion of the service the honour guard from the 1st Company 14th Battalion from the Slagelse Garrison fired a volley in salute to this young crew in the Spring sunshine.The crew of Squadron Leader Ernest Sly were at an attitude of 7000ft as they crossed the Danish Coast a little after 01.45hrs. Gently weaving above the cloud base the crew could be justly pleased with their nights work under the circumstances and look forward to their bacon and eggs on return. With the coast now astern and becoming fainter the crew were still well aware that they were not yet out of danger, it was no time to relax, but that is what appeared to have happened. The first indication of trouble was when Squadron Leader Sly reported tracer fire passing just feet above the port wing from the port beam high, before either the rear gunner Pilot Officer Crooks or Sergeant Hunter in the mid upper had a chance to engage the fighter Sly had put the Stirling BK687 HA-R “Robert” into a steep dive towards the safety of the clouds less than 500ft below. It had been a very close shave, neither gunner had seen the fighter, it was a combination of Squadron Leader Sly quick reactions and poor shooting on the part of the German pilot that saved the crew. Recent research by Theo Boiten indicates the likely pilot was Fw Rudolf Mandelsdorf of 12./NJG3, he had at the time two confirmed victories, he who would claim a further 11 victories before the end of the war. Not so lucky was the crew of Sergeant Ken Hailey. The circumstances surrounding the loss of this crew are not so clear. The crew’s wireless operator Sergeant Ronald Barton transmitted for a long range fix at 01.48hrs almost an hour after the crew should have planted their mines, this was received by a radar Station near Hull. Forty two minutes later a S.O.S was transmitted and received at RAF Station Tangmere. It is believed that while approaching Tarm at 6,500ft Stirling EF356 HA-O was attacked at approximately 01.48hrs by Lt Gunther Rogge of 12./NJG3. Vectored onto the Stirling by the “Ringeinatter” radar station the encountered between the hunter and hunted resulted in EF356 being damaged but still airworthy. It is not known what happened during this deadly encounter but it is believed that the crew managed to escape the initial attention of the night fighter. It is evident that the crew had become lost and requested a fix, whether a direct result of the encounter one can only speculate, damaged equipment, injured navigator or a combination of the two we will never know. It is apparent the crew were in serious trouble as a S.O.S was sent, it was the last they were heard of.  The Stirling crashed near Adum south east of the town of Tarm, there was one survivor, 25-year-old rear gunner Sergeant Harry Bliss who landed safely. The following morning German troops located the body of Flying Officer Sidney Holliman the crews bomb aimer, he was laid to rest on May 7th in the Gravlunden Cemetery.Over the following weeks the bodies of the remaining crew were discovered and buried. The remains of four of the crew were recovery from the crash site on the 20th and were buried on May 23rd in the Aadum Cemetery. Air Gunner Sergeant James Head was buried on May 24th at the Fourfelt Cemetery Esbjerg.   Suffering from shock the young gunner wandered around in the dark all night, at 07.00hrs exhausted he knocked on the door of a small holding. Perhaps worried about reprisals by the local German garrison the occupier telephoned the Parish Executive Officer who arrived to escort Harry to Aadum Village. It was while there that Harry had his photograph taken with the daughter of the local Co-op manager.At around 12.15hrs the Danish Police arrived and escorted Harry to Skjern were he was handed over to the Wehrmacht. Harry was initially sent to Dulag Luft Oberursel for interrogation, from where he was transferred to Stalag Luft I Barth. Harry found himself in late 1944 a guest of Stalag 357 Kopernikus, with the Russian forces advancing into Poland, the Camp inmates were relocated en mass near to the existing Stalag XIB camp at Fallingbostal, about 50 miles north of Hanover. It was while imprisoned at Stalag XIB 25-year-old Harry Bliss died the result of extreme cold, malnutrition and the brutality of the German guards, it was March 30th 1945. Ten days after VE Day the Dover Express ran an article on Harry entitled “Dover Prisoner of War Death”. The article graphically recalls the inhuman and desperate conditions the PoW were forced to endure during the last weeks of the war :

Arthur In a letter to his parents, a comrade E. Hunnable describes how W.O. Bliss was made to travel for 36 hours in a cattle truck so tightly packed that he, an ill man, could not lie down, and was kept without water. Arthur at the destination he was taken to hospital and operated upon, but never recovered. The origin of his illness was when changing camps they had to move two miles, and the German guards made them run all the way carrying full kit. The Germans prodded the men with bayonets to make them hurry, and set dogs on them with the same objective. W.O. Bliss received three bayonet wounds in the thigh. He had to be admitted to hospital, and was never the same”

 The first crew to land back at Downham Market was that of Pilot Officer John Crooks skipper of Short Stirling Mk.I EF353 HA-C, they touched down at 03.54hrs. Squadron Leader Frank Sly was next at 04.00hrs who in turn was followed by Flight Lieutenant James Neilson and Canadian Pilot Officer Robert Bryan at 04.15hrs. The last to return was fellow Canadian Flight Lieutenant Wilbur Turner RCAF in Stirling MK.III BF400 HA-I at 04.25hrs. The weary crews trudged their way to the briefing room where the squadron intelligence officer asked the usual set of questions, flak, fighters, convoys, did they plant their seeds, time, position and numerous other questions that made up the debriefing.Interrogation was not overly enjoyed by the returning crews but they realised it had to be done and was important. Exhausted and looking forward to a few hours sleep the crews smoked cigarettes and drank mugs of NAAFI tea and gave the intelligence officer all they could in the way of information. There would have been no real alarm at this time, the other crews still had 90 minutes flying time left and even then they could have come down at another aerodrome.It was soon apparent at HQ Bomber Command that the previous nights operation had meet with particularly stiff opposition. Bomber Command detailed a total of 226 aircraft of which 207 took off, of these 23 failed to return, 7 Lancaster’s, 8 Stirling’s, 6 Wellingtons and 2 Halifaxes, it had been the heaviest loss of aircraft while minelaying of the war. For the squadrons of No.3 Group it had been a bad night, 33 crews dispatched, 8 lost. Over at RAF Newmarket the New Zealanders of No.75 Squadron lost four crews while No.90 Squadron at RAF Ridgewell recorded the loss of just one crew that of their flight commander Squadron Leader Robert May.

An investigation ( click here for report 1 ) into what happened on the night of April 28th 1943 was set up almost immediately by HQ Bomber Command. Two investigations were undertaken, the first was completed by April 30th by the Operational Research Section (Click here for Report 2) . Much of the information was speculation and incorrectly puts the blame squarely on routing.The second 8 page report examines with some detail all aspect of the operation. After a three week investigation the report, No.136 found its way to the desk of AVM Harris, C-in-C Bomber Command. The report’s conclusions were based on what information was available at the time.This second more thorough investigation dismissed the previous report which blamed the routes as a contributing facture. For the squadrons of No.3 Group mining the Cadet Channel and boarding approaches 3 Group HQ had planned a route that had been used successfully a number of times prior without undue losses.Weather conditions were also examined, the weather on the night was not unduly bad, it had been worse a few weeks before and when the squadron visited. There was no moon and visibility was generally good, the briefed weather conditions were for once accurate. The investigation then turned its attention to the wind, suspicion fell on the forecast winds being incorrect forcing the crews too far south of the planned route. The report concluded that navigators however were aware of this and made adjustments to compensate the drift, it was not sufficient to have increased the risks seriously. With the routing, weather and wind theories now dismissed the investigators turned their attention towards the crews, or specifically the pilots.The experience of the participating pilots was reported, of 19 pilots lost (not sure why they only reported 19 when 23 were lost) 9 the report concludes had no experience of minelaying, 6 had 2 trips, 2 had 3 trips and another 2 had 4 trips, their previous 5experience of bombing ranged from 0 – 27 operations. The report goes on to say that the high proportion of pilots missing on their first operation was noteworthy. The whole question of sending pilots for their first experience of minelaying into areas “so hazardous” as some of those visited on this night needed to be investigated the report suggested. The three crews of 218 Squadron although experienced did have only limited experience of mining, this was not all together surprising given the directive issued to Bomber Command in February to destroy the U-Boat pens and facilities along the west coast of France, it was these target the group had been attacking almost nightly. Pilot Officer Brown had flown on 10 raids, 3 of which were mining, Pilot Officer Hailey had flown 11 operations as captain and 3 as second pilot, this would be his 3rd mining trip. The most experienced pilot had the least experience of mining, Flight Lieutenant Berridge had completed 18 raids as captain plus four as second pilot, of which only 2 were mining.The enemy defences were then examined in some detail towards the end of the investigation. Flak or more precisely light flak was reported to have been abundant and accurate by a large number of crews upon their return, in total the investigation reported 8 aircraft had been damage. Enemy wireless traffic was fairly widespread but gave little indication of any real success, 21 interceptions were heard but only one resulted in an attack being made. Returning crews reported comparatively few sightings of fighters, 2 attacks and 5 approaches occurred. Enemy wireless traffic was reported to have contained references to the bombers flying low and below the cloud, this combined with the unusually large number of attempts at interception made it appear to the investigators that fighters had a comparatively unsuccessful night! Pages 4 and 5 of the document makes interesting reading and should have given the intelligence officers all the indicators they needed as to what had happened, however they either did not believe the information or chose to ignore it ,it reads “The enemy claimed to have shot down 24 bombers and his awareness of the number of casualties suggest, but does not of course prove, that all or nearly all of them were brought down by this action” The conclusion of Report No.136 contradicts almost all of the previous finding recorded within its own narrative. It was obvious the investigators did not know what went wrong, the conclusion was therefore conjecture on their part. From previous operational experience Bomber Command HQ knew that flak was the primary cause of losses, therefore their assumption that light flak inflicted over 50% of the losses was a safe one. This was an occupational hazard of minelaying. Low cloud had in all probability forced the bombers below their intended altitude. With visibility reduced the crews in an attempt to pin point their position had no option other than to come down low, by doing so they were at the mercy of the deadly multi cannon light flak, which had accounted for 13 of their number. Oddly the investigation was not prepared to except or consider that the German air defences over Denmark could have accounted for the remaining losses. They were wrong not too. The German night fighters of NJG3 flew a total of 53 ground controlled sorties of which over 30 were directed against the bomber, they had reacted in force and shot down 9 bombers. Commanded by Major Johann Schalk NJG3 had amongst its ranks a number of experienced and capable pilots, four of those credited with victories went on to claim 10 or more kills.

FLT Turner and Crew FTR 4th May 1943

Flight Lieutenant Turner RCAF and crew survived the Sweet Pea operation but were lost within days of their return.

Sadly of the five surviving crews who returned to RAF Downham Market on that spring night, two would be killed on operations with the squadron within a matter of weeks. Twenty-eight-year old Flight Lieutenant Wilbur Turner RCAF was killed on his next operation, he was shot down by Lt Robert Denzel of 12/.NJG1 while attacking Dortmund on May 4th.    Fellow Canadian Pilot Officer Robert Bryans failed to return from Duisburg on May 12th, the victim of coastal Flak. The 3 remaining crews would complete their tours with No.218 Squadron but only one would survive the war. Flight Lieutenant James Neilson was posted to No.1657 Conversion Unit on May 17th as an instructor. Sadly the young Kiwi was killed in a flying accident on January 20th 1944. He was awarded a DFC for his tour with No.218 on May 14th 1943.Squadron Leader Ernst Sly DFC AFM departed on June 3rd on completion of his tour. Like Neilson he was awarded a DFC in recognition of his time with No.218 Squadron on May 14th. He was posted to the recently formed No.1665 Heavy Conversion Unit, in November 1943 Ernest Sly DFC AFM returned to operations, he was posted to “C” Flight No.514 Squadron as flight commander. Ernest was killed attacking Braunschweig on January 14th 1944 by a night fighter flown by Hptm Walter Barte of Stab III./NJG3. Pilot Officer John Crooks flew his last operation on June 13th, it was a mining trip to the Cinnamon minefield off the west coast of France. On completion of his tour he was posted to No.11 Operational Training Unit on June 28th 1943. John returned to operations flying with No.514 Squadron, he survived the war with the rank of acting flight Lieutenant and was awarded a DFC in November 1945.Of the three 2nd pilots who accompanied the crews on this operation for operational experience only one would survive their time with the squadron. Sergeant Thomas Nichols crashed on return from Bochum on May 13th 1943 killing 5 of his crew, he was on his 2nd operation as skipper. Severely injured a direct result of the crash he never flew operationally again. Flying Officer John Phillips failed to return from Dortmund on May 23rd 1943, he was on his 4th operation as captain. Australian William Davis RAAF survived until May 29th when he failed to return from Wuppertal, the victim of Lt Heinz Wolfgang Schnaufer of II./NJG1. Father of three 31-year-old Davis was on his 5th operation.It had been a costly and bloody night for Bomber Command, for No.3 Group and particularly No.218 (Gold Coast) Squadron. There would be worst to come over the next few months. The squadron and all those within No.3 Group continued on with the Short Stirling, giving everything they had but asking nothing in return.