Remembering the Nuremberg Raid
Written by Richard Hall
On the afternoon of the 30th March 1944, Bomber Command Halifax, Lancaster and Mosquito crews across eastern England were preparing for the night’s operation, which was to take them to the city of Nuremberg. The moon phase would have usually dictated a stand down of ops for the night, but weather reconnaissance forecast cloud cover on route to the target and clear skies over it. So, the preparations went ahead but a later reconnaissance showed the weather had reversed with no cloud to cover the bomber’s outward flight and Nuremberg obscured.
The operation should have been scrubbed, but to the dismay of the crews the order was given to proceed. On one airfield in Yorkshire, RAF Skipton-on-Swale, 433 (Porcupine) Squadron RCAF were going through the usual routines that were to set them up for the night’s operation. One Halifax III HX272 ‘Nielsen’s Nuthouse’ was a regular over Germany and on this night was captained by P/O Christian Nielsen RCAF, with crew, P/O C W Panton, P/O D Awrey DFC RCAF, WO2 L V Milward RCAF, WO1 H Cooper RCAF, Sgt J S Thompson (Mid-Upper Gunner) and WO2 J G McLaughlan RCAF. As on many occasions HX272 was carrying an eighth crew member on this night, F/Sgt Rost RCAF as second pilot or ‘second dickie’.
Seven hundred and ninety-five aircraft took off for Nuremberg that night and when over Germany the errors in weather forecasting became all too evident, as elements of the bomber stream found themselves in clear skies with what some say was 200-mile visibility. An added peril was the formation of vapour trails within the stream which clearly indicated to the fighters where the bombers were in the sky. The Luftwaffe controllers ignored diversionary raids and concentrated their interceptor attacks on the Main Force.
Eighty-two bombers were shot down before the target was reached, one of these was HX272 which came down at Friesen with just three crew members surviving, Nielsen, Cooper and McLaughlan, the others, including Chris Panton, who was on his 25th operation, were lost. As predicted the target area was covered by cloud and a change in the wind resulted in problems with Pathfinder marking, Nuremberg itself sustained little damage, some of the force bombed Schweinfurt which lay 50 miles to the north-west.
The Nuremberg raid has gone down in Bomber Command’s history for all the wrong reasons as it resulted in their heaviest single loss during World War Two. 94 aircraft were shot down, a further 11 crashed, 537 aircrew were killed, 157 became POWs and 11 evaded. The loss of Chris Panton was to be the inspiration behind the formation of the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre. His brothers - Harold and Fred - wanted to create a lasting memorial to their sibling, Bomber Command and the sacrifices made by its crews, which is what we see to-day at East Kirkby.
Seventy-five years on it is time again to remember those lost during that fateful night for Bomber Command, when weather, bad luck, mis-judgement and the Luftwaffe conspired to create a disaster. Today the Watch Office at Skipton-on-Swale stands as a silent sentinel. Its observers on the night of 30/31st 1944 and those who lined the runway, that was often the ritual as the bombers took off, were the last to see HX272 depart and were no doubt mourning its failure to return.
'Lest We Forget'
Notes on the Origin of BWAG
By Tony Dowland - Committee Member 2005-2019
With the Group’s AGM taking place on 2nd April, 2019 before the programmed talk, I decided to write an article for the Magazine section about the history of BWAG which I believe started as the ‘Aviation Enthusiasts Group’ circa 1998.
The earliest days were not fully remembered or records were not kept but, since our ‘Not-Quite-a-Committee’ (NQaC) took over in January 2005, we have kept a fairly detailed account of the way the Group has developed from that time onward.
To fill the knowledge gap of the period before the NQaC took over, I consulted Alan Inders – an early Member – who approached others involved and helpfully offered the following of their combined recollections:
The Early Days:
‘I have come up with nothing very certain, in spite of talking to Jon (Honeysett) and Martyn (Gingell). I think the first two meetings were small and very informal, at my house, just me and a few friends showing some slides of air shows. My work colleague Mike Long, plus Jon and Chris Willborne were there, I (we)think!
When the group grew we started to meet in The Stables on an occasional basis, at which point Martyn joined us. I booked the room and just charged enough to cover hire costs. We started booking speakers and put them into an occasional programme, and we found meetings surprisingly well attended.
Even then it was very informal – no committee or bank account! Martyn took over as Secretary, and I remember an early evening summer outing to Lasham, where Martyn used to go gliding, and I had a flight in a glider – my second and last (though I enjoyed it!). Jon and his wife and father-in-law were there too.
With his contacts Martyn was able to get enough speakers to have a monthly programme, and that’s when the BWAG really got going. But it was not until you, Gordon and Terry took over that it really grew into the enormously successful group it has become.’
Because of his business commitments, Martyn decided to stand down and there was a real prospect of BWAG – as it had become – closing down. This is the mention of possible closure in the September 2004 Newsletter:
Having been head cook and bottle washer for a
number of years now, I have decided that it is
time to pass the apron on to fresher blood in
order to move the club forward into the future.
This newsletter therefore covers the last season
of meetings that I will be organising for the
BWAG, and therefore invite any interested
parties to come forward to take over the reins.
Be assured that if no-one volunteers to take
over the running of the group, it will cease
Three of us present at the December 2004 meeting decided that BWAG should not close and we came forward to run the Group. By the way, the ‘fresher blood’ mentioned would now include two of us then over seventy! Thus, NQaC followed Martyn in January 2005 and a Newsletter as previously issued was continued in the same style and format. The front page of our first edition after taking over is shown below.
We set ourselves simple objectives. Over fourteen years later we can honestly claim to have achieved what we set out to do. And now we had a bank account!
So - who were in that ‘Happy Band’?
Gordon Hamilton – Chairman
Terry Giles – Treasurer and Events Organiser
Tony Dowland – Secretary and Newsletter Editor.
ably assisted by:
and Maureen Hamilton
Sadly, we have recently lost Gordon, Peter and John, and Maureen – Gordon’s widow – is now in long-term residential care. We are so grateful for all that they did to enhance our Group.
We have maintained a list of events from as early as we can find and the total is now in excess of 200 talks and visits. These latter since the early days have included such diverse places as : Brooklands, Coventry, TAG Farnborough, Lasham, Lee-on-Solent, Odiham. Shoreham and White Waltham; airfields and aircraft museums at Brooklands, Coventry, FAST Farnborough. BA Heathrow, ATA Maidenhead, Middle Wallop, Tangmere, Welford and Woodley.
The success of these arrangements is confirmed by the rising number of members now attending especially since we moved to our larger and better equipped premises from ‘The Stables’ which had served us well.
The NQaC decided to maintain an informal ‘Keep it Simple’ style. We didn’t have ‘members’ - we had (and still have) ‘attendees’. There was no longer any need to keep address lists, e-addresses or set a subscription. It was simply pay-on-the-night and mark your attendance on a list. This put us in a good position when the General Data Protection rules came in last year as we could honestly claim that our record-keeping was minimal – sufficient only to keep track of numbers and income.
BWAG has attracted numerous interesting speakers some returning by popular demand – and some coming back to speak as they like BWAG’s style. We were fortunate in hearing, for example, Peter Twiss, Peter Garrod, John Farley and not least Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown - all now lost to us.
We ‘found’ Eric by happenstance.
As a member of the RAF Historical Society I was sometimes alerted to various aviation events. One such - arranged by a business marketing aviation art in Bath - organised an occasional series of talks at a Bracknell hotel given by RAF and FAA veteran aircrew of the 1939/45 war. I attended the first and having told the NQaC and Peter and John how good they were we all decided to attend the next and subsequent talks.
It was there that we met ‘Winkle’. Gordon, who could be pleasantly persuasive, before long invited him to visit us. Eric and his partner Jean enjoyed coming to Bishop’s Waltham and it was our pleasure to invite him to become our first Patron which he graciously accepted.
Two years ago noted author and broadcaster Group Captain Paul Beaver also graciously agreed to become our new Patron - particularly appropriate as Paul was a close friend of Eric’s and is soon to publish a new biography on our first Patron.
Around the same time, at Gordon’s suggestion, Andy Rankine agreed to take over as BWAG Chairman with Gordon continuing as Vice-Chairman.
We have now reached another turning point.
The NQaC is to be no more. A new Committee will emerge at the April 2019 AGM. But we can be satisfied that our ‘members’ have been served well by getting value for money and having interesting and relevant talks by a wide variety of speakers on a broad range of topics.
I hope to continue running the Group’s web-site for as long as you will let me.
Although I became Web Manager in January 2010 after we decided to cease the Newsletter, I wish to pay tribute to Paul Godfrey – a.k.a. ‘Godders’ - with whom I collaborated. He did the original web design and subsequently came in to help when technical problems arose.
Thanks are also due to Tony and Di Hunt for their courtesy in ensuring good and regular publicity for BWAG's events in the Bishop's Waltham Parish Magazine.
I must also commend Terry Giles for his excellent contribution to the success of BWAG.
Our financial management has been in his expert hands as has the main work of finding excellent speakers. He built and maintained good relationships with the Parish Hall Management and with the other local aviation-interest groups.
It has been a real pleasure to work with him for so long and with so much mutual goodwill.
I conclude with an expression frequently offered with a grin and a firm handshake by our late and much missed friend - Gordon Hamilton:
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