Flight Lieutenant Wilfred “Bill” H Way RCAF and crew. 103 Sqdn
Flying Officer Wilfred Howard Way RCAF ( known as Bill ) and crew were posted from 1656 HCU at RAF Lindholme to 103 Squadron at Elsham Wolds on the 9th February 1944. Their first operation as a complete crew was to Augsberg on the 25/26th February which they completed successfully in spite of being involved in 2 separate combats with night fighters. They did not fly another operation until the 24/25th March when they flew to Berlin and were again involved in another combat which damaged their Lancaster. The crew flew 8 operations in April, all of which were completed successfully in spite of a further combat and sustaining flak damage. Of particular note was a very long but successful raid to Friedrichshaven on the 27/28th April. In May the crew took part in 8 operations including the raid to Mailly-le-Camp on the 3/4th May which resulted in very heavy losses to the attacking force. In early June the crew flew 2 operations to attack gun positions on the French coast as part of the preparations for the D Day landing and on the eve of D day, the 5/6th June, took part in a raid on gun positions at Crisbeq.
Way was an exceptional pilot and very highly thought of on the squadron. He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant on the 27th March and led an outstanding multi-national crew which formed a good team in the air and got on well together socially. Due to various circumstances the crew did not fly unchanged throughout their tour. Flight Sergeant W S Donnahey had joined them as rear gunner from another crew after 4 operations. At the beginning of June Donnahey had completed his second tour and was screened.
6/7th June 1944 Target. Railway bridges at Vire
The crew for their final operation was:-
Pilot - Flight Lieutenant Wilfred Howard Way RCAF. ( Pictured above )
Born 22 - 10 -1920. Home - Brandon, Manitoba, Canada. Former occupation - Bank clerk. Marital status - Single. Operations completed to date - 23.
Flight Engineer - Sergeant John Edward Jennings RAFVR.
Born 20 - 9 - 1924. Home - Shipley, Bradford, Yorkshire, England. Former occupation - Plumber. Marital status - Single. Operations completed to date - 23.
Air Bomber - Pilot Officer John Douglas Gallagher RCAF.
Born 1 - 5 - 1919. Home - Port McNichol, Ontario, Canada. Former occupation - Student. Marital status - single. Operation completed to date - 21.
John’s brothers George and William in England July 1943. George served in the Canadian Perth Rgt in Italy and western Europe with great distinction and was awarded a Dutch Bronze Lion medal for gallantry and leadership in action. William was an Observer with the RCAF 6 Group Bomber Command and was shot down and taken prisoner in early 1944.
Navigator - Pilot Officer Derrick Reginald Hollingsworth RAFVR.
Above - L to R - Roger Cooper and Derrick Hollingsworth
Born 5 - 3 - 1922. Home - London, England. Former occupation - Bank clerk. Marital status - Single/engaged. Operations completed to date - 22.
Wireless operator - Flight Sergeant Roger Hughes Cooper RAFVR.
Born 2 - 1 - 1923. Home - Leeds, Yorkshire, England. Former occupation - Solicitors clerk. Marital status - Single/engaged. Operations completed to date - 22.
Mid Upper Gunner - Flight Sergeant Leonard William Zingelmann RAAF.
Born 27 - 12 - 11. Home - Boonah, Ipswich, Queensland, Australia. Former occupation - Timekeeper/overseer. Marital status - Single/engaged. Operations completed to date - 22.
Rear Gunner - Flight Sergeant Joseph Pearson Duns RCAF.
Born 20 - 7 - 1924. Home - Caledonia, Ontario, Canada. Former occupation - Factory worker. Marital status - Single. Operations flown to date - 20. Flight Sergeant Duns was on his first operation with this crew. He was officially on the strength of 576 squadron who were also based at Elsham Wolds and had flown all his operations so far with this unit.
The aircraft that this crew flew on this operation was an Avro Lancaster Mk III built at the Avro works at Manchester. The serial no was NE 173 and its squadron identification letters PM - E. It was delivered to 103 squadron in May 1944 and, up to its final flight, had flown on 4 operations totalling 14 hours 43 minutes flying time. Flight Lieutenant Way and crew had flown NE173 on 3 operations and Flight Lieutenant D Allwood and crew on 1 operation.
On the 6th June 1944 the airfield at Elsham Wolds must have been buzzing with talk of the D Day invasion which had taken place early that morning. The crews were briefed for a raid that night on 2 railway bridges situated at Vire in Calvados, Northern France which was an important road and rail communication centre on the River Vire. The purpose of the raid was to destroy road and rail communications at this point and prevent, or at least delay, the movement of German reinforcements and supplies to the battle area near the coast.
103 Squadron detailed 18 Lancasters and crews for this operation which was part of a force of 107 Lancasters of 1 Group and 5 Mosquito Pathfinders of 8 Group.
Flight Lieutenant Way and crew took off from Elsham Wolds at 2140. There followed an uneventful flight south across England and over the English Channel. When the Channel Islands were reached the force turned South East for a straight run in on the target. Cloud increased to 10/10ths over the French coast with cloud base at 6000 ft. The force descended through the cloud towards their bombing altitude of between 3000ft and 4000 ft.
At this altitude the force was vulnerable to light flak but it had been decided that the bombing was to be done at a relatively low level to try and ensure identification of the target and minimise the inevitable civilian casualties that sadly often happened in operations of this nature where the targets were so near, or even within, centres of population.
About 15 minutes from the target a 460 Squadron Lancaster of Flying Officer F J Knight RAAF and crew was hit by flak and exploded in mid air crashing at Cerisy-la-Salle killing all on board. As the bombers ran up to the target the markers were dropped exactly on schedule at 00.30. Very shortly after a 576 Squadron Lancaster of Flying Officer G E J Bain RCAF and crew, which had just bombed, was attacked by a night fighter without warning or returning fire and shot down. The Lancaster crashed at Chenedolle. 6 of the crew managed to bale out and 5 of those evaded capture and returned to Britain some weeks later.
At this time the Lancaster of Flight Lieutenant Way and crew were approaching the target and were badly shot up by a night fighter. Both wings were seen to catch fire but the Lancaster continued its bombing run and bombed the markers.
NE 173 was seen to continue to fly just beyond the target still on fire and then make a slow descending turn 180 degrees to port flying back in the direction from which it had come but continuing to descend slowly. None of the crew baled out. The Lancaster flew on for 2 or 3 minutes losing height. Flight Lieutenant Way seems at this stage to have attempted a crash landing in a field at Maisonseule, about 2 miles NE of Vire. Witnesses on the ground say the Lancaster hit the ground at a very shallow angle which broke off the tail. The main section of the aircraft continued at some speed to slide along the ground and shedding burning wreckage and coming to rest yards from a farmhouse. Tragically there were no survivors from the crew. It is impossible to say with certainty what happened in the last few minutes of the flight but it seems reasonable to suggest that this was a valiant attempt by the pilot to crash land his crippled aircraft and save his gallant crew who had stuck together to the end.
NE 173 had crashed in a field belonging to Madam Gautier and all 7 of the crew were buried in the same field by Louis Justel and his friends the next day.
The remains of the crew of NE 173 were recovered sometime later and buried at the following War Cemeteries.
Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery.
Flight Lieutenant W H Way RCAF
Sergeant J E Jennings RAFVR
Flight Sergeant R H Hughes RAFVR
Flight Sergeant L W Zingelmann RAAF
Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery.
Pilot Officer J D Gallagher RCAF
Flight Sergeant J P Duns RCAF
Bayeux War Cemetery.
Pilot Officer D R Hollingsworth RAFVR
Item written by David Fell
In June 2013 a memorial to this crew and an American airman, 1st Lt Dean J Hill USAAF who also crashed near Coulonces in 1944, was dedicated at the village. In 2014 on the 70th anniversary of the crash I was privileged to attend another similar ceremony. Members of the Gallacher family from Canada were also in attendance. It was a most moving and interesting occasion and the visit was truly memorable. I was overhwelmed with the hospitality and kindness which I received during my short stay and hope one day to return.
Below are three photos taken during the visit.
This crew were shot down by Hptm Hubert Rauh who was a member Stab II./Nachtjagdgeschwader 4 at the time. I was fortunate to be able to contact him about Hubert a couple of years before he died and he confirmed that he shot down 2 Lancasters in the same area at that time. Only 3 bombers were shot down on the Vire op. The third was a Lancaster of 460 Sqn flown by P/O Knight. That was a flak victim. Hubert’s 2 victims were certainly Bain and Way as the Germans had very few fighters operational that night due to shortage of aviation fuel at the French bases and the complete jamming of all the German ground control radars and communications in Northern France. This was confirmed by Walter Briegleb and Heinz Rokker. Briegleb flew into Chateaudun from Germany with his unit on the 6th June 44 and was immediately rodered to return to his German base because of the shortage of aviation fuel for operations. Only a handful of German night fighters were airborne that night amongst them was Heinz Rokker who shot down 5 Lancasters in the Caen area an hour or so after Rauh.
Something else worth mentioning is that it was noted by several vets I have spoken to who were on that raid that Bain’s crew came under tracer fire from the ground as they descended in their parachutes.
Finally a word about the Vire op.
Vire - 6/7th June 1944
The French town of Vire suffered greatly on the 6/7th June 1944. Around 400 of their people were killed in allied bombing on D Day and much of the town destroyed. I always assumed this was due to the 1 Group RAF Bomber Command raid just after midnight on the 6/7th June. However I was puzzled because the official reports by returning crews say Vire was already seen to be burning fiercely before the RAF crews commenced their attack. Further investigation some years later brought the answer.
The American 303rd Bomb Group had attacked Vire in daylight approx 4 hours before the RAF raid. 36 303 Bomb Group crews bombed Vire as “a target of opportunity” at around 20:30 from between 13,000 and 16,000 ft. Clouds prevented observation of the results. It seems likely most of the civilian casualties occurred then.
The 1 Group RAF raid was made from about 3000 to 5000 ft altitude below cloud in good visibility at around 0030. The force came in from the north west roughly following the line of the railway and bombed around the bridges and railway station at the northern edge of the town
See 303 BG Vire Mission Report below
Target: City area of Vire, France & Bridge at Conde-Sur-Noireau, France. Crews Dispatched: 36 (358BS - 9, 359th - 12, 360th - 8, 427th - 7). Length of Mission: 5 hours, 15 minutes. Bomb Load: 12 x 500 lb M44 & M43 & RDX bombs. Bombing Altitude: 16,300, 14,000 & 13,400 ft. Ammo Fired: 0 rounds
Thirty-three 303rd BG(H) B-17s plus three 305BG PFF aircraft took off between 1730 and 1756 hours to bomb a bridge in Conde-Sur-Noireau, France. B-17G #42-107097 Sweet Melody, 360BS in the 303BG-B Low Group (Lt. Bartholomew), returned early when he was unable to locate the formation. Bombs on Fortress #42-97944 Daddy's Delight, 359BS, in the 303BG-A lead formation (Lt. Sirany), failed to release either mechanically or electrically.
The afternoon formation experienced a beautiful view of the invasion armies landing on the French beaches. They told of fleets of barges, destroyers and battleships streaming across the channel to landing points on the coast, while flashes of gunfire and shell bursts winked through the thick clouds of black smoke that hung over the coastal area. Some gunners reported that the Germans seemed to be using land-fired rockets to oppose landing troops, but the stream of barges did not seem to be held up.
The 303BG-A lead Group dropped 120 500-lb M43 and RDX and 15 500-lb M44 G.P. bombs and the 303BG-B low Group dropped 96 500-lb RDX, 6 1,000-lb M44 and 36 500-lb M43 bombs on the center of the city of Vire, France — a target of opportunity. Bombing was done visually, but clouds prevented observation of the results.
The 303BG-C high Group PFF equipment malfunctioned. They were able to locate a two-aircraft element led by a PFF aircraft and after contacting it, flew formation on it for bombing. The primary target was bombed by PFF releasing 84 500-lb RDX, 6 1,000-lb M43 and 6 500-lb M44 bombs. Bombs hit in an open field. All aircraft returned safely to Molesworth between 2238 and 2330 hours.
More info on this mission at the 303BG website