Sergeant William W McLellan RAFVR
Navigator - MIA - 24th July 1943.
William Whitelaw McLellan ( pictured above ) was born on the 12th May 1923 at West Calder in Scotland. His parents, Robert and Margaret McLellan, also had 3 other children, Robert, Anne and Margaret. William’s father was a licensed grocer.
The family returned to live in Glasgow and William attended Willowbank Primary School and Woodside Senior Secondary School. He was a member of the Boys Brigade and played in the band and also was a keen stamp collector and enjoyed Youth Hostelling.
When he left school he was employed by a local firm and training to be a compositor in the printing trade. Like many other young men at this time he joined the Air Training Corps and volunteered for service in the RAF at the age of seventeen and a half and enlisted in Edinburgh in 1941.
After completing basic training he was selected for training as a pilot but later was remustered as a navigator and he completed this course sometime later although it is not clear as to where and when.
With the rank of Sergeant he became navigator in the crew of Sgt C E B Hardman whose father was S/L P Hardman DFC, a regular RAF Officer.
This crew was made up as follows:-
Sgt C E B Hardman - Pilot - RAFVR
Sgt D D Williams - Flight Engineer - RAFVR
Sgt D I Cameron - Air Bomber - RAFVR
Sgt W M McLellan - Navigator - RAFVR
Sgt B G Radbourn - Wireless Operator - RAFVR
Sgt J E Couch - Mid Upper Gunner - RCAF
Sgt G C Witchlow - Rear Gunner - RAFVR
This crew commenced operations with 103 Squadron with a successful raid to Dortmund on the night of the 23/24th May 1943 flying Lancaster ED389. They continued to fly together on a regular basis on operations till mid July 1943 mostly to German targets but including one raid on Turin in Italy. All these operations were flown in the same Lancaster, ED389.
The 103 Squadron Operational records relates one particular incident involving this crew which is worth mention.
On the night of the 14/15th June 1943 Sgt Hardman and his crew took part in a raid on Oberhausen. During the flight over Germany the rear gunner, Sgt Witchlow, suspected an aircraft movement in a cloud patch 150 yards to the rear of the Lancaster. A Ju 88 German night fighter suddenly appeared and Sgt Witchlow immediately opened fire with an accurate burst at close range from his 4 x 303 Browning machine guns. His aim proved spot on and the Ju 88 fell away pouring smoke from its port engine. Shortly afterwards a flash was seen on the ground and the Ju 88 was claimed as probably destroyed. The vigilance and good shooting of the rear gunner had undoubtedly saved the crew on this occasion and they returned to base without further incident.
On the 24th July 1943 103 Squadron took part in a raid on Hamburg and W/O Hardman ( he had recently been promoted ) and his crew were detailed to take part. The Squadron detailed 27 Lancasters and crews out of a total force of 791 bombers despatched that night. The raid itself was very important because it marked the introduction of Window to operational use.
Window was the code name for strips of paper with aluminium foil stuck to one side and cut to a length of 27cm long and 2 cm wide. Large numbers of these strips were to be dropped by the bombers during the operation and this had the effect of producing thousands of false returns on the German Wurzburg radar sets used for ground control of airborne interceptions and flak and searchlights and also the airborne Lichtenstein radar sets in the nightfighters used during the final stage of their interceptions.
W/O Hardman and crew took off from Elsham Wolds at 2211.
According to Martin Middlebrook, in his excellent book The Battle of Hamburg - The Firestorm Raid, the Lancaster of W/O Hardman was the first RAF bomber shot down on this night. The Lancaster was some way off track over the sea close to the Dutch coast. It is presumed that they had suffered some sort of mechanical or technical defect when approaching the German coast and were returning to the nearest point on the English coast which would be East Anglia.
Being outside the protection of the Window being dropped by the Main Force this isolated Lancaster was picked up by the German coastal Wurzburg radars and the ground controllers were able to make a fully controlled box interception. It is thought that W/O Hardman and his crew were shot down by the Bf110 night fighter of Hauptmann R Sigmund in Box Salzhering. They were the first bomber to be shot down on this operation and sadly there were to be no survivors .
By co-incidence the second bomber shot down on this raid and quite near in similar circumstances was also a 103 Squadron Lancaster, that of F/S R A Moore and crew in Lancaster JA 866.
103 Squadron lost a third aircraft that night, that of W/O F F O’Hanlon and crew in Lancaster ED878.
All 3 Lancasters were shot down by night fighters and all 3 crashed into the sea without any survivors.
In spite of the losses to 103 Squadron the introduction of Window had proved very successful and only 12 bombers out of a total of 791 were lost that night which was much less than would have previously been expected on a similar target.
It took the Germans several weeks before they could reorganise their defences to combat Window but they were soon to be even more formidable than before.
The raid on Hamburg proved to be devastating and resulted in considerable damage to the city and enormous loss of life amongst its inhabitants.
The body of William McLellan were washed ashore some days later on the German coast at what was called Adolf-Hitler-Koog and was renamed after the war as Friedrichskoog which is a point North of the mouth of the River Elbe. William was identified by the German authorities and buried by the seashore near to where he was found and his family was informed of his fate and burial site by the Red Cross sometime later.
At the end of the war a British Army Unit arrived at the site of the grave to exhume William’s body but were unable to find the location of the grave. Subsequent investigation revealed that the local people stated that an American Graves Investigation Unit had already visited the site to remove the bodies of American airmen also buried at this location and had removed the body of William McLellan at the same time and it has proved impossible to trace his remains in spite of extensive inquiries over a number of years. This sad state of affairs caused much additional distress to the McLellan family who were already grieving deeply over the loss of their fine young son and we will be most grateful to hear from anyone who may have any information which may in some way help to resolve this issue.
Sgt Witchlow is buried at the Bergen Op Zoom War Cemetery in Holland and the remainder of the crew rest at the Sage War Cemetery in North West Germany.
William McLellan is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial to missing RAF and Commonwealth airmen with no known grave. He was just over 20 years of age when he died and a fine young man and a much loved son and brother.
Written by David Fell
I am most grateful to the late Mrs Margaret Hampton for the information and photograph used in this item.