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[Home] [Profiles 103 Sqn A to M] [Jimmy W Birchall and crew 103 Sqn]

F/O Jimmy W Birchall RAFVR and crew – 103 Squadron – RAF Elsham Wolds – 1944

Failed to Return – 22/23rd April 1944 – Avro Lancaster I – ME741 – Op Dusseldorf.

The original captain of this crew was F/O Jock Miller and they were posted to 103 Squadron at RAF Elsham Wolds on the 24th February 1944. Miller was lost on his “Second Dickie “ trip with Bill Eddy's crew to Augsburg in late February 1944. They were now without a pilot or a “Headless crew” as it was known. However Jimmy Birchall took this crew over. Birchall had been wounded whilst serving with another Squadron sometime before and was transferred to 103 Squadron to complete his tour. They were lost on their 7th operation together. See below :-

26-Mar-44 – Essen – Lancaster – JB736 – P/O JW Birchall - Combat with night fighter. Evaded

30-Mar-44 – Nuremberg – Lancaster – ND700 – F/O JW Birchall - Combat with night fighter. Evaded

10-Apr-44 – Aulnoye – Lancaster – ME673 – F/O JW Birchall

11-Apr-44 – Aachen – Lancaster – JB655 – F/O JW Birchall

18-Apr-44 – Rouen – Lancaster – ME741 – F/O JW Birchall

20-Apr-44 – Cologne – Lancaster – ME741 – F/O JW Birchall

22-Apr-44 – Dusseldorf – Lancaster – ME741 – F/O JW Birchall – FTR - Flak victim. Abandoned over target.

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103 Squadron Warren

F/O Jimmy W Birchall RAFVR – 103 Sqn – POW – Camp L3 – POW no N/K

Sgt DJ Hill RAFVR – 103 Sqn – POW injured – L6/L4 3599

F/S D Mitchell RAFVR – 103 Sqn – POW – Camp L6/357 - POW no 3587

F/S J Hill DFM RAFVR – 103 Sqn – POW – Camp N/K - POW no N/K

F/S W Meadows RAFVR – 103 Sqn – POW  - Camp L6/357 - POW no 3582

Sgt TW Wetton RAFVR – 103 Sqn – POW - Camp L6/357 - POW no 3581

Sgt Bernard W Warren RAFVR ( pictured above ) – 103 Sqn – POW - Camp L6/357 - POW no 3582

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22-Apr-44 – Dusseldorf

103 Squadron detailed 15 aircraft for this attack on the German city of Dusseldorf. Take off was marred by one 576 Squadron aircraft swinging on take off and firing the port outer engine. This necessitated changing runway and only 13 of our aircraft were able to take off. Visibility and general weather was good on the way to the target. At the beginning of the attack searchlights were few and flak slight but increased as the attack progressed. The marking was very good and the attack seemed well concentrated. Sticks of incendiaries falling away from the target were reported again. Fighter flares were well in evidence on this raid. Bombing was between 18000 ft and 23000 ft. P/O MacDonald and P/O Chase had combats with night fighters but successfully evaded. P/O Astbury crashed on return to this country and the whole crew were killed. F/L Allwood was shot up by a fighter and landed at Woodbridge. All other aircraft returned to base. F/O Leggett had to cancel his sorties as on turret was completely unserviceable and P/O Mitchell could not take off owing to the change of runways and delay.

For this attack on Dusseldorf Bomber Command detailed a total of 596 aircraft - 323 Lancasters, 254 Halifaxes, 19 Mosquitos - of all groups except No 5. 29 aircraft - 16 Halifaxes and 13 Lancasters - lost, 4.9 percent of the force. 2,150 tons of bombs were dropped in this old-style heavy attack on a Nazi city which caused much destruction but also allowed the German night-fighter force to penetrate the bomber stream. The attack fell mostly in the northern districts of Dusseldorf. Widespread damage was caused.

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Lancaster – ME741

This machine enjoyed a short career of 3 operations all with the Birchall crew. See below :-

18-Apr-44 – Rouen – Lancaster – ME741 – F/O JW Birchall

20-Apr-44 – Cologne – Lancaster – ME741 – F/O JW Birchall

22-Apr-44 – Dusseldorf – Lancaster – ME741 – F/O JW Birchall – FTR - Flak victim. Abandoned over target.

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Sgt Bernard Warren RAFVR 103 Sqn

“No more aircraft to take off" That signal would have prevented Bernard from joining the Caterpillar Club however, at the precise moment the signal came through, the crew got their green light for take off.

Skipper, Jimmy Birchall, decided to go with the Green and the operation would end in a parachute jump for Bernard and his crew.

Bernard had joined 103 Squadron on the 24th February 1944 and he and the remainder of his crew had the misfortune to lose their first skipper, Jock Miller, when he flew on a “Second Dickie” trip with Bill Eddy to Augsburg on the 25/26th February 1944. Jock Miller was injured but survived the war as a POW. Bill Eddy crash landed his Lancaster near the French border and successfully evaded back to the UK.

Some Bomber Squadrons did not apply the practise of asking new pilots to fly a first operation as a second pilot with an experienced crew as, if they did not return, it was disruptive and upsetting for the remainder of the crew left behind.

Fortunately Bernard, who was also on the raid, returned otherwise the crew would have been 2 short without having flown an operation together. He had been drafted into the crew of Flying Officer Bill Way RCAF at a short notice to replace their Australian mid upper gunner who was ill.

Bernard flew the operation in the mid upper turret which was a new experience for him as he was trained as a rear gunner. It was a lively baptism of fire. They were attacked several times by night fighters both out bound and on return.

Bernard’s now “Headless Crew” received a new pilot, Jimmy Birchall, who had returned to operations after being wounded over Hanover sometime before.

The new crew flew their first operation to Essen in March 44 and then took part in the infamous Nuremberg raid at the end of the month. Birchall’s crew were one of the lucky ones to escape unscathed. Subsequently they took part in raids against the French railway system and on targets in the Ruhr.

The take off for their 8th operation on the 22nd April had been delayed when a Lancaster from 576 Sqn swung on take off and its port outer engine caught fire resulting in a change of runway. Next in line for take off after the delay was Jimmy Birchall’s crew in ME741. The pilot tried to make up time on the way to the target, Dusseldorf, but still arrived 30 minutes late over the burning city. At this time, with no other bombers for company, they were very exposed and felt a sense of being alone. Shortly after dropping their bombs the Lancaster was coned by searchlights and hit by predicted flak.

Bernard recalls the next few minutes :-

“ My intercom went dead, the hydraulics ceased to function and my guns were U/S. I rotated the turret by manual control but, from then on, I was a sitting duck. More flak followed and with the aircraft now on fire, I decided to leave the turret. On entering the fuselage I came face to face with our wireless operator who had been sent back to see if I was still alive. He indicated that we were to bale out and I put on my parachute and followed him out of the rear door.”

As rear gunner Bernard was in the most vulnerable position and, with his chute stowed inside the rear fuselage, he was lucky the aircraft remained stable. Exiting the aircraft cleanly Bernard delayed pulling his ripcord and counted to ten. The chute opened with a sharp jolt and he passed out. Landing unconscious proved to be lucky and he came to completely unhurt.

Finding himself on a small holding close to the target area he released his parachute without a problem and buried it.

Deciding to take stock of his situation he lit up a cigarette and pondered the chances of getting back across the Rhine to friendlier territory. Whilst he was sitting he became aware of somebody approaching him and it was not long before a stream of German words told him that he had been captured. His captors were an old farmer with a shotgun and a young boy and he was taken to their farmhouse where the farmer gave the boy the shotgun and went to the phone.

It was clear that if Bernard made a wrong move the boy would blast away so Bernard froze. The old man came back and, shortly afterwards several German soldiers arrived in a small van and he was taken to an army camp and interrogated by a young German who spoke reasonably good English. He can recall little of the interrogation but eventually they gave him somewhere to sleep.

In the morning he was moved again into the centre of Dusseldorf meeting up with 3 or 4 more aircrew at a Luftwaffe station. Whilst there the air raid warning sounded and the bombers came over again. Bernard remembered thinking “ Oh my God. Here we go. Not only do we drop them but they get dropped on you as well.”

The prisoners were taken by their guards down to the cellar which already contained a good number of German civilians. The locals were far from happy at sharing their shelter with the RAF men and started to lash out with sticks and umbrellas. The guards fortunately intervened and protected their prisoners from serious damage. Whilst at this station Bernard met up again with his wireless operator, Bill Wetton, when he suddenly walked in unannounced. This meeting was a great boost to both men.

Shortly afterwards they were taken to Dusseldorf station and put on a train for Frankfurt destined for the Dulag Luft which was the German RAF Interrogation Centre.

Bernard spent the next year in Stalag Luft 6 in East Prussia, 357 Thorn in Poland and 357 Fallingbostel near Hanover. He was released on the 16th April 1945 by Monty’s Desert Rats.

Item compiled by David Fell. The photo is courtesy of the Warren family and the piece about Bernard is an edited version of a short article that I seem to recall appeared in the Aircrew Association magazine years ago.

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