49 Squadron Association
Personnel Index - Detail
16/17 March, 1945; WÜRZBURG:
The squadron prepared to send 17 aircraft on the 5 Group attack to the virgin target of Würzburg. The first aircraft took off at 17.53hrs. The operation proved to be a devastating attack for Würzburg, by 225 Lancasters and 11 Mosquitoes of 5 Group. Post-war reports suggest that almost 90 per cent of the built-up area was destroyed. 6 Lancasters failed to return, of which 2 belonged to 49 Squadron.
F/O John Gibson (NG352) and crew were shot down in the target area; two members of the crew were killed, including F/O Edwards, the navigator, and mid/upper gunner Sgt Austin Finnerty, who died as a result of the fire inside the Lancaster.
Lancaster NG352 (EA-J)
F/O J.B. Gibson Pilot (P.o.W.)
Sgt G.P. Roberts F/E (P.o.W.)
F/O D. Edwards NAV (P.o.W.)
F/S D.J. Hughes W/OP (Murdered)
Sgt A. Finnerty A/G (Killed)
Sgt R.M. Henderson RCAF B/A (P.o.W.)
Sgt J. Evans A/G (P.O.W.)
Crew on their 13th operation
The details in the following account come from a newspaper cutting supplied by Peter Roberts, a fellow crew member of F/Sgt Hughes:
A third member of F/O Gibson's crew, F/Sgt Don Hughes, managed to escape from the burning aircraft successfully by parachute, landing by the banks of the River Main. In the morning he was found by two clergymen hiding in the church sacristy of Elbelstadt. He was handed over to a doctor who in turn took him to the Town Hall where he was interrogated.
At 07.30 on Sunday 18th March, after two days in the Police cells, Don was removed from the cells by SS Kriminal-Sekretar Joseph Axt of the Würzburg Criminal Police and Obersekretar Johann Weber. He was then marched to the river, where Axt shot him in the back before throwing his body in the river; his body was recovered from the river next morning.
'Axt and Weber were charged before a military court at Iserlohn on June 11th, 1946, and both were convicted. Axt was sentenced to death by shooting, and Weber to 20 years imprisonment.
Peter Roberts (F/E in the crew) gives this account of his own survival and finally his repatriation:
Most of our trips were at night, and with the Army now well into France and Holland, one thing that stands out in my memory is that you could always see the 'front line'; on the German side not a light to be seen but on our side, hundreds of lights, which we reckon were the soldiers brewing up - ‘sod the shells, where's the tea?’ On the night of Friday 16 March, we arrived in the target area a little too early for the Pathfinders. I was just pouring a cup of tea out of the flask, when suddenly all hell let loose as cannon shells ripped into J-Jig.
I had seen on previous raids that when fire started on a Lanc, you had about 10 seconds to get out - our Canadian bomb aimer (Sgt Henderson) was having trouble getting the front hatch open, so I went to help him... smoke and flames were everywhere! I came down by parachute, and landed painfully on a wall. I managed to stay free for three days, frightened to death, before being found in a haystack by German Home Guard.
I was taken to a village prison where I spent the night. In the morning I was marched to the Civil prison by a member of the German Home Guard who turned up in his uniform complete with spiked helmet from the First World War - quiet a shock. I was placed in three civil prisons altogether, including Stuttgart.
Finally I was sent to Stalag 5A Ludwigsberg, spending four weeks with American PoW's from the Battle of the Bulge. General Patton's Army soon swept in and liberated us - my first meal was cream of wheat cereal and '10' fried eggs with pork... talk about being ill!
I was also given 3x1500 packs of 'Lucky Strike'. At the US camp, the Americans pulled up a whole string of wagons with showers, toilets, baths etc. etc... each PoW went in at one end and came out a new man at the other!
Afterwards, we were taken to Rheims in France and flown home in Dakotas.