Personnel Index - Detail
12 February, 1942:
In recent months, Bomber Command had dropped over 3,000 tons of bombs on the battle cruisers 'Scharnhorst' and 'Gneisenau' and the light cruiser 'Prinz Eugen' as they resided in the French port of Brest. The two larger ships had both been badly damaged, and the threat of further damage had prevented the ships from sailing out into the Atlantic on another raid against allied shipping. In a daring and well-executed operation, the Germans sailed their 3 ships straight up through the English Channel to bring them back to the greater protection of a German port. What followed on the part of the British Command has since been labelled as a catalogue of catastrophes, needless to say that the German warships achieved their destination unharmed. Heavily armed and protected by the Luftwaffe, the Germans exacted a heavy toll during the gallant British attempts to stop their breakout; Fighter Command lost 16 aircraft and the Fleet Air Arm had 6 Swordfish destroyed. Bomber Command's part in the action involved 244 aircraft of which 15 were lost in action, and a further 2 crashing on return. Only 5 Group had been on a 4 hour 'stand by', as bomber Squadrons made frantic efforts to prepare their aircraft. Eventually, 5 Group contributed 64 Hampdens and 15 Manchesters to attack the German warships; 9 Hampdens were reported missing and one crashed on return. 49 Squadron's participation was prompted by a signal from Group received at 10.00hrs requesting 20 aircraft to attack the 'Scharnhorst' and 'Gneisenau' at sea! Cpl Trevor Simpson recalls the urgency with which the preparations were carried out, and he is almost certain that this was the occasion when the Hampdens were taxied into a hangar, bombed up and then taxied out!
In low cloud and rain with extremely poor visibility, only 3 of the squadron's aircraft found the primary target.
The fourth loss P5324 piloted by Sgt Thomas Downes also came down in the sea, though the cause cannot be determined. What has been established is that the bodies of three of the unfortunate crew were recovered from Scheveningen beach the next day. The tragic loss of these brave young airmen was compounded by the fact that the warships arrived at their destination without harm.
Information from Colin Cripps, 49Sqn Researcher, has discovered the cause of the loss:
1739hrs: Shot down by Oblt. Bock 6./JG 1 during attack on Gneisenau and Scharnhorst.