RCAF Halifax Recovery in Sweden

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Moose47
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RCAF Halifax Recovery in Sweden

Post by Moose47 » Mon Apr 11, 2016 9:11 am

G'day

Our little three-man group has been busy hunting for R.C.A.F. Halifax bombers.

Here's a short article I wrote on our latest involvement.

Cheers...Chris


A piece, well alright, actually many pieces of R.C.A.F. history rest partially buried by silt, 60 feet underwater, just a short distance off the Swedish coast. Havsresan or Sea Journey in English, a dedicated historic sea exploration group sponsored by the prestigious Lund University of Sweden, made the accidental discovery of the R.C.A.F. Halifax. Enter Karl Kjarsgaard, a self-described 'Scandahoovian' due to his Viking heritage. He is a former Air Canada Senior Captain and Founder/Project Manager of the internationally recognized organization Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada). The Swedes requested him to come and act as an adviser due to his many successful Halifax recoveries, including NA337, which today proudly sits in the National Air Force Museum of Canada at 8 Wing Trenton. A proposed joint recovery by the Havsresan and Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada) is being planned and more progress reports on the possible recovery of this historic RCAF Halifax are available at www.57rescuecanada.com

The Squadron
No. 405 'Vancouver' (B) Squadron had the distinction of being the RCAF's first overseas bomber squadron. At the time of the the squadron based at Gransden Lodge, Bedfordshire, England, was commanded by the legendary Group Captain John Emilius 'Johnnie; Fauquier DSO, DFC of Ottawa, Ontario. In turn, No. 405 Squadron was part of the famous No. 8 (PFF) Group, better known as the 'Pathfinders'. It was commanded by the tough, no-nonsense Aussie, Group Captain Don Bennett CBE, DSO.

The Aircraft
The 'Halibag' or 'Hallie' as the Handley Page Halifax was affectionately known as, was the RCAF's first four-engine heavy bomber. Many young Canadians would fly their first 'op' or operation in this type. It took them to the heart of Germany and back, as well as countless other targets in German-occupied Europe. The Halifax was the workhorse of the RCAF until the introduction of the Avro Lancaster. It would go on to fly The friendly debate among living Canadian aircrew as to which was the better aircraft, still carries on today. Halifax HR871 was a B. Mk. II Series IA, one of a serial block of 47 (HR837 – HR880) aircraft built by Handley Page's facility at Radlett Aerodrome in Hertfordshire. It was a marked improvement over earlier versions. HR871 was powered by four 1,390 horsepower Rolls Royce Merlin liquid-cooled V-12 piston engines. Various versions of the Halifax equipped RCAF squadrons and saw service right up to the end of the war. The following RCAF squadrons used the Halifax operationally. No.'s 405 'Vancouver', 408 'Goose', 415 'Swordfish', 419 'Moose', 420 'Snowy Owl', 424 'Tiger', 425 'Alouette', 426 'Thunderbird', 427 'Lion', 428 'Ghost', 429 'Bison', 431 'Iroquois', 433 'Porcupine' and 434 'Bluenose'. The following RCAF Heavy Conversion Units used Halifaxes in England – No.'s 1659 , 1664 'Caribou' and 1666 'Mohawk'.

70% of the 10, 659 Canadians killed in action while serving with RAF Bomber Command were flying on Halifax bombers when they sacrificed their lives for our freedom.

HR871
Halifax B. Mk. II's served with No. 405 (B) Squadron from April 1942 to September 1943, when at that time they were replaced by the Avro Lancaster B. Mk. I and III. While in service with No. 405 (B) Squadron, incidentally the only unit that operated HR871, it carried the code LQ- B. LQ is the squadron identifier while B is the individual aircraft radio call letter.

The Op
On the night of 2/3 August 1943, RAF Bomber Command despatched a force of 740 aircraft, comprised of 329 Avro Lancasters, 235 Handley Page Halifaxes, 105 Short Stirlings, 66 Vickers Wellingtons and five de Havilland Mosquitos. Their 'Target for Tonight' was the port city of Hamburg, Germany. 'Operation Gomorrah' as the joint British and American bombing campaign against Hamburg was dubbed, commenced on the night of 24/25 July 1943. The British were bombing by night while the Americans bombing by day. This would be the the last night of the operation and was soon became known as 'the night of the storm' and for good reasons. The crews were met by a massive thunderstorm over Germany. The violent weather forced the return of quite a few aircraft. Other crews carried on to their designated alternate targets. It is estimated that at least four if not more aircraft, succumbed to severe icing, lightning strikes and bone-jarring turbulence. It was a very costly operation with little to show for it. Thirty aircraft which included thirteen Lancasters, Halifaxes, four Wellingtons, three Stirlings were lost. That represented 4.1 per cent of the total force sent out that night.

The Crew
Pilot - Sgt. John Alywyn Phillips DFM, RAFVR (and later DFC)
Flight Engineer - Sgt H. C. McLean RCAF
Navigator - F/S G.W. Mainprize RCAF
Bomb Aimer - Sgt. V. A. Knight, RAFVR
Wireless Operator - Sgt R. A. Andrews, RAFVR
Mid-Upper Gunner - Sgt. W. H. King RCAF
Tail Gunner - Sgt. L. D. Kohnke RCAF

Last Flight of 'B' for Baker
Phillips and his crew were wheels-up from Gransden Lodge at 22:58 hours. During the outbound leg to Hamburg, they encountered the aforementioned thunderstorm while at around 21, 000 feet. Ice began to accumulate on the Halifax's control surfaces making it sluggish and increasingly difficult to control. They would not have stood much of a chance had they been forced to evade night fighters or flak, Phillips quickly made the decision to dropping the TI's – Target Indicators. Moments later, the forward section of the Halifax was struck by lightning. Both inner engines were knocked out, the radio was now useless and several critical instruments stopped functioning. The brilliant flash temporarily blinded Phillips. He lost control of the lumbering bomber momentarily. After fighting to regain a degree of control and with his sight now back, Phillips had to weigh the risks of trying to fly his crippled bomber back across the unforgiving North Sea back to England. The odds of getting safely home were not in their favor The decision was made to turn the aircraft in a northerly direction with the hope of reaching neutral Sweden.

Flying at just under 4,000 feet above the Baltic Sea, they made visual contact with a lighthouse and lights from a number of dwellings at Falsterbo They had made it to Sweden but were not out of the woods yet. The aircraft passed of Ringsjön and Vombsjön. Phillips changed course to a south-westerly heading which would take the aircraft back out over the Baltic Sea. He trimmed the controls and then gave the command to bale out. They were in close proximity to Flyinge, Sweden's largest and best-known horse breeding station. One by one they fell into the dark sky from the aircraft.

Interned
At around 02:15 hours GMT, while the aircraft was at appropriately 3,000 feet, Phillips jumped. He slowly drifted down to earth until his descent came to an abrupt end in a farmer's field near Esarp. Phillips had landed on top of a poor unsuspecting bovine. Alas, the poor cow did not survive and probably ended up as the farmer's main course for quite a few dinners. Phillips gathered up his parachute and set foot off into the unknown. After awhile, he flagged down the driver of a milk truck. Phillips managed to persuade the reluctant driver to take him to Malmö, where he ended up in the hands of the police. The rest of the crew was rounded up and transported to the army barracks at Revingehed. They went through the customary interrogation by Air Force intelligence officers. The crew was very hesitant to divulge any information at all. In the end, the Swedes got nothing useful from them. When the interrogations were over, the entire crew boarded a train to Falun, where they were to be interned. The crew was repatriated in groups back to England during January 1944.

Post-War
Originally from Swansea, Wales, Aylwyn now enjoys life with his wife Mabel in Kingston upon Hull or simply known as Hull. This picturesque city is located in the East Riding of Yorkshire. He wrote a riveting book chronicling wartime bombing operations during the spring and summer of 1943 entitled 'Valley of the Shadow of Death.' One who sees and talks with him, would be pleasantly surprised to find he is 92 years old. Sadly, he is the only surviving member of his crew. Aylwyn is excited about the discovery of his aircraft. He said to Karl with a big grin, “if you find the cockpit of the Halifax, I want my seat cushion back.” Aylwyn had a special seat cushion made to give him a few more inches of height in the pilot's seat. He may be short in stature, but there is no denying he's tall in courage.
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NunavutPA-12
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Re: RCAF Halifax Recovery in Sweden

Post by NunavutPA-12 » Tue Apr 12, 2016 6:53 am

My father served in an all-Canadian crew with 578 Squadron RAF. He was a rear gunner in the Halifax (Mark III I think - the ones with the Bristol Hercules sleeve valve engines).
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Moose47
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Re: RCAF Halifax Recovery in Sweden

Post by Moose47 » Tue Apr 12, 2016 9:00 am

G'day

Here is a poor photo of a Handley Page Halifax B. Mk. III from No. 578 (B) Squadron.

Can you PM me at ccharlandATcogecoDOTca

Cheers...Chris
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bobm
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Re: RCAF Halifax Recovery in Sweden

Post by bobm » Tue Apr 12, 2016 5:18 pm

Thanks for this post. It is great to see someone involved in our history. My father was an instructor back then as well.
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ZBBYLW
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Re: RCAF Halifax Recovery in Sweden

Post by ZBBYLW » Tue Apr 12, 2016 7:15 pm

Very cool! My grandfather was a tail gunner for 431 Sqd in the later stages of the war. Had 30 some missions over enemy lines! I have his log books at home, could get some tail numbers at a later date but I know he flew in the Lancasters as well as a few Halifax as well.

I will try and get more info if you have any photos or details about 431 sqd.
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Moose47
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Re: RCAF Halifax Recovery in Sweden

Post by Moose47 » Tue Apr 12, 2016 7:28 pm

G'day bobm and ZBBYLW

If you do not mind giving me their names, I am sure I can dig up some interesting gen on them.

Cheers...Chris
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