Short Stirling BF346 lost 28/29 April 1943

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Lyn
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Short Stirling BF346 lost 28/29 April 1943

Post by Lyn » Thu Aug 16, 2018 10:59 am

I am looking for help in understanding the circumstances around the loss of Short Stirling Mk III BF346 on the night of 28-29 April 1943.

The aircraft, from XC(90) Squadron, took off at 20:19 from RAF Ridgewell in Essex to take part in a “Gardening” operation in the ‘Quince’ region of the Baltic. She was lost with all crew, presumed to have come down in the sea. One body only was recovered – that of F/Sgt William Greenhalgh Monk (95140), which washed ashore one month later on 31 May at Ekckenforde in Germany. He was buried at Kiel War Cemetery.

Dr Theo Boiten suggests that BF346 was brought down by light flak of 1.Lei.Fl.Abt 985, and crashed in the Langelands Baelt near Korsor at 00.07 (Nachtjagd Combat Archive Part 1). He also believes that this aircraft was mis-identified as a Liberator.

So my questions are:

1. Can anyone clarify why Dr Boiten has identified this particular loss as BF346 when several other Stirlings were lost on the same operation?

2. Are the Liberator and Stirling Mark III similar? Other Stirlings lost at the same time were clearly identified as such, so is it usual that this one might have been misidentified?

3. Is it possible to work out approximate flight time to the target area? I would like to know whether the aircraft was inbound and fully laden with mines or was returning to base at the time it was lost.

4. Can I find out the location of Flak station 1.Lei.Fl.Abt 985?

The pilot of BF346 was S/Ldr Robert ‘Bob’ Seayears May, who appears to have been a very experienced pilot, having served successfully in Iraq and as an Instructor at a training base in Rhodesia, before being posted back to an operational squadron.

5. Is it possible to find out more about his RAF career, particularly dates of deployment? As I am neither next of kin nor family I presume I cannot access this information?

I am very grateful for any guidance or information that can be put my way.

Thanks
Lyn

jamesinnewcastle
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Re: Short Stirling BF346 lost 28/29 April 1943

Post by jamesinnewcastle » Fri Aug 17, 2018 8:50 am

Hi Lyn

You don't say why you are looking for these details, forums are stocked with people who are 'interested', you might get better responses if you interest them too, otherwise you are just asking people to do stuff for you for no return.

You don't say if you have spoken/mailed Theo Boiten but he is relatively easy to contact and I have seen him on the following forum - under Historical, it might be worth asking your question there too.

https://forum.keypublishing.com/

You can Google the Liberator and check the similiarities for yourself, the tail plane is much like a Lancaster and distincitve but it is a fat aircraft as the Stirling is, well relative to a sleek Lancaster anyway. I thought that Liberators were American and likely to have made daylight raids so what was one doing up there at midnight? You would have thought that a German pilot would have known the Lancaster very well and know the tail shape, that was the end he would most likely attack. All three types were 4-engine.

But at midnight and in combat what can you see? The Met Office have records of the weather conditions for most days even back to 1940 - try contacting them to find out the likely conditions. Was it a full moon or cloudy and overcast? I think now you can get that infor directly off of their website.

Find out what squadrons had Liberators and see if you can access their records for the night - I don't know if the Americans kept the equivalent of the RAFs ORBs. I assume that you have seen the ORBs for your Stirling? Try an American forum for info on Liberator squadrons. What squadrons were active that night?

In theory the ORBs will show you his career through one squadron and possibly tell you where he was transferrred to/from which could bounce you to the next squadron.

On Ancestry.com you may find his name or track members of his crew that route may bend around with more info.

For flight times you can guess a route, or Google for routes and check that with the typical speed of a cruising Stirling - plus the time it took to get to height. Sadly that would be a bit of research over many books I would suspect.

Sadly the experience/skill of a pilot wasn't really related to their chances of lasting the war but you can get a limited overview of his records even if you are not related, Google RAF personnel records and you should get to a form and a description of what you will get for your £25 (or whatever it is these days). I think that the Air Historic Branch hold those records - you could approach them anyway.

Try facebook - ther are many WW2 pages - possibly you may find a german page for flak sites but again you may have to force yourself into a German version of Facebook.

I assume that you have researched at the National Archives? Are you aware that there is a similar organisation in Germany? They might have records of the Flak station. Or get onto a German forum/site for WW2 - I suspect that you may not even have to speak German to get a reply, but Google Translate does a fine job both ways. Search in german using the germa for flack site or something like that! You may need to get onto the German Google site - The UK Google site is probably deliberately steering you away from non-UK web sites.

Look at Find-a-grave.com. I found my Pilot there and hence some relatives leaving obituaries - contact with them could reveal more. I realise he didn't have a grave but there may be an obituary.

To give you some hope, I requested my pilots marriage certificate (you don't have to be exact in that just saying their name was Smith and they married in London in 1945 will return a list of likely 'hits'). On his marriage certificate was her fathers name and occupation. I googled that to find him at his collage. Googling the college for 'old boys' gave me a link to an East Sussex village where he had been a Mayor. Googling the villages web site - and waiting for a year - I got a reply from his niece who routed me through other family members to the Granddaughter who I found out had some of his records!

Leave a trail of breadcrumbs on forums, even Facebook!

Good Luck!

James

Lyn
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Re: Short Stirling BF346 lost 28/29 April 1943

Post by Lyn » Fri Aug 17, 2018 12:32 pm

Morning James,

Thank you for your message. I appreciate you taking the time to reply. It was not my intention to ask anyone to do any research on my behalf - rather that I was hoping to garner the opinions and “pick the brains” of more experienced members.

My connection to this enquiry is that my uncle, Sgt Basil Reeve, was rear gunner with this crew. It was their 8th operational flight when they were lost. For my own interest I have been trying to trace the wartime service of the other crew members. It is interesting to note that Basil and the mid upper-gunner, Gerald Frederick Heathcote-Peirson probably met at 1657 CU, when they were both there in March 1943, before joining XC Squadron.

Basil did his initial training in Rhodesia and my interest in Robert May stems from the possibility that he and Basil may have met when Bob was instructor at one of the training camps there, which would be an interesting twist, given that pilots generally chose their own crew for operational squadrons. S/Ldr May and F/Sgt Monk (the navigator) were both with the Royal Canadian Air Force which complicates locating their service records somewhat. For note, I have already downloaded the relevant ORBs and Combat reports from the UK National Archives.

I have not been in touch with Theo Boiten – in truth I had struggled to find any up to date online presence for him, so thanks for the link to
The Aviation Forum. I have however been in touch with Soren Flensted, of the Airwar over Denmark website (http://www.flensted.eu.com/) who actually very kindly, and unbidden, provided me with copies he had of the Luftwaffe ‘kill’ reports from the night in question. From this it seems that several other Stirlings and other, unidentified, aircraft were brought down around the same time, although I now need to cross-reference these with the known Stirling losses to eliminate those from my search. Finding the location of the flak battery appears to be a key piece of information. As you suggest, I will try to find a German site that may have this information.

My question about flight time etc was really to get another opinion on my own research in this area. From research, I have a good idea of the flight corridors used and the airspeed of the Stirling is quite well documented, so an approximate calculation, taking in account air speed, laden weight, height, etc put them over the target area by about 23.00. Even allowing for the low cloud over the area at the time (yes – I did check!) I was surprised to find them still over target at midnight. However, unforeseen events may have delayed them or pushed them off course. My interest in this area is to determine, in all probability, whether the aircraft was still stuffed to the gunwales with mines or whether it was on its way home when it came down. If it was the former then it is most likely it exploded either in the air, or on impact with the water. If it was the latter, then, on the balance of probability, it was most likely intact (almost) when it crashed. Just to be complete, I have also done some research into tidal flow in the western Baltic to see if it is possible to locate a likely crash site area, given the location of F/Sgt Monk’s body and the length of time it took for him to come ashore. This whole area of the Baltic is particularly busy now with shipping, dredging, and building work and there is always the possibility that some aircraft remains may yet be discovered. In light of this I have registered with the JCCC and CWGC as Basil’s next of kin, and so will be informed should anything be discovered in the future.

My father, and before him his parents, spent their whole lives trying to find out what happened to Basil. There is no doubt he was killed in action – although my grandmother refused to believe it until the day she died. The letter they received the day following the mission from S/Ldr J H Giles states that “Other crews who were operating in the same area have stated that they had not seen any incident which could be linked with their loss ……. and that there is every chance of them reaching safety.” Sadly this was not the case, but if there is any chance of finding the final resting place of these brave men I would like to know that I had done everything possible.

Lyn

jamesinnewcastle
Flight Lieutenant
Flight Lieutenant
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Joined: Fri Oct 15, 2010 12:31 am

Re: Short Stirling BF346 lost 28/29 April 1943

Post by jamesinnewcastle » Fri Aug 17, 2018 7:20 pm

Hi Lyn

It sounds like you are doing a pretty competant job of research! Let us know how you get on.

My Granmother lost her oldest boy on his way back from his first mission in a Halifax - the only aircraft in the flight to be lost. She too pined to know where his body was - she said that she couldn't grieve properly. A poster on here also had a story of information arriving too late to let a mother know the truth of her sons death, sadly by just a few weeks.

I've sent you PM with some small information that might help.

Good Luck
James

Lyn
Leading Aircraftman
Leading Aircraftman
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Joined: Fri Aug 03, 2018 5:58 pm

Re: Short Stirling BF346 lost 28/29 April 1943

Post by Lyn » Sat Aug 18, 2018 10:28 pm

Hi James,

Thanks for the pm and your earlier suggestions. I will definitely follow up, particularly the ‘trail of breadcrumbs’. I’ll post again if I get any leads.

Many thanks
Lyn

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