The last mission of the Lancaster MKI LL 836 BQ-E, 550 Squadron RAF
The page dedicated to this Lancaster doesn't look like those which usually appear on our web site. Indeed there was no excavation or significant parts of discoveries for this bomber which fell in Achiet le Petit, Pas de Calais. However Somme Aviation (with its President Pierre BEN and one of its members Dany DHEILLY) was heavily involved on request of M Xavier DUQUESNE, mayor of the town, in the success of the tribute which took place on June 6th, 2015. That very day there were about 250 people to commemorate the crew of the bomber which fell on April 11th, 1944 on the territory of the village. A search was conducted by Pierre BEN and Ghislain LOBEL at the "Bois de Logeast" main place of the crash, but they only found a few pieces of Perspex and of aluminum belonging to the Lancaster. The reason is that the bomber exploded in flight and that the remains were scattered on the surface, none of them having been buried. The recovery of the scattered Lancaster probably took place a few days after the crash. The research was not easy due to the fact that the ground was full of scrap shards dating from WW1 (important battle of August 21, 1917 at the "Bois de Logeast"). The collected items were given to the descendants of the crew members after the tribute.
The fatal mission of LL836 BQ-E, 550 Squadron RAF :
On April 10th 1944, 15 four-engine Lancaster MKI bombers left their base of North Killingholme England. Among them LL 836 BQ-E departing at 11 25 p.m.. Aboard the aircraft 7 crew : four are English, one is Australian and two are Canadian.On this occasion two different air gunners were flying with the crew (one of them, F/Lt Waycott DFM, being the Squadron Senior Gunnery Officer). We were unable to establish the number of missions by each crew member, but the information collected allow us to establish that the crew (including substitutes) is experienced, two airmen were awarded the DFM, and 2 others the DFC (see details in the list of members below). We only know that R.W PICTON participated to 24 missions including the one above Aulnoye Aymeries (The Comet newspaper article). Shortly after take-off, the group joined 116 other bombers Lancasters and 7 Mosquitos over the English coast. These 123 aircraft came from several bases spread across the South East of England. The 7 Mosquitos belong to the "Pathfinder force", whose role is to mark the target with flares just before the bombing . The target of this air force is the marshalling yard of Aulnoye Aymeries located in the north of France. This operation is part of the Transportation Plan, which is due to destroy the logistical rail centers used by the Germans in anticipation of future landing. The mission began badly : one of the bombers is missing, it crashed on take-off, by miraculously there were no casualties. . On April 11th 1944, the bombers dropped their destructive cargo between 02 20 am and 02 46 am on the marshalling yard. A total of about 2000 bombs fell from the sky for a weight of around 800 tonnes. Only 287 projectiles hit their target, the other ordnance fell on the city of Aulnoye Aymeries and surrounding.
Official reports state the following balance sheet:
30 locomotives hit Engine shade razed 340 homes destroyed 14 civilians killed.
The figures that appear above are those listed in the book of M Jean Pierre Ducellier (La Guerre Aérienne dans le Nord de la France du 26 mars 1944 au 11 avril 1944 "Missing in action"). Some official reports contradict these indications but the rigor of JP Ducellier in the synthesis of the missions through the archives documents he consults at Kew confirms our choice. The Bomber Command War Diaries by Martin Middlebrook indicates 132 Lancaster and 15 Mosquito in the "Pathfinders" role).
Having fulfilled their mission, the bombers fly home. Everything went according to the plan and the Flak was not very active over the target. However the German night fighters were alerted and some Messershmitts BF 110 G4 of NJG 4 's Luftwaffe rose from the Juvincourt airfield (Aisne) to catch up the "Stream" which returned to England.
LANCASTER LL 836 BQ-E 550 SQUADRON RAF CREW
Flight Lieutenant Richard "Dickie" William PICTON, 24, 129769 (DFC) DISTINGUISHED FLYING CROSS.
Lechworth ( Hertfordshire ) ENGLAND, volunteer, journalist.
ENGINEER: Sergeant Thomas Henry Guest -age unknown- 1801227, ENGLAND volunteer.
Flying Officer John James LOGAN, 26,
135108 ,(DFC) DISTINGUISHED FLYING CROSS .
Penicuik (Midlothian) SCOTLAND, volunteer, grocer.
Wreckage was scattered on the fields with debris flung over an area of 200 meters wide.. Among them the bodies of 7 crew members. All were killed. 3 bodies seem intact 3 are burnt. The latter crashed in an alfalfa field, his body sank 30 centimeters into the ground. When residents arrived, debris are still burning. German soldiers prevent the curious from approaching. Meanwhile, the mayor receives a visit from German officers who give the order to bury the seven airmen as quickly as possible. Mr. VALLE refuses such conditions: the airmen need coffins. After much palaver, the German accept the proposal and, as soon as they left, the mayor orders 7 coffins in Arras to the Service of Military Burials. It remains to wait for the delivery. Soon after, the 7 bodies are brought back to the village and deposited in the small communal local (commonly called Local Police Station or Fire Station). Volunteers lay them out on bags and canvas on the floor. When seven roughly made coffins arrived the remains were placed in each and the room door is closed, must wait. Two days later, Wednesday, April 13th, a farm trailer is brought to the temporary morgue. The coffins are loaded and taken to the parish church for the funeral service celebrated by the parish priest of Bihucourt. Deposited in the choir, these airmen receive the funeral they deserve. Considerable assistance was honouring them, three NCO's and some German soldiers were present to pay their respects . Reloaded on the trailer at the end of the ceremony, the two horses pulled the coffins to the communal cemetery.
Translanted extract from Mr Colliot's french book (4 longues années d' occupation)
Searching for descendants
It all began with a request of Mr Xavier DUQUESNE, new mayor of the town when he found a letter from Mrs Joyce HRYWKIV (niece of the rear gunner Willam ESSAR) sent to the previous mayor a decade earlier. This letter had known a beginning of reply and then was forgotten. Mr DUQUESNE told me about this letter and I offered him to look for this family, having myself made this type of investigation some earlier time for another Lancaster crew who fell in Iwuy, a village situated in the North department.
Then I started seeking information through various forums dealing with the subject on the net. It is thus that I found John LOGAN, nephew of JJ LOGAN, the crew navigator who lives in England. John told me that he and his wife will visit the grave of his uncle during the summer holidays in the cemetery of Achiet le Petit. Meanwhile, Mr Xavier DUQUESNE found a witness who had gone to the crash site the day after the drama with classmates despite prohibitions. In August 21st, 2014, M Jacques HOURIEZ met in the presence of Mr Xavier DUQUESNE and myself (Michel LESPAGNOL) Mr John Logan and his wife to inform them of his testimony (see transcript here). When we left, we promise to make efforts to locate William ESSAR's family. A few months later, Mr John LOGAN informed me that he had found Mrs Joyce HRYWKIV. It is from this date that the idea of a tribute to be done was born in the town of Achiet-le-Petit.
Thanks to Mrs Erin NAPIER, curator of Canadian Warplane Air Museum in Mount Hope and friend of Pierre BEN, we could then locate a cousin of JF POTTER who lives in Melbourne Australia, and ten days before the ceremony a pilot's nephew Richard PICTON living in CANADA. A painstaking work that took us far away from the country of origin of the crew members ( JF POTTER family, born in England found in Australia and RW PICTON family born in England found in Canada. We were not able to trace members of the other families.
The three families of the crew members present at the tribute were:
Mrs Joyce HRYWKIV (niece of P/O William ESSAR Rear Gunner of
Lancaster LL 836 BQ-E) and her husband Norm (veteran of PPCLI) coming from
Mr John LOGAN (nephew of F/O John James LOGAN Navigator) and his wife Jan coming from England.
Mrs Loïs MARTIN (cousin of F/O John Foster POTTER Bomb Aimer) and
her husband Colin coming from the area of Melbourne Australia with her
daughter, son-in-law and two children
In the end, so we were able to locate 4 relatives among the 7 families of the airmen killed in Achiet Le Petit. 3 of them were present at the commemoration on June 6th, 2015. It is noteworthy that the mother of Mrs Joyce HRYWKIV, William ESSAR's sister could know in detail the history of that tragic day. Indeed aged 102 years at the time of the tribute and in full possession of his faculties she could get the story that his daughter told her on her return from Achiet. She was able to mourn her brother 72 years after his death.
Mr Jean Pierre DUCELLIER has made available all the documentation he has gathered at Kew archives to develop this page. You can find all the details of the mission in this book -in french- (La Guerre Aérienne dans le Nord de la France du 26 mars 1944 au 11 avril 1944 "Missing in action" at Paillart editions) available on our page "Coin des livres (corner book) "
Thanks to Mr Stuart NIMMO, whose father Neil NIMMO pilot of the 6th Lancaster shot down that night by BERGMANN' s crew, we were able to gather a wealth of informations about this German ace. Stuart NIMMO wrote a book in English about that tragic night entitled "PERILOUS MOON" that you can purchase here.
Other informations were also given by Jocelyn LECLERCQ, President of the association "ANTIQ AIR" who had worked on this "serial" of the 10th to 11th April 1944' s night. Our Belgian friends of the "Memorial de Rebecq" ( Mr Guy De Braeckeleer and Mr Wilfred Burie) representatives of 550 Squadron attended the ceremony together in association with the administrator of the website dedicated to 550 Squadron Mr Kelvin YOUNGS. Mr Laurent WIART, historian of the Region honoured us of his visit and provided an extract from Mr COLLIOT' s book about LL836. Florent MALVOISIN' s Association actively participated to the commemoration, exposing displaying and other collectibles memorabilia. M René COQUEL from Bapaume lent us a Jeep and a Dodge 6x6 from his collection. Pierre BEN exhibited a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine from a previous excavation identical to one of the engines that propelled the LL 836 BQ-E. The tribute was followed by an overview of the battlefields of the Somme for the descendants of the airmen and a private tour of the museum of the Somme Association.
The association Les Gardiens de LORETTE and the Achiet le Petit and Ribecourt La Tour' s band led by Jacques M HOURIEZ made a musical tribute to the crew. You can see this beautiful ceremony by clicking this link : June 6th 2015 on video The Officials were:
Mr Jean Jacques COTTEL, Deputy of the 1st district of Pas de Calais, Mr DUVERGE and Me Dromart Mr Xavier CZERWINSKI, Sub-Prefect of Pas de Calais The French Air Force and the French Gendarmerie.
Twin engined BF 110 G4 are equipped with 1475 hp Daimler Benz engines. Top speed is 348 mp / h, cruising, the airplane flies at 280 mp / h. The armament consists of two machine guns MK 108 (1.18 in) and 2 MG 151 (0.79 in) at the front; 2 machine guns MG 15 (0.31 in) are used on the back for defence. Hauptman Helmut Bergmann' s crew takes off at 2 am from Juvincourt airfield (Aisne) and flies to the marshalling yard of Aulnoye Aymeries. Three men boarded this night fighter :
Pilot : Hauptmann Helmut BERGMANN 23 , bordfünker : (wireless op and Liechtenstein radar) Feldwebel Günther HAUTHAL, rear gunner : Feldwebel Wilhelm SCHOPP.
The mission began with the shooting down of a first Lancaster above Vieux Mesnil (suburb of Maubeuge) at 2 20 am, then the crew shot down six other Lancaster in 46 minutes. The LL836 BQ-E is the fourth victim, shot down at 2 43 am on the territory of Achiet le Petit. In his report, Helmut Bergmann reported that he approached the Lancaster from below and to the rearso as not to be seen . He mentions no reaction from the Lancaster crew who has probably never saw it coming. This maneuver is particularly delicate and audacious because the pilot must tilt the BF 110 to perfect his shot. Indeed, his Messerschmitt is not yet equipped with the infamous "Schräge-Music" (oblique shot) which allowed the Germans to get a lot of victories.
With this deadly technical improvement, night fighters arrived undetected under British bombers which didn't have ventral turret. They then positioned themselves beneath the bomber and adjusting their speed they triggered their oblique firing machine guns. The RAF took 9 months to discover how this new secret weapon was working.
When it was shot down, LL836 BQ-E only had 44 hours on flight counter.
At 2 42 am, we attacked our 4th goal target: another Lancaster, from behind and from below at a distance of 100 meters. The fuselage and wing roots s' flared immediately. We thought we could recognize the insignia BD ER (This Lancaster was in fact BQ-E) The plane crashed in flames at 2 43 am, 1km5 North West of Achiet le Petit 8km north-west of Bapaume, 20km south of Arras.
Helmut BERGMANN will have shot down 7 Lancaster in 46 minutes during this very night where 39 crew members lost their lives. This will be the only victories of the German night fighters that night.
On the night of August 6th to 7th 1944 as he performs a mission with the same crew, Hauptman BERGMANN is shot down near Avranches in his BF 110 G4 registered 140320 3C + CS which was probably the one used the night of April 10th to 11th 1944. The three men lost their lives after winning together 36 victories for a total amount of 135 combat missions.
North-Killingholme airfield 1944
Aulnoye Aymeries marshalling yard the day following the mission
F/ Lt Richard PICTON
F/O John James LOGAN
F/O John Foster POTTER
P/O William ESSAR
Profile of a BF 110 G4 in Juvincourt spring 1944 identical to Hauptmann BERGMANN' s
F G.HAUTHAL- Hpt H.BERGMANN - F W. SHOPP
Sketche made by Helmutt BERGMANN who shows there the crash sites of the Lancaster he just shot down
The airmen graves
John LOGAN 2014 first visit
Families crew members June 6th 2015
Mr Xavier DUQUESNE' s speech
Projection of an animated slideshow, the officials in the foreground
W Essar and his parents shortly before leaving for England
R.W PICTON at 16
550 Squadron's blason
550 Squadron record Book le LL836 is misssing!!!
Some photos of the tribute June 6th 2015
August 2015 John comes back to Achiet to give a souvenir framework to thank in the name of the descendants
Pierre BEN gives a souvenir frame to the Sub Prefect
Page written by Michel Lespagnol (with the help of our friend Mrs Philippa Wheeler)
Page written by Michel Lespagnol (with the help of our friend Mrs Philippa Wheeler)
The local press is talking about the tribute......
Pierre BEN takes Loïs MARTIN and his husband Colin for a flight over the Somme Battlefields
Xavier DUQUESNE, Norm and Joyce HRYWKIV leaving the Albert Méaulte' s airfield
John et Ian LOGAN
Joyce et Norm HRYWKIV
Peter Ben gives to Chris an element of LL836 found on the crash site.
September 10 th 2016, visit of Chris and Cilla BRITTON, and the moving testimony of Helen PICTON (mother of Chris), cousin of Richard PICTON pilot of LL 836
Chris and Cilla's tribute
Making contact with Chris BRITTON
At the beginning of this year 2016, Chris Britton cousin of Richard Picton pilot of LL836 contacted the association in order to arrange a meeting. He had seen on our website the tribute that had been made in June 2015 for the crew of LL 836. He informed us some time later about his intention to carry out a visit at the end of summer . So this Saturday, September 10th, Chris and his wife Cilla were received by Xavier M Duquesne mayor and his first Deputy Mayor in Achiet le Petit. Later in the afternoon we then went to the museum of the association and Pierre Ben gave Chris a part of of LL 836 discovered last year on the crash site. Chris recorded a video of his mother, cousin of Richard Picton (the pilot of LL 836) for all those who organized the ceremony last year. In this video which you can view by clicking the link at the bottom of this page, Helen explains her youth with her cousin, a story of the pilot while he was a volunteer in the RAF and the ordeal of the family at announcement of the Richard's death. She also talks about a premonitory dream related to the fall of LL 836 the same night of the tragedy. A video both moving and disturbing that appeals to everyone.