Tragic final flight of the navigator

Albert Walter, the German pilot, is pictured in the right hand corner with his back to the blackboard
Albert Walter, the German pilot, is pictured in the right hand corner with his back to the blackboard

On a cold clear November night Mk 111 Lancaster JB303 lumbered into the air from her home airfield of Oakington, writes John Duncan.

It belonged to 7 Squadron, one of the elite Pathfinders whose job was to lead the way, marking the target for the main formation following behind them.

It was a very difficult and demanding job, the crews were hand picked and very experienced. The target for the night was the German capital, Berlin.

Amongst those aboard were the Navigator Sgt William Meek RAFVR from Newtongrange and Pilot Officer Ted Ansfield, the Observer. This was their 16th mission, others included the famous attack on the Nazi V weapons base at Peenemunde  and the 5th time they had attacked Berlin.

This however would prove to be their last flight together.

 The Pilot Gerry Beaumont - warned the gunners to watch for night fighters. The situation around us was a little too quiet, which was usually a sign that fighters were nearby.

Phil Palmer, one of the gunners scanned the dark and apparently empty skies, he reported back in that he couldn’t see anything at first, then that he saw the outline of another Lancaster on their left hand side.

On-board there was a piece of secret kit, ‘Fishpond’ an airborne Radar set, the operator Dave Wilson confirmed the presence of the ‘Lanc’ and another aircraft nearby, at first he thought this was another bomber, then to his horror realised it was a German fighter.

He screamed in the intercom “Corkscrew left – Corkscrew left” to the pilot, but no sooner had he got the words out his mouth when there was a series of huge bangs and the aircraft lurched and shuddered.

All four engines and the fuel tank were on fire, the bomb aimer Ted Ansfield frantically tried to open the bomb bay doors to ditch their bombs, they refused to open as the hydraulics were ‘shot’. The Lancaster started to sink into a sickening death spiral and the order came over the intercom to bail out.

What happened next is described in the words of  Pilot Officer Ted Ansfield:

 “All four engines, the tanks and the fuselage were ablaze. The bomb doors were jammed and the release button for the bombs stopped responding because the power supply had been interrupted. The hydraulic system had also broken down.

“I quickly fixed our position on my air-to-ground radar and saw that we were about 20 miles northwest of Frankfurt. I wanted to pass this information on to the crew; however I saw that my radio had been shot away.

“As I straightened up, to reach my instruments, I also noticed that the sleeve of my flying suit was shot through. I leaned forward and shouted the established position to our Navigator - Bill Meek.

“He pulled the curtain aside in order to pass the message on to our radio operator who was supposed to report this information to our base, but Dave lay dead at his keyboard.

“I went forward to assist the pilot in manoeuvring the spinning aircraft. It was no use; we were quickly spiralling to the ground. The flight engineer - Dennis Ashworth - had received the order to “bale out” and removed the front hatch. At my request, he jumped.

“At that moment, I heard screams. I thought it could really only be the pilot or the navigator, so I went back to the cockpit. But it was the turret gunner who was caught in the flames.”

This is confirmed by the rear gunner - Archie Turner, a New Zealander. After the command to “bale out”, he left his turret and came toward the fuselage.

There he saw that the turret gunner - Phil Palmer - was surrounded by flames. After trying in vain to reach him, he strapped on his already singed parachute and left the aircraft.

“We tried again to stabilise our “Freddie’s” flight, but it was impossible. Gerald Beaumont, the pilot pressed my hand one last time and said: “See you in Hell.” So I climbed up and out of the bow - at that moment there was a blinding flash, and from then on I knew nothing more.

“Our rear gunner Archie Turner maintains that while hanging from his parachute he observed a renewed night fighter attack that led to an explosion.”

Later it was discovered they had been attacked by Oberleutnant Albert Walter of Gruppe Nachtjadgeschwader 6.

Making a text book attack he had came from nowhere and blazed his cannons over the engines and fuel tanks. He did not survive the war, he was shot down and killed on the 24th of February, 1944.

Beaumont, Palmer and Wilson were found in the district of Winkels, they found Bill Meek between Winkels and Probbach.

Their parachutes hadn’t opened. Ashworth was discovered in the district of Barig-Selbenhausen with an open parachute. They are all buried together in British War Graves Cemetery in Hanover.