For Gray and his crew, their arrival at 419 could best be described as very very low key. The notations in the
Operations log were very slim, not even the mention of the names of the crew captains simply that fifteen new crews
arrived. By the time these men had completed their war service they will have received three DFCs and two DFMs.
F/S Gray's crew on arrival:
Navigator Sgt. C. O. Hancock from Strote Alberta
B/A F/O William James McNicol from Meyronne Saskatchewan
WAG Sgt. Gordon Hansen Low from Edmonton Alberta
F/E Sgt. Clifford Wilby from Winnipeg Manitoba
M/U Sgt. M. S. Braniff from New Orleans Louisiana
R/G F/S Russel Harling from Winnipeg Manitoba
Damaged Hydraulics -DT615
By the crew's third operation they had almost exclusive use of Halifax DT548. Through their next five operations
DT548 would safely bring them home. Through problems created by hydraulic damage due to flak or close encounters
with a night fighter, DT548 was their way home.
It takes more then just the aircraft it self to bring a crew home to safety, a good pilot with a well trained crew is
also required. And this proved to be case on the night of February 27th while on a mine laying operation off the
From the information supplied for the men's citations;
(For this operation Gray was assigned Halifax DT615) As they were starting the mine laying operation a flak ship was
seen at the last minute directly ahead of them and Gray did his best in the short amount of time he had
to try and maneuver the big Halifax out of the way of the flak coming up at it.
The flak that they could not avoid hit and took out the hydraulics and the port
outer engine. This not impede their will to continue on with the mine laying.
The crew manually cranked the bomb doors open before restarting the runs they had begun before encountering the flak
ship. When they had completed the dropping of the fourth and final mine
they began to climb and started the homeward journey.
The Halifax had only managed
to climb to 3,000 feet from it's very low mine laying height when the other port engine died. And the aircraft now
lose height at a rate of 100 feet per minute. Gray had the crew take up ditching
positions all the while the wireless operator Sgt. Low was trying to send out messages. The low altitude was not
helpful in Low's attempt to send out a location fix to 419 base.
The pilot, F/S Gray managed to make a suitable water landing just after dark and his crew was able to get into
the dinghy. During the long hours they were covering themselves with a parachute to fight
cold and wet winds blowing on them. Making jokes and huddling under the parachute, all hoping Low's message had
got through to
someone. The squadron sent out aircraft to search for the dingy as soon as they
could and W/C Fleming
is credited with spotting Gray and his men in the dingy .
Next came a race between the
RAF rescue units and the Navy to see who could get to the downed airmen first. It would be twenty-two hours later
they would leave the dingy and climb aboard the RAF Rescue launch.
Although it was mentioned in Harling's citation comment section about everyone kidding Low if he had managed to
get through to someone,
on Low's citation it mentions that he did keep in contact with a ground station with up to the moment fixes on DT615's
Harling becomes Squadron's First Goldfish Club member with a Bar
It was up to that time the second successful ditching by one of the squadron aircraft. And for F/S Harling his
second ditching. He had survived the previous successful squadron ditching and he most likely is the only
Mooseman to have made two ditchings during their time with the squadron. His first ditching was on
September 13/14th 1942, while Rear Gunner with F/S A. J. Cameron's crew on
X3308 where he spent 2 hours on the Channel waters.
So now he joined the very few members of the unofficial group,the Goldfish Club, who had a bar to their Goldfish's
( On the crew's last operation, by chance the name of the 2nd. Pilot on the operation with them was also Cameron)
On April 26th. the crew would begin a relationship with
.For the next thirteen operations BB323 was their
aircraft. Although I cannot confirm it, I believe the Mermaid painted on her had to do with their successful ditching
a few months earlier. As for the Latin inscription "Per flak ad Nausium", Through the flak Nausea could well refer to
the their previous aircrafts encounters with flak.
If DT548 had brought them luck and got them home, then BB323 was the crews second good luck aircraft
May 29th- Wupperthal
On this night Harling as rear gunner spotted a night fighter 500 yards off commencing its attack. The order for
defensive actions was given and Harling managed to fire off a burst. The fighter broke off the attack at 300 yards
and disappeared from view. There is mention in the report of a beam of light from the ground which appeared to be
assisting the fighter in the attack. No further information is given on the light.
June 12/13 - Bochum
Within the first two hours of the morning of June 13 as BB323 was returning from the operation in a clear
cloudless sky and neared the Zuider
Zee Rear Gunner Harling observed a light on the starboard quarter at 1,000 yards off. He passed instructions
to the Flight Engineer, Sgt. Wilby, to keep an eye on the light through the Astro Hatch.
Harling then commenced to search the rest of the sky for other dangers, as was standard procedure carried out by all
He did while searching locate a second light on the Port beam, above, also at 1,000 yards. As he watched the Port side
aircraft began the attack with the light still on , as it rapidly approached the Halifax it then made a turn to
the Port quarter and began an attack from from a new angle slightly above.
Rear Gunner Harling gave the pilot the order for evasive action. The Halifax climbed and turned to Port while Harling
opened fire as the night fighter drew to within 500 yards. The enemy aircraft kept coming and at about 300 yards
off burst info flame. Three of the crew observed it going down and crashing.
Flight Engineer Wilby reported the second fighter was closing fast from the Starboard quarter below. Harling called
again for evasive maneuvers and the Halifax dove to starboard, from his position in the rear Harling was unable to
open fire as the fighter was too far off. Then
the night fighters lamp went out and his aircraft vanished from sight. No further contact was made and BB323
continued the way back to base.
June 19/20 - Southwest of Le Havre
Again while returning from their operational target, the crew of BB323 were to encounter the Luftwaffe night fighters.
This time the enemy aircraft was sighted by the Wireless Operator. He observed the aircraft on the Port bow and level
at 800 yards off, flying parallel to his own aircraft's course.
The Monica radar system picked up a target which the rear gunner was able to spot on the starboard quarter 700 yards
Harling gave the order for evasive action, BB323 dove to starboard while Harling opened fire.
The fighter flew on towards the bomber then at 300 yards it climbed very rapidly to the port beam above position.
At about 900 yards it was lost to sight. The "Resume course" was then given.
A second attack this time from the port beam above, just as this night fighter reached within 700 yards the bomber
to port and rear gunner Harling opened fire at 500 yards. The fighter broke off the attack was lost to view from the
port quarter below. Although Harling had fired 250 rounds the FW190 never opened fire.
June 21/22 - West of Duisberg
While on the way to the target and West of Duisberg the pilot F/S Gray sighted a single engine enemy fighter. The
was showing a white light in the nose as had some of the other fighters the crew had spotted on earlier encounters.
For Harling this was part of a series of Combat Reports beginning on July 2nd. 1942 while rear gunner on
P/O Fillmore's crew right up to this encounter near Duisberg on June 22 1943 with Gray's crew.
The fighter was on the port bow at 800 yards. Gray was at the time of the sighting turning BB323 to port. Then with
sighting of the fighter straightened the bomber up and went on a level course straight ahead.
The fighter started to attack from the port quarter at 800 yards still showing the light which Gray had spotted at
beginning. Harling gave order for evasive action to dive to port then he opened fire when the night fighter was
about 600 yards off.
The attacker broke off contact to port at 400 yards. The fighter identified as a FW190 showed a red glow as it
dove down. It was
seen to burst into flame and crash. It was another "Destroyed" for Harling.
A comment made on the Combat Report mentions that Gray's decision to halt his turn to port was a wise move,
as the enemy
fighter may not have noticed him at that time.
F/S Malcolm "Bill" Gray DFM
Remained with the RCAF until 1964 and retired with the rank of Flight Lieutenant. F/L Gray
passed away March 21st , 2003 in Vancouver B.C.
Sgt. Clifford Wilby DFC
Continued on after his time with 419 Squadron with 408 Squadron.
Completing 44 sorties, finishing with rank of Flying Officer and awarded the DFC in July of 1945.
F/O William James McNichol DFC
Also continued on with the RCAF with 433 Squadron completing 42 sorties and being awarded the DFC
on October 3 1944.
Sgt. Gordon Hansen Low DFM
Completed 28 sorties and was awarded the DFM for his actions on the night of February 27th during the
hours leading up to the ditching of DT615.
P/O Russel Harling
Originally came overseas with 110 Squadron on Lysanders before coming to 419 Squadron in early 1942.
Was awarded the DFC on September 1st 1943 for his actions in bringing down an enemy fighter (he later brought
down a second fighter after the award was written) and his coolness under the actions he saw.
He also became one of the very few to have the "Goldfish Club badge with bar" for having been part of two ditchings.
BB323 also took part in a photo shoot built around the story of a bomb called "For Anne"