Family Connection

As with the webpage I prepared on Lancaster VR-D "Dorothy", this page on the series of Halifax aircraft which to wear the VR-E were connected with by father. He was part of the ground crew for all the series of Halifax given the VR-E code. During that period he met and got to know a lot of the aircrews that flew them. He felt deeply the loss of the men who made up the aircrews who never made it back.

Although there were four aircraft with "VR-E" painted on their side. There is one that shows the nose art of the stork holding as I refer to it as the "Bomber Baby " is the one that sticks out the most. I have no way of telling which of the these Halifax it was, or which is the crew shown standing in front it. Although the crew of P/O B. E. Heintz were the ones who flew all of the VR-E more than any other air crew. I can only speculate that it maybe that crew. Here is the story of all the Halifax aircraft that carried "VR-E" on their side.

Serial Number DT634 the first Halifax VR-E

By the beginning of January 1943 all of 419 squadron's Wellingtons had been replaced by the newer four engine heavy bomber. It was not until almost the end of January when the first VR-E shows on the records. Serial number DT634 built by English Electric the previous winter. As VR-E it was to have a number of different captains at her controls including Sgt. Bakewell, Sgt. Palmer, P/O Ainsworth , Sgt. Harrison, F/O Weedon, P/O Keddie , P/O Porter along with all the men who made up their crews. But of all the captains who flew DT634 Sgt. Heintz and his crew dominated the list.

Sgt. Brakewell crew's experience Feb. 4/5 1943

One of the longer operation missions were those to Northern Italy, on DT634's fourth mission Bakewell was to loose the use of two engines caused by a problem with glycol leak in one of the engines. Bakewell and his F/E had to jettison their bomb load and limp back to Middle Wallop landing perfectly on the two remaining engines. They had travelled for almost six hours out and back.

The Loss of DT634

DT 634 would complete twelve more uneventful operations, or at least nothing that was recorded anywhere. On the night of March 27th after returning that morning from a operation on Duisburg the previous night. F/O Porter would take control of DT634 for the first time and head her towards Berlin.
As they made their way past Bremen the Halifax was hit by flak damaging one of her engines. Sgt. Charles Porter carried on with the operation reaching the target and delivering it's load. Then it was on to home with one damaged engine. Near Ohisdorf the Halifax and crew were attacked by a night fighter, the badly damaged Halifax was to be abandoned. The crew all jumped clear, because of the pilot's courageous act of remaining at the controls to keep her as steady as he could to allow his men to bail out. F/O Porter was unable to escape the aircraft and was killed while saving his crew. F/O Charles Edward Porter age 23 was buried in the town cemetery of Olhisdorf, near where his aircraft came down. His body was later moved to Hamburg Cemetery.

F/O Porter's crew

Sgt. M. V. Bishop PoW Stalag Luft II,VI and IV
Sgt. D. London PoW Stalag Luft III,VI and #357
Sgt. J. G. Lanteigne PoW Stalag Luft III,VI and #357 Sgt. A. T. Budinger PoW Stalag Luft III
F/O G. J. Sweanor PoW Stalag Luft III
F/S A. H. Taylor PoW Stalag IXC, Stalag Luft VI and #357

The Second Halifax VR-E

Halifax JB900 would be the next VR-E, flying it's first operation on April 16/17 1943 with P/O Heintz and crew, and again as with DT634 P/O Heintz would be the one at the controls of JB900 more than any other pilot. And it would be his crew who ran into danger more than once during the operations they would fly together. During the May 29th operation against Wupperthal JB900 lost power in it's outer starboard engine but continued on with completing the objective. But then the very next mission twelve days later VR-E was hit by flak before, during and after it's bomb run.
Heintz and his crew were not complete with problems popping up on them while on VR-E. On their way home from again from Wupperthal on June 24/25 they almost collided with another Halifax which strayed into it's flight path and missed them only by inches. They never found out which Halifax it was but it was a rude surprise.
The following night of June 25/26 the outer port engine had over revved on take off and was now giving them troubles, they continued on with their operation with the engine partly feathered all the way there and back. An interesting note made in the log shows that the radio operator clearly heard in plain English a message about an RAF big raid on Elberfeld, rather strange radio traffic to be heard during a period of radio silence by all aircraft on operations.

VR-E bags a fighter

July 13/14 would be F/L W. N. Keddie's night at the controls of JB900. And a busy night it would be, squadron logs report that night fighter activity was very strong. JB900 was attacked on three separate occasions by enemy fighters. On the last attempt on JB900 F/L Keedie's rear gunner F/O R. J Wagner sighted what he described as a single engine enemy fighter coming in from dead astern with a white light in it's nose. Wager opened fire at a long range, 900 yards and was able to give three long bursts at the incoming fighter which closed in to within 600 yards. The fighter was seen to catch fire and drop several thousand feet down through the clouds where an explosion was seen by both the Mid-Upper gunner Sgt. G A Hurst and F/E Sgt. E R Kirkham. Both of these men confirmed the kill.

F/S S. T. Perkin and crew's experiences

The beginning of August would see the crew of Sgt. Pekin take JB900 through some rough times. Aug 9/10 found JB900 headed for Mannheim and having to return when the rear turret stopped operating. The very next night on an operation to Nurenburg after crossing the coast of France near Le Treport just shortly before 24:00 hours the rear gunner sighted a twin engine aircraft flying on a parallel course 900 yards off on starboard beam.
Remaining in this location for a short period of time before moving back to starboard quarter and beginning it's attack. Rear Gunner, Sgt. Ramm gave the evasive command to starboard and opened up with a medium burst of 160 rounds. The enemy fighter returned fire but the gunfire went below the Halifax. Coming in to within 400 yards before breaking off his attack with an upward turn to the starboard beam.

A Second Attack

Another attack was made by a fighter coming in from the starboard quarter. Both the rear gunner and the fighter opened fire at 600 yards, with Sgt. Ramm giving the evasive action command while returning fire at the night fighter. There may have been returned fire by the Upper turret, but it is unclear in the Combat Report which was completed by Davis, even thoough Sgt. S C Ramm was reported as doing the actual firing.
In both cases the use of "flat turns" as evasive action worked as no damage came to JB900.

One Last Operation

F/S Perkin and his crew were to spend the very next night on an operation to the very distant Italian city of Milan. On the outward leg the rear turret was reported to be no longer working. Even after the rear turret had proven crucial to the survival of the crew by driving off two astern attacks the night before; the crew continued on to Milan and brought JB900 back to RAF Dalton.
The odyssey of JB900 as VR-E ends here, JB900 was replaced by some newer Halifax which arrived that month But this was not the end VR-E, another Halifax would take her place.

Pilots who flew JB900

P/O B. F. Heintz
Sgt. Harrison
F/L W. W. Colledge
Sgt. L. F. Williams
F/L W.N. Keddie
F/O W. H. Hamilton
F/S S. T. Pekin

The Third Halifax VR-E JD466

It would not be until August 27/28 1943 before the next VR-E was to see action, with WO J R Morrison at the controls. And for the first time P/O Heintz and his crew were not be on the list of those who flew a VR-E on any operation. In fact JD466 it was Morrison who flew most of the ops on JD466.

Sept.23/24 1943 Mannheim

While over Mannheim WO Morrison's crew at a height of 19,000 feet and over the target rear gunner Sgt. Lynk sighted a FW190 dead astern at about 300 yards. The fighter at that point began it's attack, Lynk gave the corkscrew to starboard order. WO Morrison at the controls went into the corkscrew with the 190 following him as the bomber turned. Sgt. Lynk opened fire as the fighter made a climbing turn without firing at the Halifax. Although 150 rounds were fired no hits were observed on the fighter. JD466 then resumed course and the fighter was not seen again.

Oct. 3, 1944 - Kassel

As with on the night over Mannheim JD466 was over the target at Kassel when a enemy fighter illuminated by the lights of the target area was spotted by the rear gunner Sgt. G.N.A. Fournier of Sgt. J. A. Paker's crew. Identified as a Do.217 the twin engine fighter banked in from the starboard quarter at about 250 yards making for an attack on the bombers port quarter.
At 300 and level the Do.217's attack was put off by the Halifax's corkscrew to port and a long burst from Fournier's guns. The burst of fire drove the Dornier's attack off and it broke off on the starboard side at 250 yards. Leaving JD466 to resume it's way home.

November 25/26 1944 - Frankfurt

Early on the morning of November 26th, at approximately 03.07 hours, while flying at a height of 20,000 feet with an airspeed of 170 mph the Monica warming system gave the crew an alert to an enemy fighter behind them. When the rear gunner Sgt. Lynk first spotted the fighter silhouetted against the clouds at about 350 yards he gave the corkscrew to starboard order. And then gave the he resume course order shortly after that. The attacker had broken off the attack and was now trying to position himself beneath the Halifax.
Morrison weaved the aircraft so the gunners could locate the fighter, but the enemy fighter pulled back the throttle and came in dead astern of JD466. It was the that a second Ju88 at about 150 yards came in from the starboard quarter. It was within 100 yards before Lynk could call out to the pilot for a combat manoeuvre, the fighter was coming in a such a speed that it was at only 50 yards now as Lynk opened fire. The second Ju88 broke off the attack and was seen going off on the port quarter and looked to be out of control commencing a steep dive.
The Ju88 on the stern of the Halifax was spurred into action as the other Ju88 fell from view. At this point JD466 was still in the corkscrew maneuver. It opened fire at 100 yards, as Lynk returned fire from only one of the four guns. WO Morrison continued the corkscrew turn and although the fighter had stopped firing it was following the Halifax in every turn, trying to set up another round of fire. Eventually the crew found that they had lost the fighter and they resumed their course.
Sgt. Lynk put in a claim for damages to the second Ju88 as tracer couls be seen hit the cockpit, but he and the Upper gunner were to busy fighting off the original Ju88 on their tail to follow what happened to the fighter that had been hit.

Forty Minutes Later

They had progressed a short distance when again the crew were on alert as another Ju88 was seen at 350 yards off the starboard quarter. The difference this was that all the guns now had stoppages and their only defense was to corkscrew until they lost the attacker. No shots were fired by the enemy fighter and eventually disappeared into the clouds and JD466 resumed her course.

Twelve Minutes Later Still

Flying on course at 19,000 feet when another Ju88 was sighted of the starboard quarter and almost dead astern at just 400 yards out. By now the gun stoppages had been cleared and the rear gunner was ready to fire as the aircraft began it's corkscrew to starboard, but neither he or the Ju88 opened fire and the fighter was lost to sight in the clouds below. No damage had been inflicted on JD466 and she and the crew headed home.

The Loss of JD466

On the night of January 21/22 1944 JD466 left Middleton St. George on a raid on Magdeburg, at the controls was F/L Hermitage. The exact cause of the loss of the crew is not known. The squadron log shows some details of what the other crews experienced, "heavy and intense flak over the coast" and reports of many fighter dropped flares lighting up the bomber formation.
S/L Hamber's aircraft was holed in about 85 places while over Hannover an area in which flak was expected but not to that degree.
Maybe F/S Marjoram's report reflects what may have become of the crew of JD466.
"Enemy appear using tracerless fire as several A/C seen to explode for no apparent reason, 3 along route, 3 over T/A, 2 over our coast"
One of these could have been JD466 attacked from a dark quarter of the skies by an enemy night fighter which may never have been seen until the last moments.

JD466's crew that night were:

F/L A.G. Hermitage Pilot
Sgt. R.H. Walton Navigator
Sgt. W.B/ Tobin Bomb Aimer
WO J.B. Chess WAG
Sgt. R.W. Edwards Air Gunner
Sgt. J. A. Wilson F/E
Sgt. R. Shields RAF Upper Gunner

The full story of F/L Hermitage's crew is located at JD466

The Last Halifax VR-E JP204

On February 15/16 th 1944 the new JP204 is on it's to Berlin with F/O A. J. Byford at the controls. And as with other VR-E's, during it's first operation it is mixing it up with enemy night fighters.

Combat Report Feb 15/16 1944

As Halifax JP204 entered the target area of Berlin, just eleven minutes prior to midnight the Monica radar system gave warning of presence of a night fighter to the rear of the Halifax. With an air speed of just 165 mph. the night fighter had a slow moving target in his sights with good visibility.
The first visible sighting of the attacker was by rear gunner Sgt. Leonard Darnley, seeing the dead astern attack with the night fighter only 400 yards out and beginning his attack. Sgt. Darnley gave the order for a corkscrew to starboard. While he gave this order his guns had already jammed after only a short burst of only 50 rounds. The night fighter broke off the attack about 250 yards from JP204 leaving out of the port quarter and then out of sight to the rear gunner. Sgt. Darnley gave the order to resume course and managed to clear the stoppages in all four of the guns.
Although six fighter flares were seen to the rear of the aircraft during the attack no further passes were made at the Halifax. Both the bomber and the fighter did not sustain any Damage.

Second Operation Combat Report Feb 19/20 1944

On this operation to Leipzig, Sgt. Fraser was in the rear gunner position and Sgt. Dujay was operating the upper gun turret. The Halifax was entering the target area at 0401 hours coming in relatively slow at 160 mph and at a height of 22,000 feet when they were attacked by a twin engine fighter. Sgt. Fraser believed it to be a Ju88 but it was also mentioned as being a Me210.
Fraser in the rear gunners position first sighted the fighter at 1,000 yards out, at the Starboard Down location, almost dead below JP204. The angle of the night fighter was such that Sgt. Fraser had to stand, best he could in the turret to keep it visible. Sgt. Dujay was able to keep the enemy aircraft in sight and it was then that the fighter made his move toward the Halifax. Sgt. Fraser gave the corkscrew starboard order as he was again able to see the fighter's location . He was able to open fire on the twin engine aircraft at about 500 yards.
The burst was very short, only 75 rounds, before all the guns had No. 2 position stoppages, just after the cannon fire from the attacker hit the hydraulics of the turret mechanism. The Ju88 broke off the attack was last seen off the Port Quarter. Sgt. Fraser gave the order to resume course.
The night was moonless and visibility was good, no flak or searchlights were in use, although six fighter dropped flares were seen 600 yards astern of the Halifax. Tracer strikes could be seen on the fighter, no damage was seen or claimed. The bomber had hits to rear gun hydraulics, port Tail plane was shot away and holes were in the port wing and on the fuselage.
Sgt. Dujay, in the upper turret received some minor injuries when his head hit the gun tracks.
JP204 would be the last of line of Halifax aircraft to carry the VR-E by April 27 the last Halifax operation was flown by the Moose squadron. The series of Halifax VR-E had many encounters with Luftwaffe night fighters and fought back driving off many attacks, but still some brave men never made it home.

Those Lost were:

F/O Charles Edward Porter, Pilot age 23
F/L A.G. Hermitage Pilot, age 23
Sgt. R.H. Walton Navigator, age 23
Sgt. W.B/ Tobin, age 20 Bomb Aimer
WO J.B. Chess, age 21 WAG
Sgt. R.W. Edwards, age 21 Air Gunner
Sgt. J. A. Wilson, age 22 F/E
Sgt. R. Shields RAF Upper Gunner

The Photos

The photos are from my father's collection, two are official photos taken for one of the crews. Two of them showing the crew look very similar, but one is the official photo and the other a proof that the photographer gave my father. And of course the photo of the ground crew is one taken with my father and his ground crew mates.(He is second on the left)