Failed to Return
F/O R D Harris and Crew
F/O Harris and crew were posted to 550 Sqdn from No. 71 Base w.e.f. 8.1.1945:
- F/O R D Harris RCAF (P)
- Sgt K J B Smith (F/Eng)
- F/Sgt D J Yemen RCAF (Nav)
- F/O G J Nicol RCAF (A/B)
- Sgt G P Kelleher (W/Op)
- Sgt M T Ditson RCAF (MU/AG)
- Sgt D J Hicks RCAF (R/AG)
The MU/AG position saw other occupants on a number of the ops this crew flew (while Sgt Ditson himself also flew a couple of ops with other crews), and these included:
Lancaster ME428/BQ-O was one of three 550 Sqdn Lancasters lost on the Dessau operation on 7/8 March 1945, crewed on this operation as follows (with Sgt Robinson standing-in for Sgt Ditson as MU/AG):
- F/O R D Harris RCAF (P) [KIA]
- Sgt K J B Smith (F/Eng) [KIA]
- F/Sgt D J Yemen RCAF (Nav) [PoW]
- F/O G J Nicol RCAF (A/B) [PoW]
- Sgt G P Kelleher (W/Op) [PoW]
- Sgt E R Robinson (MU/AG) [KIA]
- Sgt D J Hicks RCAF (R/AG) [PoW]
|F/O R D Harris and crew
L-To-R: Sgt Hicks(?), Sgt Ditson (???), F/O Harris (P), Sgt Smith, F/Sgt Yemen(?), Sgt Keller, F/O Nichol
Thanks to the "History of Manston Airfield" web-site for drawing attention to the annotated photograph available on http://www.airmuseum.ca/mag/0503.html (with the crew atop BQ-V, "The Vulture Strikes")
The above identifications have been based on that annotated image. Key: (?) - tentative assignment, (???) - more speculative assignment
However on 14 Feb 1945, when the F/O Harris crew flew "V" (on ca. it's 94th(?) op), Sgt Ditson was not listed in the ORB as the MU/AG for this operation. Rather Sgt W Towle was the MU/AG listed on that trip. But one has to assume that the annotation on the "V" photograph is correct as it was provided by Douglas Hicks (R/AG).
It was not until the Harris crew's 4th flight (21st Feb 1945) that Sgt Ditson was flying as the MU/AG, and on their next flight, 23/24 Feb 1945 (Pforzheim), he was injured and didn't fly with them again because the Harrs crew was lost on 7/8 March 1945 (Dessau).
|F/O R D Harris
Picture kindly made available by Jörg Helbig: source LAC/Ottawa, RG 24 Vol.27693
Other information about the flight and the target available here.
The entry on the 550 Squadron Roll of Honour is available here.
Dessau Raid Information
Some information about this raid has appeared in the Association newsletters over the years.
A book published 1 Dec 2011 presents evidence that ME428 / BQ-O was the 121st, and last, aircraft downed by Luftwaffe night fighter pilot Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer, known as "The Night Ghost Of St. Trond", the highest scoring night fighter pilot in the history of aerial warfare. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinz-Wolfgang_Schnaufer. The rudder of his Bf-110 is on display in the Imperial War Museum, London.
The research indicates that ME428 was downed at 21.56 hrs combat time next to a village named Colbitz 23 km N of Magdeburg enroute to the target of Dessau. An eye-witness was found who was able to point out the location of the crashed aircraft.
If this is correct, then this is the second 550 Squadron aircraft downed by this particular night-figher pilot; there is an online record indicating that DV309 was also shot-down by this pilot on 21/22 May 1944 (at that date his 67th downed enemy aircraft).
There follows below a selection of pages from the POW and De-briefing reports from the Canadian archives concerning F/O R D Harris. The source: LAC/Ottawa, RG 24 File being gratefully acknowledged.
There follow below some photos, and pages from log books, of members of the Harris crew. Many thanks to the following for making these items and associated information available for use on the web-site:
- Betty Hannem, daughter of F/O Harris
- Yemen Family for the photos in the David Johnston Yemen section
- Linda Rosenbaum, daughter of Gordon James Nicol, for the photos in the Nicol section.
- Ditson family for the photos in the Melvin Toman "Tom" Ditson section
- finally the Hicks family and Allyson Newburg (great niece of Douglas James Hicks (Air-Gunner)) for research and coordinating all the information obtained from the above.
F/O R D Harris RCAF
|F/O R D Harris|
|Robert Douglas Harris at Ducks Unlimited offices in Manitoba, Canada, where Harris worked as a naturalist prior to enlisting
This image was likely taken early 1944 prior to being sent overseas
F/Sgt D J Yemen RCAF
|David Johnston Yemen's wedding picture
He and his fiancé Mary Burton married in England on 21 May 1945, two weeks after being liberated from Stalag Luft VIIA in Moosburg. Douglas Hicks, acted as best man and is at the far left.
Yemen log (page 1)
Yemen log (page 2)
F/O G J Nicol RCAF
Nicol log (page 1)
Nicol log (page 2)
Sgt M T Ditson RCAF
|Wedding 29 July 1950
Melvin Toman 'Tom' Ditson, at his wedding on 29 July 29 1950 to Marilyn Williams
Ditson log (page 1)
Ditson log (page 2)
Ditson log (page 3)
Sgt D J Hicks RCAF
Picture taken in Toronto prior to Doug being shipped overseas sometime in the summer of 1944
The logs bring up more questions than they answer For instance, why does a page of March 1945 ops (page 2 below) appear on the page prior to February, and stranger still why are they crossed out cancelled? There is no record of Doug having flown with Nielson's crew, nor did he ever write about flying with that crew. Doug's stories specified noted all of his live ops were with Harris.
The most telling line, on the cancelled page, is of course the last op; Nielson and his crew were lost on that op (Nielson and four others KIA and 2 POW). See: 7/8th March, Dessau . Of course the F/O Harris crew failed to return that night also. Perhaps someone grabbed the wrong log book when filling in some details (as obviously Hicks could not have been filling in the details for the Dessau op. The hand-writing does not look the same when comparing pages 2 and 3. The carried forward hours flying from the 1st page to the 2nd tally. As do the carried forward hours flying from page 1 also tally with those on page 3.
Hicks log (page 1)
Hicks log (page 2)
Hicks log (page 3)
Hicks log (page 4)
Station Narrative No.11
Station Narrative No. 11: this is a report of 27 Feb 1944 after the F/O Harris crew had had an eventful trip to Pforzheim, collapsing the undercarriage on landing at Manston. As a result of his injury (double fracture of the right scapula as recorded in the Station Narrative) Sgt Ditson did not fly with the F/O Harris crew again, before they failed to return from the Dessau raid on 07/03/1945. The Pforzheim trip is described in the narrative included in the Station Operational Record Book as follows:
|Station Narrative No. 11
Harris crew, Pforzheim, 23/24 Feb 1945
The Harris Crew
In 2020 a book, "The Harris Crew", was published by Allyson Newburg (great niece of Douglas James Hicks (Air-Gunner)).
|"The Harris Crew" Allyson Newburg, 2020
Weaving together letters written home by Flying Officer Robert Harris and first-hand accounts written by Sergeant Douglas Hicks along with Squadron records and historical archives, the author has created a riveting snapshot of the remarkable Harris Crew and their short but harrowing time with 550 Squadron.
See: http://www.theharriscrew.com for other details
Stone tablet to 550 air-crew at the International Bomber Command Centre, Canwick Hill, Lincoln.
|Sgt K J B Smith|