Failed To Return

S/Ldr G S Smith DFC and Crew

S/Ldr Smith flew with the following crew lost when ME840 failed to return on 16/17 June 1944 from a raid to Sterkrade, Germany.

F/O Roy Kay (F/Eng) was the only one to survive the shooting down on the night of 16/17 June 44. F/O Kay managed to parachute and land safely and, although injured, evaded capture.

Other information about the flight and the target available here.

The entry on the 550 Squadron Roll of Honour is available here.

See also the following external links:

The original 550 web-site also has some details about this crew and crash: see Pulfrey Memoirs.

Crew Details and Operations

Gavin Strang Smith's DFC gazetted 29/12/42 for service in 142 Squadron. John Joseph Berg's DFC gazetted 12/11/43 for service with 100 Squadron and Ralph Townsend's DFM gazetted 10/12/43 for service on 460 Squadron.

F/O Kay was posted to 550 Sqn on 27/5/44 from No.1 Lancaster Finishing School as part of A/S/L Gavin Strang Smith's crew, which appears to have been an experienced crew with a number, if not all, starting their second operational tour. They were lost on their fifth sortie.

F/O J J Berg, DFC, the navigator in the crew, married just 3 weeks before the fatal crash.

Sortie list:

Sterkrade Raid

For some unknown reason the aircraft was late leaving the target and fell behind the bomber stream, thus losing any protection from "window" dropped by the other bombers and becoming isolated and easily picked up by night fighters.

The first burst from a night fighter set the wing petrol tanks on fire, the crew were ordered to put on their parachutes but before anyone could jump, the aircraft exploded. Kay, the F/E was standing next to the pilot and he was blown out of the aircraft and during his descent he "came to" and pulled his parachute ripcord. He must have landed on a farm where the family took charge of his parachute. Normally, when aircrew jumped, their first task on landing was to bury or hide their parachute. There was a certain danger in the Dutch family keeping the parachute because, had the Germans found it, the consequences would be fatal. If they were farmers, maybe they had barns or other hiding places.

321 bombers went to Sterkrade Oil plant on 16/17 June 44 and 31 were shot down, nearly all by night fighters. 550 lost 3 out of 18 (19 took off from NK but one had to return early). A good night for the German night fighter controller - a bad night for Bomber Command.

S/Ldr G S Smith DFC

Click image Sqdn Leader Gavin Smith (P)
Photo kindly provided by Joe Pinguey

F/O Roy Kay

Click image F/O Roy Kay (F/Eng)
Image kindly made available by Joe Pinguey

F/O Roy Kay was the only survivor of the crash. He evaded capture with the help of Dutch people in the area of the crash. The story of the immediate aftermath of the crash, evasion and escape back to England, and all that has happened post-war is available here.

F/O J J Berg DFC

Click image F/O John Joseph Berg, wedding photograph
Image kindly made available by Gary Berg
Click image F/O J J Berg DFC, gravestone
Image kindly made available by Gary Berg

Thanks to Mark Simpson for the following information (provided 11/02/2017).

29551 John Joseph Berg was posted in to 100 Squadron from 1662 Conversion Unit 8/5/43 as navigator in the crew of 109046 Arthur Reginald Gersekowski. P/O Berg flew his tour of 26 sorties plus two more cancelled between 13-14/5/43 and 23-24/8/43. He was posted to 18 OTU on completion of his tour 7/10/43.

DFCs for both Berg and Gersekowski were gazetted 12/11/43.

One other connection with 550 Squadron is that on a sortie to Peenemunde 17-18/8/43, the replacement W/Op on the Gersekowski crew was 1312374 Sgt Isiah Levene, who later as 168502 F/O Levene flew his second tour as W/Op on the "Roly" Newitt crew on 550 Sqdn (Newitt being at one point 550 Sqdn Flight Commander "A" Flight).

F/O L Pulfrey

Many thanks to Joe Pinguey for the following images.

Click image F/O L Pulfrey, 103 Sqdn (possibly taken at 28 OTU at Wymswold or 1656 Heavy Conversion unit at RAF Lindholme
Click image F/O L Pulfrey and other crew-man, 103 Sqdn (possibly taken at 28 OTU at Wymswold or 1656 Heavy Conversion unit at RAF Lindholme)
Click image Click image F/O Pulfrey dress uniform and medals
Click image F/O Pulfrey log book

Finally thanks to Joe Pinguey for the following information .

...while following this special occasion [13th August commemoration in Aalten] something else was brought to my attention.
My late mother died 2 years ago aged 94. For many years after my uncle's death she tried to find out from Roy Kay what the circumstances were that fateful night, but I gather that nobody including your Association members ever found out. I visited Holland in 2001 and 2004 and became great friends with the vanEerden family who's father found my uncle that fateful morning with his parachute wrapped around his body presuming that his parachute had been damaged or failed to open. After 72 years I was told by Gerrit-H van Eerden, the son of the farmer who found my uncle, that there were bullet wounds on my uncle's body and the son, Gerrit-H, had been sworn to secrecy not to tell me until recently, I am only glad that my Mum passed away before this was disclosed.

F/O J Heath RCAF

Click image F/O J Heath RCAF, rear gunner
Photo kindly made available by Mark Simpson
Click image F/O J Heath log book, and fragment of Lancaster recovered by Peter Rhebergen from crash site
Image kindly made available by Jacques Ploeger
Click image Fragment of Lancaster recovered by Peter Rhebergen from crash site
Image kindly made available by Jacques Ploeger
Click image F/O J Heath log book, and fragment of Lancaster recovered by Peter Rhebergen from crash site
Image kindly made available by Jacques Ploeger
Click image Memo relating to Lancaster ME840 crashed ay Wisch Heelweg
Image kindly made available by Jörg Helbig: source LAC/Ottawa, RG 24 Vol. 27719, F/O J Heath RCAF
Click image Minute
Image kindly made available by Jörg Helbig: source LAC/Ottawa, RG 24 Vol. 27719, F/O J Heath RCAF
Click image Preliminary Report, 1946
Image kindly made available by Jörg Helbig: source LAC/Ottawa, RG 24 Vol. 27719, F/O J Heath RCAF
Click image Official Death List (German)
Image kindly made available by Jörg Helbig: source LAC/Ottawa, RG 24 Vol. 27719, F/O J Heath RCAF
Click image Translated Official Death List
Image kindly made available by Jörg Helbig: source LAC/Ottawa, RG 24 Vol. 27719, F/O J Heath RCAF

Varsseveld Cemetary

Photos kindly provided by Jacques Ploeger.

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Photos kindly provided by Joe Pinguey (nephew of F/O Pulfrey).

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Click image F/O J Heath RCAF, original wooden cross
Image kindly made available by Jörg Helbig: source LAC/Ottawa, RG 24 Vol. 27719, F/O J Heath RCAF
Click image Original crews graves with wooden crosses 1944
Photo kindly provided by Joe Pinguey
Click image Joe Pinguey at F/O L Pulfrey grave
Photo kindly provided by Joe Pinguey
Click image F/O L Pulfrey, August 2012
Photo kindly provided by Joe Pinguey

Memorials For the S/Ldr Smith Crew

Over the years there have been a number of commemorations for the crew of ME840. See the Commemorations web-page. For example, there have been fly-pasts by the Dutch air-force (1999 and 2014), and culminating in June 2018 with the unveiling of a Memorial Plaque at the crash-site.