Fleville, France

Vic Cassapi,F/E, Bill Anderson,B/A and Alan Jarnell,R/G went to Fleville near Nancy in France in October 1998 for the unveiling of a Memorial Stone to two members of their crew and one member of a 170 Squadron crew who died after a collision.

At 15:56 on 1 Feb l945, F/0 Lohrey, RNZAF and his crew took off from North Killingholme in RA502 BQ-Z for the Ludwigshafen raid. At 20:00, flying home at 13,000 ft with navigation lights off, the rear gunner reported a Me410 night fighter in the vicinity but not an immediate threat. Shortly afterwards, the 550 aircraft was struck from underneath by the 170 Squadron aircraft which was almost certainly carrying out a 'Corkscrew' to shake off the fighter. The 550 aircraft suffered most damage to the starboard side; both starboard air-screws were badly bent causing severe vibration and both starboard engines had to be feathered. BQ-Z gained some height, partly as a result of the collision and partly from an instinctive reaction on the part of the pilot - this extra height was to prove valuable in the next few minutes.

The shock of the collision seemed to jam the doors to the rear turret and the bomb-aimer went back to open the doors to allow the rear gunner to leave his turret. The pilot then experienced a serious loss of power from the port engines, could not maintain height and gave the order for the crew to jump. The bomb-aimer and the rear gunner baled out of the main door at the rear of the fuselage. At the time they left, the wireless operator and the mid-upper gunner were close behind them and it was assumed that they would follow the first two. The flight engineer had considerable difficulty in opening the hatch in the nose; when he managed to open it, he sat on the edge of the opening and the slipstream promptly removed both flying boots and one sock before he could jump. The navigator quickly followed the flight engineer out of the nose hatch. The pilot also left by the nose hatch but after a passage of time as he had severe difficulties in controlling the aircraft and leaving his seat.

After such a delay, the pilot naturally assumed that all the rest of the crew had gone. In fact, Norman Tinsley, the wireless operator, and Andrew James, the mid-upper gunner, did not jump and their bodies were not found. The five who did jump landed in a foot of snow and soon discovered that they were in territory recently occupied by the US Army. They returned to the UK on 7th. February. The other Lancaster in the mid-air collision was NG202 from 170 Squadron at Hemswell; this aircraft managed to fly back to the UK but the rear gunner, P/0 V.J.Fernquist, RCAF, received serious injuries in the collision and died soon after.

The 550 aircraft must have gone in very deep when it crashed. It was only in 1997 when new road works in the Nancy area discovered the wreckage of RA502 at Fleville that Patrick Baumann, a French Aviation Historian, was able to put everything together. He arranged the erection of the Memorial Stone to the three aircrew who lost their lives in the collision and organised the attendance of the three ex-550 aircrew (the navigator, Eddie Westhorpe, could not make the journey and the pilot, Aubrey Lohrey, had died 2 or 3 years previously) and the sister of Andrew James at the unveiling ceremony where Standard Bearers and Guards of Honour were provided by the French Air Force. Much of the RA502 wreckage is now in an Air Museum at Fleville.

The Sunday Express published an account of this ceremony with a photo of the three ex-550 aircrew around the Memorial Stone. As a result, we received three enquiries from chaps who had trained with them asking to be put in touch.

L-R: Bill Anderson, Vic Cassapi and Allan Jarnell at the crash site
The Unveiling of the Memorial Stone

L-R: Gladys Gowan (sister of Andrew Jarnell), Vic Cassapi, Allan Jarnell, Bill Anderson, and Dennis Evans (170 squadron)

Allan, Bill and Vic with the memorial stone