RCAF Death Head’s in Top Hats

Research by Clarence Simonsen

RCAF Halifax LV860

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RCAF Death Head’s in Top Hats

Halifax Mk. III, serial LV860 was the fourth constructed in a Batch of 27 bombers [serial LV857-LV883] assembled by Rootes Securities, Speke, 10 to 25 February 1944. First assigned to RAF No. 35 [Madras Presidency] Squadron at Gravely, Hunts., and transferred to No. 10 Squadron, Melbourne, Yorkshire, operational history unknown. Transferred to No. 6 [RCAF] Group on 31 July 1944, the bomber was taken on strength by No. 415 [Swordfish] Squadron for just one day, then transferred to No. 427 [Lion] Squadron. The Halifax flew no operations with No. 427 and again was transferred to No. 429 [Bison] Squadron on 3 August 1944. The first operation was flown by F/O J. C. Lakeman and crew on 7/8 August 1944, aircraft code AL- “C.”

Operation #2- #3- and #4 were flown by F/O Prentice, #5 by J87026 P/O N.C. Muir [16/17 Aug.], #6 by J35291 F/O C.B. Gray on 18 August 1944.

I believe the nose art name and art image were chosen by the crew of F/O Gray as they flew this Halifax bomber the most, sixteen operations, in four months. 18 August, 27 Aug., 6/7 Sept., 10 Sept., 11/12 Sept., 13 Sept., 14 Sept., 15/16 Sept., 20 Sept., 25 Sept., 27 Sept., 4/5 Oct., 6 Oct., 9 Oct., 21 Oct., 23 Oct., and 18 November 1944.

The aircrew of F/O Gray flew most of the operations in September and October, with the following exceptions.

Operation #7, 25/26 August F/O J.M. Prentice, Op. #13, 13 Sept., F/L J.A. Morris, Op. #14, 14 September, F/O H.J. Hogarth, Op. #16, 17 Sept., J29080 F/O P.J. Commier, Op. #23, 14 October, J87404 F/O R.V. James, Op. #24, 14/15 Oct., J26133 F/O J. Dadek, Op. #27, 25 Oct., J12764 F/L A.R. Milner, Op. #28, 28 October, J28345 F/O F.R. Ridell, Op. 29, 30 Oct., J9356 F/O A.F. Chiloe.

On 1 November 1944, the [Sprog] rookie aircrew of J36200 F/O K.O. Powell took over operations flying Halifax LV860. I’m positive the twin Death-Head nose art impressed this inexperienced RCAF aircrew entering combat for the very first time.

They flew the veteran Halifax aircraft [the bomber had flown 30 operations] on five operations, November 1, 2, 4, 6, and 16th.

Flown by F/L P.F. Robb, Halifax LV860 was struck by falling incendiaries over the target area and received major damage, but returned to base. After repairs, the bomber was returned to No. 429 Squadron on 14 January 1945, [given new code letter AL- “T”] flew one operation #38, on 28/29 Jan. 45, J36347 F/O H.A. M. Humphries.

The aircrew of F/O Humphries flew nine operations in Halifax LV860, 28/29 January 1945, February 1, 14/15, 17, 21, 23, March 1, 14, and her last operation #50 on 15 March 1945.

No. 429 Squadron stood Down on 15 March 45 for the purpose of conversion training for the new British build Lancaster Mk. I & Mk. III aircraft.

Halifax LV860 was transferred to No. 420 [Snowy Owl] Squadron on 16 March 45 and again sent to No. 425 [Alouette] Squadron 16 April 45. Damaged in an accident 21 April 45 she flew no operations and was sent for disposal on 31 May 45. While waiting to be scrapped at RAF No. 43 Group Handley Page graveyard at Rawcliffe, RCAF F/L Lindsay recorded her last photo early June 1945, and completed a file card. The nose art was selected for return to Canada, but never made it, for reasons unknown.

No. 429 received twenty-four Avro Lancaster B. Mk. I [12] and Mk. III [12] British built aircraft and after conversion training began operations on 4/5 April 1945. J36347 F/O H.A.M. Humphries was assigned Lancaster Mk. I serial NN701, built by Austin Motor Company, Longbridge, which had first flown with RAF No. 57 Squadron. [Operations unknown]

The new Lancaster Mk. I, NN701 coded AL-T, soon appeared painted with the nose art of “Spook’ N Droop” photo taken after the third operation, 10 April 1945.

F/O Humphries “HAM” [for his initials] in the cockpit of ‘his’ Lancaster NN701 showing his operations flown on 4/5 April to Merseberg, 8/9 Apr. Hamburg, 10 Apr. Leipzig, 13/14 Apr. Kiel, 3/4 May, mining. 8 May 1945, end of WWII operations. No. 429 [Bison] Squadron based at Leeming, Yorkshire, remained in England, under Bomber Command Strike Force of RAF No. 1 Group. They airlifted Allied prisoners of war and rotated British troops back and forth from Italy.

No. 429 Squadron were first allotted the task of dumping all the squadron incendiary bombs in the North Sea, with two or three trips made each day. Other Lancaster aircraft took Canadian ground crews on a sight-seeing trip over Germany, to witness the results of the war bombing attacks. F/O Humphries also flew four “Exodus” flights bringing Allied prisoners of war back to England from Europe. These flights were also recorded and painted on the aircraft bomb total for operations. [Five bombing operations and four Exodus operations]

8 May, Exodus – Brussels, 9 May Exodus – Juvincourt, France, 9 May [2nd trip flown to France “W” RF257 in Exodus] and 10 May Exodus – Juvincourt, France. Operation Exodus was the return of Allied [Canadian/British] prisoners of war from Europe to England.

This free domain image [UK2854] showing the loading of ex-POW’s at Juvincourt, France, near Rheims in June 1945. Juvincourt Airport, France, was selected as a central departure point and over 500 POW’s were flown out to England each day. The British had a term for many, “The Awkward Lot” as many Allied prisoners had to learn to adjust to a free civilian society and had to be screened before they could board the flight home. The sad forgotten part from the madness of war.

The Death Head’s returned ninety-two European Allied prisoners of war to England.

No. 429 Squadron had one Lancaster Mk. VII on strength, however the RT series serial number is not recorded in the operations records. In September 45, Lancaster NN701 took part in Operation Dodge, the rotation of British troops from Italy, painted as a Red Cross in circle on nose art.

Each operation [twelve] carried twenty British soldiers back and from Italy to England and Lancaster NN701 rotated sixty military passengers on three flights.

Bison Squadron was disbanded at Leeming, Yorks., on 1 June 1946, and returned to Canada.

Lancaster B. Mk. I serial NN701 was struck off charge by RAF on 20 January 1947, and soon scrapped.

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