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70th Anniversary of the formation of 578 Squadron.

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2014 is the 70th Anniversary of the formation of 578 Squadron: During the course of the year we will add significant events in the Squadrons history bringing to life the events of 70 years ago:

Month by Month:

January 1944

January 1944. It was decided that 4 Group, Bomber Command should be expanded and strengthened by the creation of a new Squadron which would be created from from 51 Squadron, based at Snaith. The Squadron, to be known as 578, would be based at the RAF Station Burn, three miles south of Selby, North Yorkshire. The Commanding Officer of 51 Squadron at that time was Wing Commander D S S Wilkerson DFC RAFVR. He relinquished this post and set about forming the new Squadron, to bring it to full operational standard in the shortest time possible. Group Captain N W D Marwood-Elton DFC was appointed Station Commander at Burn, in charge of building up the non operational side of the establishment under the difficult conditions of inclement winter weather.


14th January 1944. Wing Commander D S S Wilkerson DFC RAFVR, Officially took charge of the new squadron. One hundred and thirty-one ground staff personnel were transferred from 51 to 578 Squadron, arrangements were made with the former to assist in administration and welfare until the move to Burn took place.


15th January 1944. Group Captain David Marwood-Elton D.F.C took command of the RAF Station Burn, his brief to get the Station ready to receive the new Squadron.


16th January 1944. Fourteen Halifax III's were taken on charge. The first aircraft for the new Squadron.


17th January 1944. 33 Officers and 97 N.O.C's were posted to the new squadron from C'Flight of 51 Squadron to form the aircrew for 578 Squadron. Flt/Lt. Harte Lovelace was appointed Flight Commander A'Flight, F/Lt. McReanor in charge of B'Flight. These two officers were given the rank of Squadron/Ldr. F/Lt. Miles was appointed Navigation Leader, F/Lt. Harte, Bombing Leader, F.Lt. Gaynor, Signals Leader, F/lt. Inward, Flight Engineer Leader, with F/Lt. McMullan the Gunnery Leader.


20th January 1944. The new squadron was still based at Snaith with 51 Squadron. Eight aircraft were detailed on 578 Squadron's first operation: Berlin. The "Big City" a fitting start to 578's operational life. Two aircraft were cancelled due to being too late but the remaining six 578 squadron Halifaxes completed the mission. Two were hit by flak and one by a fighter. One crewman was injured but all aircraft returned safely to base. P/O M.C.Foster had the honour of being the captain of the first 578 squadron crew to attack the enemy taking off at 16.29 and returning safely at 23.41 (In LW461).


January 21st 1944. 578 Squadron suffered its first air crew casualties. Six Halifaxes from 578 Squadron attacked Magdeburg in Germany.

LW468 (LK-J) was piloted by Sgt H.G.Melville. The captain reported that when crossing the enemy coast on the return journey at approx 03:00 hours aircraft and searchlight activity took place near the aircraft but he couldn't be sure that hits were made. The Flight Engineer stated that 400 gallons of fuel remained which would have been enough to reach base, a short time later HE REPORTED IT DOWN TO 200 GALLONS. This rapid fuel loss meant that we would not have enough fuel to reach base and ditching procedure was carried out before all control was lost, with failure of engines due to fuel shortage. The ditching was in the North Sea approximately 50 miles off Flamborough Head on the Yorkshire Coast. The ditching was successful, the aircraft floating in 14 foot waves for quite some time.

Fortunately the ditching was almost perfect in that the plastic nose did not break up in the ditching. The salt water switch which should have released the dinghy appeared inoperative and the fire axe had to be used to release it. The tethering rope also was not secured with the dinghy and it was only by luck that anyone managed to get into it. The scrambling net that hangs below the dinghy to assist boarding was either entangled or missing and it was almost impossible to board the dinghy in heavy soaked flying gear as worn by the rear gunner with the crew rapidly suffering from exposure in the January cold North Sea. Due to this two of the crew were too weak to get into the dinghy and by this time the rest of the crew were too weak to help them. The Flight Engineer Sgt. Cecil Malcolm Baldry and the Rear Gunner Sgt. Albert Thomas Lester were lost to the sea. These two crew members have been commemorated at THE AIR FORCES MEMORIAL, RUNNYMEDE, built to commemorate the 20,000 young men of aircrew with NO KNOWN GRAVE). The bomb aimer F/O W. Williams who was suffering from shock and exposure died in the dinghy. The rest of the crew were later rescued by (RML) Rescue Motor Launch. First 578 crew losses. Due to loss of the Flight Engineer and all written data in the form of logs, etc., it is not possible to confirm and it is presumed aircraft was hit by enemy action which caused loss of fuel.

THE DITCHING OF LW468 -as later related to W/O Charles Adams D.F.M by its skipper Sgt H.Melville.

I think the ditching was as much luck as judgment, waves 14 feet high with snow showers - the only other aircraft to make a fair effort landed in the searchlight beam of a destroyer which had already launched a boat and their aircraft sank almost immediately whereas ours floated for at least an hour, the perspex remaining unbroken. Since the salt water switch was inoperative (how do you test them?), the fire axe had to be used, the tethering rope also was not secured and it was again luck that anyone managed to get in the dingy. The difficulty was that the scrambling net that was supposed to hang beneath to enable it to be used as a ladder, was either missing or entangled and it was just impossible to haul in the remaining members of the crew due to our and their exhaustion laden with heavy soaked flying gear, remember it was January in the North Sea and the cold soon fatigues one.
Bill Williams was obviously suffering from shock and exposure, he became unconscious and died in the dinghy. It took an hour or so for us to realise that the fluorescent sea marker which was supposed to be outside the dinghy was in fact inside and we remained a nasty shade of green from the waist down for weeks afterwards. At first light we heard an aircraft which turned out to be a Hudson with an RML (Rescue Motor Launch) No. 515 which had been searching for a Fortress crew but had given up and were returning to base. After a few attempts to fire a red with the Verey pistol (narrowly missing my navigator), the Rescue Motor Launch pulled alongside and began hauling us out, they at first refused to take Bill Williams body on board, superstitious lot sailors, but after I insisted that as captain I should be the last to leave, they complied. They stripped us on deck, and the hairy chested matelote attending to me, discovered that I carried a 0.22 Mauser in a shoulder holster (if you remember we were not issued with side arms until the battle was nearly over) and after being warned that there was one up the spout fired at the wheel house narrowly missing the skipper. They massaged our legs because of frostbite and fed us tumblers of brandy so the trip home was somewhat hazy.
At the naval hospital I was stripped by a WREN who was built like a concrete blockhouse with a bigger moustache than mine, and tossed into a bath of boiling water after taking a quick look at my wedding tackle that looked like a tiny green caterpillar after being damn near frostbitten. They treated us wonderfully there giving us tins of fruit and hundreds of navy cigarettes, and we were visited by an Admiral who enquired about dinghy drill, and had we any suggestions regarding the dinghy I remember Dennis Mansfield, Navigator, suggesning that we carried a 12 foot lifeboat if we were to make a habit of ditching. Our return to base was marred by great difficulty in getting cleared from Snaith to go to Burn as obviously equipment was missing, but then of course bureaucracy must always reign supreme.


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February 1944

5th February 1944. Final instructions were given to Ground Staff Officers and all aircrew with regard to the move to Burn from Snaith. All luggage labelled and handing in of all equipment except bedding was completed.


6th February 1944. All personnel were transported to Burn from snaith by road. "A" Flight aircrew and squadron H.Q. personnel on site 2, "B" Flight aircrew and Daily Servicing Squadron to 5 site with 578 Servicing Echelon on 4 site.

The first meal at Burn was served to all ranks at 14:00 hours.


7th February 1944. Aircrews were sent back to Snaith to fly in the Halifax aircraft as it was not possible the previous day due to the weather conditions. This was carried out in the afternoon without mishap. 578 squadron were now based at Burn. The day however ended in tragedy as an Auster III of 658 A.O.P Squadron who were also based at Burn crashed on a map reading exercise, the pilot T/Capt. E.A.Gee and passenger F/Sgt. T.H. Padmore were killed.


15th February 1944. A very eventful first operation for 578 Squadron from Burn Airfield.

After Planned operations on 10th and 13th February had been scrubbed 14 578 squadron Halifaxes were detailed to attack Berlin in what was Bomber Commands most concentrated attack on the German Capital to date.

Target notified at 1010, ban put on all private calls, 14 aircraft detailed. Object "To cause maximum damage at aiming point Berlin". A Tuesday briefing was set for 1031. The Station Commander Group Captain Marwood-Elton was present at the briefing This was 578's fifth target but the first from Burn. All aircraft were airborne by 1800 hours. At 1950 message received from LK-L "Engine U/S; bombs dropped, am returning to base." Route markers on way to target were very effective, spoof fighter flares were observed north of the target, flak being moderately heavy but decreased as the attack progressed, the raid being successful. LW475 LK-E Sgt. C. Newton (P), this aircraft was severely hit by flak and considerably damaged, sent an S.O.S. at 0020 hours, after being given a fix cancelled S.O.S. at 0110 "Trying to make Manston," (a crash landing strip) which it did safely. LW472 "H" P/O J .M_ Row (P), landed at Elvington. LW474 LK-B, also landed at Elvington. Sgt. M. Clark (P), starboard inner engine failed and mission abandoned, to land at base at 2034 hours. "F" Sgt. G. Henderson (P), owing to navigation error mission was abandoned, landed at base at 2034. LW503 "Z" S/Ldr. M. McReanor (P), owing to oxygen failure the mission was abandoned, landing at base at 2233 hours. LW326 "W" F/O LB. Hayes (P), petrol feed from overload tank became U/S, mission abandoned. LK-D piloted by Don McGowan also had a very eventful mission. Engine problems resulted in excessive fuel usage. Calculations meant that they wouldn't be able to reach the target, bomb and get home, yet they elected to press on and ditch on the return journey, (A very brave decision to make). Getting close to the Lincolnshire coast and with fuel gauges reading empty they sent out an SOS. A triangle of searchlights from Donna Nook on the Lincolnshire coast was spotted and the Halifax made for it. The two outer engines cut out and flying in on just two engines the second the wheels touched the ground the two remaining engines cut. The Halifax stopped rapidly. It was once they had come to a halt they realised the reason they had stopped so quickly was that they had landed short of the runway on the beach. Apparently the Ground Controller had to get all available personnel out of bed to drag the Halifax out of the sand onto the adjacent runway clear of the rising tide.

Luck was not on the side of LW557 "Q" W/O J.B. Hogan (P), P/O L. Lindridge (N), P/O. J. Kerr (B) (Can), Sgt. F. Hayman (W/OP), Sgt, M. Piper (E), Sgt. E. Blair (A/G), Sgt. W. J. Leiper (Rear A/G). Nothing was heard from this aircraft after leaving base and it was reported missing. It had been shot down by a night fighter over Germany, the crash location being recorded as at Tribolm, approximately 21 miles N.E. of Rostock, Germany. Three members of the crew lost their lives (Warrant Officer J. Horgan, Sergeant M Piper and Sergeant E.Blair), and the rest were taken P.O.W.


February 1944 Summary: (Taken From 578 squadron operations by W/O "Chuck" Adams).

Aircrew casualties for month, 21 missing on active operations.

The Medical Ofńcers Report. Four cases of frostbite, which occurred on two nights when temperatures of minus 40C were experienced at 24,000 feet, all four being experienced aircrew. Although the heating systems of Halifax aircraft leave much to be desired, neglect of necessary precautions was found to be the cause in each case. Two cases were due to too tight fitting flying boots, one officer removed his gloves at 24,000 feet, the fourth case being a mid upper gunner who sustained severe frostbite of the fingers of his hand, necessitating admission to hospital, the current had failed in his electrically heated gloves. He was unaware of this and did not check his fingers frequently as instructed and did not realise fingers were numb until just before landing. (Perhaps he had other things to distract him - Flak and fighters). There were two cases of measles amongst the RAF Regiment personnel.

Remarks by the Commanding Ofńcer. At the beginning of the month the station was under strength but by sheer hard work and the pooling of resources and labour the station was able to receive 578 on February 6th. The first operation being against Berlin, a fitting start, six operations were ordered and later cancelled and on only six days was the squadron stood down. Of the 65 aircraft detailed, 45 attacked the primary, three did not return, eleven came back early due to technical faults with the Bristol engines, being new to the squadron and six failed to take off due to technical faults. Altogether a highly creditable performance from a young squadron formed as recently as January 15th after a complete change over to Bristol engines. So the squadron's second month of existence came to an end with the number of aircraft and crew improving with experience on the'Mark III Halifax aircraft with the different type of engine.


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March 1944

11th March 1944. 658 A.O.P Squadron moved to Collyweston, satellite station of RAF Wittering leaving 578 Squadron as the sole occupants of RAF Burn.


22nd March 1944. 16 Aircraft detailed to attck Franfurt and all took off. This operation was unusual because RAF Burn Station Commander N.W.D. Marwood-Elton D.F.C. took part flying with the experienced crew of P/O R. Atkins in Halifax LW540, "LK-R". He was not to return becoming one of RAF's most senior officers to be taken prisoner.

The RAF top brass ruled that such senior officers should not fly on operations however many did.

Halfway to the target they were shot down by a JU88 piloted by night fighter ace Hauptman Heinz Rokker, Knights cross with Oak leaves. Group Captain N.W.D. Marwood-Elton D.F.C was sent to Stalag Luft I, becoming senior British officer. He remained a thorn in the Germans side for the rest of the war:

Marwood-Elton was the SBO at Barthe and he was arrested by the Germans on 17 Aug 44 after issuing an order that POWs should not acknowledge Nazi salute but only those proper military salutes. This was considered an act of mutiny and Marwood-Elton was sent to a naval detention barracks to await a trial. Marwood-Elton was tried on 15 Nov, along with Wing Commander Ferrers who was facing charges relating to different incidents. Both men were found guilty, although one charged against Ferrers was not proved. On 3 Jan 45, the two men were taken to prison in Stettin, eventually being sent back to Barthe in Mar 45. There were various adventures before they were finally liberated and these are recorded in the book: “Footprints on the Sands of Time”.


30th March 1944. Nuremberg: 781 aircraft and their aircrews took part (that's over 4,900 crew members), RAF Bomber Command lost 108 four engined bombers in this single raid. 79 shot down by German night fighters. 537 airmen lost their lives that night. 157 became POWs and 11 evaded capture. The RAF was to suffer its heaviest losses of the entire war.

This would normally have been the stand down period for the main force, but a raid to the distant target of Nuremburg was planned on the basis of an early forecast that there would be protective high cloud on the outward route, when the moon would be up, but that the target would be clear for ground marked bombing. A Meteorological Flight Mosquito can'ied out a reconnaissance and reported that the protective cloud was unlikely to be present and that there could be cloud over the target, but the raid was not cancelled. 795 aircraft were dispatched, 572 Lancasters, 214 Halifaxes and 9 Mosquito's. The German controller ignored all the diversions and assembled his fighters at 2 radio beacons which happened to be astride the route to Nuremburg. The first fighters appeared just before the bombers reached the Belgian border and a fierce battle in the moonlight lasted for the next hour. 82 bombers were lost on the outward route and near the target. There was less action on the return flight, when most of the fighters had to land to refuel but 95 bombers were lost in all over there, 64 Lancasters and 31 Halifaxes, 11.9% of the force dispatched.

Fourteen 578 Squadron Halifaxes were detailed on the raid. 2 cancelled and twelve took off. Of those 12 only one returned to base and this with engine trouble. Eight landed at bases across England. Three 578 squadron aircraft were lost.

FLight Sergeant Albert Pinks and crew were on their first operation in Halifax MZ508 LK-N. Nothing was heard from this aircraft after leaving base. It was the 79th victim of the night, being shot down by fighters at Kunreuth near Ederbrighausen, 22 km from Nuremberg. All were killed.

Halifax LK-S Piloted by Squadron Leader Maurice McCreanor became the 105th aircraft lost. It had been damaged by enemy action and struggled back to England on three engines. This aircraft crashed on overshooting at Silverstone, the crew being on their 14th operation. Crews that had already landed at this O.T.U.(Operational Training Unit) watched this aircraft come in on three engines. The pilot could not line up with the runway and the control tower heard him say "I'll try again." But the wheels of the Halifax touched the roof of the airfield's section building. lt tumbled and exploded across some playing fields for 200 yards. Pilot, 2nd Pilot, Bomb Aimer, Wireless Operator, Flight Engineer were killed. Sgt. D.A. Hooker, rear gunner, died of his injuries nine days later at Halton. Silverstone was later to become the famous motor racing circuit. A memorial to this crew now stands on the trig point near the Luffield grandstand.

LK797 "E" (Excalibur) P/O CJ. Barton V.C. (P), Sgt. J. Lambert (N), F/O G. Grate (Can) (B), P/O I. Kay (W), Sgt. M. Trousdale (E), Sgt. H. Wood (M/U A/G), Sgt. F. Bryce (Rear A/G). This aircraft was attacked by fighters with crew on their 18th operation. With only half his crew remaing after the battle with night fighters P/O Barton navigated his Halifax on three engines to the target, bombed and returned navigating by the stars and by his small pilots map. Back over England and now with only one functioning engine this aircraft crash landed at Ryhope, Colliery Yard, Co. Durham, where the pilot lost his life and the engineer and two gunners were injured, a civilian miner was killed in the crash with another coal miner injured, the Halifax being torn to pieces in the crash. For his actions this day CJ. Barton received the Nation's highest honour, THE V.C. POSTHUMOUSLY. A great honour to 578 Squadron not three months old.


March 1944 Summary: (Taken From 578 squadron operations by W/O "Chuck" Adams).

Aircrew month casualties: 51 missing, 15 killed. Accidents: baled out 3. Injured accidents: 6 frostbite, 3 scabies. 5 measles cases on station in month.


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April 1944

April 1944 Summary: (Taken From 578 squadron operations by W/O "Chuck" Adams).

Remarks by the Commanding Officer:

Despite a period or extremely unfavourable weather, during which 578 squadron was stood down no less than 15 days and had 6 of its operations cancelled, it nevertheless succeeded in sending out 176 aircraft on lO important targets (3 German, 6 French and 1 Belgian) attacking the primary target.

There were 12 aircraft that failed to start, chiefly due to minor troubles in engine handling and faulty magnetos and 5 aircraft returned early for various reasons. Only two aircraft were missing during the month and both these were on the Dusseldorf raid.

The German towns attacked were ESSEN, DUSSELDORF and KARLSRUHE. All the other targets being vital railway marshalling yards and repair shops in France and Belgium, in preparation for the long expected Western Offensive.
Despite all this activity, the squadron completed the formation of its third flight towards the middle of the month and during the last week, the squadron was operating with more than 20 aircraft on each operation, the climax being reached on the last day of the month when the maximum of 24 aircraft were detailed for the squadron operation, and 23 actually took off. This was a record month for the squadron and shows great efficiency from all concerned in producing such rapid progress since the formation of the squadron only three months ago.

Medical Officers Report:

Aircrew
There have been no serious oxygen troubles. An Air Bomber "passed out" after leaving the target due to his corrugated tube, supply tube coming apart from the economizer. It was found on checking afew aircraft, that this connection tends to be insecure. A11 aircraft are now checked and aircrew are suitably instructed. One case of flying stress was admitted to RAF Hospital, Matlock. There was an early return due to sickness. This case is considered N.Y.D.M. and is being investigated. Upper respiratory infections are still prevalent and constitute the principal single cause of unñtness for flying duties. These cases of nasopharyingitis which were grounded for from one to three days were really cases of fatigue due to the increased tempo, requiring operational flying practically every night.

Ground Staff
Two cases were invalidated as cases of Psychoncurosis. 70 cases (all ranks, including W.A.A.F.'s) were admitted to Station Sick Quarters, 17 were transferred to Hospital. Hygiene and Sanitation. It has been extremely difficult to persuade A.M.W.D. to complete the sewage farm. What should be a first class installation is liable to be permanently impaired due to overloading while only partly in use.

ground Crew
Their efforts were greatly appreciated by all aircrews who well knew that the efficient work carried out by these engineers was of vital necessity to their survival. These on a Bomber Squadron had to work all hours, saw their aircraft take off, in which they had great pride, with friendly rivalry between ground crews. One would always see many wave the bomber crews off. The crews would be there to greet the aircraft on their return. As most operations were usually at night, this means some cold nights waiting at dispersal with no fires to keep them warm in the cold winter mornings. There were many ground crews trades who all had their part to play in the maintenance of the aircraft. Fitters Engines (F.M.E.) and Fitters Airframes (F.M.A.) were the usual ones at the dispersals. There were many others however; Radar Mechanics, Bomb Armourers, Gún Armourers, M.T. Drivers with the petrol bowsers, the W.A.A.F. Drivers that took the crews out to their aircraft, Flying Control and many others such as cookhouse staff, etc., but the ground crew at dispersal were closest to the aircrews.


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May 1944

8th May 1944 : D.S.O Award to Commanding officer.

Wing Commander D.S.S. Wilkerson D.F.C. received the immeadiate award of the D.S.O. and a personal message of congratulations from the Air Officer in Chief of Bomber Command (Butch Harris). This was taken as a great honour to the Squadron as well as to the Wing Commander himself.


May 1944 Summary: (Taken From 578 squadron operations by W/O "Chuck" Adams).

May would prove to be a rare month for the squadron now at full strength of 24 aircraft in that no Halifaxes or crew were lost.

On May 22nd, the Flight Engineers gave the Squadron Commander a small model of a Halifax In with which to demonstrate "Corkscrew Turns.
At briefing for BOURG LEOPOLD on May 27th, the Station Commander Group Captain J. Warburton announced the Immediate Award of the DFC. to F/Lt. F. Hart, the Squadron Bombing Leader.

Remarks by Commanding Officer: Operations were seriously hampered by bad weather during month. During the dark hours, targets often obscured by cloud and at dawn, base conditions often negative. In spite of this, 578 carried out 160 sorties. Although this was the first month since operating as a 3 Flight Squadron, 24 out of a maximum of 24 were dispatched on three occasions. Morale has been good and general health satisfactory. There were no early returns due to sickness and no oxygen troubles.

Thirty-two Aircrew were admitted to Sick Quarters with 3 to Hospital mostly with upper respiratory infections. Two cases of Rubella and 3 cases of Impetigo Contagioso. Two W.A.A.F. were discharged the Service on account of pregnancy. (The author stated: Not Guilty).


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June 1944

6th June 1944: "D-Day"

578 squadron played an important part in D-Day softening up the German defences for the coming invasion, and also sadly suffering some of the first casualties of D-Day when one of its most experienced crews went down in the Channel. A crash witnessed by many of the approaching landing craft.

5/6th June 1944: MONT FLEURY BATTERY. "D DAY"

24 aircraft detailed and briefed at 0100 hours in the morning. The squadron were ready to play its part on this historic occasion. Two aircraft failed to take off due to technical troubles, much to their disappointment, but this was corrected by attacking another target the same day.

Little difficulty was encountered either from the air or from the ground. Cloud conditions made visual sightings of the actual invasion difficulty, but a number of crews reported sightings of ships and landing craft. First off 0228 and the last to return to base did so at 0721 hours. F/S gt. C.W. Adams, Rear Gunner of LW496 "O", remembers the briefing by the Wing Commander for this target and the excitement created amongst the aircrews, although not being told it was the invasion of Europe, were as good as told and knew from experience what was to occur this historic day. This was an operation that no crew present would wish to miss.

Bomb loads were 9 x 10001b. MC and 4 x 5001b. GP carried by nine aircraft and the rest carried 8 x 1000 lb. MC and 7 x 500 GP. bombs. All bombed the target, the attack being successful. The target being identified by red and green markers. Icing was experienced 11,000 feet down to 7,000. Bombing took place 04377 to 0446. The Wing Commander D.S.S. Wilkerson, D.F.C., bombed from 4500 feet at 0439' hours. Like the rest of the squadron's crews, he did not want to miss this trip.

Unfortunately, this day was marred for 578 by the loss of MZ513, LK-K S/L W.G. Watson (P), Flight Commander of "B" Flight. Crew F/O J.A. Hall (N), F/O W.O. Haffernan (B), F/O E. Onions (W), F/Sgt. W.L. Middleton (E), Sgt. C.A. Goode (Mid-upper A/G), F/O S.G. Turner (Rear A/G). Nothing heard from this aircraft after taking off. News was received two days later that the Bomb Aimer, Flight Engineer and Wireless Operator had been picked up the HM. ships in the channel. The aircraft was hit by a bomb from an aircraft above while bombing target. Later, these three aircrew members returned to the Squadron and the following evidence was taken in Sick Bay, Burn, 1500 hours on June 11th, 1944. All were remarkably composed, but obviously still under the strain of their experiences.

F/Sgt Middleton: Immediately after "bombs gone," 10,000 feet at 0437, he noticed an aircraft above to port (he was then in the astro hatch), release its bombs. At the time, he calculated the first bombs would pass his aircraft: there was a large explosion to port. The forward hatch was blown open and fire developed almost immediately between the two port engines, the fire seemed to go out and the Captain turned direct for home. Fire started up again, W/OP sent out an SOS. Middleton then went to get a parachute for himself and Captain. There was an explosion in the port wing believed to be a tank. The height then 9,000 feet. He tried for some considerable time to fix up the Captain with his, but was unable to do so, owing to the angle of the aircraft. Eventually, the Captain ordered him to lay down in the dingy which he was trying to hitch on to the Captain and bale out. Speed was 220 I.A.S. and starboard wing down, believed flown that way by the Skipper to keep the flames from the fuselage. Middleton baled out under 1,000 feet; it was very dark and he hit the sea almost immediately. He believed his dingy caught up on leaving the aircraft. He landed in a strong wind and was unable to detach his parachute because he was too weak and was towed through the water head first and then feet first. He saw a dark object while descending which he thought was an aircraft on the water, but it turned out to be a boat. He was three or four minutes before releasing his parachute and in the water approximately 20 minutes. His torch was on in his pocket and he held it up and yelled. The boat saw the light but did not hear him. They threw him a lifeline,he missed and went unconscious. The crew dragged him aboard with boat hooks. He was unconscious for four hours. The boat was L.C.T. 708, American. This landed at beach with jeeps and guns; he was later transferred to HQ. boat 6 - 7 miles seaward. Returned to Portsmouth in antisubmarine craft and was seen by a Norwegian Doctor and passed OK. and transferred to 16 P.D.C. near Bognor where given kit and a bed. The interrogator felt that he was very reluctant to and did not leave his Captain until the very last possible moment when he was ordered for the second time to bale out.

F/O. Haffernan, Bomb Aimer: Said that after "bombs gone," he was putting the jettison bar across when a large explosion to port occurred. He closed the bomb doors and was ordered to prepare to abandon aircraft. He fixed on the dingy. He stood by and went to the nose of the aircraft. He remembers seeing the coastline and was then ordered to abandon aircraft when in the nose. The Navigator, F/O JA. Hall, was stuck in the hatch and had to be forcibly ejected after which he (F/O W.O. Haffernan) went. The aircraft was sideslipping to starboard, believed purposely by the Skipper to keep the fire away from the fuselage. An explosion occurred which was believed to be the port tank. Heffernan was then himself stuck in the hatch between parachute and dingy. During the descent, he felt for his torch and flashed SOS at least 12 times on his torch. He then hit the water and was pulled by his parachute on the surface. His dingy was never found and was believed to have come off in his struggle to get out of the aircraft. He released his parachute and saw a boat in the distance and then became unconscious. He came round with the boat almost on top of him. The boat crew threw the life belt and one member came over the side and pulled him aboard. This man hauled him up the ladder. He became unconscious again but remembers talking to the crew and telling them that there were seven members of the bomber's crew. He was later alternately unconscious and seasick for twelve hours. He was transferred to L.S.T. (Landing Ship Tank and recalls. I was dried out given a shot of the "hard stuff" and kitted out in US battledress and tin hat. Then I was handed a rifle and ammunition. I became distinctly anxious and remarked "Oh Jesus - I'm a flyer, not a soldier." The immeadiate response was "correction buddy, you were a flyer, you are now going to be a soldier.) He landed at 2100 hours on Tuesday D Day June 6th and was taken to an Army camp and attended by a Doctor. He stated that the target was bombed at 0437 hours, the centre of the T1. Green and T.I. Red was in the bomb sight. All bombs went.

F/O Onions, Wireless Operator: At the time of the explosion, he was in his seat. He saw a yellow glow in the aircraft. The Captain checked the crew. The Mid-upper Gunner, Sgt. C.A. Goode said he was injured, but not very much. He offered to go back, but permission was refused. He opened the escape hatch and put out a SOS call sign and clamped down the key. He was trying to find a code group for "Baling Out" when the Captain ordered him to do so. The Captain said "Get out quickly, can't hold it much longer." The Navigator went first, the Air Bomber second. Flying Officer Onions may have hit his head but does not remember. He remembers seeing the sea and his open parachute, he also remembers hitting the water. He tried to rid himself of the parachute, but was unsuccessful. He was towed under and on the surface, but later became unconscious and woke up some time on Tuesday on a boat. The boat crew said they saw him being towed along at approximately 8 knots and they could only do 10 knots. He was taken aboard approximately 5 minutes after F/O Heffernan. At no time was there any fire in the fuselage and the crew of the Y.M.S. said they saw the aircraft hit the water. The fire went out immediately and nothing more was seen. Only a vague estimate of position, 20 - 30 miles from French coast. As all bomber crews knew, the Pilot, always the Skipper, no matter what rank may at some time have to give his life while trying to save that of his crew. The Pilot, S/Ldr. W.G. Watson‘s valiant efforts at this time are worthy of the highest praise. His remark "Get out quickly, can't hold it much longer," proves that he was trying to hold the aircraft to give his crew the maximum chance of safety for which he lost his life. The rest of the crew were not found and it is presumed that they went down with the aircraft and/or were lost at sea.

The rest of our aircraft returned safely. It should be noted that S/L W.G. Watson was already a holder of the D.F.C.The Allied armies made their historic landings on five beaches on the Normandy coast at dawn on June 6th and remained locked in battle for ten weeks before breaking out to sweep forwards toward Germany.

The night before these landings, Bomber Command flew 1211 sorties, nearly all in support of the invasion forces. The bomber crews became full partners in the invasion, a matter of pride to the Bomber Command survivors. The main task of Bomber Command being the bombing of German troop and gun positions, oil and ammunition dumps, German rail and road communications, along with French ports where E-boats and other light vessels were gathering to threaten the invasion beaches. These targets required only part of Bomber Command's great strength and an important renewal of attacks on the German synthetic oil industry took place. The success of attacks on these was obvious upon the outcome of the Battle of Normandy. The Normandy invasion fleet was over 4,000 ships, being the largest invasion fleet in history.

6th June 1944: "D Day".

Second operation of the day by 578 Squadron Halifax aircraft: Twenty-five aircraft followed up the opening up of the newly opened second front with an attack on this railway target to disrupt communications. First off 2314 hours and last to return did so at 0543 hours. Bomb loads for 14 aircraft; 18 x 500 1b. GP and eleven carried 16 x 500 lb. GP bombs. The target was bombed between 0203 and 0216 hours at heights of 6,600 feet and above. The weather was good in the target area and opposition negligible. Visual was obtained of the target area. An enormous fire was seen by many crews as they turned for home. No combats with enemy aircraft, but three sightings ofenemy aircraft seen. The operation was considered a great success. 412 x 500 GP. bombs were dropped on the target.

However Halifax III MX619 LK-H Sgt. A.A. Waller (P), Sgt. R.A. Brough (N), Sgt. D.F. Sisley (B), Sgt. S.E. Moss (W/OP), Sgt. G.R. Armstrong (E), Sgt. J. Taylor (A/G), Sgt. D.R. Taylor (A/G) was lost. Nothing was heard from this aircraft after leaving base. This aircraft crashed at JALLANS, France on June 7, 1944 circumstances unknown. All the members of the crew lost their lives. So D-Day closed with 578 squadron having played an important part, delivering 47 aircaft in two sorties. It was however at a cost of eleven airmen and two Halifax bombers. The liberation of France had begun.


22nd June 1944: 578 Squadrons first "Daylight op".

Wing Commander Wilkerson led Twenty four 578 sqaudron Halifaxes attcked Siracourt V1 constructional works between 15.31 and 15.38 hours, on their first operation to be carried out in daylight. Many of the squadrons Halifaxes were hit by flak including the Wing Commanders aircraft though none were lost. LK803 was very badly damaged and had to make an emergency landing at the USAAAF base at Harrington. The American ground crew telling the crew it was a miracle they had got back. Such was the strength of the Halifax BIII to take punishment.


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July 1944

20th July 1944: Six Halifaxes lost. 578 squadron's worst casualties in a single operation.
Twenty six 578 squadron aircraft took off from Burn for a night attack on the synthetic oil refinery at Bottrop. Anti aircraft fire was encountered but experienced crews considered this not to be abnormal for the area. Yet out of the twenty six aircraft to set out only nineteen returned to RAF Burn, one landing at the emergency landing strip at Carnaby. Six failed to return. This was a disasterous night for 578 squadron which lost forty-two valuable crew members. Two of the Halifaxes LK-E and LK-K collided only a few short miles from Burn airfield and safety. They became locked together and fell to the ground at Balkholme. All members of both crews lost their lives. Today a memorial stands in Balkholme village in memory of the two crews who perished within sight of their home airfield.


26th July 1944: Sabotage!
F.Sgt Jim Allen and crew flew LK-C for an operation to Stuttgart and found that the mid upper gunner had no oxygen supply, the flight engineer Rob Stubbs had to set up an emergency feed from the rest bay. In addition the D.R compass was found to be faulty and they were off course, also the rear turret failed to operate. Back at base the faults were reported.The oxygen feed to the turret had been found to have been severed out of sight behind some ammunition boxes and iron filings were found in the compass and the sump of the rear turret. Sabotage was strongly suspected as the aircraft had been air tested by the crew earlier that day and all systems were working fine. The dispersal point for LK-C was adjacent to a public road so after this incident ground staff had their meals in relays so that the A/C was never left unattended after an air test.


July 1944 Summary:
Sorties flown in July 303 attacking 17 targets with 1,162 tons of bombs dropped, making a total of 4,370 tons since formation. Casualties: 20 killed, 35 missing, 8 aircraft lost.


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August 1944

23rd August 1944 : Wing commander D.S.S. Wilkerson DSO DFC the founding commander of the squadron relinquished command. Being posted to ECFS. Wing Commander A.G.T James OBE assumed command of the squadron.


August 1944 Summary:
358 aircraft were detailed in the month dropping 1,341 tons of bombs. The comulative total now being 5,711 tons.
Medical report: 12 aircrew admitted to to hospital. 23 ground crew and 8 WAAF admissions to station sick quarters 5 being transferred to hospital.


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September 1944

15th September 1944 : Wing commander D.S.S. Wilkerson DSO DFC the founding commander of the squadron was killed in a air crash whilst travelling as a passenger in a Martin Baltimore light bomber. News reached the squadron on 17th September.


20th September 1944 : Funeral of Wing Commander Wilkerson
The family of David Wilkerson decided that he should be buried in Selby Cemetery, close to the squadron he formed and commanded such was the respect he and his fellow airmen and ground crew felt. The entry in the 578 Squadron Operation Record Book of 20 September 1944 stated:

The funeral took place of Wing Commander D S S Wilkerson DSO DFC, late Commander of the Squadron. The funeral service took place in the Station Church. Squadron Leader B P K Watts and Squadron Leader S V Hollis the Church of England and Other Denomination Padres officiated. The interment took place in the Services Plot in Selby Cemetery. The funeral was attended by Mr and Mrs J S Wilkerson and Flying Officer Wilkerson, the father, mother and brother of the deceased. Also present were the Air Officer Commanding No. 4 Group, Air Vice Marshal Carr CB CBE DFC AFC, Air Commodore J L Kirby CBE commanding No. 41 Base, the Station Commander Group Captain J Warburton and the Squadron Commander, Wing Commander A G T James OBE. Representatives of Headquarters No. 4 Group and of Stations and Units in the Group also attended. Personnel from the Squadron lined the route from the Church to the Hearse and marched past the graveside paying their last compliments to one who had not only been their Squadron Commander, but had also earned their deepest respect and affection. Known to all as ‘WILKIE’, Wing Commander D S S Wilkerson DSO DFC will never be forgotten by any who served with him.

Tributes appeared in the London Gazette, National newspapers such as The Times, The Daily Telegraph and in the local press of Selby and Woodford.


September 1944 Summary: (Taken From 578 squadron operations by W/O "Chuck" Adams).

The squadron dropped 966 tons of bombs in the month a commulative total of 6,677 tons.
During the month 25 aircrew were admitted to Station sick quarters 6 being transferred to hospital.


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October 1944

October 1944 Summary:

Many honours and awards were given to 578 squadron aircrew. (578 squadron aircrews earned 79 Distinguished Flying Medals, 144 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 2 Distinguished Service Orders and the ultimate recognition for valour, the Victoria Cross during the 14 months the squadron was in operation). This is just one that stands out. October 1944: The award of DFC was given to Warrant Officer P.W.S Pope who had completed his tour of operations with 578 Squadron as air gunner.
Warrant Officer Pope had a long and varied career as an Air Gunner since he joined the Royal Air Force in April 1931. By the time he had completed his tour of ops with 578 squadron in October 1944 he had completed a grand total of 119 operations. A remarkable achievent when the odds of surviving just one tour of 30 operations were stacked againt him.


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November 1944

November 1944 Summary:

Medical report was that 22 aircrew were admitted to SSQ. 5 being transferred to hospital.


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December 1944

24th December 1944 : An air-raid warning rang at Burn airfield early in the morning as V1 flying bombs, released by twin engined German bombers flew over the airfield. Though many explosions were heard nine fell in the immeadiate vicinity. On return from the daylight raid by forteen 578 squadron aircraft to Essen airfield later that day many crew found Burn airfield fog bound and were diverted to Grimsby and Carnaby. Thus many aircrew missed Christmas Day celebrations at their home airfield.


25th December 1944 : Christmas Day
In the morning the S.N.C.O's were guests of the Officers in their mess and officers served the airmen their Christmas dinner, this being standard procedure at Christmas at all R.A.F camps. The officers had their own in their mess in the evening


December 1944 Summary: (Taken From 578 squadron operations by W/O "Chuck" Adams).

Medical report: 14 aircrew admitted to SSQ. " being transferred to hospital. 2 WAAF were discharged on account of pregnancy. (The author stated "not Guilty").


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January 1945

2nd January 1945 : First operation for 1945 against Oppau. Fourteen 578 squadron Halifaxes took off. All aircraft returned safely, one landing at Carnaby crash strip.


26th January 1945: A non-operation tragedy took place with one of the squadron Halifaxes. LK-D was on a Fighter Affilitaion Excercise and was North West of York when the port outer engine failed and a fire broke out, the navigator and Wireless operator managed to parachute clear but the rest of the crew were killed when the Halifax crashed at Wes Haddersly just a few miles from home base.


January 1945 Summary: (Taken From 578 squadron operations by W/O "Chuck" Adams).

7 operational sorties. 300 tons of bombs dropped. 2000 rounds of ammunition expended in combat. During this month a number of 578 squadron aircrew were posted to 51,10,76,77 and 96 squadrons and 578 Squadron was reduced from a 3 flight squadron to 2 flights.

January was the quietest month of 578 squadrons operational career, the cause being due to typical January weather. Aircrew to SSQ 18, 3 transferred to hospital. 5 WAAFS discharged pregnant. (The authour still protesting his innocence).


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February 1945

20th February 1945 : Squadron Commander W/C A.G.T James O.B.E. was admitted to Northallerton hospital, his command of the squadron was relinquished and S/Ldr B.L. Hancock assumed command. He was given the acting rank of W/C and his command confirmed on 28th when W/C James was posted to Snaith.


February 1945 Summary: (Taken From 578 squadron operations by W/O "Chuck" Adams).

168 operational sorties flown, 505 tons of bombs dropped, a commulative total of 9484 tons and 2609 sorties flown. 6000 rounds of ammunition were fired in combat with the loss of four aircraft and crews.

Medical Report: 22 aircrew admitted to SSQ, 6 to Hospital, 9 gound crew were admitted 4 to hospital. 7 WAAF's admitted Three being discharged through pregnancy, the authour once again stating he wasn't guilty


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March 1945

3rd/4th March 1945: The Luftwaffe mounted its last major offensive against Britain. Operation "Gisela".

200 German night fighters followed the bombers home and struck as they returned to base. 578 squadron was lucky but other 4 Group squadrons were not so, loosing 8 Halifaxes as they prepared to land. Six 578 squadron aircraft had landed at RAF Burn before intruder activity meant that the rest were diverted away to other bases. LK-L had a "visitor" follow them home and shortly after they landed at RAF Leeming the intruder sprayed the runway with gunfire. Back at RAF Burn Station defences were manned and German aircraft raked the nearby railway line with cannon fire causing slight damage to the perimeter. According to W/O Chuck Adams a Ju88 Shot up the airfield and did a vertical roll over the control tower!

Operation "Gisela" was to be the Luftwaffe's swansong. The Luftwaffe lost 34 aircraft out of the 200. Odds they just couldn't sustain. The last German aircraft to crash in the UK came in this raid when a JU88 crashed near the Free French Halifax base at Elvington, only fifteen miles from RAF Burn.

It must have been a frightening experience for the returning bomber crews, tired and low on fuel, thinking they had reached the safety of home base, only to be shot down or told to divert when very low on juice.



7th March 1945: 578 Squadron suffers its last operational casualties.

12 Halifaxes from 578 Squadron took off to attack the "Deutche Erdoel" refinery at Hemmmingstadt. Two Halifaxes did not return. Only two survivors became POW from the two aircraft.
NR150 LK-P issued a MAYDAY call at 22:24 while over the sea, aksing "Can anyone hear me." This was picked up by LK-C, LK-B, and LK-N. B & N replied and C reported the message back to Hull. A red very light was spotted at 9,000 ft but no further news was heard from LK-P. It is assumed that it came down in the sea. The body of the pilot was washed ashore at Hedwigenkoog in Germany on 1st July 1945. It is assumed that the rest of the crew either drowned or died of exposure out at sea.
LL558 LK-R was shot down on 8th March by a German nightfighter and exploded on impact with the ground on the Western bank of the Keil canal near Brusbuttel. During the attack the navigator and wireless operator were blown out of the aircraft landing safely by parachute and were captured. The mid-upper gunner was seriously injured and died the next day in hospital.


11th March 1945: Disbanded.

Information was received from Headquarters on 11th March that the Squadron was to be disbanded with effect from 15th March. Contact was made to post all aircrew to other squadrons. (Later information was came through that the squadron was to be reformed and rearmed as a "Mosquito" Pathfinder squadron at RAF Gravely in No. 8 Group but this never materialised).


13th March 1945: The Final Operation.

Fourteen 578 squadron Halifaxes took off on a daylight raid to bomb the Barmen district of Wuppertalin what was to be 578 squadrons last operation.
O-Oboe (sweet-sue), the last aircraft to take off had magneto problems and had to abort but the other thirteen Halifaxes bombed and returned safely to RAF Burn.

The last 578 squadron Halifax to bomb an ememy target and return to base was NA757 LK-U piloted by F/O D.P (pranger) Millard who bombed from 16,000 feet at 16:20. This aircraft landed back at RAF Burn at 18:53.

Flight Lieutenant George Bird of Navigator of LK-B concludes: "After debriefing the whole crew retired to the local pub, instead of celebration as one might expect, we enjoyed a very quiet and contemplative drink together".


15th March 1945: Wing Commander E.L. Hancock relinquishes his command of the Staion and left to take up an appointment as O/C 186 Squadron at RAF Stadishall.


16th March 1945: Personnel move to new units.

Personnel left RAF Burn for their new units. One flight left by air to 51 Squadron at RAF Snaith. (Back to the parent Squadron). S/L Banwell in Comand. Other aircrew were posted away to other squadrons. 77, 78, 640, 158, 186, 466, 35, 10 and some to 19 & 20 OTU.


19th March 1945: The End for RAF Burn.

Instructions were received that RAF Burn would cease as a front line airfield and revert to a care and maintenance basis.

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