69 Squadron

Group :       No 34 (PR) Wing, 2nd Tactical Air Force Location :   Melsbroek, Belgium, 30/09/44
Aircraft  :   Wellington XIII

    

 
 

Strategic Photographic Reconnaissance had been done by 140 Squadron from 1941 but it was decided  that  the  requirements  of  the  British Invasion  Forces could not be met by just one squadron,  especially in view of  recent  developments in  night photography. A Photographic Reconnaissance  Wing [69 and 104 Squadrons]  was therefore formed which would work for the Headquarters of 21st Army Group,  the Second Tactical Air Force and 34 Wing. 

69 Squadron with Vickers Wellington Mk XIIIs became equipped for specialised night visual tactical reconnaissance and low-level photography and began their reconnaissance operations on the eve of D-Day.  The Mk XIII had radar removed and clear Perspex nose fairing in place of turret for visual observation, flares in fuselage (dropped from 3000 ft) and open-shutter moving film camera fitted for use at 1000 ft.  The only armament was two twin Browning machine-guns in the rear turret. Aircraft flew singly and had to locate its target, sometimes as small as a crossroads or railway junction, at night.

Wellington NC607 was relatively new, taken on by the Squadron in January 1945 as one of the replacements for aircraft destroyed on the ground at Melsbroek during the Boddenplotte raids on 1st January; see paragraph in 140 Squadron page detailing the raid. It was on its third flight when it undertook this special night reconnaissance of the area Maasneil – Krüchten  on the 23rd January 1945 when F/O John Lowrie responded to  the  call  for volunteers.   The crew consisted of F/O K. G. Booth (Pilot), F/Sgt C. G. Broad, Sgt W . E.  Ranger (Airgunner)  and  three Navigators  F/O  G. Hill, F/O  J. W. Lowrie, and  F/O   J.  K.  Turner  [one navigating, one making ground observations from the bomb-aimer’s panel and the other operating the camera].   

The situation in Western Europe during January 1945 saw the defeat of the Ardennes counter-attack and the Germans now compelled to concentrate on the defence of their homeland as the Allies prepared to attack the Siegfried defence line and advance across the Rhine into the German heartland. It would be a formidable challenge to the Allied Armies and success and and keeping casualtiesto a minimium would depended on good intelligence gained through reconnaissance missions by both 69 and 140 Squadrons.

 
   
 
 

Records show that seven aircraft were despatched by 69 Squadron from Melsbroek on the night of 23rd January 1945. Their visual reconnaissance targets included the areas from Maasniel (near Roermond) in the west (keyed on the map above as [1]) to Lovenich (near Cologne) in the east [2], with a concentration of targets from north to south between Rheydt (Monchen-Gladbach) in the north [3] to Baal (Huckelhoven) in the south [4], covering an area of about 40 miles east to west and 20 miles north to south.  

It is recorded Wellington NC607 took off from Melsbroek, Belgium, at 18.40 hours. Equipped to use flares to locate enemy troop positions, this night reconnaissance flight was briefed to cover Maasneil [1] (a heavily fortified district in the German-held Roermond) to Neiderkruchten [5].

It can be speculated that the reconnaissance of Massniel would have important photographic objectives in the heavily defended Roermond, the last German stronghold in Holland. The northern flank of Montgomery’s 21st Army Group had already started clearing the last German salient on the 14th January, known as the ‘Roer Triangle’ [Roermond and Sittard in Holland extending over the German border to Heinsberg]. It culminated on the night 24th/25th January 1945 when my Battalion of the 7th/9th (Highlanders) Battalion The Royal Scots and 4th Battalion the KOSB captured Heinsberg. It was the largest German town to be taken by the British Army up to that moment. It was also where I was wounded.

 
 

 

When the Wellington NC607 failed to return, the Squadron's Order of Battle for January 1945 recorded the loss of one of its oldest crews from the operations on the 23rd. It listed as missing F/O K. G. Booth, F/O J. M. Turner, F/O C. Hill, F/Sgt C. G. Broad, Sgt W. E. Ranger and F/O J. W. Lowrie who was shown as a 'passenger' from 140 Squadron as he had volunteered to be one of the navigators. It also mentioned it was the last sortie of the current tour for the 69 Squadron Crew members, 'which makes the loss of 'The General' and his crew seem even worse bad luck.'

A surviving member of the crew reported that having assessed their first observation run over the Maasneil area of Roermond was not as they required, they went round again at about 1000 feet despite the intensity of the ground fire. This action was typical of their generation: showing great valour and devotion to duty. It is believed Wellington NC607 crashed after it was hit in the tail, causing lost of rudder and elevator control. It was a tragic end to a mission so bravely tackled.

Mr Louis Cox [Pilgrimage 1] describes how he heard Wellington NC607 crash in the early hours of the morning of the 25th January 1945 and along with his two brothers they discovered the plane had dragged itself along the ground for about 5,000 yards, the tailpiece missing.

 

 

Index | DFC | 103 Squadron | 140 Squadron | 69 Squadron | Roermond Grave | Friendship |

Pilgrimage 1 | Pilgrimage 2

Peenemunde 17 August 1943 | Peenemunde 2