Tom Foley's Bomber Crew
No. 424 Tiger Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force
As told by: Warrant Officer Kitchener F. Seaman,
with information from other sources.
Tom Foley's Bomber Crew" was composed wholly of Canadians ( except Kitchener Seaman from California) who had received initial training in Canada. After advanced training in England the crew (with a different Navigator) was ready for "operations" when the Navigator was sent to hospital because of a knee injury. The crew waited idle nearly three months until a new Navigator, Don Robinson, came along. Don had come to England about the same time as the others but had trained with a different outfit, which when ready for "ops" found its pilot too light for heavy bombers so the crew was broken up and its members transferred elsewhere. And now, with a new Navigator, the Crew was finally complete and ready to go places. A period of about three weeks was spent in flights and other training to familiarize the boys with the new Navigator and each other.
In writing home each of the boys said not once but many times what a fine Crew they had, what splendid chaps all his comrades were, how each one knew his work thoroughly, and how they all had the fullest confidence in each other and knew they would come through safely.
Several "spoof raids" or diversion trips were made late in February or early March. A "spoof raid" consists of a number of bombers escorting other bombers on their way to enemy targets. The "spoof raiders" go only part way, often on a different route, without bombs, in an endeavour to divert enemy aircraft from the main bomber mission. At about the outer extramity of the last "spoof raid" our boys made, one engine of the craft went dead, and while they were engaged in "feathering" the propeller of the dead engine they were attacked by a Messerschmitt fighter. Some shots were fired and the Lancaster was dropped from 20,000 feet to 500 feet to gain speed and evade the enemy. The manouver was successful but when the altitude had been gained again a second enemy ship attacked them. This was also avoided.
By this time Tom Foley's Lanky was 12 minutes behind the other "spoof raiders". And when aircraft are travelling at better than 300 miles per hour this means that Tom's ship was at least sixty miles behind. As the plane was crippled and travelling on only three of its four engines it was up to the boys to get out of there and get out fast as they made too good a target for enemy fighters. As the rest of the squadron was following a zig-zag course the Skipper asked the Navigator to set a new straight course and give new engine speeds so they could catch up. This was done and they caught up with the rest of the Squadron before it reaches its base.
Seeing this was the Crew's first taste of enemy action they were given extra leave to celebrate. And right here is a good place to say that as the Crew was stationed at Skipton-on-Swale their main recreation and celebration base was the Town of Scarborough, about 25 miles away. Here the lads spent much of their free time and came to know the town and surrounding country very well. Three motorcycles were owned by members of the Crew and it did not take the boys long to find out where they could "decorate themselves" with eggs, chickens, an occasional steak, and other produce to help out with their regular rations. They made many friends, and one about whom Kitch spoke very highly was a Mrs. Harrison. It was at her home they stayed in town overnight and where much of their "extra" rations were prepared for them. They called her "Mum" and evidently she was a good mother to them.
At long last, on March 7th, 1945, "Tom Foley's Bomber Crew" was ready for its first trip on "ops". Kitch says they were excited as this was the culmination of all their hard work and training. Most of the lads had joined the R.C.A.F. some time in 1943, had finished their Canadian training early in 1944 and had come to England in the spring of that year. And now, nearly a year later, they had reached the height of their ambition-- they were ready to go to "ops" against the enemy. They were excited but all they said was "Well, this is it!!!". We will never know what were their real thoughts. This was the goal for which they had all worked, and of course each man--- for they were all Men in every sense of the word, regardless of their ages-- would be proud of himself and anxious to do his best and "to get the job done." Each one would look ahead to finishing a tour of operations over Germany and then a trip to the pacific or back home. But who knows what their inner thoughts were! One thing we do know for sure, and that is there was no slightest trace of cowardice or fear in any of their hearts. For they were soldiers! They were Canadian Airmen!! They were MEN!!!
At 7:46pm they took off in a Lancaster Bomber to "carry out air Operations" over Dessau, Germany, a town about 60 to 70 miles south-west of Berlin. The plane held seven men with seven tons of bombs and 2,000 gallons of gasolene.
After being in the air two and a half to three hours they reached the vicinity of Dusseldorf, Germany, travelling at about 18,000 feet with everything under control. At this height, according to Kitch, planes were very rarely hit by "flak" so they all felt quite safe and proud of themselves. About them Kitch heard the Skipper, over the intercommunication system, asking the Navigator for a check on time and location. The answer came: "Right on the tick for time and slightly off route, but nothing to worry about." Those were the last words Kitch ever heard from any of the boys.
Then the plane was hit by "flak" under the starboard (right) wing, which threw the ship about 40 feet upwards. And to get some idea of the force of this blast, one must realize that a Lancaster Bomber weighs 28 tons, and was also carrying 7 tons of bombs, and 8 tons of gasolene.
Seaman, in the rear turret, tried to call the pilot, then anyone else in the Crew, over the "intercom" but got no answer. The plane flew straight for a few seconds then into a steep dive. Kitch decided to bale out, but when he got part way through the turret he found his parachute was improperly adjusted. He tried to crawl back but the force of the air screaming past was so great that he could not. He let go, with very little hope of being able to adjust his chute. This was at between 16,000 and 17,000 feet. He eventually got his chute nearer to proper adjustment and it opened partially. An there it stuck till he was about1,000 feet from the ground, when it bloomed out and he landed heavily in a small clearing in a wooded area on a hillside. He was badly shaken and had injured his right foot on landing.
During the last part of the drop Kitch saw what he took to be parts of the plane burning on the ground at some considerable distance from where he landed. (The plane crashed on the Tillman's farm in Kliene Ledder near Dabringhausen Ruhr.)
Kitch hid in the woods till morning, then walked down a road in the direction of gunfire until he was taken into custody by some German home guards who took him to an infantry major. This German officer who was of the surly type and evidently a Nazi questioned Kitch about his aircraft and the other members of his Crew. Then he said "I suppose you know that Cologne has fallen to the Americans, and I suppose you think you will win this war. Well, in two weeks our new V-weapon will be ready and we will push the troops into the English Channel, and you will rot in jail for the rest of your life!'
The officer then took Kitch to a farmhouse near a small village (which he says may have been 30 miles from Dusseldorf though he had no way of knowing definitely) for the purpose of identifying the bodies of the other members of the Crew. These had been moved from where they had landed and were laid out in an orderly fashion on the ground and covered with blankets. Kitch said that for some reason for which no one could account the bodies were not broken or even marked. One lad had a small cut on his cheek, another one on his chin, but neither burned or nor smashed. Kitch says the boys looked as if they were sleeping. It is difficult to account for this as the bombs and gasolene apparently had exploded as burned parts of the aircraft were scattered over a wide area and all windows and some of the roofs in the vicinity were smashed. It is reasonable to suppose, according to Kitch, that the initial blast of "flak" had killed the lads instantaneously by concussion so that none of them ever knew what happened, and that when the bombs exploded the plane was close enough to the ground so that the bodies were thrown clear before any fire reached them and did not fall far enough to be smashed. There does not appear to be any other reasonable explanation.
The bodies were laid out decently and each man's personal effects were placed separately on a nearby table, properly marked with each man's name, rank, number, etc. Seaman was asked to identify the bodies and the personal effects. He states that he positively identified the following members of the Crew and was very emphatic about there being no possibility of his making any error:
F/O T. L. Foley
F/O D. W. B. Robinson
F/O D. A. Standfield
Sgt. S. Rosu
Sgt. J. Klem
However there was no trace of F/O T. S. Lawrence. Seaman was informed that another Airman was being held in a village 10 miles away and that he would be taken to see him.
But he was not and no description was given him, so he does not know who this other man might have been, and has no knowledge of Tom Lawrence's fate. His theory is that Tom fell into the nearby rocky hills and his body had not been located. However, this is only surmise with very little data to back it up. Up to the time Kitch left England Tom Lawrence had not returned there, nor had there been any further word regarding him. Kitch was taken to a Prisoner of War at Camp Frankfurt where he was put into hospital for two broken bones in his foot.
The unmarked bodies of 5 Crew members and the remains of T. S. Lawrence were found at Gross Frankhausen were wrapped in canvas and buried in a communal grave in Grunewald Cemetery 5 Km south-west of Wermelkirchen, 30 miles South-East of Dusseldorf Germany. The bodies were later exhumed and moved to Rheinburg Cemetery.
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