207 SQUADRON ROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORY
Association Visit to France 9-12 July, 2004
St Leu Raids 1944
“When you go home tell them of us, and say
For your tomorrow we gave our today”
ST LEU d’ESSERENT - THE OPERATIONAL HISTORY
by Raymond Glynne-Owen
On 13th June 1944 the Germans commenced their long awaited V-Weapon offensive against London and other English cities, launching over 3000 weapons over the next five weeks. To meet the coming threat, in the Spring and Summer of 1944 the Allied Air Forces carried out many raids against the German transportation and supply organisations.
Initially the Germans constructed substantial V1 sites with large assembly and storage buildings and launch ramps. After these were identified and bombed by the Allies, smaller sites were established, with simple ramps and few buildings. Large central depots were now needed to assemble and store the V1s before delivery to the smaller launch sites.
The Germans selected three locations in France for these central depots - Nucourt, Rilly-la-Montagne and St. Leu d’Esserent. These underground facilities were soon identified as important sites and were placed high on the list of priority targets for bombing:
- Nucourt was a limestone cavern situated in the Oise valley west of St. Leu d’Esserent. It was bombed on the 15th July 1944 by 47 Lancasters and 6 Mosquitoes without loss.
- Rilly-la-Montagne was a railway tunnel south of Rheims. It was bombed on the 31st July 1944 by 97 Lancasters (including five from 207 Squadron) and 6 Mosquitoes. Tallboy bombs sealed both ends of the tunnel. [One of the two Lancasters lost was that of Flt Lt Bill Reid VC of 617 Sqn]
- St. Leu d’Esserent was a complex of caves near the town of the same name in the Oise valley some 30 miles north of Paris. Originally created by the extraction of limestone, these caves had for two years been enlarged by the Germans to become their largest V1 assembly and storage facility. The roof was 25 feet thick, mostly of stone; the underground store had three entrances and was conveniently near a railway.
BOMBER COMMAND ATTACKS ON ST. LEU D’ESSERENT
After an attack on St. Leu by the 8th USAAF in June 1944 four further attacks were carried out by the RAF to deny the Germans the use of the caves.
The first RAF raid was on the 4th July 1944
The first RAF raid took place on the 4th July 1944 when 17 Lancasters of 617 Sqn, with marking by a Mosquito and a Mustang, attacked in daylight. Six aircraft brought their Tallboy bombs back as the target became obscured by smoke, but no aircraft were lost.
The second raid was on the night of 4th/5th July 1944
The second raid was on the night of 4th/5th July 1944 when an attack was carried out by 246 aircraft, mainly Lancasters of 5 Group with some Pathfinders from 8 Group. 207 Sqn contributed 15 aircraft, which took off from Spilsby just before midnight. Bombing was accurate but 13 aircraft, including 2 from 207 Sqn, were lost when intercepted by German fighters:
LM125/EM-G (P/O John Horsburgh Wilson)
Crashed at Halby by Apremont, near Vineuil Ste Firmin, 5km from Creil (Oise). The crew of 7 were all killed and are buried at Creil.
killed in action
P/O John Horsburgh Wilson F/Sgt Charles Morton Firth
Sgt Jeffrey Matthews Sgt Cyril Stapleton
F/Sgt Henry George West Sgt Albert Derrick Roper
Sgt Clement Arthur Hallett
ND570/EM-Z (F/Sgt John William Gibbs)
Crashed at Abbeville (Somme). Six of the crew were killed, five having no known grave and are commemorated on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede. One is buried at Abbeville and one (Sgt Edward Ross Inglis RCAF) was taken prisoner:
killed in action
F/Sgt John William Gibbs F/Sgt Desmond Rimmer Croker
Sgt Robert John Norman Sgt Donald William Rawson
Sgt Norman Leslie Wood Sgt John Francis Patrick Edwards
The third raid was on the night of 7th/8th July 1944
The third raid was on the night of 7th/8th July 1944 when 221 aircraft, mostly 5 Group Lancasters, but with some Pathfinders, carried out a night attack; 16 Lancasters from 207 Sqn took off from Spilsby just after midnight. The bombing was accurately directed on to the access tunnels and approach roads. German fighters inflicted heavier losses on this raid - 31 aircraft failed to return, including 5 from 207 Squadron:
ND866/EM-B (F/O Michael Nicholson Milner)
Crashed between Bézu St. Eloi and Neaufles St. Martin, 6km WNW of Gisors (Eure). Six of the crew were killed, five are buried at Neaufles St Martin and Sgt Beresford Matthew Jacques is buried at Bézu. Sgt Alexander James McPherson was taken prisoner and the Association tried vainly to trace Mr McPherson on behalf of the Neaufles St. Martin Commemoration Committee, but we now know that he had died after the war. We have just made contact with the Jacques family, who wish that they had been able to come:
killed in action
F/O Michael Nicholson Milner Sgt Beresford Matthew Jacques
F/Sgt John Miller Sgt Edward William Palmer
Sgt Ronald Charles Collings Sgt Arthur Courtney Barrett
ME805/EM-J (F/O Mike Alderton)
Crashed near Wambez, 20km NW of Beauvais (OIse). Five of the crew evaded capture and two were taken prisoner. Three members of this crew later became Association members: Bill Clowes died in 1991; Mike Alderton and Ernie Hay were joyfully reunited at the Telford Reunion in 1994 for the first time since being shot down and Ernie has just located his Wireless Operator, Alfred Fagan.
LM218/EM-N (P/O Kenneth Arthur Boyce)
Crashed at Haudricourt, 5km SW of Aumale (Seine Maritime). Five of the crew were killed and are buried at Haudricourt. Two evaded capture: Alan Nichol, who died in 1991, and Association member John Robert Parkinson:
killed in action
P/O Kenneth Arthur Boyce Sgt Albert Laurie Sayers
Sgt Joseph Fear F/Sgt Allan Cameron Sutherland
F/Sgt Philip Newbould Smith
ND567/EM-V (F/O Trevor John Hordley)
Crashed W of Sancourt, 30km W of Beauvais (Oise). Five of the crew were killed and are buried at Marissel, near Beauvais. Sgt William Raymond ‘Mac’ Brown evaded and the late George Baker, who later became an Association member, was taken prisoner. Molly Baker is a Friend Member. We have just made contact with the Hordley family who, like the Jacques family wish they could have taken part in this visit. Trevor returned to the Squadron the day after he was married and never saw his daughter.
killed in action
F/O Trevor John Hordley Sgt Alan John Holmes
Sgt Fred Booth Sgt Gerald Douglas Cooper
P/O Hugh Thomas Blakeley Burgess RCAF
LM129/EM-Y (F/O Charles Edward Stamp)
Crashed at Hérouville near Auvers-sur-Oise (Seine-et-Oise) – see Auvers-sur-Oise
In addition to the 5 crews that failed to return, there was a further fatality. Sgt John Butterworth, mid-upper gunner of LL902/EM-A (F/O Eric Oakes) was killed in an attack by two nightfighters and is buried in Manchester Southern Cemetery; the aircraft returned safely with the rest of the crew, including were the late Association members George Chesworth and Derek Brundle (uncle of the motor racing tv commentator Martin Brundle).
As a result of the attacks on the 4th/5th and 7th/8th July a total of 92 downed aircrew were on the run in northern France, of whom 52 successfully evaded.
The fourth, final, and largest, raid was a daylight attack on the 5th August 1944
The fourth, final, and largest, raid was a daylight attack on the 5th August 1944, carried out by 742 aircraft, including 15 Lancasters of 207 Sqn, which took off from Spilsby at 1100hrs. Bombing conditions were good and only one aircraft was lost, with all 207’s aircraft returning safely.
THE RESULTS OF THE RAIDS
Before the RAF raids over 70% of all V1s launched had been serviced at St. Leu, so the weight and number of the attacks on it and the strength of the opposition all reflected the importance of this target. The cost to Bomber Command had been heavy, with 45 aircraft and crews lost.
Although the RAF believed the St. Leu facility to have been totally destroyed, only the upper level had been affected. However, access to the caves had been blocked, entombing a large number of V1s, and the road and rail links had been severely damaged, so the intended objective of denying use by the Germans had been achieved. Soon the advancing Allied armies ended the German occupation of the area.
After the war the French Army re-opened and cleared the caves, which, although they have now returned to a peaceful use - mushroom growing - still show signs of their wartime use.
50 YEARS LATER – the 1994 visit
Extracts from the report by the late AVM David Dick, President & Chairman of the Association
Organised by Peter Phelps - himself shot down on 8th July in LM129/EM-Y (F/O Stamp) on one of the raids on St. Leu - and by Claude Le Roux one of our Honorary members, our party of 47 from the Association included eight survivors of the raids; Mike Alderton, George Baker, Derek Brundle, George Chesworth, Peter Curd, Peter Phelps, Bob Webb and Ron Winton (a ninth, Ernie Hay, was at the last minute unable to come).
We also had two brothers of Sgt Collings the Wireless Operator of ND866/EM-B (F/O Milner) which crashed near Neaufles St. Martin, and a cadet from 207 (Cranfield) Sqn ATC. Our principal hosts were the Mayor and citizens of Neaufles St. Martin, where five of F/O Milner’s crew are buried.
Saturday 9th July was to be a long day; being cloudy, it was not too hot. We left our hotel at 0830 for Neaufles Saint Martin 6km away, where the ceremonies began with a Parade of Standards, including that of the RAFA for the Region. We then attended a moving church service and laid our wreaths on the 207 Squadron graves in the churchyard. A short distance away at Bézu-St.-Eloi we laid a wreath on the grave of Sgt Jacques, F/O Milner’s Wireless Operator.
We attended the unveiling close to Neaufles St. Martin of a splendid memorial to the Milner crew at the spot where ND866/EM-B crashed, to which the Association had contributed a stone Squadron crest.
At Courcelles-lès-Gisors we laid wreaths on the graves of four members of a Halifax crew of 76 Sqn from Holme-on-Spalding Moor shot down on the 16th July 1944 attack on Nucourt. This was Halifax MZ524 MP-P (F/O HM Steward): the remaining crew members were taken prisoner. [In the village of Noyers we attended the unveiling of a plaque honouring a truly remarkable lady, Mme Majo Perdereau, whose husband had been was killed in 1940. She was the local village schoolteacher and a key member of the local Resistance movement.
During 1943-44 she sheltered 22 Allied airmen in her house before they were passed along the escape line to Paris. An extremely emotional moment occurred when, immediately after the official ceremony, Peter Phelps discovered that among those had accompanied us to Courcelles-lès-Gisors were two 76 Squadron aircrew who had been sheltered by Mme Perdereau. They came forward to embrace her, one for the first time for 50 years. To show our appreciation of her gallantry we presented Mme Perdereau with a framed certificate with commemorative medallions; she later did us the honour of accepting Honorary Membership of our Association.]
The remainder of the day was taken up with a ‘Vin d’Honneur’ at Neaufles, a seemingly very short rest period and then an unforgettable dinner in Neaufles village hall, which lasted well into the night.
Sunday morning was again sunny. We visited the National Cemetery at Marissel in the city of Beauvais. George Baker, F/O Hordley’s Flight Engineer in ND567/EM-V, laid a wreath at his pilot’s grave and we all paid our respects to the four other members of the crew buried there. A wreath was also laid to F/O HR Briggs’s crew (ME678/EM-N) lost 9-10.6.44 on Étampes.
We had been overwhelmed by the warmth of our welcome and by the friendship and most generous hospitality; our hosts had gone to endless pains on our behalf. We were tired by the physical and emotional intensity of the programme; deeply grateful for the chance to pay tribute to our fallen comrades and to those who, at the greatest personal peril, had cared for them in their adversity; and exhilarated by the friendships and bonds formed - which we must foster.
At the 1994 commemoration the then Mayor of Neaufles-Saint-Martin, Arnaud de Clavière, had this to say in his speech at the unveiling of the memorial to F/O Milner’s crew:
“Those speaking before me have said everything about the circumstances and the basic reasons for this Commemoration. I would just like to add that, if young people have offered to give their lives so that we could live in freedom, we must not just content ourselves with perpetuating their memory.
It is our business, in our everyday lives, to strengthen, reinforce and develop the liberty they gave back to us, so that our children and grandchildren will not have again, one day, to pay such a price to regain it.
May this stone monument, a symbol of solidity, of durability, remind us for a long time of the heroic sacrifice of those who set us free. May it be a witness of our gratitude and our desire to make this liberty last.”
LM129/EM-Y (F/O Charles Edward Stamp)
Crashed at Hérouville near Auvers-sur-Oise (Seine-et-Oise). Three of the crew were killed and are buried at Auvers-sur-Oise cemetery (also the final resting place of the painter Vincent Van Gogh and his brother Theo).
F/O Arthur Eric James Gilby evaded capture and three were taken prisoner (two Association members Jack Fisher and Peter Phelps, and Sgt Ken Ward):
killed in action
F/O Charles Edward Stamp Sgt John Marwood Sgt Richard Gerard Seddon
On 14th July 1944, at the instigation of the local Resistance, some of the people of Auvers-sur-Oise organised a ceremony to put flowers on the graves of these three men and placed a panel on which were painted the flags of France, Britain, America and Russia, with the inscription Honneur aux morts pour la patrie.
These actions were made known to the Kommandatur at Enghien-les-Bains and on the 19th July the Germans arrested local officials and some inhabitants. Five Auversois - Jean Bourt, Gaston Chatelain, Jules Héron (Secretary of the Mairie of Auvers), Fernand Jaclain (mace bearer of the Commune and a Lieutenant of the Vengeance Resistance network in the Groupe France Combattante) and Maurice Lachoque, a Fire Brigade Lieutenant who had appeared in his uniform, were all transferred to the Cherche-Midi military prison in Paris before being deported variously to the Dora, Buchenwald, Nordhausen and Elbrich concentration camps.
None of them returned.
THE MAIN EVENTS OF OUR 2004 VISIT
Friday 9th July
1845: arrive Neaufles-Saint-Martin: welcome at the Mairie
Saturday 10th July
0930: assemble outside the Mairie of Neaufles-Saint-Martin
0945: Neaufles-Saint-Martin cemetery: ceremony at the graves of the Milner crew
1045: Bézu-St.-Eloi, wreath laying at the grave of Sgt ‘Bar’ Jacques of the Milner crew
1130: rue de Bézu, Neaufles-Saint-Martin: Ceremony at the memorial to the crew of ND866
1230: Visit to the British graves in Courcelles-lès-Gisors Cemetery
1300: Neaufles-St-Martin: French/British meal in the Salle des Fêtes: wreath laying, NSM deportees
2000: Evening at Aux Joyeux Danseur, Gisors; meal, entertainment, dancing
Sunday 11th July
1030: Sérifontaine, at the memorial to the crew of Lancaster ND567: Ceremony of Commemoration followed by a Vin d’Honneur
Evening: meal at Le 14 Juillet, Gisors
Monday 12th July
1145: Arrive Auvers-sur-Oise for visit to the cemetery, wreath laying at the graves of three of Peter Phelps' crew
Prepared by FW Haslam, 207 Sqn RAF Association. We are most grateful to our hosts in Neaufles-Saint-Martin, Sérifontaine and Auvers-sur-Oise who worked so hard to make us welcome.
Photo tour of St Leu d'Esserent http://www.titan06.free.fr/photos/60/v1/index.htm note the errors in the inscription - the construction of the V1s was not principally at Peenemünde; the assembly of V1s at St Leu began in 1944 not 1943 and the bombardment of London with V1s began in June 1944 and not June 1943.
Commune of St Leu d'Esserent https://www.saintleudesserent.fr/
last updated 11 July 2004: 18 Nov 17