The Crew of Lancaster R5694 EM-F

RAF Bomber Command was formed in 1936 in response to the potential threat posed by Germany’s increasing airpower. At the time, it was thought that a strong bomber force would prove to be a deterrent against aggression as bombing would result in complete and inescapable destruction on both sides. War however came despite the threat of the bombers. The Nazi Blitzkrieg of 1940 quickly defeated France, leaving Britain to fight on alone. After the RAF's famous victory in the Battle of Britain the country found itself on the defensive, and to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, only the bombers offered a chance to take the fight right into the heart of Nazi Germany. 

​In the early years of the war, Bomber Command crews, although poorly equipped with only medium bombers and lacking sufficient technology to bomb accurately, continually assaulted German military and industrial targets. Their success was limited, but the appearance of taking the fight to the enemy was just as important in raising the morale of the British people as was the actual damage inflicted.

​In 1942, Bomber Command received a new aircraft – the Avro Lancaster – and a new leader – Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris. Accepting that precision bombing was proving impossible, the War Cabinet sanctioned 'area bombing', the targeting of whole cities to destroy both factories and their workers. The deliberate targeting of German and Italian cities caused the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians. At the time, this wholesale destruction was judged necessary to defeat an enemy that seemed on the brink of victory, although today, some historians take the view that the offensive was immoral and unjustified. On a strategic level the offensive failed to bring about the collapse of civilian morale that was its intention. Others maintain that the attacks made a decisive contribution to the Allied victory. Vast numbers of German soldiers and planes were diverted from the eastern and western fronts, while Allied bombing attacks virtually destroyed the German air force, clearing the way for the invasion of the continent.

One thing no one doubts however, is the bravery of the thousands of men who flew and died in Bomber Command. Most of the men who served as flight crews were very young, the great majority still in their late teens or early twenties. Crews came from across the globe – from the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and all corners of the Commonwealth, as well as from occupied nations such as France, Poland and Czechoslovakia. 

 

The mortality rate among Bomber Command crews was staggering. With operational losses of up to 50 percent (IWM), a crew member had a worse chance of survival than an infantry officer during World War I. In total, 55,573 airmen died flying with Bomber Command (BC Memorial) during the Second World War, among them the eight young men who formed the gallant crew of Avro Lancaster R5694 EM-F. We salute them and remember the sacrifice they made to assure our future.

Flight Lieutenant Raymund Joseph Hannan, D.F.C

 

The pilot of R5694 EM-F on the fateful evening of November 25th, 1942, was New Zealander, Raymund Joseph Hannan.

Ray was born on August 9th, 1917, in Hāwera in the Taranaki region of New Zealand's North Island, the son of first-generation New Zealander, John Joseph Hannan, and his wife, Helen Mary Hall. Ray’s paternal grandparents and his maternal grandmother had all emigrated to New Zealand from Ireland in the latter quarter of the 19th Century. The family later moved to Palmerston North in the Manawatū-Whanganui region, and it was here that Ray grew up with his brother, Noel, and four sisters, Elizabeth, Joan, Madelyn and Elaine. Ray enjoyed sports, particularly hockey, and in the late 1930s, he played for the 'Black Sticks', the New Zealand national men's field hockey team.


Having already served a year with the RNZAF, Ray came to the UK in August 1939, and in September he volunteered for service with the RAF and was selected for pilot training. Ray completed his ab initio training at the Cambridge Flying School and his further training at No 10 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) at Yatesbury in Wiltshire and No. 28 EFTS at Meir near Stoke-on-Trent. The time taken to qualify as a pilot could vary considerably. At the start of the war it could be as little as six months or about 150 flying hours, although on average it took longer - 200-320 flying hours - especially later on in the war when the pilot training pathway became more stringent (RAF Museum).

Having passed all the required ground course examinations and flight tests, newly qualified pilots like Ray received their Pilot’s Wings and were transferred to Operational Training Units (OTUs) to prepare them for front-line duties. Ray was posted to 14 OTU at RAF Cottesmore where he would learn to fly the Avro Hanson and Handley Page Hampden. The London Gazette recorded Ray as being granted a short-service commission as Acting Pilot Officer on probation from March 23rd, 1940. He was confirmed in the rank of Pilot Officer for the duration of hostilities on September 11th.

In late 1940 Ray contracted a severe case of chicken pox and was admitted to the Leicester Isolation Hospital on the city's Groby Road. There he met and fell in love with registered fever nurse, Barbara Matthews Lowe, a farmer’s daughter whose family lived at Wymeswold in Leicestershire. The couple married in the spring of 1941.

In February 1941, having completed his operational training with 14 OTU, Ray was transferred to 49 Squadron at RAF Scampton. In the early months of the war the squadron was employed on reconnaissance, mine laying and leaflet dropping, but began bombing raids on Germany in the spring of 1940, and throughout the following months many important targets were attacked including ports, industrial centres, shipping, and airfields. The squadron operated the Handley Page Hampden, a British-built, twin-engined, medium bomber; the crew of four were packed into such a cramped fuselage that the aircraft was affectionately known as the ‘Flying Suitcase’. 

Ray flew his first twelve missions with 49 Squadron as a co-pilot before flying his first sortie as captain on May 5th. The mission was a 'gardening' operation, the term given by the RAF to the practice of dropping mines near ports and harbours, and in busy shipping lanes. The mission report stated: Landfall on French coast made then flew at 6000' to gardening area. Bright moon enabled to find position and vegetable successfully planted from 800' in allotted position. No opposition from Flak.

 

Ray flew a total of 29 operational sorties with 49 Squadron, including attacks on the German cities of Bremen, Kiel, Cologne, Hamm, Mannheim, Frankfurt, Hannover and Berlin. His final mission with the squadron was on August 5th when several aircraft from 49 Squadron attacked the German city of Ludwigshafen on the River Rhine. On July 13th, 1941, Ray was promoted to Flying Officer, and on August 25th he was transferred to 25 Operational Training Unit as an instructor. For those who, like Ray, survived their first tour of operations, a break of several months - usually spent as an instructor with a training unit - would be followed by a second and final tour.

 

Formed at RAF Finningley in March 1941 as part of Bomber Command’s No. 7 Group, 25 OTU initially trained pilots on the Handley Page Hampden, but in April 1942 became a training unit for Vickers Wellingtons, the long-range, twin-engined aircraft that was one of the the RAF’s principal bombers and which, together with the Hampden and the Armstrong-Whitworth Whitley, bore the brunt of bombing raids over Germany during the early years of the war.

In October 1941, Ray was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). Established by George V in 1918, the DFC was awarded to Officers and Warrant officers for an act or acts of valour and courage or devotion to duty performed whilst flying in active operations against the enemy.

While serving with 25 OTU as an Acting Flight Lieutenant, Ray was involved in a serious incident that cost the life of one member of his seven man crew. On April 28th, 1942, Ray and the trainee crew of Wellington DV473 were undertaking a night-time, cross-country training flight when a propeller broke off following an engine fire. With the aircraft unable to maintain height on just the one engine, the order was given to bail out. Wireless operator / air gunner 20-year-old Sergeant William Alan Winthrop, who was occupying the rear turret at the time, failed to evacuate and was killed when the aircraft crashed into farm buildings at Rawcliffe Bridge, near Goole in Yorkshire. Three other members of the crew were injured. 

In the summer of 1942, Ray and Barbara were blessed by the birth of a baby daughter whom they named Susan Elaine, and on September 26th, having served a few weeks with 26 OTU at RAF Little Horwood, Ray was posted to 207 Squadron conversion flight at RAF Swinderby in preparation for his second tour of operations flying the Avro Lancaster. It is during his time at Swinderby that Ray would have met the comrades who were to form his crew. 

After a couple of weeks of training on the Lancaster, flying circuits and landings by both day and night, plus a few cross-country flights. Ray was posted to 207 Squadron at RAF Langar. Pilots on their first tour of operations would typically fly their first few operational sorties with an experienced second pilot acting as aircraft captain, however, Ray was on his second tour of operations, and his first sortie with 207 Squadron was flown as captain. Over the next few weeks Ray and his crew undertook four missions with the squadron. The mission details from the squadron operation record book (ORB) bring to life the frightening reality of the dangers that bomber crews faced every time they took off.

October 17th, 1942

 

Lancaster MkI W4191 EM-Q

F/O R J Hannan, Sgt J K B Lee, Sgt B L Litolff, Sgt P J Thompson, Sgt B L M Jenkin, Sgt J B Burton, Sgt R E D Piper

Take off 12.24

Landed 22.30 at RAF Croughton [Northamptonshire]

Primary Le Creusot attacked at 18.11 from 4000 feet with 14 SBC x 30lb incendiaries in conditions of good visibility and no clouds. Target clearly identified and bomb bursts seen across shed in centre of steel works. All three works well hit, numerous fires starting throughout after bombing. One stick of bombs on railway siding. Aircraft took off late and caught up formation near South Coast. Successful. No photo.

 

By late 1942, very few RAF operations were undertaken in daylight, one of the exceptions was the raid, codenamed 'Operation Robinson', that Ray and his crew took part in on October 17th. A force of 94 Lancaster bombers from No. 5 Group, including 15 from RAF Langar, penetrated deep into enemy airspace in broad daylight to attack the Schneider steel and weapons factories and a nearby power station in the town of Le Creusot, in the French Region of Burgundy. German defences in the area were relatively weak, so the attack was carried out at low altitude in order to minimise French civilian casualties. Intelligence reports and reconnaissance flights carried out during the following days confirmed that the raid had been successful although some damage was caused to civilian residential areas.

The Bomber Command personnel employed to keep the Avro Lancaster flying, taken at RAF Scampton c. 1942.

Front row: flying control officer, WAAF parachute packer, meteorological officer, seven aircrew (pilot, navigator,

bomb aimer, flight engineer, wireless operator/air gunner

and two air gunners). Second row: flight maintenance crew (fitters, maintenance mechanics, electrical mechanics, instrument repairer, radio mechanic). Back rows: bomb loading team and WAAF tractor driver with a bomb train of Small Bomb Containers (SBCs).

Flight Lieutenant Raymund Joseph Hannan DFC,

pilot of Lancaster R5694 EM-F.

Ray (front row, third from right) with the New Zealand

men's field hockey team.

Ray and Barbara on their wedding day in June 1941.

A Hampden from 49 Squadron being loaded for a mission © IWM

Scroll.jpg

The Memorial Scroll received by Ray's wife, Barbara,

following his death.

Lancaster bombers from No. 5 Group flying over Montrichard in France en route to Le Creusot, Oct 17th, 1942.

 

October 22nd, 1942

 

Lancaster MkI R5756 EM-D

F/O R J Hannan, Sgt J K B Lee, Sgt B L Litolff, Sgt P J Thompson, Sgt B L M Jenkin, Sgt J B Burton, Sgt R E D Piper

Take off 17.44

Landed 03.30 RAF North Luffenham [Rutland]

Primary target Genoa attached at 21.46 hours from 10,000 feet with 8 SBC x 4lb incendiaries in good visibility and no cloud. Identified visually and bombs seen to burst near aiming point, but results not pinpointed. Several large fires seen, two in centre of town. Photo shows fires.

October 22nd marked the first RAF area bombing raid on an Italian city with a large force of heavy bombers taking off from various RAF bases to attack the port city of Genoa. They dropped a total of 179 tons of bombs with the aiming point being the picturesque Piazza De Ferrari in the centre of the city. The raid was followed up by a second attack the following night and further attacks on the city were undertaken throughout the next few weeks. The Pathe News reel (left), filmed during the October raids, was played in cinemas throughout the country and gives a dramatic sense of what Ray and his crew would have witnessed that night.

October 24th, 1942

Lancaster MkI R5756 EM-D

F/O R J Hannan, Sgt J K B Lee, Sgt B L Litolff, Sgt P J Thompson, Sgt B L M Jenkin, Sgt J B Burton, Sgt R E D Piper

Take off: 12.36

Landed: 21.59 [Langar]

Primary target Milan attacked at 17.08 hours from 6,000 feet with 4 SBC x 4lb incendiaries and 6 SBC x 30lb incendiaries in conditions of 8-9/10th cloud. Identified visually but bursts not pinpointed. Large fire observed in centre of town. Uneventful trip. Port outer revs and boost dropped and would not pick up.

 

On October 24th, in another rare daylight bombing raid, Ray and his crew were part of a force of over 70 Lancasters that dropped 135 tons of bombs, including 30,000 incendiaries, over the Italian city of Milan. The aiming point was the Duomo Di Milano, the city’s beautiful cathedral, the earliest parts of which date from the 14th Century. Although there was significant damage to various areas of the city, the bombers failed to hit the cathedral on this occasion although the building was severely damaged in later raids.

 

November 13th, 1942

 

Lancaster MkI R5745 EM-T

F/Lt R J Hannan, Sgt J K B Lee, Sgt B L Litolff, Sgt P J Thompson, Sgt B L M Jenkin, Sgt J B Burton, Sgt R E D Piper

Took off 18.18

Landed: 04.25 at RAF Tangmere [West Sussex]

Primary Genoa attacked 22.20 from 10,000 feet in good visibility with 2 x 1000lb G.P. 7* SBC 90 x 4lb incendiaries. Identified visually by flares but bursts not seen. More searchlights than usual but inaccurate. Intercom and T.R.9 both packed up. Photo plotted aiming point A.

 

This was the fifth area bombing raid on the city of Genoa. A force of 70 heavy bombers attacked the main city and the port area causing significant damage. Genoa was systemically blitzed throughout the war, and by 1945, three-quarters of the city’s industrial plants had been destroyed. Much of the city’s cultural and historical centre also suffered with many beautiful churches and palaces reduced to rubble.

Pilot's instrument panel.jpg

Avro Lancaster pilot's instrument panel.

The grave of F/Lt Raymund Joseph Hannan DFC,

St. Mary's Churchyard, Botttesford.

It can be seen from the above mission details that Ray and his crew flew a variety of different aircraft with 207 Squadron. While bomber crews often stayed together as a team and in the same aircraft with which they could become intimately familiar, it was not unusual for them to fly another aircraft - for example, if their plane had been damaged or if another one more appropriate for the mission became available, and Ray's crew had probably not been together long enough to have been allocated a specific aircraft. Crews would sometimes split up as a result of reassignment, injuries or illness, with individuals moving to different aircraft. This seems to have been the case for the fateful mission scheduled for November 25th. Ray’s crew on the previous four missions had included Sgt Bernard Leo Litolff, however for the raid on Bad Zwischenahn, Litolff was dropped and two new crew members added, John Sanders and Albert Roberts.

It is interesting to note that aircraft faults were recorded on two out of the four sorties that Ray’s crew flew. The Field Detectives’ report ‘The Search for the Crash Site of Avro Lancaster Mk1 R5694 EM-F’ provides an insight into the possible circumstances surrounding the fatal crash of November 25th, 1942, but in reality, we will likely never know the exact cause, and a fault or damage to the aircraft may have been a contributory factor.

Ray Hannan is buried in St. Mary’s Churchyard in Bottesford together with four of his crew. Ray’s wife, Barbara, was devastated by his death and never remarried. She continued to live in Leicestershire with her parents and daughter, Susan, initially in Wymeswold then later in Long Whatton, before moving to Gloucester. Barbara died in November 2006; she is buried beside her parents at the Church of St. Michael and All Angels in Long Whatton.

The Goadby Marwood History Group is immensely grateful to Ray's daughter, Sue, and grandchildren, Charles and Annabel, for sharing their memorabilia.

 

Flight Sergeant John Kennerleigh Barnett Lee

 

At 29 years of age, John Kennerleigh Barnett Lee, known to his friends and family as Ken, was the oldest member of the crew of R5694 EM-F, and as the navigator he had a pivotal role to play. Prior to 1942, the RAF operated twin-engined medium bombers like the Handley Page Hampden, each of which had a crew comprising two pilots, the second acting as navigator/bomb aimer, plus dual-role aircrew acting as wireless operator and air gunner. When the heavy bombers were introduced, a flight engineer replaced the second pilot and the other crew members were given single, specialised roles. As the navigator, Ken would have been responsible for keeping the aircraft on course at all times, reaching the target and then the home base. He would have needed to maintain a high level of concentration for virtually the whole of the flight, which could be as long as ten hours or more.

Ken trained for his role as a navigator with the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in Canada. Besides sending troops, aircrew, and sailors to Britain to participate directly in the fight, it was decided in 1939 that Canada would assume a secondary training role and train all Commonwealth aircrew. The scheme was called the British Empire Air Training Plan (BETP) and undertook to train aircrew on a scale never seen before. The BETP was later renamed the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) at the request of Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In November 1941, Ken was recorded on the nominal roll of No. 28 Air Observers Course at Pennfield Ridge, New Brunswick. Following his training in Canada, he returned to the UK and was posted to 14 Operational Training Unit at RAF Cottesmore for advanced training in preparation for front-line duties. On July 21st, 1942, he was transferred to 207 Squadron.

Ken’s first operational sortie with 207 Squadron was from RAF Swinderby on August 27th on board Avro Lancaster Mk1 R5549 EM-H captained by experienced pilot, Squadron Leader William Denys Butterworth ‘Babe’ Ruth DFC.  The mission was a large-scale bombing raid on the German city of Kassel, location of the Fieseler aircraft plant which built the Messerschmidt 109 and Focke-Wulf 190. The operation involved over 300 aircraft from four different Bomber Command Groups and a total of 31 aircraft failed to return, more than ten percent of the bomber force. R5549s mission report stated: Primary target Kassel town centre attacked at 23.54 hours from 11,500 feet, with 1 x 4000 lb H.C. and 10 SBS x 30lb incendiaries in very hazy conditions. Target identified visually and centre of town was in sights at release. Bomb bursts were followed by several fires. 16 bundles G41 nickels dropped with bombs. Aircraft slightly holed in front by flak.

Ken Lee (left) pictured with two of his comrades. The white flash on Ken's forage cap indicates aircrew in training.

The Fiesseler aircraft factory in Kassel, central Germany.

Ken flew on two further bombing raids with Ruth. On September 1st Ruth’s crew joined a force of 230 aircraft on a mission to attack the German town of Saarbrucken, but the Pathfinders had mistakenly illuminated the wrong location and the small, non-industrial town of Saarlouis was accidentally bombed instead causing widespread damage to the town and surrounding villages. On September 4th, Ruth and his crew were part of a force of 250 aircraft that attacked the coastal city of Bremen, location of aircraft manufacturer, Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau AG, as well as several important shipyards.

On September 29th, Ken joined 207 Conversion Flight at RAF Swinderby where he became part of Ray Hannan’s crew in training. Together with the rest of the crew he transferred back to the main squadron on October 15th ready for further front-line operations.

Ken was the only one of R5694’s eight crew members who survived the crash, although tragically he died the following day. His grave marker at St. Mary’s Churchyard in Bottesford gives his date of death as November 26th, 1942, the day after the crash.

The Goadby Marwood History Group is extremely grateful to Ken’s niece, Penny Buchan, who now takes up his story:

My uncle, John Kennerleigh Barnett Lee (Ken) was born in 1913, the fourth son of James Lee and Sybella Margaret Augusta Barnett.

His father James came from a long line of Devon farmers and, at this time, farmed at Manor Farm, Kennerleigh, just north of Crediton, Devon. His mother, Sybella, always known as Birdie, was from South Africa.  The story of their meeting is a romantic one.

We understand that James went to South Africa around 1899/1900 to fight in the Boer War when he met and fell in love with Sybella, the daughter of Captain Charles Barnett and Maria Morkell, then of Somerset West.  They did not approve the match and James returned to England without her. He was not to be deterred and returned to South Africa to try again. Sybella was evidently quite a spirited young lady. She was born in Yokohama where her father was serving and she often dressed in Japanese style clothing. She had studied in Paris under Sarah Bernhart and was quite a figure in Cape society. Apparently Ketawyo, the King of the Zulus, had offered 1000 head of cattle for her hand in marriage but she had refused to be his ‘third’ wife. It seems the idea of a different life in a new country was appealing, presumably she was in love with James, agreed to marry him and return to England. They married in 1904.

They had five sons, James Barnett, 1906, Charles Alexander Barnett, 1908, Stanley William Barnett 1910, John Kennerleigh Barnett 1913 and Cedric Barnett 1914. Sadly, James Lee died in 1916 and Birdie and her family had to move from the farm and went to live in Exeter.

We don’t know a lot about their young life. Tales told by Stanley, my father, give a picture of young boys having a fairly typical outdoor life with some interesting escapades, one concerned some high jinks when Charles broke his leg and was confined to a wheelchair for a time.

We think they all went to Exeter Grammar school. Charles, Stanley and Cedric played Rugby for Exeter. It seems Ken enjoyed being out of doors.  My brother John, named after Ken, remembers our father talking about he and Ken going camping and fishing together.  My mother remembered Ken as a kind and delightful young man who could sit at the piano and play anything.

We know Ken worked as a cocoa buyer/trader for Nestle, records show him travelling from Lagos to England on two occasions, the last in 1940.  My cousin, Jeremy Lee, has a carved wooden tray made in West Africa, presumably a gift from Ken to Birdie.

Ken had joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve probably before he went to Africa, then joined the RAF on his return and went on to become a navigator based with RAF Bomber Command.  In 1942 he was with 207 Squadron flying in Lancasters, based at RAF Langar.

He was killed in November 1942, returning from a mission, when their plane was diverted due to poor weather conditions but crashed near Goadby Marwood when all the crew were killed. Ken is buried at St. Marys Church, Bottesford.

The War must have been a terrible time for Birdie. Her five sons were all in the armed forces.  James joined the Devon regiment, finally going to Burma; Charles was in the Navy, much of it on convoy escort; Stanley joined the Royal Signals and was posted to the Middle East in late 40/early 41 finally returning in June 1945; Cedric, the youngest, was also in the Devon regiment and was wounded in Germany.  All but Ken returned and lived until their seventies.

Birdie continued to live in Exeter with Charles, his wife Phyllis and their son Jeremy.  She died in 1966 aged 96.

Ken's mother, Birdie, in traditional Japanese dress.

Ken Lee, probably taken before he enlisted, c. late 1930s.

Lancaster R5694 EM-F Memorial Fund

Goadby Marwood History Group is raising funds to honour the sacrifice made by Ray, Ken and the rest of the crew of R5694 EM-F with a permanent memorial that will be located on a public footpath near the banks of the small stream where the aircraft crashed almost 80 years ago. If you would like to contribute please follow the link below.

© 2021 Goadby Marwood History Group