Altrincham WW2 

Drew Rothwell Cullen Wyness D.F.C.

Rank:Sqn LeaderNumber:103028
Ship/Rgn/Sqn No:617 Sqn RAFVR
Name of Rgt or Ship:Bomber Command
How Died:Murdered
Country of burial:FranceGrave Photo:No
Cemetery or Memorial:Choloy Cemetery
Town Memorial:Not Listed
Extra Information:
Attended Stretford Grammar School and Hutton School near Preston.   Member
of Sale R.U.F.C.   Married a Miss Ruth Siddle in July 1941, the daughter of
Mr. & Mrs. W.K. Siddle of Cheadle Hulme.

Sale R.U.F.C. centenary book states that he was a Flight Lieutenant and was
killed on operations.  Listed on the Sale RUFC Memorial.

The 30/04/43 edition of the local newspaper has an article on him - that he
had taken part in bombing raids over both Germany and Italy, notably
Creusot and Milan.  His aircraft was the first over Creusot and the B.B.C.
asked him to broadcast his experiences as Captain of a Lancaster bomber in
action in a latter raid.

617 Sqn's Bombing Raid on the Kemb's Dam - 7th October 1944

They took off at 13.10 hours from RAF Woodhall Spa in a Lancaster Mk I -
No. NG180 KC-S to bomb Kembs Dam.  Nearing the aiming point at 600 feet,
they were hit by light Flak.  On fire with two engines out of action, they
flew north before being put down in the Rhine, near to the Franco-German
border town of Chalampe.  It is believed that they all survived, only to
lose their lives later that afternoon.

There was cloud at 3,000 feet, but there was a clear patch over the target
- 13 Lancaster bombers took part in the raid, accompanied by a Mosquito
photographic a/c and 34 Mustang III fighters of the 2nd Tactical Air
Force's 133 Wing (American).   Each Lancaster carried one Tallboy bomb with
a 25 second delay.

The attack was scheduled for late afternoon and the rendezvous with the
escort was to be over Dungeness. Tait ordered the squadron to 4,000ft and
then called Wing Commander Jan Zumbach, the fighter leader. Within a few
minutes the Mustangs lifted out of the cloud to meet them and the formation
headed out across the Channel. 129 Sqn were to cover the high force, 315
the low force and 306 would strafe the flak.
Never a man to order others to do something he would not do himself, Tait
was leading the low force, leaving Fawke in charge of the high one. Patches
of cloud as they approached the target indicated that the seven Lancaster's
above him would have some cover, but there would be none for his group.
Although his attack height would not be as low as that for Chastise, if
anyone was seriously hit their only hope of survival would be a
crash-landing. The Rhine, covered by enemy fire, would not be a soft place
to ditch into. Not far away was the Swiss frontier, but this was not too
welcoming either, as Watts discovered when he flew too close arid 'neutral'
flak hit his starboard outer engine. He feathered it, swung further to the
left and kept going.

Apart from this, the flight to the French town of Besançon went smoothly
enough. At this point the low force did an orbit and 129 Sqn went on with
Fawke's group, meeting only a little flak. Basle slid by below on their
right, their bomb doors opened and from the target three miles ahead Tait
could see heavy fire being directed at Fawke's formation, followed by a
series of splashes as their Tallboys struck the river.
So far, so good, but the defences were heavier than expected and their luck
could not hold indefinitely. At his call 306 Sqn's Mustangs dived out of
the sun. For a moment Tait thought the flak had not seen him, but then
white tracer came wobbling up from the east bank of the river. He felt the
aircraft jump as the bomb dropped away, slammed the throttles forward and
heard his rear gunner open fire as they passed over the barrage.

Tait commented afterwards, 'Weather was touch and go near the target, but
the target itself was clear of cloud below bombing height and visibility
was good. The high force had bombed before I reached the target and all
traces of the bursts had disappeared, so that I could not assess the high
bombing and there appeared to be no damage to the target. All of the
sluices were closed. Our bomb landed in the correct position ten yards
short of the target. It did not bounce:

Bomb release trouble caused several overshoots from the high force, two of
whose Tallboys fell as much as 600 yards west of the barrage. Two more from
the low one fell forty to fifty yards away. Tait's bomb was seen to hit the
left side of the barrage. Watts overshot by fifty yards, as did Martin,
after making a second run. Sayer's also made two runs, but as he opened his
bomb doors on the second one an electrical fault caused the bomb to fall
off prematurely through one of them, buckling it. Cockshott hit Tait's
slipstream and so his Tallboy fell wide. Sanders overshot by fifty yards,
his bomb falling into the river behind the target, as did that of Joplin.
Due to a late and manual release, Gingles' bomb fell onto a railway line.
Iveson's Tallboy struck the bank some four hundred yards from the barrage,
while Castagnola's fell between the first and second piers. Fawke had his
hang-up on two runs, releasing it manually on the third, but it still fell
five seconds late, onto the west bank of the river.

Two aircraft were lost — both, almost inevitably, from the low force.
Wyness was hit repeatedly but dropped his bomb before crashing into the
Rhine near the Franco-German border town of Chalampe. A hung-up bomb made
Howard elect to make another low-level run and light flak blew his port
wing off. The Lancaster crashed at the village of Efringen-Kirchen, just
inside Germany. There were no survivors from either crew. One of 306 Sqn's
Mustangs was hit, but its pilot carried on and returned with the others.
Three Lancaster's came home damaged, including Tait's, with a hit in its
port wing-root and a tyre shot away.
No less hazardous was the task of the Mosquito crew from 627. Flight
Lieutenants Hanlon and Tice made two runs over the target, at 1740 at 3,000
ft, then at 6,000 ft eleven minutes later. On their first one they saw one
bomb burst some two hundred yards south of the west end of the barrage,
soon followed by another burst 'which appeared to blow out westerly span.
Water started to pour through gap and there were ripples extending 200-250
yards upstream.'  This operation never attained the fame of Chastise, but
it was no less demanding for those who ran the gauntlet that afternoon. It
quickly became clear that it had been completely successful. The Tallboys
had destroyed the iron superstructure above the first and second pillars on
the barrage's west side, causing the water upstream to fall dramatically.

The German press could say little, but the Swiss National Zeitung
The breaching of the Kemb's Dam has lowered the water level in the Rhine
basin at Basle, necessitating the transfer of boats from the first basin to
the second. At 2100 hours the level of the Rhine fell by three to three and
a half metres. Below Kemb's the water released is estimated at millions of
cubic metres and has apparently caused flooding everywhere, for the German
authorities have given the water alarm. So far it is not known whether
navigation on the Rhine will be completely suspended.

The crew members were:- Pilot: Wing Commander Wyness, aged: 24 and Wireless
Operator/Air Gunner Bruce James Hosie RNZAF, aged: 21 - are both buried at
Choloy Cemetery, France;    The Navigator - Flight Lt. Ronald Henry
Williams, aged: 22 and Herbert Walter Honig, aged: 22 - are both buried at
the Dürnbach Cemetery, Germany;    Flight Sgt Thomas James Hurdiss, aged:
23 - Flight Sgt Thomas Horrocks and Flying officer George Edward Cansell,
aged: 21 are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

A Remembrance Day Reflection by Bryan Stone

I am often asked, 'What was it like, here, in wartime?'. To imagine, let's
look at Autumn 1944. On the 31st October 1944, a public meeting took place
in the Kunsthalle, Basel.  British Consul Joseph Pyke had called it, to
promote (with Government encouragement) the creation of a greater sense of
British identity and culture, and to promote an understanding of British
war and political aims. About 80 British residents of Basel and the region
were invited. They named a small team of five persons, to prepare
proposals, to be discussed a fortnight later.
The Second World War was entering its last winter. While Consul Pyke was
holding his meeting, two French colonial regiments were gradually fighting
through the Sundgau villages, reaching the Rhein by the 19th November. 
Fighting in Alsace could often be heard from Basel and the Leimental. 
There was still an SS barracks in St Louis.  Further downstream, the US
Army planned to cross the Rhein, near Mainz.  At Kembs, 8 km from the
Marktplatz in Basel, there is a barrage, damming the Rhein, built in the
1920s to allow cargo ships to reach Basel at all times. A danger was
foreseen that the Germans might open it to prevent, by flooding, a
The US Army had called on the Royal Air Force to destroy the barrage,
releasing the water. 617 Squadron, the famous 'Dambusters', who had in 1943
destroyed dams in the Ruhr with then secret methods, were now used for such
unusual raids, involving high accuracy and very heavy specialised bombs.
They flew by daylight, often at low level, with 4-engined Lancaster
bombers. They had an unusual record of decorations, but also frightening
On October 7 1944 Wing Commander Willie Tait led 617's Lancasters, each
with one 6-ton 'Tailboy' bomb, to attack the Kembs barrage. Seven flew at
6000' from the Altkirch direction, and six at 1000' from the south,
skirting the Basel frontier. It had been a foggy Saturday in Basel. At
16.45 the sirens and the sound of heavy low-level aircraft engines were a
surprise. Niklaus, then a boy, now my neighbour, was taken on his roof in
Basel to watch the action, which was also photographed from the Silo in the
Rhein port. Two Lancasters were hit by anti-aircraft fire, one crashing
near Märkt in Baden, where all 8 crew died. Another crashed into the Rhein
near Kembs village. The crew escaped, three reaching the Alsace bank, but
never seen again. Sqn-Ldr Wyness and three others took to the dinghy. Near
Rheinweller, a Gestapo agent, Meissner, and Kreisleiter Grüner of LOrrach
captured them. Gruner shot them summarily, throwing the bodies in the

The attack was almost a failure. The planes had gone before the 30-minute
fuse detonated the 'tailboys'. Only one bomb had reached its target, but
this was enough to breach the barrage and release the water. The heavy
explosions shattered several shop windows in the Basel inner city. In Basel
barges grounded as the river and harbour emptied. It would be two years
before shipping restarted. The Americans did not cross the Rhein; held up
by German resistance further north, in the 'Colmar pocket', not eliminated
until February 2, their first crossing was at Remagen in March 1945.
Captured documents confirmed that the German army had indeed intended to
open the Kembs barrage, and also to let all the water out of the
Schluchsee, in the Black Forest, and open the barrages in Laufenburg and
Rheinfelden.  Gruner, who shot Wyness and his crew, was captured in
Lörrach on May 6 1945, charged in Strasbourg and condemned to death. He
escaped and has never been recaptured.
Consul Pyke held his second meeting in the Kunsthalle on November 14 1944.
The minutes, which we have, make no mention of the war which had come to
their doorstep. The 80 invited members of the 'British Colony' agreed there
to found the 'British Circle', now 60 years old, and our then Chaplain,
Rev. Richard Hudson Courtenay, became a member.

This article draws on reports in the Basler Nachrichten, in October 1944,
and on research kindly supplied by the Lincolnshire Aviation Society.

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