The last mission – Harold Bertram Hale and 223 Squadron’s Liberator (TS526) (T) 20/21 March 1945

H B Hale Death presumedH B Hale JU88sH B Hale001Sixty-eight years ago Flight Officer Harold Bertram Hale flew his last mission. Two months before the Second World War ended in Europe Bomber Command was still flying missions to bomb German industrial targets. The 21st March was marked as the day Flight Officer Norman Ayres’ crew, of which Harold was Wireless Operator, were scheduled for leave, but on the 20th March 1945 they were called upon for a mission to bomb the synthetic oil producing plant at Böhlen near Leipzig and the Heide oil refinery at Hemmingstedt. The crew flew in a Liberator (TS526) (T). The crew became part of the western Window force leading a feint attack on Kassel but as it turned away from Kassel it was hit. The evidence assembled by Squadron Leader Richard Forder and Steve Bond’s recent book, Special Ops Liberators: 223 (Bomber Support) Squadron, 100 Group, and the Electric War, suggests that it was hit by Hauptmann Johannes Hager flying in Me 110 G4. Harold’s Liberator spun out of control. The pilot Norman Ayres was attempting to keep it under control, evidenced by the crew’s attempts to lighten the aircraft and thereby keep it in the air. Unfortunately it faced wooded rising ground and all but one survivor were killed.

Harold had had a remarkable RAF career until the fateful evening of the 20/21 March 1945. He attended Emanuel School between 1930 and 1937 and lived in Allfarthing Lane, Wandsworth. His Observer’s and Air Gunner’s Flying Log Book, of which extracts are included below, offers us a window into Harold’s life and enables us to follow him throughout his war experiences. After two years training he arrived at 10 OTU at Abingdon, flying missions on the Armstrong-Whitworth Whitely. His mission work involved convoy patrols and anti-submarine sweeps. On the fourth September 1942 the Whitley (6985) (R) on which he was Wireless Operator came under attack from two Ju (Junkers) 88s, but the attack was broken off just in time.

Harold married his girlfriend Doris Sands at St. Paul’s church, Hammersmith during the war and on the 68th anniversary of Harold’s death we should take time to reflect on how Doris and Harold’s family must have felt when news of his last mission was received.

Harold’s story can be discovered in 2014 at an exhibition detailing the role played by Emanuel boys in two world wars. His last mission is also fully detailed in Steve Bond and Richard Forder’s, Special Ops Liberators: 223 (Bomber Support) Squadron, 100 Group, and the Electric War (Grub Street, 2011).

The images reproduced here are taken from Harold’s RAF Observer’s and Air Gunner’s Flying Log Book and show details of the mission in which his aircraft was attacked by two JU 88s; his last mission and the RAF’s Central Depository death presumed stamp.

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