Handley-Page Halifax bomber to be raised from sea

RCAF-Americans banner compositionHalifax Recovery image2 April 2016 | Nanton, Alberta and Sweden. As Karl Kjarsgaard and the Bomber Command Museum of Canada / Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada), in conjunction with Havsresan of Lund University, recovery team heads to Sweden in their quest to recover a Handley-Page Halifax heavy bomber that is resting just a few miles offshore of the south tip of Sweden under 50 feet of water.

This venture is not simply of interest to Canadians because it is now known that at least 23 Americans who served with Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) No. 405 Squadron, the unit which operated the Halifax, during the Second World War died while in service. Once on Canadian soil the venerable Halifax will be a testament to all the men of the RCAF, including the RCAF-Americans and Royal Air Force (RAF) aviators, fitters, riggers and armorers who valiantly and selfishly braved flak and Luftwaffe night fighters to take the war to Nazi Germany or labored to maintain and repair the behemoths.

Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada) logo.On 8 August 1943 RCAF Halifax Bomber B.II (registration number HR871) landed in the Baltic Sea just off the southern coast of Swedish coast. All 7 crewmen successfully bailed out prior to the ditching. Since that fateful day, some 73 years ago, HR871 has lain in a watery grave.

However, in a recent online posting Karl Kjarsgaard announced the following: “Halifax 57 Rescue and Havsresan are pleased to announce after months of negotiations we have official Swedish government permission to salvage this RCAF Halifax bomber” and he appealed to Canadians and Americans to support the recovery initiative. Kjarsgaard wrote, “We are appealing to all Canadians and history fans to help fund and support the recovery of HR871 this summer and bring her home to Canada. With your help we can save Halifax HR871, literally from the sands of time.”

RACF Flag emotiveKarl Kjarsgaard also announced that Lieutenant-General Hood, Commander of the RCAF, “has assured us of his support as we move forward so we will build up even more support for this project with his endorsement.”

BCMC artist image with textMr. Kjarsgaard’s research led to the discovery of the fact that Halifax HR871 served with No. 405 Squadron, which is this year celebrating its 75th anniversary.

Karl indicated that during the 4 years the bomber squadron was based in England “a total of 776 airmen were lost in combat in 405 Squadron with [in addition to 527 Canadian RCAF personnel] 23 RCAF-Americans from 20 different states  killed-in-action and a total of 224 Royal Air Force lads killed flying in 405 Squadron Vickers Wellingtons, Handley-Page Halifaxes and Avro Lancasters.”

One of the RCAF-Americans was Tom Withers Jr. of Roseland, Virginia. Karl Kjarsgaard recently met with the family of the air gunner. Karl noted that, “Tom’s sentiments probably reflected those of many of his RCAF-American mates. In fact, he posted letters home that spoke of his combat tour with 405 Squadron.” In one correspondence Withers wrote the following:  “. . . to say goodbye to you was not an easy thing for me to do. However, I believe you both will understand that I could not well do anything else since everything that I, as well as both of you, believe in is now in a very precarious position. My training, inclinations, and whatever abilities I may have, seem best suited for the choice that I have made. And there is no question of serving Canada to the neglect of my mother country. He who serves Great Britain or any of its Dominions also serves the U.S. and vice versa. Our differences are in arbitrary boundary lines only. Love, Tom.”

A Halifax B II Series I. Photo: RAF/Public Domain

A Halifax B II Series I bomber.
Photo: RAF/Public Domain via Wikipedia

On 27 July 1942 Tom Withers, Jr.’s Halifax W1230, of 405 Squadron, RCAF, was shot down over Germany. Forever young, Withers remains rest with his Canadian crewmates in the Allied War Cemetery at Kiel, Germany.

The Americans killed with 405 Squadron include the following airmen:

Flight Lieutenant (F/Lt) Richard T. Botkin. Position: Air Gunner. Aircraft: Avro Lancaster JA980. Date of Death: 8 October 1943. Hometown: Lexington, Kentucky. He was buried in Germany.

Flying Officer (F/O) Robert S. Butterworth. Position: Bombaimer. Aircraft: Avro Lancaster PB451. Date of Death: 18 March 1945. Hometown: Richville, New York. He was  buried in Germany.

Sergeant (Sgt) Robert J. Cavanaugh. Position: Air Gunner. Aircraft: Handley Page Halifax W1096. Date of Death: 17 November 1942. He died in a flying accident. Hometown: Mason City, Iowa. Cavanaugh was buried in the United Kingdom.

Flying Officer (F/O) Franklin H. Cummer. Position: Pilot. Aircraft: Avro Lancaster PB650. Date of Death:-28 January 1945. Hometown: Seattle, Washington. he was buried in Germany.

Flight Sergeant (F/Sgt) Winston J. Dickinson. Position: Wireless Air Gunner. Aircraft: Handley Page Halifax W1113. Date of Death: 29 June 1942. Hometown: Houlton, Maine. He was buried in Holland.

Flight Sergeant (F/Sgt) William J. Harrell. Position: Pilot. Aircraft Handley Page  Halifax W1113. Date of Death: 29 June 1942. Hometown:Eastman, Georgia. He was buried in Holland.

Flight Sergeant (F/Sgt) Joseph W. Kucinsky. Position: Air Gunner. Aircraft: Handley Page Halifax HR816. Date of Death: 24 June 1943. Hometown: Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. He was buried in Germany.

Flight Sergeant (F/Sgt) Paul J. Maroney. Position: Air Gunner. Aircraft: Handley Page Halifax W1152. Date of Death: 8 November 1942. Hometown: Angola, New York. He was listed as MIA and his name appears on the Runnymede Memorial.

Warrant Officer (W/O) Edward W. Murphy. Position: Pilot. Aircraft: Handley Page Halifax DG228. Date of Death: 2 October 1942. Hometown: Dorchester, Massachusetts. He was buried in Holland.

Flight Lieutenant (F/Lt) Sidney L. Murrell, DFC. Position: Pilot. Aircraft: Handley Page Halifax JD124. Date of Death: 21 June 1943. Hometown: Gainesville, Texas. He was buried in Germany as a POW.

Flight Sergeant (F/Sgt) Charles J. Neubert. Position: Air Gunner. Aircraft: Handley Page Halifax DG228. Date of Death: 2 October 1942. Hometown: New York City, New York. He was  buried in Holland.

Flying Officer (F/O) Edward C. Olsen. Position: Pilot. Aircraft: Handley Page Halifax W7710. Date of Death: 1 October 1942. Hometown: Pendleton, Oregon. He was buried in Germany.

Sergeant (Sgt) Warren F. Pickett. Position: Air Gunner. Aircraft: Handley Page Halifax W7707. Date of Death: 30 May 1942. Hometown: Foster, Oklahoma. Listed as MIA. His name is on the Runnymede Memorial.

Flight Sergeant (F/Sgt) Clinton L. Pudney. Position: Air Gunner. Aircraft: Handley Page Halifax HR832. Date of Death: 16 June 1943. Hometown: Buffalo, New York. He was  buried in the United Kingdom.

Pilot Officer (P/O) John Rankin, Jr. Position: Air Gunner. Aircraft: Handley Page Halifax HR813. Date of Death:  3 July 1943. Hometown: Moosic, Pennsylvania. He was buried in Belgium.

Flying Officer (F/O) Carl J. Shagena, Jr. Position: Bombaimer. Aircraft: Handley Page HALIFAX DT633. Date of Death: 21 February 1943. Hometown: Detroit, Michigan. He was buried in the United Kingdom.

Warrant Officer (W/O) Stewart Sleeth. Position: Bombaimer. Aircraft: Handley Page Halifax JB920. Date of Death: 26 April 1943. Hometown: Detroit, Michigan. He was  buried in Germany.

Flying Officer (F/O) Temple D. Trippe. Position: Bombaimer. Aircraft: Avro Lancaster JB120. date of Death: 27 September 1943. Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland. He was listed as MIA and his name is on the Runnymede Memorial.

Sergeant (Sgt) Benjamin W. Turner, Jr. Position: Air Gunner. Aircraft: Handley Page Halifax DT633. date of Death: 21 February 1943. Hometown: Anderson, Indiana. He was  buried in the United Kingdom.

Pilot Officer (P/O) William S. Tyler. Position: Wireless Air Gunner. Aircraft: Vickers Wellington W5427. Date of Death: 14 April 1942. Hometown: Corpus Christie, Texas. He was buried in Germany.

Flight Sergeant (F/Sgt) Woodrow W. Waddell. Position: Navigator. Aircraft: Handley Page Halifax W1152. Date of Death: 8 November 1942. Hometown: Cottonwood Falls, Kansas. He was listed as  MIA  and his name is on the Runnymede Memorial.

Flight Sergeant (F/Sgt) Thomas A. Withers. Position: Air Gunner. Aircraft: Handley Page Halifax W1230. date of Death: 26 July 1942. Hometown: Roseland, Virginia. He was buried in Germany.

Bomber Command Museum of Canada records indicate, according to Mr. Kjarsgaard, that “over 10,000 RAF lads and over 8,000 RCAF-Americans flew in Canadian RCAF bombers from English bases. Some 70% of all bomber combat done by these crews in Canadian bombers were flown on the Handley page Halifax, and yet there is not a single extant Canadian Halifax existing today.”

Karl continued, “Of this total of Americans and Brits who flew in Canadian Halifaxes 1,592 were British and 835 Americans, who hailed from all of the then 48 states in the union were killed in action.” As an aside, Mr. Kjarsgaard stated: “We have all their names and hometowns.” Karl Kjarsgaard is currently in Sweden pursuing the sunken Halifax.

Aviation history aficionados in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Commonwealth of Nations are urged to support this justifiable and very worthwhile endeavor. You can help to bring this Halifax to Canada. Click on this link to make a contribution of any amount to the cause: Support the Recovery of a RCAF Halifax Bomber

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The author (John Stemple) thanks Karl Kjarsgaard and Bomber Command Museum of Canada and the affiliated Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada) for their assistance and cooperation during the preparation of this article.

Suggested Viewings

Sources and Suggested Readings

405 Squadron

http://www.rcaf-arc.forces.gc.ca/en/14-wing/405-squadron.page

405 Squadron

http://www.canadianwings.com/Gallery/galleryDetail.php?Nos.-424-405-Squadron-Photographs-24

405 Squadron

http://www.bombercommandmuseum.ca/squadron_405.html

405 Squadron

http://www.raf.mod.uk/history/bombercommandno405squadron.cfm

405 Squadron

http://www.canadianwings.com/Squadrons/squadronDetail.php?No.-405-Squadron-64

405 Squadron

http://www.405sqn.com/

405 Squadron

http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RCAF/405_wwII.html

Havsresan

http://www.lth.se/nyheter-och-press/rsstest/visa/article/havet-vid-falsterbohalvoen-undersoeks-av-havsresan/

Handley-Page Halifax
http://www.canadianwings.com/Aircraft/aircraftDetail.php?HALIFAX-76

Handley Page Halifax

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handley_Page_Halifax