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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 202993
Last updated: 5 January 2021
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Date:29-APR-1942
Time:
Type:Handley Page Halifax Mk II
Owner/operator:35 (Madras Presidency) Squadron Royal Air Force (35 (Madras Presidency) Sqn RAF)
Registration: W1053
C/n / msn: TL-G
Fatalities:Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 6
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location: Elverum and Sørmo, just east of Lake Movatnet -   Norway
Phase: Combat
Nature:Military
Departure airport:RAF KInloss
Destination airport:
Narrative:
The 35 Squadron Operation Records Book entry for this aircraft states that "Nothing was heard from this aircraft from the time of take off".
The crew of Halifax W1053 TL-G George had in fact successfully crossed the North Sea in what was described by one crew member as "an uneventful outward trip". Once over the Norwegian coast the Navigator, Reg Williams, took up the Bomb Aimers position in the aircraft and the Flight Engineer, Dennis Butchart, took the position of 2nd pilot. The 35 Squadron Halifaxes were flying with a crew of six on this and the previous day's operation to Tirpitz. The 2nd Pilot position had been dropped some say to reduce weight and allow extra fuel to be carried, others say to avoid losing two pilots should the aircraft crash. The Flight Engineer was responsible for assisting the Pilot to fly the aircraft when required.
As they flew up Trondheim fjord the aircraft descended to 150 feet and entered Fættenfjord where the Tirpitz was moored. John Morrison, 1st Wireless Operator/Air Gunner, describes this as entering what appeared to be the entrance to hell. The aircraft was in the German smoke screen and was being fired at by what seemed to be every single weapon in the immediate vicinity. The noise of the bullets and shrapnel hitting the aircraft was unbelievable and there were flashes of light and tracer in all directions. The Tirpitz and surrounding vessels were firing at the aircraft and because it was flying so low it was also being fired down on from AA positions above the Tirpitz on the sides of the fjord.

Reg Williams shouted that Tirpitz had been swung round 90 degrees. The Canadian Pilot, Johnny Roe, calmly told his crew that they would go round again and have another go. Almost immediately there were sounds that indicated the aircraft had been badly hit in several places. Bill Parr, the Tail Gunner, shouted to Johnny the Pilot to try and make it to Sweden. However, Johnny Roe must have been aware that his aircraft would not make it that far and ordered the crew to make for the "rest" positions and prepare for a crash landing. At this, Reg Williams immediately jettisoned the mines that they were carrying.
A young woman who lived near Lake Hoklingen and who had been disturbed from her sleep by the attack on Tirpitz watched out her window. She saw the Halifax W1053 TL-G in flames passing low over the lake where Halifax W1048 TL-S 'Sugar' had crash landed the previous night. As she watched it fly on she saw the mines jettisoned and crash through the ice on the frozen lake. In the morning the holes where they had passed through the ice were clearly visible.

The aircraft was well alight as Johnny Roe in the Pilot's position and Dennis Butchart in the 2nd Pilots seat fought to land the stricken aircraft. John Morrison, Reg Williams and Cyril Russell went to take up the "rest" positions. John and Reg made it but there was no sign of 'Rusty' Russell and they assumed that he must have been hit.

The aircraft crash-landed in flames near the small farms, Elverum and Sørmo, just east of Lake Movatnet coming to rest in a small wood. As soon as the aircraft came to a halt, John Morrison and Reg Williams made their escape through the mid upper escape hatch and jumped down through the flames. They staggered away from the blazing aircraft before turning to look back. When they looked back they saw the Flight Engineer, Dennis Butchart, on his knees struggling to get free from the blazing wreckage.

John and Reg ran to help him wondering how on earth anyone could survive the intense heat from the flames. They pulled Dennis free from the blaze and moved to a safe distance where they assessed their situation. The three were in a sorry state. During the crash John had sustained a heavy blow to his face. He had a deep cut to his upper lip and his upper denture was broken. Reg had severe burns to his face and hands. Dennis was in a much more serious state. His clothes and skin were seriously burnt; he was clutching his left side with his right arm and was barely able to talk as he gasped for breath. He managed to tell John and Reg that he had seen 'Rusty' Russell and that he had not survived the crash. Apparently the turret had crashed down on him and crushed him. It had caught Dennis on his side trapping him, but he had managed to pull himself free.

Unbeknown to John, Reg and Dennis, the Canadian Pilot, Johnny Roe had escaped from the front of the aircraft, and had met up with the Tail Gunner Bill Parr, also from Canada, on the Starboard side of the aircraft. Both men were relatively unscathed after the crash and they set off together in an eastward direction hoping to reach Sweden. Two brothers, Gudmund and Petter Trætli from Trætlia Farm recall assisting two airmen that night who had badly burnt hands. They helped to bandage the wounds and also gave the airmen food before giving them directions for the Swedish border. It's most likely that the airmen assisted by the Trætli brothers were the Canadians, Johnny Roe and Bill Parr.

As the three injured men made their way from the crash site their eyes grew accustomed to the darkness and they were able to see a little more of their surrounding area. There was a full moon in a cloudless sky and they could see that there were lights on at a nearby house. John and Reg had to support the full weight of Dennis who was too badly injured to walk unaided. There was no way that they would all make the journey cross-country on foot to the Swedish border, which was forty miles to the east. John and Reg knew that Dennis was in no state to make such an arduous journey through the rough and snow covered terrain. They had to get some help for him as he was in urgent need of medical attention.

Out of the darkness a tall figure approached and indicated that the men should come to the house. Reg left John and Dennis and spoke to the man asking if he could give help to the wounded airman, Dennis. The man was Ingvald Arnstad. He worked for the forestry servicing and maintaining the machinery and was living at Sørmo Farm. As the burning aircraft had made it's final descent, he had been watching from a window in the farm with Anna Sørmo. They had wondered if it would hit the house, Anna was very afraid that it might. When the Halifax crashed, Ingvald ran out to see what he could do to help and this is when he found John, Reg and Dennis.

A door in the house opened and an older man came out, John Sørmo, husband of Anna and owner of Sørmo Farm. Together with Ingvald Arnstad he helped take Dennis indoors. Reg and John followed not knowing if they were in the hands of friend or foe. The men had been taken to Sørmo Farm, and were being looked after by a Norwegian couple, John and his wife Anna as well as Ingvald Arnstad. Also in the house were John and Anna's children, Egil who was twelve and Bjørg who was nine. Bjørg's friend, Jorun from the neighbouring Elverum Farm was also present.

They were led into a small room and Dennis was laid on a couch where he seemed to pass out and lose consciousness. Using sign language and gestures John and Reg tried to explain that they wanted to head for Sweden and that they must leave immediately as they were afraid of being captured by the Germans and they were also afraid for the safety of the Norwegians who were helping them. They asked if they could have some food for the journey and coats to hide their RAF uniforms. The Norwegian's motioned John and Reg towards a couple of chairs indicating that they should sit down. Unsure about what was to come next John and Reg complied feeling that they were now in the hands of these people.

The son, Egil, was sent to fetch a woman who was living in a neighbouring house and who spoke some English. He returned with the young woman who told John and Reg that she had lived and worked in London for three months. The young woman was called Oddlaug Øvreness, but it would be almost 60 years before this was known to the airmen, and it would be over 60 years before the names of all the other brave Norwegians in this story would be known too. In 1942 they were nameless, it was safer that way, but they were never to be forgotten in the many passing years despite the brief contact they had with the airmen in April 1942.

John and Reg were very anxious about Dennis and urged Oddlaug to get a doctor for him and get him to a hospital. They also asked how long it would take for the Germans to arrive at the farm. Oddlaug assured them that the Germans would not be there for a good while.

Anna and Oddlaug prepared some sandwiches for the airmen. They noticed the burns on Reg's hands and wrists and carefully dressed them by covering them with the yolks from some eggs. John has his face cleaned up as much as was possible. Meanwhile, the Norwegian men, John and Ingvald, took off their jackets, emptied the pockets and handed them to John and Reg who put them on over their RAF battledress jackets.

Worried that the Germans would arrive at any minute, Reg and John said their goodbye's to Dennis and their grateful thanks to the Norwegians who had helped them. Ingvald accompanied Reg and John but they were very anxious about him being seen with them and they were concerned that he was in danger of being shot by the Germans if it was discovered that he had assisted them. He was eventually persuaded to leave them to continue alone, and before doing so he pointed out the direction for John and Reg to take then left them to continue their perilous journey. It was important that Ingvald got back to Sørmo Farm to avoid arousing the suspicions of the Germans. On returning to the farm Ingvald went to bed so that he could pretend that he had been there asleep all night should he be asked.

A local doctor was called to Sørmo Farm to attend to Dennis. He sent for an ambulance, and a local Norwegian ambulance arrived at the farm some time later and took Dennis to the grocery shop in nearby Markabygd where he was later collected by the Germans.

Very early next morning, Ingvald and John made a careful check in the area around the farm to make sure that any guns, ammunition, radios etc were removed in case the Germans made a search of the farm and found them. Many of the farming families had such things hidden secretly in their houses. A life vest was seen lying in a field a little way off. In order not to bring attention to the fact that they were gathering it, the children played in the snow and slowly moved closer and closer to the life vest until they were able to reach it and hide it.

The children were sent to their beds and were told to say that they had been in their bed asleep all night. When the Germans arrived, the children were in their beds, and Anna was in the house with them. The Germans interrogated Anna relentlessly, but she claimed that the only airman that they had seen that night was the one who had been in her kitchen with a broken arm (Dennis Butchart) and that he had been taken away in the ambulance. Luckily there were no Norwegians arrested at this time. The Germans never let the case rest, and two years later a local man was arrested, questioned about the crash, and imprisoned despite having been somewhere else at the time of the crash in April 1942.

The man who was arrested was the local school master, Mr Øvreness. He was the father of Oddlaug the young woman from a neighbouring house to Sørmo Farm who had been fetched the night of the crash to translate for the airmen. Immediately after his arrest he was taken to the jail in Trondheim and then later was sent to Falstad. Mr Øvreness knew well about his daughters involvement in helping the airmen from the crashed Halifax but told no one. He was eventually released from Falstad, returning to Norway on May 8th 1945.

For the rest of the night of the 28th and for most of the day on the 29th John and Reg trudged through miles and miles of snow, which was well over knee deep. Some time on the 29th they came to a lake where there were fisherman's huts. The lake was called Tomtvatnet. With exhaustion about to overwhelm them they forced the door lock on one of the huts and entered to find the welcome sight of two beds. The combination of the crash and the long walk had worn the two men out and they slept for the rest of the 29th and most of the 30th too. At dusk on the 30th John and Reg set off again. They left some money from their escape kit under a small jug on a wooden table at the hut to pay for the broken door lock! They continued their journey walking in an easterly direction and keeping to the mountains to avoid meeting anyone. The walking was slightly easier this time as the snow had frozen and it was possible to walk on it without sinking so far down. Once again they walked all through the night.

Later in May 1942, when much of the snow had melted, Tormod Langeland visited his hut at Tomtvatnet and discovered the door was open and the door lock was broken. At first he didn't know what or who he would find in the hut. When he entered he found the money that John and Reg had left on the table. On counting it he found there was Nkr 60, which in 1942 was quite a sum of money and certainly more than enough to pay for a new door lock.

At about 08:00 on May 1st they descended from a hill and came to two farms, which they watched carefully under cover of bushes and small trees for an hour before knocking on the door of one to ask for food. The farm was called Vikvang Farm in Inndalen, and was home to Mette and Odin Vikvang and their ten children. The couple were obviously very frightened, but despite their fear they generously made sandwiches for the John and Reg and spoke to nobody about what they had done until after the war.

The Vikvangs eldest son, Ola, guided John and Reg a little way up Løssiberget, the small hill behind the farm, and pointed them in the direction for Sweden. Setting off once again on foot through the snow Reg was beginning to have trouble with his badly burnt hands. They decided to leave the mountains in the early evening and risk walking along the road where they would be able to make faster progress. At about 21:00 they passed through a small place called Sul and shortly after this decided to leave the road and find some shelter for the night. It's believed that their location at this time was Bjorndalen. Two men who cycled past saw the footprints that John and Reg had left in the snow where they had left the road to seek shelter. They must have reported it to the Germans because 15 minutes later a German Patrol arrived and captured Reg and John. A further six miles on and Reg and John would have reached the Swedish border and safety.

They were taken in the back of a truck to Sandvika Mountain Lodge, a German border post near the border with Sweden. On arrival they disembarked from the truck and a German soldier approached them. He unslung his rifle, cocked it and pointed it at John and Reg. Then, using the rifle, he indicated that the Swedish border was a mere 300 meters away. To John it seemed that he wanted them to attempt to run for the border. However, with a loaded rifle pointed at them at close range they wisely decided to stay put and thus stay alive.

From Sandvika they were transported to spend their first night in captivity in a cell at Lavanger jail. The next day they were taken to Trondheim and from there to Oslo by train where they spent a few nights before being flown to Germany.

The following day, on May 2nd, Johnny Roe and Bill Parr were captured in the Sogna area.The Canadians were also taken to Sandvika Mountain Lodge before likely following the same route as John and Reg to Germany. Some time after the Pilot, Johnny Roe, was captured, his wife received a letter from Norway. It was dated May 6th 1942. The letter told Johnny's wife that he had baled out of his plane by parachute (a slight inaccuracy, since the aircraft actually crash landed) and that he had been trying to reach the Swedish border but had been captured by German Guards. It said that Johnny had been allowed to warm himself at the fire in the guardhouse and that the letter writer had served him food and that he seemed in good spirits when he had left for Trondheim. The letter writer also said that they had heard via a 'friendly German' that the Canadians had sent greetings to him/her and that they had also talked to a Scotsman who had come from a burning plane and was being treated at a hospital in Trondheim. This would most likely have been Dennis Butchart who came from Dundee in Scotland. There was also mention of two further Scots who were burnt and had been captured - possibly referring to John Morrison and Reg Williams, although Reg is Welsh. The letter goes on to reassure Mrs Roe that the Germans had said that they treated their prisoners as well as possible and ends with heartfelt wishes that Mrs Roe will have her husband home in the near future and that all the strife will come to an end soon. The final line states "Your man was here 2nd May 1942" and then some initials - presumably the letter writers initials? The identity of the person who wrote and sent the letter has not been discovered thus far, but it would surely have brought great comfort to the Roe family who were anxiously waiting for news of what had become of Johnny when he didn't return.

John, Reg, Johnny and Bill spent the remainder of the war in various German POW camps (Stalag Luft 3 and 6 and Stalag 357). Dennis Butchart was taken to a hospital in Oslo where his injuries were treated and he recovered sufficiently by September 1942 to join the rest of his crew at Stalag Luft 3 prisoner of war camp.

On April 7th 1945, Reg Williams and John Morrison were in the first column of some 400 Army and RAF personnel that left Stalag 357 at Fallingbostel on a forced march away from the advancing Allied Armies. After some 200 km the column was resting in a tree-lined lane near a small town called Gresse when it was strafed by four Typhoons from the Tactical Air Force on April 19th 1945. As a result of the attack there were over 100 casualties of which 42 were fatal. Some of the POW's who lost their lives had been captured at Dunkirk and had spent almost five years in POW camps.

Crew
Pilot: J/15341 Plt Off J Roe RCAF POW Stalag Luft 3 Zagan & Belaria. PoW Number 271.
Flight Engineer: 638677 Sgt D C G Butchart POW Stalag Luft 6 Heydekrug. PoW Number 39634
Navigator: 97062 Sgt D R P Williams POW Stalag 357 Kopernikus. PoW Number 105.
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner:999553 Sgt J Morrison POW Stalag 357 Kopernikus. PoW Number 259.
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner:1259848 Sgt Cyril Frederick Russell - Trondheim(Stavne) Cemetery A IV British. J. 5.
Air Gunner: J/42488 Flt Sgt W R Parr RCAF POW Stalag Luft 6 Heydekrug. PoW Number 261.


Sources:

www.archieraf.co.uk/archie
CWGC
Bomber Command Losses 1942
RAF Prisoners of War


Revision history:

Date/timeContributorUpdates
15-Dec-2017 19:01 Red Dragon Added

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