28 th April, 1941
Handley Page HAMPDEN Mk I (AD834 - code VN-?)
"Quilliampe" - Loudéac (22)
- Flying Officer WHITECROSS, JAMES ALEXANDER (escaped)
- Warrant Officer MARTIN JAMES EDWIN (P.O.W.)
- Flight Sergeant (W.Op./Air Gnr.) ROSS, DOUGLAS FREDERICK. (K.I.A.).
- Sergeant (W.Op./Air Gnr.) O'HARE, JOSEPH FRANCIS. (K.I.A.)
Handley Page Hampden © San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives - Public domain
LOUDÉAC, Côtes d'Armor (formerly Côtes du Nord), night of 28th to 29th April 1941. Village of Quilliampe - Crash of twin-engine Handley Page Hampden Mk I AD834 (code VN-?) of Royal Air Force.
On the air base of Lindholme in the North of Doncaster in Yorkshire (North East England). The 50 SQN RAF, affected in July, 1940 on this airfield, has various bombardment missions over Germany (Berlin mainly) but also against the enemy fleet in Norway, as well as over France and Northern Europe to drop anti-ship mines. This English medium bomber created in 1936 was not adapted for heavy bombardments and was very vulnerable, with its restricted weapons limited to 4 to 6 machine guns 7,7 millimeter Vickers 303, which explains it was mostly dedicated to night missions. The RAF headquarters named "gardening" area targets in maritime spaces that crews were able to reach and drop their "cargoes". This operation was called " Plant vegetables in Cinnamon area ". All this was coded to fight enemy listening. In fact in early 1941, the French Atlantic Coast had gigantic construction sites of various size bunkers but also projects of submarine bases in Brest, Lorient, Saint-Nazaire, La Pallice, La Rochelle and Bordeaux.
On Monday, April 28th, 1941, 5 missions of dropping anti-ships mines were planned for the entrance of La Rochelle, La Pallice harbor. The first of the 5 Hampden took off at 8.30 pm. All the aircrafts were going to follow approximately the same route which led them to the destination, considering that when arrived in the objective area, they had to target precisely the place for dropping (pintpointing). The flight was heading a straight line from Lindholme towards Weymouth in Dorset (south coast of England), then crossed the Channel towards Quiberon (flying over Channel Islands) and finally heading towards La Rochelle. The weather forecast was not optimal for this navigation at night. Flying over England was operated above a cloudy layer standing from 3,000 feet to 9,500 feet. Over the Channel, the weather became more clear but once over France, a foggy sky was not facilitating the flight. At Lindholme, aircrafts taxiied on the runway to take off gradually. The last one took off at about 11 pm. It was necessary to take into account a duration of 7 hours for these kind of long missions. Only the second bomber fullfilled the mission successfully. The last did not drop its mines and flew back to the base. It was also the case for the first bomber. As for the two others, they unfortunately never returned. The 4th Hampden AD782 was hit by an enemy firing and disappeared totally in the ocean. The bodies of 3 airmen were recovered and buried in France, the 4th one was never recovered.
Map of the route for the mission of the Hampden
For the Hampden AD834, it was also dramatic. The pilot, Flying Officer Whitecross James Alexander, aged 24 (identification number 41888), from Canadian nationality hardly tried to localize the area. He was assisted by the Warrant Officer Martin James Edwin, co-pilot, who unfortunately could neither localize it. It was not easy in such a thick fog. The Flying Officer decided to look for another target, that he fond on the way back. Mines were dropped off Lorient. Aboard the aircraft, the two other crew members were at the rear, ready to use their machine guns and to fire on enemy fighters. The Flight Sergeant Ross Douglas Frederick and the sergeant O'Hare Joseph Francis were also radios operators. A few minutes before midnight, the Hampden AD834 sent a message to the base to inform that the planned target was not reached but that another one was found and reached. This message also indicated the problems faced by the pilot with his port engine which did not function normally and involved flight difficulties. The oil pressure was failing. Nothing in this message, or in the (ORB), Operations Record Book (recording of the mission report) indicated the eventuality to have been hit by a shell of Flak. One can reasonably consider a breakdown which involved important difficulties during the flight and then the fall. It was approximately 1.30 am in the morning this Tuesday, April 29th, 1941 when several Loudéac residents were woken by a loud noise during the night. Some people got up and saw a light which illuminated the sky towards the North of the city. A witness reported that they had thought that it could have been the gas depot installed by the Germans at the camp of "la Secouette" in the city of "La Motte". That was not the case. The British bomber AD834 had just crashed, after several tours above the village of "Quilliampe", along the country path number 18. It was on fire and which unfortunately killed the poor sergeants O'Hare and Ross who could escape in time from the aircraft. Why these two airmen installed in the rear part of the aircraft have not been able to jumping like the other crew members ? Most probably the evacuation order was given at the last moment. For the English airmen the instructions were clear ; you should jump only when there was no other issue. Which means sometimes too late. And we must remember that it was dark, without any visibility. At the last minute, it was necessary toput on the parachute because the airmen did not wear it in order to remain mobile. When returning in England after his escape, the pilot indicated that shortly before Loudéac, the oil pressure had totally fallen and a dense smoke escaped on the left and at the last moment, flames were coming out of the engine. The pilot and the co-pilot jumped out at first, thinking that both sergeants, who had received the order to evacuate, followed them immediately. The place where Flying Officer Whitecross and his co-pilot landed proves that they jumped out at the last moment because they fell very close to the place of the crash. A low height would not have allowed the opening of the parachute and would have led them too in the death.
Positions of the crew in Hampden with emergency exits.
The plane kept burning all night long. Early in the morning, it was the excitement on the roads and ways, the Germans had invaded the area. The French gendarmes had been required by the German Headquarter to join the investigations for the escaped airmen but also keep the places to avoid the crowd. In the carcass of the bomber which was still smoking were remaining the bodies of both unfortunates English airmen. The Germans started to search in all houses close to Quilliampe. In that way they arrested in Mister and Mrs Fraboulet's home the Warrant Officer Martin who, because of his broken leg, took refuge in their home approximately hundred meters from his aircraft. He was led towards the closest hospital in safe custody. The accident happened in a field which belonged to mister Edange, a farmer from Quilliampe. The aircraft had collided the ground with violence and made a long sideslip, throwing fragments all around. They were spread on the road and in the fields nearby. The right wing rested on the bank but overtook on the road. The wheat field at this place was burned on a large surface. One of the propellers was most probably lost during the flight before the crash because it was deeply stuck in the ploughing more than 250 meters from the aircraft. May be the one of the engine which had problems.
Site of the crash of the Hampden.
The pilot Flying Officer Whitecross had landed without any problem in the countryside around. After he had hidden his parachute in the vegetation, he remained hidden the rest of the night, and probably looked at his bomber in fire. He was not catched despite the important investigations launched to find him in the region of Loudéac, region that he rapidly left. After a one week long wandering through Redon then Josselin, he was helped by some people in Blain and Ancenis, and left then Brittany and welcomed by a resistance network which led him towards Doué, Loudun, Poitiers, Ruffiec and La Chignolle where arrived on May 4th, 1941. Then he was led southward to cross the demarcation line, that he crossed between Montenboeuf and La Rochefoucault (Charente) on May 5th, 1941 to reach Spain. A few days later, he was arrested because he could not present his papers, and was escorted by two gendarmes to the camp of Saint Hippolyte du Fort in the department of the Gard, from where he escaped on May 17th, 1941. After he crossed the Spanish border by train on May 25th, 1941 through Nîmes and Perpignan together with captains Plant and Mac Partland, they were all three arrested again and imprisoned a couple of weeks in the region of Barcelona, and then released after the intervention of the ambassador of England. They then reached Gibraltar. They left this small English territory, located in the extreme southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, on July 4th to reach England by air and arrived all three on July 12th at Greenock (Scotland). After a short stay in the intelligence services, the Flying Officer Whitecross answered the questions of his superiors after this accident, then reached a new unit around July 10th, where he was informed that he would have to return in Canada next September which was obviously for him a good news.
"Jim", a nickname he was given by his friends, was one of Mr. and Mrs Whitecross' numerous sons. He lived 183 Ash street in Winnipeg. He was born on March 3rd, 1917 in the same city. He studied in Saint John high school. Afterward he integrated the Manitoba university to pursue studies in civil engineering. He spent his free time to ride his motorcycle, his great passion. Late 1939, he felt that the world was not going well and decided to reach England and join the Royal Air Force. That's what he did in January, 1939. On Tuesday, July 15th, 1941, at Swinderby Air Force base, in Lincolnshire, a bomber did not return from a mission over Norway. It sent a distress message. Another aircraft from the same mission indicated that a crew was drifting in the North Sea aboard a lifeboat. A volunteer was required to look for this crew in distress and to drop them foods before trying to rescue them. Freshly assigned in this unit, the Flying Officer Whitecross immediately volunteered. He had with him aboard his Hampden registered P4408 Sergeant Fisher Mo, sergeant Gray dfm, and sergeant R.Taylor. He took off immediately to look for his companions. He found them and accomplished the mission. On the way back one of his engine had serious problems. He was once again in a situation unfortunately already known. He contacted his base by radio at 3:30 pm and indicated his concerns. They were never seen again. It was the 30th mission of this courageous airman.
The pilot Flying Officer Whitecross was declared officially dead on May 28th, 1942. His name, as well as the names of his 3 companions, were registered on the monument of missing persons of RUYNEMEDE in London. (Panel N 30).
In Canada on April 20th, 1943, the 6 Squadron of the Air Cadet, commanded by General Wolff took officially the name of "Jim Whitecross" and the mother of the Flying Officer attended this ceremony. The Flying Officer Whitecross was decorated posthumously with the British distinction DFC. Distinguished Flying Cross.
The co-pilot Warrant Officer Martin James Edwin was born on September 24th, 1914. He lived 58 Mill Street at Penrith in Cumberland. He broke his leg when landing. He was taken prisoner and was led to the Hospital of Loudéac, where he remained a short time, and was then sent on May 8th, 1941 at the prison camp Stalag Luft 3 of Dulag (prison camp for airmen) in Southern Berlin. On March 22nd, 1942, he was transferred in Western Pomerania to the Stalag Luft 1 near Barth. On June 3rd, 1943, he was transferred again in Lower Silesia to the Stalag Luft 3 of Sagan. On June 4th, 1944, he was sent again to Pomerania (today Poland) in the Stalag luft 4 camp of Gross Tychow.
On June 15th, 1944, he reached Stalag Luft 9 b-357, located near Oerbke Fallingboster on the road from Hanover to Hamburg. He was released from this camp, where 17 000 airmen were detained, by the 8th Royal Irish Hussar on April 16th, 1945. On June 19th, 1945 he was back in England where he had to answer a questionnaire that had to fill all released Allied servicemen.
Sergeant Ross Douglas Frederic and O' Hare Joseph Francis, both aged 21, died in the crash of the aircraft, rest in peace in the cemetery of Loudéac.
Mister Jan Lucien, resident in Loudéac
This morning, I was on my way to school and I was surprised and came across so many Germans on my road. I ignored what just happened. Some of them were walking. Others were riding horses. Then I met a friend who walked with me on my way to school. He informed me that an aircraft had crashed in Quilliampe during the night. My father had left early this morning with his horse team and his cart accompanied with a farm worker. When arriving in his field, he was surprised to discover recent footprints in the wet ground which were not looking like the usual prints of clogs that people used to wear at that time. He learnt afterward by a neighbor the fall of the aircraft and thought immediately about an airman who tried to escape. The prints led to a puddle. No doubt that this man thought about escaping the German dogs by crossing these shallow waters. When the worker learnt by the same neighbor that the occupiers were about to search all the houses around, he quickly went away in his room to remove a shotgun that he kept and hided it outdoor. He returned at work afterward. One of the airmen broke his leg by jumping in parachute and required help from Mr and Mrs Fraboulet who lived in the village close to the place where his aircraft crashed. This man wished to be arrested because he knew he required specific cares. The Germans captured him early in the morning. Before the fall of the aircraft, one of the propellers detached with its shaft and stuck into the ground, rather far between the villages of "Tierné" and "Quilliampe". The field belonged to Mister Coroler. Only half of the blade showed above the soil surface. There was at Saint Barnabé, a German observation post in a wooden tower, a position occupied by about ten soldiers. No incident was reported that night. The post of Guingamp gave the alert. The soldiers in Saint Barnabé were punished and sent in June to the Russian front (Operation Barbarossa).
Mister Carrée Francis, resident in Loudéac.
This night there was a loud noise which woke a lot of people in the region. A worker from my parents farm informed them that there was a fire far away. We thought about the German gas depot installed at the camp of "la Secouette". The worker thought it could be this one which burned or another ammunition depot in the region around. I also remember, the following morning, to see dozens of German soldiers walking frontally through the fields looking for the airmen. They found footprints in a field. They came to check shoes and clogs of our worker as well as several other people close to our home, to see whether it was matching with the prints. A propeller of the aircraft was discovered in a field. The Germans ordered to a nearby farmer to come and remove it from the ground because it was deeply stuck. He needed a team of three horses to achieve it. The morning when the aircraft crashed, one of the airmen arrived at about 6 am at the village of "Tanouer". He met a couple of farmers who began their working day. The stopped their worked and started to prepare a breakfast for this man. He thanked them and disappeared through the countryside.
Mister Armand Gicquel, resident in Loudéac.
In the small village " La Barricade ", Mrs Nouet and Louis Legal, her worker, were spreading fertilizer in a field. Suddenly, they saw a man walking in their direction. When arriving in front of them, he opened his jacket and showed them his shirt where they were able to read "Canada" ; they could not talk together but he explained that he wanted to go to Rennes. They showed him the direction where he could reach the main road. He made a simple gesture to thank them. Our school teacher decided that morning that we would go and see the aircraft. When arriving their, a gendarme who kept the place, asked up to line up and we quietly walked along the road to see the wreck and the bodies of both unfortunates airmen. Suddenly we had to stop when two horse riders arrived from the bottom of the road. They were German, an officer and his flag lieutenant. The officer dismount from his horse and gave it to the soldier, walked around the still smoking wreck then got back in the saddle and disappeared. We learnt that he was a general who use to stay in the castle of "Le Louarn". The next day, both victims were buried. Our school teacher asked her daughter to attend the funeral service. When arriving at the door of the cemetery, she was pushed back by the German guards. Noone was allowed to attend. Graves were decorated with flowers the next days.
A monument in memory of both airmen killed at "Quilliampe", erected immediately after the war.
LOUDEAC COMMUNAL CEMETERY
Photos © Monsieur Podevin - Le Courrier Indépendant
Flying Officer. WHITECROSS, JAMES ALEXANDER
Sergeant O'HARE, JOSEPH FRANCIS
Photos © Dorothy Robinson, niece of Joseph O'Hare
Jean Michel Martin. Daniel Dahiot. 28th March, 2012
Thanks to :
Jean François Podevin, Michel Pieto, Yann Lagadec
The witnesses : Jan Lucien, Carrée Francis, Gicquel Armand.
Our English friend : Jonathan Ives for his help in our investigations in England
Biography : Manuel technique du Hampden
Sources : Mr Piéto & Mr Grimault / Association GERFAUT. Via Yannig.