28th May 1944

Supermarine SPITFIRE LF Mk XIV
RB175 (code DW-L)

Saint-Rieul (22)

(contributors : Philippe Dufrasne, Jean-Michel Martin (ABSA 39-45), Daniel Dahiot (ABSA 39-45)

610 sqn raf badge
610 Squadron Royal Air Force 
(County of Chester)

Spitfire mk 14 dw l rb175

Pilot : Flying Officer COLGAN Brian Thomas


Harrowbeer airfield, Devon, England
(Source : © RAF Harrowbeer interest group - http://www.rafharrowbeer.co.uk/).

THE STORY

Saint-Rieul, Côtes d'Armor, Sunday, 28th May, 1944. Around 5.30 pm. Crash of Spitfire Mark XIV flown by Flying Officer Brian Thomas "Butch" Colgan of 610 (County of Chester) Squadron of the RAF based at RAF Harrowbeer in Devon (southwest England). Spitfire RB175, coded DW-L.


Four Spitfire in flight ; 
in the foreground the RB159 'DW-D' of Squadron Leader R A Newbury
Photo : author unkown

On this day of May 28, 1944 the first mission of the squadron was early in the morning. Flight Lieutenant Madden and Pilot Officer Scaman had taken off at 5.50 am for a reconnaisance over the Aber-Wrac'h in northern Brittany, with an extension above the region of Brest. At 7.20 am, they returned to their base.Everything went without any problems. A second mission was planned by the Commanding Officer for the end of the afternoon. Specific missions called '' Rhubarb '' for all RAF squadrons during WWII. This one was number 259. These missions had no targets decided in advance. The enemy targets to look for were at the opportunity. The airmen had to destroy, or at least attempt to do so, any enemy convoy on road or rail. But also possibly any German aircraft in flight or parked on an airfield.


Squadron Leader Richard Newbery
(Source and author unkown)

Four pilots were selected. Their commanding officer was Squadron Leader Richard Newbery. Newbery was a highly experienced pilot, Squadron Leader (he remained in that position until 1945) and was later awarded the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross). He became famous for having destroyed nine V1 flying bombs which had been launched from Northern France by the Germans towards english cities. Flight Lieutenant Shepherd was his second in command. They were together with Flying Officers McKinley and Colgan. All were experienced pilots, with many flying hours, including air combat and ground attacks. After take off at 5.00 pm, the four aircrafts joined up over the Channel. The crossing to North Brittany was very fast. (The Spitfire Mk XIV had a top speed of 465 mph). Weather conditions were good. The Squadron Leader Newbery gave orders by radio to the other pilots when seeing the coast. 'Take care as the enemy can strike at any moment'. After a loop approach to Brest, the group began to follow the railway towards Rennes. At the same time, they checked the roads to identify any military vehicles. Suddenly, on reaching Landivisiau, white smoke was seen rising into the sky, indicating the presence of a railway train. Immediately, the four British airmen prepared to attack with great caution, because the enemy rail convoys were heavily protected, often by Flak guns mounted on railway wagons.

Bundesarchiv bild 101i 621 2944 26a
© Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-621-2944-26A / Doege / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Frequently, these wagons were located at the rear of the train and sometimes on the front behind the locomotive. The four aircraft hit the train firing all their weapons then described a wide loop, while climbing to escape enemy fire. The target was hit and the train stopped in the country. The four Spitfires climbed and then dived on the convoy and fired with all their weapons, then they made a large loop, while gaining altitude again to escape enemy fire. The target was hit. The train was stopped in the open country. The leader informed the return to the flight indicating that the objective had been reached. The flight continued, guided by the railways, which led towards Guingamp then Saint-Brieuc without difficulty. Just after Lamballe, a new smoke meant the presence of a train heading towards Rennes. The Squadron Leader Newbery renewed his orders, recommending the greatest caution. Here again the convoy was certainly protected by mobile artillery. Arrived at a place called "Le Cas Rouge", in the town of Plestan, they attacked. The fire on the convoy was intense. The power of the four aircrafts was enormous. A fuel wagon, located in the middle of the convoy, exploded in a gigantic flash of fire. The rear Flak wagon fired with its four guns.


Flying Officer COLGAN Brian Thomas
© Colgan family

Unfortunately, during the attack, Flying Officer Colgan reported that his aircraft was hit by shells. He was not injured but indicated that he had to make an emergency landing. He was too low to bail out. He left the other aircrafts by making several wing beats (read the testimony of Mr Pelaine) and began the descent to the ground. The Spitfire headed a large field, as for a normal landing but without extending the landing gear. It hit and tore an embankment, rebounded to slip into the ground up to the end of a field where it stopped. First contact with the soil of France in the village of "Livraudais" in Saint-Rieul.


The field where the Spitfire crashed.                               

© ABSA 39-45 - photographer Jean-Michel Martin                          

After un-strapping his seat harness and parachute, Flying Officer Colgan climbed out of his cockpit and stepped down from the aircraft. He rapidly crossed the field towards the entrance and found himself in a tree-lined road. There he met a lady to whom he said; ''Resistance - Resistance ?" The lady was a bit surprised but indicated the direction of the village. Unfortunately he was arrested by the Germans early in the evening. Colgan was transferred to the prison camp reserved for airmen in East Prussia (now Poland) Stalag Luft III at Sagan. It was here that many airmen tried to escape in March 24th 1944. Their attempt was disastrous and was recounted in the movie ''The Great Escape''. Colgan was not released until the end of the war, in May 1945.

The other three aircraft returned to Harrowbeer and announced the loss of Flying Officer Colgan. The loss to the Squadron of such a valuable pilot was immense. Was he injured, dead or alive, no answer. But the loss of the aircraft was also problematic as it was the first Spitfire Mk XIV to fall into enemy hands (970 units of this model were produced). It was clear that Colgan had landed without his aircraft bursting into flames and for this reason it was hoped that the Germans could be prevented from recovering its advanced technology. 
Immediately, it was decided to make a "special sweep" with the aim of finding and destroying the wrecked aircraft. Four Spitfires were refueled. Ammunition was reloaded. Again, Squadron Leader Newbery took charge with pilots Shepherd and McKinley and a Canadian pilot, Flying Officer MacFarlane, replaced Flying Officer Colgan. Take off was at 9.25 pm and the four aircrafts soon arrived in the zone (see testimony of Mr Hercouet). Intense flak was experienced, probably from a section of German anti-aircraft guns based at the wood of "Haie en Tramain". This section had been positioned to protect the railways from Lamballe to Rennes ; it was hidden in the woods during the day, and at nightfall the enemy pulled it out. The four pilots were unable to carry out their mission as night began to fall. The group returned to England. There were no further attempts on the following days. As always in these situations, the Germans quickly dismantled the aircraft, loaded it into trucks and took it away in the direction of Lamballe.

SQUADRON 610 R.A.F.

Spitfire mk xiv dw d squadron leader richard newbery
Spitfire Mk XIV coded DW-D of Squadron Leader Richard Newbery
(Source and author unkown)


Spitfire Mk 1 Squadron 610, Hooton Park, Cheshire, south western England in 1939
© Hooton park Trust


Pilots of Squadron 610 at Acklington, Northumberland, northern England, in September 1940 with their Squadron leader John Ellis
Photo : author unkown


Pilots of 610 Squadron in Hawkinge, Kent, in July 1940 during the Battle of Britain
Photo : author unkown


Supermarine Spitfire F Mk XIV, No. 610 Squadron RAF based at Friston, Sussex.
RB159 'DW-D', Squadron Leader R A Newbury, RB167 'DW-E', RB150 'DW-A' et RB156 'DW-G'

© Imperial War Museum  IWM CH 13817

TESTIMONIES

Mister Roger Pelaine

I was 19 years old. It was a Sunday. I remember it very well. With other young people, I was going to a dance on Sunday afternoon at a nearby village. We had arranged some entertainment because the German occupation was very hard for everyone. We lacked everything. It was evident that the Germans felt that things were changing and they were more on-edge. We had to be careful. It was late afternoon and suddenly we heard explosions. It was an attack on a train at a place called ''Le Cas rouge'' in Plestan. From where I was, I saw an aircraft very low in the sky, balancing its wings several times before diving towards the ground. This aircraft appeared to be in trouble. I also heard the noise of other aircrafts. The next day, some people said that the English had attacked the railway line. One of the wagons in the middle of the train was full of fuel and had exploded. The train was protected by a mobile artillery unit that probably shot down that aircraft.

 


M. Roger Pelaine  & M. Joseph Hercouet
© ABSA 39-45 - Photographer Jean-Michel Martin

Mister Joseph Hercouet
The aircraft had fallen in my field at the "Livraudais". He had first hit an embankment, then slipped for a long time on its belly before stopping into the ground at the end of the moor. The pilot was not injured and did not parachute. The pilot was arrested in the village and was captured when he was trying to make contact with the Resistance. He had asked a lady who unfortunately could not provide him with information. I also remember that late in the evening, we heard aircrafts circling overhead, it was almost dark. The German artillery began to fire. We were very scared. Then we heard nothing more. The next day, we were informed of everything that had happened near us.

F/O BRIAN THOMAS COLGAN, SQUADRON 610 - R.A.F.
Report written by himself on May 13, 1945, after he came back from captivity.

Service number 51060. Extract.
He was born on April 5, 1915 in…… His private home was at the Locomotive Inn, located in Garrat Street in Manchester, England. He worked as a plumber. He enlisted in the Royal Air Force on March 4, 1937 at the age of 22. He arrived at 610 SQN on June 13, 1943. He was wounded during his capture, on May 28, 1944. He was not interrogated. He was 29 years old. A week after his capture, he was in Obermans hospital. This hospital depended on the prison camp where he was to be held, the Stalag Stalag Luft III in Sagan (now Zagan in Upper-Silesia) (North West Poland today) where captured Allied airmen were gathered. He remained hospitalized for 25 days. Then he returned to his place of detention at Stalag Luft III. He remained there until January 28, 1945, ie 7 months, and then was sent at Stalag Luft 3 Luckenwald. He remained there until May 3, 1945, the date of his liberation.

Brian Thomas COLGAN ?
© Colgan family     

Some photos of Brian Thomas Colgan
(with courtesy of Mr Michael Colgan, Brian Thomas Colgan's nephew).


© Colgan family


© Colgan family


© Colgan family


© Colgan family


Michael Colgan, Brian Thomas Colgan's nephew © Colgan family

IN THE PRESS !


Ouest France - Friday 20 January, 2012

 

COMMEMORATION
♦ 11 May, 2012 - Saint Rieul (Photos © ABSA 39-45 with courtesy Jean-Michel Martin)


Photo 1 : X , X


Photo 2 : X , X


Roger Pelaine


Photo 3 : Roger Pelaine, X, Joseph Hercouet


Photo 4 : R. Pelaine, X, JM. Martin, J. Hercouet, X, X, X, X, X


Photo 5


Photo 6 : X, X, Roger Pelaine, X, Jean-Michel Martin, X


Photo 7 : X, Jean-Michel Martin, Joseph Hercouet, Roger Pelaine


Photo 8 : La gourmette de Brian T. Colgan


Photo 9 : X, X, X

 

ESTABLISHMENT OF THE MEMORIAL IN SAINT RIEUL IN NOVEMBER 2012

 

 

Thanks to Mr Gesbert, mayor of Saint Rieul, and to the witnesses of that time, Mr Roger Pelaine and Mr Joseph Hercouet

Thanks for their help to  :
- M. Michael Lewis, 
Royal Air Force 610 Squadron Remembrance Association correspondent in Chester, England
- M. Stephen Fryer,
president of the Harrowbeer Airfield Memorial Association, Devon.
- M. Jonathan Ives.
- M. 
Michael Colgan

Jean Michel Martin - Daniel Dahiot - ABSA 39-45, 19 December, 2011

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