On a cold clear November night Mk 111 Lancaster
JB303 lumbered into the air from her home airfield of Oakington.
The target for the night was the German capital Berlin.
Amongst those aboard were the Navigator Sgt William Meek RAFVR from Newtongrange and Pilot OfficerTed Ansfield, the Observer. This was their 16th mission and the 5th time they had attacked Berlin. This would prove to be their last flight together, William would not see a new dawn.
At 20.12, three hours into the flight they were attacked by a Me110 piloted by Oberleutnant Albert Walter of Gruppe Nachtjadgeschwader 6. Making a text book attack he came from nowhere and blazed his cannons over the engines and fuel tanks. The aircraft became a fireball and the order was given to Bail Out.
What happened next is described in the words of Pilot Officer Ted Ansfield:
"The order to ‘bale out’ was given and a few seconds later there was a blinding flash and I knew no more until I woke up in a forest almost one and a half hours later numb with cold. My parachute lay open beside me. It must have either been blasted open or I had subconsciously pulled the ripcord whilst falling. Apart from a severe head pain I appeared to be in one piece. I hid my parachute and Mae West and struck off in a southwesterly direction.
After a few hours I collapsed and revived at 06.00 stiff with cold. The ground was frozen. When I got up and looked around I was surprised to see a parachute draped over a bush about 100 yards away. I went to investigate and found the body of my engineer.(Sgt Denys Ashworth aged 19 from Burnley) I covered him with his parachute and after checking my escape map continued walking. I had turned my electrically heated waistcoat inside out so that it appeared to be more like a civilian jacket.
Towards nightfall it started to rain which turned into a continuous downpour. I had to lay up under bushes, as it was impossible to make any progress in the extreme dark and now boggy conditions. The following day was no better; it just continued to rain and prevented me making any progress. I found that I was having difficulty in orientating myself; unbeknown to me I had sustained a fractured skull.
For a while I laid up in an abandoned quarry hoping the rain would abate, but it didn’t. Later in the day I made a further attempt at cross-country walking but the fields were now flooded. I had a narrow escape when a Fieseler Storch passed overhead at treetop height apparently searching for escaping airmen. From the cover of bushes I could see someone scanning the countryside through binoculars. I eventually reached a river, presumably the Lahn. It was in full flood and the only available bridge was carrying an unhealthy volume of traffic so I hid up until darkness fell.
I remained on the roadway which helped to speed up my progress. By the fourth day I had almost worn through my flying boots which was making walking even more difficult. The rain never ceased and I was suffering from severe head pains. As it grew darker I came across a wooded slope. I had climbed about half way up when the ground gave way beneath me and I slid down into an abandoned quarry some 20 – 30 ft deep. Shaken by the fall I decided to stay there until daylight. I awoke some hours later to a strange warmth. The rain had turned to snow and I was almost buried. I was now beginning to feel weak and ill and realized that the snow had further reduced my chances of evasion.
I had hopes of getting to Paris where I had contacts with persons connected with the ‘Resistance’ who would give me every assistance. I pressed on and eventually came to a railway, which appeared to be going in the right direction. I followed the tracks for about a mile when I came to a railway station. Avoiding railway workers I hid up and awaited a train going in the right direction. After a while I was rewarded, a freight train was approaching and slowing down. I crossed the tracks and as it got to me I stood up and leaped at one of the wagons. I found a handhold, was dragged off my feet, but before I could haul myself on board my strength gave out and I almost fell under the wheels. My best chance had gone.
Through the falling snow I followed the tracks for a few miles and collapsed beside them, not waking until dawn. I left the tracks and picked up a road running parallel. It took me to a small town. In all of my six days as a fugitive I had never dared to come into close contact with people. I now became incautious, wrapped my scarf around my head to cover my growth of beard and entered the little town. In the main street I noticed a policeman talking to a man in a long leather coat and felt hat. I watched their reflections in a shop window and noticed that one was pointing in my direction. I casually sauntered down the street and out of the corner of my eye I could see that I was being followed.
I came to what appeared to be a small cinema, the doors were open so I quickly darted inside, ran down the aisle between the seats and out of the rear exit and back into the countryside. On a hillside above the town I again collapsed. I was exhausted and terribly weak. I could only be a few miles from the Rhine. A burly farmer driving a horse and cart spotted me and challenged me. He jumped down from his cart and helped me to my feet. This was the end; it was 2nd December 1943. He took me back to his home where his wife gave me a cup of ersatz coffee and a piece of bread. The police arrived and I was force-marched to the police station where I was thrown into a stinking dungeon.
I lay down on a filthy bunk and fell fast asleep only to be wakened after a very short time. I was dragged from this filthy hole into the police station where a female interpreter commenced to question me in the presence of the police chief and my escort.
I would only give my name, rank and service number. My escort threw me to the floor and said in a strong broken American accent “ Smart guy eh, vot vud you say if ve hang you”? I burst out laughing and told him, politely, that under those circumstances I could say a damned sight less.
He realized his error and just as he was about to put his rifle butt into my ribs in walked a Luftwaffe Lieutenant who stepped smartly between us and floored the guard. He helped me to my feet and apologised. For me this part of the war was over. My escort to captivity had arrived."
JB 303 crashed between Winkels and Mengerskrchen a small town 20 km north north east of Limburg. Shortly before Ted's death he was sent a large box of parts of JB303 recovered from the ground by Belgian researcher Philippe Dufrasne and German researcher Marion Isack. They were treasured mementoes.
The lads that died that night are buried in Hanover War Cemtery, they are
F/O. G A. Beaumont ,Sgt. D. Ashworth ,Sgt. W A. Meek ,F/S. D. Wilson and Sgt. P J. Palmer.
I am grateful to Stalag Luft One online who graciously permit others to use their research. Please visit their website.
Sgt William Meek RAFVR is not commemorated on Newtongrange War Memorial, I along with many others believe he should be.
I am grateful to Eamonn Wilson the nephew of David Wilson, who killed onboard the flight for this very detailed and at times horrific account of the last moments of Lancaster MG-F given by Fred Ansfield to a German newspaper.
"My crew was very pleased when I appeared. A crew was a unit that was tuned into each other and could react spontaneously. Therefore, they didn’t like it when a crew member at times had to be replaced by a “newcomer”. We were a good crew and that night we were supposed to lead the first wave to the target. Along with this we had this red target markers with us. The bomb load mainly consisted of a large 4,000 pounds of air-mine, along with that we also had some smaller bombs on board.
We started at 18:00hrs (English time) from Oakington on a course for Reading. After that from Beachy Head over the Channel in the Abbeville direction. From there we did not follow a more direct course in order to avoid the strongest Flak. The 10,000hp, four-Packard Merlin 28 engines our of Lancaster, continued running smoothly. At Koblenz, we threw out a red marker to mark a turning point for the following three waves of bombers. In total there were about 700 aircraft. We now flew eastward to pass north of Frankfurt. Later we wanted to follow a northeastern heading towards Berlin.
Our pilot - Gerry Beaumont - warned the gunners expressly again to watch for night fighters. The situation around us was a little too quiet, which was usually a sign that fighters were nearby.
Our turret gunner - Phil Palmer - reported that he could see the outline of another Lancaster, positioned on our portside.
This was the engine of our Flight Commander - Wing Commander Hilton - which was transporting green markers. Our radio operator - Dave Wilson - had a special task that night:
We were testing a new air-to-air radar warning device called Fishpond. It was supposed to help us detect night fighters in time. Dave confirmed the gunner’s report, as he naturally could also recognise our own aircraft on the radar. He also saw another Lancaster, the turret gunner could not see with the naked eye.
Yet only a moment later, it happened!!!
Another echo suddenly appeared on his screen, he could barely utter a warning cry, the pilot reacted instantly and pushed the craft back to port to initiate a so-called "corkscrew-defence manoeuvre” - but it was too late ...
Our Lancaster, "Freddie", had received its deathblow. All four engines, the tanks and the fuselage were ablaze. The bomb doors were jammed and the release button for the bombs stopped responding because the power supply had been interrupted. The hydraulic system had also broken down.
I quickly fixed our position on my air-to-ground radar and saw that we were about 20 miles northwest of Frankfurt. I wanted to pass this information on to the crew; however I saw that my radio had been shot away. As I straightened up, to reach my instruments, I also noticed that the sleeve of my flying suit was shot through. I leaned forward and shouted the established position to our Navigator - Bill Meek.
He pulled the curtain aside in order to pass the message on to our radio operator. He was supposed to report this information to our base, but Dave lay dead on his keyboard. I went forward to assist the pilot in maneuvering the spinning aircraft. It was no use; we were quickly spiralling to the ground. The flight engineer - Dennis Ashworth - had received the order to "bale out" and removed the front hatch. At my request, he jumped. At that moment, I heard screams. It could really only be the pilot or the navigator, so I went back to the cockpit. But it was the turret gunner who was caught in the flames. This is confirmed by the rear gunner - Archie Turner, a New Zealander.
After the command to "bale out", he left his turret and came toward the fuselage. There he saw that the turret gunner - P.J. Palmer - was surrounded by flames. After trying in vain to reach him, he strapped on his already singed parachute and left the aircraft. We tried again to stabilise our "Freddie’s" flight, but it was impossible. Beaumont, the pilot pressed my hand one last time and said: "See you in Hell." So I climbed up and out of the bow - at that moment there was a blinding flash, and from then on I knew nothing more...
Our rear gunner maintains that while hanging from his parachute that he observed a renewed night fighter attack that led to an explosion. This explosion had torn the aircraft apart. Seeing no parachutes, Archie Turner assumed he was the only survivor.
When I came to, I was lying under trees. I was stiff with cold and had frostbite on his face. The worst of were my splitting headaches. While I was recovering consciousness, I tried to reconstruct what had happened. Firstly my stay in sick bay came back to me again. Slowly the fog that surrounded my memory went away and the memory of the events came back. The flight, the night attack, the fire, my crew and finally, the glaring light. I knew that I had not managed to get out and could not understand how I was still alive.
I stood up and was at first very wobbly on my legs. Apart from the frostbite I had a wound on his leg and terrible headaches. Otherwise, everything was fine. My parachute lay opened next to me. However, I could not remember pulling the rip cord.
It was 21:30hrs. At 20:12hrs was the last time I had looked at the time. So I was a little more than an hour unconscious. I suspected that I was thrown out of the aircraft by the explosion and the pressure had perhaps opened my parachute. The frostbite had probably got me while hanging in the parachute.
The parachute and other personal equipment I hid in the undergrowth. Then I tried to head out in a westerly direction out of the woods. So I walked for hours, but the forest was endless. At some time or other I collapsed. In the morning at 06:00hrs I came to around again. The ground was white and hard as stone. I was totally frozen through. When I got up again, to my surprise saw a parachute in the distance hanging in bushes. There I found my mate Dennis Ashworth, his uniform was covered with blood - he was dead. I assumed that he - hanging from his parachute - was hit by debris of the exploding plane. I covered his body with the parachute.
Then I removed all the badges of my uniform, studied my escape map and set off in a south-westerly direction. I turned my uniform jacket inside out, to possibly look like a civilian. I was worried that my strength would fail, before I reached the Rhine. So I trudged all day long, cross-country, through the woods, but always on the lookout for people. As twilight set in, it started to rain. I spent a very wet and uncomfortable night huddled under bushes. On the morning of the third day of my escape it was still raining. I marched on, but had to rest again after a few hours. I rested in an abandoned stone quarry. Somehow I had orientation problems.
I wasn’t aware that I was more seriously injured that expected: Later I was diagnosed with a skull fracture, that naturally impeded orientation. I also had lost my little compass! In the hope that the rain would stop soon, I marched on. Walking across country was now becoming increasingly difficult because the ground was soft.
On the fourth day, I had scarcely escaped discovery by a reconnaissance plane of the Luftwaffe. A "Fieseler Storch" flew over me in treetop height. I hid myself in the bushes. They were obviously looking for me, because an observer was scanning the area with binoculars. Shortly after that I reached the river Lahn. The river was flooding and the only nearby bridge had too much traffic. So I watched it from a tree, when the opportunity to cross it was suitable. It was getting dark. Finally it was time. After I crossed the river, I remained without further ado on the road, I went forward much faster. I met some people who wished me a "Good evening". Apparently I have responded appropriately, because they weren’t suspicious. It was still raining!
On the fifth day my flying boots were as good as useless. Moreover I was plagued by headaches. Now I my thigh wound was hurting when I walked. The damn rain was getting increasingly worse, and when it got dark and I stumbled through ankle-deep mud. On a forested slope, I finally lost my grip and slipped again in an old quarry. It was now dark.
I decided to spend the night there to regain his strength. My daily ration consisted of only two vitamin pills and a cigarette! After that I fell asleep. When I awoke a few hours later, I was surprised to find that it was snowing! My body was already completely covered with snow. At dawn I left the quarry. I realized that my footprints in the snow were not improving my chances of a successful escape. Considering my ambitious plans, I felt weak and sick. I wanted to make it to Paris, where we had contacts with the Resistance.
So I marched through mud and snow, until I reached a railway embankment. According to my map of the route would lead towards Koblenz. I followed the path up to a small station. There I hid myself to jump on a passing train. Finally, I heard a train coming!
I left my hiding, sneaking along the embankment and was relieved when I saw that it was a freight train that was heading west. As expected, the train reduced its speed as it passed the station. As the wagons rumbled past me, I stood up and tried to jump on. I grabbed a bar and was lifted up, but I was just too weak to pull myself into the car. My hands gave up and I fell beside the track. By a hair’s breadth I would have been run over. Exhausted, I lay in the snow, bitterly disappointed at my failure. After a while I recovered myself again and followed the tracks to the west. It snowed continuously. So I dragged myself a further eight kilometres, then I was at the end. I hid in a bush on the railway embankment and slept for some time. When it got dark, I left the rails and continued my march on a parallel road.
After a while I came to a small town. During my six-day flight I had avoided any human contact. I did not care now, I was careless. On the main road, I saw a policeman, who was talking with someone in a leather jacket. I stopped abruptly stand and pretended to look at a shop window. In the reflection of the window, I could see how one of the two pointed at me. I went ahead and saw that they were following me. I walked into a small cinema, ran through the middle row of the empty hall and left it by the back door. I ran through a maze of small alleys, until I finally reached the outskirts. On a hill above the town I collapsed again. No wonder, for the last six days I had only been feeding myself vitamin tablets.
According to my map I was not far from the Rhine. A flooded river crossed with guarded bridges. What were the chances! At least it had stopped snowing. I moved on freely, steady uphill. I wanted to take the risk. I hoped to be able to see the Rhine from the hilltop.
An elderly farmer with a horse and cart came towards me. He spoke to me. That's it! My legs buckled and I fell into the snow. The farmer jumped out of his cart and helped me stand up. It was the end of a nightmare and the beginning of my rescue!
The farmer took me home. His wife gave me a piece of bread and a cup of coffee substitute. She spoke a little English and we chatted about London.
In the meantime, someone had notified the police, who were not long in coming. My hosts were cautioned, while I was searched for weapons. Then I was taken, limping, to the nearest police station. The holding cell in the basement reminded me of a kind of dungeon. Down an old stony spiral stairs, dark and musty. There I slept for a few hours. I was woken up and brought up for interrogation. In the meantime an interpreter arrived, who translated the questions of the Chief. However apart from my name, rank and personnel number, I gave no further information.
A guard spoke broken English, with a strong American accent. I could not help asking him what part of the Bronx, he came from, upon which he only thought I was being funny and what I would say if it led to hanging. I grinned, upon which he angrily took a swing. Just then a lieutenant in the Luftwaffe entered the room and stepped between us, so that the situation was defused. He later apologized for the security guard’s behaviour. After the paperwork, he took me to the station. We boarded the cab of the next train. By the way, the locomotive was operated by two women.
The name of the lieutenant was Bruen, he was a Focke-Wulf 190 pilot and came from a nearby airfield. He opened his briefcase and offered me bread, margarine and sausages - a feast for those days. We passed Limburg on the Lahn and the rapid train journey ended in Frankfurt. There guards greeted me. Before the next morning on the tram that went "through clearance" (Dulag), I got together with other prisoners still a bowl of soup. In the Dulag the interrogations were conducted.
Until the end of the war I was a prisoner of war (ref: 1670) in "Stalag air1" Barth ", 50 kilometers north of Rostock. Archie Turner, our tail gunner came through for a few days, but was arrested near Koblenz. Until the end of the war he was in Stalag 4B RNZAF "Mühlberg-Elbe" (Kriegsgefangenen-Nr.: 263632). The two of us were the only ones to survive "..a
The five killed crew members were initially buried at the local cemetery.
Beaumont, Palmer and Wilson were found in the district of Winkels, they found Meek between Winkels and Probbach. The parachutes hadn’t opened. Ashworth was discovered in the district of Barig-Selbenhausen with an open parachute. However all were later transferred to the British War Graves Cemetery in Hanover.