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Mission: Hamburg

Date: 27/28th July 1943

Unit: No. 106 Squadron

Type: Lancaster III

Serial: ED708

Code: ZN-?

Base: Syerston

Location: Unknown.

Pilot: Fl/Sgt. John Bennett Charters 1039009 R.A.F.V.R. Age 21. Killed

Fl/ Eng: Sgt. George Rowland Slack 1496119 R.A.F.V.R. Age 22. Killed

Nav: Sgt. Eric Bernard Jordan 1397047 R.A.F.V.R. Age 23. Killed

Air/Bmr: W/O. II Thomas Joseph Roche R/115295 R.C.A.F. Age 26. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. William Snowball Maben 1096832 R.A.F.V.R. Age ? Killed

Air/Gnr: Sgt. Joseph William Doyle 158890 R.A.F.V.R. Age ? Killed

Air/Gnr: Sgt. David William Downes 907282 R.A.F.V.R. Age 21. Killed


Took off from Syerston at 23.00 hours as part of a group of 787 aircraft - 53 Lancasters, 244 Halifaxes, 116 Stirlings and 74 Wellingtons - on one of the raids against Hamburg known as ‘Operation Gomorrah’. This was the night of the firestorm, which resulted from a combination of unusually dry and warm weather, the concentration of the bombing in one area and firefighting limitations. A total of 2,326 tons of bombs were dropped. In the period following the raid, approximately 1,200,000 people fled the city in fear of further raids. The aircraft was lost without trace and all the crew are remembered on the Runnymede War Memorial.

According to Martin Middlebrook, in his book, The Battle of Hamburg, Lancaster ED708 was the 16th or 17th plane to go down on the 2nd raid (the incident is interchangeable with Lancaster EE169 of 100 Squadron) by either Ofw Kubisch, rear gunner in Messerschmitt 110 of Major Lent IV/NJG1, or by Junkers 88 of Lt Stock, IV/NJG3. The plane came down in the North Sea, off the Frisian Islands, north west of Terschelling. The Major Lent referred to is Helmut Lent, a nightfighter ace who shot down 110 aircraft and was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. If he was responsible for the hit, it's small consolation that there wasn't much the crew could have done against such a formidable opponent.

Llent Helmut (1)ccLlent Helmut (2)
Oberst Helmut Lent would also lose his life in combat on the 7th October 1944

John Bennett Charters was born on 30 November 1921 in Newcastle upon Tyne. He was a joiner by trade and a keen cyclist, regularly cycling the 40 mile round trip from Newcastle to Eshott Hall in Northumberland to visit his younger sister Olive who was evacuated there.

John joined the RAFVR on 7 July 1941 at the age of 19. He started his training at the Elementary Flying Training School at Sywell and his log book shows his first flight on 24 September 1941 in a DH82 Tiger Moth.

usaf-training-aircraft-2-0028possibly-bt13-vultee0029       usaf-training-aircraft-1-0028possibly-bt13-vultee0029

In February 1942 he was transferred to the USA as part of the ‘Arnold Scheme’ (named after US Army Air Force General ‘Hap’ Arnold), a programme allowing the use of American air bases to train RAF pilots. The British who trained on the scheme were known as Arnoldians. They learned to fly in US Army Air Force planes with USAAF markings. Their flying instructors and most of the ground personnel were American. From February to June 1942, John was based at Darr Aero Tech, Albany, Georgia, training in PT17 Stearmans and BT13 Vultees, and in July and August he was based at the Advanced Flying School, Moody Field, Valdosta, Georgia, training in AT9 Curtisses, AT17 Crestnas, AT6 North American Harvards and AT10s.
There are no entries in the log book for September and October 1942. From 1 November to 8 December, John was based at RAF Shawbury, and from 14 December to January 1943 at RAF Stradishall, flying Oxfords.
In February 1943 the log book shows John being part of an Operational Training Unit, flying Wellingtons. Listed as pupils/passengers on these flights are Jordan, Maben and Downes who were later to form the crew of the ill-fated Lancaster ED708. From March 1943 to the beginning of April, John was part of an OTU at RAF Station Saltby, again flying Wellingtons.

fl-sgt-john-bennett-charters003aweb   fl-sgt-john-bennett-charters-and-wo-ii-thomas-joseph-roche   fl-sgt-john-bennett-charters002c-23-march-1942002c-albany-georgia003aa Left and extreme right: Fl/Sgt. Charters, Center: Fl/Sgt. Charters and W/O. II Roche (Courtesy Lynn Herron)

In May 1943, John was part of the 1654 Conversation Unit based at RAF Wigsley, flying Manchesters and Lancasters. Around this time he received news that he was to receive his commission as an Officer but sadly he was to die before it came through.
An entry in John’s diary on 5 June 1943 refers to his arrival at 106 squadron Syerston and his first impression of the camp was that it was “rather good”!
During June and July, John flew Lancasters on 11 missions, carrying out raids against Bochum, Oberhausen, Cologne, Mulheim, Wuppertal, Gelsenkirchen, Essen and Hamburg. Some of the entries in his diary during this period give an idea of how dangerous these missions were - 22/6/43: “NFT air firing and bombing. Mulheim at night. Very hectic trip. Got coned in search lights and nearly tore wings off to get out. Hit slightly by flak.”; 24/6/43: “Raided Wuppertal. Pretty good effort . . . Big hole in bomb doors which we didn’t discover till landed.” 25/6/43: “Gelsenkirchen tonight. Not a bad trip but experienced bags of light flak over Dutch coast. Lost 4 from the squadron tonight including Flight Commander.” On a lighter note, John writes on 26/6/43: “Stand down. All went to Nottingham and got tight. Bill, Dick and Eric much the worse for wear.”!

The crew of ED708. (left to right) W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. William Snowball Maben, Fl/Sgt John Bennett Charters,
Unknown, Nav. Sgt Eric Bernard Jordan. (Courtesy Lynn Herron)

W/O. II Roche (courtesy Lyn Herron)

By the time of John’s death, he had flown over 550 hours.
In a letter to John’s parents dated 29 July 1943, the squadron Wing Commander wrote, “During the six weeks your son had been with my squadron, he had taken part in 11 operational sorties and was developing into a first rate captain. He carried out his operational missions cheerfully and with confident courage and had achieved considerable success. We are most sorry to have lost him.”

John was a gentle, loving and thoughtful man and was much loved by his family and friends, especially his parents, his sisters Olive and Betty, and his fiancée Jean. He was, and always will be, a true hero.

Burial details:

Fl/Sgt. John Bennett Charters. Runnymede Memorial Panel 135
Son of Thomas and Elizabeth Charters, of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Sgt. George Rowland Slack. Runnymede Memorial Panel 165
Son of Eleanor Janet Slack, of Liverpool.

Sgt. Eric Bernard Jordan. Runnymede Memorial Panel 155
Son of Herbert and Mabel Jordan, of Catford, London; husband of Audrey J. Jordan, of Catford.

W/O. II Thomas Joseph Roche. Runnymede Memorial Panel 180
Son of Thomas A. and Catherine R. Roche, of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Sgt. William Snowball Maben. Runnymede Memorial Panel 157
Son of James Maben and Jessie Louisa Maben.

Sgt. Joseph William Doyle. Runnymede Memorial Panel 148
Son of John Robert and Ann Doyle, of Weaste, Salford, Lancashire.

Sgt. David William Downes. Runnymede Memorial Panel 148
Son of Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Downes, of Eridge Green, Sussex.

Researched by: Lynn Herron, niece of Fl/Sgt. John Bennett Charters, for the A.R. Society. Acknowledgments: With thanks to the following: Bill Chorley - "Bomber Command Losses", Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - "Bomber Command War Diaries", The Turner Field Air Force Base, the CWGC. Special thanks for additional information to Mrs Dorothy Davison, sister of William Snowball Maben.

The British Library is preserving this site for the future in the UK Web Archive at All Aircrew Remembered on our Remembrance pages, are therefor not just remembered here, but also subsequently remembered and recorded as part of our nation’s history
and heritage at The British Library.