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Mission: Düsseldorf, Germany.

Date: 31st December 1942

Time: 20.15 hours.

Unit: No.83 P.F.F. Squadron R.A.F.

Type: Avro Lancaster I

Serial: W4799

Code: OL-S

Base: R.A.F. Wyton, Huntingdonshire.

Location: Between Demen and Ravenstein, Netherlands.

Pilot: P/O Leonard Thomas Jackson D.F.C. J/15950 R.C.A.F Age 21. Killed.

Fl/Eng: Fl/Sgt David Smith 1008971 R.A.F.V.R. Age 28. Killed.

Nav: Fl/Lt. James McMillan 109159 R.A.F.V.R. Age 27. Killed.

Air/Bmr: Fl/Sgt. Basil Eldon Hargrove R/73175 R.C.A.F. Age 20. Killed.

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Kenneth Chadwick Taylor 1034269 R.A.F.V.R. Age 22. Killed.

Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Leslie Robert Brettle 1382448 R.A.F.V.R. Age 20. Killed.

Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Daniel Crossthwaite R/127686 R.C.A.F. Age ? Killed.


P/O Jackson and his crew were shot down by Hptm. Reinhold Knacke of I/NJG1.

Extract from No.83 Squadron ORB (Operational record Book) 30/31st December 1942.

New Years Eve and a stand down. Our ideas of a party received a rude shock at noon when we were told to stand by. N.F.T's were carried out in a hurry, as not much time had been left for bombing up. We were reverted to main force of eight aircraft on Duesseldorf. Met forecast gave hopes of pretty good cloud protection which somewhat eased the situation especially as No.109 Squadron were going to find the target. Met.forecast broke down, there being very little thin cloud about. The defences spotted the marker flares and put up a barrage around them using quantities of "spider web" flak. The flak was accurate but somehow no one was even holed! Crews considered that this type of attack would be a real success provided flares are clear of cloud by about 3000 ft. That they can be above the flares, that the flares cannot be seen from the ground and that a fair size force be concentrated, (when used on heavily defended targets) even though the whole force cannot use the flares.
In spite of all these draw backs the attack appears to have been successful and all crews showed much intelligence in allowing for position errors when bombing. No photo flashes were carried as the Met forecast was not suitable. P/O. Jackson D.F.C. failed to return and he and his crew will be sadly missed. They are believed to have been shot down over Holland by a fighter and it seems had a fair chance of leaving the aircraft before it crashed. P/O Jackson was a favourite of the Squadron and his loss is sorely felt. He and his crew made a good example of co-operation and friendliness as well as determination!

It is also worth mentioning that previously on the 31st July/1st August 1942, again on a raid to Duesseldorf P/O. Jackson with members of this crew were hit by heavy flak over the target area. Port and starboard engines failed at 6000 feet. Hydraulics U/S, aircraft had to make the return trip at a steady 6000 feet and returned safely.
Details of D.F.C. P/O. Jackson - London Gazette 20th November 1942:

One night in July 1942, Pilot Officer Jackson was pilot of a four engined bomber detailed to attack the heavily defended town of Düsseldorf. While making his attack, his aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire and severely damaged. The port and starboard outer engines were put out of action but displaying expert airmanship, Pilot Office Jackson manoeuvred his aircraft way from the target area.
On the return journey, he lost height until he was down to 6000 feet, when his aircraft was again engaged by searchlights and anti-aircraft fire, but by skilful evasive tactics, he was able to continue on his course and make a successful forced landing at his home base. Since this hazardous trip, Pilot Officer Jackson has taken part in many successful operations. By his high morale and fine conduct, both in the air and on the ground, he has set a valuable example.

1 Lancaster W4799 OL-S FlSgt David Smithccc2 Uncle Les in RAF uniform
Left: Fl/Sgt David Smith (Courtesy Ian Robertson - formerly Smith) Right: Fl/Sgt. Les Brettle (via Brettle).

3 Les at back on right-Len in front aged 11.
Les at the back on right with younger brother Len in front aged 11. (via Brettle).

4 Early grave marker
Original CWWG grave marker for Les and his crew (via Brettle).

5 Ray Brettle Uden Cemetery

A few words written in memory of Les by Ray Brettle;

"I grew up as a child in the 50`s seeing a picture of a young man in R.A.F. uniform on the mantelpiece of my own home and that of my Grandparents-but was too young to really be very interested in who he was. As I grew older I started to ask more questions and was simply told that it was Uncle Les - who died during the war. Finally as a teenager-and by then interested in aircraft and historic aviation in general. I was told that he had been shot down in the war over Holland and had been killed. In that pre-computer age I found out little more other than that he had served with 83 squadron a Pathfinder unit based at R.A.F. Wyton and was a Mid-Upper gunner on Lancaster's. My own Father knew very little more - but had added some family anecdotes and recollections of him flying on Hampden’s and being hospitalized at one point following a crash of some sort.
Many years later and long overdue I decided to start to trace as much information as I could and to make a visit to his grave and to pay my respects. Sadly by this time there was only one surviving brother - Len - who was only 11 at the time of his brother’s death on New Years Eve 1942. Thanks to the internet my limited research finally put me in contact with the Aircrew remembrance society - who in turn passed on my details to various individuals in the Netherlands - who unknown to me at the time, started to dig much more deeper into the history of the crashed Lancaster and its crew.
A visit was finally planned to visit his grave in Uden in the Netherlands in April of 2011 - and six of our family were able to travel there to make the pilgrimage and pay our long overdue respects. It was especially fitting that Len Brettle - the surviving brother - was able make the journey along with his two sons Keith and Steven - myself Ray Brettle, my son Robin and my own brother Les - who was born in 1947 but named after our Uncle."
"We flew to Amsterdam and then drove the 60 or so miles to Uden-where we paid an initial private visit to the gravesite of our Uncle and the rest of his crew - all of whom sadly died in the crash. It was a moving moment when Len laid a wreath on his brothers grave. The following morning we returned to the cemetery to be met by Mr Antoon Verbakel, secretary of the Foundation - Uden war cemetery who had been advised by our Dutch contacts that we were coming and he showed us around and told us of the history of the burials etc.

6 Uden Cemetery
Len Brettle lays a wreath at the grave of his brother Les with his family by his side. From left to right - Ray Brettle, Les Brettle (my brother) Robin Brettle (my son) Len Brettle, Keith Brettle (Lens son, my cousin) Steven Brettle (Lens son, my cousin) (via Brettle).

Uden is located close to Arnhem and many of those interred there lost their lives in that battle - in addition to the many aircrew lost en route to and from their nightly bombing missions. The crew had originally been buried elsewhere soon after the crash - but had been reinterred after the war as part of a commonwealth war graves commission programme. We were also joined by Hans Ooms - who probably more than anybody had found out so much information for us - such as details of the original burial and details of the crash and also provided us with an actual copy of the crash report-made by the Luftwaffe-which contained details and indeed actual photographs of the aircraft after the crash. It confirmed that the Lancaster had been shot down by a night fighter on its way back from the first ever Oboe mission on 31st December.1942. He also provided us with details of the Luftwaffe pilot (Hptm. Reinhold Knacke).
During our walk round of the cemetery we were joined by the Mayor of Uden - who had also been informed of our visit and he made us incredibly welcome and along with all the others people we all met-paid his thanks to the sacrifice made by Les - his crew and all the other armed services - who gave their lives for the freedom of the Dutch people. After our walk round-much to our surprise - we were all then invited in to the home of a nearby lady resident who made us coffee and cake etc. It seems her late husband was a custodian of the cemetery for many years and she said that they had all been "taking care of our relatives" for all these years as it was the least that they could do."

7 Brettle family with Dutch
The Brettle family in conversation with our Dutch contacts and Mr.Antoon Verbakel (via Brettle).

8 Len Brettle at crash site
Len Brettle planting a memorial cross at the crash site of his brother Les. (via R. Brettle)

"Everybody was so incredibly sincere in their gratitude and it made us feel proud and not least - very humble indeed. Hans later took us to the crash site of the Lancaster-which he had found after much local research and we stood silently for a short while with our own private thoughts for Les and indeed the entire crew. Len took a moment to place a small wooden cross with a poppy on it in the field. We were also joined by Joost Vlemix - who is a local archaeologist and he had actually scoured the field with metal detectors and even after all these years had found many items of wreckage believed to have come from the crashed Lancaster. It is yet to be confirmed that are from the actual aircraft as by a one in a million chance it turns out that a Gloster Meteor had also crashed in that very same field sometime in the 1950`s! We then went invited to visit a local farmhouse where yet again we were invited in for coffee and home-made cakes. The lady in this house and her son Hans Markx once again were so incredibly welcoming and it transpired that as a young girl she had witnessed the crash. She also sadly told the tale of many other crashes in the local area by British/American and German aircraft."

9 Mark family
At the farm of the Markx family for coffee and cakes (via R. Brettle).

10 Mark family

"Nothing we can ever do can repay the sacrifices made by our aircrew and its vitally important we dont ever forget them-but with the outstanding help of the Aircrew remembrance society - our family at least were able to pay our respects to a family member - who sadly most of us were never able to meet. We were later also passed on all of Les`s operational records during his time with 83 squadron. He completed 22 trips before his loss - and had also done an as yet unknown number with No. 50 Squadron. His records make for some remarkable reading - including one trip where they were hit by flak over the target and lost two engines and hydraulics - and made their way home at 6000ft.

In honour of the crew of Lancaster W4799 OL-S.

Pilot officer L.T. Jackson R.C.A.F, Fl/Sgt D. Smith, Fl/Lt J. McMillan, Fl/Sgt. K.C Taylor, Fl/Sgt B.E. Hargrove R.C.A.F, Fl/Sgt. D.Crossthwaite, R.C.A.F, Fl/Sgt L.R. Brettle."
Sgt. Brettle arrived on squadron 4/7/42 from 1654 Conversion Unit.

All flights but one were with P/O. Jackson (he received commission and D.F.C. during tour).

21/22-07-42 Duisberg Pilot J E Partridge Lancaster R5671

29/30-07-42 Saarbrucken Pilot Jackson R5670

31-07-42 Dusseldorf

5/6-08-42 Mining in Gironde River

24/25-08-42 Frankfurt

27/28-08-42 Kassel

6/7-09-42 Duisburg R5671

8/9-09-42 Frankfurt R5868

10/11-09-42 Dusseldorf R5671

13/14-09-42 Bremen W4103

14/15-09-42 Wilhelmshaven R5670

16/17-09-42 Essen - R5630

19/20-09-42†Munich R5625

02/03-10-42 Krefeld W4103

05/06-10-42 Aachen W4103

06/07-10-42 Genoa (Returned Early)

13/14-11-42 Genoa W4103

15/16-11-42 Genoa W4103

Crew flew 2 missions on 22/23-11-42 and 18/19-11-42 but Sgt Brettle did not fly with them.

29/30-11-42 Turin W4799

11/12-12-43 Turin - ED353

20/21-12-42 Duisberg W4799

21/22-12-42 Munich

11 Crew graves
The graves of Les's crew at Uden Cemetery (via R. Brettle).

Burial details:

Uden War Cemetery, Netherlands.

Update: Saturday 14th January 2012 via Ray Brettle.

I had an interesting and somewhat emotional meeting on Saturday at the RAF museum-with Ian Robertson and his wife. He is the son of the Flight engineer Sgt D. Smith-who was lost with my Uncle and the crew. He changed his name in later years to Robertson. He knew very little of his Dad-so I was at least able to fill him in with some of the details-that at least I knew and pointed him in the right direction-to find out more if he wanted to. He said his Dad had originally been a RAF ground engineer/instructor-"somewhere near Aylesbury"-so from that I deduced and have assumed he may have been a "Halton brat"-or indeed trainer of brats!!

He then volunteered as aircrew and as we now know was lost on 31st December.1942. He doesnt appear as a regular name as part of the crew in the ORB-but did four or five trips with them at least. He may therefore have been a "spare bod" -or even the Squadron senior Flt. engineer without a regular crew?

Ian was only 5 months old when his Father died-and his mother later re married (although she is amazingly still alive and living in Scotland-so he is going to try and find out anything more that he can from here-if she is able to remember etc.) We met in front of the Lancaster R5868 -in which both his Dad and Les did one trip on 8/9th September.1942.Gives you a slightly eerie feeling knowing that your family member had flown in that very same aircraft on ops.

12 Ray Brettle with Ian Robertson
Ray Brettle & Ian Robertson with Lancaster R5868 which les Brettle flew in on the 8/9-09-42 to Frankfurt. (Brettle)

13 Mid upper turret
Mid-upper gunners position of Les Brettle on the 8/9-09-42. (Brettle)

Researched by Melvin Brownless, with the help of Neil Webster, Ray Brettle and all our Dutch friends. (Updated July 2013). With thanks also to Douglas Wood for submitting information for the D.F.C citation of P/O Leonard Jackson and to Ian Robertson for the photo of his father.

Acknowledgements: Nick and Carol Carter - "The Distinguished Flying Cross and how it was Won 1918-1995"
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.