William James Allan


This page is dedicated in honour of William James Allan

William James Allan

Sgt William James Allan RAAF –

Sgt William James Allan RAAF lost his life on the infamous Nuremburg raid of 30th/31st March 1944 when Lancaster ME624 AS-X of 166 Squadron flown by F/Sgt Roy Fennell was shot down by a night-fighter and crashed on Giessen airfield.  As Allan’s defence lawyer had asserted three months earlier – he was twenty-two and a half years old and 33,000 miles from home, doing a hazardous job in a hazardous occupation.

William Allan was born on 10th June 1921 at Yarrawonga, Victoria to James Harold Allan, a Land Agent and valuer and wife Linda Rosalind Allan (nee Collard). He attended the State School, Ashburton between 1932 and 1934, then De La Salle College in Malvern, leaving in 1936 to study the wool business – classing, sorting, warehousing etc. at Melbourne Technical College for two years, then undertaking a year’s militia training in the Australian Artillery. His application to join the RAAF was made on 21st December 1940. He listed football, cricket and tennis amongst his hobbies.

Prior to his posting to RAF Kirmington with 166 Squadron on 21st December 1943 William Allan had had short spells of operational duty at RAF Waltham and RAF Kelstern. Whilst at 625 Squadron he had flown on one operation in the crew of F/Sgt Jim Ives. Information recently discovered suggests that Allan had a stronger connection with the Ives crew than was previously apparent.

F/Sgt Allan arrived at Kelstern on 15th October 1943 following a spell at 1662CU and a short attachment at RAF Lindholme from 12th August. He already had operational experience having come to 1 Group operations via 27OTU, 1662CU, arriving at 100 Squadron with his crew on 30th May 1943.

Crews arriving at RAF Waltham around this time were captained by Sgt Harris, Sgt Goulevitch (later posted to 460 Sqn), Sgt L Wright (crew Robertson, McCloud, Hodges,McKean, O’Dea etc), Sgt Clark (Ron Clark, captain of Phantom of the Ruhr?) Sgt Boughton (Missing 16th June) and P/O Harvey.

Allan arrived with the crew of Welshman Sgt Clifford Harris, f/e Sgt Jack Jennings, nav F/Sgt Ronald McClure RAAF, b/a F/O William Leddiman, w/op, a/g Sgt Percy Arch, m/u Sgt Frederick Campbell RCAF, r/g Sgt William Allan RAAF.  The crew’s first operation was on 11/12th June against Dusseldorf  in ED555, HW-E.

The town of Bochum was the target on the following night 12th/13th June when the squadron ORB recorded that Sgt Harris’s r/g opened fire on a Me210.  Harris returned early on 14th/15th June raid on Oberhausen with the rear turret u/s.  On 16th/17th June the crew successfully bombed green ground markers at Cologne.

The period from the beginning of June was typically busy for 100 Squadron, with further operations following Cologne against Krefeld on the 21st, 22nd Mulheim, 25th Gelsenkirchen, 28th Cologne, followed by two more ops against Cologne on 3rd and 8th July and Gelsenkirchen on the 9th.  From  21st June for the rest of the month William Allan did not fly any operations with Sgt Steer and subsequently Sgt Harry Moran taking his place in the rear turret.

On the operation on 9th/10th July, Allan, now a F/Sgt, flew with W/O Templeman-Rooke in EE171 HW-Z which was hit by heavy flak just after bombing, bursting a tyre and causing holes.  A day later F/Sgt Allan committed the misdemeanour of missing the daily nine o’clock a.m aircrew parade  which escalated into an absence of 26½ hours (fortunately an operation called for the evening of 11th July 1943 was cancelled).  William Allan was reprimanded and forfeited two days pay, more significantly he was posted away from 100 Squadron back to 1662CU on 17th July.

Returning from the raid against Hamburg on 29th/30th July Sgt Harris landed at RAF Blyton at 03.42.  It is conceivable that Harris sought out his former rear gunner before returning to Waltham.  Having operated on 2nd/3rd August, Harris’s crew did not appear on the battle order until 9th/10th August.

Meanwhile at RAF Blyton William Allan fell foul of the authorities again for what appears to have been a prank fuelled by alcohol. F/Sgt Allan received a severe reprimand for being in possession of two clocks taken from the Sun & Anchor pub at Scotter on 4th August (had Harris’s crew arranged to meet up with Allan for a reunion?)

The clocks incident signalled a cause for concern – it was deemed necessary to bring William Allan back into line. In May 1943 questions had been asked in the House of Commons about the punitive nature of the Aircrew Refresher Course where aircrew exhibiting ‘carelessness’ or ‘disobedience’ or ‘tendencies in those directions’ (Mr H Balfour, Hon Sec for Air), were sent for a period of re-training. There was an element of the ‘glass-house’ for airmen on the refresher course at RAF Norton, Sheffield, on which Allan embarked on 13th August.

The course featured a tough physical regime of drill, fitness runs, PT, shooting and unarmed combat as well as lectures on airmanship, law, discipline and admin. Personal hygiene was a concern at RAF Norton where infestations of lice, dental and oral health problems were apparently common. While he was there Allan spent two periods in the Station Sick Quarters between 25th and 31st August, and again from 3rd September to 9th. To his credit he ‘passed’ the course with a score of 64% enabling him to return to aircrew duties at 1662CU on 17th September.

While Allan was in SSQ at RAF Norton W/O Clifford Harris’s crew were posted missing on 30/31st August 1943 operation to Moenchengladbach.  EE181, HW-A2 crashed in the target area – Harris & McClure survived to become PsoW but Jennings, Gordon, Arch, Campbell and Moran were killed.

F/Sgt Allan enjoyed a period of leave between 27th September and 3rd October, which coincided with Ives’s navigator James Goodrick’s leave and could indicate a link with the Ives crew. From records recently released it is apparent that F/Sgt Allan joined Jim’s crew at RAF Blyton during their time at 1662CU, he may well have flown with them on their ‘bulls-eye’ on 19th September.

The Ives crew’s next flying was on 7th October when they were recalled from their ‘bulls-eye’ after four hours in the air having taken in St Neots, Goole, Middlesborough,Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester and Peterborough. This was the last night of a bombing period and training traffic would not have been welcome with main force aircraft returning to eastern England.

In giving evidence as a witness at F/Sgt Allan’s Court Martial on 3rd December both Jim Ives and W/O David Johnson confirmed that William Allan was already a member of their crew when they arrived at RAF Kelstern on 15th October 1943.

Jim flew his ‘second dickie’ operation with Cyril Kroemer and crew on the evening of 18th October, arriving back at Kelstern at about 22.35 hrs. The next day saw F/Sgt Allan heading for trouble yet again.

Paraphrasing William Allan’s own statement:-

After duty on 19th October (Tuesday), F/Sgt Allan went to Grimsby to meet friends, intending to return to Kelstern on the workers’ bus which left Grimsby around 7.30 the following morning. The friends had a number of drinks together – they may well have been 100 Squadron aircrew with whom Allan had served previously – and stayed in Grimsby. William Allan overslept, not surfacing until about mid-day on Wednesday, he had missed the morning aircrew parade scheduled for 09.00 hrs. Allan caught the one o’clock bus from Grimsby to Louth, arriving there at 14.00 hrs, asking the conductor when the next bus to Kelstern would be he learnt that it would not be until 4.30pm, due to get to Kelstern at about five o’clock.

The unfortunate F/Sgt decided to go to the railway station from where he knew RAF transport to Kelstern normally left, but there was none. Realising that he would not get back to Kelstern in time for operations and ‘in a mood of despondency’ and resignation Allan decided to stay in Louth and went to the pictures. He stayed in Louth that evening and overnight with friends and returned to RAF Kelstern at about eight o’clock in the morning of Thursday 21st October.

While F/Sgt Allan was over-nighting in Louth his crew-mates, together with stand-in gunner Sgt Harold Powter, were on their way to Berlin, the sortie being aborted due to problems with navigator James Goodrick’s oxygen supply. They had returned early, would have had to explain themselves at their de-briefing and their collective mood cannot have been good.

Jim next saw William Allan at 08.30 the following morning when he arrived back at their hut on No 5 billeting site. Ives and Allan ‘had a conversation’ with Allan outlining his difficulties in getting transport back to base, that he had abandoned all hope of getting back the previous day and that he was back now. Jim told him that they had flown with a substitute and suggested that Allan should report to their Flight Commander Sq/Ldr Canham (which he did) as the errant a/g had acknowledged that there was likely to be some trouble over the matter.

Jim Ives testified that F/Sgt Allan had not been present for the 09.00 aircrew parade and during the morning of 20th he had searched for Allan in the Sgt’s mess and in their hut but couldn’t find him. Also making an observation when questioned by the Court ‘it is possible not always to be able to find members of your crew when you want them’ . The briefing for that evening’s operation had taken place at 15.00hrs and Allan had not been present, at 17.30 the crew took-off with a replacement gunner on board.

The Court Martial established that each member of the Ives crew had been present at parades on preceding days as F/Sgt Allan’s defence seemed to hinge on whether he had been aware of the order that all aircrew were expected to attend the morning aircrew parade. The normal procedure taken by the Flight Commanders was a roll-call of aircraft captains who answered for their crews.

W/O David Johnson backed up his skipper, confirming that the whole crew had been present in the crew-room on the morning of the 16th and recalled W/Cdr Preston instructing the crews that in future all should attend the parade in the crew room at 09.00hrs. Johnson also confirmed that he had seen the notice outlining the order on the crew room notice-board. A statement made by Johnson to the court to the effect that theirs was a happy crew and worked well together, suggests that the Court questioned their cohesiveness as a unit.

F/Lt J L Spiller took statements from the S/Ldr Canham, F/Sgt Ives, W/O Johnson and F/Sgt Allan on 26th October, Allan refused to sign his first statement – all he could say was that he slept-in and intended to catch the 07.30 workers’ bus back from Grimsby. At the Court Martial William Allan chose not to give evidence on his own behalf, nor to call any witnesses in his defence but he did submit a more comprehensive statement which outlined the events.

The events of 20th/21st October1943 did not reflect well on the Ives crew and their captain F/Sgt J K Ives. Unfortunately the absence of F/Sgt Allan, who had not long been with the crew, coincided with the early return from the Leipzig sortie with F/Sgt Goodrick suffering anoxia. F/Sgt Allan only flew operationally with the crew once more, to Dusseldorf on 3rd/4th November. While awaiting his Court Martial Allan had been under open arrest for 41 days(a person is considered to be in custody and their movements are restricted, but they are allowed to go about their normal daily business).

By 3rd December the crew had had two early returns out of their four operational starts but one of the crew had a questionable disciplinary record, another possibly had a question-mark over his confidence. The Court Martial seemed to question whether the crew was a happy unit with the possible inference that Jim Ives did not seem to be in full control of his crew. It is perhaps unsurprising that a few days after the Court Martial was convened the crew was split up.

Thanks to special petitioning by Flight Commander Jack Canham, William Allan was reduced to the rank of Sgt and accordingly did not lose his air-gunner status.  He was posted out from 625 Squadron to 166 Squadron where he joined the crew of F/Sgt Roy Fennell who had been shot-up by a German fighter over France on 26th November 1943 and was forced to make an emergency landing at RAF Ford. Fennell’s rear gunner Sgt C W Meadows had been wounded and the air-bomber Sgt R A Moodey had baled-out, Sgt J Smyth the navigator, W/op/ag F/Sgt Douglas Harvey RAAF and Sgt C Cushing were also injured.

On the Nuremburg operation of 30th/31st March 1944 RAF Bomber Command suffered its heaviest losses of the war when 95 out of a main force effort of 795 bombers failed to return to England. Lancaster ME624 was shot down by a night-fighter and crashed in flames on Giessen airfield, one of two bombers which crashed in the proximity of Giessen. Investigations made after the war found that Lancaster ME624 exploded in mid-air after being attacked and set on fire by a night-fighter, the wreckage falling on Giessen airfield. Only F/Sgt Keigwin, the crew’s bomb-aimer, was able to react to the order to bale-out before the aircraft went into a spin with both starboard engines and wing on fire. The Lancaster exploded a few seconds later.

The bodies of five of the crew were buried in Giessen Cemetery with some confusion as to the fate of the seventh crew member, leaving the families of those airmen not positively identified in a state of uncertainty for several years. F/Sgt William Allan’s body was one of those identified by his identity discs, as was pilot Roy Fennell.

Following post-war investigation it was still not clear whether one or two of the crew had successfully baled-out. Statements had been taken from eyewitnesses, albeit three years after the event, to the effect that the body of one of the crew had been found later in a wood at Wiseck and buried there, an assertion which proved to be unfounded.

Another witness reported that as well as five bodies, a severed hand had been found in the wreckage and buried with the remains of the others. An ex-official at the cemetery confirmed that the bodies of Fennell and Allan had been buried in the same grave, each with an identity disc, but refuted the story of the hand. Another eye-witness suggested that two members of the crew had been taken prisoner. In May 1945 news came from the survivor F/Sgt Keigwin who was able to report that when he baled-out the aircraft was already spinning to such a degree that it was unlikely that anyone else was able to get out. He was of the opinion that wireless operator Douglas Harvey went down with the aircraft. F/Sgt Harvey’s body was the one which was never found and so he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

Nachtjagd War Diaries lists two losses of four-engine aircraft in the Giessen area which concurs with the official accident report for Lancaster ME624. The claims were made by Lt Klaus Bretschneider of 6./JG300 at 00.35hrs in the Giessen area, and Uffz Brandt of 3.NJGr.10 who claimed a 4-motor (E.) Giessen: 6300m altitude at 01.05hrs.

424 Squadron HalifaxLV879 crashed approx. 6km NE of Giessen (at Alten-Buseck) having taken off from their base at Skipton-on-Swale half an hour before the Fennell crew’s departure from Kirmington. It seems probable therefore that Brandt shot down ME624, his first victim.

William Allan’s remains were carefully exhumed from Giessen Cemetery along with those of his crew-mates and re-interred in Hanover War Cemetery.  His name is recorded on panel 118 in the Commemorative area at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Sgt Allan’s character references were invariably ‘very good’ except for the entry upon posting away from RAF Kelstern on 21st December when, despite having been reduced in rank, his character was still assessed as ‘good’.

Operational aircrew were under extreme psychological pressures. William Allan had already undertaken half-a-dozen-or-so sorties to ‘hot’ targets in ‘Happy Valley’ during the ‘Battle of the Ruhr’ – his operational tour continued with 625 Squadron and 166 Squadron through the ‘Battle of Berlin’. Despite his problems Sgt William James Allan, aged 22, had pressed-on.