19-26 April 1943


The Battle of the Ruhr was still in full swing and 12 Sqn took part in two large attacks in this week in 1943, to Stettin (now Szczecin) in what was then Germany but is now part of Poland and Duisburg, which is part of the Ruhr area of Germany. The raid on Stettin, more than 600 miles from England, was one of the most successful raids of the Battle of the Ruhr with the Pathfinders carrying out perfect marking on the aiming point. Over 100 acres of the centre were devastated.

Two aircraft and all their crews were lost on the Stettin attack. As you will see below, both these crews were killed on or before their 5th mission. This was considered to be the most dangerous time for new crews.

Extract from Station Diary

Sqn Ldr John Richards was an RAF regular who joined in December 1936. Prior to his posting to Wickenby he was a flying instructor in South Africa. He and his crew were killed on their 5th mission.

Flight Sergeant Norbert Keefe was 20 and was a member of the Royal Australian Air Force. He was the son of William Andrew & Elizabeth Colista Keefe of Kensington, New South Wales, Australia. He and his crew were killed on their 4th mission.

Extract from Appendix to 12 Sqn Operational Record Book

4-10 January 1943


From November 1942 to January 1943, 12 Squadron had spent much of their time converting from Wellington bombers to Lancaster bombers and the missions below were some of the first flying the new type. They were the first squadron in 1 Group to convert.

These were typical missions for this period of the Second World War; La Rochelle was a large U-Boat base for the Germans and the HQ of their Naval Atlantic Command; Essen is in the Ruhr and was a major manufacturing base; Gardening was the euphemism for anti-shipping mine-laying, mostly on the coast of occupied Europe; the mines were known as “vegetables” by the RAF.

If an aircraft was lost or missing, it was the custom to only refer to the captain when describing losses, hence below it says “Sgt Marshall F.T.R.” although there were 6 other crew members:

  • Pilot (almost always the captain of the aircraft, regardless of rank)
  • Navigator
  • Bomb Aimer
  • Wireless Operator
  • Flight Engineer
  • Mid-Upper Gunner
  • Rear Gunner
12 Squadron operations

12 Squadron Operations

4/1/43 ESSEN 4 a/c nil casualties reported
8/1/43 GARDENING 10 a/c Sgt MARSHALL F.T.R.
9/1/43 ESSEN 8 a/c nil casualties reported

  • a/c = aircraft
  • F.T.R. = Failed to Return
  • Gardening = mine-laying

All of the information in the next section is taken from the Appendix to the Operational Record Book (RAF Form 541) compiled by 12 Sqn immediately after each mission. The further details recorded at the end were collated after the war by members of the Wickenby Register from information in the National Archives, the Public Records Office and from aircrew recollections. The Wickenby Register was an affiliation of ex-aircrew who served at Wickenby on 12 and 626 Squadrons – they had regular get-togethers at Wickenby every September until 2017, were responsible for the Icarus Memorial at the main entrance and issued a monthly newsletter.

Warrant Officer Marshall (centre) and 4 members of his crew.
Warrant Officer John Buick, the Navigator is second left. All were killed on the night of 8/9 January 1943.

Warrant Officer John Buick, a Canadian, as was his pilot and 2 other crew members, became friendly with a local family from Market Rasen and the whole crew were invited to Christmas dinner 2 weeks before they were killed. Sgt Ramsay was from Halfway House , Transvaal, South Africa. This was the first crew to be reported missing, since the Squadron’s conversions to Lancasters.

Extract from 12 Sqn Diary