The Collver crew, consisting of Pilot J. Collver, Wireless Operator W.G. Sorel, Navigator N. Bailey, Bomb Aimer R.B White, Flight Engineer W.Desborough and Gunners R.Leman and N.Jermey, flew a number of different aircraft while on operational status with 431 squadron. Most crews eventually got their "own" aircraft after they had demonstrated competence and survived a dozen or so missions. Even still, the aircraft would be flown by other crews on days that the aircraft "owners" were not scheduled to fly as there was almost always more crews available than aircraft.
By the time of the crew's arrival at Croft, the squadron had just completed switching over from the Handley Page Halifax Mk.V to the Halifax Mk.BIII, a vastly improved machine that had more power and could fly higher and faster as a result. The crew had just completed training at 1666 Heavy Conversion Unit where they flew the Halifax MkV., upon arriving at Croft the crew were given instructions on the differences of the Halifax Mk.BIII. A May 2, 1944 daily entry in the 431 squadron operational record book reads as such; "R196129 Sgt. Pinniger and R184399 Sgt. Sorel had their initial tour on Halifax III."
The first flight conducted on station was a six hour training flight carried out in Halifax LK828 coded SE-S, nicknamed "Simcoe Warrior". It was perhaps the most famous aircraft the squadron had because of its name and nose art, it was was featured prominently in publicity photographs and events.
The fabled Simcoe Warrior, its ground crew posed on the aircraft for this photo.
The crew's first op was carried out in Halifax MZ-509 coded SE-C to bomb the coastal gun batteries at Trouville, France, this was the only time they flew this aircraft. The Mark III Halifaxes flown by the Collver crew were unique in another respect, they were equipped with the Preston Green Mid-Under turret, a single .50 calibre machine gun mounted in a belly turret. Its use was not widespread throughout Bomber Command and was relatively short lived.
Its purpose was to provide a defense for the aircraft in the event that it was attacked from the bottom. The Luftwaffe had several types of aircraft that were equipped with upward firing guns and the preferred attack method was from underneath. It would seem that the Preston Green turret would be a much needed solution to counteract German tactics, however this was not the case. The fact that Bomber Command operated primarily at night meant that it was very difficult to discern enemy aircraft until it was usually too late. It was also decided by the higher-ups that better navigational aids were more important to the success of Bomber Command than extra firepower and that all aircraft would be fitted with the H2S ground mapping radar as soon as enough became available. The H2S was fitted in the same area as the Preston Green turret, meaning that both could not be fitted to the same aircraft.
A clear view of the Preston Green ventral turret on a Halifax MkBIII.
Also complicating matters was the fact that there were not enough gunners on the base to man the turrets, many times leaving them empty as a result, the Collver crew flew only 5 operations with the turret manned. 431 squadron operated Preston Green equipped Halifaxes for a little over 2 months, ironically, this occurred for the duration of the Collver crew's posting.
Following the crew's first operation they flew a number of different Halifaxes, in June, when the pace of operations spiked due to D-Day, the crew flew Halifax MZ-685 coded SE-A for 6 operations and 2 training flights. They would record more time on only their own aircraft once they were assigned to it in July. MZ-685 is the only aircraft in which the Collver crew flew that I have been able to find a photograph of. It was involved in an accident during take off on July 17, 1944 with F/O Tuckey at the controls and went off the runway colliding with a parked Halifax. Fortunately no one was hurt, but both aircraft were written off as a result. It is unknown if any of the Collver crew witnessed the event as most of the crew were on leave at the time of the incident.
Halifax MZ-685 SE-A on the back of Halifax LW-432 SE-P
On July 5, 1944 the Collver crew made their first flight in Halifax MZ-589 SE-H, an aircraft that had seen some action with 426 Squadron and was recently transferred to 431 squadron. It was built under license of Handley Page at the English Electric Company in Palmerston, Salisbury. The crew's first trips in the aircraft was for an operation against V-1 sites in France at Biennais. They would fly MZ-589 on 7 operations, 2 training flights and 2 diversionary returns to base. Included in the operations total is the fateful Hamburg mission from which they never returned.
A colour profile of Halifax MZ589 (authour's original)
The table below is a compilation of all the aircraft flown by the Collver crew while with 431 squadron taken from Navigator Norman Bailey's logbook..
|Date||Aircraft Code||Serial #||Activity||Aircraft Notes|
|3/5/44||Halifax III SE-S||LK-828||Bullseye||The fabled Simcoe Warrior|
|6/5/44||Halifax III SE-D||MZ-517||Bombing - Fighter Affiliation||Transferred to 432 squadron the 1659 HCU, written off 12/12/44|
|21/5/44||Halifax III SE-F||LW-412||Local Flying - Dinghy Drill|
|21/5/44||Halifax III SE-G||NA-498||Cross Country||Transferred to 1659 HCU|
|22/5/44||Halifax III SE-E||MZ-658||Bombing|
|22/5/44||Halifax III SE-B||NA-514||Cross Country - Bombing|
|23/5/44||Halifax III SE-A||MZ-685||Air to Air Firing|
|23/5/44||Halifax III SE-B||NA-514||Cross Country - Bombing||Aircraft failed to return from Sterkrade 16/6/44, 3 crew POWs, 4 killed.|
|24/5/44||Halifax III SE-C||MZ-509||Ops - Trouville||Crashed on take off at USAAF base Membury 26/8/44|
|27/5/44||Halifax III SE-Y||MZ-628||Ops - Le Clipon||Failed to return from operation to Vaires, France 18/7/44 all crew were killed.|
|28/5/44||Halifax III SE-G||NA-498||Fighter Affiliation|
|29/5/44||Halifax III SE-E||MZ-658||Cross Country||Ran out of fuel and abandoned over Knickshields Farm, Northumberland 26.8.44|
|31/5/44||Halifax III SE-A||MZ-685||Ops - Turned back (Leubringhen)|
|2/6/44||Halifax III SE-C||MZ-509||Bombing - SBA|
|5/6/44||Halifax III SE-A||MZ-685||Ops - Merville|
|6/6/44||Halifax III SE-K||MZ-657||Ops - Conde Sur Noireau||The first of two operations flown in SE-K.|
|9/6/44||Halifax III SE-A||MZ-685||Ops - Le Mans|
|12/6/44||Halifax III SE-L||MZ-537||Ops - Arras||Aircraft failed to return from Sterkrade 16/6/44, crew all POWs|
|14/6/44||Halifax III SE-A||MZ-685||Ops - Cambrai|
|16/6/44||Halifax III SE-A||MZ-685||Bombing - Air to Air - SBA|
|16/6/44||Halifax III SE-A||MZ-685||Ops - Sterkrade||SE-A crashed during takeoff on July 17, swinging of the and running into a parked SE-P LW-432, no injuries but both aircraft were written off.|
|18/6/44||Halifax III SE-G||NA-498||Cross Country|
|21/6/44||Halifax III SE-D||MZ-517||Ops - Neuville au Bois||Transferred to 432 squadron the 1659 HCU, written off 12/12/44|
|24/6/44||Halifax III SE-K||MZ-657||Ops - Bonnetot||SE-K crashed during takeoff for the July 5 Biennais operation, killing the bomb aimer F/O Dumville and injuring the crew.|
|5/7/44||Halifax III SE-H||MZ-589||Ops - Biennais|
|6/7/44||Halifax III SE-H||MZ-589||Diversion Ops - Biennais to base from Witchford|
|9/7/44||Halifax III SE-H||MZ-589||Ops - Mont Condon|
|12/7/44||Halifax III SE-H||MZ-589||Ops - Bremont|
|14/7/44||Halifax III SE-F||LW-412||Bombing - Fighter Affiliation||Transferred to 425 Squadron, scrapped in 1946|
|14/7/44||Halifax III SE-H||MZ-589||Formation Cross Country|
|16/7/44||Halifax III SE-H||MZ-589||Formation Flying - Bombing|
|18/7/44||Halifax III SE-H||MZ-589||Ops - Caen|
|20/7/44||Halifax III SE-H||MZ-589||Ops - Anderbelk|
|23/7/44||Halifax III SE-Q||MZ-861||Cross Country||MZ861 Struck off charge 2/5/45 from 187 Squadron|
|25/7/44||Halifax III SE-H||MZ-589||Ops - Stuttgart (diverted upon return)|
|26/7/44||Halifax III SE-H||MZ-589||Wing to Base|
|29/7/44||Halifax III SE-H||MZ-589||Ops Hamburg (missing)||MZ-589 and crew lost without a trace.|