• Plage Bonaparte à Plouha (Côtes d'Armor) - Haut-lieu de la Résistance

  • Sacy-le-Grand (Oise) - Mémorial en souvenir du F/O H. H. MacKenzie (RCAF)

  • Supermarine LF Mk.Vb Spitfire EP120 - G-LFVB - (The Fighter Collection)

  • Le Cardonnois (Somme) - Stèle à la mémoire de l'équipage du Boeing B-17 #42-31325, 452nd Bomb Group

  • B-17G-85-VE 44-8846 - F-AZDX - (FTV)


17th/18th June 1944


Lancaster Mk I HK-559


115 Squadron - Royal Air Force




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                                                                                                               En français france 


115 Squadron

On the night of 17th to 18th June 1944, 196 Lancasters from different Squadrons of the Royal Air Force took off from their English bases with a mission to bomb rail facilities in Aulnoye, Saint Martin-l'Hortier and Montdidier.

Participating in the attack, 115 Squadron, based at Witchford, Cambridgeshire, sent 14 four-engined aircraft which took off at 1:00 am. The target for 115 Squadron was Montdidier station.

The crew of the Lancaster Mk I - HK-559 :

P/O John Alan TRAILL RAAF Pilot 21 KIA
Sgt Douglas Albert DAWSON RAF Flight Engineer 22 KIA
F/S Ian Harrison SMITH RAAF Navigator 21 KIA
F/S John William VAN COOTEN RAAF Bomb aimer  22 KIA
W/O Peter DUFF RAF Wireless operator 34 KIA
Sgt Ernest Edwin STAPLEY RAF Mid upper gunner 35 KIA
Sgt Kenneth Edgar LAXTON RAF Rear gunner 20 KIA


P/O John Alan TRAILL    Sgt. Douglas Albert DAWSON    F/S Ian Harrison SMITH    F/S John William VAN COOTEN  
           P/O John Alain TRAILL            Sgt. Douglas Albert DAWSON           F/S Ian Harrison SMITH         F/S John William VAN COOTEN
          Burwood, New South Wales                  Ossett, Yorkshire                      Bondi, New South Wales                  Brisbane, Queensland
                      Australia                                           England                                         Australia                                      Australia
W/O Peter DUFF    Sgt. Ernest Edwin STAPLEY    Sgt. Kenneth Edgar LAXTON       
W/O Peter DUFF                  Sgt. Ernest Edwin STAPLEY             Sgt. Kenneth Edgar LAXTON

                                          Dundee, Scotland                          London, England                            Birmingham, England


Approaching the town, the weather was bad and the wind was strong. The target, obscured by clouds, was invisible. Bombing was impossible. German anti-aircraft defence joined the action.

The Lancaster HK-559, severely hit, quickly became unmanageable. The heavy four-engined aircraft burst into flames, still carrying its payload of bombs. Inexorably losing altitude, it spiralled over the village of Gannes, giving the seven crew members no chance to evacuate the aircraft. Around 2:00 am, it struck the ground, having torn the roof off a house near the small station of Gannes. The aircraft exploded and all seven airmen perished.

Miraculously, that night, nobody was inside the house usually occupied by a family evacuated from Le Havre because of the bombing.

The Lancaster HK-559 was the only one of the 14 aircraft of 115 Squadron not to return from this mission.

Divers 198 2
The crash site

At daybreak, it was a frightful spectacle for the villagers. The wreckage was strewn over a wide area and it quickly became clear that none of the members of the crew had survived this tragedy.

The funeral of the airmen was held on Wednesday 21st June in the church of Gannes and a large crowd gathered to pay tribute to the seven occupants of the aircraft.

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Coming out of the church, the funeral procession takes the direction of the cemetery.

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     The bodies of the airmen were then buried in the cemetery alongside French soldiers killed in June 1940. They rest there today.

Gannes cimetire 1948 3    Gannes1948 05 2     
Gannes Cemetery – The graves in 1948

The graves 6 2


The study by Ian Duff, nephew of the wireless operator, on this tragic event in Gannes.

21st June 2009 a ceremony was held at Gannes in memory of the crew.

21st June 2014 : ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the crash. 

15th June 2019 : ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the crash.





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