Brian Gordon GRASBY

Poppy

GRASBY, Brian Gordon

Service Number: 417176
Enlisted: 31 January 1942, Adelaide
Last Rank: Flight Sergeant
Last Unit: No. 467 Squadron (RAAF)
Born: Hahndorf, SA, 16 September 1922
Home Town: Balhannah, Adelaide Hills, South Australia
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Not yet discovered
Died: Aircraft shot down during night bombing raid - Lille (Fr), Lille, France, 10 May 1944, aged 21 years
Cemetery: Hellemmes-Lille Communal Cemetery
Row A. Grave 8.
Memorials: Adelaide WW2 Wall of Remembrance, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Balhannah WW2 Roll of Honour
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World War 2 Service

31 Jan 1942: Enlisted Royal Australian Air Force, Aircraftman 2 (WW2), SN 417176, Aircrew Training Units, Adelaide
28 May 1942: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Leading Aircraftman, SN 417176, No. 1 Wireless Air Gunners School, Empire Air Training Scheme
10 May 1944: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Flight Sergeant, SN 417176, No. 467 Squadron (RAAF), Air War NW Europe 1939-45

Bad night over Lille - 10/11 May 1944

Lille is a major rail hub in northern France close to the Belgian border and a major junction between Paris, to the south, Calais to the west and Brussels (Belgium) to the north. It was a key target in the run up to D Day in June 1944 when a major bombing offensive called the Transportation Plan, was directed at transport infrastructure, to impede the provision of reinforcements to the intended battlefront - the location of which was, of course, top secret at this point in time.

On the night of 10/11 May 1944 a large fleet of bombers were despatched to bomb a series of rail yards in northern France, at Lille, Lens (further south), Courtrai, Ghent (further north in Belgium) and Dieppe on the Atlantic coast. Over 500 aircraft were involved; the majority were Lancasters but also Halifaxes and some fast and nimble Mosquitos performing a Pathfinder and Target marking role.

Both 463 and 467 Squadrons RAAF were scheduled to take part in the Lille raid on the evening of 10/11 May. It was to be the worst night of the war for the two Waddington squadrons. Of 31 aircraft despatched between them, six failed to return. The total losses of the raid were 12 so the two RAAF squadrons represented 50% of the total losses. A total of 42 men were missing the next morning. This represented a loss rate of 20%. The impact of the empty seats at breakfast would have been devastating.

This was followed the next night by the loss of 467 Squadron's CO, decorated Pacific veteran GPCAPT John 'Sam' Balmer OBE DFC and his crew, leading another Transportation Plan raid.

There was only one survivor from the six Australian aircraft. Squadron Leader Phil Smith, DFC, flying B for Baker in 467 Squadron was thrown clear of his exploding aircraft, and managed to parachute to safety minus a flying boot and then spent four months evading the Germans. B for Baker exploded as it was dropping its bombs; it may have suffered a similar fate to JO-J in 463 Squadron - been destroyed by a German night fighter attacking from below (but unlikely given they were directly over the target where the risk from flak and falling bombs tended to discourage night fighter attack), been hit by flak or most likely, it may have collided with another aircraft

The story of JO-J's loss from 463 Squadron, provides an insight as to the fate that befell a number of aircraft that night and the cause of losses that was only identified the following month when a German nightfighter fitted with upward firing cannon, was captured after it landed at an occupied airfield by mistake. JOJ was shot down on its way home, by Lt Hans Schmitz flying a Messerschmitt Bf110G night fighter variant with upward firing cannon, nick-named 'Schrage Musik' by the Germans. The aircraft positioned itself in a blind spot under the Lancaster, before unleashing a hail of 20mm cannon fire into the underside of the bigger plane. The effect was often catastrophic as was the case with JOJ, which broke up in mid-air and rained wreckage in and around the Dumoulin quarry near Langemark in northern Belgium. There were no survivors.

LL881 - 22/03/44 to 10/05/44, Callsign JO-E: 11 Missions.
The first on 22/23-Mar-1944 to Frankfurt.
The 9th mission on 10/11-May-1944 to Lille when LL881 was listed as missing.

418915 FSGT John Henry BROWN RAAF WOP 31 HELLEMMES
427445 FSGT George Martin DANN RAAF RGNR 30 FOREST/MARQUE
430019 FSGT Colin Henry EASTGATE RAAF MUG 29 FOREST/MARQUE
410493 FLGOFF George Oswald JONES RAAF NAV 23 FOREST/MARQUE
10119 POFFR William John LEWIS RAAF FENG 32 FOREST/MARQUE
416443 WOFF Alan Richard MacKENZIE RAAF BAim 26 FOREST/MARQUE
420413 FLGOFF Dudley Francis WARD RAAF PILOT 24 FOREST/MARQUE
8 missions were flown by this crew.

LL-882 - 463 Sqn. 24/03/44 to 10/05/44, Callsign JO-J 'The Langemark Lancaster - see related story.
There were 15 missions recorded in the Operational Record with the first in March 25/26 1944 to Aulnoye.

407199 FLOFF Robert McKerlie CROFT RAAF MUG 27 WEVELGUM
407821 FLOFF David Payne CROSTON RAAF RGNR 32 WEVELGUM
1443752 FSGT Bertram FRASER RAF BAim 22 WEVELGUM
134697 FLOFF Ronald JACQUES RAF NAV ? WEVELGUM
1802369 SGT Harry Law MOLYNEUX RAF FENG 21 WEVELGUM
422817 SQNLDR Mervyn POWELL RAAF PILOT 29 WEVELGUM
406700 FLTLT William Neil READ RAAF WOP 22 WEVELGUM

HK535 - 463 Sqn.
20/12/43 to 10/05/44, Callsign JO-N 11 Missions.
First mission to Frankfurt 20/21-Dec-1943. This was their 11th Mission

24519 FSGT Richard William ASH RAAF MUG 20 HELLEMMES
1609134 SGT Raymond Herbert BOULTON RAF FENG 19 HELLEMMES
422414 FSGT Ivan CHAPPLE RAAF NAV 24 HELLEMMES
423878 POFF Walter Thomas PETERS RAAF BAim 24 HELLEMMES
1459044 SGT Leonard Edgard PRINGLE RAF WOP ? HELLEMMES
425226 FLTLT Eric Mc Laren SCOTT RAAF PILOT 22 FOREST/MARQUE
424888 WO William Allen SLADE RAF RGNR 23 MISSING

No. 467 Squadron RAAF

LM475 Callsign PO-B for 'Baker'. A very experienced crew. First mission Dec 1943 See blog link in Sidebar. This was their 20th Mission and the last for Phil Smith to complete his second Tour.

1352851 SGT Eric Reginald HILL RAF MUG 22 LEZENNES
425413 FSGT Alistair Dale JOHNSTON RAAF WOP 24 LEZENNES
658844 FSGT Jeremiah PARKER RAF BAim 30 LEZENNES
423311 FSGT Gilbert Firth PATE RAAF RGNR 27 LEZENNES
412686 WOFF Royston William PURCELL RAAF NAV 22 LEZENNES
400495 SQNLDR Donald Phillip Smeed SMITH RAAF PILOT EVADE the only survivor from 12 aircraft
1850279 SGT Kenneth Harold TABOR RAF FENG LEZENNES

LL788 Callsign PO-G
2221020 SGT Charles Arthur NASH RAF MUG 23 FOREST/MARQUE
424914 FSGT Herbert William Reid FERGUSON RAAF RGNR 28 HELLEMMES
417176 FSGT Brian Gordon GRASBY RAAF WOP 21 HELLEMMES
422506 FSGT William Stanley HANCOCK RAAF BAim 22 HELLEMMES
1431527 SGT Cyril DUTHOIT RAF FENG LEZENNES
420870 POFF William Eldred FELSTEAD RAAF PILOT 22 LEZENNES
1580333 SGT John MELLOR RAF NAV 30 LEZENNES

EE143 Callsign PO-J
427870 FSGT Bernard Francis CODY RAAF MUG 23 ANNAPPES
2220133 SGT George BENNETT RAF RGNR 27 HELLEMMES
419298 FLOFF Harry Ronald CROUT RAAF BAim 29 HELLEMMES
414997 POFF Douglas HISLOP RAAF PILOT 23 HELLEMMES
1891298 SGT Bertram Stephen LONGHURST RAF FENG 37 HELLEMMES
25243 FLOFF John Francis TUCKER RAAF WOP 25 HELLEMMES
424239 FSGT Kevin Campbell WAIGHT RAAF NAV 20 HELLEMMES

Three other Australians were lost in other aircraft on the raid;

414761 POFF Hugh DonaldD CAMPBELL RAAF PILOT 23 9 Sqn LM528 WS-D HELLEMMES
423359 FLOFF Albert Edward TYNE RAAF BAim 33 9 Sqn LM528 WS-D FOREST/MARQUE
425794 FSGT Walter James WHITE RAAF AG 23 9 Sqn LM520 WS-X FOREST/MARQUE

This remains a work in progress

We are tracking images of these men; if you can help, Register and join over 20,000 people who have contributed material to the site.

Thanks to ADF Serials website for this detail, and to the researchers of 'Aircrew Remembered' to which links have been posted.
Thanks also to Conrad Dumoulin, Belgium for providing assistance in the preparation of this article and that of the 'Langemark Lancaster' to which his father was a witness.

Thanks to Adam Purcell, his excellent blog @somethingverybig.com and the story of 'B for Baker' of No. 467 Squadron
CWGC websites and cemetery pages
WW2 Nominal Roll
AWM Roll of Honour

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Biography contributed by Steve Larkins

Brian Grasby had been born in the Adelaide Hills town of Hahndorf in Spetember 1922.  By the time of his enlistment he gave his address as Balhannah, a nearby Hills town.

 

He enlisted aged 19 years old on 31 January 1942 in Adelaide.  After Initial Training School at Mt Brecon at Victor Harbor, Brian was posted to No. 1 Wireless and Air Gunnery School where he qualified as a Wireless Operator / Air Gunner before embarking for the UK.  After Heavy Conversion Training and finally Operational Training Unit, he was 'crewed up' and posted to No. 467 Squadron at Waddington in Lincolnshire. 

On 10 May 1944, FSGT Brian Grasby was the Wireless (radio) Operator of Lancaster LL788, radio call sign PO-G.  They were an experienced crew having taken part in 20 previous missions.  This night they were taking part in a large raid on the railway yards in Lille, northern France,  in the lead up to the imminent invasion of Europe.  At this stage the exact location (which subsequently took place on the Normandy coast) was a closely guarded secret.  However rail junctions and trasport hubs were key targets to impede the provision of supplies and reinforcements to landing sites.

The raiding force crossed the coast near Ostend in Belgium then headed south east to Lille, where they came under attack from German anti aircraft artillery ('Flak') and night-fighters.  PO-G was one of those shot down over the target, possibly by Flak,  causing the aircraft to explode in mid air raining wreckage onto a factory in Lezennes, a south-eastern suburb of Lille. 

There were no survivors; Brian Grasby was killed, along with all his fellow crewmates, including the pilot FOFF Bill Felstead, Flight Sergeants  Bill Hancock and Herbert Ferguson, all Australians as well as British Sergeants Charles Arthur Nash,Cyril Duthoit and John Mellor.

Brian Grasby was jsut 22 years old. His body was buried in the Hellemmes Communal Cemetery, near Lille in the Nord Pas de Calais region of France. 

 

Compiled by Steve Larkins Apr 2020 from a range of sources.  See accompanying 'Perosnal Story ', 'Bad Night over Lille'

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