John Raeburn ('Sam') BALMER OBE, DFC

Poppy

BALMER, John Raeburn

Service Number: 68
Enlisted: 19 December 1932, Point Cook, Victoria, Australia
Last Rank: Group Captain
Last Unit: No. 467 Squadron (RAAF)
Born: Bendigo, Victoria, Australia, 3 July 1910
Home Town: Maldon, Mount Alexander, Victoria
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Professional RAAF Officer
Died: Aircraft shot down during night bombing raid, Leopold, Belgium, 11 May 1944, aged 33 years
Cemetery: Heverlee War Cemetery, Flanders, Belgium
Plot 5, Row D, Grave l
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour
Show Relationships

Non Warlike Service

19 Dec 1932: Enlisted Royal Australian Air Force, Aircraftman 2 (WW2), SN 68, Aircrew Training Units, Point Cook, Victoria, Australia

World War 2 Service

1 Jun 1940: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Squadron Leader, SN 68, No. 13 Squadron (RAAF), Australia's Northern Periphery
1 Apr 1941: Promoted Royal Australian Air Force, Wing Commander, No. 13 Squadron (RAAF)
1 Jan 1942: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Wing Commander, SN 68, No. 7 Squadron (RAAF), Air War SW Pacific 1941-45
18 Mar 1942: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Wing Commander, SN 68, No. 100 Squadron (RAAF), Air War SW Pacific 1941-45
1 Jun 1942: Honoured Officer of the Order of the British Empire, Air War SW Pacific 1941-45
18 Aug 1943: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Group Captain, SN 68, No. 467 Squadron (RAAF), Air War NW Europe 1939-45
18 Apr 1944: Honoured Distinguished Flying Cross, Air War NW Europe 1939-45, Why it wasn't aDSO is perplexing (Ed comment)
4 May 1944: Promoted Royal Australian Air Force, Group Captain, No. 467 Squadron (RAAF)
11 May 1944: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Group Captain, SN 68, 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

Read more...
Showing 1 of 1 story

Biography

John Raeburn Balmer, OBE, DFC (3 July 1910 – 11 May 1944)

John Balmer was a professional Air Force officer pre war and rose to senior rank as a bomber pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in WW2.

Extract from the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

John Raeburn Balmer (1910-1944), air force officer, was born on 3 July 1910 at Bendigo, Victoria, son of Sydney Raeburn Balmer, lawyer, and his wife Catherine Haswell, née Macdonald, both Victorian born. Educated at Scotch College and the University of Melbourne, John joined the Royal Australian Air Force as an air cadet on 19 December 1932. He completed two flying courses, was commissioned on 1 April 1933 and transferred to the Permanent Air Force in November. His most important pre-war posting (July 1935-November 1937) was with No.1 Flying Training School, Point Cook, Victoria, where he won repute as an exacting but imaginative instructor: he once parachuted from a training aircraft, leaving his reluctant but capable pupil to make the landing alone. Keenly interested in long-distance motoring, with another R.A.A.F. officer Balmer drove from Perth to Melbourne in December 1936, taking 65 hours 10 minutes to complete the journey and breaking the record by some 17 hours. In October-November 1938 he and a co-driver cut the round-Australia record from 45 to 23½ days.

From June 1940 Balmer commanded No.13 Squadron, a general reconnaissance unit based in Darwin; on 1 April 1941 he was promoted temporary wing commander. After a series of short postings, on 18 March 1942 he assumed command of No.100 Squadron which was equipped with Australian-built Beauforts. He was appointed O.B.E. in June. Balmer's exploits in the South-West Pacific Area established him as a leader. On the night of 25-26 June he took charge of a strike against a Japanese steamer in New Guinea's Huon Gulf. The assault was carried out at low altitude and pressed with great determination, but a later analysis failed to confirm the vessel's sinking. In October he led the squadron's torpedo-bombers from Milne Bay, Papua, on an ambitious 950-nautical-mile-flight (1759 km) to attack enemy ships sheltering off the Shortland Islands, near Bougainville.

Arriving in England in June 1943, he became commanding officer of No.467 Squadron, R.A.A.F., on 18 August. It was a bad time for the squadron: seven of its twenty-one Lancasters were lost that month. Balmer flew his first operation on the night of 27-28 August in a raid against Nuremberg which cost Bomber Command 4.9 per cent of the attacking force. He led his unit against Hanover on 22-23 September and 18-19 October, and against Berlin on 18-19 November and 15-16 February 1944. His next German target was Frankfurt on 18-19 March. Thereafter, the Royal Air Force concentrated on pre-invasion objectives in occupied France; Balmer took part in four such strikes in March-April. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in April for his skill, efficiency and devotion to duty; his promotion to temporary group captain was gazetted on 4 May.

'Sam' Balmer was known as a sardonic man who was intolerant of fools and of over-conservative authority; his subordinates regarded him as a 'dynamic' commanding officer. Having logged some 5000 flying-hours, on the night of 11-12 May 1944 he attacked a military camp at Bourg-Léopold (Leopoldsburg), Belgium. His aircraft did not return and his death shook the squadron. Unmarried, Balmer was a Presbyterian. His remains were later interred in the Heverlee war cemetery, near Leuven, Belgium.

His plane (Lancaster LL 792) was later confirmed to have been shot down, and all of the crew killed. Balmer was buried outside Brussels.

John McCarthy, 'Balmer, John Raeburn (1910–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/balmer-john-raeburn-9415/text16549, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 19 February 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Read more...