Assistance with RAF Glider Pilot killed on Varsity 24.03.45

Discussion in 'Airborne' started by welshmedals, Jun 1, 2020.

  1. welshmedals

    welshmedals Junior Member

    Gents and Ladies,

    Assistance F/O W J Wates RAF

    I hope you might be able to assist I am researching Flying Officer and RAF Glider pilot William John Wates.

    Wates who at the age of 20 was a pilot in F Squadron,Glider pilot Regiment and killed on the 24th March 1944 with his Co-Pilot Sgt Kelsall. They were equipped with Airspeed Horsa Mk.2 Gliders as part of operation Varsity. I believe they flew chalk number 19, and were to land in O Zone.

    The RAF casualty card states they appear to have died on or near the landing Zone at Hamminkeln near the station.

    I wondered if any member might be able to shed any further light on their death.

    I assumed maybe a landing crash, there is a famous photo of the station with the remains of a glider, I had wondered if this could have been chalk 19.

    Any thoughts or assistance maybe this is as far as I will be able to get but anything would be great I am reading the history of the Glider Pilot Regiment which is great but very little on detail on Varsity. It also stated that RAF pilots were mixed with Army but this not the case with this Glider.

    Many thanks all.


    Attached Files:

  2. Alex1975uk

    Alex1975uk Well-Known Member

    Hi. yes the glider in half is chalk number 19. I’ve been in touch recently with the brother of a passenger who was also KIA. He was Royal Signals.
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  3. welshmedals

    welshmedals Junior Member

    Alex thankyou for confirming my gosh I am gobsmacked.

    What were the circumstances of the crash i wonder I assume it broke up on landing rather than in the air? Was it hit with 88 fire?
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  4. Alex1975uk

    Alex1975uk Well-Known Member

    Stan Jarvis ( glider pilot) heard it. He had landed minutes before. His head was down as they were being fired on. Best guess is as it came to land it struck a train carriage on the tracks which caused the damage. Glider was probably going at 70mph when it hit / touched down.
    Was the Pilot a relative?

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  5. welshmedals

    welshmedals Junior Member


    Thankyou no I am not a relative, his parents had both died prior to the War and he had an older sister Joyce Muriel Horton born 1911 who raised him.

    Was everyone in his Glider No.19 killed in the crash?

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  6. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    Hi Richard.

    I came across the following aerial which was originally from the Hamminkeln Ruft magazine (Dec. 2002). It looks like the tail end of the same glider sitting on the tracks. The view is to the south where Bruner Strabe crosses the track. The glider just to right (west) of wood sheds is the one that brought in Denis Edwards and his Ox & Bucks platoon.

    Bruner Strabe Crossing.JPG Bruner Crossing Satellite.jpg

    It is near this position today though you will have to twirl around to get a southern view.

    Regards ...

    Edit: Discovered correct source for aerial and added satellite view.
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2020
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  7. brithm

    brithm Senior Member


    Just did a cursory look in Wot! No Engines? and see that Wates and Kelsall are down as being shot by German SS. Sgt. W.J. Tyson suffered the same fate and was in the same squadron his oppo was F/O. A.M. Ankers who was killed on the 24th March but appears not to be shot by the SS. Unfortunately that is all the info the book gives.

    I will have look through Gliderborne see if it brings anything up.

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  8. Alex1975uk

    Alex1975uk Well-Known Member

    I’m not sure. What else are you looking to find out?
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  9. welshmedals

    welshmedals Junior Member


    Thanks so much the reference in Wot? No engines as regards his death at the hands of the SS is fascinating. I assume a high speed impact I am sure would have lead to serious injuries to the crew if they survived the crash.

    Thanks once again. Regardless of the circumstances a life taken too soon.

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  10. JimHerriot

    JimHerriot Ready for Anything

    For welshmedals, just a little more re the crashed glider at Hamminkeln Station.

    First image and following text "images" from "AIRBORNE AT WAR" by Lieutenant General Sir Napier Crookenden KCB DSO OBE, published 1978 by Ian Allen Ltd. (I take the numbers and lettering that appear to be on the fuselage of the Horsa to be a German rail trackside ID plate as the lettering seems to be right way up where the Horsa is tragically not). The words from "AIRBORNE AT WAR" make for sobering reading.

    Final two (low quality) are from the IWM collections webpage here (the only other image I could find, but I did only search the photos using "Hamminkeln"):


    Always remember, never forget,


    Hamminkeln A.jpg

    Hamminkeln A caption.jpg

    Hamminkeln text A.jpg

    Hamminkeln text B.jpg
    Hamminkeln text C.jpg


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  11. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron


    There is a passenger train station 600 metres north of where the glider we are considering crashed on the tracks near Bruner Strabe. The area immediately north of Bruner was part of the station complex with assorted facilities, sidings and numerous lumber stacks.

    The crashed glider was carrying a jeep and trailer as seen in the better quality image attached. The Horsa landed by GPs Stan Jarvis and partner Peter Geddes can be seen in background top left pointing west. This was the same glider (RJ246) that carried Denis Edwards and his platoon (No. 25 Platoon, ‘D’ Company).

    BU 2404.jpg BU 2305.jpg

    Photos of interest taken by Sgt. Jim Christie are BU2304 to BU2307, BU2404 and BU2405. Also the following books carry accounts by Stan Jarvis, Denis Edwards and Harry Clark:

    - The Devil's Own Luck by Denis Edwards
    - The Last Drop by Steve Wright
    - Operation Varsity by Tim Saunders

    Harry Clark arrived on the same glider as Denis Edwards. In his account from "The Devil's Own Luck" he may be describing the same crash, witnessed not soon after landing:

    "The area at the time of landing was covered by a dense cloud of smoke created partly by our ‘softening up’ artillery barrage and partly by the smoke-screens drifting in from our ground forces crossing the Rhine at this time. As we took up our positions, two Horsa gliders appeared out of the cloud passing low overhead, and within a few seconds there came a fearful noise as they crashed. One of them hit the railway station and disintegrated. There were no survivors. The second passed further over and crashed between the railway and the road."

    What railway station is he referring to here?

    Regards ...
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2020
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  12. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Hello, I am afraid that no German expert on Varsity (I count myself among those) would find it likely that SS troops were present around Hamminkeln - I do not know of any SS units which participated in the battle that followed the airborne landings at Wesel or the assault across the Rhine by the the Commandos at Wesel and the two Schottisch divisions at Bislich and Rees.
  13. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron


    Two of the objectives of the 1st Royal Ulster Rifles on March 24 was to capture the Bruner Strabe Bridge over the River Issel and to take control of the level crossing area on the same street to west. One RUR man, L/Cpl Tony Huntbach, left the bridge area to seek medical aid and describes what he saw as he crossed over the rail line:

    "By the early afternoon of the 24th things had quietened down at the bridge area and my Platoon Sergeant, Jesse Matthews told me to make my way to the Regimental Aid Post to get my wounds dressed. It was on my way when I passed the railway station and I saw a glider smashed into the railway station building. This was the glider that had carried Major Vickery, the commander of "A" Company, 1st Battalion, The Royal Ulster Rifles. I stayed at the Aid Station until the following day and after the breakout, was evacuated over the Rhine to Venlo. I was then flown to Brussels to the 8th British Military Hopsital".

    Major C. E. Vickery is listed as KIA March 24th, 1945. So perhaps the crashed glider did hit a building at the level crossing though it is hard to make from the photos and aerial above.

    Regards ...
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  14. welshmedals

    welshmedals Junior Member

    Gentlemen thanks so much you have nailed this! I am applying for his RAF records and will update with an obit of him in due course here.

    He deserves to be remembered.

    I take my hat off to the skilled and passionate individuals who inhabit this forum.

    thanks all.
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  15. VarsityGlider305

    VarsityGlider305 Active Member

    In Alan Cooper's Wot! No Engines? (page 180) Glider Pilot Cy Henson makes mention of something he saw whilst near the railway line:

    "When we reached the railway line we found that the signal box had a Horsa glider stuck in its roof"

    Unfortunately Cy Henson gives no further details and the author makes the comment that any historical record of this does not appear to have survived.

    Also, although I cannot trace the precise source of this information (apologies), Cpl Wally Parr of Ox & Bucks gave an account that he witnessed a glider hit the ground and bounce, crashing into a three storey building near Hamminkeln Station, the building then collapsing on top of them and exploding.

    Just thought I'd add these accounts in case they might be connected to CN19.

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  16. JimHerriot

    JimHerriot Ready for Anything

  17. brithm

    brithm Senior Member

    Just to add Harry "Nobby" Clarke's testimony to Cee's #11 post
    pp.156-157 The Last Drop, Stephen Wright

    Last edited: Jun 5, 2020
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  18. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron


    If the glider that struck the "station" carried Major Charles Vickery as L/Cpl Tony Huntbach (#13) suggests it would not have been CN 19 which was among a group of gliders that belonged to the 2nd Ox & Bucks. Major Vickery was the CO of A Coy, 1st Royal Ulster Rifles. I'm not sure what the intended objective of A Coy was but noticed from other accounts that a few A Coy platoons ended fighting at the station and level crossing area. Major Vickery's field grave was south of crash site at 216483.

    The field grave of F/O W J Wates RAF and co-pilot Sgt Kelsall was located north of crash location at 216493. The GCR for Major Vickery does not include any Gliders Pilots buried with his group.


    Regards ...

    Edit: Removed links to field graves as Coordinates Translator findings seemed a little off.
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2020
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  19. JimHerriot

    JimHerriot Ready for Anything

    Good afternoon Cee, re objective of A Company, below is from "THE RIFLES ARE THERE" by David Orr and David Truesdale;

    "Major Charles Vickery's A Company was to land on LZ U2 and was to occupy the level crossing and the railway station area"

    Posting from my phone at the moment which is not the easiest for me, so when I can get to PC (late this evening) I'll scan and post up the whole paragraph as it has all the RUR objectives planned for on landing.

    Kind regards, always,

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  20. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    Hi Jim,

    Thanks so much for that!

    The following is a rough translation of German caption on above aerial in post #6

    "Fotosammlung: E.H.
    Nach Den Kampfen am 24. Marz 1945 in Hamminkeln. Zerstorte Gleisanlagen beschadigte Lokomotive. Das Stellwerk "St" an der Bruner Strabe (Mitte) bleib betriebsfahig. Oben rechts Gut Vogelsand, darunter Gaststatte Elmer. Unten rechts Lastensegler."

    Translation -

    Photo collection: E.H.
    After the fighting on March 24, 1945 in Hamminkeln. Destroyed track systems, damaged locomotive. The signal box "St" on Bruner Strabe (center) remains operational. Above right estate Vogelsand, including restaurant Elmer. Bottom right military glider.

    Regards ...
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