Remembering Today - Berchtesgaden April 25, 1945

Discussion in 'Remembering Today' started by canuck, Apr 25, 2020.

  1. canuck

    canuck Closed Account


    F/O Wilfred Demarco

    Flying Officer Wilfred Tarquinas 'Foxy" Demarco , RCAF, aged 24, was killed on April 25, 1945, flying his 29th sortie with 619 squadron, in an attack on Berchtesgaden.

    The pilot of the Lancaster S/N LM756 F-Freddie was 24-year-old Wilfred DeMarco from Timmins, Ontario.

    Flight number 29 began for DeMarco's crew at 4:19 on the morning of April 25, 1945. They were one of 300 bombers heading for Berchtesgaden -- Hitler's lair in the Bavarian mountains.

    Hitler's mountain fortress was a very difficult target. It was heavily defended and superbly camouflaged. DeMarco's job was to fly in low and very slow (for accuracy) to bomb the SS barracks. In the book Flying into Hell by Mel Rolfe, this last flight of bomber S/N LM756 F-Freddie is documented.

    By the time DeMarco brought his plane in low over the target, the defenses were heavily engaged. He had to stay over the heavy flak long enough in order to ensure that bombs hit the barracks. As DeMarco attempted to pull up, the plane was hit multiple times in a vicious crossfire. Navigator Norman Johnson was killed by shrapnel. The rear of the plane was on fire and there was no word from the trapped gunners Gordon Walker and Ed Norman.
    DeMarco was badly wounded and ordered his crew to bail out. He tried to keep the plane steady while they escaped. Jack Cole, Art Shannon and Jack Speers managed to bail to safety. Soon after, DeMarco's plane exploded into the mountain. They were the last four men killed out of the 55,573 Bomber Command casualties of the war.
    F/O W.T. De Marco, RCAF, killed.

    Sgt F.J. Cole, pow.

    WO2 N.H. Johnston, RCAF, killed.

    F/Sgt A.H. Shannon, pow.

    F/Sgt J.W. Speers, RCAF, pow.

    Sgt E.W. Norman, killed.

    WO2 G.V. Walker, RCAF, killed.

    All those who died are buried in Klagenfurt War Cemetery, Austria.
    Jack Speers, the wireless operator, recalled tapping the pilot’s knee on April 25, 1945 — standard procedure to alert him that the rest of the crew were bailing out — and getting no response. Maybe Foxy DeMarco was already dead. Maybe he was unconscious. Maybe he just wanted to get that plane home to England.

    “I shall never forget the loss of those boys whom I look back on as brothers,” Mr. Speers said

    Freddy Cole, the flight engineer, describes “Wilf” DeMarco as “a brilliant pilot…with a terrific sense of humour.” He was an outsized personality, a sucker for a good gag, who would hand the controls over to Mr. Cole and walk to the rear of the bomber pretending to the rest of the crew that no one was flying the plane. On his leaves he headed to Liverpool to coach and play hockey. To prove his strength he would scoop up a crewmen beneath each arm and heave them around like laundry sacks.

    "Two Lancasters had gone down and their crews were missing. One of them was Freddie Cole, Flt Engineer in the plane piloted by Canadian F/O Wilf De Marco which Peter Marshall had seen hit in front of him. They had just released their bombs and were in that most nervous of moments waiting for the automatic camera to record their performance on the target when they were hit by cross fire. Arthur Shannon the Bomb Aimer recalled "I had watched the bombs fall and was pleased to see one hit the SS Barracks. The photoflash had just gone off when there was a big explosion. It was clear we only had a short time to get the hell out of it" He clipped on his parachute and was first out of the escape hatch. Navigator Norman Johnson was dead. He had for once, left his sae cubby hole as curiousity had got the better of him and he wanted to see this particular target. He was standing beside the Pilot when gunfire hit a propeller and sent a sliver of metal shrapnel smashing through the windscreen and into his face. As he fell, he flung is hand out and caught the D-ring of Coles parachute, lying on a seat.The silk spilled ot into the ****pit. Flames were shoting from the back of the Lancaster and there was a yell for everyone to get out. Cole gathered up the folds of his parachute into a big untidy bundle and headed for the escape hatch. Wireless Operator Jackie Speers , another Canadianwas supposed to exit from the rear but the flames forced him forward. He reckoned the two gunners behind him must be dead. He saw the Navigators body, then hit the Pilot's knee hard, the usual drill as you evaccuated to alert him to follow. "There was no response" Speers recalled "The front of the ****pit had been blown away. He could not have survived"

    Speers found Cole sitting on the edge of the hatch wrestling with his parachute. He made sure the harness was clipped on and then gave his friend a mightly shove in the back and out of the falling plane. Speers followed immediately.

    As the silk billowed out and held him, Cole saw the blazing Lancaster he had just left fly into the side of a mountain and explode. "That was a truely horrendous sight. I knew some of my mates were still on board. As I floated down I was hit hard by the realisation that they were dead. But there wasn't time for tears. They came later. For nowI had to think about my own survival. I came down in a meadow and was immediately captured by SS soldiers. They were very hostile until an officer came along and calmed them down. He stopped them from shooting me"

    Cole was taken by truck to Salzburg and imprisoned in the Police Station. Meanwhile Shannon had landed in a fir tree and slid to the ground breaking a leg. "I was lying on the ground in agony with no chance of getting away when the Germans arrived. They kicked me down the mountainside. Once they levelled their guns at me and I thought I was going to be shot"

    Speers was picked up by German civilians. At first they treated him well. He had shrapnel in his left legand could not walkand they caried him on a ladder to a farmyard. There he was put in a haycart to be taken to the village and handed over to the Police. On the way, Allied Fighter planes roared into the valley and began shooting up the area with rockets. The people escorting him scattered but when they came back they were angry and women shrieked at him and threatened him with pitchforks. Fortunately for him, soldiers came to his rescue.

    "I was taken to a building where Freddie (Cole) and Art (Shannon) were being held, though I was not allowed to see them. Then I was taken to a different town and held captive for two weeks with other wounded prisoners, most of whom seemed to be amputees who had lost hands, feet, ears, noses, legs or arms from frostbite, I think. I was interrogated many times by the SS, who did not believe we could fly all the way to Bertchtesgarten from England. They insisted we must have taken off from one of the Allied airfields in Italy. By this time my leg was badly infected and I thought I might end up like those other poor sods. But then the Americans arrived and everyone was running around saying Hitler Kaput"

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    stolpi, TTH and Harry Ree like this.

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