FLETCHER, Dennis Howard. Sergeant 1252492
Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
Died 31 May 1942 Age 21
Not listed in the Book of Remembrance
Son of Ernest William and Daisy Isabelle Fletcher, of Ewell, Surrey. The family was registered in the phone book for 1955 at 124 Reigate Road Ewell.
Having joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, Dennis Fletcher was selected for aircrew. When he was killed, it was as a Sergeant 'Observer' a category that was subsequently split into two main trades - Navigator and Air Bomber (bomb aimer). It is possible that he was originally selected for pilot training but after being evaluated was transferred into Observer school.
Wellington, LR132 WG-V of 26 OTU
Photographs of 26 OTU aircraft are hard to find. The unit's aircraft
used three different unit fuselage codes - EU, PB and WG, almost certainly
to differentiate between flights, or aircraft based at the satelite
airfield of Little Horwood. This Wellington, LR132 WG-V of 26 OTU was based at RAF Wing.
Image source - RAF Bomber Airfields of WW2 by Jonathan Falconer
After completing his specialist training and receiving his Observer 'Wings', Dennis was posted to RAF Wing near Milton Keynes in early 1942 as part of 26 OTU (Operational Training Unit) which also operated from a satellite airfield at Little Horwood. Here, he was crewed with four others to make up the standard crew of the RAF's main twin-engined bomber of the time, the Vickers Wellington.
26 OTU's purpose was specifically to train crews for RAF Bomber Command's night offensive. Here they would fly practise missions; navigation exercises and generally to get to know their aircraft, their functions and to work as a close-knit team. When fully proficient they would be posted to an operational Wellington Squadron. However, fate was to take a hand and Dennis and his crew would never complete their training.
Sir Arthur Harris had taken over as Chief of Bomber Command in February 1942. This controversial figure had no qualms about taking the war to Germany and knew that in Bomber Command he controlled the only substantial military force then capable of going onto the offensive. There was considerable doubt as to whether the strategic bomber was a worthwhile weapon at this point and he was determined to reverse the ineffective performance that the bomber force had delivered up to that point in the war. He knew that concentrating bombs on a target was the only way to cause meaningful destruction of the target area and began his tenure by targeting the cities of Lubeck and Rostock on the Baltic coast. Easily found and identifiable by their coastal location, these old cities with a high proportion of wooden buildings were destroyed more comprehensively than any previous targets. The British Press at last had something to report and opinions within the war cabinet were turning in his favour.
But Harris knew that the future of Bomber Command was still in doubt and he approached both Winston Churchill and Sir Charles Portal with the bold idea of assembling a force of 1,000 bombers and sending them out in one massive raid on a German city. Churchill and Portal were both impressed and they agreed. Although Harris had only a little over 400 aircraft with trained crews which were regularly used for front-line operational work, he did have a considerable number of further aircraft in the conversion units attached to groups with four engined aircraft and in Bomber Command's own operational training units 91 and 92 Groups. This secondary Bomber Command strength could be crewed by a combination of instructors, many of them ex-operational, and by men in the later stages of their training. To complete the 1,000 aircraft required, Harris asked for the help of his fellow commanders in chief in Coastal Command and Flying Training Command. Both officers were willing to help. Sir Philip Joubert of Coastal Command immediately offered to provide 250 bombers, many of them being from squadrons which had once served in Bomber Command. Flying Training Command offered fifty aircraft but many of these were later found to be insufficiently equipped for night bombing and only four Wellingtons were eventually provided from this source.
Bad weather over Hamburg, the first choice target, caused Harris to select Cologne as the target, the third largest German city. 'Operation Millennium' was scheduled for May 30th 1942.
At Wing, W/O F.G.Hillyer, P/O A.C.White, Sgt D.S.B.Vincent, Sgt H.L.Smith and Sgt Dennis H.Fletcher, all of whom were nearing the end of their training were told that they were to fly together as a crew on their first operation - the night of May 30th/31st as part of this ambitious plan.
The Wellingtons from 26 OTU flew to RAF Gravely in Huntingdon. This airfield was in the process of being upgraded from a special duties base to a standard bomber airfield. By August, 35 Squadron would operate from the airfield as part of the new 'Pathfinder' force. Perhaps the transfer was to ensure that these aircraft would be closer to the operational bases and ensure a compact bomber stream on the way to the target.
At 23.05 in the late evening of May 30th 1942, Wellington 1C - serial DV740, coded EU-O, piloted by Warrant Officer F.G Hillyer, took off from RAF Gravely in Huntingdon and headed out over the North Sea towards occupied Europe. The operational career of the crew was to be almost as short as was possible. German radar detected the unusually large force approaching and the Luftwaffe scrambled its night fighters to wait for the incoming bombers.
Airborne from Gilze Rijen airfield in the Netherlands was a Junkers 88C night fighter of NJG2 (Night fighter group 2). In the pilots seat was one of the group's rising stars.
Hauptmann Horst Patuschka, a former bomber pilot, joined the Luftwaffe night fighter force in the summer of 1941 and quickly rose to command 7 staffel NJG2. By October 1942 he was promoted to lead a newly reformed II gruppe NJG2 and took the unit to the Middle East after the Allied invasion. He crashed on the night of March 6th 1943 and was killed, being awarded the 'Knights Cross' posthumously. In his brief career he had amassed a total of 23 enemy aircraft destroyed. On the night of May 30/31st 1942, Patuschka shot down two outbound Wellingtons, one at 00.17hrs and the second, just 11 minutes later at 00.28hrs. The latter, Wellington DV740 of 26 OTU, numbered amongst its crew, Sergeant Dennis Fletcher
. The aircraft crashed at Alem (Gelderland), 14 km WNW of Oss (Noord Brabant), Holland. Four of the crew were killed -
They are buried in Uden War Cemetery, Dennis was buried in grave 4. A. 7.
The Pilot, W/O F.G.Hillyer was captured and was interned in Camps L3/L6/L4, as PoW No.508. "
Hauptmann Horst Patuschka
(The German pilot who shot down Dennis' Aircraft)
Image source - Simon Parry - Red Kite Publications
Forty-one RAF bombers were lost that night, an 'acceptable' 3.9% of the force dispatched. Of those four Wellingtons, DV740, DV707, DV709 and WS704 were all lost from 26 OTU.
Dennis Fletcher had played a minor role in the first 1,000 bomber raid of the war. It was sadly his first and last operation.
Uden War Cemetery
Image source not known.
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