Fatal day Barkingside bomber’s luck ran out

PUBLISHED: 12:00 14 March 2015

Bill Chatters

Bill Chatters


Described as the quiet, studious type, it is a little surprising that William Chatters yearned to join the war against the Nazis .

Bill Chatters' headstoneBill Chatters' headstone

However, Bill – as he was known – of Aintree Crescent, Barkingside, was initially knocked back after applying to train as a fighter pilot.

His eyesight was deemed too poor by forces doctors.

Undeterred, he started his gunner training at Number 10 Air Gunner School, Walney Island, in Cumbria, on April 15, 1944.

His machine gun training finished seven weeks later.

The very The very "raw" and inexperienced Lancaster crew of ME453 would have stood little chance against such men as these: Schnaufer alone, with his crew menbers Fritz Rumpelhardt and Wilhelm Gansler had completed 164 missions in which he shot down 114 "viermots" (four-engined aircraft.)

In October that year, Bill began training with his crew, before flying on their first operation on February 4, 1945.

A month later, on their third operation, the crew were killed when their plane was brought down. Bill was just 21.

This month marks the 70th anniversary since the ME453 Lancaster bomber, of which Bill was a part of, was downed on the night of March 4, 1945 in Germany.

A popularly held belief in the RAF was that if a crew completed five operations, their chances of surviving a tour of 30 operations considerably increased.

In reality, luck played a major part in the fate of crews.

The ME453 plane was brought down on its third “sortie” – to the Dortmund-Ems Canal.

The seven-man crew never dropped a bomb in anger, according to Wiltshire historian Max Williams.

“On first two operations they were recalled because their targets were obscured by cloud,” said Mr Williams.

“On the final mission they were brought down three miles outside the target town of Gerven.”

Heinz Wolfgang Schnaufer, Germany’s top scoring night fighter pilot, shot the Lancaster bomber down.

“Bill and his crew, being so inexperienced, didn’t stand a chance against these skilled practitioners,” Mr Williams said.

“Lancaster ME453 was his 117th victim. He shot down 121 bombers by the war’s end.”

Bill’s cousin, David Rozee, 82, of Hampshire, said when eventually it was confirmed all the crew had died, the news was overwhelming for the family.

“Bill was an only child,” he said. “Bill’s mother, Ada, was absolutely devastated. The reason for that was he was posted as missing. At that stage there is always hope, so it was years before she got over it – I am not sure she ever did, to be truthful.”

Mr Rozee said the Commonwealth War Graves Commission eventually found all the crew buried in a grave.

Their bodies were later interred at Reichwald Forest War Cemetery.

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