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Sunday, March 25, 2012

History Minute: Kerry Crayston MIA - What Happened?

Researching military history can be emotionally taxing, especially when dealing with correspondence between family members. In this installment of History Minute, Mike Gray unravels the mystery of Kerry Crayston MIA.


Pilot Officer Kerry Crayston First row, standing.Third from left.
115 Squadron in Cambridgeshire, England August 30, 1944

Recently, the Military Museum in Campbellford was honoured to receive a collection of documents, records, letters, and personal effects of one Kerry Crayston, of Campbellford. Kerry served with 115 Squadron, Royal Air Force, during the war. The items were received from the estate of his late brother, Theodore, who also served with the Royal Canadian Air Force during the war.

What Happened to Kerry Crayston?

What intrigued us about starting this project- investigating what actually happened that night; was the final series of CP telegraphs exchanged between Kerry and his mother in Toronto, just prior to Kerry's disappearance.
It was heartbreaking to remain objective during the course of this research.

German Bombers Decimating Allied Planes

By November of 1944 the air war over Europe, over Germany, was reaching its peak, it's most bizarre. By day the United States 8th Air Force Fortresses and Liberators would come, by night, the Royal Air Force's Lancasters and Halifaxes. Bombing around the clock. German day fighters would rip through the 8th Air Force's bombers, desperately trying to stop them. Many were actually rammed by the fighters. At night, the German night fighters would arise from their airfields. Radar guided, they would slip into the bomber stream and take out their targets unseen. R.A.F. bombers would never know what hit them.

Kerry Crayston 115 Squadron

Kerry Crayston was only 20 years of age, one of thousands of other Canadians involved in this macbre dance of death in the skies.
Kerry qualified as an air-gunner, though the records indicate his ability at this was just slightly above average. He was posted to 115 Squadron, then flying from Witchford, England, as a tail-gunner to a Lancaster crew. While ocassionally there were sometimes changes in the crew, Kerry's crew included three other Canadians throughout their missions. Flight Lieutenant John Davidson of Toronto was the pilot.
Kerry's crew were confident, cocky, Veterans of the air war, they felt nothing could happen to them now. They were on their 29th mission - 30 and they would be done their tour.

Waddling Through German Skies Over Dortmund

So, what happened that night over Dortmund?
Bomber Command dispatched 177 Lancasters to targets that night. Only two were lost that night. German anti-aircraft [flak] claimed both as kills,but were they?
Firstly, 115 Squadron was notorious for achieving most aircraft to target. They also vied for largest percentage of bombs delivered, tonnage, to target.
Their Lancasters were grossly overloaded on missions, well past capacity. 115 Squadron was also experiencing the highest casualty rate in Bomber Command.
While wartime Lancasters could bear an amazing amount of tonnage, the overload would make the aircraft a nightmare to fly. 115 Squadron aircraft did not fly, they waddled through the night skies.

Fitting the Puzzle Together

Records indicate the second aircraft lost that night contained 9 crew, which means a training aircraft. It was common procedure to add extra crew on missions for training purposes.

Red Cross records indicate that there was little, or nothing, to be recovered. What remains there were, from that night, were unidentifyable. There was little or no wreckage.

Based on what we do know, and from previous research on an occurence as this, we can make a conjecture within a 90% probability of what happened that night.
German anti-aircraft did not hit anything. They would claim anything that falls from the sky, regardless.

One aircraft had completed its bomb run, and was turning outward bound for home. The other, fully loaded,and inward bound, collided with the other in the night sky over Dortmund. The crews of both aircraft are commemorated on the Royal Air Force's monument to the missing at Runnymede Memorial in England.

As for the CP telegraphs:
November 14, 1944, Kerry wrote,
Am completing tour. Can you send money for end of tour party?

Kerry thought he was on his 30th mission, though he was actually only his 29th.
November 15, 1944,
Sent 14 pounds. Have fun.
See you soon.
Love, Mom.

November 16, 1944,
From the War Office,
We regret to inform you . . . missing in action.

For History Minute,

Mike Gray

About the Author:

image Omemee Ontario Historian Mike Gray
Mike Gray
Omemee Military Historian
Mike Gray, long-standing Omemee Legion member, is an active military history curator whose efforts have been recognized locally, provincially, nationally, and internationally. Mike enjoys ferreting out historic details,and bringing history to life. Mike says: 'I have been a lot of places, met some remarkable,wonderful, unusual, famous and not so famous people.Nothing surprises me anymore.' Have a history question? Leave a comment below, or ask Mike by email at mdgray AT xplornet DOT ca

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