“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7, ESV
Mission: Villers-Bocage, located in Normandy, 18 kms South West of Caen, France
Mission Date: Friday, 30th June 1944
Unit: No. 51 Squadron, C Flight; 51 Squadron Motto: “Swift and Sure”
Aircraft Type: Halifax III (a four engine heavy bomber, with a crew of seven); aka Halifax Mk 3
Aircraft Serial No. and Code: LV782; MH-T (aka MH-T ‘Tommy’)
Airbase: Royal Air Force (RAF) Station Snaith, Yorkshire, England
The pilot of MH-T was F/Sgt John Robert Alfred Cooke (“Bobby”, age 21), 1336866, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR). The other crew members included Wendell Clifford Waye (age 21), RCAF, and Alfred Edgar Jukes (age 21), Harry Barron (age 23), Harry Perkins (“Perks”, age 24), and Charles Martin Allen (age 26), all RAFVR. The entire MH-T flight crew perished in a crash twenty-five kilometers south west of Caen, France, on June 30th, 1944. This was a daylight operation, and Tony’s 19th mission since the beginning of May, 1944, when the MH-T LV782 crew arrived at RAF Station Snaith.
Historical Details of Tony Negrich’s Last Mission
Aircrews from RAF Snaith assembled and were briefed on the afternoon of Friday, 30th June 1944, for air operations that evening over Normandy. In the late afternoon of 30th June, Tony Negrich and his crew took off from Snaith Airbase at Pollington, South Yorkshire, flying in a Halifax III aircraft having the code name MH-T ‘Tommy’. Wheels up from Snaith was 18:00 hours, with target time at 20:00 hours, at dusk. Their flight track took them over the town of Reading and Selsey Bill, a headland into the English Channel on the south coast of England, before crossing the channel into France. Tony’s aircraft was part of “C” Flight, 51 Squadron, comprising 24 Halifax bombers for that evening’s mission. 51 Squadron joined with other bombers from bases throughout England, making a total strength of 266 aircraft (105 Halifaxes, 151 Lancasters, and 10 Mosquitoes used as Pathfinders for bomber raids) scheduled for the raid attacking a large formation of enemy armour at Villers-Bocage. This key target, south west of Caen, was Hitler’s most powerful Panzer Corps that had been massing to counter-attack the Allies’ D-Day forces the following morning. It was therefore considered essential to attack the target that evening.
The panzer corps, also known as I SS Panzer Corps Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (I.SS-Panzerkorps), was a German Waffen-SS panzer corps forming a part of Germany’s “Panzer Group West”, the western theatre’s armoured reserve, and included the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, Panzer-Lehr-Division, and the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division Götz von Berlichingen. In addition, the powerful II SS Armoured Corps redeployed from the Eastern Front, and the 2nd SS Armoured Division, were reinforcing the major counter-offensive to push the Allies back into the sea. The panzer corps was part of the German military that had invaded and controlled essentially all of Europe since 1940, except for Great Britain and the Soviet Union, which successfully but painfully continued to resist the German onslaught. Field Marshal Rommel was ordered by Hitler to repel the Allies and hold the strategic area surrounding Caen “to the last man”.
The designated “Master Bomber” for the Allied air operation, flying in Lancaster LL620 JI-T from 514 Squadron (No. 3 Group RAF) piloted by F/O Douglas A. Woods, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), ordered the bombers at a time and position well into their operational mission to reduce altitude from 12,000 to 4,000 feet, because cloud cover over the target threatened to obstruct the bomb aimers’ view. Only a few aircraft at the end of the bomber stream, including five bombers from 51 Squadron, of which MH-T ‘Tommy’ was one, were able to execute the order, because it was received too late along the flight track by all the other aircraft for them to comply. The few descending bombers made a steep dive to 4,000 feet, while the other bombers remained at 12,000 feet. During the dive, the rapidly descending aircraft increased their airspeed to an extent that they actually overtook the bomber stream flying above them. At this lower height, these aircraft became increasingly vulnerable both to anti-aircraft flak batteries from below, and tragically to bombs dropped from their bomber stream above.
Eye witness F/Sgt Eric G. Millett, Flight Engineer, who was flying in Halifax MH-S ‘Sugar’, another of the low-flying aircraft from 51 Squadron, reported that he saw MH-T being hit at the root of the starboard wing, and the wing of MH-T “fold up” (direct quote) from the wing root, in a manner consistent with MH-T being struck by a falling bomb from the bombers above. He subsequently saw MH-T “spin in” (quote). Millet also reported that he heard a bomb scrape the side of the fuselage of his own aircraft, and that he believed a similar fate had almost befallen him and his crew.
MH-T crashed onto farmland between the towns of Cahagne and Le Quesnay, Calvados, on the farm of Monsieur Alain Aubrée. All the crew members of MH-T were posted missing, and it was not until the 13th September 1944, that news from the RAF Liaison Officer at HQ British 2nd Army (Main) confirmed the airmen’s deaths with the finding of their stricken aircraft and graves at map reference 740580. This area had changed hands in the fighting no less than five times during the Normandy campaign before finally being taken and held by the Allies. The bodies of the airmen were later exhumed on the 14th June 1945, and subsequently interred at various European Commonwealth cemeteries. Tony is buried in Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery in Normandy, France. His grave location is XVIII.F.4
A total of three aircraft were lost on this operation, namely (1) MH-T ‘Tommy’, (2) Lancaster LL620 JI-T from 514 Squadron with the designated Master Bomber which took a direct hit and was obliterated by the explosion, and (3) another Lancaster from 514 Squadron which collided with a 15 Squadron Lancaster PB178 JI-P. This latter aircraft JI-P returned to base safely. F/Sgt Millett in MH-S ‘Sugar’ also witnessed the direct hit on Lancaster LL620 JI-T moments before he saw the hit on MH-T. Disastrously, Halifax MH-T (Tony’s aircraft), Lancaster JI-T (Master Bomber), and Halifax MH-S (the aircraft in which F/Sgt Millett was flying, along with Squadron Leader Simmons, who was the 51 Squadron’s Navigation Leader) all appear to have been struck by bombs released at 12,000 foot level.
The operation was officially considered successful and bombing classed as accurate. Eleven hundred tons of bombs were dropped, which ultimately contributed to weakening the German attack.
A fitting tribute to Tony Negrich is the following:
“Into the tapestry of our memories, is placed this precious piece.”
- Compiled by Bernie Lodge; firstname.lastname@example.org © April 29, 2019
- Tony Negrich was my cousin (second cousin, once removed).
- Tony was born in Gilbert Plains and raised in Dauphin, Manitoba, where he lived at 26 Frances Street, across the road from my material grandparents’ home. He enlisted in the RCAF on October 29, 1941.
- Tony received his basic training at Manning Depot No. 2, Brandon, Manitoba, and officer training at RCAF base No. 1 Central Navigation School (CNS), Rivers, Manitoba. He graduated and received his commission as a Pilot Officer on December 18, 1942. Tony was subsequently promoted to Flying Officer on June 18, 1943, in England.
- Awarded: 1939-45 Star; France and Germany Star; Defence Medal; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal; CVSM Silver bar (clasp); War Medal 1939-1945; and posthumously, Memorial Cross (GR VI), and the Bomber Command bar.
- The Province of Manitoba named “Negrich Lake” in northern Manitoba in honour of Tony. (8337° / -96.7822°)
Duty Done. “You can go proudly. You are history. You are legend.” Dolores Ibárruri, aka La Pasionaria, 1938
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” Rumi, 13th Century