Squadron Leader Jeff Rees (BSAA Captain)
Squadron Leader Jeff Rees, (RAF 86395) who died aged 94, carried out more than 60 operations with Bomber Command and twice flew badly damaged aircraft back to Britain. On the night of 15th July 1941, Rees was the captain of a Wellington bomber of No.75 (NZ) Squadron tasked with bombing targets in Duisburg. The operation by the force of 38 bombers was disrupted by the enemy’s concentrated air defences but Rees managed to attack his target. Crossing the Dutch-German border on the return flight, Rees’s Wellington was “coned” by searchlights and damaged by anti-aircraft fire. Almost immediately, a night fighter attacked the damaged bomber; cannon shells exploded in the cockpit and blew out the hatch in the lower fuselage. The second pilot was killed and the Front Gunner severely wounded (he died in hospital). A shell splinter temporarily blinded the Rear Gunner, and the Navigator, hurrying to assist him, fell through the missing hatch. Fortunately, he had clipped on his parachute and he landed safely to spend the next 4 years as a prisoner of war. The Wireless Operator (Sergeant Lewis) was shocked and deafened by the explosion close to his head. For a time, Rees was left to fly the aircraft alone. Eventually, Lewis recovered sufficiently to tend to the wounded, assist Rees with the Navigation and obtain Radio Bearings to allow Rees to head for his airfield, where he made an emergency landing. The citation for the award of an immediate DFC to Rees highlighted his “exceptional skill and his outstanding courage and determination in extremely hazardous circumstances”. Sergeant Lewis was awarded an immediate DFM.
The citation for Jeff’s immediate DFC award after his aircraft was attacked over Duisburg on the 15th of July 1941, by an unidentified enemy aircraft, resulting in the death of his 2nd Pilot Sgt. David Joyce, the mortal wounding of his Front Gunner, Sgt. David Conibear and the injury of Rear Gunner, Sgt Gwyn William. In the ensuing melee the Observer, P/O Robert Hunter fell through the blown open hatch of the aircraft and Wireless Operator, Sgt. Ian Lewis, was stunned and deafened by a cannon shell exploding near his station. Despite this and with the help of the recovered Sgt. Lewis, Jeff was able to get the aircraft and his remaining crew back safely.
15th July 1941 – Bombing Attacks Against Targets at Duisburg
Nine Wellington aircraft were detailed to carry out individual bombing attacks against the above targets. One of these aircraft, R.3171 captained by SGT. Fotheringham failed to return to base. Another, W.5663, captained P/O Rees, (RJT.533) was attacked by unidentified enemy fighter over the target. The aircraft was badly damaged and the 2nd Pilot Sgt. Joyce was killed. SGT. Conibear, the front gunner, was seriously injured and died in hospital; and SGT. Gwyn-Williams was injured (Rear gunner). The aircraft returned to base where a landing was made. P/O Rees was awarded the DFC and the wireless operator, SGT. Lewis, was awarded the DFM
RJT.147 bombed marshalling yard south of aiming point.
RJT.319 Observed bomb bursts in target area.
RJT.385 Attacked target area and saw bomb bursts.
RJT.445 bombed target area.
RJT.533 bombed target area, but thin cloud prevented accurate pin-point.
RJT.570 reports big fire started by bombs on target area.
RJT.683 located target, but it was not clearly pinpointed. A fix was obtained from Rhine and autobahn. Bombs dropped in salvo on large fire within radius of 3 miles of target.
P/O Ashworth reports that results were not observed over Ruhr, but a fire was started and a building blown up on an aerodrome 6 miles south of Hague. Heavy accurate predicted A.A. fire was encountered in target area. Searchlights were very active and accurate. The weather was good, but there was a layer of cloud over target. Navigation was by map reading, D/R, W/T, astro
Wellington Mk.Ic W.5663 AA-O
P/O William Jeffrey Rees, RAF 86395 – Pilot.
Sgt. David Campbell Joyce, RNZAF NZ401278 – 2nd Pilot..
P/O Robert Cyril Adair Hunter, RCAF J.3754 – Observer.
Sgt. Ian William Lewis, RAFVR 952538 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. David Henry Conibear, RAFVR 932380 – Front Gunner.
Sgt. Gywn-Willaims, RAFVR – Rear Gunner.
Take Off 23:05 – Landed 03:35
Flight Time 04:30
The citation for D.F.C. (Immediate) P/O William Jeffrey Rees, RAF 86395 and D.F.M. (Immediate) Sgt. Ian William Lewis, RAFVR 952538 read as follows:
“One night in July 1941 Pilot Officer Rees and Sergeant Lewis were the captain and wireless operator respectively of an aircraft which attacked a target at Duisburg. Although the aircraft was hit by antiaircraft fire, Pilot Officer Rees persisted in his attack and completed a successful run over the target. On the return journey whilst over the Ruhr, the aircraft was held in the beams of a large searchlight belt and subjected to an attack by an enemy fighter which inflicted severe damage. The second pilot was killed and two other members of the crew dangerously wounded, while Sergeant Lewis was badly shocked and rendered temporarily deaf when a cannon shell exploded close to him. Nevertheless, realizing that his captain was without aid and could not leave the controls, Sergeant Lewis tended his wounded comrades, afterwards collecting the navigator’ s log and maps and assisting him in setting out the courses. Pilot Officer Rees, with exceptional skill, finally overcame all navigational difficulties and helped by Sergeant Lewis who had repaired his wireless set and obtained bearings, flew back to this country where a safe landing was made. Pilot Officer Rees displayed outstanding courage and determination in extremely harassing circumstances and was ably assisted by Sergeant Lewis who showed great fortitude and initiative. Both have participated in numerous operational missions.”
William Jeffrey Rees was born on 21st May 1920 at Seaham, Co Durham, and was educated at Pocklington Grammar School. He joined the RAF at the outbreak of the war and trained as a Pilot. In December 1940 he joined No.75 (NZ) Squadron, the first Commonwealth squadron to be formed in Bomber Command. Rees bombed targets in Germany, Italy and the French Biscay Ports during early 1941 before a more concentrated campaign against industrial targets in the Ruhr. After completing his 30th operation a few weeks after his flight to Duisburg, he became a Bombing Instructor. He was mentioned in despatches.
Rees returned to operations in January 1944 when he joined No.139 Squadron to fly the Mosquito in Bomber Command’s Pathfinder Force. Initially, the squadron flew ahead of the main bomber force to drop “window” (thin metal backed paper strips) to confuse the enemy’s early warning radars. Later in the year, it was equipped with a precision radar for navigation and bombing and, using this new aid, dropped markers over the target as aiming points for the follow-on bomber force.
Rees attacked Berlin on a number of occasions. On one flight he was over the target when his Mosquito was hit by anti-aircraft fire, which knocked out one of the aircraft’s 2 engines. Rees flew the badly damaged Mosquito back to England on 1 engine. He was awarded a Bar to his DFC. During the build-up to the Allied invasion of Normandy, the crews of No.139 attacked the coastal batteries and radar installations. After almost 10 months of continuous Operations, Rees was rested and became a Pilot Instructor on Mosquitoes before being seconded to BOAC to fly long-range routes to the Near and the Far East.
On leaving the RAF in October 1946, he was one of a number of ex-Pathfinder pilots recruited by Air Vice-Marshal Don Bennett (former commander of the Pathfinders) to join British South American Airways (BSAA). The job was allocated on a “first come, first served” basis and Rees – driving “Baby Lou”, his decrepit Austin 7 – was the last to arrive in time to be offered an appointment as a Captain. He flew converted Lancaster bombers and the ill-fated Avro Tudor on routes to the Caribbean and South America. After a series of crashes due to technical failures, the airline was wound up and the Pilots transferred to one of the 2 state airlines. Rees joined BOAC (later British Airways) and flew 4-engine piston airliners on long-haul flights before converting to the Bristol Britannia.
He flew the early jet airliners and was flying the Boeing 747 when he retired as one of the airline’s most Senior Captains. After a brief and difficult period flying for Iraqi Airways from Baghdad, he retired. A keen ornithologist, he also enjoyed his garden and was fascinated by Meteorology. Jeff Rees was married 3 times and his wives predeceased him. He is survived by 3 sons and 2 daughters.
Squadron Leader Jeff Rees, born May 21 1920, died March 13 2015
Hugh Grant-Dalton DFC & Bar
Having joined the RAFVR in 1939, Hugh Grant-Dalton served as a pilot with 100 squadron before joining BSAA (as either a First or Second Officer) on August 30th 1948, aged just 27. It is not known how his career progressed subsequently.