Airborne 2020, 24th September 1942, from RAF Syerston, tasked with Lancaster Mk 1 R5724 for a mine laying sortie in the Sweet Pea area (Rostock to Arcona Light). After successfully completing their allotted task, course was set for home. While crossing Denmark at a height of 6,000 feet, they were engaged by anti-aircraft fire. A shell exploded in the bomb compartment. A fire of considerable proportions started in the fuselage of the aircraft and reconnaissance flares and distress signals commenced to burn. At the same time, another shell burst in the nose of the aircraft blowing in all the perspex nose and the majority of the perspex of the pilot's cupola with the exception of the front windscreen. The Air Bomber, who was seated in the nose of the aircraft at the time, was blown back beside the pilot. The second pilot, who was standing beside the pilot at the time, was blown back onto the floor beside the Navigator. The pilot, the second pilot, the Navigator, and the Wireless Operator all received facial burns from the explosion of this shell.
The aircraft was hit by cannon and machine gun fire. Cannon fire entered both rear and upper mid turrets. The aircraft stalled and lost 2,000 feet before the smoke cleared and the pilot was able to regain control. He immediately dived for some clouds just below them and escaped from the fighters and anti-aircraft fire. There was now a big fire in the fuselage and, in addition to the fire, ammunition was exploding in all directions in the aircraft. The rear gunner was seriously wounded and had a broken leg. The combined efforts of the navigator, the Air Bomber, and the mid-upper gunner were then directed towards getting the fire under control so as to be able to reach the rear turret. They fought their way through the fire and pulled the rear gunner out of the turret and carried him to the rest chair. The fire was still of considerable proportions and the fire and the fuselage was largely burnt away.
The efforts of the Navigator, the Air Bomber, and the mid-upper gunner were then redirected to keeping the fire under control, which they did without being able to extinguish it completely. With the perspex missing from the nose of the aircraft, there was a terrific draft blowing through. All maps, navigation and wireless logs, and documents had been blown out of the aircraft when the shell exploded in the nose. The Wireless Operator, though considerably burnt about the hands and face, remained at his post throughout and contacted his base aerodrome from the Danish coast. He maintained contact with base throughout the rest of the homeward trip, obtaining bearings regularly for the pilot. The pilot handed over control of the aircraft to the second pilot after the latter had taken stock of readings of all instruments. The pilot took over control of the aircraft as it crossed the British coast and, despite conditions of bad visibility, made an excellent belly-landing at an aerodrome without further injury to any members of the crew. The whole of the hydraulic and emergency gear for the operation of the undercarriage and flaps were completely destroyed. It is considered that the captain of the aircraft displayed outstanding qualities of gallantry, devotion to duty, and leadership in bring this aircraft and crew safely home under these conditions. It would have been possible for some of the crew to bail out over Denmark but some of the parachutes were burnt and the rear gunner was too badly injured to jump. All members of the crew therefore gallantly stuck to their posts. Finally, tribute should be paid to the outstanding qualities of the construction of the aircraft and engines which enabled it to fly back home after the damage that had been inflicted.
Sergeant Gunnell's Air Officer Commanding remarked: "After having inspected this aircraft, I most strongly support these recommendations to award the entire crew DFMs. It is almost inconceivable that any crew would have carried on, had a 400 mile sea crossing, and landed without further incident".
Tragically not all of this valiant crew were to receive their much deserved awards. The entire crew were to be presented with their D.F.M.s by the King, on 24.11.1942. However five days before the ceremony Flight Sergeant Campbell, Sergeants Bunclark, Coakley and Corbett were all killed attempting a crash landing in Devon whilst returning from a mine-laying operation in the Bay of Biscay .
An interesting note is prior to this crash, on 17th July 1942, Lancaster R5724 captained by Flight Lieutenant PR Casement became the first Bomber Command crew to bring back irrefutable evidence that they had destroyed a U-boat at sea – a photograph showing the U-boat crew in the water swimming away from their sinking vessel.