YORKE, Donald Henry

  • 29 years
  • United Kingdom
  • Sergeant
  • 1467118
  • Ventura I, AE742
  • 15th March 1943
  • West of Guernsey
  • Allied Aircrew Memorial, Guernsey

Donald Henry Yorke was a Sergeant with 21 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve whose service number was 1467118.

Born 13th October 1914 in Felixstowe, Donald was the fourth of five children of Harry Yorke and Eleanor Mary nee Taylor. In 1939 the family were living at The Cottage, Church Road, Felixstowe. is father a retired Postman died in 1940 and his mother appears to have moved to Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

During the early part of the war, 21 Squadron, flying Blenheim IVs, played a prominent part in 2 Group’s offensive against shipping in the English Channel and the North Sea, and “fringe” targets on the Continent. The squadron went to Malta in December 1941, and, flying from Luqa, attacked shipping in the Mediterranean and land targets in North Africa. It was disbanded on 14th March 1942, and re-formed the same day in England. Later that year it received new equipment in the form of the Lockheed Ventura, and on 6th December, operating from Methwold, was one of the squadrons which made the daring low-level attack on the Phillips radio and valve factory at Eindhoven. 21 Squadron continued daylight operations with Venturas-albeit spasmodically. until early September 1943.

On Monday 15 March 1943 weather was misty in the morning clearing about midday. Operations were ordered that day for 21 Squadron, instructions were received for 12 aircraft to carry out a Circus operation on aerodromes at St, Brieuc and La Plaine in Brittany. Eventually 12 Ventura aircraft led by Wing Commander King took off from Methwold at 16:45 and flew down to RAF Exeter to refuel and collect a 10 Group Spitfire fighter escort. One of the aircraft was Ventura AE742, the crew were Sgt. Edward Denis Lloyd Critchett, Sgt. G A Targett, Sgt. J Denyer and Sgt. D Yorke.

The Pilot Sgt. Critchett takes up the story from here; Don Yorke, an Air Gunner, who, I think, had just finished his training (as an air gunner), was placed with us, and became the fourth member of our crew on either the 14th or 15th March 1943. He was a slim good looking young man with fair wavy hair. We had hardly got to know each other before it was time to set, out, on our first, operation over enemy territory, the first operation for any of us.

For the operation of the 15th March 1943 it was airfield in N.W. France. The Ventura, could not carry enough fuel to fly to St, Brieuc and back without refuelling, and arrangements had been made for us to refuel at RAF Exeter. The part Methwold to Exeter, went without Incident and we went into the airfield building for a final briefing. We then went back to where the 12 aircraft were parked, in a line. Our aircraft was in the middle of this line, and we reached it as the petrol bowsers were finishing their job. The four of us boarded our aircraft and began our usual pre-flight checks when I pressed the fuel gauge buttons I found that we had aboard just, the same amount of fuel as I had when I landed there, “M” our aircraft had been missed. I straightway sent Sgt Johnny Denyer to race out, and see If he could attract the attention of the tanker drivers. One did come back and commence refuelling.

By this time the other 11 other Ventura’s were starting their engines and taxiing to the take-off point across the airfield. Before our refueling was complete they were all airborne. Of course these operations are done to time so as to meet protective fighters (spitfires). They could hardly walt for us. I set off in pursuit, taxied across faster than usually allowed, took off and tried to catch my starboard engine got overheated, and I lost a little of its power. Somewhere near Start Point we caught up.

The target was bombed from 10.000 to 10.500 feet at 17:47 bursts were seen on the south east side of the aerodrome, near buildings and on the south west dispersals. A twin engined enemy aircraft was also observed as hit. On leaving the target aircraft code “M” Ventura AE742 was damaged at 17:55 hrs in the port engine, black smoke was observed from other aircraft in the flight and it was presumed the engine was on fire. This aircraft was seen to fall behind and loose altitude. The plane was seen to ditch at 18:05 hrs 6 miles west of Guernsey. At least 3 of the crew were seen in a rubber dinghy by an air-sea rescue Walrus aircraft. The remaining 10 aircraft all landed safely at Exeter between 18:50 and 19:10 hrs.

Sgt. Critchett takes up the story again; I took number 12 position in the formation (last, on the port side of the formation) and flew to somewhere near the French coast„ just, over sea level. Then began the climb at full power to get to the chosen bombing height , and- despite not getting full power from the starboard engine, which heated up again, I was able to keep up :- we dropped our bombs and then there was a great bang from the port engine which had been behaving perfectly until then.

The constant speed controller had failed so I now believe (it would be like losing the clutch in a car) there was plenty of power there, but the air screw was slipping and gave no thrust, and we were soon lagging behind the rest. From time to time there were occasional bursts of about half a second, when something would suddenly engage, and tend to swing the aircraft around I was unable to get back to England and ditched near Guernsey.

The sea was smooth, and everybody inside was braced in the standard ditching positions we evacuated the aircraft as fast as we could. When I got out I saw that George and Don were standing on the wing, inflating the rubber dinghy. I had timed this in mind several times afterwards, and I estimated it was 12 seconds from ditching time to the aircraft, sinking; then she tipped, nose downward, tail In the air, and went down.

I looked at the tailplane above me – and saw it quickly go under, we lost our footing on the wing of course, so we all went, under, but horror, when we got a hold of the dinghy there were only three of us. I think that some part of the aircraft, possibly a wire, or an aileron had caught Don and he had not been able to disentangle, or the tail might have caught his clothing as it, went past him.

Several local diarists in Guernsey mention air activity between c. 18.00 and 18.15 hrs. with the German Flak opening fire, also one reported an English aircraft flying low over the airport.

The following day (16th) an entry in the German Naval Commandants War Diary states that at  11.00 hrs. a Rescue Boat left St. Peter Port and recovered, in Quadrat B.F. 2695 — middle, a dinghy with 3 English airmen sergeants. The prisoners were brought to St. Peter Port harþour and handed over to the Air Force (Luftwaffe) *This quadrant position is approx. 6 miles Southwest of Guernsey.

At 11.55 hrs. a Walrus amphibian aircraft belonging to No. 276 Air Sea Rescue squadron left to carry out a search for the dinghy to a position “6 miles South West of Guernsey. (It seems that hydrographers on both Sides of the Channel had computed the same position of the dinghy).

The Walrus arrived back at base at 13.50 hrs. , reporting having seen ‘nothing except two Small fishing boats pilot was Warrant Officer K. Birl No .21 Squadrons ORB later reports “Information received that 10 Group (RAF) had carried out 3 unsuccessful searches for Sgt. Critchett and his crew.

On the 17th. , another diarist states; Reports of 3 British airmen being picked up after 19 hours in a rubber dinghy taken to the Happy Landings Hotel. (This ‘hotel is alongside the airport and was used by the Luftwaffe during the Occupation and must have caused a few wry smiles by Allied airmen held there)

The surviving crew, Sgt. Critchett, Sgt. Targett and Sgt. Denyer were most probably kept in the island for a few days before being shipped out t0 St Malo and then on to Dulag Luft — the Luftwaffe Interrogation Centre and afterwards to a POW Camp.

Air Gunner Sergeant Donald Yorke was killed in the aircraft and his body was never recovered.