416706 Flight Sergeant Ross Lange ROBERTSON – killed in a flying battle on 25 March 1944
Ross Lange ROBERTSON was born at Woodville on 18 June 1923, the eldest of two children of William Frederick Stewart ROBERTSON and Florence Margaret ROBERTSON (nee LANGE). His younger brother Keith Stewart ROBERTSON died of rheumatic fever on 2 December 1935, leaving Ross as the only child. Ross was educated at Pulteney Grammar School and Muirden Business College, followed by a year at Adelaide University (1938-1939) where he studied accountancy. His first job was as a clerk at S.O. BEILBY Ltd, grocery merchants, in Franklin Street, Adelaide, where his father was the managing director.
Ross enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force on 16 August 1941; he had “Enlisted for the duration of the war and a period of 12 months thereafter”. He was selected for air cadet training at No 4 Initial Training School (ITS), Mount Breckan, Victor Harbor. On successful completion of the course, Ross was mustered for pilot training and posted to No 1 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) at Parafield (SA) on 13 November 1941. His pilot training was for an extended period until early August 1942 when he was mustered for twin-engine training at No 6 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) at Mallala.
Ross graduated from No 6 SFTS in early November 1942 and was awarded his Flying Badge on 12 November. Following pre-embarkation leave, he was posted to No 4 Embarkation Depot (ED) on 18 December where he underwent final medicals prior to embarkation. He had been promoted to the rank of Sergeant Pilot the day before. On 9 January 1943, Ross embarked from Port Adelaide and sailed for one of the eastern seaboard ports, most likely Sydney or Melbourne, where he and other airmen destined for service in the UK, embarked for the journey across the Pacific.
The name of the ship he was on is not known however our research has revealed the ships that carried the airmen were most likely from the Matson Lines ‘White Fleet’; the SS Mariposa, SS Monterey, SS Malolo and SS Lurline. These ships were utilised as troopships throughout the war had speeds and 20 knots and generally sailed without escorts, they could outrun any enemy submarines. The ships carried US troops from the United States west coast to Australia and New Zealand and on the return journey carried Australian airmen for service in the United Kingdom. Docking at San Francisco, the airmen then entrained for the journey to either New York or Halifax (Nova Scotia) to await a convoy across the Atlantic.
Disembarking in Gournock in Scotland on 6 March 1943, Ross was posted to No 11 Personnel Despatch and Receival Centre (PDRC) at Bournemouth, the principal RAAF centre for new arrivals. Prior to 1942, Australians were reaching England in all types of ships with varying degrees of comfort. Some ships were crowded and dirty, so that men arrived dishevelled and discontented, and the arrival of some ships carrying Australians was not notified in time to arrange for adequate reception of the men. The creation of an Australian section at Bournemouth did much to facilitate reception procedure.
As soon as possible after arrival each party was given a welcome and explanatory talk, and then spent a week in routine documentation, night vision tests, medical examinations, pay and equipment parades before proceeding on leave. The object was to gain confidence and cooperation of incoming men, and to eliminate the apathetic tone, which had arisen at Bournemouth because of indifferent amenities and inability of existing resources to satisfy Australian needs. Postal arrangements had been chaotic, and some letters and parcels, forwarded from training schools to the RAF Records Section, had been arriving up to 12 months late. It was also found that the UK Air Ministry had, not informed the Australian Comforts Fund Commissioner at Amesbury, that any RAAF men were at Bournemouth.
Leave arrangements were almost handled exclusively by the Dominion Hospitality Scheme and each RAAF airman was asked to state his main interests or specific wishes concerning a holiday, and he was then given the address of a private family ready to welcome him. This organisation was very efficient as, for example, on 30 November 1941, when 281 Australians proceeded on leave to various parts of the British Isles – all of them obtained free private accommodation. This service was given to every incoming draft, and all men could throughout the war receive an invitation for a holiday of their own choice by sending a reply paid telegram to the headquarters of this scheme.
On 10 May 1943, Ross was posted to No 15 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit (AFU), which included a detachment to the RAF’s No 1511 Beam Approach Training (B.A.T.) Flight, part of the automatic radar landing system being developed by the RAF. With that segment of training finished, Ross was posted to No 27 Operational Training Unit (O.T.U.), which is where he formed up with his new crewmembers. On 17 June 1943, Ross was promoted to Flight Sergeant.
The OTU’s were units within the RAF whose role it was to teach pilots how to fly an aircraft employing tactics to best exploit the performance of their aircraft and its weapons. Its instructors were generally battle-experienced and were considered the most qualified to provide instruction to the new pilots. Over the next three months the seven men learned how to operate cohesively as a crew; their training included dinghy and parachute drills and the use of oxygen, blind take-offs, single-engine flying, flapless landings, fuel starvation and bomb grouping.
On 20 October 1943, Ross and his fellow crewmembers were posted to 1652 Heavy Conversion Unit (H.C.U.) at Marston Moor where they now trained on the four-engine Halifax bombers. This specialised training lasted until late December, and following some leave, the men were posted to 466 (RAAF) Squadron on 8 January 1944, which was based at RAF Leconfield located in East Riding, Yorkshire. The Squadron had converted to Handley Halifax in September 1943, previously being equipped with the Vickers Wellington Mk X.
On 29 December 1943, the Squadron had made it first attack on Berlin; it formed part of the aerial armada of 712 aircraft consisting of 457 Lancasters, 252 Halifaxes and 3 Mosquitoes drawn from many Bombing Groups within RAF Bomber Command. January 1944 began with further raids on German cities.
Without access to Ross’ flying logbook, we are unable to determine the number of sorties he flew and the targets.
On the night of 24-25 March 1944, the Squadron contributed 14 aircraft to the armada of 811 aircraft that attacked Berlin. Ross was the captain of Halifax LV900, call-sign HD-H, which took off from Leconfield at 1851 hours; his crew were:
422321 FLT SGT Henry Francis SMITH (navigator),
426022 FLT SGT Victor William BATH (bomb aimer),
402599 Flying Officer Edwin IVESON (wireless operator air gunner),
417812 FLT SGT Ronald Irving CUMMINGS (rear gunner),
1893436 SGT Harold HUGHES RAF (mid-upper gunner) and
1051454 SGT James STRATHEARN RAF (flight engineer).
All were Australians except for RAF engineer SGT Harold HUGHES.
The mission encountered great difficulties; page 484 of The Bomber Command War Diaries duly records:
This night became known in Bomber Command as ‘the night of the strong winds’. A powerful wind from the north carried the bombers south at every stage of the flight. Not only was this wind not forecast accurately but it was so strong that the various methods available to warn crews of wind changes during the flight failed to detect the full strength of it. The bomber stream became very scattered, particularly on the homeward flight and radar-predicted Flak batteries at many places were able to score successes. Part of the bomber force even strayed over the Ruhr defences on the return flight. It is believed that approximately 50 of the 72 aircraft lost were destroyed by Flak; most of the remainder were victims of night fighters. The Berlin report says that 14 bombers were shot down by fighters in the target area.
The strong winds caused difficulties in the marking at Berlin with, unusually, markers being carried beyond the target and well out to the south-west of the city. 126 small towns and villages outside of Berlin recorded bombs … This was the last major R.A.F. raid on Berlin during the war, although the city would be bombed many times by small forces of Mosquitoes.
The 72 aircraft lost represented 8.9 per cent of the force despatched, an unacceptable ratio in Bomber Command’s prediction of losses.
Ross’ aircraft was the only one lost from 466 Squadron; post-war it was established that the aircraft had been shot down by a night fighter and crashed approximately 4 kilometres north of Werne, 11 kms NNW of Nordhausen. All the crew died.
It is most likely that Ross’ aircraft had dropped his load over the target area and was on the way home when a night fighter shot down LV900; Nordhausen is approximately 250 kilometres south-west of Berlin.
Post-war Commonwealth War Graves Commission paperwork records that the men were buried at Verne (sic, Werne?) Neuer Friedhof (translated, new cemetery). The above is puzzling as it is difficult to pinpoint a town called WERNE north-north-west of Nordhausen.
On 30 October 1946, the airmen and were reburied in the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, a newly created Cemetery that consolidated casualties from the western part of Germany. Nordhausen was at that time under Soviet control and it proved more practical to create a cemetery in the Allied area of control in Germany.
Reichswald War Cemetery is the largest Commonwealth Cemetery in Germany; there are 7594 servicemen buried there. In 1949, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission commenced replacing the white wooden crosses with the stone tablets; the Commission allowed the next-of-kin of the casualties to compose a short message that would be inscribed on the tablet. Ross’ parents chose:
FEARLESSLY AND NOBLY HE GAVE HIS LIFE FOR HIS COUNTRY
Post-war, his family were issued with the following medals:
Air Crew Europe Star,
According to the Defence Medals website (http://www.defence.gov.au/Medals ), his family would also be entitled to claim the War Medal 1939-1945 and the Australia Service Medal 1939-1945.
Ross’ service file, held by the National Archives of Australia, contains seven photographic images of him, all are different poses; this is unusual as normally there would be one image, two at the most. These images are included here.
The nursing home in Victor Harbor known as Ross Robertson Memorial Nursing Home, derived its name from FLT SGT Ross ROBERTSON. The following is reproduced from ECHO!, the newsletter of Elderly Citizens’ Homes SA, their Autumn-Winter 2005 edition and downloaded from their website (www.ech.asn.au) on 8 May 2009.
The land on which the Ross Robertson Centre stands, and a large area surrounding it, was part of the Mt Breckan Estate, which was purchased by Alexander Hay in the 1870s. In 1913 Mr William Henderson, a Victor Harbor solicitor, purchased lots 46–49 Cornhill Road. An elevated site fronting Carlyle Street was chosen for the house, designed in the style of the Canadian bungalow by Adelaide architect Mr Ken Milne. William and his wife, Elma, had three sons, the youngest being born in the new house. A lawn tennis court was later set down in front of the residence.
The Hendersons sold the property to Alison Pope in 1923 and the following year it passed on to H. C. Cave. Mr G Depledge became the new owner in 1949 and lived there until his death in 1953. His widow sold to Beetran Limited in 1955.
In 1964, Mr W. F. S. Robertson of ‘Illowra’, Inman Valley, bought the Cornhill Road property from Beetram Limited. Three years later, he and his wife Florence gifted their house, then named ’Narrinyeri‘ to Elderly Citizens Homes of SA Inc for use as an infirmary. It was to be a memorial to their son Ross, a RAAF pilot who was shot down over Berlin during the closing stages of World War II — just a few days after his 21st birthday. His portrait now hangs in the entrance foyer of the building.
Ross Robertson Memorial Nursing Home, the first ECH nursing home, was established at an overall cost of $87,000. With Matron Phillips in charge, 12 nursing staff, four domestic staff and a part-time gardener, the nursing home opened its doors on 24 January 1968.
The official opening ceremony on 12 May 1968 was attended by 200 people.
Service file of 416706 Ross Lange ROBERTSON purchased from the National Archives of Australia
Herington, John Australia in the War of 1939-1945 – Air War against Germany & Italy, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, (1962).
Middlebrook, Martin and EVERITT, Chris The Bomber Command War Diaries, an operational reference book 1939-1945, Midland Publishing, London (2011).
RAAF Historical Section Units of the Royal Australian Air Force, Volume 3 Bomber Units, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra (1995).
STORR, Alan RAAF WW2 fatalities, volume 15 – 466 RAAF Squadron RAF Bomber Command, Alan STORR, Canberra (2006).
Compiled by the Victor Harbor Sub-branch RSL History Research Team, August 2018.