Pilot Officer Charles Rankin

On the night of 20/21 October 1943, Avro Lancaster DS726 of RAF 408 Squadron flown by Pilot Officer Charles Rankin took off from RAF Linton 0n Ouse to bomb the city of Leipzig in Germany. The crew successfully bombed the target and returned to base. Whilst DS726 was taxing around the perimeter track, its starboard wing stuck Lancaster DS771 that had landed earlier with flak damage. DS 726 received damage to the starboard outer engine and starboard wing tip.  

On the night of 21/22 January 1944, Rankin was flying in Lancaster II, DS790, call sign EQ-B. They took off on an operation to bomb Magdeburg on the River Elbe, Germany.

Lancaster DS790 was attacked by a German night-fighter seconds before they were about to release their bomb-load. Both port engines and the wing were set ablaze. The aircraft went into a spin, was corrected, and then spun again, wildly. It dived and broke up, throwing clear only three survivors.  

The crew of DS790 were: 

 Pilot Officer John Bleecker Mill RCAF, Pilot (of Watson Lake, Yukon), prisoner of war 

Flight Lieutenant JB Dinning RCAF, 2nd Pilot, prisoner of war 

Sergeant William Johnston RAFVR (656566) Bomb Aimer, Prisoner of War 

Sergeant Albert Edward Elliott RAFVR (1211502) flight, age unknown, KIA 

Flying Officer Gilmour Murray Reid RAFVR (127268) navigator, KIA 

Pilot Officer Charles Rankin RAFVR (171474) wireless operator/air gunner, age 30, KIA 

Sergeant Howard Dennis Jones RAFVR (1413674) flight engineer, KIA 

Pilot Officer Gordon Currie, RCAF (J/88815) age 31, (of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan) KIA 

Reid, Currie, Elliot, and Jones have no known grave and are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial. Rankin rests in Rheinberg War Cemetery, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany. 

Rankin was the son of John and Barbara Rankin of Giffnock, Renfrewshire. John Rankin was the stationmaster at Perth and Charles attended Perth Academy. Charles Rankin was gazetted on 16 January 1944, six days before he was killed in action. He was commissioned as a pilot officer on probation (emergency). 

Perthshire Advertiser, 18 November 1944 


The death is now presumed of Pilot Officer Charlie Rankin, R.A.F., son of Mr John Rankin, former stationmaster at Perth and Glasgow Central. 

Charlie was reported missing from air operations over Germany on 21st January 1944. He was in the railway service as a clerk before going to the R.A.F., starting at Perth and going to Glasgow in 1937. He was very popular and well-known in the Perth district and all will regret his untimely passing.’

Three interrogation reports from the three survivors who became prisoners of war: 

 NUMBER. J-19284, RANK. F/O, NAME. Mill J. B, SQUADRON. 408, AIRCRAFT. DS-790 EQ-B, TYPE OF AIRCRAFT. Lancaster II, DATE OF LOSS. 21/22.1.1944, TARGET. Magdeburg, HOW MANY OPS. 16 DUTY. Pilot 




Trip uneventful from take-off at Linton on Ouse till the target. We were in the last wave and on time. We started a normal bombing run, opened the bomb doors with two or three seconds to go when the fighter attacked (no warning from the gunners). The trace seemed to be coming from a little below and slightly to port. Straightened out by which time the two port engines and wing section from the port inner to the fuselage were blazing. After feathering etc and jettisoning bomb load I saw the fire was increasing and told the crew to bale out. the 2nd pilot clipped on my chute and went into the nose. The stick seemed to tighten up and then the aircraft went into a spin and flew up after about two complete circles. There was an ear-splitting noise and then everything went black. I regained consciousness in an already opened chute and soon realized that I was drifting away from the target. There was 10/10 ths cloud at about 8,000 feet in the area. Twisted knee on landing. 

NUMBER. J-3713, RANK. F/Lt, NAME. Dinning J., SQUADRON. 408/425, AIRCRAFT. DS-790 EQ-B, TYPE OF AIRCRAFT. Lancaster II, DATE OF LOSS. 21/22.1.1944, TARGET. Magdeburg, HOW MANY OPS. 0, DUTY. 2nd pilot 




 No fighters were seen as we approached the target. There was plenty of flak and just as we started the bombing run (well out) the flt/engineer called out “look to port”. As he said that, the fighter raked us from stem to stern in the port side. No warning came from the gunners. The aircraft caught fire immediately, also the 2 port engines. We spun and then it was corrected. The rear gunner was screaming for help as he was jammed in the turret. This was after the bale out order had been given. Attempts were made to feather the engines and put out the fire with no success. I put on the pilots chute and then my own and moved down front. The bomb aimer was unable to get the hatch open. We spun violently and I was thrown up to the nose where I lay watching the bomb aimer still trying to hang on and open the hatch. I couldnt get near to help him as the aircraft was spinning with all 4 engines running wild. The next thing I knew I was about 100 feet off the ground and then landed. I figure the aircraft must of blown up at approximately 9,000 feet. 

NUMBER. 162546, RANK. P/O, NAME. Johnston W., SQUADRON. 408, AIRCRAFT. DS-790 EQ-B, TYPE OF AIRCRAFT. Lancaster II, DATE OF LOSS. 21/22.1.1944, TARGET. Magdeburg, HOW MANY OPS. 20 DUTY. Bomb aimer 




We took off from Linton on the night of the 21st in a spare aircraft to bomb Magdeburg. The night was dark, about half moon. We climbed over the North Sea to about 18,000 feet. Near to the German coast the navigator reported us well south of track. We aircraft immediately and came in between Bremen and Hamburg almost on track. We reached our last turning point on ETA. Ran up and saw our green flares going down slightly to south. We were in the stream running up. Before the target I ordered bomb doors open. Steady over target. And about to release bombs when we were attacked from behind and level. The fighter was not seen by our gunners and he got in a long burst before the pilot could dive and turn to starboard. I released the bombs in the dive. We straightened out for about a minute, height 18,000 feet. The pilot feathered his port engines. Saw extent of damage and ordered us to bale out. During the elapsing minute I put on my chute and endeavoured to open the escape hatch. The second pilot put on pilots chute for him and came to assist me to open the door. The plane went into a spin (left hand) and I was thrown against the Perspex at the end of the first complete spin. I felt a terrific crash of an explosion. The perspex broke into little pieces and I fell out. I was unconscious for a few seconds. Woke up to find the ground near, opened my chute and landed safely. 


Aircraft exploded as informant left, so some of crew were blown out and landed okay. Others were carried down in aircraft and killed in crash. Aircraft crashed near where informant landed. 

Lancaster DS790 was delivered to the squadron in November of 1943. Lancaster DS 726 was shot down over Cambrai on the night of 12/13 June 1944. Lancaster DS 771, transferred to RAF 426 Squadron, was reported missing over Stuttgart on the night of 15/16 March 1944. DS790 flew ten operations, including four to Berlin during this time. 

Magdeburg was the main force target for 648 aircraft on 21/22 January 1944, 421 Lancaster’s, 224 Halifax’s and three Mosquitos. A small number of 12 Mosquitos and 22 Lancaster’s attacked Berlin as a diversionary raid. 

RCAF No 408 Squadron was the second of many Royal Canadian Air Force bomber squadrons which served overseas in the Second World War. They began operations with Halifax Hampdens in 1941, the squadron was equipped with the Handley Page Halifax  towards the end of 1942, and Avro Lancasters in August 1943. They flew 4,610 sorties and dropped 11,340 tons of bombs. A total of 170 aircraft were lost and 933 personnel were killed. No 408 Squadron members won two hundred decorations, and 11 battle honours for its wartime operations. 

RCAF No 408 Squadron (Goose Squadron as it was to become known), was formed at RAF Lindholme, east of Doncaster, Yorkshire, on 24 June 1941. They moved to RAF Syerston, near Newark, Nottinghamshire in July 1941 to begin operations.  When the squadron converted to Avro Lancasters in August 1943 they moved to RAF Linton-on-Ouse and became part of No 6 Group RCAF.  

The Lancaster crews were incredibly brave, heroic, 55,573 lost their lives (44.4%) out of 125,000 aircrew under Bomber Command defending our countries and so many of them were so young. They were up against a determined, ideologically driven, politically far-right fascist enemy. As an example, Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer was a German night-fighter ace flying a Messerschmitt Bf-110, credited with 121 victories, 114 of which were ‘Viermots’ (short in German for ‘four-motors’). His most successful day occurred 21 February 1945 when he shot down nine bombers in a single day. His first night-fighter victory came on 2 June 1942 when he shot down a Handley Page Halifax of RAF 76 Squadron during Bomber Commands second ‘Thousand Bomber Raid’ against Essen. On 13 June 1944, operating above Cambrai in Northern France, 0031 hours at a height of 1,200 m, Schnaufer of Stab IV./NJG1, shot down Rankin’s earlier Avro Lancaster II, DS726 of RAF 408 Squadron.  

Schnaufer returned after the war to the family wine business and was on wine-buying trip to France on 13 July 1950. He was driving towards Biarritz when a lorry loaded with gas cylinders pulled out from a side road and collided with his sports car. It is believed that one of the cylinders was dislodged and struck the 28-year-old on the back of his head. He was taken to a hospital in Bordeaux with a fractured skull and died there two days later. Schnaufer was also responsible for shooting down Ernie ‘Sherl-E’ Holmes on 23 May 1944. Holme’s story is in the book: Where Sky and Summit Meet.