Pilot Officer Peter Gordon Anderson RAFVR (88023) of 20 Balhousie Street, Perth, the only son of Peter and Margaret Crawford Logan Anderson, died when his aircraft was shot down and crashed at Ploudalmézeau just north of Brest, France, on 24 July 1941. The aircraft was a Handley Page Hampden Mk I, AE225 of RAF 144 Squadron flying from its base at RAF North Luffenham, Rutland, England.
The day before a PRU Spitfire had brought back photographs showing the German battleship Scharnhorst moored at La Rochelle on the French Atlantic coast. On the other side of the Atlantic, a convoy with 30,000 Canadian troops was preparing to sail. If the Scharnhorst and other battleships sailed and attacked that convoy, many lives would have been lost, she had to be stopped.
The Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had docked at Brest on 22 March 1941, they had been at sea for 60 days in which they had sunk 22 merchant ships. The heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen arrived on 1 June 1941. During the weeks between March and July the port of Brest was attacked many times by the RAF. The Gneisenau was badly damaged but the ‘lucky ship’ Scharnhorst always seemed to escape anything serious.
The French Resistance informed London on 20 July 1941 that an order for provisions had been placed for the Scharnhorst. That could only mean one thing, she was getting ready to sail. On the morning of 23 May 1941, the Scharnhorst slipped out of Brest and a Photographic Reconnaissance Unit aircraft spotted her berthed at a pier in La Pallice, La Rochelle later in the day.
An all-out effort was called for. The main Scharnhorst attack force of 24 July 1941 was comprised of Handley Page Halifax bombers, 15 aircraft in total, nine from RAF 35 Squadron and six from RAF 76 Squadron. This was a dangerous daylight raid without fighter cover, due to the distance. To avoid enemy radar, they flew below 1,000 feet. The Scharnhorst was badly damaged from several direct hits and had to return to Brest for four months of repairs. One RAF 35 Squadron Halifax and three RAF 76 Squadron Halifax aircraft were shot down. Four German fighters were also shot down.
Total bombers taking part that day over Brest and La Rochelle: three Flying Fortress, 18 Hampdens, 79 Wellingtons and the 15 Halifax aircraft who were specifically targeting the Scharnhorst – 16 bombers were lost. The Gneisenau, Prinz Eugen and a large tanker were hit at Brest. Several Bristol Blenheims attacked Cherbourg as a diversion. The night before the Scharnhorst had also received one direct hit from a Short Stirling bomber.
Three of the crew in Anderson’s Hampden died and two became prisoners of war – Flight Lieutenant R B Barr and Sergeant J E Wiggall; they seemed to have survived the war.
The three crew who were killed are buried together at Ploudalmézeau Communal Cemetery, Finestere, Row 14 Coll. Grave 179-180:
Pilot Officer Peter Gordon Anderson RAF (88023) pilot, age 22
Sergeant Albert Bertram Cooper RAF (944245) wireless air gunner, age 22
Sergeant Donald Parking RAF (989144) wireless air gunner, age 21
Following the ‘Channel Dash’ in February 1942 in which the German Battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen managed to break the British blockade and sail through the English Channel to Germany, RAF 144 Squadron was one of two squadrons converted to anti-shipping role as torpedo bombers. They moved to RAF Leuchars in July 1942 and then in September they were assigned to Operation Orator and temporarily transferred to Murmansk to protect the Allied Arctic convoy PQ 18. The squadron lost five Hampden bombers on route to Russia. Only three examples of the Hampden survive today. One is in the RAF Museum at Cosford, P1344. It was recovered from a crash site on the Kola Peninsula, Northern Russia, in 1991.
Another local RAF officer, Wing Commander Gerald A Lane OBE, DFC was a member of RAF 35 Squadron.
Peter Gordon Anderson, Perthshire Advertiser 2 August 1941
ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1939-1941. (C 2228) Vertical aerial photograph taken during a daylight attack on German warships docked at Brest, France. Two Handley Page Halifaxes of No. 35 Squadron RAF (upper right) fly over the naval dockyard, towards the dry docks in which the battlecruisers SCHARNHORST and GNEISENAU are berthed (top right), and over which a smoke screen is rapidly spreading. At middle right, a stick of bombs can be seen to hav… Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205023086
ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1939-1941. (C 4109) Vertical aerial photograph taken during a daylight attack on German warships docked at Brest, France. Two Handley Page Halifaxes of No. 35 Squadron RAF fly towards the dry docks in which the battlecruisers SCHARNHORST and GNEISENAU are berthed (right), and over which a smoke screen is rapidly spreading. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205023266
THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 17611) Handley Page Hampden torpedo-bombers carry out a realistic attack on British and American battleships during combined exercises. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205186478
HANDLEY PAGE HAMPDEN BOMBER INSTRUMENT PANEL (CH 1208) Original wartime caption: 1. Fuel contents gauge 2. Fuel contents selector switch 3. Air speed indicator 4. Sensitive altimeter 5. Artificial horizon 6. Rate of climb meter 7. Turn indicator 8. Oil thermo gauge – port 9. Oil thermo gauge – starboard 10. Oil pressure gauges 11. Cylinder temperature gauge – starboard 12. Cylinder temperature gauge – port 13. Azimuth steering indicator 14. Fuel press… Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205442708
HAMPDENS IN THE WAR AGAINST THE U-BOAT (CH 8652) Original wartime caption: The ‘Hampden’ medium bomber is chiefly employed in R.A.F. Coastal Command minelaying and anti-U-boat operations. It has also been used in attacks on enemy storage plants, communications and heavy industries in German-occupied Europe and the Ruhr. Hampdens in flight. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205448532
ROYAL AIR FORCE 1939-1945: BOMBER COMMAND (CH 263) Armourers prepare to load Hampden P1333/EA-F of No 49 Squadron with 250lb general purpose (GP) bombs, Scampton, 6 June 1940. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205218604
HAMPDEN AIRCRAFT OF THE ROYAL AIR FORCE IN 1938/1939 (HU 75015) A mechanic carrying out last minute checks on a Handley Page Hampden I aircraft, with two other Hampdens in the background, at the manufacturer’s airfield at Radlett, Hertfordshire, prior to delivery to operational units in winter 1938/1939. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205075636