RAF 620 Squadron was formed at RAF Chedburgh, near Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk, on 17 June 1943. The squadron was part of No 3 Group of RAF Bomber Command flying 20 Short Stirling four-engine heavy bombers. It served not only as a bomber squadron, but was also used for airborne parachute forces, towing gliders and as a transport squadron. Within days, it was pressed into service as part of the strategic bombing campaign against the Ruhr area in Germany – the ‘Battle of the Ruhr’.
On the night of 21/22 June 1943, RAF 620 Squadron flew to attack targets at Krefeld, northwest of Düsseldorf on the River Rhine. Eleven identified factories and 12 small industrial areas were destroyed or severely damaged. The raid destroyed large parts of the east of the city and a firestorm consumed most of the city centre (apart from the central train station, which remained intact apart from minor damage). The RAF and RCAF lost 44 lost that night from a force of 717 aircraft.
Short Stirling Mk. III, EE-875, call sign QS-A took off from RAF Chedburgh at 2335 hours on 22 June 1943. The mission, to attack Mülheim an der Ruhr, just east of Duisburg. The RAF dispatched 557 aircraft on this raid which destroyed 64% of the town. The entire industrial production capability was severely affected.
At 0230 hours, Short Stirling EE-875 was presumed to have crashed into the North Sea 20 kilometres west of The Netherlands province of Walcheren, north of Zeebrugge – all the crew were lost.
Sergeant Thomas Nicholson RAF (658284) pilot, age 23
Flying Officer William Henry Boundy RAFVR (134161) bomb aimer, age 29
Sergeant Ralph Owen Jasper RAFVR (1316326) flight engineer, age 22
Sergeant Kenneth William Read RAFVR (1394386) navigator, age 21
Sergeant Amos Alfred Thomas Woodard RAFVR (1384980) wireless operator/air gunner, age 23
Sergeant Roy Jackson RAFVR (1098586) air gunner, age unknown
Sergeant Harold James Wells RAFVR (1304641) air gunner, age 22
Wells’s body washed ashore on 8 July 1943. He is buried in Bergen-op-Zoom War Cemetery, Noord-Brabant, The Netherlands. The rest of the crew who were recorded as missing in action are remembered on the Runnymede War Memorial.
Nicholson was the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Nicholson (née Sanderson) of Brae Cottage, Fairies Road, Perth.
Perthshire Advertiser, 26th January 1944
BELIEVED LOST ON NIGHT OPERATIONS
Sergt. T. Nicholson, R.A.F., son of Mrs Reid, Brae Cottage, Fairies Road, Burghmuir, Perth, who was reported missing from night operations in June, is now presumed to have lost his life.
Called up at the outbreak of war, he a Territorial, he was then a driver in the R.A.S.C. and served in France, being posted missing at the evacuation of St. Valery. He transferred to the R.A.F. in July 1941, and trained in England and Canada, where he gained his wings. Twenty-three years of age, he was a skilful skater, having won many prizes, and a keen follower of the Panthers Ice Hockey team and Jeanfield Swifts F.C. He was educated at Cherrybank and Perth Academy, and was serving his apprenticeship with J. Johnstone, joiner, Craigie, when called up.’
The ‘Battle of the Ruhr’ was a five-month long campaign of strategic bombing of the Ruhr area in Germany (March 1943-July 1943). During the campaign, Bomber Command estimated that 70% of its losses were due to night fighters. By July 1943, the German airforce’s night-fighter force totalled 550 aircraft.
To man the anti-aircraft defences in Germany, 600,000 personnel were required. There were 1,000 large flak and 1,500 lighter guns in the Ruhr area, roughly about 1/3rd of all the flak guns in Germany. Whilst the RAF were bombing at night, the USAF continued the concentrated attacks on the Ruhr during the day.
Krefeld contained chemical works, large textile factories which made parachutes, and steel plants making crankshafts and armour plate. It was also an important railway centre.
Amazingly, Nicholson had earlier survived capture, being posted missing at St Valery en Caux whilst with the 51st Highland Division in June 1940. More than 10,0000 ended up as prisoners of war.