My uncle Max Addess, a pilot with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, went missing in action on 12 April 1942 together with his observer Sergeant B.A.T. Lane when their Beaufighter T4746 failed to return to its base. It was only Max’s second operational flight. Until now, no one has been able to determine what happened during the mission, and all that has been known remained the matter-of-fact comment in the Operations Record Book for RAF North Coates, mentions the loss from 236 Squadron that, “The machine failed to return from the Operation”.
However, following research not only in the RAF records here, but also looking into the German flak and coastal defence records in the Bundesarchiv in Berlin, I believe the plane was probably shot down over Stavanger by a German flak unit and crashed into the fjord where presumably it remains to this day.
Here is the story.
Sergeants Addess and Lane were part of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR), which was formed in 1936 to train civilians recruited from the neighbourhoods of Reserve Flying Schools. They were composed mainly of young men aged usually between 18 and 25 years old who had been accepted for part time training as pilots, observers or navigators. By the start of the war the RAFVR was perhaps the main entry route for civilian volunteers for the RAF.
Aircraft-mad Max was determined to be a pilot, says one of his best friends, Morris Beckman, who wrote a book, “The Hackney Crucible” about growing up as a young Jewish man in London’s East End. Only four weeks after Chamberlain announced that Britain was at war with
Germany, Max dragged his friend Morris to the RAF recruitment office in Kingsway saying, “Just think, we’ll learn to fly”.
According to Morris, Max was batted away by a bad-tempered Corporal who told him to “Piss off and go back to school” because “It takes brains to fly a plane”. An enraged Max retorted, “I do so agree. That must explain why a moron like you is behind that desk”. Morris goes on to say, “Max was adamant. It was flying. Nothing else would do”.
Later on, Max got his wish and started pilot training, eventually being attached to 236 Squadron, Coastal Command, based at Wattisham in Suffolk. Morris, perhaps fortunately for him, instead joined the Merchant Navy and survived the War.
236 Squadron, to which Max belonged, was tasked primarily with shipping, reconnaissance and escort duties. In some ways, the sortie on 12 April was just a routine mission. Addess and Lane had carried out a similar task only a week before on 5 April, described in the Squadron’s Operational Log as follows.
“Recco carried out from the Hook of Holland to Terschelling at a height of 200 feet, without sighting any movements of enemy shipping and void of any incidents”.
Max refers to this mission in a letter to one of his sisters, Hettie, dated 8 April 1942:
“As you know, I have been waiting quite a long time to get a new crew and start flying again. A few days ago, for some reason I haven’t bothered to discover, one of the observers on this squadron (presumably Sergeant Lane) was going around loose. I was recalled, teamed up with him, and made overnight into an operational pilot. The following day I flew, the first time for about five or six weeks, and on the very next day did my first operational trip. It was not extremely exciting, but not every one is, you can well imagine.”
They were flying a Mk IC Bristol Beaufighter serial number T4746 which had been modified to the requirements of Coastal Command duties by the addition of extra fuel tanks, a navigator’s table and direction finding equipment. After take-off from North Coates they would presumably have turned east and headed out over the North Sea.
The Beaufighter, a fighter sometimes described as “pugnacious” or “brutal” was first flown in 1939 just as the War broke out. It was designed by the Bristol Aircraft Company as a twinengine, two-man, heavy long distance fighter and was based partly on an earlier plane, the Beaufort, but with a substantially modified fuselage, a souped-up power train provided by two Hercules radial engines and a vast array of armaments (see poster). As many people know, the Beaufighter proved remarkably versatile and, modified over the years, was used with success for airborne interception, bombing, marine escort, torpedo strikes, and low level reconnaissance.
The Mark IC version of the plane, with its extra range, was supplied to Coastal Command from around 1941 and its job was to provide an anti-shipping strike force and reconnaissance. It was armoured to survive flak at low levels.
Although versatile and powerfully armed, the Beaufighter was a bit of a beast and had a welldeserved reputation for getting its pilots into trouble at the slightest provocation. According to Jerry Scutts in his book on Beaufighters,
“’Demanding’ was the kindest word that might have been used by many of the lesser–fortunate crew members under training to fly the big Bristol twin in 1941”.
Several crashed owing to engine failure or technical malfunction. Exuberance caused by the unaccustomed power tempted inexperienced pilots into extravagant maneuvers for which the airframe was ill designed. The plane initially suffered from instability, which was also caused by excessive torque from the bigger engines. The plane had a tendency to swing badly on both take-off and landing, and pilots were told quite forcibly that, on landing,
“It is most important that the throttle levers are so adjusted that when together, both engines are revolving at the same speed…unless this is done there is a possibility of having unequal revolutions which results in yawing (sharp horizontal rotation).”
Max understood the potential for catastrophe in this aircraft very well. In another letter to his sister dated 17 September 1941, he recounted an incident where he came close to crashlanding a Beaufighter on a poor visibility training exercise.
“I came down as low as I dared, about 150 feet and could just about see the ground. After a lot of fiddling around I managed to make the wheels touch the ground but unfortunately they did it so hard that I went up again. Of course by this time the weather was too bad for me to want to go round again so I made the best of things as they were. What with all this messing around I was half way across the aerodrome going much too fast for comfort. On went the brakes and I braced myself for the shock of hitting the far hedge. However luck must have been with me, because I came to a standstill no more than 3 feet away from it, and after that I just sat still not moving for about 2 minutes.”
At 8.24 am on 12 April 1942, Sergeant Maxwell Addess and his observer, Sergeant B.A.T. Lane took off from North Coates airfield in Lincolnshire on a reconnaissance mission.
The assigned patrol was designated as “Reefer”, from 60 miles south of the Norwegian Coast to 36 miles North West of Heligoland. With a confirmed take off time of 08:24 the patrol would have been undertaken in daylight.
At about 13.00 on that day, an air raid siren sounded over Stavanger and a German flak unit based at Sola airport opened up. Stavanger Airport at Sola had been in German hands since April 1940 and remained so throughout the war. German occupation forces and Luftwaffe had expanded the airport considerably, as it was considered a vital strategic asset and therefore presumably well defended,
In its operational log, recovered from microfilm in the Bundesarchiv, the flak unit reported hitting a Hamden (mistakenly spelled as “Hampton”) at 13.22 that day. At about the same time, the German sea defences reported sighting a plane coming down in flames in the middle of the Hafrsfjord which is in the area of Stavanger and Sola. A patrol boat was sent to the spot, but failed to find any wreckage. The alarm was de-activated at 13.55.
Flak unit based at Sola (Stavanger) reports shooting down a Hampden on 12 April 1942 at 13.22.
C 2027 N II Teil (microfilm)
Abschüsse durch Flak, ca. 1942–1944
23.55 Tugydcoote (?) 1. Res. 253 (1/253) Boeing
23.55 same place 2. Res. 253 (2/253) Boeing
23.57 same place 13 Rgt. 4 (13/4) Boeing
13.22 Sola 7 Rgt. 53 (7./53) Hampton (sic)
Record of German air sea rescue that day and time recording unidentified plane in flames coming down in Hafrsfjord near Stavanger
RL 29/11 War Diary No. 2 Seenotdienstführer Norway,
- Feb. 1942–10 Nov. 1942
Zentrale norwegische Westküste meldet:
13.22 Uhr ist eine Maschine brennend in den Hafrsfjord gestürzt. 13.45 Uhr Start einer He 59. „Bugge“ läuft wahrscheinlich aus. 14.00 Uhr Meldung von Biene, daß die Maschine im Lg. 5921 links über abgestürzt ist. 15.00 Uhr He 59 ohne Erfolg gelandet. Seenotfall beendet.
Station Norwegian Westcoast reports:
1.22 p.m. A burning machine fell into the Hafrsfjord. At 1.45 p.m. a Heinkel 59 investigated. It is likely that “Bugge“ left the harbour. 2 p.m. Report of “Biene“, that the machine crashed in Lg. 5921. At 3 p.m. Heinkel 59 landed having found nothing. Distress mission ended.
Record of air raid warning in Stavanger at relevant date and time
RM 45–III/128 War Diary Admiral Norwegian Westcoast, 1.1.–30.6.1942
13.00–13.55 Air raid warning in Stavanger
Max Addess was by all accounts a bit of a character. He was headstrong, did not suffer fools at all gladly and possessed a corrosive sense of humour. Despite being told by the RAF recruitment Corporal that he had no brains, he was in fact very good at school. It appears he was in particular a whiz at mathematics and was known at school for being the chap you went to when you had trouble with your maths homework. Max was down to read mathematics at Cambridge had not the War intervened. Sadly the closest he got to the University of Cambridge was studying navigation as part of his RAF training at Pembroke College for a few weeks in December 1940 where he proudly reported getting 100% in Morse.
Max’s cousin, Martin, describes him as “a good-looking young man” who was the first in the family to go to the prestigious Grocer’s school. Max was considered by his mother to be the brainiest of her six children. But he was not just brainy, he was brawny, and his belligerence drew him to boxing. One of his schoolmates recalls that,
“In an early bout (my third I think) a boy named Addess floored me with an extremely painful violent punch on the nose, and I decided to end my boxing career there and then.”
He was also musical and like most of his brothers and sisters he loved concerts. His letters talk about the music and films he is missing in London while away on training. One of the last films he saw was The Mortal Storm, an anti-Nazi drama starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, which tells the tragic story of a young German who refuses to support Nazism and falls in love with a Jewish woman. But it would have appealed to Max who was, like most of his young Jewish school friends, a committed anti-fascist.
Was the “Hamden” in fact Addess and Lane’s Beaufighter?
The evidence cannot be conclusive, but it is quite compelling.
First, the RAF records show that there were a total of only three losses that day from Coastal Command, of which two were Spitfires. The third was the Beaufighter, flown by Addess and Lane.
Second, looking at Bomber Command and Fighter command losses, no other plane failed to return from a mission in the area near or over Norway.
Third, no Hampden went missing or failed to return to base on 12 April 1942.
It was not uncommon for a German flak unit to misidentify a plane, especially in poor or overcast weather conditions. The weather report from Coastal Command for that day covering Iceland to Norway was
“Cloudy or overcast with considerable amounts of rain and very low cloud. Some fair periods over southwest Norway. Visibility 3–6 miles in the west, 10–15 miles in the east, deteriorating to less than 1 mile in precipitation or local hill fog”.
And a Hampden can look quite a lot like a Beaufighter, especially from in front and below (see photos).
RAF Beaufighter RAF Hampden
Of course there is a mystery about why the Beaufighter was not on its prescribed route. It was supposed to be sixty miles south of Norway, although this might have been as little as 15 minutes flying time to Stavanger. Navigational error? Did the crew decide to exercise discretion having spotted something of interest? We shall never know, but for whatever reason it seems that the Beaufighter came in range of the anti-aircraft defences at Sola and paid the price.
This research is the closest we may come to knowing what happened to Addess and Lane on 12 April 1942. Beaufighters would of course be vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire, especially at low altitude. Max’s mission the week before he died took place mainly at a height of only 200 feet so he may well have been coming in low that day too. Despite armour, the plane was apparently shot down in flames and crashed into the Hafrsfjord. Perhaps one day a diver might stumble onto the wreckage if any is left, but after more than 70 years, this does seem unlikely.
My family has sadly never had any contact with that of Sergeant Lane. If anyone reading this article should know of any relatives or descendants, they might find this piece of interest.