View Full Version : Lancaster baleout - Paul E. Gingras

16th January 2012, 15:42
Although the RCAF awards website upgrades include much material on Paul E. Gingras, I have just added the following material. In some respects it repeats what was previously on the site, but having been into the Nanton (Alberta) Lancaster, I have a new appreciation of narratives such as these. Paragraph 5 is particularly harrowing. It should also be borne in mind that, regardless of the optimism expressed in Paragraph 7, Gingras was the sole survivor:

DHH file 181.003 D.519 has Operational Research Report K.204, “Report of Loss of Aircraft on Operations”, involving Lancaster III serial ND352, T/405 Squadron, 10/11 June 1944. Report dated 3 August 1944. Loss caused by “fighter attack followed by fire.” Location was “Etampes area, homeward bound”. Crew were F/L M.P. Stronach (captain and pilot, 27th operation), F/O A.T. Armstrong (navigator, about 25th operation), WO R.J. Phillips (air bomber, about 25th operation), FS M.A. Thornhill (WOP, about 25th operation), Sergeant J.W. Sharples (flight engineer, about 25th operation), F/O J.L Emery (air bomber, 9th operation), FS D’Agenais (rear gunner, about 25th operation), and FS P.H. Gingras (mid-upper gunner, about 25th operation). Briefed course had been Base-Chelmsford-5055 N 0045 E - 5000 N 0118 E - Target - 4842 N 0210 E - 4815 N 0130 E - 4847 N 0100 W - 4940 N 0230 W - Base. Gingras’ narrative as follows.

1. The Lancaster, which was detailed to act as a Visual Backer-up. Took off from Gransden Lodge at about 2245 hours. The outward flight was entirely without incident and the target was reached and bombed at zero + 15 from 3,000 feet. The target was covered with smoke and about 4/10 cloud but the Target Indicators were dropped in accordance with instructions received from the Master Bomber and the attack appeared to be successful. Light flak was fairly active in the target area but no trouble from it was experienced.

2. After leaving the target the Lancaster got clear of cloud and climbed steadily on a straight course to about 5-6,000 feet at a speed of 170-180 knots. There was no moon but clear starlight and the visibility was excellent. About 15 minutes from the target, while still climbing, the Lancaster was attacked without any warning by a night fighter. The Mid-Upper Gunner [Gingras] was keeping a look out astern at the time, and he could see that the Rear Gunner was also doing so. Both Gunners were traversing their turrets continually so as to keep a watch on both sides. The informant is therefore confident that the attack must have come from underneath although he has no direct evidence that this was so. The Lancaster carried Visual Monica, but the Wireless Operator did not report any indication before the attack. The instrument had certainly been functioning satisfactorily on the outward flight.

3. The first warning the informant received of the attack was the sound of bullets hitting the aircraft. Immediately afterwards a large fire broke out in the starboard wing. This was fiercest immediately behind the inboard engine but spread along the wing to the outboard engine. At the time he got the impression that both engines were on fire, but in retrospect he inclines to the opinion that the fire originated in the wing, probably a tank, because the Lancaster continued to fly perfectly straight in a shallow glide as long as he remained in her. The port wing did not appear to have been hit at all.

4. The pilot now gave the order to abandon the aircraft, which Sergeant Gingras at once acknowledged. He was the first member of the crew to do so. He emphasizes that the attack, the fire and the Captain’s order followed one another in extremely rapid succession occupying only a few seconds.

5. Sergeant Gingras immediately removed his helmet and disconnected his intercom and oxygen supply. He experienced some difficulty in leaving his turret and it seemed some time before he eventually did so, head first. When he reached the fuselage he could see a huge blinding flame forward which appeared to fill the whole fuselage and stretch back almost as far as his turret. He was about to don his parachute when he heard the Wireless Operator scream twice. He put down his parachute and attempted to make his way forward to his assistance, but the flames were far too fierce and he was forced to turn back after a few steps. He picked up his parachute and moved aft to the rear exit, clipping on the parachute as he went along. The left hand side fastened easily, but the right hand clip would not go on at first. He opened the door and immediately saw large tongues of flame and smoke streaming past the aperture from the trailing edge of the wing. He then managed to get the right clip of the parachute fastened and left at once, head first. He saw no sight of the Rear Gunner before he left, but he was so blinded by the flames that it was difficult to distinguish anything.

6. Sergeant Gingras pulled at the carrying handle of the parachute for a few seconds before he realised his mistake and pulled the ripcord. When the ‘chute opened he lost consciousness for a short space but came to while still in the air. He must have jumped from about 5-6,000 feet. He did not see the ground at all before he hit but landed comfortably on very soft ground in a barley field in the neighbourhood of Etamples.

7. After landing he saw a big fire on the ground a few miles off which he believes to have been his aircraft and less than ten minuttes after he landed he saw another aircraft shot down in flames. He saw or heard nothing of any other member of his crew but he is of the opinion that there was ample time for the majority of them to bale out before he left, especially in view of the fact that the Lancaster never performed any unusual manoeuvres after being hit.

Jeremy Crispin
15th October 2013, 10:55
Hi Hugh (I too am a Halliday but unlike you I live in the UK) I agree most of the crew died in the shooting down however, as well as Gingras, the pilot Flight Lieutenant Melvin Stronach of Calgary, Alberta also survived (badly burned) and was treated in a German military hospital on the outskirts of Paris which was subsequently liberated by the Allied advance and Melvin was repatriated to the UK.

I know this because, in writing a history of my cousin Flight Sergeant Martin Thornhill RAFVR (wireless operator on the fateful flight), I also made contact with Gordon Stronach the pilot's son.

Should you care to go to the following link you will find some more details.