Sergeant John Ritchie McDowell (1798275) served with the Royal Air Force during World War Two. He was a Flight Engineer in RAF 101 Squadron. Known to family and friends as Jimmy, McDowell was the son of John McDowell and Mary Ann McDowell of Hillsborough, Co. Down.
He died on 16th January 1945 aged 23 years old, shot down over the border between Germany and Czechoslovakia.
Avro Lancaster Mk III LM472 SR-V2 took off from RAF Ludford Magna, Lincolnshire on Tuesday 16th January 1945 at 1748hrs. The mission; a raid on a synthetic oil plant in Brux, Czechoslovakia between 2230hrs and 2259hrs.
The Lancaster crew were part of 231 Lancasters and 6 Mosquitos from No. 1 and No 5 Group. This included six other planes from RAF 101 Squadron. Some planes had ABC radio jamming devices. McDowell and crew were due back at Ludford Magna at 0247hrs on 17th January 1945.
Lancaster LM472 was the only plane not to return from the sortie, shot down between Hof and Pluen, Germany. Seven of the eight crew on board died.
|Last Name||First Name(s)||Rank||Role||Information|
|McGonigle||Frederick Desmond||Flying Officer||Pilot||Killed.|
|Hart||Rochester Warren Lee||Flight Sergeant||Bomb Aimer||RAAF. Killed.|
|Collins||Laurence||Warrant Officer||Wireless Operator / Air Gunner||RAAF. Killed.|
|Armour||Jack Karl||Pilot Officer||Navigator||RCAF. Killed.|
|Beckett||Robert John||Sergeant||Air Gunner||Killed.|
|McDowell||John Ritchie||Sergeant||Flight Engineer||Killed.|
|Knight||John Edward||Flight Sergeant||Navigator||RAAF. Survived.|
Navigator Flight Sergeant John Edward Knight of the Royal Australian Air Force survived. He recalled the starboard engines and wing catching fire after sustaining fire from another plane. Locals took Knight to a nearby military hospital in Plauen.
At 2015hrs, LM472 passed over Luxembourg. Enemy fighters missed the Allied bombing formation. Twenty minutes later, they crossed the River Rhine near Koblenz. Again, Luftwaffe fighters scrambled but missed the RAF bombers.
Oberstleutnant Walter Borchers scrambled in his night fighter between Erfurt and Altenburg aerodromes. After refuelling, he split from the main group of fighters, going west towards the Brux bound bombers. Documents suggest he came into contact with LM472 at 2204hrs. He shot down three Lancasters that night. Knight’s account stated gunfire from below hit the Lancaster’s wing.
K Borowski, a Polish worker saw aerial combat take place and a plane catch fire. At around 17,000 feet, the starboard engines and wing of LM472 caught fire. Two minutes later, an explosion caused damage to the plane.
The pilot took the plane in a dive to over 10,000 feet to avoid further attack. McGonigle gave the command to bale out as the plane lost altitude.
Remembering John Ritchie McDowell
Shortly after 2209hrs, LM472 crashed 800 metres south-west of the village of Geilsdorf. The plane was on fire as it came down. As the pilot attempted to crash land in a snow-covered field, the plane struck high tension wires. The Lancaster exploded and crashed 30m from the road between Ruderitz and Geilsdorf.
Burning wreckage scattered the fields but most of the crew’s bombs remained unexploded in their bay. Borowski arrived on the scene and found Knight warming his hands by the burning wreckage. The temperature in the heavy snow was -18 degrees. It seems the near ground explosion blew him clear of the plane. Knight appeared disoriented and confused with no recollection of his whereabouts.
Locals recovered two bodies that night and a search party found the other five crew members the following day.
John Ritchie McDowell’s grave is in Section 13, Row B, Grave 5 of the 1939-1945 Commonwealth War Cemetery, Charlottenburg, Berlin, Germany. His headstone bears the inscription:
A precious son and brother. Greater love hath no man.