Stanley Nicholson Gray

Flight Lieutenant Stanley Nicholson Gray was one of many men in Bomber Command lost on what became known by the RAF as "Black Thursday", 17th December 1943.

Flight Lieutenant

Stanley Nicholson Gray


On the night of 16th December 1943, Flight Lieutenant Stanley Nicholson Gray and his crew took off on a Special Operations Executive sanctioned mission to France. That night would go down in RAF history.

Flight Lieutenant Stanley Nicholson Gray (125739) served in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve during World War Two. He was the son of Hugh H Gray and Martha Gray of 10 Cooldarragh Park, Belfast, Co. Antrim. Hugh was a linen manufacturer.

Gray from Belfast, Co. Antrim was a pilot with RAF 161 Squadron. He died on 17th December 1943 aged 24 years old. Bomber Command would name that night of 16th-17th December 1943 “Black Thursday”.

Special Operations Executive flew several clandestine missions that night making use of RAF 138 Squadron and RAF 161 Squadron. Missions over occupied territory included dropping supplies and agents behind enemy lines. Gray was pilot of Mark V Handley Page Halifax DK206 MA-V. His crew was part of a Special Operations Executive sortie, Operation Wheelwright 50.

Black Thursday

They took off from RAF Tempsford, Bedfordshire. The destination was Angoulême, France. The crew returned early from the sortie due to high patchy rain, and thick ground fog over the target area. In the poor weather, the crew received no responses from Eureka beacons on the onboard Rebecca set. The fog hid signal lights and no S-Phone contacts were made.

Bound for a landing at RAF Woodbridge, Suffolk, the bomber came down at Tangham Forest near Capel St. Andrew, Suffolk at 0505hrs on 17th December 1943. Gray had attempted to take the plane beneath the cloud base, which had dropped to only 200 feet.

Of the 8 people on board, 3 died in the resulting crash. On board were 2 French Agents, both of whom escaped. Bofors gun operators at RAF Woodbridge, Suffolk reported the crash near the south-east of the airfield.

Last NameFirst Name(s)RankRoleInformation
GrayStanley NicholsonFlight LieutenantPilotKilled In Action.
FryPeter AustinFlight SergeantFlight EngineerKilled In Action.
ThomasLeslie HowardFlying OfficerAir BomberKilled In Action.
ShinePilot OfficerInjured.
CravenFlying OfficerInjured.

Three other planes came down in the area that night. Some flying as low as 300-400 feet could not see Verey lights or make contact with air control to approach the airfield safely.

Pilot Officer Brown of RAF 138 Squadron made a successful landing at 0455hrs using his Gee set. Gray’s plane was the first to crash as they circled trying to line up an approach. After DK206 came down, RAF Woodbridge lost communications with the other 3 planes.

Flying Officer DR Harbarow in Halifax LK899 struck a radar aerial at Bawdsey and belly-landed south of the River Debden. Flight Sergeant M Thomas in Halifax LW280 baled his crew out allowing the plane to crash off the coast at Harwich. The same fate befell Halifax LL119 flown by Flying Officer RW Johnson. Flight Sergeant JGA Wilson crashed at Capel Green killing all but 1 of the Halifax LL115 crew after 9 hours, 44 minutes in the air.

Stanley Nicholson Gray’s grave is in Section AE, Grave 154 of Carnmoney Cemetery, Newtownabbey, Co. Antrim.