RCAF Jewish War Heroes – Research by Clarence Simonsen

50 years of research about aviation by Clarence Simonsen

Research and story by Clarence Simonsen

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RCAF Jewish War Heroes

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Jewish War Heroes was a third “Canadian” special edition magazine published in 1944, informing the Canadian public of a few Jewish War II Heroes. This forgotten magazine is in fact an historical document which reflects on the attitudes and beliefs of our Canadian past, and it is just as important today. [Possibly more than ever with hate crimes on the rise in Canada]

The football player running with the ball on the front left cover was not identified, but his name was Lou Warren Somers, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Somerstein of 93 Kendal Avenue in Toronto, Ontario. Born 21 January 1920, as Leo Somerstein, he changed his name, and attended Harbord Collegiate and distinguished himself in athletics. He received his Jewish education at the University Avenue [Goel Tzedec] Synagogue, and starred as a halfback for the intercollegiate rugby teams of University College. In 1940, he graduated as an honour student in commerce and finance winning the Jules J. Allen Award, plus the Cody Trophy for a student who has contributed the most to the athletic life of University College.

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In early 1941, Lou was a staff writer and analyst for a Toronto financial paper, when his brother Gerald G. Somers joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. Lou followed his brothers footsteps and began his RCAF Initial training at No. 1 [I.T.S.] in Toronto, No. 14 E.F.T.S. at Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, and received his Wings at No. 12 S.F.T.S. at Brandon, Manitoba. He completed his Heavy Conversion training to fly the Halifax Mk. V Bomber at RAF No. 1654 H.C.U. RAF Wigsley and was posted to No. 427 [Lion] Squadron of the RCAF on 18 January 1943.

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No. 427 Squadron became the eighth RCAF bomber squadron formed on 7 November 1942, when ten aircrews arrived from No. 419 [Moose] Squadron, three posted, [seven were attached] until the squadron reached operational flying strength. The first operation was flown on 14 December 1942, when three Wellington Mk. III bombers attempted to lay mines in the Frisian Islands, two aircraft aborted due to bad weather. Over the next two months, many new trained members of the RCAF were posted to 427 Squadron and their Wellington Mk. III bombers on strength grew to eighteen by 30 November 1942.

A – BK604 and BK137, C – BK268, D – BJ778, E – BK164, F – BJ886, G – K1626, H – X3562, K – BK364 and BK437, L – BK389, P – Z3872 and X3752, Q – Z1572, R – X3569 and X3563, S – Z1676, T – X3569 and X3563, U – Z1604, V – BT349 and Z1626, W – K3873, X – BT668, Y – X3593 and Z – X3348.

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RCAF Library and Archive of Canada photo MIKAN No. 4359665.

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On 3 March 1943, No. 427 Squadron began converting to the Wellington B. Mk. X, the final variant of this bomber constructed for RAF Bomber Command. In total 3,803 of these aircraft [Type 448] would be constructed and they were already slow and obsolete. The following Wellington Mk. X serial numbers appear in order as the new aircraft squadron code letters were assigned in March and April 1943.

L – HE264

S – HE279

Y – NZ313

D – HE547

X – HE743

J – HE553

V – HE668

W – MS743

W – HE425

U – HE683

X – HE278

T – MS485

C – HE653

A – LN429

B – HE730

E – NE745

M – HE637

J – HE744

K – HE729

Z – LN435

N – HE638

R – HE686

P – HE681

S – HE279

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P/O Lou Somers J8219 flew his first combat operation as 2nd Dicky to Sgt. B.R. Chambers R96292 on 14 April 1943 in Wellington B. Mk. X serial HE553, code letter “J” to bomb Stuttgart, Germany. Somers first operation with his own aircrew took place on 27 April 1943, in Wellington Mk. X serial HE653, “C” gardening [mines].

On 1 May 1943, No. 427 Squadron became non-operational and moved to No. 63 [RCAF] Base at Leeming, Yorkshire, on 5 May. New conversion training in the Halifax B. Mk. V bombers began and on 13 May a special event took place and the official title “Lion Squadron” was approved. The Lion squadron was adopted by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios and Halifax DK186, ZL-L was painted with large nose art of a flying Lion holding a bomb in his paws, named “London’s Revenge.” Many of the bombers were painted with contemporary MGM film stars’ names and other nose art images as listed in the Operational Records book.

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Lion squadron became operational on 28 May 1943 and twelve Halifax Mk. V aircraft attacked Wuppertal, Germany. Take-off order – DK184 “D”, DK191 “K”, DK192 “E”, DK190 “F”, DK186 “L” for [London’s Revenge], DK185 “B”, DK183 “S” – [Canadian Warrior], DK146 “Q”, DK181 “T”, DK140 “Z” for [Zombie], and DK139 “P” for [Pompers].

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The Lion nose art was a very simple design, replica painting in 2005 for Karl Kjarsgaard.

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The impressive nose art on Halifax B. Mk. V, serial DK186, coded ZL-L, taken after her 20th operation, 3 October 1943. She flew three more, the last on 25/26 November 1943. Ended her days training at No. 1667 Heavy Conversion Unit, taxied into a water ditch on 22 April 1944, scrapped in May 1945.

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In 2003, the author painted replica nose art of the original Halifax “L” DK186 and it was presented to 427 Helicopter Squadron [Special Operations Squadron 2009] at Petawawa, Ontario. Painted on original WWII Halifax skin from NA337, displayed at RCAF Trenton, ON.

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Very rare No. 427 [Lion] Squadron Halifax Bomber nose art.

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Halifax B. Mk. III serial LK644, came to No. 427 Squadron in August 1943, and was assigned the code letter “C” for Charlie. The nose art name became MGM star Joan Crawford but her body came from the pages of Esquire magazine, “Petty Girl” for June 1941, [left]. The painted bombs [operations flown] formed a large “V” for Victory letter. The Halifax failed to return from bombing Frankfurt, Germany, 21 December 1943. The author’s replica nose art painting [right on original WWII aircraft skin] is in a private collection in the United States. Another second replica painting hangs in the Bomber Command Museum of Canada at Nanton, Alberta.

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During the Halifax Bomber conversion in May 1943, a new Jewish Navigator F/O Max Shvemar was assigned to the aircrew of Flying Officer Lou Warren. F/O Shvemar was a veteran crew member having flown with RAF No. 57 Squadron, where he was wounded and upon recovery was posted to RCAF No. 425 Squadron. On 21 April 1943, he was posted to No. 427 [Lion] Squadron and after Halifax conversion training flew his first operation in Halifax DK185 “A” on 11/12 June 1943 to Dusseldorf, Germany. Eighty bombers attacked the primary target and seven were shot down.

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On 12/13 June 43, the target became Bochum, another heavily defended industrial city in the German Ruhr Valley. The Somers crew flew in Halifax “A” DK185, one of twenty-eight RCAF bombers which crossed southern Holland and then turned south for their selected German target. During the turn, a navigational error was made by F/O Max Shvemar and their lone RCAF Halifax bomber appeared over the heavily defended City of Essen, Germany. Three aircraft were shot down, including DK183 ZL-S from No. 427 Squadron.

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The bomber was holed by flak over twenty times, and both inboard engines were hit but continued to operate. When they finally got clear of the flak and searchlights, Somers flew north to Holland and then set a course for home base. Upon landing the ground crew observed the Halifax was covered in flak holes on the starboard rudder, fuselage, main plane, with twenty large flak holes counted, but none of the aircrew were injured. The news event made headlines in major Canadian newspapers and the crew posed for RCAF photos.

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No. 427 [Lion] Squadron Halifax Mk. V serial DK183, ZL-S, shot down over Holland after a raid on Bochum 12/13 June 1943.

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F/O Lou Warren Somers, age 24 years, posed for the press in his rugby sweater with lucky #74 he always wore on operations. RCAF official photo.

The Somers crew received a new Halifax Bomber Mk. V [seen above] serial DK180, which again received the code letter ‘A’ and they continued operations. On 19/20 June they were part of thirty-eight RCAF bombers which struck Le Creusot and part of fifty-seven bombers which attacked Krefeld on 21/22 June. On 22/23 June, they attacked Mulheim where six bombers were shot down. On 24/25 June at 23:07 Hrs. they took off for Wuppertal, Germany, in Halifax B. Mk. V serial DK135 code ZL-B, part of sixty-two dispatched and forty-eight hit the primary target, “B” failed to return.

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Only one RCAF aircrew member survived the fighter attack on Halifax DK135, over Holland, P/O White, who was taken Prisoner of War. F/O Navigator Max Shvemar is buried in the Crosswijk General Cemetery, Rotterdam, Holland. F/O Lou Somers is buried in the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, Nijmegen, Holland.

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A very large number of Canadian Jews are serving with the Canadian Army, the Royal
Canadian Air Force, and the Royal Canadian Navy. As a matter of fact if they were all in
the Army there would be nearly enough to form an entire Jewish division. The Government does not issue statistics on the exact number of Jewish men in the forces, but the Canadian Jewish Congress has requested every Jew in Canada to write them the names of Jewish men in uniform that they know of. In this way the Congress has the names of over 12,000 Jews who wear Canadian uniforms, and there are probably a great many more than that number.

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So many Canadian Jews have fought well with the army, navy and air forces in this war that dozens of them have won medals, decorations, and awards and have been mentioned in dispatches. A Montreal Jewish doctor won the Order of the British Empire in Africa,—Jewish fliers from Toronto, Montreal and other cities and towns have won the Distinguished Flying Cross. A Vancouver Jewish sailor who had served on the famous St. Croix was mentioned in dispatches. A Montreal signalman at Dieppe was
awarded the Military Cross; a flier from the same city won the British Empire Medal; a Vancouver flier won the Air Force Cross; a Regina Jewish doctor was mentioned in dispatches, and so on and so forth Canadian Jews valiant in battle.

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There are 1,500,000 Jews in the armies, navies and air forces of the United Nations.
One out of every seven Jewish men and women all over the world are in uniform.
In Canada there are 12,000 Jewish service men. In the U.S. there are 500,000 Jewish servicemen. In Palestine there are 50,000 Jews in the army and the home guard.
In England there are 50,000 Jewish servicemen. In Russia there are 500,000 Jewish men in uniform. In Australia, New Zealand and Africa there are 12,000 Jewish servicemen.
Jews everywhere have declared war on Hitler, war to the death, without reserve and without compromise. They know and the whole world now knows that Hitlerism is the enemy of all civilization. Men cannot live free and decent lives if Hitler remains on earth or if his ideas remain. Jews and all civilized mankind are fighting this war to destroy Hitler and his evil ways.