W1048 TL-S from 35 Squadron

W1048 TL-S, or 'S Sugar' as she is more commonly known, is perhaps the most well known of all the Halifax aircraft that took part in operations against Tirpitz in the spring of 1942.

The story of the aircraft and the fate of her crew is told in great detail in the book 'Tirpitz the Halifax Raids' which was written by Nigel Smith, the son-in-law of Sergeant Vic Stevens who was the Flight Engineer onboard when the aircraft crashed.

So much has already been written about this aircraft and the subsequent recovery of the wreckage from Lake Hoklingen in Norway in 1973. The aircraft is now on display in the Bomber Command Hall at the RAF Museum of Flight, Hendon, London. Below is a brief outline of the aircraft and crews last flight on April 27th 1942. For more about the discovery and recovery of the aircraft click here.

Force Crew Position Age
Home Town
P/O HEWITT I RAFVR Navigator Evaded
Sgt PERRY D RAFVR W/Op Air Gunner Evaded
Sgt BLANCHETT P RCAF W/Op Air Gunner Evaded
Sgt WILSON R RAFVR Tail Gunner Evaded
Sgt STEVENS V RAFVR Flight Engineer POW

On 27th April 1942, the crew of Halifax W1048 TL-S from 35 Squadron took off at 2030 hrs from RAF Kinloss on the North East coast of Scotland to participate in an attack on the German Battleship Tirpitz which was moored at the time in Fættenfjord in Norway.

The Squadron Operation Records Book states that this aircraft took off from Kinloss at time stated, Tirpitz being the target. Nothing heard since take-off.

This aircraft and crew located Tirpitz and succeeded in dropping their mines as near as was possible to the target. However, during their bombing run over the target the aircraft was hit and seriously damaged by AA fire causing a fire to break out onboard. Unable to extinguish the fire and with the aircraft becoming more and more unstable in the air the pilot, Pilot Officer Don MacIntyre, was left with little choice other than to try and land the stricken aircraft. In the mountainous terrain in which they were flying this was not going to be easy, however, a frozen lake presented a flat surface and an opportunity to attempt a crash landing.

With enormous courage and skill, Pilot Office MacIntyre brought the blazing Halifax down onto the frozen surface of the lake with the undercarriage retracted as was the procedure for this type of landing. The aircraft hurtled along the ice for about half a mile or so before coming to a halt in the middle of the lake still on fire. It was shortly after 0100 hrs.

The first out of the aircraft was Sergeant Ron Wilson, the Tail Gunner. He was joined shortly by the rest of the crew and they realised that one of their number was missing. The Flight Engineer, Sergeant Vic Stevens, had not escaped from the aircraft and Sergeant Wilson returned to look for him. Sergeant Stevens had been momentarily knocked out in the crash, and on coming round to find water starting to fill the aircraft he struggled up the escape ladder. He was met by Sergeant Wilson and together they left the burning aircraft. On jumping from the wing to the ice Sergeant Stevens felt pain in his ankle and realised that it must have been injured already during the crash.

The aircraft crashing onto the lake had attracted the attention of the Germans, and it wasn't long before shots were being fired at the crew as they ran over the ice towards the shore to seek cover. Surrender was considered and rejected as they hurried for the cover of some trees a little way back from the shore of the lake.

After walking together for around three hours they had covered a distance of about eight miles. They stopped in a small wood to rest and assess their situation. They had three emergency ration tins to share among the six of them. The tins contained small amounts of chocolate tablets, concentrated food, local currency and a map of the operating area. The contents of the tins would not be suffice to sustain the six men for long, particularly as they now faced a dangerous and arduous journey on foot as they would attempt to make their way to neutral Sweden.

The crew rested up until mid afternoon when they were spotted by a young boy who, on seeing them, ran off. Deciding that they had better not hang around for much longer the men opted to split into two groups of three for the onward journey. The Pilot, Don MacIntyre, Navigator, Ian Hewitt and Wireless Operator, Dave Perry set off first heading East.

The road in the area were patrolled frequently by Germans making it too risky for the men to travel on them. Therefore, they had to move cross country using the natural landscape of hills, trees and mountains to conceal themselves. The men also knew that their escape to Sweden would rely on the assistance of Norwegians for food and directions. How would they know who to trust? They didn't know. It was all going to be down to luck and good fortune rather than good judgement.

The first place that they stopped for help was Tingstad Farm in Frol, near Lavanger. Here they were given directions by a young farm hand. Later the same night they stopped again at another farm, Moan Farm. They were given some food and then were taken to another farm where they would find someone to guide them over the mountains towards Sweden.

The man who would guide them was Jens Jenssen who had a farm at Erståsen. After staying at the Jenssens farm for a day, the three airmen and Jenssen set off the following night. They walked all through the night arriving at Færsåsen by dawn. At this point Jenssen had to leave the airmen and return to his farm. To stay away from his home for any longer would risk the Germans noticing his absence and asking questions about where he had been. Before leaving he gave directions to the airmen about the route they must take to continue their journey.

After struggling on through deep snow for a further twelve hours, Pilot Officer Don MacIntyre, Pilot Officer Ian Hewitt and Sergeant Dave Perry finally crossed the Swedish border at Mestuga on April 30th. On arriving in Sweden, the men knocked on the door of a house and asked that the local police be telephoned. The police came and took the men to be handed over to the Swedish Military Authorities and shortly after this they travelled by train to Falun where they were interned as Allied invaders.

Don MacIntyre and Ian Hewitt were repatriated and arrived back in England on 15th June 1942. Dave Perry was repatriated later in 1943.

After watching MacIntyre, Hewitt and Perry set off on their journey, the remaining three airmen, Wireless Operator Pierre Blanchett, Tail Gunner Ron Wilson and Flight Engineer Vic Stevens made plans for their journey. As they were making their plans, the young boy who had spotted them earlier returned and spoke to them. He told them that his parents were working nearby in a field but that they were not able to help them. However, he gave them directions on how to get to Sweden before leaving them.

Using a button compass that they had, the airmen made the decision to head due East. Not long after setting off from the woods they came to a farm (Störe Farm). Two men who worked on the farm took the airmen in and fed them before giving further directions for continuing their journey to Sweden.

From Störe Farm, the airmen travelled South East. The injury that Vic Stevens had sustained to his ankle was causing him considerable pain and he was finding great difficulty in walking and keeping up with Sergeant Wilson and Sergeant Blanchett. In an effort to help their injured crewmate, Blanchett and Wilson rigged up a rudimentary pair of crutches for Stevens. As they walked on into the night Stevens continued to have difficulties. Some time around midnight they heard the sounds of aircraft and could see in the distance another attack being carried out by the RAF against Tirpitz. They witnessed two aircraft being shot down. Unknown to them, both aircraft were also from 35 Squadron, Halifax W1053 TL-G and W7656 TL-P. Three lives were lost.

An hour later, Vic Stevens decided that his injury was hampering their progress to such an extent that he would have to leave the other two in order to give them a better chance of escape. Blanchett and Wilson did not agree, however, at the next farm they came to Stevens knocked on the door. The three men found themselves at Sundby Farm which was only about four miles from where they had crashed. The route that they had taken since leaving Störe Farm earlier had effectively seen them retracing their steps. At Sundby Farm Vic Stevens injured ankle was examined for the first time. It was found to be badly bruised and inflamed. The considered opinion was that he would not be able to walk to Sweden with it in that condition - the Swedish border was still some 30 miles away.

The three airmen shared a meal together at the farm and Blanchett and Wilson realised that they would sadly have to continue their journey without Sergeant Stevens. Sometime around 0200 hrs Pierre Blanchett and Ron Wilson left Sundby Farm. Exhausted, Vic Stevens lay down on a bed that had been made up for him and fell asleep.

The next morning the farmer cycled to the doctor to ask his advice about Sergeant Stevens. The doctor considered that the entire family were at risk of being shot if the Germans discovered that Stevens was with them and advised that they contact the local police. After discussing the situation with Sergeant Stevens, it was agreed that the police should be called.

Once at the local police station at Skogn, the policeman, Ivor Hoel, allowed enough time to pass for Blanchett and Wilson to be well out of the area before handing Stevens over to the Germans. From Skogn, Stevens was driven by car to Værnes airfield where after having his ankle looked at by a doctor he slept the night. The following morning, April 30th, he started his journey to a POW camp in Germany where he spent the remaining three years of the war.

Meanwhile, Ron Wilson and Pierre Blanchett were still making their way towards Sweden. After saying goodbye to Vic Stevens at Sundby Farm they had floowed the directions given to them by the farmer. They travelled East, heading into the mountains. At one point they could see small spotter planes and thought that they might be out searching for survivors from the crashes. Not wishing to be discovered, the two airmen took cover in some trees and stayed there until darkness fell before continuing. Their route took them higher and higher into the mountains. It was very cold and the snow was very deep and difficult to walk in. The next day, looking back into the valley they had crossed, they could see German troops searching the area only a few miles behind them.

Trying to move through the snow, which was by this time chest deep, was painfully slow and exhausting. It was a relief therefore when later that day they found a mountain hut where they could stop and rest for the night. The beds in the hut were a welcome sight for the exhausted airmen who dropped into them and promptly fell asleep. In the morning the airmen were woken up by two men. Good fortune was on the side of Blanchett and Wilson as the men turned out to be from the Norwegian Resistance. They lit the stove and shared some food they had brought with them then left telling the airmen that they would return again that night.

Good as their word, the Norwegians returned that night bringing with them skis and ski boots and rucksacks containing food for the airmen. After showing Wilson and Blanchett how to walk on the skis, the Norwegians accompanied them on their journey through the night and on in to the next day. They then had to return to their homes, however, before doing so they gave Wilson and Blanchett a map and told them which way to continue in order to reach Sweden.

Alone again the airmen travelled on through the snow until quite some time later they came to a house by a lake where they stopped to ask for help. They were given food and allowed to stay for the night before setting off again the nest day with new directions. They travelled on and on through the snowy mountains and valleys, moving when they could and resting when they had to.

Sitting down for a rest, they were suddenly surrounded by soldiers on skis carrying guns. At first they thought that the soldiers might be German, however, it was in fact the Swedish Army. They were taken to a frontier post where they were interrogated and managed to convince the Swedes that they were English airmen and that they had walked from Norway. A welcome bath, clean clothes and food were then provided before Blanchett and Wilson were put on a train and sent to the internment camp at Falun.

Pierre Blanchett and Ron Wilson spent about a year at Falun during which time they found work and rented a flat in a nearby town! Eventually they were sent by train to Stockholm and from there they were flown back to the UK, landing at RAF Lossiemouth.

Recovery of W1048 in 1973

On the 30th June 1973, thirty one years after the attacks on Tirpitz in the spring of 1942, Halifax W1048 TL-S "Sugar" was raised from the depths of Lake Hoklingen where she had crashed and was brought to the shore by an RAF Sub Aqua expedition and members of a local Trondheim diving club, Draugen, who had made the initial discovery of the Halifax in 1968. More about that here.

Ten years later, in 1983, the aircraft was put on permanent display in the Bomber Command Hall at the RAF Museum of Flight at Hendon. During the ceremony to mark the opening of the new Bomber Command Hall, the crew who had been onboard W1048 TL-S when it crashed were presented to the Queen Mother.

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© Linzee Druce 2001-2012