102 (Ceylon) Squadron

Tentate et perficite (Attempt and Achieve)

Sergeant Derrick Sykes

MZ753 DY-M took off on the 25/06/1944 for Montorguiel

Derrick Sykes - 102 Ceylon Squadron
Derrick Sykes

S/L Guy Benjamin Treasure - Pilot - Aged 28 - (C.W.G.C.)
Sgt Derek Sykes - F/E - Aged 23 - (C.W.G.C.)
F/O Sydney James Bailey - Nav - Aged 20 - (C.W.G.C.)
F/O Gordon Fraser - B/A - Aged 34 - (C.W.G.C.)
Sgt Robert William Collins - WOp - Aged 23 - (C.W.G.C.)
Sgt Leonard Thomas Archard - A/G - Aged 18 - (C.W.G.C.)
Sgt Eric Boys Bland - A/G - Aged 18 - (C.W.G.C.)


The following has been sent to us by Derrick's Niece, Mel Herman who has done a staggering job of detailing what happened to her uncle and the rest of the crew.

It is going to take me some time to get everyone's page made up, there is just so much information, so please do check back here during the next week or so, thanks. (13/05/12).



Sgt Derrick Sykes 570013 & the crew of Halifax MZ753 ‘M’
      – friendly fire over the Pas de Calais –

Derrick Sykes - 102 Ceylon Squadron
Derrick Sykes in N Africa with 47 (Hurricane) Sqn (1942)

Derrick “Bill” Sykes
Born 22nd March, 1921 in Dewsbury, Yorkshire; second of 6 children
Entered the RAF in Sept 1936 aged 15 as part of Trenchard’s Boy Apprentices’ scheme; attended RAF Halton 1936-39 and qualified as Fitter II (A&E – airframes & engines) a fortnight before war broke out.
1939-41: served with 102 and 108 Maintenance Units with 46 & 47 Sqns (Hurricanes) in UK (including ill-fated Norway expedition) and
1941-43: in N Africa

Derrick Sykes - 102 Ceylon Squadron
Derrick Sykes
Volunteered for aircrew training Dec 1942; returned to UK Oct ’43;

Posted to No 4 School of Technical Training @ St Athan Jan 1944; qualified F/Eng Feb 1944
Crewed up at 1663 CU (Rufforth) March 1944; joined 102 Sqn at Pocklington on 31/5/44


Sqn Ldr Guy Benjamin Treasure -
Flg Off Sydney James Bailey -
Flg Off Gordon Fraser -
Sgt Robert William Collins -
Sgt Leonard Thomas Archard -
Sgt Eric Boys Bland -
Sgt Derrick Sykes -

I am in touch with a brother & sister
I am in touch with his widow and a nephew
I am in touch with a grandson
I am in touch with a nephew
I am in touch with his brother
I am in touch with a nephew
I am in touch with his 1 surviving brother & a sister (who has Alzheimers)

Derrick Sykes - 102 Ceylon Squadron
Treasure Crew Before Derrick joined them


Treasure and crew are recorded as being posted on to the Squadron in June with Treasure listed as F/Lt promoted to Acting S/Ldr.
They went on Ops almost immediately without Treasure’s doing any trips as a 2nd Pilot (he had done a previous tour).

Take Off
4 June Boulogne 0109 0504
5 June  Maisy Medium Battery  0052  0546 
6 June  Saint Lo 2231 0315 
8 June  Alençon  2257 0406
22 June  Minelaying (nr. Cap de la Chevre)  2318 0359 
24 June  Noyelle-en-Chausée  1526 1924 
25 June  Montorgueil  0748  FTR 


Details of last operation to Montorgueil

  • Operation to attack V1 flying-bomb launch site @ Montorgueil farm (+-2k SE of Fontaine l’Étalon); target code Z3053
  • First daylight raid by 102 Sqn since the beginning of the war; H Hour was 09.30
  • 101 Halifaxes of No. 4 Group took part: Squadrons Involved in the operation
  • Derrick Sykes - 102 Ceylon Squadron
    Original wooden grave markers at Church of St Fermin, Fontaine l’Etalon (May 1946)
  • Fighter escort and cover over the target was provided by 11 Group Spitfires including No. 485 (New Zealand) Sqn
  • Derrick’s aircraft MZ 753 “M” (made by English Electric at Preston and delivered to 102 Sqn on 10 June) took off from Pocklington at 07h49
  • S/LTreasure was B Flight leader that day; he would be the second S/L and 102 Sqn B Flight commander to die in 9 days
  • Some flak was experienced over the coast and at the target
  • The target was to be marked by 5 Mosquitos of 8 Group and 2 Lancasters (for Master Bomber & his replacement)
  • 2 Mosquitos had problems with their Oboe equipment & by the time the other 3 and the Lancs arrived on target (at 9.31), the Halifaxes had begun their bomb run (at 9.29)
  • Official version: MZ753 collided mid-air with Halifax LL549 (77 Sqn ex RAF Full Sutton)
  • In reality: while on the bombing run, a 10 Sqn Halifax (LM717 “W” ex RAF Melbourne) released its bombs on a Halifax flying below it (probably LL549); this a/c lost a wing which hit another a/c (probably MZ753); both a/c broke apart and one (or both according to some witnesses) exploded ***
  • Derrick Sykes - 102 Ceylon Squadron
    Debris at MZ753 crash-site (May 1946) Le Pommier woods Fontaine l’Etalon (July 2007)
  • Some witnesses in other aircraft reported seeing parachutes, but none was found
  • Both aircraft fell at Fontaine l’Etalon (+-50k W of Arras, 8k S of Hesdin) – LL549 in open land known as “Le Sept” between Fontaine l’Etalon wood and Montorgueil farm; MZ753 on the edge of the woods known as “Le Pommier”.
    The woods were extended in later years and the crash site is now inside the woods.
  • Bodies were collected and buried by villagers; local German Kommandant @ Le Quesnoy gave them 24 hours to find and bury the bodies; most of the large pieces of wreckage were removed by the Germans; one body (Richardson from LL549) was only found some days after the accident.
  • Both crews are buried in the Fontaine l’Etalon churchyard (Church of St Fermin) against southern wall; 11 between the church’s main buttresses, 2 beyond the buttress closest to the church entrance and the last (Richardson) beyond the other buttress
  • Although the Germans insisted that all personal effects be handed over, villagers managed to hide (and/or bury along with the bodies) several items known to have been carried by the crew – Derrick’s “wedding” ring, for instance, and a commando knife carried by F/Sgt Stevens; F/O Bailey’s silver cigarette case also found its way back to his wife after the war

*** NOTE: Although no one is absolutely certain which aircraft was hit by the bombs and which by the debris (witness accounts disagree), it is generally accepted (from eye witness reports in the air and on the ground) that this is the correct version.

Crew LL549 “N” (77 Sqn – RAF Full Sutton):

F/Sgt Donald MacConigill Stevens (28) (Pilot)
F/Sgt Leonard Charles Carter (22) (Navigator)
F/Sgt Harold Joseph Middleditch (21) (Air Bomber)
F/Sgt Dick Richardson (22) (W Operator)
Sgt Dennis Brooks (20) (Air Gunner)
Sgt Frank Dawson (20) (Air Gunner)
Sgt Michael Joseph Louis Priest (19) (Flight Engineer)


Crew LM717 “W” (10 Sqn – RAF Melbourne):

F/O Raymond Arnold Rosen (Pilot)
F/S Henry Charles Williamson-Rattray (Navigator
F/O Jack Cyril Lelliott (Air Bomber)
Sgt Gordon Seymour Lind (W/Op) AG
Sgt Arthur Stanley Fordham (Air Gunner)
Sgt A W D McKinnon (Air Gunner)
Sgt Daniel Daley (Flight Engineer)

This crew was hit by flak a week later on 01/07/44 in a raid on St Martin l'Hortier; Rear Gunner Sgt AWD McKinnon survived and evaded capture; those who died are in Poix-de-Picardie (previously Poix-de-la-Somme) cemetary.

Additional Notes

Derrick Sykes - 102 Ceylon Squadron
Crew headstones (July 2007)

Derrick was not supposed to fly on ops that day: he had obtained leave from Sunday morning 25 June in order to return home (Dewsbury) for his wedding; as he could not get transport off the base till the afternoon, he elected to join his crew on this “milk run”

Reconnaissance photos taken during a 21 June raid on the Montorgueil launch site by USAAF 9th Air Force showed that this target had effectively been rendered inoperative; sadly this information only reached the squadrons on Sunday 25 June when the No. 4 Group aircraft were already in the air.

Derrick’s family waited in vain for further news after the “missing” telegram was received; some days later, his sister Daphne went to Pocklington to be told about the “collision”; it was her idea to go to the pub frequented by the airmen that led her to discover the truth of what had happened.

It was well known that accidents of this kind happened often on night ops; as this one occurred in daylight, there were many eye-witnesses to the accident and in later years their accounts have been written up in several publications:

  • Sledgehammers for Tintacks: Bomber Command combats the V1 menace 1943-44 by Steven Darlow
  • Raider: the Halifax and its flyers by Geoffrey Jones
  • Halifax Crew: the story of a wartime bomber crew by Arthur C Smith
  • Diary of a Halifax Bomber (10 Sqn history) by Michael John Yalden
  • It’s Suicide But It’s Fun! (102 (Ceylon) Squadron history) by Chris Goss
  • Bomber Crew (the companion book to Channel 4’s 2005 TV production) also makes reference to the accident.
  • Forthcoming publication Blue on Blue: Volume III: Aerial Friendly Fire in World War II & Associated Incidents. 1944-45 by Brian Cull

As far as is known, it is also the only such accident in which the Bomb Aimer concerned was aware of his tragic mistake.

Some members of the 10 Sqn crew had not realised that they were responsible for the accident until they returned to base; Jock McKinnon (the only crewmember to survive the war) reports that he was unaware until, in the truck from dispersal to debriefing, he heard the A/B apologise to the Pilot; they reported what had happened to G/Capt Thomson who put it down to the “one of those things that happens in war” which, sadly, it was.

As a result of this incident, daylight flying formations within 4 Group were re-appraised: in future operations, Halifaxes were instructed to fly in loose V formations which would reduce the risk of collisions and of being hit by bombs.

Several very small pieces of wreckage with the EEP (English Electric Preston) discovered at the “woods” crash site have confirmed this was where MZ753 came down.

One of the Fontaine l’Etalon villagers (then a teenager) involved in the recovery of the crew’s bodies has also kept a larger piece of wreckage (leading edge of wing) since 1944 and has sliced off pieces to give to numerous crew families who have visited over the years. The villagers also continue to keep the crew graves in immaculate condition and have held regular commemorations.


Research by Melanie Herman

From information supplied by (amongst others)

Tom Wingham DFC
Sandy Sykes
Nigel Sykes
Wendy Robins
Pat Dick
Keith Bailey
Ron & Marion Archard
Mike Bland
Cas & Bob Collins
Judy Treasure
Joss Leclercq
Félix Lecocq
Anne Storm
Ron Everson
Bill Leyland
John Watkins
Arthur C Smith
Steven Darlow
Geoff Negus
Patricia O’Neill
Various kind respondents on Internet sites and per mail

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