The day their luck ran out
Name: Ray Goode
Unit: Sunderland N for Nuts 461 Squadron
Location: South Wales
It was Friday the 13th of August 1943 that luck ran out for the crew of RAAF Sunderland DV 968.
The flying boat, in which Warrant Officer Ray Goode was a tail gunner and radio operator, disappeared without trace with its entire crew after being attacked by six Junkers JU88 fighter aircraft somewhere off the coast of South Wales.
The irony of it was that eight of the 11 crew, including Ray, had made headlines just a few weeks before when they had fought a desperate battle with eight JU88 fighters. Despite the outlandish odds against them they had survived, shooting down at least three enemy aircraft and almost certainly destroying two others.
Sunderland N for Nuts 461 Squadron was badly damaged in the battle and faced a 300-mile journey across the sea to the British coast.
Its skipper, Fl Lt Colin Walker, told Australian Associated Press the Sunderland had been on an anti-submarine patrol when the German aircraft attacked - three on either side and two from behind.
"The Junkers then attacked in pairs from the beam, with the leading fighters on the port and starboard beam peeling off and diving on us," he said.
"First shells from the port attacker set fire to our port outer engine. We extinguished it but another shell from the same plane broke the compass in front of me and set the alcohol ablaze. The alcohol ran over the bridge and set fire to my trousers."
The fire spread to the first officer's clothing and both were burned before it was extinguished.
Meanwhile, the attacks from the Junkers continued.
"Our midships gunner caught our first victim on the starboard side at point blank range," Fl Lt Walker reported. "His cockpit and one engine burst into flames and he dived steeply into the sea. We got the second fighter as he was breaking away after the attack. One of our midships gunners put in a long burst and he dived into the sea."
The navigator, F/O Ken Simpson, was wounded in the leg, a shell hit the wireless putting it out of action, and another hit the galley gunner, Sgt Ted Miles, who died shortly afterwards.
Ray Goode had recovered consciousness after being knocked out in the early stages of the attack and together with the midships gunner bagged the third victim which broke away and crashed into the sea.
Another Junkers was set on fire and Fl Lt Walker is certain all the enemy aircraft were hit in the attack.
Ray Goode's diary takes up the story as they headed for home.
"Doc Watson warned me we might have to ditch at any time, said he would bang on the turret doors if we had to go down into the drink," he wrote.
"On the way back I was startled to see large objects some shiny, apparently breaking away from the plane, dropping behind and hitting the sea some distance from the plane. Phil Turner was even going round with an axe cutting things off the plane, all our personal gear went over the side.
"Three hundred miles to go, one motor burnt out & the prop dropped off, the kite riddled with holes, elevators damaged, one chain on the rudder shot to pieces. Wireless US, a cannon shell exploded in it, instruments all US, even the Marine Distress Signals riddled (lucky they didn't explode). Still we made the English Coast good navigation by Ken Simpson, Astro Nav & a second compass, even though Ken had been wounded.
"The skipper Fl Lt Walker made a 'wizard' landing on a wild looking rocky cliff lined coast. We got up through the Astro Hatch onto the wings; one dinghy inflated, another was riddled full of holes' then the skipper decided to beach the 'kite' & we came down inside the plane again, touched the sand and we got through the Galley Hatch into four feet of water & waded ashore.
"On the beach (Praa Sands in South Cornwall) we turned round and looked at the plane & went back to try & salvage as much as we could. Ted Miles body was first brought ashore, we all placed our Mae Wests over him & I spread our Australian flag over the top."
Ray Goode said many local people had come down to the beach to help them, offering food and drink and dressing Ken Simpson's leg.
The epic battle and incredible survival was widely reported in the press and on radio. The BBC interviewed members of the crew about the battle and a message was received from the Chief of Staff of the RAF, Sir Charles Portall.
"I have just read the account of the fight by Sunderland N/461 against 8 JU88s on 2nd June. I should like Fl Lt Walker and the surviving members of his gallant crew to be told of the admiration and pride which I felt on reading the details of this epic battle which will go down in history as one of the finest instances in this war of the triumph of coolness skill and determination against overwhelming odds. I am sure that not only the heavy losses inflicted on the German fighters but above all the spirit and straight shooting of the crew will have made a profound impression on the morale of the enemy in the Bay of Biscay, and will thus greatly assist in the war on the u/boat."
Ray Goode spent some time in hospital but was eventually cleared for flying duties as a tail gunner and wireless operator on 22 July 1943. Eleven missions later, on Friday 13 August 1943 at 14.30 hours, a radio message was received from Sunderland DV 968 reporting an attack by six JU88s.
Eight of the 11 crew members on board, including Ray, had survived the epic battle of 2 June.
This time their luck had run out. No trace of the crew or the aircraft was ever found.
Years later, a fellow tail gunner, Jack Edge, who had replaced Ray while he was in hospital recovering, wrote to Ray's sister, Margaret Goode. He outlined a visit he had made to Pembroke Dock on Milford Haven where the Sunderlands and their crews had been based.
"As I stood there I could not help but think of all the others who lie somewhere in that famous Bay," he wrote. "Their only monument can be a friend's remorse and a loved one's tears, but they are not forgotten.
"I suppose fate was working overtime during the war to decide who was to live and who was to die, and even today I sometimes think that if Ray's injuries had been a little more severe he would have had a few more weeks to recover and I would have still been in his place on that tragic day, the 13th August 1943."
Warrant Officer Ray Goode DFM is commemorated at Runnymede Memorial, overlooking the River Thames between Windsor and Egham, along with his fellow crew members.