Table of contents
P/O Keith Cameron Wathen, RAAF, attached to 415 Squadron, RCAF
sent to my grandfather by the Department of Air in 1949. The letter indicates
his rank and date on the cross are incorrect and will be corrected later
when a permanent headstone is erected.
Keith before heading to 23 SFTS in Rhodesia for flight training, 1941
Keith was quite an exciting writer as the following extract testifies:
"My God, the number of things you have to do at the same time would amaze you. Cut the starboard throttle, pull back the pitch lever, switch the ignition off, switch the petrol off, watch the height and airspeed, the attitude of the aircraft, find the appropriate fire extinguisher switch, switch over the instruments to "Venturi" (they then run off the slipstream), pump the bomb doors open, release the torpedo......Grim!!!"
An extract from an undated letter, probably late 1942. See the full version here.
Update July 2001. Through a rather extrordinary event, I have found Barrie Smith, the man with whom Keith was 'paired' with whilst training on Oxfords in Bulaweyo, Rhodesia. They trained at Unit 23, S.F.T.S. Details below.
In February 2004 I flew over Thorney Island in a Harvard.
Flying Officer Keith Wathen was the uncle I never knew. He was killed in action on May 17th 1943, ironically the night of the Dambuster raid whilst on a mission to attack shipping off the Dutch coast.
1943 14 Apr 6 crews out on anti-shipping strikes off Dutch coast. MV Tom Sweden, 2,092 tons damaged by P/O Wathen & Crew off Borkum. MV Borga Norway, 4,821 tons sunk by F/O Harris & Crew off Ameland.
By this stage we knew he was flying a Hampden torpedo bomber and was attacking shipping in the harbour. He is buried in the Keil British Military Cemetery.
Sgt André Ravary, 415 Squadron archivist and webmaster has very kindly spent hours examining the microfilm of the squadron records...
17-05-43 Departed 2145 hours from Thorney Island carried off an operational anti-shipping strike off Borkum Island in Hampden "D"
F/Sgt LE McGee, P/O Wathen and crews failed to return.
Anti-shipping strike off Dutch Coast. Aircraft B/415 and D/415 failed to return and are reported missing on the next day. (Convoy was spotted and attacked; some aircraft experienced intense and accurate flak). No other explanation, no other aircraft witnessed the events that led to the disappearing of "B" and "D".
André goes on to note:
"P/O K.C. Wathen always flew the Hampden "K" aircraft. On that fateful night, he was flying the "D". We could speculate on at least two causes for this accident; 1. They were shot down by intense and accurate flak while trying to attack a convoy. 2. They had a mid-air collision. On numerous occasions, when an aircraft would attack a surface vessel they would have to engage in violent manoeuvres trying to evade getting shot at, often keeping the crew from witnessing a torpedo strike. Many of these were reported in the ORB. If "D" and "B" were engaged in these evasive tactics, they could have missed seeing each other..."
Update Jan 2001
André has again contacted me with more information, this time a PDF file online on the Squadron's website which also details the squadron's history.
"17 May 1943
P/O K C Wathen RAAF 401004 +
F/O JM Crawford 120922 +
F/Sgt I M Sykes RNZAF 413786 +
Sgt J H Steward 1291128 +
Shot down by ship's flack off the coast of Holland while engaged by night torpedo bombing. P/O Wathen is buried in the Keil War Cemetary, while F/O Crawford, F/Sgt I M Sykes, of Taranaki, New Zealand, and Sgt J H Steward are commemorated on the Runnymeade* Memorial."
* The Runnymeade Memorial is for those with no known grave. Keith's body was recovered some time later.
Some three weeks later Keith's usual Hampden GX-K AT 250 was involved in a fatal collision with another Hampden GX-N at 18:50 hours on 11 June near Tain whilst on a training. The other Hampden crashed with the loss of the pilot and four crew.
Update June 2001
Through an amazing piece of serendipity I located Barrie Smith who was "paired" with Keith during training in Rhodesia in 1941 Barrie has many photographs of Keith during that period which I present on a new page.
Barrie's brother Neil also served with Coastal Command. See his dramatic pictures.
The Canadian Museum of Flight have a Hampden aircraft.
See the Order of Battle for No. 16 Group, Thorney Island
The RAF museum have a nice shot of a Hampden flight
Units at which Keith served
No. 23, S.F.T.S., Rhodesia 7 April to September 15th 1941
This covered basic flying training on Tiger Moths to twin training on Airspeed Oxfords. It was here he trained with C. Barrie Smith.
No. 61 Air School, George, South Africa October 6th to December 6th, 1941
Navigation Reconnaissance course flying Oxfords and Ansons.
Travel to England
No. 5 C.O.T.U., Turnberry, Scotland, March 19th to 20th June, 1942 Aeronca, Hampden
Coastal Command training.
415 Squadron, RCAF August 31st 1942 to his death May 17th, 1943
Coastal Command flying