THOMAS JOHN O'DONOHUE, DFM
460 SQUADRON RAAF
Thomas John O'Donohue, DFM
Flew as observer with 460 Squadron (and previously with 150 Squadron). Missing over Rangoon, 29 February 1944
I received the following e-mail from Matt Poole on 18 December 1997:-
Thomas John O'Donohue, DFM - 460 Sqn., '42
Date: Thu, 18 Dec 1997
From: Matt Poole (FEB2944@aol.com)
Greetings from Wheaton, Maryland, USA.
I stumbled upon your site and am fascinated by it. Congratulations on a superb effort!
For nearly eight years I have been researching the story of how my mother's first husband, Sgt. George Plank, and 17 other members of RAF 159 Squadron (flying B-24s) were shot down over Rangoon on the night of 29 Feb. 1944 by two Japanese Oscars working in tandem. I have been able to learn an incredible amount of information, and I even found one of the two Japanese pilots. He apologized to Mom for killing George.
One of those killed that night (29 Feb 1944) was Thomas John O'Donohue, DFM, an observer from Brisbane. I have made contact with Tom's brother Jack in Brisbane, and Jack has kindly shared a great deal of information about Tom's RAAF service career. I now have copies of his logbook, which show that he flew 10 ops with 460, plus two "returned to base" flights, starting on 25 March 1942. His pilots were S/Ldr. Gilbert, W/C Hubbard DFC, P/O Kennedy, Sgt. Frecker, P/O Bill Brill, and Sgt. Isaacson. I see from your site that Gilbert and Kennedy went missing on the same night.
On the night of 12 April 1942, during an attack on Essen, Tom was seriously wounded in the right thigh by a night fighter's bullet. His crew that night: Sgt. N.D. Frecker, Sgt. GD Graham, Sgt. J Moore, Sgt. GL Stevens, and Sgt. DJ Tremble.
Due to surgery and recuperation, Tom didn't fly again until 25 June.
His last op with 460 was his 24th total op of the war, as he had previously flown with 150 Squadron.
His DFM was announced in the London Gazette on 22 Sept. 1942.
I have so much more info on Tom, including some of his letters from England to family back home, excerpts from Bill Brill's diary covering the ops on which Tom was his observer, and newspaper clippings from Brisbane.
Sorry I don't have time to send much more now. I am organizing a memorial service in London at St. Clement Danes church (Central Church of the RAF) for next 28 February, to honor the 18 men from 159 Squadron who were shot down over Rangoon on 29 Feb. 1944 (including Tom). There will be roughly 100 people in attendance, including the kin of 14 out of the 18 airmen. Jack O'Donohue and his nephew plan to be there. Needless to say, I am running around like a madman trying to organize this from a few thousand miles away, so until this spring I don't think I'll have time to share additional information with you. EXCEPT for these excerpts from something I have written:
On the day they fell to the Japanese guns, Don and three of these crewmates were photographed in front of "Pegasus," the B-24 which was soon to carry them on a one-way journey to Rangoon. Of the four, only Don survived until the liberation of Rangoon Jail in May of 1945. The four men appear calm and confident in that photo, yet Flight Lieutenant Tom ODonohue, the navigator and the most experienced combat flier in the crew, harbored disturbing thoughts of an impending tragedy even as the photo was being taken.
In a 1942 investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, King George VI had personally decorated Tom with the Distinguished Flying Medal - the DFM - in recognition of extraordinary heroism displayed during his first Bomber Command combat tour flown in Wellington aircraft against the Germans in Europe. Toms DFM citation only hints at his outstanding contributions up to that point:
"As observer [navigator], this airman has displayed high skill and devotion to duty throughout his operational tour. Amongst other successes, he took part in a very successful attack on the Matford Works at Poissey [France] when he obtained hits on the target. On the night of 12th April, 1942, when returning from a raid on Essen [Germany], his aircraft was attacked by an enemy fighter and severely damaged."
"Sergeant ODonohue was wounded in the leg but, despite considerable pain he remained at his post and skillfully navigated his aircraft back to the English coast. This airman has shown outstanding fortitude and devotion to duty. His behavior on all occasions has won the confidence of all with whom he has flown."
To his sister Joan, back in Australia, Tom broke the news of his impending medal award, but, modestly, he admitted, "As I have not yet read the official citation, I am buggered if I know what it is for."
The hometown newspapers in Australia carried several stories of their native sons prestigious DFM award. Under the heading "Ashgrove Flyer All Trembly," one paper quoted Toms reflections upon being decorated by the King of England:-
"I considered the investiture a pretty good show. I certainly felt nervous. I had everything taped until it came my turn to step up to the dais, then I lost my nerve and didnt know whether to turn and bow, or put out my hand. I couldnt think straight. I remember the King asked how long I had been here, and I told him."
Another article, with the headline "Pluckiest Hero of Air Squadron," went on to provide an account of the combat op in which Tom was injured:-
"Although shot through the right thigh, he did not mention his wound to the other members of the crew until the plane had returned to its base."
"ODonohues plane was caught in a cone of fifty searchlights and subjected to the heaviest flak attack. His entry in the log book was Over target bombs gone. Caught searchlights. Then he wrote Wounded, but crossed it out."
"When the plane landed at its base, ODonohue said: Give me a hand, chaps; I got a night fighters bullet in the thigh.' "
The same newspaper article carried Mrs. ODonohues reaction to her sons award:-
"My son! Oh, Im so proud! Im so happy, but I sort of expected it of him," said Mrs. ODonohue. I knew from the reports that I got from his cobbers that he would do big things. I wonder if they got the fighter that got him!"
To Joan, Tom penned an honest assessment of his state of mind following his recovery from combat wounds and his return to operational flying over Europe:
"Since I have resumed duties after my very pleasant sojourn in one of the best hospitals in England and more pleasant resultant three weeks leave, I have been rather busy and once more my old sunny self."
"Im very fortunate in being
crewed up with one of the best skippers in the squadron [Bill Brill, one of
Australias most decorated wartime pilots], and this helps considerably, as I will
not try to deny that I was more than a little scared at the outcome. However, my fears
seem to be entirely, entirely groundless, and after doing quite a few trips, I am once
more able to put my fingers to my nose to the horrible Hun."
|Pilot Officers A.W. DOUBLEDAY and W.L. BRILL, whose crews were the first to complete a tour of operations on the squadron in 1942. They finished the war as Wing Commanders, each winning the D.S.O. and D.F.C., whilst Brill added a bar to his D.F.C. later.|
Toms description of his hospitalization as a "very pleasant sojourn" was a put-on. The serious nature of his injury necessitated surgery and a six-week recuperation, during which, admittedly, he was "too ill most of the time" to fully appreciate his immense popularity with attending nurses (reported to Joan, teasingly but truthfully, by another Australian airman).
Another passage in a later letter to his sister reveals more of Toms character:-
"I have been taken off ops and have been made an instructor. While this is a much safer job, it will take quite a bit of getting used to, and I still miss the excitement of operational flying quite a bit. But no doubt in time I shall settle down to being a cranky instructor, whose main job it seems to be is to make things hard for the poor pupils, and will not feel like going back on ops when my turn comes round again."
"It seems funny to me that twelve months ago I, myself, was a pupil, and just about to go on my first op, shaking like jelly, and here I am now telling the lads that ops are really good. And the most peculiar part about it, meaning it."
"The Lord has certainly been good to me, and I know my safety is due in no little way to the prayers of the family, so keep them up, lassie."
Instructional work did not appeal to him for very long, so he "asked to be put back on ops, to which request they agreed after a certain amount of wangling on my part." He volunteered for a posting to India "where amenities were few and skin diseases many to have a go at the Japs."
For a long and frustrating stretch of 1943 there was very little operational flying ("as scarce as the amenities"), due to the lengthy monsoon season of India and Burma and the resultant perilous flying conditions. During this period Tom wrote of his European combat flying experiences to his brother Jack. He tended to be more graphic in his words to Jack than was his tendency in correspondence to Joan. After all, Jack, too, was serving in the armed forces and brother-to-brother revelations in this regard were naturally frank. On combat flying, Tom offered the following words:-
"I would not say I was not scared stiff most of the time but it is not nearly as bad as I had expected and the bad times are more than compensated for by the friendship & comradeship of the fellows. No doubt you have made many cobbers in your show and know what its like. In fact, I think the worst part about the whole thing is not the narrow escapes that you yourself experience but the loss of many of the good cobbers made. I think one of the worst experiences of my life was when I had come out of hospital after being away nearly three months and found that it was like going to a new squadron with such a lot of the old chaps gone and all the new faces ready to take their place."
"It is very hard really to describe ones actual feelings when one is caught by flak or attacked by a fighter. There is the feeling of fear definitely but there are so many other emotions mixed with it so as to almost nullify it. There is a feeling of excitement & a certain thrill to know that your skill is pitted against someone equally as strong and that with equal luck victory will go to the better man. Every trip, as I said before, & one might be lucky enough to have several trips without seeing a night fighter or without being fired at."
And then, in the same letter from India, came this observation from a homesick young man who had been away from his beloved Australia since December 1940:
"Well John another couple of thousand miles to go and I will have been all round the world. Ive seen life at its grandest and also at its basest, Ive seen places that are reckoned to be the most beautiful in the world but for all their undoubted beauty I would not exchange them all for one little spot in Australia."
Finally, in October of 1943 Tom and his squadron mates commenced regular sorties against Japanese targets in Burma and Siam. At long last Tom was busy again with the duties of waging war, now against such distant targets as Rangoon and Bangkok and Mandalay rather than the Berlin, Hamburg, and Essen targets of his first tour of ops. His responsibilities included that of Squadron Bombing Leader, a position he had earned through hard-fought experiences. In his final surviving letter to Joan, dated 28 December, Tom emphasized his satisfaction at that time:-
"Things out here are starting to liven up quite a lot lately, as you have perhaps seen by the newspapers, and I have been rather busy. As the work is very interesting, I dont mind how hard they work me. In fact, strange as it seems, I really enjoy it."
To brother Jack came an update late in 1943 from Tom, including some prophetic words which were to ring true three months later:
"When I last wrote to you - many moons ago - I think I poured quite a tale of woe into your receptive ear or, if I didnt, I should have as when I first arrived here things were pretty grim mainly due, of course, to the weather. Lately however there has been a very marked improvement in the state of affairs and I am now happy again."
"The weather at present is really beautiful with its warm, sunny days & cool nights and I am now really cracking on the work I am out here to do. In fact the weather is a bit too good at times and I feel horribly naked during these bright moonlit nights when I think what a sitting target we must be for night fighters."
By late February of 1944, perhaps feeling the immense pressures upon him, Toms outlook took a drastic turn. Hours before the start of his 27th and final-scheduled op with 159 Squadron (the 51st op of his career) on the afternoon of 29 February 1944, and overwhelmed by a premonition of his death in combat, Tom handed his Distinguished Flying Medal to a fellow Australian with a plea that it be delivered personally to his widowed mother in Brisbane, as he would not be returning. The inevitability of this was a certainty to Tom, yet he never let on to his longtime crewmate, Don Lomas, and it is doubtful that any other crewmates were aware of his convictions.
Tom was killed in the aircraft later that night. A consummate professional to the end, he never shirked his duties even when he felt his "number was up."
The day Mrs. ODonohue finally received her missing sons DFM was uniquely tragic, as it was the same day that word of another sons death arrived from England. He, too, was in the air force and had been shot down and killed over Germany. Mrs. ODonohue had dreamt the previous night of this sons Lancaster bomber exploding in mid-air after a flak hit, with the loss of all aboard. This was exactly the fate of the aircraft and crew, it was later learned. Premonition, says son Jack, was nothing new to the ODonohue family.
So there you have it. Quite a man, eh?
I eventually will contact you again - in the spring - and then I'll send you more specific 460 Sqn. info as it pertains to Tom, including Bill Brill's diary excerpts.
One question, before I say goodbye. Do you know of any photos taken on 460 Sqn. with Tom evident? I have NO photos of him at this period in his career.
So keep up the GREAT work, Peter. Have a merry Christmas and happy New Year.
12307 Middle Road
Wheaton, Maryland 20906 USA
Subject: Re: Thomas John O'Donohue, DFM - 460
Date: Fri, 26 Dec 1997
From: FEB2944 <email@example.com>
I'm visiting with my parents in Wilmington, Delaware, about 2 hours from my home on the north side of Washington, DC. I'm sending this from my father's computer as a "guest" on his America Online e-mail account, but I'm not quite sure if you will receive this with my e-mail address or his. So let me jut make it clear that my temporary address, only through Saturday, the 26th is firstname.lastname@example.org. My home address is email@example.com, and that's where you should send messages.
So glad I could add to your website. I do not have a scanner, so for the time being no photos will come your way. Thanks for the offer of sending me info from the 460 Squadron book, "Strike and Return." Yes, if you can send excerpts about the 24 April 1942 op on page 21, I'd love to see it. Possibly there is additional info on other raids Tom participated in, but I don't have the dates in front of me here in Delaware.
As I said, once all the craziness if over in London (the memorial service honoring Tom and his squadronmates shot down on 29 Feb. '44), I'll send you some more stuff. I guess valor and sacrifice somehow seems more personal when the person you're reading about is from your own town. I'll tell Tom's brother about your website when I see him in February (assuming health doesn't keep him at home), and I can guarantee that he'll be thrilled at your efforts to keep the names alive.
Cheers for now, happy holidays, and can you send a little sun and warmth to the Northern Hemisphere??? PLEASE! (Actually, the temps have been much warmer than usual so far this month. No snow yet, and I'm not complaining at that!)
Subject: Re: 460 Squadron
Date: Mon, 29 Dec 1997 07:39:50 EST
From: FEB2944 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Good morning (my time: 7:17 am Monday), Peter.
Here I go telling you how crazy busy I am, and then disproving it by writing again to you. Actually, I'm suffering from insomnia, so I thought I'd check my e-mail. And two from you!
My sister's friend is going to scan some photos for me in the next few weeks, including a photo of Tom. Whether I can figure out how to attach it to an e-mail, I can't say now. But one way or another, and sooner or later, I'll get you a photo.
His brother, Jack, lives at 151 Armstrong Road, Cannon Hill 4170. Phone: 73399 3364. Maybe you have to add another 0 to the beginning. I don't when dialing from America. Jack is a hell of a nice guy, and if you live anywhere near him, he'd love to show you newspaper cuttings, Tom's medals, the logbook, and a photo or two. Jack's the only one of the five boys, out of 13 children altogether, who is still alive. Four sisters are living, too.
If you call Jack, tell him how I found your web site. make him proud and also tell him that info about Tom is now part of the site, for people all over the world to access.
You'll brighten his day if you reach him by phone. He's a bachelor who has had a bad stretch with a replacement hip joint that was infected, but he's hoping to travel to London in February for the memorial service.
By the way, I had written to Arthur Doubleday (Arthur, right??) a year or two ago. He told me that a couple of the men who'd flown with Tom had died in recent years, including one who had just been killed in a road accident. I'm scatterbrained at this hour, so I can't recall names. If I look in my letters I'll find it and let you know.
Thanks for the book excerpt.
All the best,
Subject: Tom O'Donohue/Bill Brill
Date: Fri, 21 May 1999 19:07:34 EDT
Matt Poole here, once again, from Maryland USA.
You might remember that I wrote you with information about Tom O'Donohue DFM, who flew as a navigator with 460 Squadron in 1942. He was later posted to India and was killed on 29 Feb. 1944 when his Liberator was shot down over Rangoon.
As promised AGES ago, here are relevant extracts from Bill Brill's diary, sent to me by Ilma, his widow. I don't know if you've seen Bill's diary; I have only read these extracts, provided by Ilma in late '95 to Tom O'Donohue's brother Jack in Brisbane. I do have Ilma's address from back then.
As far as I know, there is no restriction on copying the diary. Ilma sent them freely to Jack O'Donohue, and she also sent me a slightly less detailed extract (both having been transcribed in Ilma's handwriting from the original diary). In her letter to me, a complete stranger with only an indirect research connection to her late husband, Ilma was a most friendly and cooperative lady -- she even invited me to visit should I get to Australia. So, I would bet that she'd have NO qualms about Bill's diary extracts being printed on your website. Just my opinion.
I do have an extra photo of Tom O'Donohue that I MUST pop in the mail to you. Incidently, it is the same photo, taken in India in late '43, that is found in the Australian War Memorial internet photographic database. Just search on "O'Donohue" and you'll access the photo.
I note that you are currently working on an addition to your 460 Sqn. site: Info on specific raids, including two of those found in Bill Brill's diary. Perhaps this new info will be especially valuable to you in this endeavor. Hope so.
Keep up the brilliant work!
OK, now...Some fascinating information follows:
Excerpts from the Personal Wartime Diary of
Group Captain Bill Brill
DFC & Bar, DSO & Bar
(Courtesy of Ilma Brill, his widow)
Tom O'Donohue's Australian mate, Bill Brill, was a legendary wartime pilot and leader. In July 1942 Bill, as pilot, and Tom, as navigator/bomb aimer, crewed together on four combat ops flown with 460 Squadron, comprised of Aussies and based at Breighton, Yorkshire. The following diary excerpts describe these four sorties aboard twin-engine Vickers Wellington bombers.
The first reference to Tom (Matt Poole's comments in parentheses):
23 July 1942
(Wrong date; had to be 13 July. Read below for
explanation) 26th trip
Crew Sgt. O'Donohue, Wilkinson, Lofts, & Light.
Aircraft W 1422
Bomb load 2 X 1000 lb, 3 X 500 lb.
Took along a new navigator as Hugh Thompson had been sent on a bombing leader's course at Manby. Tom O'Donohue was a spare body, not long out of hospital where he'd had a spell after being creased by a night fighter bullet. He had not done a trip since that event. I had no qualms because he was one of the best navigators on the squadron.
The weather 'report' we received for the target wasn't too bright, & although it wasn't right the weather was far from good.
The only bother we had on the run in was on crossing the Dutch coast. We were shot at in very heavy rain cloud. Not a very nice sensation doing violent evasive action in cloud.
I was a bit worried about old Tom because his last trip had been rather a shaky one when he'd been shot up, & I thought another bad trip might ruin his nerves.
We were at 14,000' when we reached target & the whole area was covered with light cloud. The cloud didn't appear to be very thick, & although I suggested it, for reasons just stated I didn't even attempt to go under it.
After stooging around for a while trying to pinpoint through gaps, we eventually dropped our bombs through cloud. Should have been over something, we were shot at enough.
Matt's comment: There is confusion regarding this op. Tom O'Donohue's flight logbook (copy is in my hands) gives the date of this Duisburg op as 13 July, not the 23rd. In the diary excerpt written by Ilma Brill, the "23" appears to have been changed from a "13", so perhaps Bill's original diary entry, now faded, was misinterpreted as being "23". I do not have access to Bill's original diary.
Compounding the problem is the fact that RAF ops were flown to Duisburg on both the 13th and the 23rd. However, a listing of all combat ops flown by 460 Squadron, found on the internet and considered reliable, reveals that no 460 Squadron aircraft participated on the 23 July raid but there WAS a 460 Squadron op to Duisburg on the 21st of July! (Duisburg, obviously, was a prime target in July 1942.) Neither Tom's logbook nor Bill's diary extracts make mention of the raid of the 21st, so I am discounting this as a possible date in which Tom and Bill flew together.
Based upon Tom's logbook, and also the description of the weather for the two raids of 13 and 23 July (as found in the book The Bomber Command War Diaries), compared with Bill's diary descriptions, I feel certain that the 13th is the correct date.
Tom's logbook also indicates that he flew on 23 July as Bill's navigator on a 1:10 "Bombing & N.F.T." exercise in aircraft 1422 -- the same aircraft they flew on the 13th and 25th. (N.F.T. is Night Flying Test, though the time recorded in Tom's Logbook is 11 am takeoff, not at night. Still, it was just a test related to night flying and apparently could be conducted in daylight.)
Muddying the issue is the first line of Bill's 24 July entry: "The whole set up was as on the previous night except for the chance of better weather." This might imply that he and Tom flew on the 23rd BUT "previous night" could simply mean the previous diary entry, whatever date, which must have been the 13th, not the 23rd.
Per Tom's logbook again, it is obvious that the 13th was his first combat sortie after a long spell of recouperation following his 12 April wounding on an op to Essen. Owing to the significance of this first flight back from injury (noted by Tom as his 19th op), it is highly unlikely that he would have written it up incorrectly in his logbook. And, again, he recorded a separate entry for a 1:10 exercise flown on the 23rd. Finally, Bill's diary entry for the "23rd" does specifically mention this op as Tom's first combat action since his wounding -- which had to be the 13th when compared with Tom's original logbook entry.
CONCLUSION: Bill's diary entry was, in fact, for the Duisburg raid of 13 July, NOT for the Duisburg raids of 21 and 23 July.
Bill's second diary reference to a combat sortie with Tom:
Crew Sgt. O'Donohue, Wilkinson, Lofts, & Light.
Aircraft W 1422
Bomb load 2 X 1000 lb, 3 X 500 lb.
The whole set up was as on the previous night except for the chance of better weather. The run in to the target was quite uneventful, and because of that, we must have crossed the coast in the right place. Weather around the target was fine with some haze. In fact the Ruhr is such a vast industrial area that it is always more or less covered with a ground haze of smoke. The dummies & searchlights create such a glow on the haze, that it makes it all so disconcerting. However we know the exact position of most of the larger dummies, e.g. the Rhineberg oil dummy & we often use them as pin points. Tom picked up the Rhine & led us into the target. There wasn't a great deal of opposition as we dropped our bombs. There seemed to be some good fires burning. Once again the run back home was without incident. Two crews were lost.
Bill's third reference to Tom O'Donohue:
Crew Sgt. O'Donohue, Wilkinson, Lofts, & Light.
Aircraft L 1463
Bomb load: 3 X 1000 lb, 3 X 500 lb.
Four of our aircraft were out on a sea search that afternoon & my plane "W" didn't return until 9.30, & we were due to take off at 10.20 & the plane had to be inspected, filled & loaded. That gave the boys of the groundcrew 45 min. to have it all ready, & did they work! Went out with the crew at ten past, to run up & taxi out & the lads had the motors running, but it was all in vain, because an oil leak was found in the starboard motor. I walked back to flights to see the wingco to scrub the trip & he said he'd just washed out 2 A Flight crews as they were inexperienced. The weather of the return journey was going to be lousy. He said I could take one of these planes if I liked. It suited me as long as the boys were happy about it.
I dashed back to our kite & found my crew stripped
of their flying gear & just finishing coffee & rations. I'm still not certain how
greeted my suggestion. However, all agreed & from then on it was one big rush to get off on time. The crew that went to fly her, were just leaving, having also eaten their flying rations. I had never flown this plane before but it was quite new & there wasn't much to worry about. Even then we weren't last off. What a rush & what a trip it turned out to be.
We climbed to ten thousand as soon as possible & cruised out at 140 m.p.h. The plane flew as well as any I had ever flown. About 100 mls out to sea I observed a small glow & as I watched it appeared to grow in size & lose height. At last it hit the sea & flames spread very rapidly. It must have been a plane. That was No. 1.
The weather was glorious -- brilliant moonlight with large fleecy cumulus clouds towering all around. Made a good track out & could see Heligoland to starboard throwing up a few spasmodic fireworks. Just before we crossed the Danish coast another Wimpy crossed over us. Just as it disappeared across the sky, two streams of tracer flashed & a small glow appeared where the Wimp was last seen. The rear gunner bailed out & his parachute could be seen to stream out behind him as he pulled the rip chord. It opened fully & he drifted slowly underneath us to earth. The plane also followed the same track blazing away merrily. A ringside seat to a heavy drama with 4 men rushing to their doom!! No 2.
Our crew were all eyes & the general evasive action was nothing short of acrobatics.
As we turned south on our last leg in to the target, the clouds cleared considerably. Almost the entire length of the Kiel Canal could be seen as we crossed it.
There was good old Hamburg just ahead, putting up its usual type of barrage. They have an enormous no. of heavy flak guns, using flashless powder. No flash on the ground, & a mere pinprick in the sky when bursting. When a heavy concentration is put up the sky just appears to crackle. They have some batteries of extra heavy naval guns in the outskirts as well. Quite a decent flash on the ground & an enormous one in the air.
What a sight was Hamburg -- the whole place bathed in glorious moonlight. We had just less than 100 machines up. We ran right across the centre of the city & although a lot of flak was bursting around us none was being fired deliberately at us.
Bombed at 14,000 & could see every turn of the docks, & Tom could see the balloons some thousands of feet below. Kev & Lofty saw another parachutist over the target. No. 3.
All the searchlights were to the Sth. and W. of the city & S. to the Elbe. We had to get through these on our way out. Quite a few lights had a crack at picking us up & were holding a couple of kites ahead. By a combination of evasive action & other people's misfortune in being held we managed to weave through. About 15 mls from the coast a Halifax dashed past us. Had just passed out of sight when dozens of light flak guns opened up & it was caught on fire. No 4.
Over the coast to a more clouded area & out to sea. There seemed to be hundreds of flak ships & odd bursts were pooping off all around us. Another kite was seen to go down from unknown cause. No 5. And so home, many years older than when I'd set out!! Two crews were lost.
Bill's fourth and last combat flight with Tom as his navigator:
Crew Sgt. O'Donohue, Wilkinson, Lofts, & Light.
Aircraft 1422 W
Bomb load 9 cans 4 lb incendiaries
Another big effort was planned to wipe Dusseldorf out; 680 odd to be exact. This was the very last of the moon period, & pathfinders were going to help light up the target. We had begun Halifax conversion & could only muster 12 Wimps. We tracked off early in good weather. Made a good run down E. coast & left England at Oxfordness. Lights were flashing all over the countryside. Just after crossing the coast a plane was seen to go down in flames. It got very hazy inland, making it difficult to map read. Tom led the way in.
Dusseldorf was very active & a good deal of ironmongery was whistling about over the town. It is reported to put up a continuous curtain of fire over the town & it appeared this still held good. Tom reported we had crossed the Rhine & were running in to bomb. I thought we were still a little too far to the S.W. but didn't say anything as Tom could see better than I could. Bombs away & we turned for home. Tom kept turning the camera over for many minutes, as flashes were still going off.
On the way out Wilky was reporting kites all around us -- our chaps still going in. Wilk saw so many that Kev wanted to know if his oxygen was still on.
Tom's logbook records that this was his final flight with Bill as his skipper, which cross-references perfectly with the diary excerpts sent to me by Ilma Brill.
On 17 August 1942 Bill noted in his diary that Tom flew with Isaacson as front gunner/bomb aimer to Osnabruck. Tom's logbook confirms this. The 17 August op was Tom's first sortie following his last flight with Bill on the 31st of July. The logbook states that Sgt. Isaacson was pilot, Tom was front gunner/bomb aimer, the date was the 17th, and the target was Osnabruck. Tom only flew one more 460 Squadron op, his 24th sortie of his career, on the night of 2/3 September, to Karlsruhe. Isaacson was his pilot for this op, too.
In his diary, Bill made this observation:
"Summary: We didn't have any special success but merely performed the average duty of an average crew."
Ilma, his widow, added one footnote to Bill's comment:
"A very modest remark, from a great & lucky pilot with wonderful crews."
A final connection between Bill Brill and Tom O'Donohue comes from a surviving letter, written by Bill in 1944 to Tom's younger brother Jack:
Sig. J. O'Donohue,
Sigs 12. Aust. Div.
Many thanks for your letter which I received today. It was only about three weeks ago that I first heard the news about Tom. It came as a great shock, as I thought he must have completed his second tour, and now what I can gather, it was like (unclear) his second last trip.
For well over two years I have been proud to be able to call Tom my friend. Without a doubt, one of the most popular lads to ever leave our shores. May it please God that he is alive and well somewhere.
You will hear any news long before I do, but in any case I will communicate with you.
Do take my advice and don't ever leave good old Aussie -- there's no place like it.
The following is a replica of a letter that I received from Matt Poole:-
23 June 1999
At long last, here is that photograph of ex-460 Squadron observer Thomas O'Donohue DFM. As a Flight Lieutenant (and 159 Squadron Bombing Leader), Tom disappeared during a squadron bombing Op to Rangoon's Mahlwagon Rail Yards.
He seems so wise beyond his years in this photo. I am privileged to have been given access to his few surviving letters written to his brother and his sister back in Australia, and to me he was truly a cut above the rest: keenly intelligent, dedicated to his family, and devoted to defeating the enemy, Germans and Japanese alike. His duty in Canada, England, and then India reinforced his love for Australia, and it is particularly sad that he died so close to the end of his second tour. Of course, this was a fate so many other yound lads met in the Air Force.
Perhaps, despite your busy schedule, you can now post this photo onto your site, to accompany the one of Bill Brill and Arrthur Doubleday you previously posted (in the e-mail section linked to my correspondence with you).
Subject: 460 Squadron
Date: Sun, 4 Jul 1999 15:19:18 EDT
My pleasure to help out in a small way. By the way, via your e-mail postings on the website I learned that Maurie Isaac had been in touch with 460 Sqn pilot Peter Isaacson. Tom O'Donohue flew his final two 460 Sqn ops with a pilot named Sgt Isaacson, so I am venturing a guess that this was Peter.
Maurie provided Peter's address, and I have written to see if he remembers Tom. Worth a try!
It's nearing 100 degrees Fahrenheit today -- ghastly humidity, too. I hope your winter conditions are a tad more comfortable.
Can anyone help me with more information?
"Australia @ War" Research Products
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This page first produced 26 December 1997
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