WWII Bomber pilot who survived the 'UNSURVIVABLE': How RAF hero lived after ...

WWII Bomber pilot who survived the 'UNSURVIVABLE': How RAF hero lived after ...
WWII Bomber pilot who survived the 'UNSURVIVABLE': How RAF hero lived after ...

The son of a Bomber Command pilot whose plane exploded into a fireball in Nazi Germany has revealed his father's incredible story of survival during the war.

Gerald Sherwood, 80, from St Austell, Cornwall, told how Wing Commander John 'Flap' Sherwood took part in a daring mission before being captured in his new book.

John flew at 250ft across 600 miles of enemy territory with no fighter escort during a daring daylight raid on Augsburg on April 17, 1942.

After direct hits on the Bavarian U-Boat diesel engine factory, his Lancaster was blasted by anti-aircraft guns, erupted in flames and plummeted to the ground.

It was blown to pieces upon impact and another pilot, who witnessed the 'orange fireball which lit up the sky', told his superiors no one could have lived.

The tragic news of Wg/Cmdr Sherwood's presumed death was relayed to his wife Bernice.

But, instead of breaking down in tears, she remained unmoved, saying: 'I would know if he was dead and I think he's okay.'

Gerald Sherwood, 80, from St Austell, Cornwall, told how Wing Commander John 'Flap' Sherwood (pictured) took part in a daring mission before being captured in his new book

Gerald Sherwood, 80, from St Austell, Cornwall, told how Wing Commander John 'Flap' Sherwood (pictured) took part in a daring mission before being captured in his new book

John flew at 250ft across 600 miles of enemy territory with no fighter escort during a daring daylight raid on Augsburg on April 17, 1942. He is pictured fifth from left with 76 Squadron in 1938

John flew at 250ft across 600 miles of enemy territory with no fighter escort during a daring daylight raid on Augsburg on April 17, 1942. He is pictured fifth from left with 76 Squadron in 1938

After scoring direct hits on the Bavarian U-Boat diesel engine factory, his Lancaster was hit by anti-aircraft guns, causing it to catch fire and plummet into the ground. Pictured: Wing Commander John 'Flap' Sherwood is seated two places left of Simba the dog - the squadron mascot

After scoring direct hits on the Bavarian U-Boat diesel engine factory, his Lancaster was hit by anti-aircraft guns, causing it to catch fire and plummet into the ground. Pictured: Wing Commander John 'Flap' Sherwood is seated two places left of Simba the dog - the squadron mascot

After being captured he is pictured on the right with colleagues outside their Luft III Kriegie hut

After being captured he is pictured on the right with colleagues outside their Luft III Kriegie hut

She was proved right as while the rest of Wg/Cmdr Sherwood's seven-man crew were killed in the crash he was catapulted clear of the blast in his pilot seat.

Wg/Cmdr Sherwood, of 97 Squadron, was found unconscious but alive, spending six weeks in hospital for his 'burnt face' before being taken to Stalag Luft III, the Great Escape camp.

He witnessed first-hand the 'Wooden Horse' escape and preparations for the Great Escape on March 24, 1944, which was immortalised in the 1963 Steve McQueen film.

In the final months of World War Two he endured a dreaded Long March, where prisoners who could not keep up were shot.

Wg/Cmdr Sherwood left the RAF in 1958 and died aged 54 in 1973.

Pictured: Gerald's book on his father's incredible survival story

Pictured: Gerald's book on his father's incredible survival story

Almost half a century later, his son Gerald has published a book, titled Bomber Command Pilot, recounting his incredible wartime service.

He made notes of talks he had with his father in the final years of his life, but did not have the time to research further until his retirement.

Since 2014, he has spent hours studying the National Archives to learn more about his father's 43 raids, including daylight missions to bomb German cruisers at Brest.

But one subject Wg/Cmdr Sherwood would not talk about was the Great Escape, as the reprisal executions of 50 RAF officers deeply upset him.

It is believed he had a peripheral role in the bid for freedom, although he had fonder memories of the 'Wooden Horse' escape, where a vaulted gymnastics horse was used to cover a tunnel's entrance.

A 100ft tunnel was dug and three prisoners, Lieutenant Michael Codner, Flight Lieutenant Eric Williams and Flight Lieutenant Oliver Philpot, managed to escape the Sagan camp in October 1943, boarding ships back to Britain.

Gerald said: 'I've always wanted to write a book about my father but I didn't have the time until my retirement and then you find yourself looking after young grandchildren.

'My father and I worked together in the final years of his life (in the finance and insurance industry) and during those one-on-one conversations he opened up to me about his wartime experience.

'I also studied the National Archives and spoke to a fellow World War Two airman to learn more.

Wing Commander John 'Flap' Sherwood and wife Bernice are pictured on their wedding day

Wing Commander John 'Flap' Sherwood and wife Bernice are pictured on their wedding day

The tragic news of Wg/Cmdr Sherwood's presumed death was relayed to his wife Bernice. But, instead of breaking down in tears, she remained unmoved, stating matter-of-factly: 'I would know if he was dead and I think he's ok.' Pictured: John is second from right with 97 Squadron officers in 1941

The tragic news of Wg/Cmdr Sherwood's presumed death was relayed to his wife Bernice. But, instead of breaking down in tears, she remained unmoved, stating matter-of-factly: 'I would know if he was dead and I think he's ok.' Pictured: John is second from right with 97 Squadron officers in 1941

The 97 Squadron Avro Manchester flown by Wing Commander John 'Flap' Sherwood is pictured

The 97 Squadron Avro Manchester flown by Wing Commander John 'Flap' Sherwood is pictured

'My dad experienced suffering from feelings of guilt and trauma when he first arrived at Stalag Luft III, all as a result of his

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