W.R. Chorley's Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War
Genealogists, either beginners or experienced, often know someone who served in the Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command in the Second World War. This could be someone in their family or other circles. RAF personnel served as:
- flight engineers
- wireless operators
- bombardier/bomb aimers
- aerial gunners.
Many men who served were killed in action, wounded, or captured as Prisoners of War (POWs). Others were able to evade capture, via the underground of nations, despite Nazi German occupation.
At Toronto Reference Library, we have a great resource for genealogists interested in this topic. The nine volume set Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War by W.R. Chorley was published in 1966. It is available in our Humanities and Social Sciences Department. The set is reference only and cannot be borrowed.
The successes of Bomber Command were purchased at terrible cost. The Canadian Bomber Command Museum's website offers these statistics. Of every 100 airmen who joined Bomber Command:
- 45 were killed
- 6 were seriously wounded
- 8 became Prisoners of War
Only 41 of 100 airmen escaped unscathed, at least physically. Of the 120,000 who served, 55,573 were killed. This includes over 10,000 Canadians. Of those who were flying at the beginning of the war, only ten percent survived. It is a loss rate comparable only to the worst slaughter of the First World War trenches. Only the Nazi U-Boat force suffered a higher casualty rate.
About W.R. Chorley's Bomber Command Losses
Historians and genealogists hail W.R. Chorley's Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses as the best reference source of its type. It's a "must have" in any genealogy collection. The set covers various periods and units of World War II and has details on the losses of aircraft and aircrews in the European Theater. Losses are recorded chronologically, by aircraft type, serial number and the circumstances of the loss. These records help researchers confirm the fates of Royal Air Force personnel.
Read on for useful tips on how to best consult these records. I will be using the example of the fateful mission of a Lancaster Crew in June 1944 and Pilot Officer Andrew Mynarski. Mynarski was awarded a Victoria Cross, the British Commonwealth's highest medal of valour.
Using Bomber Command Losses Example : Fateful Mission of Lancaster Bomber X KB726 June 12-13, 1944
Above left: The crew of 419 Squadron's Lancaster X KB726, code named VR-A, from left to right: Flying Officer Pat Brophy (rear gunner), Pilot Officer Jim Kelly (wireless operator), Flight Sergeant Roy Vigars (flight engineer), Flying Officer Art de Breyne (pilot), Pilot Officer Andrew Mynarski (mid-upper gunner), Pilot Officer Jack Friday (bomb aimer) and Flying Officer Bob Bodie (navigator). PHOTO: DND Archives, PL38265.
Above right: Andrew Charles Mynarski, awarded the Victoria Cross for valour for dying after attempting to rescue trapped rear turret gunner Pat Brophy. Brophy would miraculously be freed from the rear gun turret with minor injuries when the Lancaster aircraft crashed. PHOTO: Canadian War Museum.
If you want to know more about the fateful mission of KB726, read this article on the Canadian Encyclopedia Online.
When consulting Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War, here's what you need to know about the person you're looking up:
- date the aircraft they were flying was lost
- RAF squadron they were serving in
- type of aircraft they were flying, its number and call sign
- location the aircraft was operating in when it was lost
For Andrew Mynarski, here are those facts:
- Date lost: June 12-13, 1944
- Squadron: 419
- Type of aircraft, number and call sign: Lancaster X, KB726, VR-A
- Location it was operating in: Op: Cambrai
In this case, there are many entries of lost aircraft over Cambrai in the same early morning of June 13, 1944.
The records use a number of abbreviations, so it's helpful to understand what they mean.
- evd means "evaded capture". This was usually with assistance of the underground of countries under Nazi German occupation.
- pow means "prisoner of war". They were captured by Nazi German forces and, in most cases, were held prisoner until the end of WWII.
- inj means "injured". Sometimes there can be errors. In this record example, Mynarski was marked as "inj". He was killed in action, however, so this is a record error.
- RCAF means "Royal Canadian Air Force". Personnel from the United Kingdom have no abbreviation next to their name.
Records also include:
- a synopsis of the mission the aircraft and air crew were on
- what happened, including details of damages to the aircraft (if this information is known)
All of the details in Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War make it an invaluable resource. The author, W.R. Chorley, hoped that it would help researchers looking to confirm the fates of their ancestors who served in the RAF.
More Genealogy Research Resources
For more genealogical research, be sure to visit the Humanities and Social Sciences Department of the Toronto Reference Library. Some of our resources in print or electronic formats include:
- vital statistics (births, marriages, deaths, baptism records)
- cemetery transcriptions
- census returns
- immigration and settlement records
- local newspapers (birth, marriage and death notices)
- city directories
- military records
- local histories
- family histories
- land records and maps (including a large collection of Ontario County maps)
- GTA high school yearbooks
- Ontario University yearbooks
- and more!
Good luck and good hunting in all your family history research pursuits!