On June 28, 1944, Flight Lieutenant Dennis Mason (left in picture) jumped from a Lancaster over France. In February, BYM News received an e-mail from Howard Sandall, who had been looking for Dennis Mason on behalf of his uncle, Flight Lieutenant John Gray. (centre in picture) Searching the internet, Mr Sandall had found a December BYM News story saying that the 2006 Sydney-Hobart starting cannon would be fired by a 90 year old, English born, World War II hero, Dennis Mason, and asked if we could help him to track him down. Less than a day later, the two families were in touch. Thatís the happy ending, hereís the beginning of the story.


My Uncle F/Lt John Gray DFC a rear gunner with 622 Squadron from June 1944 to January 1945, relayed the following account to me. Due to the actions of the crew on this particular night repelling a night fighter attack, three members of the crew were awarded the DFC.

F/Lt R.G. Allen and crew lifted off the runway at RAF Mildenhall in Lancaster GI-J LL885 at 21.55 hrs en route to Stuttgart. This particular Lancaster was destined to become a centurion Lancaster and complete 113 operations and is featured in several books. The following extract is taken from an account of the evening and recited to me by my Uncle F/Lt John Gray DFC, Rear Gunner on that particular night:

On 28/29 July on our way to Stuttgart, having reached the Orleans area of France, we were attacked by a German night fighter, which suddenly appeared out of the darkness. The night was shrouded in bright moonlight and made the whole crew feel vulnerable and although I could seen nothing down below the rear turret, I knew only to well that a Lancaster would stand out quite clearly to German night fighters from below. We had already witnessed one Lancaster go down in flames which we believed to be GI-K piloted by F/O Peabody and crew, which was later confirmed, with all the crew members losing their lives. The night fighter (JU88) came from underneath and the first thing we knew about the attack was when the bullets began to lacerate the rear part of the fuse­lage, tail and elevators.

There was a terrific smell of cordite and some flares were set on fire. I ordered a ‘corkscrew’ and our pilot put the Lancaster into the manoeuvre, rising up and then plunging down earthwards. I heard the call to put on parachutes so disconnected the R/T and climbed back out of the turret. Mid-upper gunner F/Lt Dennis Mason must have mis­interpreted this precautionary instruction for he, immediately, clipped on his ‘chute’ and baled out! Reconnecting my radio in the fuselage I noticed the rear door was open, so I knew the mid upper had gone. I checked with the skipper about what was happening, and was told to hang on. Our skipper and the flight engineer F/Sgt J. Barker, were both struggling to pull the bomber out of its headlong dive, and managed it at 1,500 ft, then jettisoned the bombs.

We had lost the fighter, and the damaged Lancaster was turned for home with the Bomb Aimer manning the mid upper turret. One third of the elevators had been shot away and all the trims, and there were large holes in the tail plane. The skipper made as assessment of the damage and managed to obtain a degree of control of the Lancaster whilst heaving back on the stick to keep her level and decided to head for home, although alone and vulnerable to further attack. The concentration of the bomber stream was a major protection factor for a Lancaster, against the individual interception controlled from the ground stations, and GI-J was now appearing as a neat little mark on the German radar tubes on the ground, a clear target for the German night fighter force.

After about 30 minutes something blew off from the tail section and our pilot was able to ascertain a greater degree of control and we climbed up to 10,000 feet and we removed parachutes. On reaching the Channel the wireless operator sent out an S.O.S. so that we would be plotted over the sea in case we had to ditch. We crossed the Channel and then came the question whether to jump out or try to land. At this time, I was giving the skipper constant updates on the state of the elevators, which we suspected would gradually strip. The whole crew had the utmost confidence in our pilot and we decided to stay with the damaged aircraft and attempt a landing back at Mildenhall.

Our Lancaster was still shuddering in the turn and the pilot was having difficulty turning to the left, staying on course and reducing height to land, but eventually reduced height to 1,500ft. There were about 5 circles of aerodromes round Mildenhall so as we came near to base, skipper asked base to flash their lights on and off, so that we could identify which was our landing strip. We crossed the boundary of our airfield at 140 m.p.h. and the throttles were closed and the skipper very skilfully controlled the aircraft as long as he could and, with one big bounce, we were running along the runway. GI-J LL805 landed back at RAF Mildenhall at 02.35 with extensive battle damage. We slept soundly in our beds that night and the next day had a look at the damage. The Lancaster was a wreck around the tail and we were lucky to get back.

My Uncle later told me that, on examining his parachute on terra firma, he discovered that it was full of bullet holes and, if he had baled out, then he surely would have been killed. Bomber Command lost 39 Lancasters that night.

Heinz Rökker was born on 20 October 1920 at Oldenburgh. He joined the Luftwaffe, in October 1939, and began flying training with Flieger Ausbildungs Regiment 22 at Güstrow, in July 1940.

In August 1941 he attended Blindflugschule 5 at Belgrade-Semlin before completing his training in September 1941 at Nachjagdschule 1 at Neubiberg near München. Rökker was posted to I./NJG 2, operating in the Mediterranean theatre, on 6 May 1942. Leut­nant Rökker was assigned to 1./NJG 2.

On 20 June 1942, Rökker shot down a RAF Beaufort twin-engined bomber, by day, over the Mediterranean Sea whilst transiting from his base at Catania to Kalamaki in Greece. His aircraft received 25 hits from return fire during the action but he landed safely at Kalamaki.

From bases in Libya, he undertook intruder missions over Egypt claiming four RAF Wellington twin-engined bombers shot down.

0n 16 February 1943, Rökker undertook night fighter missions over Sicily and Tunisia, recording a RAF Wellington twin-engined bomber shot down near Marsalla on the night of 19/20 April to record his sixth victory.

On 2 July 1943, Rökker led the unit back to northern Europe to undertake Reichsverteidigung duties. Rökker enjoyed much success at this time, claiming three victories on each of the nights of 15/16 March 1944, 22/23 March and 24/25 March.

On the night of 6/7 June, he claimed five British bombers shot down in the area of the Allied landings in Normandy. Oberleutnant Rökker was awarded the Ritterkreuz on 27 July 1944. He recorded his 40th victory on the night of 7/8 August. On the night of 4/5 November, he shot down four enemy aircraft. He recorded three victories on the night of 3/4 February and destroyed six Lancasters on the night of 21/22 February.

Hauptmann Rökker was awarded the Eichenlaub on 12 March for 60 victories.

On the night of 15/16 March, Rökker recorded four enemy aircraft shot down, as his last victories of the war, including a RAF Mosquito twin-engined bomber shot down over his airfield at Hugplatz St Trond.

Heinz Rökker was credited with 64 victories in 161 missions. He recorded 63 of his victories at night, including 55 four-engined bombers. On the night of our story, he had taken off with Johannes Hager and, immediately, ran into the bomber stream. He had claimed GI-J LL885 as a “kill”, having seen it diving earthwards.

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