Wing Commander William Alexander FORBES DSO DFC

Commanding Officer, No. 463 Squadron

Service No: 414219
Born: Charters Towers QLD, 28 December 1919
Enlisted in the RAAF: 17 August 1941
Unit: No. 463 Squadron, RAF Station Waddington, Lincolnshire
Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), 7 December 1943 (Citation Title: No. 467 Squadron)
Awarded the Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), 1 March 1946 (Citation Title: No. 463 Squadron)
Died: Air Operations: (No. 463 Squadron Lancaster aircraft PB804), Germany, 21 February 1945, Aged 25 Years
Buried: Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Kleve, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany
CWGC Additional Information: Son of James Alexander Forbes and Elizabeth Forbes; husband of Betty Edna Forbes, of East Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia
Roll of Honour: Bundaberg QLD
Remembered: Panel 109, Commemorative Area, Australian War Memorial, Canberra ACT

Meanwhile on 21st-22nd February Nos. 463 and 467 each sent 10 crews in a force of 154 detailed to bomb the Mitteland canal at Gravenhorst, but all brought their bombs back because the target was obscured by cloud. Nevertheless outstanding results were obtained the very next night when
167 aircraft dropped 816 tons of bombs in good weather marred only by a slight ground haze. Australian crews praised the accuracy of the target marking and the way in which the master bomber controlled the raid despite the presence of enemy fighters. Subsequent photographic assessment confirmed that bomb fall had been concentrated on a vital area where the canal retaining wall was damaged for a distance of 500 yards; a bridge had collapsed and fields on either side of the canal were again flooded; most of the repairs made since the last strike on 1st-2nd January had been wrecked.

But although militarily effective this was another costly raid, especially for No. 463 which lost three of its ten Lancasters. One, piloted by Flying Officer Farrow (1), bombed successfully but was attacked during its return flight and seriously damaged by an unseen aircraft. The starboard wing caught fire and as the flames could not be extinguished, Farrow ordered his crew members to bale out over Holland where they landed safely. Two crews captained by Wing Commander Forbes and Flying Officer Pedersen were posted as missing after this operation. Forbes had commanded No. 463 since 25th June 1944 and made an outstanding contribution, especially in training his unit in the bold but risky techniques of bombing adopted during this period by No. 5 Group. Several combats were also reported that night by pilots of No. 467 .Flying Officer Boxsell (2) fired on an Me-110 which was seen attacking another Lancaster, and, as the enemy aircraft broke away in a steep dive, it was claimed as damaged. Flying Officer Smith (3) engaged an FW-190 scoring strikes along its mainplane while Flying Officer Clark (4) and his crew fired on another FW-190 damaging its engine. One of the most skilful and courageous feats was that of Flying Officer Davies (5), a rear gunner in a Lancaster of No. 619 Squadron, who destroyed one enemy fighter, set another on fire and beat off an attack by a third.

(1) Flying Officer Graham Hope Farrow (424100) Discharged from the RAAF: 26 February 1946
(2) Flying Officer Walter Kitchener Boxsell DFC (427431) Discharged from the RAAF: 10 October 1945
(3) Flying Officer Thomas Edward Maxwell Smith DFC (423936) Discharged from the RAAF: n1 October 1945
(4) Flight Lieutenant John Boyd Clark (419614) Discharged from the RAAF: 1 February 1946
(5) Flight Lieutenant David John Davies DFC (429880) Discharged from the RAAF: 17 January 1946

Extract from Herington, J. (John) (406545) Air War Over Europe 1944-1945, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1963 – Page 414

Lancaster PB804 took off from RAF Waddington at 1719 hours on the night of 21/22nd February 1945 to bomb the Mittelland Canal at Gravenhorst, Germany. The bomb load was 14 x 1000 lb (pound) (450 kg) bombs. Nothing was heard from the aircraft after take off and it did not return to base. Ten aircraft from the Squadron took part in the raid and two of these including PB804 failed to return. In 1949 the Missing Research and Enquiry Unit reported “The aircraft was hit by ack-ack and crashed in a forest near Mehringen on 21 February 1945. Following the impact the aircraft was subjected to a series of explosions.

The crew members of PB804 were:

Flying Officer J A Costello (156558) (RAFVR) (Navigator) PoW
Flight Lieutenant John H Dean (752914) (RAF) (Flight Engineer) PoW
Wing Commander William Alexander Forbes DSO DFC (414219) (Pilot)
Flight Lieutenant W J Grime DFC (149573) (RAFVR) (Bomb Aimer) PoW
Flight Lieutenant J A Loftus (C/8191) (RCAF) (Air Gunner) (Parent Unit 1 FPU, Iver Heath) PoW
Flying Officer William McLeod (182488) (RAFVR) (Wireless Operator Air)
Warrant Officer Arthur Jack Norman (1380254) (RAFVR) (Air Gunner)
Pilot Officer K L Worden (182696) (RAFVR) (Air Gunner) PoW

Flight Lieutenant Grime later reported “the Captain gave the order to bale out. I went through the front escape hatch followed by the Engineer and Navigator. The Navigator later said that the Captain was still in his seat when he left the plane. Captured 5 days later.”

No. 463 Squadron lost Lancaster LM648 (Flying Officer Lawrence Roy Pedersen (426237) (Pilot)) on 21 February 1945.

No. 463 Squadron lost Lancaster NG329 (Flying Officer Graham Hope Farrow (424100) (Pilot)) on 21 February 1945.


Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour On-Line Records (RAAF Casualty Information compiled by Alan Storr (409804))
Commonwealth War Graves Commission On-Line Records
Department of Veteran’s Affairs On-Line WWII Nominal Roll
National Archives of Australia On-Line Record A705, 166/14/465

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