The WW2 Flight Officer Whose Plane Went Down While On Patrol Near The Arctic Circle

August 17, 2019.  In researching the names on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion, normally Pieter encounters one of four situations:

  • family members who have a photo but know little or nothing else about the soldier.
  • family members who are aware of the soldier but have no photo and little or no information.
  • family members who know nothing about the soldier, have no photo, and aren’t at all interested. This situation tends to occur with WW1 soldiers, who died at a young age, with no spouse or children. “It happened over 100 years ago! That’s ancient history!” one woman told Pieter.
  • family members who have a photo and have saved letters or cards written by the soldier or about him, and may have his medals. These family members have a general idea of what happened to the soldier and may have visited his grave or a memorial listing his name.

In researching the story of Flight Officer Joseph “Joe” Charles MCIVER of Kinkora, Pieter encountered a fifth situation …… family members so dedicated to preserving his memory that they did extensive research on their own!  Not only were there photos and documents, but one nephew, Alan A. McIvor of Kelowna, BC, wrote a book on his uncle called ‘United In Effort..Flying Officer Joseph Charles McIver…Royal Canadian Air Force…1940-1944’ and was kind enough to send it to Pieter.

Cover of Alan McIvors book

Cover of Alan McIvor’s book.

But the story begins here on Prince Edward Island with Alan McIvor’s sister-in-law Joyce Philips and her husband Gordon, who invited us to visit them at their home.

CIMG2545 Aug 28 2018 Pieter with Gordon & Joyce Philips

Left to right: Gordon Philips, Joyce Philips, Pieter Valkenburg. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Joseph Charles McIver was born July 26, 1916 in Kinkora, the son of Peter D McIver and Margaret Anne McKenna, “the sixth of fourteen children” as noted in Alan McIvor’s book ‘United In Effort’. Before enlisting with the Royal Canadian Air Force in Charlottetown on November 15, 1940, he was a warehouse foreman for the PEI Potato Growers Association.  McIvor goes on to explain in his book that his uncle enlisted “as an Aircraftsman 2nd Class.  In the area on his application form where it asked for the reason he wanted to join he declared ‘Wanted to help Win the War.’

Joseph Charles McIver

Joseph Charles McIver. (Photo: The Canadian Virtual War Memorial – Veterans Affairs Canada)

McIver didn’t qualify as a pilot, but was trained for the position of Observer/Navigator in Ontario.  On June 16, 1941 he married Helen Elizabeth McNeill, “a nurse from Summerside”, in Trenton, Ontario.

UNCLE JOE & HELEN McIvor from Alan McIvor

Helen and Joseph Charles McIver. (Photo courtesy A. McIvor family collection)

In January 1942, McIver was posted to England to train with the British Royal Air Force in Coastal Command.  RAF Coastal Command, a formation with the Royal Air Force (RAF) had a mandate to protect convoys from German U-boats and Allied shipping from aerial threats from the German Air Forces.  Squadrons operated from various bases and McIver soon found himself in the Arctic Circle. (For more information on Coastal Command see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_Coastal_Command_during_World_War_II)

On September 4, 1942, McIver was in the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) 455 Squadron with a group flying to the Soviet Union as part of ‘Operation Orator’, a search and strike force to operate over the Barents Sea.  The plan was to fly on a course to reach Norway, cross the mountains in the dark, overfly northern Sweden, in violation of Swedish neutrality, Finland and land at Afrikanda air base, at the southern end of Murmansk Oblast (an oblast is similar to a province). The flight to Afrikanda was expected to take five to eight hours, depending on the weather and German opposition. After refuelling, the group McIver was in was to fly the remaining 190 km to Vayenga, following the Kandalaksha–Murmansk railway northwards.  (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Orator for more information on Operation Orator and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afrikanda_(air_base) for more information on Afrikanda.)

1024px-Barents_Sea_map

Map shows the location of the Barents Sea north of Russia and Norway, and the surrounding seas and islands. (Map created by Norman Einstein, 2005. Courtesy of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Orator#/media/File:Barents_Sea_map.png)

McIvor’s ‘United In Effort’ explains what happened to his uncle’s plane after making it to Afrikanda…. “after several attempts at landing in the mist their fuel position became critical.”  The pilot flew towards Kandalaksha to find an emergency landing spot.  “All he could find was an area where the silver birch trees had been cut down, leaving tall thin stumps.”  The plane landed intact and no one was hurt, but containers of tools brought by a ground crew passenger “were strewn along the crash path as the bomb bay had been torn open.”  In trying to retrieve the containers, “a bullet smashed into the ground at his feet.”  The ground crew passenger returned to the plane very quickly!  “Eventually a troop of Soviet soldiers arrived and thinking the crew were the hated Nazis, treated them roughly.  They were taken to an underground interview room where an English speaking Soviet Commissar was able to understand they were allies.”  They were then reunited with the rest of the Squadron at Afrikanda and the next day escorted to Vayenga.  Over the next months McIver and his crewmates flew 35 flights, 30 of them Operational Patrols.

In September 1943 McIver was promoted to Temporary Flying Officer, transferred to No. 1 Torpedo Training Unit, and sent to the United Kingdom for further training, followed by a stint as an instructor.  In May 1944 he was given Special Leave and allowed 30 days back in Canada with his wife and relatives before returning to the United Kingdom.

In August 1944 McIver was transferred to RAF No. 53 Squadron, which flew Liberator planes.  These planes were important in the war effort as they “doubled the reach of Britain’s maritime reconnaissance force.  This added range enabled Coastal Command patrols to cover the Mid-Atlantic gap, where U-boats had operated with near impunity.

719px-Maxwell_B-24 liberator

B-24 Liberator flown by Squadron No. 53. (Photo courtesy of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Maxwell_B-24.jpg)

In September 1944, the Squadron, along with McIver, was posted to Reykjavik, Iceland. At 1:10 am on November 18, 1944 he was part of the crew of aircraft EV895 that took off on anti-submarine patrol looking for a suspected U-boat off Gardskagi, Iceland ….. and “were never heard from again.” When the plane was overdue back at base, a search began, with wreckage and floating debris seen at sea.  “A surface vessel is dispatched and recovers a nose wheel that appears to be from a Liberator and other flotsam floating on the surface.”  Among the items recovered were clothing identified as belonging to the pilot,  wireless operator, and gunner, suggesting that the plane had sunk.  “There were no surface ships reported missing or overdue from that time frame.  No German U-boats operating in the area were reported missing.

A fire spotted at 2:47 am by another aircraft in the Squadron “was not very far from Iceland and EV895 was very early into its patrol.  It would have been loaded with enough fuel for 14 hours of flying. It would take some time for that amount of fuel to burn off and it would create quite a heat.  It was not uncommon for some Liberators to fly into the water.  It was a big heavy aircraft and flying at night 100 feet above the ocean was potentially risky business.

No one to this day knows what happened, but the likeliest explanation is that the plane flew too close to the ocean and couldn’t pull back up.  The B-24 Liberator was nicknamed ‘The Flying Coffin’ because the only entry and exit from the bomber was in the rear, making it almost impossible for the flight crew and nose gunner to get from the flight deck to the rear when wearing parachutes. Plus, the roller-type bomb bay doors retracted into the fuselage, creating a minimum of aerodynamic drag to keep speed high over a target area.  (See https://sites.google.com/site/willowrunvillage/b-24-bombers)

Reported missing in action were:

  • Captain W.C. PAYNE
  • 2nd Pilot L. A. WINDRESS
  • 1st Navigator J. C. MCIVER
  • 2nd Navigator A. PALMER
  • Warrant Officer R.A. SCOTT
  • Warrant Officer J. G. CHAMBERLAIN
  • Warrant Officer H.A. STEPHEN
  • Warrant Officer Mechanical K. J. SPACKMAN
  • Air Gunner J. BASSETT
  • Flight Engineer G. M. COCKBURN

Although McIver’s plane disappeared on November 18, 1944 he was not officially declared dead until September 1945.  At the time of the disappearance his wife Helen was pregnant, and gave birth to a son Peter Joseph Charles in March 1945.  Helen died in 1978 and son Peter passed away in 2007.

While there is no memorial to the crew in Iceland, there is one in Runnymede, England. As well, McIver has a commemorative stone at the Air Force Heritage Park in Summerside, located at the entrance to the former Canadian Armed Forces Base.

IMG_20190807_101038750 McIver Commemorative Stone Summerside

Commemorative Stone at Air Force Heritage Park, Summerside, Prince Edward Island. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

Today, McIver’s medals are on display at the community centre in Kinkora since 2014.  Unfortunately, the whereabouts of the original medals are unknown.  As explained in ‘United In Effort’, “In 2013, through the combined efforts of Joe McIver’s last remaining sibling, Mary Ita Smith and the author, we have had all his medals reissued, including a new one called The Arctic Star for his time spent in the Arctic Circle with RAAF Squadron 455.

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Shadow box with medal of Flight Officer Joseph Charles McIver in the community centre in Kinkora, Prince Edward Island. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

Thank you to Alan McIvor and Gordon and Joyce Philips for sharing so much information.  If you have information and photos to share on Flight Officer Joe McIver, the other crew members on that last flight, or any of the other names on the Cenotaph, please contact Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca or comment on the blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

 

 

One thought on “The WW2 Flight Officer Whose Plane Went Down While On Patrol Near The Arctic Circle

  1. Pingback: We Hear From Readers About ‘No Soldier Buried Overseas Should Ever Be Forgotten’ | On The War Memorial Trail Research Project…….. with Pieter and Daria Valkenburg

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