Sapper Ernest W Bailey

19 Nov 1942

Sapper Ernest William Bailey was the son Walter and May Bailey, and husband of Mrs L E Bailey, of Paulsgrove, Hampshire. He served with 9th Field Company (Airborne) Royal Engineers and took part in the ill-fated Op Freshman mission to sabotage the German development of an atomic bomb at the Vermock Heavy Water plant in Norway.

Sappers from 9th Field Coy (Airborne) RE and 261 Field Park Coy (Airborne) RE under Lt Allen had volunteered for the operation and were flown in by Glider pilots Pilot Officer Herbert Fraser, Pilot Officer Norman Davies onboard Horsa glider HS114, and towed by tug place Halifax W7801 'B' Baker. The tug from 38 Group RAF was piloted by Flt Lt A R Parkinson (Royal Canadian Air Force) and Pilot Officer G W Sewell de Gency RAF(Volunteer Reserve) as co-pilot. Other crew members were  were Flying Officer A T H Haward RAF(VR), Flt Lt A E Thomas RAF(VR), Sgt J Falconer RAF, Flt Sgt A Buckton RAF(VR) and Flt Sgt G M Edwards RAF(VR) (all of whom later died when the tug crashed during the mission at Helleland, Rogaland).

Following take-off at 1800hrs from Wick, Scotland on 19 November 1942, the mission soon became hampered by severe weather conditions. As the aircraft neared their intended targets the glider and tug encountered dense fog northwest of Rjukan which they were unable to emerge from, coupled with problems with their target-location apparatus. Fuel was getting low and as both tug plane and glider started to collect ice, they rapidly lost altitude. Tug and glider separated although details are not known exactly what happened afterwards. The glider crashed approximately 2.5 kilometres north-east of Lensmannsgard, 400-500 metres north-west of Gasetjern, some four kilometres north from where the towing Halifax crashed killing both pilots, and one of the passengers.

The remaining fourteen survivors, including Sapper Bailey, were all captured shortly afterwards as Prisoners of War and taken to the Slettebø camp at Egersund. After thorough interrogation all were shot by members of the German camp guard in accordance with a decree from Hitler ordering the executions of Special Forces prisoners. They were buried later at a local churchyard at Stavanger.

Sapper Bailey was killed on 19-20 November 1942, aged 31 years old. He is now buried alongside all other victims of the ill-fated Horsa HS114 (also the resting place of several victims from sister glider Horsa DP-349) at Eiganes Churchyard, in Stavanger, Norway.

Headstone image courtesy of David Owen.

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Service History

Ernest W Bailey


  • Gravestones of Airborne casualties from Op Freshman buried in Eiganes Churchyard, Stavanger, Norway, 2010.

    Gravestones of Airborne casualties from Op Freshman buried in Eiganes Churchyard, Stavanger, Norway, 2010.

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