ROYAL AUSTRALIAN AIR FORCE (RAAF)
LANCASTER MID-UPPER GUNNER
No. 460 Squadron
Diomede Alexandratos was born in Shepparton on 6 February 1922. His paternal grandfather, Efstathios Alexandratos, was a ship's captain from Ithaca who migrated to Australia in the 1880s and settled in Bendigo. Diomede's father Andreas (1872-1950) followed suit in 1901 and started his own business as a fruit vendor in central Melbourne, which enabled him to bring out his two brothers, and later his wife Sophia, from Greece. Together, the three men operated a successful cafe in Elizabeth Street until 1914, when the partnership ended. Andreas and Sophia then moved to Shepparton, where they established the town's first cafe. Graduating from Caulfield Grammar in 1940, the young Diomede Alexandratos worked in a land surveyor’s office and drafted plans for factories. In December 1941, the day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he decided to join the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force). From March 25 to August 5, 1942, he served in the 4th Anti-Aircraft Regiment. He enlisted in RAAF for aircrew training on August 6, 1942, in No.1 REC Center at the age of 20 years old, and posted to No.1 Initial Training School (No.1 ITS) under the wartime Empire Air Training Scheme where Australian aircrew trained for service in Europe. On October 10, 1942, he transferred to No.2 Wireless Operators Gunners (WAG) School in Parkes NSW. A WAG was a dual-trained aircrew, trained to operate the aircraft's radio and operate a defensive turret. In April next year he was posted to No.2 Bombing and Gunnery School (BGS) in Port Pirie SA and in the end of the month, on April 29 he was promoted to Pilot Officer.
Almost a month later he was posted for service in England, to No.11 (RAAF) Personnel Despatch and Reception Centre which was formed at Bournemouth in July 1941 but moved to Brighton in May 1943. Brighton was on the coast in Sussex about 80 kilometers south of London. This Unit was the receiving station for Royal Australian Air Force non-commissioned aircrew arriving in the United Kingdom. Alexandratos took his initial training as a Wireless Operator Air Gunner (WAG). A WAG was a dual-trained aircrew, trained to operate the aircraft's radio and operate a defensive turret. On August 10, 1943, he was posted to No.27 OTU for further training as a Gunner. After completing the OTU he was posted to 1667 Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU) on September 15, 1943. These units were usually equipped with war-weary aircraft, which certainly did not make the task for crews any easier with the added factor of aircraft reliability to concern themselves. The Lancaster flight of 1667 HCU was renamed 'C' Flight of No.1 Lancaster Finishing School and was based in RAF Hemswell. Alexandratos stayed until the first days of November. He was then assigned to No.625 Sqn RAF on November 14, 1943, but after 6 days, on November 20, 1943, he was reassigned to No.460 Sqn RAAF as a Mid Upper Gunner in Lancaster heavy bombers. Alexandratos flew 11 missions prior to his last one where his bomber was shot down over Germany.
On 20th-21st January 1944, Flying Officer Alexandratos was on his twelfth bombing mission, this time to a risky Lancaster mission to Berlin. The bomber, specifically the Lancaster JB739, was shot down over Germany by 4/NJG 5, Uffz Franz Zawadka, who misidentified it as Halifax, and the crew was declared missing. It was a massive attack at the heart of the Richland. Bomber Command dispatched 769 bombers, however many abandoned their mission for various reasons and 697 attacked the target. RAAF contributed heavily with her heavy bombers Squadrons. No. 460 dispatched 20 bombers with 18 attacking Berlin, No.463 dispatched 11 without a bomber abandoning its mission, No.466 dispatched 18 bombers of which 16 attacked the city and No.467 dispatched 15 with 14 attacking the target. This time the Halifax bombers joined the Lancasters in an attempt to swamp German counter-measures. Three spoof raids on Kiel, Hanover, and Dusseldorf were disregarded by the enemy controllers, who again concentrated on infiltrating their fighters into the bomber stream as soon as it crossed the coast. Four Australian crews were in combat before reaching Berlin but all escaped undamaged because of well-coordinated crew tactics. Gun defenses were only moderately active at Berlin but three Halifaxes of No.466 were hit during the early part of the raid. More fighters were waiting over Berlin where, with searchlights illuminating a layer of cloud at 12,000 feet, the bombers could be effectively seen in silhouette. There were three more combats with Me-109s, FW-190s, and Me110s which attempted to attack from a blind spot underneath the bombers. This was often successful against unwary crews and also caused general nervousness which in some cases spoiled the accuracy of the bombing. The sky markers spread in a line running east to west, and crews of No.460 and No.466 claimed that by H2S checks they lay to the east of Berlin. The Lancasters of No.5 Group still lacked H2S (radar) and Wing Commander Kingsford-Smith of No.463 bombed one group of sky markers only to see another cascade of target indicators go down five miles distant. Many fires were seen but there was far too much cloud for any accurate assessment, although there was general agreement that this was the most successful raid since 29th-30th December 1943 with 2.401 tones of bombs dropped on the target. The total aircraft lost were 35 bombers while RAAF lost one Lancaster from No.460 Squadron (it was the bomber in which the Greek Australian flew that date) and one Halifax from No.466 Squadron.
Header: The Avro Lancaster B1, known with affection as "G for George", has a remarkable history. "G for George" flew ninety operational missions over Germany and occupied Europe during the height of the bomber offensive. From the time it was built in 1942 until its retirement from active service in 1944, the bomber was flown by No. 460 Squadron RAAF (when in Britain). The plane has always been one of the most popular exhibits at the Australian War Memorial. After undergoing extensive restoration at the Australian War Memorial's Treloar Conservation workshops, it went back on display in Anzac Hall in "Striking by night", a permanent exhibition featuring a dramatic sound and light show that re-creates a night bombing operation over Berlin in December 1943. Three German Messerschmitt fighter aircraft also feature in the display. ( Photo by Dean Shaw of https://acesflyinghigh.wordpress.com/ and further information from https://www.awm.gov.au/
An official photo taken by RAAF shows the Greek Australian Diomede Alexandratos holding his RAAF service number at the recruitment center. (NAA:A9300, ALEXANDRATOS D, Item ID 32881307)
The tail of a Lancaster being towed by a tractor. Also assisting is an airman on a bicycle. It has squadron code 'AR' and serial number 'DV296'. This aircraft crashed at Teltow, Berlin December 1943 with the loss of all crew. (IBCC Digital Archive, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/22694.)
Spike and Jim Cahir during Course 31 in RAAF Parkes NSW 1942'. (IBCC Digital Archive, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/20154)
The Lancaster III, JB239 was the bomber in which the Greek Australian mid-upper gunner was shot down by a Bf -110G-4, flown by Uffz Franz Zawadka of 4/NJG 5 on January 21, 1944. No.460 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, was formed at Molesworth in the United Kingdom on 15 November 1941 and became part of the Royal Air Force's Bomber Command and joined the strategic bombing campaign against Germany. Initially, it was equipped with Vickers Wellington bombers before switching to the most advanced 4-engine Avro Lancaster. The squadron is regarded as having been the most efficient of the Australian bomber squadrons. It maintained consistently higher serviceability rates among its aircraft, set numerous operational records within Bomber Command, flew the most bombing raids of any Australian squadron, and was credited with the greatest tonnage of bombs dropped - 24,856 tons, however, suffered heavily. It lost 181 aircraft on operations and suffered 1,018 fatal casualties (589 Australian) - the highest number of any of the Australian squadrons. With the victory over Germany assured the No.460 Squadron was selected to form part of "Tiger Force", Bomber Command's intended contribution to the strategic bombing of Japan. The war in the Pacific ended, however, after relinquishing its aircraft in early October 1945, disbanded on the 25th of that month. (Copyright Bertrand Brown aka Gaetan Marie, further info by https://www.awm.gov.au/)
According to 460 Squadron ORB.
Lancaster JB739 took off from RAF Binbrook at 1614 hours on 20 January 1944 to bomb Berlin. The bomb load was 1 x 4000 lb (pound) 1,800 kg) bomb, 56 x 30 lb (14 kg) and 1350 x 4 lb (2 kg) incendiaries. Nothing was heard from the aircraft after take-off and it did not return to base. The crew members of JB739 were:
Flying Officer Diomede Alexandratos (419417) (Mid Upper Gunner) PoW
Flight Sergeant Jack Arthur Cassidy (413823) (Wireless Operator Air Gunner) PoW, Flight Lieutenant Leslie John Lawler (419318) (Rear Gunner) PoW,
Flight Sergeant Arnold John Lynch (410355) (Pilot)
Sergeant Ernest Mortimer (1685107) (RAFVR) (Flight Engineer)
Flight Sergeant Henry Stephen Trinder (420081) (Navigator) PoW
Flying Officer James Douglas Vaughan (420083) (Bomb Aimer) PoW,
The pilot F/Sgt. Lynch and Sgt. Mortimer was both killed and found beside their aircraft respectively and buried at Waren In the Mecklenburg area by the Germans. F/O L.J. Lawler wrote an account of the JB739 crew final flight from inside the Stalag Luft III which was sent to RAAF HQ in England!
"On the night of 20th January 1944, whilst over enemy territory, we were attacked. The Mid-Upper Gunner opened fire and ordered a diving turn to port. At the time of the attack, the enemy fire had raked the fuselage and damaged the fin and tailplane. The port inner engine was observed to be on fire. Attempts to extinguish the fire were unsuccessful. The port tanks having been holed, the fire quickly spread over the entire wing. The Captain gave the order "Prepare to bale out", and instructed the Bomb Aimer to jettison the bombs, which he did. Captain then gave the order "Abandon aircraft”, which the crew acknowledged, The Mid-Upper Gunner left by the rear hatch, and the Rear Gunner and Wireless Operator followed. At the same time, the Bomb Aimer jettisoned the front hatch, and before leaving noticed the Engineer, ready to follow. The Navigator adjusted the Captain's chute, as he was still at the Controls, and saw the Engineer leave. On entering the bomb compartment the Navigator saw the Captain leave the controls. He experienced difficulty in being out owing to the aircraft beginning to spin. The mid-Upper Gunner, Roar Gunner Bomb Aimer, the Wireless Operator, and Navigator made successful landings and are prisoners of war. The Navigator landed in the vicínity of the aircraft and saw it burning fiercely. I understand from the Germans that the Captain was found dead in the Bomb Aimers Compartment and the Engineer beside the aircraft (also dead). None understood why the Engineer was killed, but he may have hit the aircraft and injured himself when jumping."
An equally good account is the one given by Warrant Officer Jack Arthur Cassidy.
"At approx. 19,000 on 20/4/44 enemy a/c identified by the gunner as Me-410 fired a long burst into the e/a. The port inner engine was set on fire, the port inner tank holed and the port rudder tripped. The extinguishing procedure was taken and was effective as regards the engine but the petrol from the port inner tank caught fire. Bombs were jettisoned and the a/c was dived in an attempt to blow out the fire. This proved ineffective and the pilot gave the order to bail out. The rear gunner said, "Shall I stay in the turret in case he (the E/A) comes back". The pilot said, "No, get out, Everyone bale out". No one was injured at the time I left the a/c, following the two gunners through the rear đoor. Flames from the port inner tank were twice the length of the a/c. The a/c crashed in the vicinity of Waren. (Mecklenburg). This on a statement from Germans that the Pilot and the Engineer were buried there and being approximately correct".
As noted above Alexandratos survived, spending a year as a POW in the infamous Stalag Luft III having the serial number 3338. During his stay in the prison camp, he met many other Greek and Greek parentage pilots and crews from RHAF (Royal Hellenic Air Force) and USAAF (United States Army Air Force). Discharged from the RAAF in 1946, he anglicized his name to Douglas Alexandra and commenced his Bachelor of Architecture degree at the University of Melbourne. Admitted as an Associate of the RAIA in 1950, Douglas Alexandra promptly opened his own office and soon emerged as one of Melbourne's first post-war modernist architects. His first major project, for a maisonette pair designed for his own family and his mother-in-law in Burwood (1951), was published in the Australian Home Beautiful the following year, lauded for the way in which it "breaks away from the old familiar features of this type of dwelling .. by the pleasantly simple design". His Kotzman House in Ringwood (1953), expressed as an elevated flat-roofed timber box with a stone feature wall, was published even more widely and was considered at the time to represent Melbourne's answer to the Rose Seidler House in Sydney. Such slick modernist dwellings formed the mainstay of Alexandra's practice in the 1950s, and they frequently appeared in journals. Around 1959, Alexandra designed a house for his own family overlooking the Yarra River flats at East Ivanhoe, using an expressed steel structure painted in bright orange. He also undertook a number of non-residential commissions, including modernist kindergartens at Beaumaris (1956) and Burwood (1957). In 1959, he began work on the regional art gallery and library complex at Hamilton - a new building type that was extremely unusual at that time. During the 1950s Alexandra lectured in design at the University of Melbourne, alongside Raymond Berg, before the two went into practice together in 1962. Their firm, Berg and Alexandra, was responsible for designing several notable projects in regional Victoria and Melbourne, including the Nunawading Civic Centre and the Mildura Arts Centre. Berg retired in 1983 and Alexandra retired in 1996, selling the practice to Hudson and Wardrop. The Greek Australian architect and RAAF veteran died on 19 February 2000 at Cabrini Hospital, Melbourne, Victoria of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He is buried in Melbourne General Cemetery, Carlton, Victoria.
That photo of the Greek Australian RAAF Officer was taken for his POW identity card. (NAA: A13950, ALEXANDRATOS D via Kristen Alexander)
POW card ALEXANDRATOS, Diomedes: Service Number - AUS 419417 AKA Douglas Alexandra. (NAA: A13950, ALEXANDRATOS D via Kristen Alexander)
Diomedes Alexandra in the early 1950s. His studies and works were an important contribution to modernist architecture in Melbourne, Australia and he is considered one of the country's most respected architects. (http://www.builtheritage.com.au/)
Australians, all from Victoria, on Anzac Day, 25th April 1944. Diomedes "Spike" Alexandratos, stands on the far right of the second row from the back. (Nathan Alexander - https://www.pegasusarchive.org/)
Sketches in a Prison Camp, by Bill Fordyce, The Australasian, 11 August 1945. (Courtesy of John Carson, 28 January 2016 via Kristen Alexander)
Uffz Franz Zawadka was the 4./NJG 5 pilot who was credited with the shot down of Alexandratos JB739 which he misidentified as Halifax in his report. He was flying a Messerschmitt Bf 110 G-4. Throughout his service, he was awarded the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class, Night Fighter Operational Clasp as well as other awards. On the night of March 24th, 1944, three days after shooting down the Diomede bomber, the RAF Bomber Command was conducting bombing raids on Berlin and Franz took off from his airfield to hunt down RAF aircraft flying a Bf 110 equipped with a Lichtenstein radar which was used exclusively for air interception. At around 11:40 PM Franz Bf 110 was in the area over Bad Harzburg when they took friendly flak fire from German ground units. Their plane took serious damage. The gunner and radio operator were able to jump from and parachute out of the plane but for whatever reason Franz was unable to and went down with his plane. He was 28 years old. (Theo Boiten, further info https://aminoapps.com/c/world-war-ii-amino/page/blog/ww2-german-death-card-for-luftwaffe-pilot-franz-zawadka/)
DIOMEDE ALEXANDRATOS COMBAT MISSIONS
SERIAL & NOSEART
|1||460||22 - 11 - 1944||4:50||Lancaster III, # JA683 (E)||Berlin, Germany|
|2||460||26 - 11 - 1944||4:30||Lancaster III, # JA683 (E)||Berlin, Germany|
|3||460||16 - 12 - 1944||4:35||Lancaster III, # JA683 (E)||Berlin, Germany|
|4||460||20 - 12 - 1944||4:00||Lancaster III, # JH296||Frankfurt Germany|
|5||460||24 - 12 - 1944||7:45||Lancaster III, #JB598 (C)||Berlin Germany|
|6||460||29 - 12 - 1944||7:15||Lancaster III, #JB739 (E)||Berlin Germany|
|7||460||01/02 - 01 - 1945||7:30||Lancaster III, #JB739 (E)||Berlin Germany|
|8||460||02/03 - 11 - 1945||7:50||Lancaster III, #JB749||Berlin Germany|
|9||460||05/06 - 11 - 1945||08:30||Lancaster III, #JB739 (E)||Stettin Germany|
|10||460||14 - 01 - 1945||5:40||Lancaster III, #JB739 (E)||Brunswick Germany|
|11||460||20 - 01 - 1945||-||Lancaster III, #JB739 (E)||Berlin Germany|
1. Diomede Alexandratos Personal Military File
2. No.460 Squadron Operational Record Books
3. International Bomber Command Centre Digital Archive
Special Thanks to Australian Researcher and Author, Kirsten Alexander and to the expert of night warfare over Europe during WW2, Researcher and Author, Theo Boiten and Nick Hector who always help us regarding the confirmation of Luftwaffe victories.