Bates, Edward Percy
Edward Percy Bates was born on 15th October 1913, only son of Sir Percy Elly Bates, GBE, 4th baronet of Neston, Cheshire, a Director of the Cunard Shipping Line, and Lady Bates, nee Lefroy, daughter of the Dean of Norwich. Like his father and five uncles he went to Morshead’s, which he entered in Cloister Time 1927 from Mr Pellatt’s School at Langton Matravers in Dorset. He was at Winchester for only a short time and was mainly educated abroad, becoming an excellent linguist. With these qualifications he enlisted in the Field Security Personnel, and in the spring of 1940 was for a few months stationed at Winchester.
In September 1941 he transferred to the Royal Air Force, becoming an Air Bomber and was posted to No 9 Squadron. This squadron was formed on 1st April 1915 by Major Hugh Dowding, later Commander of Fighter Command. An Old Wykehamist, (G 1895-1899), his bust is in the centre of the west wall of War Cloister.
Bates was accompanied on all his missions by the same crew, all of whom were much younger than him. By the end of 1944 No 9 Squadron was an elite unit, second only to 617 Squadron in the conduct of missions requiring high levels of accuracy, and equipped with Lancaster bombers, some of which had been modified to carry the 12,000 lb Tallboy bomb created by Sir Barnes Wallis. They flew their first operation from Bardney in Lincolnshire on 5th – 6th October 1944, flying to Bremen. Fifty factories were flattened, including the works used by Focke-Wulf and Siemens and 5,000 houses were destroyed.
On 15th October 1944 (Bates’ thirty-first birthday) he and his crew attacked the Sorpe Dam, the undamaged dam left over from the famous Dambusters raid of 1943. Escorted by Mustangs they hit their target but failed to destroy it. Four days later they raided Nuremberg and at the end of the month helped to bomb gaps in the flood defences at Walcheren, a German held island dominating the approaches to Antwerp.
They then took part in “Operation Obviate” the successful mission to cripple the German battleship, “Tirpitz” on 12th November 1944.
On 4th December they attacked Heilbronn, setting off a fire storm that destroyed 80% of the town. Subsequent missions included two unsuccessful raids against the Urft Dam, but a number were abandoned or cancelled due to the poor December weather. However, on 17th December the Squadron went ahead with an attack on Munich. Twenty three aircraft set out, of which five were loaded with 4,000 lb “cookie” bombs and incendiaries, and 18 aircraft carried 12,000 lb high capacity bombs, essentially 3 cookie bombs strapped together.
On 21st December they attacked Politz near Danzig, in an attempt to bomb the German battleship “Lutzow” through cloud. Bad weather at Bardney forced all but four of the aircraft to land away from their base, which left the squadron unable to field a full complement until the New Year.
Their mission on New Year’s Day 1945 was to bomb the Dortmund-Ems Canal near Ladbergen in Germany. A vital transport route for the German war effort, the Canal had been hit repeatedly but was always quickly repaired. At 8.10 a.m. Bates and his crew took off in Lancaster I NG223 WS-D for their 9th mission. They started their attack at 11 a.m. with 102 Lancasters and two Mosquitos bombing the canal from a cloudless blue sky. The area was extensively damaged and delay-action bombs were exploding well into the following day. Five Lancasters were lost, three over the target. One of them was Bates’. The heavy and accurate German flak was lethal for aircraft in straight and level flight as Lancasters had to be in order to aim for their target. As Bates and his crew concentrated on making the bomb-run as perfect as possible, three shells burst behind them. Just as Bates called “Bombs gone” – the signal that Pilot Officer Peter Reaks, flying the aircraft, could begin to take evasive action – the front of the plane was hit by a shell. Bates was killed instantly together with three other crew members. The three crew members who survived owed their lives to their rudimentary parachutes and were all taken prisoner.
At the time of his death, Bates was aged 31 and held the acting rank of Flying Officer. Wing Commander J M Bazin, the squadron commander, spoke of Bates in the highest terms: “A very keen and efficient air bomber, most popular with everyone in the Squadron. His loss was a great blow to us all”. Possibly because of the age gap between him and the rest of his crew, Bates tended not to socialise much with his fellow crew members and when they went to their local pub, he preferred to stay behind to play chess with the ground crew. He owned a large American car and Wing Commander Bazin, who only had a bicycle, asked him not to park it near the squadron offices.
He, and the other crew members, are buried of the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Flying Officer Bates lies in grave 18.C.12. The family’s chosen epitaph reads: With Christ/Which is Far Better.
- Surname: Bates
- Forenames or initials: Edward Percy
- House: E
- Years in School: 1927
- Rank: Pilot Officer
- Regiment: RAF (Volunteer Reserve)
- Date of Birth: 15th October 1913
- Date of Death: 1st January 1945
- How Died: Killed in Action
- Location in War Cloister: Inner F1
- Decoration: NA
- Burial Site: Reichswald Forest War Cemetery: Grave 18.C.12