top of page

The Loss of Two Pilots on the 7th December 1942


Early afternoon on the 7th of December 1942, Squadron Leader Robert Sinckler Woodward, Royal Canadian Air Force pilot Donald Burton McPhail, and 6 others of 263 squadron took off from RAF Warmwell (Dorset, England) for an anti-shipping mission. 263 Squadron concentrated on anti-shipping patrols, often scrambled to attack convoys moving between the Channel Islands or coming out of Cherbourg. The mission was named Roadstead 45 and 'Roadstead' was the code name given for dive bombing and low-level attacks on enemy ships at sea or in harbours. 

An enemy convoy was sighted southwest of Jersey lying just off St Brelade Bay. The aircraft attacked the convoy but during this battle intense German flak downed both Woodward and McPhail. The RAF units withdrew claiming one vessel sunk and one damaged.

Squadron 263 Operational Diary on December 7th recorded
Grey day of wind and low clouds. A day of triumph and tragedy for the Squadron. In Roadstead 45, one ship was probably sunk, two were seriously damaged and one was probably damaged. But Warrant Officer D McPhail (R.C.A.F) is missing presumed killed in action, and Squadron Leader R.S. Woodward, DFC is missing, in circumstances which lead to the hope that he may be a prisoner of war.

George Hairon 
Mr Hairon witnessed the attack fishing near Demi-des-Pas

George was fishing near Demi-des-Pas, about one and a half miles from the attack on December 7th, 1942. He saw about half a dozen planes attack the German vessels, which were protected by German anti-Aircraft boats, disguised as fishing boats. He saw the planes come down towards the water and disappear towards the South; No one came down in his vicinity; The German vessels were going to Guernsey. The small boats came from Jersey and used to go out on patrol.

Peter E. Larbalestier 
Mr Larbalestier also witnessed the attack from La Corbiere Lighthouse. 

"Regarding the attack on German shipping to the south and southwest of Jersey, by R.A.F Whirlwinds carried out on the 7TH of December 1942, I was on Corbiere lighthouse and had a very good view of the action. One Allied plane definitely crashed tail-first into the sea. As near as I could judge 6 miles or so SSE of La Corbiere. I saw no swimmer or rubber dinghy after the crash and think the machine was travelling at great speed and went straight to the bottom. The time of the crash was 1:20pm with a bitter cold wind from the NNE off the land. With the wind and tide in that state anything that was floating on the sea would have been carried to the south or south-west, away from the island."

Leslie Sinel Diary (local): 
December 7. At about 2 p.m. today British planes attacked a German convoy off Noirmont and inflicted heavy damage; two ships were sunk (one of them of 700 tons was comparatively new and had recently been brought from Holland); two barges were also sunk and another ship was brought into harbour very severely damaged, the whole of the gun-crew having been wiped out. Casualties from the other ships were taken to the General Hospital and other military hospitals; those taken to the former numbered more than twenty, in addition to seven dead. It is presumed that there were many drowned from the other ships, one of which was observed to break in half and sink in a matter of seconds. The claims of the R.A.F. as announced by the B.B.C. were " one ship left sinking and two others on fire ". This has cheered us all up, and everyone is giving the thumbs up " sign.

Squadron Leader R S Woodward’s body and aircraft were never found.


Service Number 74698
263 Squadron Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross
Son of Charles Palgrave Woodward, and of Dorothy M. Woodward, of Goring-on-Thames, Oxfordshire; husband of Virginia Woodward, of Hassocks, Sussex.
Location: Surrey, United Kingdom
Cemetery/memorial reference: Panel 6


Distinguished Flying Cross Citation 
Flying Officer Robert Sinckler WOODWARD (74698), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 600 Squadron. This officer has shown great perseverance and keenness during night-flying operations and has destroyed three enemy aircraft. One night in May, 1941, his aircraft was set on fire when a considerable distance out to sea. Nevertheless, Flying Officer Woodward succeeded in flying the burning aircraft back over this country and did not abandon it until he had first ensured that his observer had left the aircraft safely. In pressing home his attacks against the enemy, Flying Officer Woodward has displayed great skill and determination. London Gazette No. 35260, Dated 1941-08-29


Service Number R/67887
263 (R.A.F.) Sqdn.
Royal Canadian Air Force
serving with R.A.F. Sqdn
Location: Surrey, United Kingdom
Cemetery/memorial reference: Panel 101

Son of Albert Harold and Florence Louise McPhail, of Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

bottom of page