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Schiermonnikoog  part 2

Texel & Den Helder

 

 

D

Leeuwarden Airfield

Schiermonikoog

Harlingen & Harderwijk

Occupied Harlingen

German Radar

Ameland

Vlieland

Terschelling

St. Jacobparochie

Rottum Island

     12 Squadron Losses
     Sink the Scharnhorst!

 

Deanweb - the Forest of Dean Directory

 

 

A German visiting Schlei-village again, on the Dutch island of Schiermonnikoog, after 44 years.

 

 

Former Luftwaffe engineer Wilhelm Meier tells us something about the Schleistellung - (this story is based on a much longer newspaper-article, published around 1990; probably from an edition of the “Nieuwe Dockumer Courant” (NDC), a local paper in N.W.-Friesland, and believed to be originally written by Mr. Bauke Henstra)

 

It’s about 44 years ago that Wilhelm Meier left Schiermonnikoog, in June 1945 and last week, he, together with his wife, was back for the first time on the island, he learned to appreciate in 1942.

As a 21 year old boy then - just in the army, in the ground- service of the Luftwaffe, and for the first time in his life outside his own country - he was sent from Domburg village, in Zeeland, in occupied S.W.- Holland, to Schiermonnikoog, in the North of Holland, on the Frisian coast-line.

His journey to this island was an adventure in itself. He had to check-in there at the so called “Schlei-dorf ” ( Schlei-village), also named the “German village” by the islanders. It was only recently finished and was situated on the place where nowadays is built the “Grilk” sea bath pavilion, about 4 km. outside Oosterburen, the only real village on the island.

 

 

Post-war overview of part of Schleidorf (Würzburg-Riese in background)

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It was a military complex in the sand dunes, of bunkers, barracks and other buildings, with radar equipment, anti-aircraft guns etc. etc. As an engineer, more than as a soldier, he was soon highly responsible for the daily living and working in whole that village. When he blundered or stopped, everyone in Schlei-village was in trouble! One of the lowest in rank, but in the same time one of the most important men of all, on the entire island, ruled by the Germans.

Wilhelm was the first operator and mechanic of the big Deutz diesel-engine, pushing the generator in the main powerplant of the Schlei-stellung. The electrical power coming from this station, was driving all the radar equipment on the island, the whole communication system in the “Nachrichtenstand” and in the commando bunker, thus the communication equipment for the nightfighters in the air as well, and the search lights too of course, and all the other electrical engines, lights and pumps in the complex.

In case of any interruption - if the plant stopped, an alarm was given automatically by a signal light and siren.

Emergency Batteries and some smaller (portable?) aggregates were powered in emergency of course, but that big Deutz engine was still the “heart of the village”; almost every underground wire was starting there, from that bunker, to all sides in the compound.

Therefore that Deutz had to be restarted as soon as possible in such situations, by Wilhelm, and maybe with the help of other technicians, when there were larger problems.

Looking back on that time, you can say that the engine was good and reliable. The power plant worked 24 hrs. a day and 7 days a week, with the exception of some short periods….. such as when there were “fuel supply troubles”.

For example, in a long winter period, when the sea was frozen, the island was isolated (no diesel oil supplies). And also in the last months of the war, when all fuel was scarce, like everywhere else in occupied Holland, and even in Germany. In that case there was another, last possibility, that Wilhelm was now unemployed ……. no more black finger nails, no blue exhaust fumes, and no monotonous “engine-noise”…“endlich urlaub !” ( finally on leave).

 An old fashioned steam engine, complete with large pistons and a flywheel, took over in these times, fed with wood and peat. These materials were brought in by railway drams behind a steam locomotive, operating on the narrow gauge railroad from the harbour directly into the Schlei-village).

But the engineer of that “smoky monster” was a man of the navy, serving in one of the units of the local Marine Flak Abteilung…….. Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine were not always best friends, even on small Schiermonnikoog ! So, that man was ruling the power station then, especially in the last months and Wilhelm was free and sitting in the canteen or doing some maintenance work.

 

 

The steam locomotive

 

In the whole period 1942 - 1945, about 180 to 200 men were stationed in the “Schlei-dorf”, most of them Luftwaffe personnel. For outsiders of course, islanders too, it was forbidden to visit the village, which was surrounded by many kilometers of barbed wire and mine fields.

It was a so called “Sperrgebiet”, military area of the highest order. Before the entrance there was a barrier beam and the guards were checking passes and all kind of paperwork. If necessary, they could shoot (that never happened in the wartime).

But inside the compound - after a while you knew most of the faces of these men, and women also ! - And because of his kind of work, for Wilhelm and the other technicians there was a lot of freedom to move. “We seemed to be always so busy”, so the military discipline was far from ceremonious for us. Our own “heavy training” were the regular fire extinguisher exercises and the repeated lessons about the safe storage of fuel etc.

And all that time I was never shooting my own gun. That carbine was worn out by the dune sand and even rusting away in the salty sea climate! But if there was any trouble with electrical equipment, and you didn’t move fast enough in their eyes, then you would hear something!

 

Although the beach and the sea was beautiful, as was the entire island, I didn’t often see the remainder of the island. Most of the time I worked at night, when the Allied bombers were coming, and our complex was “im betrieb” (in highest activity). In those nights, it could be very monotonous and desolate too, and very cold !

In all those years I visited only 4 or 5 times the real village of the island, the Oosterburen, taking a beer in the “Wehrmachtsheim” (relaxing home for the German military).

Watching and indulging my diesel engine, again and again, that was my job and my life there. And I was lucky sometimes, with the extra cigarettes they gave me. The other soldiers received 3 smokes a day, but my own ration was 8 for every day - and with good food, etc.

But after the first years, the lack of information from home was beginning to be felt, especially in the last year. We were in the position to listen also to the news from the enemy side with our equipment of course, but at the same time we got the feeling they didn’t tell us all about what was really going on in Germany itself.

And the air war was 24 hrs. a day at the end. We worked day and night, doing shift work on a roster system, while supply deliveries were coming later and later…… and then completely stopped, once the Canadian troops were coming  and standing across, on the other side of the sea, on the Frisian mainland.

 

The most dramatic event that happened during my career there, was in January 1943.

It was in the middle of a cold winter period, with a lot of snow and ice, when our Luftwaffe,with our help (!), were shot down an RAF - bomber.  It came down on the Balg, in the East-side of Schiermonnikoog. (This is about the loss of Halifax BB252, of No. 10 Squadron; see further details on page 4 of the website).

In the early morning of January the 10th - it was dark and heavily freezing. A group of our personnel were sent to the beach, near the Paal / Beachmarker No.15. , I was in one of the vehicles - we had 2 small trucks, 1 personnel car and 1 BMW- motorcycle with side-car in the Schlei-stellung.

What we found and saw there, I will never forget ! The aircraft was totally wrecked and 6 of the aircrew were already dead, but “oh my goodness”, that poor 7th man was still alive, but badly wounded! He was stuck in the largest fuselage part left of the plane.

From that moment on, after that shocking discovery, we tried to help him wherever and so far as we could, believe me…… We took him to our compound, at the highest speed. But later on, we were told he died also. For us it was a personal loss, even though we didn’t know the man.

We buried them all in the Vredenhof cemetery, with all the honours we could give…….

 

June 1945 - the last German troops leave the Island

 

It’s good to visit the island again, after all these years, and it’s amazing to find so many things back in the landscape. Much of that wartime complex is still there. But in the same time, it is bringing back mixed feelings, because…….we did crazy and stupid things !

 

After this interview Mr. Wilhelm Meier was drinking a cold beer in the company of a reporter from the local newspaper, Mr. Bauke Henstra at the “Toxbar ”; in the former “Wehrmachts-heim”, outside the Schlei-village……

A view of the railway display from Willem's October 2016 visit

 

An Exhibition at the Bunkermuseum
This year in the Bunkermuseum Schlei on Schiermonnikoog is an exhibition about the RAF "mining war at sea".
For many people the RAF Bomber Command mine laying flights over the seas, named "Gardening", and in this case especially over the North Sea, is an unknown chapter in World War 2 history. 
Bunkermuseum Schlei carried out research about this forgotten chapter and is starting this year an exhibition. 
Opening is from Sunday the 13th of June 2013. Be welcome, and learn something about the ins and outs of this type of warfare!  And see what was happening to the German ships convoys North of the Frisian isles and to some of  the crew of those RAF planes involved.

Here are some photographs from 2012 ..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click above for 2013 bunker excavations

 

 

Wellington Mk IC R3295 'SR-P' of No. 101 Squadron took off from RAF Oakington in Cambridgeshire at 16.40 hrs on 30th November 1941 to raid Hamburg. On its homeward journey the aircraft's starboard engine was damaged by cannon fire believed to have come from an Me. Bf-110 flown by Ofw. Paul Gildner of 5./NGJ2. The pilot was forced to make a landing on the North beach at Schiermonnikoog . Sgt. P Winfield and his crew were  made prisoners of war and he was confined in hospital for a time due to his injuries (possibly at St.Bonifatius Hospital - Leeuwarden)  

The Germans now had an opportunity to examine a complete British aircraft with all the latest equipment.

 

The remainder of the crew were - Sgt. W L Johnson, Sgt. I G Davies, Sgt. T A Cooke, Sgt. A W J Cleeve, and  Sgt. A L R Heath.

Adrian Heath was born in Burma, in 1920, and was studying at the Slade when the war broke out. After W.W.II he was a successful abstract artist in the UK.

 

The Germans were delighted. The aircraft had landed with very little structural damage

 

 

 

 

Wellington R3295 after being pulled by man-power now near the Beachhotel, north of the village

 

 

 

 

 

 Via the Badweg and the Reeweg into the village

 

 

 

 

 Fuselage of Wellington R3295 on a pontoon or barge for transport to the mainland

 

 

 

 

 

The air gunner on Wellington R3295 Sgt Adrian Heath

 

 

 

 

 

 

Halifax DT641 VR-R of 419 RCAF 'Moose Squadron'

 

Halifax DT641 VR-R of 419 RCAF 'Moose Squadron' took off at 18.50 hrs on March 1st 1943 from RAF Middleton St. George, at Goosepool, near Darlington, in County Durham (UK).. It was one of 16 planes, each of them equipped with H2S radar, flying as pathfinders in front of the main bomber stream, to mark the target, which was the capital of "Das Reich", Berlin.

 

Loading a 2000 lb bomb on a 419 Squadron Halifax.

 

Altogether 21 Halifaxes from 408 and 419 Squadrons were part of the 302-strong bomber force ordered to attack Berlin. At around 22.00 hrs. to 22.30 hrs the crews were over the target flying at between 17,000 and 21,000 feet, and released 36,000 lbs of high explosives and 58,000 lbs of incendiaries.

According to reports, much damage was caused in Berlin's south-west sector, the rail sheds and industrial area being hardest hit. Some bombs hit the Telefunken works at which an HS2 radar set taken from a Stirling bomber shot down near Rotterdam was being examined. That set was completely destroyed in the bombing.

When the bombers were returning to their home bases, the crews could still see the fires in Berlin after one hour flying into the West, on that fairly clear night!

When the homeward bound DT641 was over the Dutch Friesland Islands it was intercepted and shot down by Major Helmut Lent + crew, of Stab IV./NJG.1 - from Flgh. Leeuwarden (his 59th claim) over the sea, in sector "544 8I5", "Raum" of Schlei-radar-post on Schiermonnikoog island, at an altitude of ± 1400 mtr. / ± 4600 feet.

The aircraft crashed into the North Sea approximately 8 km North of Ameland isle at around 21.40 hrs. and all the crew were lost. The bodies of only two crew-members were recovered, Sgt Gray on the North Friesian island of Sylt (near the Danish border) and Canadian Sgt A D Cherkinsky was washed ashore on the Northern beach, near Paal / Beach- marker No. 8, at Schiermonnikoog the next morning, 2 March 1943.

The remainder of the crew have no known graves and are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial near Windsor Castle.

 

 

F/O Joseph Cherkinsky's grave at Evesham, and tail-gunner RCAF F/Sgt Alex Woodhouse,

 

 

Sgt Arthur Cherkinsky was buried at Vredenhof but because he was Jewish the burial was "ohne militärische Ehren" - 'without military honour'.

Sgt J N Gray was buried at Westerland Village at Sylt but was reburied after the war at Kiel War Cemetery in Germany.

 

 

 

On the left is Kiel War Cemetery and right is Sylt Island

 

The aircraft was skippered by RAF Flying Officer Arthur James Herriott DFM an experienced pilot who had previously served with 99 Squadron. The other members of his crew were 23 year old W/Operator/Gunner Sgt James Nicol Gray from Edgware in Middlesex, and five Canadians, 20 year old bomb aimer F/Sgt Albert Leroy Bateman from Saskatchewan, 23 year old navigator F/Sgt Wilfred George Francis from Weston, Ontario, 20 year old upper gunner Sgt John Kowalski from Edmonton, Alberta, tail-gunner 21 year old F/Sgt Alexander Trevor Woodhouse from Toronto and 21 year old flight engineer Sgt Arthur David Cherkinsky from Windsor, Ontario

Arthur Cherkinsky had enlisted in the RCAF in September 1941 and graduated from Victoriaville, Quebec. He had two brothers in the RCAF, Alex and Joseph.

One brother, 25 year old Flying Officer Joseph Cherkinsky, was killed two months later on the 5th May 1943 while training as a navigator with 22 O.T.U. His plane crashed due to engine failure on a UK training flight. He is buried at Evesham Cemetery in Worcestershire next to three of his crew-mates.   

 

 

The loss of Hudson AM842 from 59 Squadron RAF Coastal Command

 

Led by 59 Squadron Commander, Canadian Wing Commander Robert Henry Niven, Hudson AM842 with six other aircraft took off at 23.03hours on the night of 29 May 1942 from RAF North Coates in Lincolnshire on a mission to strike at enemy shipping off the coast of Texel in the Frisian Islands.The crew of AM842 was made up of four men who did not usually fly together, three having important administrative duties in the day to day running of 59 Squadron. Niven was the squadron's CO, Richards its Navigation Officer and Reilly the Gunnery Officer.

The convoy, consisting of 15-20 vessels, appeared to be escorted by two destroyers and was located off Borkum. Multi-coloured flak and cannon fire were experienced.  Three of the pilots claimed hits on three of the ships, one 3/4000 tons and two 5/6000tons, and they appeared to be burning. The German ships lost during this raid were later identified as  the Kriegsmarine minesweeper 'Sperrbrecher' (Dutch 750 tons merchant vessel 'Viriato' in its pre-war life) and the merchant steamer SS Niels Ryberg Finsen, a 1850 tons vessel from Denmark that had been built at Rotterdam in 1904 using a steam engine manufactured at Vlissingen/Flushing. 

During this strike F/Lt Collie's aircraft (TR-P) was heavily damaged by a cannon shell and its starboard tail-plane and elevator cables almost severed. It had to jettison the bomb load but managed to make it back to base. Sqd/Ldr Evans in TR-J attacked at mast-height and scored a direct hit to the stern of a 5000 ton vessel.  F/O Luckwell in TR-T went for the same target at 100ft and scored a hit amidships. He reported a large flash and burning for 21 minutes. They all reported the German flak as accurate. Two of the aircrews later remembered seeing a flash and a fire-ball falling into the sea which appears to have been Wing Commander Niven's aircraft AM842 (TR-S). All its crew were lost.

The crew of AM842 were pilot- Wing Commander R H Niven, observer- Flying Officer Officer D J Richards, wireless operator/gunner - Pilot Officer J J Reilly, and air gunner - Sergeant John Howarth.

28 year old Wing Commander Robert Henry Niven DFC was the son of Andrew and Lillian Niven of Calgary, Alberta, Canada and husband of Andrea Niven. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial. His nephew Dave Lefurgey wrote in 2009 - Niven left Canada & joined the RAF and was trained and excelled as a pilot & navigator. In late 1938 he was recruited with Australian Sidney Cotton by the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS/MI6) on a joint operation with the French Deuxieme Bureau. They did a lot of experimentation and development work and were given 3 civilian Lockheed Electra 12A Jrs (little brother to the Hudson) and a Beechcraft, then photographed most German and Italian war preparations and military installations in Germany, Italy, the Mediterranean area, North Africa and parts of the Middle East in early 1939.When war began: they flew sorties for the Royal Navy and even some over Ireland looking for U-Boat facilites under construction, for Ian Fleming (of James Bond fame). The RAF took over their little unit and they were joined by an RAF English pilot named Shorty Longbottom, then developed photo reconnaissance using Spitfires. Niven & Shorty developed high altitude high speed photo recon and the RAF was very impressed with their work, so set up the PDU (Photographic Development Unit), that on July 1940 became the famous PRU. In Oct 1940 he was assigned to the MAP, then was sent to St. Hubert, Montreal, Quebec, Canada by Lords Beaverbrook and Bennett to check the progress of Atfero (Atlantic Ferry Command) in it's very early start up stages, then flew a B-17 across the Atlantic himself. Was sent to RAF Silloth OTU as the Operational C.O. to train pilots to attack enemy shipping from Hudsons. In March 1942 he became the Wing commander and C.O. of 59 Sqdn and named it the "Dawn Patrol" after the famous WW1 unit.

Flying Officer Douglas John Richards (23) was the son of Hubert Eric and Vera Richards, of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.  He was an old boy of Sydney Church of England Grammar School and already a NSW barrister when he joined the RAAF. A very experienced airman he was serving as 59 Squadron's Navigation Officer at the time of his death. He is now buried at Sage Cemetery near Oldenburg in Germany.

Our photos show Wing Commander Niven, a chalice at Sydney C of E Grammar School in memory of Flying Officer Richards, and a German ship (a Vorpostenboot?) displaying  its war trophy, a wheel from Hudson AM842.

Pilot Officer J J Reilly was 59 Squadron's Gunnery Officer. His body was not recovered and he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial. His Canadian memorial citation reads - In memory of Pilot Officer James Joseph Reilly who died on May 30, 1942 Military Service: Service Number: J/6970 Age: 27. Royal Canadian Air Force : 59 Sqdn. Citation: 1939-45 Star, Atlantic Star, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal and Clasp, War Medal 1939-45. Posthumously awarded RCAF Operational Wings in recognition of gallant service in action against the enemy, the 2 May 1946. Date of Birth: April 21, 1915 Longford County, Ireland. Date of Enlistment: October 15, 1940 Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Son of James and Mary Reilly of Edmonton, Alberta. Brother of Tim, Vincent, Lillian, Anne and Mary.

 

Sergeant John Howarth (19), the air gunner on Hudson AM842 was the son of Cathrine Howarth, and stepson of Ralph Horridge, of Radcliffe, Lancashire. He seems to have been a recent arrival at the squadron as his name does not appear in the crew lists for any missions flown by 59 Squadron in May 1942. His body was washed ashore on 22-6-1942 near pole 16 Schiermonnikoog eight weeks after the crash. He is buried at Vredenhof. His name is commemorated on the Radcliffe War Memorial.

 

On the previous night, May 28th, eight aircraft from 59 Squadron had attacked a convoy off Schiermonnikoog. The pilots of 'D','T', 'E', 'M', and 'J' all sighted the convoy and claimed hits. They reported four fires burning furiously and lifeboats with torches apparently searching the area for survivors. Hudson 'D' piloted by F/O Osborn dived on a 5000 ton ship but only saw that it had a barrage balloon, attached with lethal steel cables, at the last minute. Fortunately he avoided a collision and went on to attack a smaller MV. Aircraft 'M' struck the sea while taking evasive action and damaged his port propeller but managed to successfully return to base on one engine. Aircraft 'G', piloted by 24 year old Sergeant Leonard Victor Schafer from Southern Rhodesia, failed to return and all the crew were lost. He is buried at Sage Cemetery in Germany.

During May 1942, 59 Squadron carried out 42 sorties with a loss of 4 aircraft.

 

Inside the cockpit of a Hudson, and the Radcliffe, Lancashire War Memorial where Sgt John Howarth is remembered

 

 

 

 

 

Vorposten-boat V-1103 'Nordkap' (L.) in Wesermünde harbour (Ao. 1939)

 

 

The loss of Halifax V LK635 NA-H from 428 Squadron RCAF based at Middleton St George.

This aircraft took off at 18.28 on the night of 22nd September 1943 to bomb Hannover, Germany. This is the last that was officially heard of the Halifax and its crew of seven. It was reported as lost without trace and its crew commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

They were:

F/O Hector Earl McRae RCAF J/20195 (pilot) of Huxley, Alberta, Canada 

Sgt Walter Edward Dickson RCAF R/156913 (bomb aimer) of Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Sgt Edward George Miller RCAF R/183626 (rear gunner) of Mitchell, Ontario, Canada

Sgt Donald Ernest Jeffery RAFVR 1862968 (flight Engineer) of Beckenham, Kent

Sgt Arthur Reginald Bohn RAFVR 1415741 (wireless operator) of Kennington, London

Sgt James Wright RAFVR 1590868 (mid upper gunner) of Hull, East Yorkshire

Sgt Leonard Cotton RAFVR 1516171 (navigator) of Sheffield,Yorkshire

It was at first assumed that it had crashed near Hannover.  Four unknown airmen had been buried in Hannover War Cemetery and their tombstones showed the date 22.9.43.

During the following years, relatives were frustrated by the lack of information about the crash and the location of the victims' bodies.

One wrote on a Bomber Command forum:

It has now been 65 long years since these men were lost, many of the families have moved away or even died out. Links to the name may have been forgotten especially if only daughters carried the name on. But these men lived with a time frame that is part of living memory and someone may have the vital little piece of info that tracks down the family.

I have made contact with researchers in Germany and they are trying to track down the information that may be available from German archives. An article is to be placed in German newspapers asking for eyewitnesses from that night, which in the past has come up with all sorts of gems.

The end result will I hope be a recognition that the crew are buried in Hanover and their final story can be told. Contacting family members is twofold, involvement in the research and if all goes well a ceremony for the crew.

One family member, Nick Brown, the nephew of Sgt. James Wright, who had tenaciously researched the crew's families for over a decade, was at one point preparing to visit the graves at Hannover.

At Schiermonnikoog, on the Dutch Frisian Islands, another researcher was, for a long time, involved with investigating the crash of a bomber that had been brought down near there on the evening of September 22nd 1943.

He was Wyb Jan Groendijk, today's carer of the Vredenhof Cemetery, who has a well-earned international reputation for tracing the relatives, and the personal stories, of the more than eighty Second World War dead who are buried at Schiermonnikoog.

He remembered when his father, a fisherman, had returned home in the summer of 1953 relating how the trawler of which he was a crew-member, had found the wreckage of a bomber on the Brakzand mudflats.

An aircraft engine and various other debris were recovered. One tragic discovery was some bones from a body, still in a flying jacket, and with the parachute pack still attached.

Apparently the skipper's wife later used the parachute silk to make some garments.

 

The Brakzand mudflats south of Schiermonnikoog the area of the crash-site of the bomber

 

 

In later years, after a ski trip to Austria, Wyb Jan Groendijk decided to stop off at Freiburg, where the German Military Archives Centre was located. He wanted to view the wartime records of the Schiermonnikoog German Battery.

 

The arrival at Schiermonnikoog of MFlaA 246's first equipment. Their A­A guns, search lights, and power generator plants, were mainly on wheels. (2) After another success of their MFlaA. battery, the crew paint a white band on their gun, with an RAF roundel and the date of the 'kill'.

German mobile equipment, in use by Kriegsmarine Flak-units including S'-oog isle's unit 2./MFlaA.246, at the beginning of WW2. Most of this equipment was later sent to the 'fast moving' Eastern Front in Russia.

 

Eventually he discovered in their report, the record of an RAF aircraft shot down by the unit on 22nd September 1943.

At Schiermonnikoog, around 9.30pm that evening, the military occupiers and local islanders were on high alert. The noise from a very large bomber force, flying at high altitude in the Emden direction, was hard to ignore.

All of the Frisian islands anti-aircraft units opened fire and it was soon obvious that one bomber had been damaged.

It was spotted 11850 meters away flying at an altitude 4200 meters, and targeted by the ‘Marine Flak und Sperrbatterie’ on Schiermonnikoog island. The unit stationed there was the ‘Abteilung’ MFlaA. 246 of the Kriegsmarine, whose radar guided anti-aircraft guns had opened fire around 21.35 hrs.

There then followed a deadly second and third accurate volley from the German gunners. Witnesses described the bomber crashing in flames into the Brakzand mudflats.

Frustratingly, there was no record as to its aircraft type or registration number.

Wyb Jan Groendijk decided to check W.R Chorley's reference book 'Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War (1943)' and found that on the night of 22/23 September, 26 out of 711 aircraft  sent to bomb Hannover did not return home.

25 of those had their crash or burial sites listed and only Halifax LK653 and its crew were lost without trace.

On the '12 O'Clock High' forum in July 2013, Nick Brown was discussing the two aircraft known to have been brought down over the Frisian Islands that night.

77 Squadron's LW224 Halifax II was hit by flak at 21:52 off Den Helder. Five of its crew are commemorated on the Runnymede memorial and two are buried in Den Burgh General Cemetery.

432 Squadron's Wellington LN547 came down in the Ijsselmeer, and all the crew were captured later following a long period in a dinghy.

Nick, after judging times and distances, appeared to reach the conclusion that neither aircraft were likely to have been shot down by the Schiermonnikoog battery, which now only left Halifax LK635 as the more likely victim.

 

Willem's translation of the German gunners report

 

2nd Battery of 343 Coastal Anti-Aircraft Unit 246 Schiermonnikoog (Island), 23rd September 1943   - Downing report (report of shooting down)

 

Timing (day, hours, minutes) and as accurate as possible, nearest to the air crash : between locations Schiermonnikoog and Zoutkamp into the (sea) water. -                                                  22.09.1943, at 21.41 hrs. (local time)

 

Altitude (height) : during gunfire at 4200 meters (ca. 13775 ft.) till the moment of crash at 3600 meters (± 11800 ft.), which is confirmed by radar station ‘Schlei’ (the local German air control of the Luftwaffe.

 

By which unit was the downing executed : By the 1st and the 2nd battery of unit ‘MFlaA . 246’

 

Type of downed airplane : - not recognized

 

Nationality of the opponent (enemy),number or other marks. -  Serial unknown (because of the darkness, I guess)

 

Type of destruction / damage :

a) flames with plume of black smoke behind, flames with light plume behind (because of darkness)

b) debris falling down of it (describe kind of parts),

c) Forced landing (on water, land, rather completely ‘totally splashed’ or with visible damage)

 

Further / better description (only in case it really could be observed) :

a) at the land or into the waters, - ‘into the waters’, ‘vertically downwards’ and ‘raging

b) vertically downwards, gliding slowly down, fire’ are marked / underlined, as we can see)

c) raging fire, in cloud of dust, or with splashing water column - not observed (why not)

 

The fate of the crew - (killed, bailed out by parachute, not observed) - (not observed is underlined)

 

Battle report :

Besides the battle report of the battery commander, it is necessary for the unit(s) itself to describe the following matters / items :

a) day of shooting down - 22.09.1943

b) time (checked by radio) of shooting down - 21.41 hrs.

c) flight direction of the target (by specifying the degrees) and map / sketch of the battle as appendix : From 20° to 116°

d) procedure of the shooting : Via radar guiding (using equipment ‘Fu.M.G.-Störfeuer’ with ‘Umwertegerät’)

e) spent ammunition : 27 shots of caliber 10.5 cm.

f) Information about the ‘behaviour’ of the aircraft: It was trying to run out of the accurate gunfire given to the target during the battle.

Flak fire by lateral diversion (thus via starboard as well as via port side) and was losing therefore altitude and speed to a considerable degree, as was confirmed by the (wireless) measurements of the Schiermonnikoog radar station, and was catching fire about 10 km. south of the island, at a height of 3600 meters, and falling down burning then, vertically, while burning debris (small parts of it) were falling down apart, fluttering slowly.

After the impact, and the crash into the water, there was a yellow-red glowing at the last moment.*

g) information about own fighters:       No fighters in the air

h) cooperation with other, nearby Flak units:         None

i) weather info at the moment of targeting:    2/10 covered (thus 20% clouds), star bright and good/great visibility.

 

Witnesses (complete with their names, etc.)

a) in the air: none

b) on the ground M.A. Ob.Gefr. Zimmerstadt (Marine Gunner with rank of ‘Obergefreiter’)

2) M.A. Ob.Gefr. Weber

3) idem Fährmann (Ferryman)

4) idem Runte

5) ‘Borderline Guards’ (unit) at Zoutkamp (village)

6) ‘Borderline Guards’ (unit) at Anjum (village)

c) their testimonies are included

 

Schiermonnikoog, the 23rd of Sept. 1943

signed by ..........?..........

 

Captain-Lieutenant M.A.u. Batt. Chef ( Marine Artillery and Battery Commander)

 

Possiby Thomas Wittko, who was also the last island commander, nicknamed the ‘Iko von Schiko’, by the occupiers themselves and the islanders - meaning the ‘1st Commander of  S’-oog’ - and who lost, by the way, his wife and 2 children in the Dresden air raids at the end of WW2, and who was ‘tired / broken’ in that last period, removing the swastikas and decorations etc. from his cap and uniform.

 

Advice from the witnesses mentioned:

From the testimonies of M.A. Ob.Gefr. Zimmerstedt (why not Zimmerstädt ?) of the MFlaA.216, and both M.A. Ob.Gefr. Weber and Fährmann of the MFlaA.246 - witness Runte is not mentioned anymore (!) - and of the ‘Toll Commissioners’ Drege and Engelke of the ‘Borderline Guards’ unit at ‘Zuitkamp’ (incorrect name spelling of Zoutkamp) the claim / downing is (really) confirmed.

For that reason asking permission for confirming the downing claim, by the higher authorities, and asking for a (regular) decoration* for the 2nd Battery which was a pennant, making their victory visible on their flag pole at the parade ground of the unit, and near their trophies, like collected a/c. wreckage parts..... (!).

O.U. (?), the 1st of Oct. 1943

signed again ..........?.........

(Probably the higher commander, Harlingen city / mainland).

What I just discovered: it wasn't the last Island Commander of Schiermonnikoog, Thomas Wittko, who signed the 'downing report', but his predecessor, also 'Iko von Schiko', Gerard Bohr ! Looking closer at that signature, you can indeed read BOHR !

 

* My own (important) conclusions after reading this (again), and as said already before, the aircraft and the bomb load was not exploding in mid air, during the downing, or at the moment of impact. We read nothing in it about a ‘thundering explosion’, seen and or heard during the happening! It is likely that the heavy load is penetrated (deep) in the tidal flat of the Brakzand area, and only the fuel and the a/c. itself were burning.... ? Willem

 

A meeting of the battery officers, of unit MFlaA.246. Island Commandant Rehm in centre. 

 

Willem's translation of the German text, as written in the incident report/testimony of  M.A. Ob.Gefr. Alfred Fährmann at Schiermonnikoog. This ‘paperwork’ (numbered 345 likely) was an appendix of the German ‘downing report’ about the shooting down of Halifax LK635 on 22nd September 1943.

Incident report (testimony)

Der M.A. Ob.Gefr. (Marine Gunner with rank of ‘Obergefreiter’) Alfred Fährmann - M or W (?) 21583/40 H - of the unit MFlaA.246 (coastal anti-aircraft unit No.246), of Harlingen city (section), however stationed at Schiermonnikoog island, explains:

I was in the evening of 22.9.1943 inside the ‘Wehrmachtsheim’ (the local army meeting house/canteen, today called the ‘Tox Bar’) at Schiermonnikoog island.

Just before 21.30 hrs. (local time) large scale enemy air activity was observed (likely he was going outside to watch ?), moving at high altitude over the island in the direction of Emden city (thus Eastwards).

After the ‘Schiermonnikoog Battery’ had opened fire, I saw a dark red blowtorch in the sky, and soon after burning parts/debris from an aircraft, falling vertically downwards. After the fall of the (aircraft) parts, which was happening quickly and sometimes tumbling, there could be seen an impact fire, colouring the horizon yellow red.

(signed by)

------------------------ M.A. Ob.Gefr.

 

Translation of the German text, as written in the incident report / testimony of M.A. Ob.Gefr. August Zimmerstedt. It was probably an appendix to the German ’downing report’ of the shooting down of  Halifax LK635, on 22nd September 1943.

M.A. Obergefreiter August Zimmerstedt - N 19248 / 40 E - of unit MFlaA.216 - Borkum island, during an exchange program at (neighbouring) Schiermonnikoog isle, is reporting:

On 22.9.1943 I was standing near the entrance of the ‘Wehrmachtsheim’ from the beginning of the incoming flights of the enemy, just before 21.30 hrs. (local time). Shortly after the gunfire from the battery I observed a dark red glow of fire moving into the direction of Oostmahorn village (on the mainland) and at high altitude. In the next moment I saw how some burning parts (debris), were falling down like a shooting star, while a bigger ‘central main part’ was crashing vertically and direct. Already closely above the surface (of earth, he says, while it was the sea of course), the crash site was hidden (seen from my point of view) by a house. After the moment of impact, the whole skyline behind that house was glowing in yellow red light suddenly, so it is my strong belief, that it could be only caused by an air crash (an airplane falling down). (signed too, as the other reports)

---------------------------------- M.A. Ob.Gefr. Zimmerstedt

 

 

The Wehrmachtsheim (canteen) then, and Tox Bar now, where Alfred Fährmann and August Zimmerstedt witnessed the downing of Halifax LK635

 

That seems to be the position today. With no bodies for DNA testing, and no identifiable aircraft parts, we still cannot be absolutely certain that the aircraft which crashed into the mud-flats at Brakzand, and apparently exploded, was Halifax LK635, but it is a strong possibilty..

See Willem's research of the RAF Bomber Command losses for September 22/23rd 1943

 

The pilot, RCAF Flying Officer Hector Earl McRae, was the 23 year old son of Huxley, Alberta farmer, Gordon Stewart McRae, and his wife Gertrude (Mamie) Marshall, who were married at Montreal in 1912.

Earl had two older brothers, George Henry (1914-1980) and James Marshall (1917-1982).

He attended school at Acadia between 1926-33, and Huxley High 1933-37. On leaving high school he worked on the family farm but it was always his intention to be a pilot in the RCAF.

In July 1941 he and his brother James both enlisted in the RCAF at Calgary to be trained as pilots.

Earl was commissioned and received his pilot's wings on 23rd October 1942, and was posted to the UK, arriving on 6th December. He was posted to No.20 (P) Advanced Flying Unit (AFU) on March 26, 1943 where he was soon considered to be a pilot of above average ability, keen and reliable, and a sound skipper.

An aircrew course at 24 Operational Training Unit (OTU), beginning on May 18, 1943, followed where he formed a new crew while receiving instruction on Wellington bombers. Their next posting was to 1664 Conversion Unit on July 24th for four engine bomber experience.

He and his crew arrived at 428 Squadron, based at  RAF Middleton St. George, on August 17, 1943.

As was the custom, newly arrived pilots would first fly as 'Second Dicky' with an experienced crew. Earl McRae flew two missions, as co-pilot, with Squadron Leader William Reid Suggitt (DFC) on the 22nd and 23rd August 1943.

 

The McRae family in the 1940's ­ left to right - George, James, 'Mamie', Earl, and Gordon.

Earl's eldest brother, George Henry McRae, married Mona Buckley in 1939 and appears to have stayed home to help look after the farm. Their son Dennis was born in 1943.

We do not have access to the early service history of their brother, RCAF Flight Lieutenant J/20176 James Marshall Mcrae, but it appears he was still in Canada when he married Margaret Nickerson in 1943.

He was posted to RCAF 162 Squadron in 1944.

Jim was awarded the DFC while serving as the co-pilot on a 162 Squadron RCAF Canso aircraft captained by his Squadron Commander, which was operating on anti-submarine patrols out of RAF Wick in Scotland.

On 13 June 1944 Canso 9816 attacked and sank U-boat U-715 200 miles north of the Shetland Islands. The Canso was damaged during the attack, made a forced landed on the sea and was abandoned by the crew. They were rescued by a Sunderland flying boat eight hours after the forced landing, but three of their number perished before help arrived.

 

Jim McCrae's medal display (from left to right): the Distinguished Flying Cross, the 1939-1945 Star,the Atlantic Star, the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal, the 1939-1945 War Medal, the Special Service Medal, the UN Congo Medal and the Canadian Forces Decoration.

see - 72 years later in Yarmouth: Second World War vets relive U-boat attack

and  - Jim McRae's story on the memory project

 

The bomb-aimer on Halifax LK635, Flight Sergeant Walter (Bud) Edward Dickson, was born on June 21, 1921, in Toronto, Ontario, his father, Harold, an army veteran, was 34 and his mother, Mabel, was 30. Walter's father Harold Edward Dickson was born on January 15, 1887, in Toronto, Ontario. His wife was  Mabel Lillian "Lil" Coad born May 5, 1891, at  Iron Mountain, Michigan They were at married at his home town in 1909. Prior to his enlistment in June 1916, Harold was a member of the Queens Own Rifles for about 3 years. He died on May 5, 1961, in Toronto, Ontario, aged 74, and was buried at Scarborough, Ontario. 

Walter (Bud) Dickson had one brother, William Graham Dickson (b1927), and five sisters, Margaret Neaves (b 1908), Dorothy Pharoah (1912), Ruth Beach (1916), Myra Dickson (1920), June Gooney (1923), and Shirley Dickson (1915). In 1944 his family were living at 379 Woodbine Avenue.

He was educated at Humewood Public School, McMurrich PS, and Central Technical School. Before enlisting in the RCAF in  March 1942 he was employed as a clerk in the King Edward Hotel, at Toronto. Ontario, Canada, for one year. On his enlistment form he indicated that he would like to go back to work there after the war.

Walter is shown here appearing in an advert for the King Edward Hotel

Bud enlisted in the RCAF in March 1942. After basic training he completed a 9 weeks course with 14 Service Flying Training School located at RCAF Aylmer, then 10 weeks at 5 ITS Belleville, 6 weeks at the Bombing and Gunnery School at Fingal, and 6 weeks at the Air Observers School at Malton, Ontario where he passed out with his qualifications and sergeant's stripes on 30th December.

Posted overseas to the UK on 26th January 1943 he was sent to the RAF's 4 Observers School on April 19th, and to 24 OTU May 18th.

 

With his sister Myra in early 1942 and his name on the Humewood Public School memorial

 

A short heavy bomber course at 1664 CU followed, and after a lengthy 17 months of instruction, he was posted with his new crew to an operational unit, arriving at 428 Squadron on 17th August 1943.

He lost his life on September 22nd, their 6th overseas mission.

 

The air-gunner wireless operator, Sergeant Edward George Miller, was born at Mitchell, Ontario, on 23 June 1924.

He was the son of a flax seed presser, Ferdinand Jacob Miller, who served with the Canadian Army in England during World War One.

Stationed near Windsor in the later years of the war, Ferdinand had met a local girl, 23 year old Charlotte Coxhead, from nearby Ascot. They were married at Windsor, Berkshire on April 8th 1919.

Ferdinand brought his new bride home to Mitchell, Ontario, later that year.. The couple had two sons, John (Jack) Lewis William Miller (1923-2000), and Edward George Miller (1924-1943).

Their younger son Edward was educated at Mitchell Public School from 1931-38, and Mitchell High School between 1938 and 1940.

He was employed as a clerk at the Dominion Stores in Mitchell from 1940-1942.

On 7th August 1942, Edward enlisted in the RCAF at London, Ontario. After some basic instruction, followed by technical training with 9 Bombing and Gunnery School at Mont Joli, he passed out as a sergeant air-gunner on April 26th 1943.

A short embarkation leave followed and he was posted to the UK on 4th May.

His UK aircrew training began at 24 OTU which was located at RAF Honeybourne, near Evesham in Worcestershire, on 15th May where, after a short time, he joined Earl McRae's crew training on Wellington bombers.

Having completing that 3 months course they were posted to 1664 CU for two weeks heavy bomber training.

The crew arrived at 428 Squadron, based at RAF Middleton St. George, near Darlington in County Durham, on 17th August 1943.

His name is remembered  in the Book of Remembrance inside the Memorial Room at the Peace Tower in the Canadian Parliament Building at Ottawa and engraved on a tall War Memorial, which is topped with an eagle and erected in his hometown.

 

Mitchell in the 1940s, and the bottom portion of their war memorial with Edward's name included.

The flight engineer was Sergeant Donald Ernest Jeffery, the 19 year old son of print compositor Ernest Charles Grace Jeffery (b1895) and Hilda Olive Stevens (b1900) who were married at Watford, Hertfordshire in 1921.

He had two younger brothers, Douglas Victor (1931-2007), and Roy John (1928-1998), and at least one sister, Olive Grace (1922-1997), who married Walter William Wilson (1917-1962) at Bromley in 1941. She died at Cardiff in 1997.

Donald was born in the Brentford area of Greater London. At the time he was reported missing, his family's home was 267 Clockhouse Road, at Beckenham in Kent.

Ernest and Hilda, with their son Douglas, migrated to Canada on the 'Queen Mary' in 1947, followed by their other son, Roy John Jeffery, a printer by trade, sailing on the 'Marine Jumper' in July 1948. They had named the home of Mrs Wilson as their destination in Alberta. (daughter Olive?)

Ernest died there in 1976, and Hilda at Calgary in 1980.

We know nothing of Donald's service history, or his pre-war occupation, except that he joined Earl McRae's crew at 24 OTU in May 1943.  He has no known grave and is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial.

 

The navigator, Sergeant Leonard Cotton, was the 22 year old son of Leonard Cotton (1887-1952) who came from a family of steel-workers.

Nottingham born Leonard Cotton senior had married Nellie Sanders at Sheffield in 1917. The family lived at 63 Canada Street, Sheffield.

Their only son was educated at Firth Park Grammar School.

After leaving school he was employed as a clerical worker with the local authority. Leonard joined the RAF in 1942. He appears to been sent to Canada for an 8 months period of flight training and, on his return to the UK, posted to No.2 Observer Advanced Flying Unit, at RAF Millom in Cumbria, for further instruction.

Operational experience on Wellington bombers then followed at 24 OTU where he joined Earl McRae's crew in May 1943.

He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial. Leonard is also remembered on the family grave at Sheffield's Burngreave Cemetery.

Firth Park Grammar School and the family grave.

The wireless operator/gunner, Sergeant Arthur Reginald Bohn, aged 22, was the youngest of the five sons of Lambeth dock-worker Frederick William Bohn (1878-1960) who married Matilda Webb (1878-1960) at St.Georges Hanover Square, Middlesex in 1901.

The family were living at 33 Auckland Street, Kennington, at the time of the 1911 census, and 14 Oval Mansions, Kennington in 1943.

Little is known of his civilian or service history. His 14 year old niece, Iris Maud Bohn, the daughter of his eldest brother Frederick, was killed in an air-raid on Wandsworth Road on December 12th 1940, and that may have led to him enlisting in the RAF.

It is believed his first posting was to the recruit centre at RAF Penarth, in South Wales.

He joined Earl McRae's crew at 24 Operational Training Unit, RAF Honeybourne, near Evesham in Worcestershire, in May 1943.

Arthur has no known grave and is remembered with his crew-mates on the Runnymede Memorial.

A bomb victim being pulled from the debris during the London Blitz of 1940.

The upper-gunner on Halifax LK635, Sergeant James Wright, was the 30 year old son of oil mill worker, James Wright (1879-1917), and his wife Florence Bassett (1885-1950), who were married in 1905.

James Wright junior married Rhoda Hutchinson at Sulcoates, East Yorkshire in 1934. They had one child, Margaret, born at Hull in 1937, but who sadly died the same year.

He was the great-uncle of Nick Brown's wife.

Unfortunately we know nothing of his civilian or service history other than joining Earl McRae's crew at 24 OTU in May 1943.

James has no known grave and is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial.

 

Our sincere thanks to Nick Brown for his research and help with this Halifax LK635 story.

 

 

 

 

Willem's Introduction

14

Ameland in war-time

25

Wartime Texel  & Den Helder 

1

Friesland War-time Crashes

14b

Ameland,166 & 75 Squadron

26

Hindeloopen

2

Friesland Cemeteries

14c

Ameland Graves

27

Destroy the Scharnhorst!

3

Leeuwarden area

15

Terschelling

28

Destroy the Scharnhorst! 2

3a

Wirdum Remembers

15b

Terschelling 2

28a

Destroy the Scharnhorst! 3

4

Schiermonnikoog

16

Sage War Cemetery

29

12 Squadron in World War 2

4b

Schiermonnikoog  part 2

16b

RAF Topcliffe & 424 Squadron

30

The Runnymede Memorial

5

Harlingen

17

Vlieland Cemetery

31

Vuren at war

6

Kallenkote Cemetery

18

Jacobiparochie

32

Makkum Cemetery

7

Wartime Occupied Harlingen

19

Hampden AE 428, & Koudum

33

A Fatal collision?

8

RCAF 428 Ghost Squadron

20

Willem's War-time photos

34

Hudson & Ventura losses

9

Zwolle's ' De Groene ' group

21

Shipdham Airfield & the 44th

35

101 Squadron

10

408 Squadron's Leipzig raid

21b

68th Squadron's Casualties

11

Friesland radar

22

Rottum Island

12

Lancasters DS776  & JA921

23

Bergen General Cemetery

 

 

 

 email-address:  w.jong1@upcmail.nl

 

 

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