At exactly midnight on 25 to 26 March 1942, engine humming is heard for the umpteenth time by the crew of the observation post of the Luchtbeschermingsdienst (air protection service) Vlaardingen. The searchlights are switched on in south-eastern, southern and north-east direction. Shooting starts. More searchlights are switched on. A British bomber gets caught in the beams of light. The pilot of the machine tries to flee into the darkness, but his attempted escape fails. Above the city the plane gets hit. Seven minutes after midnight, the plane crashes in the direction of the city of Delft.
The allied Air Force tried to inflict damage to the German war machine by means of strategic bombardments on industrial and military targets. Each night allied bombers took off to attack factories, warehouses, port installations and other targets. For the night of 25 to 26 March 1942, R.A.F. Bomber Command had chosen the steel and arms manufactures of Krupp near the town of Essen as the target. Krupp supported Nazi Germany by producing weapons, violating the Treaty of Versailles. To destroy the factories the largest fleet of bombers until then was used. Planes of 142 "City of Worcester" Squadron were part of the stream of 254 bombers. The squadron was based at R.A.F. station Waltham in Grimsby, Lincolnshire. One of the planes of the squadron was Wellington Z1321. On 25 March 1942 the crew of this machine was as follows:
Pilot: Sergeant David White (20 years old, British)
Co-pilot: Flight Sergeant William Pipher (24 years old, Canadian)
Air Observer/Navigator: Flight Sergeant Andrew Lennox (23 years old, Canadian)
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner: Sergeant Alfred Jelly (29 years old, British)
Air Gunner: Sergeant Eric Groves (22 years old, British)
Air Gunner: Sergeant Ronald Barrie (21 years old, British)
With exception of White and Groves, the crew had been trained at 23 Operational Training Unit and joined 142 Squadron on 25 October 1941. Around that time many new crews arrived at the squadron, since the unit was re-equipped with the Wellington Mk IV in the autumn of 1941. White and Groves were trained at 25 Operational Training Unit. They replaced the original crew members Stuart Innes and Robert Roy Henderson.
Wellington Z1321 was part of the first attacking wave. The plane took off from her home base just before 8:30 PM British time. The target area was reached without problems. The bombs were dropped on target and Z1321 started the return flight to Grimsby. There were great concentrations of Flak (Flugzeug Luftabwehr Kanone) around the city of Essen. Z1321 was hit. Probably as a consequence of the damage, the plane had insufficient engine power. It lost height and had to leave the bomber stream.
Air defence Vlaardingen
The air-defence in Rotterdam and the surrounding area was dealth with by 261. and 57. Flakabteillung. These units also included a heavy anti-aircraft battery in the west of Vlaardingen, next to the current highway Maassluis – Hook of Holland. The battery contained four 88mm guns, two quick firing 20mm guns and close lain searchlight installations. The log of the observation post of the Vlaardingse Luchtbeschermingsdienst reported planes which were flying from the United Kingdom on their way to Germany for the first time at 21:48. Fire was opened on these aircraft a couple of times, but without result. Two hours later the first hostile planes which flew in reversed direction were reported above Vlaardingen.
Shortly after midnight, at 00:01 AM, engine humming from a low flying aircraft was heard at the observation post of the Luchtbeschermingsdienst Vlaardingen. It was the solitary Z1321. The Wellington, which had lost altitude and speed, was traced without much effort by the searchlights. Fire was opened on the machine and at 00:04 two explosions were heard. Two minutes later a new, heavy explosion followed. From 00:07 AM fire was observed by the observation post of the Luchtbeschermingsdienst in the direction of the city of Delft. This was thought to be the shot down aircraft, but uncertainty existed because of low hanging fog. The police force of Vlaardingen got the task to start a search as it was suspected that the crash site was within the boundaries of the municipality of Vlaardingen.
At 01:40 AM warrant officer Van de Berg and the policemen Terhoeve and Hermans of the Vlaardingen police force reported that a hostile plane had crashed down in a pasture next to the Holyweg (nowadays the edge of the park Holy-Noord is located on this spot). Approximately 200 meters from the wreckage, the body of one member of the crew (Sergeant Barrie) had been found. Wreckage laid spread around the shell of the aircraft. It was suspected that three more crew members would have died in the crash, "what could be traced back from the arms and legs which were visible in the burning wreckage and the surrounding area".
Salvage and aftermath
The German Wehrmacht was charged with the guarding of the wreck. Later they had to be helped by the police force, due to the large amount of curious people. At the end of the afternoon of 26 March, three bodies (Sergeant Barrie, Sergeant Jelly and Flight Sergeant Phiper) were recovered. On Friday, March 27th, a fourth body (Sergeant White) was found. Based on the aircraft type, rescue workers kept searching for a fifth body. This was later recovered, as was a sixth body, when the nose of the plane was drawn out of the ground. These were the bodies of Flight Sergeant Lennox and Sergeant Groves. The bodies were moved to Loosduinen (Den Haag). White, Phiper, Lennox, Jelly and Barrie were buried next to each other at the British plot at the Westduin General Cemetery in Den Haag. It is unclear what happened to the body of Sergeant Groves. R.A.F. documents mention that he was buried in Wichmond, a little town in the province of Gelderland, but his grave isn’t there anymore. As he has no known grave, he is mentioned on the Runnymede Memorial in Englefield Green, Egham.
The wreckage of Wellington Z1321 was cleared and was transported to the scrap heap `Draka' in Utrecht. From there, the scrap was transported to Germany, where it was re-melted for the benefit of the German war industry. One plane component was used as a fence on the estate of a farm to the Holyweg up to the sixties. It consisted of a wing flap which later was found in a surrounding pasture. But in the sixties, the farms on the Holyweg had to make place for the present residential Holy and so the last remnant of Z1321 disappeared. For many years, there was no visual memory to the crash. In 2012, a memorial was erected for the crew of this Wellington. It is located near the crash site.
If the reader of this article has further information on this bomber or it's crew, then you are pleasantly requested to get in touch with the author.