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Crash of Wellington Z1316 near Olmen-Heivoort

Introduction

In the early morning of 30 July 1942 the inhabitants of the Belgian villages of Olmen and Balen were woken by a fierce air battle over the town. A German night fighter targeted a Wellington bomber of No.142 Squadron returning from a raid on Saarbrucken. The fight was finally resolved in a victory for German fighter ace Oberleutnant Eckart-Wilhelm von Bonin. The bomber crashed in a meadow near Olmen and immediately caught fire. All six crew members were killed in the crash.

Target Saarbrücken

Allied bombers attacked the German city of Saarbrücken several times during the war. The Royal Air Force raided Saarbrücken at least 10 times. More than 600 people were killed in the attacks and 8.400 buildings were damaged. 7.700 of these buildings were completely destroyed and 55.000 people got bombed out. RAF Bomber Command launched its first major raid on Saarbrücken on the night of 29/30 July 1942. The aiming point was the city’s industrial infrastructure. 291 aircraft were detailed to bomb Saarbrücken. Many factories were heavily damaged in the attack, but 324 houses were also ruined and 155 people were killed. Nine aircraft (3 Wellingtons, 2 Lancasters, 2 Halifaxes and 2 Stirlings) failed to return to their bases. One of these machines was Wellington Z1316 (QT-H).

Wellington Z1316 was one of ten aircraft of No.142 Squadron which were detailed to attack Saarbrücken. The unit had its home base at RAF Grimbsy and was one out of 13 squadrons of No.1 Group. The crew of Wellington Z1316 for this operation was as follows:
Pilot: Pilot Officer George Camps Hooper (22 years old, Canadian)
Co-pilot: Sergeant Kenneth McLennan (18 years old, British)
Observer: Sergeant Ronald Ernest Edward Bedford (20 years old, British)
Bomb Aimer: Sergeant Richard Henry Foster (21 years old, British)
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner: Richard Francis Stainforth (21 years old, British)
Air Gunner: Sergeant Harold Alfred Oates (19 years old, British)

Pilot Officer Hooper, the sole Canadian in this crew, had flown with 142 Squadron since May. For this operation he was attached to the crew of Sergeant McLennan, which had just completed their training at No.12 Operational Training Unit. They had been posted to the squadron on 21 July. McLennan had only made his first operational flight three days before the raid on Saarbrücken.

Fatal flight

On the evening of 29 July 1942 Wellington Z1316 was the penultimate aircraft to take off from RAF Grimsby. The crew took off at 23:52 hours. A couple of hours later, at 03:15 hours (local time), the inhabitants of the Belgian villages of Olmen and Balen were woken by the sound of an air battle between a German night-fighter and a British bomber. The German machine was a Messerschmitt Bf110, flown by Oberleutnant Eckart-Wilhelm von Bonin and his radio operator Feldwebel Friedrich Johrden. Von Bonin flew with Gruppe II from Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 (II./NJG1) and was a very experienced pilot. During 150 missions he had shot down 37 allied aircraft. He would serve as Gruppenkommandeur of II./NJG1 from 18 November 1943 till 25 October 1944. He was awarded the Ritterkreuz on 5 February 1944.

The aircraft approached the villages from the east. The British bomber, Wellington Z1316, was fatally hit by the night-fighter and crashed at 03:17 hours in a meadow in Olmen-Heivoort. The night-fighter turned round to assess the situation and to see the crashed Wellington had caught fire. Many inhabitants of Olmen had noticed the crash and came to the crash site. Some of them took pieces from the wreckage. Soon after German troops arrived to guard the crash site. The Wellington was salvaged by the Germans. Three trucks were needed to transport the remains of the aircraft.

Burial

All six crew members were killed in the crash. They were initially buried in the local cemetery in Olmen. The remains of the six airmen were buried in four wooden coffins, manufactured by woodworker Louis Mertens. The grave marker however, only mentioned five names. The name of Harold Oates was missing. The inhabitants of Olmen looked after the graves of the crew. In 1953 the six airmen were reburied at the Canadian War Cemetery in Adegem, where they rest in a collective grave. The headstone of Sergeant Kenneth McLennan mentions he was 19 years old at the time of his death. This information is incorrect as he was only 18 years of age.

There is a memorial at the cemetery in Olmen to commemorate the crew of Wellington Z1316, as well as a Canadian airmen, Flying Officer Bob Irwin, who was killed when his Halifax bomber crashed in the area on the night of 27/28 May 1944.

Extra information

If the reader of this article has further information on this bomber or its crew, then you are kindly requested to get in touch with the author.

The story of the crash of Wellington Z1316 was originally published in a Dutch article written by the Belgian researcher Bram Dierckx. This is an edited and translated version of the original article.

Definitielijst

Bomber Command
RAF unit which controlled strategic and sometimes tactical bombing (as in Normandy)
RAF
Royal Air Force. British air force
raid
Fast military raid in enemy territory
Squadron
A military unit in the Belgian navy usually six to eight small ships operating together under one command. The smallest military unit in the Dutch air force of about 350 men. In most countries is the designation of a military unit thesize of a company. It is either an independent unit, such as a battery, or part of a bigger Calvary unit. In the air force it is the designation of a unit of aircrafts.

Images

Impression of Wellington Z1316 QT-H. Bron: Bram Dierckx.
Sergeants McLennan (left) and Stainforth (right). Bron: Archive Werkgroep Balen Bevrijd.
Original gravesite at the local cemetery in Olmen. Bron: Archive Werkgroep Balen Bevrijd.
Memorial at the local cemetery in Olmen. Bron: Bram Dierckx.
The graves at the Adegem Canadian War Cemetery. Bron: Pieter Schlebaum.

Wellingtons of No.142 Squadron involved in the operation

An overview of the other Wellingtons of No.142 Squadron which were detailed for the operation to Saarbrücken on the night of 29/30 July 1942.

Wellington Z1340 (QT-A)
Pilot: Sergeant Leslie Arthur Seamark (27 years old, British)
Observer: Sergeant E. T. Edwards (age unknown, British)
Air Bomber: Flight Sergeant David Smith (age unknown, British)
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner: Sergeant Alfred Trewin (31 years old, British)
Air Gunner: Sergeant William John Godly (30 years old, British)

Wellington Z1342 (QT-J)
Pilot: Sergeant Leonard Hewitt (age unknown, British)
Observer: Sergeant William James Olde (25 years old, British)
Air Bomber: Sergeant Arthur Elliott (age unknown, British)
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner: Sergeant Ernest Joseph Pettitt (20 years old, British)
Air Gunner: Sergeant Ernest Alfred Giles (23 years old, British)

Wellington Z1414 (QT-O)
Pilot: Sergeant Wilfred Alan Gill (22 years old, British)
Observer: Flight Sergeant David Alexander Cumberland (22 years old, Canadian)
Air Bomber: Pilot Officer James Samuel Gronow (26 years old, British)
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner: Sergeant K. Fishwick (age unknown, British)
Air Gunner: Sergeant Robert Roy Henderson (23 years old, British)

Wellington Z1338 (QT-D)
Pilot: Pilot Officer Haydn William Goule (24 years old, British)
Observer: Sergeant Bertram Victor Caskie (21 years old, British)
Air Bomber: Sergeant A. G. Alton (age unknown, British)
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner: Sergeant A. Diggins (age unknown, British)
Air Gunner: Sergeant Dennis J. Smallwood (age unknown, British)

Wellington Z1466 (QT-L)
Pilot: Sergeant Charles William Keddy (20 years old, Canadian)
Observer: Sergeant James Paterson (27 years old, Canadian)
Air Bomber: Sergeant Arnold Herbert Amlin (24 years old, Canadian)
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner: Sergeant Herbert Carl Empey (21 years old, Canadian)
Air Gunner: Flight Sergeant Dickenson Flethcer (22 years old, Canadian)

Wellington Z1396 (QT-B)
Pilot: Pilot Officer Melvin Florin Johnson (27 years old, Canadian)
Observer: Sergeant Thomas Rooney (28 years old, British)
Air Bomber: Pilot Officer Walter Lewis Quinn (23 years old, Canadian)
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner: Sergeant Byron Stanley Biden (27 years old, Canadian)
Air Gunner: Flight Sergeant Joseph Eugene Roger Pichette (20 years old, Canadian)

Wellington Z1478 (QT-U)
Pilot: Pilot Officer Jack Pershing Berry (25 years old, American)
Navigator: Pilot Officer Charles Sheddon Sulyard Cary (33 years old, British)
Bomb Aimer: Sergeant George Shirley Davenport (age unknown, British)
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner: Sergeant Ivor Leonard Ernest Mantell (20 years old, British)
Air Gunner: Sergeant John Webster (age unknown, British)

Wellington Z1221 (QT-Y)
Pilot: Sergeant Herbert John Green (age unknown, British)
Observer: Sergeant Ken Nicholls (age unknown, British)
Air Bomber: Sergeant J. R. Brind (age unknown, British)
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner: Sergeant Edward Henry Bastow (38 years old, British)
Air Gunner: Sergeant Rene Laughton Partington (20 years old, British)

Wellington Z1219 (QT-V)
Pilot: Pilot Officer William Thomas Bent (26 years old, American)
Navigator: Flight Sergeant Aubrey Arthur Smith (age unknown, British)
Bomb Aimer: Flight Sergeant Isaac Kennedy (23 years old, New Zealander)
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner: Sergeant Archibald Sinclair (28 years old, British)
Air Gunner: Sergeant Cyril Moore (22 years old, British)

Extra information

If the reader of this article has further information on these bombers or its crews, then you are kindly requested to get in touch with the author by using the feedback form.

Definitielijst

Squadron
A military unit in the Belgian navy usually six to eight small ships operating together under one command. The smallest military unit in the Dutch air force of about 350 men. In most countries is the designation of a military unit thesize of a company. It is either an independent unit, such as a battery, or part of a bigger Calvary unit. In the air force it is the designation of a unit of aircrafts.

Information

Article by:
Pieter Schlebaum
Published on:
22-10-2016
Last edit on:
26-12-2018
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