AJ-K crew memorial to go ahead in June at McDowell grave in Harlingen

The crew of AJ-K, shot down on the Dams Raid. L-R: Vernon Byers, Alastair Taylor, James Warner, John Wilkinson, Neville Whitaker, Charles Jarvie, James McDowell. 

The postponed ceremony to unveil a a memorial plaque in Harlingen General Cemetery to the crew of AJ-K, shot down on the Dams Raid will now take place at 11.00 am on 23 June 2022. The memorial is being erected by 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial Foundation and will be placed near the grave of Flt Sgt James McDowell, the only man whose body was recovered, as a tribute to all seven crew members of Avro Lancaster AJ-K. Vernon Byers and his crew took off on the Dams Raid from Scampton in AJ-K at 2130 on 16 May 1943, as part of the second wave tasked with attacking the Sorpe Dam. Everything seems to have gone smoothly at first but then, as the official record says, nothing more was heard from him. However, crew members in both Les Munro’s aircraft, a minute ahead of Byers, and in Geoff Rice’s, a minute behind, appear to have witnessed Byers’s last moments. Munro’s bomb aimer Jimmy Clay saw an aircraft on his starboard side, heading towards Texel island, rather than Vlieland, the prescribed route. Rice’s crew saw an aircraft shot down by flak at 300ft ‘off Texel’ at 2257. A post-war Dutch report also stated that an aircraft was seen climbing to about 450ft, having crossed the island.

Despite the fact that he was off course, and had crossed Texel which had more anti-aircraft defences than its neighbour Vlieland, it seems that Byers was very unlucky. The German guns could not depress low enough in order to hit an approaching aircraft flying at just 100ft but because AJ-K had risen a little in height it must have been a speculative shot from behind which hit it and sent it down into the Waddenzee, 18 miles west of Harlingen. Two German units stationed on Texel were credited with the kill. This point is disputed by author Andreas Wachtel, who thinks that it was more likely that 3/Marine Flak 246 unit on the western end of Vlieland was responsible.

Byers and his crew were thus the first to be lost on the Dams Raid and died before midnight on 16 May 1943. Six bodies have never been found, but that of rear gunner Flt Sgt James McDowell must have been detached from the wreckage some time later as on 22 June 1943 it was found floating in the Waddenzee, in the Vliestrom channel, south of Terschelling near buoy No 2. He was buried the next day in Harlingen General Cemetery. McDowell’s six comrades are all listed on the Runnymede Memorial. They are the only ones of the 53 men lost on the Dams Raid who do not have their own graves and, because AJ-K went down over the sea, there is no land-based plaque to commemorate them.

The 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial Foundation has a GoFundMe page to support this very worthy cause which you can find here.

Pic: 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial Foundation

AJ-C crash site cleaned up, thanks to local German history group

AJ C Stone after cleaning with members of the Heimatverein Hamm-Heessen 960px

Members of the Heimatverein Hamm-Heessen and Heimatverein Walstedde show the results of their work. [Pic: Heimatverein Hamm-Heessen]

Here is a heart-warming story to mark last weekend’s 79th anniversary of the Dams Raid.

For many years the memorial erected in the 1970s at the spot near Hamm where Lancaster ED910 AJ-C crashed in the early hours of 17 May 1943 has been in a poor state of repair. Malcolm Peel visited it for his 2018 guide for this blog, and noted that it was overgrown and did not seem to have been cared for.

AJ C Stone and cross before 800px

The memorial before clean-up work was started. [Pic: Heimatverein Hamm-Heessen]

The memorial commemorates the crew of AJ-C, which crashed after being struck by flak. The crew comprised Plt Off Warner (“Bill”) Ottley DFC, pilot, Sgt Ronald Marsden, flight engineer, Flg Off Jack Barrett, navigator, Sgt Jack Guterman DFM, wireless operator, Sgt Thomas Johnston, bomb aimer, Sgt Harry Strange, front gunner, and Sgt Fred Tees, rear gunner. 

There was in fact one survivor from the crash, rear gunner Fred Tees. He heard Jack Guterman say over the intercom ‘Möhne gone’. Almost immediately Ottley started a sentence: ‘We go to…,’ when ‘a hell of a commotion’ occurred to interrupt him. The aircraft was suddenly bathed in searchlights and a tremendous barrage of flak struck it, mainly from the port side. Tees then heard Ottley say, ‘I’m sorry boys, we’ve had it,’ but thereafter his memory of events became blank.

Tees’s turret was blown clear of the rest of the aircraft and he regained consciousness on the ground nearby, very badly burnt. He was soon captured and spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner. Bill Ottley and the rest of the crew died instantly. They were buried by the Germans in Hamm and reburied after the war in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery.

Now it seems that a group of German people from the Heimatverein Hamm-Heessen and the Heimatverein Walstedde (two local history groups) have decided to clean up the site, stripping back the vegetation and creating a new level area around the cross and plaque.

AJ C Stone free 800px

[Pic: Heimatverein Hamm-Heessen]

The original stone can now be seen clearly, with its inscription:
Bewahret den frieden
krieg ist grausam
[Keep the peace
war is cruel]

Here is a report in German on their Facebook page.

Many thanks to the groups for their work which will be much appreciated by future visitors.

Here is a newspaper report in German from the 1980s describing the initial installation.

press report hammer stadtanzeiger 1980

[Pic: Heimatverein Hamm-Heessen]

Thanks to Volker Schürmann for information for this post. Volker has also sent this picture of the memorial to the AJ-E crew at Haldern, taken last weekend. Blog readers will know that Volker was the driving force in getting this memorial installed.

AJ-E 800px

Pic: Volker Schürmann

Appeal for squadron commemorative window in Scampton church

Church window

RAF Scampton is due to close as a working RAF station on 31 December 2022.  To commemorate the station’s history a new window is planned for the local parish church in the nearby village of Scampton.

It is being crowd funded, and donations can be made here. Scampton Church are being supported by RAF Scampton, the RAF Museum, the RAF Historical Society and other leading RAF organisations to create a 617 Squadron Commemorative Window. The 617 Squadron Window Campaign was launched by Wing Commander Neill Atkins (O/C RAF Scampton) live on BBC Radio Lincolnshire. The aim is to have the window installed by the 80th anniversary of the squadron’s formation in March next year.

More about the project can be found on the church website here.

Thanks to Joe Bartrop for the tip.