A Tale of Three Bombers

Drop a pebble in a pond and the ripples stretch far and wide. Some, ripples, however, stretch further than others. Take these two poignant stories from World War Two, but which only came to light recently.

Last month, it was reported that a team of German historians had uncovered the remains of seven Lancaster Bomber crewman whose plane plunged into the ground, outside Frankfurt, 69 years ago after being shot down.

The historians had actually been guided to the spot by an eyewitness who saw the burning plane crash and explode into a fireball.

The plane, Lancaster ED427, was one of 327 bombers that took part in a raid on the Skoda armaments works at Pilsen, Czechoslovakia in April, 1943.

On their return to their base at RAF Fiskerton, Lincolnshire, they were hit by German anti-aircraft flak, subsequently killing the seven-man crew – pilot Alex Bone, flight engineer Norman Foster, navigator Cyril Yelland, wireless operator Raymond White, bomb aimer Raymond Rooney air gunner Ronald Cope and air gunner Bruce Watt – died in April 1943.

The plane was one of 36 bombers that failed to return that night.

Some of the relatives have now expressed their gratitude to the amateur historians and are hoping to finally bury their loved ones seven decades after their deaths.

Within a week of that poignant story there emerged another article, with uncanny similarities, when it was reported that a campaign has been launched to repatriate two Luftwaffe pilots to a German war cemetery in England after their single, unmarked grave was discovered 72 years after their burial.

On August 13, 1940, due to a communication error, a squadron of Dornier 17 bombers found themselves on a raid without fighter escorts.

After bombing coastal targets the planes were attacked by RAF Hurricanes, resulting in five of them being shot down.

Oberleutnant Gerhard Muller was killed when his parachute failed to open after he bailed out of his plane over Seasalter, near Whitstable, Kent.

The body of Oberleutnant Horst von der Groeben was washed up at Whitstable after his crashed on the shoreline there.

The two airmen were then buried in the same grave in a Kent churchyard on August 17,

More than 20 years later the German War Graves Service had the remains of all its servicemen killed in Britain in World War Two exhumed, and interred at Cannock Chase German Military Cemetery in Staffordshire.

But the the bodies of Oblts Von der Groeben and Muller were somehow left behind and remained in an unmarked, weed-strewn grave for 72 years until two local historians managed to unravel the mystery and identify the unknown airmen through their identity disc numbers.

There is now a campaign by the fmaily of the deceased and the historians to have the bodies reinterred in the German War Graveyard at Cannock Chase.

I think amateur historian Uwe Benkel, who led the search that located the Briish bomber crew, hit the nail on the head when he said: ‘A lot of people couldn’t understand what we were doing and said things like why were we digging up British airmen who bombed our cities and killed our people?

Our view is that this is past and history…. We do it for the families. For them, it is a bit like reading a book with the last page missing. When we find the bodies, we are writing the final page for them.’

Amen to that.

About historywithatwist

I am a journalist, author and book editor. I have published five novels - four (Tan, The Golden Grave, A Time of Traitors and Patriots' Blood) set during the Irish War of Independence and Civil War, and the fifth (High Crimes), a modern thriller. I'm a history enthusiast who loves a good yarn.
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3 Responses to A Tale of Three Bombers

  1. carolervin says:

    I enjoy these historical bits. Thanks for posting.


  2. klippsjournal says:

    Cool idea for a blog.


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