12/13.05.1944 No. 426 Squadron Halifax III LW682 OW-M P/O. Wilbur B. Bentz
Operation: Louvain, Belgium
Date: 12/13th May 1944 (Friday/Saturday)
Unit: No. 426 RCAF Squadron (Thunderbirds)
Type: Halifax III
Base: RAF Linton on Ouse, Yorkshire.
Location: Geraadsbergen, Belgium.
Pilot: P/O Wilbur Boyd Bentz J/87378 RCAF Age 23. Killed (1)
Flt/Eng: Sgt. Roy Ellerslie 1818990 RAFVR Age 37. Killed
Nav: F/O Thomas Wessel Taylor J/24251 RCAF Age 29. Killed
Air/Bmr: F/O Clifford Stanley Phillips J/28259 RCAF Age 25. Killed (2)
W/Op/Gnr: P/O Jack Edwin McIntyre J/88626 RCAF Age 24. Killed (3)
Air/Gnr: P/O John Wilson Summerhayes J/89358 RCAF Age 23. Killed
Air/Gnr: P/O Joseph Edouard Jean Guy Arbour J/87413 RCAF Age 32. Killed
Air/Gnr: P/O Fred Roach J/90063 RCAF Age 25. Killed
REASON FOR LOSS
On the 12th, May, 1944, No. 426 Squadron was tasked with the bombing of the rail yards at Louvain, Belgium, as part of an 120 aircraft raid. Fourteen Thunderbird crews were on the battle order, and each aircraft carried nine 1000-pound bombs and four 500-pound bombs. At 22:05 hours, the detail began taking off on the four-and-a-quarter-hour mission, all aircraft being airborne within fourteen minutes.
Eight of the crews are known to have attacked the target between 00:28 and 00:35 hours on the 13th May.
L to R:- P/O. Bentz, Sgt. Ellerslie, F/O. Taylor, F/O. Phillips, P/O. McIntyre, P/O. Summerhayes, P/O. Roach, P/O. Arbour (courtesy of RCAF 426 Squadron Association)
Halifax LW682/OW-M, with P/O. Bentz and crew never made it to the objective. A Luftwaffe night-fighter ace, Major Martin Drewes, in an Me 110, shot them down near the village of Geraardsbergen. The aircraft crashed into a bog near the River Dender, killing the entire crew. The German records state that the softness of the ground prevented the recovery unit from removing much from the wreck.
The navigator F/O. Taylor, the bomb aimer F/O. Phillips the wireless operator WO1. McIntyre and the flight engineer, Sgt. Ellerslie had each completed two missions. The mid-under gunner, Fl/Sgt. Arbour was on his first mission. The remains of these men were recovered by the Germans at the time of the crash and were buried together in the Geraardsbergen (Grammont) Communal Cemetery, East Flanders, Belgium.
The pilot, Fl/Sgt. Bentz, and the rear gunner, Sgt. Roach, had each completed three operational sorties. The mid-upper gunner, Sgt. Summerhayes, was credited with two operational sorties. The remains of these men stayed lost within their Halifax. In July 1948, the crew posthumously received the Belgian Croix de Guerre with Palm.
Fifty three years later, Jay Hammond a nephew of the pilot Wilbur Bentz, initiated and participated in a search to recover the downed aircraft and the remains of the three crew members.
Working with the Belgian Aviation History Association and the 426 Thunderbird Squadron Association with financial assistance from Canadian Heritage and Veterans Affairs Canada, the Halifax crash site was excavated and the missing airmen’s remains were retrieved.
On November 10th 1997 the bodies of P/O. Wilbur Bentz, P/O. Fred Roach and P/O. John Summerhayes were laid to rest along with their comrades in the cemetery at Geraardsbergen. (courtesy of RCAF 426 Squadron Association)
(1) Bentz Peak in British Columbia is named after P/O. Bentz
(2) - (3) Have Canadian geographical features renamed after these aircrew members.
P/O Wilbur Boyd Bentz. Geraardsbergen Communal Cemetery, Belgium. Collective Grave 1. Son of Guy and Edith Bentz, of Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada.
Sgt. Roy Ellerslie. Geraardsbergen Communal Cemetery, Belgium. Joint Grave 2. Of Doncaster, Yorkshire, England. No further details.
F/O Thomas Wessel Taylor. Geraardsbergen Communal Cemetery, Belgium. Joint Grave 2. Son of Hugh and Hermina Taylor of Chisholm, Alberta, Canada.
F/O Clifford Stanley Phillips. Geraardsbergen Communal Cemetery, Belgium. Joint Grave 4. Son of Wareham and Mary Phillips of Valparaiso, Saskatchewan. Husband of Evelyn (McFarland) Phillips of Tisdale, Saskatchewan, Canada.
P/O Jack Edwin McIntyre. Geraardsbergen Communal Cemetery, Belgium. Grave 3. Son of John L. and Harriet McIntyre of Biggar, Saskatchewan, Canada.
P/O John Wilson Summerhayes. Geraardsbergen Communal Cemetery, Belgium. Collective Grave 1. Son of Leo and Daisy Summerhayes, of Brantford, Ontario. Husband of Bernice A. Summerhayes, of Brantford, Ontario, Canada
P/O Joseph Edouard Jean Guy Arbour. Geraardsbergen Communal Cemetery, Belgium. Joint Grave 4. Son of Joseph and Stephanie Arbour, of Ste. Therese, Quebec, Canada.
P/O Fred Roach Geraardsbergen Communal Cemetery, Belgium. Collective Grave 1. Son of Lewis Webster Roach and Ruby Roach, of Leamington, Ontario, Canada.
Researched by Colin Bamford. With thanks to the following: RCAF 426 Squadron Association, Bill Chorley - "Bomber Command Losses", the CWGC. Photo and biography of P/O. Summerhayes courtesy Album of Honor for Brant County World War II 1939 – 1945. Published in 1946 by The Brantford Kinsmen Club, Ontario, Canada and kindly reproduced with their permission.