15/16.03.1945 432 (Leaside) Squadron, RCAF Halifax VII NP689 Fg Off. Stewart M. Bonter
Operation: Hagen, Germany
Date: 15th/16th March 1945 (Thursday/Friday)
Unit: 432 (Leaside) Squadron, RCAF
Type: Halifax VI
Serial: NP689 Moonlight Mermaid
Base: RAF East Moor, North Yorkshire, England
Location: Near Stindermühle in the Stinderbach Valley, Germany
Pilot: Fg Off. Stewart Millen Bonter J42472 RCAF Age 28. Killed
Flt Eng: Sgt. Douglas Colquhoun 1681850 RAFVR Age 23. Killed
Nav: Fg Off. H. E. Vachon J41395 RCAF Age? PoW *
Bomb Aimer: Fg Off. A.T. Hinchcliffe J41608 RCAF Age? PoW *
WOp/Air Gnr: WO1. E.V. Anderson R129717 RCAF Age? PoW *
Air Gnr (Mid Upper): Sgt. Darwin Cameron Lawton R265902 RCAF Age 24. Killed
Air Gnr (Rear): Flt Sgt. Thomas Delmer Scott R267359 RCAF Age 24. Survived (1)
* Unknown PoW camp
Above: The crew of NP689 ‘Moonlight Mermaid’ (Credit of Sgt. Scott’s Service Record)
REASON FOR LOSS:
NP689 took off from RAF East Moor at 17:07 hrs and was one of seven aircraft detailed from the Squadron to attack Hagen in Germany and six bombed the target. The flak was reported to be moderate with the few searchlights being ineffective. No fighter activity was encountered before the bomber stream arrived at the target.
Two bombers from the stream were lost over the target, one from flak and the other reported to have been struck by bombs from above. The German night-fighters only managed to intercept the bomber stream when they left the target area. Eight bombers were shot down and one heavily damaged. NP689 was not claimed as one of those shot down and the heavily damaged bomber remains unidentified.
Fg Off. Vachon reported that Fg Off. Bonter was trying to get the aircraft over the Rhine but with the aircraft losing altitude and being on fire the crew were forced to bail out. Very soon after he bailed out and opened his parachute Fg Off. Vachon watched an aircraft, on fire, heading west which went into a spin to port and crashed 4 to 5 miles to the west. He was of the opinion that NP689 was at about 6000 ft when he bailed out. Fg Off. Vachon was liberated on the 27th April 1945.
Sgt. Scott was known to have bailed out a minute or so before the order to “Abandon Aircraft” was given and before Fg Offs. Vachon, Hinchcliffe, and WO1. Anderson.
Fg Off. Bonter was uninjured when he gave the order to abandon the aircraft and from Fg Off. Vachon’s description of the aircraft it seems probable that Fg Off. Bonter along with Sgt. Colquhoun and Sgt. Lawton perished in the aircraft when it crashed.
The reason for the loss of the aircraft and its crash location was never officially reported.
The wreckage of the aircraft was discovered by a search by volunteers with the LVR Office for the Preservation of Archaeological Monuments. The information that they were acting upon indicated that the wreckage of an aircraft that had crashed at the end of March 1945 was to be found in a pasture near Stindermühle in the idyllic Stinderbach Valley. They did not know much more other than it was thought to be a B-17 Flying Fortress.
However, the first piece of identifiable wreckage discovered was marked with an English Crown. Further finds removed all doubt that the wreckage was the remains of a Halifax bomber. Additional research utilising Canadian archives and the internet identified the Halifax as NP689 Moonlight Mermaid.
Various anecdotal sources believed that NP689 was hit by incendiary bombs released from an aircraft flying above. This was confirmed by an account by Fg Off. Vachon, who wrote to Sgt. Scott’s widow, Aubrey, on 23rd May 1945. The letter is contained in a scrapbook compiled by Scott’s daughters in 2006, and is quoted in Ref 1 p.75f.
The German translation reads: “We had just released our bombs when the WAG [WO1. Anderson] seized my arm. I saw a reflection of fire behind him, halfway down the fuselage. I immediately pulled the plugs of my oxygen and intercom, took the extinguisher and went back. The engineer and I took care of it. It was an incendiary from one of our own kites above us. I couldn’t do anything against it.”
The two volunteers were Dr. Helmut Grau and Jürgen Stecher who along with Sven Polkläser have published a book on the excavation which also pays extensive tribute to the crew. The book is prefaced with a quote from the ill-fated pilot Stewart Millen Bonter, translated by Helmut Grau: "I never learned to hate the enemy. I can see nothing glorious in war.”
The book, above, is currently available in German but is to be published in English. Entitled: “Das Schicksal des Halifax Bombers >>Moonlight Mermaid<<” Der Flugzeugabsturz bei Erkrath im Zweiten Welkrieg”. Book on Demand, ISBN 9783749452637.
Translation: “The Fate of the Halifax Bomber >>Moonlight Mermaid<< Aircraft Crash near Erkrath in the Second World War”.
Above Left to Right; Aircraftman Scott; Air Gunner Sgt. Scott; Sgt. Scott and his wife Audrey Scott. (Credit of Sgt. Scott’s Service Record)
(1) The circumstances leading to the death of Flt Sgt. Scott were determined by a British Military Court which was convened at Iserlohn, Germany between the 6th and 17th September 1946.
Seven German nationals were charged in that they did near Hagen, Germany, on or about the 3rd April 1945, in violation of the laws and usages of war, were concerned in the killing of Flight Sergeant T.D. Scott, RCAF, who was a PoW.
The seven accused were:
Hans Zensen who was a former Hauptmann (Capt.) in the Wehrmacht;
Friedrich Otto Adolf Hollborn who was a former Kriminalkommissar (Detective Superintendent) and the Leiter der Gestapo (Head of the Gestapo) in Hagen;
August Wiggers who was a former Kriminalobersekretär (Chief Detective) in the Gestapo;
Ernst August Fischer, Franz Karden and Robert von Ohle who were all former Kriminalassistentanwärter (Trainee Criminal Investigators) in the Gestapo;
Otto von Grothe who was a former Kriminalsekretär (Detective Inspector) in the Gestapo.
Flt Sgt. Scott was captured and spent several days in the civilian jail in Hagen. He was then handed over to a Wehrmacht unit which locked him up in a gymnasium together with ten Hungarians who had been sentenced to death for looting. All of them were then handed over to the Hagen Gestapo under the command of Hollborn.
Flt Sgt. Scott and the ten Hungarians were led to a bomb crater, in groups of two or three men tied together at their hands with wire. They were made to kneel down and were then shot to death by an execution squad.
Zensen and von Ohle were found not guilty. The remaining five were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.
The sentences were confirmed by the Command of the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) on the 23rd December 1946. The death sentences for Wiggers, Fischer, Karden and Grothe were commuted to one of 15 years imprisonment respectively.
Karden was released from prison on the 19th September 1952. Before and after he was released he was tried by a West German court on similar charges during July 1952 and then again in October 1954. The outcome of these trials have not been determined.
The final disposition of the prison terms for Wiggers, Fischer and Grothe are unknown.
Hollborn was hanged at Hameln prison on 23rd January 1947 at 10:00 hrs. The executioner was Albert Pierrepoint, assisted by Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) Richard A. O'Neill and Sgt. James Hunter from the Corps of Royal Military Police (RMP).
Plt Off. Scott’s remains were recovered and reinterred at the Hagen-Remberg cemetery on the 14th May 1945 at 15:00 hrs. His funeral was conducted by Chaplain R.R. Bell from the 290th Infantry Division, US Army. The Allied Military Government was represented by Flt Lt. J.J. Coney, RAF and the service was attended by delegations from the French, Italian, Belgian and Russian displaced persons camps. Plt Off. Scott was buried with full military honours and a firing party was provided by the 2nd Bn, 290th Infantry Division, US Army.
Fg Off. Bonter, Sgts. Colquhoun and Lawton were initially buried in the Erkrath cemetery, Mettmann, Germany.
Fg Off. Stewart Millen Bonter. Recovered and reinterred at the Reichswald Forest War cemetery, 31.D.18. Inscription reads: "HE HAS HIGHER FLIGHTS TO REACH, A FULLER LIFE TO LIVE WITH GOD". Born on the 24th September 1918 in Marmora, Ontario. Son of John Wadsworth and Ada Beatrice (née Lough) Bonter, of Marmora, Ontario, Canada.
Sgt. Douglas Colquhoun. Recovered and reinterred at the Reichswald Forest War cemetery, 31.D.17. Inscription reads: "WORTHY OF EVERLASTING REMEMBRANCE". Born during Jun 1921 in Manchester, Lancashire. Son of William Henry and Liza (née Winterbottom) Colquhoun, of Oldham, Lancashire; husband of Doris (née Dennison) Colquhoun of Oldham, Lancashire, England.
Plt Off. Darwin Cameron Lawton. Recovered and reinterred at the Reichswald Forest War cemetery, 31.D.16. Inscription reads: "AND I WILL DWELL IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD FOR EVER PSALM XXIII". Born on the 11th August 1925 in Saskatchewan. Son of Frederick James and Helga Lousia (née Anderson) Lawton, of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Sgt. Lawton was commissioned and promoted to Plt Off. (J95383) with effect 14th March 1945.
Plt Off. Thomas Delmer Scott. Recovered and reinterred at the Reichswald Forest War cemetery, 22.A.14. Inscription reads: ""UNTIL THE DAY BREAK, AND THE SHADOWS FLEE AWAY" BELOVED, FAREWELL". Born on the 8th June 1915 at Pincher Creek, Alberta. Son of Thomas Herron and Gertrude Mable (née McCrea) Scott. Husband of Audrey Miriam (née Topp) Scott of Pincher Creek, Alberta, Canada.
Flt Sgt. Scott was commissioned and promoted to Plt Off. (J95497) with effect 14th March 1945.
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with additional thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’.