22/23.04.1944 No. 429 Squadron Halifax III LK802 AL-F F/O. James F. Fennessey
Date: 22/23rd April 1944 (Saturday’Sunday)
Unit: 429 Squadron (RCAF-Bison)
Type: Halifax III
Base: RAF Leeming
Location: Herkingen, Holland
Pilot: F/O. James Francis Fennessey J/25009 RCAF Age 24. Killed
Fl/Eng: Fl/Sgt. Herbert Ingle Austin 1005440 RAFVR Age 39. Killed
Nav: P/O. Alexander Achtymichuk J/87053 (R/61000) RCAF Age 24. Missing - believed killed
Air/Bmr: F/O. Robert Bruce Low J/27125 RCAF PoW No: 4463 Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria
W/Op/Air/Gnr: M/Sgt. Arthur F. Kempton USAAF Age 24. PoW details not known.
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Willard Jim Miller R/194068 RCAF PoW No: 3578 Camp: L6/357 Stalag Luft Heydekrug and Stalag Kopernikus
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Percy Bruce Crosswell J/88362 RCAF Age 20. PoW No: 655 Camp: L7/3A Stalag Luft Bankan and Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria (1)
This page has been created with thanks to Maureen Fennessey, niece of the pilot who contributed so much information. We are indebted to Calgary Herald for publishing the article on Maureen’s research and others plus of course to the many people who helped bring the memorial service in 2012 to fruition. (see notes)
A relative of Sgt. Crosswell MiD contacted us in November 2016 - she wrote and said "Percy is remembered in our hearts forever. Thank you to the dutch families who hid my uncle for over 3 months before he was caught."
REASON FOR LOSS:
At 23:00 hrs LK802 thundered down the airfield at RAF Leeming in a clear night with good visibility. Great for flying - but for both sides! 596 aircraft taking part on the operation to Dusseldorf.
2,150 tons of bombs were dropped causing widespread destruction - 56 very large industrial premises and over 2,000 homes destroyed. Casualties on the ground amounted to 883 killed, 593 injured with many others classed as ‘missing’.
Nearly 600 heavy bombers went to Düsseldorf on the 22nd and crews returned to speak of extremely heavy night fighter activity. They recorded that fires could be seen as much as 110 miles away.
Losses to the allied bombers on this raid were huge with 29 aircraft being shot down resulting in 133 aircrew killed and a further 68 being made PoW.
The squadron lost another crew during this operation:
Halifax III LV963 AL-V Flown by F/O. E.L. Howland 1068542 USAAF taken PoW with his navigator and wireless operator, the 5 remaining crew were killed.
(L to R): F/O. Robert Low, P/O. Alexander Achtymichuk, Sgt. Percy Crosswell, M/Sgt. Arthur Kempton, Sgt. Willard Miller, Fl/Sgt. Herbert Austin, F/O. James Fennessey.
Understood to have been shot down by Hptm. Ernst-Wilhelm Morrow (2) of 1/.NJG1 (although we have not been able to make a positive claim for this aircraft. He did claim some 3 aircraft on this night)
Marie Lineham (née Wentworth then 16 years old) of Victoria, British Columbia was engaged to be married to F/O. James Fennessey (Frank as he was known to close friends and family) was told that they would not marry until he returned from the war, he felt it unfair that she should be left alone. He also suggested that if something did happen to him she should consider his best friend, John Lineham - which, she did.
An email sent out by Maureen Fennessey following the wonderful memorial service in 2012 sums up the wonderful 4 days honouring the crew:
November 11, 2012 Dear family and friends,
"Since today is Remembrance Day, and in honour of my uncle Francis and his crew, I thought this would be an appropriate time to send out the You tube video of our memorial trip to Holland that was attended by family members of the crew of Bison Squadron 429. After 6 years of searching for the family of the Bison Squadron 429 crew, we finally had a chance to come together.
It was truly an amazing trip coming together with all the crew member's families. There were over 50 of us that came from Canada, US and Britain. We spent 4 days together going from one event to the other. We went to the crash site where an 8 year old boy that lived nearby had used a metal detector to find pieces of the bomber plane in the polder. The pieces were laid out on tables for us to view. Amazingly, we were all allowed to bring a piece home.
There was a bench and memorial pedestal in honour of Uncle Francis in the village park near the crash site. This is where 7 white doves were released by a family member of each of the crew. Another memorial pedestal near the harbour was erected by the sea for Alex, from Andrew Alberta, who was washed out to sea when he didn't put his "Mae west" when he parachuted out of the plane. His 79 year old brother Eugene and his family came from Fort Saskatchewan for the memorial. What a character and a wonderful man. And there was a large monument in the middle of the village with pictures in honour of all 7 of the crew.
The first day we all boarded a bus and traveled through tulip fields to Uncle Francis's gravesite in Bergen Op Zoom, where there were over 1100 white crosses, all Canadians. My son Troy took a walk through the gravesite and came back to say that most of those buried there were younger than him. He is 23. A street is named after Bert Austin, from England, who went down with Uncle Francis. Called AustinPlein. Bert is buried in the local cemetery where the memorial was held.
The day of the ceremony was amazing, overwhelming and humbling at the same time. It was held at the small village of Herkingen, where the plane crashed into a polder and at the gravesite where Bert Austin was buried. As we traveled down the cobble streets of this little village, some of us riding in army vehicles, the Royal Canadian Legion greeted us with bag pipes to the tune of Amazing Grace, while the Dutch people lined the streets waving to us, some with tears in their eyes and little children ran along the sides of our vehicles."
Left to right: P/O. Alexander Achtymichuk, Sgt. Percy Crosswell, F/O. Robert Low, M/Sgt. Arthur Kempton, F/O. James Fennessey - believed to have been taken during training.
"My cousin Bruce McKay picked up about 200 poppies from the Poppy Foundation in Calgary before we left. My sister Patti and I walked along the cobble street and pinned the poppies on these beautiful people. Thank you’s and hugs were exchanged from both sides. Thanks to us for our loved ones giving their lives for the liberation, and a thanks from us to them for the respect and love they have for the crew, as well as the most humbling welcome given to us. We were definitely treated like Royalty."
"During the ceremony an amazing woman named Kelly Ann Sproul (KAS) from England sang the most beautiful songs from the WW2 era. KAS has been traveling to the war zones and has been singing for the troops for a number of years. The Royal Canadian Air Force was in attendance along with the RAF and US Air Force, Mayor of Herkingen and other dignitaries. Each family spoke on behalf their loved one. I talked about how dad used to sit on the couch and go through uncle Francis's album and wonder what happened and how Francis's loss affected the family and Marie his fiancé, and how great it was to be there with all the other family members of the crew. There were many flowers and wreaths laid while two WW2 bomber planes circled above in memory of the Halifax Bomber crew."
"Our evenings were spent with welcome dinners while sharing stories and building friendships. At one of the celebrations an elderly gentlemen came up to me and introduced himself. He spoke of when he was a very young lad and how he remembered the night of April 23, 1944 when the plane crashed into the polder. He spoke of the sound of the engine and loud explosion and how they were not allowed to go to the crash site. The morning after he remembered his family dressing in their best and going outside to find parts of the aircraft in the field near their land. This gentleman was now in his nineties.
The final day we attended a mass in memory of the crew at the Catholic church in the small village of Middleharnis where the townspeople came together and held a Funeral for Francis after his remains were recovered in the polder along with Bert's after the war. Francis was buried in the small cemetery in the church yard, later moved to Bergen Op Zoom."
"A many thanks to Dennis Notenboom and his committee from WO2GO n the Netherlands for hosting such a wonderful memorial which turned out to be "A real class act". And a special thanks to Geert Polak and his wife from the Netherlands for adopting uncle Francis's grave and tending to it with so much love. It was so humbling to finally meet you. Geert, so nice to hear from you today and thanks for sending the picture of the beautiful flowers you put on uncle Francis's grave today.
And finally, thanks to all the family members of the crew. This could not have come together without your support and love. Memories and life long friendships were had by all. Thanks to all for remembering the crew of LK802, Bison Squadron 429. What a great group of handsome young men!"
(note: Aircrew Remembered have attended many of these memorial services - the gratitude from the Dutch people as well as that from France, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, even Germany has to be seen to believed)
(1) Crosswell river which flows into Churchill river in Manitoba, Canada was named after Sgt. Crosswell MiD in 1948. Although Sgt. Crosswell survived the crash - he, as were the others from the crew was taken PoW. He had been imprisoned in various camps but it seems that during the final stages of the war he had tried to escape from Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria (of Great Escape fame).
We are aware that he did indeed try to escape, along with a Fl/Sgt. Geoffrey Ralph Johnson 3050454 RAFVR from 158 Squadron. On the 13th April 1945 at 23:00 hrs they both climbed the fence of the camp to escape. Fl/Sgt. Johnson was shot dead, Sgt, Crosswell was also shot and survived but succumbed to his injuries at 13:00 hrs the following day. Just a few days later the Soviet Army arrived liberating the camps!
Fl/Sgt. Geoffrey Johnson was one of 7 crew taken PoW when Halifax III ME734 NP-U was shot down on an operation to Essen on the 25th October 1944. During that operation the squadron also lost Fl/Lt. Geoffrey Winston Woodward 139497 RAFVR DFC and bar, the only crew member to be killed - remainder taken PoW.
(2) Hptm. Ernst-Wilhelm Modrow of 1/.NJG1 a Luftwaffe night fighter ace and recipient of the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross. By war end he had claimed 33 aircraft as shot down. Born on the 5th May 1908 at Stettin. Survived he war - died on the 10th September 1990 age 82.
F/O. James Francis Fennessey. Bergen-Op-Zoom Canadian War Cemetery. Grave 1.H.12. Son of Albert H. and Mary Fennessey, of Delacour, Alberta, Canada.
Fl/Sgt. Herbert Ingle Austin. Herkingen General Cemetery. Grave - near entrance. Son of Herbert and Emily Ingle Austin, husband of Olive Austin, of Halton, Yorkshire, England.
P/O. Alexander Achtymichuk. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 249. Son of A.T. and Mary Achtymichuk, of Andrew, Alberta, Canada.
Sgt. Percy Bruce Crosswell MiD. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 279. Son of William and Mary Crosswell of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Although we have since been informed that his parents lived in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. His brother, Bruce also served, but in the Navy - he still lives with his wife, Alice Lorraine (parents to 6 girls who still live in the same area) in Port Albert British Columbia, Canada.
Fl/Lt. Geoffrey Winston Woodward. DFC and bar. Rheinberg War Cemetery, Grave 10.D.SS, Next of kin details currently not available - can you assist?
With many thanks to Maureen Fennessey, Calgary Herald, 'Alieneyes’ on the WW2talk Forum for information on Sgt. Cresswell. Also to the great chaps at WO2 Goeree-Overflakkee and Dennis Notenboom who helped bring the memorial in 2012 to fruition. With thanks to Tracy Crosswell who contacted us in November 2016 with further details on Sgt. Percy Crosswell MiD. Other sources as quoted below.