03.05.1943 No. 487 (New Zealand) Squadron Ventura II AJ209 EG-V Sqn/Ldr. Leonard Henry Trent VC DFC
Operation: Ramrod 16
Date: 03 May 1943 (Monday)
Unit: No. 487 (New Zealand) Squadron. Motto: "Ki te mutunga" - "Through to the end".
Badge: A tekoteko holding a bomb. The grotesque Moon figure depicted holding a bomb is not only an indication of the squadron's activities but also true to Maori legend. The whare-whakairo, or meeting house of the tribe, was usually ornamented by grotesque but beautifully executed carvings, the tekoteko usually appearing at the apex of the gable above the entrance in an attitude of defiance and generally brandishing a weapon as a challenge to all comers.
Type: Lockheed Ventura II
Base: RAF Methwold, Norfolk
Location: Kometensingel, Amsterdam, Holland
Pilot: Sqn/Ldr. Leonard Henry Trent VC DFC 36146 RAF Age 28 - PoW No. 1283 Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria -L3 (1)
Navigator: F/O. Vivian Phillips DSO 45749 RAF - PoW No. 1275 Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria -L3 (2)
Nav/Air/Bmr: F/O. Roy Dudley Clifton Thomas 108829 RAFVR Age 30 - Killed (3)
Air/Gnr: Sgt. George Walter Trenery 1324586 RAFVR Age 29 - Killed (4)
Note: It is not known which crew member was the Wireless Operator.
We appeal to relatives of the crew with further information and/or photographs to please contact us via the Helpdesk
REASON FOR LOSS:
On Monday 3 May 1943 12 Lockheed Ventura crews of 487 (New Zealand) Squadron were briefed for a late afternoon raid on a power station situated on the northern outskirts of Amsterdam. Fighter protection for the 12 light bombers was to be provided by 3 squadrons of Spitfire Mark Vs flying as close support with 2 squadrons of Spitfire Mark IXs flying as top cover. Such operations involving a small number of bombers escorted by a large number of fighters with the intention of destroying ground targets were code-named Ramrod; this one being the sixteenth such operation by the RAF, hence Ramrod 16.
The plan was to cross the North Sea at 100 feet to keep beneath the German radar until they were 10 minutes from the Dutch coast when they were to climb to 10000 feet before racing to the target to maintain an element of surprise.
Crews were told to expect heavy opposition but whatever the opposition they had to press on with their attacks as a means to encourage Dutch workmen in their resistance to German pressure. The 12 Venturas took off from RAF Methwold at 16:43 hours in the sunshine, with Squadron Leader Leonard Trent flying AJ209 EG-V on his 24th sortie leading the first 6 in a tight box formation, followed by the second six flying in a similar formation, led by Yorkshireman Flight Lieutenant Arthur Victor Duffill in AE916 EG-C. One of the Venturas of Sqn/Ldr. Trent's flight was soon forced to return to base due to a loose escape hatch that on landing approach at RAF Methwold, broke away and lodged in the rudder.
The Spitfires flying as top cover, however, took off early, climbed too soon and lost the element of surprise. With not enough fuel to wait for the bombers they were recalled but the Germans had been alerted and immediately took action.
When the remaining 11 Venturas made their climb to altitude, the close escort lost position and fell behind with one squadron losing touch altogether. It seemed that events were conspiring against the bombers and it was not to end there.
That very day was the day that the Nazi governor of Holland had chosen to make a formal visit to Haarlem and as a result, was being provided with fighter cover. And to complete the demise of the bombers an exceptional number of experienced German fighter pilots were gathered at Schiphol Airport for a conference.
By the time the Venturas were approaching the Dutch coast no less than 69 Focke Wulfe Fw190 and Messerschmitt Me109 fighters had been scrambled and flying in four formations immediately attacked. While the Fw190s of 11./JG1 dealt with the escort the Me109s of 2./JG27 went for the bombers.
Escort Wing Leader, Wing Commander Blatchford, vainly attempted to recall the bombers but they were already hemmed in by the fighters.
AE916 piloted by Fl/Lt. Duffill was an early target; having had its hydraulic system destroyed, both engines set alight and two crew members wounded, Arthur Duffill turned back and somehow managed to nurse his aircraft safely back to base.
In the first four minutes, six Venturas were brought down. Two were shot down into the sea, three more shot down after crossing the coast and the other, having been damaged over land, dropped its bombs and was then forced to ditch off the coast.
The four remaining bombers led by Sqn/Ldr. Trent and flying through fierce anti-aircraft fire continued towards the target. Then, as a Messerschmitt passed in front of him, he opened fire with his nose-mounted machine guns and shot down the fighter. Trent later expressed how impressed he had been that the German fighters had still continued their attacks in the midst of the heavy flak.
Approaching the target Trent saw his wingman shot down. The other two Venturas were also brought down and crashed in the Oostzaan district, north of Amsterdam.
Leonard Trent doggedly pressed on towards the target and flying at 7000 feet released his bombs. But just as he turned for home his aircraft was hit, went into a spin and broke up. Leonard and his navigator Vivian Phillips were both thrown clear and parachuted to the ground but the other two crew members failed to escape and perished in the crash. The bombs dropped by Trent's Ventura did not score direct hits but succeeded in causing some blast damage.
Leonard Trent and Vivian Phillips were both captured and sent to Stalag Luft III, Leonard Trent was one of the 76 escapees from Stalag Luft III made famous in the film "The Great Escape" (see his biography below for further details).
Liberated by the British army on 2 May 1945 Leonard Trent returned to England to recommence his service with the RAF. Following his report of the action and after great consideration, it was decided that he was to be awarded the Victoria Cross and his investiture by the King took place at Buckingham Palace on 12 April 1946.
A quiet and unassuming man, Leonard Trent disliked the fuss that the award caused and remained uncomfortable with the publicity and his renown as a hero. He always stressed the vital contribution of his aircrew and later visited the families of those killed in action.
Left: The London Gazette citation for the award of the Victoria Cross to Squadron Leader Leonard Henry Trent Friday, 1 March 1946
There were many other instances of bravery that day and it would be remiss not to recount the fate of the other crews of 487 Squadron who despite striving so bravely to press home the attack were thwarted firstly by the problems that beset the escorting Spitfire squadrons and secondly by the overwhelming fighter opposition that fate had ranged against them. Though it is impossible to place the losses in strict chronological order they have been placed in sections that relate to the text.
AE916 EG-C Fl/Lt. Arthur Victor Duffill - The first Ventura hit - returned early, damaged beyond repair. All the crew were safe.
The six-shot down in the first four minutes was:
AE798 EG-D Sgt. James William Lowe - Presumed lost over the sea. All four crew were killed. Having no known graves three of the crew are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial. The body of navigator Sgt. Toombs had washed ashore on 2 July 1943. He is buried at Sage War Cemetery, Niedersachsen, Germany.
AE956 EG-H P/O. Andrew Edward Coutts - Presumed lost over the sea. All four crew were killed. Having no known grave three of the crew are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial. The body of navigator F/O. L.E. Richbell was buried at Hamburg Cemetery.
AJ478 EG-A F/O. Owen E. Foster - Flying in the second formation F/O. Foster witnessed two Venturas immediately in front of him explode and disintegrate (probably AE798 and AE956 - see above) Moments later his own aircraft was hit, the bomb doors were blown off and his bombs fell out. Turning for home the aircraft was again hit by anti-aircraft fire that put the starboard engine out of action. With fighters approaching he dived to take evasive action. As ammunition containers started exploding the nose of the aircraft was blown off and the navigator was badly injured. The gunner, mortally wounded, struggled forward to report his turret out of action before dropping dead beside the pilot. As the pilot ordered "ditching station" the other engine failed and the aircraft hit the water and immediately sank. The pilot, navigator and wireless operator managed to escape but their dinghy had been holed in the attack. They somehow managed to keep themselves afloat for almost two hours before being picked up by a German patrol boat. The body of air gunner Sgt. T.W. Warner, was washed up on the Dutch coast on 5 June 1943 and he was buried at Bergen Op Zoom War Cemetery, Holland.
AJ200 EG-G Sgt. J.D. Sharp - Believed crashed at Hoofddorp some fifteen miles south-east of Amsterdam near Schiphol airport. Only the pilot survived and was taken prisoner of war. The three dead crew members were all buried at Haarlemmermeer (Hoofddorp) General Cemetery.
AE684 EG-B F/O. Stanley Coshall - Crashed near Bennebroek about 5 miles east of Hoofddorp. The navigator later stated that they were attacked by a fighter near Haarlem and set on fire. Crew ordered to bale out at 10000 feet. The pilot and air gunner were killed and were buried at Bergen General Cemetery, the navigator and wireless operator being taken prisoners of war.
AE731 EG-O P/O. T.L.B. (Terry) Taylor - P/O. Taylor allegedly thinking that his crew had baled out and that he was alone in the aircraft made a belly landing northeast of Vijfhuizen about 5 miles north of Hoofddorp. Air gunner Sgt. G.T. Tattam was killed by a bullet through the chest and was buried at Bergen General Cemetery. The other three crew members were taken prisoners of war but both navigator and the wireless operator had been wounded by cannon shells and were hospitalised.
The four remaining bombers were:
AE780 EG-S F/O. Stuart McGowan - After crossing the Dutch coast they sustained attacks from several enemy fighters and the Ventura was set on fire. Air gunner F/Sgt. I.F. Urlich, wounded in the right leg and left foot, was dragged from his turret by the pilot and navigator who then put on his parachute and pushed him out of the aircraft. Moments later the aircraft exploded.
The Ventura crashed at Van Bossestraat in the NW Suburbs of Amsterdam. The other three crew members were killed and were buried at Amsterdam New Eastern Cemetery. F/Sgt. I.F.Urlich was taken prisoner of war.
In a post-war interview F/Sgt. Urlich stated that, "I remember noticing that we were practically over Amsterdam and that only Squadron Leader Trent's aircraft was with us. As I was watching it, a burst of flak blew its tail away and it went down in a spin. Mac (F/O. McGowan) put on my chute and pushed me out of the door. That was the last I ever saw of him".
AE713 EG-T F/O. Stanley Bailey Peryman - Crashed at Oostzaan north of Amsterdam. All four crew were killed and are buried at Amsterdam New Eastern Cemetery.
AE716 EG-U P/O. Thomas James Baynton - Crashed Oostzaan north of Amsterdam. All four crew were killed and were buried at Amersfoort (Oud Leusden) General Cemetery, Utrecht, Holland.
AJ209 EG-V Sqn/Ldr. Leonard Henry Trent - Two crewmen killed 2 taken prisoners of war.
48 crew took off from RAF Methwold at 16:43 on the 200-mile flight to Amsterdam. In little more than 75 minutes 28 were dead, 12 were prisoners of war whilst only 8 had made it back.
Approximate location of the land crash sites of the 7 Venturas of 487 (New Zealand) Squadron lost on 3 May 1943
In October 2020 Aircrew Remembered was contacted by Martin Hilgers who informed us that the target attacked on 3 May 1943 was the Papaverweg power plant and not the Hemweg as shown on the above map. In fact, the Hemweg was not built until 1947.
For completeness, our original map has been left in place and an amended version showing the location of the correct target can be seen below.
On behalf of Aircrew Remembered, Roy Wilcock would like to thank Martin Hilgers for bringing this error to our attention and for providing additional information.
Above: An RAF reconnaissance photograph of the target area taken on 13 September 1944 (courtesy Wageningen University & Research)
The Escort Wing leader, Wg/Cdr. Howard Peter "Cowboy" Blachford DFC was one of the RAF fighter pilots shot down that day. His body was never found and he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.
Following the raid 487 Squadron could muster only 6 crews and 8 aircraft. On 26 May, King George VI visited RAF Methwold to pay his respects to the squadron that three weeks before had been virtually wiped out. Sqn/Ldr. A.G. Wilson arrived soon after the 3 May charged with rebuilding the squadron and significantly, in August 1943 the squadron began to receive de Havilland Mosquitos FB.Mk.VIs to replace its Lockheed Venturas.
Squadron Leader Leonard Trent - (sitting centre) - as a prisoner of war of the Germans - at Stalag Luft III POW Camp, Poland. Standing behind him is his 1st cousin from Nelson, New Zealand - 218 (Gold Coast) Squadron Leader Ian Gordon Richmond DFC. Len and Ian both joined the RAF before World War 2. Ian (1937) and Len (1938). (courtesy Auckland Library)
(1) Sqn/Ldr. Leonard Henry Trent V.C. D.F.C. (Pilot) was born on 14 April 1915 at Nelson on the South Island of New Zealand the son of Leonard Noel Trent (died 27th April 1967), a Dentist and Irene Violet Trent (Née Everett - died 18th September 1974, age 83). In 1919 the family moved 60 miles north to Takaka on Golden Bay and it was here in 1922 at the age of 7 that he forged a passion for flying after taking a short flight in a Gipsy Moth biplane. From 1928 until 1934 he returned to Nelson as a boarder at Nelson College and it was whilst here that he discovered his other passion in life; golf. His devotion to golf however was instrumental in him failing his matriculation at his first attempt but realising the error of his ways put away his golf clubs and passed the following year.
He worked for a time at a freezing works before becoming a dental technician. Having had induction training at Taieri, near Dunedin, he joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force reporting to Wigram on 1 September 1937 and after training at Christchurch was awarded his wings on 12 May 1938. A month later he sailed for Britain to join the RAF and on 23 August was granted a short service commission as a Pilot Officer for five years on the active list (London Gazette 6 September 1938).
With the declaration of war in September 1939, he went to France with No. 15 Squadron flying Fairey Battles on high-level reconnaissance missions over enemy territory.
Returning to England in December the squadron converted to Bristol Blenheim IVs and after six months of intensive training he flew 14 cross channel daylight raids after Germany had invaded the Low Countries and France in May 1940.
On 23 March 1940, he had been promoted to Flying Officer (London Gazette 2 April 1940) and on 9 July he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in recognition of his gallantry in flying operations against the enemy. A period of comparative rest followed as he was posted as an instructor. On 7 August 1940, he married Ursula Elizabeth (née Woolhouse - died 21st February 2003, age 86) at Holborn, London.
He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant on 23 March 1941 (London Gazette 28 March 1941).
Following six months on the staff at Headquarters No. 2 Group RAF he returned to combat duties in March 1942 and on 1 June was promoted to Squadron Leader (Temporary) (London Gazette 3 July 1942)
In August 1942 he was posted as Flight Commander of "B" Flight of the newly formed 487 (New Zealand) Squadron at RAF Feltwell in Norfolk. The squadron was designated to undertake daylight raids and had been equipped with the Lockheed Ventura aircraft totally unsuitable for the purpose. The Ventura was a derivative of the popular Lockheed Hudson then in service with Coastal Command but the Hudson had in fact been tried for daylight bombing by the RAF and proved to have weaknesses. The Ventura was not well-liked and crews nicknamed it "The Pig". With a high wing loading, it was heavy on the controls and the Bolton Paul turret that caused high drag had only .303 machine guns. Following high losses in 1943, the Ventura was allocated to second-line duties.
On 6 December 1942 487 Squadron went into action for the first time taking part in the famous raid against the Philips radio factory at Eindhoven. 16 of the squadron Venturas took part of which 3 were lost. Leonard was to take part in a further eight missions with the squadron including the ill-fated mission of 3 May 1943 the squadron had moved to RAF Methwold on 3 April 1943
Having become a prisoner of war he was sent to Stalag Luft III (Sagan and Belaria) where he took part in the "Great Escape" on the night of 24/25 March 1944. At 4:55 a.m. the alarm was raised and the escapees who had made it to the trees began running. Leonard Trent, the 76th man out of the tunnel and having just reached the tree line stood up and surrendered. Because of his immediate surrender, he only received a spell in solitary confinement whilst 50 other escapees were later captured and executed.
He was liberated by British forces on 2 May 1945 and returned to England to recommence his duties with the RAF.
He transferred to the Royal New Zealand Air Force but when in 1947 he was made part of a team assessing RAF applicants and thereby effectively recruiting he re-joined the RAF. Relinquishing his temporary rank of Squadron Leader he was made Flight Lieutenant Permanent on 1 Novembe4 1947 (London Gazette 9 January 1948), promoted to Squadron Leader 1 July 1948 (London Gazette 6 July 1948) and Wing Commander on 1 July 1953 (London Gazette 30 June 1953).
He had been Officer Commanding Number 3 Squadron at the Central Flying School at RAF Little Rissington in Gloucestershire before being posted to RAF Oakington in Cambridgeshire as Chief Flying Instructor.
Shortly after his posting on 10 August 1943 he had to bale out of a Gloucester Meteor F.Mk.4 over Cambridgeshire and on another occasion was forced to eject from a de Havilland Vampire.
He had made the transition to the jet age: he later commanded 214 squadron equipped with the Vickers Valiant and took it into action during the Suez Crisis in 1956.
In 1958 he flew a Valiant to New Zealand to take part in the RNZAF 21st Anniversary Air Show at Ohakea.
On 1 July 1959, he was promoted to Group Captain (London Gazette 30 June 1959)
From 1959 to 1962 he was Commanding Officer at RAF Wittering in Cambridgeshire before being posted to Washington as Air Attaché from 1962 until 1965. Whilst Air Attaché he was also ADC to Queen Elizabeth II, Senior Air Staff Officer and Chief Intelligence Officer (RAF)
In 1965 he retired from the RAF and moved to Forestdale in Western Australia with his wife and three children and took a job with MacRobertson Miller Airlines. When the couple moved back to Matheson Bay, Auckland, New Zealand in 1977 two of his children, Judith and Timothy remained in Western Australia wherein 1983 Judith sadly died at the age of 31. Her ashes were interred at Fremantle Cemetery.
Leonard Trent died at North Shore Hospital, Auckland on 19 May 1986 aged 71. He was survived by his wife Ursula, daughter Christine and son Timothy. A talented painter and accomplished golfer he spent much of his life in the UK but remained a proud New Zealander and proud that he earned his V.C. as part of a New Zealand Squadron.
Group Captain L.H. Trent's Medal Group (left to right)
Victoria Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross, 1939-45 Star, Air Crew Europe Star, Defence Medal, War Medal 1939-45, New Zealand War Service Medal, General Service Medal 1918-62 with Near East clasp (awarded for Suez 1956) Coronation Medal 1953 and Silver Jubilee Medal 1977.
15th September 2018: "Today in Nelson New Zealand the Battle of Britain was remembered by 23 Squadron Nelson ATC who hosted members from the RNZAF Association Nelson with a small service at the memorial site of Group Captain Trent VC DFC at 11:00 hrs under a grey sky.
This memorial is located at the entrance to Nelson airport. The service was officiated by Padre Trevor Squires (rtd RNZAF). The OC 23 Squadron Nelson ATC gave a speech about his uncle who serviced in the Pacific during WW2 with the RNZAF and a Cadet Cpl. gave a speech about the Battle of Britain and the role the New Zealand pilots played in saving Britain from the German attack.
Thanks must also go to the New Zealander, Air Vice Marshall Sir Keith Park who was Commander of Fighter Command during the BoB and Defender of Britain.
A small gathering of family and friends and returned service people were in attendance at the service".
The Memorial to Group Captain Leonard Trent at Nelson, New Zealand - Photograph: courtesy nzhistory.nz.net
Vivian Phillips and others at Sagan (courtesy Hansons Auctioneers)
(2) Fl/Lt. Vivian Phillips D.S.O. (Navigator) was born on 15 January 1912 at Neath, Glamorgan, Wales the son of Robert Bertram Phillips (a Colliery Electrician) and Mary Jane Phillips nee Hill. He had a sister Enid Phillips born in 1909 and in 1911 the family lived at Ivy House, Glyn Neath Road, Resolven, Neath, Glamorgan. Vivian was educated at schools on Bridgend and Port Talbot. He joined the RAF in the 1930s and became an apprentice at RAF Halton. After serving 5 years in the Middle East he returned to the UK in 1937 the year in which his mother died.
562260 Sgt. Vivian Phillips was granted a commission for the duration of hostilities as a Pilot Officer on probation on 16 May 1941 (London Gazette 13 June 1941). His appointment was confirmed and he was promoted to Flying Officer on 16 May 1942 (London Gazette 17 July 1942) and further promoted to Flight Lieutenant (war subs)) whilst a prisoner of war on 16 May 1943 (London Gazette 17 July 1943). On 1 November 1947, he was granted the substantive rank of Flight Lieutenant (London Gazette 3 February 1948). On 5 March 1946, it was announced in the London Gazette that he had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order for "coolness, courage and devotion to duty". Flight Lieutenant Vivian Phillips retired from the RAF on 15 September 1952 (London Gazette 16 September 1952)
Vivian Phillips 1998 died at Haverfordwest, Dyfed, Wales aged 86. A fine collection of various items includes his personal account of the plot along with poems, sketches, cartoons and photographs, which together paint a vivid picture of life in a POW camp were sold for £13,500. (some shown) His nephew Mark Phillips wanted to make sure they would be sold at auction as he had no one in the family to pass it on to. He hoped it went to someone or an institution that will cherish it.
(3) F/O. Roy Dudley Clifton Thomas (Navigator/Bomber) was born in 1913 at Greenwich, London the son of Sydney E Thomas and Emma Mary Thomas (née Saill) later of Gretton, Northamptonshire. 1254164 LAC R.D.C. Thomas was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 27 September 1941 (London Gazette 25 November 1941) this appointment was confirmed and promoted to Flying Officer (war subs) on 27 September 1942 (London Gazette 30 October 1942) He is Commemorated on the Gretton War Memorial, Northamptonshire.
(4) Sgt. George Walter Trenery (Air Gunner) was born in 1914 at West Derby the son of John Henry and Harriet Eliza Trenery nee Wilcox later of Edge Hill, Liverpool.
F/O. Roy Dudley Clifton Thomas was buried at Amsterdam New Eastern Cemetery - Grave Ref: Plot 69. Row C. Coll. grave 2.
Sgt. George Walter Trenery was buried at Amsterdam New Eastern Cemetery - Grave Ref: Plot 69. Row C. Coll. grave 3.
A smiling face,
A heart of gold,
The memory of him
Will never grow old
Group Captain Leonard Henry Trent V.C. D.F.C.
Leonard Trent never got over the death of his daughter Judith, and his last wish was to be buried next to her. His ashes were taken back to Fremantle, Western Australia and today rest next to those of his beloved daughter Judith and marked by a humble memorial. Despite his many achievements this simple inscription on his gravestone surely epitomises the man he was.
"HI JOOD IT'S ME"
Gravestone of Leonard Henry Trent at Fremantle Cemetery - Site GN8 Position 0032
Photograph courtesy Peter Du Cane 30 November 2014
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of the crew - February 2016
With thanks to the sources quoted below.
[A secondary report with supplementary information is to be found here]
With thanks to Jennifer Lemaire, Auckland Library Heritage Collection, Auction News, Hansons Auctioneers.