[For a more complete picture with information on other participants in this raid please refer to our additional Archive Report researched by our Senior Research Editor Roy Wilcock]
487 (NZ) squadron sortied to bomb a power station in Amsterdam. In the afternoon of 3 May 1943 twelve aircraft were despatched: one soon returned with defects but only one other came back, shot up and damaged. Ten bombers were missing; 12 of the squadron’s 48 aircrew were Prisoners of War, and 28 were dead.
Little more was known about the mission until 1945, when New Zealander Leonard Trent and the other PoWs returned
from Germany. After their reports were collated and matched
with captured German reports, the raid took on a new light; in
April 1946 Sqn Ldr Len Trent was awarded the VC.
Leonard Trent was born in Nelson on 14 April 1915. After
leaving school Len learned of a scheme for New Zealanders
to learn to fly with the RNZAF then enter the RAF on short
service commissions. Trent was selected, underwent basic
training with the Taieri Aero Club, then entered the RNZAF at Wigram. Len was awarded his wings on 12 May 1938; a month
later he sailed to the UK and joined the RAF.
- September 1939: Pilot Officer Trent was in No. 15 Sqn, flying Fairey Battles—the squadron deployed to France.
- December 1939: the Squadron returned to England to
convert to Bristol Blenheims.
- May-June 1940: No 15 Sqn flew cross-channel daylight
raids; Flt Lt Trent flew 14 sorties and was awarded the
- instructor; promoted to Squadron Leader and Office Commanding of the OTU.
- 1942: On the staff of HQ 2 Group, which controlled the day bomber squadrons.
- August 1942: because he was a New Zealander, Trent was posted as a flight commander on the newly formed 487 (NZ) squadron, equipped with Lockheed Ventura bombers. The Ventura was not well-liked; it had a high wing loading and was heavy on the controls. Venturas also equipped 21 Squadron RAF and 464 Squadron RAAF within 2 Group.
- December 1942: the Squadron first went into action.
- Over subsequent months Trent flew eight more
The Amsterdam RaId: Ramrod 17
On 3 May the squadron briefed for a late afternoon Ramrod diversionary bombing attack on
an Amsterdam power station. (Ramrod was code for a bomber raid escorted by fighters aimed at destruction of a specific target in daylight). It was to be the first daylight
raid into Amsterdam itself. 118 Sqn, 167 and 504 Spitfire V Squadrons of the Coltishall Wing were to escort the Venturas, and were to be met by further squadrons of No. 11 Group, Fighter Command, flying Spitfire lX as top cover, over the Dutch coast. The Venturas were to cross the coast at sea level so as not to alert German radar, then climb.
Trent led the first flight of six in Ventura EG-V (Ventura AJ209 V-Victor),
with the following six in another tight box. The plan was to
cross the North Sea at 100 feet altitude, remaining under the
German radar. Ten minutes before reaching the enemy coast
the whole formation would climb to 10,000 feet and make the
dash to the target. This would minimise the warning time to
the German defenders.
Unfortunately the 11 Group Mk IXs flying Rodeo 212 ahead of the Venturas arrived early and crossed the coast high—being anxious to gain a height advantage — alerting the German defences. They ran low on fuel before the Venturas arrived and had to leave.
The escort Wing Leader, Wing Commander Blatchford, vainly attempted to recall the bombers but they were soon hemmed in by fighters. Under constant attack by II Gruppe, Jagdgeschwader 1, 487 Squadron continued on to its target, the few surviving aircraft completing bombing runs before being shot down. The Squadron was virtually wiped out.
(Shown right: Squadron Leader Trent, left, with Wing Commander G J "Chopper" Grindell, centre, Commanding Officer of No. 487 Squadron RNZAF, and Squadron Leader T Turnbull, 1943)
When the bombers did climb, the close escort
lost position and fell behind, with one squadron losing touch
But that day the Nazi Governor of Holland was on a formal
visit and was being given fighter cover. As well, fighter leaders
from neighbouring areas had gathered to discuss tactics; over
50 fighters, both FW190s and Me109s, were available to defend
Amsterdam that day. The Luftwaffe scrambled some 70 fighters in four formations, with Focke-Wulf Fw 190s to deal with the escort and Messerschmitt Bf 109s the bombers. The formation was intercepted off the coast—the fighter
escort quickly got drawn into a running dogfight and one
Ventura was hit, set on fire, and turned back. (Against the odds
this crew made it back to base.) Two more were shot down into
the sea, a third was damaged overland, dropped its bombs,
then ditched off the coast. Once across the coast more
bombers were quickly shot down. Soon, only four bombers
were left, and about this time an Me109 crossed in front of Trent’s aircraft; he fired the Ventura’s nose-mounted machine
guns and it is likely that he damaged the German fighter. Trent saw his wingman shot down as they approached the target. (Trent was impressed that the enemy fighters
continued to attack even though they were in the flak zone.) A painting of the action by Colin Pattle is shown below, the original being held at the New Zealand Air Force Museum.
The other two Venturas also crashed in Amsterdam. Trent’s navigator guided V-Victor over the target
and they bombed—but at that moment the aircraft was hard
hit, probably by flak, going immediately into a spin and broke up. With complete loss of control they had no option but to bale
out. The navigator got out just as their Ventura fell into the spin; Trent himself struggled to get out. The two other crewmen
were probably trapped; they did not survive.
An observer of
the 3 May air battle was the young Jewish diarist, Anne Frank (see below).
After getting clear and opening his parachute, Trent landed, was captured and subsequently imprisoned in Stalag Luft lll, a German Prisoner-of-War camp. Trent took part in the Great Escape. His prison camp was
liberated on 2 May 1945; Trent made his post-action report and transferred to the RNZAF. in the meantime his squadron’s
ill-fated mission had been closely scrutinised.
The decision to award the VC was not taken lightly. Trent’s
base commander gave Len the news and he received his award
from the King at Buckingham palace on 12 April 1946.
Trent returned to New Zealand for leave later that year. Ironically the Air Department in Wellington then made him part
of a team assessing applicants for the RAF, which was actively
London Gazette citation for the award of the Victoria Cross to Leonard Trent
Trent also reconsidered his career and in 1947 rejoined the RAF (which seemed to have caused some
resentment within the RNZAF). Trent held several important
posts, commanded a Valiant V-bomber squadron and took it
into action during the 1956 Suez conflict. In 1958 he flew a Valiant to New Zealand to take part in the
RNZAF 21st anniversary Air Show at Ohakea.
Trent’s personal qualities included the courage and stamina
to endure many combat sorties, and the ability to be a good
instructor in the air, but as well, he had the luck to survive when
enemy action was claiming the lives of his comrades. He was
professional, well able to take on the duties thrust upon him as
casualties mounted. And later, he proved able to transition to
the jet age, flying the advanced Valiant jet bomber.
But it was his courageous determination during his last
combat mission that earned him the VC. He was representative
of all the aircrews that day, all of whom showed equal devotion
to duty. Trent himself always stressed the vital contribution of
his aircrew and made a point of visiting the relatives of those
killed in action alongside him.
in 1965 he retired from the RAF and returned to New
Zealand, settling at Mathesons Bay, north of Auckland. He
died on 19 May 1986. Despite spending much of his life in the
UK, Trent was a proud New Zealander and was proud that he
had earned his Victoria Cross as a member of a New Zealand
His entire medal group (above) is: 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.
Leonard Trent VC Memorial, Nelson, New Zealand (Photo: courtesy nzhistory.net.nz)
Diary of Anne Frank
In her diary entry for 18 May 1943, Anne Frank wrote how she
had recently witnessed a fierce air battle from her place of
hiding, 263 Prinsengracht, Amsterdam, and she may have also have witnessed a couple of Allied airmen parachute from
their burning plane (it is not clear from the English translation of
her diary if she witnessed this latter incident or heard about it
Ventura AJ209, V-Victor, piloted by Sqd Ldr Trent broke
up in mid-air and came down along the Kometensingel,
Amsterdam, at 1757 hours, a little over four kilometres north of
Anne’s hiding place.
Venturas AE716, U-Uncle, piloted by F/O Thomas Baynton
RNZAF, and AE713, T-Tommy, piloted by F/O Stanley Peryman
RNZAF, both crashed in the Oostzaan district of Amsterdam,
north of where Trent’s aircraft came down. All on board both
aircraft were killed.
Ventura AE780, S-Sugar, piloted by F/O Stuart McGowan
RNZAF, impacted along the Van Bossestraat, Amsterdam, at
1745 hours (local time), only around a kilometre WNW of Anne’s
hiding place. Of the four man crew, only St Ivan Urlich RNZAF survived.
These four Venturas were the only Allied aircraft to crash in North/North-Western Amsterdam in May 1943 (up to the 18th,
when the diary entry was written).
” I witnessed a terrific air battle between German and British
planes. Unfortunately a couple of the Allies had to jump from
their burning machine. Our milkman, who lives in Halfweg, saw four Canadians sitting by the roadside, one of them spoke fluent Dutch. He asked the milkman to give him a light for his
cigarette and told him that the crew had consisted of 6 men.
The pilot had burned to death and their 5th man had hidden
himself somewhere. The German police came and fetched the
four perfectly fit men. I wonder how they managed to have
such a presence of mind after that terrifying parachute trip!”
Trent was born in Nelson, New Zealand on 14 April 1915, the son of a dentist.In 1919 the family moved to Takaka, where three years later, after taking a short ride in a Gipsy Moth aircraft, Trent became captivated by flying. He was educated at Nelson College and boarded at the school between 1928 and 1934.
Air Force Career
After induction training at Taieri near Dunedin, he undertook Royal New Zealand Air Force flight training in Christchurch, gaining his wings in May 1938. A month later he sailed for Britain to join the Royal Air Force.
In September 1939 Trent went to France as part of No. 15 Squadron RAF, flying Fairey Battles on high-level photo-reconnaissance missions over enemy territory. The squadron returned to England in December to convert to the Bristol Blenheim IV. Trent flew numerous combat missions after Germany invaded the Low Countries and France in May 1940.
In July 1940 he received the DFC for his outstanding contribution to the Battle of France. Posted as a training instructor, he married Ursula Elizabeth Woolhouse on 7 August 1940 at Holborn, London. He also test flew the Douglas DB-7 Boston, which he strongly recommended to the RAF.
Trent returned to combat duties in March 1942 and was promoted to Squadron Leader. He had spent six months at Headquarters, No. 2 Group RAF, before assuming command of B Flight in No. 487 Squadron RNZAF, working up on the Lockheed Ventura for daylight raids, a task for which the type was manifestly inadequate. He flew many difficult raids on targets in the Low countries during the late 1942 and early 1943.
Stalag Luft lll
After his capture Trent was assigned to Stalag Luft III Sagan, Germany (now Żagań, Poland). He participated in the Great Escape of 24 March 1944 although he was recaptured almost immediately. The Gestapo executed 50 recaptured prisoners, but Trent received solitary confinement because of his immediate surrender outside the camp. Trent survived the war in a POW camp.
Trent was liberated by British forces on 2 May 1945. He returned to England and promptly recommenced RAF service, learning that his last combat mission had earned him the Victoria Cross. Quiet and unassuming, Trent disliked the fuss the award caused, especially during its investiture at Buckingham Palace on 12 April 1946, being uncomfortable with the publicity.
Continuing in the Royal Air Force after the war, he trained in jets. He had the distinction of ejecting from a de Havilland Vampire and a Gloster Meteor. He later commanded 214 Squadron RAF with the, then, new Vickers Valiant. In 1956 he saw further action during the Suez Crisis, and later in the early 1960s, he was promoted to the rank of Group Captain and was appointed an Air Attaché to Washington DC.
Trent moved to Forrestdale, Western Australia, in 1965, with his wife, Ursula, and three children, and took a job with MacRobertson Miller Airlines. With his wife, he returned to New Zealand to live at Matheson Bay, north of Auckland, in 1977, dying on 19 May 1986 at North Shore Hospital. Trent's ashes were returned to Western Australia, where they were interred at Fremantle Cemetery alongside those of his daughter, Judith, who had died in 1983 at the age of 31.
Venturer Courageous by James Saunders and Laddie Lucas was published by Hutchinson in 1983
New Zealand Experience with the Lockheed Ventura
The success of the Lockheed Hudson (a conversion of
the Lockheed 14 airliner)
led the British purchasing commission and Lockheed to propose an adaptation of the larger Lockheed 18 Lodestar.
The same Lockheed team adapted the new airliner with
the powerful R2800 engines, a bomb bay for 4000 lbs of
bombs, fixed nose guns, a gun turret and a ventral gun
position. The British named it the Ventura (recognising
where it was built in California) and it entered RAF service
in November 1942. (the Lodestar also went into military
service as the c-56 transport.)
As well as 487 (NZ) Squadron Venturas
also equipped 21 Sqn RAF and 464 Sqn RAAF within 2 Group of Bomber Command. The Ventura Mk l and
Mk ll were not well liked; they had a high wing loading and
were heavy on the controls while the Bolton Paul turret
caused high drag and yet carried only 0.303” machine
After heavy losses to the Luftwaffe in early 1943, the
RAF Venturas were allocated to second-line duties and
the three bomber squadron re-equipped. But at that same
time the first of 139 Venturas was being delivered to the
RNZAF (somewhat controversially —the Kiwis would have
preferred B-25 Mitchells).
the RNZAF aircraft were PV-1 Venturas built on a US Navy contract; they featured low-drag Martin turrets with
0.5” machine guns. Ultimately over 1800 PV-1s were built;
the US Navy deployed them in the Atlantic and Iceland,
while in the Pacific they flew over the Kuriles (the island
chain off Alaska) and subsequently in the Central Pacific
and Philippines, where they proved very effective.
A small number of NZ Venturas were from USAAF production, designated RB-34 Lexingtons and delivered in
USAAF medium green; those aircraft were not used by the
RNZAF on operations but retained in New Zealand for training.
1 Squadron (RNZAF) took the RNZAF Venturas into action in November 1943. On Christmas Eve 1943 Ventura NZ4509
was attacked by nine Zeros from Rabaul. The Ventura’s
crew shot down three, claimed two probables and drove
off the rest. One of the crew was wounded; two DFCs and
a DFM were awarded.
NZ Venturas were maintained by deployed RNZAF servicing Units in the Islands, while the squadrons and
aircrew rotated through their tours. Numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4
squadrons (RNZAF) operated the Ventura during 1943-45.
For the RNZAF the Ventura is numerically its most
important bomber—in a theatre where Japanese air
strength was declining the Ventura proved to be a very
capable bomber and patrol aircraft. The Ventura also saw
wartime service with the USAAF, the RCAF, the RAAF, and
the French and Brazilian air forces. Lockheed followed it
with the PV-2 Harpoon, which featured a 75 ft wingspan
and reduced wing loading. the Harpoon was to see
extensive post-war service in a number of air forces.
Sources: airforce.mil.nz, Wikipedia, private sources in New Zealand
Crashes 1940 -1945. These researchers have also covered this event. Losses over Western part of the Netherlands, with the added bonus of a great museum to visit. Over 750 aircraft were lost in the area that they research.