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1943-10-28 The loss of Mitchell FR174 NO-K (Dieren Bijvoet)

Crash site: Cherbourg Harbour, 1.6554W/49.6572N, Manche, France

Crash cause: enemy Flak

Aircraft of 320 (Dutch) Squadron RAF Bomber Command, crashed on October 28th, 1943, in the Cherbourg breakwater, 200 meters from the shore WNW of Fort du Homet, Cherbourg, Manche, France. The aircraft had USACOB serial number 42-64690.

Mitchell NO-K on the way to the target on 28/10/1943. Frame from film shot by F/O. Pullen from Mitchell NO-C flown by F/Lt. E.C. Loeff. 28.10.1943 NO-K. Source: PRO Film Archive

1. Operation Tunnel

320 Squadron flew from RAF Lasham, Hampshire, GB. Target was the blockade-breaking German cargo vessel 'Münsterland' in Cherbourg Harbour. The ship carried latex and precious metals such as tungsten and chromium from Japan. Material that was vital to the German War effort. The Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force had attacked the ship before, starting within hours of arrival in the port of Brest on 9/10/1943. These attacks were unsuccesful. The naval attack on 23/10/1943 unfolded as an utter disaster. The experienced crews of the German Torpedoboote from 4. Torpedobootsflotille, based at Brest, completely outwitted the ill prepared British naval force. They achieved torpedo hits on the capital ship in this force, HMS Charybdis, a heavy anti-aircraft cruiser. The ship had four twin power loaded 4,5 inch cannon, as well as a host of smaller caliber weapons. The ship went down with its commanding officer; only 107 of the 600 crew were rescued.

Another ship was hit too, HMS Limbourne, a fast anti-aircraft destroyer. Her entire bow was blown away by a torpedo. Only 103 crew could be rescued, the bodies of the others were never found. The ship was finally scuttled by British torpedo's, the only rounds fired by the British during this encounter.

Source: Lawrence Patterson, "Brittany – Graveyard of the Kriegsmarine. Part 7: Operation Tunnel - Anti-Kriegsmarine operations, Brittany, 1944, on

The Charybdis was sunk on 23/10/1943, near Lannion, Brittany, France, off the Côte de Granit Rose. She was found in 1993, on a depth of 83 meters. The Limbourne was sunk in this area too, but has not yet been located in 2006.


German cargo vessel Münsterland. The structure on the rear deck could be an AA gun, possibly an 88mm, and that would make this a Wartime picture. Photo source:

These attacks were part of 'Operation Tunnel', with which the Allies sought to decimate the Kriegsmarine forces in the Channel, as part of the preparations for the Invasion.

Under cover of moonless nights, Münsterland sailed on to the port of Cherbourg. The vessel was moored along the Digue, or Jetee, du Homet, inside the military harbour of Cherbourg. There, an afternoon attack was made on 24/10/1943, by 12 Mitchells of 320 & and bombers of 180 Squadrons, attacking from 13.000 ft. with 1.000 lb bombs. The bombers were heavily escorted by eight Squadrons of Spitfires.

Source: 320 Squadron ORB

A most vivid account of this attack was published by Pierre Clostermann DFC, a French pilot flying with 602 Squadron Fighter Command.

Source: Clostermann, Pierre, 'The Big Show: Some Experiences of a French Fighter Pilot in the R.A.F.',
translated by
Oliver Berthoud, Time Life, reprint 11/1989

However, Clostermann did not participate in this attack.

The attack was again unsuccesful, as Münsterland could hardly be seen because of the clouds. This also prevented the Germans from being effective with their Flak.

Cherbourg Harbour, Dique du Homet, showing one of several 19th Century fortresses that were used by the Germans as Flak platforms. Cherbourg 060911-3

In two more attacks on this day, RAF Whirlwinds in the morning and Typhoons in the evening went in at the ordered nought feet. That resulted in the loss of seven aircraft and five pilots, without noteworthy damage to the target. Three pilots remained MIA, two became POW. Two Typhoons crashed in the Cherbourg breakwater, and two into the Channel close to Cherbourg. The pilots of the latter two aircraft were rescued from the sea by the Germans. Details of these losses are given later in this chapter, as they are relevant to the loss of the 320 Squadron crew.

2. The 98 & 320 Squadron attack

On October 28th, one more attack was staged. Six 320 Sqn Mitchells and other Mitchells of 98 Sqn RAF Bomber Command, escorted by 5 Squadrons with Spitfires Mk. V. The rendez-vous with the escorting fighters proved problematic. nevertheless, W/Cdr. Lynn decided to press on. That a RAF cameraman was on board one of the 320 Sqn Mitchells may have influenced his decision.

Time over target 14:52. Visibility was good this time.

Group composition

1. FR170 NO-G: W/Cdr. Lynn DFC, Capt. Oele, Ovl 3 Waardenburg, Sgt Telegr Van Leeuwen, F/O. Pritchard

2. FR165 NO-S: Ovl 2 Mulder, Ovl 2 Bastiaenen, Vltg Telegr 2 Trieling, Sgt Vltg Sch Beukhof

3. FR151 NO-C: Ovl 2 Loeff, Ovl 3 Den Tex Bondt, F/O. Pullen, Vltg Telegr De Rooij, Sgt Vltg Sch Beukhof

4. FR156 NO-V: Ovl 2 De Liefde, Off Zwnr 3 Koops, Kpl Vltg Telegr De Bruyn, Sgt Vltg Sch Van Lingen

5. FR173 NO-J: Ovl 2 Van Amsterdam, Ovl 2 Bouma, Sgt Vltg Telegr Anemaet, Kpl Vltg Sch Weysters

6. FR174 NO-K: Ovl 2 Van Dieren Bijvoet, Off Zwnr Van der Knaap, Sgt Vltg Telegr Van Woesik, Kpl Vltg Sch Van Apeldoorn

Mitchell FR151 had a RAF cameraman on board, F/O. Pullen. Het had two Bell & Howell 'Eyemo' spring wound 35mm cine cameras at his disposal. The cameras were used in the hand held mode.

Source: F/O. Pullen's Cine Camera Reconnaissance Report, OPS-F-014-027-39, Imperial War Museum

Bell & Howell advertisement for the Eyemo camera. This sturdy camera, designed in 1925, remained in use in many places long after WW2

Aircraft FR174 received a direct Flak hit during the attack, flying East to West, and was seen to fall out of the sky burning heavily, diving in a clockwise spiral, and towards de Baie de Querqueville. No crew members were seen to leave the aircaft. The final dive was filmed by F/O. Pullen from Mitchell FR151 NO-C flown by F/Lt. E.C. Loeff. The shot stops before FR174 hits the water. The film ends with puffs of smoke from exploding Flak shells close to FR151. This aircraft was hit too. One engine ablaze, F/Lt. Loeff managed to land on RAF Tarrant Rushton, Dorset, England, at 15:20 hours, after the aircraft had levelled out on a lower altitude. A total of some 200 holes were counted in the airframe, but the five men crew miraculously escaped injury. Sources: PRO Film Archive; Albert Beukhof, airgunner of FR151, recounting events, Soesterberg, 2/4/2005;

F/Lt. E.C. Loeff Source: SLH

The other 4 Mitchells of this box from 320 Sqn also returned home, FR156, flown by Off Vl 2kl M.J.C. de Liefde, heavily damaged. None of the escorting fighters was lost. The Operational report of this attack follows below. Source: RAF AHB, via Mickal Simon

FR174 had a four man crew. There were no survivors. Bodies washed ashore, one was identified as P.F. van Woesik. The bodies were buried in Cherbourg Communal Cemetery. P.F. van Woesik was reburied in 1956 in Orry-la-Ville. The three others remained listed as MIA. However, there are reasons to believe that one or two of these three may actually have been, and still are, buried in Cherbourg Communal Cemetery, see below.

The RAF would finally get Münsterland, when Beaufighters sunk her in November 1943 in the North Sea off Holland. The hunt for Münsterland took the lives of a thousand Allied men, mostly sailors.

The wreck of Münsterland has not yet been found. At least it is not listed in the North Sea & Channel wreck database.



1. Dieren Bijvoet, Anthonius Johannes (Boelie) van

A.J. van Dieren Bijvoet in 1940 Source: @St.M.Vl.P. 1939-50


F/O., Pilot


None known




Utrecht, NL


RAF 320 (Dutch) Sqn Bomber Command




Mitchell B-25C Nr. FR174 NO-K


RAF Lasham, Hampshire, GB


German cargo vessel 'Münsterland' in Cherbourg Harbour


MIA, aircraft shot down by enemy Flak, 14.55h






Cherbourg Harbour, Manche, F

Known to





Other crew

2. P/O. C. van der Knaap, Nav - MIA

3. Cpl. A.G. Apeldoorn, Ag - MIA

4. Sgt. P.F. van Woesik, Wop/Ag - KIA


GB arrival

31/5/1940 with Dutch vessel 'Batavier II' from Cherbourg, France, after an escape from Holland on 16/5/1940. Detached KL to KM. Send from England to NEI 1/9/1940 for military flying training


Stone table at Nederlands ereveld Orry-la-Ville, Senlis, F

Data confusion

Geldhof (3): Buried Orry-la-Ville


2. Knaap, Cornelis van der


Res 1Lt Wnr, P/O., Copilot/Nav

RAF VR 104591


None known




Rotterdam, NL


RAF 320 (Dutch) Sqn Bomber Command




Mitchell B-25C FR174 NO-K


RAF Lasham, Hampshire, GB


German cargo vessel 'Münsterland' in Cherbourg Harbour


MIA, aircraft shot down by enemy Flak, 14.55h






Cherbourg Harbour, Manche, F

Known to





Other crew

1. F/O. A.J. van Dieren Bijvoet, Pilot - MIA

3. Cpl. A.G. Apeldoorn, Ag - MIA

4. Sgt. P.F. van Woesik, Wop/Ag - KIA


His burial location, in Cherbourg Cemetery, was reported as 6/5/11 by the Préfect Département Manche to OGS in 1953, information revoked in letter dated 24/3/1954

Note: OGS no longer has this 1953 letter


1. Runnymede, panel 133

2. Stone table at Nederlands ereveld Orry-la-Ville, Senlis, F

GB arrival

Arrived in London 12/3/1941, probably from Luanda, Angola

Data confusion

He is known as MIA by the CWGC, and all other sources except the OGS. The OGS mentions him as buried in Cherbourg, but does not give, nor has, a grave number or photograph.

Geldhof (3): Buried Orry-la-Ville

He arrived in London on 12/3/1941, probably from Luanda, Angola. He had been a vaandrig with the 18th Infantry Regiment.

Source: Corr. Min BiZa to Min v Oorlog, 7/8/1940, via SLH

We believe that Van der Knaap may well be buried in Cherbourg Communal Cemetery, plot 6, row 5, grave 14.


3. Apeldoorn, Albert Gerardus

A.G. Apeldoorn @St.M.Vl.P. 1939-50


Cpl., Ag

Stb.Nr. 16238






Amsterdam, NL


RAF 320 (Dutch) Sqn Bomber Command



Mitchell B-25C FR174 NO-K


RAF Lasham, Hampshire, GB


German cargo vessel 'Münsterland' in Cherbourg Harbour


MIA, aircraft shot down by enemy Flak, 14.55h






Cherbourg Harbour, Manche, F

Known to





Other crew

1. F/O. A.J. van Dieren Bijvoet, Pilot - MIA

2. P/O. C. van der Knaap, Nav - MIA

4. Sgt. P.F. van Woesik, Wop/Ag - KIA


The SLH has no information about him.

He was nr. 4 in a family with 9 children. He reported to the Royal Dutch Navy in 1937. Trained in Den Helder, Noord-Holland. Was posted in 1939 to destroyer "Willem van der Zaan". When War broke out, this ship was in the Atlantic Ocean. It received orders to sail to England. He was detached to the Marine Luchtvaart Dienst. Was trained as an air gunner, and detached to 320 Squadron. Flew 8 operational sorties in September 1943. Probably not many more after that. Married in the summer of 1943 with a British woman. He was killed three months later. No children.

The Apeldoorn family was notified of his loss only in 1946, via the Red Cross. The family received the posthumously awarded Oorlogsherinneringskruis (Cross of War Remembrance), and the Croix de Guerre avec Palme.

Information received by Rob Venema from one brother and one sister of Albert Apeldoorn.

GB arrival

Sailor in the Royal Dutch Navy. Arrived in GB with Dutch naval vessel 'Willem van de Zaan'


None known. His name is not on the memorial tables in Orry-la-Ville


4. Woesik, Pierre Fortunus van

P.F. van Woesik Source: SLH


Sgt., Wop/Ag

Stb.Nr. 20506


None known




Pare, Java, NEI


RAF 320 (Dutch) Sqn Bomber Command



Mitchell B-25C FR174 NO-K


RAF Lasham, Hampshire, GB


German cargo vessel 'Münsterland' in Cherbourg Harbour


KIA, aircraft shot down by enemy Flak, 14.55h






Cherbourg Harbour, Manche, F


Initially on 6/11/1943 as 'Von Wossik, Pierre' in Cherbourg Communal Cemetery, grave 6/5/12, or Nr. 64.

Source: Cherbourg Cemetery Register; letter Préfect Dépt. Manche 24/3/1954

Reburied 13/6/1956 by OGS at Orry-la-Ville, Senlis, F, grave A/1/5

Known to





Other crew

1. F/O. A.J. van Dieren Bijvoet, Pilot - MIA

2. P/O. C. van der Knaap, Nav - MIA

3. Cpl. A.G. Apeldoorn, Ag - MIA


His body washed ashore on 5/11/1943 at Fort du Homet within the Cherbourg breakwater, which is approx. 200 meters from the crash site. He was identified by the Germans; his name is on the official Totenliste, found after the War by the Allies, telegraphed by the Air Ministry to the DIB. Source: CADMvD 5.050.5220/300

P.F. van Woesik was married

GB arrival


None known

These 320 RAF aviators are not known to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, with the exception of C. van der Knaap. In fact he is the only one of the 145 Dutch casualties of 320 Sqn known to CWGC.

4. Crash site data

FR174 going down in flames into Cherbourg Harbour. The dyke at the right bottom is the Digue de Querqueville. Frame from film shot by F/O. Pullen from Mitchell NO-C flown by F/Lt. E.C. Loeff. 28.10.1943-2. Source: PRO Film Archive

Pathé Film made a newsitem, titled 'One of our aircraft is missing'. It uses some of the material shot by F/O. Pullen, and that includes the entire shot of FR174 going down. In this copy, Mickaël Simon believes to see that the nose of FR174 is missing. We have copied a B25, photographed over Holland in 2005, into some of the shots of the descent. We believe that the result proves Mickaël to be right. The nose of a B25, seen at this angle, should be clearly longer than the engine bays. It appears that the nose has been shot off, or was very seriously damaged.

FR174 going down, compared with a B25 at the same angle. The nose section of FR174 is missing. FR174 going down #2

Furthermore, we can conclude that probably both engines are on fire, the starboard one more than the left one, and that a lot of smoke seems to come from where the nose should have been.

This new information does not lead to any clear ideas about the fate of the pilot & navigator. There may have been a direct hit on the cockpit, shattering their bodies to bits, making the MIA-quest a hopeless one. But I know of one case in which a B25 had its bomb load hit by 88mm Flak, and exploded in mid-air, leaving only fragments of the aircraft, but four bodies descended to Earth, sufficiently intact for identifications. So, anything may have happenend. The 'bodies-to-bits' hypothesis is not in agreement with the fact that the name of Van der Knaap surfaced in France as a buried casualty.

Sources all mention Cherbourg, or The Channel near Cherbourg, as the site of the crash. One source mentions La Saline, 60 km SE of Cherbourg. The French Gendarmerie eyewitnessed the crash and pinned the site down as within the breakwater, 100 meters from the shore at La Chasse Mitais in Cherbourg, about 200 meters WNW of Fort du Homet.

Source: Report of Gendarmerie Cherbourg, dated 29/10/1943, via M. Simon

Map 44. Cherbourg breakwater, crash site of Mitchell FR174 (Van Dieren Bijvoet)

Cherbourg breakwater & crash site. Above the map a 180 degrees view of this section of the Grande Rade. When taking this picture, the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle happened to be visiting Cherbourg for the 2nd time. Mitchell FR174 ditched on the line from the carrier to the shore in between the two rock protrusions on the right, about 100 meters from the shore. The harbour is only meters deep in that area. It is imaginable that corpses released by the aircraft washed ashore, and were held there in this shallow water with a rock-and-sand bottom.

Enlarged section of the panoramic harbour view, showing the crash site. Cherbourg Harbour 050623

The crash site at an hour of exceptionally low tide. Cherbourg 060911-14

Fort du Homet

A partir de 1779 (sur l'emplacement d'une batterie du XVII siècle).

Fonction : Systéme défensif de la rade de Cherbourg et accès à la petite rade.

Nature : Ouvrage présentant. initialement. la forme d'un polygone irrégulier à 7 faces. Il comprenait un réduit intérieur avec 2 niveaux de batteries casematées et une plate-forme pour le tir a barbette autour d une cour centrale. Un fossé séparait le réduit de l'enveloppe extérieure. garnie de casemates sur ses faces tournèes vers le large Declassé dès l875, du fait de sa position moins avantageuse que celle des nouveaux bastions de l'arsenal, il n a pas été bétonné. Cependant son enveloppe. ses fossés et une grande partie de son réduit ont été détruits à l'occasion de travaux effectués dans l'arsenal.

Ingénieur Pierre Jean de Caux.
Situation: A l'intérieur de l'arsenal.

(D'après un article de Cols Bleus. Septembre 1987) Source:

Position of the target and a frame from film shot during the attack by F/O. Pullen from Mitchell NO-C flown by F/Lt. E.C. Loeff. The shot shows Münsterland, red cadre in the aerial photograph. The vessel was no longer moored along the Dique du Homet, but in a dock, Arsenal cale Nr. 5. Bomb explosions can be seen very close to it. Rade de Cherbourg 3 & 28.10.1943-2. Source aerial photo: PRO Film Archive, C.5823

5. About the missing men

Mickaël Simon, 12/1/2005: two unknown airmen were buried 10/11/1943 right next to Van Woesik. After the liberation the harbour of Cherbourg was heavily 'cleaned' from German seamines by the Americans and there are not doubts that the wreckage of the Mitchell were scrapped during that time.

There is no information that human remains were salvaged during this cleaning operation.

Information requested and received from the Oorlogsgravenstichting (OGS), Mr. Johan Teeuwisse, 14/1/2005, structered by RPH:

1. In 1954 the OGS received information from the Préfect Dépt. Manche regarding grave locations of Dutch War casualties in Manche.

2. The OGS was informed that in the days after 28/10/1943 two bodies washed ashore. One was identified as P.F. van Woesik, the other as C. van der Knaap.

3. It is unknown how the bodies had been identified.

4. C. van der Knaap was said to be buried in section 6, row 5, grave 11, Cimetière Communal de Cherbourg.

5. His grave carried a cross marked 'unknown English airmen' or similar words or in French. That's curious if the man was identified.

6. P.F. van Woesik was buried section 6, row 5, grave 12, also known as grave number 64.

7. The information was given to the Préfect by the City of Cherbourg.

So Van der Knaap and Van Woesik were both identified, and buried next to each other. Graves are pinpointed with this, the grave number is additional.

8. On June 13th, 1956, the OGS exhumed all known Dutch casualties in Cherbourg, for reburial in Orry-la-Ville.

9. Van Woesik's grave was found; the grave was relocated to Orry-la-Ville.

10. The OGS was unable to find Van der Knaap's grave. That's why the OGS reports Van der Knaap as buried in Cherbourg, but does not report a grave number.

11. As OGS could not find this grave, they had nothing to identify.

12. The parents of C. van der Knaap were informed of the intended relocation of the grave of their son. OGS reports that the parents did not believe that their son was buried in Cherbourg. This opinion was based on testimony of a 320 aviator, who eyewitnessed the crash (or saw the film).

I analyse as follows:

1. Mickaël Simon reported the burials of Van Woesik on 6/11/1943, and two other unknown airmen on 10/11/1943. Source is the Cemetery's register. That's one more air casualty than known to OGS.

2. If we can conclude that these three bodies came from Mitchell FR174, which seems quite possible, then 3 of the 4-man crew of FR174 were buried in Cherbourg.

3. Washing ashore in the breakwater of 3 out of 4 crew from a plane that ditched inside the breakwater is no coincidence. It is the result of the maritime conditions of the location.

4. As the City of Cherbourg would not invent the name C. van der Knaap, we can easily accept hat he was indeed identified and buried as stated above.

5. The identification of Van der Knaap may have come after 10/11/1943, and before 1954. They did not know straight away, and that's why a headstone with 'unknown' was used. This headstone situation may not have been corrected at a later stage, leading to confusion. He became lost in the records, not in the body.

6. Another headstone with 'unknown' is likely to have been used for the other airmen, whom could be either A.J. van Dieren Bijvoet or A.G. Apeldoorn.

7. As OGS had no information regarding the 3rd burial, they did not look for it.

8. As Van Woesik was buried first, row 5 grave 12, and Van der Knaap four days later next to him in grave 13 or 14, and as Mickaël Simon reports that on 10/11/1943 the two unknown airmen were buried side by side, next to Van Woesik, it follows that the third airmen was buried in grave 13 or 14 on row 5 of section 6. Note: rows are also noted with letters, row 5 is same as row E.

9. As the men were buried side by side, it seems highly unlikely that one or both of the unknowns were German. The cemetery people must have assumed that these men belonged together, which is most likely true.

10. It is however possible that one of these two unknown men is S/Ldr. Arthur Vincent Gowers DFC, who had crashed into the harbour on 24/10/1943. Especially as the body in grave 6/5/13 was recognized as a Major.

11. It is unclear why OGS in 1956 could not find a grave that the French had reported to be present. It is unclear why OGS cannot present an explanation from the cemetery staff. Did OGS not ask the obvious question? Did OGS find, next to Van Woesik, a grave marked as 'unknown', and concluded that this grave therefore could not be the grave of C. van der Knaap?

12. That Van der Knaap's parents did not believe their son to be buried in Cherbourg, should have been irrelevant for the actions of OGS. However, the parents may have contributed to confusion with their ill informed opinion.

13. As OGS has registered Cherbourg as the place of burial of C. van der Knaap, without mention of a grave number, it follows that OGS assumes that he is still buried there, but did not take action since 1956 to look around the Cherbourg Cemetery a bit better.

Cherbourg Cemetery Register, October 1943, graves 6/5/11 to 13. This image is constructed from three copies of the page, of which Cherbourg Cemetery staff has cut the rest, 'for reasons of privacy'. How much more private can one get, when dead and buried as unknown? This curious interpretation of laws on privacy, intended to protect the living, was amended at the spot for Van Woesik, 'as he is no longer buried here'. Source: a bewildered Mickaël Simon, who happened to know a lady working there, from highschool days. Such are the ways of research, sometimes...

Please refer to Chapter 10.3 for more information about bodies washing ashore. The conclusion is that, in North Sea and Channel, as a rule, bodies do NOT wash ashore. But in enclosed waters, such as Cherbourg Harbour, bodies may well wash ashore.

Of the 91 Dutch RAF aviators lost over sea, only Van Woesik and Holtrop are known to have washed ashore. The other seven bodies were recovered by the navy directly after the crash, or by fishermen in protected waters.

Now comes the Cherbourg breakwater. We have Van Woesik. We may have Van der Knaap. We may also have a 3rd aviator from this aircraft. These two are not yet included in the data given above. We seem to have two British pilots who ditched in the breakwater and washed ashore there. So we can conclude that we have special marine conditions here. Bodies tend to wash ashore here. If an aviator was not trapped in the wreck, or disintegrated with his aircraft, then a crash inside the breakwater leads to a good chance that the body washes ashore. Perhaps there have been more crashes here, that would support this hypothesis. Many of the 82 Dutch RAF MIA's lost at sea fell close to the shores of North Sea and Channel. With the exception of Holtrop, none of the 82 washed ashore anywhere. This hypothesis strengthens the idea that another member of the Van Woesik aircraft may have washed ashore. Especially since the time window matches.

The document above is made by British Grave Services, listing the burials at Cherbourg Cemetery, as known at the time. It comes from Mme. Madeleine Levaslot, who looked after the War graves in this cemetery during and after the War. She added a few notes of her own to the document. It gives us an insight into the confusion that existed. No mention of the name of Van der Knaap. The body of J. Painting, who died in one of the three Mitchell crashes at Tréauville on 26/11/1943, was found only in 1947.

More airmen washed ashore here. Not in the harbour, but close to Cherbourg. On 24/10/1942, according to the CWGC, a RAF 207 Squadron bomber crashed off Blainville-sur-Mer, SE of the island of Jersy. The bodies of three of the crew washed up near Cherbourg. The burial notes of Cherbourg Cemetery report these men as buried on 18/11/1942. A hand written note states that these bodies washed up. The names:

Sgt. William Clifford Colwill, RCAF R/90227, Ag, age 23, buried Cherbourg grave 6/4/12.

Sgt. Walter George Woodhouse, RAF VR 1436485, Ag, age 20, buried Cherbourg grave 6/4/11.

F/Sgt. Dennis Kilvington Potter, RAF 628018, Ag, age 21, buried Cherbourg grave 6/4/13.

Assuming that the bodies were buried two days after they were found, the bodies travelled through the sea for 20 days. The sea distance between Blainville-sur-Mer and Cherbourg is about 100 km in straight lines, meaning that the bodies travelled at speeds of at least 5 km/day.

Three other crew members of this aircraft washed up too, and are buried in coastal villages in Calvados, close to where their bodies washed up.

Source: Mickaël Simon, 20/3/2006, 7/8/2006

Furthermore, the bodies of two of a five man all-Polish Wellington crew washed up near Cherbourg:

Ppor. nawig. (P/O., Nav) Stefan Żukotyński, Nr. P 1982, Polish, born Jaroslaw 13/12/1917, flying Wellington Mk. 1V Nr. Z1387 BH-Q of RAF (Polish) 300 Sqn flying from RAF Ingham, died in the early morning of 15/1/1943 at sea off Lorient. Lorient was the target of a bombing or mine laying mission. His body washed ashore on 24/3/1943, most likely close to Cherbourg, and was buried on 25/3/1943 in grave 6/5/2.

Kpr. strz. (Cpl, U/T) Józef Jednaki, Nr. P 793701, Polish, born Polska Ostrawa 21/2/1919, died 15/1/1943 with Wellington Z1387 of RAF (Polish) 300 Sqn, at sea off Lorient. His body washed ashore on 25/3/1943, most likely close to Cherbourg, and was buried on 30/3/1943 in grave 6/5/3.

The rest of the crew of Wellington Z1387 remained missing-in-action:

Kpr. r/op. strz. (Cpl., Wop U/T) Jerzy Burda, Nr. P 793667, Polish, born Szewna p. Opatów 17/4/1919, died 15/1/1943 with Wellington Z1387 of RAF (Polish) 300 Sqn, at sea off Lorient; MIA.

Kpr. pil. (Cpl., Pilot) Stanislaw Gosiewski, Nr. P 792204, Polish, born Ostrołęka 24/4/1922, died 15/1/1943 with Wellington Z1387 of RAF (Polish) 300 Sqn, at sea off Lorient; MIA.

Plut. bomb. strz. (Cpl., Ba U/T) Henryk Imiołek, Nr. P 781370, Polish, born Sancyginów p. Pińczów 18/8/1914, died 15/1/1943 with Wellington Z1387 of RAF (Polish) 300 Sqn, at sea off Lorient; MIA.

Source: Jos van Alphen, 21/8/2006

Assuming that the bodies of Kpr. Jednaki and Ppor. Żukotyński were buried two days after they were found, which is a pattern seen more often at Cherbourg Cemetery, then the bodies travelled through the sea for 68 and 69 days respectively. The sea distance between Lorient and Cherbourg is about 450 km in straight lines, meaning that the bodies travelled at speeds of at least 6,6 km/day.

And finally the body of F/Sgt. K.B. Phillips washed ashore close to Cherbourg:

F/Sgt. Keith Balfour Phillips, RAAF 409600, died 28/8/1943 with Wellington Mk. X Nr. HE901 that crashed at sea off Lorient during a mine laying mission. Age 24, buried Cherbourg grave 6/5/9.

His body washed up at Querqueville on 30/9/1943, just outside of the Cherbourg Harbour. He was buried in Cherbourg on 2/10/1943.

Source: RAAF cypher message dated 28/12/1943 about IRCC quoting German information, National Archives of Australia, 409600 page 42, with thanks to Mickaël Simon.

Phillips' body travelled from Lorient to Querqueville in 33 days, meaning a travel speed of at least 13,6 km/day.

In grave 6/5/10, to the left of F/Sgt. K.B. Phillips, we have the burial of an unknown RAF Sergeant, buried the same day as Phillips, 2/10/1943.

Considering that same day and place of burial, it is tempting to assume that this body may have washed up near Querqueville too, and that the body may have come from Phillips' aircraft, making it one of the 3 sergeants that are listed as MIA: F. Jackson, R.W. Holmes or A.R. Harrup. Washing up of more than one crew member at the same place and time, even over long distances, has been seen before. But we have no proof for this assumption.

6. More losses in Cherbourg Harbour

On Sunday 24/10/1943 the RAF made two attacks on Münsterland in Cherbourg Harbour. In the early morning 12 Whirlwinds of 263 Squadron attacked, six with bombs and six with the anti-Flak mission. These were covered by eight Typhoons of 257 Squadron. The attack was ordered to be made at nought feet. Two Whirlwinds were lost, and two had to make a crash landing when back at base. In the late afternoon another attack was made, by eight Typhoons of 183 Squadron. Three were shot down by Flak, one made it back to base for a wheels-up landing. A nought feet attack was the most dangerous way to proceed when a ship in the heavily defended harbour of Cherbourg was the target. The following losses occurred. The names of those who remained MIA are in bold.

1. S/Ldr. Arthur Vincent ('Gus', 'Vin') Gowers DFC, RAF VR 40166, age 30, 183 Sqn, Typhoon Mk. Ib Nr. JP396, shot by Flak over Cherbourg Harbour, crashed into the Harbour, MIA. Remembered on Runnymede, panel 118.

S/Ldr. A.V. Gowers DFC at the age of 30. The picture is dated 4/10/1943. Source: IWM CH11296

Sylvia M. Barnard wrote 'Never a dull moment' about her uncle S/Ldr. Gowers. The 114 page book was privately published. A copy is held at the RAF Museum, Hendon. S/Ldr. Gowers wife Joan Gowers-Church, now Mrs. Wheeler, and daughter Gloria, born 1939, are still alive.

Source: S.M. Barnard, 'Never a dull moment', Leeds, privately published, undated (1993), & correspondence

2. F/Sgt. J. Gray, 263 Sqn, Whirlwind Mk. I Nr. P6986, shot by Flak over Cherbourg Harbour, ditched in the Channel off Cherbourg, rescued, POW

3. F/O. Paul Thomas Richard Mercer, RAF VR 127883, 263 Sqn, Whirlwind Mk. I Nr. P6979, shot by Flak over Cherbourg Harbour, crashed into the Channel off Cherbourg, East coast of the peninsula, MIA. Remembered on Runnymede, panel 126.

4. F/O. D.N. Munrowd, 183 Sqn, Typhoon Mk. Ib Nr. JP368, shot by Flak over Cherbourg Harbour, landed wheels-up at RAF Warmwell, pilot safe, aircraft written off.

5. F/O. Gerald Edmond Rawson, RNZAF 404943, age 25, 183 Sqn, Typhoon Mk. Ib Nr. JP542, shot by Flak over Cherbourg Harbour, crashed into the Harbour, MIA. Remembered on Runnymede, panel 198.

He was one of five siblings in New Zealand. All are now dead. Rawson married in Sheffield when 183 Squadron was stationed near York, and left a daughter, Judith, whom he can never have seen.

Source: Sylvia Barnard, 7/3/2007

Sylvia Barnard found contact with Simon Strombom in New Zealand, who is the son of Gerald Rawson's sister. He is a New Zealand Army Captain. He knows about the Cherbourg burials, and so does all the family. From his files come the following:

A. 18 Jan 1954 my Great Grandmother (Gerald Mother) wrote to the Air
Ministry. In the letter she notes one parachute was seen 12 miles out
North of Cherbourg. Then they were advised he was missing. She states in
her letter they were advised that Gerald was buried in Cherbourg cemetery.

B. There is a report on the crash sister Ops.8/XF.79/ Air in the file
which is a sea crash investigation. They exhumed grave 63 from this
crash and found a St. Christopher medal and that the lower jaw No. 6 tooth
had a metal filling. They said the hair was wavy and brown ( Gerald's
was) yet further identification impossible. Signed S/Ldr. H.P. Masse,

C. There is a letter from (I think) CWGC 29/9/1947 saying that the
information is insufficient and the grave remains marked with unknown.
Source: Simon Strombon, 7/5/2007

F/O. G.E. Rawson Source: Auckland Museum, NZ

Gerry Rawson with his ground crew. Source: Paul Sortehaug, NZ, via Mickaël Simon

G.E. Rawson married Mary Morris, 12th December 1942 in Norton Parish Church, Derby (near Sheffield), Church of England Source: Debbie Rawson, NZ

Pencil drawing of G.E. Rawson, dated 29 August 1943. He wears his RNZAF pilot's wing Source: Judith Rawson

6. F/Lt. D.G. Ross, 263 Sqn, Whirlwind Mk. I Nr. P6974, shot by Flak over Cherbourg Harbour, landed wheels-up at RAF Warmwell, pilot safe, aircraft written off.

7. F/O. P.W.B. Thomas, Typhoon Mk. Ib Nr. JP428, shot by Flak over Cherbourg Harbour, ditched in the Channel off Cherbourg, rescued, POW.

Therefore, seven aircraft were lost on 24/10/1943, and five pilots, of whom two became prisoners of War, and three remained missing-in-action. Of these three, two went down into Cherbour harbour.

One 'aviateur Anglais', being an officer, was delivered to Cherbourg Cemetery on 24/10/1943. The body is mentioned in the Cherbourg Cemetery register as buried on 28/10/1943 in grave Nr. 63, now indicated with 6/5/11.

Source: Cherbourg Cemetery Register, October 1943, via Mickaël Simon

The headstone mentions 'Flying Officer' as the rank of this unknown airman. One F/O. was lost in Cherbourg Harbour on 24/10/1943: F/O. Gerald Edmond Rawson, RNZAF. We assume that his body was found by the Germans, who were patrolling the harbour and the sea off Cherbourg after the attack. They also rescued F/Sgt. J. Gray and F/O. P.W.B. Thomas from the sea on that same day.

One 'Major inconnu Anglais' was buried in Cherbourg on 10/11/1943, grave 65, now 6/5/13, next to Van Woesik. It is tempting to believe that this may be the body of S/Ldr. Arthur Vincent Gowers DFC, being the only higher ranking British officer-aviator lost there and then.

Grave 6/5/11, possibly the grave of F/O. G.E. Rawson Cherbourg Cem 050624 6-5-11

Grave 6/5/13, possibly the grave of S/Ldr. A.V. Gowers DFC Cherbourg Cem 050624 6-5-13

All bodies that washed ashore, or were found floating, in Cherbourg Harbour, travelled at speeds of max. 1 km/day. This body travel speed is also seen with bodies that washed up or were found in the IJsselmeer, meaning protected waters as compared to the open seas. See the chapter on bodies washing ashore later in this study. Furthermore, bodies of Allied airmen downed over the soil of France, in the Cherbourg area, can be demonstrated to have been delivered to Cherbourg Cemetery within five days after the crash. No land crash within a matching period can be associated with the 28/10/1943 to 10/11/1943 Cherbourg burials of R.A.F. personnel. Therefore, it stands to reason to associate these burials with the losses that occurred on 24 and 28/10/1943.

I believe this to be sufficient evidence to warrant an investigation of the remains in graves 6/5/11, 6/5/13 and 6/5/14 with modern means, with the names of F/O. Rawson, S/Ldr. Gowers, and P/O. Van der Knaap respectively as the most likely names to be attached to these graves, and with the names of F/O. Van Dieren Bijvoet and Cpl. Apeldoorn as less likely possibilities for grave 6/5/14.

E (5)








headstone picture

relocated, space now empty





RAF 320Sqn







unknown airman, 'Major'

P.F. van Woesik


unknown officer

K.B. Phillips

date of death





Body discovery

Body washed up 06/11/1943 at Fort du Homet

Body washed up 30/09/1943 at Querqueville

date of burial








date of relocation








C. van der Knaap?

S/Ldr. A.V.


F/O. G.E. Rawson?











Table 11. Section of file Cherbourg Com Cem.xls, containing a layout of all graves in plot six. This plot is for Allied Wartime casualties, and most were aviators.

Cherbourg Cimetière Ancien 'Pieux', plot 6. The first row in this photograph is row 6, or F. Grave numbers count from right to left. The open space in row 5 was the initial burial site of P.F. van Woesik. In this row there are the graves of at least 3, and possibly six, more aviators whose bodies washed ashore near Cherbourg or in the harbour. In row 4 there are three more aviators who washed ashore here too. Cherbourg 050623-5

Lasham 070123 Memorial 183 Sqn

7. About burials of Dutchmen in Département de la Manche

1. Dutch servicemen

Mickaël Simon, email 22/1/2005:

I had the opportunity to check the original Cherbourg cemetery register yesterday and was able to see each pages from October 1943 to June 1944.

Firstly the date of death do not appear on it, only the date of burial is mentioned, other information are grave number, identity and an Observation case.

From that visit, I can assure you that the name van der Knaap does not appear on it. The register records every casualty in chronological order, so civilian, german soldiers or Allied airmen appear together and no Van der Knaap among them from the period October 1943 - June 1944.

I checked the van Woesik entry and found that he was buried as 'unknown English airman' his name has been added later, most probably when he was exhumed in 1956. His burial date is recorded on 8 november 1943 but in the Observation case is written the date 6 november 1943, probably meaning that he was recovered on this day, but there are absolutely no other Observation unfortunately.

Entries for the two unknow airmen of 10 november 1943 are poorly informative:

- For grave 6/5/13: buried 10 november 1943; unknown English airman, major. In the Observation case: 10 november 1943.

- For grave 6/5/14: buried 10 november 1943; unknown English airman; nothing in the Observation case.

The only news is that the unknown buried in 6/5/13 had the rank of major (in french)

I have now to wait for my procuration to be allowed to check death registers. Also I have spotted an interesting record in the French Navy Archives in Cherbourg. This is the Wartime records of the Coastal Police of the area and they could reveal some useful information. Once again however, I have to have the permission from the archivist as these are sensible data (less than 100 years old) but he seems to be cooperative; wait and see! My main task is to learn how the name van der Knaap had been determined and by whom.

June 23rd, 2005. Author meets Mickaël Simon in Les Pieux, Manche, France. On this very day Mickaël has finally received the permit requested six months ago, to search for data about Van der Knaap et al in local archives that had remained closed until now. Unfortunately, he could not find any document of relevance to this case in the archives of Cherbourg and its neighbouring villages.

Liste des Militaires Neerlandais inhumes dans le Département de la Manche, 24/3/1954, signed M. Michel, via OGS:

And accompanying letter by Deputy Mayor of Cherbourg to Préfet de la Manche, dated 24/2/1954

Missing: letter by Deputy Mayor of Cherbourg to Préfet de la Manche, dated 23/4/1953



Lieu et date du décès

Indication de la Tombe



Johannes Antonis



Exhumé en Décembre 1949 pour etre transferé en Hollande

Lettre 24/2/1954: A bien été inhumé à la date donnée (26.11.43) mais a été exhumé et remporte le 7.12.1949 par

le service des sépultures anglais - Corps remis à la famille.


De la Haije





Cimetière Communal - Section Militaire - carré 6 - rang 6. No. 73.

Lettre 24/2/1954:



Van Woesik

Pierre Fortunus



Cimetière Communal - Section Militaire - carré 6 - rang 5. No. 64.

Lettre 24/2/1954:



De Jager




Voir lettre de Cherbourg, copie jointé (=lettre de 24/2/2954)

Lettre 24/2/1954: aucune trace tant au bureau des entrées que dans le carré militaire (indication donnée

de l'emplacement de la tombe entièrement fausse). Voir ma lettre du 24/4/1953.


Van der Knaap




Voir lettre de Cherbourg, copie jointé (=lettre de 24/2/2954)

Lettre 24/2/1954: Porté 'inconnu' Forte Présomption (voir ma lettre du 23.4.53)


Van der Toorn




Voir lettre de Cherbourg, copie jointé (sans renseignement)

Lettre 24/2/1954: Aucun renseignement - voir

ma lettre du 23.4.53

Action of OGS

Current OGS registration

Kok - Relocated 7/12/1949

Buried Grebbeberg, Rhenen, NL, grave 8/7

De la Haije - Relocated 13/6/1956

Buried Orry-la-Ville, Senlis, grave A/1/4.

Van Woesik - Relocated 13/6/1956

Buried Orry-la-Ville, Senlis, F., grave A/1/5.

De Jager - Not found 1956

Not found in OGS register

Van der Knaap - Not found 1956

Buried in Cherbourg, grave not known

Van der Toorn - Not found 1956

Died 10/6/1944 Cherbourg, grave not known

Table 12. Liste des Militaires Neerlandais inhumés dans le Département de la Manche

Dated 24/3/1954, signed M. Michel, send on request of OGS; copy obtained from OGS

This means that 3 out of 6 graves reported in 1954 to OGS to be in Cherbourg Cemetery were not found by OGS in 1956 or later. De Jager and Van der Toorn were and are buried outside of plot 6. The OGS did not report earlier, that it had received word that these alleged Dutchmen were buried in Cherbourg.

In this report, two Cherbourg grave numbers are given: No. 64 and No. 73. Adding these to the cemetery layout, a perfect range comes forward, counting from 1, grave 6/1/1, to 88, or grave 6/7/9. This confirms that grave numbers are additional, and not essential for location of the graves, if the coordinates, e.g. 6/5/12, are known.

Mickaël Simon, 30/09-2006:

I just received an answer from the French Navy Archives in Cherbourg regarding the 28 October 1943 enigma. They conducted the research looking for any reports regarding the crash of an airplane in Cherbourg harbour on 28/10/43 and the possible washing ashore of airmen in the harbour, period 24/10/43 to 15/11/43 for me and found only an account on the 28/10/43 alert, nothing more. I should be granted access in the future to check by myself these records for other information, but we can now consider this source as useless for our enquiry...after 2 years of waiting!

The information received from the French is also reflected in a list of burials of Dutchmen in France. The list is undated, but not later than 1947. The names of Apeldoorn, Van Dieren Bijvoet and Van Woesik do not appear in this list. This strengthens the opinion that the French could not have invented the name of C. van der Knaap. Source: CAD MvD/DIB/Map 81.

2. Dutchmen possibly enlisted in Nazi organisations

Nine more men are reported as Dutchmen buried at Saint-James, Brittanny American War Cemetery 1,5 miles SE of the village of Saint-James, Basse Normandie.

These men are not in the the OGS register. They were also not found in the register of the CWGC, in the Roll of Honour of South Africa, on the assumption that the men may have had the SA nationality, or in the database of US enlistments, on the assumption that the men may have served in US units. According to the Dutch Embassy in Paris (only) 3 men of the Prinses Irene Brigade were killed in France.


In any case, the names of the men buried in Saint-James are unaccounted for. All died after the invasion. Four of them on the same day, indicative of violent deaths. Lacking evidence to the contrary, we have to assume that these men were indeed Dutch, as stated by the French official. The men buried at St. James may have been Dutchmen who enlisted in the Wehrmacht or the SS. If so, they would not be registered in the OGS Casualty Register. OGS has been asked whether this is the case, email dated 23/3/2005. OGS answered by letter dated 13/4/2005: The names are known to OGS. Under the statute of OGS, these men are not considered as Dutch casualties of War. They were not forced labourers, or Dutch Military, or Dutch civilians either. Their status cannot be given by OGS for reasons of privacy. OGS shall not care for their graves. Therefore, we must assume that these men, and the nine Dutchmen buried in Beauvais Cimetière Général, under French War crosses, were indeed enlisted in a Nazi organisation out of their own free will. Still, the matter is puzzling. The nine buried in Beauvais, all marked 'victime civile', all died on the same day. Again, this indicates violent death, such as an execution. The Germans would send troublesome servicemen to the Eastern front, not execute them. The French would not bury German servicemen as civilian casualties. Could OGS be in error, and could these nine men, who all died on 09/09/1943, have been prisoners held at Beauvais, after being arrested in the area – possibly when trying to get to England?

The nine graves in Beauvais, are in need of restoration. Author received a request from France, asking for Dutch help. As nobody in Holland wishes to know about such burials, let alone care for the graves, the request was relayed to German organisations. No reply.

Cimetière Général de Beauvais, Rue De Calais, Beauvais, France. Carré Néerlandais. French military headstones with the names of nine Dutchmen, marked as 'victime civiele', who all died on 09/09/1943. The plot is not looked after. Were these men Dutch traitors? Author was given to understand by OGS that they were, but without proof, and questions remain. Beauvais General 060909-2

8. Official investigation requested

1. Finding the will and the way

The Dutch Government has issued a brochure titled 'Bergen van vliegtuigwrakken en vermiste bemanningsleden uit de Tweede Wereldoorlog; opsporen en ruimen van andere explosieven dan geimproviseerde.' The brochure is reprinted below, Chapter 9.3.4.

Source: Ministriële Publicatie 40 serie, 40-45-100, undated, see

In this it is stated "Omdat particulieren waardevolle bijdragen kunnen leveren aan delen van het bergingsproces, ligt het in de rede waar mogelijk met hen samen te werken." Translation: As private persons can deliver valuable input to parts of the salvage process, it stands to reason to, whenever possible, cooperate with them. Author shall not question that this guideline is followed when it comes to finding and salvaging aircraft wrecks in Dutch soil. But when it is about finding back a Dutch RAF aviator lost outside of the Netherlands, things get complicated.

It took a serious amount of doing to find out who is responsible for, and can do, an identification of human remains in a few of the graves of unknown airmen at Cherbourg. The first thought was to ask the Oorlogsgraven-stichting. OGS declared that it had neither the means nor the authority to act as requested. OGS pointed to the Royal Dutch Airforce. Then the top of the Royal Dutch Air Force (Koninklijke Luchtmacht, KLu) was send the request. It took the KLu a year to come up with the answer that such expertise was no longer available to them, and that my request was forwarded by the KLu to the Oorlogsgravenstichting. That amounts to about 18 months of yoyoing with Dutch agencies, and no results in sight.

After a while, and when it became evident that British Wartime aviators may have been buried as unknowns in Cherbourg too, a similar request was forwarded to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Now, the reply was almost by return mail: 'do tell us all, and yes we liaison with the War Office, to get things done. But be prepared for the process to take many months'. Clearly a more decisive approach.

Below the details are given, of this quest to find back the grave of one, or perhaps two, Dutchmen who flew with the RAF and who went missing-in-action.

1. Royal Dutch Air Force & Oorlogsgravenstichting

Early 2005 the matter is discussed with the Sectie Luchtmachthistorie. The SLH points to the Oorlogsgravenstichting, as the appropriate organisation for actions in this case. On 1/6/2005 OGS points back to the SLH, as the appropriate organisation. OGS declares to have neither the means nor the authority to act in this case. After some more yoyoing, author directs the request to the top of the Royal Dutch Airforce.

On 25/10/2005 the full dossier on this case was presented to Kolonel Mr. Mevr. E.P.M. Rozenhart, Chef Kabinet van de Bevelhebber der Luchtstrijdkrachten, 's-Gravenhage, with the request to identify, using modern technology, the human remains in Cherbourg, graves 6/5/13 and 6/5/14. Only she can order the appropriate action to be taken. Help is available if and when the time comes to trace relatives of the lost men, to obtain DNA material.

On 6/2/2006 another message was send to the Chef Kabinet KLu, reporting that no response from the KLu has been received so far. A response came on 22/2/2006:

Op 25 oktober 2005 en vervolgens op 6 februari 2006 heeft u een brief
verzonden met het verzoek om identificatie van de stoffelijke overschotten
in twee graven in Cherbourg. Dienaangaande vraag ik uw aandacht voor het

Aangezien de Koninklijke Luchtmacht niet meer over een gravendienst beschikt en dit soort verzoeken geen dagelijkse kost zijn, is uw verzoek op 1 november 2005 doorgeleid naar de Chef Kabinet van de Chef Defensiestaf
(thans Commandant der Strijdkrachten) met het verzoek te bezien wat daartoe de mogelijkheden zijn. Hierop is tot op heden naar mij toe niet gereageerd en heb ik verzuimd om te rappeleren, waarvoor mijn excuses.

Inmiddels is dit verzoek door mij nogmaals bij de nieuw aangetreden Chef Kabinet van de CDS uitgezet, met het verzoek hierop adequaat te reageren.

Ik heb van hem inmiddels begrepen dat er thans binnen de Defensiestaf
wordt uitgezocht wat de mogelijkheden zijn.

Zodra ik antwoord heb zal ik u hierover onverwijld informeren.

Met vriendelijke groet,

Kapitein J.W.P. (Jan) van Boxtel bc.
Wnd Hoofdofficier Toegevoegd Chef Kabinet
Staf Commandant Luchtstrijdkrachten

Early May 2006 the archaeologist/journalist Theo Toebosch contacts the KLu, wishing to hear more about this. Toebosch has pointed out in articles that university archaeology in Holland ignores the WW2 period. On May 4th, 2006, the day of Dodenherdenking (Remembrance of the War casualties), NRC Handelsblad publishes a Toebosch article about the efforts of this author. In the days after that Toebosch called the KLu a few more times. The response still is 'we are studying the request'.


No word from the Dutch Airforce. Via a detour, a message is send to General Dick Berlijn, Chef Defensiestaf since 25/6/2004, formerly the Bevelhebber der Luchtstrijdkrachten:

Op 25/10/2005 is aan Kolonel Mr Mevr. E.P.M. Rozenhart, Chef Kabinet Bevelhebber der Luchtstrijdkrachten, een schriftelijk verzoek gestuurd:

Hiermee verzoek ik u om identifikatie van de stoffelijke overschotten in twee graven in Cherbourg, van welke kan worden vermoed dat zij toebehoren aan een of twee van drie Nederlandse militaire vliegers, die aldaar op 28/10/1943 vermist zijn geraakt.

De argumentatie waarom wij menen dat dit verzoek grond heeft, volgt hieronder in het kort. De stellingen worden toegelicht in bijgaand dossier, waarin al het gevonden relevante materiaal wordt gepresenteerd.

Dat dossier omvat zo'n 30 pagina's.

Tot op heden, 7 maanden later, is er niet op dit verzoek gereageerd. Ik verzoek u om aanwijzingen te geven die leiden tot een respons op dit verzoek. Een respons zou bij voorkeur meer moeten bevatten dan het bericht dat het verzoek in behandeling is.


No word received from the Dutch Air Force. Another message is send to Kolonel Mr Mevr. E.P.M. Rozenhart, Chef Kabinet Bevelhebber der Luchtstrijdkrachten:

Op 25/10/2005 stuurde ik u een verzoek om identifikatie van de stoffelijke overschotten in twee graven in Cherbourg, van welke kan worden vermoed dat zij toebehoren aan een of twee van drie Nederlandse militaire vliegers, die aldaar op 28/10/1943 vermist zijn geraakt. De KLu heeft hierop nog niet anders gereageerd dan met het bericht, dd. 22/2/2006, dat de huidige mogelijkheden worden bezien.

Voortgezet onderzoek heeft aanleiding gegeven tot het beargumenteerbare vermoeden dat de graven van enkele onbekende vliegers in Cherbourg toebehoren aan de volgende vliegers:

Graf 6/5/11: F/O. Gerald Edmond Rawson, RNZAF 404943, age 25, 183 Sqn, Typhoon Mk. Ib Nr. JP542, shot by Flak over Cherbourg Harbour on 24/10/1943, crashed into the Harbour, MIA. Remembered on Runnymede, panel 198.

Graf 6/5/13: S/Ldr. Arthur Vincent Gowers DFC, RAF VR 40166, age 30, 183 Sqn, Typhoon Mk. Ib Nr. JP396, shot by Flak over Cherbourg Harbour on 24/10/1943, crashed into the Harbour, MIA. Remembered on Runnymede, panel 118.

Graf 6/5/14: Res 1Lt Wnr, P/O. Cornelis van der Knaap, RAF VR 104591, born Rotterdam, 10/7/1916, 320 (Dutch) Sqn, Mitchell B-25C FR174 NO-K, shot by Flak over Cherbourg Harbour on 28/10/1943, crashed into the Harbour, MIA. Remembered on Runnymede, panel 133.

Ik verzoek u mij binnen vier weken te berichten of de Koninklijke Luchtmacht aan mijn verzoek gevolg gaat geven. Indien de KLu geen mogelijkheden heeft, dan zal ik mij wenden tot de Royal Air Force.

On 8/8/2006 a message is received from the Dutch Air Force top:

Uw verzoek is destijds voor behandeling aan het Ministerie van Defensie
aangeboden. Naar aanleiding van uw laatste brief heb ik contact opgenomen met de Waarnemend Chef Kabinet CDS. Hij zal mij deze week de stand van zaken aangeven. Ik zal u hiervan op de hoogte stellen.

Met excuus voor de trage afdoening,
Kol EPM Rozenhart

'This week' took a bit longer. On 16/10/2006 a message was received from Luitenant-kolonel J. Kos:

De beantwoording van uw verzoek om identifikatie van twee nederlandse oorlogsgevallenen WOII heeft een aanzienlijke vertraging opgelopen. Omdat we bij de Koninklijke Luchtmacht hier in het geheel geen expertise meer hebben en wij nog niet eerder een dergelijk verzoek hebben ontvangen hadden we om advies van de Defensiestaf verzocht. Vanuit die instantie is, na veel aandringen (omdat men daar blijkbaar uiteindelijk ook geen ervaring met dergelijke verzoeken had), na lange tijd het antwoord ontvangen dat we binnen Defensie hier geen mogelijkheden voor hebben en zijn we doorverwezen naar de Gravenstichting.

Ik bied u voor de door deze gang van zaken ontstane grote vertraging mijn excuses aan.

Ik heb inmiddels kontakt gehad met de Gravenstichting en van hen de toezegging gekregen dat ze uw verzoek willen bezien en naar aanleiding daarvan een beslissing zullen nemen.

De door u toegezonden informatie heb ik heden aangetekend naar de Gravenstichting gezonden ter beoordeling.

Ik hoop dat hiermee weer beweging in deze zaak kan komen en dat de stoffelijk overschotten kunnen worden geidentificeerd.

Hopende u hiermede voldoende te hebben geinformeerd



Hoofd Sectie Algemene Zaken en Protocol

Kabinet Commandant Luchtstrijdkrachten

Good to hear that the Oorlogsgravenstichting is willing to take a look at the case. However, over a year ago OGS declared to have neither the means nor the authority. A new creativity is needed, to get the job done. Answer to LKol J. Kos, copy to OGS, dated 18/10/2006:

Het is begrepen dat Defensie, na een jaar van beraad, de mensen en de middelen niet meer heeft om aan mijn verzoek om identifikatie van de inhoud van enkele graven in Cherbourg, Frankrijk, tegemoet te kunnen komen.

De Oorlogsgravenstichting heeft helaas al verklaard noch de middelen, noch de bevoegdheid te hebben. Zie het bericht van de Oorlogsgravenstichting hieronder, gedateerd 1 juni 2005:

De Oorlogsgravenstichting heeft zelf geen middelen om identificaties te verrrichten. Wij maken daarbij gebruik van de diensten van de Bergings- en Identificatiedienst van de Koninklijke Landmacht. Als particuliere stichting hebben wij ook geen opsporingsbevoegdheid.

Wij adviseren u uw informatie voor te leggen aan de Sectie Luchtmachthistorie van de Koninklijke Luchtmacht, Postbus 20703, 2500 ES, Den Haag. Zij weten welke vervolgacties ondernomen moeten worden.

Met vriendelijke groet,

Johan Teeuwisse


De Sectie Luchtmachthistorie meende hierop zeker te weten dat de materie thuishoort bij de Oorlogsgravenstichting. En daarop heb ik me gewend tot de top van de KLu.

Wellicht kan het manko van de bevoegdheid worden gerepareerd indien Defensie aan OGS voor dit geval de benodigde (opsporings)bevoegdheid toekent. Wellicht kan het manko van de middelen worden gerepareerd met de expertise die bij de huidige rampenbestrijdingsteams in Nederland voorhanden is. Het komt mij voor dat de bevoegdheid zowel als de expertise om te doen als verlangd in Nederland voorhanden is, en dat de klus derhalve met inzet van overleg en kreativiteit, over de departementen en instanties heen, geklaard moet kunnen worden. De US overheid besteedt, naar schatting van Dave Taylor, MIA-onderzoeker in Cambodja, USD 1.000.000,- per geval van een vermiste soldaat, in de poging om het stoffelijke overschot te vinden en thuis te brengen. Het komt mij voor dat wij de wil en de weg hebben te zoeken, om hetzelfde te doen voor een of enkele NL oorlogsvliegers die vermist zijn, voor een fraktie van dat budget.

On 11/11/2006 the following message was received:

Zeer geachte Heer Philips,

Laat ik mij eerst even aan U voorstellen. Mijn naam is Carel Hilderink. Tot juni 2005 was ik als beroepsofficier werkzaam bij de Koninklijke Luchtmacht. Mijn laatste functie was commandant van de NATO Training Implementation Mission en plaatsvervangend commandant van de NATO Trainng Mission- in Irak. Tegenwoordig ben ik onder meer lid van het Dagelijks Bestuur van de ook U bekende Oorlogsgraven Stichting.

In die laatste hoedanigheid heb ik enige weken geleden van het Kabinet van de Commandant Commando Luchtstrijdkrachten (vroeger heete dat nog gewoon Bevelhebber, maar ja, tijden veranderen nu eenmaal) het verzoek gekregen aandacht te schenken aan het door U aan de Koninklijke Luchtmacht gezonden dossier mbt onderwerp. Uiteraard wil ik dat graag doen. Op donderdag 16 november komt het DB van de OGS weer bij elkaar. Uw verzoek komt dan aan de orde, en het moge duidelijk zijn dat de OGS indien ook maar enigszins mogelijk haar medewerking zal verlenen. Dat wil overigens niet zeggen dat alles zonder meer ook mogelijk is. Over de resultaten van de bespreking zal ik U zo spoedig mogelijk nader informeren.

Carel Hilderink
Generaal-majoor van de Koninklijke Luchtmacht b.d.

This was replied to on 12/11/2006 as follows:

Geachte heer Hilderink,

Dank voor uw bericht. Expertise en middelen inzake het door mij gevraagde schijnen we te moeten zoeken bij de KL, Dienst Berging en Identificatie. Ik zie uit naar uw bericht over het gespreksresultaat van aanstaande bijeenkomst van het DB.

The request may finally have reached the proper hands in Holland. The former General-Major of the Royal Dutch Airforce, now attached to the board of directors of OGS, may be the one with the motivation as well as the power to act, so that the 'Cherbourg case' may finally, after 63 years, be investigated for the first time by those who have both the authority and the means to do so. Or so we liked to believe. It was not to be.


Have received a letter from OGS, reproduced above, signed by the director, P.C. van der Graaf, but written by Johan Teeuwisse, the day after the OGS board meeting. Half of the letter contains critisicm about my way of writing. My words, in as far as these are about OGS, are called cynical and inappropriate. He even denies me the privilege to make judgements.

The other half is about the formalities involved in such an investigation. Bottom line: the men are buried in a cemetery in the care of the CWGC, therefore this is a matter for the British. Twice it is said that chances that the British shall act are almost zero. The 'authorities involved' consider a DNA investigation to be impossible at this time. No explanation given. Furthermore, it is stated that the British shall not act because they cannot be sure that the unknown casualties involved are not British.

I had to read that last line a few times. It contains a logical error, a circular argument. In fact a double one. Leave out the last 'not' and you still have a circular argument. The consequence of this argument would be that the British shall never investigate graves of unknowns believed to be Allied airmen. With RAF unknowns, the nationality cannot be known, as the name of the casualty is unknown. Many nationalities flew with the RAF in WW2, and not all were instantly recognizable by the uniform, especially so as the War progressed. The statement is rubbish, as the argument is invalid.

Finally OGS mentions that they shall perform a 'paper investigation', with the cemetery keeper, the CWGC, and the French authorities. We shall be informed of the results. It is stated in advance that it is most likely that this paper investigation shall reconfirm that the identity of the unknowns in Cherbourg cannot be found.

My evaluation:

1. I'm given a very cold shower by OGS; the guys can hardly be called creative in responses when they are criticized. This already came to light during earlier correspondence with Johan Teeuwisse, when I suggested improvements for the multitude of errors in the OGS online database. Mr. Teeuwisse has seen other parts of 'Lost', send to him for commenting, as that text was about the work of OGS. I also wrote about the difficulties that were encountered at the time, and those that are encountered today. He gave praise for that. So he can know that my view on - parts of - the work of OGS is not a narrow-minded one.

2. There is no thank you, or acknowledgement anywhere, for the work we, Mickaël Simon and I, have done. So much for the cooperation with civilians, mentioned as one of the officially declared guidelines for these operations.

3. OGS seeks to deny me my freedom of speech. A privilege-to-be-defended that was one of the values that brought the Allies together in World War 2. I shall point to inconsistencies and rubbish where I find it, and if it is relevant to the subject-matter. I'm fully and solely responsible for each and any word that I write. Those who do not like what I write, can try to sue me. Those who disagree are free and welcome to forward their arguments.

4. There is no remark at all about the contents of our report. We know that we came up with a lot more information than OGS has been able to find in the past.

5. There is no reference to the fact that C. van der Knaap, reported MIA, is mentioned as buried in Cherbourg in the OGS online database. You would expect OGS to be pleased with our information that supports this notion of some OGS staff written down at some time. If OGS so strongly feels that the unknown cannot be identified, then why is C. van der Knaap mentioned by OGS itself as buried in Cherbourg, whilst there is no headstone in Cherbourg with his name on it?

When checking on 8/12/2006, C. van der Knaap is still mentioned as buried in Cherbourg in the OGS online database. There is a clear contradiction between OGS statements given to this author, and this bit of data in the OGS Casualty Records.

6. I'm sure that the circular argument has not been given by the British, but I shall check with Mr Roy Hemington of the the CWGC. See the next chapter. If the OGS, said to be speaking for the CWGC said to be speaking for the MoD, had meant to state that the British shall not act, as the unknown casualty may not be British, then we have come full circle again. OGS is not the proper authority, and refers to the British. The British shall not act as the casualty could be non-British, as in Dutch. The whole point of an investigative exhumation is to try and make known what is now unknown. It is rather cheap to cook up arguments for non-action, whilst pointing at the other guy. The Americans deal with this subject in a different way. They act, because it is their wish to do so. And yes, they politely ask permission of national and local authorities to act on non-US soil. Permission is never refused. What international complications? Not in this area.

7. The 'paper investigation' remark seems to reveal that OGS did not do what should have been done in the past. But that would not be true, as we know from correspondence with Mr. Teeuwisse. He again seems to have forgotten what he wrote earlier. He also has forgotten that he stated that OGS has neither the authority nor the means to investigate. Which is contrary to the statements given in this letter.

It is quite inconsistent what he writes. This conclusion can be drawn from our report too, and I suppose that that's what made him so angry. The message is very clear. OGS is annoyed by all this, but it shall act in a way that seems to be formally prescribed. We are noticed in advance that most likely the OGS conclusion shall remain unchanged. Not quite a scientific approach. I find no desire with OGS, to find out if the unknown soldier in Cherbourg, grave pointed out by us, really is a Dutchman. It sounds as if OGS is interested mainly in proving that its old position about this unknown is the right one. Never mind the fact that we now have DNA technology. And never mind the fact that OGS itself mentions Van der Knaap as buried in Cherbourg, no grave Nr. given or known.

OGS has been served with a sharp response, dated 28/11/2006. Author shall refrain from trying to resolve the contradictions and inconsistencies in the OGS statements in a cooperative way. Cooperation, that is officially supposed to stand to good reason, has ended.

8. We have knocked on the wrong door. It is a repetition of the type of non-action taken by the Dutch 60 years ago. Even the affirmative language has remained the same. Now our hopes can only be directed at the British.

2. Commonwealth War Graves Commission


It is decided to engage British forces, whatever the response of the Dutch Air Force, as the collateral findings regarding two missing Commonwealth aviators make this a British matter too. A message is send to CWGC, asking whether the CWGC has the means and the authority to deal with the 'Cherbourg case'. On 26/7/2006 Mr Peter Holton, Records Supervisor of the CWGC, answers:

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission works very closely with the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the defence departments of other governments in cases such as this. I should therefore be grateful if you would forward your research to me in the first instance. The Commission will assess it and add any additional material we may hold here such as burial records and, if applicable or available, exhumation reports. The case will then be sent to the UK MOD for adjudication and they will liaise with the relevant service authorities and governments as appropriate. However, I should warn you that this process may take many months to complete.

Should you wish to pursue this possible identification, please send you complete documentation to me at:

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

2 Marlow Road, Maidenhead, Berkshire, SL6 7DX, UNITED KINGDOM

I look forward to hearing from you in due course.

On 30/7/2006 author sends a summary of the Cherbourg case to Mr. Holton. The full document followed on 31/7/2006, on paper. Reception was acknowledged by the CWGC.

As a result of exchanges with OGS, described above, author asked the CWGC an explanation of the position said to be taken by the British Ministry of Defence (MoD), regarding exhumations. Email to Mr. Roy Hemington, CWGC records supervisor, dated 8/12/2006:

In exchanges with the Oorlogsgravenstichting, Mr. Johan Teeuwisse, regarding my request for identification of the contents of certain graves in Cherbourg, I was recently given to understand that 'according to the CWGC chances are nil that the MoD shall give permission for exhumation, as long as it cannot be established that the unknown victims are not British soldiers' At least that's my best translation of the OGS statement.

Do you recognise this statement as one that originated with the CWGC?

Apart from the fact that it is curious that OGS speaks on your behalf, as the CWGC is perfectly capable of speaking for itself, and that OGS does so before the CWGC has come to its own conclusions, I find a contradiction in this statement. The logical conclusion would be that the MoD shall never give permission for exhumation intended for trying to establish an identity, if it would need to see the nationality of the victim established in advance. I question if this is really the MoD position. Obviously the point of an investigative exhumation is trying to establish the identity, and with that also the nationality, of an unknown casualty.

The unknown victims in Cherbourg were recognized at the time as R.A.F. or Allied airman. Many nations flew with the R.A.F. in WW2. Both Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth nations. These casualties may, or may not, have been recognizable as to their nationality by the uniform. Dutch R.A.F. aviators may have worn Dutch uniforms, or R.A.F. uniforms as the War progressed, and as stocks of Dutch uniforms in England became empty, or as they themselves saw fit. Their R.A.F. Form 1250 identity paper may or may not have been found, and if found then the nationality may, as the name, not have been readible. Especially if the crash resulted in fire, or if the victim's remains had been in the water for days or longer.

Could you please clarify? I would understand it if you choose not to explain statements that did not originate with the CWGC.

The answer comes on 14/12/2006:

The Commission and the MOD have always maintained that will not allow remains, buried in designated war cemeteries or plots, to be disturbed for the purposes of identification. They should be left in peace. Also, since the disbandment of the Graves Concentration Units at the end of the 1940's, no speculative searches have been undertaken for remains. Casualties are now only recovered if they are unearthed accidentally, for instance as a result of ploughing or building work.

I trust this clarifies the Commission's position.

Yours sincerely

Roy Hemington

CWGC Archive Supervisor

So we come full circle with the CWGC too. 'The CWGC works closely together with the MoD in cases such as this.' But that excludes a forensic exhumation, which is the one method to come to a positive identification. That's what the GRU's and GCU's had been doing, at the time without the benefit of DNA technology. But since the end of the 1940's, such actions are no longer fashionable. Unknowns should remain unknown, 'so that they may rest in peace.' Action can nowadays only be triggered by accident, such as in ploughing. It sounds all very moral, but it can hardly be called a positive attitude towards finding back the missing men. Care for the missing has been moved to the soil sanity department, and actions are by accident only. Furthermore, any wish that the relatives of the missing men may have, or any sight upon it that such wishes could exist, seems absent from the considerations of MoD & CWGC. We want these matters to be clearly stated, in writing. So we asked for more clarification, by return mail:

Thank you for clarifying the MoD/CWGC position. With this I understand that your research regarding the "Cherbourg case" that I presented to you, shall be limited to an archival one. This does not diminish my interest in the results that you may have.

This leaves me with the following questions:

1. Is it thinkable that the MoD position regarding a forensic exhumation would change, if

a. the probability of a positive identification seems sufficiently high, and

b. if the family of the casualty would express the wish that this would be done?

2. The GRU, GCU & MR&ES reports hold the keys to these cases of servicemen missing-in-action. Such reports cannot be found in Dutch archives. Only a few have been found in the archive of the Dutch Dienst Berging & Identificatie, the forerunner of the OGS. An extensive search by National Archives staff yielded no material about Dutch RAF aviators listed as MIA. I am aware of the fact that some of this material is kept by RAF AHB, in the Casualty Files, that are closed to the public. RAF AHB is kind enough to occasionally quote from this material. Is such material held, or also held, by the CWGC? If true, then can this material be accessed by me, if we find a way to assure the required privacy of the casualties involved? The object is genuine historical research that may yield a few new points of view. I find that a valid motive, even if such views shall not or cannot lead to new actions.

Furthermore, the text above was send to a dozen fellow airwar researchers, asking for ideas that could help to break the deadlock. We shall not be put off easily. The American Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) is bringing home and identifying a hundred missing US servicemen each year. That's two each week. Since 1940, about 88.000 US servicemen went missing-in-action. 78.000 went MIA in World War 2. 35.000 are deemed recoverable, the others were lost at sea or are entombed in sunken vessels. So the Americans are faced with an enormous task too. But they do not shy away from that. OGS declared that the British consider DNA technology to be impossible. No such nonsense at JPAC, the Americans are using mitochondrial DNA as one of the key tools for identification. See chapter 9.4.2. about the US way of doing these things.

On 27/4/2007 a letter is received from the Ministry of Defence, Service Personnel & Veterans Agency, Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre, Historic casework & Defence Estates, based at RAF Innsworth in Gloucester. The case now has a reference number: SPVA/14/2/3/Binyon:



Dear Mr Philips

Thank you for your email submission to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in respect of a possible identification of three unknown RAF service personnel; namely PO Van Der Knapp, Sqn Ldr Gowers and Fg Off Rawson. Your enquiry has now been passed to this Department as the deciding authority in such cases.

As you will appreciate, all possible identifications must be thoroughly investigated and therefore I must apologise, in advance, for what will be a lengthy delay in providing you with a decision. This is due to a backlog of identification casework following very high levels of operational casualties in the British Armed Forces and a lack of staff resources. As such I have recently joined the section, temporarily on loan, to assist Linda Blackwell with these outstanding cases and therefore it is hoped that some progress will be made in the coming months.

Yours sincerely

Gina M. Taylor (Mrs)

SO3 Historic Casework & Defence Estates

3. Help from New Zealand

One of the unknowns buried in Cherbourg could be F/O. G.E. Rawson from New Zealand. Friends of Sylvia Barnard, who are engaged in geneaology, did research in that country. They came up with results. F/O. Rawson's daughter is living in New Zealand. At a funeral they met Mr. Simon Strombom, a Captain in the NZ Army, related to the Rawson family. He knew about the Cherbourg grave, and he had a dossier containing the loss of F/O. Rawson. In this correspondence with the CWGC. In that the following bits of new information:

In 1947 grave 6/5/11 was investigated by the MR&ES. The following was found:

1. The casualty had brown wavy hair, as did F/O. Rawson

2. The lower jaw No. 6 molar had a metal filling

3. There was a St. Christopher medal

4. There was a fragment of an ID disk

The MR&ES decided that this was insufficient evidence for an identification. We shall try to re-evaluate the information found.

RNZAF dog tags Source: via S. Strombom

The information above leads to the following reasoning, with the logical operators in capitals. We assume the Wartime data, as depicted on the grave 6/5/11, to be correct. We do not (yet) have information about the date and the place that this body was found. Typically, bodies found in the area would be buried within five days after discovery, and would be buried at Cherbourg Old Communal Cemetery. Given this uncertainty, we can argue as follows:

1. SINCE a body was found and recognized as a R.A.F. Flying Officer, AND

2. as the date of death is mentioned as 24/10/1943, which is the date that F/O. Rawson went MIA, AND

3. as this body was buried on 28/10/1943 in Cherbourg Old Communal Cemetery, grave 63, now 6/5/11, AND

4. as F/O. Rawson went MIA in that immediate area, AND

5. as it can be demonstrated that no other R.A.F. Flying Officer was lost there and then, AND

6. as Allied casualties from that area would be buried in Cherbourg Cemetery, AND

7. as a fragment of an identity disc has been found in Cherbourg grave 6/5/11, AND

8. as RNZAF personnel, unlike any other nationality within the R.A.F., with the exception of the Poles, would carry an ID disk, AND

9. as no Poles were lost there and then, AND

10. as no other RNZAF aviators were lost there and then, AND

11. as the casualty in grave 6/5/11 had brown wavy hair, as did F/O. Rawson


via the logical process of elimination, it follows that the body in Cherbourg grave 6/5/11 has to be F/O. G.E. Rawson.

This looks watertight. This information and reasoning was send to the MoD on 9/5/2007.

Assuming that the ID disk situation was fully known to the MR&ES at the time, then they could have come to the same reasoning as the one above. However, the difference between then and now may be that we have more data readily available, data that led to the statements 5, 6, 9 and 10. Statements that I can support with a loss list.

It would be good to find the document that describes the finding of an ID disk fragment. It would be good if a description of that fragment would include bakilite, and/or red, and/or green. But the last is not really necessary, in this process of elimination.

Captain Simon Strombom presents an excellent demonstration of my thesis that things can be done, if there is a will to do so. Once on the trail, he acted in a quick and decisive way, sending out communications in many directions. We hope that his actions shall lead to an official request from the NZ Armed Forces to the British MoD, to do something about the Cherbourg case. We hope that an identification of F/O. Rawson, that seems to have come near, shall lead to decisive action regarding the other two unknowns buried in Cherbourg. We hope to help creating the precedent, that may lead to several more identifications of servicemen missing in action, buried as unknowns all over Europe.


A partial answer is finally received from the R.A.F.:

Dear Mr Philips


An initial review has now been completed in respect of one of the cases you submitted to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) regarding the possible identification of an unknown grave as that of Flying Officer Gerald Edmond Rawson; the other two enquires regarding Pilot Officer Van der Knapp and Squadron Leader Gowers will be reviewed separately. Although there may be additional information provided by the Department's Air Historical Branch and archives, which is currently awaited, the initial findings have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to confirm that the grave to which you refer is that of Flying Officer Rawson.

You identify Flying Officer Rawson as occupying Plot 6, Row E (also know as Row 5), Grave 11 (also known as Grave 63) in Cherbourg Old Communal Cemetery, France; currently the headstone shows this to be an unknown Flying Officer of the Royal Air Force who died 24 October 1943. You mention, in particular, that previous investigations referred to a fragment of identity disc and details of 'brown curly hair' which you say matched the description of Flying Officer Rawson.

The CWGC has located an exhumation report for Grave 63 which states that identity discs were discovered on the body; both described as 'pulp'. However, 'red disc (indecipherable?) but name 'RAE E' and religion 'R C' were distinct on green disc, after leaving in sun for a few hours'. The body was found to be dressed in RAF battle dress with Flying Officer rank and a pilot brevet. There is no description of hair type or colour on the exhumation report; this particular section has been annotated with a dash. The date of this exhumation report is 11 April 1946. However, CWGC has confirmed that a second exhumation report, which was raised in 1947, concludes that the remains could not be identified. As such it would be appreciated if you could forward a copy of the '1947 forensic exhumation' to which you refer in your email and explain how this should be added to your earlier list 'as argument 11'. The only reference found in relation to number 11 is in your submission 'About the missing men' (page 377); however, this appears to refer to the case of Pilot Officer Van der Knapp. Although the content of the forensic exhumation to which you refer may not, in isolation, change the initial outcome of the case it will add to the information which you have already provided.

Also identified by the CWGC is correspondence from another researcher from the period 1994 -1995 which proposed that Grave 63 was that of Flying Officer Rawson. At the time the CWGC contacted the New Zealand Defence Force for additional information regarding Flying Officer Rawson; in response a complete copy of his personal file was received. This file contained a second exhumation report for Grave 63 which was dated 1947 and recorded that no identity discs were found; as such, as explained above, it was concluded that the remains could not be identified.

Therefore, the CWGC decided in 1995 that there was inconclusive evidence to prove that Grave 63 was that of Flying Officer Rawson. This was based on the following which was obtained from the first exhumation report and the personal file:

  • The name on the identity disc showed 'RAE E'.
  • Flying Officer Rawson's personal file recorded his religion as Church of England, not Roman Catholic.
  • There was no mention that the casualty was dressed in New Zealand uniform.

Furthermore, the CWGC has searched all data held for missing airmen and officers that relate to the surname Rae and initial E. A match was found for a Flight Sergeant Edward Watt Rae who crashed into the sea near Westkapelle, Holland (around 250 miles away) in April 1941. Although your submission shows many examples of casualties washing ashore from distances greater than 250 miles it is recognised that two years is a long time for a body to remain in tact but the vagaries of the sea cannot be discounted. However, the exhumation report refers to the rank of Flying Officer and a pilot brevet whereas the match found for the name Rae is that of a Flight Sergeant. The CWCG has also conducted a search in respect of a first name of Rae and a surname beginning with E and a surname beginning with Rae with the letter E appearing later in the name; nothing was found.

Given the inconclusive evidence, the case will now be closed as the Ministry of Defence, as the deciding authority, will only agree to mark an unknown grave as that of a named individual if identity can be shown to be beyond all reasonable doubt. However, if any further information in support of your findings is subsequently received then the case will be reviewed again.

In the meantime, please accept, on behalf of the Department, my apologies for what will be a disappointing reply.

Yours sincerely

Gina M. Taylor (Mrs)

SO3 Historic Casework & Deceased Estates

Information Copy:

Air Historical Branch (Attn: Mr G Day)

CWGC (Attn: Mr P Holton) – ID Case 46/3

4. Help from England


Sylvia Barnard wrote the following:

There was an article in the recent issue of the magazine of the Liverpool Family History Society which was written by the son of a sailor who had been drowned in an attack on the Munsterland, the ship which also claimed Gus's life. I could not let the occasion pass, but wrote a letter to the editor, which I will add to this. It is unlikely to be seen by anyone of influence, but I felt it had to be said!

I was moved by David Vale’s account of the loss of his father and 580 other crew members of HMS Charybdis in the attack on the German ship Munsterland, which was bringing vital war supplies from Japan to Cherbourg.

I too lost a close relative in the attempts to destroy the German ship. My uncle, Squadron Leader Arthur Vincent Gowers, DFC (‘Gus’), had his own connection with Liverpool, the home city of his grandmother Louise Gowers nee Frankland, of whom I wrote in ‘A Tale of Three Cities’, printed in the same issue of the Liverpool Family Historian (March 2008) as David’s story.

HMS Charybdis was sunk early in the morning of 23 October 1943, and on the following day Typhoons from 183and Whirlwinds from 263 Squadrons were ordered to make an air attack. The port was very strongly defended, and when the Whirlwinds went in first on the morning of 24 October 1943 they met ‘a horizontal hailstorm painted red’. Four aircraft were lost. In the late afternoon 183 Squadron, led by my uncle, made their sortie, to meet the same fierce resistance. Three Typhoons were lost; my uncle and a young New Zealand Flying Officer died.

Your readers may be interested in and perhaps saddened by the postscript to Gus’s story. In 2006 I was contacted by a Dutch researcher into aircrew losses, who had come across the book I wrote for the family to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Gus’s death. He is convinced that Gus, far from being entombed under the waves in his aircraft, was washed ashore and is buried as an unknown British airman in Cherbourg Cemetery. He has made what seems to me a very sound case, but, sadly, Gus’s name is unlikely ever to be ‘carved with pride’. Unlike the Americans, who are keen to do whatever they can for their fallen and for the families of the fallen, the Ministry of Defence and Commonwealth War Graves Commission refuse to use modern identification techniques, and without these it is very difficult to make a cast-iron case for any unknown warrior. They ascribe their refusal to a policy of letting the dead rest in peace. I have great respect for the work done by the CWGC and am normally wholeheartedly in agreement with their aims and methods. However, Gus left a widow, now aged 88, and a daughter, who have never been able to come to terms with not having definite knowledge of Gus’s fate. It seems wrong that my uncle, who gave his life for his country at 30 years of age and whose grave has never been recognised or even visited, cannot be properly identified and given the acknowledgement he deserves.

I recommend The Typhoon and Tempest Story by Chris Thomas and Christopher Shores (Arms & Armour Press, 1988) and Typhoon Attack by Norman Franks (London, William Kimber, 1984) for an account of the Cherbourg air raids.

Yours sincerely

Sylvia M. Barnard

2. The identity claims

1. S/Ldr. A.V. Gowers DFC

On 31/07/2006 an identity claim for S/Ldr. A.V. Gowers, as buried in Cherbourg grave 6/5/.., was submitted to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. We had yet to learn that it is in fact the Ministry of Defence who deals with such matters, with the CWGC having only an advisory role. on 25/04/2007 we received a letter acknowledging reception of the claim. Letter send by the Ministry of Defence, Service Personnel & Veterans Agency, Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre, SO3 Historic Casework & Defence Estates, Innsworth Station, Gloucester. We shall refer to this desk as JCCC.

In April 2008, the widow of S/Ldr. Gowers, who had been made aware of this claim by the Gowers family, not by author, wrote a letter to the MoD, urging them to come to conclusions. On 28/04/2008 we received a letter from JCCC, rejecting the claim. As follows:



An initial review has now been completed in respect of one of the cases you submitted to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) regarding the possible identification of an unknown grave as that of Squadron Leader Gowers. The enquiry regarding Flying Officer Rawson has already been concluded and you have been advised of the outcome; although the additional comments you have made will be considered in due course. The information received in respect of Pilot Officer Van der Knaap is still awaiting review. Although there may be additional information provided by the Department’s Air Historical Branch (AHB) and archives, the initial findings have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to confirm that the grave to which you refer is that of Squadron Leader Gowers.

It is understood that the widow of the late Squadron Leader Gowers has contacted the CWGC regarding the possibility of ‘DNA’ testing, a suggestion which you also mention in your correspondence. The policy of the CWGC, supported by the Ministry of Defence, which reflects the protocols of the Geneva Convention, is not to disturb war graves unless there is a matter of overriding public necessity, such as a need to relocate a War Cemetery. Therefore, exhumations to help confirm or establish the identity of individuals by DNA, or other scientific tests, are not permitted. Although CWGC will respond to Squadron Leader Gowers’ widow directly regarding identification by use of DNA, this Department will also inform her, as sensitively as possible, of the contents of this reply thereby, hopefully, minimising any further unnecessary distress this investigation has understandably caused.

You identify Squadron Leader Gowers as occupying Plot 6, Row E (also know as Row 5), Grave 13 (also known as Grave 65) in Cherbourg Old Communal Cemetery, France; currently the headstone shows this to be an unknown British airman with the (burial) date 10 November 1943. Squadron Leader Gowers is commemorated on the Runnymede

Memorial which shows his date of death as 24 October 1943. Records confirm that 928 were lost from various Air Forces during 24 October and 10 November 1943; for the same period 150 are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, of which 6 are shown to be Squadron Leaders.

As you know, the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede lists over 20,000 airmen who were lost in the Second World War during the operations from bases in the United Kingdom and North and Western Europe, who have no known graves. As such, without definitive evidence to the contrary, the remains at Cherbourg Old Communal Cemetery could theoretically, given the vagaries of the sea, be any one of the 6 Squadron Leaders listed, including Squadron Leader Gowers. However, your reference to ‘bodies washed ashore’ has been noted, in particular your statement regarding those ‘drowned in the North sea and Channel’ which you say ‘do NOT (your emphasis) as a rule, wash ashore in comparison with those ‘drowned in protected waters’. It is unclear what you base this assumption upon, although, in the interests of completeness, AHB will be asked to try and establish the vicinity where the Squadron Leaders listed are thought to have perished. However, these investigations may take sometime to complete and may not be conclusive.

In the meantime, the CWGC has identified two exhumation reports for this grave; one dated April 1946, the other March 1947. Interestingly, the 1946 exhumation report states that the casualty was in RAF Battledress with pilot’s brevet and Squadron Leader’s rank... which is consistent with your theory. However, although the uniform is described as RAF the unit was initially recorded as RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force); but both this (RCAF) and the rank of Squadron Leader were subsequently crossed-out. These amendments are also reflected in the ‘Working Copy’ of the Graves Registration Report and although the latter is annotated with a ‘reference’ the details cannot be located. However, it is assumed that the ‘reference’ would confirm the rationale for this decision. The 1947 exhumation report states that the casualty wore blue battledress blouse with pilot’s wing, RAF Officer’s shirt blue, officer’s service dress trousers of RAF blue.

Both reports concur that the casualty was wearing RAF uniform and as such it is understandable that nationality is shown to be British rather than Canadian; although the Runnymede Memorial does, as one of the 6 Squadron Leaders already mentioned, commemorate a Squadron Leader H P Peters who served with the RCAF. Both reports also record a shoe size of ‘8’ and the presence of a Mae West; although the 1946 report describes it as not inflated which may be inconsistent if, as thought, Squadron Leader Gowers perished in water. However, inflation of the Mae West may not have been an option.

There is also mention of the Air Force Cross (AFC) ribbon in the 1946 exhumation report which is of interest since Squadron Leader Gowers was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). Although it is noted by the CWGC that the two look distinctly different; the DFC ribbon is purple and white striped and the AFC ribbon is white and red striped. It could, of course, as suggested by the CWGC, be argued that if the casualty is Squadron Leader Gowers then the time between death (24 October 1943) and burial (10 November 1943) some 18 days spent in the water, may explain why the ribbon became discoloured. However, interestingly, Squadron Leader Peters also held the DFC along with two others (excluding Squadron Leader Gowers) who are amongst the 6 Squadron Leaders previously mentioned as being listed on the Runnymede Memorial.

You also forwarded subsequent details in respect of ‘a custom made ID disk’, in the form of a bracelet, which Squadron Leader Gowers was known to have worn. However, this, you confirm, remains in the possession of the family as it would seem Squadron Leader

Gowers chose not to wear it on what you describe ‘the fatal day’. You suggest that this information would ‘exclude his (Squadron Leader Gowers’) name if an unreadable disk

was found in connection with a grave that could otherwise be his’. Although there are no disks recorded as being found in either exhumation report it could be argued that Squadron Leader Gowers still chose to carry his official dog-tags and as such the finding of an ‘unreadable disk’ would not necessarily discount the grave.

Although your investigations and research are very much appreciated, it has been decided that the evidence is currently inconclusive and as such the case will now be closed. As you know, the Ministry of Defence, as the deciding authority, will only agree to mark an unknown grave as that of a named individual if identity can be shown to be beyond all reasonable doubt. However, if any further information in support of your findings is subsequently received then the case will, of course, be reviewed again.

In the meantime, please accept, on behalf of the Department, apologies for what will be a disappointing reply.

Yours sincerely

The MoD wishes to, but did not yet in the almost two years that passed since the original application, include into the consideration the losses of all Squadron Leaders there and then. The rejection letter contains information about evidence that was unavailable to us earlier. On the basis of this, we produced a claim re-application. Dated 7/05/2008, and now directed straight at the proper office, copies to CWGC and RAF AHB. Copied here in full as a demonstration of what it takes to get a claim accepted.

Your ref: SPVA/14/2/4

Possible grave of S/Ldr. A.V. Gowers DFC

Your message dated 28/4/2008


1. Case 46-2 S/Ldr Gowers identity claim re-application 080507 (Word.doc)

2. Spreadsheet with data about all S/Ldr's lost in Western Europe, 1/6/1943 to 11/11/1943 (Excel.xls)

3. Map of these losses (.jpg)

4. Detailed map of the loss of S/Ldr. Rose (.jpg)

Copy to:

1. Air Historical Branch (Attn: Mr. G. Day)

2. CWGC (Attn: Mr. P. Holton)

Dear Mrs Taylor,

Thank you for your message dated April 28th, 2008. it is evident and appreciated that you have given the matter very careful consideration. You require additional evidence, and I present that to you below. This re-application of the identity claim is to be seen as integral part of the claim submitted to you on 31/7/2006.

Regarding your statement about unnecessary distress caused to the widow of S/Ldr. A.V. Gowers, I wish to make the following remarks:

1. It is, and has been, my policy not to contact the direct next of kin in these matters. Next of kin defined as brothers, sisters and the widow. This policy is followed to avoid raising hope that may never materialize.

2. In the quest for data, it is imperative to try and find all potential sources. That includes the family of the aviator. This is done under the explicit understanding that next of kin shall not be informed during the investigation, unless the family decides otherwise.

3. This policy has been followed in the Gowers case. The family decided that the time had come to inform the widow, as a result of the fact that 1,5 year had gone by since the identity claim had been filed with you.

4. The Gowers family disagrees with you about the qualification "unnecessary". They are rather annoyed by the fact that there was never any word from official quarters about this loss. They express a clear desire that things shall be different this time.

5. If your statement would include a reproach into my direction, I point to my statements above. I am fully aware of the sensitivities involved, and I am using a policy to deal with that, but the fact that matters are sensitive should not lead to abandoning any action aimed at giving back identities to servicemen buried as unknowns.

Now to the matter at hand.

1. Inclusion in the investigation of all S/Ldr's that are missing

You wish to expand the investigation to include loss data of all decorated Squadron Leaders that went missing-in-action in a certain period of time. You mention that period as 24 October 1943 up to and including 10 November 1943. I shall refer to this period as the "Münsterland period".

You mention that during this period six Squadron Leaders were lost, of whom four were decorated. You mention the name of one of them, S/Ldr. H.P. Peters DFC. Next to S/Ldr. Gowers, the other two are

- S/Ldr. R.A. Lenton MC, DFC, service Nr. 42315, MIA 25/10/1943

- S/Ldr. Ch. F. Rose DFC, DFM, Nr. 45276, MIA 4/11/1943

Next to the decorated S/Ldr's, two without decorations were lost in that period:

- S/Ldr. L.F. Cooper, Nr. 33231, MIA 24/10/1943

- S/Ldr. H.A.A. Webster, Nr. 37619, MIA 25/10/1943

I shall demonstrate below that none of these losses could possibly lead to a body washing ashore in Cherbourg on 10/11/1943.

As a body washing ashore in Cherbourg on 10/11/1943 could have been in the water earlier than 24/10/1943, I have included into the argument the loss data of all Squadron Leaders that went missing-in-action in the six months prior to 10/11/1943.

Six months is considered to be a sufficiently long period to exclude all reasonable doubt. If you disagree and would wish to see this period extended even more, then I shall be happy to oblige.

During the period from 1/6/1943 up to 11/11/1943 28 Squadron Leaders were lost in Western Europe. Of these, 14 were decorated with DSO, DFM or DFC. Please refer to the small Excel file attached, for data about these losses. With the exception of the loss of S/Ldr. Gowers, these losses occurred too far from Cherbourg to lead to a possible association with the grave of the unknown S/Ldr. in Cherbourg. Please refer to the large scale map attached, in which the locations of these losses are depicted.

You may think that there are two exceptions, S/Ldr. Rose and S/Ldr. Peters, making them into candidates for the grave of the unknown. Below I shall give more attention to their losses, so as to make it clear that they cannot be candidates.

The argumentation has two focal points:

A. The award ribbon situation

B. The marine situation

A. About the decoration ribbon found on the uniform

A.1. In the 1946 forensic exhumation of grave 6/5/13 in Cherbourg, a ribbon was found indicating that the casualty was awarded with the Air Force Cross (AFC). You agree with the CWGC that this ribbon may have become discoloured, after days in seawater. Please note that none of the 14 decorated S/Ldr's missing in the six months prior to 10/11/1943 was decorated with the AFC. Therefore, we conclude that the ribbon was indeed discoloured.

A.2. There was only one ribbon found. We conclude that the S/Ldr's who were decorated twice can be excluded as possible candidates. In the Münsterland period that would be S/Ldr's Lenton and Rose, and in the full six month period that would also be S/Ldr. O.V. Hanbury, missing in the Gulf of Biscay on 3/6/1943, whom might otherwise be considered as a candidate.

B. About S/Ldr's missing over land

We can dismiss as candidates all Squadron Leaders that went missing over land. Only one went missing on the soil of France, near Beauvais, S/Ldr. Walker DFC. That's a long way from Cherbourg, 338 km by road. Casualties found in the Beauvais area would be buried in one of the cemeteries in Beauvais. Furthermore, there is no indication that the body in Cherbourg grave 6/5/13 was delivered to the cemetery from so far away. We can, in all reason, dismiss S/Ldr. Walker as a candidate.

C. About bodies floating ashore

It is understood that my remarks about body behaviour at sea were puzzling. You may not find references in literature about that subject. At least I did not. The remarks are based on my investigations, the relevant details of which I shall present below. As these investigations have not yet been concluded, the material has not yet been published. I hope you shall bear with me, the matter is complicated, but not impossibly so.

A rough estimation would be that 20.000 airmen were lost at sea in Western Europe during World War 2. About 2.000 bodies of airmen washed ashore, and are buried all over Europe, usually in coastal villages, if the bodies were not relocated later to concentration cemeteries. This number excludes bodies that were not recognized as belonging to a specific Allied service, and bodies that were recognized as not belonging to the Allied airforce, meaning recognized as Navy or Army. This "washup-rate" of about 10% of the airmen lost to these seas is the basis for my statement that bodies, as a rule, do NOT wash ashore from the Channel and the North Sea.

On the other hand, that estimated 10% did wash ashore. This would not have been the case under different marine conditions, meaning deep waters and the presence of large predators. On the scale of the World's oceans, the Channel and the North Sea, with depths in the 50 meter area, are very shallow indeed. The bottom is sand-duned but basically flat, so that bodies do not quickly become trapped in deep pockets or valleys. Channel and North Sea are home to some shark species, but not the big ones that saw to it in the Pacific waters that a body would vanish in the food chain in a matter of hours.

To try and understand the subject matter, we could go two ways: the mathematical and the statistical one. The mathematical approach would lead to an equasion in which all marine parameters are accounted for. This approach is bound to fail, as the number of parameters is high, and as the values of many of these parameters are unknown, and can never become known. For instance, a body can be released to the sea by the aircraft upon impact, or days or weeks after that. If we do not have, and cannot have, an exact equasion starting point in terms of time and place, we cannot possibly calculate a sea travel journey for that body. Therefore we have to turn to the statistical approach. This is what I have done for bodies in North Sea & Channel, in semi-confined waters such as the sea harbours, in confined waters such as the IJsselmeer, and in the Rhine river. Obviously only bodies were considered that have been identified, and that came from aircraft with a known crash site at sea. At the moment, the sample total stands at 193 crew that washed ashore, coming from a total of 422 crew who were lost at sea with 101 aircraft. The bodies travelled distances of 7 to about 1.000 km, in one to 130 days, leading to an average travel speed of 5,6 km/day, with a range of 0,6 to 26. For the IJsselmeer and the Rhine River I have similar - preliminary - data, but different values. These values are likely to shift somewhat as the total sample number grows, but a sample size of 193 is already large enough to yield meaningful results.

The ranges of the values given above are huge. Therefore there is little point in using an average value as a yardstick in identity investigations. But it is fair to say that if a body would be assumed to have travelled at a speed so high that this was never seen before, say 2 or 3 times the high end of the range given above, then this assumption is most likely in error. This in fact is the case for S/Ldr. Rose. He was lost 70 to 100 km directly west of the Île d'Ouessant (Ushant). That's a linear distance of 400 km from Cherbourg Harbour. A body cannot possibly travel that distance in only 6 days, as that would mean an unprecedented 400/6 = 67 km/day.

Furthermore, bodies are unlikely to travel in straight lines at sea. In Channel & North Sea the currents change direction 180 degrees every six hours. Bodies shall follow a complex spiral pattern as a result of that, depending also on many other marine parameters. However, there is a general current direction, from the Channel to the North Sea, driven by the Gulf Stream. Bodies that entered the water in the Channel, have washed up on the North Sea coasts of Europe. Very many of these in Holland. Bodies that entered the water of the North Sea, never washed up in the reverse direction. Therefore, we can exclude S/Ldr. Peters as a candidate, as he was lost in the Westerschelde river which was still in open connection with the North Sea in 1943. Washing up of his body in Cherbourg is physically impossible. The distance-versus-time argument would apply in his case too.

Finally, a body washing up in semi-confined waters such as Cherbourg Harbour, most likely entered the water in the harbour itself. Here the average travel time is 0,6 km/day, reflecting the much lower current flow which is what a harbour is all about. The general current flow is river via harbour to sea, if there is a river. The current could transport a body from the sea into a harbour, at high tide. This requires the body to become positioned in the right place in front of the harbour entrance, which is a low odds situation.

Some more words about the loss of S/Ldr. Rose, as he is, so to speak, the second best candidate for grave 6/5/13 in Cherbourg, and as this loss is recorded with "location unknown" in generally available literature. He was on one of the first operational sorties of Mosquito's from RNAS Predannack in Cornwall. The aircraft were fitted with a large caliber cannon codenamed "Tsetse", and the mission was to seek and destroy German submarines in the Gulf of Biscay. I managed to find an eyewitness report of this loss, written by F/O. Desmond Curtis DFM (ret'd), privately published in "Most Secret Squadron". He stated that the flight was crossing Ushant Light House off Brest, outside of the range of the German radar, when Mosquito HX902 made a high speed emergency landing at sea, and broke up in the process. Ushant is the Île d'Ouessant, directly west of Brest. The Germans had two radar sets installed there and then. The one with the longest range was the Funkmessortungsgerät (FuMO) 214, also known as the Würzburg Riese, which had a range of 40 to 60 km. I can refer you to full details about this subject, if you would find that relevant. I conclude that Mosquito HX902 was lost directly west of Brest, at 70 to 100 km west of Ushant Island. Aviators would want to fly outside of the range of that radar, the most protruded one in their flight path from RNAS Predannack to the Gulf of Biscay, and do so by a margin not larger than really necessary. I have attached an enlargement of the general map, to show the details of the loss of S/Ldr. Rose more clearly.

There is another version of this loss, written for an as yet unpublished book, by Mr. Alex Crawford:

"Two Tsetse took off from Predannack airfield in Cornwall on the morning of 4th November. Their mission was to fly to the Bay of Biscay to look for and attack any U-Boats they saw. The aircraft were HX902 (Sqn Ldr Rose/Sgt Cowley) and HX903 (Fly Off Turner/Fly Off Curtis). After flying for some time along the French coast at 50 feet in order to avoid enemy radar they reached their allocated search area. Both aircraft climbed to 3,000ft. There were no sign of any U-boats; all they could see was a solitary trawler. Sqn Ldr Rose dived down to investigate the lone vessel. It was assumed the trawler was a lookout post for submerged U-boats.

Sqn Ldr Rose ordered Fly Off Turner to orbit while he went down to attack the trawler. Rose fired off a number of shells, which hit the trawler and the boiler appeared to explode. Accurate return fire from the trawler hit Rose’s Mosquito and the aircraft, trailing smoke, continued on its dive and crashed into the sea killing both occupants. The other Tse-tse returned to base.

The first Tsetse mission took place on the morning of the 24th October. Two aircraft, HX902 (Sqn Ldr Rose/Sgt Cowley) and HX904 (Fly Off Hilliard and Wt Off Hoyle) carried out a sweep along the Bay of Biscay. After a fruitless search the aircraft returned to base. Although no enemy vessels were encountered it gave the pilots an idea as to how the Mosquito would handle with the weight of the big gun.

At this time the Tsetse were still part of 618 Squadron and on Special Detachment to 248 Squadron. They didn't officially become part of 248 Sqn until May 1944."

If true, than this version changes my argument's result from "totally impossible" into "more than totally impossible", as the distance between crash and washup could increase in this version with 100 to 400 km, leading to body travel speeds of 500/6 = 83 km/day to 800/6 = 133 km/day.

2. About the mismatch of results of the 1946 and 1947 exhumations

It may strike as curious that the results of the 1947 forensic investigation shows differences with the results of the 1946 one. I note that findings in 1947 were less detailed than they were in 1946. The ratio for that could not be produced today. There is no point in assuming higher professionalism and sharper eyes in either the 1946 or the 1947 investigation team. I suggest that findings in 1947 were less detailed as a result of the natural process of decay of the evidence over time. Especially when buried in the soil. There is no evidence that measures were taken to preserve the human remains, or the material remains of clothing, or even that a coffin was used. Therefore, it stands to reason to accept the earlier observations as more likely to represent the casualty's identity prior to death. If a status as say a Squadron Leader could no longer be confirmed in 1947, it does not follow that the 1946 observation about that status was in error. This would only be acceptable if evidence was found of a different status, demonstrating that an error had been made in the earlier investigation. The rank of S/Ldr., observed in 1946, was not changed to another rank in 1947; it was changed to no rank at all.

The matter does raise questions about the investigation protocols followed there and then, but it cannot, without supportive evidence, lead to a conclusion that errors were made in 1946. Furthermore, the 1947 findings agree with the 1946 findings that the unknown was a R.A.F. airman. Nevertheless, grave 6/5/13 is the only one in Cherbourg that has a headstone without the R.A.F. crest. I conclude that the accuracy of these investigations, and the processing of their results, have been less than perfect. So be it; we have to work with that. But this also leads to the conclusion that the R.C.A.F./R.A.F. confusion between the 1946 and 1947 findings, can, in the light of all the other evidence, hardly be seen as a decisive factor.

3. About standard issue versus custom made identity disks

I noted that the presence of an ID disk was not to be expected in grave 6/5/13, as S/Ldr. Gowers had an ID bracelet made, and was not wearing it on 24/10/1943. You argued that this matter has no value as evidence, as S/Ldr. Gowers could have chosen to wear his standard issue ID disks. I agree with you in theory, but differ in opinion in practice. I shall not stress this point, as it cannot yield anything coonclusive in this case, but I would like to remark that S/Ldr. Gowers must have had a reason to have made a means of identification other than the standard issue disks. Again, we do not know that reason, but I point to the facts below. Again a subject that was not honoured with a body of literature that I am aware of.

2.1. The material of the Commonwealth ID disks dates back to 1914. It is in fact the first polymer, "plastic" in common language, ever produced: Bakelite. A high tech innovative material in 1914, that no doubt had some desirable properties regarding its intended purpose. It used filler materials to modify its physical properties. Cotton filler made the Bakelite less brittle. Hence the names of "fibre" or "composite" under which these disks became known. I am unaware of an official product specification for these disks. One would assume that disks intended for aviators should be able to survive high impact forces, sweat and seawater, and fire. The fibre disks score good on seawater, poorly on high impact, and not at all on fire. That may not have been a consideration in 1914, when military aviation was in its infancy. But by 1940 high impact and fire must have been recognized as the usual hazards of military aviation. It is my belief that these disks were unsuitable for aviators in WW2. It stands to reason that others may have felt the same. If true, then this offers a possible explanation why some servicemen turned to custom made disks. They would see no point in wearing the standard issue disks. Fighter pilots such as S/Ldr. Gowers would have an independent frame of mind, that could lead to precisely these considerations.

2.2. S/Ldr. Gowers was by no means the only one who had custom made ID disks or a bracelet. Others have had reasons to produce custom disks too. All the custom made disks I have traced have a better durability than the standard issue Commonwealth disks, on all counts: resistance against high impact, chemicals, and fire. None have a poorer resistance. All are metal based: plated brass, alpaca, stainless steel, even gold.

4. About the shoe size found in grave 6/5/13

Via the family, the former Mrs Gowers has been asked about the shoe size of S/Ldr. Gowers. This was the answer, given via her daughter Laurie: "Mum thinks he wore a size 7.5 or 8...she says he had small feet although he was tall..small-boned man..might be 8.5 but that's the best she can do". Needless to say that neither Laurie nor her mother were informed that size 8 had been found in grave 6/5/13.

5. About possible relocations of the contents of grave 6/5/13

It could be argued that an identification based solely on the logical process of elimination is bound to fail, as bodies were relocated a lot in those days. There could be as many as four reburials after the initial one. To that I wish to take position as follows below. Please forgive me if there is redundancy in your eyes in the text below. Now that your time has been claimed, it is better to be complete, trying to avoid confusion.

4.1. Bodies of Allied servicemen would be buried by the Germans, or in the case at hand by the French as ordered by the Germans, close to where the body was found. Usually in a local cemetery, but also in the field close to the site of death. The Germans would identify the body, if means for identification were found, and mark the grave with a wooden cross with that name on it. Many of the identifications that we accept as correct today, are in fact based on observations made by the Germans. The German tendency to register everything would diminish as War progressed to its end, but this was not yet the case in 1943. The identifying evidence, meaning the Identity Card & Disks, were quite often removed by the Germans from the body. This evidence quite often did not survive the War. Photography was not commonly used in these cases, not by the Germans, nor by the MR&ES. Hence, in the case of F/O. Rawson, we are presented with statements about a barely readible ID disk, that we cannot check, and about a name seen as RAE E where there could have been merely the word RAF.

4.2. From a field grave, the body could be moved to a local cemetery. The British have left very many casualties buried in these local cemeteries. The Americans transported the remains of all their casualties to large War cemeteries, or to the USA.

4.3. After the liberation of an area, bodies found in local cemeteries or field graves would be moved, or evacuated in the terms of the time, by a Grave Concentration Unit, to a concentration cemetery. Most of these became the larger CWGC War cemeteries as we know these today.

4.4. From there a body could be moved to the nation to which the casualty belongs. That nation would rebury in a national concentration cemetery. Commonwealth graves, as a rule and following a pre-World War 2 policy, were not repatriated.

4.5. From there, the body could be reburied yet again, and this time in a dedicated national War cemetery, or in a local cemetery if that is what the family wished.

4.6. Apart from these official body relocations, very few families took matters into their own hands and spirited the remains of their son away from a foreign grave to the family one at home.

The body found in Cherbourg Harbour was buried locally, in Cherbourg cemetery. As the casualty was unknown, and as the body remained unknown after two forensic exhumations, and as the British did not have a policy to bury all casualties in a few large cemeteries, and as there could not be a family who may have acted on their own accord, the body was left there.

There is no evidence to suggest that the remains were not placed back in the same grave by the MR&ES after the 1946 and 1947 exhumations. Considering the Cherbourg burial register and the grave positions as they are today, I can be sure that there have been no modifications of the layout of this part of the cemetery. Therefore, there are no mistakes that could have resulted from cemetery redesign operations.

6. About the Mae West vest

The Mae West vest was found to be not inflated in the 1946 and 1947 exhumations. I assume that this means that evidence was found that the inflation mechanism had not been used 3 to 4 years earlier. The matter cannot, as you noted, lead to decisive conclusions as we cannot know if the wearer had the option of inflation left to him. However, I would like to point out that S/Ldr. Gowers was hit and shot down during a naught feet attack on shipping in Cherbourg Harbour. Under these circumstances, and if not incapacitated himself, an aviator is unlikely to have more than a few seconds reaction time, before the aircraft hits the water at combat speed. An aircraft at combat speed is likely to disintegrate upon impact with water. S/Ldr. Gowers did not make, and could not make, a controlled emergency landing in the Harbour, after which he could unstrap himself, step out of his craft, and then inflate his Mae West vest. He did not have the option of baling out, after which he would be in a position to inflate the vest, as he was flying at far too low an altitude. In other words, considering the combat conditions when the loss occurred, more questions would have to be raised if the vest was found to have been inflated.

7. Conclusions

In addition to the arguments in my earlier claim application, I believe that all reasonable doubts about the identity of the remains in grave 6/5/13 in Cherbourg, have been removed. All evidence points to S/Ldr. A.V. Gowers. Other candidates have all been considered, and could all be dismissed, as their crash data led to the conclusion of physical impossibility of their body washing ashore in Cherbourg. Evidence that appeared to contradict the claim, the colour of the award ribbon, could be dismissed as falsified by the chemical action of seawater, as the resulting colours do not match the awards given to any of the Squadron Leaders lost there and then. No other hard evidence that contradicts the claim has been produced. I believe the time has come to close this case with acceptance of the claim.

I kindly request you to process the matter with urgency. It is understood that everybody has a backlog of work. It is also understood that RAF AHB shall be moving office shortly, or is doing so right now, which is not going to help here. Above I believe to have demonstrated that the additional information required can be produced in a matter of days rather than months. This was done without the essential benefit of access to the relevant archives. Surely CWGC and RAF AHB, that do have access to these archives, should be able to do the same much quicker. You have received an explicit request from the widow of S/Ldr. Gowers, to come to conclusions without undue delay. The former Mrs Gowers may not have many more months to live. That alone makes the usual processing time of many months unacceptable in this case. After having been left in the dark for 65 years, her request is perfectly understandable and valid. I see a moral obligation to conclude the matter, surely in the appropriate way, but also as a priority. That's certainly how I feel about the matter.

Kind regards,

Map 45. Map showing loss areas of RAF Squadron Leaders in the six months prior to the loss of S/Ldr. A.V. Gowers.

This, and the explanations given in the text above, demonstrates that the grave of a RAF S/Ldr. in Cherbourg can only be the grave of S/Ldr. Gowers.

At the time of the claim re-application, we were not quite sure about the loss area of S/Ldr. Ch.F. Rose DFC DFM. This would have been west of the Ile d'Ouessant, or perhaps more to the south, in the Bay of Biscay area. We managed to find an eyewitness of this crash, Mr. Des Curtis DFM, who reported on 24/05/2008 as follows:

Thanks for your letter and map of 2nd May (which arrived today). I do not believe for one moment that the remains of the airman buried in Cherbourg Cemetery could be those of Charlie Rose.

I was an eye witness to the crash that killed him and his navigator, Flt Sgt Cowley. Our pair of Mosquitos left RAF Predannack at 08.00 hrs on 4th November 1943. We were headed for a point 46.22N 04.25W, which is west of St Nazaire. To get there we passed on the seaward side of Les Isles d'Ouissant, flying at a height of about 10 metres to avoid radar detection.

At the destination we came upon a sizeable trawler, which, on close inspection, had no nets out nor were any seabirds circling. We decided that the trawler was acting as a marker and guard at the seaward end of the mine swept channel leading into Brest. I watched Rose's aircraft from the time we separated and he went into a diving attack, and was horrified to see a trail of white smoke coming from his port engine. Passing over the ship, he appeared to start to pull out of the 30° dive, but went into the sea about half a mile from the trawler. Needless to say, we gave the trawler a punishing with our 57 mm gun. I saw no wreckage of the aircraft on the surface. One theory was that he was killed outright by fire from the bow of the vessel.

In that position, and given the normal outflow of water from the North Sea thru' the English Channel, it would be impossible for his cadaver to have been washed ashore in or near Cherbourg harbour, and within days of his crashing.

I know nothing about Sqdn Ldr Gower or the other persons you mentioned.

Suffice it to say that Charlie Rose was a remarkable man, a very skilled pilot with a lot of experience on the type, and a great record for gallantry.

I hope this helps your research.

Best regards Des Curtis

This locates the loss of S/Ldr. Rose in the Bay of Biscay, as corrected in the map above. This changes the argument regarding S/Ldr. Rose as a possible candidate from "quite impossible" to "more than quite impossible". This information was transmitted to JCCC too, as an addition to the claim re-application.

Meanwhile, the JCCC had announced that the re-application was placed at the bottom of the pile of things to do. A backlog of work, and fairness to the other cases, were the arguments. It seems that we have to wait yet another year, before the JCCC shall give verdict. We can only hope that it shall be in time to give S/Ldr. Gowers' widow the closure she deserves.

Author has send a message to the JCCC, expressing concerns about their work capacity. No response. It seems that this capacity matter need to be taken up with higher offices. Much higher offices. A covert operation to achieve that was started, the details of which remain classified. Results, if any, shall become visible in the future, and be reflected in the pages below.

As the ongoing research for this study resulted in a growing number of cases in which an identity could be claimed for the grave of an airman buried as unknown, author has restuctured the claim application procedure using a template that states the claim, summarizes the arguments, directs to the evidence, and records the proceedings. The idea is to bring complicated matters back from a multitute of pages of text back to a fact sheet of one or two pages only, enabling all concerned a faster and clearer oversight. Below is the claim application sheet for S/Ldr. Gowers.

Case ID




Cemetery & grave

Cherbourg Old Communal, 6/5/13, also known as 65

Text on headstone

Unknown Airman 10-11-1943

Identity claimed

S/Ldr. Arthur Vincent (Vin) Gowers DFC, RAF VR Nr. 40166


Date of MIA


Place of MIA

Shot down by Flak into Cherbourg Harbour

Autopsy details

Washed ashore 10/11/1943. Identified by the French as 'Major Anglais' and by the MR&ES as S/Ldr. in RAF battledress with pilot's wings; decoration ribbon, white/red (AFC), could be faded colours of DFC (purple/white). No ID disk.


183 Sqn Fighter Command


Typhoon Mk. Ib Nr. JP396

Other crew

Not applicable


S/Ldr. Gowers had a custom made ID bracelet, which he left at home on 24-10-1943.


Only one RAF S/Ldr. lost in the Channel area in the period of 6 months prior to 24/08/1943: A.V. Gowers DFC

Evidence, File


To CWGC 060731.doc

Cherbourg Cemetery Register entries, case desciption

Cherbourg Communal Cemetery.xls

Spreadsheet showing all burials in Cherbourg Old Communal Cemetery

Claimed by

Rob Philips

Claim submitted



Rejected by JCCC, 28-04-2008


Re-application with new evidence 07-05-2008

S-Ldrs MIA 1-6-43 to 11-11-43.xls

Survey of all S/Ldrs MIA 01-06-1943 to 11-11-1943, Western Europe

Map of S-Ldrs MIA.jpg

Map showing all losses of S/Ldr's in the six months prior to 11-11-1943

CWGC Casualty Register

Gowers AV dog tag.jpg

Photo of custom made ID bracelet of S/Ldr Gowers


Being processed by JCCC

Identity claim sheet 1. S/Ldr. A.V. Gowers DFC - submitted

On August 2nd, 2008, Mrs Laurie Turner-Gowers writes to JCCC, referring to a recent identification of a British serviceman buried as unknown in The Netherlands by the BID KL. The request is if the British can act as the Dutch did. On 14 August she receives a 3 page response. Much of the text is about the JCCC work load. It is explained that, "as once a grave has been designated as that of an unknown casualty, by definition the next-of-kin of the individual must also be unknown". This statement has logical validity within the narrowest of contexts, and can only be seen as rubbish in the context at hand, which is the possible identification of this serviceman buried as unknown. This type of logic would, for instance, go against the efforts of other nations, to build reference databases with DNA material received from families of missing servicemen. We may wonder who is approving this sort of responses, that was not received well at all.

In reaction, author has send the following message to JCCC, dated 13-09-2008:

I have received a copy of your letter to Mrs. Turner, dated August 14th, regarding the S/Ldr Gowers case. I shall not argue with any of the statements in it, as it is not addressed to me. However, I would like to respond to what is new information to me:

1. Your work has contemporary casualties as a priority.

2. You are basically the only one assigned to the job of the historical cases.

3. You have transmitted concerns about JCCC's historic casework capacity to your management, that is trying to obtain additional staff resources.

My reaction is as follows:

1. The subject of MoD historical case processing is being discussed in several quarters in the public domain. Whenever I participate in that, I note that any dissatisfaction with this MoD processing should not be directed at those who do the work, such as you, but at those in higher or the highest offices who have set the rules and assigned the capacities.

2. You may have noticed that my claim applications result from a strategy that I, as a civilian who has no clearance for classified information, and who is experiencing a lot of non-cooperation from official quarters, can follow. This strategy is limited in options as a result of reasons given above, but nevertheless it is productive. Expect many more claims to come, in a pace of about one per month.

3. I am prepared to disclose this strategy, if it would not already be clearly seen in the applications.

4. Part of this strategy is the discovery and exploitation of sources that were not seen, or tapped, by the MR&ES in its period of activity, 1940-1952. In this connection I mention, as an example, the existence of about 1.5 million records about missing WW2 servicemen in Germany, the so-called "Restbestand", that were not taken by the Allies after the cessation of hostilities. Another example would be the tapping of information that can be found in what was formerly called East Germany, an area in which the MR&ES could not operate in freedom, as a result of the post war Sovjet presence. Such operations were not retried when the area opened up after 1991.

5. I believe that an open discussion of strategies between those concerned could lead to better ones, leading to better results and less time lost or wasted. However, I understand that such a discussion would be contrary to the MoD policy of treatment of the historical cases in a reactive rather than a pro-active way.

6. If I make mistakes, then I believe that this is a result of the following:

A. A manual for the public about how to act in these matters is not available.

B. A manual describing your work is not available.

In science it has been the case for a very long time, that actions are defined, and made known globally, so that others can check. In industry this procedure has become commonplace too, as a result of obligatory quality control requirements. In the matter at hand, I only have the trial and error method to find out about the rules of engagement, and I cannot check the results of your work against a standard - as no such standard is available to me. In contact with others who have submitted identity claims, it has become clear that hardly anybody knows the proceedings that apply, and the authorities that are designated. Many believe that it is the CWGC who is responsible here. This may have been true for a certain period in the past, but it is no longer true today. Meanwhile, the CWGC is sending out messages in which this confusion is prolongated. There is no criticism on the quality of your work in this. It is just that I'm placed at a decided disadvantage, as I cannot check the work of JCCC, and as I only have the trial and error method to find out about designated authorities and preferred procedures.

The issue of contacting family of a missing person can serve as an example here. JCCC has a strong view about this. I have expressed my careful strategy here, and explained the importance of family who may well have details that are vital in identification cases. The point however is that we had no way of adjusting strategies beforehand, as there is no manual to refer to. I believe that it is fair to say that you and I are in fact in the process of writing that manual.

7. It would help to have a clear picture of the chain of command above JCCC, as that might help to achieve the objective of increasing JCCC's work capacity. So, I would be grateful if you would enlighten me here.

8. It is understood that you are dependent on RAF AHB, CWGC & RAF PMA for information held by these organisations in classified archives. It is understood that these organisations have work load issues too, that their archives may not be organised in perfect ways, and that data in these archives may not be complete and/or accurate. It may even be true that these are the main explanations why JCCC case processing is taking years rather than weeks. Therefore, I realise that improvements cannot be expected to result from only an increase of the JCCC work capacity.

2. F/O. G.E. Rawson

Case ID




Cemetery & grave

Cherbourg Old Communal, 6/5/11, also known as 63

Text on headstone

unknown RAF Flying Officer 24-10-1943

Identity claimed

F/O. Gerald Edmund (Gerry) Rawson, RAF Nr. 404943


Date of MIA


Place of MIA

Shot down by Flak into Cherbourg Harbour

Autopsy details

Washed ashore or fished from the water 24-10-1943, identified as RAF F/O. The MR&ES, in the 1946 forensic exhumantion, found brown wavy hair, shoe size 8, and an ID disk in poor condition with the letters RAE E and religion CoE. No match found for the name E. RAE.


183 Sqn Fighter Command


Typhoon Mk. Ib Nr. JP542

Other crew

Not applicable


F/O. Rawson had joined the RAF, coming from the RNZAF


Time and place of loss match time and place of washup of this body. Identifiers F/O., RAF, light brown wavy hair and shoe size match. The fragmented ID disk found could match.

Evidence, File


To CWGC 060731.doc

Cherbourg Cemetery Register entries, case desciption

Cherbourg Communal Cemetery.xls

Spreadsheet showing all burials in Cherbourg Old Communal Cemetery

Rawson GE dossier #6b & #6c.jpg

MR&ES Report dated 26-08-1947, stating light brown wavy hair for the casualty in grave 63.

Claimed by

Rob Philips

Claim submitted



Rejected by JCCC, 05-10-2007


Re-application with new evidence under preparation

Personnel FO's 1-7-43 to 25-10-43.xls

Survey of all F/O.'s MIA 01-07-1943 to 25-10-1943, Western Europe

FO losses.jpg

Map showing all losses of F/O's in the period 01-07-1943 to 25-10-1943, Western Europe

CWGC Casualty Register

Rawson GE dossier #3a & #3b.jpg

RAF Airmen's Record Sheet, showing Rawson's transition from RNZAF to RAF on 05/10/1942

Rawson ID Disk RAE E 1&2.jpg

Photoshop reproduction of the ID disk found by MR&ES in 1946

Identity claim sheet 2. F/O. G.E. Rawson - submitted

3. P/O. C. van der Knaap

Case ID




Cemetery & grave

Cherbourg Old Communal, 6/5/14, also known as 66

Text on headstone

unknown RAF 10-11-1943

Identity claimed

P/O. Cornelis van der Knaap, RAF VR Nr. 104591


Date of MIA


Place of MIA

Shot down by Flak into Cherbourg Harbour

Autopsy details

Washed ashore 10-11-1943, identified as RAF


320 (Dutch) Sqn Bomber Command


Mitchell B-25C FR174 NO-K

Other crew

2. F/O. A.J. van Dieren Bijvoet, Pilot - MIA

3. Cpl. A.G. Apeldoorn, Ag - MIA

4. Sgt. P.F. van Woesik, Wop/Ag - KIA. Body washed ashore in Cherbourg Harbour 05-11-1943, identified as 'Von Wossik, Pierre', buried grave 6/5/12, relocated by OGS to Orry-la-Ville, grave A/1/5 on 13-06-1956


A letter from France to OGS mentions C. van der Knaap as buried in Cherbourg. This is how he is mentioned in the OGS Casualty Register. OGS has been unable to reproduce this letter. It has not (yet) been found in other archives.


The name cannot have been invented in France. Time and place of loss match time and place of washup of this body.

Evidence, File


To CWGC 060731.doc

Cherbourg Cemetery Register entries, case desciption

Cherbourg Communal Cemetery.xls

Spreadsheet showing all burials in Cherbourg Old Communal Cemetery

Claimed by

Rob Philips

Claim submitted



Being processed by JCCC

Identity claim sheet 3. P/O. C. van der Knaap - submitted

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