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1945-01-13 The Loss of Mitchells FR181 (Bastiaenen) and FW227 (Muntinga)

Crash site: Manderfeld, Belgium

Crash cause: aircraft FR181 exploded in mid-air, described in literature as the result of a premature bomb explosion. Author claims that this was most likely caused by a Flak hit. Aircraft FW227 was taken down in the blast too. Both aircraft of RAF 320 (Dutch) Squadron.

The target was Manderfeld road communication center, important to the Germans because of their Ardennes offensive. Mission was flown by 12 Mitchells of 320 Sqn, guided by GEE-H. The mission was flown in the afternoon of a Saturday.

As a result of the explosion of FR181, the other Mitchell went into a half roll, flew on its back for a whille, and them plummeted to earth, losing parts of the aircraft in the process.

Source: 320 Sqn ORB

There is confusion over which aircraft exploded. Marcel Verhulsel, of Belgian nationality, navigator in 320 Sqn, was up there that day too. He believes that probably FR181 exploded, taking down FW227 in the blast.

Source: 'Biografie van Gaston Mertens' by Cl. Mertens, in 'Dakota News', nr, 16, sept. 2001, p. 27

All other sources state that FW227 exploded, taking down FR181. Gaston Mertens was navigator on FW227. He managed to leave the aircraft by parachute. That's a strong first indicator that it may have been FR181 that blew up in the air. FW227 is likely to have been less damaged than FR181, enabling Mertens to get out. After research in the Manderfeld area, described in chapter 'Eyewitness reports', author shall claim that Marcel Verhulsel has been right.


Name

1. Bastiaenen, Cornelis Adrianus (Kees, Bas)

C.A. Bastiaenen. Source: SLH Familygrave Bastiaenen, 050528

Rank

Res 1Lt Vl Wnr, F/O., Pilot

Decorations

Vliegerkruis

Born

9/8/1919

Place

Haarlem, NL

Squadron

RAF 320 (Dutch) Sqn Bomber Command

Ops/hr

72/173

Aircraft

Mitchell Mk. II B-25D FR181 NO-R

Base

RAF Melsbroek, B

Mission

Raid on road communication center at Manderfeld, Belgium

Status

KIA, aircraft exploded in mid-air, most likely as a result of a Flak hit in the bomb bay. Time 14:29h.

age

25

Killed

13/1/1945

Place

Parts of the aircraft descended in an oval measuring 2,5 km North and South of Krewinkel, B

Buried

Initially near Manderfeld, Belgium, at the crash site. Grave relocated to Manderfeld Communal Cemetery early 1947. Reburied 3/4/1948 in his hometown Haarlem, R.K. Begraafplaats St. Barbara, grave 174

Known to

OGS

yes

CWGC

no

Other crew

2. Korp Vltg Sch J. van Driel, Ag - KIA

3. Sgt Vltg Sch E.C. van Harselaar, Wop/Ag - KIA

4. Off Zwnr 3kl MLD L.Th. Limbosch, Copilot/Nav - KIA

Remarks

Vliegerkruis, 10/8/1944

Gedurende geruimen tijd bij het 320e Squadron R.D.N.A.S. van Onzen Marine Luchtvaartdienst in het Vereenigd Koninkrijk, in oorlogsvluchten tegen den vijandblijk gegeven van moed, bekwaamheid, volharding en plichtsbetrachting.

Memorial

His name is on the Memorial in Reinaldapark, Haarlem, NL

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

Data

Confusion

Most sources state that not FR181 but FW227 exploded in the air

Geldhof (3): FR181 exploded as a result of a bomb dropped from FW227


Name

2. Driel, Johannes van

Loenen 041030 Van Driel

Rank

Korp Vltg Sch, Cpl, Ag

Stb.Nr. 90652/Z

Decorations

None known

Born

10/1/1924

Place

's-Gravenhage, NL

Squadron

RAF 320 (Dutch) Sqn Bomber Command

Ops/hr

Aircraft

Mitchell Mk. II B-25D FR181 NO-R

Base

RAF Melsbroek, B

Mission

Raid on road communication center at Manderfeld, Belgium

Status

KIA, aircraft exploded in mid-air, most likely as a result of a Flak hit in the bomb bay. Time 14:29h.

age

21

Killed

13/1/1945

Place

Parts of the aircraft descended in an oval measuring 2,5 km North and South of Krewinkel

Buried

Initially near Manderfeld, Belgium, at the crash site. Grave relocated to Manderfeld Communal Cemetery early 1947. Reburied

's-Gravenhage, 1/4/1948, and later at Ereveld Loenen, Gelderland, NL, grave D/5

Known to

OGS

yes

CWGC

no

Other crew

1. Res 1Lt Vl Wnr C.A. Bastiaenen, Pilot - KIA

3. Sgt Vltg Sch E.C. van Harselaar, Wop/Ag - KIA

4. Off Zwnr 3kl MLD L.Th. Limbosch, Copilot/Nav - KIA

Remarks

Memorial

None known

GB arrival

Interrogation report NA 2.09.06-4007, 4026 & 11974

Data

Confusion

Most sources state that not FR181 but FW227 exploded in the air

Geldhof (3): FR181 exploded as a result of a bomb dropped from FW227


Name

3. Harselaar, Ernst Cornelis van

E.C. van Harselaar Source: SLH Rusthof 040807 Harselaar

Rank

Sgt Vltg Sch, Sgt., Wop/Ag

Stb.Nr. 15361

Decorations

Vliegerkruis

Born

22/7/1921

Place

Amsterdam, NL

Squadron

RAF 320 (Dutch) Sqn Bomber Command

Ops/hr

Aircraft

Mitchell Mk. II B-25D FR181 NO-R

Base

RAF Melsbroek, B

Mission

Raid on road communication center at Manderfeld, Belgium

Status

KIA, aircraft exploded in mid-air, most likely as a result of a Flak hit in the bomb bay. Time 14:29h.

age

23

Killed

13/1/1945

Place

Parts of the aircraft descended in an oval measuring 2,5 km North and South of Krewinkel

Buried

Initially near Manderfeld, Belgium, at the crash site. Grave relocated to Manderfeld Communal Cemetery early 1947. Reburied 17/4/1948 at Algemene Begraafplaats Rusthof, Amersfoort, NL, grave 12/101/F

Known to

OGS

yes

CWGC

no

Other crew

1. Res 1Lt Vl Wnr C.A. Bastiaenen, Pilot - KIA

2. Korp Vltg Sch J. van Driel, Ag - KIA

4. Off Zwnr 3kl MLD L.Th. Limbosch, Copilot/Nav - KIA

Remarks

Vliegerkruis, 14/9/1944

Gedurende geruimen tijd bij het 320e Squadron R.D.N.A.S. van Onzen Marine Luchtvaartdienst in het Vereenigd Koninkrijk, in oorlogsvluchten tegen den vijandblijk gegeven van moed, bekwaamheid, volharding en plichtsbetrachting.

Memorial

None known

GB arrival

Data

Confusion

Most sources state that not FR181 but FW227 exploded in the air

Geldhof (3): FR181 exploded as a result of a bomb dropped from FW227


Name

4. Limbosch, Louis Theodore (Limbie)


L.Th. Limbosch. Source @St.M.Vl.P. 1939-50 Grebbeberg 090204 Limbosch LTh

Rank

Off Zwnr 3kl MLD, F/O., Copilot/Nav

Stb.Nr. 21153

Decorations

Vliegerkruis

Born

31/3/1919

Place

Lawang, Sumatra, NEI

Squadron

RAF 320 (Dutch) Sqn Bomber Command

Ops/hr

Aircraft

Mitchell Mk. II B-25D FR181 NO-R

Base

RAF Melsbroek, B

Mission

Raid on road communication center at Manderfeld, Belgium

Status

KIA, aircraft exploded in mid-air, most likely as a result of a Flak hit in the bomb bay. Time 14:29h.

age

25

Killed

13/1/1945

Place

Parts of the aircraft descended in an oval measuring 2,5 km North and South of Krewinkel

Buried

Initially near Manderfeld, Belgium, at the crash site. Grave relocated to Manderfeld Communal Cemetery early 1947. Reburied Utrecht, 7/4/1948, and later at Militair ereveld Grebbeberg, Rhenen, NL, grave 9/16

Known to

OGS

yes

CWGC

no

Other crew

1. Res 1Lt Vl Wnr C.A. Bastiaenen, Pilot - KIA

2. Korp Vltg Sch J. van Driel, Ag - KIA

3. Sgt Vltg Sch E.C. van Harselaar, Wop/Ag - KIA

Remarks

Vliegerkruis, 20/7/1944

Gedurende geruimen tijd bij het 320e Squadron R.D.N.A.S. van Onzen Marine Luchtvaartdienst in het Vereenigd Koninkrijk, in oorlogsvluchten tegen den vijandblijk gegeven van moed, bekwaamheid, volharding en plichtsbetrachting.

His younger brother Theo, flying with 1840 Fleet Air Arm Squadron, went missing-in-action 7 months earlier in a flying accident over sea near Greenock, West of Glasgow, GB. On 4/5/1944 L.Th. Limbosch had a narrow escape with the Nuessink/De Haan/Van Offeren crew. After an attack on Bois de Coquerelle, their Mitchell FR184 was hit in the port engine, South of Abbeville. The aircraft had to be ditched in The Channel, on 50° 33' N, 00° 58' E. The crew could board the dinghy, and was rescued by a Walrus floatplane.

Memorial

None known

GB arrival

Trained at JAAB, USA, and was send to GB

Data

Confusion

Most sources state that not FR181 but FW227 exploded in the air

Geldhof (3): FR181 exploded as a result of a bomb dropped from FW227


Name

1. Dam, Petrus Johannes Epiphanius van

Rusthof 040807 Van Dam

Rank

Korp Vltg Sch, Cpl., Ag

Stb.Nr. 90763/Z

Decorations

Kruis van Verdienste

Born

6/1/1922

Place

Venlo, NL

Squadron

RAF 320 (Dutch) Sqn Bomber Command

Ops/hr

Aircraft

Mitchell Mk. II B-25C FW227 NO-P

Base

RAF Melsbroek, B

Mission

Raid on road communication center at Manderfeld, Belgium

Status

KIA, aircraft was taken down in the blast of the explosion of FR181. Time 14:29h.

age

23

Killed

13/1/1945

Place

800 m North of the Igelmonder Mühle between Holzheim and Manderfeld, B

Buried

Body remained in aircraft wreck. Relocated to Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, Belgium, on 26/1/1945, and finally on 29/11/1946 to Algemene Begraafplaats Rusthof, Amersfoort, NL, grave 12/101/A

Known to

OGS

yes

CWGC

no

Other crew

2. F/Lt. G.F. Mertens, Copilot/Nav, Belgium -KIA

3. Res 2Lt Vl MLD Ir. J.H. Muntinga, Pilot - KIA

4. Korp Vltg Sch P.H. Peetoom, Ag - KIA

Remarks

Memorial

None known

GB arrival

Interrogation report NA 2.09.06-11955

Data

Confusion

Most sources state that not FR181 but FW227 exploded in the air

Geldhof (3): FR181 exploded as a result of a bomb dropped from FW227, taking FW227 down in the blast


Name

2. Mertens, Gaston Frans (Belgian)


G.F. Mertens Source: Clément Mertens Liedekerke 050710 Mertens

Rank

F/Lt., Copilot/Nav

RAF VR 164497

Decorations

Belgian War Cross, Order of Leopold, Croix de Guerre avec Palme

Born

20/12/1919

Place

Liedekerke, B

Squadron

RAF 320 (Dutch) Sqn Bomber Command

Ops/hr

Aircraft

Mitchell Mk. II B-25C FW227 NO-P

Base

RAF Melsbroek, B

Mission

Raid on road communication center at Manderfeld, Belgium

Status

KIA, aircraft was taken down in the blast of the explosion of FR181. Time 14:29h.

age

26

Killed

13/1/1945

Place

800 m North of the Igelmonder Mühle between Holzheim and Manderfeld, B

Buried

Initially buried Manderfeld, Belgium. Reburied 18/7/1945 in Liedekerke Gemeentelijke Begraafplaats, Molenstraat, B

Known to

OGS

yes

CWGC

yes

Other crew

1. Korp Vltg Sch P.J.E. van Dam, Ag - KIA

3. Res 2Lt Vl MLD Ir. J.H. Muntinga, Pilot - KIA

4. Korp Vltg Sch P.H. Peetoom, Ag - KIA

Remarks

Detached to 320 (Dutch) Sqn on 4/11/1944

Married to Norah Mertens-Brunt

Memorial

1. A street in Liedekerke, B, was renamed in his memory. The street connects to the village square.

2. His name is on a War Monument in North Cray cemetery, Kent, GB, the home of Mertens' wife Norah Brunt.

3. His name has been added to the WW1 Memorial next to the Sint-Niklaaskerk in Liedekerke.

Liedekerke 050710-6b.jpg

4. His name is on the Memorial plate on the Erepark Belgische Vliegers in Brussels Evere Cemetery.

5. His name is on the Memorial wall of the War Museum in the Jubelpark, Brussels.

GB arrival

Engelandvaarder

Data

Confusion

Most sources state that not FR181 but FW227 exploded in the air.

Geldhof (3): FR181 exploded as a result of a bomb dropped from FW227, taking FW227 down in the blast.

CWGC: 'Family vault in south-east of cemetery'. This must be a misreading of the text on the headstone. Mertens was buried in Liedekerke as of 1945 as in the picture below. It is the first grave on the right, actually the NW section of the cemetery.



F/Lt. Gaston Frans Mertens, of Belgian nationality, was an Engelandvaarder, that met with many hardships of capture and imprisonment during his journey from Belgium via France, Spain, Portugal and Gibraltar to England. His journey took from 15/8/1941 to 30/3/1942. After finally reaching England, his flying training led him also to De Winton in Canada, where he met several Belgians and Dutchmen that would later fly in 320 Squadron. On 29/10/1944 he married Norah Brunt of North Cray, Sidcup, Kent, GB. He was decorated with the Belgian War Cross, the Order of Leopold, and the French Croix de Guerre avec Palme. He was initially buried in Manderfeld, on top of a hill, far from the village. Reburied in July 1945 in Liedekerke Gemeentelijke Begraafplaats. His home town named a street after him. This street attaches to the village square. His grave is located very prominently as the first one on the right after entering the cemetery. His name was added to the World War 1 Memorial next to the Sint-Niklaaskerk in Liedekerke. He is known to the CWGC. His biography was written by his brother Clément, published in 'Dakota news', Nr. 16, september 2001. Mr. Mertens also wrote 'Gaston Mertens - Flying Officer R.A.F.', Liedekerke, no date, 63 pages with many pictures, published privately.

Clément Mertens, 15/6/2005:

'Nadat wij in kennis gesteld werden, door een brief van de heer Burgemeester van Manderfeld, dat mijn broer daar begraven lag, ben ik samen met mijn oudere broer naar Manderfeld geweest.

Wij werden door de heer Burgemeester ontvangen en gelogeerd. Wij werden begeleid naar de plaats waar mijn broer begraven lag; op de top van een heuvel, in bosgebied. De resten van zijn valscherm lagen op zijn graf; maar zeer merkwaardig, er was een eenvoudig houten kruis op geplaatst met als opschrift zijn naam G.F. Mertens Flame (Vlaming). Dit doet sterk vermoeden dat hij nog gesproken heeft na zijn neerkomen.

Mijn broer sprak vrij goed Duits (Manderfeld is Duitstalig). De begeleider in Manderfeld sprak vloeiend Frans en liet zich wel ontvallen dat er brutale zaken gebeurd waren. Zo zou een deel van de bevolking het lijk van Gaston geplunderd hebben, zijn ringen en andere zaken. In alle geval de bevolking zwijgt daar angstvallig over.

Mijn vader heeft schriftelijk een onderzoek gevraagd aan de procureur van het parket van Luik, tot tweemaal toe, maar nooit antwoord gekregen. Hij heeft die aanvraag in het Frans gedaan, wetende hoe gevoelig de Walen zijn.

Manderfeld is nu een toeristische streek geworden, ook inwoners van Liedekerke gaan daar op vakantie. Wanneer ze iets vragen over het gebeurde met mijn broer wordt er gezwegen als een graf. Nog niet lang geleden was een vriend van mij in Manderfeld aan het werk voor een firma. Toen hij vroeg of zich nog iemand dat gebeuren herinnerde, antwoordde een oudere persoon dat hij die parachutist heeft zien neerkomen, valscherm open. Maar meer wou hij niet kwijt.'

Clément (left) and Edgar Mertens at the grave of their brother in Manderfeld, June 1945. Source: Clément Mertens


The text on the wooden cross in Manderfeld was G F Mertens Flame (= Flemish).Source: Clément Mertens


Name

3. Muntinga, Ir. Jan Hijlke


J.H. Muntinga Source: SLH Rusthof 040807 Muntinga

Rank

Res 2Lt Vl MLD, F/O., Pilot

Decorations

None known

Born

18/5/1911

Place

Medan, Sumatra, NEI

Squadron

RAF 320 (Dutch) Sqn Bomber Command

Ops/hr

18/38

Aircraft

Mitchell Mk. II B-25C FW227 NO-P

Base

RAF Melsbroek, B

Mission

Raid on road communication center at Manderfeld, Belgium

Status

KIA, aircraft was taken down in the blast of the explosion of FR181. Time 14:29h.

age

33

Killed

13/1/1945

Place

800 m North of the Igelmonder Mühle between Holzheim and Manderfeld, B

Buried

Body remained in aircraft wreck. Relocated as unknown X-419 to Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, Belgium, 26/1/1945, grave 245, and to Algemene Begraafplaats Rusthof, Amersfoort, NL, grave 12/101/D on 29/11/1946. MR&ES identification dated 12/9/1947 accepted by DIB on 29/10/1949, when his name could finally be attached to his grave

Known to

OGS

yes

CWGC

no

Other crew

1. Korp Vltg Sch P.J.E. van Dam, Ag - KIA

2. F/Lt. G.F. Mertens, Copilot/Nav, Belgium -KIA

4. Korp Vltg Sch P.H. Peetoom, Ag - KIA

Remarks

Married to Mrs. J.Th.C. Muntinga-Pijnacker Hordijk, Den Haag

Memorial

None known

GB arrival

Data

Confusion

Most sources state that not FR181 but FW227 exploded in the air

Geldhof (3): FR181 exploded as a result of a bomb dropped from FW227, taking FW227 down in the blast

J.H. Muntinga, winter 1944 Source: @St.M.Vl.P. 1939-50, JPK collection 15-4-18-2

Gaston Mertens has told his brother Clément, when on leave in December 1944 and early January 1945, about his regular pilot as of 1 September 1944, Jan Muntinga. They understood each other very well. Both were Flying Officers. Mertens was usually allowed to fly on practice flights, including take-offs and landings. That would enable him to take over control from Muntinga, should that ever be needed.

Norah Mertens-Brunt, Gastons wife, wrote the following. Time is end of 1944, place is England.

'On a certain morning we were having coffee with the crew of his bomber, quiet and serious Dutchmen. I remember his pilot especially. He was older than Gaston, married with wife and children in Holland. He spoke very little, smoking his pipe, his thoughts far away. They knew what was waiting for them, nothing to joke about.'

Source: Norah Mertens-Brunt in Dakota News 16/2001



Name

4. Peetoom, Paul Hendrik

Peetoom PH 1944 rv2.jpg Rusthof 040807 Peetoom

Rank

Korp Vltg Sch, Cpl, Ag

Stb.Nr. 11518

Decorations

None known

Born

17/1/1918

Place

Tegal, Java, NEI

Squadron

RAF 320 (Dutch) Sqn Bomber Command

Ops/hr

Aircraft

Mitchell Mk. II B-25C FW227 NO-P

Base

RAF Melsbroek, B

Mission

Raid on road communication center at Manderfeld, Belgium

Status

KIA, aircraft was taken down in the blast of the explosion of FR181. Time 14:29h.

age

26

Killed

13/1/1945

Place

50.218N/6.1433E, along the Wereth-Herresbach road, Belgium

Buried

Initially in an unmarked field grave 5 miles West from Manderfeld. Body taken to Hotton British Cemetery, Belgium, 12/9/1947, and identified by RAF MR&ES as P.H. Peetoom. Reburied at Algemene Begraafplaats Rusthof, Amersfoort, NL, grave 12/101/H, on 21/10/1949. The RAF MR&ES identification was initially rejected by DIB.

Known to

OGS

yes

CWGC

no

Other crew

1. Korp Vltg Sch P.J.E. van Dam, Ag - KIA

2. F/Lt. G.F. Mertens, Copilot/Nav, Belgium -KIA

3. Res 2Lt Vl MLD Ir. J.H. Muntinga, Pilot - KIA

Remarks

Memorial

None known

GB arrival

Data

Confusion

Most sources state that not FR181 but FW227 exploded in the air

Geldhof (3): FR181 exploded as a result of a bomb dropped from FW227, taking FW227 down in the blast


Melsbroek l944. Left to right Joop Bootsma, Dickie Waterman, Arie Heijblom (above), Paul Peetoom, Jan Kloos. Picture no doubt taken with Jan Kloos' Leica IIIa. Source @St.M.Vl.P. 1939-50


Picture taken by Jan Kloos at Melsbroek, end of 1944. Standing left to right Piet van der Wel, Henk Holleman, Hook, Bill Painting, Walther Bouwman. Kneeling Paul Peetoom & Jaap Lub. Source: J.P. Kloos, Gunners

A 320 Sqn Mitchell that completed one hundred raids, in Zaventem, winter 1944. Source: @St.M.Vl.P. 1939-50, from Vltgmkr (E) 1kl M. Breeman

Crash site of FW227 in June 1945, with Clément Mertens. The forest was about a meter high at the time, as confirmed by Mr. Heinsius of the Igelmonder Hof, who hid in this forest to evade subscription in the German army. The entire hill is forested. Source: Clément Mertens

Crash site of FW227 in June 1945. The forest was about a meter high at the time, as confirmed by Mr. Heinsius of the Igelmonder Hof, who hid in this forest to evade subscription in the German army. The entire hill is forested. Source: Clément Mertens

Site very close to the FW227 crash site, on top of a hill near the Igelmonder Mühle. An indication of a Mitchell crash could not be found here in Febuary 2006. Manderfeld 060218-1

3. Premature bomb explosion as cause of crash

Other aviators in the box eyewitnessed that one of the Mitchells exploded in mid-air, at about 14.30 hours. The blast caused not only the loss of FW227 and FR181, but also did damage to three other Mitchells. That led to the assumption of a premature bomb explosion. From this we cannot know what really happened, as the aviators concerned cannot tell us. But some remarks can be made.

Manderfeld was an important road juntion, defended by Flak. But clouds were reported as 10/10th at 7.000 ft. above target, and some, inaccurate, heavy Flak was experienced during the bombing run.

Source: 320 Sqn ORB

The Germans did not have radar AA-gun fire control, that could see through clouds.

We do not doubt the report from the other aviators, that one of the Mitchells exploded. We do not doubt that the explosion was so forceful, that it has to be associated with the bomb load. We therefore agree that bombs must have exploded prematurely. But we find this statement unsufficiently descriptive of what happened. What caused the bombs to detonate prematurely? We see two possible causes. The premature bomb explosion may have been caused by a technical problem. Alternatively, there may have been freak Flak hit in the bomb bay.

1. Ordinance technicalities

Mr. Albert Beukhof, 320 Sqn airgunner, recounted that a bomb could become tilted and stuck if one of the two hooks released prematurely, or failed to release when it should have. This could apply to Mitchells with a double-hook bomb release system for bombs with two suspension lugs. Note that the 500 or 1.000 lb bombs carried by the Mitchells are far too heavy to be persuaded to behave by the power of only muscles. He told the horrifying story of a bomb that became tilted and stuck, after which the air draft in the bomb bay rotated the arming vane, a small propellor in the bomb's tail cone, making the explosive into a live one aboard the aircaft. A live bomb aboard meant no permission to land at base. That was a nuisance to hungry and thirsty aviators. The solution to this problem was simple: just don't tell base that the bomb is live. Go in, touch down, and let Maintenance sort matters out. No need to miss tea over a matter such as this...

Source: Albert Beukhof, Soesterberg, 2/4/2005

However, we may wonder how much truth there is in this otherwise very dynamic story.

The British 500 and 1.000 lb bombs carried by the Mitchells had fuzes that were strictly mechanical, and of course pyrotechnical. There were no electrics or electronics, nor an electrical link between bomb and aircraft, that could have caused a problem.

We can rule out aviator's error. If a bomb would have been released by mistake, and if that could be done with the bomb doors still closed, then the bomb would not become live until after a fall of about 1.000 ft, enabling the arming vane to free the firing pin in the pistol of the impact fuze. This vane was secured with a safety clip. Safety clips were not removed after loading the bombs in the aircraft. They were connected to an iron wire, suspended from the bomb bay ceiling.

Source: Jan Kloos, email 29/4/2005

So this safety clip remained effective until the bomb was actually dropped. It did happen that the iron wire was ripped out of the aircraft, leading to a dud. The iron wire arrangement saw to it that the arming vane could not rotate prematurely, not even in a very draughtly Mitchell after perforations by Flak shell fragments, or when the bomb bay doors were open. And even if the vane would have rotated on board, to a degree that the bomb became armed, then the fuze required a very forceful impact before the bomb would detonate. Mitchells have crashed with bombs still aboard. Many of these bombs exploded on the ground. Several a while after the crash, and therefore not as a result of impact, but as a result of high temperature in a burning aircraft.

Figure 16. At the right the 500 lb RAF bomb used by the Mitchells


Drawing of 250 lb bomb included, as it clearly shows the arming vane.

Source: http://web.ukonline.co.uk/stephen.johnson/arms

Deviating from the presciption on this drawing, the safety pin removal was automated in the field by using an iron wire attached to pin and bomb bay ceiling. This also brought the advantage that the arming vane could not rotate prematurely, if the wire was hooked to the vane safety clip. The arming vane fuze was mounted either in the nose, as per the right drawing, or in the tail.

500 lb bombs, showing the arming vanes of tail mounted fuzes. RAF Dunsfold, 1944. 320 Sqn ground personnel, including Lac H. Wijbenga, Lac J. Provoost, Lac F.J. van der Vloet and Lac J.F. Klein (extreme right). Photo reproduced in J.P. Kloos, '320 Squadron R.A.F. Memorial'. 500 lb bombs.jpg

2. Statistics on premature bomb explosions

Joseph F. Baugher has compiled a list of all military aircraft manufactured in the United States. The list gives basic data, including data on damages or losses. The 1940-1945 period holds over a hundred thousand aircraft. A very rough estimate is that about 50% were bombers. All Mitchells send to the RAF are included. Data is unlikely to be accurate in all cases. Manderfeld has been transformed into Mandersfield, and relocated to England. Furthermore, data is incomplete, as many aircraft vanished over Germany without a trace and without a clue to the cause of the loss. In this sea of data, spanning some 50.000 bombers that each flew dozens to over a hundred operational sorties, we have found only four cases of premature bomb explosions.

30721 to RAF as Mitchell II FR181 - Crashed at Mandersfield, England Jan 13, 1945 following premature explosion of bombload.

8868 to RAF as Baltimore V FW711. Damaged by premature explosion of own bombs over target Apr 14, 1945. SOC upon return.

8922 to RAF as Baltimore V FW765. DBR after crashlanding following premature detonation of own bombs, Cesenatico, Italy Apr 16, 1945.

741 to RAF as Boston V BZ585. DBR in crashlanding at Budrio after premature bomb explosion Apr 18, 1945.

Abbreviations: SOC = struck off charge, DBR = damaged beyond repair

Source: http://home.att.net/~jbaugher/usafserials.html

Three of the four aircraft made it back home. All three damaged, and all were scrapped, although that judgement came quickly in Wartime when flying hardware had become plentiful. Their bombs are said to have exploded prematurely, and this must be understood as outside of the aircraft. That makes the onboard explosion of the bomb load of FW227 a one-off matter. If we assume an average of 25 armed sorties for each US produced WW2 bomber aircraft, then we would have 50.000 x 25 is 1.25 million sorties. That sums up any technical problem that there may have been with the bombs or the release mechanism. Still we cannot KNOW what happened, but a freak Flak hit has become a lot more likely. It is unrealistic to assume that this incident, that occurred in the Flak defended target area, was caused by a technical malfunction, that occurred only once in over a million sorties. This author has classified the loss of FR181 as probably caused by Flak.

3. Collateral damage

The losses of FR181 and FW227 are a demonstration of one of the dangers of very close formation flying. The other three Mitchells that sustained damage were also quite close, but these aircraft could return to base and land safely. These aircraft had a larger distance to the exploding aircraft. But this distance, assuming the formation flying routines of the Mitchells, was larger by meters only. Those extra meters meant the difference between life and death. Formation flying routines were designed as a defensive measure, and for the best of reasons. This author believes that flying together as close as possible was actually a menace to crew and aircraft. The defensive capabilities of a box of Mitchells would not have decreased if the aircraft would have added say 10 meters to their usual inter-aircraft distances. A somewhat larger inter-aircraft distance would even have enlarged the firing windows for the airgunners, thereby increasing the defensive capabilities a bit. A larger inter-aircraft distance may have looked sloppy in the air, leading to criticism of pilots who could not hold a tighter position. But that 10 extra meters would have saved lives, if things went horribly wrong with the neighbour aircraft. The Manderfeld incident was not on its own. Several Dutch RAF aviators had a very narrow escape from death under similar circumstances. These non-fatal occurrences are outside of the scope of this book. Meanwhile, we do want to mention the 320 Sqn airgunner Mr. Leendert Jonker, who almost lost an arm when the Mitchell of Eddy Bakker blew up right next to him, over Brest, on 25/10/1943. Mr. Jonker miraculously could keep his arm, but he suffered from the consequences for the rest of his life.

There is no criticism here of the pilots involved. They did not, and could not, have the full data. Even if they could and did, and if they would deviate from the book, then that would have been seen as insubordination. Not the thing to do in time of War. They did as they were told to do, and they were proud that they were such razor-sharp pilots that they could fly in a tight formation for long periods of time. Nobody questioned these defensive tactics at the time. Only after an analysis of all crash causes, and therefore with hindsight, it becomes possible to see matters in another light too. Evaluating tactics is a job for High Command, also, and especially, in time of War. Author has been unable to find any evidence that crash causes have been analysed by the RAF during the War. Surviving aviators were debriefed by the Squadron's Intel Officer, for a very brief account of events in the ORB. They were not interrogated in depth, as would be a requirement for a serious analysis of events. In any case, the formation flying tactics of the bombers were not revised during the War.

4. Eyewitness reports

The Mitchells were seen by German Flak personnel in Manderfeld to fly with their bomb doors open. That stands to reason, as Manderfeld was the target of this attack. It tells us that, in spite of heavy cloud reported by the aviators, the German gunners could see their targets. The 88mm Flak battery at Manderfeld fired at the aircrafts, and one was seen to explode in the air, another one was seen to go down too. This was not a freak Flak hit, but the result of Flak gunners who did what they were supposed to do, and who did so with uncanning accuracy over a distance of about 3,5 kilometers. The gunners saw their claim officially acknowledged. This Flak was manned by Hitlerjugend, under control of the SS.

Source: Mathias Goenen, Merlscheid, from conversations with one of the Flak gunners, now deceased

Mitchell FW227 crashed about 2 kilometers from the Igelmonder Hof, the major farm in the area. The farm is even signposted at the roundabout in the West of Manderfeld. Mr. Mathias Heinsius, now aged 85, has lived on this farm all his life. He was 24 at the time, and he remembers events very clearly. He was called to duty in the German army three times. But he escaped from subscription because of the importance of the farm, because he faked a weak heart, and thirdly because he hid in the woods under a sheet of plastic for a week. That was when Berlin officials had cooked up the position of 'Gebirgssanitäter' for him, to be fulfilled in the German Alps, to Mr. Heinsius utter astonishment. He was not evacuated either, because of the farm that was considered to be 'Kriegswichtig'. At 24 he was at an excellent age to see and to remember. The age at which the combattants entrusted men with the controls of combat aircraft.

At the time, the Igelmonder Hof domain housed 300 German troops, in part from the 88mm Flak battery near the small cemetery in Manderfeld, and in part troops to guard and manage the divisional food supply dump ('Provisionslager') that the Germans had created here. A German division still amounted to about 30.000 men, requiring huge stockpiles of bread, sausages and Schnapps. Sentries with machine guns were send out each night. By day the place was without visible troops, as they feared air attacks. But the importance of the Igelmonder Hof remained unknown to the Allies, so the farm escaped Allied air attack. The junction of roads fanning out from the West of Manderfeld, target of the attack on January 13th, 1945, is only one kilometer from the Igelmonder Hof.

As Manderfeld had become part of Germany in the front line, most of the inhabitants had been evacuated. Mr. Heinsius may be one of the few Manderfeld inhabitants still alive, who were actually there to witness events in January 1945.

The Igelmonder Hof in Manderfeld. The Memorial cross at the road in front of the farm is a general one, not related specifically to the crash on 13/1/1945 Manderfeld 051108 Igelmonder Hof

The area became heavily contested, as had happened so frequently in the very long history of the town. Machinegun fire was to be heard virtually every night for a period of months. When a German Panzer with a snow plow cleared the road between Mill and Hof, remains of countless casualties surfaced. A sight that Mr. Heinsius shall never forget.

Correspondence from the local officials is confusing, because statements given are not clearly connected to the two aircraft and their separate crash sites.

Mr. Heinsius told us on 08/11/2005 that the bodies were initially buried at the crash site. This seems to be confirmed in a letter from the Major of Manderfeld to the Governor of the Province in Lüttich/Liège, dated 1st September 1947:

In Erledigung dortigen Rundschreibens am 31.7.1947, No. J.F. betreffend Identifizierung und Grabstätten der Kriegsopfer, werden Ihnen anliegend 4 Auskunftsbogen von in dieser Gemeinde abgestürzten und begrabenen holländischen Soldaten auf dem Gebiete der Gemeinde Manderfeld überreicht.

Diese Leichen, welche am 13. Januar 1945 abgestürzt waren, wurden damals an den Absturzstelle notdürftig begraben und erst anfangs 1947 auf dem hiesigen Friedhof umgebettet.

However, the Manderfeld Major reports about four bodies, that were initially buried at the crash site. The names follow in a separate list, dated 30 October 1947. By now their names have become Bastiamen, Lindbosch, Van Driel and Van Horseaa, who in fact formed the crew of FR181. The statement about the reburial on Manderfeld Communal Cemetery, early 1947, is inaccurate, as we shall see later.

Letter dated 30/10/1947 from the Major of Manderfeld to the Governor of the Province. The FR181 crew was buried at the Manderfeld Gemeinde Friedhof, and grave positions and a map are given. The date of burial mentioned, 13.2.1915, should be 13/1/1945. Source: Mathias Goenen, Merlscheid

Earlier the Major had reported that the bodies of two of the three Dutchmen were believed to be buried near Bastogne, and that the third crew member was Gaston Mertens, buried initially in Manderfeld. This time he must refer to the crew of FW227:

Der Fall lautet wie folgt: Am 13. Januar 1945 ist über dem Dorfe Manderfeld ein Verband der R.A.F. abgeflogen; zwei angeschossene Flugzeuge sind dort abgestürzt. Die Besatzung des einen, aus Holländer bestehend, ist ums Leben gekommen; die des anderen bestand aus drei Holländer und dem zurzeit in Frage kommenden Belgier. Zwei der drei letzten Genannten wurden in der Nähe von Bastogne beerdigt.

Source: Letter of Major of Manderfeld to Major of St. Vith, dated 23/5/1945, following a request of the Mertens family to St. Vith. The rest of the letter is missing. The documents were kindly provided to us by Mr. Mathias Goenen of nearby Merlscheid.

In his letter dated 27/4/1945 to the Inspectorate General of the Belgian Air Force, the Major was less sure about the burial site of these three Dutchmen. He believes that American forces took the three bodies out of the wreck, for burial in the Bastogne area. No mention of a burial next to the wreck.

Source: Coert Munk, Mathias Goenen

“Suite à votre lettre du 19 février 1945 – Ref. Sec./20414 – mais qui nous est seulement parvenu le 20 avril 1945, nous devons malheuresement vous faire savoir que l’aviateur belge du nom de MERTENS, Gaston, Frans a été enterré dans la Commune de Manderfeld le 13 janvier 1945 par les troupes allemandes qui se trouvaient ici en ce moment.

A ce qui concerne les autres membres mentionnés dans votre lettre, nous avons reçu des renseignements, d’après lesquels les trois corps étaient encore placés dans la machine même, lors de la libération par les troupes américaines, qui les ont enlevés de la machine pour les transporter sur une cimetière (probablement à Bastogne).”

“In answer to your letter of February 19th, 1945 – Ref. Sec./20414 – that however reached us only on April 20th, 1945, we unfortunately have to inform you that the Belgian aviator MERTENS, Gaston Frans, was buried in Manderfeld on January 13th, 1945, by German forces that were here at the time.

Regarding the other crew members mentioned in your letter, we have received information that the three bodies were still in the aircraft, until the liberation by American forces, that took them out of the aircraft for transportation to a cemetery (probably at Bastogne).“

1. Fate of Mitchell FR181

We summarize this correspondence as follows.

Two aircraft were shot or brought down by Flak near Manderfeld on 13/1/1945.

Aircraft one had four Dutchmen on board, who were initially buried at the crash site. We have the names of the crew: Bastiaenen, Limbosch, Van Driel and Harselaar. These aviators flew Mitchell FR181. The four bodies remained at the site until early 1947, when the bodies were relocated to the Manderfeld Communal Cemetery. Later the bodies were relocated once more, to Holland. We have the crash area, but we do not know where the aviators were buried initially. 'At the crash site' is a problematic statement if that site spans 2,5 kilometers, after the aircraft had blown to bits in the sky. That bodies were there to be buried is already a problematic statement, considering the events over Krewinkel. Parts of the aircraft came down in an elliptical area near the hamlet of Krewinkel, perpendicular to the direction of flight, with a largest diameter of 2,5 kilometers, and with Krewinkel as the Southern focal point of the ellips. We have not yet found any information about the crew's identification. The Manderfeld Major wrote about four names, and bodies in specific graves in the Manderfeld Cemetery. Again we must assume that the identification was a paperwork matter, done by either the Germans or the Allies once the area had been liberated, information repeated by the Major of Manderfeld in his messages in 1947. Their names were mutilated to some degree, as Americans conveyed British information about Dutch names to the town's German speaking Mayor, who translated it into French in a report to the Governor in the city of Liège in Belgium. All four aviators were reburied in The Netherlands, not as a crew but individually in the War cemeteries of Amersfoort, Grebbeberg and Loenen. From all this we conclude that somehow the bodies were left sufficiently intact by the blast, to allow individual burial.

We have to assume that FR181 received a direct hit in the bomb bay. One engine came down right next to the Krewinkel church, position 06.2301E/50.1949N. This engine is reported by Mr. Mathias Goenen, as still being buried in a bomb crater next to the first house on the left, when entering Krewinkel from the Manderfeld direction.

2. Fate of Mitchell FW227

Aircraft two had three Dutchmen and one Belgian national on board. Mertens was initially buried in Manderfeld, and was brought home by his family on 18/7/1945, once his initial grave had been located. Two or three of the three Dutchmen were believed to have been buried near Bastogne. This must have been Mitchell FW227, the aircraft on which Mertens flew. It is utterly unbelievable that Mertens would have been able to survive that blast of a Mitchell's payload, and then jump out of – what? It is equally unbelievable that he would have been launched out of the aircraft with the velocity of a detonation of high explosives, and then coolly deployed his parachute. This aircraft came down burning. Two or three bodies were first left in the wreck, leading to the tale that the Germans had thrown the bodies in there. Mr. Heinsius states that the crew were buried next to the wreck; the Major believes that American forces took the bodies out of the wreck, for burial elsewhere, and the Major believes that to be in the Bastogne area. One parachute has been seen, and one Allied aviator with clearly visible severe burn wounds was brought in by a German officer on a motorbike. One Allied aviator was identified by the Germans as G.F. Mertens, Flame, and was buried in Manderfeld.

FW227 came down on a hill in the forest, about 800 meters NNE of the Igelmonder Mühle, position 06.1839E/50.2045N, at a height of approx. 700 meters. On top of the hill directly East of the valley in which the Mill water runs off. Mr. Heinsius declared to have no knowledge about the other aircraft that came down in bits over Krewinkel.

Therefore, author believes that the report of Marcel Verhulsel, stating that FR181 rather than FW227 exploded in mid air, is most likely the accurate version.

3. Fate of Gaston Mertens

Mr. Mathias Heinsius eyewitnessed a German officer on a motorbike, having a wounded British aviator as a passenger. The aviator had parachuted down, his body severely marked with burn wounds. This aviator was still alive, and the troops at Igelmonder Hof were quite prepared to finish that life. But the officer wouldn't have it, and drove off with his prisoner. It is assumed that he went to seek treatment for his prisoner. Unfortunately Mr. Heinsius cannot be specific about dates. Still, we must assume that this wounded prisoner was Gaston Mertens, and that he was seriously injured by fire shortly before he jumped out of his aircraft. If true, then this would put the horror stories told, that include the highly unlikely story that the Germans had thrown the aviators bodies into their burning wreck, into a new perspective. It has been implicated that the civilians of Manderfeld had something to do with the death of Gaston Mertens. As virtually all of the civilians had been evacuated out of front zone Manderfeld, and considering the events as seen by Mr. Heinsius, author is convinced that this implication can be discarded. Gaston Mertens more likely has died from injuries sustained in the burning aircraft, shortly before he jumped clear. The aircraft was seen to be on fire before it hit the ground, as stated in a letter dated July 23rd 1945, from the city of Manderfeld to the Attorney General in Verviers:

Am 13. Januar 1945 gelangte ein Belgischer Flieger-Offizier mit einem Englischen Flugzeug über das Gebiet der Gemeinde Manderfeld in Brand und stürzte nieder. Nach Eingang von Nachfragen durch das rote Kreuz und durch Inspectorate-General-Belgian-Air Force, London und durch die Entdeckung des Grabes gelangten wir zu den Personalien des Verunglückten.

Es handelt sich um einen Mertens, Gaston, Frans, geboren Liedekerke, den 20. Dezember 1919, welcher von seinem Angehörigen am 18. Juli 1945 ausgegraben und nach Liedekerke überführt wurde.

We have been unable to find any document about the cause of death of Gaston Mertens, nor another eyewitness who could corroborate the statements from Mr. Heinsius. So now we have one more tale told. On the other hand, we see no sufficient reason to question Mr. Heinsius' statements. He took his time to tell, and he has been very frank. The tale is too detailed to classify easily as freely invented.

We can safely assume that only in Mertens' case, the RAF Form 1250 identity paper was found sufficiently intact, and by the Germans. This would explain the mention of 'Flame', German for Flemish, on the cross on his initial grave. 'FLEMISH' was stamped across the flimsy identification paper, in a box marked 'FOREIGN' in red capitals, oblique across the full width of the paper, when folded as intended. Mertens was initially buried by the Germans, as stated by the town's Major in his letter of 27/4/1945. The Germans produced a wooden cross and placed this on his grave. This enabled local authorities, after requests from the Mertens family, to find the grave.

Mr. Heinsius wishes to stress that the inhabitants of Manderfeld were treated with remarkable consideration, both by the Germans and by their successors, the Allies. Brutalities have occurred, such as the liquidation of some of the Manderfeld inhabitants by the SS troops of Jochen Peiper, but in his experience most of the German troops were well-behaved and polite. In the chaos of War, American troops also have been implicated as having liquidated a few civilian inhabitants of the area, as alleged spies. This may be one of the usual mishaps when man wages War. What else is new; War is utter mishap. The locals, with whom Gaston Mertens brother communicated after the War, were witholding about his brothers fate, but implicated that 'brutal things' had happened. We can now place this into perspective. They were witholding, because they were not there to eyewitness anything. They mentioned brutal things, which have occured, but they cannot have meant to implicate that Gaston Mertens was killed on the ground. In any case, Mr. Clément Mertens has found comfort in our findings.

Source: Clément Mertens, email dd. 16/11/2005.

4. Crash site data

The Igelmonder Mühle was a water mill, dating from 1877, with which corn was ground, and in which wood was sawn. The house remains to this day, actually owned for the last 20 years by a Dutchman, but the watermill wheel itself was removed in about 1985.

Manderfeld 051108 Igelmonder Muehle

The wreck of FW227 remained in position for over a decade, but gradually scrap merchants cleared out the place entirely. Amongst the early scrap hunters were Dutchmen, who melted down the aluminium parts, and moulded these into ornaments. The 'Death of a hunter' ornament in the Igelmonder Hof was made by Dutchmen shortly after the War, and quite possibly from material of FW227.

Stove ornament, depicting 'The Death of a Hunter', moulded from scrap aircraft metal, and obtained by the Igelmonder Hof owner from merchants from Holland, that were on the hunt for scrap aircraft metal. Manderfeld 051108 Igelmonder Hof 3


The St. Eligius Kapelle in Krewinkel, East of Manderfeld, next to which an engine of Mitchell FR181 came down. Krewinkel 051108-1

The FR181 engine was dumped in a bomb crater near this farm in Krewinkel. The engine is believed to be still there. Krewinkel 051108-4

FR181 exploded over Krefeld, 3 km East of Manderfeld. FW227, fatally damaged in the blast from FR181, thrown upside down and sideways off its course, and burning, crashed within a minute later, 2 km Northwest of Manderfeld, in the forest. From this we can assume that the attack was made from East to West, on a course that brought the bombers within a few hundred meters of the target. Excellent navigation considering that the bombers experienced – almost - 10/10th clouds. GEE-H was proving its worth, even if the attack from this box was shattered by that remarkable Flak hit.

Mr. Goenen miraculously survived the explosion of a .50 explosive round, when toying with it in a most irresponsible way. The round came from a P-38 Lightning, witnessed by Mr. Goenen as having crashed in the area. Parts of this aircraft, and its pilot, have been salvaged in 1997. The pilot, 2nd Lieutenant Wilton Erickson, who was MIA for decades, has been identified by CILHI staff (Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii). During the War, a full missing person report was made. During the wreck excavation, identification of the aviator was easy. His metal dog tag was found, and it was in pristine condition. His remains were cremated, and buried in his home town in the USA. If the RAF aviators had had metal dog tags rather than that silly Form 1250 or the bakelite tags, then many would not have to remain buried as unknowns.

Mr. Heinsius was pointed out to us by the current owner of the Igelmonder Mühle, whilst Mr. Goenen was pointed out by Mr. Siegfried Meyer, of Schreinerei Meyer, Manderfeld, who coordinated the team that wrote a book about the very long and rich history of Manderfeld. The area has been contested for centuries, dating back to the Romans, and later to Charles the Great in the Medieval period. Two World Wars in the 20th Century feature as merely an episode in a long list.

5. Crew identification and burials

It took to October 1949 before what had gradually become the 'Manderfeld file' could finally be closed, when the last of the crew members, Ir. J.H. Muntinga and P.H. Peetoom, received a name on their graves. Author has studied over 200 documents regarding this case, from German, Belgian, American, British and Dutch sources. The matter is recounted in detail, as it gives a picture of the difficulties that had to be surmounted by the various investigative parties, but also by family members of the lost aviators. The Mertens family took matters into their own hands, and could do so with comparative ease, as a grave was marked with Mertens' name, and as there were no international complications.

As the Mertens family, the family of J. van Driel did investigations on their own, and visited the crash site in 1945. They found graves, and they noticed that the graves were in very poor condition. This was reported to the Royal Dutch Navy, who then ordered the Dienst Identificatie en Berging (DIB) of the Royal Dutch Army to take care of these graves, to produce six pictures of the graves for the six families of lost RAF aviators believed to be buried in Manderfeld at the time, and to produce death certificates. See the letter dated January 9th, 1946, reproduced below. The DIB responded on 17/1/1946 that the graves would be visited in that same month.

Source: CAD-MvD 5.050.5220/191

However, the Navy had to repeat the request, and did so on August 29th, 1946, as nothing had happened. A month later, the DIB send out a team, to investigate in Belgium. Manderfeld was one of three topics of this mission.

On Thursday 26th September 1946 the Res Kapt J.H.A. van Luyk, Pelotonscommandant Amersfoort of the Dienst Identificatie en Berging (DIB), arrived with a team of three in Manderfeld. Below the literal text of his report, dated 30/9/1946.

"Op Donderdag 26 September arriveerden wij te 13.00 uur te Manderfeld, na een moeilijke tocht door een gebied zwaar door de twee offensieven geteisterd. Ik stelde mij via de gendarmerie te Manderfeld in verbinding met den secretaris en burgemeester van dit platgeschoten dorp en de secretaris was zo welwillend mij zijn dochter toe te wijzen, die ambtenaar der secretarie was en gedurende de bezettingstijd veel illegaal werk deed. Zij zelve was aanwezig geweest bij de opsporing van onze Nederlandse militairen van de twee vliegtuigen, gevallen in een bosrand op de heuvels bij Manderfeld, Gilzeef en Amscheid (Note: these last two names cannot currently be placed in the Manderfeld area). Met Mademoiselle Emma begaven wij ons naar de plek waar de twee vliegtuigen waren gevallen. Uit het eerste vliegtuig der R.A.F. hebben twee Hollanders de dood gevonden, doch deze waren later door de Amerikaanse instantie opgehaald en vervoerd naar Cherbourg.

Van het tweede vliegtuig echter, dat volgens opgaaf in 13 Januari 1945 gevallen was, zijn op het ogenblik nog de restanten aanwezig en liggen in de buurt van de gemeente Manderfeld, de lijken dicht erbij, doch eigenlijk in de gemeente Gilzeef en Amscheid. Van het gevallen vliegtuig zijn enige restanten bij dit rapport aanwezig door mij zelf en den registrator er afgenomen. Van de vier graven aanwezig in de bossen bij het vliegtuig gaan foto's hierbij, echter alleen van 3 het vierde was te donker gelegen om foto's te nemen.

De graven hebben wij enigszins verzorgd, doch de toestand is droevig, zeer zeker niet zodanig als gevallen Nederlanders toekomt. De aardlaag boven de lichamen is te gering en de kans dat vossen met de lijken gaan slepen eerstdaags is groot. De gevallenen zijn ter plaatse begraven ongeveer 100 a 150 meter van elkaar. Dat hierin spoedig verandering komt is niet alleen gewenst doch zeer noodzakelijk en zijn wij levende Nederlandse militairen tegenover onze makkers verplicht. Met klem zou ik dus willen verzoeken mij met enige mensen van mijn peloton zo spoedig mogelijk de opdracht te geven onze Nederlanders weg te mogen halen.

Overlijdensactes in duplo kon ik niet krijgen, omdat ter Gemeente-secretarie geen bescheiden hieraangaande aanwezig waren. Het gedeelte van België aldaar was toen nog in Duitse handen en het begraven geschiedde, nadat de Duitsers de lijken beroofd hadden, in alle stilte door de dochter van den gemeente-secretaris en den veldwachter.

Namen hebben de 4 graven niet, alleen nummers. Wel zijn het tezamen: Bastiaenen, C.A., Officier-vlieger - Limbosch, L.T., Officier-waarnemer - Harselaar, E.C., Sergeant, en van Driel, J., Korporaal.

Wanneer wij dus een goed signalement opnemen met gebitsstatus, lijkt het mij niet zo moeilijk deze slachtoffers thuis te brengen en ze die begrafenis te geven, die hun toekomt."

Source: CAD-MvD 5.050.5220/109

Such cosy descriptions are hardly found in RAF or USAAF grave registration reports. And matters would turn out to be not that easy at all. None of the bodies was transported to Cherbourg. The Captain does not report exactly about which wreck was found where, and seems to believe that both crashed at the same location. He seems unaware of the FW212 crew composition. The party most likely visited only one of the two crash sites, that of FR181. No grid references are given. That the Germans would have robbed the bodies of their posessions shall be placed in a different light with evidence reproduced below. The Captain returned from this mission without a single document found locally. But there is no doubt that his heart is in the matter. Furthermore, this report does give us information about, or photographs of, the field burial of the FR181 crew. Meanwhile the Belgian authorities produced permits to transport the four bodies from Manderfeld to the Dutch border. Permits dated 26/9/1946, the same day as the DIB visit to Manderfeld. It would take to March 1948 before the bodies were actually transported to Holland.

The locations of the graves seem to indicate that the men were buried where they had fallen. The fact that there were four distinctive graves suggests that the bodies were relatively intact, which is surprising after an explosion of the bomb load.

Mlle Emma, daughter of the Manderfeld Secretary, who guided the DIB research party to the crash area of FR181. Source: CAD-MvD 5.050.5220/109 - Manderfeld 26-9-1946 3


Mitchell wreck part near Manderfeld, photo taken by the Capt. Van Luyk DIB party on 26/9/1946. At the back of the photo it is stated that we see a part of Mitchell FR181. The research party did not take note of how that was established. Considering the difference in tree growth when compared to the June 1945 photo from Clément Mertens, then this may indeed be a part of FR181. Source: CAD-MvD 5.050.5220/109- Manderfeld 26-9-1946 2


Grave marked with No. 3, at the presumed crash site of FR181. Four graves found on 26/9/1946, spaced 100 to 150 meters apart. No names on the makeshift wooden crosses, only a number. Source: CAD-MvD 5.050.5220/109- Manderfeld 26-9-1946 5


Grave 1 or 4. Source: CAD-MvD 5.050.5220/109- Manderfeld 26-9-1946 6


Grave 2. Source: CAD-MvD 5.050.5220/109- Manderfeld 26-9-1946 7

One may wonder if the Royal Dutch Navy could be happy with these results of the order given eight months earlier.

Krewinkel, looking North, showing the vast area in which parts of Mitchell FR181 came down. The hilly area consists of meadows and patches of wood, with one large wood, shown here from center to right, which is where we assume that the FR181 crew was buried initially. Krewinkel 060218-2

1. Identification and burials of the FR181 crew

The bodies of the FR181 crew were removed from the field graves by the Belgium authorities, for reburial at the Manderfeld Communal Cemetery. The body of Cpl. Van Driel had been identified, via the rank bar on his uniform, and obviously knowledge of the crew composition, that had become known by then. He was buried in a grave locally indicated as Nr. 100. The other three, as yet unidentified, aviators were buried in graves 97-99. This was established and reported to the Dutch Ministerie van Oorlog by Colonel A.O. Stott, G.R. & E. Directorate B.A.O.R. (American Graves Registration Command) on November 22nd, 1946. Earlier, on October 11th, 1946, F/Lt. F. Hebert had reported to the Dutch Embassy in Belgium about his investigation in Manderfeld Communal Cemetery. The graves do not have crosses. He believes that identification via dental means shall not be possible.

This means that the field graves of the FR181 crew were moved to Manderfeld Communal Cemetery at some time between the visit of the DIB party, 26/9/1946, and the investigation of F/Lt. Hebert on 11/10/1946.

Now the Dutch start contacting the next of kin of these aviators. Detailed personal information is needed for the process of identification. The Dutch military do not have dental records of their personnel. Furthermore, the families are asked to express their wishes for the final resting place of the one they lost. This process takes to September 1947. However, it takes to March 19th, 1948, before the director of the DIB, LKol A.W. De Ruyter van Steveninck, reports to the Minister van Marine, that the bodies have been transferred from Manderfeld to the identification center in Amersfoort. On 24/3/1948, the mothers of Van Driel and Limbosch, and the fathers of Bastiaenen and Van Harselaar, identify the remains as of their sons. On April 16th, 1948, Captain J.H.A. van Luyk submits his final report to his director:

Al de vier stoffelijke resten zijn door mij ten overstaan van de familie geidentificeerd en begraven op de door de familie gewenste Begraafplaatsen, t.w.:

Johannes van Driel, herbegraven op 1 April 1948 te 's-Gravenhage op de Algemene Begraafplaats Nieuw Eik en Duinen, Algem. graf, Nr. 412 A.

Louis Theodoor Limbosch, herbegraven op 7 April 1948 te Utrecht op de Algemene Begraafplaats Kovelswade (2e Begraafplaats), vak 15, rij 30, 37e graf.

Cornelis Adrianus Bastiaenen, herbegraven op 3 April 1948 te Haarlem op de R.K. Begraafplaats St. Barbara in het 2e kl. graf, vak NN.174.

Ernst Cornelis van Harselaar, zal worden herbegraven op 17 April 1948 te Amersfoort op de Algemene Begraafplaats "Rusthof", afd. XII, Nr. 101 F.

Source: CAD-MvD 5.050.5220/109

However, the bodies of L.Th. Limbosch and J. van Driel would be reburied once more, actually for the 4th time, at the Grebbeberg and Loenen Fields of Honour respectively, leading to a total of five burials for these men. Both were, with the blessing of their families, destined in 1947 for burial at the Grebbeberg. Author could not find out why their remains had to receive these 4th reburials. The end result is that this crew, blown up by their own bombs after a Flak hit, but nevertheless buried initially close together, is now buried wide apart in four locations in Holland.

2. Identification and burials of the FW227 crew

The crew of FW227, with the exception of G.F. Mertens, was indeed salvaged by American forces. This was done on January 26th, 1945. P.J.E. van Dam was identified via his paybook, at the crash site, body evacuation slip signed by 1st Lt. Andrew McKinven, QMC, 606th QM GR Co. This pay book did not arrive at the cemetery where he was buried initially, Henri-Chapelle Cemetery, plot D row 7 grave 128. His burial took place on February 27th, 1945, and he received a cross with his name on it. Place of death is noted as Holzheim, which is close enough to the Igelmonder Mühle. The date of death was inaccurately estimated as Jan 22nd, 1945. The Americans produced a highly detailed Report of Burial. The body was transferred to the custody of the Dutch Government on November 29th, 1946, for reburial in Rusthof, Amersfoort, grave 12/O/101a.

An unidentified body, case No. X-419, was found in the same wreck as Van Dam. The body travelled with Van Dam's to Henri-Chapelle, for burial in grave D/7/129, to the right of Van Dam. Both hands were fingerprinted, and these prints are still on file. The deceased had a height of 5' 7', weighted 160 lbs, and had dark brown hair. No tooth chart attached. According to the Report of Burial, this body was also transferred to Rusthof, Amersfoort, for burial in 12/O/101d.

The evacuation platoon supplied the following information about the aircraft, as collected on the crash site:

Made by Wright Aeronautical Corp., Paterson, NJ, USA. Air Force Model R-2600-13, Air Force No. 43-22068. Engine Spec No. 655-C. Contract No. W-535-AC-32078. Mfgr's No. 170518. A type identification plate taken from the aircraft accompanied the report.

The third body, of either J.H. Muntinga or P.H. Peetoom, was not found by this American salvage party. Neither were the field graves found of the FR181 crew.

On 13/10/1946 Mrs. T.H. Muntinga of Wassenaar, writes to the Commanding Officer of the American Graves Registration Command at Versailles, France. Letter written in good English. She has somehow found out most of the above, and she gives a very detailed survey of what she knows. Her knowledge is accurate. She draws the logical conclusion that the unknown soldier buried at Henri Chapelle in D/7/129 may be her son. A reply has not been found in the DIB archive. We assume that her letter was forwarded by the Americans to the DIB, explaining its presence in the DIB archive.

And then there is a breakthrough in the identification process. The Royal Dutch Navy receives two German documents, found by the British, and copied to the Dutch via London. The documents are about Dutch Navy aviators, buried in Manderfeld. The Dutch Navy, in a document dated 28/6/1947, draws the conclusion that the remains of the aviators were, as far as possible, identified by the Germans at the time. We reproduce these German documents below.

German document dated 15/1/1945. Van Harselaar, Van Driel and Peetoom have been identified via 'Nachlasspapiere', which we translate into their RAF Form 1250 identity cards. Furthermore, an instruction manual for a radio device (emergency transmitter) has been found, and a map covering the area of Walcheren, Zeeland, NL, to Amsterdam. The aircraft were shot down. One carried the marking FW at the fuselage, and a three-digit number, ending in 7.


The Manderfeld findings were relayed to higher German offices on 18/1/1945 Source: CAD-MvD 5.050.5220/109

So this puts the robbing of the aviators bodies in a new perspective. The Germans duly collected crash site data as far as possible, but they did not have a hot line to London to convey the information whilst hostilities were still going on. As concluded by the Royal Dutch Navy, Harselaar, Van Driel and Peetoom were in fact identified by the Germans. And so was Gaston Mertens. We have to assume that this was done via their RAF Form 1250 identity cards, taken by the Germans from the bodies, as the Germans would have had no other means to identify the men. These means of identification were not found by the British in German post-War archives. The German reports are not specific as to the places where the bodies were found, but the reports include aviators found from both aircraft. These documents helped the Dutch to some extent in the process of identification. It told the Dutch that these bodies indeed belonged to the FR181 and FW227 crews. But it remained to be established who the unidentified aviator was, Muntinga or Peetoom.

In October 1947 the DIB had the remains of X-419 examined by a forensic pathologist, Dr. A. de Minjer, Prosector bij de Pathologie aan de Rijksuniversiteit te Utrecht. According to the Muntinga family, the aviator had an old wrist fracture, suffered as a child, and an arm fracture suffered later by a crash during sporting aviation. Muntinga's mother declared herself prepared to review the remains for an identification. She did not have dental records of her son, but she believed that the RAF may have had these.

Source: letter Mrs. Muntinga to DIB, dated 24/9/1947.

The RAF was unable to produce a dental record for J.H. Muntinga.

Dr. Minjer did find a healed fracture in the right upper arm bone, that could indicate an old fracture, but he did not find an – old - wrist fracture. RAF dental records were not received, and there were no teeth present in the remains anyway. Therefore, the examination dated October 1947, was regarded inconclusive for the identification of J.H. Muntinga. The Dutch were faced with an unidentified corpse, that could be J.H. Muntinga, but there was no certainty about that. Muntinga's grave at Rusthof, Amersfoort, remained unmarked with his name. This to the utter dismay of Muntinga's wife, Mrs. J.Th.C. Muntinga-Pijnacker Hordijk, who wrote a letter in despair to the Dutch authorities, dated October 20th, 1948. Why would the Dutch not accept the RAF findings that this was indeed the grave of her late husband, J.H. Muntinga? The letter speaks of several miscommunications between her and the Dutch officials. It seems that the Dutch officials did not accept her offer to identify the remains. Reasons for that are obvious. There was little left to show, and the sight was not pretty at all.

Meanwhile, on September 12th, 1947, American Grave Registration personnel had discovered the body of an unknown RAF aviator, in a surface burial near the 'Heppenbach-Wereth road', 'about 5 miles from Manderfeld'. The information was shared with the British, who transmitted it to the Dutch Military Attaché in London on 9/3/1948. We quote the full report; the DIB archive copy is drowned in underlinings. This discovery was the breakthrough needed to finally close the Manderfeld dossier. But again things would not turn out that easy, as was believed this time by the US & GB grave registration services.

11518 Corporal P.H. Peetoom

The question of the location of the grave of the above mentioned airman has re-occurred. This airman, as you are probably aware, was a member of the crew of Mitchell FW.227 which was reported missing on the 13th January, 1945 at Mandersfeld in Belgium. The other members of the crew and their permanent graves are listed as under:

2nd Lieutenant J.H. Muntinga, Plot 12, Row O, Grave 101D.

90763 Corporal P.J.E. van Dam, Plot 12, Row O, Grave 101A.

Both at Rusthof Cemetery, Amersfoort, Holland.

Flying Officer G.F. Mertens (Belgian in R.A.F.V.R.)

Grave 1851, Liedekerke Cemetery, Belgium.

2. For a long time the grave of Corporal Peetoon could not be located, but an unidentified grave of an "Unknown British Airman" was found in a surface burial about five miles from Manderfeld. This body was exhumed and there was found an R.A.F. battle dress with a half-wing brevet cut out, no evidence of officer's rank and a Royal Netherlands Navy shoulder flash. This body has now been transferred to Grave 8, Row C, Plot 7, Hotton British Cemetery, Belgium. A report from the Missing Research Unit and an exhumation report is attached.

3. It is now requested that you will obtain authority from your War Graves Commission to register this grave as that of Corporal Peetoom, since there is every reason to believe that this is correct.

4. It would also be appreciated if you would inform the next-of-kin of the other Netherlands personnel of the final resting place of these airman.

5. An early reply would be appreciated, since the Low Countries' Detachment of the M.R.E.S. is shortly to be withdrawn.

Signed Campbell, Group Captain, Deputy Director of Allied Air Co-operation and Foreign Liaison.

Further investigations have been carried out on this enquiry. Of the two crew members still missing, one (F/O. Mertens) was reported to be buried in MANDERFELD, and a visit was paid to that place on 12.2.48. There was no trace of the grave in the cemetery, but a visit to the Burgomaster's Office elicited the information that the body of F/O MERTENS was removed by relatives during 1945. It is observed that this officer was of Belgian nationality, and that authority to remove the body would probably have been obtained from the appropriate Belgian authorities.

The body was stated to have been taken to Liedekerke (Map. Ref. 2/J.45) and a visit to that place at a later date confirmed that F/O. Mertens is buried in grave 1851 of Liedekerke Communal Cemetery. Form 3372 is not being raised, as this burial was carried out under private civilian arrangements.

That leaves Cpl. PEETOON the only missing member of the crew. Reference was made in a previous report on this case to a statement that a body was removed from this crash to an American Cemetery "at Bastogne". In order to check this, a visit has been paid to Bastogne and it has been established that there is no American Cemetery there, nor is there any body which could refer in the Communal Cemetery of Bastogne, nor in the nearest American Military Cemetery (that at FOY, 7km. away). This report therefore seems to be unsubstantiated – or else it bears reference to the original burials of MUNTINGA and VAN DAM in Henri Chapelle, U.S. Cemetery.

In autumn of last year A.G.R.C. investigators found a body of an "Unknown British Airman" in a surface burial near Heppenbach-Wereth at the pinpoint 6/P.937961 which is some five miles from MANDERFELD.

This body was concentrated on 12.9.47 by No. 84 G.C., with F/Lt. Prudence the witnessing officer. Exhumation, of which a report is attached, revealed an R.A.F. battledress with a half-wing brevet cut out, no evidence of officer's rank, and a Royal Netherlands Navy shoulder flash. The body was first concentrated to Hotton British Cemetery Plot 8, Row C, Grave 5 and later transferred to Plot 7, Row C, Grave 8.

There is every reason to believe that this is the body of Cpl. PEETOON. It is thought that in view of the comparatively small number of Royal Netherlands Navy/R.A.F. personnel missing over Eastern Belgium in 1945 your department will be able positively to prove identity by process of elimination from the evidence supplied. It is observed that the crew of Mitchell FR.181 is already fully accounted for.

Your early decision on the registration of Grave 8, Row C, Plot 7 in HOTTON would be appreciated.

Signed R.T. Smith F/Lt. Flight Lieutenant Commanding Low Countries Detachment

MRES ROYAL AIR FORCE

Note that this report has a professional structure. In it, all data believed to be established as fact is presented in detail. Logical conclusions are drawn, and the arguments leading to these conclusions are presented too. Author did not find a DIB report with a comparable structure in the archive studied, but the DIB can be demonstrated to have been very careful and thourough regarding evidence descriptions.

The exhumation report details that the body, clothed in RAF battledress, was found in a shallow ditch on the edge of a wood, 120 meters from the Wereth to Heppenbach road, together with a parachute harness and release box. A dental record could be made, and this included a gold bridge over 3 molars in the upper jaw. But unfortunately neither the Dutch nor the British were able to find dental records for either Peetoom or Muntinga.

Heppenbach does not or no longer exist in the area, this should most likely be Herresbach. The Allied Wartime coordinates given, 6/P.937961, translate to 50.218N/6.1433E, see the map below. This location is 5 kilometer from the crash site of FW227, on a hill North of the Igelmonder Mühle. The RNNAS flash is decisive for the identification; the Dutch did not lose anybody else in this area. The half-wing brevet would indicate an airgunner, e.g. Peetoom, rather than a pilot, e.g. Muntinga. That concludes the evidence. It is not a lot, but it is decisive. For the British Missing Research and Enquiry Service, the Manderfeld dossier, regarding the crews of aircrafts FR181 and FW227, can be closed.

But nothing much seems to happen in Holland. When the Britsh send out a Post Presumption Memorandum, No. 4466/48, dated September 18th, 1948, and detailing the whereabouts of the FW227 crew, it becomes evident that the body of P.H. Peetoom, consistently misspelled first by the Germans and then by the British as Peetoon, is still in Hotton.

Map 106. Locations of temporary burial sites of the Dutch RAF aviators who died in the Manderfeld crashes

Fosses-la-Ville is the American Temporary Cemetery where bodies of aviators who died after the collision over Tienen were buried for some time. Some sources erronously spell the place name as Fosse or Fosser, leading to other places in Belgium. The spelling Fosse is seen in documents from the US Grave Registration units. Henri-Chapelle today is a major US military Cemetery in Belgium. Hotton was and is a cemetery under control of the British.

Fosses-la-Ville temporary American Cemetery, Southwest of Namur, Belgium. To the right were 12 plots with American casualties. The 13th plot, left frontal one, held 96 casualties of other Allied nationalities, amongst these a few Dutch RAF aviators. To the left are plots with about 1.600 German casualties. The Cemetery opened on September 8th, 1944, and closed on July 1st, 1948. Source: Centre de Recherches et d'Informations sur la Bataille des Ardennes



Hotton British War Cemetery, Belgium. Temporary resting place of P.H. Peetooom. Coordinates 05.2651E/50.1543N. Hotton 051110-4

Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, as it is in 2005. Site of temporary burial of several Dutch RAF aviators, during and shortly after the War. Now the largest US War cemetery in Belgium, with 7.989 burials, half of these visible in the picture above, and 450 names on the Wall of Missing. Coordinates 05.5353E/50.4150N. Henri-Chapelle 051226-3

Meanwhile, Mrs. J.Th.C. Muntinga-Pijnacker Hordijk, widow of the aviator, has contacted the RAF, explaining her concern that the grave in Amersfoort believed to be of her husband, still is marked as unknown. Her letter leads the RAF to instruct their IWGC Liaison Officer on 25/10/1948 as follows:

'Will you please ensure that graves 101d and 101a in Rusthof Cemetery, Amersfoort, are correctly marked with the names of 2nd Lieut. Muntinga and Cpl. Van Dam.'

But again nothing much seems to happen. On March 31st, 1949, the Minister van Marine reports that he has asked the Minister van Oorlog on 8/2/1949, to take over the matter of the Muntinga & Van Dam graves. Muntinga belonged to the Army, not to the Navy. Would this have been in the way of an efficient processing of what has become a most embarrassing matter? The Minister van Marine seems unaware that Van Dam was Navy, and that there is no marking issue regarding his grave.

On October 11th 1949 the head of the DIB, LKol A.W. de Ruyter van Steveninck, kicks in personally. He is annoyed, as this case is dragging on. He is to leave the DIB on November 1st, 1949, and he wants this 'gros dossier' wrapped up. He writes in perfect French to le Commandant J.F.J. Lacrosse, Liaison Officier in Brussels, asking permission for exhumation of the body in Hotton presumed to be 'P.N. Peetoom'. He also expresses his opinion that this body 'très probable' belongs to J.H. Muntinga. A few days later the requested permission is granted, to exhume the remains of Lieutenant aviateur MUNTING, L.H., as requested on October 21st, 1949. And on 11/11/1949 a Rapport van Overbrenging is made, date of body transfer mentioned as 22/11/1946, regarding the body of P.H. Peetoom, from Henri-Chapelle, grave of unknown X-419, reburied Rusthof in 101H. However, the previous Rapport van Overbrenging of X-419, dated 20/11/1947, places the remains in 101D.

The matter is finally resolved on October 29th, 1949, when Jan Hendrik Hoendervoogt, of Voorburg, NL, collegue of the 320 Sqn aviators, officially declares to have identified the remains as being of Ir. J.H. Muntinga and P.H. Peetoom respectively. The DIB had supplied Mr. Hoendervoogt with the entire Manderfeld file. With his statements, that may or may not be entirely true, the matter is finally put to rest. Author feels sympathy for Mr. Hoendervoogt, who has been instrumental in resolving a painful issue, that lingered for almost five years. The name of J.H. Muntinga could now be added to a headstone, and P.H. Peetoom could finally be buried in Holland, with his name on a headstone too. The 'Manderfeld file' could finally be closed.

J.H. Hoendervoogt. In 1947 he became chief editor of the 320 club magazine. Later he emigrated to South Africa. Sources: SLH, JP Kloos


3. German identifications of the crews

The Germans have found identification material for the following four aviators of the eight that were involved in the Manderfeld incident:

G.F. Mertens

J. van Driel

E.C. van Harselaar

P.H. Peetoom

We have to assume that these identifications were via the RAF Form 1250 identity cards found on the bodies of these aviators. Unfortunately, the Germans took the cards from the bodies, making the identification process so much more difficult for the Allied Forces. Had these cards been still readible by the time that the Dutch were prepared to remove bodies from Belgian field graves to Holland. The cards were doubtlessly found on the bodies, and in the following locations:

G.F. Mertens – somewhere in the fields of Manderfeld. We assume West of Manderfeld, considering the fact that Mertens got out by parachute, and the prevailing wind on that day.

J. van Driel – in the FR181 crash area, probably somewhere North of Krewinkel.

E.C. van Harselaar – in the FR181 crash area, close to Van Driel, probably somewhere North of Krewinkel.

P.H. Peetoom – his body was found by American forces on 12/9/1947 in a shallow grave along the Wereth-Herresbach road.

They did not find Van Dam's paybook in the wreck of FW227 North of the Igelmonder Mühle. Author assumes that they did not go up the hill to investigate, and that they did not take and made disappear any identification material of the other body found in this wreck by the Americans.

Of the four RAF aviators identified by the Germans, only G.F. Mertens was given a grave with a cross with his name on it. We assume by the Germans. The FR181 casualties were buried by locals, in field graves with makeshift wooden crosses with numbers 1 to 4 on it. These locals, being the Town Secretary's daughter and the local police officer, did not have access to the identification forms found by the Germans.

Author offers as explanation for this initial burial pattern, that of these four, only G.F. Mertens was an officer. The others, well, there was a War going on. The entire area was actually in the firing zone.

The Germans did not produce any geographical data associated with these findings, other than the expression 'near Manderfeld'. Neither did the Dutch DIB research party, that visited one of the two crash sites in late 1946.

The net result of German reporting, as found by the British in 1947, was that four names were found for eight Allied airmen casualties found in the Manderfeld area. In the cases of Mertens and Van Driel, the name had been attached to a body. The rest of the identification work had to be done by the Allies, who did so via the process of elimination.

4. Evaluation of case processing by DIB

Was the Dutch DIB sluggish in particular in the process of identification of Muntinga and Peetoom, and in general in wrapping up the 'Manderfeld dossier'? Certainly to a degree. The DIB could have arranged for a transportation of the body from Hotton to Amersfoort more than a year earlier. The DIB could have visited the Manderfeld field graves a lot earlier, and could have arranged for the remains to be transferred to Holland much earlier too. The DIB had official Belgian licences to do so. But the DIB certainly was careful. The Americans and the British were too hastily with what was in fact an assumption that the unknown aviator found in the wreck of FW227 was J.H. Muntinga. They did not produce any evidence that this opinion was based in fact. To the DIB, the body could be either of P.H. Peetoom or J.H. Muntinga. When a RNNAS aviator body was found in 1947, strongly presumed to be of P.H. Peetoom, the MR&ES found a 'R.A.F. battledress with a half-wing brevet cut out', with a 'Royal Netherlands Navy shoulder flash'. That is fully descriptive of a RNNAS 320 Squadron airman, who could be a navigator, a wireless operator or an airgunner, but definitely not a pilot. With that, unknown X-419 had to be the body of J.H. Muntinga.

The DIB was sceptical about the US & GB assumption that unknown X-419 was Muntinga. In the DIB report about X-419, dated 29/11/1946, it is stated: 'grijze battledress met dito broek, waarvan op de linkerborsthelft staat A.G.'. This description too could have been quite a bit more detailed, but nevertheless it is tempting to translate this to the RAF Airgunners half-wing. This detail does not appear in any of the US or GB reports about X-419. And this is why the DIB would not accept an identification in the name of Muntinga. Furthermore, the forensic examination of the remains was inconclusive as to an identity as Muntinga. We have found no communications about this between the various graves registration services. The Dutch kept their findings to themselves, and ignored pressure from abroad. A matter of scientific integrity.

However, the logics used in the MR&ES report of September 12th, 1947, are valid, and, when combined with knowledge of RNNAS personnel lost in the area, lead to conclusions that are true. The body found on 12/9/1947 had to be the body of P.H. Peetoom. Therefore, with Mertens and Van Dam accounted for, the unidentified body found in the wreck of FW227 had to be the body of J.H. Muntinga.

Rusthof, Amersfoort, NL, section 101 of plot XII. Left ro right Soldaat W. Pouw, 21 Bat Lua; aviator P.H. Peetoom (101H); Fourier 1kl 5RI J.W. Bastiaanse; and the aviators E.C. van Harselaar (101F), A. Manschot, J.H. Muntinga (101D), T.M. Emous, J. Jillings en P.J.E. van Dam (101A). Rusthof 040807-2

5. Remaining mysteries

Author cannot question that the FW227 crew has been accounted for, in a very long process. But mysteries remain. How did the body of P.H. Peetoom end up 5 kilometers from the site where two of the three others remained inside their crashed aircraft? This would strongly suggest that this aviator, as Gaston Mertens, got out by parachute. The prevailing wind direction on 13/1/1945, as measured in Beek, Maastricht, was 66 degrees, average hourly speed 6,7 m/s. That would quite possibly connect the aicraft crash site with the location where the airman's body was found.

Source wind data: KNMI

The exhumation report was not followed up with a forensic investigation; a – probable - cause of death has not been given. Was Peetoom, as Mertens, seriously injured in the burning aircraft? Or was he shot, after landing in what was actually an active War zone? The exhumation report does not mention that a parachute was found. But this cannot surprise; parachute silk was a desirable material. Author sees as the more likely cause of events, that Peetoom suffered a similar fate as Mertens. There was a fire onboard the aircraft. Both men managed to get out, and both managed to deploy their parachute. Both parachutes did deploy. Mertens' parachute was actually seen from the ground, and Peetoom could not have travelled a ground distance of 5 kilometers through the air if his parachute had not deployed. Both men got to the ground, bodies – mostly - intact, but with severe burn wounds. The average temperature was minus 3 degrees Celcius that day. Without proper medical care and warmth, chances of survival were slim.

Source temperature data: KNMI

It is unfortunate that the DIB, finally, wrapped up the matter in haste, contenting itself that the case could be closed with identification documents, with external, assumed authority as the reference. A forensic investigation of the remains of the aviator reburied first in Hotton, then Amersfoort, could have revealed information that may have led to answers regarding the remaining mystery of Peetoom parachuting out of FW227 too.

This 'Manderfeld dossier' is full of surprises, that saw to it that author had to rewrite over and over again, as new data surfaced. Here is a final surprise:

The unknown RAF airman's body, coded X-419, believed by everybody but the DIB to be Ir. J.H. Muntinga, was buried on 29/11/1946 in Rusthof, Amersfoort, grave 101D. Except for the forensic examination in October 1947, the remains stayed in this grave. At least the DIB archive holds no document to the contrary.

The remains received in Rusthof on 21/10/1949, believed by everybody but the DIB to be P.H. Peetoom, were buried in grave 101H.

If the DIB saw sufficient reason to think that these identities were switched, and that X-419 had to be P.H. Peetoom, then why is the grave in which X-419 was buried, 101D, marked with Muntinga on the headstone? And vice versa for Peetoom. Were, following the reasoning of the DIB, the remains of Peetoom transferred from 101D to 101H in October 1949, when Muntinga's remains were received from Hotton, declared identified, and buried? Such a reburial is not documented in the DIB archive. This means that, in spite of all paperwork found, we still can only guess what really happened. There are declarations of the identities, but nowhere any DIB statements on paper about the considerations that led to these identity declarations. Author had to try and reconstruct the reasoning of the DIB staff, on the basis of the evidence found in the DIB archive. The 'We believe this to be true because-statement' is missing. Instead, decisive authority was placed outside the DIB, in casu the relatives and Mr. Hoendervoogt. Author guesses that the DIB finally accepted that the American and British Grave Registration Services had been right all along, and that grave 101D was indeed the grave of J.H. Muntinga.

The DIB research party, send out to Manderfeld in September 1946, believed that this case would be an easy one. Not quite. This case had to be, and was, researched in depth. We have yet to find evidence that those many cases that were comparable, received similar in-depth attention from the Dutch. Such information, notably MR&ES reports, is not present in the archive where one would expect it to be, the DIB 1945-1960 archive. As such information may be present in Dutch Air Force and/or Navy personnel archives, that by law remain inaccessible for 75 years, author has requested special permission to search in such archives. Results: pending.

Map 107. Locations of the Manderfeld crashes

7. Map of reburials

Map 108. Map showing all burials and reburials of the two crews that crashed over Manderfeld

The FR181 crew, that was buried close together in field graves after their aircraft exploded in the air, ended up buried in four cemeteries in The Netherlands.

Ir. J.H. Muntinga's remains were repatriated on 29/11/1946, but it took to the end of October 1949 before his name could be engraved on his headstone, and the 'Manderfeld file' finally be closed.

This map gives an insight into the difficulties that had to be surmounted by Grave Registration Units, Grave Concentration units, the Missing Research & Enquiry Service, the Dienst Identificatie en Berging, and finally the Oorlogsgraven-stichting. If the paperwork was less than adequate, then confusion could arise in many of the stages involved.


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