Operation: Montzen railway yards, Belgium
Date: 28th April 1944 (Friday)
Unit No: 405 (Vancouver) Squadron, RCAF, 8 (Pathfinder) Group, Bomber Command
Type: Lancaster III
Base: RAF Gransden Lodge, Cambridgeshire
Location: Webbekom, Belgium
Pilot: Sqn Ldr. Edward “Teddy” Weyman Blenkinsop DFC, Croix de Guerre avec Palme (Belgium), J3467 RCAF Age 24. Evaded (1)
2nd Pilot: Plt Off Robert Alexander Booth Croix de Guerre avec Palme (Belgium), C19795 RCAF Age 26. KiA
Flt Eng: Flt Lt. Lawrence Arnold Allen DFC, J14769 RCAF Age 26. KiA
Nav: Flt Lt. George John Smith, J21564 RCAF Age 25. Died
Bomb Aimer: Flt Lt. David Ramsay DFC, J12973 RCAF Age 24. KiA
WOp/Air Gnr: Flt Sgt. James Sydney Bradley 1314683 RAVFR Age 21. KiA
Air Gnr (Mid Upp): WO2 Leslie Arthur Foster R60335 RCAF Age 26. KiA
Air Gnr (Rear): Flt Sgt. Nicholas Hugh Clifford R52304 RCAF Age 35. KiA
left: Sqn Ldr. Blenkinsop DFC, right: Flt Lt. Smith from their service records (Credit John Jones)
left: Flt Lt. Ramsay DFC, right: Flt Sgt. Clifford from their service records (Credit John Jones)
REASON FOR LOSS:
Lancaster III JA976 took off from RAF Gransden Lodge at 00:01 hrs on the morning of the 28th April 1944 on a mission to bomb the railway marshalling yards at Montzen, Belgium. The aircraft failed to return and no further news was heard from the crew.
JA976 was claimed by Oblt. Johannes Hager, his 17th Abschuss and his 3rd of the night, from 6./NJG1, 2km SE of Diest at 4,000m at 02:00 hrs.
This is the same claim made by Maj. Hans-Joachim Jabs from Stab NJG1 (02:09) whose claim was not listed in OKL/RLM Stab NJG1. Confirmed Abschußübersicht rejected. It is highly likely that Maj Jabs in fact attacked 640 Sqn Halifax MZ541, which was flying at 16,000ft east of Mechelen at 02:10 hrs when it was attacked by an unseen fighter which fired one burst of gun fire, scoring hits in the starboard wing, fuselage and rear gun turret (Cat AC damage). (Nachtjagd Combat Archives 1944 Part 2 - Theo Boiten)
JA976 went down in a bright red ball of fire at Webbekom, Belgium. Of the eight members of the crew, six were killed outright. Sqn Ldr. Blenkinsop, the Deputy Master Bomber, was blown clear of the aircraft and survived. Flt Lt. Smith was badly injured and taken to a German hospital in Diest, Belgium.
(1) A Casualty Enquiry & Investigation Report from No. 2 MREU, dated 28th June 1946, concluded that Sqn Ldr. Blenkinsop had only suffered slight injuries to his shoulder. He succeeded in evading capture and lived for several weeks with various people in the locality, and then began to take part in the Belgian Resistance movement.
He was eventually captured by the Germans together with a number of Belgian nationals and was believed to have been held in the St. Gilles prison in Brussels towards the end of August 1944 from where, it appeared, he was taken to Germany. It was speculated that the Germans were probably not aware that he was an Allied airman at all.
There was some evidence that Sqn Ldr Blenkinsop was at various concentration camps in Germany during the last few months of 1944. There was some contradictory conjectures by various witnesses as to how he met his death. However, in the investigator’s opinion Sqn Ldr. Blenkinsop died of illness caused and aggravated by starvation, ill treatment, and neglect at the Neuengamme concentration camp, Germany, on the 23rd January 1945.
The investigator came to this conclusion as these events were the only ones which were supported by any positive first hand evidence. This was provided by four Belgians, who had been fellow prisoners with Sqn Ldr. Blenkinsop at Neuengamme, in a solemn signed statement before the Bürgermeister (mayor) of Meensel-Kiezegem. Belgium. No evidence was found as to what the Germans did with the remains of Sqn Ldr. Blenkinsop, but it is known that cremation was common practice.
In a statement after he re-joined Allied forces a Flt Sgt. Murphy described that he had met Sqn Ldr Blenkinsop, on or about the 1st September 1944, whilst both were imprisoned at the St. Gilles prison. He told him that while evading capture in Belgium he was helping the White Army.
White Army = The Witte Army or Brigade (English: White Army or Brigade) was the popular name for a Belgian resistance group founded in the summer of 1940 in Antwerp. Amongst its activities the group was concerned with obtaining military information about the Port of Antwerp and the possible German invasion of Britain. The group also aided the Comet line, helping shot- down Allied pilots to return to Britain.
He described that one day he was with a group of them on the way to blow up a house occupied by the Germans, when they ran into 200 Gestapo men armed with machine guns. He fled into a wood and was captured by the Germans. He had not undertaken any sabotage, but was threatened with torture, but refused to speak, Three of the Belgians, under torture, did reveal their plans and implicated Blenkinsop. On this evidence the Germans said they would shoot him. Whether this was done or not Flt Sgt. Murphy could not say. However, he did know that Blenkinsop was not evacuated from the St. Gilles prison with the 40 odd British and Americans PoWs at the beginning of September 1944. At the time of their meeting Sqn Ldr. Blenkinsop asked him to relate this part of his story to the Intelligence authorities if he returned safely to the UK.
Flt Sgt. Joseph William Murphy 424993, RNZAF was the Wireless operator/Air Gunner aboard 75 (New Zealand) Sqn Lancaster I, LL921 that was lost on the 19th July 1944. He and his fellow PoWs were abandoned by their guards whilst in transit to Germany.
It was reported in an investigation report on a casualty enquiry dated 28th March 1949 that Sqn Ldr. Blenkinsop's name was found on a list of people who had died on 23rd January 1945 at the Neuengamme camp. The list for that day was a long one recording deaths from 02:00 to 05:00 hrs in the morning. Sqn Ldr. Blenkinsop died in a group of twenty at 05:00 hrs. Of those who died at this time no less than ten died of "heart-failure", the others died of other diseases which caused sudden death. A Josef Händler, who was a former inmate, had great knowledge of the camp and was a witness at practically all of the war crime trials related to the atrocities at the camp, stated that the "heart-failure" was caused by injection of benzine into the blood stream.
The report concluded that when deaths occurred in this camp the bodies were disposed of according to the manner of death. If an inmate did in fact die of natural causes the body was buried in Ohlsdorf Civil Cemetery, Hamburg. If the death was brought about by violent means the body was cremated and the ashes were spread on the local fields. The name of Sqn Ldr. Blenkinsop does not appear on the list of dead buried in Ohlsdorf, and it was assumed that regrettably his body was cremated.
Although no one individual was implicated in the death of Sqn.Ldr. Blenkinsop those responsible for the atrocities at the Neuengamme camp were brought to justice, most of them were hanged, and the rest served sentences up to life imprisonment.
On a final note, the present-day memorial at Neuengamme has a record of an Edward Weyman Blenkinsop, prisoner number 44388, who died at the Main Camp KZ Neuengamme. Although the true date and manner of his death will probably never be known the RCAF officially presumed that he died on the 23rd January 1945 and that he was cremated.
However, in the book “One Who Almost Made It Back" by Peter Celis, a Belgian Airforce officer, it is theorised that his death occurred at Bergen-Belsen between 28th January and the 3rd February 1945 but this cannot be confirmed as, shortly before the arrival of the Allies, the Germans had most of the records destroyed.
(2) At the hospital Flt Lt. Smith was locked in a room, denied medical attention, food and drink for three days, by which time he had died. It was established that he was bleeding from the nose, mouth and eyes and was unconscious during the entire time. The German doctor in charge of the hospital, named Mahr, is known to have given strict orders that Flt Lt. Smith be not touched in any way and that the door to his room be at all times locked.
There is evidence of local Continental medical opinion at that time that patients with serious head injuries should be given “complete rest”, which precludes even the taking of X-Rays. Furthermore, bleeding from nose, mouth and ears, suggests to such medical men the existence of a condition beyond their power to correct.
On the afternoon of the 1st May 1944, Flt Lt. Smith and his six dead comrades were buried in the local cemetery. An autopsy performed on all the bodies indicated that the airmen had suffered extensive fractures but that Flt Lt. Smith bore no fracture of the skull.
The Director of Medical Services, Canadian Military Headquarters (CMHQ), on reviewing the facts of this case concluded by saying “It is my opinion that even though surgical interference might not have been considered indicated by Dr. Mahr, gross negligence was shown by him in the general handling of this case. There has been obvious neglect of reasonable medical care.”
A report from the No 1. Canadian War Crime Investigation Unit (CWCIU) dated 28th May 1946, has been found in the service record for Flt Lt. Smith. It responds to statements from HQ British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) concerning the death of Flt Lt. Smith but it is not known if a case was pursued against Dr. Mahr.
Sqn Ldr. Edward Weyman Blenkinsop, DFC, Croix de Guerre avec Palme (Belgium). Runnymede Memorial Panel 278. Death officially posted as the 23rd January 1945. Born on the 8th October 1920 in Victoria, British Columbia. Son of Hubert Weyman and Winsome Hazel (née Neroutsos) Blenkinsop of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Sqn Ldr. Blenkinsop was awarded the DFC whilst with 425 Sqn. Gazetted 11th April 1944. Citation: “This officer has completed many successful operations against the enemy in which he displayed high skill, fortitude and devotion to duty.”;
Sqn Ldr. Blenkinsop was awarded the Croix de Guerre avec Palme (Belgium) posthumously. Gazetted 17th July 1948.
Plt Off. Robert Alexander Booth. Croix de Guerre avec Palme (Belgium). Webbekom Churchyard Grave 4. Inscription: “GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN. PEACE, PERFECT PEACE”. Born 24th September 1918 at Carberry, Manitoba. Son of Frederick Riddle and Emma (née Kearney) Booth (his father predeceased him). Step son of Hugh John and Emma (née Booth) McDonald of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Above: Initial grave marker for Flt Lt Allen, DFC (Credit: John Jones)
Flt Lt. Lawrence Arnold Allen, DFC. Webbekom Churchyard Grave 5. Born 27th June 1917, Edmonton, Alberta. Son of Max and Ida (née Goldman) Allen of Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
Flt Lt. Allen was awarded the DFC whilst with 420 Sqn (effective 27th April 1944), Gazetted 21st December 1945.
Flt Lt. George John Smith. Webbekom Churchyard Grave 7. Born on the 22nd June 1918 in Saskatchewan. Son of Paul and Annie Margaret Smith of Verwood, Saskatchewan. Husband to Audrey Jeanette (née Norin) Smith of Willows, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Flt Lt. David Ramsay, DFC. Webbekom Churchyard Grave 6. Inscription: “UNTIL THE DAY DAWNS AND SHADOWS FLEE AWAY”. Born on the 30th December 1920 at Dysart, Saskatchewan. Son of Peter F. and Isabella Ramsay, of Alberni, British Columbia, Canada.
Flt Lt. Ramsay was awarded the DFC whilst with 420 Sqn, Gazetted 30th November 1943.
Flt Sgt. James Sydney Bradley. Webbekom Churchyard Grave 1. Inscription: “WE LOVED HIM SO, WE MISS HIM YET OUR HEARTS STILL ACHE WE CANNOT FORGET. R.I.P.” Born 1923. Son of Sydney and Mary Elizabeth Bradley, of Caernarvon.
Plt Off. Leslie Arthur Foster. Webbekom Churchyard Grave 2. Born 25th June 1917 at Medicine Hat, Cypress, Alberta. Son of Winfred Franklin and Lillian (née Webb) Foster (his father predeceased him in 1934) and husband to Florence Mildred (née Kreller) Foster of Medicine Hat, Cypress, Alberta, Canada.
Posthumously commissioned on the 26th April 1944 with the rank of Plt Off, Service No. J87480.
His brother, Flt Sgt. Wynn Edmund Foster R109221, was killed whilst flying aboard Wellington HX681 which was lost en route on a transit flight from Gibraltar to Cairo on 13th December 1942.
Plt Off. Nicholas Hugh Clifford. Webbekom Churchyard Grave 3. Inscription: “THERE IS A GREEN HILL FAR AWAY”. Born on the 10th January 1909 at North Bay, Nipissing, Ontario. Son of Nicholas Albert and Sarah Jane (née Latimer) Clifford of Ontario, Canada.
Posthumously commissioned with the rank of Plt Off, Service No. J87453.
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’, with additional thanks to John Jones for the images and initial information.
RS & TV 24.07.2020 - Narrative update
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