22/23.04.1944 429 (Bison) Sqn RCAF Halifax III LK802 Fg Off. James F. Fennessey
Operation: Düsseldorf, Germany
Date: 23rd/24th April 1944 (Sunday/Monday)
Unit No: 429 (Bison) Sqn, RCAF
Type: Halifax III
Base: RAF Leeming, Yorkshire
Location: Sint-Elizabethpolder, on the Island of Overflakkee, Netherlands
Pilot: Fg Off. James Francis Fennessey J25009 RCAF Age 24. KiA (1)
Flt Eng: Flt Sgt. Herbert Ingle Austin 1005440 RAFVR Age 39. KiA
Nav: WO2. Alexander Achtymichuk R61000 RCAF Age 24. MiA
Bomb Aimer: Fg Off. Robert Bruce Low J27125 RCAF Age? PoW No. 4463 *
WOp/Air Gnr: M/Sgt. Arthur Fred ‘Limey’ Kempton 10601539 USAAF Age 24. PoW ** (2)
Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Sgt. William James Miller R194068 RCAF Age? PoW 3578 ***
Air Gnr (Rear): Sgt. Percy Bruce Crosswell MiD R191256 RCAF Age 20. PoW No. 655 /Killed * (3)
* Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).
** Stalag Luft 4, Groß-Tychow, Pomerania, Prussia now Tychowo, Poland (Moved from Stalag Luft 6 Heydekrug on 28th May 1944. Moved to Wöbbelin near Ludwigslust and then to Usedom near Swinemünde).
*** Stalag Luft 6, Heydekrug, Memelland (now Šilutė in Lithuania).
Above: LK802 Crew: Left to right: Fg Off. Robert Low, WO2. Alexander Achtymichuk, Sgt. Percy Crosswell, M/Sgt. Arthur Kempton, Sgt. William Miller, Sgt. Herbert Austin, Fg Off. James Fennessey.
Above: As the Flight Engineer, Sgt Austin and Mid-Upper Gunner; Sgt. Miller are not in this photograph, which has been taken with a Wellington in the background it is assumed that this was during crew training at a Wellington OTU. Left to right: Sgt. Alexander Achtymichuk, Sgt. Percy Crosswell, Fg Off. Robert Low, M/Sgt. Arthur Kempton, Fg Off. James Fennessey
REASON FOR LOSS:
LK802 took off from RAF Leeming at 23:00 hrs on the 22nd April 1944 and joined 15 other bombers from the Sqn on a 595 aircraft mission to attack Düsseldorf in Germany.
Allied losses on this mission were huge with 29 aircraft being shot down resulting in 133 aircrew killed and a further 68 being made PoW.
LK802 was one of two aircraft from the Sqn that failed to return.
Halifax III LV963 AL:V was the second aircraft that failed to return. The pilot, Flight Officer (FO) E.L. Howland USAAF and two others from the crew became PoWs. Five others from the eight man crew perished after their aircraft was attacked over the target and shot down by a German night fighter.
The Nachtjagd Combat Archive (16 March 1944 - 11 May 1944) Part 2 (Theo Boiten), describes that LK802 was the last Düsseldorf raider to be be shot down by the Nachtjagd and was set on fire in sudden attack from below and behind by an unidentified Ju88 near Herkingen in the Netherlands.
Note: no further information about this claim has been found to date.
The aircraft crashed, at about 02:10 hrs, into Sint-Elizabethpolder, a flooded area now part of Austinplein in Herkingen on the Island of Overflakkee and 7 km SSW of Middelharnis in the Netherlands. Most of the wreckage remained submerged for the next 13 months.
A statement, dated 13th June 1945, made by a Oberwachtmeester (equates to Sgt Maj) of the Dutch Royal Gendarmerie who was stationed at Herkingen on the night in question described that he had heard an aircraft approaching from the south-east flying in a north-westerly direction low over Herkingen. The engines of this aircraft were still running and made an ear-splitting noise. Immediately thereafter he heard a loud explosion. After leaving his post he saw flames in the Sint-Elizabethpolder a short distance from inhabited dwellings.
He approached the location and saw a crashed aircraft on fire. It was impossible to get near as the area was flooded. One wing had fallen into a nearby garden and the RAF markings where clearly visible. He posted a guard near the crash site until daybreak and then used a rowboat to examine the crash site. The aircraft was underwater so it was not possible to determine if their were any bodies in the wreckage.
On the 12th May he returned to the site with the deputy Burgemeester (mayor) of Herkingen and found that the water level had lowered. They uncovered and carefully removed the remains of two Allied airmen who were later identified by their identity discs as Fg Off. Fennessey and Sgt. Austin. They were placed in separate suitable coffins and were taken to the mortuary of the Municipal Cemetery at Herkingen.
They were later provisionally buried with full military honours by Dutch forces in the Herkingen Municipal Cemetery. The remains of WO2. Alexander Achtymichuk were never found.
(1) Marie Lineham (née Wentworth) then 16 years of age of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada was engaged to be married to Fg Off. James ‘Frank’ Fennessey (Frank as he was known to close friends and family) was told that they would not marry until he returned from the war, as he felt it unfair that she should be left alone. He also suggested that if something did happen to him she should consider his best friend, John Lineham, which is what she did.
Above: Engagement between Marie and Frank.
(2) Arthur Fred Kempton was born on the 7th April 1920 in Montreal, Quebec. He was the middle of three children of Arthur K. and Nellie Smith Kempton. His father was born in Berlin of Romanian parents, and his mother was born in Nova Scotia, Canada. He died on the 3rd February 1996, aged 75, in Hillsborough County, Florida. He now rests in Arlington National Cemetery.
(3) Flt Sgt. Crosswell was one of the four crew members that managed to bale out of the aircraft before it crashed.
Note: On the day of the mission Sgt. Crosswell was promoted to Flt Sgt.
What transpired after he baled out was described in two letters written to the family of Percy Crosswell by the van Loon and van Seters families both of whom helped him to remain hidden from the searching Germans.
Sgt. Crosswell landed in a flooded polder in the vicinity of the home of the van Loon family. The water in the polder was only about 50 cm (less than 2 ft) deep so he started to wade towards dry land, however, he fell into an unseen ditch at the edge of the flooded polder. By the time he reached dry land he was soaked to the skin and hungry. He walked about until day break and then hid by a hay stack that was quite close to the home of van Loon where he dried off in the sun.
He remained there until dusk and after watching the van Loon family he approached them and asked for dry cloths and food. A friend of the family who spoke English was fetched and it was decided that everything must be done to prevent him from being captured by the Germans.
Sgt. Crosswell was taken to an abandoned farmhouse which was fortunate because the next day the Germans arrived and searched the van Loon home. They were told that they had captured two airmen and found one body and knew there must have been others.Sgt. Crosswell remained at the farmhouse for a week before being transported to the farm of van Seters. He was named Wim by the family and remained with them until the end of July 1944. The farmhouse was then raided by the German police and three of the family were arrested, but not before Sgt. Crosswell had been moved to another safe place.
As time went on the Germans stepped up their periodic checks of the local citizens and as it seemed impossible for Sgt. Crosswell to find a way back to England he decided to surrender so as those who had assisted him would not be shot. After surrendering he was confronted with the captured van Seters family whom he denied knowing and as a consequence they were released.
According to a statement made by WO1. W.P. Chandler, who was previously a PoW, Fg Off. Crosswell and a Sgt. G.R. Johnson were shot at 11:30 hrs on the 13th April 1945 during an escape attempt from Stalag 3a at Luckenwalde. Sgt. Johnson was killed and Fg Off. Crosswell died the next day at approximately 13:00 hrs. Both were buried in the Luckenwalde Camp Cemetery at 10:30 hrs on the 16th April 1945.
WO1. William Philmore Chandler R160751, RCAF was the bomb aimer on 166 Sqn, Lancaster III NE114, AS:S lost on a mission to Dortmund on the 23rd May 1944.
Sgt. Geoffrey Ralph Johnson 3050454, RAFVR was the rear gunner on 158 Sqn, Halifax III MZ734, NP:U lost on a mission to Essen on the 25th October 1944.
The Missing Research and Enquiry Service (MRES) reported that just prior to cessation of hostilities Luckenwalde Cemetery records were destroyed and many crosses removed or destroyed thereby leaving several thousand graves unmarked and unregistered. The whole cemetery was exhumed but no grave was found that contained sufficient evidence to identify or associate any of the remains to Fg Off. Crosswell and consequently he is remembered at the Runnymede Memorial.
Sgt Johnson’s remains were identified and he was reinterred at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery, Grave 2.B.21 on the 16th May 1947.
Fg Off. James Francis Fennessey. Bergen-op-Zoom Canadian War Cemetery 1.H.12. Inscription: “REST IN PEACE”.Born on the 29th September 1920 in Calgary, Alta. Son of Albert Henry and Mary Jane (née Brown) Fennessey of Delacour, Alberta, Canada.
Sgt. Herbert Ingle Austin. Herkingen General Cemetery, Near entrance. Born on the 4th May 1905 in Leeds, Yorkshire. Son of Herbert and Emily Ingle Austin. Husband of Olive (née Sillitson) Austin of Halton, Yorkshire, England.
Plt Off. Alexander Achtymichuk. Runnymede Memorial Panel 249. Born on the 23rd November 1919 in Andrew, Alberta. Son of Andrew G. and Mary (née Zukiwski) Achtymichuk of Andrew, Alberta, Canada.
WO2. Achtymichuk was posthumously granted a commission and promoted to J87053 Plt Off. on the 21st April 1944.
Fg Off. Percy Bruce Crosswell MiD. Runnymede Memorial Panel 279. Born on the 21st January 1924 in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Son of Willian and Mary (née Bruce) Crosswell of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
He was then retrospectively commissioned and promoted to J88362 Plt Off. with effect the 21st April 1944 and then to Fg Off. on the 21st October 1944.
Sadly his father predeceased him and his mother was a patient in a mental institution in Battleford, Saskatchewan.
His older brother, Bruce Angus Crosswell served in the Canadian Navy and survived the War.
Fg Off. Crosswell was posthumously Mentioned in Despatches (MiD) on the 13th June 1946.
The Crosswell River which flows into the Churchill River in Manitoba was named after Fg Off. Crosswell MiD in 1948
This page has been created with thanks to Maureen Fennessey, niece of the pilot who contributed so much information. We are indebted to Calgary Herald for publishing the article on Maureen’s research and others plus of course to the many people who helped bring the memorial service in 2012 to fruition
A relative of Fg Off. Crosswell MiD contacted us in November 2016 - she wrote "Percy is remembered in our hearts forever. Thank you to the Dutch families who hid my uncle for over 3 months before he was caught."
Memorial service in 2012
An email sent out by Maureen Fennessey following the wonderful memorial service in 2012 sums up the wonderful 4 days honouring the crew:
November 11, 2012, Dear family and friends,
"Since today is Remembrance Day, and in honour of my uncle Francis and his crew, I thought this would be an appropriate time to send out the You tube video of our memorial trip to Holland that was attended by family members of the crew of Bison Squadron 429. After 6 years of searching for the family of the Bison Squadron 429 crew, we finally had a chance to come together.
It was truly an amazing trip coming together with all the crew member's families. There were over 50 of us that came from Canada, US and Britain. We spent 4 days together going from one event to the other. We went to the crash site where an 8 year old boy that lived nearby had used a metal detector to find pieces of the bomber plane in the polder. The pieces were laid out on tables for us to view. Amazingly, we were all allowed to bring a piece home.
There was a bench and memorial pedestal in honour of Uncle Francis in the village park near the crash site. This is where 7 white doves were released by a family member of each of the crew. Another memorial pedestal near the harbour was erected by the sea for Alex, from Andrew Alberta, who was washed out to sea when he didn't put his "Mae west" when he parachuted out of the plane. His 79 year old brother Eugene and his family came from Fort Saskatchewan for the memorial. What a character and a wonderful man. And there was a large monument in the middle of the village with pictures in honour of all 7 of the crew.
The first day we all boarded a bus and travelled through tulip fields to Uncle Francis's gravesite in Bergen Op Zoom, where there were over 1100 white crosses, all Canadians. My son Troy took a walk through the gravesite and came back to say that most of those buried there were younger than him. He is 23. A street is named after Bert Austin, from England, who went down with Uncle Francis. Called Austin Plein. Bert is buried in the local cemetery where the memorial was held.
The day of the ceremony was amazing, overwhelming and humbling at the same time. It was held at the small village of Herkingen, where the plane crashed into a polder and at the gravesite where Bert Austin was buried. As we traveled down the cobble streets of this little village, some of us riding in army vehicles, the Royal Canadian Legion greeted us with bag pipes to the tune of Amazing Grace, while the Dutch people lined the streets waving to us, some with tears in their eyes and little children ran along the sides of our vehicles."
"My cousin Bruce McKay picked up about 200 poppies from the Poppy Foundation in Calgary before we left. My sister Patti and I walked along the cobble street and pinned the poppies on these beautiful people. Thank you’s and hugs were exchanged from both sides. Thanks to us for our loved ones giving their lives for the liberation, and a thanks from us to them for the respect and love they have for the crew, as well as the most humbling welcome given to us. We were definitely treated like Royalty.""During the ceremony an amazing woman named Kelly Ann Sproul (KAS) from England sang the most beautiful songs from the WW2 era. KAS has been traveling to the war zones and has been singing for the troops for a number of years. The Royal Canadian Air Force was in attendance along with the RAF and US Air Force, Mayor of Herkingen and other dignitaries. Each family spoke on behalf their loved one. I talked about how dad used to sit on the couch and go through uncle Francis's album and wonder what happened and how Francis's loss affected the family and Marie his fiancé, and how great it was to be there with all the other family members of the crew. There were many flowers and wreaths laid while two WW2 bomber planes circled above in memory of the Halifax Bomber crew."
"During the ceremony an amazing woman named Kelly Ann Sproul (KAS) from England sang the most beautiful songs from the WW2 era. KAS has been traveling to the war zones and has been singing for the troops for a number of years. The Royal Canadian Air Force was in attendance along with the RAF and US Air Force, Mayor of Herkingen and other dignitaries. Each family spoke on behalf their loved one. I talked about how dad used to sit on the couch and go through uncle Francis's album and wonder what happened and how Francis's loss affected the family and Marie his fiancé, and how great it was to be there with all the other family members of the crew. There were many flowers and wreaths laid while two WW2 bomber planes circled above in memory of the Halifax Bomber crew."
"Our evenings were spent with welcome dinners while sharing stories and building friendships. At one of the celebrations an elderly gentlemen came up to me and introduced himself. He spoke of when he was a very young lad and how he remembered the night of April 23, 1944 when the plane crashed into the polder. He spoke of the sound of the engine and loud explosion and how they were not allowed to go to the crash site. The morning after he remembered his family dressing in their best and going outside to find parts of the aircraft in the field near their land. This gentleman was now in his nineties.
The final day we attended a mass in memory of the crew at the Catholic church in the small village of Middleharnis where the townspeople came together and held a Funeral for Francis after his remains were recovered in the polder along with Bert's after the war. Francis was buried in the small cemetery in the church yard, later moved to Bergen Op Zoom.
"A many thanks to Dennis Notenboom and his committee from WO2GO n the Netherlands for hosting such a wonderful memorial which turned out to be "A real class act". And a special thanks to Geert Polak and his wife from the Netherlands for adopting uncle Francis's grave and tending to it with so much love. It was so humbling to finally meet you. Geert, so nice to hear from you today and thanks for sending the picture of the beautiful flowers you put on uncle Francis's grave today.
And finally, thanks to all the family members of the crew. This could not have come together without your support and love. Memories and life long friendships were had by all. Thanks to all for remembering the crew of LK802, Bison Squadron 429. What a great group of handsome young men!"
note: Aircrew Remembered have attended many of these memorial services - the gratitude from the Dutch people as well as that from France, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, even Germany has to be seen to believed)
Original report compiled by Kelvin Youngs (Web master) with many thanks to Maureen Fennessey, Calgary Herald, 'Alieneyes’ on the WW2talk Forum for information on Sgt. Cresswell. Also to the great chaps at WO2 Goeree-Overflakkee and Dennis Notenboom who helped bring the memorial in 2012 to fruition. With thanks to Tracy Crosswell who contacted us in Nov 2016 with further details on Sgt. Percy Crosswell MiD. Also to Claude Lafleur for advising us of correct PoW camp for Sgt. Crosswell (Mar 2018). Also to Dave Champion for additional crew details (Jul 2018). Reviewed, corrected and updated with new information by Ralph Snape (Aircrew Remembered) (Oct 2022).
Other sources listed below.