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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.
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Leonard Trent VC RNZAF
RNZAF Leonard Trent VC Attacks Amsterdam

[For a more complete picture with information on other participants in this raid please refer to our additional Archive Report researched by our Senior Research Editor Roy Wilcock]

487 (NZ) squadron sortied to bomb a power station in Amsterdam. In the afternoon of 3 May 1943 twelve aircraft were despatched: one soon returned with defects but only one other came back, shot up and damaged. Ten bombers were missing; 12 of the squadron’s 48 aircrew were Prisoners of War, and 28 were dead.

Little more was known about the mission until 1945, when New Zealander Leonard Trent and the other PoWs returned from Germany. After their reports were collated and matched with captured German reports, the raid took on a new light; in April 1946 Sqn Ldr Len Trent was awarded the VC.

Leonard Trent was born in Nelson on 14 April 1915. After leaving school Len learned of a scheme for New Zealanders to learn to fly with the RNZAF then enter the RAF on short service commissions. Trent was selected, underwent basic training with the Taieri Aero Club, then entered the RNZAF at Wigram. Len was awarded his wings on 12 May 1938; a month later he sailed to the UK and joined the RAF.

  • September 1939: Pilot Officer Trent was in No. 15 Sqn, flying Fairey Battles—the squadron deployed to France.
  • December 1939: the Squadron returned to England to convert to Bristol Blenheims.
  • May-June 1940: No 15 Sqn flew cross-channel daylight raids; Flt Lt Trent flew 14 sorties and was awarded the DFC.
  • instructor; promoted to Squadron Leader and Office Commanding of the OTU.
  • 1942: On the staff of HQ 2 Group, which controlled the day bomber squadrons.
  • August 1942: because he was a New Zealander, Trent was posted as a flight commander on the newly formed 487 (NZ) squadron, equipped with Lockheed Ventura bombers. The Ventura was not well-liked; it had a high wing loading and was heavy on the controls. Venturas also equipped 21 Squadron RAF and 464 Squadron RAAF within 2 Group.
  • December 1942: the Squadron first went into action.
  • Over subsequent months Trent flew eight more missions.

The Amsterdam Raid: Ramrod 17

On 3 May the squadron briefed for a late afternoon Ramrod diversionary bombing attack on an Amsterdam power station. (Ramrod was code for a bomber raid escorted by fighters aimed at destruction of a specific target in daylight). It was to be the first daylight raid into Amsterdam itself. 118 Sqn, 167 and 504 Spitfire V Squadrons of the Coltishall Wing were to escort the Venturas, and were to be met by further squadrons of No. 11 Group, Fighter Command, flying Spitfire lX as top cover, over the Dutch coast. The Venturas were to cross the coast at sea level so as not to alert German radar, then climb.

Trent led the first flight of six in Ventura EG-V (Ventura AJ209 V-Victor), with the following six in another tight box. The plan was to cross the North Sea at 100 feet altitude, remaining under the German radar. Ten minutes before reaching the enemy coast the whole formation would climb to 10,000 feet and make the dash to the target. This would minimise the warning time to the German defenders.

Unfortunately the 11 Group Mk IXs flying Rodeo 212 ahead of the Venturas arrived early and crossed the coast high—being anxious to gain a height advantage — alerting the German defences. They ran low on fuel before the Venturas arrived and had to leave.

The escort Wing Leader, Wing Commander Blatchford, vainly attempted to recall the bombers but they were soon hemmed in by fighters. Under constant attack by II Gruppe, Jagdgeschwader 1, 487 Squadron continued on to its target, the few surviving aircraft completing bombing runs before being shot down. The Squadron was virtually wiped out.

(Shown right: Squadron Leader Trent, left, with Wing Commander G J "Chopper" Grindell, centre, Commanding Officer of No. 487 Squadron RNZAF, and Squadron Leader T Turnbull, 1943)

When the bombers did climb, the close escort lost position and fell behind, with one squadron losing touch entirely. But that day the Nazi Governor of Holland was on a formal visit and was being given fighter cover. As well, fighter leaders from neighbouring areas had gathered to discuss tactics; over 50 fighters, both FW190s and Me109s, were available to defend Amsterdam that day. The Luftwaffe scrambled some 70 fighters in four formations, with Focke-Wulf Fw 190s to deal with the escort and Messerschmitt Bf 109s the bombers. The formation was intercepted off the coast—the fighter escort quickly got drawn into a running dogfight and one Ventura was hit, set on fire, and turned back. (Against the odds this crew made it back to base.) Two more were shot down into the sea, a third was damaged overland, dropped its bombs, then ditched off the coast. Once across the coast more bombers were quickly shot down. Soon, only four bombers were left, and about this time an Me109 crossed in front of Trent’s aircraft; he fired the Ventura’s nose-mounted machine guns and it is likely that he damaged the German fighter. Trent saw his wingman shot down as they approached the target. (Trent was impressed that the enemy fighters continued to attack even though they were in the flak zone.) A painting of the action by Colin Pattle is shown below, the original being held at the New Zealand Air Force Museum.

The other two Venturas also crashed in Amsterdam. Trent’s navigator guided V-Victor over the target and they bombed—but at that moment the aircraft was hard hit, probably by flak, going immediately into a spin and broke up. With complete loss of control they had no option but to bale out. The navigator got out just as their Ventura fell into the spin; Trent himself struggled to get out. The two other crewmen were probably trapped; they did not survive.

An observer of the 3 May air battle was the young Jewish diarist, Anne Frank (see below).

After getting clear and opening his parachute, Trent landed, was captured and subsequently imprisoned in Stalag Luft lll, a German Prisoner-of-War camp. Trent took part in the Great Escape. His prison camp was liberated on 2 May 1945; Trent made his post-action report and transferred to the RNZAF. in the meantime his squadron’s ill-fated mission had been closely scrutinised.

The decision to award the VC was not taken lightly. Trent’s base commander gave Len the news and he received his award from the King at Buckingham palace on 12 April 1946. Trent returned to New Zealand for leave later that year. Ironically the Air Department in Wellington then made him part of a team assessing applicants for the RAF, which was actively recruiting again.

London Gazette citation for the award of the Victoria Cross to Leonard Trent

Trent also reconsidered his career and in 1947 rejoined the RAF (which seemed to have caused some resentment within the RNZAF). Trent held several important posts, commanded a Valiant V-bomber squadron and took it into action during the 1956 Suez conflict. In 1958 he flew a Valiant to New Zealand to take part in the RNZAF 21st anniversary Air Show at Ohakea.

Trent’s personal qualities included the courage and stamina to endure many combat sorties, and the ability to be a good instructor in the air, but as well, he had the luck to survive when enemy action was claiming the lives of his comrades. He was professional, well able to take on the duties thrust upon him as casualties mounted. And later, he proved able to transition to the jet age, flying the advanced Valiant jet bomber.

But it was his courageous determination during his last combat mission that earned him the VC. He was representative of all the aircrews that day, all of whom showed equal devotion to duty. Trent himself always stressed the vital contribution of his aircrew and made a point of visiting the relatives of those killed in action alongside him. in 1965 he retired from the RAF and returned to New Zealand, settling at Mathesons Bay, north of Auckland. He died on 19 May 1986. Despite spending much of his life in the UK, Trent was a proud New Zealander and was proud that he had earned his Victoria Cross as a member of a New Zealand squadron.

His entire medal group (above) is: Victoria Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross, 1939-45 Star, Air Crew Europe Star, Defence Medal, War Medal 1939-45, New Zealand War Service Medal, General Service Medal 1918-62 with Near East clasp [awarded for Suez, 1956], Coronation Medal 1953 and Silver Jubilee Medal 1977.

15th September 2018: "Today in Nelson New Zealand the Battle of Britain was remembered by 23 Squadron Nelson ATC who hosted members from the RNZAF Association Nelson with a small service at the memorial site of Group Captain Trent VC DFC at 11:00 hrs under grey sky.

This memorial is located at the entrance to Nelson airport. The service was officiated by Padre Trevor Squires (rtd RNZAF). The OC 23 Squadron Nelson ATC gave a speech about his uncle who serviced in the Pacific during WW2 with the RNZAF and a Cadet Cpl. gave a speech about the Battle of Britain and the role the New Zealand pilots played in saving Britain from the German attack.

Thanks must also go to the New Zealander, Air Vice Marshall Sir Keith Park who was Commander of Fighter Command during the BoB and Defender of Britain.

A small gathering of family and friends and returned service people were in attendance at the service".

Brian Ramsey

Leonard Trent VC Memorial, Nelson, New Zealand (Photo: courtesy

Diary of Anne Frank

In her diary entry for 18 May 1943, Anne Frank wrote how she had recently witnessed a fierce air battle from her place of hiding, 263 Prinsengracht, Amsterdam, and she may have also have witnessed a couple of Allied airmen parachute from their burning plane (it is not clear from the English translation of her diary if she witnessed this latter incident or heard about it secondhand).

Ventura AJ209, V-Victor, piloted by Sqd Ldr Trent broke up in mid-air and came down along the Kometensingel, Amsterdam, at 1757 hours, a little over four kilometres north of Anne’s hiding place.

Venturas AE716, U-Uncle, piloted by F/O Thomas Baynton RNZAF, and AE713, T-Tommy, piloted by F/O Stanley Peryman RNZAF, both crashed in the Oostzaan district of Amsterdam, north of where Trent’s aircraft came down. All on board both aircraft were killed.

Ventura AE780, S-Sugar, piloted by F/O Stuart McGowan RNZAF, impacted along the Van Bossestraat, Amsterdam, at 1745 hours (local time), only around a kilometre WNW of Anne’s hiding place. Of the four man crew, only St Ivan Urlich RNZAF survived.

These four Venturas were the only Allied aircraft to crash in North/North-Western Amsterdam in May 1943 (up to the 18th, when the diary entry was written).

” I witnessed a terrific air battle between German and British planes. Unfortunately a couple of the Allies had to jump from their burning machine. Our milkman, who lives in Halfweg, saw four Canadians sitting by the roadside, one of them spoke fluent Dutch. He asked the milkman to give him a light for his cigarette and told him that the crew had consisted of 6 men. The pilot had burned to death and their 5th man had hidden himself somewhere. The German police came and fetched the four perfectly fit men. I wonder how they managed to have such a presence of mind after that terrifying parachute trip!”

Early Days

Trent was born in Nelson, New Zealand on 14 April 1915, the son of a dentist.[1]In 1919 the family moved to Takaka, where three years later, after taking a short ride in a Gipsy Moth aircraft, Trent became captivated by flying. He was educated at Nelson College and boarded at the school between 1928 and 1934.

Air Force Career

After induction training at Taieri near Dunedin, he undertook Royal New Zealand Air Force flight training in Christchurch, gaining his wings in May 1938. A month later he sailed for Britain to join the Royal Air Force.

In September 1939 Trent went to France as part of No. 15 Squadron RAF, flying Fairey Battles on high-level photo-reconnaissance missions over enemy territory. The squadron returned to England in December to convert to the Bristol Blenheim IV. Trent flew numerous combat missions after Germany invaded the Low Countries and France in May 1940.

In July 1940 he received the DFC for his outstanding contribution to the Battle of France. Posted as a training instructor, he married Ursula Elizabeth Woolhouse on 7 August 1940 at Holborn, London. He also test flew the Douglas DB-7 Boston, which he strongly recommended to the RAF.

Trent returned to combat duties in March 1942 and was promoted to Squadron Leader. He had spent six months at Headquarters, No. 2 Group RAF, before assuming command of B Flight in No. 487 Squadron RNZAF, working up on the Lockheed Ventura for daylight raids, a task for which the type was manifestly inadequate. He flew many difficult raids on targets in the Low countries during the late 1942 and early 1943.

Stalag Luft lll

After his capture Trent was assigned to Stalag Luft III Sagan, Germany (now Żagań, Poland). He participated in the Great Escape of 24 March 1944 although he was recaptured almost immediately. The Gestapo executed 50 recaptured prisoners, but Trent received solitary confinement because of his immediate surrender outside the camp. Trent survived the war in a POW camp.

Trent was liberated by British forces on 2 May 1945. He returned to England and promptly recommenced RAF service, learning that his last combat mission had earned him the Victoria Cross. Quiet and unassuming, Trent disliked the fuss the award caused, especially during its investiture at Buckingham Palace on 12 April 1946, being uncomfortable with the publicity.

Post War

Continuing in the Royal Air Force after the war, he trained in jets. He had the distinction of ejecting from a de Havilland Vampire and a Gloster Meteor. He later commanded 214 Squadron RAF with the, then, new Vickers Valiant. In 1956 he saw further action during the Suez Crisis, and later in the early 1960s, he was promoted to the rank of Group Captain and was appointed an Air Attaché to Washington DC.

Trent moved to Forrestdale, Western Australia, in 1965, with his wife, Ursula, and three children, and took a job with MacRobertson Miller Airlines. With his wife, he returned to New Zealand to live at Matheson Bay, north of Auckland, in 1977, dying on 19 May 1986 at North Shore Hospital. Trent's ashes were returned to Western Australia, where they were interred at Fremantle Cemetery alongside those of his daughter, Judith, who had died in 1983 at the age of 31.


Venturer Courageous by James Saunders and Laddie Lucas was published by Hutchinson in 1983

New Zealand Experience with the Lockheed Ventura

The success of the Lockheed Hudson (a conversion of the Lockheed 14 airliner) led the British purchasing commission and Lockheed to propose an adaptation of the larger Lockheed 18 Lodestar.

The same Lockheed team adapted the new airliner with the powerful R2800 engines, a bomb bay for 4000 lbs of bombs, fixed nose guns, a gun turret and a ventral gun position. The British named it the Ventura (recognising where it was built in California) and it entered RAF service in November 1942. (the Lodestar also went into military service as the c-56 transport.)

As well as 487 (NZ) Squadron Venturas also equipped 21 Sqn RAF and 464 Sqn RAAF within 2 Group of Bomber Command. The Ventura Mk l and Mk ll were not well liked; they had a high wing loading and were heavy on the controls while the Bolton Paul turret caused high drag and yet carried only 0.303” machine guns.

After heavy losses to the Luftwaffe in early 1943, the RAF Venturas were allocated to second-line duties and the three bomber squadron re-equipped. But at that same time the first of 139 Venturas was being delivered to the RNZAF (somewhat controversially —the Kiwis would have preferred B-25 Mitchells).

the RNZAF aircraft were PV-1 Venturas built on a US Navy contract; they featured low-drag Martin turrets with 0.5” machine guns. Ultimately over 1800 PV-1s were built; the US Navy deployed them in the Atlantic and Iceland, while in the Pacific they flew over the Kuriles (the island chain off Alaska) and subsequently in the Central Pacific and Philippines, where they proved very effective.

A small number of NZ Venturas were from USAAF production, designated RB-34 Lexingtons and delivered in USAAF medium green; those aircraft were not used by the RNZAF on operations but retained in New Zealand for training.

1 Squadron (RNZAF) took the RNZAF Venturas into action in November 1943. On Christmas Eve 1943 Ventura NZ4509 was attacked by nine Zeros from Rabaul. The Ventura’s crew shot down three, claimed two probables and drove off the rest. One of the crew was wounded; two DFCs and a DFM were awarded.

NZ Venturas were maintained by deployed RNZAF servicing Units in the Islands, while the squadrons and aircrew rotated through their tours. Numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4 squadrons (RNZAF) operated the Ventura during 1943-45.

For the RNZAF the Ventura is numerically its most important bomber—in a theatre where Japanese air strength was declining the Ventura proved to be a very capable bomber and patrol aircraft. The Ventura also saw wartime service with the USAAF, the RCAF, the RAAF, and the French and Brazilian air forces. Lockheed followed it with the PV-2 Harpoon, which featured a 75 ft wingspan and reduced wing loading. the Harpoon was to see extensive post-war service in a number of air forces.

Sources:, Wikipedia, private sources in New Zealand

Crashes 1940 -1945. These researchers have also covered this event. Losses over Western part of the Netherlands, with the added bonus of a great museum to visit. Over 750 aircraft were lost in the area that they research.

SY 1 FEB 2016

KTY 15.03.2016 New source link added

KTY 16.09.2018 Memorial photographs added

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