Aircraft Archeology: Mosquito Crash Site in the Dutch Countryside

During the night of 27 April 1944 a de Havilland Mosquito night attack fighter from 613 Squadron was airborne for a raid on the German fighter airfield at Vliegbasis Twenthe  (Dutch: Twente Airbase) in the eastern border area of the Netherlands. The Mosquito was on an intruder mission, a low-altitude strafing/bombing run on a fighter base in the darkness.  Coming in low and from the east the Mosquito was only two kilometers from the Luftwaffe base when (according to local accounts) search lights were switched on and anti-aircraft fire began, blinding Flight Sergeant R. J. E. Adey and his copilot K. J. Pinnell, who were brought down into the trees in the Haagse Bos (Dutch: Haagse Woods),  both men dying during the crash

613_Squadron_Mosquito_FB.VI_at_RAF_Lasham_June_1944

DeHavilland Mosquito FB.VI of RAF 613 Squadron at RAF Lasham, June 1944. This photo was taken two months after the crash in the Haagse Bos. Notice the Recognition or “D-Day” stripes on the aircraft. By Ringwayobserver – Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 on Wikimedia commons.

This area, the Haagse Bos, happens to lie near my in-laws home in Enschede, the Netherlands, and as the years have passed, I have often found myself hiking in the woods. A small wooden marker on the path, near the forest where the Mosquito crashed on 27 April 1994 is there to remind us of the sacrifice by these two men on a night-time raid in a almost completely wooden, high speed, light bomber.  I felt compelled to learn more about the crash. I wanted to find the spot where the plane went down, aware that very little of the aircraft would remain, since the de Havilland Mosquito was designed for speed and was mostly a wooden construction bomber built around a metal frame.

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I’ve oriented the below photographs onto the aerial photo from the late 1940s mentioned. #3 is the location of the Mosquito crash site. The photograph is oriented with North at the top of the photo, the Vliegbasis Twenthe is 2 km WSW of the crash site.

Aircraft archeology efforts paid off quickly, as the sacrifice of the two British fliers who crashed here in 1944 were quietly honored at the time and have been respectfully remembered by the citizens of the Dutch city of Enschede since.  An aerial photograph from the late 1940s identified the crash site, approximately 150 meters from a small wooden marker that records the crash.  From there, using the overhead photo and a picture from the 1980s which shows scarring in the trees from the Mosquitoes’ crash, I could vector in on the site.  It was during these exploratory efforts that we discovered a fresh bouquet of flowers last April, on a cold afternoon, lying next to the wooden marker near the site. The flowers were a moving, quiet act of gratitude to the two men who flew the aircraft from an anonymous person, left 71 years after their death.

This aerial photograph shows the area from above, taken in the late 1940s, and is the one which allowed me to locate the site.  At the time, the scaring in the trees from the Mosquito’s impact and fire was still visible.  (Remarkably, in the early 1980s, scarring in the trees was also mentioned in a local Dutch newspaper with an accompanying photograph, but by 2015 to 2016 I could not discern any noticeable change, most likely since some timbering took place in the area after the 1980s story).  The photos I’ve taken with my camera are numbered, with the number corresponding to a place on the aerial picture where I stood taking the photo. The v-shaped arrow shows the direction of the photograph, to help orient the ground images to the overhead photo. The location of the plane’s final position is a close approximation, since debris was likely spread as the plane hit the trees at high speed, but this final photo is the location of the wreck and visible damage to the woods from 70 years ago.

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Picture #1, looking north into the Haagse Bos, south of the crash site. © Brandon Wilgus, 2016.

 

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Photo #2, the crash site is ahead. The wooden marker honoring the two lost aviators I mentioned is in the foreground. © Brandon Wilgus, 2016.

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Picture #3, the crash site. Due to the Mosquitos’ almost all wood construction, little of the aircraft remains. © Brandon Wilgus, 2016.

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Picture #4, the path into the Haagse Bos. © Brandon Wilgus, 2016.

A few kilometers east of the crash site is  Vliegbasis Twenthe, which the Royal Netherlands Air Force maintains as a fighter divert airfield.  During the Second World War, the Luftwaffe used the airfield as a Messerschmitt BF 109 fighter airfield: the target of the Mosquito’s low altitude night-time raid.  Maintained and used by the Dutch Air Force since World War II, there are several anti-aircraft hardstands, pill boxes, and firing positions from the time it was used by the Luftwaffe which still survive.

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On the roof of one of the WWII era Luftwaffe pillboxes at Vliegbasis Twenthe is an extremely well preserved anit-aircraft gun. I am unable to identify this weapon besides seeing that it is a light anti-aircraft gun on a rail mount system. © Brandon Wilgus, 2016.

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A Luftwaffe pillbox from the Second World War on Vliegbasis Twenthe, © Brandon Wilgus 2016.

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The Inside of the bunker, the excellent state of preservation is likely due to the pillboxes still residing on the Royal Netherlands Air Force Base, Vliegbasis Twenthe, with little public access. © Brandon Wilgus, 2016.

Adey

Flight Sergeant Adey’s gravestone. Thanks to http://www.vliegtuigongevallen.nl.

After the plane crashed, locals removed their bodies which were later identified and interred in a local cemetery. Flight Sergeant Royston John Edward Adey was 21 years old at the time of his death. His parents were Ronald John Edward Adey and Edith Rose Mary Adey, still living in their family home, Winshill, Burton-on-Trent in Staffordshire.  In St. Mark’s Parish Church in Winshill there are two boards marking the names of men from the village who fell in the First and Second World Wars, Flight Sergeant Adey’s name is memorialized there.  His final resting place lies under a Commonwealth War Graves Commission marker in the Oosterbegraafplaats Enschede, the Netherlands.

Pinnell

Flight Sergeant Pinnell’s gravestone. Thanks to http://www.vliegtuigongevallen.nl.

Flight Sergeant Kenneth John Pinnnell was 22 years old at the time of his death. His parents, Daniel John Pinnell and Mary Pinnell survived him.  Flight Sergeant Pinnell was from Coventry.  His grave is also in the Oosterbegraafplaats Enschede cemetery, the Netherlands.  He and Flight Sergeant Royston rest a few meters away from one another.  Quietly, restfully, these two brave aviators lie in a small corner of a foreign field and I’m reminded of the poet Rupert Brooke, who died on a hospital ship in the Mediterranean in 1915, and wrote:

 

IF I should die, think only this of me;

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is for ever England. There shall be

In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;

A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,

Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,

A body of England’s breathing English air,

Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

 

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,

A pulse in the eternal mind, no less

Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;

Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;

And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,

In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

 

 

Several very helpful Dutch webpages assisted me in this blog post and aircraft archeology effort: http://www.luchtoorlogboventwente.nl/440427RAF.php, and http://www.secondworldwar.nl/enschede/luchtoorlog-vliegveld-twente.php#.Voe7-VgrHIU, thanks. – Brandon.

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RAF Molesworth and the 303rd Bombardment Group (Heavy)

In western Cambridgeshire, tucked away among the muddy fields, hedges and paths is a still active RAF station with a long and fascinating hisory.  Royal Air Force Station Molesworth, almost always shortened to RAF Molesworth, was first constructed in 1917 and remains in use today by the U.S. Air Force.

One can almost picture the B.E.2s of the Royal Flying Corps which operated out of Molesworth during the Great War, conducting training and preparations for flyers preparing to transfer with their aircraft to France.  The No. 75 Squadron occupied the airfield for sometime during this period. However, the airfield was abandoned after the war ended and went into disuse.  Some of the buildings which had supported the air station where incorporated into the local farms near Bington, Old Weston, and Molesworth.

Unatributed photo of a wartime Avro B.E.2c, with 'V" undercarriage, stremlined engine cowling, and the upper wing cut-out for the tail gunner to improve field of fire.  Sadly, there are no photographs of B.E.2's operating from RAF Molesworth during the war that I have been able to locate.

Unattributed photo of a wartime Avro B.E.2c, a reconnaissance plane and from the Great War, with ‘V” undercarriage, streamlined engine cowling, and the upper wing cut-out for the tail gunner to improve field of fire. Sadly, there are no photographs of B.E.2’s operating from RAF Molesworth during the war that I have been able to locate.

Despite the hopes of a generation, the horror of World War was to be experienced once again.  As the United Kingdom found itself drawn into the conflict with the German invasion of Poland in 1939, it was not long before the Air Ministry decided to recommission the abandoned aerodrome at Molesworth. Through 1940, the runways were laid and the base infrastructure constructed to support bombers. The Royal Australian Air Force flew Vickers Wellington IVs, a medium bomber, from Molesworth from November 1941 until January of 1942 under the Royal Australian Air Force’s No. 460 Squadron.  After the Australians, the RAF’s No. 159 Squadron occupied the airfied for a short time, but did not conduct flight operations from Molesworth.

It was the arrival of the U.S. Army Air Forces after America’s entry into the war that would transform Molesworth into one of the major bomber bases in England.  Upgraded to a Class ‘A’ Airfield intended for use by the “heavies” – the four-engine bombers that would take the strategic bombing campaign to occupied Europe and Germany – Molesworth was radically altered and underwent major upgrades.

The first American tenants at RAF Molesworth were the 15th Bombardment Squadron, flying the Douglas A-20 Havoc/Boston III light bomber. It was from Molesworth on 4 July 1942 that six aircraft from the 15th Bombardment Squadron joined a flight of RAF bombers to conduct a low-level attack against Luftwaffe airfields in the occupied Netherlands – the first U.S. Army Air Force bombers to attack mainland Europe. The date chosen was auspicious for President Roosevelt wanted to begin the strategic bombing campaign against Germany on the 4th of July. None of the four-engine “heavies” at the time were ready though, so the President’s intent was met with the light bombers launched from Molesworth. Sadly, three aircraft on the combined mission did not return from the bombing raid, two were A-20s from the 15th Bombardment Squadron.  One of the four that survived was pictured at a later date, amazingly in color:

This Douglas A-20C HAVOC/BOSTON III, serial number AL672, was flown on the 4 July 1942 low-level attack against Luftwaffe positions in the Netherlands at the time part of the 15th Bombardment Squadron (light).  This photograph was taken later in the war when AL672 was flying as a staff communications aircraft for the 8th USAAF out of RAF Bovingdon.  Photograph from the U.S. Army Air Forces via the National Arcives.  Thanks to Roger Freeman: "The Mighty Eighth, the Colour Record" 1991.
This Douglas A-20C HAVOC/BOSTON III, serial number AL672, was flown on the 4 July 1942 low-level attack against Luftwaffe positions in the Netherlands at the time part of the 15th Bombardment Squadron (light). This photograph was taken later in the war when AL672 was flying as a staff communications aircraft for the 8th USAAF out of RAF Bovingdon. Photograph from the U.S. Army Air Forces via the National Arcives. Thanks to Roger Freeman: “The Mighty Eighth, the Colour Record” 1991.

The 15th Bombardment Squadron departed RAF Molesworth for operations in North Africa under the 12th Air Force in September 1942.  It was at this time that the B-17 Flying Fortresses began arriving at RAF Molesworth, the four squadrons that would eventually comrpise the 303rd Bombardement Group (Heavy) which would fly from Molesworth until the end of the war.  The 303rd Bombardment Group, consisting of the 358th, 359th, 360th and 427th Bombardment Squadrons, was destined to become one of the legendary units of the Second World War under the 8th Air Force.  The first mission by the 303rd Bomb Group was flown on 17 November 1942, targeting military targets in occupied France.  On 27  January 1943, the 303rd began flying missions against Germany, taking part in the 8th Air Force’s first bombing mission against Germany proper – the U-boat facilities at Wilhelmshaven.

For the next two and a half years the 303rd would fly missions deep into German territory: to the ball-bearing factories at Schweinfurt, against factories and shipyards, against rail-yards and distribution centers for the Wehrmacht.  During the D-day invasion of Normandy, the 303rd bombed the Pas de Calais and then later supported the breakout from St. Lo in July 1944.  It supported the army in the Battle of the Bulge and in the crossing of the Rhine in March 1945.  On 25 April 1945, the 303rd flew its last mission from RAF Molesworth attacking the German armaments factory complex at Pilsen.

The RAF Molesworth control tower in April 1944.  On the taxiway is a B-17G, tail number 42-97284 "Ain't Misbehavin" - she would fly a total of 48 combat missions during the war.  The "Triangle-C" designator on the verticle stabilizer was the RAF Molesworth designator.  Photograph by Mr. Milton "Chic" Cantor, the photographer of the 303rd BG(H), with thanks to the 303rd "Hell's Angels" historical society.
The RAF Molesworth control tower in April 1944. On the taxiway is a B-17G, tail number 42-97284 “Ain’t Misbehavin” – she would fly a total of 48 combat missions during the war. The “Triangle-C” marking on the verticle stabilizer was the RAF Molesworth designator. The Class A Airfield imporvements: three converging airstrips with a concrete runway of at least 6,000 feet are visible in the distance. Photograph by Mr. Milton “Chic” Cantor, the photographer of the 303rd BG(H), with thanks to the 303rd “Hell’s Angels” historical society.

The 303rd Bomb Group (Heavy) flew a total of 364 missions from RAF Molesworth, comprising 10,271 sorties.  The bombers shot down a confirmed 378 aircraft with 104 additional aircraft as probables.  817 men from the 303rd were killed in action and 754 become prisioners of war.  After the war, the 303rd Bomb Group (Heavy) departed Molesworth for the United States via North Africa.

22 May 1944: 303rd B-17s on a bombing mission to Kiel, Germany taken at 25,000 feet.  Photo from the Peter M. Curry Collection.

22 May 1944: 303rd B-17s on a bombing mission to Kiel, Germany taken at 25,000 feet. Photo from the Peter M. Curry Collection.

B-17s from the 303rd flying through intense anti-aircraft fire.  Photo by Joseph Sassone with caption: "Flak so thick you could almost taxi around it."

B-17s from the 303rd flying through intense anti-aircraft fire. Photo by Joseph Sassone with caption: “Flak so thick you could almost taxi around it.”

The airfield was returned to the Royal Air Force in July 1945 where it was used for jet trainers and Gloster Meteor IIIs were operated from Molesworth for a short period.  On 10 October 1946 the training unit left and the airfield was placed in ‘care and maintenance’.

In 1951, the U.S. Air Force returned to RAF Molesworth, hosting the 582nd Air Resupply Group.  The runways, taxiways and hardstands were all improved and the airfield became a critical logistics airbase for the Cold War.  The 582nd provided air support – paratroop airdrops and resupply – to the U.S. Army’s 10th Special Forces Group which was stationed in Bad Tolz, Germany.  The 582nd Air Resupply Group flew a variety of aircraft from Molesworth, from B-29s to C-119 Flying Boxcars and HU-16 Albatrosses. At the time, the 582nd was treated as a normal resupply group; however, its support to Army Special Forces, which were trained to infiltrate the Iron Curtain if needed, must be wondered at.

On 25 October 1956, the 582nd was reorganized and called the 42nd Troop Carrier Squadron Medium (Special). They flew HU-16s Albatrosses, C-47 Dakotas, C-119 Flying Boxcars, and C-54 Skymasters from RAF Molesworth until 3 May 1957 when the aircraft moved to RAF Alconbury. However the squadron had a short life at Alconbury and was inactivated on 8 December 1957. The C-54s and C-47s were transferred to Rhein-Main AB, Germany.  The C-119s were sent to the 322nd Air Division at Evreux-Fauville AB, France.  Of personal note, my grandfather was a C-119 pilot in the 322nd Air Division in Evreux-Fauville AB France at the time, a young U.S. Air Force lieutenant.

25 October 1955: HU-16 Albatross of the 582nd Air Resupply Group at RAF Molesworth. This image or file is a work of a U.S. Air Force Airman or employee, taken or made as part of that person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image or file is in the public domain.

25 October 1955: HU-16 Albatross of the 582nd Air Resupply Group at RAF Molesworth. This image or file is a work of a U.S. Air Force Airman or employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image or file is in the public domain.

RAF Molesworth went into a maintenance status for the next twenty years, finally being deactivated officially in 1973.  Only marginal maintenance was performed at Molesworth by U.S. Air Force personnel stationed a few miles away at RAF Alconbury.   That changed in June 1980 when RAF Molesworth was chosen to house nuclear weapons – the BGM-109G Ground Launched Cruise Missiles or GLCMs – under the 303rd Tactical Missile Wing.  The Ministry of Defence now worked on building the massive GLCM bunkers that have become a hallmark of the west Cambridgeshire countryside.  All the World War II runways, taxiways and hardstands were removed.  Only three large hangers from the World War II period remained. Old infrastructure from the 1950s was demolished and new buildings constructed.  By December 1986, the 303rd Tactical Missile Wing was activated but when the United States and the Soviet Union signed the INF Treaty in 1987, all nuclear weapons were removed from RAF Molesworth by October 1988.  In January 1989 the 303rd Tactical Missile Wing was deactivated.

1989: the GAMA (GLCM Alert and Maintenance Area) at RAF Molesworth is completed for the housing of short-range nuclear weapons.

1989: the GAMA (GLCM Alert and Maintenance Area) at RAF Molesworth is completed for the housing of short-range nuclear weapons. This image or file is a work of a U.S. Air Force AIrman or employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties.  As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image or file is in the public domain.

During the 1980s, regular protests occured at Molesworth due to the stationing of nuclear GLCMs at the facility – part of the peace camp can still be seen outside the main gates of RAF Molesworth. This was part of the European-wide effort to oppose NATO’s basing of tactical nuclear cruise missiles in Europe which was seen at the time as a dramatic escalation in the final years of the Cold War. It was only the removal of the cruise missiles that led to the end of the protests.

In 1990, the Royal Air Force announced that RAF Molesworth would house the U.S. European Command’s Joint Analysis Centre, which still operates at the base today, still controlled by the U.S. Air Force.

For more information on the 303rd Bombardment Group:

The 303rd Bomb Group (Heavy), the Hell’s Angels maintains an indepth and fascinating webpage: http://www.303rdbg.com where many more photos, additional details and stories on the brave men who flew from RAF Molesworth can be read and shared.

For an interesting article on the GLCM facility at RAF Molesworth:

Read this article: http://www.heritagedaily.com/2014/01/raf-molesworths-ground-launched-cruise-missiles-25-years-on/100785 from the Heritage Daily by Cindy Eccles.