Lancaster W4861

This report is published in the book Huzaren van de nacht (Hussars of the night) part 1 by the dutch author Coen Cornelissen, ISBN 90-6693-100-0.

Dortmund again:

After a pause of 9 days the allied supreme command planned a superb attack again. 
At May 24, 1943 Dortmund was instructed as target for 826 bombers. Such a large air force was not arranged since the “1000 Bomber raids” of summer 1942. Commander Sir Arthur (Bomber) Harris had only one target: Dortmund had to be destroyed completely.

The bombardment was claimed by the British as succesful: almost 2000 buildings were destroyed and various factories were hit directly, especially Hoesch Stahlwerke. This time 599 people died, 25 were missed and 1275 persons were wounded.
A mixture of high-explosive and incendiary bombs worked destructive with deadly exactitude. British rod-incendiaries produced temperatures of 2000 degrees Celsius and during WW2 eighty million of them landed on German territory. They caused enormous fire-storms, which destryed everything, people also……….
Silent witnesses of the catastrophe were found in shelters and under rubble heaps of collapsed houses.

We go out with a man from Yorkshire:

In the county of Lincolnshire No. 12 RAF Squadron was based at airport Wickenby. Outside the hangars Lancasters were ready for action, just like dozens of other airfields in England. They were proved from head to foot. One of them was the Avro Lancaster Mark I W4861 PH-M. The bomber was a real “veteran”, because it had already 90 flight missions and it “survived” nothing less than 
3 crews: men who had done their duty and for whom their task was finished. Meanwhile the Lancaster had his 4th crew, but nevertheless the massive aircraft was in the pink of health.
We shall introduce you to the crew:

Pilot F/O William N. Mounsey, age 27
Navigator P/O William B. Whitaker, age 22
Air Bomber Sgt. Albert Dews, survived age 22
Wire Operator Sgt. Robert S. Miller, age 19
Flight Engineer Sgt. Walter B. Jowett, survived age 23
Upper Gunner Sgt. Kenneth G. Legg, age 23
Tail Gunner Sgt. Harry Pierpoint, age 22 coming from Alsager in Cheshire.

This night we go out with a man from Yorkshire, flight engineer Walter Jowett. We follow up his story:

All crewmembers had to report themselves for the briefing and for instructions about the target: our target was Dortmund. After the briefing nobody was allowed to leave the camp, for reasons of security. At the outside the provisioning flew out hurried: bombs were rigged and fuel was replenished till more than 2000 gallons. The engines were checked.The pilot and the flight engineer flew with the plane a few trial rounds and gave all information to the ground staff. In our case the fuel supply appeared not to act adequately .

In the evening the crewmembers were brought to the different planes. They all were boarding with parachutes and coffeepots, as they had to drink something before flying.
The engines were ready to start and the meters show RPM’s (revs per minute). The green warning lamp shows us permission to go to the runway, to start and to take off. Pilot and flight engineer are working together and they do a little prayer, that the enormous weight of the heavy load will be controlled……… 
We hope for the best….. If the engines should fail now it should be end of exercise. 
Thanks God, we are climbing and have a sight of relieve. 
We make course for Lincoln and are climbing continually,till we reach the desired flight level of 20.000 feet for Germany. Our navigator kept us us informed about our position and also about the broadcast of Radio Sharks.
Above the sea in the direction of Holland, we have a good sight, we can look till Dortmund ! As further we fly we can see burning Lancasters going down, fortunately it is not our plane !
We had to approach according a set compass direction to avoid a collision with our colleagues. Our Air Bomber Dews makes preparations to drop the bombs downwards. The pilot gave his permission and there they go, to the poor, old Dortmund. We are thinking of London and our other cities who suffered so much. After a certain period of time the air bomber handles a camera to shoot pictures before returning to the airbase.”

Petrified with fright:

It seams the Lancaster crew finished their job en they are going homewards. Walter Jowett continues his story:

Suddenly we were surrounded by a dazzling light. A German floodlight on the ground succeeded in catching us. We knew that anti aircraft shells would follow within some seconds ! Our pilot pushed the steering stick downwards and we were going down in a dangerous nosedive, through which we lost the floodlight. 
After a few minutes we could breath again, I waited for instructions to climb again, but nothing was happening and we increasingly were falling down ! I watched the pilot, who sat petrified in his chair. There was no time to lose. We lost about 4000 feet,so I pulled the steering stick towards me with my arms over the pilots shoulder.When after a minute or so the plane was climbing again, the pilot showed interest and asked for full speed. Of course I did so, but this resulted in five feet long engine exhaust flames and the enemy could observe the miles away. We were lucky: no contact was made. The pilot did not say a word about this incident.
One hour passed without problems, I controlled the fuel. I leaned forward to the dashboard, looked downwards and unbelievable but true, I saw a German Messerschmitt Bf.110 under our plane flying from port-side to starboard. I cried through intercom to everyone and hoped the pilot would intervene and would instruct the front gunner.

Walter Jowett had seen right. Flying Officer August Geiger, brand new decorated with the Ritterkreuz (the Knights Cross) had approached unseen. Combat leader Lt. Richard Harig guided him to the home flyer and just before half past two at a height of 6000 feet Geiger pushed the fire-buttons: “Pauke-Pauke”. 
Jowett continues his story:

I was disappointed. Within a few seconds a shower of 20 mm shells perforated the 550 Gallon fuel tank. I knew we had only a few seconds to abandon the plane, to go downstairs and to pull the escape-hatch away. To my surprise air bomber (Albert Dews) was disabled. I thought he was wounded or dead, pulled him to the other side and at that same moment he got up. The iron bottom plate had to be removed and thrown outside, so we could jump.I pointed downwards and when I went upstairs, navigator (P/O Whitaker) ordered the other crew members to jump and to show the escape route. I put on my parachute.

The air was very hot, so I jumped through the escape hatch. When I was falling outside, I felt a strong jerk and I fainted……..The fresh air woke me up again and at first I thought of the bike, which I had borrowed the previous evening and which I had not brought back ! My next problem was to find out if I would land in Holland or in Germany. A little bit later I made a perfect landing between the cows. The bullets of the burning wreckage were flying everywhere. Nobody was to be seen, so I ran away and after about one and a half kilometer I could hide myself in the vegetation. Then I fell asleep.
In the morning I was woken by passing chattering children. They did not talk German, so everything was okay. I came to a house and the people who lived there let me in and gave me some food. Unfortunately we could not talk to each other.”

The air bomber Albert Dews (age 22) succeeded also to leave the burning plane. The Briton landed near the farm of Berend Jan Vosman, approximately where nowadys the parking place of the AC-Restaurant at the A1- highway is situated. The parachute was hidden in a ditch and Vosman took the affected Englishmen into his house. There he could recuperate a little bit and he got some eggs and real surrogate coffee served. Dews was almost made sick to death ! The milk which subsequently was offered to him, tasted much better. Slowly but surely the air bomber came back to breath.

The Lancaster crashed a few hundred meters additional in the hamlet of Groenland near Markelo. The remaining five crewmembers did not survive. They were found lifeless at the crash location( and buried in Markelo). A little bit later the first Germans and the police arrived. Exactly to the standard procedure the following message arrived in Almelo next morning at 10.30 A.M.:

“ At 10.30 A.M. the following alarm message was send by M.P. Commander T. of Markelo:
On behalf of the Commander of Military Police in Markelo, the tracing and arrest of two English airmen is desired. They belong to an English plane, that crashed in the night of 23 to 24 May 1943 at about 1.30 a.m. in the community of Markelo”.
Signed by G.

The over-diligent policemen of Markelo did not let the grass grow. Jowett can state that:

While I walked through a small village, where little was seen, I asked myself with whom I could get contact to return to England again. I walked up a hill with fields and after hardly one kilometre I heard a voice behind me: “For you my friend the war is over!” When I was looking backwards I saw a Dutch policeman, who pointed a pistol at me. He quietly was sneaked to me by bike, so I was totally surprised. He took me with him to his house and called the Luftwaffe……. After different stopovers I came into a prisoner of war camp in Eastern-Prussia.”

Jowett was arrested on the Bergweg at Markelo. Albert Dews stayed quietly in the comfortable living room of the Vosman family and rather soon the police arrived to arrest the airman. Dews left so hastily, that his mica “Escapebox” was left. The box was saved for many years by daughter Marie. A remarkable souvenir of a memorable night. Dews was locked up in camp Heydekrug, while Jowett was taken to Stalag 357 at Kopernikus.

The concerning locations could be found back with help of Jowett and Dews. Jowett even recognised the house of the fanatical policeman. It turned out to be the house which in that time was inhabited by police-commander Groeneweg.

In March 1992 Jowett and Dews visited the crash location and also the Bergweg, the house of Groeneweg and the farm of Berend Vosman. In the meantime the farmer was 88 years old , but he could recapture the events well. In 1998 Jowett came back again, the war would not let him go at his age of 77 years. And again he layed flowers at the graves of his fallen mates. The graves are well maintained by Mrs. Gerry Sligman-Roosdom. She is one of many volunteers who adopted Commonwealth War Graves as a sign of appreciation for the sacrifice of these men for our freedom.

All fallen airmen, who died in Markelo, were casualties of the German Nightfightergroup III./NJG 1, which was based at Fliegerhorst Twente.