- The original Nine-O-Nine was a decorated veteran of the air war over Europe.
- The second plane served as a water bomber and nuclear test target.
- The restored “Nine-O-Nine” crashed in 1987 and was subject to an extensive rebuilding.
On this day in 1945, both Great Britain and the United States celebrate Victory in Europe Day. Cities in both nations, as well as formerly occupied cities in Western Europe, put out flags and banners, rejoicing in the defeat of the Nazi war machine.
Propaganda can be an effective and deadly tool for true believers. We found this out early in our war against radical Islamists and something that Israel is all too familiar with.
We are all well aware of what is said to await the martyrs of Islam, the homicide bombers who blow up innocents and themselves – all because they have been convinced of a heavenly reward for doing so.
For us Americans it began on October 23, 1983, when a suicide bomber drove a truck, packed with explosives into the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 241 military personnel.
So brainwashed are these mind-numbed Islamists that they will do virtually anything they are told. They have been convinced that they must martyr themselves to further the cause. But now they have gone beyond the point of just individualized propaganda and have taken to the masses – ramping up the insanity further – if that’s possible.
In Islamabad Pakistan, a woman, in full Burkha, took to a microphone to make a public pronouncement, which has since gone viral. The woman, identified as Dr Umme-e-Muhammad, told all that the Christians and Jews (she forgot the Hindus) were busy plotting against Muslims.
It was known, for good reason, as the Death Railway. In 1942, after the fall of Singapore, the Japanese army ordered the construction of a jungle railroad from Bangkok to Rangoon to support its assault on India.
Almost 260 miles of track were built by a forced labor workforce consisting of 250,000 local men and 60,000 Allied prisoners of war, whose treatment at the hands of the Japanese was brutal. More than 16,000 prisoners of war and an estimated 90,000 Asian laborers died.
As one of the last remaining survivors, 99-year-old Reg Twigg wrote a remarkable personal testimony of his three years of hell on the River Kwai. Sadly, the former private in the Leicestershire Regiment died last week and never lived to see it published.
The Mail on Sunday published an extract from his compelling and often harrowing account of life on the Burma Railway.
They called him the Silver Bullet. Where did the name come from? His uniform shone with polished leather and shiny metal buttons. He would kill without a second thought. He was Korean and he strutted the camp with all the megalomania that war and prison camps bring out in some people.
I knew the score. Keep your head up. Avoid eye contact. Don’t get yourself noticed. The Bullet couldn’t have been taller than 4ft 10in and I suppose it rankled to look up into prisoners’ faces – watching for a sign of defiance.
And then he found one, a massive, bearded Sherwood Forester. The Bullet smashed his fist into his nose. Then I watched the Sherwood Forester draw his right fist back and hammer it into the Korean’s face. The guard fell to the dust.
The Forester had just signed his own death warrant. He knew it. We all knew it. He stood to attention staring ahead. It was quite magnificent in its way. He said in that one perfectly aimed punch: ‘How’s that for bushido [warrior spirit], you yellow bastard?’
The rest of us stood, backs straight, heads up, as though a man was not being beaten to death at our feet. We all knew the score. A man was going to die because he’d loosened a few Korean teeth. If we’d intervened, we’d all have died. That was how the system worked.
Out there, somewhere to the west, was a world I once knew. My dad would be in the City Arms, sipping warm Ansells and wondering why I hadn’t written.
Putting a brave face on it counted for nothing now. Nobody knew where we were: there’s something appallingly lonely about that.
I’d been taken prisoner on the morning of February 15, 1942. A grim-faced officer told me: ‘It’s all over, Twigg. We’re surrendering. Remain at your post and don’t let anyone take or destroy any military property.’
That sums up the double-think of the British Army. Who else would take military property but the Japanese Imperial Army? I took armfuls of rifles and dumped them in the sea. General Arthur Percival signed the surrender papers that same night.
We were herded into a central square and thousands of us were marched to Changi prison, the route lined by civilians. The mightiest empire in the world had gone not with a bang, but a whimper.
After seven months, we were packed, standing room only, into boiling, stinking cattle trucks and taken up-country for three days and nights, then marched through the jungle at riflepoint.
Then up-river in rickety bamboo boats to Konyo camp, and an A-framed hut made of bamboo and rattan. There were no chairs or cupboards, just hard bamboo beds raised from the damp earth floor.
The Japs called ‘tenko’, or roll call, for a pep talk from one of the most vicious of the ‘little yellow bastards’ I was ever to meet.
He stood 5ft tall, his face lean and dark, his eyes expressionless.
He told us, in broken English, that his name was Lieutenant Usuki. To us he became the Konyo Kid.
Our task, he told us, was to clear the jungle and prepare the ground for a railway.
‘All will work,’ he spat as he strutted. ‘Including officers.’
A polite voice said: ‘May I remind the camp commander that under the Geneva Convention, officers do not have to work . . . and we will not do so.’ I had to admire him.
The Kid’s eyes narrowed. Bushido does not tolerate loss of face. He screamed until the veins stood out on his forehead.
Then came a slap. A punch followed, then the Kid called in the heavies. Rifle butts thudded into stomach, jaw and temple. Boots crashed into the officer’s prone body.
We all felt like cheering when he stood to attention again, bleeding and trembling with shock, but soldier still.
The Kid stepped back and screamed for the parade to move. Time to work.
I had no idea about how to build a railway and neither, it seemed, did the Japanese. We were given blunt axes to clear thickets of bamboo, each made of at least a dozen stems about 14 inches in diameter. The dull blades bounced off as if the bamboo was made of iron. We had hoes to break up the ground and shovels to move the soil. Below the topsoil, solid roots. The yellow clay was unyielding and soul-destroying.
We dragged the tangle of weeds away in woven baskets and hauled at rocks with our bare hands, the skin of our fingers cut to ribbons. We worked in silence because the Japs allowed no talking.
Rest periods and water were strictly limited: calluses and blisters simply had to be tolerated. A piece of bamboo, ten to fifteen feet long, is bloody heavy. We had to carry them two at a time to clear the jungle.
First you try one under each arm. That doesn’t work. So you lay them across your shoulders like a yoke, too painful, so you try something else, carrying them like a baby across your chest.
I started to carry just one, but a Jap screamed at me and jabbed his two fingers into my eyes. I picked up the bamboo and dashed back for another one. I never made that mistake again.
The guards watched us constantly. If we weren’t ‘speedo’ enough, they’d slap us around the face: three, four, five times. Show defiance and the slaps become punches, a little yellow bastard snarling gibberish in your face. Then the boots go in. You curl up on the ground. The rifle butts slam into your head and if you’re lucky, you’ll pass out. If not, it’s back to work.
By the end of the first week at Konyo, I’d come to a decision: escape was impossible, but I was going to survive. Darwinists call it the survival of the fittest, I’d call it survival of the most selfish bastards imaginable.
I began to focus on the jungle as a fascinating new friend. The floor was alive. Frogs the size of guinea pigs struck up their interminable noise along the river bank as soon as night fell. Centipedes were six inches long. I never counted the types of snake: some were poisonous, especially the ones with bright colors, and you learned to watch out for them and keep away.
The brown, sluggish river drew everybody like a magnet. We’d soak in it after a gruelling day’s work. We drank it, boiling it at first when we had the opportunity but afterwards not giving a damn. We bathed in it, peed in it, relaxed in it and cooked our rice with it. We lived alongside it, built bridges across it. And buried our dead along its banks.
Like most, I wore a ‘Jap-happy’ loincloth and became all but indistinguishable from the locals. My hair was crawling with lice and my skin had tanned to the color of old leather. I had no choice but to go barefoot. It hurt like hell at first, but my soles hardened.
Weeks passed. We’d cleared a swathe through the jungle and levelled the ground. The rocks now had to be shattered to make an embankment. We loaded our baskets with stones, struggled up the slope barefoot and threw them on the pile. Then we had to flatten the top and prepare it for sleepers and track.
I stole to stay alive. There was a metal skip behind the Jap cookhouse full of dried fish. At night, with the Japs relaxing, I had the place to myself. I lifted the rough matting over the top and grabbed two pieces of fish, shoving them down my Jap-happy.
I retraced my steps, strolling slowly as if I was still taking the night air. Back in the hut, I lay down on my bed. I grinned and ferreted in my loincloth, hauling out the fish.
The pace of work became impossible. Men who couldn’t stand for tenko sat on their bamboo beds. You knew by their eyes that they’d got nothing left.
They were walking skeletons. Worked-out wrecks, often younger than me, worked to death by the sheer, blind inhumanity of the Japanese. We were slaves. With no rights, no honor, no feelings. It’s terrifying, at first, to watch a man die. But you get used to anything.
The Jap engineers didn’t seem to know what they were doing.
In early 1943, I had proof of just how useless they were.
An ancient locomotive was tentatively trying out a new section of timber viaduct. The driver and his mate hung out of the cab as they inched forward.
As we watched, there was a series of loud cracks. The upper portion lurched to one side and the two men leapt from the cab, shrieking before the locomotive twirled down almost in slow motion into the chasm.
As the years rolled on we were moved on from camp to camp. Hauling sleepers into position at Tarso, I found my chin itching, and my neck and cheeks.
Too much hair in the jungle is the last thing you need.
I’d long ago used up the blades in my safety razor, so I improvised.
I stole an old knife from the cookhouse and sharpened the blade on the whetstone of a leather belt or smooth stones alongside the track.
I boiled some water and, using my last bit of carbolic, scraped the dinner knife down my cheek. I had no mirror and it hurt a lot, but it worked. And it got noticed.
‘Shave me, will you?’ somebody asked. And so I became the Barber of Tarso. It filled my time, gave me a purpose.
It was at Rin Tin that we first saw signs that something was going wrong for the Japs. Lying on my bamboo at night, I began to hear the drone of distant aircraft.
Next day we were marched up-country through the steaming jungle to what I can only describe as a train wreck. But this was no accident.
There were bomb craters everywhere – huge mounds of earth and rock piled up, with trees shattered to matchwood. It took us two days to drag it all away and repair the track.
It was payback time for the Japs, who had bayoneted nurses in hospitals and tortured so many of us to death on the Railway.
We travelled north-east, away from the camps and the River Kwai into the open country, with paddy fields and terraces of cultivated land, where we were put to work digging trenches.
We didn’t know it at the time, but it was August 14, 1945. I saw a Japanese army unit come through in single file, shoulders down, their faces worn with the exhaustion of defeat. I’d seen it before – on our own faces after Singapore.
The next day we’d finished breakfast when we heard a plane droning out of the morning, but there were no bombs.
Instead thousands of leaflets were fluttering down. ‘The Japanese have surrendered,’ they read. ‘You are now free men and we will get in touch with you as soon as possible.’
Attribution: Reg Twigg
By day he ordered the deaths of thousands of people – but at home he was a loving father and husband who enjoyed playing games with his children.
These are the two faces of Rudolf Hoess, the ruthless commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland during World War II as remembered by the Polish maid who once worked in his family’s house.
Her memories of life in the Hoess home are revealed in a new book which has given a chilling insight into the family lives of Nazi officers at the infamous prison camp whose day jobs involved mass murder.
‘The Private Life of the SS in Auschwitz’ by historian Piotr Setkiewicz attempts to give a human face to inhumane people in those hours when they were off duty in one of the world’s most horrific places.
The testimony about the killers is unique because it comes from the Polish maids assigned to keep their houses and witnessed at first hand their interaction with their families on a day to day basis.
Hoess, who was hanged after the war at Auschwitz by the Polish authorities for overseeing the extermination of at least 1.2 million people and the enslavement of at least that number, was obsessively kind to animals and his five children.
He would have no moral qualms about ordering the gassing of child inmates of his camp, but in his garden he would play hide-and-seek with his five children and recited poetry to them.
The book contains the memories of Polish maids who once served the SS officers at Auschwitz. Here Hoess (center) socializes with (left) Dr Josef Mengele and (right) Josef Kramer (Commandant of Birkenau concentration camp)
Maid Janina Szczurek, 32, said; ‘He tucked his children into bed every night and he kissed his wife each morning. He wrote poems about the ‘beauty of Auschwitz.’
‘On one occasion, the children came to me and asked me to sew bands with signs for them, just like the ones worn by the prisoners. I was not aware of what the consequences would be from this.
‘Klaus put a ‘capo [trusty]’ band on his sleeve, and the other children had the colored triangle sewn to their clothing.
‘The happy children, running around the garden, met their father, who noticed the signs and took them into the house. I don’t know what happened but he was not pleased.’
Included among the stories are those of Hoess’s deputy Karl Fritsch and Gerhard Palitzsch who personally killed hundreds of prisoners at the Wall of Death – the execution site where inmates were murdered.
The main gate of Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, which was liberated by the Russians, in January 1945. The sign over the gate reads: ‘Arbeit macht frei’ (Work Sets You Free)
Palitzsch illustrates perfectly the duality of the lives of the SS at Auschwitz.
At the wall of death he beat prisoners and tormented them before they were killed – while off duty, he was obsessed with being a ‘good father’ to his children and made them tea and bread.
A portrait of him was supplied by Helena Klysowa, his 19-year-old Polish maid, who testifed to authorities after the war that the Palitzch family ‘lived quietly and they loved each other. They didn’t receive guests, they didn’t organize drinking parties.
‘I arrived each day at 8.00 am. I looked after the children. I would go on walks with the girl. When Palitzsch was at home, I could not speak to the prisoners who worked in the house or garden.
‘The prisoners themselves warned me against this. They were afraid that he would write down their number and they would die in the camp.
‘I spoke to them anyway and found that the terror of the camp was Palitzsch. I could not believe it. At home, he was a wonderful man, so kind and loving to his children who he gave tea and bread to. He loved his children madly.’
Palitzsch died in 1944 after being transferred to the Russian front.
SS officer Wolfgang Guessgen, who took turns at ‘the ramp’ selecting those Jews who were to be gassed upon arrival and those who were to be allowed to live as slave laborers, was a cuckolded man whose wife cheated on him at every turn according to the book. He rewarded her with beatings.
Danuta Rzempiel, who was 16 when she worked at his home on the camp periphery, said; ‘Mrs. Guessgen was not a faithful wife.
‘When he went away somewhere,various SS men would appear at the house, or a trusty prisoner from the locksmith shop who won her favor.
‘She was not embarrassed by my presence at all and would lead her guests straight to her bedroom.
‘It would happen that Guessgen, upon returning home, would find one of these guests. Then he would order me to go do the laundry or to the basement, and when I returned, the guest would not be in the house.
‘Mrs Guessgen was often covered in bruises, so I guessed that it was Mr Guessgen.
‘This didn’t seen to dissuade her, and she exploited every opportunity. It got to the point that Guessgen shot a certain SS man, and as punishment, he was transferred to Oranienburg, and shortly after from there to the front.’
Other stories feature the domestic lives of doctors who carried out selection processes of Jews and who performed horrific experiments, as well as the day-to-day lives of camp guards and lower SS ranks.
‘The purpose of the book is to try and show the lives of SS men objectively,’ Mr Setkiewicz told local media.
‘Their image has forever been written in dark colours and in the pursuit of objective truth I wanted to view the subject unemotionally,’ he said.
Attribution: Allan Hall, Berlin
A Holocaust survivor returned an American flag to the family of a soldier who had given him the gift, the sole memento from his war-torn childhood that he kept for 67 years.
Stephan Ross, now 81, was ten years old when U.S. serviceman Steve Sattler came across him, emaciated and terrified at the Dachau concentration camp in Germany.
After handing over his rations to the boy during the 1945 liberation, Sattler then gave the ten-year-old his handkerchief decorated with the Stars and Stripes.
On Veteran’s Day this Sunday, Mr Ross had the opportunity for the first time to thank the family of the man who rescued him.
He hugged the children and grandchildren of Mr Sattler during the emotional meeting at the State House in Boston. Mr Ross wore a striped jacket and hat, like the camp uniform, along with his identification number.
The 81-year-old gave Mr Sattler’s family a boxed flag, saying: ‘God Bless, America’.
After the War, Steve Sattler had returned to live quietly on his farm in Unionville, Michigan, according to the Boston Globe. The father-of-six and Purple Heart recipient passed away in 1986 at the age of 70.
Mr Ross, who now lives in Newton, Massachusetts, had spent the War in ten different concentration camps.
Ever since being liberated by the Allies on April 29, 1945, Mr Ross had always wondered what had happened to the soldier who had shown him kindness.
The concentration camp at Dachau, near Munich in Germany, was founded in 1933 by Nazi commander Heinrich Himmler.
The first prisoners were mainly political opponents of the Nazi regime along with Gypsies and homosexuals.
The camp was expanded under horrific working conditions by prisoners – and operated until the fall of the fascist regime in 1945. Thousands of prisoners were worked to death.
With the increased persecution of the Jews, the number of prisoners at the camp increased in the late Thirties.
It was the original model for all concentration camps – divided into barracks, workshops and areas where medical experiments took place and the crematorium. However it is believed that rather than gas chambers, the Nazis used this area as a firing range and gallows for most prisoners.
Those who were deemed too sick or old to work were sent to Hartheim in Austria where they faced the gas chambers. Thousands of prisoners from Dachau died in this way.
Hundreds of prisoners died or were left disabled during horrific medical experiments at Dachau which included malaria, hypothermia and tuberculosis trials, new medications and methods to stop excessive bleeding.
More than 188,000 prisoners passed through the heavy gates of Dachau in its 12-year history. Although 28,000 were known to have died, there were many, many more victims who have never been accounted for.
The octogenarian, who came to the U.S. as an orphan in 1948, even went on TV show Unsolved Mysteries in the hope of finding the man.
In August this year, he received a phone call from a woman named Brenda Clark – Mr Sattler’s grand-daughter – who said Mr Ross’s story resembled one she had been told.
Mr Sattler had spoken little about his time during the liberation of Dachau.
However he did once tell his daughter Gwen Allanson that he had given food and ‘something else’ to a young boy at the German concentration camp.
Mr Sattler did not say what he had given the boy, only that he ‘hoped it helped him’.
After the families compared details of Mr Sattler’s service with Mr Ross’s memories, the personal histories matched up.
Mr Ross, a retired psychologist, told the Globe: ‘I recalled thinking: ”If this is true, there is some God in this world.”’
He shared his stories of being held in a Nazi prison camp which left him starved and beaten within an inch of his life.
Mr Ross lost his entire family in the Holocaust apart from one brother.
Sattler was a member of the 191st Tank Battalion who were part of the troops who liberated Dachau, about ten miles northwest of Munich in southern Germany.
The U.S. forces who breached the gates of Dachau in April, 1945 were faced with thousands of starving prisoners, many near death. The soldiers also came across the gruesome discovery of 30 railroad cars piled high with bodies.
Attribution: Daily Mail
The old man looks relaxed, almost happy chatting with the soldiers. He and most of the other Jewish citizens pictured here in 1939 and 1940, are smiling, seemingly pleased to pose for photographer Hugo Jaeger.
Yet we know, 40 years later, that these people, and thousands of others like them, were in fact prisoners, to be despized as ‘rats’ and ‘parasites’ in Nazi propaganda.
Even more surprising, Jaeger was Hitler’s personal photographer, enjoying unprecedented access to the Third Reich’s upper echelon, traveling with the Fuhrer to his massive rallies and photographing him at intimate parties and during private moments.
Apart from the odd soldier, there is very little German military presense. Instead the series shows the devastation in the landscape of the German invasion of Poland, while revealing very little of the ‘master race’ itself.
Exactly what Jaeger had in mind is of course a matter of guesswork, but from the reactions of the people portrayed in these images in Warsaw and Kutno, there appears to be surprising little hostility between the photographer and his subjects.
The Kutno pictures serve as a unique curiosity. Why, instead of focussing on the glories of Hitler’s third Reich, did a staunch Nazi like Jaeger chose to take pictures of conquered Jews?
In June 1940, all 8,000 of Kutno’s Jews were rounded up and taken to what would be their new home – the grounds of an old sugar factory – where hundreds would die of hunger and Typhus.
Poles and Jews, friends and neighbors, were separated from one another. A Jewish council, the Judenrat, was created and tasked with forcing Jews to obey their German overlords.
A lucky few managed to escape and were sheltered by their Polish friends. Most were not so lucky.
In 1942, as part of Hitler’s ‘final solution’ the Nazis began Operation Reinhardt, the plan to eliminate all of Poland’s Jews. In the spring of 1942 the Kutno Ghetto itself was ‘liquidated.’ The majority of its inhabitants were sent to the Chelmno extermination camp.
The unique set of pictures could have been lost forever were it not for a bottle of brandy. As the allies advanced into Germany in 1945, Jaeger hid his photographs in a leather suitcase.
He was then confronted by a group of American soldiers. Luckily they were distracted by a bottle of Cognac which they opened and shared with the photographer.
Had they searched the case further, and found so many pictures of Hitler, Jaeger would have most likely been arrested on the the spot and tried as a war criminal.
After such a close shave, Jaeger decided to bury the pictures inside 12 glass jars outside Munich. He would periodically return to their burial place to check they were safe.
In 1955, he dug them up and stored them in a bank vault. Ten years later, in 1965, he sold them to Life magazine.
Attribution: Daniel Miller
The mighty drone of 600 bombers filled the night air as they flew the length of eastern England. As planes thundered overhead, people peeped through their blackout curtains to see if they could glimpse what was then one of the largest bombing forces ever assembled.
On board the Lancasters, Stirlings, Halifaxes and Wellingtons were more than 4,000 airmen — and all knew they stood a very good chance of not returning to base the following morning.
Among that awesome mass of metal pounding through the dark sky was a Lancaster bomber with the marking ED427.
As part of 49 Squadron, the bomber and its seven crew had taken off at precisely 21.14 on the evening of April 16, 1943, from Fiskerton airfield five miles east of Lincoln. It was the second time the plane’s crew had flown together, and they were hoping this raid would go as successfully as their bombing of Stuttgart two nights before.
The Lancaster was piloted by Flying Officer Alexander ‘Alec’ Bone, who, at 31, was by far the oldest and most experienced of the crew.
An instructor who had taught many Battle of Britain pilots to fly, Bone was one of the most respected and able pilots in all of Bomber Command. A champion fencer, tall and charming, Bone was what we would today call an alpha male.
The rest of the seven-strong crew — flight engineer Norman Foster, navigator Cyril Yelland, wireless operator Raymond White, bomb aimer Raymond Rooney, air gunner Ronald Cope and air gunner Bruce Watt were aged 19 to 23, and all looked up to Bone.
One of six brothers, his father described him as ‘the pick of the bunch’, and he was well qualified to command of a bomber crew.
As he sat at the controls, Bone’s mind might well have wandered temporarily from the mission to his own recent tragedy. Just four months earlier, he had lost his wife, Menna, 22, to tuberculosis. He had received the news of her illness when stationed in Canada, but by the time he had returned, Menna was already dead and buried.
The planes that night had two targets. Fewer than half the aircraft were heading for various factories in and around Mannheim some 40 miles south of Frankfurt. Bone’s Lancaster, however, was part of the larger element heading more than 200 miles further east to the Czech brewing town of Pilsen, where they were to attack the massive Skoda works that produced armaments for the Nazis.
After a flight of nearly 800 miles, in which Bone successfully outwitted night fighters and dodged numerous flak batteries, ED427 safely arrived over what he presumed was the target at around 1.30am on April 17.
Below was a hellish inferno, and Bone would have felt confident he was dropping his two 1,000lb bombs and one 4,000lb ‘Cookie’ bomb — made of a thin steel casing to carry more explosives, and devastating in its impact — in the right place.
However, unknown to him, the leading Pathfinder aircraft had dropped their flares which indicated the target in the wrong place: they fell on the harmless village of Dobrany five miles to the south-west of Pilsen.
To make matters more tragic, a nearby psychiatric hospital had been mistaken for the Skoda works, and it took the brunt of the raid. According to a German casualty report, some 300 patients were killed, and some 1,000 German soldiers and 250 civilians were killed or wounded.
Unfortunately for the Allies, the Skoda works were untouched, and the entire raid — called Operation Frothblower in recognition of Pilsen’s brewing history — was one of Bomber Command’s biggest failures.
This would of course have been unknown to Bone and his crew, who had dropped their payload and were now bearing west for the five-hour flight home.
They were looking forward to breakfast and some sleep, as well as Easter the following weekend. However, the men of ED427 were never to enjoy another breakfast.
At some point during the flight something went badly wrong, and the Lancaster failed to return. In the squadron’s operations records book, the bald statement was simply typed: ‘Missing without trace.’
Until last week, nearly 70 years after the raid, the fate of ED427 was still a mystery. But now, thanks to an archaeological excavation in Germany, the truth of what happened can finally be told.
The story that emerges from the German soil is a heart-wrenching tale not only of tragedy, but of incompetence and an unforgiveable bureaucratic slip-up which kept the families of the crew in the dark for decades.
A week after the raid, Wing Commander Johnson of 49 Squadron wrote to Bone’s mother, telling her ‘so far we have received no news of any kind, but you can be sure that as soon as any is received, it will be passed to you immediately’.
No concrete news was ever to come. According to Bone’s brother, Arthur ‘Alf’ Bone, 91, their mother suspected the worst. ‘I think she knew he had gone in her mind,’ he says, ‘and I think I did, too.’
Alf was an RAF pilot as well, and heard about his brother when he was about to take a Wellington up in a practice flight. A telegram was delivered to the cockpit a few minutes before take off. ‘For the first time, I felt a panic attack,’ Alf recalls. ‘Alec was so dear to me. Normally I liked the smell of the inside of a Wellington, but on that occasion I just smelled death.’
Alf idolized Alec. The last time he saw him was in Canada in 1941. ‘I was stationed at an airfield called Swift’s Current,’ Alf says. ‘One day Alec flew his two-seater Harvard 120 miles from Moosejaw to pay me a surprise visit.’ Alec told Alf to put on a parachute, and took his brother up in the training aircraft. ‘We did lots of acrobatics,’ Alf remembers. ‘We dived, climbed, looped the loop — you name it. I loved it.’
In October 1943, the family received a letter informing them the Air Council had determined that ‘they must regretfully conclude that he has lost his life’, and that Alec’s death was presumed to have occurred on April 17.
For the rest of her life, Alec’s mother lived in what Alf described as ‘a vacuum’, in which she was never to know what had happened to her son. Officials of every stripe simply told the families of the crew they had no idea what had happened to ED427.
However, it now emerges the RAF did know what had happened to the plane and the bodies of its crew but, disgracefully, the families were never told. In October 1946, Squadron-Leader Philip Laughton-Bramley of the RAF’s Missing Research and Enquiry Unit was investigating the fates of crashed aircraft in the Mannheim area.
His research took him to the village of Laumersheim, 14 miles west of Mannheim, where a former police constable told him that on April 16-17 a ‘four-engined aircraft crashed in flames 200 yards east of the village and exploded on contact with the ground’.
According to the German, the trunk of one body was found, along with the remains of some six or seven men. The body parts were removed, but nobody could remember where they had been taken. Laughton-Bramley was persistent, and continued to hunt.
Eventually, he found two graves in the military section of the Mannheim cemetery, whose inscriptions stated that they contained the bodies of ‘Unknown British flyers shot down in Laumersheim 17.4.43’, and who were buried on 24 April — the same day Wing Commander Johnson had written to Mrs Bone.
One can only imagine the terrifying last moments of ED427. It was almost certainly hit by the flak battery at Frankenthal, five miles from the crash site. Flying at around 200 miles per hour, and at a height of perhaps 10,000 feet, it may well have taken over two minutes to have plummeted to the ground.
Alec Bone, if he had survived the impact of the flak, would have used all his considerable skill to try to keep the plane steady enough to allow the crew to bail out. If anybody could have done it, Bone could. But clearly the flak battery had done its work too well. Death would have been instantaneous as the plane ploughed five metres deep into the soft earth.
On May 15, 1947, Laughton-Bramley filed his report to the Air Ministry in London, in which he concluded that the bodies were the crew of ED427, and that the plane had been shot down by flak. For some inexplicable reason —perhaps simply an oversight — the information was never passed on to the families as it should have been. And so the crew’s poor relatives remained in ignorance.
Light was only shed on the case when, in 2006, military historian Peter Cunliffe found a copy of the report in the Canadian Archives while researching the raid for his book. A Shaky Do, in the file of Pilot Officer Bruce Watt, a Canadian member of ED427’s crew.
Cunliffe made a copy of Laughton-Bramley’s report, and passed it to the German archaeologist Uwe Benkel, who had been investigating the fate of ED427. It jibed with the story told by Peter Menges, now 83, who was a child in the next village when the plane was shot down.
‘Peter saw the plane coming down on fire,’ says Mr Benkel, ‘and saw the explosion. His parents didn’t allow him to go and see the plane that night. He went the next morning and the German military were there. From what he saw the majority of the body parts were on the surface and taken away.’
Last week, Benkel and his team unearthed the remains of Lancaster ED427. Contrary to Bramley-Laughton’s report, which suggested all the bodies had been recovered by the Germans in the war, Benkel says that there were still body parts in the cockpit. Benkel concludes that they were those of Alec Bone.
For Alf, this finally ends the mystery of what happened to his beloved brother. ‘You have closed the missing page of our memory book,’ he told Uwe Benkel.Sacrifice: 53,573 members of Bomber Command were killed during the Second World War Momentous: The men of Bomber Command were witness to events that have shaped our history
‘My mother would have been so relieved that we at last know something,’ he says.
‘I now want to go and pay my last respects on behalf of the family. My brother was a real professional — we were all amateurs. He was a gentleman and a gentle man.’
Families of other crew members share that sense of a chapter finally being closed. ‘It is a great relief to know what did happen,’ says Hazel Snedker, 72, the daughter of Sergeant Norman Foster, the plane’s Flight Engineer.
‘At least he will now have a grave with a headstone.’
The plan is for the remains of all the crew to be buried together. ‘They flew together and died together,’ says Mr Benkel. ‘It is only right that they should stay together.’
Attribution: Mail Online
Previously unseen photos showing British and American soldiers liberating the Dutch city of Eindhoven 68 years ago have come to light.
The black and white snapshots depict scenes of jubilation among the local residents who had just endured four years and four months of Nazi occupation.
Many show captured German soldiers being rounded up and searched by the Allied troops while other servicemen are seen having a rest in the grass after taking the city.
Others are of women arm-in-arm with their liberators, children clambering over British army trucks and tanks and soldiers holding babies aloft.
But the scenes of celebration during the early stages of the doomed Operation Market Garden in September 1944 proved shortlived.
Hours after the pictures were taken, the Germans launched a devastating air attack on Eindhoven, destroying buildings and killing scores of civilians.
Market Garden – a daring mission to seize bridges across the Rhine and drive the enemy back towards Germany – ended in bloody failure.
On September 17, 1944 some 34,000 paratroopers were dropped behind enemy lines at various points along the Rhine river in order to take the strategic bridges.
The British 30 Corps tank regiment were to provide back up by driving 40 miles along a single track road from Eindhoven in the south to Arnhem in the north.
But the British were unable to reach their final objective and, with three miles to go, abandoned the operation on September 25, leaving 10,500 British paratroopers stranded at Arnhem.
About 1,500 of them were killed in the Battle of Arnhem and 6,500 taken prisoner.
Another 2,500 soldiers were left on the wrong side of the Rhine but were heroically rescued by boat in a night-time evacuation under the noses of the Germans.
Despite the failure of the operation, Eindhoven remained free from the Nazis.
The unpublished photos were unearthed by British author Ian Gardner as he researched his book ‘Deliver Us From Darkness’.
It is a detailed account of the actions of the companion unit of the ‘Band of Brothers’ US paratroopers, who were immortalized in Steven Spielberg’s TV series of the same name.
Ian, from Aldershot, Hampshire, UK said: ‘Military historians have said Market Garden was a total disaster.
‘But try telling that to the Dutch for whom Allied paratroopers were liberators from German tyranny and occupation.
‘Upon entering Eindhoven, which was the first Dutch city to be liberated, thousands of people spilled onto the streets to embrace the paratroopers, overjoyed after four dark years of Nazi occupation.
‘When XXX Corps entered the city, the roads were so crowded their tanks and vehicles were unable to get through.
‘The celebrations were short-lived as Eindhoven was bombed the following evening by the Luftwaffe, causing hundreds of civilian casualties.
‘The German army began an audacious series of counter-attacks along the road to Arnhem and over the next two weeks the American paratroopers were called upon to defend the transport hubs north of Eindhoven.’
In artistic terms they were at polar opposites of the photographic spectrum.
The wanton destruction and grim resilience of war is not a subject you would associate with high fashion glamor shots of the rich and beautiful.
But when flamboyant photographer Cecil Beaton was enlisted during the Second World War, his striking collection showed the six-year conflict in a new, more graceful, picturesque light.
The photographer, whose most notable subjects included Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, was commissioned for an altogether grittier photographic project that could be used as propaganda
Moving him away from his usual fare of royalty and fashion models, the Ministry of Information asked Beaton to document Britain’s war effort.
The renowned photographer pictured young men and women in a typically glamorous light, in spite of the ravages, destruction and chaos engulfing Britain in 1940.
Even so, Beaton does tug on the heartstrings in his collection: one of the most memorable images shows wounded three-year-old Eileen Dunne at Great Ormond Street Hospital, in an evocative picture which would later grace the cover of Life magazine in September 1940.
The picture was clearly effective – as it was taken with the aim of generating sympathy for the British and helping sway America into intervening in the war.
She recognized them as being similar in style to the work of Beaton, and confirmed they were his work by matching them to his diary records.
She said: ‘The Ministry was in disarray in those days and the records weren’t kept well.
After ceasing wartime operations, the Ministry of Information deposited Beaton’s war photos with the Imperial War Museum, London.
The photographer was briefly reunited with his vast body of work shortly before his death.
Describing the experience, he wrote in his diary: ‘Yesterday I went to the Imperial War Museum, not my favourite place, to see the collection of photographs that I had taken during the war for the Ministry of Information.
‘It was an extraordinary experience to relive those war years; so much of it had been forgotten, and most of the people are now dead.
‘It was fascinating to see the scenes in old Imperial Simla, the rickshaws drawn by uniformed servants, the grandeur of the houses, the palaces, the bar scenes, the men on leave swigging beer, I had not realised that I had taken so many documentary pictures, some of purely technical interest.
‘Looking at them today, I spotted ideas that are now ‘accepted’, but which, thirty years ago, were before their time. The sheer amount of work I had done confounded me.’
Attribution: Chris Parsons