Airwar over Denmark

Airwar over Denmark

 By Søren C. Flensted

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Halifax V DK261 crashed near the island of Mandø on 24/8 1943.


The aircraft belonged to RCAF (RAF) 434 Sqn Bomber Command and was coded WL-V.
T/o 20:26 Tholthorpe. OP: Berlin.


The crew consisted of Pilot Squadron Leader Roy Aubrey McLernon RCAF, Navigator Sgt Randolph S. Welters RCAF R/122019, Bomb Aimer Sgt Jim Plenderleith RCAF R/131001, Wireless operator/Air Gnr. Sgt Mathew Waddell Stevenson RAF 1076636, Mid upper gunner Sgt Robert C. Brooks RCAF R/147412, Rear gunner Sgt Charles William Snyder RCAF R/146094 and Flt. Engr. Sgt. Frank Vero Messenger RAF 962998. It was the fourth operational mission of this crew.

The route to Berlin and back was planned to be Tholthorpe - Hornsea – 52`50N 03`30E – Egmond – 52`50N 09`30E – 52`05N 13`47E – Berlin - 52`50N 13`40E – 54`20N 12`25E (Rostock) – Mandø – 55`00N 07`00E – Flamborough Head – Tholthorpe.
 
The flight to Berlin went according to plan and Halifax DK261 dropped its bombs over Berlin at 00:15 British time as part of the fifth wave of aircrafts. After having dropped its bombs DK261 was attacked by a German night fighter but managed to shake it off.
The flight via Rostock over Denmark at 4500 metres altitude flown on autopilot was uneventful until DK261 reached Ribe. Stevenson had just disconnected his headset from the intercom to move back in the aircraft to release Plenderleith from the duty of dropping Windows, when suddenly they were attacked from the lower starboard side by a night fighter from 6./NJG 3 piloted by Leutnant Kurt Böttinger which set an engine on fire with a burst of machinegun fire.
McLernon disconnected the autopilot and started a corkscrew to shake the attacker off, but a couple of seconds later another burst hit the Halifax and started a fire in the starboard wing which made the Halifax get out of control.
McLernon called the rear gunner and asked for instructions on how to manoeuvre the Halifax but received no answer. Again the night fighter attacked but missed the Halifax. Now Brooks opened fire from the upper position but was not able to hit the night fighter due to not being able to lower his guns enough.

 



                          (Via Theodor Hansen)

 


  (Howard Messenger)

Rear from left;  Brooks, Snyder
Front;  Stevenson, Messenger

 

The fire spread thru the Halifax and McLernon ordered the crew to bail out. Again he received no answer from Snyder and he must be considered killed during the first attack. Nor did McLernon receive any answer from Stevenson. Plenderleith who had been released from Window dropping duty crawled forward to the emergency exit in the nose of the Halifax where Welters was about to release the emergency hatch. Plenderleith put on his parachute and asked Welters to help McLernon put on his parachute since Plenderleith was not able to reach it.
The first man to leave the Halifax thru the front exit was Messenger and next followed Welters who landed safely near the island of Mandø.
When Plenderleith was ready to jump he realised that the ripcord of his chute was loose. He then wrapped his arms around the chute and jumped. The chute opened in the aircrafts slipstream and Plenderleith who had not had his harness adjusted correct had his testicles squeezed when this happened. He landed in shallow water but was not able to walk due to his injury and therefore called out for help.
Brooks left his guns and crawled to the aft exit to get out. The fuselage was on fire and he got burns in his face and gave up and crawled to the front exit and bailed out. He made a safe landing in shallow water and started walking towards the island of Mandø.
When Brooks had left the Halifax dived near vertically and McLernon looked around to make sure that all had left. One of the fuel cells then exploded with such force that McLernon thought the he had crashed. He managed to get out and landed in shallow waters 1.5 kilometres west of Mandø, buried his chute in a sand bank and started walking towards Mandø.
The Halifax crashed on deep water between the islands of Mandø and Fanø exploding on impact.

Plenderleith and Welters.
Welters heard Plenderleith calling and carried him to the beach by the new dike on Mandø Island. He left him here and walked for help. He approached Mandø village from the north and walked down the main road to Mikkel Bundesens house where he arrived at 07:00 hours. Bundesen had no English and sent his son Martin to fetch someone who mastered the language. He ran over to the three brothers Gregers, Asger and Hartvig Bundesen who were spending the holiday in their fathers summerhouse. Hartvig dressed in a hurry and followed Martin back home. It turned out that Welter had left to walk over to Daniel Christensen who in turn had passed him on to Parish executive Officer Julius Hansen. Hartvig followed. At Julius Hansens place Welters explained as well as he could where he had left Plenderleith and a horse drawn carriage was sent to pick him up. Hartvig followed to translate. In the carriage were Daniel and his son Christian as well as the blacksmith Marinus Christensen who brought a thermo flask containing warm punch. They also brought a stretcher and some blankets from the Falk depot on the island.
 


                           (Via Theodor Hansen)



At the same time the Mandø life boat was alarmed and a team of horses pulled it to a position three kilometres west of where it was put in the sea and started searching for survivors. At 08:00 hours the sail was set and the sea up to 20 kilometres North West of the island was searched. All that was found was an empty dinghy which was brought to Mandø. The search was cancelled at noon and at 14:00 hours the lifeboat was back again.

When the carriage with Daniel, Christian, Hartvig and the blacksmith reached the new dike they left the carriage and started searching for the flyer. As it turned out Welters instructions were not very accurate and they were searching too far to the south. Some workmen who were bicycling on the dike spotted Plenderleith and the carriage was brought up and Plenderleith was placed on the stretcher. He told Hartvig how he had come there and that Welters had freed him of his parachute and boots before carrying him to the dike. He showed Hartvig the direction in which these items could be found and asked him to make sure that the Germans did not get them.
When the carriage returned to the village Hartvig noticed that the workmen was standing around a parachute which must have been Welters. When the carriage came to the village it was greeted by Doris who presented Plenderleith with a bouquet of flowers wrapped in a leaflet which had recently been dropped over the island. In the leaflet was found a map which enabled Hartvig to show Plenderleith where he was. More islanders showed up to greet Plenderleith and when they reached Julius house it became completely packed with people. Plenderleith was brought into the house and given some food. Hartvigs brothers had turned up and Hartvig talked them into coming along to search for the parachute and the boots. They found both the boots and the chute and managed to smuggle it back to the island without the German guards noticing.
 
When they came back they learned that German soldiers from the observation post on the island had picked Plenderleith and Weltes up and taken them to the barracks. From the island they were sent to Dulag Luft in Oberursel for interrogation and on to Stalag IVB Mühlberg a.d.Elbe where Welters was given number 222541 and Plenderleith number 222760. Stalag IVB was a Wehrmacht camp run by the German army. When the prisoners arrived they could read on the gate: “M-Stammlager IVB”.
The flyers were kept separated from the prisoners from the army by means of a wire fence. The conditions for the prisoners were bad and 60 POWs died while being held here. The food was lousy consisting mainly of black bread and erzats cheese. For dinner in the evening the prisoners was normally given something which was claimed to be stew but which was rather watery. Welters and Plenderleith stayed in the camp until the end of the war and meet several of the Danish police officers which had been arrested by the Germans on 19/9 1944. Welters was given the job of handing out red Cross parcels to the inmates whenever the Germans would let the POWS have the parcels.

Her remains only to be told that Hartvig managed to smuggle the boot over to the mainland where he used them for several years when the winter was cold. Today they form part of a exhibition in the Mandø museum. After the war some of the parachute was made into a christening robe which ever since have been used when children of the family was christened.

McLernon.
Also McLernon made it to the island. He entered the island next to the German lookout post which was surrounded by barber wire. He could see a machine gun but to his luck there was no sentry to be seen. He bypassed the German barracks and walked towards North East using his compass.
At six o’clock in the morning he hid in a ditch, which was the only cover he could find in the flat area between the new and the old dike. He stayed her for the day spending time trying to make hid Mae West into a pair of shoes to be used instead of the boots which he had lost when the chute deployed. He was not very successful. When it started getting dark he left his flying helmet and the Mae West in the ditch and continued towards North West. It was only when he reached the now dike that he realised that he had come to an island. Shortly after he found a hay stack, entered it and fell to sleep. He awoke in the morning with his ankles hurting from the parachute landing. He heard voices and crawled out of the hay stack. The voices belonged to a team of workers lead by Søren Christensen. McLernon was given food, shoes and a pair of old trousers and a sweater which he wore over his uniform. The rest of the day was spent swimming and sun bathing and early in the afternoon he was given worm food and two bottles of beer.


 


                                        (Theodor Hansen)

Knud “Skipper” Hansen


It was clear that he had to be moved from the island and Knud “Skipper” Hansen agreed to arrange for this. He called the Quartermasters Koldbæk and Robert Hansen who were sea mine experts in Esbjerg. “Skipper” had an agreement with them that he could call for their help should the need arise. He informed them “That an object looking like a mine were drifting towards the North”.

 


                         (Theodor Hansen)

"Karen" of Mandø

On the night of 25/26 August McLernon was taken onboard “Skippers” boat “Karen” of Mandø and hid in the machine room under a tarpaulin. He stayed there until 10 o’clock on 26/8 when “Skipper” set sails for Esbjerg where they arrived at 13:00 hours. When Knud “Skipper” arrived at the harbour a car driven by the two Quartermasters moved up beside the boat. McLernon was transferred to it and it left in a hurry. McLernon was then taken to a local doctor to be treated for minor scratches he had received when the chute had deployed. Afterwards he was given civilian clothes by the owner of the restaurant “Børsen”. The evening was spend by the resistance man Chris Svenningsen and his wife Musse. Present were also Anker Frederiksen and the SOE agent Aage Møller Christensen who wanted to question McLernon to make sure that he was not a German agent. The result of the questioning was radioed to England and McLernons identity was confirmed.

After a few days McLernon was moved to Aarhus where he stayed with Doctor Svend Baastrup Thomsen. Thomsen and his wife took McLernon out for dinner on town and he especially got to like the Danish Smørrebrød (Open sandwiches). One day McLernon was passed on to Aalborg from where he together with a person named Anker Nielsen drove by car to Sæby. In Frederikshavn he met with Verner Jensen who during daytime was a bank assistant and during night time worked for “Dansk Hjælpetjeneste” who had specialised in getting refuges to Sweden. On 15/9-1943 McLernon boarded the fishing boat FN 101 “Stanley” of Frederikshavn with Skipper Oluf “Wolle” Andersen from the beach near Strandby to the North of Frederikshavn. They arrived in Varberg, Sweden on the next day. McLernon was put on the train for Stockholm where he was met by the English Consul who took care of him. After a few days he was put on a flight for England where he arrived on 21/9.

Brooks.
Brooks also made it to Mandø where he hid for a couple of days. On 26/8 he was found in the Fyldgraven near the sea dike by Herluf and Holger Andersen. Brooks was thirsty and hungry so they let him drink all the milk he wanted before they brought him up to the village to feed him. He was placed in the horse drawn carriage with his back against the village so it was not possibly for the Germans at the lookout to recognise him as a flyer. They took him to the house of Receiver of Wrecks Hans Rasmussen where he was given food. It was relished that he needed to be hidden since the Germans was in the village, so Brooks was given a bicycle and a cap as well as a rake and was given instructions to bicycle to the lock in the old dike and there hide in a pipe which was not used any more. He stayed for a couple of days, twice a day visited by Hans Jørgensen who brought him food.

 

Brooks hiding place

 


                     (Beverly Brooks)

Mid upper gunner Sgt Robert C. Brooks RCAF R/147412


The weather turned bad with rain and storm and water eneterd the pipe and soaked Brooks. When Jørgensen saw this he moved Brooks to a hay stack where he would be more comfortable. Later same day it was decided to bring Brooks to the village where he was hid on the loft over the stable. He stayed for two weeks with Stefans wife Cathrine bringing him food every day. He was given English books to read but became quite bored. It was now a public secret that Brooks was around so it became necessary move him to the main land. It was thought of sailing him there but this was not possibly after 29/8-43 when the Danish government stopped to cooperate with the Germans. After that date Knud “Skipper”s boat was searched every time he took it sailing.

 


                                      (Theodor Hansen)

Stefans Stable


One night Postman Bunde Hansen took Brooks across to the Gruset two third of the distance to the main land and advised him of how to get the rest of the way. He was to enter the main land by means of following the Vester Vedsted brooklet thus avoiding both the German sentries and their minefields.
At midnight on the night of 11/12 September Brooks knocked on the door at a farm at Skallebæk six kilometres east of Ribe.
At 00:30 the owner called the police who picked Brooks up. He was taken to the police station in Ribe where he showed his id mark. At 01:30 the Danish police handed him over to the German Wehrmacht at Riberhus. Via Oberursel he was sent to Stalag IVB Mühlberg a.d.Elbe where he was given number 222805 and meet with Plenderleith and Welters.

The end of war.
On 22/4 1945 the German guards left the camp and the Russian troops arrived the day after. The Russians did little to help the POWs and not until the end of May were they moved by train to Halle. They were then flown by C 47 to Brüssel in Belgium where they once again stood in line to be flown to England.

Those who died.
The dead body of Sgt Mathew Waddell Stevenson RAF was found on the Flakkerne at Peter Mejers Sand on 26/8 by tourists. He was placed in a tarpaulin and taken to Hønen near Sønderho on the island of fanø. On 2/9 1943 he was laid to rest in Fovrfelt cemetery in Esbjerg.
On the same day was also Sgt Frank Vero Messenger laid to rest in the same cemetery. His body had been take to Esbjerg from Mandø. Apparently he had landed in his parachute on deep water North East of Mandø and had drowned.

 

 


  (Howard Messenger)

 Flt. Engr. Sgt.  Frank Vero Messenger RAF

 


  (Howard Messenger)

 

 

 

 

The rear gunner Sgt Charles William Snyder have no known grave and is commemorated on panel number 185 of the Runnymede Memorial in England. He was son of Charles H. and Elsie Mary Snyder of Dauphin in Manitoba, Canada. He lived to be 26 years old of age.

 


(RG24 volume 28693 item number 33417 Library and Archives Canada)

Rear gunner Sgt Charles William Snyder RCAF



McLernons background and further career.
MvLernon was born in Montreal, Canada on 19/11-1919. He was educated at Lower Canada College, Trinity College and McGill University (Engineering student). He volunteered for the Canadian Air Force on 29/1 1940 and was trained at No. 1 SFTS until 19/8-40 when he was passed on to No. 22 OUT for further training. He was then posted to a squadron. On 15/6 1943 he was promoted to Flight Commander at No. 434 Squadron.
After returning to England he continued flying and ended with 31 sorties over Germany. On 13/6 1944 it could be read in The London Gazette that he had been awarded “The Distinguished Flying Cross” because “This Officer has taken part in many successful sorties and has displayed skill, gallantry and resolution of a high order. His example has been most inspiring and has contributed in a large measure to the operational efficiency of the squadron”. The medal was presented to him on 8/11 1944.
When he had flown 31 sorties McLernon was promoted to Wing Commander to become the Commander of a air base in which capacity he served until the end of the war.
On 1/1 1945 it could be read in The London gazette that McLernon had been “Mentioned in Despatches”.

 


                                       (Theodor Hansen)

McLernons uniform displayed at Mandø Museum



Leutnant Kurt Böttinger.
This was Böttingers second claim of an English bomber. The first claim had been at 01:20 hours on the night of 24/25 July 1943 North of Neumünster where he had shot a Stirling down.
He served with NJG 2, 6./NJG 3 and Stab II./ NJG 3.
On the night of 25/26 November 1943 Böttinger ran out of luck when his Bf 110G-4 Werk nummer 6312 hit an obstacle at the Langendiebach airfield on a operational sortie. Böttinger and his crew members Unteroffizier Wilhelm Döhr and Unteroffizier Wilhelm Heinkel all died.

 

 

Sources: AIR 27/1865, AS 65-141, LBUK, BE, Questionnaire for returned Aircrew: Directorate of History and Heritage, Canada, UA, H.A. Halliday, Canada, OLCB, Theodor Hansen, Hartvig Bundesen.
 

 

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