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The search for Lancaster HK620

 
     

On February 9, 1945, Lancaster I, HK620 LS-W of 15 Squadron took off at 0313 hr.. from Mildenhall for an operation against a specific target in the Krefeld area. In the Operational Record Book of 15 Squadron, the following was noted :
Hohenbudberg. Twelve aircraft from the Squadron took off safely between 0259 hr. and 0315 hr. to attack the Railway Marshalling yards at Hohenbudberg in the Ruhr. Two aircraft carried Red T.I.'s which they were to drop on Special Equipment - the remainder to bomb these T.I.'s. Soon after crossing the coast on the way out two aircraft experienced engine trouble and after jettisoning their bombs in the Channel area returned to base. The remainder bombed the target in conditions of 5-6/10th cloud.

Several T.I.'s were seen and were well grouped, Flak was moderate but accurate, and searchlights were also active. Soon after the attack started the searchlights remained stationary, as if assisting fighters. Crews reported a good attack with most of the bombing slightly to port of the T.I.'s. Several large fires were seen in the target area. One aircraft has been posted as missing from this attack. The remaining nine aircraft who successfully attacked the primary returned to base." (note : T.I. = Target Indicators).

The missing crew consisted of nine airmen :

  • Pilot: F/L James H Cowie RCAF

  • 2nd pilot: F/L Alastair N L McQueen

  • F/E: Sgt John Malcolm

  • Nav: F/O Peter J Day

  • B/A: F/S George C Dickinson

  • W/op: Sgt Alan T. Dobson

  • Mu/Gnr: Sgt John Gregory

  • Mid-under/Gnr: F/S Maurice E Hathaway

  • R/Gnr: Sgt Joseph W Hall

What actually happened, remains a mystery. The people of Wauthier-Braine, a village roughly situated ten miles south-west of Brussels, woke up when a burning bomber lit the night. A report stated two engines were on fire. Flying very low, it just missed the castle of the family d'Oultremont, and finally crashing into the woods, locally known as "le bois d'Hautmont". Many fallen trees led to the site, where the remains of Lancaster HK620 were lying scattered around. An Allied team recovered the remains of eight airmen, probably not knowing this plane had the exceptional number of nine people on board - this seems understandable as the above mentioned Operational Record Book only mentions eight - it seems the debriefing officer did not knew there was a second pilot on board, as F/L McQueen's name is not mentioned. However, after the war he was identified, together with the rest of the crew, except the wireless operator, Sgt A. Dobson. The remains of the crew rest at Evere/Brussels cemetery. The missing airman, 23 year old Sgt Alan Thomas Dobson is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

This year, members of the Belgian Aviation History Association decided to find our more about this particular incident and started their search in the surrounding areas. A large part of the wing, with a clear view of the camouflage pattern and RAF roundel still remarkably well preserved, was recovered from the garden in the neighborhood.
In the Bois d'Hautmont, the team met the Count d'Oultremont and the current owner of the part of the wood where the Lancaster crashed. To our astonishment, large parts of the flaps were found thirty meters high in the trees. We decided to leave these were they are, and were very glad the owners gave us permission to investigate the site.
On Sunday 28 October 2000, a large part of the area was sifted by the 30-men/women BAHA Team, during the process metal detectors and a crane made the work much easier. From the findings it was soon obvious Lancaster HK620 came in a shallow dive, so no large parts were to be recovered. However, an oleo leg was found more or less intact, as well as lots of window strips (dropped to disturb the German radar installation) and the remains of a few .50 caliber rounds - the proof that this Lanc was equipped with the American heavy machine gun.