The legend about the museum SV4 OO-ATD
Not so long ago, a very respectable magazine mentioned the SV-4 hanging from the ceiling in the main hall of the air museum, stating this happens to be the original plane in which the pilots Divroy and Donnet escaped to England in the night of 4th-5th July 1941. This however is a persistent and ever-so-wrong legend and in the present article we hope to put everything in its correct perspective. The brave feat of both pilots deserved a statue in bronze or stone to keep the memory alive. Instead an aircraft of the same type as the one they got away in was chosen as a symbol of their adventure.
What follows is a brief survey of the story surrounding the aircraft used in the escape. The aircraft, no. 4 of the first series of SV-4bs manufactured, has been entered as OO-ATD on February 15, 1939 and registered as no. 482 by the Belgian Air Administration Bureau. On March 7 of the same year it became the property of Thiery Baron dHuart who lived in his Castle Ter Block in Overijse, near Brussels. He was a military airman with a rank of major and commanded the 4th Squadron of the IInd Group of the 2nd Air Regiment based at Nivelles. He used the ATD for his movements between his base and home. To this extend a grass airstrip had been laid out at his Ter Block residence.
After having been used as an escape vehicle by the Sergeants Divroy and Donnet to get to England, the aircraft came back to Belgium to be exhibited on July 20, 1945, along with a whole series of other allied aircraft at the Brussels Cinquantenaire Park. After a last overall check-up at the Stampe and Renard works on March 15, 1948, the aircraft was demilitarized in September of the same year.
OO-ATD was removed from the register in October 29, 1957 and was re-matriculated OO-ATO and entered as no. 1159 in the Air Ministry register. With this new designation the aircraft became a working tool of the Association dEtudes et de Recherches Aérologiques (AERA), a company with limited liabilities founded by four young pilots consisting of Roland dHuart (son of the Baron dHuart), Jean dOtreppe de Bouvette, Arnoud de Broqueville and Didier de Méeus.
On June 7, 1980 the plane took of from the Grimbergen airfield pulling a publicity banner. The pilot was supposed to land at Temploux (Namur) for a refill. Up till then the pilot had had a favorable wind and as he reached Temploux decided he was good enough on fuel to stay up and start on his next leg to the Latour airfield, near Virton. That turned out to be a wrong estimate, for before reaching his final destination his engine stopped in mid-air for lack of petrol. The pilot disconnected the banner and started his crash-land procedure aiming to put down his plane on a field he had spotted before. In the course of his approach flight and as he lined up his aircraft, the engine came to life again. The pilot had new hopes now to still reach the airfield, but again the engine went dead on him and this time there was no suitable landing field available. Eventually, an apple tree turned out to be the last resting place for his plane. The pilot himself got his chin injured. The remnants of the plane ended up in a shed at the dHuart domain.
Jean Stampe was asked to build a replica using the bits and pieced left from the crashed aircraft, but the project was soon abandoned. Jean Stampe and Alfred Renard were quite correct in stating that the endeavor would be difficult and a lot more expensive in labor time than building a new plane. Jean Stampe then suggested using an SV-4B stricken from the registry to put on exhibition at the museum. Thus happened. A declassified fuselage was hauled back from the air force depot. The once V-57 c/no. 1199 was then completely overhauled and painted before being exhibited at the Royal Brussels Army and Military History Museum. For years visitors kept on being wrongly informed as they heard this to be the original Divoy and Donnet escape plane. On top of that it was used as genuine official information by newspapers and magazines, including the official ones.
So there has been a need to put things straight.
It is a duty for the Air and Space Division of the Royal Brussels Army and Military History Museum to inform their visitors correctly about the origin of the aircraft exhibited in the hall. Stating that the SV-4b is not the original one does not diminish the honor, glory and respect to be endowed upon LtGen Michel Donnet, who shared this act of courage with his good friend Léon Divoy. He is and always will be one of the heroes of the Belgian military air service. Léon Divoy, who passed away on February 7, 1977, got wounded in the leg on April 4, 19422 during a mission over the north of France. He was taken prisoner and passed the remainder of the war in the Sagan Camp in Silezia. I have know Divoy well when I was still an in-flight engineer with SABENA and have had the pleasure of being part of his crew on several occasions.
The SV-4b was hauled out of the Zellick depot in July 1964. It is a plane built after the war which is easily identifiable by the rails for the sliding cockpit hood. That feature was not available on the OO-ATD. Moreover, the orange paint is still clearly visible underneath the white paint. More info on the V57 can be found in the section Database.
Article written in French by André Hauet published in the BAHA Magazine Contact no. 37 Volume 10
Translated in English by Walter Verstraeten
SV-4B OO-ATD of Donnet and Divoy
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