16/17.06.1944 77 Squadron Halifax III NA508 Flt Sgt. Robert Alexander Walton Blair
Operation: Sterkrade, Germany
Date: 16th/17th June 1944 (Friday/Saturday)
Unit: 77 Squadron
Type: Halifax III
Base: RAF Full Sutton, East Riding, Yorkshire, England
Location: Bovenkerkerpolder, Amstelveen, Holland
Pilot: Flt Sgt. Robert Alexander Walton Blair 415498 RAAF Age 22. Killed
Flt Eng: Sgt Herbert Louis Moore 1399452 RAFVR Age 20. Killed
Nav: Flt Sgt. Lancelot George Pratt 425210 RAAF Age 27. Killed
Bomb Aimer: Flt Sgt. Gordon Arthur Armstrong 423597 RAAF Age 21. Killed
WOp/Air Gnr: WO. John Patrick O’Meara 410370 RAAF Age 35. Killed
Air Gnr: Sgt. Dennis George Tustin 1582404 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
Air Gnr: Fg Off. John Matthew Date 427807 RAAF Age 20. Killed
Above: Flt Sgt. Armstrong from his service record (Credit: The National Archives of Australia)
REASON FOR LOSS:
NA508 was one of 23 aircraft which took off from RAF Full Sutton commencing at 23:15 hrs on a mission to bomb the synthetic oil facility at Sterkrade in Germany.
En route on the homebound leg the aircraft was attacked and shot down by a German night-fighter.
NA508 was claimed by Hptm. Martin Drewes, his 40th Abschuss, from Stab III./NJG1 over Amstelveen (Noord-Holland), at 4.500 metres at 02:05 hrs. (Nachtjagd Combat Archive (12 May 1944 - 23 July 1944) Part 3 - Theo Boiten):
Hptm. Drewes was flying in a Bf110-G4 with Fw. Erich Handke his Funker (Radio/Radar operator);
NA508 was the 1st of two claims by Hptm. Drewes that night, the second being a probable for 103 sqn Lancaster LM173 over the North Sea. Both claims were confirmed on the 7th October 1944.
The aircraft crashed in the Bovenkerkerpolder 3km SE of Amstelveen on the southern outskirts of Amsterdam.
A further 6 aircraft from the Squadron failed to return from the mission:
Halifax III MZ698 KN:J, Flt.Lt. Sydney Edward Wodehouse 48319 RAF and five of his crew were KiA, two became PoWs and Fg.Off. Jack Stewart Nott MiD was a war crimes victim;
Halifax III NA524 KN:F, FO James M. Shaw T-223146 USAAF. Six became PoWs and one was an evader;
Halifax III NA545 KN:R, Plt.Off Harold William Bird 417330 RAAF and his seven crew were KiA;
Halifax III MZ711 KN:T, Flt.Lt. Fridjon Victor Stanley Goodman J42215 RCAF became a PoW as did five others of his crew, one was KiA;
Halifax III MZ715 KN:Z, Plt.Off. Alan Irvine Crain, 415308 RAAF was killed along with five others of his crew and one became a PoW;
Halifax III MZ705, KN:Q, Plt.Off. Sydney Ernest Judd, DFC, 173931 RAFVR. Their aircraft was attacked and damaged by a Ju88. He was awarded the DFC for this encounter. The citation reads: “One night in June,1944, this office was pilot and captain of an aircraft detailed to attack Sterkrade. On the return flight the aircraft was intercepted by a fighter which, attacked with much persistence In the engagement, Pilot Officer Judd manoeuvred with great skill and finally the attacker was driven off. and is believed to have been destroyed. The bomber had sustained extensive damage, however, and a wing was on fire. Nevertheless, Pilot Officer Judd set a course in an attempt to reach home. Before the English coast could be reached the fire had spread considerably and Pilot Officer Judd was forced to bring the crippled aircraft down on to the sea, a task he skilfully accomplished. All the crew got safely aboard the dinghy and were subsequently rescued. In the face of most harassing circumstances this gallant pilot set an example of the highest order.” The gunners had returned fire and the Ju88 was seen to burst into flames. All crew members were uninjured in the ditching, climbed aboard their dinghy and were later rescued by a Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB) from Lowestoft. Sgt Ronald Gordon Blackwell 852379 and Sgt Derek Rogers 1852379, Mid-Upper and Rear Gunner respectively, received the DFM for their actions. Details for all three awards were promulgated in the London Gazette on 4th August 1944;
4 aircraft made emergency landings at the emergency landing strip at RAF Carnaby, RAF Catfoss and RAF Little Snoring.
On the 20th June 1944 the Police Captain of Nieuwer-Amstel reported the following:
“About 2.15 hours in the night from Friday the 16th to Saturday the 17th June 1944 an information was received by this police post according to which a burning aircraft had crashed in the “Bovenker-kerpolder” of this town. In connection with the foregoing I, Handrik Busser, Police Captain at Nieuwer-Amstel, immediately went to the place in question to make investigations. When I arrived there I saw a completely destroyed and burning aircraft lying on a field about 500 m. behind the farm of H. Jurrien at Amstedijk Zuid 91 of this town. (According to an investigation made by the Germans afterwards the aircraft was an English four engine bomber). It was terrific fire and the munition left in the aircraft caused incessant explosions. The crew was invisible and the aircraft had deeply penetrated into the ground. As the fire became less violent in the course of the day a left hand was found in the hole in which the aircraft was lying. The whole crew had apparently perished in the aircraft.
Two officers and a few soldiers from Schiphol airfield arrived about half an hour after I arrived myself. After having proceeded to some investigations they departed requesting that the aircraft should be watched by the local police for the time being until the personnel of the German army had arrived. Some time after that a German non-commissioned officer and four soldiers arrived to watch the aircraft. The cause of the fire of the aircraft, the engines of which had been hurled far away, is not known. No shooting of anti-aircraft guns had been heard. The aircraft had probably taken fire at a great distance from where it crashed possibly owing to a battle with German fighters. Pieces of an aircraft were also found in the vicinity of Ouder-Amstel which commune borders on ours. The said pieces were apparently parts of the crashed aircraft in question.
Except for the damage to the field of Mr. Jurrien aforementioned there was no damage to buildings, cattle etc”.
During the early 1950s in the course of dredging operations in the fields south of Nieuew-Amstel, the wreckage of NA508 was found and the remains of WO. O’Meara were recovered. He was identified by his ID disks and a portion of a document bearing his name.
He was laid to rest in the Bergen-Op-Zoom Canadian War Cemetery. It was also reported that the remains of another member of the crew were recovered at the same time, but identification was not possible. Anecdotally this unidentified airman was buried in a joint grave with WO. O’Meara and that the grave marker had been inscribed with “AN UNKNOWN AUSTRALIAN AIRMAN FOR THE CREW OF HALIFAX NA508”.
No evidence has been found to confirm that this headstone existed. The CWGC grave registration records indicate that there was a second headstone for an airman which bore the inscription “KNOWN UNTO GOD”. This headstone was replaced with the one that is currently in place. (See Burial details below).
The following is a translation of part of an article posted on Amstelveenweb reproduced with the kind permission of the Amstelveenweb.
Salvaging the Halifax
In the summer of 1990 several inhabitants of Amstelveen received a letter from the city council. They were informed that during the recovery of the British bomber in the Bovenkerkerpolder, there were indications that there were still explosives in or near the wreckage. In the days that followed, it could prove necessary that houses in the immediate vicinity of the disposal site had to be evacuated.
Doors and windows had to be closed when leaving the houses. The police would take care of surveillance. Water had to be turned off. Pets could be left at home. Residents in the area who were not mobile should report this as soon as possible to a specially set up information number at the town hall. Information could also be obtained via this line. If an evacuation had to be carried out, it would be announced by means of sound trucks between 09:00 and 16:00 hrs. Those who had no other place to go could go to the community centre "De Meent".
As soon as the danger had passed, the announcement was to be heard on information channel 2, on the Amstelveen Lokaal radio station and on our own frequency in the aforementioned shelters.
The wreck of the four-engined Handley-Page Halifax Mk.III bomber, which crashed there in June 1944 in a meadow behind the Amsteldijk-Zuid, was recovered in July 1990. Forty-six years and one month later it was a salvage operation that many anticipated with some excitement. Not only by the members of the salvage team, the people of the EOD and the local residents, but also by the people of the Yorkshire Air Museum in England. They had pinned their hopes on salvaging the front section of the fuselage of this aircraft, because the museum was working on the reconstruction of a Halifax bomber.
Of the more than 6,100 examples built during the Second World War, not a single one remained in the world. However, the families and relatives of the four crew members who died in 1944, and who were still missing, were undoubtedly most anxious. It was suspected that the remains of these pilots must still be among the remains of the bomber that crashed near Amstelveen. Apart from some wreckage, some torn off body parts of a crew member had already been recovered during the salvage attempt in 1944. In 1953, an attempt was made to recover the remains of the aircraft wreckage and those of the crew members who were still missing at the time from the Amstelveen clay. In the process, the mortal remains of two occupants were allegedly exhumed and recovered.
Above: German soldiers exhumed the remains of the crashed Halifax bomber in 1944. They were especially interested in the aircraft's built-in H2S radar system. The H2S radar was together with a rotating antenna mounted on the underside of the bomber. The radar reflections were then shown on a PPI (Plan Position Indicator) screen in the form of a map. The Germans also wanted to imitate such a radar very badly, because eventually this system was very important to win the war for the Allies, but especially for the RAF. (Source: Gemeentearchief Amstelveen-2002)
On 10 July 1990, the residents were evacuated according to plan. During the recovery, a shoulder bone was found fairly quickly. In the upper layer of the earth, more human remains were found, which had not been noticed during the earlier salvage in 1953. These were probably parts of both bodies, which had already been excavated in 1944. Some other items such as ammunition, uniform remains and a parachute hook were also found. The remains of the four pilots were later buried in Bergen op Zoom.
Also buried in Amsterdam is an "unknown" Australian airman (or parts thereof), from this aircraft, whose identity could not be fully determined (grave number 01.B.69).
The recovery went without problems and the residents were able to return to their homes with peace of mind.
Above: Joint Grave markers for WO. O’Meara and the crew of NA508. Crew inscription reads: “AIRMEN OF THE CREW OF HALIFAX NA 508”. The six crew members continue to be remembered on the Runnymede Memorial. (Credit: Aircrew Remembered LOST database)
Flt Sgt. Robert Alexander Walton Blair. Runnymede Memorial Panel 258. Born 18th January 1922 in Perth, Western Australia. Son of Robert Walton Blair and Vera Marion Blair, of West Leederville, Western Australia.
Flt Sgt. Blair was posthumously commissioned and promoted to Plt Off.
Sgt Herbert Louis Moore. Runnymede Memorial Panel 234. Born in 1914. Son of Alfred Louis and Edith Mary Moore; husband of Betty Stewart (née Stewart or Steadman) Moore, of Hoo, Kent, England
Flt Sgt. Lancelot George Pratt. Runnymede Memorial Panel 258. Born 10th September 1916 in Toowoomba, Queensland. Son of George Thomas Pratt and Eva May Gladies Pratt; husband of Helena Dorothy Pratt, of Redcliffe, Queensland, Australia.
Flt Sgt. Pratt was posthumously commissioned and promoted to Plt Off.
Flt Sgt. Gordon Arthur Armstrong. Runnymede Memorial Panel 259. Born 23rd July 1922 in Warrawee, New South Wales. Son of Wentworth Arthur and Gladys May Armstrong, of Gordon, New South Wales, Australia.
WO. John Patrick O’Meara. Bergen-Op-Zoom Canadian War Cemetery 12.F.2 (Joint Grave). Inscription reads: “HIS DUTY FEARLESSLY AND NOBLY DONE. EVER REMEMBERED.” Born 30th April 1909 in Melbourne, Victoria. Son of Michael and Susan O'Meara; husband of Kathleen Mary O'Meara, of East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Sgt. Dennis George Tustin. Runnymede Memorial Panel 239. Born July 1923 in Pershore, Worcestershire. Son of Horace Samuel and Florence Edna (née Prosser) Tustin, of Upton Snodsbury, Worcestershire, England.
Fg Off. John Matthew Date. Runnymede Memorial Panel 257. Born 28th January 1924 in Leederville, Western Australia. Son of Matthew Herbert Date and Florence Date, of Mornington-Rural, Victoria, Australia.
Researched by Ralph Snape and John Jones for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew (Apr 2021). Special thanks to Amstelveenweb for their kind permission to reproduce and translate their article on the salvaging of NA508 (Apr 2021).