A CHANCE ENCOUNTER WITH THE CREW OF LANCASTER LM327
The cemetery of St. Augustine is one of many in Gelsenkirchen. It is the oldest burial ground and the one located closest to the historic city centre, Catholic and Protestant portions separated from each other by the Kirchstraße running through the middle of it. It is here, in the oldest part of the cemetery, close to the Catholic chapel, that I chanced upon a gravestone that aroused my curiosity. On it the names of seven British men are inscribed, along with abbreviations probably alien to the vast majority of Germans – “D.F.C. AND BAR” and “D.F.M.”.
It has been more than a decade since I submitted my Master’s thesis, but as it dealt with the Battle of the Ruhr and its effects on the city of Dortmund, I was able to translate these into “Distinguished Flying Cross with Bar” and “Distinguished Flying Medal”, which revealed to me firstly, that two of these men had received prestigious military awards, and secondly, that all seven of them had once formed a R.A.F. bomber crew. The small dimension of the grave plot begged the question whether it contained the mortal remains of seven men. Who were these men? How did they come to be remembered here, in my home town, less than a mile from where I live? These questions, I felt, needed looking into – after all, the defining trait of any historian is curiosity, a curiosity that will have its way. Also, there might have been something of a personal aspect to my curiosity as well – of which I will tell later.
Questions answered – questions remaining
The advance of computer technology and the advent of the internet certainly have had a positive impact on historical research, since many archival resources can be easily accessed via the web. I realized that even in the ten years since I did the research for my Master’s thesis there had been a noticeable increase in the amount of information available online. Considering the high military distinctions of J. Laurence Moore, the topmost name on the gravestone, I thought an internet search for him to be most promising, which turned out to be the case. According to the first search results[i], Flight Lieutenant Joseph Laurence Moore was a pilot with No. 97 squadron (Royal Air Force) and died June 26th, 1943, aged 22. His parents, Thomas and Ella Oliver Moore, were from Ulverston, Lancashire, and resided in 10, High Street, Colliers Wood, at the time of their son’s birth. He had received the DFC in 1940 while serving with No. 115 squadron (RAF).[ii] A website relating to No. 97 squadron[iii] provides further information. Apparently the aircraft flown by F/L Moore failed to return from a mission against Wuppertal-Elberfeld, flown in the night of the 24th to the 25th of June, 1943. The aircraft with its entire crew are listed as missing, as the following entry reveals:
ED953Y F/L J.L.Moore, F/Sgt R.A.Kerckhove, S/L J.P.McMillin, P/O W.J.Stephen, F/Sgt A.Tomlinson, Sgts J.W.Darroch, L.L.Davis. 1 x 4000lb[iv] 12 SBC[v]. Up 2245 Down 0314. Aircraft and crew missing.[vi]
As 97 Squadron served for a while as Pathfinders, further information can be gleaned from a website dedicated to this elite force.[vii] A list with the names of F/L Moore and his crew also revealed their individual functions on board the aircraft.
Pilot: F/L Joseph Laurence Moore, DFC (Pilot)
F/E: F/Sgt Robert Alfred Kerckhove (Flight Engineer)
Nav: S/L James Parker McMillin (RCAF) (Navigator, Squadron Navigation Officer)
B/A: P/O William James Stephen, DFM (Bomb Aimer)
W/Op: F/Sgt Alan Tomlinson (Wireless Operator)
M/U Gunner: Sgt John William Darroch (Mid Upper Gunner)
Rear Gunner: Louis Leslie Davis (Rear Gunner)
The website also offers details on the aircraft: “LANCASTER – LM327-B, 25 June 1943, lost without trace.”
The entry in the Operational Record Book of No. 97 squadron on the fateful night reads as follows:
24.6.43 14 aircraft detailed to attack Elberfeld. Sgt Montgomery returned early – ASI u/s. Remainder bombed target, large fires developed which were reported to be seen from the Dutch coast. A dark night but visibility was good with little cloud. 1 aircraft, F/L Moore is missing. No news received. The Squadron Navigation Officer was in the missing aircraft.
There is a short entry similar to that given above, which deviates in certain details:
24/25 June 1943 Elberfeld – Bomb Load 5 x TI[viii], 1x 4000lb, 6 x 1000lb[ix] unless stated – ED953Y[x] F/L J.L.Moore, F/Sgt R.A.Kerckhove, S/L J.P.McMillin, P/O W.J.Stephen, F/Sgt A.Tomlinson, Sgts J.W.Darroch, L.L.Davis. 1 x 4000lb 12 SBC. Up 2245. Aircraft and crew missing.
There are other websites corroborating this information.[xi] Some additional details can be gleaned from those: “Took off 2241 24 June 1944 from Bourn. Lost without trace.”, i.e. the aircraft was deployed from Bourn airfield. According to this website the aircraft was a Lancaster Mark III.[xii] The war memorial in Runnymede commemorates the crew. Personal details of the members of the crew are provided.[xiii]
There is also some information on what supposedly caused the loss of the aircraft:
Shot down by a night-fighter over the North Sea, flown either by Hptm. Wittgenstein of Stab IV./NJG5 (detached to NJG1) or Lt. Heinz Strunning of 2./NJG1. It is unclear which shot down this aircraft and which shot down EE127.[xiv]
Having read all this information I noticed that all sources claimed that the aircraft in question – either identified as ED953 – Y or as LM327 – B – was missing, along with its crew.[xv] So if this aircraft was “lost without a trace” and the crew had “no known grave”, how did those names end up on a gravestone in Gelsenkirchen? Clearly the aircraft was lost during its mission against Wuppertal-Elberfeld and if it crashed in Gelsenkirchen, it cannot possibly have been shot down over the North Sea. How, then, can it still be listed as “missing”? The stone itself, as well as the fact that all the names, with the exception of one misspelling (the name of John William Darroch is given as “Darrock”), were inscribed correctly, with even their awards being specified, was in conflict with this statement. Who had placed this stela here, and when? How did he (or they) come by this information if not through a British official source?
Where did LM327 crash?
While the information provided by British resources had been very helpful, I still felt curious, especially given the inconsistency of the data on LM327 and my findings. Supposing a Lancaster had crashed in or in the vicinity of Gelsenkirchen on the night of June 24th 1943, could it be that there are other sources on the incident? During the work on my Master’s thesis I had become familiar with the War Diaries of Bomber Command, so I looked at the entry for the night in question – apparently the crash of Lancaster LM327 had not gone unnoticed by the RAF, albeit without identifying the aircraft.
There was a dramatic incident in Gelsenkirchen, 20 miles north of Wuppertal, when an R.A.F. 4-engined bomber crashed into the hall of a building which had been taken over by the Wehrmacht. The bomber blew up ‘with a terrific explosion’. A German officer, 13 soldiers, the caretaker of the building and 5 Dutch trainee postal workers were killed and 2 more soldiers died later. [xvi]
The crash must have been quite spectacular, so I was led to believe it might have been recorded by German sources as well. There is a short notice in the “Daten zur Gelsenkirchener Stadtgeschichte“, on what happened: “Crash of a 4-engined bomber into the Kolpinghaus, Hindenburgstraße (at present Husemannstraße), 24 killed.”[xvii] There is even an eyewitness report of the event, which I found in the war diary of Albert Plassmann from Wattenscheid[xviii]. I quote from his entry for June 25th, 1943:
Heavy attack on Elberfeld. Heavy losses[xix]. A bomber approaches from the south. It is flying very low, coned by the searchlights, intensely fired upon by flak. It flies over our house in the direction of Gelsenkirchen. Now he is trailing smoke and loses more and more altitude. A red glow of fire over[xx] Gelsenkirchen suggests that the aircraft impacted there. Soldiers from the flak batteries, having used bicycles to get there, provide the following news: the aircraft punched through the Kolpinghaus (Theresienstraße) and penetrated quite a few meters into the soil. One member of the crew was able to save himself by bailing out.[xxi] Landesschützen[xxii] who had been relieved[xxiii] the previous day are quartered in the Kolpinghaus. Of these 42 died in the air-raid shelter. [xxiv]
This information allows for pinpointing the exact location of the crash: the Kolpinghaus is less than a mile distant from the cemetery.
I had sent a request for information relating to the gravestone to the cemetery administration, which was answered by Mr. Torsten Gutowsky.[xxv] The entire mail reads as follows:
Dear Dr. Heinemann,
The site in question is a memorial to the crew who perished in the crash of a British bomber on June 26th, 1943. The stela was erected in 1994 after the provost of the parish of St. Augustus at the time, Wilhelm Sternemann, had been provided with the particulars of the crew by a British person who had been a friend of the deceased pilot during his lifetime, shortly after the identification of said pilot had been achieved by means of a finger ring which had been found at the crash site and which had been kept in the safe of the Provost church ever since.[xxvi] Nobody is buried beneath the memorial which is intended to be a symbol of reconciliation with the former war opponent.
I thank you for your inquiry and the interest it entailed as well as your interest in our cemetery. I hope I was able to be of assistance.
Kind regards, Torsten M. Gutowsky“[xxvii]
Mr. Gutowsky also mentioned two further sources that are of interest. A commemorative publication, or “Festschrift der Kolpingsfamilie”, published in 1949 to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the local chapter of the Kolpingsfamilie, contains an account of the crash, while a newspaper article published in the Westdeutsche Zeitung (WAZ) dated September 9th, 1957, reports on the retrieval of wreckage during earthworks on the crash site. The “Festschriften of the Kolpingsfamilie” contained interesting details on the crash of Lancaster LM327. The relevant passage reads as follows:
The loss of our beautiful and large Kolpinghaus has caused us great pains. The central block went up in flames when an enemy plane on fire[xxviii] crashed into it during the night of the 26th of June 1943 after the all-clear signal had been given[xxix], totally annihilating it. Heinrich Tewes, the housekeeper, as well as 22 soldiers and inhabitants met a gruesome death. The front building on the Theresienstraße was damaged heavily by incendiary bombs on November 6th, 1944 and completely levelled by bombs on January 22nd 1945.”[xxx]
I also contacted the local chapter of the Kolpingsfamilie, asking for further information. I was fortunate that my inquest reached the perfect contact person, Mr. Evers, a longtime employee of the Kolpingsfamilie in Gelsenkirchen. According to his information, the building in question was the second Kolpinghaus, replacing the previous one built in 1869. The Kolpinghaus of 1907 was not a single building, but a rather large complex with several wings. There was a hall for up to 200 people, housing, a skittle alley, etc. The building plot of the first two Kolpinghäuser was swapped for one across the street (Husemannstraße) in 1958, where the present Kolpinghaus can be found. Herr Evers also remembers the conversation the provost of St. Augustinus, Mr. Sternemann, had with the British gentleman mentioned above. His memory is quite vivid because of the date, June 24th, as it was the anniversary of the death of Heinrich König, a priest of St. Augustinus and “Präses”, i.e. President, of the Kolpingfamilie in Gelsenkirchen, who was killed by the Nazis in Dachau in 1942. He wasn’t sure on the year, though, thinking that it was probably 1994. Herr Evers kindly offered to provide all archival material on the matter, asking for an appropriate period of time to do so.
It did not take very long and I received a scan of a letter from the British Ministry of Defense to a certain Mr. Wharton, obviously in answer to his inquiry. It contained the particulars of the members of the crew of LM327, which explains how that information had been made available to the people in Gelsenkirchen who commissioned the gravestone.
The casualty file has now been obtained from Hayes which states that above named officer [Flight Lieutenant Joseph Laurence Moore DFC (42071)] lost his life on the 24 or 25 June 1943 whilst engaged on a bombing mission on Elderfield [sic][xxxi]. His aircraft, a Lancaster Mark III serial no LM327 at No.97 Squadron based at Bourn, near Cambridge, took off at 22.41, and failed to return. It was later revealed that the aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire while returning from the raid, and crashed, exploding on impact, destroying the Kolpingshaus, Theresienstrusse [sic], at Gelsenkirchen, and killing the entire crew instantly.”[xxxii]
The Story of the Final Hours of LM327
I think that the story of the final flight of Lancaster LM327 can be recounted in some detail. Having dropped its bombs on Wuppertal-Elberfeld[xxxv] the aircraft must have encountered difficulties that led to a significant loss of altitude and a change of course towards the north. Whether the outbound course in the direction of Gelsenkirchen was intentional, or whether it is connected to the loss of altitude remains to be clarified.[xxxvi] The northerly course taken from Wuppertal makes no sense, as the German flak units was concentrated in the Ruhr area (“Happy Valley”). A southerly course toward the “Bergisches Land” would have been far less dangerous. Presumably the loss of altitude and the course taken were caused by the same event over Wuppertal. While an attack by night fighters is unlikely, it could have been that LM327 was coned by searchlights over Wuppertal, dazzling the pilot, maybe even blinding him temporarily. Maybe he tried evasive manoeuvres, resulting in a temporary loss of orientation.
Only a few minutes of flight later Lancaster LM327 was coned in the vicinity of Wattenscheid.[xxxvii] Simultaneously the German Flak opened up and the aircraft came under heavy fire.[xxxviii] As witnessed by the plume of smoke the aircraft began trailing, it must have received hits.[xxxix] The distance between the place where Albert Plassman saw LM327 overhead and the inner city of Gelsenkirchen is between four and five kilometers. By then the time to impact would have been less than one minute[xl].The events on board must have unfolded very quickly. As the aircraft was on fire by the time it had reached Gelsenkirchen,[xli] this fire must have sprung up in the short time between the flak barrage over Wattenscheid and impact. The aircraft flew at low altitude when it reached Wattenscheid and kept losing altitude,[xlii] probably falling below the minimum flight altitude needed to bail out. The window of opportunity to do so successfully must have been very small. (Was there any time at all? According to Albert Plassmann one member of the crew managed to bail out.) The pilot was not able to climb to achieve minimum altitude to bail out, which could indicate loss of engine power – were one or more engines damaged or had failed? If two engines on one wing had failed, the pilot would have had his hands full to keep the aircraft airborne.
The area between Wattenscheid and Gelsenkirchen is densely populated enough to rule out any chance of making a safe crash landing. Even in peacetime an attempt to crash-land a plane at night is suicidal, more or less. The time window for the pilot to take action (parachute jump, flight manoeuvres) closed pretty quickly. Because of the fire onboard there must have been a moment of “capsizing”: one moment the pilot flew the – albeit damaged – plane, the next moment he was but a passenger in a burning wreck, plunging out of control. The fire on board will have caused damage to the control surfaces in the wings and tail unit, as well as to cable pulls connecting these to the control devices in the cockpit. This probably caused a total loss of control, leading to an uncontrolled crash. An unsuccessful crash landing or a controlled flight into the Kolpinghaus is highly unlikely.
The kinetic energy of the airframe (around 20 tons at 300 km/h) and the remaining amounts of fuel on board (approx. 1,000 gallons of high-octane aviation fuel) caused a fire which completely destroyed the central block of the Kolpinghaus. The energy of the impact must have been extreme: people inside an air raid shelter[xliii] in the cellar of said building died, while excavation works in 1957 revealed parts of the airframe that had penetrated deep into the soil.
This sequence of events and the details of the crash make it highly unlikely that any human remains of the crew could have been found in the aftermath. There is also another fact to be taken into consideration: less than 24 hours later Bomber Command attacked Gelsenkirchen with a force of 424 bombers, dropping 1,291 tons of ordnance. The effects of this attack probably made it necessary to shift any rescue operations and cleanup efforts to other parts of the city, leaving little time for salvage work at the crash site of LM327.
While no human remains were found in the aftermath of the crash, one remarkable find did allow for the identification of the bomber: a signet ring that not only survived the crash itself, but was miraculously found afterwards in the ruins of the Kolpinghaus. It is this ring that identifies the bomber with a high degree of certainty. A copy of a letter written by the provost of St. Augustinus to British authorities shortly after the war (dated May 25th, 1945) reached the Canadian authorities and found its way to the internet.[xliv] According to a handwritten annotation to this letter the ring, which apparently was enclosed in the letter, carried the initials “J.W.D”, so it must have belonged to John William Darroch, the mid upper gunner of LM327. A letter to the family of Robert Alfred Kerckhove shows that this information was passed on, probably not only to his next of kin but also to the relatives of all crewmembers of LM327.[xlv]
On a personal note
During my research I found out that the navigator of LM327 on that fateful night, James Parker McMillin of the Royal Canadian Air Force, had been a substitute for the usual crew member, who apparently had reported sick.[xlvi] It was this detail that established a link (of sorts) to my own family history, because – by a curious coincidence – the story of Squadron Leader McMillin and the man he stepped in for is mirrored by an experience of my paternal grandfather.
During the war my grandfather, Kurt Heinemann, was part of a bomber crew – furthermore, he also was a navigator. He flew with the Kampfgeschwader 26, which was equipped with Heinkel He111 bombers, and was member of an at-that-time well-known crew, that of Leutnant Albert von Schwerin, who had been awarded the Knight’s Cross in 1940 when taking part in the Battle of Britain.
One day, my grandfather came down with jaundice and the flight surgeon volunteered to step in for him. His aircraft, a He 111 carrying the markings 1H+AH, never returned from the next mission[xlvii] – it hit two balloon cables in succession and came down near Barking in Essex. There were no survivors. (The date was November 19th, 1940, and the target for that mission was Birmingham.)
My grandfather later became a teacher of navigation for the Luftwaffe and survived the war. I imagine that if he had been on board of 1H+AH during its last flight, precluding any chance of myself meeting him in person, any other relative would have appreciated information on his fate and last resting place.
(For more details, see: A German Bomber Crew)
While it appeared to me at first that I was solving the case of a bomber which had gone missing with all its crew, it soon became clear that the fate of Lancaster LM327 had been known to British authorities since they had received the letter from the provost of St. Augustinus in 1945 or soon thereafter. Nevertheless, my research into the fate of its crew has been most rewarding – especially since I learned of the efforts of both British and German nationals to create a memorial for these men in the spirit of reconciliation between former enemies. That, I think, still is as worthy an effort today as it was back then.
[ii] https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/34998/page/6699/data.htm (November 22nd, 1940)
[v] Small Bomb Container (SBC) containing 236 4 lb (1.8 kg) or 24 30 lb (14 kg) incendiaries. This is the bombload classified as “Usual“, typical of fire-raising attacks against cities at the time.
[vi] http://www.97squadronassociation.co.uk/operations.html, “Operations 1943, Jan to July”. The markings of the plane are given as ED953Y.
[viii] T.I. or “target indicators” came in various sizes. LM327 probably was a “backer-up” bomber which dropped its bombload on the target markers left by the Mosquito bombers (using OBOE), in turn helping the main bomber force to hit the target.
[ix] This deviates from the information stated above. 1 x „Cookie“ 4.000 lb, 3 x 1,000 lb GP bombs plus 6 SBCs correspond to the bombload classified as “Cookie” / “Plumduff”.
[x] Once again the markings of the aircraft are supposed to have been ED953Y; this differs from the information given elsewhere (serial number LM327, markings OF-B).
[xii] Very similar to / almost identical with the Lancaster Mark I, with Merlin engines built by Packard in the U.S. The aircraft had been delivered June 2nd 1943, i.e. it had been in service for less than one month when it crashed: http://www.lancaster-archive.com/lanc_unknowncrashsites.pdf
[xv] http://www.rafcommands.com/database/wardead/, all members of the crew are listed as missing in action. Cf. also https://www.rcafassociation.ca/heritage/history/fallen-aviators/rcaf-casualties-second-world-war/mckie-to-middlemiss/ regarding McMillin: “Squadron Leader Navigator McMillin has no known grave, his name is inscribed on the Runnymede War Memorial, Englefield Green, Egham, Surrey, England.”
[xvi] Martin Middlebrook, Chris Everitt, The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book, Viking Leicester 1985, entry for 24./25. June 1943.
[xviii] Wattenscheid is close to Gelsenkirchen in the general direction of Wuppertal.
[xix] That is to say: heavy loss of human lives. 1,900 people were killed in Wuppertal on that night: 716 men, 1,046 women, 62 boys and 79 girls.
[xx] Literally: “in”.
[xxi] Literally: “One member of the crew was able to save himself with a parachute”.
[xxii] These were second-tier units, roughly equivalent to the British Home Guard.
[xxiii] I’m not sure: “die am Tag vorher abgelöst hatten“ could mean that they had been relieved the previous day – or that they themselves had relieved other troops.
[xxiv] Hartmut Schürbusch, Alfred Winter: „Nacht über Wattenscheid. Chronik des Krieges in unserer Stadt“, published by Heimat- und Bürgerverein Wattenscheid e.V., o.J., p. 113. (https://docplayer.org/22452095-Hartmut-schuerbusch-alfred-winter.html). Albert Plaßmann was a Volksschullehrer (elementary school teacher in Wattenscheid). The German source reads as follows: „Schwerer Angriff auf Elberfeld. Große Verluste. Von Süden nähert sich ein Bomber. Er fliegt sehr tief, von den Scheinwerfern festgehalten, von der Flak heftig beschossen. Er fliegt über unser Haus in Richtung Gelsenkirchen. Nun zieht er eine Rauchwolke hinter sich her und sinkt immer tiefer. Ein roter Feuerschein in Gelsenkirchen lässt vermuten, dass das Flugzeug dort aufgeschlagen ist. Soldaten unserer Flak fahren auf Fahrrädern dorthin und bringen folgende Nachricht: Das Flugzeug hat das Kolpinghaus (Theresienstraße) durchschlagen und ist noch etliche Meter tief in den Boden eingedrungen. Von der Besatzung konnte sich einer mittels Fallschirm retten. Im Kolpinghaus sind Landesschützen untergebracht, die am Tage vorher abgelöst hatten. Von diesen sind bei dem Absturz 42 im Luftschutzkeller umgekommen.“
[xxv] Mr. Gutowsky kindly agreed on me handing on all information he was able to provide.
[xxvi] For the story of this ring cf. below.
[xxvii] „Sehr geehrter Herr Dr. Heinemann,
es handelt sich bei der von Ihnen bezeichneten Stelle um einen Gedenkstein an die bei dem Absturz eines britischen Bombers am 25.06.1943 ums Leben gekommene Besatzung des Flugzeugs. Der Stein wurde 1994 errichtet, als dem damalige Propst der Gemeinde St. Augustinus, Wilhelm Sternemann, durch einen mit dem verstorbenen Piloten zu Lebzeiten befreundeten Briten die Personalien der Besatzung bekannt gemacht wurden, nachdem zuvor die Identifizierung des Piloten durch einen an der Absturzstelle gefundenen und seitdem im Tresor der Propsteikirche aufbewahrten Fingerring möglich war.
An der Gedenkstelle ist niemand beigesetzt, sie besteht als Zeichen der Versöhnung mit dem ehemaligen Kriegsgegner. Ich danke Ihnen für Ihre Anfrage und das damit verbundene Interesse an unserem Friedhof und hoffe, ich konnte Ihnen helfen.
Mit besten Grüßen,Torsten M. Gutowsky“
[xxviii] So the aircraft was burning; cf. the observations of Albert Plassmann.
[xxix] If the exact time of the all-clear signal could be determined we would have a more or less exact date post quem.
[xxx] „Festschrift 90 Jahre Kolpingsfamilie Gelsenkirchen Zentral vom 1. bis 3.Oktober 1949“, p. 17: „Ein großer Schmerz war für uns der Verlust unseres schönen großen Kolpinghauses. Durch den Absturz eines brennenden Feindflugzeugs in der Nacht zum 25. Juni 1943 nach bereits erfolgter Entwarnung wurde der Mittelbau vernichtet und ging in Flammen auf. Hausmeister Heinrich Tewes und 22 Soldaten und Hausbewohner fanden dabei einen grausigen Tod. Am 6. November 1944 wurde das Vorderhaus an der Theresienstraße durch Brandbomben schwer beschädigt und am 22. Januar 1945 bis auf den Grund zerschlagen. Nur ein kleiner Teil im östlichen Flügel der Hindenburgstraße erlitt leichtere Beschädigungen und konnte nach Säuberung und Reparatur wieder bezogen werden.“ An identical description can be found in „100 Jahre Kolpinghaus Gelsenkirchen. 110 Jahre Kolpingfamilie Gelsenkirchen-Zentral“, p. 8. The new Kolpinghaus was inaugurated in 1959.
[xxxi] The mission targeted Wuppertal – Elberfeld.
[xxxii] Letter from the Ministry of Defence, RAF Personnel Management Centre, Innsworth Gloucester GL3 1 EZ, reference 14755/DGF, March 28th, 1994.
[xxxiii] Heimatbund Gelsenkirchen e.V., Der katholische Altstadtfriedhof. Grabsteine erzählen Gelsenkirchener Stadtgeschichte (Gelsenkirchen. In alter und neuer Zeit, Heft 14), Gelsenkirchen 12017, p. 27-29.: „Als 50 Jahre nach dem Krieg die britischen Militärarchive geöffnet wurden, versuchte ein Brite im Februar 1994, den Verbleib eines verschollenen Freundes zu erforschen, und erfuhr, dass dieser als Pilot eines Bombers nach einem Einsatz über Elderfeld (wohl: Elbersfeld) beschossen worden war und dann in Gelsenkirchen in der Theresienstraße in Kolpinghaus abstürzte, wobei alle sieben Besatzungsmitglieder sofort zu Tode kamen. In Gelsenkirchen traf der Brite dann auf Propst Sternemann, der ihm den Ring zeigen konnte. Es war eindeutig der Ring des Vermissten, und so hat man hier einen Grabstein mit den Namen aller Besatzungsmitglieder und ihren Dienstgrad anfertigen lassen. Propst Sternemann, der selbst als junger Mann an der Flak eingesetzt war, konnte so eine Versöhnung zwischen den alten Kriegsgegners anschaulich herbeiführen.“
[xxxiv] Young boys between the ages of 16 and 18 were drafted into the Luftwaffe units to serve as Flakhelfer during the latter years of the war, freeing up adults for service at the front.
[xxxv] If the ordnance still had been on board, we would know: the 4,000 lbs “cookie“ alone would have destroyed every building in a 100 meter radius from the crash site.
[xxxvi] Maybe documents kept by the RAF could help. I know of only one source of questionable value on the outbound course planned for the attacking force, which shows a southerly course – the direct opposite of the course taken by LM327.
[xxxvii] Cf. report by Albert Plassmann.
[xxxviii] Cf. report by Albert Plassmann. The low altitude of LM327 could mean that it could have been fired upon by light AAA (3,7 cm or 2 cm).
[xxxix] Cf. report by Albert Plassmann.
[xl] Given a distance of 4.5 km (mean distance from Gelsenkirchen to Wattenscheid) and an aircraft speed of von 320 km/h, i.e. the cruise speed given for the Lancaster, this would equal a flight time of just 50 seconds; with a speed of 454 km/h, i.e. maximum speed, only 38 seconds.
[xli] Cf. Festschrift Kolpinghaus.
[xlii] Cf. report by Albert Plassmann.
[xliii] A “Luftschutzkeller” usually was only a reinforced room in the cellar.