The crash site is to the right of the forest road, January 2022. Bernd Müller.
In January this year, 2022, we were contacted by Bernd Müller who has returned to live in Dauborn after a life’s career in forestry, One of his favourite walks is through the Dauborn Forest, and he often passes the site where a Pathfinder Lancaster crashed on 4 October 1943.
Crash site, January 2022. Bernd Müller.
It was a particularly violent crash, all the crew were killed, and an eyewitness report records that there was virtually nothing left of the bodies. The eyewitness reports collected by Bernd Müller tell the story of what happened:
My father and my mother-in-law grew up in Dauborn. They still live there and told me about that crash. The place in the forest, where the aircraft came down, is still known by some elder people of the village. My mother-in-law, today 92 years old, told me that she was led to the place of that crash a few days after it happened. At that time she was a 14-year-old school girl and her teacher took the whole class and went to the forest with the children.
My mother in law told me what she saw: There were a lot of small pieces of the aircraft, spread over an area of damaged forest. The crash must have been so heavy that no bigger parts of the aircraft could be found. The bodies of the crew members could not be found as well, because everything was torn and fragmented. She told me that the only traces of human beings that they could find were some fingers…(Please excuse my drastic description, but these were her words!).
After we had corresponded, Bernd Müller spoke to his relatives again about the crash:
I talked to my mother-in-law again and also asked my father, who was a nine-year-old boy in those days.
To your question, why the schoolteacher took the children to the forest: As my mother-in-law told me, there was no openly expressed doubt or reflecting about the war. The teachers at that time had to represent the ideology of the totalitarian regime. So in our opinion the teacher showed the children that the country was defending itself. But as you know, children have their own perception: for them it was just an interesting and exciting excursion, as my mother-in-law told me. They did not think about war and what it meant.
My father told me that he watched the fighting of the aircraft in the sky together with his mother. They went up to the windows on the upper floor. It was a dark night, they could not see the aircraft but saw the shooting with tracer ammunition. German fighter planes shot down the British aircraft as they were told.
Next day it could be seen what had happened: After the Lancaster was hit, it dropped phosphorus bombs* on its way down. A lot of them did not explode, they were spread over the ground and showed the direction of the flight up to the point of crash. So it could be seen that the aircraft moved from northwest to southeast along the highway to Frankfurt, before it crashed in the forest. That shows me that the Lancaster was shot down on the way to Frankfurt (before the “raid” started) and not on their way back home.
* ‘phosphorus bombs’: these would have been Pathfinder target indicators and flares as given on the aircraft’s manifest.
It is very rare to have German eyewitness reports of the loss of an RAF aircraft (other than those collected by the Missing Research teams in the immediate post-war period), and we are very grateful to Bernd Müller for his research and his photography.
He also sent us some photographs of ammunition and aircraft pieces found at the site.
Above, bullets stamped with the details of manufacture and the date 1943, loaded on the Lancaster at RAF Station Bourn, Cambridgeshire, came to earth at Dauborn Forest, Hessen, Germany.
The pictures of the larger fragments below were taken by Harald Habke.
Pilot: F/L Kenneth Brown, 146430
Flight Engineer: P/O Richard Munro Hogg, 158281, 32 years old
Navigator: P/O Felix Norman Alexander, 146301, 29 years old
Bomb Aimer: F/O Leonard Sidney Webb, 124760
W/Op: F/Sgt James Curry, 1021538
Mid-Upper Gunner: F/Sgt John Timothy Sullivan, 1395407, 20 years old
Rear gunner: W/O William Thomas Saunders, 1585455, 20 years old
Leonard Sidney Webb, the bomb aimer
From 97 Squadron’s ORB
4.10.43 22 aircraft were detailed for operations, 16 to attack Frankfurt and 6 to attack Ludwigshaven. Both attacks were successfully carried out. Three aircraft made early returns, all reporting engine trouble. One aircraft failed to return – Captain F/L Brown.
4/5 October 1943 – Frankfurt
JA923H F/L K.Brown, F/Sgt M.Hogg, P/O F.N.Alexander, F/O L.S.Webb, F/Sgt J.Curry, F/Sgt J.T.Sullivan, W/O W.Saunders. Up 1830. 2 x TI, 8 flares, 1 x 4000lb, 2 x 1000lb. Aircraft and crew missing
According to the original Commonwealth War Graves Commission concentration report (these reports contain the details of bodies which have been exhumed and reburied elsewhere), all the crew are buried in a collective grave at Heverlee. This means that some fragments of bodies must have been found at Dauborn but that it was impossible to individually identify them. However, it is known that Webb and Sullivan share a common gravestone, which suggests that a way was later found to differentiate these two men from the rest.
What is unusual is that the concentration report says that the crew had been in the United States Military Cemetery at Neuville-en-Condroz in Belgium before their transfer to Heverlee. This means that it was American search teams, looking for American airmen, who came across the remains at Dauborn, and moved them to Neuville where there was a CIP, a Central Identification Point.
The American Graves Registration Command sometimes appears to have acted upon the presumption that all aircrew bodies were American unless there was strong evidence to the contrary, The Command followed the protocol of identifying remains at a CIP where the latest technology was available rather than performing graveside identifications, often in horrendous conditions, as was the British practice. Once it had been established that the remains were British, the Americans would have transferred them to British safe-keeping.
Concentration Report, Commonwealth War Graves Commission.