Over 5,500 aircraft were lost in the Netherlands during World War II. Remains of many of these aircraft still lie in Dutch soil. Since 1960, the air force has recovered almost 200 aircraft wrecks. Until 1996, self-excavation was allowed if the owner of the land agreed. Nowadays, it is illegal to dig yourself and the Staff Officer Aircraft Salvage of the Royal Air Force must lead the excavation.
Also in our part of lake IJssel, on grounds of the Súdwest-Fryslân municipality, there are dozens of plan wrecks of allies and Germans. Several locations are more or less known, but it is often unclear which aircraft are involved. Of the Lancaster ED603 and the Manchester L7390, two Royal Air Force (RAF) bombers located on the municipality’s territory, a possible location was already known based on historical research.
A letter was therefore sent by our mayor to the Home Office in April 2021. In it, we asked whether these two aircraft wrecks could be included in the National Aircraft Wreck Salvage Programme. We suspected that both salvages would be promising for this purpose.
In consultation with the Staff Officer, it was then decided to carry out further investigation of both aircraft to see if the salvages could be promising. This is because not all aircraft can be designated as promising salvages. This is partly due to the crash location or the circumstances of the crash. Consider a crash in flowing water or an aircraft wreckage that has been burning for hours.
In the summer of 2021, the navy then dived for both possible locations of the plane wrecks. During these dives, one aircraft wreckage was found, probably the Lancaster ED603. The location of the Manchester L7390 was unfortunately not found during these dives. In consultation with the Staff Officer Aircraft Salvage (SOVB), it was then decided that we were going to carry out a detection survey and a photogrammetry survey of the aircraft. This was to see whether the aircraft wreckage was promising enough to salvage. This involved mapping exactly how the plane wreckage lies on the ground. In this way, it can be determined how any salvage can be carried out.
Whether a salvage can be included in the salvage programme is determined, among other things, by the national programme’s working group. After the Navy’s dives and the further investigation into the Lancaster, the working group advised the department of the Interior and Kingdom Relations that the salvage was promising. The department informed us that they want to include the salvage in the salvage programme and this also means that the salvage will be paid for by the state.
At the end of August 2022, the government of the Súdwest-Fryslân municipality decided that Lancaster ED603 would be salvaged. We think it is important to bring the crew members to a final resting place and thus give them an official grave. After all, they paid the ultimate price so that we can live in freedom even today. In addition, it gives the bereaved families the opportunity to come to a dignified conclusion.
Draining lake IJssel
We need to drain a piece of lake IJssel for the salvage. For the salvage operation, we will first install a coverdam around the wreck. Then the water will be pumped out and the aircraft will lie dry. The remains of the aircraft and the possible the crew members will then be carefully salvaged. All the material will be examined on a working island on the IJsselmeer.
We are currently busy carrying out the necessary studies, such as the ecological study and the calculation of the coverdam construction. Once all this research is complete, the tender for a civil contractor to support the actual salvage work will be set up.
On June 12th 1943 at 11:01 p.m., Lancaster ED603 of the 83rd Squadron took off from Wyton Huntingdon airbase in England. The Lancaster was part of an air fleet of 501 Royal Air Force (RAF) bombers and these were on a mission for a night attack on Bochum in Germany. There was no communication with the aircraft after its departure from airbase. It was later reported that the aircraft had crashed into lake IJssel with the loss of all seven crew members.
The shooting down of Lancaster ED603 is attributed to Captain Rudolf Sigmund. He was flying a night fighter in the north of lake IJssel that night and shot down a Lancaster at 2:11 a.m. on June 13th 1943, at an altitude of 5,300 metres.
Historical records and reference work show that all crew members did not survive the crash. Four of the seven crew members washed up on the shore, identified and buried during the war:
- Pilot (Flight Lieutenant) E.A. Tilbury (Stavoren General Cemetery)
- Navigator (Pilot Officer) H.E. Howsam (Workum new cemetery)
- Bomb Aimer (Pilot Officer) A.G. Fletcher (Workum new cemetery)
- Rear Gunner (Flight Officer) G.R. Sugar (Hindeloopen churchyard).
The remaining three crew members are still missing:
- Flight Engineer (Pilot Officer) A.B. Smart,
- Wireless Operator (Flight Sergeant) R.E. Moore and
- Mid Upper Gunner (Pilot Officer) C.F.J. Sprack