The Story

This is the story of Wellington X HE817. When you read this sad story you will quickly recognize that this crash did not occurr in the Neustadt am Rübenberge community. However I decided to publish the fate of its crew on this website. The reason for this is very simple. Thousands of airmen are still missing in action. Their graves haven’t been found until today or their remains haven’t been identified so far. I want to show to the reader that there is so much left that could be done to give the names back to the fallen. Losing a son or a daughter in a war is an inconceivable tragedy.  Reams of families have learned to live with the loss of a loved family member. But what if  the whereabouts of an airman is still unknown? How can the family cope with their grief when there is no place to give a farewell? Now 65 years have passed since the end of the second world war in europe but still there is so much pain in the world and so much uncertainty still caused by the war. One reason for this is carved in stone on the Runnymede Memorial, Surrey, United Kingdom. The names of 20332 airmen are commemorated here like the names of the four missing crew of Wellington HE817.

On the evening of September 27th 1943 678 allied bombers took of from bases in Great Britain to attack the city centre of Hannover. Over 1000 explosive bombs and approx. 40000 incendiaries were dropped upon Hannover but it was mainly the northern district of Hannover that was hit that night. Over 20000 people lost their homes and over 200 people were killed during the raid.  The allied air forces lost 49 bombers and 246 airmen:

No. Unit Aircraft Serial Marking Crashsite Crew
1 422 Sqdn USAAF B-17F-60-BO 42-29555 JJ-D Landringhausen 7/4
2 7 Sqdn Lancaster III JA849 MG-F Osteressen 6/1
3 10 Sqdn Halifax II HR922 ZA-P Eilvese 6/1
4 10 Sqdn Halifax II HX159 ZA-L Bierde 5/2
5 10 Sqdn Halifax II JD272 ZA-F Wippingen 7/0
6 15 Sqdn Stirling III EE940 LS-Y Ronnenberg 7/0
7 35 Sqdn Halifax II HR907 TL-P Schröttinghausen 2/5
8 50 Sqdn Lancaster III EE189 VN-S Groß Förste 6/1
9 51 Sqdn Halifax II JN900 MH- Ridgwell A/F 0/7
10 61 Sqdn Lancaster I ED314 QE-Y Drakenburg 1/6
11 75 Sqdn Stirling III EF135 JN-W Mepal A/F 0/7
12 75 Sqdn Stirling III EF515 AA-F Halvestorf 1/6
13 75 Sqdn Stirling III EH877 JN-C Gleidingen 6/1
14 76 Sqdn Halifax V DK266 MP-O Grapperhausen 7/0
15 76 Sqdn Halifax V LK891 MP-X Unknown 8/0
16 77 Sqdn Halifax II LW228 KN-U Unknown 7/0
17 77 Sqdn Halifax II LW265 KN-Y Huchting Railway Station 0/7
18 78 Sqdn Halifax II JD416 EY-F Eckerde-Großgoltern 8/0
19 78 Sqdn Halifax II JD476 EY-M Wiechendorf 6/1
20 78 Sqdn Halifax II LW230 EY-C Hattendorf 7/0
21 90 Sqdn Stirling III EF952 WP-F Horseheath 5/2
22 101 Sqdn Lancaster III JA965 SR-K2 Wickenby 8/0
23 103 Sqdn Lancaster III DV221 PM-K Mahlerten 7/0
24 149 Sqdn Stirling III ED495 OJ-R North Sea 4/3
25 156 Sqdn Lancaster III JA919 GT- Liethe 7/1
26 158 Sqdn Halifax II JN905 NP-L Unknown 7/0
27 166 Sqdn Lancaster I ED372 AS- Groß Giesen 3/6
28 166 Sqdn Lancaster III ED875 AS- Cain Hill 7/0
29 166 Sqdn Lancaster III JA704 AS- Mahlerten 6/2
30 196 Sqdn Stirling III BK663 ZO-K Witchford 0/7
31 199 Sqdn Stirling III ED118 EX-O Ramlingen 7/1
32 214 Sqdn Stirling III EF402 BU-E Galtho 0/7
33 218 Sqdn Stirling III BF472 HA-D Bothfeld 7/0
34 218 Sqdn Stirling III EE937 HA-A Eldagsen 7/0
35 405 Sqdn Lancaster III JB120 LQ-D Unknown 7/0
36 405 Sqdn Lancaster III LM345 LQ-L Essen (Haren) 0/7
37 428 Sqdn Halifax II JB968 NA-R Ronnenberg 7/0
38 428 Sqdn Halifax V DK252 NA-O Ludford Magna 0/7
39 428 Sqdn Halifax V DK270 NA-U Parham House Farm 4/3
40 428 Sqdn Halifax V EB215 NA-T Oosterhof (Gelderland) 6/1
41 428 Sqdn Halifax V LK915 NA-V Hülshagen 5/2
42 432 Sqdn Wellington X HE817 QO-K PLEASE READ BELOW 4/2
43 434 Sqdn Halifax V LK648 WL-F Off Fano 8/0
44 434 Sqdn Halifax V LK917 WL-X Eberholzen 8/0
45 434 Sqdn Halifax V LK919 WL-R Stemmen (Schaumburg) 7/0
46 460 Sqdn Lancaster III JA680 AR- Aldbrough 0/7
47 460 Sqdn Lancaster III JA861 AR- Hohenhorster Bauernschaft, Isernhagen 7/0
48 620 Sqdn Stirling III EH945 QS-H Krähenwinkel 4/3
49 622 Sqdn Stirling III EH991 GI-P Unknown 7/0

The above list mentions not less than 5 a/c that are lost without trace until today. As we have no matching Flak or Nachtjäger claims (with one exception) it is assumed that almost all of these bombers were lost over the North Sea. Several documents show that the bomber crews had to cope with heavy icing that night and that some of the bombers had to make and early return. Four of the five a/c may got lost in an attempt to return. Only one Nachtjäger claim may refer to these losses. It is highly probable that the Lancaster III JB120 was shot down over the Ijsselmeer as the night-fighter Hauptmann August Geiger (7./NJG 1) claims a Lancaster shot down at 2210 in this area.

But what happend to the Wellington HE817?

HE817 was the only Wellington that did not return from the mission to Hannover. The reports of the Luftgau XI and KE (Kampfflugzeuge England) report No.  6788 show a Wellington lost to the dual effort of Flak and a night-fighter. The a/c crashed 2312 at Hannover, Schulenburger Landstraße, demolishing the houses No. 107-120. The Main part of the a/c crashed in Schulenburger Landstr. 120 and only small parts of a wing were found at Melanchthonstr. 20, 1,26 km to the SE of the main crashsite of the Wellington.

One survivor of the crash was brought up by the german military authorities to the scene of the crash and was subsequently interrogated on the spot. The slightly wounded airman identified the aircraft as the one of which he was a crew member.

This man was identified as Sgt W A Grant RCAF. Therefore there can’t be any doubt that the a/c that crashed at Schulenburger Landstr. 120 was the only Wellington lost that night – HE817.

But what were the circumstances of the crash?

After the war M/Sgt Sheldon Bybee USAAF, Air Gunner of the HE817 crew, wrote the following letter to P/O Atkinson’s family:

“On Sept. 27 1943 we took off from England for Hanover, Germany. We reached the target in good condition, a little ahead of time. We were the only plane over the target at the time. The Jerrys picked us up in the searchlights. A fighter came up from the front and underneath hitting my turret. I was wounded at the time but did not know it. My communication was cut from the rest of the plane, therefore, I did not know what happened in the front…who was wounded. Another plane (fighter) came in on me from the tail. I shot him, he ran into us, hitting us in the mid-section. It turned the plane upside down, threw the turret with me inside away from the plane, that was about 18,000 feet. I bailed out about 2,000 feet. The two planes were stuck together and came down in flames. Bill Grant who was the bombardier, was thrown clear of the plane, came down unconscious, landing on a building, fell off and broke his leg. Bill and I landed about two blocks apart. There were six of us on the plane. To the best of my knowledge we two are the only ones that survived. I could have found out the details from the German authorities at the time, if there were any survivors but I would not give out any information concerning our plane, that is, what plane I was on, etc.

After my liberation, I went to the RCAF Headquarters in London, England. I checked all reports stating Bill Grant and I were the only survivors. I saw these photostatic copies, and to my belief they are correct. I am very sorry to give you this report but do not want to tell you something that I do not actually believe myself. This is the truth as far as I know. I have written to Mrs Chubb in England, stating the same thing. Her husband was our Wireless Operator.

I have not held back any information at all. I’d like to tell you that the Canadian boys were some of the best I was ever with, and the Canadian people treated me like a King.”

The german fighter pilot shot by M/Sgt Bybee was Feldwebel Heinz Radloff from 1./JG301. He crashed with his Bf 109 G in the List district of Hannover, approx. 2km from the crashsite of HE817.

Not much is known about Radloff so far. He scored one victory in the night of 30./31. July 1943 when he shot down a four-engined bomber at Remscheid. HE817 was his second victim on his final mission.

The second night-fighter involved in this incident was Oberfähnrich Siegfried König from the 9./NJG3.  He was credited with his second „Anerkennung“ but as we learn from Bybee’s letter it wasn’t him but Radloff whose Bf 109 G tragically rammed HE817 after its pilot was killed by machinegun fire.

König was promoted and got his third „Anerkennung“ when the Unteroffizier shot down a four-engined-bomber at Hannover in the night of 18./19. October 1943.

To be continued…