Airwar over Denmark

Airwar over Denmark

 By Søren C. Flensted

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Wellington III BJ653 crashed near Lintrup on 13/10-1942.


The aircraft belonged to RAF 142 Sqn. Bomber Command to which it was seconded from 12 Sqn.
and was coded PH-R.
T/O 18:36 Grimsby. OP: Kiel.


The crew on the Wellington Bomber were:
Warrant Officer John Cuthbert Heddon RNZAF, Pilot. No.NZ 404360. Born 8.8.1916 in New Zealand.
Sgt Roy Webster, Navigator. No.1091141. Born 27.2.1912 in Hull, England
Sgt Ralph Sterling Taylor RCAF, Wireless Operator / Gunner. No.798643. 26 years old. From Newfoundland.
Sgt Alex Monroe Paton RCAF, Bomb Aimer / Gunner. No. R93174. From Canada.
Sgt Leftrick Harry Hardy Stift, Rear Gunner. No. 645697. 22 years old. From England.

Noble, Taylor, Webster and Heddon



Sgt Paton was a substitute for the regular bombardier, Sgt Melvin “Scruff” P. Noble from Rhodesia, who was ill.
Sgt Stift had joined the crew only a month before, being a replacement for the former rear gunner, Sgt Terry B. Treble, who drowned following a forced landing with the Wellington Z1342 into the English Channel on 9/9 1942.
The purpose of the operation was, together with 287 other aircraft, to bomb the Naval Base at Kiel, known as “a hot place to visit”. The cargo consisted of 810 incendiary bombs four pounds apiece.
The North Sea crossing passed uneventful. The wireless operator Sgt Ralph Taylor took a few Radio Loop Bearings to check the meteorological information, which the navigator Sgt Roy Webster had received before take-off.
There were discrepancies between the Radio Loop Bearings and the course calculations based on the meteorological information and Webster chose to trust Taylor´s bearings.
The aircrafts reached Denmark in the proximity of Esbjerg. There the weather was cloudy with 3/10 cover and poor visibility. The wind was north western.
At 21:35 shots were being fired at the aircrafts from Flak-und Sperrbatterie Femhöje (2./M.Flak.A.204 ) by Esbjerg : a total of nine rounds of 10.5 cm. flak, apparently all missed.

At the coast, BJ653 went into attack mode: flying moderate evasive action - high alert.
Webster set a course that would bring them to Kiel by way of Flensburg.
Around Flensburg things went wrong for BJ653 that was flying in the first wave. The starboard motor started to lose power. Despite the fact that the port motor was on full power, it was unable to compensate for the loss of the other motor and the aircraft lost height and the course was set northwards.
Flak was fired by, among others, the 1./4. Battery of the Flakabteilung 306, which was awarded the claim of BJ653. According to the pilot John Heddon’s statement to the Danish police after his capture, a German Messerschmidt fighter attacked the aircraft. This corresponds with the statement, which Webster gave after the war, whereas he after his capture during the interrogation at Abwehrstelle Dänemark explained that the aircraft was hit by flak at the Danish coast. After the war Taylor stated that the plane crash was caused by engine failures. The official British loss report mentions engine failures over Denmark.
The crew jettisoned the cargo in order to lighten the aircraft.

According to the State Civil Defence, a large number of incendiary bombs fell on an open field near Over Lerte. Around 22:00 these were at first assumed to be a crashed aircraft and not until 23:53 in a closer examination were they proved to be incendiary bombs. Peter Christensen, Ørsted heard an aircraft with a bad engine. Next he heard a whoosh and saw a mass of flames on fields belonging to Peter Holm of Neder Lert and Peter Have of Ørsted.
A number of 30 pounds incendiary bombs, some hexagonal incendiary sticks and two warheads fell at approx. 22:15 near Askov/Ladeskov. Here some property was destroyed and several were damaged. A British report states that the cargo of BJ653 consisted of 810 incendiary bombs four pounds apiece and so it must be assumed that the cargo from BJ653 fell at Over Lerte and that the bombs by Askov / Ladeskov were dropped by another aircraft.
The port motor began to lose power and ultimately stopped completely. The crew feverishly worked to restart either of the motors. They were unsuccessful and Pilot Warrant Officer Heddon gave the order to abandon the aircraft that now turned south.
People from Foldingbro could see the fire in BJ653.
Sgt Stift and Sgt Paton were the first to leave the aircraft. Then Warrant Officer Heddon left through the forward escape hatch while Sgt Taylor used the emergency exit on the right hand side of the fuselage after having cast aside his helmet, to avoid any entanglement with the phonecord.
Sgt Webster jumped at the same time.

Sven Laursen, son of First Teacher Laursen of the School of Lintrup heard the aircraft and ran to the garden south of the school. He saw the aircraft coming from a north-eastern direction. It passed between the school and the churchtower at a very low altitude. It turned towards Mejlby where it banked left and after hitting a dike crashed at 22:25 in a turnip field belonging to Johannes Jacobsen and Anders Jensen.
A fire started and the ammunition started to explode. In the light of the fire Sven saw an airman descending in a parachute. ( Probably Heddon )

Heddon landed in a turnip field on a property belonging to Mathies Pedersen near Tornum Forest. He was dragged across the field by the wind before he was able to release himself from the parachute.
On the neighbouring property “Elmegård” lived Josias and Nis Matzen, both very pro-German. Josias Matzen talked with Heddon before the latter went on his way west.


He came to the farm of Niels Johansen near Villebøl in Kalvslund parish shortly after midnight. He came into the scullery through the door from the garden. Niels Johansen, a widower, and his 13-year old daughter Bodil had just come home from a visit in the neighbourhood. Heddon waved his arms to show that he had been flying and had crashed. They could see that he was not a German, because he carried the legend “New Zealand” on his upper sleeve. Niels Johansen did not speak English and took Heddon to the local inn at Villebøl. The innkeeper Knud Lund had spent some of his younger years in America and so spoke English. After a lengthy discussion the police in Ribe was called for. At 01:55 Heddon was seized by the Danish police and taken to Ribe. According to Bodil Johansen the policeman did not like the situation at all. Heddon was later handed over to the Wehrmacht in Ribe.

An airman landed near Lintrup and made his way north across the stream Kongeåen. About noon the following day he turned up on Eskild Mikkelsen’s property between Foldingbro and Brørup where he was invited in and given a meal. Presently, German soldiers arrived to take him with them, but Mikkelsen intervened and demanded that the airman finish his meal. A soldier was put on guard in the kitchen while the airman ate. The Germans were offered nothing. This airman must have been either Paton or Stift.
 
An Englishman landed at The Skærbæk Mill in the field in which a long barrow lies. The mill belonged to Peter Larsen. The airman came into the mill the following morning. He was 19-years old according to Sigrid. He was timid and he had lost one of his boots. Mrs Larsen explained to him that they were unable to help him; he had come during the day and had probably been seen. They sent for a Constable from Rødding who came for the airman. The latter was handed over to the Wehrmacht in Ribe. He was escorted there by two constables from Rødding. The Germans came to question Mrs. Larsen the same day. The daughter Sigrid went to the field to feel the parachute, which was made of silk. The Germans took it with them. Whether the above-mentioned airman was Stift or Paton is not known.

An airman was seen by Valdemar Jacobsen, Lintrup when he Wednesday noon was coming home from school. In Mejlby he saw a small Danish truck on which an Englishman was tied to the backboard. He was somewhat bruised and a couple of German soldiers were guarding him.

Two of the captured airmen were brought to Lintrup Inn by the Germans for a brief interrogation and were later sent to Ribe.

Taylor landed near Møgelmose in soft terrain belonging to Peter Madsen of the Lille Brøstrupgård estate vest of Rødding. Taylor hid his parachute in a bog pool as well as he could despite the darkness and then set out to the east. His watch showed 22:30. In the darkness he made only little progress and when dawn came he saw that it was farming country with scattered farms. In the distance he could see a town outlined on the horizon. Early in the morning he was seen by Peter Madsen. Peter did not make contact with Taylor, but saw him disappear beyond the fields.


Around mid-morning Taylor reached Haurum, south of Rødding. Here he came to a farm belonging to Svend Christensen and he attracted the attention of the son, Harry, who was working in some shrubbery south of the farm. Harry went inside the house, but soon reappeared and motioned Taylor in.
Taylor relates that in the house there was a middle-aged woman and a freckled girl about ten or twelve years old.
The woman was Svend Christensen’s wife, Laura. The girl was the fourteen year old Martha Skøtt who only recently had started being in service at the farm.


                             (Lintrup Lokalarkiv)

The freckled girl


None of them spoke English. The Danish flag was brought down from the attic to make Taylor realise that they were Danish-minded, but apparently he did not understand.
A telephone-call was made for folk high school teacher Johannes Rosendahl from Rødding so that he could translate.
Taylor was served beer, fried bacon and buttermilk gruel. The gruel Taylor did not care much for.
Rosendahl arrived and they discussed how Taylor might get away. Rosendahl did not have much faith that Taylor could make it to Sweden, but promised to get him some clothes. Taylor gave him what money he had in his escape kit. After that, Rosendahl left the house.
Presumably, Rosendahl was interrupted by the Germans and was therefore incapable of helping Taylor. Rosendahl remained an active member of the resistance movement during the rest of the war.
Taylor was falling asleep at the table and Laura Christensen signalled him to rest. He was shown into Martha’s room where new bed linen had been put on and he went to bed. He fell asleep immediately.
While Taylor was asleep, some Germans dressed in black uniforms arrived and said that they knew of an English airman at the farm.
Taylor was awakened by a cultured Oxford accented voice. When he opened his eyes, he looked into the barrel of a pistol held by a German officer. Taylor was taken prisoner.
He believed that the Christensens had turned him in and did not try to hide his opinion of them. He asked the German to translate to make sure that the family understood him. Laura Christensen was crying when Taylor was taken away.
Nearby was a farm owned by a Germanised Dane by the name of Jacobsen. Apparently, Taylor had been seen from there and subsequently Jacobsen contacted the local German military.

Webster landed near Brændstrup. He hid his parachute in a turnip clamp, set out to the east and ended up approximately 20 kilometers away in Højrup near Stepping where he went to sleep in a barn at the farm Dansbjerggård. The property belonged to Jørgen and Sofie Poulsen.
When she was going to school the next morning, the eight-year old daughter Anne Marie saw Webster leaving the barn with straws in his hair. Anne Marie called for her father who sent her to Stepping for head teacher Midtgård in order that he could translate. While Webster waited at the farm, he ripped off the badges on his coat. He was very nervous, but when he was shown an underground room where bacon had been stored during World War I he calmed down because he now knew of a place to hide in case the Germans came.


After having stayed a day or two at the Poulsens he went off on a walk across Denmark.
When Webster left, the family gave him an overcoat, a cap, a map, a packed lunch and some money. He was also given a note saying “Korsør”. That was intended to be shown at the ticket office when he arrived at Nyborg where he had to get on a ferry across Store Bælt. By the teacher he was instructed to pretend to be deaf-and -dumb. He left his own escape -map printed on silk with the family.
Webster now set off and reached Helsingør on 18/10. How he got there appears from the examination report taken by the Germans in København on 19/10. This account must in broad outlines be considered correct except from the fact the Webster “forgot” to mention his stay at Dansbjerggård.
In Helsingør on 19/10 at 03.30 he was arrested by two Constables of the reserve from coast-police while looking into the possibilities of getting a boat at Trykkerdammen.
Webster was taken to the coast-police office in “Stella Maris”, Ndr. Strandvej in Helsingør. There, he was searched by two Sergeants. Webster was found in possession of a large sum of escape-money: 900 French francs, 250 Belgian francs, 20 Dutch guilders and an English ten-shilling note, besides that, also a box of caramels and lozenges, two hacksaw blades and a wrist watch with the legend Royal Air Force. The criminal police was now informed and a Sergeant arrived to question Webster. The latter explained how his aircraft had crashed near Kolding and how he had bailed out in a parachute. He had travelled from Kolding to Helsingør either on foot or as a blind passenger onboard trains or trucks.
After this, the German Wehrmacht was informed.
On 19/10 at 05:15, Stabsfeldwebel Bosold and three German soldiers from Kronborg arrived to bring Webster and he`s belongings to Abwehrstelle Dänemark in København. The interrogation took place at Unit III F and was carried out by Hauptmann Hofmann of the III Luft. The interrogation was conducted in English, but was taken down in German.

Webster’s interrogation report gives the following account:
On Tuesday 13/10 he flew in over Denmark in a two-motored Wellington Bomber with the purpose of bombing Kiel.
They ran into flak being fired from an island just off the Danish coast. When they flew on, they discovered that both motors were cutting out, possibly because the fuel supplies were hit by fragments of the flak.
The crew jumped out of the aircraft. Webster landed in the neighbourhood of Rødding and had no further contact with the rest of the crew. He quickly folded up his parachute and hid it in a turnip clamp and then started walking.
Being a navigator, he had a map of Denmark.
Around two in the morning on 14/10 he went to sleep in a haystack and the following day he moved on and crossed Lillebæltsbroen (bridge) to Fyn in daylight. He was not approached by the German guards even though he saw them and they him.
During the afternoon on his passage through Middelfart, he sought shelter from bad weather in a haystack and then continued on 15/10.
He was picked up by a civilian truck. The driver gave him ten kroners.
He got off in Odense and walked to Nyborg. He was unable to remember whether he spent yet another night on Fyn. Anyhow, in Nyborg he bought a ticket to Korsør. He pretended to be deaf-and-dumb, wrote the word “Korsør” on a piece of paper and then got the ticket.
Leaving Korsør, he walked on and spent the night in a haystack near Slagelse. The following day he walked to Sorø. Having left Sorø, he managed to jump on to the back of a truck, which brought him to Ringsted. After Ringsted, he again succeeded in getting a ride on a truck bringing him to Roskilde. After Roskilde, he repeated the trick and thus came to Hillerød. From Hillerød he walked to Helsingør, where he arrived 18/10 around noon.
Questioned on how he had sustained himself, he answered:
I had my airman’s ration consisting of chocolate and other nourishing things and I also picked apples on my way.
In a village between Roskilde and Hillerød I bought two eggs and some fish in a store with the leftover money. One egg had gone bad.
In Helsingør he evaluated the situation, considering whether it was possible to swim to Sweden.
He abandoned the idea due to bad weather (storm). During the night, he attempted to get a boat, but was in the process captured by the coast police.
He would not give the name of the truck driver who had given him the ten kroner and said that he had already forgotten it. Apparently no one else had helped him.
Any shopping was done under the pretence of being deaf-and-dumb.
Webster was wearing an English flying uniform in a bluish colour which was easily mistakable for a pair of overalls.
The coat was the short English personnel coat that only appears militarily at the shoulder straps and does not have any military badges attached. Webster was not wearing any badges of rank. He explained that it was only in the last moment that he had joined the mission in the place of an ill flyer and accidentally he had taken a private’s coat.
Webster had flown over Germany several times before. He had only flown over Denmark once before to drop mines in Lille Bælt. These missions happened some time previously.

When the questioning in København had ended Webster was brought to Dulag Luft near Frankfurt am Mainz for further questioning. He arrived here a few days after the rest of the crew.


Prison camp:

Taylor explains that when he arrived at Dulag Luft he was put in a solitary cell. No violence was used, but he particularly remembers the hunger, the small cell and being questioned at all hours of the day. When the questionings had ended and he was to be sent to the main compound he was surprised to learn from the intelligence officer the amount of information the Germans had collected during the years.
In the main compound he met up with the rest of the crew.


Taylor's POW dogtag


Taylor first went to Stalag Luft I Barth with the numbers 850. Taylor’s preserved dog tag reads: Barth Vogelsang no 850. Eventually Taylor ended up in Stalag Luft VI Heydekrug. On 2/1. 1945 the prisoners were marched to Memel, where they boarded a freighter that took them to Swinemünde l. It was a rough passage. Crowded below deck like rats in a trap. Only a few permitted on deck at a time for a breath of air and other needs.
They left the freighter in Kiel and entered partitioned boxed cars with a German guard with a machine gun in one end and the prisoners in the other. The prisoners were handcuffed two men together. At this stage the allies mounted a raid. The docks and ships made smoke. The guard got very nervous and the prisoners lay on the floor and tried breathing through some kind of cloth to prevent choking on the smoke. Luckily, it was a small airraid. The train took them to Grosstychow and Stalag Luft IV. They were lined up at the station and a German officer waved a Luger at them, because someone had tried to escape. On the road to the camp the prisoners were hustled into a run by armed German cadets and guards with dogs which went beserk in the confusion.
 


                                                        (Via Taylor)

The infamous Run up the Road as drawn by a POW

The prisoners were again handcuffed two men together. Their packs were cut away and they dodged bayonets to the camp gates. There were a lot of wounds and dog bites and one casualty. After a while Taylor’s group was again sent on the road because of the Russian advance. They crossed the river Elbe at least two times. The last time they crossed the river was at dawn in a barge. They were attacked by allied planes. Luckily, Taylor was a hundred yards inland when the barge was shot up and several of the prisoners lost their lives. On 2/5 Taylor had reached a place approximately 40 km from Lübeck. Here they were liberated by a unit from the British Sixth Airborne Division. Within the next two days the former prisoners “seconded” a bus and driver and made their way back across the Rhine to a major airfield, recently taken by the allied forces. From there they returned to Britain. The time in the camps had taken its toll on Taylor. He began at 160 lbs and weighted 118 lbs at the end.
 

Taylor back in Canada




Paton, Heddon, Webster and Stift were first sent to Stalag Luft I Barth where they were given prison numbers 844, 823, 859 and 849, respectively. They stayed there until November 1943 when they together with fellow prisoners were shipped by cattle truck to Stalag Luft VI Heydekrug (Memel in Lithuania). It was a horrible journey. They were crammed very tight and were allowed out of the trucks only once on the trip which lasted 8 or 9 days. Heddon stayed in Heydekrug until 14/7 1944 when he and other prisoners were taken by cattle truck to Memel. There they were jammed tightly in the hold of a rusty hulk called the “Insterburg”. They were there for 3 days and nights while it steamed to Swinemünde. From there they were taken by cattle truck to Gross Tychow. From the rail station they suffered the infamous “Run up the road”. They were manacled in pairs and forced to run the 3 to 4 kilometers to Stalag Luft IV. During the run they were attacked by Alsatian dogs and jabbed at with bajonets by kriegsmarines. Heddon stayed at this Stalag until 6/2 1945 when the prisoners were sent on a march which took them to Fallingbostel near Hannover where they arrived on 28/3. After a while they were again on the march, this time to the east. During this march Heddon was sick and was taken back to Fallingbostel from where he was released.

 


                                      ("No flight from the cage")

Taylor standing to the left after liberation

The rest of the group were overtaken and released by the 6. Airborne Division on 2/5 1945.
In Webster’s case, he went on to Stalag 357 Thorn / Fallingbostel from Heydekrug.


Lintrup:

Due to the bombs, any railway traffic between Vejen and Brørup was disconnected. Thus the train normally passing Brørup at 06:39 was detained in Vejen until 10:30.
The demolition party was on Wednesday at 10:20 able to report that there were no unexploded bombs in the area around Ladelund.
At 15:02 Nedre Lerte was de-barriered and the area declared free from incendiary bombs.
A total of five parachutes were found between Lintrup and Brændstrup. From these appear the names of the flyers.
On 21/10 1942 a flying helmet was found in Haurum bog; it was handed over to the German Lieutenant Stihl, in Ribe. (The helmet probably belonged to Webster since Taylor left his helmet in the aircraft)
Furthermore, a boot was found and sent in a parcel to Standortältesten in Ribe. (The airman who landed by Skærbæk Mølle had lost a boot)
The right hand emergency hatch was found near the small town of Skodborg.
The wreck was recovered by a salvage party from Flensborg under the command of Werkmeister Jacobs who on 19/10 declared to Constable Nissen from Rødding that there were no unexploded bombs in the area.
Farmer Anders Jensen who owned the field on which the aircraft crashed declared to the police that he demanded compensation for the damage done to his field. He was requested to place his demand with “The Management Board for War Risk Insurance” (Forvaltningsnævnet for Krigsforsikring), Grønningen 25, Copenhagen. It is not clear whether he was paid compensation.



Epilogue

The Mission:

The total effective number that took part in the attack on Kiel was 100 Wellingtons, 82 Lancasters, 78 Halifaxes and 28 Stirlings.
One Lancaster, one Halifax, one Stirling and five Wellingtons were lost during the mission.
Seven aircraft crash-landed when returning to England.
 

The Crew:


All of the Wellington BJ653 crew survived their captivity.

After the war, Heddon returned to New Zealand. He was demobilised from The Royal New Zealand Air Force on 7/10 1945. He returned to Te Kuiti where he was engaged in agriculture with his sister, Mary, until his death 19/10 1994.

Paton returned to Canada where he died on 16/8 1996.

In December 1999 the author located Stift in England. However he was not well and was not able to assist in the research.

Webster worked on the riverboats on the Humber in England until his retirement in 1977.
Local editor Jørgensen of the “Vestkysten” newspaper in Rødding was in 1981 in touch with him.

Taylor returned to Newfoundland, where I located him in 1997. Following our correspondence, Taylor wrote a letter in February 1998 to “The freckled girl” from the farm where he was captured.
He wrote :” I have been in contact with Soren Flensted on several occasions since he began assembling information regarding events of 13/10 1942; probably, the most important of all, is that provided by you, regarding the day of my capture. I clearly recall you bringing out the Danish flag, and understand the significance you were trying to convey. However, I knew the search was on and troops would come sooner or later. My presence therefore was a real danger to the family. After Mr. Rosendahl came, I did relax, and had good hopes of escape. I am indeed happy to know that the Christensen family “did not turn me in”. Actually, the flag and general feeling never did fit the profile on informers. I deeply regret drawing the obvious conclusions, and my hasty remarks through the German interpreters. Please accept this for yourself and on my behalf of the Christensens, who are beyond my reach; later, who knows. Thank you for your care of a very weary flyer who was too tired to resist your bed as I should have done.
Taylor continues: When I look at your picture I see again a freckle-faced kid, very pale and wondering just what would happen next. Thanks for being a good Dane. This letter to you has been overdue for years. Now the facts are all in place and at long last I feel a sense of release from the memories of war”.

On the 57. year anniversary of the crash
 Taylor was presented with a fragment
 of the propeller of the Wellington


Taylor passed away on 8/3 2002.

It was the second time Heddon and Taylor crashed.
On 8/9 1942 at 20:23 Wellington IV ZI342 coded QT-T took off from Grimsby. The mission was to bomb Frankfurt.
On their return, they had problems with the motor and at 04:20 the aircraft ditched into the English Channel. It was a rough ditching. The aircraft broke in two just aft of the main spar and sank in seconds. Taylor had established radio contact with the DF stations and took ditching positions just before the aircraft crashed about 12 miles from the French coast. The entire crew except rear gunner Sgt.T.B.Treble managed to get out of the aircraft and into the dinghy. The latter, who came from South Africa, went down with the tail section. The others: F/s J.C.Heddon, Sgt J.C.Holmes, Sgt M.P.Noble and Sgt R.S.Taylor were at 11:30 picked up and brought to shore.
Sgt.Treble have no known grave and is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.



Sources: Ralph Taylor, Mary Heddon, Newspapers Dannevirke and Vestkysten, RL 19/454+455, LBUK, AS 67-68, AIR 27/973, AIR 20/2336, KT, OLCB, BCL.

 

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