In the early morning of 30 July 1942 the inhabitants of the Belgian villages of Olmen and Balen were woken by a fierce air battle over the town. A German night fighter targeted a Wellington bomber of No.142 Squadron returning from a raid on Saarbrucken. The fight was finally resolved in a victory for German fighter ace Oberleutnant Eckart-Wilhelm von Bonin. The bomber crashed in a meadow near Olmen and immediately caught fire. All six crew members were killed in the crash.
Allied bombers attacked the German city of Saarbrücken several times during the war. The Royal Air Force raided Saarbrücken at least 10 times. More than 600 people were killed in the attacks and 8.400 buildings were damaged. 7.700 of these buildings were completely destroyed and 55.000 people got bombed out. RAF Bomber Command launched its first major raid on Saarbrücken on the night of 29/30 July 1942. The aiming point was the city’s industrial infrastructure. 291 aircraft were detailed to bomb Saarbrücken. Many factories were heavily damaged in the attack, but 324 houses were also ruined and 155 people were killed. Nine aircraft (3 Wellingtons, 2 Lancasters, 2 Halifaxes and 2 Stirlings) failed to return to their bases. One of these machines was Wellington Z1316 (QT-H).
Wellington Z1316 was one of ten aircraft of No.142 Squadron which were detailed to attack Saarbrücken. The unit had its home base at RAF Grimbsy and was one out of 13 squadrons of No.1 Group. The crew of Wellington Z1316 for this operation was as follows:
Pilot: Pilot Officer George Camps Hooper (22 years old, Canadian)
Co-pilot: Sergeant Kenneth McLennan (18 years old, British)
Observer: Sergeant Ronald Ernest Edward Bedford (20 years old, British)
Bomb Aimer: Sergeant Richard Henry Foster (21 years old, British)
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner: Richard Francis Stainforth (21 years old, British)
Air Gunner: Sergeant Harold Alfred Oates (19 years old, British)
Pilot Officer Hooper, the sole Canadian in this crew, had flown with 142 Squadron since May. For this operation he was attached to the crew of Sergeant McLennan, which had just completed their training at No.12 Operational Training Unit. They had been posted to the squadron on 21 July. McLennan had only made his first operational flight three days before the raid on Saarbrücken.
On the evening of 29 July 1942 Wellington Z1316 was the penultimate aircraft to take off from RAF Grimsby. The crew took off at 23:52 hours. A couple of hours later, at 03:15 hours (local time), the inhabitants of the Belgian villages of Olmen and Balen were woken by the sound of an air battle between a German night-fighter and a British bomber. The German machine was a Messerschmitt Bf110, flown by Oberleutnant Eckart-Wilhelm von Bonin and his radio operator Feldwebel Friedrich Johrden. Von Bonin flew with Gruppe II from Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 (II./NJG1) and was a very experienced pilot. During 150 missions he had shot down 37 allied aircraft. He would serve as Gruppenkommandeur of II./NJG1 from 18 November 1943 till 25 October 1944. He was awarded the Ritterkreuz on 5 February 1944.
The aircraft approached the villages from the east. The British bomber, Wellington Z1316, was fatally hit by the night-fighter and crashed at 03:17 hours in a meadow in Olmen-Heivoort. The night-fighter turned round to assess the situation and to see the crashed Wellington had caught fire. Many inhabitants of Olmen had noticed the crash and came to the crash site. Some of them took pieces from the wreckage. Soon after German troops arrived to guard the crash site. The Wellington was salvaged by the Germans. Three trucks were needed to transport the remains of the aircraft.
All six crew members were killed in the crash. They were initially buried in the local cemetery in Olmen. The remains of the six airmen were buried in four wooden coffins, manufactured by woodworker Louis Mertens. The grave marker however, only mentioned five names. The name of Harold Oates was missing. The inhabitants of Olmen looked after the graves of the crew. In 1953 the six airmen were reburied at the Canadian War Cemetery in Adegem, where they rest in a collective grave. The headstone of Sergeant Kenneth McLennan mentions he was 19 years old at the time of his death. This information is incorrect as he was only 18 years of age.
There is a memorial at the cemetery in Olmen to commemorate the crew of Wellington Z1316, as well as a Canadian airmen, Flying Officer Bob Irwin, who was killed when his Halifax bomber crashed in the area on the night of 27/28 May 1944.
If the reader of this article has further information on this bomber or its crew, then you are kindly requested to get in touch with the author.
The story of the crash of Wellington Z1316 was originally published in a Dutch article written by the Belgian researcher Bram Dierckx. This is an edited and translated version of the original article.