World War II bomber wreckage washes ashore in the Netherlands, Kiwi among those lost

A plane believed shot down by Nazi night fighters nearly 80 years ago, killing a crew of eight which included a young man from Palmerston North, has washed ashore on a Dutch beach.

The wreckage of a Short Stirling MK1 was found on a beach in Camperduin, a village in the Dutch province of North Holland, in February and had since been “100 per cent” identified as one of the bombers used by the British to mine German ports in the first half of World War II, the Mirror reported.

The planes were later used as a supplier craft during the Allied invasion of Europe in 1944 and 1945.

One of those on board when the bomber crashed on December 17, 1942, was Royal New Zealand Air Force warrant officer Trevor Horace Bagnall.

The 26-year-old from Palmerston North was later ruled to have been killed in action while on air operations and is remembered on The Air Forces Memorial in Surrey dedicated to the 20,456 men and women from air forces of the British Empire who were lost during the six-year conflict.

According to a report on the Aircrew Remembered website, citing various sources including archive and service reports, the mission was to bomb the Opel works at Fallersleben, a village near Wolfsburg in Germany.

Bagnall, listed as the second pilot, was on his first tour with 75 Squadron, but had already completed a full tour with 40 Squadron and was in his 30th operation of the war with 1015 flying hours logged, according to Aircrew Remembered.

The attack on Fallersleben involved 16 Stirlings and three Wellingtons, but only three managed to bomb the cloud-covered target and the aircraft Bagnall was on was claimed by Oberleutnant Werner Husemann over the sea 5km west of Bergen Ann Zee while at 2200m just after 9pm.

Its location was listed as “lost without trace” – an almost 80-year mystery that may now have been solved.

Small pieces of WWII wreckage often washed ashore, but it was “really unique” to come across a large piece, war history enthusiast Martijn Visser told the Mirror.

Visser, who is involved with a local history group connected to a bunker museum on the North Sea coast, said after careful checks he was “100 per cent certain” the wreckage was a British plane.

“On the wreckage pictures you can see A.M., which stands for ‘Air Ministry’, this was used during WWII on [British] aircraft parts.”

The plane was also specifically listed as the Short Stirling BF396 aeroplane – each individual aircraft came with its own designation during the war.

Dutch and German documents they’d found also mentioned the crash of a Short Stirling into the sea near Camperduin, Visser told the Mirror.

“We compared our wreckage with the only remaining fuselage of a Short Stirling in the Netherlands and it was a 100 per cent match.”

A museum at the Dutch airbase of Deelen has the only remaining hull of a Short Stirling, allowing Visser and others to determine the wreckage came from the same type of aircraft.

Three Stirlings had crashed off their coast, he said, one near Camperduin.

In a bittersweet irony, the airmen were “almost home” when they crashed, he told the Mirror.

“By the time you reached the Dutch coast, you were pretty safe.

“They named the area between Castricum and Egmond aan Zee ‘the gap’ because there was little anti-aircraft artillery there.”

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