“Shot down and on the Run” – the 2018 Unilever Lecture

Air Commodore Graham Pitchfork, MBE, BA, FRAeS, on the rôle of the Dutch squadrons of the RAF during WWII in Europe.

From the announcement in the Winter Newsletter :

On 1 April 1918, the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps were amalgamated to form the Royal Air Force. During 2018 there will be numerous activities and major events to commemorate the centenary of the world’s first independent Air Force.

The history of the RAF is rich with many actions where individual pilots and large crews disclosed their commitment to their cause. Many reports tell of deeds with great valour and bravery. Unfortunately, many stories will never be heard because nobody reached home to tell. The history includes the ingenuity and creativity of many who designed and built the aircraft that allowed the crews to carry out their jobs.

A selection has to be made from 100 years of history. The lecture will review the creation and activities of the Dutch squadrons within the Royal Air Force in the European Theatre during World War Two, highlighting the deeds of some of the aircrew that distinguished themselves. Major operations mounted by RAF squadrons against key targets in the Netherlands will be discussed as well and it will conclude with how Dutch patriots helped airmen avoid capture after they had been shot down.

Graham Pitchfork served in the Royal Air Force for 36 years as a navigator. He was trained at the RAF College Cranwell and then joined a Canberra reconnaissance squadron based at RAF Laarbruch on the Dutch – German border. In 1965 he started his long career on the Buccaneer strike/attack aircraft first on a three-year exchange tour with the Fleet Air Arm, which included a year embarked on the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle in the Far East. After two more appointments in the RAF Buccaneer force he was promoted to command a squadron. He served as the Director of Air Warfare at the RAF College Cranwell before commanding the largest flying training base in the RAF. He was one of the last Commandants at Biggin Hill and then served as a Director of Operational Intelligence in the MOD before retiring as an Air Commodore in 1994.

Since retiring from the RAF, he has become an established author and lecturer on RAF history with thirteen books and many articles to his name and he is the aviation obituary writer for the Daily Telegraph. He is a Vice President of the Yorkshire Air Museum, the Archivist of the Aircrew Association and serves on the committee of the RAF Historical Society.


From the report by Nigel Melville in the Spring Newsletter:

The auditorium of the Unilever building was again fully filled with more than 100 members of the Anglo-Netherlands Society present for the 28th Unilever lecture. Our Chairman Dick van den Broek introduced Mr. Peter ter Kulve, Chief Growth and Digital Officer at Unilever, who welcomed members on behalf of our Patron of so many years.This was followed by the introduction of our guest speaker.

Air Commodore Pitchfork served with the Royal Air Force for 36 years. He is an aviation historian, award-winning author and highly acclaimed speaker. During his time as a flight cadet at the RAF College Cranwell, in 1960 he was sent on an exchange to the Royal Military Academy (Koninklijke Militaire Academie) in Breda. Later he was based at RAF Laarbruch in Germany close to The Netherlands’ border conducting low level photo reconnaisance.

In his lecture in the centenary year of the formation of the Royal Air Force, Air Commodore Pitchfork reviewed the creation and operations of the Dutch squadrons within the Royal Air Force in the European Theatre during World War Two. He described the roles of several pilots and Dutch patriots who helped airmen evade capture and escape after they had been shot down.

During the Battle of The Netherlands in May 1940, the Army Aviation Brigade (Luchtvaartbrigade) as the Dutch air force was then named comprised only 176 aircraft, mostly Fokker fighters and bombers. It was hopelessly outnumbered by the Luftwaffe and incurred heavy losses. After their bases were occupied by the Germans, most of the surviving pilots together with pilots from The Netherlands Naval Aviation Service (Marineluchtvaartdienst) flew their aircraft across the North Sea to the United Kingdom.

On 1 June 1940, two Dutch squadrons were established in Pembroke in Wales as part of RAF Coastal Command as 320 and 321 Squadrons. They flew initially eight Fokker T-VIIIW seaplanes brought over from The Netherlands and subsequently Avro Anson and Lockheed Hudson multi role aircraft on maritime patrols. In January 1941, they were merged into the single 320 Squadron which served throughout the war; later 321 Squadron was reactivated in South East Asia to fight in the war against Japanese forces, but the lecture concentrated on the war in Europe.

In October 1940, 320 squadron moved to RAF Leuchars in Scotland to patrol and attack enemy ships in the North Sea. In March 1943, it was reassigned to RAF Bomber Command to attack enemy communications targets and airfields. From February 1944, it made bombing raids on strategic targets including V-1 sites in northern France before and after D-Day. In September 1944, the squadron was involved in bombing German forces around Arnhem during Operation Market Garden and targets in Germany. In October 1944 as the allied forces advanced, the squadron was transferred to Melsbroek in Belgium and in April 1945 to Achmer in Germany.

In June 1943, 322 (Dutch) Squadron was formed at RAF Woodvale in Lancashire as part of RAF Fighter Command and equipped with Supermarine Spitfire Mark XIVs. (I can vouch from personal experience when based there training in a De Havilland Chipmunk, which was a much less demanding aircraft than a Spitfire, that particularly in poor weather the mountain and coasts of North Wales are rigorous areas in which to hone a pilot’s flying and navigational skills!) The squadron’s logo was an African Grey parrot and its motto was “Niet praten maar doen” (Don’t prattle, but act). Prince Bernhard visited the squadron in March 1943 and Princess Juliana in August 1944.

At the end of 1943, 322 Squadron was relocated to RAF Hawkinge in Kent. Its initial role included escorting bombers, conducting reconnaissance flights and intercepting high flying enemy aircraft; a specific task was to bring down V-1 flying bombs (“doodlebugs”) launched from the Dutch and French coasts before they reached London. After D-Day it was re-equipped with Spitfire Mark IXs to provide close air support for the Allied armies fighting up from Normandy to Belgium and The Netherlands. At the beginning of 1945, its base was moved first to Woensdrecht and then to three other bases in The Netherlands until the end of the war.

The RAF conducted many operations over The Netherlands during the 5 years in which the country was occupied by the Germans. In December 1942, De Havilland Mosquitos of 105 Squadron attacked the Philips radio and valves factory in Eindhoven in the first daylight bombing raid without fighter escort; the raid was carried out on a Sunday morning in order to reduce casualties among Dutch workers in the factory. Later in the war, 240 Avro Lancaster four engine bombers attacked the dikes at Westkapelle in order to flood the island of Walcheren to enable British troops to clear the area of enemy forces and open up the entrance to the port of Antwerp.

During the course of the war there were 900 Dutch aircrew in RAF squadrons of whom 206 were killed in action, 27 became prisoners of war and 7 evaded capture. 259 were awarded the Dutch Flying Cross (Vliegerkruis) and 41 and 2 bars were awarded the UK’s Distinguished Flying Cross and 7 the Distinguished Flying Medal.

Air Commodore Pitchfork then gave us fascinating summaries of the distinguished service and brave exploits of several Dutch pilots serving in the RAF and of other Dutch and British personnel who made significant contributions to the fight against the Germans in The Netherlands.

Lt. Heye Shaper DFC of 320 Squadron undertook “a special mission of the very greatest importance behind enemy lines”. The precise mission was not disclosed, but he was awarded the DFC for it.

Flt. Lt. Jacob t’Hart DFC and Bar was Master Bomber in 156 Squadron of the Pathfinder Force which flew Lancaster to identify and mark with flares targets for the main bomber force.

Fg. Off. Christiaan Vlotman DFC of 488 (NZ) Squadron flying Mosquitos was the top scoring Dutch night fighter with four victories.

Fg. Off. Rudy Burgwall of 322 Squadron destroyed 19 V-1 flying bombs and shared in bringing down five more in mid-1944. He was lost “Missing in Action” later in the year.

Flt. Lt. Robbert van Zinnicq Bergmann DFC of 181 and 182 Squadrons of RAF Second Tactical Air Force flew Hawker Typhoon fighter bombers after D-Day attacking enemy tanks and trains. He had escaped from Holland in 1940 and had travelled through Belgium, France, Spain and Portugal to Gibraltar from where he reached England in 1942. His decorations for his service in the war and thereafter include being awarded the Dutch Flying Cross and becoming Air ADC to Queen Wilhemina, Lord Chamberlain and Head of the Royal Household and Commander of The House of Orange. In the U.K. Queen Elizabeth II appointed him Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order and in France he was appointed Grand Officier de la Légion d’Honneur.

Capt. Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema DFC of 139 Squadron flew Mosquitos of the Light Night Striking Force on 72 bombing missions, including 25 to Berlin. He was appointed as the first ADC to Queen Wilhelmina when she returned to The Netherlands, and was succeeded in this post by Van Zinnicq Bergmann. After the war, Erik H R became well-known through his book ‘Soldaat van Oranje’ (‘Soldier of Orange’) in which he describes his work for the resistance – made into a film by Paul Verhoeven – and more recently through the superb musical (still playing) on the disused Royal Netherlands Navy airport at Valkenburg near Leiden.

Plt.Off. Jan “Dutchy” Haye of 57 Squadron was piloting a Lancaster in May 1943 when he was shot down near Enschede. He walked west to Amsterdam and Zandvoort where he eventually took a train to The Hague: there a couple whom he knew took him in and introduced him to Anton Shrader and Elly de Jong of the Dutch Resistance. They arranged for Haye to be taken together with 9 other men in a truck to Dordrecht where they were put in a barge which took them out to sea before launching them in a small boat; after 3 days they were rescued by a Royal Navy Destroyer and taken back to England. He returned to flying Lancasters in 83 (Pathfinder) Squadron and was awarded the Dutch Flying Cross.

Anton Shrader lived a double life holding a senior position in the Ministry of Food responsible for the distribution of food; this gave him access to canal boats which he used to arrange for more than 100 people to escape to England. In September 1943 he was betrayed but was able to use his own escape route to reach England. He then joined the U.S. security services and was parachuted with radio equipment back into The Netherlands. He was captured and forced to transmit false information to the Americans, but by including a code word he was able to reveal to his listeners that he had been captured. After the war, the Americans awarded him the Silver Star for gallantry.

Elly de Jong worked for Shrader in the Ministry of Food and assisted with his underground operations. After helping Haye to escape, she was betrayed, sentenced to death and sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp but was liberated before her execution. After the war, she married Haye with whom she lived happily for over 50 years.

Fl. Lt. Bam “Bob” van der Stock of 322 Squadron was shot down in April 1942 over France. He was captured and sent to the prisoner of war camp for Allied airmen, Stalug Luft III, from where after two unsuccessful attempts he escaped in the “Great Escape” in March 1944. Assisted by the Dutch, Belgian and French Resistance he reached Spain and then Gibraltar from where he returned to England in July 1944. He was one of only three of the original 76 escapees not to be recaptured or executed. After his return, he commanded 322 Squadron for the last few months of the war. He received several Dutch and U.K. awards and a Lockheed C-139 Hercules transport aircraft of the Royal Netherlands Air Force was named after him. After the war he qualified as a doctor at the University of Utrecht and subsequently emigrated to the U.S.A.

Dignus “Dick” Kragt had been sent by Airey Neave of British Military Intelligence MI-9 to parachute into The Netherlands near Apeldoorn in June 1943 to liaise with the Dutch Resistance in assisting shot-down airmen to evade capture and establishing an escape route; they sent more than 100 men down the route to Allied held territory. When Operation “Market Garden” was aborted in September 1944 and the 1st British Airborne Division was cut off north of the Waal River, Kragt and Neave mounted Operation “Pegasus” which succeeded in evacuating 130 men across the river to Allied held territory.

Lt. Col. Airey Neave DSO, OBE, MC, TD had been captured in France in May 1940. He made several escape attempts before being sent to Colditz Castle from where he escaped with a Dutch officer Anthony Luteyn. Travelling through Switzerland, France, Spain and Gibraltar, he returned to England in April 1942 when he joined MI-9. After the war he became a Member of Parliament and managed Margaret Thatcher’s successful campaign to become leader of the Conservative Party. He was assassinated by the IRA in March 1979.

Fl. Off. Charles Tapson of 107 Squadron was flying a Mosquito when he was shot down and wounded near Deventer in October 1944. He and his navigator were picked up, hidden and passed on by different teams of the Dutch resistance. He was “on the run” for 6 months before being put in a rowing boat near Dordrecht to cross the Maas River onto Allied held territory in March 1945. He stated “Our success was due entirely to the heroic efforts of the Dutch Resistance”.

Fl. Lt. Heukensfeldt Jansen BEM was the only Dutch pilot to take part at the end of April 1945 in Operation “Manna” in which, after a cease fire had been agreed with the German forces still occupying The Netherlands, the RAF flew over 3,301 sorties by Lancasters and Mosquitos delivering food to the starving population.

One of the measures of the success of any lecture is the quality of the subsequent comments and questions raised by the audience, which on this occasion were exceptional. There was no doubt that Air Commodore Pitchfork had completely engaged our interest by giving a most informative lecture tailored precisely for a British and Dutch audience.
Several members of the audience either described personal memories of seeing or hearing air operations over The Netherlands or talked about relatives who had flown in them. RAF bombers flew nightly over the country on the way to raiding enemy territory and (as my revered late father-in-law rather pointedly told me on my first “pathfinder” visit to The Hague) had dropped bombs close to his house when targetting the V-2 launch sites in Haagse Bos. One member in the audience told us very movingly that she had been incarcerated in Ravensbruck concentration camp at the same time as Elly de Jong.
I was particularly fortunate to find myself sitting at the same table for dinner as two ladies who had both told us that they were related to pilots mentioned in the lecture: Flt. Lt. van Zinnicq Bergmann was the uncle of one and Fl. Lt. Jansen of the other. The organisers of the lecture did particularly well to arrange that people with personal memories and connections were present to share them with us.

In addition to hearing such an outstanding lecture, we were also very fortunate to benefit from the superb hospitality of Unilever. We enjoyed excellent drinks and canapés before the lecture and delicious buffet supper and wine afterwards in the magnificent Skyline Restaurant. The Unilever Lectures have become a valuable cornerstone of the Society.

A warm word of thanks was expressed at the end of the presentation by our President, Sir Michael Perry. He himself had felt moved by the various stories of bravery, bringing back certain memories. The presentation had shown how longstanding and deep the relations between the British and the Dutch have been. Also the basis for our Society which will be celebrating its Centenary soon; long may it last!

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