The recovery of Lancaster DX-P for Peter

 

During the longest night of 1942, RAF Bomber Command launched a Lancaster-force of more than

one hundred bombers towards the German town of Munich. One of the raiders which took off that evening of

December 21, 1942 was Lancaster "DX-P" W4234 of 57 Squadron, stationed in Scampton. "P for Peter" was

piloted by 22-year old F/O Ronald Bowles.

 

The force was detected at about 23.30 ET by the German coastal

Freya-radars. It was the sign for the Messerschmitt 110-crews to

take off and head toward the skies over Northern France and

Belgium. At that stage of the war, these areas were defended by

the Gruppen of the Nachtjagdgeschwadern 1 and 4. Several

night fighter aces, including Hauptmann Wilhelm Herget (I./NJG 4)

and Leutnant Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer (II./NJG 1) were searching

the skies of that first winter night.Some minutes before midnight the

people living in the rural area arround Lierde were awakened by

short salvoes of 20mm cannons.

 

Only a few had the chance to see how a blowing torch roared towards the earth and ended in a tremendous explosion at

the hamlet called Kakebeke at Sint-Maria-Lierde. The load "P-for-Peter" was carrying left no chance to the six airmen

trapped inside. The bomber was one of the fire raisers and held hundreds of 4 lb-incendiary in her bomb bay.It took some

time time before the first farmers realised that an airmen was lying wounded further down the road. It was the rear gunner,

Sgt Roden B. Pickford from New Zealand. Shocked and dazed he was taken prisoner, and once the fire was stopped in

the misty morning, the occupying forces took him towards what was found of his dead comrades. Roden had formed a

crew with them, which went through some very difficuld raids. Joining 57 Squadron in October 1942, they flew towards

Cologne and Stuttgard. Being equipped with the Lanc, they crossed several times the Alps to bomb Turin and Genoa.

There was not much Roden Pickford could do to identify his friends. Skipper Ronald Bowles and his Wop,

Sgt Arthur Abraham, were buried individually at the communal cemetary of Geraardsbergen (SW of Brussels), whilst

navigator F/O Alexander Mulholland (28 yrs.), bomb aimer Sgt Maurice Pearman, mid upper gunner

Sgt John Drain (both 20 yrs.) and the Australian flight engineer Sgt Cecil Stubbs were put to rest in a communal grave.

The victory over Lancaster "DX-P" was claimed both by Wilhelm Herget and Heinz Schnaufer. Berlin ordered both crews

to toss. Herget won. None of them ever saw the terrible effects of their acts. Fritz Rumpelhardt, Schnaufer's radar operator,

only visited the first kill they made. The sight of it made them never to return to their victims. Both Schnaufer and Herget

survived the war, respectively scoring 121 and 73 victories.The surviving rear gunner, Roden Pickford, spent the rest of his

war in Stalag 344 Lamsdorf. The final weeks he was forced to march to avoid the advancing troops. Once returning to

New Zealand, he started farming. He didn't talk too much about his wartime experiences. It was never clear to him as to

why he was the sole survivor of his crew. The final words of his pilot to bail out were etched in his mind. Roden passed

away in 1987.

  

In Sint-Maria-Lierde, almost nobody remembered what happened more than half a century ago. Farmer Johan Vindevogel

knew that a bomber had crashed on his land. Whilst plowing the field over the years, he always found small twisted pieces

of burned aluminum. Dirk De Quick, member of the local radio station Data  decided to remember the sacrifices made by

this gallant crew. BAHA thought about excavating the site, in order to find out what was left of Lancaster W4234 beneath

the earth. During the years, BAHA has build up a solid reputation on recovering wartime airplane wrecks, being able to give

several missing airmen a final grave. After the site was thouroughly detected by the team, in the winterof 1998/1999,

planswere made to organise a major excavation. This took place on Saturday September 11. The crater once formed was

easily found.

 

The soil which came out of it was thouroughly sifted and searched

for possible tangible items. A flare gun and a pair of compasses -

wich probably were used by navigator Mulholland - were the first

items found. The team had to dig towards a depth of 12 ft (4m),

during which the plane's Gee-set, oxygen bottles, the pilot's fire

extinghuisher and major components of the bomb bay were

unearthed. Also found were several large boxes with twisted and

broken .303 ammunition, which during the impact were thrown

violently from the rear turret towards the front section.

 

During the operation, which took place under a blue clear sky, pictures were taken from a helicopter of Skyproject.

In the evening the thirthy members of the team was rewarded with a fitting airshow put up by friends-pilots, stationed

at the nearby airstrip of Goeferdinge, flying and roaring with a Cessna 150, Piper Cub and Pitts Special over the crater.

Several trailers were driven from the excavation site in order to start a metucilous conservation process. 

During May 2000, in collaboration with the local council, an expostion will be held in Sint-Maria-Lierde with artefacts

of DX-P. The final flight of the bomber and the interception by the Messerschmitt will be simulated by computer,

the virtual flight scheme being based on historical evidence. This way, the people of Lierde will be able to commemorate

the 55th anniversary of the end of World War 2, in which the crew of Lancaster P for Peter gave their utmost to

achieve this goal.