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
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.