During the excavations of the wreck of a bomber of the British Royal Air Force (RAF), shot down during World War II near the Dutch village of Nieuwe Niedorp, remains of the Czechoslovak garrison were found, according to the Czech Embassy in The Hague.
“The wreckage of the aircraft contains the remains of five members of the Czech crew,” said the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Ministry added that it was the wreck of a Vickers Wellington 1c T2990 bomber belonging to the 311th Czechoslovak Bomber Squadron of the RAF. It was shot down on June 23, 1941, by a German night fighter on his return from a bomb attack on Bremen.
Members of the six-member crew of the downed aircraft were Alois Rozum, Leonard Smrček, Vilém Konštatský, Jan Hejna and Karel Valach. The only survivor was Vilém Bufka, who was captured by the Germans but survived his time in prison. No trace of the missing members has been found so far, they most likely perished in a burning plane, which crashed a few meters deep into the ground, the embassy said.
The Dutch Ministry of Defense said that bone fragments, a piece of shoe, and flight suits were found at the crash site, adding that experts are now trying to assign the remains found to individual crew members. The analysis will take several weeks. Work on rescuing the wreckage began on May 25.
This week, the Czech Ambassador to the Netherlands, Kateřina Sequensová, visited the site of the find. On this occasion, she met with local government officials and members of the Dutch army, who are working to recover the aircraft.
The wreck collection is part of a Dutch program that was launched in 2019. It aims to facilitate the burying of remains of missing pilots and crew members and to give their relatives certainty about the fate of family members. During World War II, more than 5,500 aircraft were shot down or crashed over the Netherlands. Thirty to 50 of these aircraft wrecks are estimated to contain the remains of crew members.
Czechoslovak pilots and other soldiers who went into exile after the occupation and establishment of the Slovak state in March 1939, from the very beginning, participated in World War II. Trained pilots served in Poland and later in France, reaching their greatest glory in blue RAF uniforms. In addition to the fighters, members of the 311th Bomber Squadron, who undertook the first raid on Sept. 10, 1940, have been involved in the action since 1940.
For example, Czech pilots were active in attacking the occupied French port of Brest, where, in the summer of 1941, they seriously damaged the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. However, pilot losses were high. By April 1942, when the “Three Hundred and Eleven” ended with air raids, it made 1,029 combat flights and lost 128 of the 318 men. The decimated Czechoslovak bomber squadron of the RAF spent the rest of the war within the Coastal Command.
Title image: A British bomber of the Vickers-Wellington type which was shot down by German anti-aircraft guns on the shore of the North Sea on March 23, 1940. One man of the crew was killed in the burning plane, another was hurt and four were only slightly injured. German soldiers stand by the wreck. (AP Photo)