Francis Max McKenzie, Pilot – killed 23rd June 1943, on return from Mülheim

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P/O Francis Max McKenzie, posing in front of a Stirling, possibly when he was with 75(NZ) Squadron at Newmarket. © Nesta Ward

Many thanks to Nesta for passing on these images and accompanying information on Max McKenzie, Pilot of Stirling Mk.III BK810, AA-G who was killed on the 23rd June 1943, whilst returning from a raid on Mülheim. After being first hit by flak, then attacked by a night-fighter, all the crew managed to successfully bail out apart from Max and the Air Bomber, Jack Blank. Regular readers might recall a post a made in January, after being contacted by Benny, the Founder and Chairman of ‘Planehunters‘, an aircraft recovery team in Belgium, who had found the crash site of BK810. You can read this original post here.

Subsequent to this initial contact, I made contact with Nesta, whose Father’s Brother was Max McKenzie. After her Father died, her Mother subsequently married the Rear Gunner of BK810, Eric McGonigal. The testaments of those who survived that night, form the following  account of the loss of Max McKenzie, Jack Blank and BK810.

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Max McKenzie with his Canadian buddy Freddy Piper who also did not survive the war. Taken probably during training, at No.11 O.T.U. RAF Westcott. © Nesta Ward

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The fledgling McKenzie crew taken whilst training at No.11 Operational Training Unit. From left to right – A.E West – navigator, B.H. Broadhead- wireless operator, Eric McGonigal- rear gunner, Jack Blank – Bomb aimer, Jim Chrystal- mid upper gunner.© Nesta Ward

On June 22 1943, at 23.35 Pilot Francis Max McKenzie ( known as Max) and his crew of six left Newmarket airfield, Cambridgeshire on their fourth operation. They were flying a Short Stirling Bomber Mk.III BK810 AA-G.

Five hundred and fifty seven Allied aircraft lumbered into the sky that night at precise intervals, heading for the German city of Mulheim, an important centre for the steel industry and a major rail outlet from the Ruhr to southern Germany. It was to be another massive raid in the Battle of the Ruhr involving 242 Lancasters, 155 Halifaxes, 93 Stirlings, 55 Wellingtons and 12 Spitfires. Once over target, according to those who returned that night, the Pilots were looking through a thin layer of stratus cloud on to a spectacular scene of hundreds of search lights massed in cones. Flames and smoke rose to hundreds of feet.

On their third operation four nights previously, Max and his crew had to return with their load of bombs from a raid over Le Creusot because they could not identify their target. But this night over Mulheim, their bombs dropped into a hellish inferno. With their mission accomplished Max made a right curve to reach a position of 5125N, 0630,0 in the vicinity of Huls am Niederrhein, heading towards Nooordwijk.

Suddenly they were hit by flak. Within minutes the crew had the fire under control. Max continued to fly on course. Nearby, Hauptmann Wilhelm Herghet, a German fighter pilot slipped underneath the Stirling and fired his 20mm guns into the wings, which contained the fuel tanks. With a blazing wing and loss of power, Max gave the order to bail out. He held the plane on course till he thought everyone had jumped. The last crew member to leave the plane saw Max struggling to leave his seat. The blazing plane crossed the border into The Netherlands and crashed at Oostrum, just west of Venray at 0210.

Young Jack, the bomb aimer, died after the jump from the plane; no one knows exactly how he died. The rest of the crew, navigator Sgt. Albert West,  Rear Gunner Sgt. Eric McGonigal, Mid Upper  Gunner Sgt. R G Chrystal,  Flight Engineer  Sgt. R.A. Triptree and Wireless Operator Sgt. Basil Broadhead survived the parachute jump.

Eric McGonigal evaded capture for two weeks. He hid in fields by day, foraging for food at night. He was desperate enough to eat green potatoes.The Germans captured him while he was crossing a hump backed bridge-  with his head down  he slowly reached the top and discovered them coming up the other side. Under great pressure, he was interrogated, stripped of his uniform and gear before being sent to a POW camp.

For the rest of his life Eric knew great fear when seeing anyone in uniform- even though he knew this to be completely irrational.

Sgt B M Broadbent evaded capture longer but was caught in Apeldoorn.

POW Camps
Sgt A. E. West – POW Camp 357               Kopernihus / Germany
Sgt E.W. McGonigal POW Camp 357       Kopernihus / Germany
Sgt R.A Triptree POW Camp 357              Kopernihus / Germany
Sgt Y.R. G Chrystal POW Camp L6            Luft 6 Heydenhrug
Stg B.M Broadbent POW Camp  UB         Muhlber /  Elbe

Until 2012 the McKenzie family assumed that Pilot  Max McKenzie had gone down with the plane. But the release of a local Dutch policeman’s ‘Proces-Verbal’ in 2007, after official documents were declassified , told a different story. He witnessed the bomber coming over and subsequently crashing. He found Max’s body with his parachute, lying one kilometre from the wreckage. Max had managed to get out  but the altitude was too low to save his life. Thirty- five allied aircraft did not make it home that night and 198 men lost their lives, this included 4 aircraft and 23 airmen from 75(NZ) Squadron. In Mulheim and Oberhausen 578 people died and 1174 people were injured. Sixty- four percent of Mulheim was destroyed.

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P/O Francis Max McKenzie, RNZAF NZ41244. Killed on the 23rd June 1943, age 26. © Nesta Ward

 

 

2 thoughts on “Francis Max McKenzie, Pilot – killed 23rd June 1943, on return from Mülheim

  1. Bryan Strong

    Hi,
    According to the Operations Record Book (which I’m in the process of copying) the McKenzie A/C was lost on the 22nd June. The ORB for the 23rd shows ‘Operations – Nil’.

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    1. Adrian

      Hi Bryan. The mission took off late in the evening of the 22nd but all the aircraft, including EF408 in which my uncle was flying, were lost early in the morning of the 23rd. If the ORB states this aircraft was lost on the 22nd then this is a mistake and not the only one as it also records the target as being Mannheim and not Mulheim. Other records including the loss cards for these aircraft confirm the target as being Mulheim.

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