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.
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.
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.