Basil Broadhead, Wireless Operator, the McKenzie crew – an amazing story

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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

A massive thanks to Hub for passing on an amazing story about his father Karel and Basil Broadhead, Wireless Operator with the Max McKenzies crew, one of 5 survivors of the crew, when their Stirling Mk.III BK810 AA-G was first fit by flak, then attacked by a night-fighter over over Holland, whilst returning from a raid on Mülheim on June 23rd 1943.

Regular readers might recall a post I made at the beginning of this year ofter being contacted by Benny, the founder and Chairman of ‘Planehuners’, an aircraft recovery team in Belgium, who had found the crash site of BK810. (read this original post here).

A later post in March of this year contained a significant amount of information about the crew and the night of the crash from Nesta, whose Father’s Brother was Max McKenzie. (this second post can be seen here).

At around the same time I was contacted by Hub – I was amazed to discover that Hub’s Father, Karel had in fact helped Basil Broadhead after the crash and I am no really pleased to present the story of these events that Hub has just completed and sent to me.

The information that relatives now regularly send to me about the boys that flew in the Squadron still amaze me regarding the stoical bravery they showed on a nightly basis, never knowing if they would return. It makes me really proud to now be able to tell a tale of a member of the resistance, whose selfless heroisim in helping allied airmen, essentially signed their own death warrant if ever they were to be caught by the German Gestapo. It humbles me now to understand the appreciation and continuing celebration that the people of Europe show in remembrance of the aircrews that fought to free them.

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Certificate of Appreciation form the Air Chief Marshall of the RAF to Karel, thanking him for his efforts in aiding the escape or evasion of commonwealth forces. © Hub Achten

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A Certificate of Appreciation from Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States of America to Karel for his efforts in assisting allied personnel. © Hub Achten

What follows is Hub’s presentation of the individuals and events that started on the 21st June 1943 and that were to involve Basil Broadhead and Karel Achten, his Father.

21/6/43 Halifax HR799 crashed at Klein Oirlo, Castenray.
On June 21st 1943,  20 year old pilot Bill Hickson and his crew left Graveleyn airfield in Halifax II HR799 heading for the German city Krefeld. When dropping markers over Krefeld , HR799 was attacked by a German fighter plane, an ME110. Bill and his crew had to bail out. The parachute of 2nd pilot Henry Krohn didn’t open and he lost his life. Rear Gunner Maxie Brown lost his life as well probably because he was trapped in his turret. Bill struggled through the escape hatch before bailing out and one of his boots hooked and was torn off in the slipstream. The boot was found by Piet Martens and ended up in the private ww2 collection from Wies Peeters out of Broekhuizen. On request the of Bill Hickson’s son, Wies returned the boot to New Zealand and on his 87th birthday, in 2009,  Bill got his boot back.

The burning plane crashed in a hamlet called Klein Oirlo. Four airmen from his crew were captured by the Germans, but Bill was able to evade capture. In his RAF uniform, wearing only one boot and with scorched hair, he was on the run for 6 weeks. In Veulen he ended up at a farm and he talked to the farmer’s wife, Miss van Staveren. He was lucky because it appeared that her son Cor was a member of the resistance. Bill stayed at the farm with the family van Staveren where he was hidden for a while until the Gestapo searched the area and he was forced to move to the shelter in a nearby wood in Oirlo where he met Basil Broadhead from  BK810 who had already been there for a while.

22/6/43 Short Stirling BK810 crashed at Oostrum
On June 22 1943 at 23:35 left from Newmarket airfield in England the Short Stirling Bomber Mk.III BK810 from  75(NZ) Squadron RAF.  BK810 was part of a massive raid  heading for the city of Mulheim in the German Ruhr area. Involved in this bomb attack were 242 lancasters, 155 Halifaxes, 93 Stirlings, 55 Wellingtons and 12 spitfires.

The crew of the BK810 consisted of:
P/O. Francis Max McKenzie, 26, Pilot, 41344, RNZAF
F/Sgt. John Frederick Blank, 20, Bomb aimer, 422175, RNZAF
Sgt. A.E. West, Navigator, 421947, RNZAF.
Sgt. E.W. McGonigal, Rear gunner, 421329, RNZAF.
Sgt. R.A.W. Triptree, Flight engineer, 1323983, RAF.
Sgt. J.R.G. Chrystal, Mid upper gunner, 520430, RAF.
Sgt. B.H. Broadhead, Wireless Operator, 415986, RNZAF.

On their way back they were hit by flak. A fire started but was quickly gotten under control by the crew. Shortly after a German fighter pilot slipped underneath the Stirling and fired his 20 mm guns into the wings , which contained the fuel tanks. With a blazing wing and loss of power,  Pilot Officer Max Mckenzie gave the order to bail out. The blazing plane crossed the Dutch border and crashed at Oostrum at 02:10. Max Mckenzie was the last one of the crew who left the plane – but the altitude was too low for the parachute to save his life. His body with his parachute was found one kilometer away from the crash site. John Blank (20 years old) the Air Bomber, did not survive the jump from the plane. He died after the jump but it is unknown what exactly happened.

Navigator Sgt. A.E. West , Flight Engineer Sgt. R.A.W. Triptree and Upper Gunner Sgt. J.R.G. Chrystal survived the parachute jump but were captured by the Germans and sent to a POW camp.

Rear Gunner Sgt. Eric McGonical evaded capture for 2 weeks. The Germans captured him while he was crossing a bridge. He was desperate enough to eat green potatoes.

Wireless Operator Sgt. Basil Broadhead survived the parachute jump and was helped evading capture by a member of the resistance, pilot helper Karel (Kai) Achten out of a nearby village Oirlo. At first Karel hided Basil in his parents’ house and later on in the woods in Oirlo in an underground shelter. In a letter that Basil sent in 1946 to the family Achten he wrote; “I remember the hole in the wood very well”. Later on Basil Broadhead got company in the shelter in Oirlo from Bill (William) Hickson, pilot off the Halifax HR799 of the 35th Squadron Pathfinder Force RNZAF. The Halifax crashed in Klein Oirlo, Castenray.

The escape
From the shelter in Oirlo Basil Broadhead and Bill Hickson were put on an underground escape line to Sittard. There was a new escape line organized by the resistance that runs via the Waddenzee where they would be picked up by an English boat. Later on it turned out that this was a trap put up by traitors and the Germans. This betrayal was part of the notorious “England spiel”. Five airmen and two members of the resistance in Sittard were going to escape to England via this new route. In the beginning of august 1943, the airmen Broadhead, Hickson and Brown from New Zealand and the Englishman Evans were transported to a temporary safe house in Tilburg.

The Group was escorted by Harrie Tobben, a member of the Sittard resistance and Harries fiancée, Jet van Oyen. Jet looked like a schoolgirl and carried a Luger pistol in her handbag. At the address in Tilburg they had to wait for further travel instructions. This small house in Tilburg was located at the Diepenstraat where Coba Hulskens lived. It was a shelter for Jews, resistance people and stranded allied aircrew.

Later on Coba was arrested by the Germans and sent to the Concentration Camp Ravensbruck where she was gassed to death.

The time of waiting came to an end with the message that the Group on august 6th 1943 had to travel by train to Apeldoorn where they would be picked up at the train station. Jet van Oyen decided to travel with Harrie through Holland as far as possible to say goodbye. Paul Gulikers, the second member of the resistance who also wanted to escape to England, was traveling via Venlo because he had to pick up the Polish pilot Morski. He would join the travelling group at the train station in Nijmegen.

The capture
After arriving in Apeldoorn the group were met by  resistance members, Vastenhoudt, Jordens and Van Wesemael. Later on it tramspired that they were infiltrated traitors who worked for the Germans. One of them advised Jet van Oyen to travel immediately back to Coba in Tilburg because the travelling was going to be very dangerous. Transportation was arranged to bring the Group “Englandtravellers” to a shelter where they could stay during the night. After arriving, the five airmen and the two members of the resistance, who were hoping, via an escape line from the Waddenzee, to reach England, were taken by surprise and captured by the Germans. The airmen were taken as Prisoners Of War for interrogation to the Abwehr.

The captivity
Basil Broadhead ended up in POW camp “Stalag 4B” near Dresden. After the war he wrote to Karel Achten; “I was there till the end of the war. However it was not so bad there.”

Bill Hickson was sent to the POW camp “Stalag Luft 3”in Sagan, near Berlin. There he helped in preparations for the escape of 76 airmen through a tunnel. Later on this was the subject of a well known movie called “The Great Escape”.

The two members of the resistance, Paul Gulikers and Harrie Tobben, were taken to the “Untersuchungsgefangnis” in Haaren (Holland) where they stayed for 2 months. They were sentenced to death because of their assistance of allied airmen. The death penalty was later reduced to imprisonment in a German prison. They ended up as “nacht und nebel” prisoners in the discipline prison in Hameln Germany. Nacht und Nebel was a special punitive measure to pick up resistance people without legal proceedings and vanish them without leaving a trace. Harrie Tobben did not survive; he died on March 15 1945 of a disease. Paul Guliker returned after the war to Sittard where he died on June 5 1975.

The capture in Apeldoorn of the 5 airmen and the two resistance members was kept secret because the Germans planned to use this escape line to arrest more airmen and members of the resistance.

The people behind the “Englandspiel” arranged a coded message on “Radio Orange” saying that the group arrived safely in England. This was of course not true, but was done so that the resistance did not know they had been betrayed.

On September 30th 1943 Jet van Oyen was arrested at the train station in Eindhoven when she was traveling with a Polish Pilot to Coba in Tilburg. She was sent home in November and after her release tok no further part in the resistance.

Karel (Charles, as Basil Broadhead wrote in his letter) Achten was captured on November 14th 1944 and deported to a work camp near Wuppertal. He came back home in May 1945 in a bad shape and very malnourished. Basil Broadhead wrote about him; I am sorry Charles was arrested but I hope he is all right now .

letter from Basil 1946

A letter from Basil to the Achten family, written on the 28th May 1946. © Hub Achten

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “Basil Broadhead, Wireless Operator, the McKenzie crew – an amazing story

  1. Jacqueline Theeuwen-achten

    Now I have read the whole story ,I am even prouder than I allready was , that Karel was my grandfather! My father , his Son , did a lot of work , for documenting the whole story , but he did it with love! I’ m very proud off them ! Jacqueline Theeuwen -Achten

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  2. Roger Strong

    What amazing stories you are relating to us. These are stories about people showing such courage and an amazing resilience that it gives me a lump in my throat. Thank you so much.

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  3. joep verstappen

    Hub, you did a graet job! I never knew your father did this.
    Thanks a lot and take care for your health!.
    Joep Verstappen – Oeldere.

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