F.M. McKenzie crew 22.6.43 †

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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.


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


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

19/06/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Krefeld
Fourteen aircraft were detailed to attack the above targets with bombs of 2,000lb., 1,000lb., and incendiaries of 30lb. and 4lb. One aircraft returned early as it was hit by A.A. fire in the fuselage, mainplane and mid upper turret. The Flight Engineer made a really good effort to overcome the damage by hacking his way through the fuselage into the port wing to get at the petrol tank controls, which he then operated by hand. The BREUIL STEEL WORKs was very badly damaged and appeared to have the roof missing. Large fires and huge explosions were seen in the target area. An aircraft captained by P/O Sedunary, lost the outer propeller , just before bombing. He carried out his bombing successfully and returned to base. At the beginning of the attack little light and heavy A.A fire and one searchlight were encountered, but as the attack progressed the defences were thoroughly disorganised. There was no cloud in the target area and visibility was excellent, except for smoke from out flares. Navigation was very good.

Stirling Mk.III EH880 AA-J

F/L Jack ‘Jacky’ Joll, RNZAF NZ40234 – Pilot.
W/O Francis Max Mckenzie, RNZAF NZ41244 – 2nd Pilot.
P/O Thomas Cameron Graham, RAFVR 125622 – Navigator.
Sgt. William Barron Kane, RAFVR 1312222/ 158333 – Air Bomber.
Sgt. Edward Henry Gray, RNZAF NZ412878 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. George Hugh Falloon, RCAF C.18262 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. L.C. Soreson, RCAF R.86749/ J.89823 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. William Joffre Reid, RNZAF NZ411779 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 22:05 – Landed 04:45
Flight Time 06:40

22/06/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Mannheim (actually Mülheim)
Fifteen aircraft were detailed to attack the above targets with incendiary bombs of 30lbs and 4lbs. Four aircraft failed to return and the remainder successfully dropped their bombs in the target area. Large concentrated fires and some explosions were seen the whole RUHR area was smoke palled. A very heavy A.A. barrage co-operating with searchlights was encountered and five aircraft were slightly hit by A.A.fire, some enemy aircraft were seen and three short combats took place, but no damage was sustained by our aircraft. There was 3/10ths cloud on the target area but visibility was fairly good, except for smoke haze. Navigation was very good. The missing aircraft were Stirling Mk.I EF399 captained by F/S Burbidge, Mk.III EF408 captained by Sgt. Wood, MK.III BK810 captained by W/O McKenzie and Mk.III EH889 captained by F/O McCrorie.

Stirling Mk.III BK810 AA-G

P/O Francis Max McKenzie, RNZAF NZ41244 – Pilot.
Sgt. Albert Edgar West, RNZAF NZ421947 – Navigator.
Sgt. John Frederick Blank, RNZAF NZ422175 – Air Bomber.
Sgt. Basil Henry Broadhead, RNZAF NZ415986 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. R.A.W. Triptree, RAFVR 1323983 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. J.R.G. Chrystal, RAFVR 520340 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. Eric William McGonigal, RNZAF NZ421329 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 23:47 – Landed –
Flight Time Missing

BK810 was brought down at 02.10hrs at Oostrum (Limburg) about a mile E of Venray, Holland from a combination of AA fire and fighter attack. The latter pilot was believed to be Hptm Wilhelm Herget of I /NJG1. All five crew except P/O McKenzie and F/S Blank parachuted to safety and were captured as POW’s. McKenzie was buried in Jonkerbos War Cemetery, while Blank is located in the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery.

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.

MAx comped portrait and gate

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

Stirling Mk.III BK810 AA-G
Take off 23:47 Newmarket. Shot down by a combination of flak and night-fighter, the latter believed to have been flown by Hptm Wilhelm Herget of I.NJG1, crashing at 02:10 at Oostrum (Limburg) 3km East of Venray, Holland. P/O McKenzie RNZAF is buried in Jonkerbos War Cemetery, but the grave for F/S Blank RNZAF is located in the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, thus suggesting he may have left the aircraft prior to the night-fighter making its attack. All five crew except P/O McKenzie and F/S Blank parachuted to safety and were captured as POW’s.
(from RAF Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War: 1943, W R Chorley, Midland Publishing, page 199)

Wilhelm Herget (30 June 1910 – 27 March 1974) was a night fighter flying acein the German Luftwaffe during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves. The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. Herget is credited with 72 aerial victories (57 at night and 16 during daylight missions) in 700 combat sorties. This included 8 RAF bombers claimed in just 50 minutes during a raid against Frankfurt on the night of 20 December 1943. (Wikipedia)

P/O Francis Max McKenzie RNZAF NZ41244. Died age 26.
Buried Jonkerbos War Cemetery Netherlands.

NO 75 (NZ) Squadron
RAF Station
Newmarket, Suffolk
June 24th, 1943

Dear Mrs McKenzie,

I find it a sad and difficult task indeed to have to write in such circumstances as these. Your son had been with my Squadron for only a short time, yet he had quickly and happily settled down and had become extremely popular amongst all ranks by his cheerful willing and confident personality. He was an outstanding operational pilot, one who was ever keen to strike a blow against the enemy.

His loss, a temporary one I pray, is a heavy blow to the Squadron, to the Service and to the great cause for which he so noble fought.

On the night he failed to return he was making his second operational flight with this Squadron, and was Captain of his own Arcraft. He was detailed to attack a heavily derfended target siutated deep into german territory, but after the aircraft left base nu further message was received from it. Knowing however, the skill and efficiency of this crew and that he himse4lf did not take unnecessary risks, I feel we may yet learn during the course of the next few weeks that they are all safe and well, although in enemy hands. Any news which is received will be passed on to you without delay.

In the meantime , all your son’s personel effects have been carefully listed, packed and despatched to the Central Committee of Adjustment(..)

The Officers, NCO’s and men of my Squadron join with me in expression of deepest sympathy to you during this time of sorrow and anxioyus waitinmg. We pray with you for your son’s safety and well being.

Yours sincerely,

Wing Commander, Commanding No 75 (NZ) Squadron, RAF.

Air Department 16th December, 1947

Dear Mrs McKenzie

Further to my letter of the 31st July 1947 , I have to advise that a reply has now been received from Air Ministry.

This states that Missing Research and Enquiry Service recently conducted investigations into your son’s case, and it has been ascertained that your son’s plane crashed on the 23rd of june, 1943 at approx. 3.a.m. at oostrum. Mr Hendircks, a local farmer, stated that the plane was shot down by GeRman fighters, and that only one bodY was recOvered from the crash.

It would appear therefor that as all the remaining members of the crew, with the exception of Sgt. J.F.Blank RNZAF successfully baled out, and were later taken POW, that your son sacrificed his life in an endeavour to maintain his plane on a level keel in order to enable his crew to attempt a safe parachute jump.

The remains recovered from the crash, were buried in the Venlo Cemetery, Row 24, Grave no 344, and have been identified as those of your son. Sgt. J.F.Blank is thought to be buried in the Municipal cmetery at Oostrum. This will be confirmed during further investigations.

Air Ministry advise that arrangements are being made to re-inter your son’s remains in a British Military cemetery but in thje meantime have forwarded two photographs of your son’s present resting place in the Venlo Cemetery. Immediatly the task of re-interment is completed, you will be further advised.

I am fully aware of the distressing nature of thgis report Mrs McKenzi, but I am sure yiou would rather have all the information received by this Department.

Once again, on behalf of the Air Board I desire to express my deepest sympathy in your great loss.

Yours faithfully,

Air secretary..

P/O Francis Max Mckenzie, RNZAF NZ41344 – Pilot.
Killed age 26.
Son of Frederick Ernest Mckenzie and of Alice Maud Mckenzie (Nee Saunders), of Dannevirke, Hawke’S Bay, New Zealand.
Buried Jonkerbos War Cemetery, Nijmegen, Holland.     .
Grave location – 11. H. 7.

Sgt. Albert Edgar West, RNZAF NZ421947 – Navigator.
Prisoner of War Number: 6475
Prison Camps: Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft VI, and 357. Promoted to W/O whilst interred
Date of return to United Kingdom: 27th of April 1945

F/S John Frederick Blank, RNZAF NZ422175 – Air Bomber.
Killed age 20.
Son of Julius C. and Ada Blank, of Oxford, Canterbury, New Zealand.
Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany..
Grave location – 31. D. 10.

Sgt. Basil Henry Broadhead, RNZAF NZ422175 – Wireless Operator.
Evaded for some time before being captured then P.o.W age .
Prisoner of War Number: 222488
Prison Camps: Dulag Luft, Stalag IVB. Promoted to W/O whilst interred
Date of return to United Kingdom: 26th of May 1945

Sgt. R.A.W. Triptree, RAFVR 1323983 – Flight Engineer.
Prisoner of War Number: 358
Prison Camps: Dulag Luft, Stalags Luft VI and 357
Date of return to United Kingdom: not known

Sgt. James R.G. Chrystal, RAFVR 520340 – Mid Upper Gunner .
Prisoner of War Number: 95
Prison Camps: Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft VI/357. Promoted to F/Sgt whilst interred
Date of return to United Kingdom: not known

Sgt. Eric William McGonigal, RNZAF NZ421329 – Rear Gunner.
Evaded for 2 weeks before capture and then P.o.W age .
Prisoner of War Number: 334
Prison Camps: Dulag Luft, Stalags Luft VI and 357. Promoted to W/O whilst interred
Date of return to United Kingdom: 8th of May 1945

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Top left, the grave of F/O Francis Max McKenzie, Jonkerbos Cemetery and recovered parts from Stirling Mk.III BK810 AA-G

Karel Achten, Belgian Resistance
At around the same time of writing the post about the McKenzie crew, 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.


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


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

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