R9496 TL-L from 35 Squadron
|This was to be the first and last operational flight flown by aircraft R9496 TL-L. Manufactured by Handley Page Ltd of Cricklewood, London, it was delivered to 35 Squadron by a Ferry Pool Pilot on March 15th 1942. The crew below had been flying together for several months on operations.
On 30th March 1942, the crew of Halifax R9496 TL- L from 35 Squadron took off at 1909 hrs from RAF Kinloss on the North East Coast of Scotland to participate in an attack on the German Battleship Tirpitz which was moored at the time in Fættenfjord in Norway. The RAF Operations Record Book states only that the aircraft failed to return. However, further investigations have revealed some of the details about what happened to the aircraft after leaving Kinloss.
It would seem that the aircraft reached the target area and was en route back to base flying down Trondheimfjord when it was shot at by German AA guns in the area. The aircraft caught fire and flew on for a short time before turning to fly back up the fjord. Possibly the pilot was attempting to make a crash landing on the fjord close to the shore, however, just before hitting the water the aircraft tipped over and exploded with the loss of all lives onboard on the north side of Trondheimfjord near a place called Vikan.
The bodies of Flight Sergeant Archibald the Pilot, Sergeant McLaren the Wireless Operator/Air Gunner, and Sergeant Francis the Tail Gunner, were recovered and are buried in Trondheim Stavne Cemetery, Norway. The rest of the crew, Sergeant Nelmes the Second Pilot, Flight Sergeant Murray the Navigator, Sergeant Staff the Second Wireless Operator/Air Gunner and Sergeant Palmer the Flight Engineer, were never found and are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, Surrey, England.
|F/Sgt||ARCHIBALD W B||RAF||Pilot||26||Roxborough, Tobago, BWI||Died|
|Sgt||NELMES L J||RAFVR||2nd Pilot||25||Felistowe, Suffolk, England||Died|
|F/Sgt||MURRAY G H G||RAAF||Navigator||30||Millswood, South Australia||Died|
|Sgt||MCLAREN A M||RAFVR||W/Op Air Gunner||22||Stirling, Scotland||Died|
|Sgt||STAFF J F||RAFVR||W/Op Air Gunner||23||London, England||Died|
|Sgt||FRANCIS D||RAF||Tail Gunner||26||London, England||Died|
|Sgt||PALMER S||RAF||Flight Engineer||27||Birmingham, England||Died|
|The aircraft reached the target area before midnight, although there is no record of whether it managed to drop the mine load at the target or not. Witnesses who saw the aircraft crash said that although the plane exploded it did not seem to be a large enough explosion to have come from a bomb load.
In 1946, a Trondheim newspaper, Adresseavisen, carried an article about the shooting down of a British bomber aircraft on March 30/31 1942. Shortly before midnight on March 30th, an eyewitness from Trolla (West of Trondheim) saw the aircraft flying from the direction of Tirpitz in a westerly direction heading down Trondheimfjord. The AA guns in Trondheim started firing at the aircraft, and as it flew on the AA guns in the areas surrounding Trondheim took over and continued firing. Finally only the AA Battery at Trolla was still firing at the aircraft. An explosion from one of the guns was seen so close to the aircraft that it was thought to have been hit, although the aircraft flew on.
Another eyewitness from Stadsbygd, further down the fjord on the North shore of Trondheimfjord watched as the AA Battery at Stadsbygd shot at an aircraft that came from the Trondheim area. According to this witness, the gun only shot once, and then stopped working. This was probably the AA gun positioned at Rødberg.
As the eyewitness from Trolla watched the aircraft, it disappeared from view for a while before coming into view once again flying back up the fjord, they noticed that the aircraft was now on fire.
The article went on to say that the bodies of three English airmen were washed ashore near Rørvik, South West of Vikan, and named three of the crewmembers from Halifax R9496 TL-L, so it seems certain that the aircraft that the article referred to was this one.
Meanwhile, at Hassel farm on the North shore of Trondheimfjord half a km north east of a place called Vikan, the Vikan family could hear an enormous amount of aircraft activity and shooting from German guns. Gunnar Vikan was a young boy at the time, and he recalls being sent with the other children in the household to the concrete basement of their house for safety. The intensity of the gunfire increased, and they could hear parts of grenades falling down. Curious to see what was happening outside, Gunnar went up to find out. He heard the sound of an aircraft nearby and then watched as a big plane which was on fire flew from over the hills situated north west of the farm. The aircraft looked out of control, and it seemed to him that it almost hit Breiviklien (368m), a hill behind the farm. However, it managed to turn and avoid the hill and continued still turning straight over the farm. The fire in the aircraft intensified, and several hundred feet of flames trailed behind it as it flew down. As the aircraft passed over the farm the family could see that some of the crewmembers were jumping out and falling through the air. Seconds later, the aircraft tipped over on its side and crashed in the fjord and exploded about 200 m east of the headland, Vorpneset near Vikan and Hassel.
Aslaug Storrø lived at Rørvik Farm just west of Stensvik. The noise of an aircraft flying made her run outside and she saw the aircraft, which was on fire, fly low over the sea close to the shoreline, losing height all the time. It disappeared from her view behind Vorpneset and she heard it crash.
The eyewitness from Trolla also watched as the aircraft appeared to fly upwards for a while before crashing into the fjord, seemingly in the direction of Vanvikan. It is thought that the time was around half past midnight. The eyewitness from Stadsbygd also mentioned an explosion occurring just before the aircraft hit the fjord, and thought that the area that it crashed was near Vikan.
Jan Steinsvik lived on a small farm, Steinsvika. He watched the activity in the sky on the night of 30th March 1942. He saw the aircraft in flames flying towards the shore, it was low and losing height and the flames were burning along the fuselage. The aircraft followed the shore briefly before crashing. The sound of the crash was loud, but he did not think that any mines had exploded onboard. Together with his brother, Ingvald, he tried to take a boat out to the aircraft, which still appeared to be floating on the surface of the fjord, to see if there was anyone they could help. However, the searchlights from Trondheim were sweeping the area and there were still guns firing. Their sister, Karis, watched from the shore with their father who was shouting at the boys to return as he was afraid that they would be shot. Jan and Ingvald turned and came back to the shore without having reached the aircraft. At dawn the next day they searched the beach and found a dead airman on the shoreline. He wore a leather flying helmet and as far as they could tell he had no visible wounds. Another local, Knut Vårum who was a boy of ten at the time, living at Vaarum, 3-4 km south east of Vikan, can remember aircraft parts being found on the shoreline towards Vikan. He also recalls that one dead airman was found at Stensvik, just North East of Rørvik.
At Vikan Farm on the morning of the 31st March, Gunnar Vikan's father, Arne, and two of Gunnar's uncles, Isak and Nils Vikan, searched the area. They found a dead airman on the outermost tip of Vorpneset who they thought had probably been killed the instant he hit the ground. Another airman was found on the shoreline with a half-burnt parachute behind him. The two bodies were taken into the boathouse below Hassel by the Norwegians. German soldiers who were stationed in the area arrived by a horse drawn sledge driven by a Norwegian from Rødberg. The local policeman, Andreas Leinslie, and his son also arrived at the same time, again by horse drawn sledge. The Germans used the telephone at Vikan farm to call their headquarters in Trondheim to report that an aircraft had been shot down and that three bodies had been found. Later Germans came in a patrol boat from Trondheim and took the bodies from the boathouse. The farms at Vikan and Hassel were searched by the Germans who were looking for any airmen who might have survived the crash.
Many parts of the aircraft drifted ashore in the area. A lot of rubber and other small parts, but also rather large aluminium parts and at least one of the main wheels. A liferaft from the aircraft is believed to have drifted ashore near Steinsvika. (click here to view some of the items recovered) Huge amounts of dead herring floated ashore and were shovelled up and taken away by horse drawn carts, the fish had most likely been killed by the aircraft exploding as it hit the water.
Germans reports from the area for the night of 30/31st March mention that only one aircraft was shot down in the Trondheimfjord area that night. The war diary for the Commander of the German Naval Defence of Trondheim states that the bodies of three Sergeants were found East of Stadsbygd and that the following aircraft parts were found: tanks and aluminium plates and covers from the engine cowlings and hull as well as propeller parts. In a report written by the Luftwaffe in the area it is stated that an English aircraft was shot down North West of the island of Munkholmen in Trondheimfjord and that one airman was seen to bale out. It also goes on to say that at 0230 hrs, the German Front Line Boat 202 was sent out to search the area, it returned at 0900. At 0701 hrs a Dornier Do.24 took off to search the area, it landed again at 0835 hrs. The search operation was considered unsuccessful and all that was seen was a large oil slick on the water and long slicks of oil in the area where the aircraft crashed.
It's believed that the German who was in charge of recovering the bodies was called Oberleutnant Dein. The three bodies that had been recovered were identified as Flight Sergeant Archibald, Sergeant McLaren and Sergeant Francis, and their belongings listed. Oberleutnant Dein telephoned Trondheim and organised transportation by boat for the bodies of the airmen to Stavne Cemetery in Trondheim.
On April 8th 1942 the three airmen from R9496 TL-L were buried at Trondheim Stavne Cemetery along with Flight Sergeant Steinhauer from 35 Squadron who was the pilot of Halifax W1015 TL-P and Squadron Leader Webster from 10 Squadron, pilot of Halifax W1043 ZA-F also shot down on the night of 30/31st March 1942 in other areas. The three bodies of airmen recovered from Halifax W1044 ZA-D, Pilot Officer Day, Sergeant May and Sergeant Richard were buried in the local cemetery at Heim on April 4th and after the war moved to Trondheim Stavne Cemetery.
My special thanks to Morten Moe in Norway for his help in researching the loss of this aircraft.