Can you help?
Have you ever witnessed any aircraft crashes during World War Two? We are looking to hear from anyone with ANY information regarding aircraft crashes in the UK and Europe. Have you ever wanted to know more about why it crashed or perhaps you have often wondered about the pilots name, age etc. If so we can often help.
WW2 Casualty Groups - RAF, Army, Navy. We will ensure their names are not forgotten.
Volunteers wanted to attend museum during open weekends - would suit retired person within the Surrey/Sussex area.



Halifax II JN920 'LK-L' 51 Squadron RAF. 22-10-43

Shot down by Flak near Retie & Kasterlee, Belgium.
A Handley Page Halifax MkII "peels" off
51 Squadron RAF Snaith, Yorkshire - 22nd October 1943, Sgt. Hall (RCAF) and the rest of his crew climb aboard Halifax JN920 for the last time. Having just completed a briefing, the target for tonight being the industrial town of Kassel, the crew commence their pre-flight checks.

The four engines eventually crackled into life and at 17.55 hours the bomber left the ground for the last time. Later that evening the Belgian hamlets of Retie and Kasterlee were alerted by the sound of low flying aero engines and went outside to see the source of this disturbance. The crippled bomber was seen circling the villages in flames suddenly JN920 pitched forward and plunged into the ground with a terrific explosion. Thus it was that seven brave young men met their tragic and untimely deaths at Retie. The following morning found the area of the crash sealed off and under guard by the Germans, a huge blackened and smoking crater was all that was left of JN920 ...until now!

The crew of Halifax JN920 LK-L 51 Squadron RAF Snaith

Sgt. C. Hall RCAF Pilot
Sgt. G.H. Bennett Navigator
Sgt. M.S. Williams Flight Engineer
Sgt. E. Parker Bomb Aimer
Sgt. R.S. Sitch Wireless Operator
Sgt. J.C. Cowie Mid Upper Gunner
Sgt. T.V. Lewis Tail Gunner

The search is on...
During the summer of 1998 the Wings Museum began its investigations into the crash of a Halifax bomber lost on operations from RAF 51 Squadron on 22-10-43.
Prior to our investigation in 1998, very little was known locally about the crew or indeed the aircraft that had crashed close to the small village of Retie during World War Two. In 1998 the Wings Museum researched & excavated the wreckage of Halifax JN920, recovering many interesting items for preservation & display. Today there is a dedicated display in the museum telling the unique stories of the young crew & their last flight. As a result of our investigation we felt compelled to give something back to the community & to remember the crew. In 1999 together with the local community we unveiled a memorial at the crash site in memory of the 8 crew members who lost their lives at that spot in 1943. Several families of the crew were present for the occasion & for some it was the closure they had been seeking all these years.
Excavation of Halifax JN920...
After several trips to Belgium, the team finally located the crash site near the village of Kasterlee & Retie with the help of local residents & historians. The remains of the Halifax were located in a very boggy area using deep searching magnetometers. The landowner kindly gave the team permission to excavate the aircraft. It was hoped that some clue might be found as to the reason why this bomber crashed on its way to the target area.
With the final permissions in place including the local Major a mechanical excavator was provided & the excavation of JN920 began. Not long after the first bucket of soil was removed from the site parts of the bomber began to emerge from the mud. Tell tale black oil stains in the sandy soil and a strong smell of aviation fuel quickly told us that the excavator had found one of the areas where a Merlin XX engine had penetrated. Sure enough a propeller hub complete with the wooden propeller roots still evident, was bought to the surface along with many pistons , pieces of engine casing, engine data plates, a propeller reduction gear & an engine generator with its shiny brass identification label twinkling in the dappled sun light.
Next to the remains of the engines the team found parts from the bomb bay & fuselage. It became obvious to the team that aircraft still had a large number of incendiary bombs on board & that the fuselage had more or less completely burned out. A rather bent & battered escape axe dated & stamped Air Ministry 1943 with the Kings Crown was also discovered. Moving along the wing we found remains of the aircraft dinghy. Remains of the starboard engines & an under-carriage leg strut were also recovered together with pieces of armour plate, however, by this time the hole had started to fill with water. It became impossible to see where we were digging due to the amount of water. At this time the local fire brigade were on call to attend with two pumps to pump out the water. Eventually, thanks to their help, work was able to resume although conditions in the hole were treacherous to say the least. As Saturday drew to a close the exhausted team retired for a well earned Belgium beer reflecting on the days findings.
The following day found the hole again full of water, the situation having been made worse by rain in the night. The next day the remains of the forth & final engine were located. The excavation was completed with the final shaping of a pond (as agreed with the landowner). Halifax JN920 had revealed the last of her secrets.
Some of smaller finds recovered included fragments of the Astrograph & the shattered remains of the navigators ruler. Several plates confirmed the mark of Halifax as being a Mark II, other stamps also confirmed the aircraft had been manufactured by LAPG (the London, Aircraft, Production Group). Over a dozen oxygen bottles were also discovered along with hundreds of strips of "Window" strips of foil designed to confuse enemy radar.
engine generator from a Rolls Royce Merlin XX engine

One of the first items recovered was this engine generator from a Rolls Royce Merlin XX engine.

escape axe bent from the impact
The escape axe bent from the impact is held by Luc Cox for the first time since 1943.
1943 dated escape axe from Halifax JN920
1943 dated escape axe from Halifax JN920 is preserved ready for museum display
Some of the items recovered from the dig.
Kasterlee Fireman
Kasterlee Fireman to the rescue!
Photo showing size of excavation & the amount of water the team had to deal with.
Photo showing size of excavation & the amount of water the team had to deal with.
The hole is pumped out & digging can once again resume.
aircraft dingy
Daniel Hunt carefully uncovers the aircraft dingy
JN920's dingy cleaned
JN920's dingy cleaned - note French instructions!
prop boss with the remains of a wooden blade
Luc Cox looks on as the prop boss with the remains of a wooden blade is loaded.
A group shot with the recovered prop boss
A group shot with the recovered prop boss
The final memorial dedication took place during 1999 & more information on this can be seen here>

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