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.


Memorial to the crew of Halifax III MZ565 MH-O - 51 Squadron RAF. 28-4-1944
As a result of our memorial to the crew of Halifax JN920, we received a request from the family of Flt. Sgt. O'Neill concerning another 51 Squadron loss, Halifax III MZ565. The family were keen to know exactly where the aircraft crashed, as the exact details were uncertain. Shortly after this request the Wings Museum launched its search for the long lost bomber.
The night of the 27th/28th April 1944
Handley Page Halifax MkIII (radial engines) Serial Number MZ565 was on an operational sortie to bomb the railway yards of Montzen on the night of the 27th/28th April 1944. The Halifax was air bourne from RAF Snaith at 23.57pm. At the controls was a veteran pilot F.S. J.H.P. O'Neill who had been awarded the British Empire Medal in 1943.
On the home ward leg of their long journey they were shot down over the village of Villers L'Eveque in Belgium. At approximately 03.00 hrs eye witnesses saw tracer bullets from a German Night Fighter strike the engines of MZ565 causing the aircraft to spiral out of control. Shortly afterwards the aircraft exploded in mid air scattering wreckage far and wide at a place called Kemexhe, within the French speaking part of Belgium. The German Night Fighter was most likely based at St. Trond air base.
The Montzen Raid
144 aircraft - 120 Halifaxes, 16 Lancasters and 8 Mosquitoes of 4, 6 and 8 Bomber Groups took part in this raid. The second wave were intercepted by German Night Fighters & 14 Halifaxes & 1 Lancaster were shot down including Halifax MZ565.
The Crew of Halifax MZ565
F.S. J.H.P. O'Neill BEM (British Empire Medal) - Pilot
Sgt. A White - Flt. Engineer
Flt. Sgt. Chaplin RCAF - Navigator
Sgt. R.E. Burgum - Air Bomber
Sgt. W.R. Kinder - Wireless Operator
Sgt. R.B. Laroche - Air Gunner
Sgt. S. White - Air Gunner
Originally all 7 crew members were buried in a churchyard & were eventually transferred to Haverlee War Cemetery in Louvaine, Belgium - Plot A Row 1-4 collective grave 6.
flt, Sgt. O'Neill BEM 51 Squadron
Robert Chaplin RCAF - Navigator
Flt. Sgt. J.H.P. O'Neill (BEM) - Pilot
F.S. J.H.P. O'Neill s/n 1312312 - BEM
F.S. Joseph Herbert Patrick O'Neill aged 29 from North Cheam in Surrey was awarded the British Empire Medal at Buckingham Palace on 10th August 1943. The BEM was awarded for an incident that took place on the 20th December 1942 when F.S. O'Neill crashed on Scagglethorpe Moor near Poppleton in Yorkshire. He & his crew had just taken off from RAF Rufforth on their way to bomb Duisberg flying in Halifax W7784 with 158 Squadron.
Flt. Sgt. O'Neill was the captain of Halifax W7784 which crashed shortly after take off. Some members of the crew were trapped inside the wreckage & although injured & burned he resolutely re-fused to leave the scene. Disregarding his own injuries he worked in sparingly directing & helping civilians attempt to save others in the wreckage. His efforts only ceased when he became unconscious due to loss of blood.
Flt. Sgt. O'Neill's Missing in Action Letter from the night of 27/28th April 1944.
The Wings Museum managed to trace several eye-witnesses who saw the bombers final moment. From this information an extensive search over a large area was carried out at the crash site. Eventually many small fragments were were discovered including some pieces which had the Halifax drawing number clearly stamped. A deep Magnatometer survey was carried out over the entire area but with little result. It is believed that the main wreckage was on the surface and removed by the Germans. This indeed matches eyewitness accounts of the aftermath.
Items recovered from the surface - all that remains of a once mighty bomber
Sometimes even the smallest of finds can be important - here we can see "57" stamped onto a piece of airframe, this is the Handley Page drawing No. for the Halifax.
With no monument to recall the horrifying events that took place on that fateful night, the Wings Museum together with the local community made plans for a memorial to remember the young crew.
Finally in 2003 with several members of the O'Neill family present the Wings Museum presented the community with a plaque. The plaque was unveiled at the War Memorial in the village Villers L'Eveque where it would be seen by the local community. The crash site itself was carefully recorded, but due to it's rural location it was considered unsuitable to erect a memorial on the crash site. Instead the war memorial was thought to be a more appropriate place. The family still visit the exact location where their loved ones lost their lives to pay their respects and lay flowers.
The O'Neill family together with the Wings Musuem & Luc Cox.
The son & daughter of Flt. Sgt. O'Neill & the Wings Museum with the plaque presented to the village in 2003.
The plaque remembering the names of those taken from their families by the horrors of war.
The local community attends the tribute to the men of the Royal Air Force that lost their lives.
Daniel & Kevin Hunt at the war memorial - Curators of the Wings Museum.
Later the plaque was mounted by the community of Villers L'Eveque on a specially constructed stone marker close to the war memorial.
During our work searching for lost aircraft in Belgium over the past 15 years or so, we have always worked very closely with the local communities & authorities who have always made us feel so very welcome. Without the support of the local community these memorials would not be possible.
Halifax III MZ565 51 squadron memorial
The final memorial stone dedicated by the village of Villers L'Eveque with thanks to Pat Compton
Fragments of the main Gyro taken at the time from Halifax MZ565
The Gyroscope from Halifax III MZ565 was taken at the time by Victor Dejardin who was a school boy at the time of the crash. Victor hid the parts at great risk to himself in a draw that was later used by one of the German Officers who attended the crash site the following day. Luckily the German Officer never looked inside the draw!
Victor kindly donated the parts to the O'Neill family during the memorial dedication and they later donated them to the Wings Museum where they are currently on display for all to see.
Victor Dejardin holds the Gyro from MZ565 on the actual crash site from where he found it all those years ago.
The Gyroscope taken at the time from Halifax MZ565
Detail of the Gyroscope taken at the time from Halifax MZ565

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