The crew of EE138 came together in July and August of 1943 whilst assigned to the 27 OTU (Operational Training Unit) and the 1662 HCU (Heavy Conversion Unit). Whilst engaged in training and operational sorties like all general crews at the time, they had completed a number of trips over Europe. Their outstanding talents and skills were evidenced by the recommendation of Bomber Command that this crew should be assigned to the highly skilled Path Finder Force. To have achieved this level of recognition prior to being assigned to their first squadron was, and is indeed, very rare.
They were assigned to RAAF 460 Squadron based in Binbrook UK where they arrived on August 30th 1943. Three days later they were to take part in the attack on Berlin on the night of 3rd September 1943. On their first operation with the Squadron the crew were to be accompanied by a Senior Officer, in this case the Squadron Leader of ‘C’ Flight to which F/O Forrester’s crew had been assigned. The crew were detailed to operate aircraft EE138 – a Lancaster Bomber coded AR-E2 “E Easy”, whose usual crew were stood down on leave. Prior to the operation commencing the tail-gunner of F/O Forrester's crew was unavailable, his place being taken by Sgt. A. Rolfe, a member of the Squadron Leader’s own crew.
At 19:58 on the 3rd September 1943, EE138 undertaking its 24th operation took off from Binbrook for Berlin, part of a total force of 316 Lancasters assigned for that Operation from Squadrons all over England. The main attack on Berlin took place between 23:11 and 23:42.
After the bombing of Berlin, the bombers continued further Eastward in order to avoid German defences. Then they swung north, passing over the southern part of neutral Sweden and up the Swedish West Coast. The plan was that the planes were then to round the northern tip of Denmark (Jutland) at Skagen and return to England. A major part of the route thus lay across water, where the risk of being shot down was a little less.
On that night, the bombers were going to the limit of their range, and Lancaster EE138 may have been forced to fly across Denmark on its return route because it was running short of fuel.
As per the account of the air battle witnessed by farmer Ingemann Halkjær (pictured):
We woke up by hearing motor noise from two air planes, and at the same time we could hear shooting. I got up and I went to the window and saw two aeroplanes at great height firing at each other. the planes were coming from the South and passing above our heads while fire tongues from the German night fighter showed that there was shooting. They flew to the north but turned left Shortly afterwards, the planes returned again at a low altitude and the British plane was hit again by the German plane as it lifted back up into the sky, the British plane had been hit, and caught fire. Just South of Fuglbjerg the plane tipped over halfway and went down vertically. The height probably was a couple of hundreds meter, and the crew might not have dared jump out.
When the plane hit the ground about 400 metres from here, it exploded in an enormous crash, like a big thing hitting water. It was so violent that people in Husby (14 km away) were awakened, and I remember that I instinctively jumped away from the window because it felt so close.
At that time there was a curfew at nights, and we had to stay in. But later this night we heard voices outside the window.
Germans on bikes asked for the direction to the place of crash. By then the marsh had not been drained, and most of the area was covered with rush and reed. Later on also cars, Danish police, and ‘Falck’ arrived. They wanted me to show the way.
The plane had fallen down along the reeds. There was a craterlike hole, maybe about 30 meters of length, and all over thousands of pieces of wreckage were spread over several acres of land. The hole had run full of water. The Germans stayed on the site, but when I came home, it struck me that a body might have been thrown into the reeds. I went back, but this time through the reeds. I found a man – both legs had been torn off, the arms were gone, and the head was torn from the uniformed trunk. I contacted one of the German soldiers, and they probably buried the body there.
The plane was a Lancaster in which the crew normally consists of seven men. But in addition to this there had been an officer on this plane who was on his way home after a bombing at Berlin. Not until after the war it was possible to identify the plane – by means of a pocketbook that was found by a German soldier on the place. The eight deceased were four Australians and four Englishmen.
After the war a memorial stone was raised, and through the years ever since we regularly had visits by relatives of the deceased, last time by an Australian whose best friend was the pilot.
After the war the Americans made an attempt to raise the plane from the hole. But there is quick sand in the area, and it proved completely impossible to draw up the plane. It was too hard stuck. Yet there is no doubt that the quick sand keeps on to a big part of the plane. The pieces of wreckage, which did not disappear into the ground, amounted to so little that they could be driven away on only one lorry.
EE138 had been intercepted at an altitude of 4300 meters and then shot down in the early morning of September 4 1943 at 02:33 hours by a Luftwaffe Night Fighter Junkers JU88C-6 coded D5+AX of 12/NJG-3 based from Grove, Denmark.
At that time, the site of the crash west of Stadil was a wetland covered in reeds – the West Stadil Fjord. Shortly afterwards all that remained to be seen was a large water-filled hole at the site and pieces of wreckage from the plane were scattered about the area, some pieces still burning on the surface of the water.
All members of the eight-man crew were killed in the crash and 7 still lie entombed within the fuselage buried in the soft soil at the crash site together with the remains of the plane. .
The next day following the crash a torso was discovered by Ingemann amongst the reeds, it was then buried at the site by the German Soldiers. Also found that day at the site were the pocket books of Squadron Leader Kelaher, and Flying Officer Forrester along with the Identity disk of Walsh.
All eight airmen were killed with EE138 AR- E2
In June 1947 the RAAF in London sent official notification to the RAAF Air Board in Melbourne the following confirmation of the R.A.F 18 Section No.3 Research and Enquiry Unit (3 M.R.E.U.) Crash Site Investigation results; as well as information extracted from official German documents confirming the loss of EE138 due to a German Night Fighter attack.
Official German documents also revealed that following the crash of EE138 the Germans recovered two “Mae Wests”, the pocket books of Kelaher and Forrester and an identity disc belonging to Walsh. The pocket books and identity disc were returned to next of kin in Australia. The following two documents were scanned from the Forrester Casualty File held at the National Archives of Australia.
The 3 M.R.E.U. had attempted to recover EE138 and the bodies contained within the fuselage - which still lay in a hole below the water surface. However, it proved too difficult to extract the plane as it was stuck fast in the mud and the area was described by locals as being like quicksand.
In June 1947 the R.A.F 18 Section No.3 Research and Enquiry Unit (3 M.R.E.U.) Investigation Team exhumed the torso which was then interred in Grave No. 97 in the Churchyard at Svinø and marked as an unknown airman.
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