Expensive present on Hitler's birthday              På dansk                  Updated:  05 JUN 2011

Horsens Folkeblad Wednesday 20 April 1988 from J. Nøhr about the planes
STI BF506 - Bøgballe * LAN W4330 - Vestbirk * STI BF476 - Kragelund Fælled

Expensive present on Hitler’s birthday
45 years since three planes were shot down  -
Text: Paul Nielsen.

On 20 April 1943 – 45 years ago – the Royal Air Force decided to send a special “birthday greeting” to Adolf Hitler, the rabid leader of Nazi Germany. In the evening
339 four-engined bombers took off from bases in England to attack Stettin which was a base of supply for German armies operating in the northern part of the Russian front. In the same night a smaller force was dispatched to attack the Heinkel aeroplane factories in Rostock. To divert attention from the main attack light bombers
were dispatched against Berlin.

(See also
Stettin+Rostock April 1943 with overview and many details. Mosquito bombers targeted Berlin and Mosquito DZ386 was lost according to Lost Bombers.AS)

It became an expensive ”birthday present” to ”Der Führer”, as it cost the lives of many aircrews. Grocer Ole Kraul, Horsens, has carefully examined the complete operational plan. He has studied some of the archives of the RAF in England, and he has talked to former members of the RAF in order to look at all sides of the operation. The following is based on this information.

Waved to the planes
The main force of the heavy bombers were directed across South Jutland near the Danish-German border and on across the Baltic Sea. The order was to fly at a low altitude across the North Sea and Denmark to avoid being detected on German radar screens as long as possible, but anyway a number of them met their fate.
The low flight over Denmark left a lasting impression on both aircrews and inhabitants. The pilots caught glimpses of Danes coming out of their houses to wave encouragingly to the planes at a low altitude. (See also
account in a letter from the pilot of STI BK714 – shot down near Esbjerg. AS)

The air raids were carried out very well, and Flight Sergeant K. W. Giles of 460 Squadron RAAF, an experienced pilot, clearly remembers the orders in the afternoon
to the crews: “Quite bluntly we had the order that after having released our bombs we were to continue on our southern course for a short while before we were to
make a sharp starboard turn and then we were to fly across the target area on a north westerly course towards the Baltic Sea and at the same time avoid flying over Rostock. In my opinion this turn just south of Stettin was a weakness in the planning of the attack.”

Lost many planes
He adds that the events became a nightmare to many aircrews. “I think that a number of planes collided with each other during the change of course, when many
planes with different distances to the target flew on courses to the south, west and north west,” Giles says. (No reports of crashes after collisions during this operation
are available. AS) On the return flight over Denmark they still flew at a low altitude. The next day when the Danish Civil Air Defence had reports of the events of that
night it appeared that 17 of the big bombers had been shot down in and around Denmark. It turned out to be the greatest number of planes lost during a single night in
the war. The reports say that three of the planes came down near Horsens in less than half an hour in the middle of the night. At 3 o’clock a.m. a plane with a crew
mainly from New Zealand sent a distress signal, “Starboard inner engine on fire.” A few minutes later the plane (
STI BF506) crashed at Bøgballe, 15 km south west
of Horsens. It hit
the ground between three smallholdings and only a little more than 100 m from the nearest of them. No survivors.

Became an easy prey
The glow of the fire was so strong that Flight Lieutenant C. Lyons of 15 Squadron managed to make a lucky forced landing with his damaged plane (
STI BF476 - Kragelund Fælled). Later the survivors were fetched by the police. (A very short version! AS) 460 RAAF Squadron had dispatched 17 Lancasters to Stettin that night.
Back again the pilots could report that the attack had been successful, but the operation became the most expensive to the squadron with three planes lost and six returned with heavy damages.

One of the planes that had failed to return was a Lancaster (LAN W4330) piloted by the Australian Ken James, the rest of the crew being four compatriots and two
Britons. From his farm in Vestbirk farmer Tage Nicolajsen observed that a big plane appeared right over the tree tops behind the farm. Behind the plane he saw a
smaller plane firing at it, and as the RAF-plane due to the low altitude was unable to take evasive action it became an easy prey for the German night fighter.

The plane crashed into a field belonging to Anna Skovbølling 200 m west of the level crossing at Vestbirk railway station on the road towards the Birkenæs farms. An ambulance from Horsens was called, but there were no survivors. This was the first plane from an Australian bomber squadron to meet its fate in Denmark. On 30 April 1943 37 victims from the air war over Denmark on 20 and 21 April were buried in Fourfelt Memorial Grove near Esbjerg.

Shortly afterwards the crash site at Birknæsvej was marked with a wooden cross. After the war money was collected among the residents to erect a memorial stone
with the names of the perished airmen. On 21 April 1951 the unveiling ceremony was attended also by relatives of some of the airmen. Over the years the residents
have cherished this spot and it has been visited by a number of relatives from Australia. Today the Australian Ambassador to Denmark J. A. Benson, 43, visits the memorials at Vestbirk and Aale. Then four Australian Ambassadors have been on the spot.