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Τρίτη, 11 Οκτωβρίου 2016

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Planehunters: Finding WW2 crashed aircraft and keeping the memories alive


They may have been killed over 7 decades ago, but their memory is still alive, thanks to the efforts of Planehunters, a group which has dedicated time and resources locating, unearthing and finding the human stories behind crashed WW2 aircraft in the area of Belgium.

Benny Ceulaers, Chairman of Planehunters Recovery Team, tells WW2 Wrecks the details behind every operation, the future plans and the importance of keeping the memory of those killed airmen alive for the young generation, raising awareness about the sacrifices made during WW2. 

Here is Benny's story, in his own words:

1/ When was the planehunters group established and what is its purpose?

I started Planehunters in 2006,i found a Spitfire and started to dig it up.


Then the Government contacted me that this was illegal. 

I did not know this.

So then i founded Planehunters


2/ You have focused on 51 and 150 RAF squadrons. Tell us why and what have you found so far?

 Our first memorial was a Halifax from 51 sqn,because of the work that we did researching this crash i came in contact with 51 sqn History Society. 


They invited me for the anual reunion and from that day i told them i would try and find all the 51 and 150 sqn crashes in Belgium.

One of our good friends and 150 sqn veteran Robert “Bob” Frost is coming over every year to the comet line reunion.



We promised Bob that as long he is in good health and he is fit for the trip we will bring him from his house in Sandwich to Brussels for this reunion. 



I have lost count of all the crashes that we found (laughing)

3/ When you locate the remains of a KIA airman, what are your first thoughts? How do you proceed with the identification and burial?

It is always a very strange moment because by the time we start digging we already have done a lot of research.


So we know who these men are. 

We hand over the remains to the police and then it is the hands of the CWGC.



We had one reburial so far

4/ What is your most memorable find so far and why?

That depends from site to site,we always find interesting stuff. 

One time i found a stopwatch and when i opened it the name of the crewmember was engraved.


I contacted the family and they came over so i gave the watch back to them.

That was special.

Later i saw this family again on the 51 sqn reunion and the sister of that crewmember gave me a card.


Attached on that card were the wings of this man,so again this was very special.

At first when i visited the Schoonselhof Cemetery in 2006 (that is the cemetery were all the graves are from the planes that came down in our region) i knew just one grave ,now when i go and visit the cemetery i can put a photo on almost all the graves.



5/ Do you work together with other groups, which ones and why?

Normaly we work on our own. 

But if we have a big project we work together with the other teams. That depends witch region the crash site is. 

We have a very good relationship with all the teams.


6/ Tell us a bit more about the exhibitions of items you are organising?

We don't have a museum,we have donated some parts to museums in England,also some local pubs who have a relation to the airfields of ww2.



Sometimes we put up a small expo on the fly ins here in Belgium.


And when we unveil a memorial we always try to put up an expo about the plane and his crew.We also give lectures to schools and local History Societies.

7/ How important is it for the young generations to learn about the sacrifices made by young men 70+ years ago?

It is important that they are not forgotten,that is wy we put up these memorials,we always contact the local schools to do a project around the crash and that they keep the memorial clean.



8/ What is your next project and why did you choose it?

Our next project is very big, it is the full recovery of Lancaster NN775 ,on the scans that we took we can see that there is still a lot of the plane in the ground.I think this is going to be one of the biggest recoveries  ever in Belgium.



We will do this with the BAHAAT team,if the weather is good we start digging on 11/11/2016.




We already have contacted the heritage centre at Waterbeach to put items on display in the museum.




Benny Ceulaers

Founder,chairman,research ,detecting

Thijs Hellings

Vice Chairman,research ,detecting

Steven Volckaerts

Research ,allrounder.

Joop Hendrix

Research,detecting

Jaimy “James” Breeze

Detecting,allrounder

Kris Vanturnhout

Detecting ,allrounder

Mark “Max” Verwimp

Allrounder

Bernard Ploegmakers

Restoration ,allrounder

Sjaak Veth

Detecting,restoration

Hub Achten

Allrounder

Marcel Hermes

Research,detecting

Jan  Jacobs+

Detecting,research


Τρίτη, 4 Οκτωβρίου 2016

Greek-Australian Alliance, 1899-2016: The Greeks who served with the ANZAC forces in mainland Greece and Crete, 1941


Several Greeks who had previously migrated to Australia participated in the campaigns that were fought on the Greek mainland and later on Crete in 1941. Some of them never returned to their new home.

Their story will now be heard.

Stay tuned!

Δευτέρα, 3 Οκτωβρίου 2016

Shot down but not forgotten: The search for lost WW2 airmen and their crashed aircraft (PHOTOS and VIDEO)


The sky over Belgium was witness to fierce fighting during the duration of World War 2.



Thousands of fighters, bombers, and transport aircraft were shot down in flames and crashed in the fields and forests below, many of them with their crews still inside.



Several aircraft wrecks have been found since 1945, but many still remain unaccounted for, along with the remains of the pilots who were Killed in Action and never returned to base.



British, German, American, Canadian and pilots from many other nationalities were lost for decades and thanks to the efforts, professionalism and dedication of a team of experts based in Belgium, the identities of the young men that once took to the skies and never got back home emerge.




One such story is the sad end of Luftwaffe pilot Willi Lück


On May 1943, Willi  took off from Deelen (the Netherlands, near Arnhem) to counter USAAF Flying Fortresses. 




The fighter he flew, a Focke Wulf FW 190, had its own code Yellow 13 ("Gelbe 13") painted on the fuselage. 


Willi was shot down by an American Thunderbolt, bailed out too late, and was killed half a mile from where Gelbe 13 hit the earth, near Kalken (Laarne - Flanders/Belgium).




In 2014 a search started to find the exact spot where the Luftwaffe fighter came down, and a year later substantial remains of Gelbe 13 were recovered during an archaeological investigation. 




Besides the engine, armament and countless other parts, personal effects of Willi Lück, including photographs, emerged the first time in more than 70 years.


The results of this project led to a unique insight into the air war over Europe - and the people involved.



Cynrik De Decker is the project leader of BAHAAT, the Belgian Aviation History Association and the Archaeology Team and he provides us with info and insights on a series of project BAHAAT has undertaken, shedding light on forgotten pages of WW2.


Read what Cynrik tells about the projects BAHAAT and himself have undertaken over the years: 


1/ What led you to start searching for missing WW2 aircraft?

I am fascinated by aviation since childhood, and during my study time (30 years ago…) I realized very little was known about the air war over Belgium. 

So I went to the Public Records Office in London (this was the pre-internet era) and started browsing through the RAF archives and contacting and interviewing veteran airmen, who were relatively active at that time – early pensioners let’s say. 



With my good friend Jean-Louis Roba, who is well known for his research and  publications on the Luftwaffe, we became a team writing books on the subject. 



I’ve always been fascinated by the way the magazine After the Battle conducts research on WW2, also re. battlefield archaeology: thorough archival work, and studying the then-and-now aspect. 



This way recent history is being brought to a large public in an accessible way – very important or me, since I started teaching history at secondary school then. 



Realizing that many thousands of aircraft crashed within the boundaries of the  small country which Belgium is, I combined my other fascination, archaeology, with my passion for old aircraft. 



The preliminary research is as important and enjoyable as the dig itself – interviewing eye witnesses, browsing through old documents, trying to find the surviving aircrew or their families… 



That’s when with several Belgian enthusiasts we established the Belgian Aviation History Association and the Archaeology Team (BAHAAT). 



The purpose is to share the knowledge about an almost forgotten war with the general public. That’s why we organize exhibitions, even a museum, and write reports, books, articles.



2/ BAHAAT has already found, excavated and identified a vast number or aircraft wrecks. Which one ou of those aircraft stands out for you personally and why?

Difficult to say, but I am still particularly proud on the project I started in 1995 on Halifax LW682. 



Not so far away from where I live, this bomber came down – the whole crew perished but three of the Canadians were still in the wreckage. 



So with the help of the Canadian government we organized an archaeological investigation, during which the three airmen were found, so they could be buried along their fellow crew members. 



Especially for the relatives – the son who lost his dad on his first birthday, the sister who was still hoping her brother would be found, the burial was extremely moving and offered closure. 



But there was a side effect on this history. Tons of material were found, and send to Canada to be used for the restoration project of Halifax NA337. 



And several tons of non-identifiable aluminum scrap was melted into ingots. And these ingots were used to construct the roof of the Bomber Command Memorial, inaugurated in 2012 in Green Park Piccadily, London. 



So when I go to the British capital, I can say that every pound of that roof went through my hands…

3/ The airspace over Belgium and the Netherlands has seen fierce fighting and many aircraft perished during WW2. What are your future plans, do you have any specific projects going or planned for the near future?



Well, last year we had a extremely interesting dig on a FW 190. The pilot bailed out (unfortunately too low), but we found all his personal papers (see www.gelbe13.be). 



We hope the following weeks to start a huge project on the recovery of a Lancaster wreck, and we have our collection which is housed in the For Freedom Museum in Knocke.



Last year I started a Facebook Group “Aviation Archaeology”, and I guess we’ll have 3000 members by the end of this year – a great platform for sharing knowledge and contacts.

4/ When you dig up the remains of a KIA WW2 airman, what are your thoughts? How do you reat those remains and what are your actions?

Before we start such an action, we contact the official organizations and try to establish contact with the relatives. 



We work under strict rules of the government re. archaeology in Belgium. We do have some “real” well known battlefield archaeologists in our team. 

In Belgium remains are handed over via the police towards the Belgian MoD. They arrange the rest with the war graves commission of the country involved. 



5/ What is the usual process of locating an aircraft wreck? Files, personal accounts, unofficial records?

All of them. But since we’ve published quite a few books on the air war, with information where the plane came down, it’s nice to see that local enthusiasts start their own investigation in order to find the exact spot. 



We do have an experienced metal detectorists in our team.  And 10 years ago, I quitted teaching history and was contacted by an UXO (unexploded ordnance)-company to share my knowledge on the bombing campaigns of Western Europe. 

I am working full time in that business now, and companies like ours have state of the art detection material which we use to find out whether or not an archaeological dig might be interesting. 



For the coming Lancaster-project, we produced a geophysical image of the wreckage under the ground. So we hope to find out soon whether or not our geophysical findings are correct…

6/ Why do you think it is important to keep the memory of WW2 alive today?

Last week I was in Berlin, and now I am writing this in Hamburg – two cities whose faces changed completely because of the war only 70 years ago. 

I myself live in the center of a village in Belgium which was almost completely destroyed by German shell fire – the scars are still visible on our house. 



People do not realize anymore what times our ancestors had to endure. “The destruction of the past is perhaps the greatest of all crimes” the French philosopher Simone Weill said once.



7/ You dedicated a lot of effort on Gelbe 13. Why? How did you feel when you found the personal effects of the pilot and his photo in his wallet?


The search, identification and recovery of the crashed Luftwaffe fighter "Gelbe 13" has been documented in every detail
SOURCE:http://gelbe13.weebly.com/
That really was a time capsule. We even found a love letter written by a Dutch girl – she knew that she was dating a man who was part of the occupying forces of her country. 


Portrait of KIA Luftwaffe pilot Willi Lück, found in his wallet during the archaeological investigation
SOURCE: http://gelbe13.weebly.com/
But she ended with “I don’t give a shit what my parents think of it”. We hope one day we might be able to find out who she was…



Search and discovery of a Focke Wulf 190 from Floris Beke on Vimeo.


During his stay in Holland, he dated a Dutch girl (G)erry, who lived in Amsterdam - she spoke German. She wrote him a letter (free translation from German)SOURCE: http://gelbe13.weebly.com/


ALL PHOTOS USED WITH PERMISSION