Skip to content


The remains of British airmen shot down by the Nazis over Dutch waters may have been discovered during a massive rescue operation.

With the help of a €15million national plane wreckage salvage fund, the Dutch have started sorting through the wreckage of Britain’s Lancaster ED603, which never returned from a bombing mission aimed at Bochum in Germany on June 13, 1943. Instead, this ‘Pathfinder’ which gave 503 bombers the lead, was tracked as it returned home, shot down and crashed in Dutch blue waters of the IJsselmeer with seven men on board.

The bodies of four men were washed up within days and eventually buried in the Netherlands, but so far three are officially missing: 27-year-old flight engineer Arthur Smart; Charles Sprack, 23-year-old mid-upper gunner; and wireless operator Raymond Moore, 21.

At the site of a huge metal box set in the middle of the water, where the artificial lake was pumped dry and where excavations began, Dutch experts have confirmed they have found skeletal remains believed to be those of the missing British fighters .

Captain Geert Jonker, commander of the Royal Netherlands Army’s Recovery and Identification Unit, told the Guardian. “We found the first skeletal remains. At the moment, we cannot say more.

“It’s still early…but there’s no doubt that the remains we found are from one of the missing airmen.”

The rescue operation, which will also defuse explosive materials, is expected to last five weeks. The remains of the plane are revealed 20 cm per day, passed through a mechanical sieve and sorted by hand. They will be taken to the Dutch military laboratories, BIDKL, for further analysis and The Guardian understands that the decision on the future of the body remains will be passed to the Ministry of Defense and the British Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Jonker said DNA tracing is unlikely to be used. “The main mission of my team is to establish the minimum number of individuals: three crew members are missing, and it is up to us to see if we have the remains of these three people,” he said. he declares. “The objective of this national program is to find missing airmen, give them a grave with a name and allow their loved ones to find closure. »

The crash site was first discovered in 1996 when local fishermen salvaged an engine, removed the serial number and brought it to a museum run by the Stichting Aircraft Recovery Group. “Our organization has launched an extensive investigation,” says President Johan Graas. “In 2016, we found traces of human remains, in fact confirming that one or more crew members were there.”

At the request of relatives of the missing men, the local municipality of Súdwest-Fryslân obtained a grant from the fund to recover the remains of approximately 5,500 aircraft lost over the Netherlands. The Dutch government estimates that around 400 of them still contain the remains of airmen from the Allied and German forces. Working with the Ministry of Defense and contractors Leemans and Mos, reconstruction work began this month and relatives are expected to attend for a ceremony next week.

“The bodies of Arthur Smart, Charles Sprack and Raymond Moore were sadly never found, and with this rescue operation we will be able to close the last chapter of these brave airmen,” said Heritage Manager Petra van den Akker. in Sudwest-Fryslân. advice. “It’s a story of freedom, of sacrifice…the last chapter of an extraordinary story.”