Varsity - crash site Horsa BF 473?

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by alberk, Dec 6, 2020.

  1. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    In another thread I introduced the "Hamminkeln list".
    Varsity - German civilians listing British casualties
    I received this list from the Hamminkeln Municipal Archives - this list was collated in 1945. In June of that year the British Military Government ordered the local civilian administration to establish which British war dead were buried in the area of „Amt Ringenberg“ (the local administrative council). The Germans sent out elderly civilians, auxiliary policemen and schoolchildren to search the area for graves. Most were not difficult to find (as the ones by Hamminkeln station or near to dressing stations). But here were also many isolated graves.

    An interesting detail in the German „Hamminkeln list“ is the entry on this page. Apparently the German who recorded the graves in this area took down what had been written on the crosses or left behind by the GRU.
    Please take a look at the top of the list below - where is says "Unknown number C 2 th Devons"
    Am I right in assuming that "Horsa BF 473" refers to the serial number?
    Excerpt List Hamminkeln.jpg

    "Effects found of..." leads us to this CWGC report:
    Horsa No BF 473.jpg

    We have a German eyewitness account that sheds some light on the fate that befell this Horsa. It crashed next to the railway at a little distance from the Diersfordt railway crossing. Friedrich Sons, who was 13 years old in 1945, lived In the vicinity, in a house called Witzenskath. His account was recorded by Johann Nitrowski - his book „Die Luftlandung“ is the most exhaustive collection of accounts relating to „Operation Varsity“.

    This is Friedrich’s story: US airborne troops - probably of 513 PIR - were occupying and still fighting for the area when the gliders began to land all around. Adjacent to the area was British LZ „P“. US troops had cleared the vicinity of young Friedrich’s home and had ordered his family to come out of their earth bunker next to the house. Thus our eyewitness was able to observe some British gliders landing. He saw a glider in flight that had apparently been hit and was on fire - it lost hight and crashed head on into the incline of a knoll immediately to the right of the railway. Friedrich thinks that the glider was hit by AA fire - two batteries (one of three "heavy guns" and one of three 3,7 cm guns) were stationed just a little to the east. After crashing the glider burnt out. The children were free to move about a few days after the landings and Friedrich went to take a look at the crash site. He recalls that he saw a communal grave for 15 British soldiers and a separate grave of an officer. So much for Friedrich's account. The „Hamminkeln list“ informs us that the victims were men of the Devonshire Regiment.

    The following sketch may help to give you some orientation:
    Horsa crash site .png
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2022
  2. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    Hi Alberk,

    Checked the Officers in the 12 Devons RoH on the Pegasus Archive and Lt. Alfred George Slade Commander of 13 Platoon, B Coy produced a hit in the book "The Last Drop":

    "Company C, commanded by Maj. John Haythornthwaite, had landed off-target, and he had only two platoons to complete his task. Lieutenant Slade, along with his platoon and pilots, had all died when their glider was destroyed by antiaircraft fire. The fourth platoon had landed alongside Company B and stayed under its command. The work of the 513th made the job of the two remaining Company C platoons much easier, but they still suffered casualties from snipers and mortar fire."

    His Grave Concentration Report at CWGC has him buried at same communal grave,189474.


    Edit: The 13th Platoon was actually with B Coy. The HQ 6th AL Bde chart claims there were 7 B Coy gliders but doesn't give their chalk numbers.

    Regards ...
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2020
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  3. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Thank you, Cee. That's a valuable addition and your concentration report brings the number of casualties to 24. Terrible detail of terrible day...
    So "Horsa BF 473" has no connection to the chalk numbers. But what could it stand for?

    I also gather that Slade's platoon was heading for LZ "P" - so they were not off course when they were hit. I thought that most Devons were tasked with taking Hamminkeln and were supposed on LZ "R".
  4. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron


    Horsa serials usually consisted of two letters followed by three numbers like your BF473. There is a Horsa production list at this site and I don't see any beginning with BF. There is a RN473. Perhaps it's an aircraft serial? If a crash report/investigation was ever conducted on the incident the glider serial may show up there?

    Going by edit above Lt. Slade's platoon did indeed belong to B Coy and would have attempted a landing on LZ R. I suspect their intended flight course was cut short by the anti-aircraft fire.

    Regards ...

    Added - other similar serials: LH473, TL473 and VF473.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2020
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  5. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

  6. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Cee, thanks for this addition.

    The glider Pilot Casualties Database says this about him and:
    "Killed when Horsa Glider PW 231 was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed, Flight Sgt Bowler and his second pilot were killed by advancing enemy forces."
    Glider Regiment Casualties Database

    Sounds a bit improbable that he and his co-pilot survived (only to be killed by the enemy) while the whole section of Devons was killed - apparently by a terrible crash.
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  7. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron


    I made an obvious goof above. Lt. Slade's 13th Platoon was with B Coy and not C Coy as stated which I fixed in post #2. The book quote is not quite correct. The missing B Coy platoon is mentioned briefly in the 12th Devon's WD on March 24th:

    "The remainder of the day was fully occupied in digging and generally est a firm def posn, D Coy being responsible for the approaches to the village from the EAST and SOUTH EAST, A Coy for the SOUTH and SOUTH WEST, B Coy for the NORTH and HQ Coy for the WEST. C Coy had been given the independent role of clearing the Div HQ L.Z, and consequently were not under comd of the BN until later on. One of their pls (17 Pl), however, landed near B Coy and remained under comd O.C B Coy, one of whose pls had failed to arrive."

    Regards ...
  8. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    does anyone in this forum have aerial photos of Varsity-LZ "P" made after the glider landings on March 24th, 1945?

    Thank you!
  9. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron


    I have a few, mostly poor quality, and none I believe that show the bottom corner of the LZ where Lt. Slade's glider came down. There is a photo of a crashed British glider (attached) in a dense wood with an American soldier standing next to it who could be 17th Airborne photographer Adolph C. Byers or Beyers. That, however, could be further south in American zone.

    17th AB Div Cameraman Adolph Beyers (Byers).jpg

    Regards ...
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2020
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  10. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Thanks, Cee. I tried the website of NCAP at Keele - but this photo of March 25th does not show much and is of a crappy quality as a download. Heiderott_marked.jpg
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  11. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Interesting photo by Adolph C. Byers - checked his name and that's how it is spelled. A search lead me to this - a History of 139th Airborne Engineers - they landed on LZ "N" just a bit south of the crash site:
  12. Alex1975uk

    Alex1975uk Well-Known Member

    Yes, but not sure it covers the bit you’re after (up by the wood line I guess?)
  13. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    The northwestern edge of LZ "N" - just next to Diersfordt station...
  14. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    ...or southwestern corner of LZ "P" ...

    Would be great if you could find something, Alex1975uk!
  15. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    Yes a good book though I've only just scanned it looking for references. I think Ossie Gorbitz has posted on here in the past. The fuselage of the horsa in the above photo is intact which may indicate there were survivors on that crash? Another pic of Al Byer found at this forum.

    17th AB Staff PhotographerAl Byers.jpg

    Regards ...
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  16. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member would hope that some survived... but landing in a wood seems to suggest quite a few injuries.

    I can't help but think of the last seconds that Slade and his platoon had to live through in their glider before if came down...
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  17. Alex1975uk

    Alex1975uk Well-Known Member

    Highlighted in yellow as found by Herr Heggeman at Hulshorst are a lot of 7 Para men. I’m assuming this was the temporary grave site at the MDS at the North West corner of Am Wall? Map reference 188 492
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  18. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Yes, according to summary by a German official Herr Heggemann reported 91 men buried next to Hagemannshof, where the MDS was located. Here's the rest of Heggemann's list: Hegemann 2.png
  19. Alex1975uk

    Alex1975uk Well-Known Member

    Thanks. last name on that list Charles Woodburn, 7 Para Mortar Platoon leader, my grandfathers platoon leader.
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  20. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    It is odd that the War Diary entry for 24 March of 225 Para Field Ambulance gives a grid reference that is not Hagemannshof:
    "1200 - MDS est. in area HAMMINKELN GERMANY at 185495. Section M.O's re-joined MDS within 4 hours from the time of "drop", leaving S/Sgt. & bearer party of 12 ORs to carry cas. from RAP to MDS. 2 Operating Theatres open in MDS. 12 Parachutists, 2 glider personnel missing."
    According to Harry Trew, who served in 13 Para, it the dressing station was in Hagemannshof - he was ordered to guard it in the night of March 24th/25th. And he recalls in the kitchen of the farm there was an operating theatre in which the doctors worked incessantly all night. Every now an then, the window was opened and the corpses of men who didn't make it - both British and Germans - were passed on stretchers to men waiting outside. The dead were lined up out there and the line grew longer and longer (this account is recorded in Nitrowski's book p. 120).

    The burials took place at 188492 as this example shows:
    Hagemannshof burials.jpg
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