​Lancaster bomber and RAF crew recovered from sea 80 years after crash

RAF crew recovered from sea 80 years after crash

Lancaster bomber and RAF crew recovered from sea 80 years after crash

Oliver Trapnell

By Oliver Trapnell

Published: 10/11/2023

- 19:27

On the night of 11th June 1943, 503 allied bombers set off for Germany. With them was the crew of Lancaster bomber ED603 on the plane's maiden voyage. Unfortunately, it would be its only flight and all of the men would be lost...until now.

The wreck of an Avro Lancaster bomber and the remains of its crew have been recovered by the RAF 80 years after the Second World War plane was shot down.

Members of the RAF’s Joint Aircraft Recovery Transport Squadron (JARTS) have been working with the Dutch Air Force to retrieve the Lancaster which was shot down over Ijsselmeer in Northern Netherlands.

The team built a complex enclosure to pump out water and reveal the seabed before delicately extracting pieces of the plane. Human remains were discovered, and the RAF is working to confirm their identities.

Three of the bodies of the seven airmen who crashed have never been recovered. The discovery could close a difficult chapter in their family's history.

WATCH HERE: Stuart Crawford on the threat to Armistice Day

Cofferdam built around the area of the Aircraft

Cofferdam built around the area of the Aircraft


“It was important to recover the aircraft and remains of the aircrew so that closure could be provided to their respective families,” said Sgt Parker from the Joint Aircraft Recovery and Transport Squadron.

“It was a sobering and tasteful reminder of those that fought and lost for our futures in the war and provided an opportunity to pay our respects.”

Lancaster Bomber ED603 crashed on the night of the 11-12th June 1943 while returning from a bombing raid over Bochum, Germany. All seven airmen on board, six of whom were Brits with one Canadian, were killed.

A part of No. 83 Squadron, the plane was shot down by an enemy Messerschmitt – a fighter plane quicker than a Spitfire – on its journey back to RAF Wyton in Cambridge.


Lancaster Bomber

Lancaster Bomber


The bodies of Flight Lieutenant Eric Tilbury (Pilot), Pilot Officer Harold E. Howsam (Navigator), Pilot Officer Gordon Fletcher (Bomb Aimer) and Flying Officer Gordon R. Sugar (Air Gunner) were found on the lake shore weeks after the crash.

However, Pilot Officer Arthur Smart (Flight Engineer), Pilot Officer Charles Sprack (Mid-Upper Gunner), and Flight Sergeant Raymond Moore (Wireless Operator) were registered as missing.

The Dutch are spending £13million pounds on the project to recover aircraft from historic crash sites and attempt burial of the missing crew.

Sgt Parker, said: “This was a once-in-a-lifetime, unique and engaging opportunity which was a privilege and an honour for all involved.

RAF bomber retrieved

RAF bomber retrieved


“The site was an impressive feat of engineering and the hospitality from all of our Dutch friends and colleagues was unequivocal.”

Serving in a bomber crew was one of the most dangerous jobs during the Second World War. More than 44 per cent of allies were killed during service according to the International Bomber Command Centre. Each man was a volunteer with an average age of death of just 23.

Of the 7377 Lancaster bombers produced during the war, 3392 were destroyed. It was the most important bomber in the Allies fleet of aircraft and arguably the most iconic for Brits.

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