Unveiling on October 8th, 2022
B-17 Flying Fortress 42-107009 “Lady Jane” 401st Bomb Group, 613th Bomb Squadron
The Story of the “Lady Jane”
On Monday, November 6, 1944, a large American bomber made an emergency landing at the Tussenweg in the Wieringermeerpolder. In collaboration with the Historisch Genootschap Wieringermeer and with the help of eyewitnesses, we have tried to reconstruct what happened that day. Lady Jane was the name of the bomber, type Boeing B-17 Flying Fort, with almost 59 bombing missions.
The Lady Jane was the favorite aircraft of pilot Hillestad and his crew. For three days in a row they bombed the Third Reich. On this Monday, the Lady Jane flew to the target in Germany, the synthetic oil depots of the German city of Harburg (near Hamburg). Because of their experience, they flew in the front Lead and High Squadrons (the “A” Group) of the box. The city of Harburg is now incorporated into the city of Hamburg. A box was a group of approximately 48 bombers that together tried to defy the Luftwaffe. On this November 6, the Luftwaffe did not take action against the American armada. However, the German anti-aircraft fire was accurate. A total of 13 aircraft were hit by exploding anti-aircraft grenades. The Lady Jane was unlucky and was hit disastrously. Two (no1 and no2) of the four engines failed. With only 50% power, the Lady Jane quickly lost height and had to leave the safety of the box. Fortunately, the Luftwaffe did not appear to shoot down the slow and low-flying bomber. Above the mouth of the Elbe in the North Sea, the aircraft was last seen by the other bombers from the box. The radio operator sent an S.O.S. and the pilot Hillestad ordered the crew to prepare for a ditch in the cold waters of the North Sea. This signal was received in England and recorded. The Lady Jane then flew northwest of Texel. The navigator Fred Campbell reported to the pilot that they were flying quite close to the Dutch coast, and that they could possibly make a belly landing on land. The co-pilot John Emch even hoped that they would reach the Allied lines south of the Rhine in the Netherlands.
Report Air Defense Service Wieringermeer
In the municipal archives of the Wieringermeer is a report of the 'commander of the Air Protection Service Wieringermeer' written by Mr Van Zijl. The report states that he was warned at 2 p.m. that a plane had crashed on the Tussenweg near Middenmeer at approximately 1:45 p.m. He reports that the plane wreckage was complete, but "fairly badly damaged". The crew of the plane was immediately captured by soldiers of the Wehrmacht, who had cordoned off the area around the plane. Finally, the report states that "No damage was done to the property of residents of this municipality".
The American USAAF crew
The crew consisted of 9 experienced American airmen from the 401st bomb group which was part of the US 8th air fleet in England. The B17 bomber had 9 crew members, but sometimes an extra gunner was added as the 10th crew member.
The crew of 9 was part of the 613 squadron, which together with four other squadrons formed the 401 bomb group. The bomb group had taken off at 07:45 (UK time) on November 6 from its airbase in England. Losses in crewmembers of the bombers flying with 401 Squadron had been high, but by the end of 1944 the loss percentages dropped.
Boeing B-17 “flying fortress” bomber
The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress II was a four-engine long-range heavy bomber. In the 1930s, the bomber was developed for strategic bombing. Unlike the Germans, the Americans realized that a bomber had to be able to defend itself over enemy territory. The aircraft was therefore equipped with 13 pieces of Browning machine guns 12.7 mm. It owes its nickname to the Flying Fort. During World War II, this type of bomber was used all over the world by the United States Air Force (USAF). The bomber was of enormous size; length of 22.7 m, and was 5.8 m high and had a wingspan of 31.6 m. Striking about the design is the typical tail construction, a strong construction that saved the lives of many crew members. An incredible 12,731 units of this type of bomber were produced. There were 9 or 10 crew members on board. Under ideal conditions, the aircraft could reach a top speed of 462 km/h, without a bomb load or large amounts of fuel. The bomber could carry a maximum of 3,600 kilograms of bombs. The Lady Jane (Boeing B-17G, number 42-107009) had flown 58 missions. On the fuselage, the ground crew kept track of the number of missions flown (a bomb) and the number of Luftwaffe planes shot down. The photo of the Lady Jane shows 28 missions flown, this photo was taken a few months before landing. According to eyewitnesses from the polder, there were only 56 bombs on the hull. This was because the ground crew had not yet found time to paint the 57th and 58th.
The End of the Lady Jane
Pilot Hillestad with his co-pilot Emch and the crew, having decided to fly back to the mainland or even the Allied lines south of the Rhine, flew low over the IJsselmeer. Reaching the Rhine soon proved impossible on two engines. Pilot Hillestad decided to turn around and start the landing. Just north of Medemblik, the Lady Jane flew low over the IJsselmeer dike into the Wieringermeerpolder. A farmer's son of the Wagenpad, Mr. Ben Viersen (then 13 years old), remembers that the Flying Fort came flying in. After the war, Mr. Viersen emigrated to Canada. A light German anti-aircraft gun (a machine gun) that opened fire on the crippled lady at the radar post Medemblik (where the garbage dump is now). Another farmer's son, Gerrit Koekoek on the Oostermiddenmeerweg, was plowing the fields with the horses and also remembers very well how low the Lady Jane flew by. He soon heard that the plane had crashed on the Tussenweg.
Things moved quickly for the Lady Jane and her crew. The aircraft was increasingly difficult to control due to the low speed. A third farmer's son, Cor Iwema on the Tussenweg, saw the plane fly passing by and turning around from the window of the farm. At that point, the third engine had probably also stopped and a B-17 cannot fly on one engine. Pilot Hillestad warned the crew and a moment later the plane hit the ground halfway through the plot near the farmer Mr. Biesheuvel (Tussenweg). Because of its speed and weight the Lady Jane slid across the intermediate ditch and came upon the land of the farmer Mr. Raang Iwema. It made another turn and came to a stop with its nose pointing north. For a moment there was silence, deathly still.
The pilot Hillestad ordered the crew to disembark and gather next to the Lady Jane. Like many residents of the polder, the German Wehrmacht had also seen the plane come down. The crew walked across the lot to the Tussenweg towards the farm of Mr. Raang Iwema. Once there, the 9 crew members were arrested. The Germans now had a problem because the crew of a Flying Fortress normally consisted of 10 men. The 10th was not found, the Germans took three farmers with them as a means of coercion. In any case, they were the farmers Iwema, Poodt and Biesheuvel. The three were taken away along with the crew of the Lady Jane, to the horror of the families. The three farmers were (probably) held captive in or near Medemblik. Iwema's wife (not confirmed) and someone who spoke German went to Medemblik to exonerate her husband and the others. The Germans concluded after a few days that they had really rounded up the entire crew and sent Mr. Iwema, Mr. Poodt and Mr. Biesheuvel back home. After 3 days of investigation (…) they were reunited with their families.
The crew of the Lady Jane was imprisoned by the Germans for 6 months in a prisoner of war camp in Germany. They were liberated just before the end of the war by George Patton's US 3rd Army.
The occupying forces placed guard posts near the aircraft wreckage. After a few days the guns (the 13 machine guns) were removed and a few weeks later the four engines of the wreck were scrapped. mr. Cor Iwema, then 15 years old, was pointed out by an old German soldier to a kind of sphere in the wing and told that he could have it the next day. The German guards didn't take it too seriously. Several young people have been on board the crashed B17. In addition, someone from the Otten family from Nieuw-Vennep, who brought a set of rudder pedals. It is unknown how and who exactly disassembled the pedals. The parts have been donated on loan to the 40-45 museum.
Story of Marinus Bood.
Mr. Marinus (then 13 years old) and his brother Klaas Bood from Medemblik visited the wreck. mr. Klaas Bood studied flight technology in Haarlem and later for engineer and specialist in hydraulic systems. Together on the cargo bike from Medemblik they arrived at the yard at Iwema and were approached by the German guard. Klaas told him that he studied aircraft technology and asked if he could go on the plane. That was no problem and soon Marinus was sitting in the cockpit and took all the helmets and oxygen masks and put them under a cloth in the cargo bike. Marinus crawled through the box from front to back, but saw no more loose parts and had not taken any tools with him. They didn't want to stay too long, it was already a great favor to be allowed to. Very satisfied and without control they went home again. Marinus Bood has distributed the helmets over the war museums Texel and Heemskerk.
The Germans blew up the Lady Jane the same day. At the end of November 1944, it was no longer possible to dispose of the aluminum from the Lady Jane and reuse it for Luftwaffe aircraft. mr. Iwema demolished the sphere from the aircraft the next day.
After the war
Wreckage of the Lady Jane was still at Iwema after the flooding. Pieces of the plane were used for the chicken coop. A monument was made from one of the propeller blades. This monument has been at the house of Mr. Cor Iwema stood on the Tussenweg and is now in Dronten in the front yard of his son. A brother of Cor Iwema had made an ashtray from another Lady Jane part, one of the pistons from an engine.
In April 1988 a crew member of the Lady Jane came to visit the Iwema family. The navigator Fred Campbell had become a vicar in the city of San Angelo after the war. During his visit, Campbell got the "sphere" from the Lady Jane back from the Iwema family. In 2009, Cor Iwema's son visited the city of San Angelo (Texas, USA) where Fred Campbell came from. The City of San Angelo declared in a Proclamation that April 7, 2009 was the “Iwema Family Day” in tribute and respect to the Iwema family.
We have contacted the Historical Society of the 401 bombing group. As far as they know, none of the 9 crew members are still alive.
Agriport has now built its greenhouses on the land of the Iwema family, but we must not forget the story of these young men and their “Lady Jane” who tragically landed in our polder. These men fought far away from their motherland. The story of the crew and the eyewitnesses is now preserved at our Stichting Herdenkingspalen Hollands Kroon. We work together with the Wieringermeer Historical Society. If anyone remembers the incident or has more information about it, we ask that they contact Mark Hakvoort (email@example.com).
Stichting Herdenkingspalen Hollands Kroon