Remains of five Czech RAF Bomber Command members found in Netherlands

Three Wellington Mk ICs of No. 311 (Czechoslovak) Squadron RAF

Dutch authorities have unearthed the remains of an RAF bomber whose Czech crew were shot down by a German fighter as they were returning from a bombing raid in June 1941. The remains are currently being analysed.

“Some minor bone fragments, the sole of a boot and small pieces of aviator clothing…were found in Nieuwe Niedorp during the recovery operation of the Wellington bomber”, the Dutch Defence Ministry stated in a press release issued last week. The discovery was made by the Ministry’s Wreckage Recovery of Second World War Aircraft team, which specialises in finding the lost remains of air service members who were killed during the war.

On Sunday, the anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944, Czech Ambassador to the Netherlands Kateřina Sequensová visited the location where work is still underway. While there, she spoke to Czech Television’s Lukáš Dolanský.

“We are talking here about an event that took place more than 80 years ago, but still remains very much alive.”

The bomber was manned by six Czechoslovak soldiers - Alois Rozum, Leonard Smrček, Vilém Konštatský, Jan Hejna, Karel Valach and Vilém Bufka. The crew were shot down by a German fighter on June 23, 1941, as they were returning from a night bombing raid on the city of Bremen.

The remains of an RAF bomber | Photo: Czech Foreign Ministry

Only Sgt. Bufka managed to survive, parachuting out of the burning aircraft. He was caught by the Germans and spent most of the war as a POW, apparently saved by the fact that he had been issued British citizenship and therefore could not be executed as a deserter – a fate that Czechs who fought with the Allies faced as they were officially citizens of the Third Reich after the occupation of Bohemia and Moravia. He would go on to write a memoir about his war experiences during the 1960s titled: Bombardér T-2990 se odmlčel (Bomber T-2990 is gone).

The Dutch Defence Ministry stated that the remains of his comrades are currently being analysed, so that it can be discerned to which crew members they belonged.

Geert Jonker, a member of the identification team, spoke to Czech Television.

“They never returned home to Czechoslovakia, so the least we can do is go out and search for them and give them a proper burial.”

Excavation on the site started on May 25 and will continue for several more weeks as the team also collects and examines the surviving bits of the bomber.

More than 5,500 aircraft were shot down or crashed on Dutch territory during the Second World War. Around 30 to 50 of these planes are believed to still contain the remains of their crews. The recovery programme is funded by the Dutch government. Priority is given to recovering aircraft containing the physical remains of people with many surviving relatives