T2990 crew interred

In May 2021 the excavation of the Nieuwe Niedorp crash site of 311 (Czechoslovak) Sqn Wellington T2990 which crashed on the night of 23 June 1941 commenced by a recovery team from the Royal Netherlands Air Force. The purpose of this excavation, 80 years after its crash was to finally establish if five of its crew were in that aircraft.

The site excavation was completed that June, and human remains found in that aircraft were taken to the Royal Netherlands Army Salvage and Identification Service (BIDKL) specialist laboratory at Soesterberg, Holland. There detailed examination, using medical records and forensics tests established that the remains were of five airmen.

As some of the remains were as small as 8mm, it was not viable to assemble five sets of remains for individual burial and so the decision between the various authorities in Holland, Czech Republic and the UK was that all the remains would be placed in one casket and interred at CWGC Bergen op Zoom cemetery. Each of the five airmen would have their own headstone at that grave.

On 23 June 2022, the 81st anniversary of the crash, the five airmen were interred at CWGC Bergen op Zoom cemetery, Holland.

Attending the event were the Dutch Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations Hanke Bruins, Czech Defence Minister Jana Černochová, Slovak Defence Minister Jaroslav Naď, Defence Attaché Col Mark Maddick (RM) from the British Embassy, The Hague, relatives of Vilém Konštacký, Leonhard Smrček, Jan Hejna from the Czech Republic and Karel Valach’s who had travelled from the UK, along with local dignitaries, well wishers and military representatives from the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic. Media from Holland, Czech Republic and Slovak Republic covered the event for their respective countries. The events Honour Guard was from from the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic.

Dutch Interior Minister Hanke Bruins, whose Ministry was responsible for the aircraft recovery project, recalled a quote by Václav Havel, who said “It was everyone’s duty to fight for democracy. “

“Today’s generation should constantly remember this legacy of the heroic RAF pilots and aircrew,” said Czech Defence Minister Jana Černochová. She also thanked the Dutch authorities for their quick work in discovering and analysing the remains of the crew.

Slovak Defence Minister Jaroslav Naď said: “I believe the story of these airmen from No 311 (Czechoslovak) Bomber Squadron RAF will live on in our historical memory forever and will serve as a shining example of patriotism, heroism and military virtues for the successors of their legacy in the ranks of the Czech and Slovak Armed Forces.”

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Vilém Konštatský’s great-nephew, Radan Bukva said that “My great-uncle and his companions did not leave home to become heroes. But they are.”

He recalled that after the war, the communist regime persecuted Czechoslovak airmen who fought against the Nazis in the British service and tried to erase those who fell from the nation’s memory. It is only now that the memory of many of them is being honoured.

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The men of Wellington T2990 :

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Alois ROZUM

Aircrew Role : 2nd Pilot
* : 06.07.1912. Plzeň, Czechoslovakia.
† : 23.06.1942. Nieuwe Nierdop, Holland.
Age : 28
Rank : Flight Sergeant, RAF VR
Runnymede Panel : 37
Grave : Coll. grave 24. AA. 1-5.

_______________________________________________________________

Vilém KONŠTATCKÝ

Aircrew Role : Navigator
* : 17.11.1914. Čelechovice na Hané, Czechoslovakia.
† : 23.06.1942. Nieuwe Nierdop, Holland.
Age : 26
Rank : Pilot Officer, RAF VR
Runnymede Panel : 33
Grave : Coll. grave 24. AA. 1-5.

_______________________________________________________________

Leonhard SMRČEK

Aircrew Role : Wireless operator
* : 29.12.1915. Budišov, Czechoslovakia.
† : 23.06.1942. Nieuwe Nierdop, Holland.
Age : 25
Rank : Pilot Officer, RAF VR
Runnymede Panel : 34
Grave : Coll. grave 24. AA. 1-5.

_______________________________________________________________

Jan HEJNA

Aircrew Role : Front Gunner
* : 07.02.1915. Jaroměř, Czechoslovakia.
† : 23.06.1942. Nieuwe Nierdop, Holland.
Age : 26
Rank : Flight Sergeant, RAF VR
Runnymede Panel : 36
Grave : Coll. grave 24. AA. 1-5.

_______________________________________________________________

Karel VALACH

Aircrew Role : Rear Gunner
* : 26.01.1918. Kroměříž, Czechoslovakia.
† : 23.06.1942. Nieuwe Nierdop, Holland.
Age : 23
Rank : Sergeant, RAF VR
Runnymede Panel : 37
Grave : Coll. grave 24. AA. 1-5.

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Last flight of Wellington T2990:

Vickers Wellington bomber KX-T 2990 from 311 (Czechoslovak) Bomber Squadron took off for her last operation at 2316hrs on 22 June 1941. The target was the German port of Bremen with the following crew: Captain/1st pilot F/Sgt Vilém Bufka, 2nd pilot F/Sgt Alois Rozum, Navigator P/O Vilém Konštatcký, Wireless Operator P/O Leonhard Smrček, Front gunner F/Sgt Jan Hejna and Rear gunner F/Sgt Karel Valach. After reaching the target and dropping their bombs, they turned back for England. As it was customary, the 2nd pilot took the controls as they cleared Amsterdam. Just west of it they came under attack by the enemy night fighter Me 110 of Oberleutenant Prince Egmont zur Lippe-Weisenfeld from the II/NJG 1 at Bergen. The Wellington was badly damaged and caught fire. This is how Vilem Bufka, the only survivor, described the situation (abbreviated from his interview given in London on 22 April 1945):

“The attacker fired several long rounds. The aircraft was hit and caught fire. From the struggle of the 2nd pilot it was obvious to me, that he could no longer control the plane which started descending fast. I gave the order to abandon the stricken aircraft via the Intercom but received no acknowledgement. I decided to check on the W/O and the navigator but could not reach them for the raging flames and heat. I returned to the cockpit where the 2nd pilot was struggling to get out of the plane which was falling in a spiral. I also noticed the open hatch into the front turret but could not see Hejna anywhere. I realised that I had to get out fast. The 2nd pilot was half-way out of the plane at that time. I put on a parachute but could not exit the aircraft because of the draught. I opened the chute inside and threw it out of the hole. The last thing I remember was a knock on my head. I woke up in hospital two days later. I had a broken leg and several cuts on my head and torso.”

The aircraft came down at 0213hrs at Nieuwe Niedorp village north east of Alkmaar. Vilem Bufka was taken prisoner of war. The bodies of the five airmen were not found.

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Information about the T2990 Excavation Summer 2021 here, here and here

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Address: Bergen-op-Zoom War Cemetery, Ruytershoveweg 17, 4622 RJ Bergen op Zoom, The Netherlands.
GPS Location: N 51 30 8, E 04 19 58
Map Location: View
This entry was posted in 311 Sqd, Events, Not Forgotton. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to T2990 crew interred

  1. John Walker says:

    Their Courage and Sacrifice Will Never be Forgotten.

  2. John Saunders says:

    An outstanding project which has been conducted with the assistance of modern science and technology but in a way that has been dignified and empathetic to the relatives of those who perished. I too send my condolences and will ensure that this account becomes integrated to https://www.stedmundkm.org.uk/200403%20Years%20of%20Faith.pdf which records the sacrifice of Karel Valach.

  3. Vladimír Tomša says:

    When ordinary people did extraordinary deeds…
    Noone can imagine nowadays.
    Very moving what the Dutch authorities did….
    As a boy I have read Vilem Bufka’s book “Bombarder T-2990 se odmlcel”.

  4. Dagmar ŠIŠKOVÁ - Johnson says:

    Thank you for such a prompt report on this important and emotinal event.

  5. David Bowden says:

    Heartfelt thanks and congratulations to the Dutch people for this amazing recovery. My condolences to the families and I’m sure a great relief. Karel Valach is remembered on the War Memorial in the Roman Catholic Church in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, UK.

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