A Final Resting Place

The Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 is prescriptive in its prohibition of investigating sites of military aircraft or vessels, and even more so since illegal unlicensed digs have uncovered human remains over the years. As a result, the Ministry of Defence have been far more cautious in issuing licences to allow excavations to take place, and with a flat refusal where any chance of human remains being found exists unless compelling reasons can be given to disturb them.

This has presented something of a conundrum for metal detectorists who from time to time come across such sites by chance.

A particular case is that of Lancaster EE105 OF-Q of 97 (Straits Settlements) Squadron, which crashed in a Norfolk field just before dawn on an August morning in 1943.

The land in question has been in the ownership of the same family since well before that date, and the current incumbent has known that somewhere on his land the particular aircraft had found its final resting place; he knew the field in question although not the exact spot. A licence to investigate further had been issued almost 20 years ago to a local aviation heritage group, but had not been acted upon and had since expired. However, due to the rich history of the village, the landowner has regulary given access to his land to members of the local metal detectorist club and over the years finds from all periods of history have been uncovered. The particular field has thrown up medieval artefacts and more recent bits and pieces, but no particular sign of any aircraft remains being on site other than a few small fragments in years gone by, probably from the cleanup operation.

Family lore tells the tale of the crash being cleared away by the military at the time, and beyond odd bits turning up over the years, nothing much of interest was recorded. The site was not marked, and today there is nothing that remains as a reminder. I’m not suggesting that the crash was forgotten, but it was certainly parked in memory, left where it was. At least not until late 2021 when a chance surface find brought into focus the final moments of EE105.

Spent .303 Cartridge

It was like an artefact asking to be found; a discovery that reopened a fading tale of something from long ago.

The family memory of the crash is that of airmen baling out over west Norfolk, with the pilot leaving it to the very last moment before himself baling out close to the village of Shouldham. The aircraft itself is described as coming down wingtip first, with engines scattered in the field and on a nearby road. But now a small piece of brass provided a link to so many memories.

The fate of EE105 is well documented elsewhere, and I don’t intend to write here about the gallant young men who served with the squadron or their many notable exploits, but the background is worth explaining. As with the many hundreds of other aircraft that came down in Norfolk during the war, there simply aren’t enough words to capture the tales.

The 97 Squadron Operations Record Book states:

23.8.43   21 aircraft and one reserve have been detailed to operate against Berlin. Early briefing and take off at 8.15 hours [20.15].  21 aircraft took off, 2 aircraft abandoned their sorties, in one case the rear turret was u/s and in the other the mid upper gunner was very sick.  All the remaining aircraft attacked the target at Berlin.  Large area of fires seen in target area after bombing and were well concentrated.  Moon was just rising – no cloud and visibility good.  W/Cmdr Burns DFC was selected and acted as Master of Ceremonies over the target.  Bundles of windows were dropped.  P/O Fairlie and crew failed to return.  Sgt Chatten was attacked by enemy intruder when over Norfolk and was shot down, the aircraft catching fire.  All the crew baled out except for the mid upper F/S Kraemer (Aus) whose body was found later in the wreckage.  Sgt Chatten landed safely, but was wounded from gunshot in the leg and ribs and was taken to Ely Hospital – he is progressing favourably.  The remainder of the crew baled out safely and were uninjured beyond minor bruises.

EE105Q  Sgts C.S.Chatten, C.Baumber, P/O L.R.Armitage, Sgts Standen, W.A.Reffin, F/Sgt J.R.Kraemer, Sgt L.V.Smith.  1 x 4000lb, 9 x 500lb.  Up 2015  Down 0300 (approx – shot down).  Berlin bombed.  19,000′.  No cloud.  Slight haze.  Bombed centre of three red TI markers.  Built up area and big white buildings were seen visually.  Bombs believed on aiming point.  Fires seen after bombing, numerous and well concentrated and visible about 40 miles away.  On reaching English coast were shot down by an intruder.  All safely baled out except mid upper gunner who was killed.  Captain received leg injuries.  Aircraft a total loss.”

The National Archives provided a further insight into the crash with the combat report held at AIR50/200/109.

So, with the find of a spent .303 round, very suddenly our minds are focused on the annotations to the above report by F/Lt J E Blair who noted that the rear gunner Sgt L V Smith had used approximately 100 rounds against the surprise assailant. The whole story of the attack by an intruder is an altogether longer tale – Wilhelm Schmitter himself was himself shot down off the coast of Zebrugge as he returned home, and although rescued and returned to action, he too met his fate on 8th November 1943 over Eastbourne. The combat reports are below. However, this is not the time to tell that tale in full.

The simple story of that fateful night is pretty clear. EE105 was on the return leg to RAF Bourn at around 3am, nearing the Norfolk coast and the town of King’s Lynn, when it was engaged and surprised by the unseen intruder piloted by Wilhelm Schmitter. By this stage in the war, intruders were less frequent, and with home almost in sight it might have been time to relax. The papers suggest Nav lights were on and the front gun was unmanned, and who would forgive the crew the right to relax after a long and dangerous trip to Berlin.

The find of the spent round reignited memories, but enquiries with the Ministry of Defence confirmed that permission to explore further would not be granted. Policy changes after unauthorised diggings elsewhere, and the risk of even fragmentary human remains being on site closed the prospect of an excavation.

Reaching out to the internet, I was put in touch with Pete Baumber, son of crew member Cyril Baumber, who enlightened me with his late fathers account of the incident.

Cyril had recalled that when the intruder attacked they were still over water (The Wash?) and that due to the spreading fire, the injured Cliff Chatten decided they would make for land before exiting the stricken aircraft as they were unlikely to make it back to Bourn. Attempts to roll the aircraft and dampen the fire failed. Apparently they had seen the lights of an airfield as an alternative landing place but these were quickly extinguished, probably due to the presence of enemy aircraft. Therefore the crew jumped in turn over the countryside south east of King’s Lynn – all assuming that young Australian John ‘Jack’ Kraemer had also jumped after leaving his mid-upper gunner position. Sadly, history now records that Jack Kraemer was found in the wreckage, possibly mortally wounded in the enemy attack.

Cyril recounted that having jumped, he was concerned that the circling Lancaster would twice collide with him as he parachuted to safety. He found himself on the ground in the west Norfolk countryside before finding a telephone box and asking the operator where he was – it turned out he was in the village of Wormegay.

We don’t know if Cliff Chatten had much control at all of EE105, or whether he was making a vain attempt to reach RAF Marham, but in anycase he left his own escape as late as possible before it came down, narrowly missing the school and finding the field in question at Shouldham.

We know that Jack Kraemer was soon recovered and taken to the mortuary at Marham, and by 27th August was buried at Cambridge City Cemetery in the airmans plot. His death certificate is a sad note showing the perfunctory act of a station commander issuing basic facts to a local registrar at Downham Market just two days after his death.

Grave of John Robert Kraemer (AWM SUK11420C)

Our research into the incident revealed plenty of information about the final moments of the aircraft, and Jack Kraemer is remembered and cared for in perpetuity by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. 97 Squadron is also well remembered by family and friends of those who served with numerous internet resources, while EE105 itself is neatly filed away by the Air Historical Branch showing its short life from arriving with 97 Squadron on May 22nd 1943; its docket completely failing to tell the story of its service between delivery and being ‘struck off charge’ just four months later.

Having been intrigued by the stories that exist locally, and by the remembrances of people like Pete Baumber, all that was left was to convince ourselves of what remained in the ground at the crash site. With the Ministry of Defence advising that any archaelogical investigation would be refused, I came upon the grainy image below (source unknown) that claims to show EE105 at rest in its final position. As can be seen, the aircraft lays on its belly on the surface, with the front section broken away and evidence of fire as described. Also, the port engines appear to be missing as described locally and the tail appears broken way. Beyond that, it’s not possible to deduce much, but if this is EE105, it’s clear the wreck is not buried deep in the ground. We know the Heavy Maintenance Units would work quickly to remove any ordnance and weapons, and salvage the engines any any other substantial parts for possible re-use elsewhere.

However, a local witness who was aged ten at the time saw the crash site and recollects that the wreck was entirely destroyed by fire, so the picture is unlikely to be our aircraft. More likely it’s an aircraft downed in Europe.

Making a decision on what we know, it seems obvious now that there would be very few substantial parts left at the site, making an excavation pointless and unnecessary, unless ground penetrating radar can confirm deeper remains. If there are deep remains, it also confirms the reason why detectorists looking for medieval coins found no evidence of large aircraft parts. Since, just a handful of cooked-off rounds were found in the field, and a quantity of decayed aluminium in the topsoil which makes it all the more poignant that the solitary significant thing left was that one spent round marking the moments Sgt Smith valiantly tried to defend his crewmates against an unseen enemy in the early morning light of an August morning almost 79 years ago.

For that reason, it feels like the story of EE105 reached out to us from the past, asking us to remember all of them, and confirming that that field is best left in the peace they fought to earn. Maybe one day experts will have another look using non-invasive techniques.

If you stand on the spot today, it’s a scene of rural tranquility and you’d not know what transpired there. You might be disturbed by the sounds of the F35s from Marham, but beyond that there’s nothing left to remind you of a war that sometimes raged overhead in the Norfolk sky.

To the memory of John Robert Kraemer, aged 23, and the Chatten crew.

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