With grateful thanks to Howard 'Spud' Taylor Mid Upper Gunner of W4842

With the Battle of the Ruhr well underway and the elation following the success of the dams raid ten days earlier, May 27th 1943 found the crew of Sgt Ted Robbins of 106 Sqdn based at Syerston, F.E. Sgt John Seedhouse, BA Sgt Les Calvert, Nav Sgt Les Carpenter, WOP Sgt George Calvert, MUG Sgt Bert Manley,  RG Sgt Jack Denton, down for their 19th op that night.

The target would be Essen, home of the Krupps Armament Factory and vital to the German war machine. Unfortunately, Bert Manley was nursing a chest infection and was deemed unfit to fly. Ted Robbins enquired of the Wing Commander, Ronnie Baxter DFC, if he knew of a spare Mid Upper.

Baxter offered his own MUG, Sgt Howard “Spud” Taylor from Birmingham for the night.

As they lined up waiting for the green from the aldis lamp, one thing that worried Ted Robbins was if they had a crisis, and they’d had a few, he knew how his crew would react, but Spud Taylor would not, having only met them for the first time as they climbed aboard Lancaster W4842 ZN-H, the “Fema Dora.”

They took off and after crossing the North sea had a “fairly quiet time” as they crossed the coast on the run into Essen, where it changed considerably with the usual reception of intense Anti Aircraft fire and masses of searchlights. They commenced their bombing run and straight after bombs gone” and before they had closed the bomb doors, they were rocked by a shell explosion just below the port wing which knocked both port engines out, setting them on fire and sending them into a dive. Ted Robbins wrestled with the controls and managed to pull the plane out at less than 10000 feet. After sorting themselves out, the crew did an assessment of the situation.  


Lancaster W4842 'Fema Dora' after ditching


The fire was out, the port wing hydraulics had been terminally damaged, the bomb doors could not be shut and the rear turret was out of action too, they were still flying, but with a port side pull, which Ted was trying to counteract with the rudder pedals, and to cap it all, they were losing height. They threw out everything that they didn’t need, bombsight, rear ammunition etc and even the ladder in an attempt to reduce the weight and the rate of height loss.

Ted & Howard meet at Schiphol

Ted Robbins & Howard Taylor meet at Schiphol

  Their initial thought  was to make Manston in Kent for an emergency landing, but this was thought to be a bit optimistic fairly soon after, so another ditching in the Channel was decided on. They were already members of the Goldfish Club following a ditching on a training exercise from HCU Winthorpe when converting to Lancasters.

All seemed to be going according to plan, they were flying on their curving track at about 3000 feet, hopefully too far below the main stream above to  be picked on by any German Night Fighters, when the starboard inner coughed, spluttered and burst into flames.


F/E Seedhouse feathered the engine and the flames went out, but when he tried to start the engine soon after, it burst into flames once more. This time, they had to use the Graviner. This was bad news since the left hand pull of the Lancaster had now  got worse and their track was now going to take them directly over Amsterdam with all its heavy defences. They were too low to bale out and so had no choice but to sit it out  and hope. The landing light was switched on to signal a useless situation to the Germans, as they had done themselves when bombing England, but as they went over Amsterdam, it seemed like every gun opened up on them. The crew had all taken up  “crash positions” behind the main spar except for Howard Taylor in his mid-upper turret as that was still working.

From their crash positions, they all saw several bursts of green tracer slice though the fuselage and felt the exlosions of the AA shells followed by the peppering of shrapnel on the fuselage and wings. As they cleared Amsterdam, they all realised that miraculously, no one had received so much as a scratch, but the “Lanc” was obviously not going much further. Howard Taylor climbed out of his turret and joined the rest of the crew behind the main spar. In the front, Ted Robbins had the unenviable task of trying to bring the a stricken plane on one engine down at night in enemy territory. He saw on the port side, a glint of water below and started to bring the plane to for an approach. In the beam of the landing light,  he made out a church steeple (in Sassenheim)  and was relieved to realise the were going to clear it, only to see another one directly in front which was obviously much higher. A desperate wrestle with the controls lifted the starboard wing over the steeple. The water started to loom up and he told the wireless op, George Calvert, who was still plugged in, “we’re going in”. The message was duly passed on and Ted put the “Lanc” onto the water. 
He remembers seeing  a tremendous plume of water cascade over the Perspex as they skipped over the water. He was expecting to see another one, but it never came, unbeknown to him, they had skipped onto an island and skidded nearly 800 yards across it coming to rest on the waters edge on the far side. The rest of the crew, all very thankful to still be alive and believing they were on water, released the dinghy and started to climb out.    

Ted & Howard at the crash-site

Ted & Howard visit the crashsite

They were shocked to find that they were on dry land. George Calvert destroyed the radio and the others tried to set fire to the plane, but all attempts failed and they abandoned the scene. They set off in two groups, 4 & 3,  but when they met up soon after, they realised they were on an island. They heard the sound of approaching boats. Which thankfully, were of locals who moved them from the island. The two groups then went in opposite directions. Jack Denton, Les and George Calvert  were captured the next day and Ted Robbins, Howard Taylor, Les Carpenter and John Seedhouse were captured after two days. Both groups had been betrayed by informers.

After being taken,  initially to Leiden, they all ended up in Amsterdam Gaol for interrogation, from where they went onto Dalag Luft . Their next destination was Stalag VI, Heydekrug, where they stayed until the Russians began to advance and they were then moved, first to Stalag XXA, Thorn and then onto Stalag X1B/357, Fallingbostel. As the German situation became more desperate, they were force marched out and were in the column of POW’s that were strafed by our own Thunderbolts (who mistook them for a German Army column) thankfully, all being among the lucky ones who survived . Repatriation soon followed.
Today, 2003,  four of the crew are still alive. All members of Teds crew kept in touch, Howard Taylor had no contact until 2002 when his son took up a search and he was soon in contact with them again catching up on lost times. The Dutch had been in contact with Ted Robbins and were putting on a 60th anniversary reunion at the crash site at the end of May 2003 . Sadly, Jack Denton and Les Calvert were unable to attend, but Ted Robbins and Howard Taylor did, meeting for the first time in 58 years at Schipol Airport, where on landing, Howard had said to his son, Jonathan, “it’s nice to make a wheels down landing in Holland at last.”
The hospitality shown to Ted, his wife, Joan, Howard and Jonathan was tremendous, the weather was superb and a fantastic and memorable time was had by all.