Almere is a young city, but even here the Second World War left its traces.
Back then, this area was still Lake IJsselmeer, a key flight path for the allied forces to the Ruhr. Pilots often chose to fly over Lake IJsselmeer on their return from bombing missions in Germany. This route increased their chance of survival if their plane should crash.
Various remainders of military aircraft were found during the reclamation of the province of Flevoland. Several of these wrecks are located on Almere’s territory in Lake Gooimeer and Lake IJmeer. These were all military aircraft that crashed during the Second World War (1940-1945) and the Cold War (1945-1991).
Several years ago, the wreck of an airplane was found in Lake Markermeer, northwest of the De Blocq van Kuffeler pumping station. It was identified as Short Stirling BK716, an RAF bomber that carried out raids on German cities during the Second World War.
In 2008, the Royal Netherlands Sea Rescue Institution (KNRM) by chance brought up part of the driving motor of a Short Stirling’s landing gear from Lake Markermeer. The Aircraft Recovery Group 1940-1945 Foundation initially believed the plane to be BK710, but new research carried out in 2019 revealed that it was in fact BK716. The Dutch Ministry of Defence confirmed the identification during the subsequent recovery operation. This Short Stirling was flown with a crew of seven. In the first week of the recovery operation, one of the engine blocks was found. The registration number on this part confirmed the identity of the aircraft as BK716.
BK716 crashed in the early hours of 30 March 1943 when returning from a raid on Berlin. On its way home to RAF Downham Market in Norfolk, the Short Stirling was shot down by a German night fighter.
The crew of BK716 consisted of British and Canadian members:
The recovery of Short Stirling BK716 started on 31 August 2020 and was officially completed on 9 October 2020. The municipality of Almere carried out the operation in collaboration with several partners. The Dutch Ministry of Defence conducted the recovery and identified the human remains. With the assistance of Leemans Speciaalwerken, pieces of wreckage were lifted and cleaned. The recovery staff then removed the human remains, personal belongings, aircraft parts, parts of ammunition and items of military equipment. The Recovery Service of the Royal Netherlands Air Force took the pieces of wreckage to the airbase in Woensdrecht. The Recovery and Identification Service of the Royal Netherlands Army took the human remains, items of equipment and personal belongings to its laboratory in Soesterberg for further examination. It presented the results of its examination to the British Ministry of Defence. It is up to the latter to approve the findings and prepare a reburial ceremony. The reburial process is expected to take some time.
The Almere municipal executive and municipal council wanted to salvage the aircraft. Surviving relatives had requested the recovery of the remains of their family members to be able to give them a proper burial. The executive and council supported that request. The crew paid the ultimate price for our freedom. Our efforts will enable the relatives to say goodbye to their late loved ones properly.
The recovery, which is part of the National Aircraft Wreckage Recovery Programme, was commissioned by the municipality of Almere. The Ministry of Defence and specialized contractor Leemans Speciaalwerken carried out the recovery. The Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations provided funds and advice.
The National Aircraft Wreckage Recovery Programme was set up in 2018 and today covers more than 30 recovery operations involving aircraft of various nationalities with a strong likelihood of human remains of missing airmen being encountered. The programme was started to fulfil the fervent wish of surviving relatives to be able to properly bury their missing family members and to obtain certainty about what happened to them. The involvement and efforts of members of the general public often prove indispensable. The Netherlands celebrated 75 years of freedom in 2020, in which context recovery operations of this nature are a meaningful gesture.
The Netherlands celebrated 75 years of freedom in 2019 and 2020. Our rights and freedoms are not unconditional, they require our ongoing work and commitment. The principles of unity and connection were at the heart of the commemorations and celebrations of 75 years of liberation and freedom. The story of the crew of Short Stirling BK716 is part of that. They fought for our freedom, eventually paying the ultimate price. Freedom for which we are thankful every day.
The municipality of Almere felt it was important to commemorate the BK716 crew with a work of art. Having decided to commission an artwork, it therefore appealed for artists to submit ideas in late 2019. A jury composed of Hilde van Garderen (Alderman responsible for culture), Johan Graas (Chair of the Aircraft Recovery Group), Heleen Visser (Chair of the Executive Board of the Almere Resistance Memorial Park Foundation), Dick de Jager (archaeological policy adviser at the municipality of Almere) and school pupils Anastasia, Mika and Ximon chose from a shortlist of submitted plans. Their choice fell on Laura O’Neill and her design for Rise. The artwork will be installed on the memorial field in the Resistance Memorial Park (Bos der Onverzettelijken) in Almere in October 2021. Miniatures of the artwork were presented to the surviving relatives of the deceased crew.
The children’s book ‘The Night of the Stirling’ was published in October 2020. It was written for primary-school pupils in the senior section (years 7 and 8) and presented to pupils in Almere by alderman Hilde van Garderen. The book was made available to all primary schools in the province of Flevoland and also translated into English.
The story is about four characters who, in one night, are each in their own way affected by the war in the air. It is a fictional work and therefore does not describe the actual last flight of Short Stirling BK716. Author and archaeologist Evert van Ginkel: ‘We soon decided to view the story from various different perspectives rather than to tell the story of the bomber alone. Doing that would have been difficult because, sadly, the crew did not live to tell the tale.’
The Short Stirling was an English, four-engine bomber that was brought into action during the Second World War. Seven crew members were on board. The Short Stirling was 26,6 meter long, 8,8 meter high and had a wingspan of 30,2 meter. This type of airplane of the Royal Air Force (RAF) was specially developed for the bombardments against German cities. In 1942, it was the largest bomber of the allied forces. The aircraft was produced since 1939 in England. In total, 2.375 of this type of aircraft were built. Airplanes with a wingspan of 30 meters weigh over 20.000 kilos without cargo. With bombs and fuel, this craft will weigh about 27.000 kilos.
Due to this heavy weight, the aircraft was less able to manoeuvre, and therefore an easy target for the fast German night fighters. For protection, the aircraft had gun turrets at the front and back, each with an air gunner inside. In the middle, a bomb aimer was situated who could also fight the German night fighters.
The recovery of the Short Stirling started on August 31st and completed on October 9th, 2020. The municipality carried out this project together with our partners. The Ministry of Defence took care of the recovery and will now carry out the process of identification. Together with Leemans Speciaalwerken, Defence raised the wreckage from the bottom of the Markermeer and cleaned the found parts. They searched for mortal remains, personal belongings, munition, and military equipment. The Recovery & Identification Unit of the Royal Netherlands Army (BIDKL) examines the human remains and other parts of the airplane in order to identify the remains as those of the crew of the BK716. This bomber carried seven crew members. Their relatives have been informed by the municipality of Almere.
The results of the investigation will be submitted to the British Ministry of Defence for approval. After approval they will start preparations for a re-burial ceremony. The identification process and reburial process can take some time.
As soon as we have more information about the crew and aircraft, we will publish it on this page.
The recovery took place on water since the wreckage was located in the lake Markermeernear the pumping-engine De Blocq van Kuffeler.
Almere works together with the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, a specialized aircraft recovery contractor Leemans Speciaalwerken and the Province of Flevoland to recover the Short Stirling.
It is very important to the municipality of Almere to tell its citizens about the Short Stirling BK716 and its crew. These stories will keep the memory of the Second World War alive, especially for the younger generations. The municipality had created the childrens book De nacht van de Stirling (The night of the Stirling) and has commissioned an artwork to remember the crew of the BK716. This artwork will be placed in the national resistance monument Bos der Onverzettelijken in 2021.
The Province of Flevoland has commissioned a documentary about the crew members and their relatives: Vliegenoverpolderlijnen.nl.
The municipality of Almere has organised a private memorial ceremony to be held in the Resistance Memorial Park (Bos der Onverzettelijken) in Almere on Tuesday, 12 October 2021. The memorial ceremony brings a poignant close to a very special project for the municipality of Almere, the province of Flevoland, the Dutch Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations and the Dutch Ministry of Defence . It also brings closure for the surviving relatives. Their request was the main reason for the municipality to organise the operation to recover the Short Stirling. Some of the surviving relatives will be present that day. During the ceremony, HRH Princess Margriet of the Netherlands will unveil a commissioned artwork in memory of the crew.