Air battles over Flevoland. Part 8: Surviving after a crash landing

“They were given clear instructions not to fight as they were never armed"

The story of the salvage officer who was involved in the salvage of, in particular, Allied aircraft wrecks in the Flevoland polders.


On July 29th 1942, a Vickers Wellington of the RAF made an emergency landing on the IJsselmeer. The pilot, F/Sgt John Gilbertson (RNZAF), whose body can be seen on the picture, and two crew members did not survive. Two other crew members were taken prisoner by the Germans (Batavialand, G.J. Zwanenburg Collection).

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The crew always had money with them, Dutch, Belgian and French money. This was to pay for any help they might have needed. It was a known fact that there was a shortage of clothing in the Netherlands, so they could pay people for that at least. They were given instructions not to fight as they were never armed. They were always encouraged never to start any fight on the ground as they would lose. Even so if possible, they had to try to escape. They had all kinds of tools for that purpose. For example, a small compass concealed in a button. In the seam of the jacket. They assumed they would manage with English, in the Netherlands they mainly had no trouble. I don’t know how it was in France or Belgium. They had a fairly good map with them. A silk escape map! On the one side the Netherlands and Belgium and the other side Italy and the Balkan Area, Poland. The map was in a particular packet with money in it. That money had been signed by Rost van Tonningen, who was then head of the Dutch Central Bank. The infamous Rost van Tonningen, well known and hated at the time. It’s all connected somehow or other.

They had a make shift survival kit for if they should crash. Even so they were ordered not to take great risks. Later some fighter pilots had a gun with them but in general, the bomber crews didn’t carry weapons. Some did have a bowie knife with them but this was more for cutting themselves free from the parachute in awkward situations rather than doing any harm to anyone else.

Source: Batavialand, interview by Lenie Bolle with Gerrie Zwanenburg, 16th September, 2009.

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