Air battles over Flevoland. Part 12: Salvaging aircraft wrecks during and immediately after the war

“I cycled through the Wieringermeer and there were aircraft wrecks everywhere”.

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

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The tracks made by trawls are still visible in the ground of recently reclaimed land (Batavialand, G.J. Zwanenburg Collection).

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The Germans salvaged during the war. To remove human remains and the weapons of course. These were not allowed to fall into the wrong hands. They also wanted to see what information they could find on board. Radar information or things like that to see what the plans were. That’s why the aircrafts were salvaged.

The scrap metal merchants came after the war. Old metal was worth money. The fishermen also brought it ashore. This was only allowed on the condition that if they found weapons or human remains, they would report it. That they did quite well. The wrecks in the Northeast Polder were cleared up. The majority of the aircraft in the Netherlands also were salvaged then. Except for in the polder.

Aircraft were salvaged from the IJsselmeer in 1945 and 1946 by the navy, and/or by the 'North Star', a cable ship for the PTT. Fishermen had been searching for aircrafts still at the bottom of the sea for a long time. The Navy had been searching too. I remember it very well. We got married in 1951 and when I shortly before went home from Amsterdam to my old hometown Harlingen across the Afsluitdijk on my bike, to pick her up, I cycled through the Wieringermeer and saw on a field a lot of aircraft wrecks.

They were laying in the field of the Department of Public Works (Rijkswaterstaat), so I went to have a look. Some aircraft were torn in half, some were still in one piece, so to speak. All these wrecks were salvaged from the IJsselmeer. The fishermen had trawls, which dragged the bottom of the sea. Later you could follow the tracks in the ground to find them. The Department of Public Works was responsible for keeping the 'seabottom' clean, so if the fishermen’s nets were damaged, they claimed by the DPW. These positions were then immediately noted on the map, the well- known map. All through fishermen fishing there. On all those places they had already taken out the smaller 'bits and pieces' lying on top.

When the polders were drained, the salvaging of aircraft wrecks began. In 1958 it began in Eastern Flevoland. First to arrive was the foreign affairs relief team. I truly believe they approached the matter the wrong way. There was a lot of mess to clear up so they thought let’s blow it up. That was quick and easy but most certainly not the best way, for a lot of invaluable information needed for identifying the aircraft got lost.

At one stage an aircraft of the Dutch Air Force was found, and the Air Force called in. They had a real salvage team and that’s how the two sides met each other, from "there are more over here." That’s when The Hague decided that the Air Force, which had its own salvage team, should be responsible for the salvage of the aircraft wrecks in the new polders.

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

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