Air battles over Flevoland. Part 13: How do you approach the salvage of an aircraft wreck?

“You took a shovel and looked to see if you could find anything with a number on it”

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

machinegeweer B-24

One of the members of the Salvage Team of the Dutch Royal Air Force poses with a machine gun, found in a B-24 that was excavated in the Oostvaardersplassen in 1975 (Batavialand, G.J. Zwanenburg Collection).

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Thanks to the DPW’s [Department of Public Works and Water Management, ed.] maps showing the wrecks, we knew in advance where we could expect to find something. Obviously you kept that in mind. I was in close contact with the people in the polder and if they were going to cultivate somewhere, we would watch. You then went with a 'locator'. Ditches were dug with large machines and of course you didn’t want anything to lying there. Once the ditches were dug, you went to work. Draglines were used and all kinds of heavy equipment. But in the beginning, it was a case of using your shovel.


The wrecks were hidden among the reeds. The whole polder was covered in reed. It was only when they started to mow and cultivate, that everything became clear. Once the reed had been burnt down items became visible. That’s when you started looking. The helicopter pilots of Soesterberg had to have regular flying exercises so they went to look. I’d get another call telling me something somewhere had been found. So I’d go too. You came upon a piece of metal sticking out of the ground. Took a shovel and looked to see if there were any markings. I was looking for part numbers to identify the type of aircraft. We knew from research what planes had crashed into the IJsselmeer. You could start eliminating. Searching for more numbers. An aircraft could be clearly recognized by the metal. Therefore it was important to know all the aircraft types from that period. I knew my stuff. If a wreck was located, you went there.

Everything was recovered according to the cultivation schedule in the polder. In 1968 the B-24 at the Oostvaardersdijk came to light, and at the time I had already been there. However, we only managed to salvage her in 1975, with the help of the Department of the IJsselmeer polders and the Zuidersea Works.

Cleanup or storage

Everything was cleaned up. Things that even your every day man could recognize shouldn’t be thrown away, but had to be kept. When we go to the schools in Dronten (or elsewhere), we always take a box of recognizable wreckage parts along to show the children. An RAF mug was found by me among the wreckparts of a Stirling. It was in pieces but it is now one piece again.

There was an old fashioned shaver, and a toothbrush in the mug. Should you have to divert to another base due to fog on your own base, you at least had these two familiar things with you.

They sometimes used a ladies stocking as a scarf. They had stiff leather flying clothing which got really hard in the high altitude cold. Something soft around your neck was also functional. And It might be a keepsake to someone you loved or liked very much, but also practical. Boys together, that’s soldiers. Even the name of that plane: Dinah Might. Perhaps “Dinah might”, and then you would have “dynamite”. A little bit of humor amongst the boys. They needed that to help them through those difficult and dangerous times!

Identifying aircraft wrecks

I was a wireless operator of profession and very good with numbers. You had to know frequencies and things like that. I could recall phone numbers off by heart.. That was really easy. Then at a certain moment it became clear to me that for instance cars, boats, planes, all have their own part numbers. When I started noticing this and was confronted with these numbers. I sent them off to get the relevant information. That’s how it all started, the identification. You could instantly recognize the type of aircraft and you knew right away it is a fighter, bomber, night-fighter, and /or both. We had to figure out which aircraft it was exactly. Each aircraft, like a car, had its own (serial)number. That’s what you looked for, and that’s what you found.

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

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