APRIL 24/25, 1944, THE FATAL FINAL MISSION

P/Off. Cagienard and his crew embark on their eighth mission. They are part of a group of 635 aircraft with the mission to bomb the war industry of Karlsruhe, Germany.

At 09.51 p.m. they take off from their base at Witchford, Cambridge, from where 115th Squadron operates. Slowly and laboriously, the heavily loaded machines climb up with their bomb cargo and set course for the target.

On the more than 900 km long flight route, only 25 km have to be flown above Nazi Germany, where in the event of adversity, the help or sympathy of the population cannot be counted on, on the contrary.

The return flight would be south of the flight path. Four aircraft returning after the bombing are shot down over Belgium. It is believed that due to a heavy storm and gusts of wind they deviated their course.

During the flight back to base, all movements of the bombers are closely monitored by German radars. All data, altitude, speed and flight direction are transmitted to the Flak anti-aircraft guns and the night fighter bases. Likewise, the night fighters from Brustem airbase, Sint-Truiden, are led to their prey.

00.12 a.m. - Oberleutnant Heinz Schnaufer, radar operator Leutnant Rumpelhardt and gunner Oberfeldwebel Gäensler take off with their night fighter, a Messerschmitt bf 110.

They didn't have much hope - rainwater seeped into their cabin and there was a lot of cloud cover, Rumpelhardt's radar failed, leaving the night fighter electronically blind. But about two hours later he was on track. This was mainly due to Gänsler, because it was, he who saw the targets with his cat eyes.

At 02:03 a.m. he led his pilot to their first victim. A Lancaster of the 115 Squadron that crashes in flames at Alken. No survivors, the youngest was 19 years old, all are buried at the Military Cemetery at Heverlee.

Twenty minutes later P/Off's Cagienard Lancaster was attacked. At 2:28 am, 3 km north of Mechelen, Gäensler fires the cannons of his Schräge Musik, with screaming engines the Lancaster skims over Mechelen and crashes burning near Pasbrug in Sint-Katelijne-Waver. Four crew members parachute out of the plane, but there are no survivors.

The remains of F/Sgt. Foster, Canadian P/Off. MacLeod and Northern Irish Sgt. Kelly are recovered by the German Salvage Command on different days and buried on the Allied Airmen plot located at Fort III in Borsbeek, which was forbidden to civilians.

In December 1945, all the British airmen buried at Borsbeek were transferred to Antwerp’s Military Cemetery at Schoonselhof.

Canadian P/Off. Letcher is confused with an American airman and buried at the "American Cemetery" in Neuville-en-Condroz, on June 6, 1946 he is transferred to the Schoonselhof.

P/Off. Cagienard, Sgt. Shorten and Sgt. King are buried at the Pasbrug cemetery. According to witnesses, all three were barely recognizable.
On June 11, 1946, they were transferred to Schoonselhof where the three rest in a common grave, among 428 other fellow airmen.

02.30 a.m. a Halifax of 192 Sqn is the next victim, this aircraft with its eight crew members, of which 6 Canadians, crashes 1 km from Haasdonk.
No survivors, the crew is buried at the Schoonselhof.

02.40 a.m., now a Halifax of the 425 Sqn, it crashes in the Oosterschelde, the crew has a narrow escape, 1 dead, 6 go into captivity, one can go into hiding with the help of the population and escapes from the Germans.

The “night ghost of Sint-Truiden”, Schnaufer's nickname among the Allied pilots, later noted the 4 victories in his logbook.

That night Bomber Command lost 22 aircraft.

A total of 8,325 aircraft will be lost during WWII, of the 125,000 people serving in Bomber Command, 55,573 will lose their lives, that is 44.4%.
In addition 8,403 will be injured and 9,838 will go into captivity.

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