JB563: Crash Site

In the late summer of 2011 the crash site of RAF Lancaster JB563 of 100 Squadron was located 8km north north east of Frankfurt am Main.

Photo: Getty

Avro Lancaster

The aircraft was approaching Frankfurt, the main target, when it was attacked from behind and below to starboard.  The aircraft’s starboard wing was set on fire and it spread quickly to the bomb bay.  After the attack, the crew assessed the damage and tried to suppress the fires, but the damage to the Lancaster and fires were too great and the pilot K.W.Evans gave the order to abandon the aircraft.   Of the eight crew only the bomb aimer and the second navigator managed to bail out.  By now the fire in the bomb bay had seriously damaged the aircraft controls and Evans could not keep control. The burning plane went into a near vertical dive twisting onto it’s back before slamming in the ground.  All six men on board were killed, one was thrown clear and later was identified by his dog-tags as the flight engineer Sgt.J.J.Lapes aged 19.

Crash site of Lancaster JB563

Earlier in 2011 a nephew of one of the crew had contacted the people behind the lostaircraft.com website as JB563 had crashed in their area of interest north and east of Frankfurt am Main.   Roughly  a third of the aircraft lost on that night were around the target area Frankfurt.  A lot of general background information was shared between them and then one of the lostaircraft team made contact with an eye witnesses to the JB563 crash.  Further enquiries located the crash site and obtained permission to search and dig the site.  Research had already told us that most of the site had been cleared of all wreckage by the Luftwaffe investigation team directly after the crash and by land owners selling the remaining wreckage to scrap metal merchants as late as 1955.

One fine weekend in August two nephews of one of the crew,  the lostaircraft team, eye witnesses and the local reservists arrived on site to investigate.  The first thing to determine was the bomb load that JB563 was carrying.   The aircraft’s loss card from the RAF Museum in Hendon, north London showed that it was carrying:

  • 1 x 4000lb “cookie”
  • 108 x 30lb incendiaries carried in clusters or small bomb containers
  • 1053 x 4lb incendiaries without explosive charges carried in clusters or small bomb containers
  • 117 x 4lb incendiaries with explosive charges carried in clusters or small bomb containers.

A metal find is excavated carefully

By mid-morning the team were briefed on what to look out for and a systematic search of the site began.  Very soon the first finds started to come in, but they were all  iron and agricultural in nature.  One very large iron object was, at first,  thought to be a fragment of a bomb casing and was excavated with extreme caution.  Slowly but surely the mystery metal plate was exposed, edges started to appear and finally much to everyone’s relief a piece of flat iron plate came to the surface. By lunch time the team had not found anything that could indicate a crash site, however with three eye witnesses confirming the site location we could only conclude that subsequent clearance of the site had been very effective. The lostaircraft team were disappointed as all the signs indicated that there should be some good finds.

Beer & barbecue

So with the sun shining and a barbecue lunch under way, some English beer soon got the team talking and reassessing the situation. Were all three of the eye witnesses mistaken? After all the crash happened over 66 years ago. What was the big flat metal plate?  The aircraft reference books didn’t show anything promising as it was the wrong size and shape for the pilot’s armour protection.  Some suggested tank armour and others the back of a fire place.  In truth we couldn’t tell and the topic of conversation went back to the search.  After a few more beers we decided to widen the search and split into two group. One extending the search in a clock-wise direction and the other group searching anti-clockwise.

Aluminium sheet from Lancaster JB563

Progress was slow, either it was the heat or the beer slowing things down. It was not until late afternoon when the first piece of aircraft found.  Just about 30cm down it was small piece of ripped aluminium skin probably from one of the wings.  The team gathered around and it was agreed that was aircraft aluminium.

More searching revealed more fragments of aluminium Lancaster skin thrown clear as it crashed or broke up.  The rest of this page shows the handful of wreckage recovered from the site in August 2011.

Fragments of aluminium sheet recovered from Lancaster JB563 crash site

Fragments of Aluminium skin from Lancaster JB563

Fragment of Aluminium skin from Lancaster JB563

Lanc JB563

Fragment of Aluminium skin - showing both sides

Hydraulic coupling in front turret (port side).

Hydraulic Al JB563

Female hydraulic coupling from JB563 - connected at starboard wing root

One component recovered was a female hydraulic coupling, the small bore tube indicates it is from the high pressure side of the circuit.  The coupling was compared to those on the Lancaster cockpit at the Imperial War Museum in London.  After a bit of cleaning the connector fitted straight onto a high pressure connector on the starboard wing root. The one shown in this picture is to operate one of the Lanacaster’s three turrets.  Hydraulics were also used to actuate the undercarriage. The hydraulic pumps were powered by the inner engines on both sides. The return side of the hydraulic circuits are low pressure and the connectors are larger in diameter.

Slight damage shows the taped seam more easily on the Lancaster fuselage at IWM

Fragment rivet spacing compared to example Lancaster

A fragment of aluminium skin was compared to the example Lancaster cockpit at the Imperial War Museum. It matched the thickness and rivet spacing as shown in the next image.  The fragment has flecks of black paint showing that this piece probably came from the underside of the aircraft.  Other marks on the fragment surface indicate that fabric was attached to it.  In later Lancasters only the ailerons and the joints between fuselage segments were covered in fabric.

 

Plug from a 4000lb Cookie?

Close up of cookie cap

One of the heaviest finds was a bit of a mystery to start with.  It was a large round iron plug.  The team adjourned for tea, coffee and biscuits to consider the latest find. After consulting several books the best suggestion was a plug from the 4,000 lb bomb usually called a “cookie”. Interestingly after a bit of careful cleaning there were some marks on the surface that could be writing, although badly corroded with careful lighting a character can be made out.  This could be wishful thinking – you can judge for yourself.

 

Is this find from the 4000lb cookie that JB563 was carrying?

The find was compared to 4000lb “cookie” exhibit next to the Lancaster cockpit in the Imperial War Museum in South London. It was not a convincing match, but the piece has been rusting for 66 years. So we are undecided and more investigation is needed.