RB396’s final flight 1st April 1945

April 1st 1945 dawned dull but 174 Squadron was called upon at noon to deal with a report of MET (Mechanised Enemy Transport) on the roads near Hengelo in the Netherlands. Departing the safety of their base at B.100 outside of Goch, Germany, Flight Lieutenant Chris House was flying as Red 4 in Hawker Typhoon MkIb, RB396 for the first time. Her usual pilot, Frank Johnson, was shot down just two days before and taken PoW. He was flying another aircraft that day because RB396 was being repaired from flak damage picked up whilst being flown by Sydney Russell-Smith two days prior to that. 

The convoy was soon spotted and Red Section made their first attack, unleashing the Typhoon’s powerful payload of 8 RP-3 60lb rockets on the trucks below them. Wheeling around after his first pass, F/L House and RB396 followed up their attack with their 20mm cannons. Despite the carnage created by the rocket attack, the Germans responded with heavy and accurate anti-aircraft fire from their light flak guns. RB396 was at about 500 feet when she was hit by this intense flak.

F/L House had moments to react, getting RB396 away to the north, he knew he would not be able to return to base and he successfully force landed RB396 in a field outside of Denekamp, Netherlands. Once down, the rest of Red Section were relieved to hear Chris radio that he was OK. Chris unstrapped himself, unplugged his RT and Oxygen cables and perhaps with one last look at the Typhoon with the name of another man’s girlfriend written on the nose, in his words, ‘did a runner’.

This newly discovered image of RB396 was taken while she was being salvaged, sometime after 1st April 1945. It clearly shows the impact of the landing that Chris carried out 75 years ago.

Chris recalled that dull April day many years later in a letter, he said, “I left the aircraft and ran away from the direction of what I presumed was a German field hospital. I also observed some Germans heading in the direction of the crash. I skirted several fields in which there were one or two men working and eventually I came to a haystack and decided to burrow into it pulling the hay in behind me.” Later Chris was found by a local farmer, Herman ter Duis. Noticing the British uniform, Herman approached and was greeted by the offer of a cigarette. Chris was taken back to the farm that Herman shared with his brother, where he spent the night.

Chris later wrote in a letter, “I was discovered by a young lad who took me into the farm where several adults were in the kitchen. They made me welcome and whilst there they showed me their hidden radio with which they listened to the BBC news. They were very kind to me.” Chris slept in one of the farmhouse bedrooms with his revolver placed on the bedside cabinet.

The following morning Chris was provided with overalls, a bicycle and a guide. They set off in the direction of the Allied advance. Chris remembered, “we had to cycle past a long column of German armour and eventually later in the day I said goodbye to my guide and bicycle and after using ditches to hide in, I was eventually found by the advanced elements of the Guards Armoured Division and a couple of days later was returned across the Rhine to my Squadron.”

In a very matter of fact way, Chris recorded in his logbook that he had been “Shot down 5 miles SW of Lingen. Evaded. Returned a couple of days later.” His return was recorded by his CO in the Squadron’s ORB on 3rd April by the comment, “Depression lifted slightly today when House was known to be safe and on his way back.  Poor Chris looked nearly exhausted when he came in but what an adventure.”

75 years on from that final flight, the project to return RB396 to the skies where she belongs has announced new initiatives for how you can support the rebuild. There is a new and exciting tier to the Supporters’ Club, as a route for those who are able and willing to contribute to the rebuild at a higher level than is currently available. It is the Platinum Club, and with significant interest already, it has the potential to enable the rebuild to progress at a much faster pace than is currently possible. It seeks just one thousand people who really want to see the rebuild take off, membership to this club is limited. Alongside that, a range of special new merchandise to commemorate the events of the 75th anniversary have been produced, including a Limited Edition artwork, depicting Chris escaping from the scene of his forced landing. Throughout this 75th anniversary year, the HTPG is planning special events, to mark the anniversary. As soon as restrictions allow, those events will come to fruition and will be incredibly special. 

Chris heard that the family who had helped him escape had been shot by the Gestapo. This haunted him forever, and he passed away in 2007 never being able to bring himself to return to the area. Through countless hours of extensive enquiries, the research team on the HTPG have now discovered that the family survived. They were not shot by the Gestapo. The team have now been in touch with the descendants who helped Chris, including the then young boy, as well as Chris’ own family. Planning is ongoing to reunite the two families, in the anniversary year of the final flight, at the exact site, bringing a degree of closure to the story.

To support the project to return RB396 to the skies, 75 years after she fell from them, please head to the “Get Involved” section of this website.