On 12 May 1940, at 0500 hours, three Bristol Blenheim’s of RAF 235 Squadron took off from RAF Bircham Newton, 13.4 miles north east of King’s Lynn, Norfolk. Their task was to protect a small force of Royal Marines and a battalion of Irish and Welsh Guards (651) at the Hoek van Holland (Hook of Holland). Their mission involved the safeguarding the evacuation of Queen Wilhelmina, the Royal family, and what was to become her government in exile; and the Dutch gold reserves.
The Germans had attacked the capital of The Netherlands which had declared itself neutral. The Hague was attacked on 10 May 1940 in the early morning hours. Parachutists were dropped, army barracks were bombed, and troops landed at the airstrip in Ockenburg. Despite this, the Dutch army prevented the German army entering The Hague. The Netherlands surrendered on 14 May 1940 when the Luftwaffe’s indiscriminate and devastating bombing of Rotterdam forced them to capitulate.
At 0600 hours, the Blenheims rendezvoused with Hawker Hurricanes of RAF 151 Squadron at the Whistle Light Buoy just off the Hook of Holland Canal. Down below were one cruiser, one patrol vessel, four destroyers, two minesweepers and a small vessel painted orange. Approximately 50 parachutes were to be seen on the ground about three miles to the north. Nearby on a small aerodrome, 15 enemy aircraft were burnt out. The Hurricanes, running out of fuel, returned to their base at RAF Martlesham Heath at 0625 hours leaving the three Blenheims to fend for themselves.
The Blenheims were attacked by eight Messerschmitt Bf 109s of JG27 at 0755 hours. They attacked in two sections of four making head-on attacks. Bristol Blenheim L9324 was last seen with the starboard engine on fire. It crashed into a small field in the Nieuwlandse Polder, near Hook of Holland.
Crew of Bristol Blenheim Mk IV, L9324 call-sign LA-P:
Pilot Officer Norman Alastair Lloyd Smith, RAF (40950) pilot, age 25,
Sergeant John Conacher Robertson RAFVR (749443) observer, age 20
Leading Aircraftman Thomas Joseph Lowry, RAF (553205) U/T air gunner, age 17
Robertson and Lowry are buried at Hoek van Holland General Cemetery, Zuid-Holland, The Netherlands. Smith is buried Den Haag (Westduin) General Cemetery, The Netherlands.
Robertson was the son of Andrew and Davina Robertson, 44 Rose Crescent, Perth. Formerly a Perth Academy pupil, Robertson enlisted in the RAFVR in May 1939 and was called up on 1 September 1939. He joined RAF 235 Squadron at RAF Manston on 30 October 1939. RAF 235 Squadron were initially equipped with Fairy Battle light bombers which were replaced in February 1940 by Bristol Blenheims. The squadron then became part of Coastal Command.
Lowry was still under training. Pilot Officer Norman A L Smith managed to climb out of the crashed aircraft. He was badly injured – he had a head wound and a 7.92 mm round in his side. Dutch surgeons valiantly tried for one and a half hours to save his life.
Almost the entire historic city centre of Rotterdam was destroyed, nearly 900 people were killed, as well as making 85,000 homeless.
24 Bristol Blenheims were shot down on operations on 12 May 1940. Two of those three Blenheims of RAF 235 Squadron were lost, five aircrew were killed, and one became a prisoner of war.
Records of this event, the fate of Blenheim L9324 were previously missing when transferred to the National Archives at Kew, they were only recovered in August 2014.
John Connacher Robertson, Perthshire Advertiser 1 October 1941
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AIRCRAFT OF THE ROYAL AIR FORCE 1939-1945: BRISTOL TYPE TYPE 149 BLENHEIM IV. (CH 2992) Six Blenheim Mark IVFs of No. 254 Squadron RAF, flying in formation over Northern Ireland shortly after the unit?s arrival at Aldergrove, County Antrim. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205126901