A Staggering 1,085 WW2 Airmen Who Died in the Netherlands Remain Missing

An American C-47 crashed during operation market garden. © IWM (BU 921)

Dutch broadcaster NOS and other war experts have conducted research that supports a claim that says upwards of 1,085 airmen remain missing in the Netherlands. According to the broadcaster, the Netherlands is home to 501 crash locations dating back to World War II that have yet to be investigated. The breakdown of the missing crew members is as follows: 600 are British, 228 Americans and 247 German soldiers.

The majority of missing airmen are thought to have gone down in crashes over the Wadden Sea or the IJsselmeer Lake, where the aircraft were never recovered. In addition, there are dozens of planes that likely hit the ground in the Netherlands, but have since been buried under the earth. The NOS explained that fully loaded planes have the ability to submerge meters into the ground if they hit at full speed.

There have been plenty of relatives who have made an effort to locate their missing airmen. However, it is not easy as not all of the Dutch local authorities support or cooperate with these initiatives. Some of the councils that have refused to aid relatives in their searches include Almere, Southwest Friesland and Echt-Susteren. The NOS understands that these families just want to find the bodies of their loved ones, but rather more complicated for the councils. It can cost a council €500,000 to dig up a plane on land, but it is even more expensive when a body of water is involved. There is no way to even know that the crash sites would contain any of the airmen’s bodies. Oftentimes the crew attempts to bail out of the plane, or they are simply torn apart in the explosion at impact.

Unfortunately, the Dutch cemeteries contain dozens of graves with bodies of unnamed servicemen. World War II saw an extremely high number of crashes in the Netherlands – about 5,000 in total. Most of the planes were manned by British soldiers headed to Germany. Hundreds of German aircraft met the same tragic end over the Dutch territory too. The NOS reported that the Dutch Air Force has dug up 200 planes since 1960.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE