In an entry on this site, I wrote about how a couple of my cousins died as civilians during the Sheffield ‘Operation Crucible’ Blitz of 1940. In contrast, in this entry, I write about how three of my German cousins died as civilians during World War II. To set the background as to how I lost English and German cousins in World War II, I’ll explain that through the paternal side of my family, my ancestry can be traced back to Rhineland in Prussia (now Germany). My second great grandfather, Johann Mölleken, came to England with his family circa 1860.
My second cousin, twice removed is called Emilie Mölleken and she was born in 1906 in Hiesfeld, Dinslaken, Rheineland, Prussia. In 1932, she married Friedrich Gerhard Van Laak. Together, they issued three children called Fritz (born 1932), Erwin (born 1934) and Heinz-Dieter (born 1937).
Friedrich Gerhard Van Laak owned a house painting and pharmacy business in Hiesfeld. With tax-payer’s money during World War II, the basement of this store was developed into an air raid shelter. This basement therefore always had to be accessible.
In the early hours of 14th October 1944, the Royal Air Force launched a massive 1000 bomber air raid, codenamed ‘Operation Hurricane’ on the German city of Duisburg in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The route of the bombers took them over Hiesfeld. At 08:46, Hiesfeld air defence made a direct hit on a four engined Avro Lancaster heavy bomber flying in at 52,000 meters altitude. Consequently, a second Avro Lancaster was also affected. The two bombers were due to hit the Hiesfeld air defence and their numbers were NF928 and JB297.
A reporter filmed this event out of another aeroplane. Because of the great quantity of bombs and the half full tanks of fuel that the bombers were carrying, the force of the explosions ripped the bombers apart and the cascading large and small debris scattered for miles in and around Hiesfeld. Several witnesses described how aeroplane and body parts fell from the smoke filled sky. Fires broke out across the entire of Hiesfeld. This was followed by sporadic bomb explosions. Several unexploded bombs also scattered around aimlessly. At several points dead Avro Lancaster crew members were found with unopened parachutes still on their backs.
The Van Laak store was hit by falling aircraft debris and was completely destroyed by subsequent fire. In the air raid shelter underneath the store were twenty three civilians, all of which were killed. A fire-fighter, who was recovering the bodies there, reported that the lungs of the causalities were burst due to the huge explosion and pressure wave. They were found with bloody foam at the mouth but otherwise, their bodies were unharmed. The shelter did not collapse and so all of the causalities were found, still sat down. The inputs and outputs of the air raid shelter were filled in, during the explosion. Paint buckets caught fire and exploded which hampered the rescue attempts.
Near to the Van Laak store was a greengrocer’s store and people had gone to buy cabbage that morning. Once the air raid sirens sounded, the people fled into the Van Laak air raid shelter.
Sadly, Emilie and two of her children (my third cousins), Erwin and Heinz-Dieter were killed in the blast. Their eldest child, Fritz (still alive at the time of writing) survived because he was in School.
All 14 crew members of NF928 and JB297 were recovered and buried in the cemetery of Dinslaken. In 1947, they were reburied in the Imperial Forest Cemetery of Kleve.
Special thanks are owed to my cousin, Hermann Mölleken, who provided details of this tragic account.
In a twist, the granddaughter of my second great grandfather (Johann Mölleken) was killed as a result of German bombing in Liverpool in 1941. Her name is Hilda Augusta Tudball (nee Köhler) and is my first cousin, twice removed. Unfortunately, Hilda does not seem to appear in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database (yet) but thanks are owed to her granddaughter, Victoria Carr, for informing me of how she died.