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Air Force Museum Foundation

WWII Relics from the Polders

DAYTON, Ohio -- Section of left wing of B-24H No. 638, which first appeared as the water was pumped from the Dutch polder. Photos of this wing were published in newspapers around the world for months before the plane was actually removed from the Zuider Zee by the Royal Netherlands Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Section of left wing of B-24H No. 638, which first appeared as the water was pumped from the Dutch polder. Photos of this wing were published in newspapers around the world for months before the plane was actually removed from the Zuider Zee by the Royal Netherlands Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)


In their long-range project to acquire additional land, the Dutch pumped the water from various sections of the Zuider Zee. Upon pumping a section dry, they often discovered the remains of aircraft (British, German and American) that crashed into the water during World War II. In some instances they found the remains of men missing-in-action for decades, remains which were subsequently identified and given religious burials in marked graves.

The items in the museum's display are representative of the types of aircraft parts recovered by the Dutch. They were donated to the U.S. Air Force by the Royal Netherlands Air Force.

B-24H No. 638
On Dec. 22, 1943, B-24H Serial No. 42-7638 of the 44th Bomb Group was heading westward for its base in England after bombing a target at Munster, Germany. Suddenly it was hit by German anti-aircraft fire, which disabled its engines, and it began to lose altitude. The pilot rang the bail-out bell, and four crewmen parachuted before they realized they were over water. The other six crewman decided to remain with the plane while the pilot ditched it.

When the B-24H hit the waves, the impact tore off its nose, and the copilot, Lt. Charles Taylor, floated free. He held onto a life raft but soon passed out in the frigid water. Unconscious, he was rescued by some German soldiers in a patrol boat and sent to prison camp at Stalag Luft I for the remainder of the war.

Taylor was the only member of the crew to survive. The four who bailed out died from exposure; their bodies were recovered from the Zuider Zee by the Germans and buried. No trace was found of the other five men, and they were "Missing in Action" as of Dec. 22, 1943.

While the Dutch were pumping water from one of the polders of the Zuider Zee in the early 1970s, a plane with a U.S. star insigne gradually came into view. After months of research, this plane was identified as the missing 42-7638. In 1976 a project was initiated by the Royal Netherlands Air Force to recover the plane, and during the operation, the bodies of the five missing men were found in the wreckage. On request of the next-of-kin, their remains were returned to the U.S. for burial, more than three decades after they had failed to return from a combat flight.

Click here to return to the World War II Gallery.