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Germans in the town of Laumersheim, Germany, show fragments of the aluminum skin of the British Lancaster bomber ED 427, which went down April 17, 1943. It was long believed the ED 427 went missing over the North Sea, but crash debris and war records led researchers to conclude the plane went down in Laumersheim. On the 70th anniversary of the crash, Englishman Paul Keeley, a friend of one of the pilot's family, laid a wreath and small wooden crosses from some of the surviving families at the crash site.

Germans in the town of Laumersheim, Germany, show fragments of the aluminum skin of the British Lancaster bomber ED 427, which went down April 17, 1943. It was long believed the ED 427 went missing over the North Sea, but crash debris and war records led researchers to conclude the plane went down in Laumersheim. On the 70th anniversary of the crash, Englishman Paul Keeley, a friend of one of the pilot's family, laid a wreath and small wooden crosses from some of the surviving families at the crash site. (Matt Millham/Stars and Stripes)

Germans in the town of Laumersheim, Germany, show fragments of the aluminum skin of the British Lancaster bomber ED 427, which went down April 17, 1943. It was long believed the ED 427 went missing over the North Sea, but crash debris and war records led researchers to conclude the plane went down in Laumersheim. On the 70th anniversary of the crash, Englishman Paul Keeley, a friend of one of the pilot's family, laid a wreath and small wooden crosses from some of the surviving families at the crash site.

Germans in the town of Laumersheim, Germany, show fragments of the aluminum skin of the British Lancaster bomber ED 427, which went down April 17, 1943. It was long believed the ED 427 went missing over the North Sea, but crash debris and war records led researchers to conclude the plane went down in Laumersheim. On the 70th anniversary of the crash, Englishman Paul Keeley, a friend of one of the pilot's family, laid a wreath and small wooden crosses from some of the surviving families at the crash site. (Matt Millham/Stars and Stripes)

Locals escort Englishman Paul Keeley through a field where the British Lancaster bomber ED 427 crashed April 17, 1943. Keeley, a friend of the pilot's surviving family, visited the site in southwestern Germany on the 70th anniversary of the crash to lay a wreath and crosses on behalf of the dead airmen's families.

Locals escort Englishman Paul Keeley through a field where the British Lancaster bomber ED 427 crashed April 17, 1943. Keeley, a friend of the pilot's surviving family, visited the site in southwestern Germany on the 70th anniversary of the crash to lay a wreath and crosses on behalf of the dead airmen's families. (Matt Millham/Stars and Stripes)

On the 70th anniversary of the crash of British Lancaster bomber ED 427, Englishman Paul Keeley, a friend of the pilot's family, conducts a short ceremony at the crash site in southwestern Germany before laying a wreath and small wooden crosses from some of the surviving families.

On the 70th anniversary of the crash of British Lancaster bomber ED 427, Englishman Paul Keeley, a friend of the pilot's family, conducts a short ceremony at the crash site in southwestern Germany before laying a wreath and small wooden crosses from some of the surviving families. (Matt Millham/Stars and Stripes)

On the 70th anniversary of the crash of British Lancaster bomber ED 427 in Germany, Englishman Paul Keeley, a friend of the pilot's family, lays a wreath and small wooden crosses at the crash site from some of the surviving families.

On the 70th anniversary of the crash of British Lancaster bomber ED 427 in Germany, Englishman Paul Keeley, a friend of the pilot's family, lays a wreath and small wooden crosses at the crash site from some of the surviving families. (Matt Millham/Stars and Stripes)

LAUMERSHEIM, Germany — Paul Keeley kept his eyes trained on the ground as he walked slowly over a recently plowed field on the edge of town.

“Look at that?” he said, picking up a piece of bent aluminum the size of a man’s thumb. “As we’re walking along.”

The fragment was one of thousands of pieces of the British Lancaster bomber ED 427 that litter the farm fields and orchards outside town. Seventy years ago Wednesday, the plane crashed in a violent fireball, killing the seven crewmembers.

“They wouldn’t have stood a chance, would they,” Keeley said, turning the crumpled piece of the plane’s skin over in his hands.

Keeley was on a personal trip on behalf of the families of the crewmembers killed, in particular on behalf of the brother of the pilot, whom he said he views as a surrogate father. Arthur “Alf” Bone, now 91, lost his brother Alexander “Alec” Bone in the crash April 17, 1943.

For nearly seven decades, the families of ED 427 believed the flight and its seven-man crew disappeared over the North Sea.

Peter Menges, a local who witnessed the crash as a boy, learned that wasn’t the case as he researched the plane in his later years. British war records and an excavation last year by an amateur German historian and a team of volunteers have all but ruled out the possibility that the Laumersheim wreckage is anything but the Lancaster ED 427.

The ED 427 was one of 36 British bombers shot down or reported missing during an operation which targeted factories in the Czech town of Pilsen and the German cities of Mannheim and Luwigshafen.

Nearly 7,400 of the four-engine Avro Lancasters were built, and the heavy bomber formed the backbone of British Bomber Command’s strategic offensive against Nazi Germany from its introduction in 1942 until the end of World War II.

It is not known why none of the ED 427’s crew bailed out of the stricken plane.

Great Britain lost 8,325 bombers and more than 55,500 air crew in action during World War II, according to the official history.

Keeley brought small wooden crosses from three surviving family members of the crew and a small wreath to lay at the crash site. Menges and more than a dozen other locals, including German army reservists, guided him to the site and held a small ceremony for the crew.

“It’s amazing when you think what these guys were over here to do,” Keeley said of the fallen airmen. “They’ve [the locals] been so wonderful.”

millham.matthew@stripes.com


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