WW2 Flight Sergeant & 'Bomb Aimer' Howard Langlands

By Norman Dunn

At 2.23am on the morning of the 4th of July 1943, when most people were tucked up in bed, a British Wellington Bomber, belonging to 196 Squadron & returning from a bombing mission over Cologne, Germany, was shot down by a German Night-fighter over the village of Solre-sur-Sambre in Belgium by a German nightfighter I/NJG4 piloted by Major W Herget based at Florennes Airbase south of Charleroi.

The Wellington's Flight Sergeant, 'Bomb Aimer' was Hebburn man Howard Langlands, only 24yrs of age. He along with five colleagues & one of the occupants of the house they hit were killed when the plane crashed. The Wellington had taken off for this final mission from RAF Leconfield in Yorkshire, less than 4 hours earlier, with its 4000lb bomb load. The mission had involved a total of 683 aircraft including Lancaster's, Stirling's, Halifax's, Wellington's & Mosquito's.

A Belgian researcher, Daniel Brasseur from Solre-sur-Sambre is gathering as much information as possible about the six man crew of the Wellington HZ478 (see below). We in the UK may forget, but the people on the continent still remember & lovingly tend our war graves. I am from Hebburn and had seen Daniel's appeal for help on the Internet. I recognised the surname Langlands & decided to get in touch with Daniel with a view to try & help him. Howard Langlands is a forgotten RAF Hero, and no one locally knew what had happened to him. I would like the North East people to hear this story, even though it is 59 yrs since his death. I think that this is the least I could do.

During my research in Hebburn, I came across another Hebburn man, now in his eighties, who was in Howard's class at the 'Quay Board School', won the DFC, flew 30 missions over Germany, bombed an aeroplane factory after flying over the Alps into Italy and bombed the German V1 & V2 Rocket Factories, yet he'd never told anyone. He still doesn't want his name mentioned. How many more heroes are living amongst us, yet too modest to tell there story.

Even though this man knew Howard, he didn't know what had happened to him & didn't even know Howard had joined the RAF. Unfortunately, the day the school photo was taken, this man was off sick with the Mumps or we'd be seeing at least two known heroes on the Schools class photo. Daniel Brasseur has an impressive '196-Squadron' photograph taken from a negative loaned to him by Mr Roland Williamson a Navigator in the Squadron. It was taken before June 28th 1943, because Mr Williamsons last mission with the Squadron was a bombing mission over Cologne on that date & he is on the photograph. The photograph is of a Wellington as a backdrop, possibly Howard's Bomber? Daniel did not know which officer was Howard Langlands so I asked him to send the photo to me & I'd try & get identification.

I had Howard identified within minutes by my uncle Stan Hanwell (WW2 Navigator on Lancaster's). This was later verified by a school friend of Howard's, Norman Robb. Daniel was absolutely delighted & very emotional knowing 'his' Bomb Aimer now had a face. After all the years he's been researching he could now identify Howard on the photograph. Since then I have located four more photographs of Howard, even though it is 59 years since he was killed. He was born in 1919 to Ann Stobart Davies & Howard Langlands. They lived together at 36 Jutland Avenue, Hebburn. He was a Joiner at Hawthorn Leslies Shipyard & because he was good at his job, was employed model-making for Leslies. He was a keen cricketer & played cricket for Hawthorn Leslies. After he was killed in 1943, and because he was an only child, his parents lived alone until well into the 1970's in their Jutland Avenue home. I photographed Howard's 'patch' of Jutland Ave, with the house on it & sent them along with all the other photos to Daniel in Belgium. He was thrilled to see where Howard had lived all those years ago.

I must thank Frank McNabola, Tommy Kidger, Norman Robb, Jack & Stan Hanwell & Alex Robb who all helped with information, identification, & photographs. Without this marvellous help I could not have helped Daniel Brasseur's research.

Click to view
196 Squadon in 1943
Click to view
The actual crash - but photo is badly damaged and difficult to make out
War Graves
Commonwealth War Graves
Click to view full size
Hawthorne Leslies pre war Cricket Teams
(2 photos)
Click to view
Hawthorne Leslies Summer Camp at Scremerston near Berwick about 1938.
Howard is the chap on the right of the photo

Click to view
Howards Class

Daniel Brasseur himself writes :

Many inhabitants of Solre-sur-Sambre still remember the night of July 3-4, 1943 when a British Bomber crashed near the village cemetery. They are all buried at the cemetery of Gosselies, near the city of Charleroi.

'It was on a hot summer night & some houses had there windows open when a deafening engine noise disturbed the tranquility of the village. 'Some persons still remember the flames in the sky, the plane, the horrible explosion, the violent shock, the dispersed remains, the blazing fuel that flowed over the Emile Bosseau Street and the dead who arrived to remind people this night that there was still a war going on. A blazing wing and an engine have crashed on the roof of the family Vigneron.

'M Charlemagne Vigneron ensured his son was alive, and asked his wife & son to follow him, before jumping out of the window. 'Surprised in there sleep, Madame Vigneron & her son escaped by the house by the back door. Everything was on fire & there were explosions all around. 'At the moment that M adam Vigneron jumped out of the window onto Emile Bosseau Street, a wing from the plane crashed into the street. A ball of flame erupted, and Charlemagne Vigneron was trapped in his home where he suffered an appalling death. His wife & son were saved due to fleeing out of the back door.

One engine crashed in the garden of M Crigne and the cockpit landed on the property of M Arnould, with the body of one of the RAF men still at his position. A second crewmans body was found nearby, and the other RAF men were found dead still wearing there parachutes ready to jump. A card showing the Wellington's flight plan was found in the garden of M Delahaut in Pont Bara Street & he burned it due to fear of reprisals from the occupying Germans. Debris from the Bomber was scattered over a wide area, and the Germans immediately barricaded the crash site & forbade all access.

Strangers flocked to the village & rumours abounded that a crew member had survived- sadly not the case- and that a German officer- possibly Major Herget the pilot who shot the bomber down- had came to see his handiwork. A recovery team, the Bergunskommando, arrived from the Gosselies airfield to remove the RAF mens bodies & the aircraft remains. It took two days to gather the wreckage of the Bomber & load it onto trucks, so it could be taken by railroad to the recovery park in Paris where all the remains of Allied Planes which came down in Belgium were taken.

The crew of the Wellington HZ478 were among millions of casualties of the Second World War, but these ones the people of Solre-sur-Sambre would remember for generations.