Personal Stories Of WWII… The Zuider Zee

Issue 46.12

When we Americans think of the land where Dutch people come from, we think Holland but in fact the nation is the Netherlands and one of the provinces is Holland, The Zuider Zee is located in Holland.

The Netherlands is located on the direct route that bombers and fighters of Germany attacking Great Britain take to get to their target; likewise The Netherlands was on the most direct route that British and American bombers took to bomb Germany. There have been more Allied planes shot down over the Netherlands than anyplace else.

During the war from 1939 to 1945 10,000 German and allied planes were shot down. The

Dutch estimate that 7,000 planes were destroyed over Holland during the war. An estimated

1,000 planes plunged into the Zuider Zee. There were an estimated 200 American planes lost into the Zuider Zee mostly bombers.

The Zuider Zee started out as an inland sea but in 1932 the Dutch built a dike 25 miles long across the inlet to make it an inland lake. The salt water was replaced by fresh river water. This lake was 12%of the area of the nation. The Friesian Islands off the coast and The Netherlands land area was where we as bomber crewman were still gaining altitude on our way to Germany so we were quite vulnerable to ground anti aircraft fire. My Squadron, the 508th usually put up twelve B-17’s for a mission and we have had losses in that area, both going and coming. If we were over water and knew we were going down, ditching for us was the preferable thing to do. The B-17 had a low wing and so was apt to float for plenty of time to get out and into inflatable life rafts that all bombers carried. The B-24 was a high wing bomber so the planes body area was filled with water very quickly. We were often briefed that in the winter when we did most of our missions that if over the North Sea or channel, to bailout would be a death sentence because in that cold water the life expectancy was 20 minutes. After the war The Netherlands started a program of reclaiming all that part of the Zuider Zee that was under water. For years of this effort, not a week went by that they did not come upon a hulk of 500 year old Spanish Armada ships, World War I planes or World War II planes. Many B-17’s and B-24’s have been recovered, some with human remains. One British Spitfire was buried quite deep with the flyer still in the cockpit and well preserved. In his pockets were found silver coins, identification papers and a rosary. Also in his pocket was a silver cupid from a wedding cake. He had been married 14 days before his last and ill-fated mission. The Dutch uncovered a World War I German bomber that had crashed in 1917. After 55 years being submerged, its tires were still inflated. One German fighter plane that was recovered had 63 markings on the plane’s cowl to indicate that he had shot down 63 allied bombers.

Sam Wyrouck can be contacted at 801-707-2666.

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