Luc Vervoort (30th September 2023)
VAN DEN BOK, F/O Ralph (83004) - Distinguished Flying Cross - No.408 Squadron - awarded as per London Gazette dated 4 August 1942. Born in Dulwich, October 1906.; home in Byflet. Stock exchange operator and student at Dulwich College. Pilot Pfficer on Probation, 26 October 1940. Flying Officer, 26 August 1941, Shot down over Belgium, 28/29 August 1942 in W/C Twigg's aircraft (Hampden AE197). Aircraft was attacked by a night fighter and set on fire; Twigg ordered bale-out and managed to get out himself, but parachute did not open (probably knocked unconcious by hitting tail plane). Flight Lieutenant I. Maitland (RAF) also killed. Escaped with F/L G.C. Fisher and regained Gibraltar (reported in Squadron Operational Record Book, 2 October 1942. See RCAF below for circumstances of loss of aircraft. Retrained as a pilot at Hagersville, Ontario. To No.12 OTU and No.1657 Conversion Unit before going to No.214 Squadron. Became Commanding Officer, “B” Flight, January 1945. Operations from 21 November 1944 to2 May 1945. Relinquished commission as Flight Lieutenant, 1 May 1955. Died in Salisbury, Wiltshire, April 1973. No citation to DFC published; following text appeared in Air Ministry Bulletin 7711.
This officer has participated in numerous sorties against heavily defended targets, including attacks on Mannheim, Duisburg, Huls, Bremen, Kiel and Hamburg. He was the wireless operator/air gunner of a Hampden aircraft which participated in a low level attack on the Scharnhorst during the battleship's escape from Brest. The aircraft was extensively damaged, including the wireless equipment, by the battleship's defensive fire. Skilfully effecting repairs, Flying Officer Van den Bok re-established communication with his base, rendering valuable assistance in the safe return of aircraft.
His devotion to duty is such that, during the time he was detached from the squadron on a course he asked for 48 hours leave in order to take part in his squadron's activities against Rostock. As squadron Signals Officer, Flying Officer Van den Bok has been mainly responsible for the high standard of work performed by the wireless operators of the squadron.
NOTE: Public Record Office Air 2/9591 has recommendation drafted 17 May 1942 when he had flown 22 sorties (126 hours 56 minutes), although the text mentions 29 sorties. Sortie list and submission as follows:
22 August 1941 - Mannheim
28 August 1941 - Duisburg
21 September 1941 - Lille
10 October 1941 - Essen
12 October 1941 - Huls, unsuccessful, 9/10 cloud; bombed Essen
16 October 1941 - Duisburg
20 October 1941 - Bremen, unsuccessful, bombed Wilhelmshaven
22 October 1941 - Mannheim
29 October 1941 - Schipol
31 October 1941 - Hamburg
4 November 1941 - Kiel Fiord; unsuccessful, bad weather
6 November 1941 - Hamburg
8 November 1941 - Essen
8 December 1941 - Aachen
27 December 1941 - Dusseldorf; unsuccessful; bombed Munchen/Gladbach
28 December 1941 - Huls; unsuccessful, engine trouble
2 January 1942 - St. Nazaire; unsuccessful, navigational failure
8 January 1942 - Brest
10 January 1942 - Wilhelmshaven; unsuccessful, bomb doors unserviceable
12 February 1942 - Warships at sea
13 March 1942 - Cologne
26 April 1942 Rostock
Flying Officer Van den Bok has taken part in 29 sorties, a large number of then being carried out against heavily defended targets, and pressed home with determination and resolve. He has participated in repeated attacks on Mannheim, Duisburg, Huls, Bremen, Kiel and Hamburg, returning from seven different sorties in aircraft severely damaged by enemy anti-aircraft fire. As a wireless operator he has been responsible on many occasions for his aircraft’s safe return in bad weather. He was the Wireless Operator/Air Gunner on a Hampden which made a low level attack on the Scharnhorst during the battleship’s flight from Brest. The whole aircraft was severely damaged by the Scharnhorst’s anti-aircraft defences; included in this damage was the radio installation; this Flying Officer Van den Bok repaired and re-established communication with his base. While carrying out the repair he observed an enemy fighter stalking his aircraft which by this time was in no condition to face an engagement. By following Flying Officer Van den Bok’s evasive directions his captain was able to shake off the fighter. While this officer was detached from the squadron on a course he obtained 48 hours leave in order that he might take part in the squadron’s effort against Rostock. Last autumn he took part in the squadron’s daylight attacks on enemy targets in occupied France.
As Squadron Signals Officer, Flying OfficerVan den Bok is in a large measure responsible for the high standard of W/T operating obtaining on this squadron. Throughout his cool, steadfast courage has been an example that the Wirelss Operators have been eager to emulate.
VAN DEN BOK, F/O Ralph (83004) - Bar to Distinguished Flying Cross - No.408 Squadron - awarded as per London Gazette dated 24 November 1942. Air Ministry Bulletin 7711 refers. Cited with F/L G.C. Fisher (RCAF);
In August 1942, Flight Lieutenant Van Den Bok and Flight Lieutenant Fisher were wireless operator air gunner and navigator, respectively, of an aircraft detailed to attack Saarbrucken. On the return flight the bomber was attacked by enemy aircraft, sustaining much damage. Flight Lieutenant Van Den Bok, who was wounded in the leg by a piece of shrapnel, and Flight Lieutenant Fisher displayed outstanding courage, determination and fortitude. Both have completed many sorties and have invariably displayed similar qualities.
NOTE: Recommended 28 October 1942 when he had flown 25 sorties (DHist file 181.009 D.2617, in National Archives of Canada RG.24 Volume 20627). Text is more detailed than that published:
Since the beginning of his tour on operations, 22 August 1941, Flying Officer Van den Bok has taken part in 25 sorties over enemy territory against very heavy enemy defences. Targets he has attacked are such as Duisburg, Essen, Bremen, Mannheim, Hamburg, Dusseldorf (twice), Huls, Cologne, Rostock, Flensberg.
On his last trip to Saarbrucken, 28 August 1942, on returning from the target he was attacked by enemy aircraft and shot down over Belgium. He sustained a wound in his leg on the entry of a piece of flak and despite physical suffering due to his wounded leg he was able to travel some 3,000 miles [sic] through enemy territory to escape capture and arrived in Gibraltar in less than three weeks.
Under a calm and quiet manner he has a fine offensive spirit in action which inspires confidence in his fellow aircrew.
VAN DEN BOK, Ralph, A/S/L, DFC (83004, RAFVR*) - No.214 Squadron - Second Bar to Distinguished Flying Cross - awarded as per London Gazette dated 26 October 1945. Following text from Air Ministry Bulletin 20047 and Flight, 27 December 1945.
This officer has a distinguished record of operational flying. His enthusiasm for operational flying was not diminished by his experiences in evading capture after being shot down by anti-aircraft fire whilst over occupied Belgian during his first tour of duty. Since the award of a Bar to the Distinguished Flying Cross, Squadron Leader Van Den Bok has flown on many sorties against strongly defended targets in Germany, including Berlin. He is an excellent captain of aircraft and flight commander, who has at all times set an inspiring example by his enthusiasm, courage and devotion to duty.
The original recommendation read:
This officer has operated with No. 214 Squadron 16 times on his second tour, in which number is included the last Bomber Command attack in the Berlin area and the last operation by that Command in Europe.
His attention to detail and planning, and his outstandingly good captaincy, have been responsible for the seemingly effortless manner in which he has operated against many targets well known for the strength of their defences.
His enthusiasm for operations was in no way diminished by his experiences in evading capture after being shot down by flak over occupied Belgium after 29 sorties on his first tour. He has always been anxious to fly on every possible occasion when his duties as Flight Commander would permit.
Despite his personal keenness for operational flying, he has, however, devoted a large amount of time to the instruction of new captains and crews, and has always been tireless in his efforts to improve the operational and training efficiency of his flight and the Squadron as a whole.
Notes from Dix Noonan Webb auction catalogue provide the following:
Ralph Van den Bok qualified as a Wireless Operator / Air Gunner in April 1941, and is believed to have flown an operational sortie to Kiel with No. 83 Squadron, a Hampden unit operating out of Scampton, Lincolnshire, that July. Be that as it may, his operational career commenced proper with his appointment to No. 408 (Goose) Squadron, R.C.A.F., another Hampden unit, operating out of Balderton, Nottinghamshire, in August 1941.
Between then and being recommended for his D.F.C. in May 1942, he completed 22 sorties and 126 operational flying hours, and gained appointment as Squadron Signals and Gunnery Leader, his targets, as stated, including the Scharnhorst. Not mentioned in the recommendation, however, is the fact his captain, a New Zealander, D. S. N. “Tinny” Constance, attacked the enemy battleship from about 800 feet, or indeed the fact that one projectile came through the fuselage - right between Van den Bok’s legs - and out through the roof: the date in question was the 12 February 1942, the day of the famous “Channel Dash”, when another gallant aviator, Eugene Esmonde, won a posthumous V.C.
Nearing the end of his operational tour with a strike on Saarbrucken on the night of 28-29 August 1942, Van den Beck added an immediate Bar to his D.F.C., when, on returning from the target, his Hampden (AE197 EQ) was shot down by an enemy night fighter - piloted by top-scoring ace Hauptman Wilhelm Herget - and crashed at Boussu-lez-Walcourt, some 25 kilometres S.S.W. of Charleroi. His pilot, Wing Commander J. D. Twigg, and Flight Lieutenant I. Maitland, D.F.C., were killed, but Van den Bok, who was wounded in the leg by a piece of shrapnel, and Flight Lieutenant G. C. Fisher, both evaded - a remarkable journey of 3,000 miles through enemy occupied territory, the whole accomplished in just three weeks. He was duly elected to membership of the Caterpillar Club.
Grounded and “rested”, Van den Bok trained as a pilot, was awarded his “Wings” in November 1943, and returned to the operational scene as an Acting Squadron Leader and Flight Commander in No. 214 (Federated Malay States) Squadron, an American Flying Fortress unit operating out of Oulton, Norfolk, in November 1944. Charged with carrying out radio counter-measure operations, No. 214 flew “Window” and jamming sorties right through to the War’s end, Van den Bok completing a further 17 sorties, thereby bringing his tally of trips to 46, with a total of 282 operational flying hours. He was duly recommended for a Second Bar to his D.F.C. in June 1945.
Public Record Office Air 40/258 has report on loss of Hampden AE197 based on information provided by Fisher and F/O R. Van Den Bok. It noted that the other crew members (W/C J.D. Trigg and F/L I. Maitland) were dead.
This crew of officers took ff from Balderton, a satellite of Syerston, at 2000 hours on 28 August 1942 to attack Saarbrucken.
The Belgian coast was crossed near Furnes on track at 11,000 feet. A few searchlights tried to pick up the aircraft, but were unsuccessful. The aircraft was attacked by flak, which the crew did not expect at this stage, as none of them knew that any flak was stationed near there.
The searchlights and flak were passed without any trouble, after which the aircraft was at 9,000 feet. The track was via Mons, and to the south of Luxembourg.
Flight Lieutenant Fisher saw one aircraft burning on the ground and another going down in flames.
While over Marienburg, 22 miles south of Charleroi at 2215 hours some fighter flares were seen by Flight Lieutenant Maitland, the rear gunner, and the pilot commenced to weave at once, but at that moment the aircraft was attacked by a Junkers 88 from below and astern.
The rear gunner was killed immediately, the elevator and rudder controls were shot away, the inter-com became unserviceable and the port gun of the WOP/AG was hit and “bent”, but Pilot Officer Van Den Bok managed to sight the Junkers 88 at 150 yards with the other gun and let off a pan of ammunition at it, and claims hits in the wing.
The “nickels” started to burn and the fire was further aggravated by he oxygen from the bursting oxygen bottles.
The pilot endeavoured to turn for home, an Flying Officer Van Den Bok went to see if he could do anything for the rear gunner, and managed to put on his parachute and had hopes of getting him out of the aircraft with the idea that a doctor might be able to do something for him. Unfortunately he could not open the door to release him, so had to give up the idea, but had little compunction in doing so as he realised that Flight Lieutenant Maitland could not possibly have been alive with such head injuries.
The lighting in the aircraft ceased to work and the crew were unable to find the fire extinguishers and as the aircraft was rapidly losing height and very difficult to control it became evident that they would have to bale out.
With the altitude indicator at 4,500 feet - the ground was about 2,000 feet - Flight Lieutenant Fisher was the first to bale out, followed by Flying Officer Van Den Bok.
Wing Commander Twigg’s body was subsequently found attached to his parachute which had not opened. In view of the altitude at which the two survivors had baled out, it is possible that he baled out too low or may have hit his head on the tail unit.
Flight Lieutenant Fisher and Flying OfficerVan Den Bok landed near Silenrieux, and Wing Commander Twigg’s body was picked up near Boussu-sur-Walcourt. The aircraft landed in soft ground west of Wing Commander Twigg.
The survivors do not know if the IFF was detonated, nor if the flimsies or other papers were destroyed.
Flight Lieutenant Fisher while in Belgium in early September noticed a number of Dornier 217, some painted black and some with day camouflage, flying singly at 1,000 feet.
Flying Officer Van Den Bok saw a number of dummy aircraft in a field to the right of the railway line from Lille o Douai and on 2 September 1942 saw a trainload of Canadian prisoners near Silenrieux going towards Germany.
Luc Vervoort (30th September 2023)