Pilot Officer (Pilot) Albert E. A. D. J. G. Van den Hove d'Ertsenrijck
At 10.50 hours, on 15th September 1940, radar detected enemy aircraft massing over the channel and ten minutes later No.501 and No.253 Squadrons were placed at readiness. No.501 squadron, comprising of thirteen Hurricanes, took off from RAF Kenley between 11.15 and 11.20 hours with orders to patrol Maidstone with No.253 Squadron.
Not long into their patrol ‘bogies’ were spotted and identified as twenty Dornier Do 17’s at 16,500 feet, some 2,000 feet higher than the Hurricanes. No.501 squadron climbed to engage the bombers that were in a wide Vic formation and formed part of a stepped formation of two hundred and fifty enemy aircraft flying between 15,000 and 26,000 feet crossing the coast between Dungeness and Ramsgate. The enemy were heading straight towards London. On seeing the Hurricane’s, the bombers climbed to make their attack more difficult. Meanwhile as No.501 squadron flew over Ramsgate some fifty Messerschmitt Bf 109E’s dived down and attacked and then climbed back up again. Green and Blue sections claimed two Dornier Do 17’s and two Messerschmitt Bf 109E’s as destroyed and a third as damaged.
Feldwebel Theodor Rehm, a navigator in one of the Dornier Do 17Z of Kampfgeschwader 76 later described the attack by the Hurricanes of No.501 squadron; ‘their thrusting attack took them right through our formation. Manning the nose gun, I dared not open fire for fear of hitting our own aircraft. But the Hurricanes flashing close past us did not do much firing either, and we came out of the attack unscathed.’
Feldwebel Wilhelm Raab was a pilot of one of the Dornier Do 17Z’s from Kampfgeschwader 76 and on his forty-fourth combat mission of the war. He later stated; ‘they came in fast, getting bigger and bigger. As usual when under attack from fighters we closed into a tight formation to concentrate our defensive fire. Four Hurricanes scurried through the formation. Within seconds they were past. Then more black specks emerged from the bank of cloud in front, rapidly grew larger and flashed through the formation. They were trying to split us up, but neither attack had any success. Our formation remained intact.’
It was during this combat Squadron Leader Hogan forced-landed his damaged Hurricane, Serial No. V7435, at Sundridge and Pilot Officer van den Hove d’Ertsenrijck was shot down and killed. The remainder of the squadron returned to Kenley between 12.25 and 12.45 hours.
Squadron leader H. A. V. Hogan wrote in his ‘circumstantial report’;
‘Pilot Officer van den Hove d’Ertsenrijck arrived at Kenley on the 14th September. He seemed to have plenty of experience and had done very well when he was in No.43 squadron. As he was anxious to fly with our squadron as soon as possible he came with me next morning and flew in my section. We carried out our head-on attack on a large formation of about twenty Dornier’s escorted by numerous fighters. After breaking away from the attack I did not see him again.’
‘From the information I have received, it appears that he tried to make a forced-landing. His aircraft had probably been shot in the coolant, which caused the engine to overheat and it burst into flames when he was at 200 feet, and I think that van den Hove must have tried to put the aeroplane into the river to avoid fire. This must have required great presence of mind. If the accident happened this way, I believe that it did, such an accident was extremely unfortunate.’
The Belgian pilot, Pilot Officer Albert Emmanuel Alex van den Hove d’Ertsenrijck, was seen by an eyewitness, Don Key, to try and make a forced landing in a meadow adjacent to the River Stour but the pilot jumped at very low level (possibly hoping to fall into the water), struck a tree and was killed. He was thirty-two years old and was initially buried in St. Stephen’s Churchyard, Lympne, Kent.
D’Ertsenrijck was posthumously awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre de Léopold on 13th June 1944. On 20th October 1949 his remains were exhumed and re-interred in the Pelouse d’Honneur Cemetery of Brussels at Evere. His original grave at Lympne is still marked with a simple plaque. In August 2010 members of his family unveiled a memorial to him close to his crash site.
The Rolls-Royce Merlin Mk. III engine (serial no. 21827) and rotol propeller hub from D’Ertsenrijck’s Gloster-built Hurricane, serial No. P2760, coded SD-B were excavated from the River Stour at Bilting in 1984, by a team led by Steve Vizard.
On the 76th anniversary of Albert’s death in 2016, Kent Battle of Britain Museum was very honoured to have seventeen members of Pilot Officer Albert van den Hove d’Ertsenrijck’s family, including his two daughters Adrienne and Rosemary, at Hawkinge, to unveil the engine and propeller hub from Albert’s aircraft. It is now proudly displayed at the museum in memory of this brave Belgian, who lost his life in the cause of freedom.
Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.