Friday, 9 May 2014

RAF Operation Circus 157, May 5th 1942

Commemoration ceremony, 7pm Monday May 5th 2014 - Ypres Town Ext CWGC, Ypres Belgium.

The accompanying images reveals some of those who attended a very special commemoration ceremony which took place during the early evening of Monday May 5th 2014 within Ypres Town Ext CWGC cemetery in Ypres, Belgium. 

Representing the fallen pilots was Lt Colonel Filip Borremans ( Belgian Air Force) Commanding Officer of the Belgian Military Component CCMP. 

Also in attendance were Belgian Reserve Officers, the Standards and Bearers of the Royal Entente, representatives of the Stevenage Branch Royal British Legion and of course the so welcome members of the public.

Dedicated Poppy tributes were offered as was a suitable musical tribute with the national anthems applicable to the various nationalities concluding the ceremony.

On conclusion of the short graveside ceremony the commemoration was fully confirmed with a dedicated RAF Operation Circus 157 wreath placement. This being duly placed by Lt Colonel Borremans assisted by Milena within the town’s daily last post ceremony.


RAF Operation Circus 157 was a composite force of 6 Boston bombers escorted by 36 Spitfires flown by British, Belgian, Czechoslovak, Norwegian, Rhodesian, Canadian and Dutch pilots. Their mission was to bomb a power plant near Lille.

The Luftwaffe scrambled a total of 21 Focke Wulf fighters to intercept the RAF fleet. 6 managed to make contact with the returning Spitfires in the skies above and around Ypres but that was enough. 5 Spitfires were lost with four of the five pilots killed:

Fl/Lt Bauduin de Hemptinne ( Belgian ) KIA
Sgt Karel Pavlik ( Czech ) KIA
Flt/Sgt Stacey Jones ( British ) KIA
Sgt Roland Ribout ( Canadian ) KIA

Sqn/Ldr Frantisek Fajtl (Czech) Shot down/survived

The four KIA pilots were eventually buried side by side in Ypres Town Ext CWGC cemetery. The Belgian pilot was later removed to the Belgian Air Force Cemetery in Evere. The surviving 5th shot down pilot Sqn Leader Frantisek Fajtl crash landed just over the border in France and made his escape, eventually returning back to the UK where he continued to fly and fight again. He survived the war.

Also remembered was F/Lt Robert “Bobby” Laumans, who was the last living RAF Belgian Spitfire pilot of WW II.

Bobby was born on 4 December 1920. He was a pupil at the Flying School Wevelghem at the outbreak of War. He evacuated with the Flying School to France and arrived via Marseille and Algiers to Morocco at the time of French capitulation. He escaped to Great Britain with a part of the Flying School, arriving there on August 5th, 1940. He volunteered for RAF VR and graduated pilot in March 1941. His last posting was with to 350 Belgian Sqn from April 3, 1942. His claim was one FW-190 Damaged in Rodeo above St-Omer on 23/05/1942, two weeks after the ill-fated Operation Circus 157.

On the 1st June 1942, the Squadron performed "Target Cover" to escort fighter bombers on a mission to Bruges. The Squadron encountered a large formation of FW-190 fighters.
During the melee Laumans was shot down near Ostend but succeeded to bail out before his plane crashed in to the sea. He stayed almost 3 days in his dinghy, before being picked up by a German vessel and sent as POW to Stalag Luft III in Poland. He received several military awards and started a successful career with SABENA after the War. He died on 21st April 2014 aged 93.

The above ceremony was arranged by Milena Kolarikova BA, Director,
Lest We Forget Battlefield Tours (Flanders) and assisted by Chris Lock,
Principal Assistant.