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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 193000
Last updated: 9 April 2020
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Type:Silhouette image of generic SPIT model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vb
Owner/operator:92 (East India) Squadron Royal Air Force (92 (East India) Sqn RAF)
Registration: AD229
C/n / msn:
Fatalities:Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 1
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:Blankney Heath, Lincolnshire, England -   United Kingdom
Phase: Manoeuvring (airshow, firefighting, ag.ops.)
Departure airport:RAF
Destination airport:
While at Digby 609 Sqn RAF lost no pilots on operations, but on 22 January 1942, it suffered a very serious loss in an accident. Flight Lieutenant Jean Henri Marie ’Peike’ ’Pyker’ Offenberg DFC, one of the numerous Belgian pilots of the squadron and and ace with a score of 5 and 2 shared destroyed, 5 probables, 5 and 2 shared damaged (including 1 destroyed and 1 damaged with a Gladiator of the Belgian Air Force in May 1940), was training a new Belgian, Captain Robert Joseph Henri ’Balbo’ Roelandt, having decided to profit from an improvement in the weather. For more than an hour the 2 Spitfires practised over the airfield. The pupil followed his master well, until Jean said over the radio “One more figure and we’ll call it a day — you are doing well.”

Another pilot, Sergeant Godfrey de Renzi of 92 Sqn RAF (shown as French by some sources, but English according to CWGC), saw the manoeuvres and joined in. Someone was careless and the 92 Squadron aircraft (Spitfire Vb AD229) collided with Offenberg’s (Spitfire Vc AB188 "PR-Y") over Blankney Heath, cutting off the tail. The horrified pupil saw both aircraft crash vertically into the snow. Both pilots were killed.

Offenbergs funeral, on 26 January 1942, attended by Belgian friends from London HQ and other squadrons was fitting. At the outset it was snowing hard, but when the flag draped coffin, with ‘Pyker’s’ cap and decorations, was borne through Scopwick cemetery gates by his Belgian Squadron colleagues past a guard of honour of his British and Commonwealth ones, suddenly the sun came out, and uniforms wreaths and priestly robes became lustrous against the newly fallen snow. Standing apart was a lady in black with a single snow white lilly. The burial service was read, the bugles sounded the last Post, the rifles of the firing party cracked; and finally, starting with the Station Commander, each officer and senior NCO saluted the grave and departed. It was all very beautiful, and very sad. By all accounts Offenburg was exceptional. Father Morris, the Roman Catholic Padre of the Station, gave this testimony to a colleague. “I had the privilege and honour to buy him this afternoon. According to all I have heard of him it is both consoling and encouraging to know that a saint sometimes slips unseen among the others. Offenburg did not receive the last Sacraments but I am convinced that he did not need them.” Jean de Selys Longchamps, a fellow pilot, wrote to Jean’s uncle. “I do not know if you know your nephew well. Jean was the greatest, the most magnificent of us....” “I cannot explain to you all Jean meant to us. He was a symbol of integrity, a permanent example, an inexhaustible hope in the future, in our future, in the future of our country, in our King and all that we hold dear.”

Jean Offenburg’s mother living at 43 Square Riga, Brussels, never heard the plaudits, nor did she read his diaries. The shook of his death, broadcast in one of the BBC bulletins on 24 January 1942, killed her ...

The lady in black was Marigold, Countess of Londesborough, a very good friend of RAF Digby. Many of its officers had come to regard her residence, Blankney Hall, as a home from home ever since she bad invited them to Christmas dinner and afterwards led them via a complicated cross-country route to Fulbeck, there to attend a dance given by Air Vice Marshal Willock of Cranwell, his charming wife and stunningly beautiful daughter. Hospitality was lavish.

The Squadron Operational Records book for 22nd January 1942 records both the story of his loss, and the regard in which he was held by his colleagues:
"This is the saddest day the Squadron has endured for many months, for it sees the death of F/Lt Offenberg, DFC, Croix de Guerre, in an air collision. He is flying in formation with P/O Roelandt when suddenly an aircraft of 92 Squadron (Sgt de Renzl, FR), doubtless practicing attack, comes straight for him from above. F/Lt Offenberg pulls up sharply, but it is too late; the tail unit of his a/c is cut right off, both aircraft hurtle down to the ground, both pilots are killed. So departs one of the kindest and finest leaders. "He would have made a good Wing Commander", the Station Commander was overheard to say to W/C Blatchford this evening."

Postwar, ’Pykers’ story was written from the contents of his diary by Victor Houart, and published under the title of ’Lonely Warrior’.


Related books:

Revision history:

22-Jan-2017 20:55 Laurent Rizzotti Added
09-Apr-2020 08:46 Iwosh Updated [Operator, Departure airport, Operator]

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