The mystery of HK365

I recently made contact with Ronnie Olsthoorn through a DH Mosquito Facebook group. After exchanging messages about Chris Vlotman, Ronnie mentioned that he wanted to produce an artwork of HK365 being flown by Vlotman on the night of 21/iii/44 when he shot down 2 JU-88s. Ronnie produces some of the most amazing 3d aviation artwork you will ever see. I have desire to see this project come to fruition, as Broody also flew in HK365 on a number of occasions, so the thought of seeing her “come back to life” is an exciting prospect.

The problem we had was that the tail code for HK365 was unknown. It was not on the list I have compiled, and was unknown to Graham Clayton who has a large amount of information on 488(NZ) Squadron aircraft. There was a supposition on various forums that she was coded ME-Z, but the main source of this appeared to be a set of modelling decals made by Dutch Decals. Fortunately, Ronnie is a Dutchman and contacted Dutch Decals who explained that “In the Military Aviation Museum there was a model of Vlotman’s Mossie, and they did manage to consult him personally. And there is a photo of Vlotman and his Nav in front of the tail of the Mosquito. Possibly information was taken from his log books as well.”

Dutch Decals' sheet, showing HK365 coded as ME-Z

Dutch Decals’ sheet, showing HK365 coded as ME-Z

This didn’t give either Ronnie or myself 100% confidence. I was determined to find the answer to our question…

Shortly afterwards, I was researching 488(NZ) Squadron at Bradwell Bay when I came across a post at http://rnzaf.proboards.com/thread/16603/raf-bradwell-bay. Hidden in the thread were a number of photos I had not seen before, including this one:

Reg Mitchell (via Dave Homewood)

© Reg Mitchell (via Dave Homewood)

I flipped the image, to reveal this:

© Reg Mitchell (via Dave Homewood)

© Reg Mitchell (via Dave Homewood)

The photo seemed to show that this aircraft was HK365, with tail code ME-T. Hardly believing my good fortune, I looked at it closer and then thought that perhaps I was not going to be so lucky, and it was actually HK385.

I satisfied myself that this was not the case by referencing the Squadron’s Operations Record Book and checking that HK385 was not an aircraft used by 488(NZ) Squadron. I also referenced the de Havilland production lists available online that seemed to suggest that HK385 was not a serial used by de Havilland. I shared the good news with Ronnie (but failed to mention the findings of my research). We both revelled in the good news, until Ronnie took a closer a look, and was sure that the serial was HK385. This is the blown up image he sent me:

© Reg Mitchell (via Dave Homewood)

© Reg Mitchell (via Dave Homewood)

You can certainly see his point! When the image was posted on Facebook, opinion was divided. Some were sure it was a 6, others an 8…. Was it possible that my research was flawed? Well maybe, if 2 assumptions are made:

1) The production lists for DH Mosquitos are incomplete and HK385 WAS built
2) Assuming the above, HK385 WAS issued to 488(NZ) Squadron, but was crashed / damaged / disposed of before she flew operationally, or only used as a training aircraft, and therefore never had a recorded flight in the ORB.

All doubt was finally put to bed when Dave Homewood posted a crop of the scan he took from the original image in a higher resolution:

© Reg Mitchell (via Dave Homewood)

© Reg Mitchell (via Dave Homewood)

Definitely HK365! I think enough research has gone into this, with enough evidence available to be sure that HK365 was coded ME-T. This has been another valuable lesson in carrying out sufficient research before committing gut-feel or supposition to print as fact! On this occasion, I was right in my convictions, but I wonder how much “historical fact” is wrong because sources and evidence are not properly checked and double checked. Both Ronnie & I desperately wanted this aircraft to be HK365, and it would have been so easy to have taken a 95% chance – and been wrong!

I now wait to see what magic Ronnie can work to reproduce an image of an event in one of 488(NZ) Squadron’s most successful nights of the war. You can see examples of Ronnie’s artwork on his website www.aviationart.aero. I thoroughly recommend you take time to visit!

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2 responses to “The mystery of HK365

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