Air Cdre Robbert van Zinnicq Bergmann
Dutch airman who destroyed part of Queen Wilhelmina's palace when it was used as a headquarters by the SS
Air Commodore Robbert "Bergy" van Zinnicq Bergmann, who has died in Holland aged 87, escaped from that country during its occupation to become a Typhoon pilot flying with the RAF.
The rocket-firing Typhoons of Bergmann's squadron, No 181, were detailed for a special operation on November 4 1944, in which they were to attack the north wing of the Dutch Royal Family's summer palace, which was being used by the SS as a headquarters.
It was thought that some members of the Royal Household could be in residence in other parts of the palace - so extreme accuracy was essential. In the event, the attack was a complete success.
Bergmann later commented:
"We flattened the whole north tower and hardly anything else was damaged. When I met Queen Wilhelmina after the war she was impressed, but thought it a pity that the SS were not billeted in her palace in The Hague. She said it would have been a marvellous target and she was sorry that I did not attack it too, since she disliked it so much."
Earlier that day, Bergmann had flown on a precision attack against the headquarters, in Apeldoorn, of Germany's Commissioner for the Netherlands, Arthur Seyss-Inquart. Bergmann's attack was so low that he returned with part of the front door in his aircraft's radiator.
The son of an advocate, Robbert Jacques Emile Marie van Zinnicq Bergmann was born on April 11 1917 at 's-Hertogenbosch. He was educated at the Roman Catholic school at Rolduc, in Limburg, before entering the Royal Military Academy at Breda, where he trained to be a cavalry officer.
Bergmann fought during the short war following the German invasion of the Netherlands, but was wounded on the third day and admitted to hospital with a broken leg. He then joined a group of former cavalry officers planning an escape from Holland, but they were betrayed and he had to go into hiding, first on a farm and then on a canal barge.
The barge took him to Liege, where he managed to join one of the escape lines through Belgium and France. After a long and dangerous journey, during which many "helpers" risked their lives to assist him and fellow escapers, he reached Perpignan before crossing the Pyrenees into Spain.
Bergmann was able to board a Dutch boat sailing from Barcelona to Lisbon, where his cousin, Joseph Luns (the future Dutch Foreign Minister and Secretary-General of Nato) was working as a diplomat. Luns managed to get him a berth on a small coaster that took him to Gibraltar. He finally arrived in England in the summer of 1942, and joined the Dutch army. In September he volunteered to be a pilot with the RAF.
After training in Canada, Bergmann joined No 181, part of No 124 Wing, shortly after D-Day; by this time the squadron was flying operations from hastily built airstrips in the fields of Normandy. The role of the Typhoons was to attack targets in support of the Army and to disrupt the road and rail transport system using rockets fired from low level. Once the Allied armies broke out of Normandy, Bergmann and his colleagues were constantly moving to new airfields in order to provide the essential close air support against the retreating Germans.
Shortly after arriving near Brussels in mid-September, Bergmann and his fellow pilots were sent to attack the anti-aircraft belt around Arnhem, in preparation for the airborne landings by the British 1st Airborne Division. On September 17, after he had fired his rockets, Bergmann's aircraft was badly damaged by flak, but he managed to make an emergency landing. Poor weather over the Belgian airfields prevented flying on the following days, when Typhoon support could have proved vital.
Five days later Bergmann returned to his homeland for the first time in three years. He landed at Eindhoven, where his squadron remained for the next four months. During this period Bergmann flew almost daily, attacking gun emplacements, tanks and convoys. With the aid of long-range fuel tanks, the Typhoons also ranged deeper into Germany, targeting the railway system - No 181 destroyed more than 60 locomotives, but losses to flak were very heavy.
Hearing that his home town of 's-Hertogenbosch had been liberated on October 30, Bergmann obtained permission to visit and was able to surprise his parents with his unexpected arrival. He said later that "when I lay in my own bed for the first time in almost four years, I was unable to fall asleep".
During the latter days of the German offensive in the Ardennes in December, Bergmann's aircraft was hit by flak. He had great difficulty regaining control, but managed to return to Eindhoven, where he made a crash landing. On New Year's Day 1945 he stood with his fellow pilots and watched as the Luftwaffe launched its last desperate attack against the Allied airfields, causing extensive damage and destroying many Typhoons.
In March 1945 Bergmann was appointed flight commander of another Typhoon squadron, No 182; he continued to attack road and rail communications. One historian called the Typhoons "the scourge of the Wehrmacht's mobile forces". The crossing of the Rhine brought a temporary change of priorities for the Typhoon pilots as they provided support for the Army by attacking gun positions.
By early May, No 182 had arrived at Luneburg. On May 4 Bergmann took off to lead an attack against a large concentration of aircraft on the airfield at Flensburg. After a successful operation, he received a radio message ordering him and his formation to return immediately; the war was over. Two days later he was summoned to his group headquarters, where Air Vice-Marshal Broadhurst decorated him with the DFC.
In June he transferred to the Dutch Air Force, and was immediately appointed air aide-de-camp to Queen Wilhelmina. In September he was awarded the Vliegerkruis (the Dutch DFC).
Bergmann played down his role in the war after visiting Belsen concentration camp. He commented: "What war really is I understood when I went to Belsen. I saw cartloads of bodies of those who had died just after liberation; that is something no pen can describe."
He remained on the active list of the Royal Netherlands Air Force, but for the next 25 years served Holland's three queens as Lord Chamberlain and Head of the Royal Household in addition to his aide-de-camp duties. He was also the Master of the Royal Hunt, and spent much time preparing the estates for Prince Bernhard's shooting parties. Bergmann was himself an excellent shot. He was also a superb horseman, gaining international honours in showjumping.
After Bergmann retired in 1972, he maintained close links with the men of No 124 Wing, arranging a large reunion in Holland in 1985, at which Prince Bernhard welcomed the veterans.
For his services to Holland he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the Orange Nassau with Swords, and a Commander of the House of Orange. The French government appointed him a Grand Officer of the Legion d'Honneur.
He was appointed an honorary KCVO by the Queen in 1958.
"Bergy" van Zinnicq Bergmann died on June 14. His wife Caroline, whom he married in 1945, survives him with their son and two daughters
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- Roel R.
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- Lid geworden op: 21 sep 2003, 01:50