Archive for August, 2016


Updated 2016 with added detail of combat reports

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Sqn Ldr Rodney Levett Wilkinson - CO 266 (Rhodesia) Sqn Sqn Ldr Rodney Levett Wilkinson – CO 266 (Rhodesia) Sqn

By a strange quirk of fate, while conducting research on another airman, I unexpectedly discovered that the Parish had its very own Battle of Britain airman (ack. Battle of Britain Monument). His story is not documented, so on the anniversary of his death it felt the done thing to redress the balance and remember one of our Few.

Rodney Levett Wilkinson was born on 23rd May 1910 was born in Atcham on the outskirts of Shrewsbury on 23rd May 1910 the only child to Maj Clement Arthur Wilkinson (Kings Shropshire LI) and Ruth Violet Esther Wilkinson (née Mirehouse). 11 days before his fifth birthday he lost his father, killed at Ypres. At some point after this tragic event his mother moved to Rotherfield with her young son taking up residence at The Gables in Argos Hill. The young “Wilkie” began his education at Wellington College and then followed…

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September 15 is the day officially celebrated as “Battle of Britain Day” the climax when the German Luftwaffe launched some of its largest concentrated attacks (principally against London). About 1,500 aircraft from both sides took part and at the end of the day, RAF Fighter Command had successfully managed to break up most of the enemy formations stopping them from inflicting major damage. When Hitler heard of this latest setback, he postponed Operation Sea Lion, (the planned German Invasion of Great Britain) and although the battle raged for another 6 weeks the intensity lessened as his attention focused east towards the Soviet Union.

A month earlier, Rotherfield had already experienced the battle first hand when a German Messerschmitt Bf110 was shot down in a fireball at Bletchinglye Lane. Exactly a month later, another German aircraft was about to make its own fiery appearance.

On September 15th, Luftwaffe Bomber group Kampfgeschwader 76 (KG76) was assigned to bomb London. They flew twin engine Dornier Do17 medium bombers. (In 2014, one of the only remaining Dornier’s in existence was recovered from its watery grave on Goodwin Sands and is now being preserved at RAF Cosford). Nicknamed “Fliegender Bleistift/Flying Pencil” because of its slim shape this aircraft was one of 3 main bomber types alongside the Heinkel He111 and Junkers Ju88 used by the Luftwaffe during the Battle.

Dornier Do17 serial F1+AT (serial partially obscured on fuselage) prior to its destruction over Rotherfield -  reproduced with permission from Battle over Sussex- Middleton Press

Dornier Do17 serial F1+AT (serial partially obscured on fuselage) prior to its destruction over Rotherfield – reproduced with permission from Battle over Sussex- Middleton Press

Do17 serial F1+AT was crewed by Lt Anton Wagner, Obgfr Kurt Boeme, Gfr Peter Holdenreid and Gfr Johann Kottusch. As they flew over the English coast a series of RAF attacks on the formation pulled their fighter escort away. By the time they reached London, they were confronted by Douglas Bader’s vaunted “Big Wing” comprising 5 Squadrons of about 60 airplanes who mercilessly set about the bombers. Jettisoning their bomb loads at random most bombers streamed back over the Thames estuary towards Kent and Sussex heading for home in disarray. For once the RAF outnumbered their opponents with pilots almost having to elbow each other out of the way to get a shot in. Over the course of 40 minutes, 6 Dornier’s from KG76 were shot down at Sturry, Underriver, Lullingstone, Herne Bay and at the most photographed crash of the entire battle at London’s Victoria Station.

The last casualty was serial F1+AT attacked by up to 10 RAF fighters. As their formation broke up the Dornier was engaged by 4 Hurricanes. Shorn of its fighter escort the bomber made for the clouds in a bid to hide from their quarry. Emerging beneath the cloud base a few minutes later it appeared as if they had successfully managed to shake off their attackers but the Hurricane of Flt Sgt Josef Kominek (Blue 2, B Flight) of 310 (Czech) Sqn had kept them in sight.

Sgt Kominek (fcafa.com)

Sgt Kominek (fcafa.com)

He made three further attacks firing off over 1,600 rounds and stating in his after action combat report that “at about 200 yards some sheets started to fall off and smoke was pouring from the port engine” With one engine on fire, the bomber began to lose height. Desperately attempting to maintain altitude the crew dropped their bomb load blind over the English countryside, but they were already doomed. Now set upon by the Hurricanes of Sgt’s Charles Hurry and George Jeffery from 46 Sqn more hits were registered. As they approached Rotherfield, Belgian volunteer Plt Off Victor Ortmans and Sgt Rupert Ommanney flying Hurricanes of 229 Sqn inflicted the coup de grace shooting up the stricken bomber.

At 12.20pm the Dornier was observed ablaze and plummeting towards the earth. Only Holdenried managed to bail out from the inferno, but as he tried to jump clear his parachute fouled with the tail plane and tragically he was dragged down to his death alongside his fellow crewmen.

The aircraft was entirely destroyed when it crashed. 49 Maintenance Unit were detailed to collect the remains on the 24th Sep with special instructions stating that the aircraft was “Burnt out. Bring scrap to Faygate” All four crewmen were initially buried at Tunbridge Wells cemetery before being re-interred at the German Soldatenfriedhof at Cannock Chase Staffs nos. 1/142 – 1/145.

When the site was excavated after the war, small surface fragments were recovered including parachute buckles, uniform buttons and pieces of melted alloy.

From published sources the location of the crash site is variously given as being near the Bicycle Arms and Argos Hill. The Sussex Constabulary report written by PC128 Clem Harris described finding the aircraft and bodies “in a copse…..in a field at Red Lane Farm, the rear of Argos Hill Lodge”. Eye witness accounts confirm that the bomber burnt out fiercely setting some pine trees on fire and coming to rest on the edge of a pond in a copse. Red Lane Farm no longer exists although properties on the A267 bearing the Red Lane title are approximately where the former farm was originally located. The two photographs below taken from the copse described above show the field where the bomber crashed, parts of which would have been spread right up to the hedge line in the foreground. The field is bordered by the A267 Tunbridge Wells road to the east and the B2101 Bicycle Arms road to the south. It should be noted that this field is on private land and not accessible to the public.

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This was to be the final “manned” enemy aircraft downed over the parish during the war, although in 1944 a number of enemy vengeance “V” weapons were to be seen or heard passing over and occasionally crashing with mixed results. This was not the case for the RAF as a number of friendly aircraft crashed all over the Parish during the hostilities. I hope to eventually record all the remaining crash sites, V Weapon and Civil Defence War record bombing locations when research time permits.

I would like to acknowledge the invaluable help from Mr Clark in identifying the crash location as well as author Simon W Parry who kindly sent me copies of contemporary combat reports and accounts for study.

 

 

 


untitledIn August, the Luftwaffe stepped up their campaign launching Unternehmen Adlerangriff (Operation Eagle attack). Targeting RAF airfields and RDF stations (later renamed RADAR), the Battle entered a crucial stage when on the 15th Aug 1940 the aftermath of one particular raid brought the war uncomfortably close to the inhabitants of Rotherfield.

This critical day played a part in influencing the outcome of the entire Battle and was referred to afterwards as “Black Thursday” by the Luftwaffe. One of the units involved was the elite Erprobungsgruppe 210 (ErPro210). Led by Swiss born Hptm Walter Rubensdörffer, a decorated veteran of the Spanish Civil War, the unit specialised in low level precision bombing attacks. They flew twin engine Messerschmitt Bf110c Zerstörer’s (Destroyer’s), a two seater heavy fighter used in a ground attack role as well as utilising bomb carrying Messerschmitt Bf109e’s. ErPro210 had already carried out a successful attack on the 15th, when in the early evening they made their way towards another target, RAF Kenley.

Walter Rubensdorffer

Walter Rubensdorffer

Around 6.30pm, 24 Bf110’s & Bf109’s approached Dungeness. Flying into an early evening mist it was not until they reached Sevenoaks that they discovered they had lost their fighter escort. Undeterred, Rubensdörffer lined up to attack what he could just perceive as hangars in the distant haze. What he didn’t realise was that he was about to attack Croydon aerodrome by mistake.

On the ground, 9 Hurricanes of 111 Sqn that had just refuelled after an earlier sortie were hurriedly scrambled. Frantically opening their throttles to achieve height a pilot spotted the German airplanes below diving on the aerodrome. As Rubensdörffer led the attack the RAF fighters pounced and a vicious dogfight ensued. Many of the bombs fell well wide of their mark as the Bf110’s formed a defensive circle. Despite German propaganda claiming the Bf110 was invincible, they were no match for nimble modern single engine fighters that were faster and more manoeuvrable. More Hurricanes this time from 32 Sqn arrived and with fuel beginning to run low, the Germans broke formation and raced hell for the Coast.

(c) London Borough of Sutton Museum and Heritage Service; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

“Pauke-Pauke” Oberleutnant Habisch’s Bf110D commences his bomb run on Croydon aerodrome. Like his CO and 5 others, he would soon be shot down, taken prisoner this time at Hawkhurst.

They left behind a scene of utter carnage, despite not being able to attack as they had wished, the Terminal building, hangars, workshops, the armoury and Officer’s Mess were all ablaze or wrecked and the airfield was heavily pockmarked. On the Purley Way civilian buildings had also been damaged, the Bourjois Perfume factory taking a direct hit. Tragically 68 people perished, 62 were civilian and over 185 were wounded. Now it was time to pay the bill. Harried by the RAF, Erpro210 aircraft were shot down at Nutfield, Hooe, Horley, Ightham and Hawkhurst. Rubensdörffer’s aircraft (serial S9+AB) was also damaged over Croydon, Sqn Ldr John Thompson reporting in his AAR “I fired a five second burst…climbing vertically from astern and observed bits of cowling, fuselage, etc. flying off in all directions”.

Rubensdörffer was escorted by Lt Horst Marx’s Bf109 attempting to protect him as he headed south, however at Crockham Hill near Chartwell, Rubensdörffer was attacked again possibly by Plt Off Byron Duckenfield’s Hurricane of 501 Sqn who hit the fuel tanks rupturing them and setting the aircraft on fire. Over the intercom Rubensdörffer informed Marx he was wounded and his radio operator OGefr Ludwig Kretzer dead or unconscious. At Frant, with the Hurricane still on his tail, his escort was shot down, crashing at Lightlands Farm. Marx managed to bale out and on landing flagged down a police car heading towards an ominous pall of smoke 4 miles south…

Now alone, Rubensdörffer’s luck gave out. Flying at tree top level as he approached Rotherfield he just managed to clear the spire of St Denys before dropping low over Yewtree Lane looking for a place to land. At Bletchinglye Lane he finally lost control and ploughed headfirst into a tree lined bank. The impact was so violent that the aircraft cartwheeled bursting into flames causing the ammunition to explode and sending pigs from the piggery at Bletchinglye farm squealing for cover. Both crewmen would have died instantly. When they arrived on the scene, all that was left for Marx (in police custody) was to identify the bodies. Rubensdörffer and Kretzer, were buried at Tunbridge Wells cemetery before being re-interred at the German Military Cemetery at Cannock Chase, Staffs after the War.

An interesting postscript to this story is that Rubensdörffer was posthumously awarded the Knights Cross for his bravery. Had he survived he may instead have been court martialled for going against Hitler’s strict order forbidding the bombing of any London targets.

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Official dig in 1988 where a few fragments including this saddle drum magazine were unearthed. Some relics are also on display at Newhaven Fort.

 

Readers should note that the crash site is on private land although  visible from the roadside on Bletchinglye Lane. I would like to acknowledge the help from John Vasco and Simon Parry who managed to confirm so much of the detail.

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                 Crash site visited by the author in 2014. L-R Looking from crash toward Piggery and Bletchinglye Lane, gradient of field, not the best place to try a landing & from Bletchinglye Lane looking toward crash

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Final resting place of the crew of S9+AB at Cannock Chase visited by the author in 2014

 


The first of 2 dead rubbers after Hawthorn (Ferrari) had wrapped up the championship at the last race at Nurburgring saw Farina (Ferrari) take his second successive win. Although another victory for the all conquering Ferrari team it further strengthened the opinion of what could have been if he had not had such a disastrous start to the season not finishing in the first four races and finding himself 25 points behind the leader at the halfway stage.

Result

1st – Giuseppe Farina (IT) Ferrari – 8 points

2nd – Alberto Ascari (IT) Ferrari – 4 points (6 points minus 2 dropped points)

3rd – Luigi Villoresi (IT) Ferrari – 4 points

4th – Juan Manuel Fangio (ARG) Maserati – 0 points (3 points minus 3 dropped points)

5th – Onofre Marimon (ARG) Maserati – 2 points

Lap Leader bonus point  – Felice Bonetto (IT) Maserati – 0 points (1 point minus 1 dropped point) 

Championship standings

1st – Hawthorn (GB) Ferrari – 35 points (4 wins) – 1953 CHAMPION

2nd – Farina (It) Ferrari – 22 points (2 wins)

3rd – Fangio (Arg) Maserati – 21 points (0 wins)  

4th= – Lang (Ger) Maserati – 19 points (1 win)

4th = – Ascari (It) Ferrari – 19 points (0 wins)                                                                    

NEXT – Season finale and celebrations for Ferrari in front of the Tifosi – Monza ITALY