Local Rotherfield wartime History #6 Battle of Britain Day sees 2nd aircraft shot down in the parish – 9/KG76 Dornier Do17 serial F1+AT

Posted: August 15, 2016 in local history

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.

y 13 aug burwood 2 (640x480) y 13 aug burrwood location 1 (640x480)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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