Local Rotherfield wartime History #5 Parachutes descend from the skies 11 Sep 1940 – Thomas Burgess Little 1RCAF & Wilhelm Jabusch KG26

Posted: September 10, 2016 in local history

The 11th Sep 1940 was the day Hitler had originally scheduled for the invasion of England, but thanks to the tenacity of the RAF it had been delayed. For Rotherfield, it was almost a month since the horrific crash of the German fighter-bomber on Bletchingyle Lane. The Luftwaffe however were stepping up the number and ferocity of their attacks and on the 11th launched 2 major coordinated raids. One comprised a large force of Heinkel He111 bombers with a 200 strong fighter escort, its target London.

Based at RAF Northolt were Hurricanes of #1 Royal Canadian Air Force Sqn (1 RCAF). Alongside Poles, Czechs and New Zealanders, the Canadians made up one of the largest groups of non UK National pilots participating in the Battle of Britain. Their numbers were also supplemented by some American Nationals unhappy at their own country’s neutrality and who took Canadian citizenship to allow them to travel to the “old country” and help defend it.

Fg Off Thomas Burgess Little

Fg Off Thomas Burgess Little

Flying Officer Thomas Burgess Little, 23, from Montreal arrived in the UK with his Sqn in June 1940. They were soon in action and Little shared in the destruction of a Dornier Do-17 on the 28th Aug. 3 days later he had his first confirmed kill “bagging” a Messerschmitt Bf109.  On the 11th Sep, 2 days after his birthday, his Sqn was scrambled to intercept a large enemy formation heading towards the Capital. Battle was joined at 4pm over Tunbridge Wells. RAF doctrine was to concentrate on the bombers over their fighter escorts. Little duly attacked a Heinkel He111 when either by return fire from the Heinkel or being “bounced” by a Bf109 fighter escort his Hurricane was shot up and caught fire forcing him to break off. The RAF had a tough time of it that day losing 25 fighters with 17 pilots killed and another 6 wounded. Little was among the wounded. On fire and realising his best chance of survival was to bale out, he successfully extricated himself from the cockpit before his Hurricane serial P3534 crashed at Lakestreet Manor, Mayfield. Drifting safely in his parachute he eventually landed in Rotherfield. He had been wounded in the leg as well as suffering burns to his face and side and was taken to the Kent & Sussex hospital. He did not rejoin his Sqn until 30 Nov 1940. Identification of the spot where he landed remains a mystery to the author.

About 10 minutes later a second parachute was observed floating towards the ground but this time from a German airplane. Bomber Gruppe Kampfgeschwader 26 (KG26) lost 4 of their number in this engagement. Heinkel He111H-4, serial 1H+KN was piloted by Fw Wilhelm Jabusch 22 from Berlin, with Lt Franz. Zimmermann, Fw Gerhard Schilling and Of Wolfgang Hasebrink the other crew members. At 19,000ft, the bomber was reportedly attacked by 15 Spifires and unsurprisingly badly damaged. The right engine was hit before they were attacked by a further 3 Spitfires one of whom hit the control column. With the bomber losing height the pilot ordered the bombs to be dumped blind and the mission aborted. At 6,000ft he baled out. Instead of more parachutes following him, the next items to be seen leaving the airplane was a greatcoat and uniform with an iron cross attached,  a ceremonial dagger on a clothes hangar, a set of shaving tackle and a large flat iron!

Jabusch landed at Ketches Farm on Burnt Oak Rd in Rotherfield Parish where he was captured by the Police. The Sussex Constabulary report stated “He was uninjured except for a bruised left leg and grazed left shoulder. I took him into custody and conveyed him to Crowborough Police Station where I informed Biggin Hill.” But what of the other crew and the bomber? Deciding that they didn’t want to spend the rest of the war in captivity they decided to take their chances and try to make it back over the formidable Channel and home. Zimmermann, the bomb aimer took over the controls and incredibly managed to steer the stricken bomber to France making a good belly landing on a beach near Dieppe.

Thomas Little made a full recovery from his injuries although he did not rejoin his Sqn until 30 Nov 1940. Almost a year after being shot down on the 27th Aug 1941, Little (now a Flight Lieutenant with 402 RCAF) was escorting British bombers in his Hurricane when somewhere over the Channel he collided with an RAF Spitfire. His body was never recovered and he was posted missing aged 24. He is remembered on panel 59 of the Runnymede Memorial (to airmen who lost their lives with no known grave) as well as the Battle of Britain Memorial at Capel Le Ferne

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