Preparations for war resulted in an increased number of training-related and other accidents to RAF aircraft. This was the mangled wreckage of Hurricane L1593 of Biggin Hill-based 79 Squadron photographed at Ditchling Common in East Sussex where the aircraft crashed during a thunderstorm on 20 June 1939 whilst on a direction-finding homing flight. The accident resulted in the death of its pilot, Sgt L.F. Davis, RAF (VR), and attracted crowds of curious sightseers and souvenir hunters. This image also highlights the pending logistical headache for the RAF once war was declared just three months later: how to salvage and recover crashed aircraft? At the time this photograph was taken it was very often simply the case that the motor transport section of the nearest RAF unit, or else the engineering officer of the squadron involved, would simply detail a party to go out and collect the pieces. Clearly, that was neither a sufficient nor a practical solution once war was declared.
Although the first German aircraft was brought down in the United Kingdom as early as October 1939 it was the Battle of France, throughout the early part of 1940, that first saw the RAF dealing with shot down Luftwaffe aircraft in any numbers. Here, a party of airmen have a Junkers 88 already partially dismantled and ready to transport away at a location ‘somewhere in France’. As the battle gathered in intensity under the full weight of the German Blitzkreig, so it became the case that recovering wrecks like this one would no longer be either possible or practicable. Instead, in the retreat to Dunkirk and the Channel coast, enemy and allied aircraft wreckages alike were simply abandoned.
Here, both of the Junkers Jumo 211 engines from the dismantled Junkers 88 are taken away by a tractor unit and an RAF flat-bed trailer.
The first enemy aircraft were being downed over the British Isles from October 1939 onwards, but by early 1940 Luftwaffe activity over the country was increasing and gathered in tempo as the Battle of France reached its zenith and culminated in the Dunkirk evacuation. From June 1940 onwards German aircraft losses increased over British soil and the wreckages that resulted all needed to be cleared away. By now, a series of service Maintenance Units had been established across Britain as part of RAF Maintenance Command, all falling under the command of Air Vice Marshal J.S.T. Bradley OBE. It very quickly became apparent that the challenges facing many of the MUs in recovering wrecks, both German and RAF, would be both varied and testing. Here, the remnants of a Heinkel 111 rests in shallow water at Cley-next-the Sea near Blakeney, Norfolk, after being shot down there on the night of 18/19 June 1940. The aircraft, from 4./KG4, had been caught in searchlights and then attacked by an RAF Blenheim which damaged the fuselage and engines. Unable to make a return crossing of the North Sea the pilot ditched offshore and the crew then swam ashore, one of them severely wounded. On board was Major Dietrich Freiherr von Massenbach, the Gruppenkommandeur of II Gruppe KG4, of which the 4./KG4 was part. Illustrative of salvage difficulties that faced the RAF maintenance units, this aircraft was deemed too difficult to recover and was left in situ before being blown up in 1969.
Posing rather less difficulty for the salvage teams this was all that was left of a Heinkel 115 seaplane that crashed and exploded at The Old Rectory, Eyke, Suffolk on 7 June 1940. The aircraft had been on a mine-laying sortie but flew into the ground after the pilot was apparently dazzled by searchlight beams. The mine on board detonated in the crash killing Oblt zur See Adolf von Hullen and Fw Ludwig Fehr. The aircraft was blown to pieces, and here a group of RAF airmen manhandle a section of airframe away from the crash scene. In the second image, one of the seaplane floats can be seen behind the army officer and policeman. What was left was fit only for the scrapheap.
Considerable intelligence value could often be found in even the most shattered and broken-up of wrecks. Here, as an RAF airman picks amongst the fragmented remnants of this Heinkel 111 shot down at Bishop’s Court, Chelmsford on 19 June 1940, he finds this Luftwaffe target map. Such discoveries could often give clues as to German operating bases, targets etc. and were useful pieces of intelligence.
One of the earliest enemy aircraft crashes in Kent was this Dornier 17 of 8./KG77 shot down by Hurricanes of 32 Squadron into a hop garden between Beech Farm and Sheephurst Farm at Collier Street near Paddock Wood on 3 July 1940. The aircraft, which drew crowds of sightseers, was a relatively easy recovery job for the salvage party and became one of the first aircraft recovered by 49 MU, RAF Faygate, who dealt with the majority of wartime crashes in Kent, Sussex and Surrey. One of the RAF airmen guarding the wreck crouches to examine the colourful unit emblem beneath the cockpit and, in another pose, points out the many bullet holes that had ripped into the Dornier’s fuselage.
The first of many Messerschmitt 109s to be shot down onto British soil during 1940 was this aircraft of 3./LG2 which fell at Buckland Farm, Sandwich, Kent on 8 July. Here, a party from 49 Maintenance Unit, RAF Faygate, make an effort to dig out the wreckage whilst the local constabulary keep watch to keep at bay the souvenir hunters. In truth, a number of Police officers helped themselves to a trophy or two as was evidenced by a number of retired officers revealing their own personal booty in post-war years.
Here the salvage party have dug down to the smashed fin and tail wheel. On the crumpled remnants of the fuselage can be seen the unit emblem: Mickey Mouse carrying an umbrella. They didn’t dig much further, as an excavation at the crash site revealed much later.
In the late 1970s the Kent-based Brenzett Aeronautical Museum finished off the work of 49 MU using a mechanical excavator to retrieve this deeply buried and chalk-encrusted DB601 engine. The difficulty in 1940 of extracting engines that were buried like this generally made such salvage jobs impractical. The wrecks were more often than not left buried, surface wreckage cleared, and the impact craters filled.
Another buried Messerschmitt ended up in the middle of the road at Byron Avenue, Margate on 24 July 1940 and it became a case of quickly clearing the wreckage and filling in the crater to get the traffic flowing again. Whilst fire officers and an RAF officer inspect the debris an airman stands guard, bayonet fixed, as other firemen take a ladder to deal with wreckage that has been thrown onto a nearby rooftop. The pilot, Lt Josef Schauff of 8./JG26, fell dead in nearby playing fields with an unopened parachute.
Sometimes, as we have seen in the previous image, falling aircraft didn’t always crash harmlessly into fields and countryside. This was the aftermath when a Heinkel 111 of 3./KGr126 was hit and disabled by the Harwich anti-aircraft battery before crashing out of control into houses at Victoria Road, Clacton-on-Sea, killing all four crew members. On board were three ‘C’ type mines, two of which exploded in the crash. The subsequent fire, which destroyed a number of houses and damaged many more, killed two civilians and injured another 150. In one of these views, RAF technicians are already taking apart the wreckage having dealt with the grisly aftermath of the crash and removed the bodies of the four German airmen. Another aspect of the involvement of the RAF in dealing with such incidents was the service’s responsibility to bury deceased Luftwaffe airmen with full military honours and the third image of this series shows the funeral for the four fliers at Clacton with an RAF bearer party and honour guard.
Standard equipment for lifting and removal of aircraft wrecks was the ubiquitous Coles crane. Photographs of work actually underway to remove crashed aircraft are somewhat rare, and those that do exist are often posed. However, here we have an RAF maintenance unit in the throes of loading the smashed wreckage of a Junkers 88 onto a flat-bed truck. In this instance, the wreck is that of a Junkers 88 shot down at Martinhoe Common, Lynton, Devon on 24 July 1940. Sections of the aircraft have already been manhandled into heaps ready for removal, with both propeller assemblies prominent in the foreground.
Sometimes it wasn’t that easy! Here the Coles crane from 49 MU, RAF Faygate, has come a cropper in a farm ditch as it attempts to access a crashed aircraft on Romney Marsh, Kent in 1940.
And it wasn’t just the transport that sometimes had a hard job. Here, a party from 49 MU drags sections of a crashed aircraft across a Kent hop field. Judging by the empty hop garden and the warm clothing this is either very early in 1940 or much later in the year. The work of the salvage parties was often arduous, cold and dirty; and it certainly wasn’t glamorous.
The accommodation, too, for the 49 MU recovery parties could be little more than basic. Temporary billets might be found in nearby households, but often the living quarters would be in barns and outhouses if the salvage job ran over more than one day away from the Faygate area. Usually, though, accommodation was simply under canvas as illustrated here whilst the airmen from RAF Faygate deal with the dismantling and removal of an RAF Lysander at Marshfoot Lane, Hailsham, East Sussex. The aircraft of 16 Squadron, RAF, had become bogged-in during an emergency landing on 13 March 1940 and it was not possible for the Lysander to be flown out due to the ground conditions.
Two of the RAF crash inspectors based at RAF Faygate in 1940 were Pilot Officer Bernard Clarke (right) and Flying Officer Jenkins who are seen here with the unit staff car in Horsham town centre during the summer of 1940 at the height of the Battle of Britain. Their task was to visit each crash site, British and German, decide how the recovery should be tackled and the men and equipment required, and then to issue appropriate orders. Later in the war, 49 Maintenance Unit also had its own Damage Officer who would assess damage to buildings, agricultural land etc occasioned by crashing aircraft or by the subsequent salvage efforts, and he would also make recommendations as to appropriate compensation under the government’s war damage scheme.
Frequently, the aircraft dealt with by the recovery teams were somewhat less intact than the Lysander at Hailsham. Here, soldiers pick amongst all that is left of a Junkers 88, shot down at Church Farm, Aylesford on 18 August 1940. The aircraft has been comprehensively smashed to pieces with only the main wing-spar identifiable in this photograph. Crash Inspector Pilot Officer Bernard Clarke was assigned to visit this crash site where he noted: ‘Scrap only’. This photograph bears ample testimony to Clarke’s blunt assessment.
Another Heinkel 111 that, like the aircraft near Blakeney, had defeated the RAF Maintenance Units was this aircraft of I./KG4 that flew into a mountainside at Eastman’s Cairn, Cairnsmore-of-Fleet on 8 August 1940. Whilst RAF personnel and Intelligence Officers managed to reach the wreckage, it proved impossible to get it off the mountain and, in fact, the wreckage remained in situ until at least the 1980s when it was lifted off by helicopter for museum display. Remoteness of wrecks such as this one often meant that they were left where they were, although the RAF went to extraordinary lengths to salvage some wrecks.
Less challenging was the recovery of a Junkers 87 ‘Stuka’ shot down at St Lawrence on the Isle of Wight during an attack on ships of Convoy CW9 ‘Peewit’ on 8 August 1940. Here, a salvage party from 49 MU Faygate pose with their trophy before dismantling and transportation gets underway, involving what was actually the first intact Junkers 87 to fall into British hands. Later, the airmen involved pose with the ‘Stuka’ on its Queen Mary low-loader trailer while they stop for refreshment on their way back across the island to board the Cowes ferry and journeying back to RAF Faygate. Note how the fuselage has been stowed on its side, with the wings neatly stacked alongside. Not only were crashed aircraft attractive to souvenir hunters in situ, but they also attracted them when being transported and had to be guarded against pillaging by a trophy-eager public!
A case in point was this Messerschmitt 109 of 6./JG51 that was shot down after combat with RAF Hurricanes and Defiants and ended up on its belly in a field at East Langdon in East Kent after sustaining damage to its oil tank on 24 August, 1940. Its pilot, Ofw Fritz Beeck, was taken into captivity. Here, two Australian soldiers spy out a nice trophy in the form of this colourful fuselage emblem which depicts a weeping pelican with an umbrella under its arm. Beneath are the words ‘Gott Strafe England’ (‘God Punish England’).
It didn’t take long for the soldiers to have their trophy away, and here is the same aircraft with the emblem cut from both sides of the fuselage. The swastika has also been hacked from the tail fin.
When this Messerschmitt 109 E was shot down into Poole Harbour on 13 August 1940 it was pulled out of the water by local boatmen and brought ashore for display in a sports ground in order to raise funds for the ‘Spitfire Fund’. Notable by its absence is the DB 601 engine and propeller, and doubtless these heavy items still remain firmly embedded in the mud of the harbour floor. Parts of this aircraft were being sold off for 6d a piece to further boost funds for the Spitfire appeal, and when the display was concluded the pitiful remnants of the Messerschmitt were collected for ‘processing’ at RAF Faygate. No doubt the collection party were greatly relieved that, on this occasion, they simply had to collect the mangled remains from a convenient hard-standing with no tedious effort through mud, water, forest or marshland.
On 16 August 1940 a number of vehicles belonging to 49 MU were destroyed in the Junkers 87 dive-bombing attack against RAF Tangmere and this loss of transport caused problems for the already hard-pressed unit in dealing with an ever increasing tally of crashed aircraft that needed to be dealt with. As the backlog of cases built up, the Air Ministry decided there was no other option than to engage civilian contractors working under the direction of RAF Faygate.
Aircraftsmen Jim Cookson and Bert Whitehead man the defensive gun post at RAF Faygate, with Cookson having acquired a Luftwaffe flare pistol which rests by his foot. He later told how he claimed this was officially to alert personnel at RAF Faygate of an imminent attack, though he later disclosed that it was useless for this purpose because he had fired off all the flare cartridges he could find ‘just for fun’ and that he regarded the pistol as his own war prize.
The same pair pose on one of 49 MU’s surviving pieces of transport after the Tangmere raid. In the background can be seen the RAF Faygate guardroom which was put to post-war use as a site office for Messers Agate & Co., timber merchants.
One of the contractors engaged for service to the RAF were the Brighton-based hauliers, A.V. Nicholls & Co. With their usual peacetime commercial haulage work diminished by hostilities it was inevitable that such companies should be engaged upon war work and proprietor Arthur Nicholls, a one-time Brighton Mayor, embraced his firm’s Air Ministry engagement with enthusiasm. Often he would personally visit the crash sites to assess what was required in the way of transport and equipment, and occasionally accompany his gangs as they went about their work. Here (wearing Homburg hat to the left) Arthur Nicholls poses with a lorry and trailer load of wreckage at the 49 MU depot in Faygate. Amongst the items of wreckage can be seen sections of Heinkel 111 wing, Messerschmitt 109 engines, and a float from a Heinkel He 59 seaplane. Piles of aircraft scrap can also be seen off to the right of the lorry bonnet waiting to be processed for scrap and shipped out.
Other haulage firms, too, were enlisted to collect and transport aircraft wreckages. Bizarrely, though, this lorry belonged to the British American Tobacco Company Ltd but has been press-ganged into moving a Heinkel 111 rather than cigarettes. Very much an over-sized load, it will be seen that the main landing wheels are running on the road either side of the lorry bed and almost acting like outrigger stabiliser wheels. A private motor vehicle has been forced to take refuge on the verge while the unusual cargo proceeds down the centre of the carriageway as it heads for its ignominious end at RAF Faygate.
Another Heinkel 111 cargo and yet more civilian trucks. Quite probably these were again the vehicles of A.V. Nicholls & Co., this time moving the wreck of a He 111 that had been shot down on 26 August 1940 at Wick near Littlehampton in West Sussex. One vehicle transports the fuselage while another deals with the engines. Another trailer, not visible in this shot, was used to take away the bulky wings.
The Heinkel 111 on the British American Tobacco Company lorry may well be this one which crash-landed at Westfield Farm, Studland, after sustaining combat damage on 25 September 1940. If so, it hides a tragic story relating to its recovery by a salvage party from 50 Maintenance Unit, Cowley. Two airmen working on the recovery of this aircraft were electrocuted when their Coles crane touched overhead electric cables. The offending power lines can be seen in the background of this photograph. The aircraft, from 1./KG55, carries an impressive white raging bull emblem on its fuselage.
When Uffz Leo Zaunbrecher crash-landed his battle-damaged Messerschmitt 109 amongst the corn stooks at Lower Mays Farm, Selmeston on 12 August 1940 the fighter had not yet ended its useful life. Its little red devil emblem on the port engine cowling attracted the attention of souvenir hunters and photographers alike. In the second of four photographs, a policeman and a soldier are curious to learn more about the Messerschmitt’s cockpit, whilst in the third photograph the Me 109 is pictured at 49 MU, RAF Faygate. In the third image Corporal Robert Anson and LAC James Cookson ‘pretend’ to remove the emblem from the cowling but, in fact, this is a posed shot and the artwork had already been all but removed during an overnight stop at Lydney, Gloucestershire whilst being taken on an exhibition tour of Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow. In the final image the aeroplane is on public display in Leeds City Square and the half-removed cowling badge can be clearly seen. In this photograph the wings have been re-assembled back to front. The posse of policemen were no doubt present to ensure that no further trophy hunting took place.
Another Messerschmitt 109, also shot down on 12 August 1940, was this aircraft flown by Oblt Albrecht Dresz of III./JG54 which made a good forced-landing at Hengrove, near Margate in Kent. Like the example displayed at Leeds, this Messerschmitt was also placed on public display to raise money for the Spitfire Fund but it is shown here being loaded onto a trailer by the men of 49 MU before being transported to Faygate. Whilst the Me 109 became quite familiar to the inhabitants of South East England its range wouldn’t take it much beyond London, and thus the arrival of a bullet-holed Me 109 for exhibition in more northern towns tended to generate a good deal of excitement.
A little less intact was the Messerschmitt 109 of Lt Hans-Herbert Landry of Stab.I/JG3 who was shot down over Whitfield, near Dover on 28 August 1940. Landry descended by parachute, badly injured, and died in hospital from his injuries on 23 September 1940. There was rather less of the aircraft to collect than there was, for example, of Uffz Leo Zaunbrecher’s Me 109, but the crash provided an excellent photo opportunity as firemen and soldiers dealt with the burning wreckage by shovelling soil over the smouldering engine. The photographer couldn’t resist ‘posing’ a fireman with his raised pick-axe as he almost symbolically brought it smashing down on the wreckage. The demise of this particular fighter was witnessed by Prime Minister Winston Churchill from Dover Castle and he was later driven to the crash scene to see for himself the handiwork of the RAF fighters. Wrecks such as these generally offered very little in the way of intelligence value and could really not be put to use in the same manner as the aircraft displayed in Leeds, for example. Instead, the scrap yard at 49 MU’s Faygate depot would be the staging point before the wreckage was consigned to the Northern Aluminium Company at Banbury, Oxfordshire, for smelting into ingots and subsequently feeding into the British aviation industry as raw material.
And this is some of that ‘raw material’. Here, at 49 Maintenance Unit, RAF Faygate, wrecked aircraft, both British and German, were taken for further breaking prior to dispersal for scrap processing. Materials needed to be separated before that process could begin; aluminium alloys, magnesium alloys, steel, copper, brass, plastics and rubber all needed to be sorted and dealt with. Sometimes, further objects of intelligence value were discovered in the mangled wreckage, and other times spare parts for Luftwaffe machines were scavenged in order to rebuild, maintain or return to flight captured German aircraft types that were being evaluated at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough. Rather more grisly finds could also made amongst the assorted wreckage and those who worked at Faygate recalled the sometimes unpleasant odour that pervaded the heaps of mangled aircraft parts.
Little wonder, given the scale of aircraft breaking that once went on here, that when the author visited the site of 49 MU at Faygate during 1979 there was still plenty of evidence scattered around of the processing that had taken place on this spot. During the late 1970s and early 1980s the site was a timber yard, and aircraft fragments like these were still strewn far and wide around what had once been RAF Faygate.
It would have been assorted fragments like these that were melted down to be used in these cast alloy ‘Victory Bells’ that were sold to aid the RAF Benevolent Fund. The bells were designed by Conrad A. Parlanti who was responsible for the large eagle which crowns the RAF Memorial on the Victoria Embankment, and they were initially sold shortly after VE Day. The inscription around the base reads: ‘Cast from metal recovered from German aircraft shot down over Britain’.
Whilst the newspaper and magazine publishers of the day tended to favour photographs of shot down wrecks at the places they had come to earth, there was clearly some attraction in illustrating the vast dumps of wrecked aircraft that were being assembled. This was a double-page spread from a news magazine published during the summer of 1940, its origin given away by the page creases! Illustrated here are parts of Messerschmitt 109s and 110s, and a Dornier 17 fuselage section.
Such was the volume of aircraft being shot down in the East Kent area that a temporary ‘holding’ depot was established at Elham in Kent where assorted wreckages of locally-crashed aircraft were assembled prior to removal to RAF Faygate before further processing and despatch to the Northern Aluminium Company depot at Banbury. The Messerschmitt 109 seen in this image is the aircraft brought down at East Langdon on 24 August 1940 as featured. Note the holes in the fuselage where the emblems have been hacked out.
At the Banbury processing plant, workers carry a section of the Dornier 17 fuselage brought from the crash site at Paddock Wood on 3 July 1940 (see). A mass of other enemy aircraft wreckages await the smelter.
Another view of the Banbury plant, with at least three fuselages of Dornier 17s, side by side, and with the hulk of a Junkers 87 ‘Stuka’ in the background. Once non-alloy parts had been stripped out, along with glass, plastics and steel, etc., the alloy remnants were melted down and turned into ingots as raw material for the aviation industry. Not so much as swords into ploughshares as swords into new swords!
Almost certainly this image was also captured at the Banbury plant or a local out-station and shows the Messerschmitt 109 of 3./LG2 shot down at Shellness on 15 September 1940 with its pilot, Uffz August Klick, taken POW. Here it is seen adorned with anti-German graffiti and appears to be in the process of being stripped of souvenirs, judging by the pile of items heaped up on the ground behind the rudder. In the background can be seen the remains of Dornier 17s and a single Junkers 87 ‘Stuka’ against the far fence.
In this photograph the Station Commander of RAF Biggin Hill, Group Captain Grice, and the Station Adjutant, Flying Officer Haskell, set about their own spot of souvenir hunting as they remove trophies from the Dornier 17 shot down at Leaves Green, Kent, on 18 August 1940.
One particular Junkers 87 ‘Stuka’ that was never intended for smelting at Banbury was this example which made a landing with minimal damage on Ham Manor Golf Course near Rustington on 18 August 1940. Such was its condition that it was deemed repairable on-site and was scheduled to be flown out by an RAF test pilot to the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. However, and notwithstanding this impressive Home Guard turn-out, the aircraft was literally torn apart by trophy hunters.
Here is all that was left after the souvenir scavengers had finished their destructive work! The locals had ensured that the RAF wouldn’t be getting their first flyable Junkers 87 ‘Stuka’.
Of this Stuka there was precious little left to salvage even before any souvenir hunters got to work. This was the smashed up wreckage of a Junkers 87 that had crashed into houses at Shorncliffe Crescent, Folkestone on 15 August 1940 after being pursued by a Hurricane that sent it careering through the high tension power lines in the background. In the far distance a group of Hurricanes can be seen – most probably returning to their home airfield at nearby RAF Hawkinge.
The raiding of German aircraft wrecks took on a rather different angle when this Dornier 17-Z was shot down near Manor Farm at Stodmarsh in Kent on 13 August 1940. After the crew had been marched off into captivity, Mr Burt of Manor Farm drained the fuel tanks for use in his Albion lorry, apparently aided and abetted by the Army! This is Mr Burt looking suitably pleased with himself after his unexpected aerial fuel delivery as he is photographed with the Dornier and his equally smug soldier ‘assistants’.
On the same day, yet another Dornier 17-Z was shot down over Barham in Kent and ended up crashing onto the railway line there. There was a pressing need to re-open and keep ‘permanent’ the Permanent Way, and here wreckage is piled up against the Pherbec railway bridge as the village policeman mounts guard.
Here, a civilian salvage gang employee looks particularly pleased with himself as he prepares to set about the wrecked fuselage with a rather substantial crow bar. Bullet strikes are plainly visible in this photograph.
The majority of aircraft illustrated in this book depict Luftwaffe types and this perhaps presents a distorted image of the nationalities of the machines being brought down. Of course, British aircraft were being lost in large numbers too, but photography of such crashes for publication would not have passed the press censorship bureau. Clearly, photographs of shot down British aircraft would not have been good for morale and therefore such photographs are rare. Private photography was strictly limited by The Control of Photography Order, and even if photographs were sneakily taken by civilians then they risked prosecution if placing them for development and printing through conventional sources. Added to that, there were very significant difficulties in acquiring film, and developing and printing materials, during the war years. Here, however, is a considerable rarity; a photograph of a downed RAF Hurricane during the Battle of Britain. This was the aircraft flown by Sgt ‘Jim’ Hallowes of 43 Squadron from RAF Tangmere who made a forced-landing at Amberley, West Sussex, when he experienced engine problems during a patrol on 20 July 1940. The aircraft was collected by 49 MU, taken to a civilian repair organisation depot, and later returned to operational service.
The pilot of this Hurricane was not so lucky. In this incident, another Tangmere based pilot, Flt Lt Carl Davis of 601 Squadron, was killed when his aircraft was shot down and crashed into the garden of Canterbury Cottage at Matfield in Kent. Curious locals came to view the wreck and were charged 6d by the owner of the cottage to gain access to the garden, with all proceeds going to the Spitfire Fund. The villager on the right looks intent on getting his six-pennyworth, as he appears to be helping himself to something in the starboard wing gun-bay. By the time 49 MU arrived to take away the wreck it had been quite extensively plundered by souvenir hunters. On the plus side, though, several pounds had been raised for a new Spitifire.
The RAF Maintenance Units were also responsible for removing aircraft that had crashed or otherwise come to grief on RAF airfields. This included this Hurricane of 615 Squadron, badly damaged by bomb blast at RAF Kenley following an air raid on 18 August 1940.
Again at Kenley, this Miles Magister light communications aircraft was completely wrecked in a bombed and collapsed hangar on the same day. Of largely wood and fabric construction there would have been little of any scrap value here. However, RAF maintenance units would have stripped all usable parts such as instruments, propellors, engines, wheels etc., from wrecks like this. If it could be salvaged, then as far as was reasonably possible nothing was wasted.
Another civilian lorry is pressed into use to collect and remove the wreckage of a Messerschmitt 110 shot down at Honeysuckle Lane, High Salvington, near Worthing on 4 September 1940 as the recovery gang give a cheery thumbs-up. The three scaffold tubes would have been used to make a tripod for a block-and-tackle in lieu of a Coles crane in order to lift the sections of airframe onto the lorry. Mudguards and other vehicle extremities were painted white to better aid visibility in the blackout.
There would have been little need for either Coles crane or tripod to remove these sections of Messerschmitt 110 that comprised the wreckage of the aircraft of Erprobungsgruppe 210 shot down at Broadbridge Farm, Horley, Surrey on 15 August 1940. Scattered wreckage has been heaped into this pile ready for collection and would have been light enough to manhandle onto a truck. Meanwhile, a soldier stands guard with his anti-aircraft Bren gun.
An unidentified Junkers 88 at an unidentified location is daubed with a ‘V for Victory’ emblem and the corresponding Morse code symbols for the letter ‘V’. This looks to be another example of civilian gangs removing wrecked aircraft and may well show employees of A.V. Nicholls & Co. Ltd at work, perhaps taking heaped and assorted wreckages from RAF Faygate to Banbury.
This Junkers 88, with its broken back, was shot down on 9 September 1940 at Newells Farm, Nuthurst, West Sussex, where it had been substantially ‘got at’ by souvenir hunters when this photograph was taken. The trampled soil around the wreck tells its own story of multiple visitors. Although the swastikas have been stripped from the tail the culprit was apprehended and required to leave his prize trophies leaning against the wreck to the left of this photograph. Although this trophy hunter didn’t get away with it, plenty of others did. A great many relics were taken from crashed aircraft like this and more than seventy years later still keep turning up. Although it was illegal at the time, many of these items are now of great interest and value to researchers, historians, museums and private collectors.
More wreckage for Banbury was collected by A.V. Nicholls & Co. from the grounds of The Gordon Boys Home at Chobham, Surrey where this Heinkel 111 of 6./KG26 had been shot down by anti-aircraft fire on the night of 23/24 September 1940. All of the crew had baled out, and so this burnt and shredded parachute must have been a spare that was on board the bomber. Of the wreckage, most was burnt and scattered over a wide area, although salvage gang member Bob Sawyers still managed to set fire to surrounding grass land as he cut up the larger pieces of Heinkel.
A Royal Navy Reserve Lieutenant from The Thames Patrol paddles in the mud to inspect what is left of a Spitfire shot down off Hoo Marina in the Thames Estuary on 5 September 1940. This would certainly have been a challenging job for the Maintenance Unit gangs, being located in deep tidal mud. Nevertheless, much of this wreckage was ultimately removed although the heavier parts were not retrieved until the 1980s when they were salvaged by a team of enthusiasts. The pilot of this Spitfire, Flying Officer P.J.C. King of 66 Squadron, baled out but unfortunately he was killed when his parachute failed to open.
Dismantling of this Dornier 17 of 8./KG76, shot down at Castle Farm, Shoreham, Kent, is already well underway after being downed on Sunday 15 September 1940 – ‘Battle of Britain Day’. Stripped panels have been heaped in the foreground as a trailer stands ready to the left of the starboard wing and the salvage crew continue their work. In this instance, the gang seems to include civilians, RAF personnel and soldiers.
Another ‘Battle of Britain Day’ casualty was also this Dornier 17 that crashed onto the forecourt of Victoria Station following a mid-air collision with an RAF Hurricane over central London. In the crash, the shop of well-known clock supplier James Walker Ltd was badly damaged and a mass of mantel clocks are scattered across the pavement.
Although the bulk of the mangled wreckage at Victoria Station posed little difficulty for access by the salvage gangs, the severed tail section that landed on a nearby rooftop was probably a little more challenging to remove. This was arguably the most photographed and most famous German aircraft loss in the whole of the Battle of Britain, occurring as it did in central London and on what is universally celebrated as Battle of Britain Day.
‘Your chimney swept, madam?’ This was the aftermath of yet another German aircraft that struck another building after being shot down. This incident was at Maidstone in Kent on 5 September 1940 with a Messerschmitt 109 crashing into a house at 6 Hardy Street. Ironically, the emblem for this Me 109 unit (I./JG54) depicted a chimney sweep with his ladder and in this instance the soot certainly seems to have been comprehensively cleared from this particular chimney. Note the impact mark of a wing across the tiled roof. Only the tail section is recognisable, and lies in a smouldering heap in the back garden leaving little for the salvage parties from 49 MU to actually collect. Uffz Fritz Hotzelmann, the pilot, had baled out at very low level to land on a roof in John Street before being taken POW. Despite its extensive damage the house was repaired and is still standing.
Whilst the Victoria Station Dornier 17 crash was very widely photographed, little attention was paid to the wrecked Hurricane that fell in the roadway nearby at the junction of Ebury Bridge Road with Buckingham Palace Road. Here, however, we see a pile of wreckage that has been collected from the highway and placed against an adjacent wall to await collection. The priority was in getting London traffic moving once again, and the crater that contained the Rolls Royce Merlin engine and other wreckage was simply filled in and covered over. In 2004 the engine was recovered during a televised archaeological ‘dig’ in the presence of its former pilot, Sgt Ray Holmes, from 504 Squadron, who had baled out of the aircraft after colliding with the Dornier.
With aerial battles going on above a highly populated region it was inevitable that crashing aircraft would sometimes end up striking buildings, and this is another example. Looking more like a bombed building than an aircraft crash site this is, in fact, the scene at Richmond Avenue, Merton, after a Junkers 88 bomber had crashed into a pair of residential dwellings on the night of 19/20 September 1940. One civilian, 25-year-old Mary Butcher, died from her injuries and three of the four crew were killed in the crash whilst the fourth crew member baled out into captivity. Salvage workers pick amongst the ruins, but all that seems to be left of the twin-engine bomber is a ball of mangled airframe wreckage that can be seen on the rubble in the top left of the photograph. Unlike the incident in Hardy Street these houses were clearly beyond any repair, and new dwellings were subsequently built on the site.
And yet another German aircraft that came to grief in a residential area. This time, just the tail section and a portion of wing spar seems to be about all that is left for 49 MU to collect after a Heinkel 111 of Stab III./KG1 smashed itself to pieces amongst the bungalows and houses of Manor Avenue, Caterham on the night of 26/ 27 August 1940. Having suffered a direct hit from anti-aircraft fire during a night mission to bomb factories in the Coventry area, the crew ditched their bombs and then all baled out into captivity. Four days later the burned out wreckage was collected and taken away to RAF Faygate.
A few days later, and not too far away from Caterham, another Heinkel came to grief but this time in a mid-air collision with a Hurricane of 79 Squadron on 30 August 1940. This is all that remained of the Hurricane after Plt Off E.J. ‘Teddy’ Morris had baled out. Meanwhile, a herd of unconcerned cows graze around the still smouldering wreckage at Lodge Farm, South Holmwood, Surrey. The charred and twisted wreckage ended up being thrown onto the same trucks as the jumbled remains of the Caterham Heinkel. The 49 MU salvage party passed through South Holmwood, with the intermingled debris of both aircraft going back into the wartime re-cycling and salvage effort.
Another Messerschmitt 109 shot down in a residential area during the Battle of Britain was this aircraft of 6./JG52 that crashed on 20 October 1940 in the middle of a group of temporary houses for bombed-out Londoners. Luckily, none of the flimsy wooden dwellings were hit by the crashing fighter and the demise of this Me 109 ended up being a morale boosting event for the war weary residents. Here, a soldier mounts sentry duty on what seems to be a grey rainy day. An RAF Corporal, in charge of the salvage party from RAF Faygate, makes a quick assessment as to the methodology for the removal of this aircraft at Wickham Street, Welling. The close proximity of buildings meant that it probably had to be hauled out by manpower and winches, rather than by Coles crane.
Another inverted Messerschmitt and another job for 49 MU’s Coles crane came on 30 September 1940 in Windsor Great Park when a Messerschmitt 109 of 7./JG27 made a forced-landing there after being damaged by fighters during a bomber escort mission to London. In executing the emergency landing, Oblt Karl Fischer’s Me 109 turned over onto its back although, miraculously, Fischer was captured unhurt after what could easily have been a fatal crash. For the MU salvage party it was first a case of righting the enemy fighter before preparing it for removal.
Righted by the Coles crane, the Messerschmitt 109 is subject to eager attention by the RAF salvage gang. One group are intent on the wing gun and its ammunition while another party seem more interested in what they can find in the cockpit.
Given that Fischer’s Messerschmitt had landed in the King’s back garden it seems only appropriate that it should have later been exhibited in His Majesty’s front yard! On 3 October 1940 the Messerschmitt was displayed to raise money for the Royal Borough of Windsor’s Spitfire Fund and during that time the German fighter was visited by the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, with Princess Elizabeth being allowed to sit in the pilot’s seat. This later gave rise to one wag at 49 MU, RAF Faygate, asking if his unit could now display a ‘By Royal Appointment’ coat of arms.
An unusual breakdown job! With no Coles crane, this salvage party have pressed into service a breakdown truck from a local garage in order to lift the Messerschmitt 109 of Uffz Hamer who put his Me 109 down close to the cricket pavilion at Pelsham House, Peasmarsh on 30 September 1940. The wings have been removed and loaded, and wooden sleepers are being placed under the fuselage and engine to gradually raise the aircraft level with a flat-bed truck or trailer. More often than not, improvisation was the order of the day when collecting these wrecked aircraft.
Crashing Heinkel 111s seemed to have a particular affinity for houses, this one ending up in the back garden of a house at Hale near Fordingbridge in Hampshire on the night of 29/30 August 1940, having been shot down by a Spitfire of 92 Squadron flown by Plt Off A.R. Wright. The crew all baled out, but one of them subsequently succumbed to his injuries.
The removal of souvenirs or trophies from crash sites, German or British, was strictly forbidden. Indeed a number of prosecutions took place of persons accused of taking such items, although this did very little to dissuade others from the practice. Sometimes the souvenir had little more than curiosity ‘value’ although some trophies had a rather more practical value. Here, the tail wheel from the Heinkel 111 shot down at Hale on 29 August was put to good use on a wheelbarrow having been squirrelled away from the crash scene before the RAF Maintenance Unit arrived.
Sometimes even substantially intact aeroplanes like this Heinkel 111 of KG55, shot down onto the beach at East Wittering, West Sussex on 26 August 1940, defied all attempts at recovery. Just yards from the foreshore, this aircraft would literally sink into the sands as successive tides came and went and the relentless action of the English Channel subsequently broke up and dispersed the protruding remains. Many years later, during the 1970s, some of the remaining wreckage was dug out of the beach by enthusiasts.
Digging out the buried wreckages of aircraft was done with varying degrees of enthusiasm by the MU salvage parties and very often depended upon site accessibility, depth of the buried aircraft, availability of equipment and manpower. An additional factor might well have been the need to retrieve the remains of any aircrew still trapped in the wreckage – such assignments obviously being extremely unpopular with the salvage parties. In this instance, a Messerschmitt 109 of II./JG54 has been shot down close to RAF Biggin Hill at Layhams Farm on 30 August 1940. Despite its accessibility from a nearby road, and the closeness to the RAF station, only the shattered pieces of surface wreckage were cleared away, leaving the engine and fuselage embedded deep in the ground. Squadron Leader John Ellis, CO of the Spitfire-equipped 610 Squadron at RAF Biggin Hill, scowls at the camera as he picks amongst the debris for his personal trophy.
Although this is thought to have been taken at some time after the Battle of Britain it is a good illustration of the efforts sometimes gone to by RAF Maintenance Units in digging out wreckages. Here a party dig out a buried Hurricane, but their undoubted diligence with this particular task might well be influenced by the presence of officers and an official cameraman!
More digging by the men of a 49 MU salvage party. Quite what they are digging out, and where, is a mystery but their Queen Mary lorry and trailer wait in the adjacent lane for another load of aircraft scrap and consignment back to their West Sussex base at Faygate.
And still they dig! Another mystery photograph as an RAF maintenance unit salvage party pose in the crater made by a crashing aircraft during 1940 at an unknown location in the south of England. In this instance, and despite the poor quality of the photograph, the crash seems to have involved a Hurricane, judging from the smashed fragments. The only recognisable item is the butt of a Browning .303 machine that has become embedded vertically in the soil by the force of the impact.
Another job where there were just pieces to pick up was after the shooting down of a Messerschmitt 110 of V./(Z)LG1 at Horam, East Sussex on 27 September 1940. The lads of 49 MU strike a cheery pose with the remnants of this Luftwaffe loss before it joins the ever growing dump at RAF Faygate.
Rather more substantially intact was this Messerschmitt 109 of 3./JG52 which had been shot down at Penshurst Aerodrome, Kent on 27 October 1940. Its pilot, Fw Shieverhofer, was taken prisoner – allegedly by the Spitfire pilot of 74 Squadron who had shot him down and who immediately put down on the Penshurst landing ground to ensure the Luftwaffe pilot’s capture. As a rather precariously overhanging load, counterbalanced by its heavy DB 601 engine, the aircraft becomes another consignment for the vehicles of A.V. Nicholls & Co. as it heads out across the Sussex countryside to RAF Faygate on its final journey.
Another oversized load and another Messerschmitt cargo for A.V. Nicholls. This time, the heavy end has been balanced on an improvised extension platform as two New Zealand soldiers ride with the captured Messerschmitt. The aircraft was piloted by Fw Verlings of 1./JG52 and had been shot down on 2 September 1940. Here, it is being taken away from where it had crashed on Tile Lodge Farm, Westbere, near Canterbury.
And another way to transport a Messerschmitt 109! This is the Messerschmitt 109 of Ofw J. Harmeling from 4./LG2 that was shot down at Langenhoe Wick in Essex on 29 October 1940, although this photograph was taken at Victoria Park, Arbroath during 1941 whilst being used for a Spitfire Fund Raising tour of Scotland which included appearances at Glasgow, Stonehaven and Laurencekirk. Once again, souvenir hunters have hacked out the unit emblem from the engine cowling. In this case, the depiction of a Mickey Mouse in black and white and painted on a blue disc has proved irresistible to the tenacious army of trophy hunters who would systematically strip anything they could get their hands on.
Continuing with the theme, this Messerschmitt 109 of 2./JG27 was photographed on an RAF Maintenance Unit Queen Mary low-loader in London during October 1940 outside offices at 161 Clapham Road belonging to another civilian contractor engaged by the Air Ministry for the recovery of aircraft wrecks, Portsmouth Carriers Ltd. The Messerschmitt was left in situ for about a month where it was used as a collecting point for an RAF charity. The writer of the original wartime captions found himself confused by what are clouds of lorry exhaust gasses and ended up describing this as a still-smoking Messerschmitt that had just crashed in a London street. In fact, it had been shot down at The Homestead in the village of Isfield, East Sussex on Sunday 15 September with its pilot, Uffz Andreas Walburger, captured unharmed. The aircraft was later exhibited at a number of other locations in aid of local Spitfire Funds.
The Royal Engineers lend a hand, helping with a gantry and block-and-tackle as they lift the Messerschmitt 109 flown by Oblt Egon Troha of 9./JG3 who made a forced-landing with a damaged radiator at Westcourt Farm, Sheperdswell, Kent on 29 October 1940. The name ‘Erika’ is painted on the engine cowling above the emblem of the Nordic axe.
Here was another job for the MU gangs, and yet another Messerschmitt 109. This time, Gefreiter Bogasch’s aircraft is recovered from Northbourne Park near Sandwich after being shot down there on 27 September 1940. It is being lifted with the help of a Royal Engineer party and a lorry-mounted gantry crane, although the recovery party seem singularly disinterested by the task in hand. Perhaps their demeanour is because, by this date during the Battle of Britain and in this locality, such events as crashing German aircraft had become more than commonplace.
A little more care needed to be taken with the recovery of this Hurricane that had made an emergency landing near Folkestone on 7 October 1940. Pilot Officer Ken McKenzie of 501 Squadron had rammed a Messerschmitt 109 in combat over the English Channel, striking the tail of the enemy with his starboard wing tip. Very gingerly McKenzie flew his Hurricane, minus its outboard wing, back to land and executed a safe belly landing. Dismantled, the aircraft was transported to a repair depot and Hurricane V6799 duly returned to service life which it survived until being struck off RAF charge on 9 November 1944. Here is a case in point where the recovery of aircraft by units like 49 MU served a far greater purpose than simply the clearing away of scrap metal.
Transporting away aircraft like Hurricane V6799 was generally carried out using the RAF Maintenance Unit Queen Mary trailers like these. Here, a damaged Hurricane and a Spitfire are removed for either repair or spares recovery.
When this Junkers 88 of KG51 made a forced landing, out of fuel, at Buckholt Farm near Sidley in East Sussex on 28 July 1940 it was immediately apparent to the RAF that the aircraft was repairable to the standard of flying condition. Given that no flying examples had yet been secured by the RAF for evaluation purposes it was decided to carefully dismantle the aircraft and convey it to the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough for test flying. Here, some locally based soldiers point out one of the bullet holes they placed in the Junkers as it came into land – the soldiers wrongly believing that they had been responsible for its demise. The aircraft is already being readied for lifting and removal, as witnessed by the wooden blocks.
And this is the very same Junkers 88, but under entirely new management. Repaired, re-painted in British camouflage, and given an RAF serial number the bomber was test-flown by the RAF who were able to glean extremely useful operational and handling data from such evaluation work.
Making an aircraft safe after it had come to grief was an important aspect of the work undertaken by RAF MUs as they dealt with the various crashes. The removal of armaments and ammunition was crucial. Not only were munitions attractive souvenirs to some, but undamaged British ammunition could be put back into the RAF system and used. Here an RAF airman removes belted .303 ammunition from the wing ammunition boxes of a crash-landed Hurricane.
More ammunition. This time an RAF airman and a Royal Artillery soldier examine belted 7.92mm rounds in the wreckage of a Messerschmitt 109 shot down at Chelsham, near RAF Biggin Hill on 30 August 1940. Bullets were popular although dangerous souvenirs, and became valuable ‘currency’ to schoolboy collectors. The fact that bullets or cannon shells were live and dangerous mattered little to collectors.
There was hardly anything left here, let alone bullets, for anybody to pick up. Looking more like a bomb crater, this was where a Messerschmitt 109 impacted into a drainage ditch on Brede Marshes at Guestling in East Sussex on 25 October 1940 after its pilot had baled out injured and into captivity. Such was the force of the impact in the soft ground that the aircraft has almost entirely disappeared. All that is left for 49 MU to collect can be seen in the background. The rest of the Messerschmitt, engine, fuselage and wing structure, was driven over ten metres into the ground from where it was finally salvaged in the 1980s. Little wonder that the RAF left it where it was in 1940. It would have been quite impractical to salvage it in 1940 given the equipment and resources then available, and it was a more than challenging task for the well-equipped recovery teams several decades later.
In considering the recovery of aircraft in Britain during 1940 it is appropriate to look at similar work being carried out across the other side of the English Channel by the Luftwaffe. Here, units of the Bergungskommando (Salvage Detachments) carried out exactly the same kind of work. Here, and using sheer-legs, they haul a shot down Spitfire off a French beach.
Probably taken early in 1941, here was another Spitfire shot down over France that needed to be dealt with by the Luftwaffe Bergungskommando. Already one of their trucks has arrived at the crash scene.
As in Britain, wrecked aircraft were routinely sent for scrap processing at German depots and here a Luftwaffe airman poses with an RAF Fairey Battle light bomber which has been loaded onto a flat-bed rail truck for transportation to the breakers yard and eventual smelting.
As we have already seen, a considerable number of Messerschmitt 109s were recovered from their various crash sites in a relatively undamaged state and were quickly earmarked for public display at venues the length of the country. Mostly this was in aid of the Spitfire Fund. 49 MU at Faygate, at the heart of the collection of wrecks from Kent and Sussex, were ideally placed to source Me 109s for display purposes. Specimens that were largely intact were generally chosen and were thus spared immediate processing for scrap. Very often one particular airframe would be selected and was then taken on ‘tour’ before finally being consigned as scrap with its service complete. Here the Me 109 that had been flown by Oblt Gunther Bode of Stab.I/JG27 when he was shot down at Knowle Farm, Mayfield, East Sussex, makes its debut public appearance at Stanhay’s Garage in Ashford, Kent.
Continuing with that theme, this is the Messerschmitt 109 that ended up on its back in Windsor Great Park (see) that was being regularly taken around the country by gangs from 49 MU at Faygate. Here, it is shown whilst on display at Fareham in Hampshire on 14 December 1940. The camouflage netting is intended to hide the Messerschmitt from other enemy aircraft and potential attack and destruction. From Fareham it was eventually collected by A.V. Nicholls & Co. and transported to the Chief Fire Officer at Lyndhurst for a further exhibition there before, time expired, it would finally meet its end in the Banbury smelters.
The Messerschmitt 109 was generally not seen in the air as far west as Truro where this example was exhibited during January and February of 1941. The aircraft had been shot down in Kent at Blean, near Canterbury on 6 September 1940 with its pilot, Uffz Ernst Nittmann, captured unhurt. Previously the aircraft had been displayed at Broad Quay, Bristol, and is thought to have been taken from Truro to Falmouth Docks where it was dismantled and crated ready for shipment to Australia where it was to be further used for display and RAAF recruitment purposes. However the ship on which it was being transported was ultimately sunk and the Messerschmitt never reached its intended destination.
Tunbridge Wells, however, was very much at the heart of ‘Messerschmitt country’ and the Me 109 was hardly a stranger to most of the locals. An opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with this particular aircraft was presented to townsfolk when it was exhibited at The Assembly Halls for the benefit of the Spitfire Fund. The aircraft was from 3./JG53 and had been shot down on 17 October 1940 at RAF Manston with its pilot, Oblt Walter Rupp, taken POW. The inevitable gaggle of schoolboys lurks nearby, eager for a much closer look or perhaps a crafty souvenir. The Messerschmitt 109 road-show, with a variety of shot down German aircraft, was a feature of a great many towns and villages the length and breadth of Britain. RAF Maintenance Units, most especially number 49 MU, were kept constantly busy transporting these aircraft around the country.
When Oblt Helmut Rau of 3./JG3 crash-landed his battle damaged Messerschmitt 109 on the foreshore at Shoeburyness after combat with a Spitfire of 603 Squadron on 31 August 1940, it was hauled off the beach and into the depot at the nearby army ranges. Here, it was initially deposited in a yard along with other wrecks including an RAF Blenheim that may be seen in the background of this photograph. It will be noted that this Messerschmitt has been moved intact and, at this stage, without the wings having been removed. Later, during October 1940, the aircraft was exhibited in Bolton and other north-west towns before inevitable scrapping.
This Messerschmitt 109 bellied into a wheat field at Northdown alongside the Margate to Broad-stairs railway line on 24 July 1940, and its pilot, Oblt Werner Bartels of Gruppen Stab.III/JG26, thereby delivered a near perfect aeroplane for exhibition purposes by the RAF. On its belly, the Messerschmitt was first lifted by the 49 MU Coles crane and its undercarriage lowered, before the salvage party posed with their ‘prize’. To avoid detection from the air, the wing and fuselage crosses have been hastily camouflaged with wheat and a large sheet of hessian. A local AFS fireman, Walter Solly, is recorded as having been prosecuted and fined by magistrates for stealing the pilot’s side arm from the cockpit of this Messerschmitt. Later, the aircraft went on an exhibition tour with postcards produced to mark its display in Croydon to raise money for the local Spitfire Fund. These were inscribed: ‘Made In Germany – Finished In England!’ It doubtless struck a chord with the British public at that time.
London’s Guildhall is the venue here for Gefreiter Herbert Rungen’s former mount as his Messerschmitt goes on display to boost the donation of pennies to the Spitfire Fund and here it is being manoeuvred into position by a civilian gang using a heavy crane. Herbert Rungen had made a forced landing at Hastingleigh, near Ashford in Kent on 13 October 1940 after his aircraft was severely damaged in combat with Spitfires. Under the camouflage paint on the fuselage could be discerned the original code letters applied at the factory: B A D Y. Much was made of this, inevitably, for the purposes of some rather childish commentary aimed at morale-boosting at this fund-raising exhibition!
A superb shot of yet more Messerschmitt removals by the men from A.V. Nicholls & Co., this time a long way from home at Barkers Pool, Sheffield, as they prepare another Me 109 for display using the tripod and block-and-tackle arrangement the gangs routinely used for recovery and removal operations. The men had learned by experience the best lifting points and where the centre of gravity was situated on the various aircraft they dealt with. This aircraft had been shot down on 6 September 1940 at Vincents Farm near RAF Manston with Uffz Hans-Georg Schultz captured unharmed. This photograph was taken during October of that year, with 6d being charged for a chance to sit in the cockpit and to be given a photograph of the aircraft – all in aid of the Sheffield Spitfire Fund.
This was a Messerschmitt 109 that was beyond much use as an exhibition piece although, in truth, its crushed, truncated and compressed state would surely have generated a good deal of interest. It is pictured at Spruce Lawns, Elham, Kent on 15 October 1940 after it was said that a bullet from a burst of machine gun fire had detonated its single bomb under the fuselage sending the aircraft down in a shower of pieces and minus its engine and rear fuselage. However the detonation of the bomb by a bullet seems unlikely, and if a 250kg bomb had detonated it is almost certain that the pilot would have been killed instantly and the wreckage far more disintegrated. The centre section has certainly been compressed but, incredibly, Lt Ludwig Lenz was trapped in the cockpit by his legs and found still alive in the wreckage, although he died later that same day in hospital. A group of locally based soldiers are helping themselves to souvenirs against all regulations. A tool kit is in evidence as one soldier chisels the black cross from a wing and the sergeant tries to remove the gun sight from the cockpit.
Even less was left of this Messerschmitt which dived vertically into the South Downs at Falmer, near Brighton on 1 October 1940 and completely disintegrated. No trace was found of its pilot, Uffz Hans Bluder of 4./JG26. Here soldiers scour the fields and pile wreckage in a convenient heap around the smashed engine ready for collection by a 49 MU salvage party. Although right on their doorstep, this seems not to have been a wreck cleared away by the Brighton-based A.V. Nicholls gangers, but the RAF Intelligence Officer noted with some irritation: ‘… the little wreckage had been removed by the military authorities before arrival of a crash inspector and no details can be given.’ Military protocols for dealing with such crashes had clearly been breached, but in truth there would have been very little of any intelligence value to deduce from this shattered wreckage.
Dudley in the West Midlands was the final exhibition venue for this Messerschmitt 109 from the RAF Faygate enemy aircraft ‘stable’. The number 13 on the fuselage gave some resonance with its bad luck connotations but in reality its pilot, Oblt Erwin Daig, had been lucky to survive the war as a POW after being shot down at Storrington, West Sussex on 9 September 1940. He could not have thought he was lucky at the time, but the fact of the matter is that had he not been captured his chances of surviving the rest of the war on perhaps the Eastern Front or Home Defence were probably not very high, such was the attrition rate amongst Luftwaffe fighter pilots as the war progressed. Steadily, and as these Messerschmitts were transported around the country, they were gradually depleted of anything removable and portable by rapacious souvenir hunters. Mostly this was by members of the public although those responsible for the transportation and erection of aircraft for display were doubtless equally guilty!
It was souvenir collection at crash sites, though, that presented the greatest challenge to the authorities and here, in a rather desperate measure, the Army have thrown a barbed wire entanglement around a Messerschmitt 109. The aircraft was a machine of 2./JG27 that had made an emergency landing at Harmans Cross in Dorset on 30 November 1940 after a catastrophic engine failure when several pistons and con-rods penetrated the cooling jacket and the engine immediately seized. Uffz Paul Wacker, who was captured unharmed, had been on a weather reconnaissance flight at the time of his mechanical mishap that resulted in over five years of captivity.
Whilst the Messerschmitt 109 was favoured for exhibition purposes because of its size and relative portability, other types were sometimes hauled around the countryside to show to the British public, and this was a Junkers 88 on display at Primrose Hill, London on 10 October 1940. It was an aircraft of 2./KG77 that had been shot down at Gatwick Race Course (now Gatwick Airport) on 27 September 1940 with one of its crew killed and the other three captured but wounded. The sheer size of bomber aircraft often meant that they were displayed as a fuselage only and without their wings.
This Junkers 88, displayed in Wood Green, attracts a curious crowd as the emergency dinghy is exhibited by soldiers. The British public, it seems, never lost their fascination for downed German aircraft that were hauled around the country by RAF Maintenance Units and the Air Ministry’s civilian contractors.
This Heinkel 111 is on temporary display in the front car park of The Half Moon pub at Hildenborough in Kent, and only a very short distance from where it was shot down on 11 September 1940. Again a civilian lorry has been pressed into service to take the wreck away, and full advantage is being taken of the public interest aroused by the German bomber as soldiers pass around a collecting tin for the Spitfire Fund. Ironically, and just a little over one month later, a Spitfire crashed vertically into the ground at the back of the pub on 27 October killing its pilot, Plt Off Johnny Mather of 66 Squadron. The same civilian salvage gang who had parked this lorry with its Heinkel cargo in the pub forecourt were back there once again to retrieve what few pathetic shards of Spitfire remained. Once again, and turning tragedy into opportunity, the Spitfire Fund collecting tins were brought out.
From Hildenborough, the same Heinkel was taken on to Mitcham Common in Surrey where it again drew crowds and yet more pennies for the coffers of the Spitfire Fund.
Viewing this exhibited Heinkel 111 at Hayes in Middlesex became an outing for the Douglas family who posed for a family photograph by the tail plane.
Another Junkers 88 put on public display was this aircraft of 8./LG1 which was shot down by Spitfires of 611 Squadron after being sighted over Coventry on 13 November 1940 and eventually crashing at Woodway Farm in Blewbury, Berkshire. This was on the very eve of the infamous Coventry raid. Three of the crew of this Ju 88 were taken prisoner while another had already been killed in the fighter attack. The aircraft was eventually exhibited at St Giles, Oxford, where the Mayor of Oxford, Alderman C.J.V. Bellamy, is seen here inspecting the bomber with two of his fellow councillors. This aeroplane, unlike most others, didn’t end up in the Banbury smelters. Instead, the airframe was scheduled for shipment overseas and ended up being exhibited for the Army War Show at Franklin Field, Philadelphia, USA, and at other venues in the States. Its subsequent fate is unknown.
This Junkers 88 was also put on public display, this time as a group of rather self-conscious RAF pilots are ‘posed’ with the wrecked bomber. The aircraft shown here was from 7./KG30 and had been shot down near Bridlington Reservoir on 15 August 1940 with its four crew captured. It is thought that this photograph was taken not far from the crash site, although some months later.
Another somewhat unusual type for a travelling exhibit in Britain was this Messerschmitt 110 which is photographed being unloaded from its 49 MU Queen Mary low-loader trailer for display at Hendon in North West London, and very close to the current location of the Royal Air Force Museum. It was being exhibited to raise funds for the ‘Hendon Four Fighter Fund’, a scheme to purchase four Spitfires by local subscription. The aircraft was shot down on 15 August 1940 after a raid on Croydon Aerodrome by the Me 110s of Erprobungsgruppe 210 and had crash-landed at Hawkhurst in Kent. Like the Junkers 88 exhibited in Oxford, this aircraft also found its way to the USA and ended up being shipped to the Northrop Aviation Company for evaluation. Unfortunately, no original genuine Battle of Britain Messerschmitt 110s now exist anywhere in the world, and this aircraft would have made a wonderful exhibit at the future Hendon museum.
As part of the Hendon fund raising scheme, locals were encouraged to buy one penny ‘savings stamps’ on collecting cards. Once the card was filled in the owner was granted a colourful ‘Stamp of Honour’ in recognition.
The stark reality of a high speed vertical impact by an out of control aircraft is graphically illustrated here. This was all that was left of a Messerschmitt 110 that had been shot down at Borden, near Sittingbourne, Kent on 9 September 1940. Pretty much all that is left can be seen in this photograph, with the rest of the aircraft having been driven deep underground beneath the crater gouged out by the crash. This was what the salvage parties from 49 MU called a ‘Sweep up and leave tidy’ job – in other words, take away the surface wreckage and fill in the crater.
This was a Dornier 17 that had been shot down at Wansunt Road, Bexley on 3 November 1940 for what was, by this stage of the Blitz, an increasingly uncommon event: a solo daylight attack by a Luftwaffe bomber aircraft over the British Isles. The target had been Woolwich. The Dornier was intercepted and shot down by Hurricanes of 46 Squadron after being hit by anti-aircraft fire. Still under some control, a forced-landing was attempted on allotments but crashed and broke up after hitting a tree and a brick wall. One of the crew was killed instantly, but the remaining three died in hospital over the following few days. At this recovery task, bombs were dropped across the site overnight whilst the gang from A.V. Nicholls & Co. were off site. One of the Bramo-Fafnir engines from the bomber was lifted bodily by a bomb blast and thrown onto the Nicholls lorry, completely crushing the cab.
This was the official 49 MU Enemy Aircraft Collection Order issued to A.V. Nicholls & Co. with instructions to remove the remains of the Bexley Dornier and convey to RAF Faygate.
An unusual assignment for the RAF Maintenance Unit salvage parties was for the removal of a number of Italian aircraft shot down over the East Coast when the Italian air force attempted a mass daylight raid on Harwich on 11 November 1940. A number of Fiat CR.42 bi-plane fighters and Fiat BR.20 bombers were shot down, including this Fiat CR.42 which ended up on its nose on a shingle beach at Orfordness and provided a good picture opportunity for a news photographer. This aircraft was removed intact, repaired and test flown by the RAF. Unlike its Me 110 counterpart from Hawkhurst, this aircraft survived the war and actually did end up in the RAF Museum at Hendon.
Another of the Italian raiders that came to grief was this further example of a Fiat CR.42 down at Corton Railway Station near Lowestoft on the same day, although in rather a worse state than the CR.42 at Orfordness. This raid was a complete failure, was costly to the Italian Air Force, and was never repeated.
Yet another of the Italian raiding force was this Fiat BR.20 bomber that came to grief in Rendlesham Forest near Woodbridge, Suffolk. Already badly smashed, the only way to extricate this bomber was for the RAF salvage party to further break it up and drag it from the trees. Already souvenir hunters have been to work and cut out the emblems at the top of the white crosses on the rudders.
At some stage after the arrival of these Italian aircraft LAC Grey, an airman with an RAF Maintenance Unit salvage party, penned this ‘Salvage Man’s Song’ and had the short ditty published to raise funds for the RAF Benevolent Fund. A clue as to the date lies in reference to Italian aircraft, and the words reflect the wry humour of the salvage crews as they faced their often thankless and arduous tasks. Most of the scenarios Grey mentions in these verses have been more than extensively covered in the photo content of this book and will be recognised by readers.
Another unusual aircraft type was this RAF Martin Maryland medium bomber of the Overseas Air Movement Control Unit from RAF Kemble which stalled on take-off from RAF Tangmere on 25 February 1941 and is photographed here as a salvage party from RAF Faygate’s 49 MU get to work on its removal. Flying Officer R.J.S. Wooton and his crew escaped, although one of them was injured.
A relatively unusual Luftwaffe aircraft type to be brought down over England was the Dornier 215. This example was shot down at Eaton Socon in Bedfordshire on 24 October 1940 and is being guarded by a War Reserve Constable before inspection by an RAF Intelligence Officer. As the Blitz gathered momentum after 7 September 1940, so the scale of downed fighters decreased, and the majority of Luftwaffe aircraft that were being destroyed became bombers.
Another Dornier, but this time a Dornier 17, was shattered when it met its demise at Boconnoc Estate near Lostwithiel in Cornwall on 9 November 1940 killing all four crew. Hitting the ground at a shallow angle the aircraft careered into woodland and exploded, leaving little for this fed-up looking RAF airman to guard or for the Maintenance Unit salvage parties to later clear up. Usually the recovery gangs cleared debris away with a remarkable thoroughness, although in this instance a group of enthusiasts, searching forty years later for scattered parts of the Dornier, found three unexploded 50kg bombs in the undergrowth.
With the number of Spitfires being collected by 49 MU it would seem that every penny raised for the Spitfire Fund would have been much needed. Here, Sgt Cyril Babbage’s 602 Squadron Spitfire has come a cropper during a wheels-down emergency landing at Iford Hill near Lewes, East Sussex on 12 October 1940. Having run through a hedge, the Spitfire flipped onto its back after the wheels hit a small ditch. Although quite badly damaged, the aircraft was repairable.
Perhaps faring a little worse was this Spitfire of 66 Squadron (X4255) that had been hit by British anti-aircraft fire over the South Coast on 11 October 1940, forcing Pilot Officer H.R. ‘Dizzy’ Allen to execute an emergency landing at RAF Hawkinge. The aircraft ran through the perimeter fence and barbed-wire, ending up looking rather the worse for wear and with its pilot suffering from concussion. Remarkably, and despite the extensive damage shown here, the aircraft was repaired and returned to service with 53 Operational Training Unit although fate once again took a hand when an engine failure resulted in another forced landing, near Llantwit Major in Wales on 15 June 1942. This time the Spitfire was written off after running through a hedge.
Safely onto its Queen Mary trailer, ‘Dizzy’ Allen’s Spitfire is headed for a repair depot, via 49 MU at Faygate, as two of the salvage party strike the almost obligatory pose with their latest ‘job’. The truck’s identity plate clearly indicates that the vehicle is on the inventory of 49 Maintenance Unit.
A bandaged Flt Lt Geoffrey Matheson of 222 Squadron surveys the burnt-out remnants of his Spitfire after he had crash-landed near the Sittingbourne Paper Mills on 30 August 1940. The aircraft has exploded shortly after Matheson got the battle-damaged Spitfire on the ground and he was lucky to escape with relatively minor wounds.
This Spitfire of 92 Squadron had come to grief after crashing into one of the buildings at RAF Biggin Hill and it became another routine wreck collection job for the teams from RAF Faygate. Not every aircraft loss during wartime was directly related to war operations or combat; many crashes had been the result of pilot error, mechanical failure, the weather or through navigational mistakes.
Seemingly in rather better condition is this Hurricane at RAF Biggin Hill as LAC Don Booth’s salvage party from 49 MU, RAF Faygate, prepare to dismantle and remove it from the airfield. Booth is second left, wearing the tin helmet. He had obviously heard about the frequent air attacks to which Biggin Hill had been subjected! Almost certainly the Hurricane shown here was being removed for repair prior to a likely return to service.
Into the Blitz, and Luftwaffe bomber aircraft continued to fall the length and breadth of the British Isles. Often they were in the most inaccessible of locations. Here, for example, a Heinkel 111 was shot down into the Thames Estuary on the night of 15/16 January 1941 off Canvey Island. It has been ‘caught’ by a port authority vessel and is slowly being edged ashore for examination by RAF Intelligence Officers and eventual scrapping. Aircraft that were lost at sea were rarely recovered, or recoverable.
Posing equally challenging salvage problems was this Junkers 88 that had plummeted into marshland at Banks Marsh, Southport, Lancashire, on the night of 7/8 April 1941. Two of the crew had baled out and were taken prisoner, whilst the remaining two were killed in the crash. Here an RAF Crash Inspector from an RAF Maintenance Unit examines the tail unit and ponders how, or if, it might be recovered. Abandonment due to impracticalities of recovery was often the only option and a great deal of wreckage was abandoned to the marshes in this instance.
Another tail unit, but this time from a Blenheim that has crashed and burned out near RAF Manston, Kent. The 49 MU salvage party again pose for the customary group photograph before the wreckage is loaded up for return to Faygate. This was not a wreck that could be repaired or returned to service and was described as ‘Category 3’ damage – i.e. written-off.
And again, on that same theme of aircraft tail units, another one is inspected at its crash site at Vaasetter on Fair Isle in the Shetlands. The aircraft is a Heinkel 111 of a weather reconnaissance unit that had crashed there on 18 January 1941. Recovery was deemed impossible and the wreck was still in situ at least until very recent years. When this photograph was taken, not too long after the crash, islanders have already stripped sheets of alloy from the wreck – this was probably not for souvenirs but more likely to be for some practical use, perhaps in the repair of roofs and outhouses in this meteorologically inhospitable place.
Less challenging than the Southport wreck was a Junkers 88 shot down at Poling, West Sussex on 24 March 1941. In this shot, it is still burning shortly after crashing at Parsons Farm but the bomber was swiftly removed to RAF Faygate not very many miles away from the crash site. Perhaps because a fresh supply of German aircraft wrecks was rather drying up this Junkers was earmarked for display purposes.
This is the very same Junkers 88 some months later after being transported to the Corn Exchange, Brighton, for a War Weapons Exhibition. Although on an RAF Queen Mary, Mr Arthur Nicholls of A.V. Nicholls & Co. greets the wreck in his capacity as Mayor of Brighton and stands in his homburg hat flanked by two RAF airmen. By this stage of the war his company was no longer involved in wreck recovery, the task having been taken over by the establishment of 86 Maintenance Unit at Sundridge. This must have seemed like a busman’s holiday for Arthur Nicholls.
Rather more beaten up was this Luftwaffe Blitz victim, a Junkers 88 that had crashed and exploded on Moore’s Garage, Ringwood Road, Poole on 14 November after being shot down by Spitfires of 152 Squadron. Mangled wreckage and an engine can be seen here, mixed in with rubble and debris from the demolished garage. The clear up process has already begun, but the German bomber has almost totally disintegrated in the impact and subsequent fire.
Also in Dorset, and just down the coast, on 22 May 1941, this He 111 H-8 of 4./KG27 (1GzZM, W.Nr 3974) hit the top of a mist covered hill during a sortie to Yeovil, Somerset, and crashed at Chideock Farm, Chaldon Herring at 21.04 hours. One 500kg and two 250kg bombs were still on board. Oblt F. Bartels, Ofw H. Hahn, and Ofw H. Grimmel all landed safely with the aircraft, but Ofw H. Funk and Gefr K. Kohler baled out too low and both were killed. The aircraft was removed to Royal Aircraft Establishment Farnborough for detailed examination of the balloon fender which, at a weight of 550lbs, proved too cumbersome for operational use and the remaining thirty or so H-3 and H-5 aircraft that had been modified to the H-8 were eventually stripped of the fender and re-designated He 111 H-8/R2 glider tugs. Also shown is the same unusual aircraft after partial dismantling by the RAF salvage party, a photograph taken sneakily (and illegally) past the sentry’s rifle by a private photographer!
Although the ‘Messerschmitt 109 harvest’ from the previous summer and autumn had slowed, a few examples of the type continued to fall over Britain during the winter of 1940 and into the early part of 1941. Here, a novel means of extracting Lt Otto Zauner’s aircraft of II./JG53 is found by a 49 Maintenance Unit salvage party as two cart horses are harnessed to the fuselage in what is a classic photograph from the period. Zauner had had a lucky escape in this crash on 23 November 1940 when his stricken Messerschmitt narrowly passed under power cables near Smeeth Railway Station in Kent and then careered on through some trees where it smashed off both wings before coming to rest, with a shaken but unharmed Otto Zauner still in the cockpit.
Another Luftwaffe Blitz loss was this Heinkel 111 of 9./KG26 that broke up in mid-air after being attacked by a Defiant night fighter at Bendish, near Hitchin in Hertfordshire on the night of 8/9 April 1941. Three of the crew managed to bale out safely, but a fourth was killed. Here, three soldiers guard the broken wing tip of the Heinkel which has very comprehensively reduced itself to scrap. What little else was left was also badly broken up and burnt. Yet more alloy for the smelters and eventual raw material for the British Ministry of Aircraft Production.
By the Spring of 1941 a new Maintenance Unit, Number 86, was fully established at Sundridge, near Sevenoaks in Kent, to help deal with the litter of aircraft wrecks across southern England, and its formation resulted in the stand-down of Air Ministry civilian contractors like A.V. Nicholls & Co. Here, an unidentified RAF airman poses with a smashed wing section outside one of the huts at the 86 MU site of RAF Sundridge, Kent, during the early part of 1941.
There can be little or no doubt that the bizarre arrival in Scotland of Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess, in a Messerschmitt 110 on 10 May 1941 presented the RAF Maintenance Units with their most unusual and high-profile job as they collected the pieces of smashed wreckage from the crash site on Bonnyton Moor, Eaglesham, a few miles south-west of Glasgow. Here, the wreckage is scattered across a meadow at Floor Farm.
Later, the jumbled wreckage was deposited at a nearby railway goods yard and comes under scrutiny from two RAF officers and an officer from a Scottish regiment.
Two of the RAF salvage party are photographed with three of the MG 17 machine guns from Rudolf Hess’s Messerschmitt 110 in a specially posed ‘H for Hess’ arrangement, a picture that was reproduced in many newspapers and journals of the period.
Finally the wreckage was piled onto a Queen Mary trailer and moved down to Southern England where it was initially exhibited as shown here. The fuselage and engines were preserved for museum display and today comprise a major Imperial War Museum exhibit.
This photograph shows one of the RAF’s Intelligence Officers at work, as Flight Lieutenant Michael Golovine inspects what is left of a Junkers 88 shot down on 20 November 1940 at Stocks Lane, East Wittering, West Sussex. Golovine noted bullet and cannon strikes in the wreckage, and one of those holes is visible in the spar just below and to the left of his right hand. A schoolboy stands fascinated by the spectacle and a water-filled crater, off to the right, hides the buried wreckage of most of the bomber. Again, very little for 49 MU to cart away.
This slightly older schoolboy, meanwhile, is no doubt wondering if he can sneak off with this trophy before the men of 49 Maintenance Unit arrive from RAF Faygate. He is examining the aircraft’s tail wheel assembly, but unfortunately he needs to find something rather smaller to fit in his coat pocket!
Another job for RAF Intelligence Officers as they survey the wreckage of a Dornier 17–Z of 2./Kustenfliegergruppe 606 that had taken off from its base near Brest to attack Liverpool on 16 October 1940. It is believed that the aircraft lost its bearings and ran out fuel before crashing at Masbury Ring near Wells in Somerset at around 23.55 hours. However the wreck was not found until mid-day on 17 October, the bodies of the four crew and ten 50kg bombs being scattered amongst the widely dispersed wreckage. Here, one RAF officer takes notes as another peers at an engine. When their job was finished, the intelligence experts could ‘release’ the wreckage for removal.
When Pilot Officer Armstrong of 74 Squadron was shot down in his Spitfire over Sandwich, Kent on 14 November 1940 he baled out leaving his aircraft to bury itself deep in the ground at Bellers Bush Farm where it became another job for the boys from A.V. Nicholls & Co. Here, Jack Austin burrows deep into the soil as the gang dig down to the engine which they reached at fourteen feet but were unable to extricate it from the soft ground and were forced to abandon it.
It was not until October 2011 that the engine was finally dug out as part of a series of military history wreck-recovery programmes for the Discovery History Channel. Here, the Rolls Royce Merlin engine that the Nicholls gang were forced to abandon is finally brought up.
Whilst the numbers of Messerschmitt 109 being brought down over the UK had drastically diminished by the early part of 1941 due to the cessation of fighter-escorted bomber raids, an exception was the arrival of this one in July 1941. In fact this was the very first example captured intact by the RAF of the Messerschmitt 109-F variant, and was an extremely valuable prize. The aircraft had been hit in the radiator over the English Channel and disabled. The pilot, a leading Luftwaffe ace, Hptm Rolf Pingel, made a forced landing and was taken prisoner before he could destroy his aircraft. Here it is shown being lifted from its crash location at St Margaret’s Bay, near Dover, by the men from 49 MU and their trusty Coles crane after the Messerschmitt’s arrival there on 10 July 1941.
In this photograph, the Messerschmitt 109-F is seen at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, where it underwent repairs and was test flown by the RAF in British camouflage and marking, although it ultimately crashed near Fowlmere, Cambridgeshire whilst being tested, which resulted in the death of its Polish pilot. It was thought that the cause of the fatal crash was carbon monoxide poisoning caused by leakage into the cockpit of exhaust gasses.
Finds like this German Junkers Jumo aero engine are sometimes pulled up in trawl nets. This example was brought ashore at Hastings during the late 1960s.
And this was a Messerschmitt 109 that had been shot down on 7 October 1940 being pulled out of the sea by the Brenzett Aeronautical Museum during the 1970s. Notwithstanding the sterling efforts of the military and civilian crash salvage parties during the war years it is inevitable that aircraft wrecks they left behind will still be found for many years yet, especially inaccessible crashes such as these in coastal waters.