Aerial Warfare Over Rye and Environs During World War II
By Barry Floyd
My sister and I were evacuees from London at the outbreak of the war, on 3 September 1939, and were accepted as pupils at Rye Grammar School by the Headmaster, Mr. Jacobs. That first hard winter – – there were very heavy snow falls in January 1940 and East Kent buses were unable to reach Winchelsea Beach for many days – – was a phoney one so far as military activities over East Sussex and Kent were concerned. The situation changed dramatically by the summer, with the fall of France and a threatened German invasion of England.
By this time however, my sister and I had become so homesick that we had persuaded our parents to allow us to return to our home in North London. We did so in time to witness the Battle of Britain dog fights over the city and later to experience nightly bombing by the Luftwaffe during the so-called “Blitz”. Buildings all around my new school in Chancery Lane, Central London, were badly damaged, while “tube” lines were also affected. My tuition continued via correspondence lessons up to the School Certificate exams.
Vowing vengeance against the Luftwaffe I was keen, at 16, to join the Air Training Corps. I later trained as a navigator with the Royal Air Force in South Africa and saw service with Bomber Command in the Middle East and S.E Asia towards the end of WWII.
Thus, from 1941-45, I was far removed from the German aerial attacks on military installations and indiscriminate civilian targets in East Sussex and Kent. However I was keen to learn about these after the war was over. Since retiring to live again in this area, my interest in local airborne conflicts has been rekindled. I am grateful to a new friend in the Royal Air Force Association (Rye and Northiam) — Bill Fairbrother – – for providing me with detailed records of some of the eye-witness events, some distressing, but others heartening, from those challenging wartime days. He acquired the records from the Robertsbridge Aeronautical Society and Brenzett Museum. While the printouts are not always clear I hope I have interpreted the data correctly.
A selection of combat events now follows, in punctuated date order, in the hope that readers can appreciate anew the heroism and sacrifices made by allied aircrews in the flight against Nazism.
September 1940: German Casualties
A Dornier 17 bomber crash landed near a farm in Guestling. There was no fire although the aircraft broke in half. Of the crew of four, the pilot was unhurt, two were injured while the forth apparently bailed out over the Channel and was drowned.
A Heinkell 111, having been disabled by anti-aircraft fire over London, and then attacked by RAF fighters, crash landed at Broomhill Farm. The crew set fire to the plane before surrendering to Royal Irish Fusiliers. The injured were taken to Rye hopsital.
A Messerschmitt 109 fighter was forced to land one mile east of Camber Farm. One wing tip was buckled and the undercarriage damaged. The pilot Uffz. K.H. Bock was captured unhurt.
Another Messerschmitt with a red painted nose cone, damaged in combat, was forced to land near the cricket pavilion in Peasmarsh. The pilot, Uffz. Hamer, was slightly injured and taken to Benenden military hospital.
September 1940: British Casualties
Squadron Leader G.L. Denholm, pilot of a Spitfire, had his aircraft hit by return fire from a Dornier 17. Uninjured, he was forced to bale out. The plane crashed on top of the cliffs on Warren Farm, Fairlight, bouncing over the cliffs to land in the sea.
Another Spitfire pilot, Flight-Sergeant Whipps, was shot down in aerial combat with a Messerschmitt 109s. He too baled out, unhurt; the plane crashed near Farthings Bridge, Peasmarsh.
A Hurricane, pilated by Flight Lieutenant George Sheddon had successfully shot down a Dornier 17 when his aircraft was strafed by another Luftwaffe plane and he was forced to leave by parachute. He injured his right arm and was taken to Rye Hospital. The Hurricane crashed at Church Field, Udimore Marshes, and was destroyed by fire.
October 1940; German Casualties
A Messerschmitt 109 was shot down by fighters of RAF Squadron 501. The pilot, Fw Koslowski, baled out badly injured and was taken prisoner. His aircraft crashed at Lidham Hill Farm, Guestling.
Another Messerschmitt, severely damaged by RAF fighter craft while escorting bombers en route to London, dived into the sea from some 23,000 feet four miles east of Hastings. The pilot Fhr. Muller escaped unhurt from his plane and was rescued from off short by Hastings Lifeboat.
A Junkers 88 fighter bomber was shot down by Hurricanes of 603 Squadron. It crashed into Rye Bay, 4 miles off Camber. All four crew members were drowned.
October 1940; British Casualties
A Hurricane from 145 Squadron was shot down in combat over Hastings. The pilot, Sergeant Thorpe was injured but managed to bale out. His plane crashed in Blackbrooke Wood, Guestling.
Two Spitfires from 603 Squadron were shot down by attacking Me 109s in the Hastings area. Pilot Officer Oliver, while wounded, escaped his aircraft as did his colleague Pilot Officer Martel, who was unhurt. The planes crashed in the vicinity of Pickdick Farm, Brede.
November 1940; German Casualties
An Me 109, shot down after combat over the Maidstone area, crashed between Rye and Camber. The pilot Fw. Rosen was killed.
Another Me 109 crashed near Camber after interception by the RAF The pilot Gefr. Werder Heinborn was also killed.
Yet another Me 109 was damaged on RAF Squadron 19 fighter and forced to crash land in the garden of Stocks Cotts, Main Road, Udimore. The pilot, taken as a P.O.W,. was Uffz. Heinz Wolf. The aircraft was recovered and used for wartime fund raising.
First sighted at 23,000 feet, along with six other Me 109s, a plane piloted by Oblt Josef Volk was pursued by fighters from RAF Squadrons 253 and 605. The action took place over Rochester and Volk was finally obliged to bale out, later to be taken prisoner. His aircraft crashed 400 yeards west of Blackwall Bridge, Peasmarsh.
December 1940: British Casualties.
A Blenheim bomber, returning from an attack on Mannheim in Germany, was badly damaged; it sent out an S.O.S. and a wireless fix and course to steer home were transmitted to the navigator. Tragically the aircraft crashed at Fairlight and burnt out. All three crew members were killed.
A Wellington bomber (in which craft I served a navigator) was also sent to attack Mannheim, En route home it ran low on fuel and crash-landed in a meadow between the River Rother and the railway line. Military Road, East Guildford. The entire crew; pilot Officer Hodgeson and Sergeants Muller, Rose, Spencer, Watkins and Wheble survived the crash.
A Hurricane from 601 Squadron Northolt, having shot down an Me 109, was damaged in further combat. The pilot Squadron Leader O’Neill baled out, wounded in the leg, and was rescued from the sea off Winchelsea.
February 1941: British Casualities
Three Spitfires of 610 Squadron left Tangmere to engage ten Me 109s near Dungeness. One of the aircraft experienced engine failure, perhaps due to enemy action and was forced to land 400 yards north of Carters beach Works, Rye. P/O F.E.I Grey was injured.
June 1941: German Casualties
A Heinkel 111, intending to bomb Chatham docks, was intercepted by F/Lt J. Tipham in a Beaufighter of 219 Squadron. It crash landed at Lower Snailham, Guestling and the crew of four became P.O.W.s.
August 1941: British Casualties.
An RAF Blenheim left Manston with five other aircraft to attack a shell factory in France. It was hit by flak and badly damaged, before receiving further damage from an enemy fighter. The plane managed to return across the Channel but crash-landed S.E. of Tollgate Cottage, East Guldeford. Two of the crew survived but the gunner was killed.
October 1941: German Casualties
A Dornier 217 bomber, on reconnaissance over the Atlantic, was lured to England through a false direction beacon, imitating German bearing signals to confuse the navigator. Low on fuel, and thinking they were over France, the crew force landed at Jurys Gap, making no attempt to destroy their aircraft. The crew were unhurt and taken prisoner. prOblt.G. Dolenga, Uffz. W. Trompeter, Uffz, W. Sink and Uffz. K. Friederich. This was the first chance the RAF had of examining a Do 217 and it was taken to Farnborough.
April 1942: British Casualty
A Spitfire, returning from a reconnaissance sortie over Calais, dived into the ground 800 yards west of Winchelsea railway station. Pilot Officer Charles Bertram Barber was killed.
October 1942: British Casualties.
A Beaufighter from 29 Squadron, West Malling, was shot down by anti-aircraft fire (so called friendly fire), three quarters of a mile south of Watlands Farm, Udimore. Sgts. Akestan and Wright were killed. Three months later a similar event took place, when another Beaufighter was hit by an A.A. battery. F/Lt Cook and F/Sgt. Warner baled out and were uninjured. Their plane crashed close to Doleham Station.
November 1942: German Casualties.
A Focke Wulf 190, in company of other Luftwaffe aircraft, attacked Ashford town centre. It then fired upon a train, the locomotive of which exploded. The FW 190 was caught in the explosion and crashed along the line, three quaters of a mile from Lydd. The pilot, Ofw. H. Bierwith was killed. Amazingly, the driver of the train, Mr. C. Gilbert, and his fireman, Mr Hills, escaped uninjured.
January 1943: German Casualties.
A Dornier 217, engaged in mine-laying in Rye Bay, crashed into the cliffs at Firehills, Fairlight. Houses within a rasius of 500 yards were severely damaged and 75 people evacuated. One survivng mine was defused. The crew of four were all killed.
An FW 190 was shot down by Bren Machine gunners of 230 Coastal Battery. The pilot Uffz Herbert escaped but his body later washed up near Littlestone. The plane crashed SSW of Hoggs Hill, near Icklesham.
March 1943: British Casualties
Spitfires from 403 Squadron were assigned to escort 70 USAAF Boeing 17s (Flying Fortresses) in a raid on Amiens. American aviators suffered losses in this subsuquent months. After running out of fuel, ditching and crash landings – – mainly along the south coast – – were common. Two Spitfires also got into difficulty. One was obliged to land near Dungeness. A second, piloted by Sgt M. E. Morrow (oh his first sweep), crash landed 200 yards north of Winchelsea railway station. He had manoeuvred his plane under high-tension wires, then over a road and a ditch before hitting trees. The wings and tail were ripped off but Murrow emerged unhurt!
September 1943: American Casualties.
Twelve losses of Flying Fortresse were recorded in September, with all 118 crew members remarkably being rescued. One B-17 (named “Connecticut Yankee”) was forced to land in flooded marshland at Pett Level. Most of the crew of had bailed out before the landing, but the pilot, 2nd Lieut. G. Peegram, brought the giant aircraft down safely. All escaped injury.
A Lockheed Ventura aircraft of 21 Squadron, presumably damaged on operations over Boulogne, was forced to land after successfully negotiating the Channel. It set down at Oxenbridge Farm, Peasmarsh but caught fire and burned. The crew of four; Sgts. J. Cannock, R. Paouette, N. Smith and H. Tuck escaped with slightly injuries.
December 1943: German Casualties.
A Messerschmitt 110 was severely damaged by P/O D.N. Robinson and F/O .T.W. Clarke, flying an R.A.F Mosquito. It crashed in flames at Common Field, Broomhill Farm, Iden. The pilot, Heinz Bach, was killed, the gunner Michael Strassar was seriously injured, with broken legs. He was taken to 105 Military Hospital, Benenden.
March 1944: British Casualties
RAF Typhoon fighters escorted B-25 Michell bombers in raids on V-1 (Flying Bomb “Doodle Bug”) launching sites in Northern France. Two of the Typhoons collided while taxing for take-off and a third returned to base early with engine trouble. A replacement aircraft, with P/O Riscoe in control, also suffered engine failure and crash-landed at Brede waterworks. The pilot was unhurt .
May 1944: British Casualty
Another Typoon, from 164 Squadron Thorney Island, was damaged in action and forced to land in Merricks Field, Manor Farm. Ickelsham. The pilot sustained injuries.
June 1944: British and American Casualties
A Tempest fighter from 486 Squadron, engaged in the dodgy business of chasing a V-1 — trying to destroy it in the air before it went to ground and exploded — succeeded in hitting its target. It blew up, but damaged the chasing Tempest: forcing it to land at Oilyers Farm, East Guldeford. Pilot Office Lawless escaped injury.
A Mustang from 382nd Fighter Squadron, 9th Air Force, based at Staplehurst, got into difficulties and the injured pilot baled out. He was taken to the Royal East Sussex Hospital; his aircraft crashed at Kings Bank, Beckley.
A B-24 Liberator from 4th Bomb Squadron, 34th Bomb Group was abandoned for unrecorded reasons. The crew of 10 baled out and landed in Kent, one airman injured. The aircraft crashed at Wallhouse Farm, Broomhill, Camber.
July 1944: British Casuality
Again in the hazardous task of tracking and destorying airborne V-1s another Tempest was lost. It may have been damaged by the exploding rocket or sadly, have been hit by an anti-aircraft barrage which was also intent on bringing down the V-1.
Sufficient incidents have been recorded in this article to enable readers to appreciate the enormous debt owing to wartime airmen of the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Corps. The aerial campaigns over East Kent and Sussex in the key years 1940-1944 strengthened the Allied resolve to challenge and ultimately to defeat the power of the Luftwaffe and the Nazi war machine. “Per Ardua ad Astra”.
“Rye’s Own” January 2009 (Hard Copy Back Numbers Still Available)
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