Thursday, 18 July 2013
Activity Week 2013
Normally, at this time of the academic year, I get the chance to run a Warhammer 40K activity week for a group of students, during which I get to paint up some figures and shift some lead. However, this year I've been re-allocated to a different activity as I have some Open Country and First Aid qualifications that were in short supply.
As a result, I've spent the last four days on a Geo-caching activity which has involved some very enjoyable if rather hot walks through the countryside in search of little plastic boxes, aided by some unfit teenagers and a GPS device. It's been quite pleasant but a little frustrating, as my idea of a decent pace don't quite match up to the expectations of the sprogs.
However, today we came across a very interesting memorial on the old Roman road from Winchester to Salisbury. It's dedicated to the crew of a Ju 88 which crashed near a local village in August 1940, after being shot down by two Spitfires of No234 Squadron based at Middle Wallop. It's a really poignant story and one which I wasn't fully aware of until I googled it this afternoon for some more information.
( ... ) About the memorial stone to four unknown German airmen, which lies on the Roman Road south of King's Somborne. Walkers on the old road stop to read the inscription. Strangely, the German plane did not crash at this spot, nor did it crash on the 23rd August 1940 as stated on the stone. Using both British and German sources, here is the story behind the stone as far as I am able to put it together. Tantalisingly, some parts of the story are still missing.
The four "unknown" German airmen were:
Ogefr. Gerhard Freude - pilot
Oblt. Max Birkenstock - observer (Oblt. Dankward Birkenstock*)
Uffz. Rudolf Schulze - radio observer
Gefr. Franz Becker - gunner
They were the crew of a Junker 88 that was part of Staffel I of Kampfgeschwader 54, then based at Evreux west of Paris. This squadron, known by the nickname "Totenkopf" (Death's Head), was part of Luftflotte 3, under the command of Hugo Sperrle. On the 21st August, five Ju.88s of Staffel I and seven Ju.88s of Staffel II, took off from Evreux between 12.48 and 14.32. The target for Staffel II was the Supermarine Aviation factory at Woolston, while the target for Staffel I was the air-field at Brize Norton. However, due to bad weather conditions, they made for their secondary target of Abingdon, which, according to German records they attacked "with good effect", and it was on the return from this mission that the plane, which was to crash at King's Somborne, was intercepted somewhere near Newbury, by not one, but two Spitfires of 234 Squadron based at Middle Wallop.
Three Spitfires of A Flight had scrambled at 13.20. They had already been scrambled earlier that morning. In Red 1 was Squ. Leader J. O'Brien, Red 2 was piloted by Ft. Lt. C.L. Page and Red 3 by P/off. R. Doe. Squadron 234 had only arrived at Middle Wallop between the 13th and 15th August.
Although the German plane tried to utilize cloud cover as much as possible, it had little chance against the combined efforts of O'Brien and Doe. In their Combat reports, both pilots claimed that they had closed in on the German plane at distances from 50 to 30 yards. Squ. leader O'Brien also reported that by the time they closed in for the final attack, all answering fire from the Ju.88 had ceased. This, together with bloodstained bandages on the ground, gives credence to the idea that the crew were probably dead before the plane, losing height and speed, hit the ground at a low angle. The plane crashed just north of the village near the Stockbridge Road.
The Official Squadron Report states, "One interception, scramble by 3 aircraft. A Ju.88 shot down by Squ. Leader O'Brien and P/O Doe."