Stansted Messerschmitt Crash

The following is a summary of an investigation into the crash on 31st August 1940 of a German aircraft behind St Mary’s Church, Stansted. Mark Charnley, formerly a pupil of Stansted School carried out the project in 1977 when he was aged 13. Additional information has also been added to this version by Society members Mike Goddings and Dick Hogbin.

Note: The original transcript together with additional research can be found in the ‘Publications’ Section

Introduction
Several years ago my father arrived back home from a walk in the fields around my house with a metal cartridge, though well tarnished there was just visible on its base the lettering “20 mm 1940”. It had obviously come from an aircraft probably a Spitfire or a Hurricane. It surprised me that relics of a war fought many years ago were still to be found in the fields of Kent. I became interested in locating aeroplane crash sites and the history of an air battle fought over the skies of southern England in which many young men lost their lives, Germans and Britons alike; ‘The Battle of Britain’.

Several planes came down in the Parish, including two Spitfires (who collided), a Liberator bomber that ran out of fuel and a Hurricane which was shot down. Two more airmen, both German, came down by parachute. One, Unteroffizier K. Hausburg, was dead on landing in my account of “The One Behind the Church’.

My search for relics had not advanced very far (except for the throttle arm from one of the Spitfires) but one day I was given by some elderly sisters living in the village a piece of ‘The One Behind the Church’. It was then I decided to find more out about this solitary German aircraft.

Editor’s Note: The ‘elderly sister’ were the late Firebrace sisters who lived in the White Cottage in Plaxdale Green Road.

When I first started my research I thought I would be able to find one person who could tell me the whole story, that was a big mistake. Everybody had a different story to tell and my dreams of the whole story were slipping rapidly away. I then decided to put all the stories together and see if I could throw any light on the situation, this is what my project is all about. I have at the end been able to write to my version of what happened, hopefully, the truth (taking the facts from the interviews and other conversations).

When I visited the people that I was going to interview I took a notebook and a pencil, scribbling notes down as they talked. The notes are not exactly what they said but reflect the essence of what the interviewees recalled.

Interviews
The oldest man in the village, a retired farm worker, Mr. Bowyer has lived all his life in Stansted. He now lives in the Almshouses in Tumblefield Road but at the time of the crash he lived on the Plaxdale Green Road. He was a member of the fire section of the Home Guard.

Editor’s Note: This is almost certain to be Thomas E. Bowyer who was born on 3rd February 1892. The 1939 Register has him living at Lucketts Bungalow in Plaxdale Green Road. His occupation was Builders Labourer and he was a Demolitions and Rescue Air Raid Precautions Warden in the Home Guard.

A crashed Messerschmitt (For illustration purposes)

The aircraft crashed on a Saturday afternoon. It circled around and landed near the swimming pool. Its guns were pointing at Court Lodge. Mr. Bowyer was living near Brown’s haulage yard. It came down at lunchtime. Mr. Bowyer was a member of the fire section of the Home Guard. He got up from lunch to go and see the plane. It came right over the top of the cottages, still fairly high. People at Wrotham had seen it losing height. The RAF arrived from digging up a Hurricane at a nearby farm. The pilot had told Mr. Hohler “not to get the wind up” and handed him his gun. The pilot said that he did not have to land; the plane had belly-landed. The pilot had left when Mr. Bowyer arrived. He did not see the rear gunner. The Home Guard left as Mr. Bowyer arrived. The guns of the plane were loaded and cocked. The RAF dealt with the guns. The rear gunner was badly hurt.

In his 70s, Mr. Pasteur is a retired company director and now lives, and was living during the war, in Fairseat, a neighbouring village to Stansted. He served in the Royal Artillery in the First World War and was the captain and commanding officer of the Home Guard during the Second World War.

Editor’s Note: This is almost certain to be Hugh W. Pasteur who was born on 21 February 1899. The 1939 Register has him living at Fairseat House, Fairseat. His occupation was Refrigerating Engineer and Export manager at J&E Hall, Dartford. He was a part-time stretcher-bearer in the ARP.

It was a Saturday or Sunday. The plane was facing the Unwin’s house (Court Lodge). Mr. Pasteur was in his house and went down by car.  The police were there already and then the Home Guard arrived. The guns of the plane were loaded and pointing at the road. The RAF came and dealt with the guns. A rope ring was put around the plane. Mr. Hohler saw it land; he was in the swimming pool. When Mr. Pasteur arrived there were several Home Guard people there already. Someone in the army turned up with a few men.

The RAF then arrived and took over from the Army. People poured in from all over to see the plane. Mr. Hohler found a bottle of wine and sandwiches in the cockpit of the plane. Mr. Pasteur saw the ambulance going up Fairseat Hill. The pilot was not near the plane so Mr. Pasteur thought he must have gone with the gunner who was wounded in the ambulance. The plane stayed 24 hours before being removed by the RAF. The first Home Guard man on the scene was Mr. Forester. That plane had belly-landed and the cockpit was eye-level high. There was not much blood in the cockpit if any.

A retired builder in his 70s. Mr. Hills has lived in the village of Stansted all his life. He now lives in Parsons Lane but during the war, he lived in School Lane. He was a member of the Home Guard.

Editor’s Note: This is almost certain to be Joseph H. Hills who was born on 30 July 1897. The 1939 Register has him living in Martin Hill Cottages, Malthouse Road. His occupation was Builder, Lorry Driver, Carpenter and he was a Demolition Warden in the ARP.

Mr. Hills was living in a cottage along School Lane (end one in the line). He was indoors at the time and heard the plane coming down. The pilot of the plane handed his gun to Mr. Tindwell, a friend of Mr. Hohler (the heir to Court Lodge). Mr. Hills arrived five minutes later; there were about six people there already. The pilot stood with a group of men. One man carried a shotgun; he had come from the farm cottages. The pilot was wearing leather overalls and a flying helmet. The wounded rear-gunner was hauled out of the cockpit by men standing on the wings. He was laid out on the ground and attended to by a woman. An ambulance arrived and took the observer away; the pilot was probably with him. The plane was dark green. The RAF took the pilot away. The Police arrived, then the RAF. Mr. Hills got onto the wing and looked into the cockpit. There were several bullet holes in the Perspex canopy and the holes were smeared with blood. There was not much blood in the actual cockpit. The aeroplane stayed two weeks before the RAF came and dismantled it and took it away. The propeller blades weren’t bent. The plane had made a belly-landing. The RAF soldiers began breaking things off the plane and selling them to the people who had come to see it. They sold the records to Mr. Tidewell. Mr. Tidewell found a bottle of wine and some sandwiches in the cockpit. The RAF came and took the guns away. The plane was close up to the swimming pool. The observer was also attended by a doctor from Meopham. The doctor later said; ”It’s all up for him; his brains are in his flying helmet”. The observer’s head was covered in blood when Home Guard men and other villagers lifted him from the plane. The plane came down in August and was facing the farm cottages.

A lecturer in engineering at a Polytechnic. Mr. Marchant also runs a pig farm. He has lived all his life in Stansted and in the same house in Parsons Lane. At the time of the crash he was a schoolboy.

Editor’s Note: This is Stan Marchant, who with his brothers Jeff and John was evacuated to live with their Grandmother at Hatham Green Farm Cottages. Jeff’s account of his time in the village during the war, including his memories of the crashed plane, are included in a separate synopsis.

The plane did a lap, Fairseat to Stansted, before landing. Mr. Marchant was in Fairseat working on a farm for pocket money. Mr. Hohler was in the swimming pool and the German pilot surrendered to him. The Home Guard was there when Mr. Marchant arrived at the crash scene. There were bullet holes in the canopy and in the fuselage. There were blood rings around to the holes. The plane landed in the morning before lunch. It crashed by the Court Lodge swimming pool. It was a Saturday or Sunday. It landed on corn stubble, missing the anti-glider posts in the field. One propeller blade had been spinning freely as the plane did the lap. Mr. Marchant was given some shells from the aircraft a few days later. There was a strong smell of fuel. The RAF looked at the plane and took away the guns. Mr. Marchant stood on the wing and looked into the cockpit; the RAF was guarding the plane. The plane was blue underneath. It stayed for about a week before being taken away. The cockpit was covered in blood. Mr. Marchant stuck his head inside the cockpit but did not get in because of the blood. The plane had been over England before because there were many bullet holes, patched up, all over the plane. They stood out because the patches were a different colour to the original paint. The patches were all dated. The rear gunner was dead and the rear machine gun was missing. Mr. Marchant only stayed a short time before going back up to Fairseat. He returned to the plane a few days later and it was then that he looked into the cockpit. An ambulance was just leaving when Mr. Marchant arrived.

Summary

Approximate Landing Run – Stansted Messerschmitt Crash

At approximately 13:30 hours on Saturday, 31 August 1940 a Messerschmitt BF110 fighter-bomber was attacked by Hurricanes in the area above Platt or Plaxtol. The aircraft was hit several times, in one of its engines and in the rear cockpit. The rear gunner was mortally wounded. The German plane did not return fire from any of its guns. After the attack, the plane headed towards Wrotham and over Wrotham Hill. It was not followed by any British fighters. When it reached the top of Wrotham Hill it branched north towards Gravesend, then it turned in a southerly direction back towards Platt and Plaxtol and then again in a northerly direction, finally landing in the field next to the swimming pool of Court Lodge Stansted.

Analysis
Why should the pilot have chosen Stansted as a landing site? The most likely explanation is that the plane escaped from a dogfight seemingly unscathed except for the wounded rear gunner. Perhaps the pilot thought he could still continue on his mission but when he reached the top of Wrotham Hill one of his engines failed. It would then become obvious that it would be impossible to continue on his mission, the plane would begin to lose height and the pilot would have to find somewhere to land.

There were many flat fields to his left as he turned towards Gravesend which could have served as makeshift runways and which were far more suitable than the one he eventually landed in but turning towards Platt, as he did, the only large field was his eventual landing place.

It must be remembered that the rear gunner/observer was mortally wounded and totally unable to assist the pilot searching for a landing place. So the pilot was left by himself to perform the triple task of finding a landing place, keeping the plane flying, and watching for enemy aircraft. As the dogfight from which he had escaped was raging down south that is the direction in which he would be looking in his search for the enemy fighters. The field behind Stansted Church was probably the first reasonably clear space he noticed and so he circled and came into land.

Stansted Messerschmitt Crash Site
The Stansted Messerschmitt Crash Site (present-day)

Mr. Tindwell, a friend of Craven Hohler had been in the swimming pool of Court Lodge and had got out and was dressed when the plane came down. Several people I spoke to seem to think that Mr. Tindwell was actually in the swimming pool and did not know the plane had come down until the pilot appeared over the fence surrendering his gun. I find it very hard to believe that someone could fail to hear several tons of metal hit the ground about 20 yards away even if they were swimming at the time.

The pilot surrendered his gun to Mr. Tindwell and probably explained about his rear gunner being wounded. By this time several people had arrived (one being Mr. Hills and some in the Home Guard). Someone then telephoned the police, while a man armed with a shotgun guarded the pilot.

The rear gunner, who was bleeding profusely from head wounds, was hauled out of the cockpit by several men standing on the wings. He was then laid out on the ground and a woman brought some brandy down from the pub. By now the Police had arrived and had begun to interrogate the pilot. Several minutes later an ambulance arrived, and the rear gunner was examined by a doctor. He was then put on a stretcher and carried to the ambulance (Mr. Marchant and Mr. Pasteur were just arriving). The pilot was also put in the ambulance, which then drove off up Fairseat Hill.

The RAF then arrived and the guns of the plane were removed. They had not been fired (I was told this by Mr. Manley who was a Home Guard officer at this time). An RAF guard was placed on the plane and the RAF platoon returned to their base with the guns and the news of a near intact German plane having landed.

Another ‘mix-up’, which is common in the village, is the belief that the rear gunner, who later died, was buried in the Stansted church graveyard. There was a German buried in the churchyard but it was not the rear gunner from the plane behind the church. The airman who was buried was Unterofficer K. Hausburg, a crew member of a Dornier 17 (Flying Pencil) who had bailed out and his parachute caught fire and ‘Roman Candled’. One of the photographs shows the parish register of births and deaths with the entry for the German. Also included in the project is a copy of the document sent to the local vicar after the war asking for permission to remove the body to the German Military graves cemetery (Cannock Chase).

I found the project difficult in several parts but I did not get tired of it. It was a form of a challenge. I hope I came out on top and have been able to clear up a few misunderstandings in the village about ‘The One Behind the Church’.

Subsequent Research
The following extract is from the book “Luftwaffe Crash Archive Vol 3” by Nigel Parker.

  • Messerschmitt Bf110 Wn 3381 S9+GK 2/EproGr210
  • Stansted, near Wrotham Hill Kent 1315 hours 31st August 1940
  • Shot down by fighters whilst attacking Croydon Aerodrome, having just released the bombs, the port engine, and the tail were hit.
  • The pilot made a very good, rapid belly landing as he knew his wireless operator was wounded and hoped to save his life.
  • Aircraft in fair condition. Standard equipment except for bomb release at the bottom of the pilot’s panel.
  • Markings: G in black with white edging. Spinners white. Camouflage: standard green and light blue. The usual red map of England obscured by a bombsight graticule was conspicuous by its absence, but the pilot claimed it was because they had not got round to painting it on all the aircraft.
  • Engines: DB601
  • Armaments: Five machine guns and two cannons. No armour plate found.
  • Pilot: Unteroffizier Ernst Glaeske aged 23
  • Wireless Operator: Gefreiter Konrad Schweda aged 23

The following text is taken from “Bombsights over England” by John Vasco and provides background information on EproGr210, the unit to which the crashed aircraft belonged, and their participation in the raids on Croydon airfield on 31st August and Biggin Hill the previous day.

Aircraft from Erprobungsgruppe210 were painted with an emblem of the British Isles in red, as seen through a bombsight graticule. They were a specialist low-level fighter bomber unit using Me109’s and Me110’s. On 30th August 1940, (the day before Glaeske crash-landed at Stansted), their aircraft were among those that attacked Biggin Hill, leaving it in a state of chaos.

On 31st August, they took off from Calais-Marck airfield just after noon. Croydon was home to the Hurricanes of 85 Sqn, commanded by S/Ldr Peter Townsend. (Townsend was later to become well known as the man HRH Princess Margaret was constitutionally prevented from marrying).

Townsend and his squadron took off as the first bombs began to fall. That day, Erpro210 lost one aircraft – that flown by Glaeske, which is believed to have been damaged by P/O Worrall who was subsequently shot down himself. The RAF report into the crash confirmed that the port engine and tail unit showed evidence of 303 machine gun bullet strikes from a British fighter. Two other aircraft from the unit returned to Calais damaged.

Mark Charnley corresponded with John Vasco who confirmed that Glaeske was sent to Canada as a POW, but was repatriated to Germany before the war ended, presumably because of ill-health. A German friend of Mark’s was then subsequently able to contact a member of Gleaske’s family who confirmed that Glaeske was killed in a motorcycle accident shortly after the war. Konrad Schweda is buried in the German Military Cemetery at Cannock Chase, Staffordshire.