Do 17 crashes at Barham

Oblt. Heinz Schlegel's 'Holtzhammer' Do 17Z (U5+KA) comes down the Elham valley on one engine before crashing on the railway line near Barham school, bouncing and slewing into woodland next to the track, the latter being blocked by the separated tail. All the crew survived.

Attacked over the Thames Estuary by a 'Spitfire' that came out of the sun hitting the tail and one engine. Aircraft forced landed and broke in half across the Elham Valley railway line at "Pherbec Bridge", also referenced as Dr. Long's bridge over Greenhill Lane.

The starboard wing clipped a tree, the tail section broke away whilst the fuselage slewed into the scrub and woodland where it came to rest.

Accounts of the crew's capture vary. The Kentish Gazette reports the school cook being startled upon seeing a wounded German airman hobbling down the road towards her whereupon, just as she was wondering what to do, two soldiers suddenly appear and grab him. The newspaper claims the first person to reach the wreckage is Tom Arter who finds the pilot waiting with his hands up and greeting him "Kamerad". Sidney Heathfield (son of Fred) releives the airman of his gun. Schlegel commenting in English: "The Spitfires were much too good for us".

Sergeant Ronald Swann (115th Field Regt. Royal Artillery) was stationed at Beechwood, close to the crash and in charge of the camp guard. Taking the guard with him was first on the scene, disarming and capturing the crew (Obit Schlegal, Obit Oswald (Staffel Füher) Oberfw Babbe and Oberfw Holz) who were extremely dazed and lucky to have survived. Soldiers of the London Scottish Regiment arrived on the scene very soon with fixed bayonets and the aircrew were taken into custody. They are later transferred to a prisoner or war camp.

Pilot: Oberleutnant. Heinz Schlegel. – Captured.
Observer: Oberleutnant. Gerhard Osswald. (Staffelfuehrer) – Captured injured.
Observer 2: Oberfeldwebel. Ernst Holtz. – Captured injured.
Radio/Op: Oberfeldwebel. Gustav Babbe. – Captured injured.

At Barham station Fred Heathfield telephones station master George Caple to report the blockage. At Elham the station master is informed by the railway's factotums, Jack Heathfield and Joe Fox, that an enemy aircraft is blocking the line. The 7.7am [sic] Dover Priory to Canterbury West is terminated at Lyminge on arrival at 7.54, whilst the 7.13 from Canterbury runs as far as Bishopsbourne. Passengers are taken past the closed section of line by bus replacement. The wreckage is removed by 9.15 whilst the district engineer oversaw repairs to the slight damage to the permanent way and the line is reopened at 9.35.

Markings: K in green. Shield: bomb falling from a cloud with man sitting on it, holding a telescope. ID: 58205, AW: grey, Kitzingen, 30/1/40, signed Gamar, FP: -.

Spitfires in action were 74 Sqn but 111 Sqn (Hurricanes) Blue 1 (Sqn Ldr Thompson) is likely to be responsible as his account on page two of his Form "F" combat report (AIR 50/43/85) of damaging both engines of a Dornier that then climbed into the cloud matches that of Schlegel's post war recollection:

Sector Serial No (A)
Serial No. of order detailing patrol (B)
Date (C) 13th August 1940
Flight, Squadron (D) Flight: 'B' Sqdn. No.: 111.
No. of Enemy Aircraft (E) 24
Type of Enemy Aircraft (F) Dornier 215 r17.[?]
Time Attack was delivered (G) 0710
Place attack was delivered (H) EASTCHURCH s. Eastwards.
Height of Enemy (J) 3,000'
Enemy Casualties (K) 1 Dornier 215 dest )
1 Dornier damaged )
Our Casualties Aircraft (L) Nil.
Personnel (M) Nil.
General Report (R)
At 0550 hours N.111 Squadron took off on a vector of 125° height 12,000'. After 12 minutes we were told to orbit. Shortly after we were ordered to patrol forward base. (HAWKINGE) below clouds and look for enemy aircraft returning from the direction of the ISLE of SHEPPY. No enemy aircraft were seen on this course. On arrival over EASTCHURCH I was unable to contact the ground station by R/T and, owing to poor visibility I went above the clouds. At approximately 0710 hours a formation was observed approaching from the East about 1,000' below us. It was a formation of 3 astern of about 10 aircraft, but owing to the distance they could not be identified. I instructed 'A' Flight leader to remain where he was whilst I took my flight past these aircraft on the port beam to identify them. When I identified them as Dorniers I instructed 'A' Flight leader to carry out a head on attack whilst I took my flight round to the rear. At that moment I observed another formation astern of the first one, so I carried on and executed a head on attack on this from below. Little return fire was observed until the break away. These head on attacks had the effect of breaking up the enemy formation. I then attacked the formation from the rear closing to within 200 yards of the right hand aeroplane. I broke away from this attack and observed another enemy aircraft (Dornier 215) alone over SITTINGBOURNE flying East.(Continued overleaf) / I carried ...
Signature J M Thumpson
Sq/Ldr Blue 1
Section
O.C. Flight
Squadron
111 Squadron No.
Page 2.
I carried out a full deflection attack on this aircraft closing to astern at about 50 yards range. Both engines of this enemy aircraft emitted clouds of white vapour but the pilot pulled up into the clouds which were about 50' above. This enemy aircraft could not possibly have flown more than a few miles. On the return to base over W. MALLING a Dornier 215 appeared out of the clouds ahead of me and I gave him a 2 second burst from about 400 yards dead astern but he immediately went back into the clouds again. Then owing to shortage for fuel I retuned to base and landed.

It is also believed that the aircraft had been attacked by Canadian pilot, and future ace, Flg Off James Walker of No 111 Sqn. As he was also in Blue section he may have also attacked this aircraft but his combat report (AIR 50/43/88) doesn't match as closely as Thompson's.

Sector Serial No (A)
Serial No. of order detailing patrol (B)
Date (C) 13th August 1940.
Flight, Squadron (D) Flight: 'B' Sqdn. No.: 111.
No. of Enemy Aircraft (E) 24
Type of Enemy Aircraft (F) Dornier 215.
Time Attack was delivered (G) 0710
Place attack was delivered (H) HERNE BAY
Height of Enemy (J) 3,000'
Enemy Casualties (K) 1 Dornier 215.dest )
1 Dornier damaged )
Our Casualties Aircraft (L) Nil.
Personnel (M) Nil.
General Report (R)
I was flying Blue 2, and broke away to intercept a Dornier which was diving under the clouds. I lost this one and returned above cloud and saw enemy aircraft trying to reform, and mad a half and half attack and he disappeared into the cloud. I made a head on attack closing to point blank range and he pulled up sharply and fell away to port. I followed him down but lost him in the haze at about 1500' I noticed rear gunner fire cannon at me as I passed over the top.
Signature JG. D. Walker P/O
Section Blue
O.C. FlightB
Squadron
111 Squadron No.

Do 17 U5+KA fuselage by the side of the Elham Valley Railway with Home-guardsmen inspecting the cockpit.

Do 17 U5+KA wing and tail by the side of the Elham Valley Railway guarded by Police Constable 88 of the Kent Constabulary.

Do 17 U5+KA tail by the side of the Elham Valley Railway. A worker with a fishplate spanner stands beside it.

The incident is recorded in the Barham School diary.

Barham school diary extract from 1940

13th August 1940:
German bomber crashed on railway embankment at top of School Garden at 7.30am.
As there were still live bombs in the plane the Police advised that the school be closed for the day.

16th August 1940:
School closed on Police instructions 13th, 14th, 15th & closed by managers 16th & 19th pending receipt of reply from KEC to representations of parents, that school was no longer to be considered in a safe area and should be closed forthwith and remain closed till suitable air-raid shelters had been provided.

Mary Smith records in her diary:

Nazi bomber overhead about 7:15 a.m. Very sharp AA. It came down across railway just behind Barham Station.

After the war Oblt Heiz Schlegal recalls:

So KG 2 [less I. Gruppe] flew towards the Thames Estuary longing to see a Zerstörer escort. After reaching the Channel, the formation flew into a thick layer of cloud. A single Zerstörer, which presumably was there to draw out attention to the fact that the mission had been cancelled, circled us and disappeared again. It was obviously mistaken for our escort. When, in our estimation, we had reached the target, the clouds became thinner but the target could still not be seen so the formation flew in a wide turn towards London, where we turned around again. Now the formation was on an easterly course.

If I can remember our (Stab) Kette was flying behind the rest of the Geschwader. In the very first plane was a Staffelkapitän who was in radio contact with the Kommodore in our Kette to receive further orders. The whole unit had switched to this wavelength which was the reason that nobody had heard the attack had been cancelled because of bad weather.

The target airfield (Eastchurch) was spotted through a hole in the cloud which was at 800m height - we were flying at 1,500m. After flying another 180° turn, we attacked descending though this hole and dropped our bombs quite accurately. But then, the British fighters came from the east from the direction of the sea where the rising sun prevented us from seeing them. So it came as a complete surprise when their salvoes hit us. Neither the Bordfunker not the Bordmechaniker [flight mechanic] had a chance to shoot. Both were wounded, specifically in their forearms. The aircraft was hit in the fuselage and engines. I succeed in pulling the plane into the thin layer of cloud but soon the port then the starboard engine seized.

I realised that we could not fly back across the Channel again and I did not know if the wounded crew members could operate their parachutes, so the only thing to do was to make a force landing. An open meadow appeared, or it seemed to be open, so was the obvious place. But everywhere in southern Britain, the inhabitants had done things to prevent these meadows from being used by aircraft. Ditches had been dug, earth piled up in ramparts and poles had been rammed into the ground so this friendly meadow turned out to be quite bumpy. The aircraft landed heavily and came to a standstill at a big tree. After we got out and had a look around, some unarmed soldiers appeared. They asked for our pistols – there was no way we could have conquered England with those pistols anyway!

This 1936 aerial photo of Barham station shows the railway bridge over the sunken Greenhills road at the top. Notably it is surrounded by woodland. The school is where Greenhills road meets the Valley road (just off the right of this picture).
Aerial view of Barham station, 1936

Google street view of Greenhills road shows the bridge abutments still remaining and they appear to match the bridge visible behind the Policeman in the photo of the crashed aircraft.

Greenhills road bridge, Barham Kent

Greenhills road bridge, Barham Kent

Pherbec Bridge no longer shows up in the records but there is a mortgage deed from 1997 for "Pherbec Bridge" and a subsequent deed dated 2005 for "Bridge House" - both for the same land certificate title number. Street view shows "Bridge House" next to the old railway bridge on Greenhills:
Bridge House, Green Hills, Barham, Kent

In August 2018 I took a trip to Barham and had a look at the site.

The bridge's ELR is EVL 2056.

Greehnills railway bridge, Barham Kent, with the railway identifier EVL 2056

The tops of the bridge abutments, where the line ran, are now private property so it wasn't possible to closely inspect them, added to which the north side is heavily overgrown. However, the brickwork matches that seen in the contemporary photo with the policeman.

Bridge abutment, Greenhills, Barham, Kent

The line ran in a north-south direction and was singled in 1931 with the removal of the west track. In the above photos the single track is visible indicating that the Policeman is standing on the south west corner of the bride.

As far as I can make out, the picture of the fuselage is skewed - to match the angle of the starboard wing in the picture with the policeman the fuselage would have been on the downslope of the embankment. The stance of the onlookers, and in particular their feet, also support this - as do the tree trunks visible in the background.
Corrected angle of Do 17 U5+KA fuselage by the side of the Elham Valley Railway

It seems from the photos that there was some damage to the south west bridge abutment so linking that with the line being blocked by the severed tail, the obliterated port side of the empennage, the position of the fuselage down the embankment pointing southward, the starboard wing clipping a tree, the approach from the south and I think it's likely the aircraft was spinning when it hit the bridge and that's what removed the tail as shown in this animation:

Barham Do 17 crash animation
Map data taken from the 1939 Ordanance Survey County Series map.

An officer's forage cap and Luftwaffe gravity knife recovered from this aircraft can now be viewed at the Kent Battle of Britain Museum at Hawkinge.

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