Lt. Johann Böhm shot down near Elham

The Bf 109 E3 (WNr 1162) White 4 of 4./JG51 flown by 18 year old Lt. Johann Böhm which crash lands in a sheep field on Hillhouse Farm at Bladbean.

A Schwarm of Josef Fözö's 4. Staffel is headed off and chased by Spitfires of 74 Sqn. (Probably took off from Desvres, near Boulogne.) In a formation of four aircraft, flying in line astern chasing a Spitfire, this aircraft is caught from below by another Spitfire which shot into the engine. The pilot puts the aircraft into a dive to escape but is hit in the non self-sealing fuel tank and crash lands with undercarriage retracted.

The form 'F' combat report (AIR/50/32/91) from Sgt E A Mould of 74 Sqn (Hornchurch) reads:

Sector Serial No (A) D.
Serial No. of order detailing patrol (B) 159
Date (C) 8/7/40.
Flight, Squadron (D) Red Section 'A' Flt. No. 74 Squadron
No. of Enemy Aircraft (E) FOUR.
Type of Enemy Aircraft (F) Me. 109.
Time Attack was delivered (G) 1600 hrs. approx
Place attack was delivered (H) Dover and District
Height of Enemy (J) 5,000 ft.
Enemy Casualties (K) Confirmed. ONE
Unconfirmed. Nil.
Our Casualties Aircraft (L) Nil.
Personnel (M) Nil.
Searchlights (N) (i) Nil.
A.A. Guns Assistance (ii) Nil.
Fire for Fighters
(Measured or Estimated)
(P) Range opened. 300 yds.
Length of Burst. 5 x 3 secs.
Rage Closed. 100 yds.
No. of rounds per gun
General Report (R) See Report appended.
P Mould.741299
Sgt. Red Leader "A" Flt.
74 Squadron.
I was Red Leader of "A" Flight No 74 Sqn, with No 2. of Blue Section also in company. The four of us were on interception patrol over Dover when I sighted four Me 109s flying in line astern on my starboard beam. I gave the order 'Line Astern' and turned to starboard climbing up under the tail of the rear Me 109. I gave him a short 30° deflection shot and he immediately half-rolled and dived to ground level followed by Red 2. In trying to follow him I blacked myself out and lost sight of him, but I saw another Me 109 also flying at low level so I dived on him from about 3,000 ft. He immediately dived to ground level and used evasive tactics by flying along the valleys behind Dover and Folkestone, which only allowed me to fire short deflection bursts at him.After two of these bursts smoke or vapour came from the radiator beneath his port wing and other bursts appeared to enter the fuselage.

He eventually landed with his wheels up as I fired my last burst at him in a field near Elham. The pilot was apparently uninjured and I circled round him until he was taken prisoner.

In the evening 81-year-old local farmer George Palmer was taken to see the aircraft, ignoring the guard and the cordons he went up to it and prodded his stick. With his curiosity satisfied he helped Walter Keeler, who farmed the land and had lost ten ewes to the plane as it skidded across the field, round up the rest of his sheep that were still wandering around.

Bf 109 under guard after forced landing at Bladbean

Bf 109 under guard after forced landing at Bladbean

Bf 109 under guard after forced landing at Bladbean

Bf 109 under guard after forced landing at Bladbean

Bf 109 under guard after forced landing at Bladbean

Johan Böhm is taken to Broome Park.

Lt. Böhm is escorted by the London Scots
Johann Böhm being escorted by Pte. R. W. Miles, Prov. Sgt. W. F. Waterman and Piper W. McDougal of the London Scottish at Broome Park.
Johan Böhm under guard at Broome Park, August 1940
Reverse of photo of Johan Böehm in captivity at Broome Park, August 1940
Broome Park Nr Canterbury


German pilot of plane age 20 taken at Broome Park Denton near Canterbury was fetched down in a field near here.  The man was arrogant and kept saying that they would be winning the war in two or three weeks time  The plane on other two snaps

The aircraft was brought through the main road in Elham the next evening.
Messerschmitt Bf 109E-3 4./JG 51, White 4, Johann Böhm, WNr 1162 being recovered from Bladbean, Kent, August 1940

Air Intelligence Report (9/8/1940)

The aircraft carried a 4 - in white with a Red border.
It had a Staffel sign of a Raven with Spectacles, and an Umbrella under its arm.
The aircraft was Works No. 1162 built by ERLA Maschinenwerke, fitted with a D.B.601 engine. The armament consisted of two synchronised 7.92mm M.G.s, firing through the airscrew disc, and two 20mm wing cannons.
On primary interrogation, the pilot would give away no information, but a paper in his possession shows he was at Desvres (near Boulogne) on July 5th. There was a permit, dated 29/6/40 from Luftgau Kommando VI, which also referred to II/JG51.

AI(K) Report (10/8/1940)

This aircraft was one of a formation of four, flying in line astern, chasing a Spitfire. Other Spitfires were climbing towards them from below, and as they approached the pilot turned off, and was hit by one of the Spitfires in the engine.
He went into a dive and reached a speed of of 700 kilometers per hour (435mph) but the Spitfire followed him in a dive, firing continually. He pilled out when withing 1,500 feet of the ground.
Böhm had been two years in the German Air Force.
On the outbreak of war, he was at the Jagdfliegerschule, Schiesheim, and was posted to his present Staffel (4/JG51) on December 6h. Since that time he has done some 95 War Flights, many of which, however, were ordinary patrols along the frontier.

Johan Böhm's awards: EK 2, Wound Badge, Fighter Operational Clasp
The aircraft had a complete circle of armour plate built to the shape of the fuselage just behind the pilot's seat.
ID: 65176, AW: pink, Menningen, 27/2/20. FP: L04579

Under interrogation the pilot would not give away any information. A piece of paper found on him showed he was in Desveres on 5th July 1940, also he had a permit dated 29th June 1940 from Luftgau Kommando VI which referred to II/JG51. The pilot had been in the German Air Force for two years and had carried out ninety-five War Flights. At the outbreak of war he was at the Jagdfligerschule Schliesheim and was posted to his present Staffel on 6th December 1939.

Depending on the account, this is either the first Messerchmitt, the first Bf 109 or the first fighter shot down over England or Britain. Aircraft Salvage in the Battle of Britain and the Blitz has another aircraft on the same day as this as the first Bf 109 to be shot down onto British soil but that seems to have been shot down several hours after this aircraft.

As the official start of the Battle of Britain is two days after this, references to this in the sources are limited.

Messerschmitt Bf 109E-3 4.JG51 White 4 (Kagero)

In August 2018 I took a trip to Bladbean and, by referencing the photos of the crash site, found the field.

Bladbean farm behind Hillhouse

Bladbean farm behind Hillhouse

Viewed from the valley road the field is on the relatively flat crest of the west side of the Elham Valley and there's a scarp slope dropping into the valley itself.

Bladbean farm viewed from the Elham Valley road

Viewed from the south of the field there's a reasonable space to put down a fighter but with a hedged road on the left and the scarp on the right there wasn't much room for error.

Bladbean farm viewed from the south

Scale map of the crash site, details taken from the OS County Series: KENT 1939 1:2,500.
Map of Bf 109 crash site at Bladbean, Kent

KG 2 intercepted

Due to the heavy cloud the Observer Corps are unable to get a visual fix on the aircraft and the number of raiders is incorrectly assessed so of the five squadrons scrambled to intercept only 74 Sqn manage to engage them before they reach the Isle of Sheppy and split into two groups: one to attack Sheerness (a Naval base) and the other Eastchurch (a Coastal Command airfield).

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.