A Shattered Spinner

Shattered SpinnerOn the dark and drizzly night of April 8th 1941 the dull throbbing of enemy aircraft could be heard high up in the skies over many areas of Eastern and Southern England. Their target for that night was to be Coventry and the Luftwaffe was using the X and Y Verfahren beams to guide their bombers, as well as the beam system known as Knickebein. The Germans had also developed an aerial unit known as KGr 100 who acted as Pathfinders.

That night, as usual, the Pathfinders’ job was to drop a mix of mainly incendiary bombs along with a few HE bombs to create fires in the target zone. This would enable the following bombers to also have a visual source of target identification in addition to the use of the sophisticated beams. This worked well in theory but KGr 100 didn’t always arrive before the main bombers and on one occasion even arrived after them – such were the perils of headwinds and navigation over seven decades ago. Pathfinders had sophisticated navigation and target locating devices and would also be adopted by the RAF later in the war and used to devastate German Cities.

On 8th April KGr 100 were accompanied over Britain by Heinkels from the units KG53 and KG26. As the bomber stream droned inland that night a No 264 Squadron Defiant night fighter took off from Biggin Hill at 20.20hrs. It was piloted by Squadron Leader Sanders with Pilot Officer Sutton in the gun turret. At the same time Lieutenant Julius Tengler, a pilot in one of the eleven enemy Heinkel 111 bombers from 111/KG26, was gradually getting closer and closer to Britain’s southern coastline. Once over this the Germans knew that eyes had to be kept peeled for AA fire and also the (usually) highly unlikely encounter with a British Nightfighter. However, for Tengler and his fellow crew it wasn’t a case of unlikely – or even likely – unfortunately for them the encounter was already certain.

The Defiant crew were vectored in on a solitary inbound enemy aircraft by the Kenley controller. They followed instructions but initially saw nothing in the murky skies until, after a few minutes, Sutton spotted an inbound aircraft some 500 yards ahead of them. The chase was on and it was a chase indeed taking them right to the outskirts of London, the Defiant gradually closing in but taking time to do so. Finally, the night fighter gave a two second burst of machine gun fire into the target aircraft’s fuselage. That certainly slowed it down. Closing in to 50 yards just underneath and to one side, two more bursts of machine gun fire were delivered. The enemy aircraft burst into flames and went straight down – Heinkel He 111 H5 coded 1H+ET was doomed. It screamed to the ground in a plume of flames, its wingtips were torn off and its tail unit twisted and snapped. The Defiant crew meanwhile, satisfied of their victory, disengaged and returned to Biggin Hill.

From the moment the first bullet hit the raider it was absolute chaos. One engine stopped functioning and small fires broke out inside the plane. Gefreiter Hans Reitmayer was hit in the left elbow and the Pilot Julius Tengler was also wounded. However all five crew including Unteroffizier Hans Zender, Gefreiter Hubert Faber and Gefreiter Wolfgang Euerl vacated the blazing aircraft. The main cockpit section and engines smashed down belly first into a meadow near the hamlet of Bendish near Hitchin in Hertfordshire and exploded, the glow of the fire visible for some miles.

Out of the five men who jumped, four of them would live to tell the tale. The body of the young Gefreiter Wolfgang Euerl was found next morning after someone spotted a parachute billowing open in a local meadow. At the time it seemed as if the canopy had failed to deploy, although one other crewmember said the canopy of the parachute was on fire. However, others stated Euerl was pretty much dead when he left the plane and they simply attached a parachute pack to him and pushed him out to at least give him whatever chance of survival he might have. When discovered, the young man had been shot through the head and mouth so it seems obvious with those wounds he wouldn’t have managed to bail out himself. When the body was located someone had already rifled through the dead airman’s pockets, as various discarded items were found some distance away later on the same day. It does make you wonder where the looted souvenirs that were kept are now? Many years ago I did hear rumours of some German money and other items that purportedly originated from this crash but I have never seen them.

Heinkel He 111 1H+ET was sloppily covered in a gritty black distemper paint on its upper and side surfaces – to aid night raiding – although strangely its undersides were still left painted light blue. The propeller spinners were still their original bright yellow colour. I eventually, through a lot of research, located the crash site with a metal detector. My research was initially hampered by the fact that many villagers witnessed the glow in the night sky but not one had actually been down to see the crash, or if they did they had since moved away from the area. Anyway, back in 1994 I excavated the shallow penetrating remains of 1H+ET and found many interesting artifacts. One of which was the small twisted piece of aluminium shown here. This is a section from one of those propeller spinners that was left still brightly painted yellow and, even after 53 years in the ground and 20 years in my house, traces of that same yellow paint can still be seen today.

I love these little bits of history and the associated research that we do. I mean they illustrate the importance of that very research and the gaining of experience. Thirty years ago before I had done this investigative work I may very well have dug this up looked at it and given it the classification “Hedge Fodder.”

About Julian Evan-Hart
Julian is from Hertfordshire, England and has always been interested in fossils and antiquities. Julian has written a number of books on metal detecting, and is an avid user of Minelab products.

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