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Barney

Rye Hill 1940

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I am normally a Great War buff but I also write articles of ?Military Interest? for various publications. A story came my way from an extremely close source a few months ago. I personally was fascinated and thought it a worthy ?first contribution? to the GMIC. I hope you guys do too.

Please ignore the Mills and Boon style opening it was designed to attract the attention of otherwise disinterested readers. What was seen and the more detailed points are historically correct. I can vouch for my Dad!

Rye Hill 1940

It was a hot summers morning as an excited young lad slapped the reins across the rump of the old horse that pulled the cart up Rye Hill. He had just finished his deliveries and was in a hurry to get back to the yard near Thornwood

But today was different and young Joseph Knight was about to witness a tragic but spectacular episode of history. The time was 10.50 am and the date was Tuesday 3rd September 1940, at the height of the Battle of Britain.

As the struggling horse breasted the top of the hill Joe could hear the scream of aeroplane engines, and the staccato rattle of machine gun fire. He knew the Airfield was under attack again.

He reached the edge of Browns Field and stopped. He could see for miles through the shimmering haze across Epping Forest a couple of miles distant. To the east he could see RAF North Weald shrouded in the brown and white smoke of explosion.

Above he saw the diving and swirling Hurricanes of 310 Squadron locked in a sudden death Dogfight as they engaged the lumbering Heinkle Bombers and their twin engined fighter escorts.

In a dramatic change of tactics the Luftwaffe had begun mounting bombing raids on RAF Fighter Airfields in the south east of England in an attempt to put them out of action and Joe was watching one such attack.

It seemed the very sky was alive with the screaming roaring engines when suddenly he became aware of a dark twin propellered machine emblazoned with black crosses screaming towards him flying low over Rye Hill as the pilot threw his aircraft from side to side in a desperate attempt to evade the Hurricane that had got him in its sights,

Joe could clearly hear the hiss and crack of the canon rounds as the German aircraft yawed to the left and then right then suddenly upwards upwards in an extreme evasive act that was about to go tragically wrong for the crew.


In his attempt to get away from the Hurricane on his tail, the pilot had not seen another German aircraft engaged in a similar battle and the evasive action taken by both resulted in collision in mid air above the Green Man Public House at what is now the McDonalds Restaurant at Junction 7 roundabout on the M11, about half a mile from where Joe sat watching incredulously.

Both aircraft were Messerschmitt BF110?s from 1/ZG2. (Staffel 1 ZerstoererGeschwader 2). Roughly translated that means Flight 1 of Destroyer Squadron 2.

Zerstoerers were Long Range fighter squadrons, primarily ME 110?s, used for Bomber escorts or Freelance Fighter missions.

The aircraft Joe had been watching was a Messerschmitt BF110C-4 number 3M+HL no.2033 flown by 24 year old Stafflefuhrer, Oberleutnant Karl MULLER. His crewman and rear gunner was UnterOffizier Johann KORN.

The aircraft sustained severe damage in the collision, the port wing tip was smashed and the port rudder was torn off. To add to the pilot?s troubles the machine caught fire and Joe gasped as the pilot baled out, dangerously low but Joe knew, as all patriotic young lads knew, 110?s carried two crew, but he saw nothing of the second crewman. The stricken craft tipped left and began its death glide crashing into Browns field about hundred yards from Joe?s position.

Oberleutnant MULLER reached earth safely and unhurt close to the Epping Road. He had thrown away his pistol and flying equipment when he was ?captured? by some local farm labourers assisted by the shotgun wielding proprietor of the Cross Keys Caf? at Thornwood. He was eventually handed over to the Army and ended his war in a POW camp in Canada.

UnterOffizier KORN was not so lucky, he was killed instantly when the aircraft crashed in Brown?s field.

The other aircraft met a similar fate. Also a Messerschmitt BF110C-4 from the same Squadron, its identity number was 3M+EK no.2065 and its pilot was Feldwebel (Flight Sergeant ) Karl WAGENBRETH. His crewman and rear gunner was Unter Offizier Adolph SCHUBARTH.

Their aircraft immediately spun out of control, losing height quickly, Joe remembers the tail section falling off, and though both men managed to bale out they were too low for their parachutes to open sufficiently and they were killed instantly as they came to earth in the grounds of Hubbards Hall, near Churchgate Street.

The aircraft itself crashed in the grounds of Feltimores, a private house at Hobbs Cross belonging to the local squire Burke BURROWS.

The family of Mr BURROWS still have a pair of flight boots taken from the wreck before it blew up. It shows the haste that the German airmen exhibited in leaving the aircraft, not that it did them much good.

The three German aviators killed in this incident were buried with full military honours at All Saints Church, in Epping Upland. They have since been removed to the large German Cemetery at Cannock Chase. Luftwaffe records show that a total of 19 German aircraft did not make it back to base that day.

The site of the crash at Rye Hill was excavated in the 1980?s and various items were found such as one of the Diamler Benz DB601 engines, a 20mm MGF cannon and a 7.92mm MG17 machine gun together with smaller items. They are now on display at the Battle of Britain Museum.

As a matter of interest a JU 88 and a Heinkle crashed in the same area at various times during that summer, it being the highest point around the Airfield. A Typhoon also came suddenly to earth in the area suffering from engine failure on take off. Happily the pilot survived to fight another day.

As for young Joseph Knight he had witnessed an incredible episode of history and as he watched Karl Muller being marched away to captivity he captured his own piece of history.

He drove slowly past the scene of the pilot?s capture wondering if they would believe his incredible story back at the yard, he saw a flash in the long grass at the edge of the field.

Climbing down from the cart he found a Green bakelite compass, with a huge thigh strap discarded by Muller in his last moments of freedom. Joe picked up the compass and well satisfied with the evidence drove the cart home.

Long since retired to Norfolk, Joe who is my other half?s father, recently told me one rainy afternoon, this fascinating story of a battle long ago. I took the information to my Dad, also long retired, who for ?fun? researches all things RAF/Luftwaffe. It was he who came up with the crew names and flight numbers of the Luftwaffe Aircraft.

Imagine my feelings when I received a parcel through the post some weeks later. No letter just an old compass?????????.



Barney

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Great story Barney. You mentioned North Weald. I am actually going to the old North Weald airfield at the end of the month for an advanced driver-training day (it's used by a Welsh company called 'First Lotus'.)

Do you know if everything from WWII is long since gone from there, or are there still 'relics' dotted about that may be of interest to me?

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Barney

Great tale and excellent research !

Having lived in Epping in my youth I know exactly the places you are talking about and it really brings the events to life for me !!

Thanks for that great contribution !

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What a fantastice post.

I feel like stalking you for the compass!! :P

I am very jealous, and if you could maybe post any pics of the area/compass I would be very grateful. wub.gif

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There some photos of the crashed aircraft and I'll post them within a couple of days. They give a good idea of the location. I am having the compass scanned for those of you interested....................

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Look forward to seeing the pictures.

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