A Hurricane still in the process of taking off from Speke Airport, Liverpool caught this Junkers out cold and shot him down. The plane crashed on the opposite side of the River Mersey, at Bromborough Docks. In the first of the two images, Liverpool can be seen to the rear, across the river. I have had an email (Nov 07) from Colin Shroeder from Greasby, a local expert on the Wirral and he informs me that this bomber was actually shot down by 3 Hurricanes, from 312 Sqn, a Czech Unit.
8th October1940 - Bromborough Ju88 crash
On the 8th October, a Junkers Ju88 (works number 4068, coded M7+DK) from No.2 Staffel (Squadron) of KGr.806 (Bomber Wing) took off from its base at Caen-Carpignet in France to bomb the Rootes aircraft factory at Speke and photograph the results. The aircraft was loaded with four 250kg bombs. The route that was taken, took them from Caen to Southampton, Droitwich, Ellesmere Port and finally to Speke arriving in the target area around 4pm.
Three Hurricanes of yellow section No.312 (Czech) Squadron based at Speke were scrambled at 4.10pm with orders to patrol Hoylake. Just after they took off, anti-aircraft, bursts drew their attention to the enemy aircraft. On sighting the Hurricanes, the Ju88, started to climb sharply, trying to gain cloud cover. Sergeant Josef Stehlik (yellow 3) in L1807 got in the first burst with Pilot Officer Alois Vasatko (yellow 2) in L1926 firing from below. Meanwhile Flight Lieutenant Denys Gillam (yellow 1) in P2575 kept up a stern attack. Heavy and accurate fire was returned from the Ju88 and all three Hurricanes were damaged, yellow 1 windscreen smashed, the exhaust manifolds of Yellow 2 damaged, while Yellow 3 sustained damage to the petrol tank and the gun pipe line (He states in his individual report he returned thinking all his ammunition had gone).
The Ju88’s starboard engine was hit and damaged. The pilot 26 year old Oberleutnant Helmuth Bruckman jettisoned two of his bombs into the River Mersey. With two bombs still in their racks, the Ju88 was seen gliding down towards Bromborough Dock where the pilot made a forced landing with the undercarriage retracted. The Ju88 slid across the field for thirty yards until it came to a rest near to an anti-aircraft gun post with the port engine ripped out of its mounting. One of the bombs was torn from its rack and was found lying in the field near to the aircraft along with a fully inflated dinghy. A bullet wound to the head had killed the observer 24 year old Leutnant (Pilot Officer) Herbert Schlegel. The pilot, Oblt Bruechmann was uninjured but 37 year old Sonderfuhrer Horst Lehmann the air gunner and 26 year old Unteroffizierer Helmuth Weth wireless operator were injured. The three Hurricanes landed back at Speke, the whole sortie had taken just six minutes.
Harry Gill who was a gateman at the Bromborough Dock at the time recalled, “I was on duty at the South Gatehouse at Bromborough dock, when a twin-engined aeroplane plunged out of the clouded sky and crashed about 200 yards away on land reclaimed from the River Mersey. I ran towards it and half way there I looked up and saw a swastika on the tail fin. Two men scrambled out of the cockpit and ran behind the damaged wing. They were bending over a third airman lying at their feet. I sized them by the epaulettes of their uniforms and demanded their guns, which they surrendered without argument. Mr Rand and Mr Thompson then appeared at my side, Mr Thompson took charge of one of the Germans and escorted him to the Dock Gatehouse to be kept in custody until the military authorities arrived”.
The injured were taken to Clatterbridge hospital. The morale of the crew after being captured was considered to be very high. The Hurricane pilots got a hearty reception when they landed back at Speke, being carried shoulder high by their comrades, a large number of station personnel and civilians witnessed the event, including those on a bus going past the airport. So great was the interest that the airport gates had to be closed the following day when crowds of local civilians arrived wanting to congratulate the pilots.
Flight Lieutenant Gillam in recalling the event said “Taking my car, I drove through the Mersey Tunnel to the scene of the crash just as the crew was being rounded up. The observer was dead but the others had survived although the gunner and wireless operator had been injured. I cut the German badge off the side of the aeroplane together with one of the swastikas for souvenirs, then returned to Speke”.
The RAF was very interested in the bombsight as it was a new type and was the first to fall in their hands. The RAF removed the aircraft within a few days and it was announced that it was to be put on public view in connection with “War Weapons Week” in Liverpool. In the meantime the Ju88 was moved to the Oval Recreation Ground were it was placed on display to the public. More than £70 was collected for the Mayor of Bebingtons “Spitfire Fund”. On the 18 th October, the Ju88 was paraded through the streets of Liverpool in procession with university students and was later displayed at St George's Plateau alongside a Messerschmitt Me109. Messerschmitt aircraft had the officially designation “Bf” standing for Bayerische Fleugzeugwerke until 1944, but the common designation “Me” was mostly used during the war.
Mrs F. Anstead-Browne of the WVS, and local organizer of the Neston Spitfire Fund, secured the use of the Ju88 as a means of revenue for her effort. It was on view in a field off Bevyl Road adjoining the Parade at Parkgate, where it remained till November 24th. A charge of 6d per adult and 3d for children was made, with a large number of people coming to look at the machine. The Ju88 had been transported on two low loaders, the fuselage on one and the wings on the other. They were placed together so that it looked as though it had belly-landed. Quite a number thought it had come down at Parkgate. Local boys were very keen to collect souvenirs, and so the Little Neston company of the Home Guard stood guard during the night. The Ju88 was later taken to RAF Sealand and disposed of.
The panel with the Swastika on, that had been taken by the pilots as a souvenir was hung in the flight hut at the squadron dispersal. After the war, Flight Lieutenant Gillam presented this panel to RAF Finingley and since the closure of this airfield; the panel’s whereabouts is unknown. A paddle from the dinghy which had a plaque mounted on it along with a painting titled “The Fastest Victory” signed by Flight Lieutenant Gillam has been seen for Sale
on an Internet site.
Lieutenant Herbert Schlegel was originally buried at Hooton Village Church yard with full military honours, but was moved in 1962 to the German military cemetery at Cannock Chase, Staffordshire.
No.312 (Czech) Squadron came into being as the second Czechoslovak fighter unit and was formed on 29th August 1940 at the Czech aircrew depot at RAF Cosford. The squadron was based around experienced pilots, who had already had combat experience during the Battle of France, many of whom had already had more then one victory. On the 26th September, the squadron moved to its new home, the RAF station at Speke. On the 2nd October, No 312 (Czech) Squadron was declared as operational and tasked to protect the Liverpool area from enemy raids.
In November 1992 the German pilot Helmuth Bruckman visited the area and flew back into the same field that he crash landed his Ju88 into, aboard the Duke of Westminster’s helicopter. He had hoped to met, Denys Gillam but he had unfortunately died of a heart attack only a few weeks earlier.