It happened 70 years ago this month – on Tuesday 8th October 1940 – the shooting down of a Junkers Ju88 (2Staffel/KGr.806 ‘M7+DK’ w/no 4068) at Magazine Village, Bromborough.
Much has been mentioned on these pages regarding the last moments of the ‘Bromborough Dock’ JU88, but one eyewitness account has never been recorded.
My father is almost certainly the last person alive to have witnessed first hand (and at close quarters – less than 200ft) the final moments of the action that day, and as he has never had a public outlet to tell the story, and is not computer savvy, I thought it would be right and proper that I take it upon myself to preserve it here and share it with a wider audience - If the memories aren’t recorded, they are lost to future generations forever.
I wasn’t sure in which topic to put this – but I think that, as part of the Magazine Village History
, it should be here, rather than the WIKI History
topic ‘Bombed Birkenhead’ which contains more about the incident.
So - to the account...
It’s an October day 70 years ago – three 12-13 year old boys have had a half day off from school (reason lost in time) and are out on the Mersey in a small rowing boat. The weather is overcast with a slight mistiness in the air and it’s about 16.00.
My father takes up the story in his own words… (My notes in italic)
We were in the Eastham Channel in a punt – Alan Gratrix, Ronnie Hill and myself. I heard explosions at Speke – gunfire or whatever – presumably from the Runcorn, Speke and Helsby direction. We couldn’t see anything at that time, so thought we had better go home. A few minutes later Frank Rogers (Note: Who was the Gunpowder Magazines Foreman)
was waving frantically from the beach right at the end of the village by Bill Earl’s house (Note: This was the last house in the village in the Eastham direction).
We beached the punt and by this time the noise was very loud, we knew that there was an aircraft around. Frank urged us towards the cliff on the beach and told us to keep flat against the cliff.
I said “it’s a dogfight”, and there was the Ju88 being fired on by a Hurricane, followed by another Hurricane. Pieces were flying off the German plane and were dropping into the mud on the shore (Note: he went looking later, but couldn’t find anything)
, and smoke was pouring out of one (or even both) of the engines. No time for words, it had gone over the dock wall, and disappeared fast within seconds. I said “she’s down on the dock” – Frank looked concerned and replied “I’ll get my gun” and went off to get it.
My father told me that the Ju88 was very low (below chimney height of the houses) and it just scraped over the dock wall by about 6 feet.
Meanwhile, my Grandfather was stuck on the Magazine Hulk ‘Swallow’ whilst the action was taking place – not a great place to be when you come to think about it; you’re sat on probably quite a few tons of Gunpowder whilst hot metal and high explosives are whizzing about just a few yards away. As he had left his ARP helmet at home, he protected himself with a handy-sized saucepan over his head!
Running towards the aircraft, my father watched as one of the Hurricanes did a climbing ‘Victory Roll’ over the scene. I have seen reports stating that no victory roll took place at Speke:
A local newspaper excerpt: "It was a great few minutes and that Ju88 simply had no chance", said an experienced airman and "I saw the leading British fighter come back, I looked for a victory roll, there was none. The second Hurricane and then the third Hurricane came. They did no Victory Roll either, then as an old flying man I understood, none of them would take the credit individually".
But a victory roll most definitely DID
happen – just not at Speke, but at Bromborough Dock instead.
By the time my father got to the aircraft (having run past one of the bombs that had fallen off as the plane skidded along the ground), the crew were out (one carried out dead) and being surrounded by people from the factories nearby. One of the crew wanted a drink - and with the Mersey adjacent, the crowd gave the obvious answer…
After a short time an LDV (Officer?) arrived on the scene and tried to keep the crowd back with a gun, and was told in no uncertain terms to “point the gun at the Bl**dy Jerries”.
As I’ve stated elsewhere on Wiki, my father ‘liberated the wingtip and made off with it (it included the landing light, the bulb of which had written on it ‘OSRAM – Made in England’), my Grandfather later making sure it was OK with the RAF, telling them that ‘my lad’s got this’. The RAF bloke replied “that’s OK – let him have it as a souvenir”. My fathers mate Ronnie made off with one of the forage caps from the crew – I suppose that’s what 12 year old lads do.
The wingtip was given away in various pieces over the following years – I never got to see it.
Later, a Czech Pilot – still in flying boots and jacket – who had walked from Hooton Airfield, approached along the cliff path from the Eastham direction and asked my father in broken English “Ver iz this thing?” to which my father pointed and said “it’s over there” and the pilot walked off to see it.
This pilot was likely to have been P/O A.Váštko. as the other Czech, P/O Stehlik’s flying report (see Bombed Birkenhead
) states that he returned to Speke. Some reports I have seen state that a pilot arrived within 15 minutes (from Speke? – which is some going!!
), but I think that the explanation is that he walked from Hooton along the shore path - just as my father observed.
F/Lt. Gillam has stated that he arrived from Speke as the crew were being rounded up – again I reckon that the times mentioned need to be taken with a pinch of salt.
At Woodslee School the next day my father and his mates were hauled up in front of the school and asked to re-tell what they saw, and in 1992, when the pilot of the Junkers, Helmuth Bruckmann revisited, my father went along to meet him and even appeared briefly on a BBC ‘Look North’ piece devoted to the incident (still got it on video somewhere).
For some years I’ve been trying to get the absolute facts regarding what he saw that day plus an image in my mind of what the action must have looked like; so to that effect, I’ve had a dabble on the computer and made up an image – he’s seen it, and reckons it a pretty good likeness (apart from the weather being muckier and him standing about 10 feet lower… best I could do… :))
I’ve also superimposed a OS map of Magazine Village onto a modern Google image to plot the path of the bomber as it fell and also position my father’s viewpoint. (As a bonus, it’s also quite interesting to see where the village actually was in relation to the McTay buildings). Note that the aircraft slewed to port as it came to rest – ripping of it’s port engine in the process.
There are a few extra photographs too – some have already appeared on WIKI, but I think these are clearer, having been scanned from original photographs in our families’ possession.
STOP PRESS: There is an exhibition this week at Bromborough Library regarding this incident – see New Ferry Online
for more details. It includes a model of the crash and a talk is scheduled about the action on the Tues 5th. Unfortunately, I won't be able to make it from Cambridgeshire, but I'd love to know how it went. So if anyone wants to report back here...?
Anyway, I hope this has been an interesting read – and at least at long last, the story is now recorded…