BY RICHARD MADDOX
THE AIRCRAFT PANEL below is part of the online IWM Collection.
It was recovered from the Hermann Göring aeronautical research institute in Völkenrode near Braunschweig – Brunswick in English – at the end of the Second World War, when the huge secret facility was taken over by the British Ministry of Aircraft Production (MAP).
Professor William Jolly Duncan, a senior scientist specialising in aerodynamics and according to the IWM Collections web page, he sent it to the Air Ministry in London in January of 1945. It was passed to the museum in 1946(1).
Professor Duncan was part of a specialist team by headed by Alfred Hubert Roy Fedden a noted aero engine designer who had designed a number of engines for the Bristol Aircraft Company before joining MAP(2).
The team visited the site on 14 June 1945 as part of their mission(3) to gather information and materials etc from the research facility ahead of the Russians under whose jurisdiction the site fell – and of course the Americans and the French; all of whom wanted to capitalise on the advances in aircraft technology made by the German scientists.
After the initial mission, MAP took over the Völkenrode research facilities – a 1,000 acre site with more than 60 buildings, including five wind tunnels, one large enough to put a full-size fighter aircraft inside. During the war fifteen hundred staff worked on airframe, aero engine and aircraft weapons development and testing.
Although Brunswick was targeted over 40 times during the war, site appears to have escaped major damage(4).
In order to maintain the site’s secrecy, there were no obvious aircraft-related structures such as runways, all power supplies were buried underground and there were no railway lines to the site. Most buildings were low-level structures without chimneys and all were well camouflaged(5).
The panel comes from a Handley-Page Halifax II bomber, serial HR697 (ZA-F). It served with No 10 Squadron RAF and was one of ten Halifax bombers shot down on the night of 28/29 June 1943 when RAF Bomber Command sent 608 aircraft to attack Cologne(6).
Panel from the forward fuselage area of Handley Page Halifax bomber HR697.
IWM catalogue number EPH 4623. © IWM
It shows 23 successful missions flown to German and French targets – including four to Essen, three to Berlin, the twenty-first operation (to Wuppertal) marked by a ‘gold key’. The final mission symbol was painted by the Germans after the panel was recovered from the aircraft’s wreckage.
Seven of the crew died as a result of the attack and crash and are buried at Jonkerbos War Cemetery in the Netherlands(7) (8).
The eighth – Flight Engineer Sergeant Robert Shannon, RAAF – became a prisoner of war.
According to his Ex-Prisoner of War Questionnaire (completed 2 May 1945), he was transferred to the Aircrew Interrogation Centre – commonly known as ‘Dulagluft’ near Frankfurt – on 2 July 1943 as PoW no 350(9), presumably from a local prison in Belgium.
On 15 July 1944 he was sent to Stalagluft 6 Prisoner of War camp in East Prussia, remaining for just over a year.
He was moved to Stalagluft 357 at Thorn in Poland on 18 July 1944 for a month until that camp was relocated to Fallingbostel in Germany.
Here he stayed for eight months from 12 August 1944. On 14 April 1945 he and another prisoner escaped from a column of POWs which were being withdrawn as the Allies were advancing.
They left in six columns, each of 2,000 prisoners. Both made it back to Britain(10).
The pair were very lucky.
Arriving in Gresse after a 10-day forced march of over 100 kms they were attacked by RAF ground attack aircraft who mistook the lines of men for German infantry. Sixty men died and many were injured in the attack.
An added poignancy to the story is that the crew –
Pilot Officer Roy Hamilton Geddes, Royal Australian Air Force
Sergeant Robert Stirratt White, Royal Air Force
Pilot Officer Herbert Ernest Cross, Royal Air Force
Sergeant David Brown, Royal Air Force
Flight Sergeant Clifford Entwistle, Royal Air Force
Pilot Officer Reginald Eric Bradshaw, Royal Air Force
Sergeant Albert William Booth Royal Air Force and Sergeant Robert Shannon Royal Australian Air Force
– were well on their way to completing their operational tour of 30 missions.
Roy Geddes (who had been promoted to Pilot Officer less than a week earlier) had returned to flying earlier in June after being injured in a crash involving another No 10 Squadron Halifax. They were returning from an operation over Dortmund on 5 May 1943.
Five of the crew he was flying with were killed when the aircraft – clipped Hood Hill, near Sutton Bank in North Yorkshire (11) (12).
In the bottom right hand corner of the panel are the names of Leutnant Johannes Hager and Unteroffizier Hubert von Bergen, the Luftwaffe crew that shot the aircraft down at 01:27 on 29 June 1943.
They flew with 4./NJG1, a night fighter unit and engaged the Halifax at around 18,000 feet. It crashed one kilometre northwest of Maastricht(13).
Johannes Hager would end the war with more than forty victories (sources credit him with between 42 and 48) and die in September 1993(14).
How the panel got to the research station and why exactly it was there is not known at this time, but the names of the German crew and the addition of the final mission marking on the panel suggest that it may have been presentation piece.
(1) http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30084551 (Retrieved 25 May 2017)
(2) http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Roy_Fedden (Retrieved 1 June 2017)
(3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fedden_Mission (Retrieved 1 June 2017)
(6) http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20070706011932/http://www.raf.mod.uk/bombercommand/jun43.html (Retrieved 1 June 2017)
(7) http://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/206210/JONKERBOS%20WAR%20CEMETERY (Retrieved 1 June 2017)
(8) https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.419623834816738.1073741826.277896255656164&type=3 (Retrieved 23 June 2017)
(9) Footprints on the Sands of Time – RAF Bomber Command Prisoners of War in Germany 1939-45, Olover Clutton-Brock, (2003)
(10) WO 344/283/1, UK National Archives, Kew, England. Consulted 27 June 2017.
(11) http://www.yorkshire-aircraft.co.uk/aircraft/planes/43/jd105.html (Retrieved 23 June 2017)
(12) http://rafassocstowmarket.onesuffolk.net/assets/Uploads/George-Ward-Story.pdf (Retrieved 23 June 2017)
(13) Luftwaffe Night Fighter Claims: Combat claims by Luftwaffe Night Fighter Pilots 1939 – 1945, John Foreman and Simon W Parry (2003).
(14) http://en.ww2awards.com/person/29227 (Retrieved 20 June 2017)