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Gillingham Museum Montage

Accredited Museum Arts Council England

Dorset Museums Association

Heinkel Crash 1940

In the Society’s 2009 Journal, David Lloyd published an article about a German bomber which crashed at Huntingford on the outskirts of Gillingham.

Since that publication further information has come to light and an update was published in the 2010 Journal.

Here is the story so far and if you have further information to add then please send to

At the beginning of July 1940, the German Luftwaffe was given instructions to gain and maintain air superiority over the English Channel and this was quickly achieved.  However, Britain's seaborne communications with the world were uninterrupted for the ships being loaded and discharged at ports on the western coast were difficult and dangerous for the Luftwaffe to reach in daylight.

The harbour facilities such as those at nearby Bristol and Avonmouth, now assumed great importance to the British economy, and night harassing attacks against them, and the local aircraft industry, continued throughout the summer. The Bristol Docks complex and the Bristol Aeroplane Company at Filton each being targeted about 20 times between mid June and the end of August.

During daylight hours precision pinpoint attacks were to be undertaken against specific important targets, particularly the local docks or aircraft industry. These surprise attacks were to be carried out by aircraft, either singly or in small groups, only with the aid of suitable cloud cover.

One such attack was that by a lone Heinkel He III of III/KG 54 on 4 July 1940, and although slight damage was caused to the roof of the Rodney Works, Filton, Bristol the bomber was intercepted on its return flight over Weston-super-Mare and severely damaged by Spitfires of Yellow Section, 92 Sq. (Pembrey), crashing at 15.25 hrs at Huntingford on the outskirts of Gillingham.  Pilots of the Spitfires were P/O. H.D.Edwards, P/O. C.H.Saunders and Sgt. R.H.Fokes.  Saunders and Fokes landed nearby and assisted in rescue work. Of the German crew Ltn. Hans-Heinrich Delfs, pilot (aged 25), Unteroffizier Gerhard Bischoff, observer (aged 29) and Uffz. Hermann Krack, gunner (aged 25) were killed. Uffz. Heinz Karwelat was injured and ended as a prisoner-of war.

The Heinkel He III bomber was a German medium bomber based on an existing pre-war He III airliner design. At the outbreak of WWII the Heinkel had become the Luftwaffe’s primary medium bomber. It had a maximum speed of 250mph and its range was 1750 miles

This was the first German aircraft to be lost on operations against the Bristol area.

The Heinkel crew normally consisted of Pilot, navigator/bombardier, nose gunner, ventral gunner and dorsal gunner.

Eye-witness accounts

Eye-witness, Ray Wheatcroft, sent the crash photograph to the Museum in 1996. As a 20 year-old he accompanied the still burning bodies of the three dead airmen to Gillingham Mortuary.  They were buried on 8 July in graves 1097, 1098 & 1099.  The bodies were exhumed (in 1962?) and taken to the German war cemetery, Cannock Chase, Staffordshire.

Brian Hurley was bowling in a cricket match at the Grammar School when he realised that all the fielders were looking skywards and as he turned his head to look he just saw the Heinkel disappear behind trees followed by a large plume of black smoke.

Local schoolboy, Ken Hiscock raced home from school to see one of the Spitfires some fields away from the crash site.

Mrs Hilda Joan Green (nee Forward) of Forest Side Farm, Huntingford recalls:

“It must have been good weather in June that year as we had finished haymaking.  The Dutch barn was full and there was also a large haystack beside it.  It was usual at about 4.00 pm each day to collect the eggs from a Fold unit that we had in that field which was about 50 -100 yards from where the plane crashed.  I had collected the eggs and gone back indoors. 

About five minutes later there was an almighty noise.  Mother and I dashed under the kitchen table.  When it had all gone quiet, I went to look out of the window and I saw a Spitfire pilot running across the yard.  There were lots of other people too.  I went outside and found the ground covered in spent shells.  The Spitfires must have been directly above the house firing straight into the bomber as it was coming in a direct line with our haystack and the farmhouse beyond.  The pilot did a marvellous job to stop it.

I suppose the bomber had been to Bristol to drop its bombs and was making for home.  I don’t know how long the Spitfires had been following it.  As it neared our farm, the Heinkel was losing height and went through one bank of small elm trees, it crossed the road and then, eventually, it hit a big, strong elm tree in the hedge and skewed round on the bank of the hedge.  The impact hurled one engine a long way across the field.

I don’t know how many German airmen there were.  Some survived and 3 were buried in Gillingham Cemetery.  I believe they have since been moved.  I think there were two Spitfires in the chase.  They had landed in a large field nearby.  Army and Air force personnel were quickly on the scene to start investigating the incident and to stop people souvenir hunting.  The roads were blocked with people who had followed the planes.  Father (Francis Forward), who had been away for the day, came home at 5pm and couldn’t get through the crowd to get to the farm.  My 14 year old sister was at Gillingham Grammar School when the sirens sounded and the pupils had to go down into their “trenches”.

This is an account of my recollections as a 16 year old of what happened on July 4th 1940 as I remember it.”



BRISTOL PAST – Fishponds Local History website

Gillingham Register of Burials

Copyright holder

Mrs Hilda Green (nee Forward)

Derek Baker, of Gillingham, sent a similar account of the event to the Blackmore Vale Magazine in September 2009.  Derek has kindly given me names of those who responded to it so there may be an additional update.

David Lloyd January 2010