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The Mystery Raiders of 1940: Air Raids in Surrey

by swallow

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Peter Faggetter
Location of story: 
Chaldon, Surrey
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
18 June 2004

After several weeks of sirens sounding then no enemy planes seen or hear - the 'false alarms' as they became known - then the 15th August evening raid on Croydon Airport came as a rude awakening. It was 6.50 and people were still working in the small factories adjacent to the hange areas, and it was these poor folk that took the brunt of casualties. In Kent and Sussex it had been a busy day for the RAF and with the Luftwaffe operating a 1,000 raiders. So how did a dozen Messerschmitt 110 fighters with underwing bombs manage to bypass our fighters and hundreds of Observer Corps lookout posts without being spotted? Granted the alerted Croydon Hurricane squadron was on patrol high overhead, but neither thy nor the siren got 'switched on' till after the fighterbombers began their expert work. And they were doing a good job too, till the Hurri boys got the message; but by then the bombs had done their work.

I was playfully riding the bike in our avenue when the fun began, and it was only after the assorted detonations that any wailing of sirens added to the din of high revving engines and fighting machine-gun fire.
It later transpired that the attack was intended for Kenley, but they lost their way in spite of flying quite low at an estimated 3,000 feet. But Kenley airfield was very well camouflaged - with even the runways painted in various colours. Whatever, with the German aircraft flying quite low - lost or otherwise - then they should have been identified for what they were, for the Me 110s were quite large and vey often mistaken for Dornier bombers.

Considering how far we were from the Sussex coast observers, then the nine Dorniers that attacked Kenley at 1.20 on Sunday 18th August revealed another flaw in our fighter defence for they arrived over Caterham before a late chasing Hurricane gave them a burst of machine-gun fire, for which the pilot paid with his life. Considering how many Spits and Hurris 'lived' at southern airfields, that 'cheeky' low flying Staffel should have been shot to ribbons before reaching Surrey, for they were quickly seen crossing the beach near Seaford.
For the price of two aircraft shot down over England and two trying to swim home, they had wrecked Kenley, shot down 3 Huricanes, and destroyed another seven various aircraft on the ground and in burning hagars. That's quite a good day's work.

Another afternoon in late August a single Heinkel came speeding at twice normal expectation from the Croydon airport direction at 6,000 feet with three Hurris and two Spits in strung-out pursuit. The nearer Hurri ws at least half a mile behind and, with the un-loaded bomber in a shallow dive, none of the fighters was visibly gaining ground. And provided the Jerry kept to his undeviating line he might just get away with his daring dash of escape.
In wondering why or how the Heinkel came to be flying without companions, I found myself wishing for his getaway for I was far from convinced that all Germans were bad: after all, if I'd been older and born in Germany, I might well have been aboard the bomber!

Early in September there was another raiding day for Surrey. We could hear a lot of distant activity and were well within stepping range of our Anderson shelter, when to our surprise and coming from the Cateham direction was a neat and tidy formation of 20 Dorniers at 8,000 feet and with not a Spit or hungry Hurri in any vacant height! With the radio News constantly bragging of huns down by the dozen, here they were cheekily flying over Chaldon - our bungalow! - before curving away towards Alderstead, then northwards for an attack on Croydon, or a searching double-back on Kenley, for the airfield was hard to spot. But what an eye opener! And where were the Spits?

The next enemy plane seen close up was a Heinkel that came speeding across our upper Happy Valley field after a snappy photographic pass at Kenley then the Guards Barracks. Walking home from Caterham at the time - with no sirens having sounded - I had a perfect view of the approaching Jerry before jumping into a ditch near Fryen for cover, cutting my knee in the process. Now I could actually boast of a war wound!

Another in the position to boast was a Canadian soldier on duty with the brengun set up in the Mead orchard. After all the weeks of dozing inactivity at last the lucky man could loose off a short burst before the nippy plane was over the trees and gone. How such a solo plane could operate in our part of Surrey without our fighters chasing and shooting, to me remains a mystery. After all, the Heinkel III wasn't regarded as the faster of three types of German bombers available for reconnaissance or photo work.

Another morning while walking towards Caterham came a similar plane from the south-east. Flying fairly high up - say 9,000 feet? - the Heinkel toured towards Town End, then, seemingly having calmly taken his Kenley photos, turned about and headed homewards. Sheer 'bluff' I say saved that Jerry's skin, for not a gun fired nor a fighter intercepted. Considering the country was just getting over the Battle of Britain I see such laxity as odd.

I know the experimental establishments had ex Luftwaffe aircraft for evaluation, but they surely wouldn't have flown them in forward combat zones. Farnborough, or Boscombe Down were the aircraft testing areas.

The next working bomber I saw was the Dornier that unloaded over Caterham Hill in November - the Jerry that carried the bomb with my name on it. And again, no sirens had sounded that day either. Our sky watchers must have been of very poor quality, for I could instantly recognise both ours and German planes; from a good distance too.
One could think sometimes that perhaps it was a policy to ignore the single raider; that it was better not to 'alert' the public when the danger was minimal. After all, the nuisance raider at night was bad enough when it came to dislocation, for night shift workers down-tooling in factories was costly to the war effort. From this realisation came the different 'alert' state - the yellow, orange and red. A roof watcher called any urgency and 'stand by'. Not then having reached this sensible local lookout precaution meant the big Croydon evening attack reaped many casualties. You couldn't entirely rely on the air-raid alert system; there's always some human failings and, mis-identifications.

Apart from seeing a single messerschmitt 110 tearing southwards after some high up activity beyond Coulsdon one Battle day, and probably due to dropping down and out of a dogfight situation in order to hide and save skin - a natural reaction in difficult situations, and probably your best bet - then the only other Jerry planes I saw that autumn were the night raiding Heinkels caught up in searchlight beams. We didn't see many for the twisting evaders usually made good their escape.
On two occasions though I saw Heinkels silhouetted against the high white background of cirrus. Here, although the general shape of the Heinkel is quite nice - and with a good eliptical wing form - it did appear very sinister, for its blackness coupled with the discordant drone associated with twin engined German bombers made it 'vampire' like; a dracula with a belly full of bombs.

The discordant noise of the German aero engines was created by running the two motors at different speeds. It produced a very sinister and menacing sound; a throbbing drone that was stretchable to both vibrate and simply hum. It was a ploy to jangle the weaker nerves and make you sleepless. Many came to hate it, and thus making the ploy a success. Our bombers could do the same over Germany. Lancasters with four engines set discordantly or de-synchronized were worse than Heinels, the standard German night bomber.


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