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Battle of Britain, Dorniers: 15th September 1940.icon for Recommended story

by Julian Shales - WW2 Site Helper

Contributed by 
Julian Shales - WW2 Site Helper
People in story: 
Douglas Cooper
Location of story: 
Barnehurst Kent
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A2706897
Contributed on: 
05 June 2004

This true event is an eye witness account of a Dornier 17 shot down at Barnehurst in Kent on the 15th September 1940. It includes details of the crew.

Early in 1940 we moved house from Winnifred Road, Erith, Kent to 98 Parkside Avenue, Barnehurst, Kent. This was because Winnifred Road was quite close to the river Thames and the river was bound to be a good target for air raids with the comings and goings of ships and boats to and from the London docks.

Nearly every house was given an air raid shelter of some sort, of which there were three types.

The Anderson went in the garden in a 3 foot deep trench with sheets of corrugated iron erected to cover it. The earth removed from the trench was used to cover the sheets. One end was left open as the entrance.

The Morrison was made of strong iron angle bars and made like a table which you would have indoors and crawl under when there was a raid. A third type was brick built and erected in back yards.

By September 1940 we were being bombed nearly every day and every night, mostly at night. I would be put to bed and after a while I would be woken up by my Mum or Dad “Come on up you get, there’s another air raid” So it was down stairs under the table or down next door’s shelter as they had theirs built before we did.

By the 15th September, which was a Sunday, my Dad had dug out the trench in the garden to erect our Anderson shelter. In the morning he started to slide the corrugated iron side sheets into place. They were quite heavy of course. I can’t remember if he had any help at this time. I can only remember my Mum and Dad and I being present.

By about 11 o’ clock in the morning the shelter was up and all bolted together, but the ends were not in place. So you could walk in one end and out the other. On this particular day Adolf Hitler decided to bomb us into submission. He must have sent every bomber and every fighter plane he had. There seemed like hundreds and hundreds of them. But he did not bargain that we had our Spitfires and Hurricane fighters waiting for them, although very much outnumbered.

About this time the warning sirens sounded and after a little while we could hear the German planes coming. You could always tell a German aircraft, their engines would drone and drone.

Then we could see them coming. I don’t think they had started dropping their bombs yet. I think they were saving them for London, perhaps if they had any left they might drop them on us on the way back.

Our anti-aircraft guns had been firing at them as soon as they were in sight. Then the Sptifires and Hurricanes started to attack, you cannot imagine the noise with the aircraft chasing one another, machine guns and anti-aircraft shells all going off at the same time. It went on for what seemed like hours.

At the back of our house were allotments which people used to grow as many vegetables as they could. On most of the allotments were sheds and other lock ups where the gardeners kept their tools.

Beyond the allotments was Barnehurst Golf Course rising up to a low hill and sloping away on the other side. Beyond that was an old Manor House which was used as the golf clubhouse. We could not see the Manor House from our back garden.

The battle raged on in the sky, there were aircraft everywhere, and big puffs of smoke where the anti-aircraft shells were bursting. Some aircraft were on fire, black smoke pouring out behind them, and by this time the bombs were dropping, but luckily none in our direction.

My Mum and Dad and myself, and all of our neighbours were looking upwards and shouting and cheering for our fighters blasting hell out of the Germans. Unfortunately some of ours were being shot down too, but not as many as the Germans.

All of a sudden there was a German bomber flying right towards us. Just skimming the tops of the golf course trees. It was a Dornier, one of their biggest. It was so low we could see the pilot flying it and we could see the gunner in the nose of the bomber pointing his machine gun at us.

My Dad pushed me and my Mum down into the trench of the shelter, it had no ends but was better than nothing. At this point Dad leapt on to the top of the shelter waving his arms at the bomber and shouting “Turn back turn back” Why they never shot at him or any of us we will never know. The bomber droned over just skimming the roof of our house and tried to gain height and then turned right round and came back. He looked as if he was going to land on the golf course.

Suddenly a Spitfire was on his tail blasting away with his guns shooting right into the back and top of the bomber which then took a nose dive and crashed into the golf course. There was a tremendous thud, a massive explosion and the ground shook, and there was a big red flash and we saw the tail of the plane go up in the air. We could hear the machine gun ammunition exploding within the burning bomber.

Everyone was excited, cheering and laughing and then to our horror over the low hill of the golf course came three big bombs bouncing straight towards us and quite fast along the short grass.

Everyone was dumbstruck and frozen to the spot. Two of the bombs stopped short of the golf course fence, the third just kept coming, travelling faster than the others and bouncing two or three feet into the air.

I do not know if it bounced over the fence or bashed its way through to the allotments, but it crashed into the shed nearest to us, where it bashed in the back of it and stopped! It seemed like slow motion as the shed’s sides collapsed inwards, then the front and then the roof, trapping the bomb inside. All the time no one said a word, everyone stood petrified and then dived to the ground expecting the bomb to explode. But thank God nothing happened and after a few minutes everyone started pulling themselves together and getting up.

The bomber was still burning and you could still hear the ammunition cooking off. Some men were running across the golf course towards it, I don’t know if they had hopes of saving the Germans and taking them prisoner, but we heard afterwards that there were no survivors. There were further explosions and some of the men were injured, one of our neighbours had a piece of an ear blown off.

The Spitfire that had shot it down roared up into the sky, rolled over backwards and came diving down very fast and then turned over into a beautiful victory roll over the golf course and the bomber.

We all jumped up cheering and waving to the pilot forgetting all about the unexploded bomb that lay 50 feet away under the collapsed shed.

All of the above action took place in about 15 to 20 minutes from the moment the bomber crashed.

Later the bomb disposal squad arrived (they were very brave defusing bombs which now and then exploded as something went wrong, and they lost men killed). Every household nearby was evacuated until the bombs were made safe and taken away. We were all allowed back to our homes the next day. We had stayed with my Auntie Lil that night, she lived over the road from us.

I cannot remember if we had another air raid that night but I think the Germans were licking their wounds after realising how many men and aircraft they had lost that day.

It was reported by the BBC that there had been 185 aircraft shot down, I don’t suppose they were all German!

As the bomber took a nose dive he had hit a big tree stump and the plane had flipped over, that is when we saw the tail go up in the air. With the explosion of the plane, the pilot’s body was blown in to a road near the golf course. His name was Wolf and he was buried in St Paulinus Churchyard at Crayford. His grave was looked after by local people and always had fresh flowers on it. He was there for quite sometime but his body was taken back to Germany after the war.

The Manor House was badly damaged but was patched up afterwards. I think it ended up as a single storey building and is still used today as the golf clubhouse.

Douglas Cooper.
Now of [personal details removed by Moderator]

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