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24 September 2014

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You are in: Wear > Coast > Point 5 - The Whitburn bomber

Rifle butts at Whitburn

The bomber fell into the sea near here.

Point 5 - The Whitburn bomber

During World War Two, the people living along this coast often came under attack from German bombing raids. Among many wartime memories, is the tale of the bomber which ditched into the sea.

Try to imagine this area during World War Two. The threat is very real, with soldiers and guns stationed on the cliff tops. The air raid sirens pierce the air at regular intervals as German bombers try to cripple the docks and ship building facilities along the river Wear. And the danger is not confined to the big city, after all, the fishermen’s cottages at the Bents were the first to be hit during a raid.

Simple coastal village life is different now, rationing means everything has to be bought with coupons and there’s no more running down to the beach. The sands are covered with barbed wire for fear of the threat of invasion.

Mrs Ada Berry

Ada Berry remembers when the plane fell

The tale of the Whitburn Bomber

Imagine what it must have been like to be 14 years old in 1940. It’s a bright and sunny August day, so no need to go to school. Perhaps you’re helping your mother with some of the chores in the house, maybe you’re in the garden enjoying the good weather, looking for something to do and arguing with your brother.

Suddenly a familiar drone rents the air. The air raid sirens begin their mournful air. Quick as a flash, your mother calls out “Get into the shelter, get into the shelter,” gathering up you and your brother and heading down the street.

Once inside the shelter, you’re not the only ones there, friends and neighbours have also gathered to wait for the danger to pass. Despite being tucked away from the outside world, you can still hear it, the crump, crump of bombs dropping in the distance and the fierce sharp clatter of the anti aircraft guns.

'He's coming down!'

All at once, there’s a shout, you don’t really know where it comes from: “He’s coming down, he’s coming down!” It’s taken up by more and more voices, and curiously, you rush to the opening of the shelter and out into the open air. People are running down the street, looking out to sea as a huge German plane comes crashing down into the water.

Unbelievably, the huge metal body seems to float for a few seconds and you see two men clamber out, before it flips and sinks below the waves. The local ARP warden is getting cross, trying to tell people they should still be in their shelters as the all clear has not sounded, but this is too exciting to miss. The German airmen are rescued from the water and taken by boat back to Sunderland.

Those were the scenes witnessed by Mrs Ada Berry, a resident of Whitburn and just 14 years old when the bomber fell into the sea.

Danger sign at the edge of a rifle range

Avoid this spot when the range is open

Heinkel bomber

According to records from the time, the plane, a Heinkel He 111H-3 had already dropped its bombs on Sunderland when it was attacked by the Yellow Section of No 79 Squadron RAF fighters, including Flight Lieutenant R F H Clarke, Sergeant J Wright and Pilot Officer G H Nelson–Edwards.

It ditched into the sea off Whitburn on Friday 9 August 1940 at 11.52. The crew, picked up by a Royal Navy Patrol Boat were:
Feldwebel (Sergeant) W Haertel – unhurt
Unteroffizier (Lance Corporal) O Denner – unhurt
Unteroffizier (Lance Corporal) F Feinekat – wounded
Unteroffizier (Lance Corporal) G Karkos - wounded

Searching for the wreck

Years later, Mrs Berry’s vivid memory of the German bomber's crash helped Major Alastair McCluskey and a team of divers stationed at Whitburn camp, pinpoint the spot where the plane fell. They successfully retrieved a small piece of wreckage from the sea. Ada remembers standing on the shore, using a two way radio to guide the divers boat to the right spot, just beyond the rifle butts at Whitburn Range.  

This is just one of many many stories, relating to World War Two which can be found along this coast. Discover some for yourself on the People’s War website

From this point, we move away from the coastal path into Whitburn village to discover a beautifully restored windmill. Alternatively, provided the rifle range is not in use, you can take a shorter route to the end of the walk. Please pay attention to the signs for the rifle range and do not continue along the coastal path if red flags are flying to show the range is in use.

last updated: 19/02/2008 at 12:16
created: 05/07/2005

You are in: Wear > Coast > Point 5 - The Whitburn bomber

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