As the burning torch expires
The crash of a British bomber at Michelau Neuhausen 1943
Leads the Field
The following translation of the article in German by Norbert Vollmann follows as closely as possible the original story.
Norbert himself sent me the story in English translated by a computer programme and I have, I hope, helped to make it in places, a little more understandable.
The British bomber crashed on the night of 27/28th August 1943 Michelau-Neuhausen after it had been set on fire by a German night fighter over Nuremberg. One of the two ailerons from the wings could later be found in a garden in the village and can be seen on the left side of the picture which was provided by Egon Lutz. Even today, you can still find metal parts (small picture) of the Lancaster that exploded in the air over the woods at Neuhausen.
Oberleutnant (Flying officer/1st Lieutenant) Ludwig Meister
Ludwig Meister along with his crew shot down two British bombers on the 27/28 August 1943 during the raid on Nuremberg. Among them was the Lancaster which crashed at Neuhausen. Six Britons and a Canadian lost their lives.
The Lichtenstein-device made it possible for the night fighters to recognize enemy airplanes on a radar screen. For this reason, the Messerschmidt Bf 110 of Ludwig Meister was manned with three crew members: the Pilot, the radio operator and the radar observer who led the pilot close to the target.
This was the time of the "dark night hunting", in contrast to the "bright night hunting", the fighter was no longer depending on the help of the ground by searchlights illuminating the target, he was led by ground controllers roughly to the target. The radar did the rest. As a remedy, the British threw out tinfoil-strips (so named "Düppelstreifen", also named "windows") by the crews. That deceived the Lichtenstein-devices and made them so worthless.
As the burning torch expires
The crash of the British bomber at Michelau-Neuhausen 1943 (part 2)
By Norbert Vollmann
In the mean time the bomber (DV187) which was on fire after being attacked by the German fighter during the Royal Air Force raid over Nuremberg on the 27/28 August 1943 is heading from the village of Geusfeld over the mountain directly for the villages of Neuhausen and Prüßberg in a reddish ball of fire.
Anna Reinhart, nee Kram, born in 1911 is watching through the windows of her home at Neuhausen, several planes are coming over the mountain. With one of her two small children on her arm, she runs down the stairway to look out of the front door.
Anna Reinhart: "While the other airplanes suddenly disappeared out of site, one plane circled over the village. Everything was illuminated brightly because the bomber was burning. The people could hear the explosions on board. The plane spun more and more. We thought: If the plane goes down now, it will fall directly on Neuhausen”.
In the nick of time, one crew member was able to get out on his parachute, possibly he was thrown out of the plane, and was now drifting in the direction of Prüßberg. A female resident of Neuhausen: "We already thought this man was safe but then what happened was, there was a further explosion on board and one of the metal parts of the exploding plane hit the man on the parachute in the air. At this moment he fell like a sack ."
Theo Bäuerlein (born 1933) from Geusfeld: "The airplane dived down like a comet." Oskar Lutz fromPrüßberg, at that time eleven years old: "Our mother had woke us and she told us that somewhere there is an air attack. There we saw the burning airplane flying over our house." Egon Lutz, at that time almost six years old: "The entire house wobbled, when the bomber exploded." Adolf Fuchs observed the spectacle from the point of the little pilgrimage church at Bischwind: "The bomber went into a dive and stretched a fire trail behind it. Meter-high flames shot out. The wings were obviously folded due to the heat. We saw only fire."
Richard Ditzel, born in 1928: "The airplane was pursued by a German fighter and was a blaze when it came over the mountain. Then it exploded in the air. I can still hear the explosion today”. Robert Blaurock, at that time only eight years old: "We thought the bomber was coming down directly on Neuhausen." And also Rosa Zinner from Prüßberg knew of the fears of the people of Neuhausen that the bomber may explode over the village. Yet the inhabitants had good fortune. The remains of the Lancaster fell short just before the entrance to the village on the right side along the road to Prüßberg into the soft ground in the meadow called Ebrachs Wiesen. From there you could hear for many hours the explosions caused by the ammunition and the burning gasoline. Because of the danger, no one trusted for a long time to go near the crash scene.
Ludwig Meister and his crew after the shooting down of the second Lancaster now return to base. Radio operator Hannes Forke writes in his diary: “Because of problems with the Lichtenstein-device (see note above) we found nothing more." Ludwig Meister, Hannes Forke and Toni Werzinski touch down safely early on Saturday morning around 3.20am on the airfield at Mainz-Finthen. 174 flight minutes, two aircraft destroyed and an almost a full frontal collision are behind the crew. The night is short. Already at 9.15am, the Me 110 will start the return flight to Belgium.
When the explosions of the ammunition had stopped, Anna Reinhart left the house early in the morning together with her dad: "I said I must first look for the man that was on the parachute. I thought he would have to lie directly before the first houses, but we found him dead at the stony cross in the bend on the road to Prüßberg. However I was not able to bear the view and I went home." In the wallet of the dead airman, someone found a picture showing a pretty woman with two children. Anna Reinhart: "We all thought: Now they have no father."
Only the engines could be seen protruding out of the soft earth. The other parts of the aircraft were scattered around everywhere. The meadow that was the crash scene could not be mown after the crash because of the amount of metal pieces and so a shepherd was allowed to graze his herd.
Three of the dead airmen were found on the road to Prüßberg. Other dead airmen were found in the waist of the plane, all bodies badly broken and burned. In the mean time, the first policeman arrives at the crash location to protect it. Soon the German Luftwaffe (Air Force) will arrive to remove the wreckage and collect the bodies of the dead.
The news quickly circulates around the surrounding countryside that an English bomber crashed at Neuhausen. Josef Pfrang from Michelau, at that time 15 years old, will never forget the view of the dead: "It was the first that I saw in the war. I directly went home." Adolf Hauck with other young ones from the town of Gerolzhofen cycle to Neuhausen. Not suspecting anything, he stumbles over one of the dead in the tall grain.
Teacher Oskar Kern takes his pupils out of Prüßberg to the neighbouring village in order to show them the crash location. The wreckage is still smoking and also the dead are still lying in the hollow in the meadow and the street. Children open pockets on the chests of the dead in order to take out the sweets.
Naturally the ammunition is in great demand by the youths as valuable exchange objects although handling the “booty” is dangerous. Youths and adults are taking complete cartridge belts home. Parts of the wing and a rudder will be used in a garden as borders.
A farmer finds in his field near the crash scene one of the machine guns out of the bomber. Children from Geusfeld discover at the forest edge one of the dinghy’s that the bomber carried in case it had to ditch in the sea. Attempts to inflate it with pumps were doomed to failure. Theo Bäuerlein: “A mother finally cuts the material to make rubber linings for the children’s buggies.”
The Luftwaffe begin removing the wreckage by low loader to the railway station where they are taken by rail to the airfield at Kitzingen. The remains of the dead flyers are taken to Michelau in Steigerwald. The local carpenter makes wooden boxes for the dead airmen for burial in a common grave to the left of the cross on the wall in the north eastern corner of the local cemetery.
Kuratus (priest) Ambros Schor records shortly after the war into the books of the Catholic Church office of Michelau – but not correctly, the number of the dead: "8 soldiers of the English Air Force fell on the night of the 27/28th August 1943 between Neuhausen and Prüßberg to their death. The victims were buried on August 29th in the local cemetery under church honours".
Similarly the Swiss consulate-general in Munich states in his report to England, the beginning of the telegram says: "Dobbins, Clayton and Aspden were buried on August 29th 1943 together with four unknown at Gerolzhofen." Later, obviously after having the results of more exact investigations, the correction follows: "Dobbins, Aspden, Clayton and Bevis and three unknown were buried on August 29th 1943 at Michelau in Steigerwald."
On the 1st September 1943 Hannes Forke, the navigator and radio operator on board the night fighter flown by Ludwig Meister, writes in his diaryl: "Four years war. How often will we be counting from this day? What will the fifth year of war bring us?"
After the collapse of the Third Riech and the end of World War II in 1946 one of the special units of the allies, whose task is to determine the soldiers killed and where buried in the enemies country arrives at Michelau and exhumes the dead. This matter will keep the local council of Michelau busy in its session on August 18th 1946 under the direction of mayor Josef Barth. In the council minute’s book under the consultation article, “Grave exhumation for crashed English airplane crew”. The council decides to grant the sum of 50 Reichsmarks (the German currency at the time) for the exhumation against the estimated 130 Reichsmarks. Each of the three helpers were given 10 Reichsmarks and the cemetery attendant would receive 20 Reichsmarks. The estimation was probably unambiguously too high in the eyes of the council.
After the bodies are brought to Dürnbach, the central Commonwealth War Cemetery for southern Germany and identified, Leonard Aspden and his crew were finally laid to rest on 27th September 1947.
The British lose 33 aircraft in this attack among them on its 12th operation, Lancaster DV187 of 12 Squadron RAF over the forest of Neuhausen.
Oberleutnant Ludwig Meister is seriously injured in March 1944 when he was forced to make an emergency landing after an air battle with a US-fighter. He did not return to his unit until August 1944. Meanwhile in June 1944, he receives the Knights Cross (Ritterkreuz) in recognition of his 37 air victories. On December 6th he becomes commander of the III. Group of the NJG 4. His 39th and last victory is another Lancaster on March 8th 1945. Ludwig Meister and his wife live today in southern France. He became 87 years old on December 14th 2006.
© Norbert Vollmann 2006-2007