Battle of Britain Day is marked by the RAF on September 15th, the day RAF Fighter Command claimed a decisive victory over the German Luftwaffe. The Hadlow Estate has pieced together, from a variety of sources, including local historian Robin Hollamby, details of the day a German Messerschmitt was downed on its land near Tudeley and would be interested to hear from anyone who has any further information.
Eighty years ago, when the Battle of Britain was at its height, a German fighter plane came crashing down to earth at Bank Farm near the village of Tudeley in Kent.
It was a time when, perhaps like no other, Britain stood alone in Europe. A few short months earlier, the Nazi war machine had swept across western Europe, capturing Holland, Belgium and France. As the Battle of France was lost, much of the British Army had been evacuated from Dunkirk, leaving most of its heavy equipment behind.
As a prelude to the invasion of Britain, the Luftwaffe had been tasked with destroying the RAF so German troops would not be attacked from the air as they crossed the Channel in barges that were already being prepared along the north coast of the continent.
In the days leading up to September 6, 1940, the fighting in the air had been intense, as wave after wave of fighters and bombers attacked the RAF’s southern airfields, such as Tangmere in Sussex and Northolt in West London.
Based at Tangmere at the time was 601 Squadron, equipped with Hawker Hurricane Mk1 fighter aircraft. Records indicate that Flight Lieutenant Michael Lister Robinson, from Chelsea, had joined the RAF in 1935 and was injured in a crash in France in May 1940. Back in the UK, he was posted to 601 Squadron on August 16.
On the morning of September 6, it is thought, he came across a Luftwaffe Messerschmitt 109 returning to its base in St Omer, northern France, after accompanying bombers attacking a target in London.
Opening fire at a height of around 15,000 feet above Mayfield, about eight miles south of Tunbridge Wells, he fired at the enemy fighter, damaging its wing and engine.
The pilot of the 109, Feldwebel (Sergeant) Erich Braun, realising his plane was losing coolant, and according to some reports being pursued by a second RAF fighter, baled-out over Tonbridge. His aircraft crashed at Bank Farm, at around 9.20am.
The second RAF fighter could have been a Hurricane from 303 Squadron, based at Northolt. This squadron was largely made up of pilots from Poland and Czechoslovakia who had escaped first to France and then Britain to continue the fight against the Nazis. Its pilot, some researchers suggest, may have been Czech Sgt Josef Frantisek.
Sgt Frantisek was credited with 17 enemy aircraft downed in September 1940 alone, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal later that month and was decorated by the King. Tragically, he was killed after his aircraft clipped a tree and crashed at Ewell, Surrey a few days later. He was 26. He is buried in Northwood, Middlesex.
Flight Lieutenant Robinson later became a Wing Commander. He won the Distinguished Service Order and Distinguished Flying Cross, but died on April 10, 1942, when his Spitfire failed to return to base after a mission over enemy territory. He was 25.
Braun, having survived, was luckier than many of the fliers from both sides, and became a Prisoner of War.
The RAF Museum notes: “Despite severe damage to its southern bases, Fighter Command resisted and fought a series of great air battles. These inflicted serious and unexpected losses on the Luftwaffe who had hoped the RAF strength had been exhausted. The main fear on both sides was how long this effort could be sustained, but respite came in early September when the focus of operations shifted to London.
“Between 26th August and 6th September, RAF losses totalled 248, the Luftwaffe’s 322. The strain on both sides was appalling.”
On September 7, 1940, the Luftwaffe switched to large-scale day and night raids on London, particularly the docks of the East End. It was the beginning of The Blitz.
If you have any memories or family stories from the Battle of Britain, the Hadlow Estate would love to hear from you. Tag us in your pictures on social media, or share your stories with us via https://www.hadlow.com/contact/.
Click here to listen to Kate and Robin sharing the story on BBC Radio Kent on Battle of Britain Day.