Second World War German plane shot down over Holmwood Common

Junker 88 bomber

In March 1944 a German Junker 88 bomber was shot down over Holmwood Common in the midst of the last Luftwaffe campaign over Britain.

On the night of March 14 1944 at 11.05 PM a German bomber crashed on Holmwood Common. The plan was a Junker JU 88A-14 returning from a raid on London when it was shot down by a RAF Mosquito night fighter. Jettisoning its remaining bombload, it went into a steep dive and crashed into the undergrowth. It was completely wrecked and all four crewmen was killed instantly.

The crew were all in their early twenties, and comprised:

  • Pilot: Unteroffizier Gerhard Straube, aged 21

  • Observer:Unteroffizier Alfred Schiffmann, aged 21

  • Radio/Op: Unteroffizier Hans Sing, aged 23

  • Gunner: Heinz Wende, aged 19

The pilot and one other crew member were buried in Dorking and the other two were buried in the German War Cemetery at Cannock Chase in Staffordshire

The plane had flown from Hamburg to the Suffolk coast and headed south to its target just west of London's Isle of Dogs. It then navigated to a point between Reigate and Horsham en route for its return to France.

This incident happened in the middle of Operation Steinbock. Running from January to May 1944 this was the last large-scale offensive carried out by the Luftwaffe over southern England during the war. It was smaller scale than the Blitzkrieg of 1940-41 and was known as the baby Blitz in the UK. For Germany it was a failure. It delivered little benefit and had a huge cost, as 329 bombers were lost, significantly impacting their response to the D-day landings in June 1944.

By comparison, the RAF lost only 29 planes, undoubtedly due to the improved defence capability epitomised by this incident. The de Havilland Mosquito was an excellent night fighter, fast and well equipped including radar.  The crew, pilot Flight Lieutenant Head and Flying Officer Andrews, were part of the 96 Squadron, night combat specialists who sported the motto Nocturnis obambulamus - 'We prowl by night'. The squadron at this time was posted at West Malling airfield in Kent. 

The site has been excavated by archaeologists in the 1970s and 1990s and finally by the National Trust in 2012, All remains have been removed and are under the care of the Wings Museum in Balcombe, Sussex.