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The Second World War at Blakeney Point

A black and white image of the downed Heinkel riddled by gunfire and partially submerged in water
The downed Heinkel riddled by gunfire | © Peter Brooks Collection

During the Second World War, East Anglia was targeted by German planes as fierce battles took place in the skies. Seventy years later, erosion from the tides briefly provided a glimpse of what’s believed to be the wreck of a German aircraft, shot down during the Second World War.

The Battle of Britain begins

East Anglia bore the brunt of enemy air raids in 1940, as German planes targeted RAF stations in Norfolk and Suffolk. Blenheim night fighters and Spitfires were scrambled as a fierce battle took place in the skies and German bombs fell to the ground.

Bombs were dropped on Holland-on-Sea and Southend in Essex, Rede and several outlying villages around Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk and Bressingham and RAF Marham in Norfolk. In Cambridge, nine people died when eight houses suffered a direct hit and there was further loss of life in Ely.

The Heinkel's last flight

In the early hours of 19 June 1940, a firefight broke out in the skies over Norfolk. A British Blenheim from 23 Squadron had engaged a twin-engine German Heinkel, only to be shot down in a ball of flames. Flight Lieutenant Duke-Woolley and his gunner, aircraftman Bell, in another Blenheim were soon on the scene and chased the Heinkel at full throttle.

With speeds reaching over 130mph, they closed the distance and opened fire, delivering five attacks from their forward firing guns and a further seven bursts from the turret. As a result, the Heinkel’s engine caught fire. The Blenheim was also damaged by enemy fire and broke off the engagement to return to base.

The Heinkel flees

Fleeing back across the Norfolk Coast, the damaged Heinkel is believed to have dumped its bombs and limped as far as Blakeney, before the second engine failed and it was forced to make an unscheduled landing in shallow waters close to the beach. One crew member was wounded, but all four on board survived and were taken prisoner by the coastguard as they came ashore.

In total, six Heinkels were shot down and two were damaged that night. In addition to the one at Blakeney, others were reported at Debden, offshore at Felixstowe and Harwich, Six Mile Bottom and Sacketts Gap in Margate. One even landed in the Bishop of Chelmsford’s Garden and another was forced to land in Calais, France. Three Blenheims and two Spitfires also never made it home.

Rusting wreckage from the Heinkel aircraft was briefly revealed on the shingle at Blakeney in 2017
Rusting wreckage from the Heinkel aircraft on the shingle at Blakeney in 2017 | © National Trust / Carl Brooker

The Second World War at Blakeney Point

As with the rest of the country, the Second World War brought about much change on Blakeney Point. The warden, Ted Eales, enlisted into the Royal Navy and the Lifeboat House became home to the coastguard. A lookout tower was added, so they could scour the sea and sky for enemies.

Further along this stretch of coast, there were substantial anti-invasion defences at Salthouse. Some of the pill boxes still survive and occasionally the remains of scaffolding defences emerge from the sand.

The rusting wreck of the Heinkel remained offshore at Blakeney until Trinity House ordered it to be blown up in 1969. However, recent tides uncovered the remains of the wreck, albeit briefly, before the shifting shingle covered it once more.

Lost aircraft

During the Second World War, it’s thought some 2,500 aircraft crashed or made forced landings in Norfolk and Suffolk. Many would have been recovered or removed, but some wreckage remains, either buried beneath the ground or submerged in the North Sea.

The Heinkel

Described as a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’, the early development of the He111 was disguised as a development programme for civilian transport aircraft. It was one of the most frequently used German bombers of the Second World War.

Flight Lieutenant Duke-Woolley

Raymond Myles Beecham Duke-Woolley was the Flight Lieutenant who severely damaged the Heinkel that landed on Blakeney Point. Born in 1916 in Manchester, he entered RAF College Cranwell in 1935 as a Flight Cadet.

Graduating a year later with a permanent commission, he joined 23 Squadron at Northolt and went on to have a long career with the RAF. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (US) in 1943, the first time this award was ever given to a non-American.

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