Forgotten frontline exhibition tells how Luftwaffe fought with soldiers on Kent marshes
Battle ground -
exhibition organiser Mark Harrison overlooks the site of the
by Ron Green and Mark
The Luftwaffe bomber was in trouble. It had
dropped its 4,000lb cargo of bombs over London and was heading
home. As it flew over Kent it was hit by anti-aircraft fire from a
gun emplacement beside the Medway at Upnor.
Then pursuing Spitfires and Hurricanes pounced
– but for once they didn’t seek to blow the enemy plane from the
sky. The pilots from 66 and 92 squadrons recognised that
this was no ordinary Junkers bomber. Earlier an order had gone
out to all units to capture one like it, intact.
The bomber pilot, Fritz
Ruhlandt, was given no choice but to attempt a
forced landing on the Kent marshes. On the ground,
soldiers from the 1st London Irish Rifles billeted at the Sportsman
Inn on Graveney Marshes between Faversham and Seasalter heard
the crippled bomber as it plunged towards them.
Under-offizier Ruhlandt, despite being
wounded, brought down his plane a few hundred yards from the
pub. He and his injured crew members crawled from the
wreckage. A dozen or so soldiers in the pub grabbed their rifles
and rushed towards the scene.
And so, on September 27, 1940,
the scene was set for an historic encounter of the Second
The Luftwaffe crew had armed themselves with
two machine guns and a sub-machine gun and opened fire. The
soldiers returned fire but were forced to take cover under a
hail of bullets.
It was the only battle of the Second World
War on the British mainland and the incident was thought to be
the first in nearly 300 years in which armed invaders had fought
with troops on English soil. The dtramatic incident is
featured in The Forgotten Frontline, an exhibition at Whitstable
Museum illustrating how the Kent coast was affected
by the war seven decades ago.
The Irish rifles re-grouped and crept
along a dyke towards the Germans. When they were about 100 yards
away one of the airmen waved a white flag but as the soldiers
closed in fighting erupted again before the Germans were
The drama didn’t end with the surrender of the
aircrew. Like many Nazi planes, the Junkers 88 was fitted with
time-bombs to prevent it falling into enemy hands.
The soldiers had discovered and removed
just such a device. Unknown to the prisoners, one of the soldiers
could speak German and he heard the fliers talking about a second
time-bomb due to go off at any moment.
Captain Cantopher from the Irish Rifles
courageously rushed back to the plane, found the second device
and defused it in the nick of time. By doing so he
helped the war effort – for the Junkers 88 was only two weeks
old and was fitted with a secret and extremely accurate new
Captain Cantopher received the George Medal
for his bravery. The Junkers 88 was taken to RAF Farnborough for
examination and was said to have provided highly valuable
The Luftwaffe air crew went to
prisoner-of-war camps. The riflemen were mentioned in
dispatches for tactical ability which enabled them to force the
surrender of the heavily-armed Luftwaffe crew. Unofficially,
however, it is said the riflemen had their knuckles rapped
for opening fire without being ordered to do so.
The Battle of Graveney Marsh has the
distinction of being the last exchange of shots on mainland Britain
by a foreign invading force. The encounter was believed to be the
first confrontation with an enemy on British soil since the French
landed at Fishguard in 1797, although on that occasion not a shot
The Forgotten Frontline exhibition runs until Monday, November
14, at Whiststable Museum in Oxford Street. Call the museum on
01227 276998 for more information or visit http://www.timescapes.spaces.live.com/.
runs Timescapes local history group, the main
organisers of the exhibition.
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