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Germans planes landed at RAF West Malling at Kings Hill, led by Station Commander Peter Townsend, during Second World War

Most people are aware that the extensive housing and commercial estate now known as Kings Hill was once home to RAF Malling.

The airfield played a key role during the defence of Britain in the Second World War.

The former control tower at RAF West Malling survives at Kings Hill
The former control tower at RAF West Malling survives at Kings Hill

Initially 141 Squadron of Boulton Paul Defiant two-seater fighters were based there, but over the years it was also home to 26 Squadron of Westland Lysanders, 66 Squadron of Spitfires, 421 Flight of Fairy Swordfish, 264 Squadron of Defiant Nightfighters, 29 Squadron Beaufort Night Interceptors, 33 Squadron of Hurricanes and 3 Squadron of Typhoons.

But the strangest and most unexpected airplanes to land at RAF Malling touched down on the night of April 16, 1943.

It was a very misty evening when the crew of a Beaverette Mk III armoured car of 2769 Field Squadron RAF Regiment, which was on routine patrol around the airfield, heard the sound of an approaching single-seater.

Although none of the station’s own aircraft were up, it was not unusual for damaged aircraft from other stations to land there on their return from a mission.

The landing flares were ignited and the plane circled the airfield twice before landing and taxiing up to the control tower where the cockpit was opened and the pilot began to shout for his ground crew - in German.

The estate's history is recalled on two stones
The estate's history is recalled on two stones

It was a Focke-Wulf Fw 190.

Both sides realised their mistake at the same time and the Beaverette’s gunner, A/C Sharlock, jumped out and pushed the rudder of the aircraft right over to stop the pilot making a run for it.

However, the German pilot, Feldwebel Otto Bechtold, meekly surrendered.

The Watch Officer, a Ft Lt Barry was on the phone to HQ to report the incident when another plane was heard.

A landing flare was sent up and a second Focke-Wulf touched down. However, seeing the armoured car racing towards him, the pilot realised his mistake and began to take off again.

A flight or our fighters at West Malling during the war
A flight or our fighters at West Malling during the war

AC Sharback at once opened fire with his twin Vickers machine guns hitting the German’s fuel tank, causing the plane to catch fire. It slewed round violently and overturned.

The pilot, Leutnant Fritz Sezter, was thrown clear, and despite being wounded in the shoulder and leg and having some of his clothing on fire, tried to run.

He ran straight into the arms of the Station Commander, (later Group Captain) Peter Townsend and was captured but the German continued to struggle and shout madly at Townsend.

The station’s fire trucks began to extinguish the flames, but the aircraft suddenly exploded, scattering debris over a wide area. Two of the firemen, AC1s Lamb and Halford, were injured.

After an interpreter arrived, it transpired that Lt Sezter had been trying to warn Townsend there was a bomb still on board.

Station Commander Peter Townsend caught one German
Station Commander Peter Townsend caught one German

Meanwhile a third German fighter also attempted a landing. He undershot the runway and crashed at Springetts Farm, East Malling. His plane was destroyed but Oberfeldwebel Otto Schulz escaped uninjured.

When ambulance crews arrived at the crash scene, they found him enjoying a cup of tea with villagers.

A fourth aircraft passed overhead. Out of fuel, the pilot bailed but he was too low for his parachute to deploy and Oberleutnant Kurt Khaln fell to his death. The aircraft crashed in a field near Staplehurst.

Feldwebel Bechtold’s aircraft remained serviceable. It was initially taken to the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough for detailed examination, but was later repainted in RAF livery, and became PE 882 of the RAF’s 1426 (Enemy Aircraft) Flight, nicknamed the Rafwaffe.

This flight of captured machines were used for training British crews in realistic mock air-battles.

Princess Margaret put duty first
Princess Margaret put duty first

It transpired that the Germans were part of a squadron of 12 painted with lampblack to disguise their shape and recently converted to a fighter/bomber role.

They were on their first mission - to bomb London. Returning to base, they had been intercepted by British night-fighters and in the ensuing melee these four had become separated and lost.

Crossing the Thames estuary, they had thought they were crossing the Channel, and running low on fuel landed in what they believed was occupied France.

Peter Townsend later became well known for his affair with Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister. Because he was a divorcee, the Princess could not marry him, and amid the ensuing tabloid scandal, Margaret publicly called off the romance.

To read about the Armed Forces and how they have served Kent and beyond, click here.

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