A Dogfight That Ended At The Movies.

Another guest post by Mitch Peeke.

Toward the end of the Battle of Britain, Reichsmarschall Herman Goring chose to blame his hitherto beloved fighter pilots for the devastating losses the German bomber squadrons had suffered that summer. He decided that if the fighters couldn’t protect the bombers, then the fighters could carry the bombs to London themselves! On his direct orders, about one third of the Luftwaffe’s fighter force was swiftly converted to carry a single bomb slung under the belly of their Me109’s. Flying at high altitude, these Jagd-Bomber aircraft, or Jabos as they were now called, were then to be heavily escorted by the regular fighters, in an attempt to draw the RAF’s fighters into battle, where they could be annihilated by the superior German numbers. It didn’t matter to the Germans where the bombs fell as the hapless Jabos were simply the bait.

On the morning of Sunday, October 20th 1940, the high-flying Jabos were making daylight attacks on south-east England and London again. They came over in five waves, heavily escorted as per Goring’s orders, from about 09:30 till approximately 14:00. Part of the fighter escort for one of the later raids was provided by 6/JG52, based at Peuplingues, in France and one of the escort pilots from this unit was Oberfeldwebel Albert Friedemann.

The inbound raiders and their escorts had already been fighting their way across Kent when they reached Central London at around 13:35. Having dropped their burdensome bombs, the Jabo pilots could now accelerate to fighting speed and engage the defending RAF fighters on equal terms, though ever with a cautious eye on the fuel gauge.

One of the RAF squadrons sent to deal with these raiders that day was 41 Squadron, up from Hornchurch in Essex. High over the City of London area, 41 Squadron’s Flying Officer Peter Brown in his Spitfire, was in combat with a yellow-nosed Messerschmitt 109, that flown by Friedemann.  During the combat, Brown succeeded in gaining the advantage over his opponent and scored several decisive hits on the nose of Friedemann’s Messerschmitt, which started to belch brownish-black smoke from its now mortally wounded Daimler-Benz engine.

Flying Officer Peter Brown in combat with Oberfeldwebel Albert Friedemann over London on Sunday 20th October 1940.

Flying Officer Peter Brown in combat with Oberfeldwebel Albert Friedemann over London on Sunday 20th October 1940 (Painting by Geoff Nutkins of Shoreham aircraft Museum, by kind permission).

The crippled Messerschmitt began to lose speed and height as it flew over Tower Bridge, crossing the Thames in a roughly East-south-easterly direction, towards Shooters Hill. Brown flew his Spitfire alongside his vanquished foe as the German pilot jettisoned his cockpit canopy and raised himself out of the seat. Having no choice in the matter, Friedemann baled out of his doomed fighter over the Plumstead/Welling area of South London and as it transpired, his exit was not a moment too soon. Seconds after Friedemann had jumped, the Messerschmitt’s fuel tank exploded in mid-air. The time was almost exactly 13:45.

On the ground at Welling, was fifteen year-old Ennis Mowe. Though still at school, Ennis was the sort of girl who hated the fact that she was considered too young to take any active part in the war effort. She badly wanted to “do something” and even though it was she who had done the Lion’s share of the work involved in constructing the family’s Anderson shelter, it simply wasn’t enough for her to be content with; an attitude that had lead to several arguments with her father recently.

Not feeling inclined to enjoy the dubious comforts of the public air-raid shelter in Bellegrove Road that Sunday, Ennis was making her way home, on foot, half-watching the vapour trails of yet another aerial battle that was obviously taking place at altitude over London again. Suddenly, she heard a loud “boom” high above her. Stopping, she quickly looked up in time to see a fireball and a fighter aircraft breaking apart as another fighter turned rapidly away. The tail section of the stricken aeroplane disintegrated, but the front section was coming straight down, dropping like a stone.

A good many people on the ground, including young Ennis, also saw something else falling away from the doomed aircraft, flailing and tumbling through the air as it came down. It was Oberfeldwebel Albert Friedemann, who was now condemned to realise a horrible end to his young life, by the fact that his parachute had failed to open.

The Messerschmitt’s largely intact front section landed with a very loud thud, upside-down in a front garden in Wickham Street, Welling, just across the road from the gate of Gibson’s Farm. The impact forced the Messerschmitt’s undercarriage to spring partially from the wheel-bays. Albert Friedemann fell to his terrifying death a short distance away across the farm, whilst pieces of his Messerschmitt’s tail section fluttered down over a wide area.

The wreck of Oberfeldwebel Albert Friedemann’s Messerschmitt 109 where it fell, opposite Gibson’s Farm in Wickham Street, Welling, on October 20th 1940. The aircraft exploded in mid-air shortly after Friedemann baled out of it following combat with Flying Officer Peter Brown of 41 Squadron. Friedemann fell to his death when his parachute failed to open. The fence in the background is the perimeter fence to the farmhouse garden of Gibson’s Farm, across the road. Photo: Bexley Local Studies and Archive Centre, by kind permission.

Meanwhile, in Wickham Street, there was already a small crowd around the wreckage; the fallen Messerschmitt having miraculously missed the houses. The hot metal of the fighter’s engine was still ticking as it cooled, but there was no fire. The Messerschmitt’s remaining fuel had been burnt off in the mid-air explosion, some twelve thousand feet ago. People seemed to be looking at the vanquished aircraft with a mixture of curiosity and awe, as if it were something from outer space.

The authorities were soon on the scene and gradually the crowd dwindled as the Police sent the sightseers away. Later, the RAF posted a guard over the wreck to prevent any possible souvenir hunting, for the wreck rapidly became a spectator attraction. The authorities quickly removed Albert Friedemann’s shattered and lifeless body from Gibson’s Farm, but the wreck of his aircraft stayed in Welling for another three weeks. Removed from its crash site, it was put on display outside the local cinema and fifteen year-old Ennis Mowe stood proudly beside it nightly, in all weathers, for just over a fortnight. She was collecting donations from the queue of cinema-goers, in aid of the district Spitfire Fund.

This is the site of Oberfeldwebel Albert Friedemann’s crash as it is today. Wickham Street has been widened since the war, but as near as I can place it, the wreck of Friedemann’s Messerschmitt landed roughly where the van is parked, with the propeller hub facing across the road. The entrance to Gibson’s Farm is just to the left of the picture, out of shot, and about ten feet or so toward the camera from the position of the traffic island. Photo: Mitch Peeke.

At the end of each collection, she gave her collecting tin to the cinema manager, who counted the money she’d collected, paid it into the Post Office on her behalf and posted a notice showing the Post Office receipt for the amount raised. Ennis felt proud that she was at last doing her bit for the war effort, while her father simply shook his head in quiet capitulation. However, this episode proved to be just the beginning of a long, long history of young Ennis “doing her bit”.

Following her successful spell of fundraising beside the wreck of Albert Friedemann’s Messerschmitt outside the cinema; Ennis Mowe, in late 1941, blatantly lied about her age, falsely obtained a driving licence, and joined the London Ambulance Service. She soon became Britain’s youngest-ever Ambulance Driver, a fact not realised till long afterwards, when she confessed to her “crime” at her official retirement! Her father had by then long given up the unequal paternal struggle with his fiercely independent daughter. Ennis eventually married, becoming Ennis Smith, and she carried on “doing her bit” in just about every conflict that has involved British servicemen ever since. Her last such activities were based around the organisation and distribution of Christmas parcels to British troops stationed in Bosnia. Throughout her life, Ennis never once allowed her age to be a deterrent to her determination.

OberFeldwebel Albert Friedemann was 26 at the time of his death. His body was interred at the German Military Cemetery in Cannock Chase, Suffolk; there to rest with many of his comrades. Details of his grave can be found using the ‘Find a Grave’ Website.

Flying Officer Peter Brown, the RAF Spitfire pilot who had shot Friedemann down, finished his RAF career as a Squadron Leader. Like Ennis, he went on to a life of helping others. Peter was also a lifelong friend of The Shoreham Aircraft Museum in Kent. He passed away in 2011 and the museum has posted a fine tribute to him, which can be found using the link below.

http://www.shoreham-aircraft-museum.co.uk/news/2011/02/02/remembering-squadron-leader-peter-brown/

by Mitch Peeke

My sincere thanks go to Mitch for this article.

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