The Best of British and German!

Here’s another guest post from Mitch Peeke.

In the afternoon of the September 30th, 1940; a lone Messerschmitt 109 flew low and slow over Strood, Kent, belching smoke. The pilot, Unteroffizier Ernst Poschenrieder, had been in combat with Spitfires from 222 Squadron whilst escorting bombers to London. Ernst’s squadron had suffered  heavily when the Spitfires pounced. The aircraft he was flying wasn’t even his usual mount. He wasn’t superstitious, but so far this definitely wasn’t his day.

Knowing he would never get back to France and that he was too low to jump, crash-landing on Broom Hill, a hilltop field cultivating vegetables for the war effort, was now his only option. He could see it would be tricky. People were tending the field, but his wounded engine was giving up. To minimise the dangers of a wheels-up landing, he overflew the field and emptied his guns harmlessly into the surrounding treetops.

Unteroffizier Ernst Poschenrieder (courtesy Shoreham Aircraft Museum)

Approaching the tree-line, Ernst throttled back and put the flaps down, losing as much airspeed as possible. The treetops seemed to be trying to grab him as he cut the dying engine; a fire prevention measure. Skimming the trees, the Messerschmitt sank through the last thirty feet of the air and hit the ground violently at 60 MPH, ploughing down the slope. Bucking and bouncing, it tore up the dry soil then broke its back, slewing half-round and stopping just before the trees. He’d made it, just; but the force of the crash had nearly broken Ernst’s back, too.

The farm workers ran to the scene with hoes and forks. Thinking the pilot had tried to machine-gun them, they sought blood; but a young Land Army girl, a Scots lass named Sarah Kortwright, got there first. Standing beside the cockpit, she kept them back. Ernst sat there, ears ringing and in intense pain; and waited. Someone had gone to fetch a Policeman.

PC Jack Matthews (back row, 3rd from right) who later arrested Unteroffizier Ernst Poschenrieder (by kind permission of Mike Hearne)

Sixty-year-old PC 28 Jack Matthews, of the Rochester Police, quickly arrived on the scene. Taking immediate control, he arrested the pilot, for his own protection. Jack was over six feet tall and athletically built. Facing the mob, truncheon in hand, he sternly announced that anyone trying to interfere would be obstructing a Police Officer or having to assault one. The mob lost interest and Ernst was carefully extracted from his cockpit, grateful to be alive.

Ernst’s crashed 109, courtesy Friends of Broomhill

Ernst was taken to Chatham Police station, then immediately to Hospital, for emergency surgery. Thereafter, he was a POW.

He returned to England in 1955, to thank both Sarah Kortwright and the doctor who’d treated him. He traced the hospital doctor, but Sarah had returned to Scotland. Undeterred, he tracked her down and armed with a bouquet of flowers, went to Scotland and took her out to dinner!  In 2005, Ernst visited artist Geoff Nutkins, at the Shoreham Aircraft Museum in Kent, to sign some prints and sketches. Ernst became a frequent visitor to the museum’s events. Sadly, he died in 2009, aged 98. he was killed not by old age; but rather unexpectedly, by a car.

This article was excerpted from a new e-book. 1940: THE BATTLES TO STOP HITLER gives the full story of this and many other events like it, that took place during the time when it seemed that only the French and the British stood in Hitler’s way. Published by Pen & Sword Books Ltd this e-book is available to download at  http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/1940-The-Battles-to-Stop-Hitler-ePub/p/11119  priced at £8:00.