Heinkel crash, Clacton-on-Sea, 30 April 1940

Discussion in 'United Kingdom' started by dbf, Apr 1, 2009.

  1. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    A gent's contacted me with some more that he compiled on this crash - asked me to post this ~A :

    German Heinkel Bomber Crash Clacton-on-Sea
    April 30th. 1940.

    According to an unofficial hand written report, written by a police constable present at the incident and sent to me by him many years ago, and still in my possession, the following information might be of interest:

    The remains of the 4 German airmen were taken into the old fire station in Old Road.
    Mutilation was present in all 4 cases, (a ghastly sight, if not gruesome, sic.)
    All 4 airmen had had their clothes burned and were without their flying boots and gauntlets. A doctor suggested that this was because at the actual time of the crash and at the sign of extreme danger or during an expected crash, the victim’s ankles, feet and wrist muscles and ligatures tend to rapidly shrink – all over in a split second – with the result that boots and quite often gauntlets would come apart from the bodies, (sic.) Another theory put forward is that the airmen had deliberately removed their gauntlets and boots in the belief that they might have belly-landed in the water.
    At a later medical examination of the bodies it was found that all 4 airmen had inhaled smoke, suggesting that they were still alive prior to the plane crash landing and bursting into flames, with the subsequent exploding of one of the mines.
    The pilot of the bomber, (Hermann Peter Vagts), suffered the loss of his head. The head was either never found in the wreckage or elsewhere, or was somehow otherwise mislaid. Theories on this one abound, but suffice it to say that in the 1960’s a German pathologist’s exhumation report confirmed that the pilot’s head was not in the coffin.

    Some personal information about the 4 dead airmen:
    • Hermann Peter Vagts, (pilot, aged 25). He was the son of a Kiel girls’ school headmaster. Hermann Vagts had 3 brothers, all of whom lost their lives in the war. In a letter written after the war the pilot’s mother spoke of the fact that all her sons, like English sons, went out to do their duty for their country. Her sons had all been musicians of one sort or another and she said how “silent the house had become” since their departures. Her husband could not bear the loss of his 4 sons and died of heartbreak a few years later, although he had managed to pay a visit to France to visit the grave of one of them. She had often “stayed awake at night, hoping that there would be a knock on the door from one of her sons at least.”

    • Hermann Wilhelm Sodtmann, (observer, aged 24). He came originally from Travemuende. An only child, his younger brother dying a few months after birth. Hermann had served in the Hitler Youth and the Brownshirts organisation and later went on to train with the Luftwaffe. He took part in the Polish campaign of 1939 and was awarded a Knight’s Cross 2nd. class. His Luftwaffe commanding officer had written a glowing report about this airman’s character and remarked on his “pleasant and friendly disposition.”

    • Hans Guenther Koch, (radio operator). He was the youngest crewmember, (aged 20). He originated from a small village called Neu Skalmirschuetz, (now in Poland.) His father was an engine driver.

    • Karl-Heinz Fresen, (engineer, aged 26). Nothing known; possibly came from Hamburg.

    Credits for information: Spencer Wilson, Derek and Karl Johnson

    Footnote: Sometime in the 1960’s a friend of mine noticed two people looking at the airmen’s graves. He heard them speaking German and went up to them. The man said that he and his wife had come over specially to see their son’s grave before he was exhumed to be taken to the German cemetery in Cannock Chase. My friend was presented with a nice fountain pen. Sadly my friend was never able to recall the German couple’s name.

    [​IMG] Leutnant Hermann Sodtmann

    V.S. Wilson
  2. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Thanks for posting this VP...

    ... and to the person who compiled the information and contacted WW2Talk, the addition to the thread is appreciated. Thank you very much indeed.

  3. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Attached Files:

  4. Verrieres

    Verrieres no longer a member

    dbf likes this.
  5. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Interesting excerpt from the above link provided by Verrieres ... links into the thread somewhere about use of swastika for burial in UK.

    The four airmen who died were Oberleutnant and Flugzeugfuhrer Herman Vagts, aged 25 years, the pilot of the Heinkel, Herman Sodmann, 24, Karl-Heinz Fresen, 26 and Hans- Gunter Koch, 21. It was decided to bury the four airmen in the local cemetery and on May 4 crowds lined the streets as RAF lorries carried the Swastika- draped coffins to their final resting place at Burrsville Park. Extra police were drafted in to the area as a precaution against demonstrations, but apart from an outcry from some of the popular press, all passed off peacefully. Many floral tributes from local people were laid on the graves.

    Edit: thread about Nazi flags at burials http://www.ww2talk.com/forum/war-cemeteries-war-memorial-research/16554-use-nazi-flag-burials-british-cemeteries.html
  6. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    During the night and much of the next day the emergency services worked to clear the area and house those made homeless by the explosion. Rescuer workers noticed what they believed to be a hot water cylinder lying among the rubble and Detective Sergeant Barkway remembered resting his foot on it on several occasions. But then
    someone more curious noticed German words stencilled on the side of the `hot water cylinder'. As a precaution the area was evacuated and two Royal Naval mine disposal officers, Lieutenant - Commander R. Ryan and Chief Petty Officer R. Ellingworth were called in and identified it as the new `C' type parachute mine. Miraculously the mine had not exploded when the Heinkel crashed and it was defused and taken away for further examination.
    (Sadly the two men were killed at Dagenham during the London Blitz whilst examining another parachute mine - both were awarded a posthumous George Cross).

    Confirmation of the earlier water cylinder story.

    CWGC entries for the two RN mine disposal officers who were in attendance that day and who subsequently were killed:

    Lieut-Commander RICHARD JOHN HAMMERSLEY RYAN, G C., H.M.S. President., Royal Navy who died age 37 on 21 September 1940
    Son of Admiral Frank Edward Cavendish Ryan, C.B.E. and of Eleanor Stuart Ryan (nee Campbell); husband of Margaret Ryan, of Wroughton, Wiltshire.
    Remembered with honour HASLAR ROYAL NAVAL CEMETERY
    Grave/Memorial Reference:G. 8. 24.
    CWGC :: Casualty Details
    The following details are given in the London Gazette of 17th December 1940:-"The King has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the George Cross to Lieut. Cdr. R. J. H. Ryan, R.N. for great gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty." Lt. Cdr. Ryan was a master of defusing the magnetic mine with several successfull results and as such was called upon for the more difficult tasks with this most dangerously delicate type of bomb. At Hornchurch in Essex he made safe a bomb which threatened the aerodrome and an explosives factory. Lt. Cdr. Ryan, together with C.P.O. Reginald Vincent Ellingworth, R.N., then went to a warehouse in Dagenham, Essex, where an unexploded bomb was hanging from a parachute. The pair, who had faced many dangers together, were both killed by it's explosion and both were awarded the George Cross posthumously.

    Chief Petty Officer REGINALD VINCENT ELLINGWORTH G.C., P/J 26011, H.M.S. Vernon., Royal Navy who died age 42 on 21 September 1940
    Son of Frank and Kate Ellingworth; husband of Jessie Day Ellingworth, of Portsmouth.
    Remembered with honour
    Grave/Memorial Reference:Plot Y. Row 18. Grave 11.
    CWGC :: Casualty Details
    The following details are given in the London Gazette of 17th December 1940:- The King has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumuous award of the George Cross, for great gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty, to Chief Petty Officer R. V. Ellingworth, R.N." C.P.O. Ellingworth, together with Lt. Cdr. Richard Ryan, R.N., went to a warehouse in Dagenham, Essex, where an unexploded bomb was hanging from a parachute. The pair, who had faced many dangers together, were both killed by it's explosion and both were awarded the George Cross posthumously.
  7. MTD001

    MTD001 Junior Member

    I have only found this forum because of this thread as I have a personal interest.

    My late mother, her parents and brother lived around the corner from the site of the crash (about 400 yards away in Holland Road). My grandfather was one of the ARP wardens for the area (I think he told me he had left his house just before the actual crash), the force of the explosion caused him to be deaf for many months at the time and again in later life. Later he was joined at the scene my mother and her brother (he became an RAF pilot and was killed later in the war). The 'hot water cylinder' incident was a family story I grew up hearing many times, my late uncle sat astride the 'cylinder' thinking it was exactly that before being quickly moved away on being told it was a bomb!

    In 1970 my mother was interviewed about the incident for a 30th anniversary piece by the BBC in the East of England, and she told the story of the 'cylinder'!

    This was pre-video recorder days, does anyone know if this is in existence on-line anywhere?

    Similarly, is the photograph from The Times with the people standing around available anywhere in better quality?


    (A brief thanks to Adam of the admin team here for sorting out my registration problems)
    dbf likes this.
  8. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Hello Mike and welcome to the forum.
    It's great to hear from those who have personal connections to these events.

    I am sure your uncle moved pretty carefully and quickly!

    I am attaching pdfs for the pages from The Times, May 2, 1940 so that you can have a look at the photo and article yourself. I think it would be worthwhile contacting Imperial War Museum for a start. I have noticed quite a few photos from the Times in their online archives.
    All the best,

    Attached Files:

  9. MTD001

    MTD001 Junior Member


    Many thanks for the welcome, quick reply and the PDFs

  10. ChrisR

    ChrisR Senior Member

    Owen, someone already mentioned this has a write up in The Blitz Then and Now Vol 1 -There are some real nice then and now shots in there - ok they are a few years old now, but worth a look.
    For anyone interested in further research of this story, there is an article 'The day War came to England' in an old Flypast magazine (a February issue but I don't know what year -probably 8 years ago-ish).
    Also a bit of additional info in books about Navy Mine Disposal -
    'Secret Naval Investigator' by Cdr Ashe Lincoln
    'Service Most Silent' by J.F. Turner
  11. ChrisR

    ChrisR Senior Member

    Have dug out my copies of those books.
    dbf likes this.
  12. MTD001

    MTD001 Junior Member


    Many thanks for that.

    Which book is that in? We have the Blitz Then And Now and other local history books with the usual pictures, but none have those you have posted. Interesting to read in detail about the 'water cylinder' and to know it just wasn't family legend!


    Sorry - I assume its from the book you mentioned in your previous post!
  13. Philip Reinders

    Philip Reinders Very Senior Member

  14. Philip Reinders

    Philip Reinders Very Senior Member

  15. MTD001

    MTD001 Junior Member


    Many thanks for posting those, all adds to my knowledge as there is nobody in my family alive any more to fill in the details. Like many people they didn't talk much about WWII other some day to day stuff and the tragedies (fortunately only one).

    Thanks again.

  16. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Hi Mike and belated welcome,

    Ref the interviews I would suspect you may need to contact the BBC archives. I don't know long they keep such things for but i very much doubt the interviews will be on the internet.

  17. Philip Reinders

    Philip Reinders Very Senior Member


    Many thanks for posting those, all adds to my knowledge as there is nobody in my family alive any more to fill in the details. Like many people they didn't talk much about WWII other some day to day stuff and the tragedies (fortunately only one).

    Thanks again.


    welcome to the forum, and glad I could add these info
  18. Many thanks for this post as my grandmother talked about this a few years ago. She was eight at the time, living in Southend, so it is great to see her memories supported by the evidence. She was spot on! Fortunately, I am with her for a week in the Summer so will present this to her then.

    Many thanks,

    Steve Garnett
  19. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    From The War Illustrated, May 10 1940

    CL1 likes this.
  20. Fred Wilson

    Fred Wilson Member

    Newsreel of the crash site. The Pathe website crashes frequently. Overloads I would assume.


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