Downed at Tacumshane
On 3 March 1941 a German air force Heinkel 111H-5 made a forced landing at Tacumshane, Ladies Island, Co. Wexford. Lieutenant Alfred Henzl’s bomber had been hit during an attack on an Allied convoy in the Battle of the Atlantic. The Luftwaffe squadron, based at Brest, in France, was tasked with attacking Allied convoys at the point off St. George’s Channel where they split up and where ships were most vulnerable. One engine had been knocked out by gunfire from the SS Sinaloer, the other damaged and the twenty-three-year-old rear gunner, Gefrieter (Corporal) Gerd Rister, shot dead. The crew had been able to put out the fire in the rear of the aircraft but had no hope of returning to their base in France. When the navigator, Feldwebel (Sergeant) Arthur Voight, explained they would have to choose between landings in Britain or Ireland the choice was straight forward. “All we knew was that Ireland was supposed to be neutral, so we opted for there,” Voight recalled. “I picked out a spot in County Wexford and we limped in our battered aircraft towards it.”
It was 2.45 in the afternoon when the plane landed with its wheels up on the broad stretch of beach at Rostoonstown Strand, a strip separating a lake from the ocean. The aircraft floated on and on until the pilot had to force the nose down as he was running out of space. The wireless operator tapped out a last message: ‘Greetings to all our beloved and to our homeland. I end, comrades.’ The four surviving crew members – Lt. Henzl, Voight, Feldwebel Rudolf Hengst, and Gefrieter Max Galler – immediately alighted and removed Rister’s body, before activating the usual explosive device which, however, failed. They walked about a hundred yards into the sand dunes and when Arthur Voight was also thwarted in his attempts to set the aircraft on fire, he dismounted the dorsal machine-gun and took it and several ammunition drums up to the dunes. The crew set up the machine-gun and began firing on the plane. As some local people approached, the crew warned them to take cover because the plane was about to blow up. A lookout post had warned nearby Gardai of the crash landing and when they arrived ordered the Germans to cease firing. The Germans ignored the order and eventually, after ten minutes firing and three drums of ammunition, there was a loud explosion. Bits of the plane went hurtling into the air. The gunner had hit a hung-up bomb which had been intended for a British merchantman.
The crewmen were detained by the local garda who provided them with food and Guinness in a nearby pub. In the Garda station the local priest and a solicitor, both fluent in German, translated and assisted the crew in reporting by telephone to the German Legation in Dublin. The Germans were handed over to the military and brought to Wexford barracks, where they were given tea, bread, rashers, sausages and eggs – things, which because of rationing they had not seen for some time. They were then conveyed to the Curragh Camp. ‘K Lines,’ or the No. 2 Interment Camp, as it was officially known, was a newly constructed barbed-wire compound at the Curragh, about a mile from Tintown, the No. 1 Internment Camp, in which members of the IRA were held. From 1940-45 dozens of Allied and German airmen whose planes had landed in Ireland were interned at K Lines.
“At first we were depressed about being taken to the Curragh, “Arthur Voight recalled. “We hoped to be set free.” However, Voight quickly found his lifestyle was much different from that of a prisoner-of-war. “Our way of life was unbelievable,” he wrote. “We were all treated extremely well by the Irish authorities.” The internees were free to go out on parole between two and five o’clock each afternoon. They could use the swimming pool, though they had to share it with Irish soldiers and Allied internees in the afternoon. They also had the full use of the other sporting facilities, or they could visit the three adjacent towns of Newbridge, Kildare and Kilcullen to do some shopping. “The first thing I did was to go into nearby Newbridge and order a new suit,” Voight said. “It was the first time I had a handmade suit.”
German aircraft crash file at Tecumshane, Co. Wexford, 3/3/1941.
J. Ryan, Lt. Fighter Squadron, Baldonnel.
Went out on instructions from O/C Depot in Saloon car no. ZC 7351 on the fourth instant to the above named. He learned that the plane arrived safely (Heinkel 111H) with the undercarriage up “just above high water mark on the strand”. One took one of the machine guns from the turret and set it upon a dune and opened fire on said plane for approx 30 mins. The engine types were “Junkers Jumo 211D.” The fuel was probably a crude oil. The nose portion of a 250 kg bomb similar to that dropped at Campile was found at the scene. Gun was armed and that crew appeared to have beaten the gun against a rock. The officer in charge threw his revolver into Ladies Lake then surrendered. All crews statements were taken. All crews stations seemed to be heavily armoured plated, all metal armour is in good condition. Found a very intricate bomb sight amongst wreckage. The plane was only recently made (September-October 1940). The number painted on the fin was 366A. The underside of the wing outboard from the crew was a Large H.
Bomb sight, complete tail, part of a wheel, portion of fin on which was painted two ships, a large number of torn maps (Germany, France, England and the Irish Seas), partly burned canvas flying helmet, stub of a cancsrew blade, samples of armoured plating, unidentified electric equipment, engine name plate, a steel tube leading from the fuselage, typed painted red and white and several miscellaneous aluminium sheets.
[In August 1940 an apparently disorientated crew of a German aircraft bombed a creamery at Campile, Co. Wexford, killing three women workers.]
Time Line (s.d.) Séan Breen 2 Lt. O.C. ‘B’ Coy.
15:00 hrs on 3rd Carnsore L.O.P. reported a plane coming in over the sea and appeared to have crashed behind a low hill in the vicinity of Tacumshane.
15:45 hrs I again rang Carnsore for further information and was informed that the plane had crashed and that a party arrived from Wexford.
18:00 hrs Lieut Kinsella returned to barracks and informed that four prisoners detained in Garda Barracks arranging to hand over prisoners he had given all particulars to G.2. Branch.
19:30 hrs Received a call from Garda barracks to collect prisoners and convey them to Wexford Barracks.
20:00 hrs Body taken to Barracks.
21:00 hrs Inquest taken.
23:15 hrs Prisoners conveyed to Curragh Barracks.
[Copy of declassified document from the Military Archives, Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin.]
Command Headquarters, Curragh 6 March 1941
Chief Staff Officer,
G. 2 Branch,
Department of Defence,
Forced landing of German ‘plane at Tacumshane, Co. Wexford, 3/3/1941
I have the honour to confirm ‘phone messages of the 3rd and 4th inst., and to report that at 14.45 hrs. on the 3rd. inst, a German Heinkel 111 Bomber aircraft made a forced landing at Tacumshane, Co. Wexford. The crew numbered five, one of whom, Corporal Gert Rister, aged 23 years, was dead when taken from the plane by his comrades, who afterwards destroyed their machine on the ground. The remaining four members of the crew were interned at the Curragh early on the morning of the 4th inst., and I attach a list giving correct names and particulars of them. They were visited at the Curragh on the afternoon of the 4th, by Herr Thompsen.
From information given by the crew it would appear that they left their base at 12 noon on the 3rd. inst. and shortly before they were forced down a small explosion occurred in the tail of the ‘plane. The engine was working badly and the pilot decided to land. On landing a second explosion took place. The reason for the explosions given by a member of the crew was “bad oil”. Needless to remark they were very cautious about giving any information. Drawn on the tail of the plane was a representation of two ships dated 1/3/1941. This drawing has been cut off by an officer of the Air Corps and removed to Baldonnel, apparently as a souvenir. The ‘plane itself, following the explosion in destruction, was scattered over an area of about two acres, and parts have been collected and taken into Wexford Mil. Bks. The remains of the ‘plane are not worth the trouble of removing to Baldonnel but occupy a large amount of space in Wexford Bks. Although the tail of the plane was perforated with bullet marks, the crew deny being engaged in aerial combat.
Four machine-guns; a cannon gun with magazines and ammunition, a Verey-light pistol, and a Parabellum .38 with six rds. of ammunition have been recovered. (The Parabellum was in the possession of Cpl. Max Galler and is now in the possession of Capt. Fitzpatrick, Internment Camp, Curragh. The Air Corps has taken possession of the remainder of the guns with the exception of the Parabellum, one machine-gun, five magazines and some rounds of the cannon-gun ammunition, which are in the possession of the command Ordnance Officer, Curragh.
The funeral of the dead man, who was machine-gunner in the tail of the plane, took place yesterday at Wexford with military honours in accordance with our regulations. The German Legation was represented by Herr Thompsen, who took possession of the dead airman’s Iron Cross, ring and identity disc, giving a receipt for same to Lieut. Breen, O.C. Wexford Bks.
An inquest was held at Wexford Bks. at 21.00 hrs. on the 3rd, inst. by Mr. O’Connor, and the verdict was returned that the German airman died from shock following bullet wounds and burns.
Because of the widespread distribution of scraps of the plane I feel sure that many people in Wexford possess “souvenirs” – even some of the soldiers were in possession of the small H.E. shells of the cannon-gun, but the troops were paraded in my presence and those collected. A further effort will be made to get all material collected.
A map of England and Ireland, part of France and Holland was found on Lieut. Alfred Heinzl, which I am sending to you herewith, also an armband compass and a small camera from which I have removed a roll of film enclosed in case, which I am also forwarding to you herewith for development. I do not know if it is destroyed or not because Heinzl stated that as it had contained military photos he did destroy the film. [Note: Heinzl did not destroy the film. He kept the camera which he used to take photographs inside the camp.]
I have been informed that what was described as a “bombing map” was handed over to the C/Superintendent at Wexford by a Mr. Wickham, Roslare, a leader of the L.D.F., who was one of the first on the scene, also a small camera. The bombing-map showed Dublin and Belfast ringed in red, but those have not been handed over and when I asked the C/Supt. and Supt. at Wexford if they had any papers or documents they told me they had not. I also understand that a Sergt. of the Garda has taken possession of a training manual on the machine-guns found in the ‘plane. The craze for souvenirs is so great that it is nearly impossible to locate articles which may be very important.
When the Garda Sergt. at Rosslare got word of the landing he immediately got Mr. Wickham to take out his car and dashed to the scene without taking a Military Officer from the post at Rosslare with him, although the Post is only about 150 yards away. There is no car or lorry at the Military Post. The result was that the Garda arrived before the ‘plane was destroyed and actually saw the German airmen firing into it and destroying it. If the Military had been there in time the ‘plane might have been saved. The Garda stood by and could do nothing. When the German airmen, having set the plane on fire, came up to the Garda, one of them had an automatic in his hand and was asked by the Garda to hand it over. He did not do so, but was allowed to throw it into the lake (Lady Island Lake), but it is expected to recover this weapon as the lake is drained out at this time every year.
When taken into custody the prisoners were not searched by the Garda nor would the latter hand them over to Military custody until instructed to do by Curragh Command later in the afternoon. I suggest that greater co-operation should have been shown and less of a race to bring in the prisoners. It would also appear to me that the securing of maps, papers, etc., etc., was entirely forgotten by the Garda or if not, I have no evidence to the contrary. Not a single item was given to me by them. Perhaps if they did secure anything of value it was sent by them to their own H.Qrs., but I have no knowledge of such being the case.
I have the honour to be, sir,
Your obedient servant,
D. Mackey, Commandant.
Officer i/c. G. 2 Curragh Command.
Landing of German aircraft at Tacumshane, Co. Wexford on 3/3/41
(a) Type of aircraft: Heinkel III H with Junkers Jumo 211 D engines.
(b) Condition: Complete wreck.
(c) Reason for crash: Not known.
(d) Possible mission of aircraft: Commerce raiding.
(e) This aircraft landed safely with undercarriage up, just above high water-mark on the strand. Four of the crew got out and lifted out a fifth man who was dead from a bullet wound. They carried the dead man to a distance of 100 yds. from the aircraft and then set up a machine gun on a sand dune and commenced firing at the aircraft. After about half an hour’s firing, just before the Military arrived there was a loud explosion and the aircraft was completely wrecked. The fuselage was scattered several hundred of yards around. The nose portion of a 250 kg. bomb similar to that dropped at Campile was found and it would appear that this was the object at which the gun had been firing. The machine gun appeared to have been beaten against a rock. The Officer i/c. of the party then threw his revolver into the adjoining lake. They then surrendered and were marched off.
The Military from Wexford collected the machine guns, the shell firing cannon and all the ammunition they found, together with two parachutes and as much assorted equipment as their lorry could carry. The only recognisable parts of the aircraft left were the tail assembly which had broken away just forward of the fin and the wings from the engine nacelles outwards. Painted on the rudder were two ships with the date 1-3-41 after each, which seemed to show that the function of the plane was commerce raiding. There was no trace of nose of main part of the fuselage, the engines were burned so badly as to be useless. All the crews stations seem to have been heavily armour plated and all the armour plate is in good condition. What appeared to be a very intricate bomb sight was found amongst the wreckage and although it is badly burned it’s method of operation could be deduced. Most of the tabs on the parts of the machine bear dates in September and October 1940 indicating that the machine was very recently assembled.
[Copies of declassified files from the Military Archives, Cathal Brugha Barracks 23 August 2010]
The material for this story was supplied by Jarlath Boyle, Kildare, and Sarah Heinzl and taken from the books Guests of the State by T. Ryle Dwyer and Landfall Ireland. The story of Allied and German aircraft which came down in Ėire in World War Two by Donal MacCarron.
On 3 March 1941 a German air force Heinkel 111H-5 made a forced landing at Tacumshane, Ladies Island, Co. Wexford.