The last Battle on British Mainland Soil
Without doubt most of us have heard of defensive actions taken during the last war to prevent German invasion. Some have been exaggerated and have no real bearing on what happened at that imperative time.
An incident happened in Kent that seemed to have slipped the net of attention despite having been reported on occasion. This maybe because it happened in a specific area of the British Isles and confined to local newsworthiness.
In September of 1940 when Britain and her Commonwealth stood alone against the might of Nazi oppression, the German Luftwaffe changed tactics from bombing Fighter Command airfields and costal Radar systems in preparation for the expected invasion.
In the month previous British Bomber command had blasted parts of Berlin. It is possible this led to the Luftwaffe change of strategy and large cities became the main targets. September 1940 brought the heavy bombing of London known as the Blitz with the clear intention of destroying the will of the British people. To carry this plan out masses of German aircraft broke into English air space on the way to the capital.
Hurricanes and Spitfires scrambled into the skies like swarms of deadly bees to encounter the enemy as best they could in the circumstances. The basic tactic seemed to have been to pick off whatever enemy plane possible and if the chance arose, isolate bombers.
Over the skies of Cudham and South Holmwood the enemy air craft were met by a determine well led Royal Air Force. Some German Bombers came down in flames close to Pensthurst and Sevenoaks, where one of the German Bomber crew was taken prisoner.
Pilots of the 66 and 92 Squadron in Super Marine Spitfires aided by Anti Air Craft gunners forced down some twelve Junkers88.
The Junker 88 was a twin engine plane that could be used for several purposes which included a versatile bombing capability and was held in high regard by the Luftwaffe.
An isolated Junker 88 piloted by Underofficizer Fritz Ruhlandt fell prey to the British planes and in the area of North Kent near Faversham. The injured plane was skilfully landed on the Graveney Marshes close to the Sportsman Inn near the sea wall.
Captain Ruhlandt despite being wounded moved his crew away from their plane. The 1st London Irish were quickly on the scene to face the crew of the Junker 88 expecting an instant surrender. To the horror of the London Irish the German crew opened fire with two machine guns and submachine gun fire.
The Captain of the London Irish positioned his men along the dykes of the Marshland ready to return the fire. As they crawled nearer they saw a single white flag implying a surrender of the German crew. As the London Irish advanced closer to apprehend the enemy crew a skirmish broke out injuring two of the Germans. To make things worse a member of the crew remarked that a bomb was ticking way in the plane and would go up shortly. A Captain Cantopher of Bomb disposal arrive in the nick of time to defuse the bomb, in an act of considerable bravery.
The determination of the London Irish and Captain Cantopher saved the Prize Junker for examination by the Air Ministry. Who discovered it to be a very recent developed type. Captain Cantopher received the Military Medal for preventing the destruction of the plane and capture of the crew. As for the London Irish they had engaged in the only fighting encounter between the German and British on British mainland soil of the war.
We have to go back to 1797 when the French Revolutionary Government carried out a devious plan to win the support of British citizens in an invasion by 1,400 men of arms. The French force was led by an Irish American called William Tate. Bad weather ensued causing the invaders to land at Cardigan Bay in South Wales. The unfortunate aimless French were captured by the Yeomanry of Pembrokeshire without a shot being fired.
The Battle of Graveney Marsh has the clear distinction of hopefully being the last exchange of shots by a foreign invading force.
Strangely, it is said that the London Irish were led away under escort for opening fire without the given order.
Also some souvenirs of the Junker 88 have been exhibited locally.
A lady whose husband was involved in the incident considered it very unlikely any such items were taken due to the speedy removal the German Junker 88, as it was of such vital importance to the British Intelligence Authorities. It is likely the Junker 88 was taken to RAF Farnborough for the examination.
The German air crew probable sent to a Prisoner of War camp in the Midlands, or in the case of die hards dispatched to Canada.
Our grateful thanks to Terry Amschwand of Kent for his important contributions to this true story.