A Downed Bomber

I was recently contacted on Facebook by Phil Williams who asked me:

I have come across something you might be interested in. When I was a kid my dad got me a piece of a German bomber shot down after attacking Liverpool. It came from the Fort Perch Rock collection. It also came with some paperwork about the attack. Its all mixed up and a bit confused, but if you sit down and work it out its quite good.

Phil emailed me the various files, the first of which is a photograph of the piece itself.

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With a closer photograph of the information card

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As Phil says, the information is somewhat patchy and hard to put together, but helping matters somewhat were the following files that came with the above.

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These are not the easiest things to make out as Phil said in his email, but essentially they contain action reports for a number of RAF fighters that engaged the Luftwaffe bombers in the early evening of the 11th October 1940. Most of this action took place over Wales, with the first three enemy planes (those attacked by Yellow and Red sections) being brought down near the flight’s normal sweep area of Anglesey. Blue section however seems to have engaged enemy bombers much closer to Merseyside, and it is these two planes that are more interesting for the purposes of this article. Given that the approach route for Luftwaffe attacks on Merseyside passed over the North Wales coast though, it is quite probable that all of these planes were planning on attacking this region. Part of the third image also refers to the Germans loosing 5 bombers on that night – 3 of which match the losses to Red and Yellow sections, leaving one bomber listed as crashing on returning to Brest (Northern France) and the last plane recorded as lost “near Chester”

Turning to the details of the RAF reports, in summary we know that one of the planes was chased around Wirral and North Wales (where it dropped several bombs), before the fighters lost sight of it near Denbigh. The other was attacked near the Welsh coast around Prestatyn, had parts shot off its underside, and was last seen over Liverpool Bay.

The information card included with the piece tells us that the bomber was recovered at “Nant-y-Glyn village, about three miles from Ruthin” but this would appear to be a mispelling of Nantglyn, which is the only village nearby with that name. Given its proximity to Denbigh, this might lead us to conclude that the first bomber last seen in that area came down at Nantglyn, however the RAF pilots said she was last seen heading north from Denbigh (towards the coast), whereas Nantglyn is to the South West. Having already dropped several bombs and last been seen heading back on its usual route home, it seems unlikely that the Luftwaffe crew would have chosen to in effect turn around and fly back over land.

So this leaves the final plane, the one last seen over Liverpool Bay does it not? Not necessarily, although it is entirely possible that this is our plane. The reason for such doubt is connected to a follow up question Phil asked me: “Just as a side thought, do you have any info on damage caused that night ?”

The following is an extract from the Liverpool Police’s post-war summary of the blitz

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11/12 October 1940
City and North Docks attacked in first raid [from 18:38 to 19:49], severe damage South John Street, James Street, Redcross Street, Paradise Street, Hannover Street, South Castle Street. HE [High Explosive] on Alexandra and Langton Docks, causing serious damage to dock sheds, Harbour Master’s House and four ships.
Second raid [from 21:00 to 23:23] on Hill Street and Bankhall Street areas, damage to railway track and admiralty strores.

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The Fire Brigade records say much the same, albeit in less detail. I haven’t done a thorough check but I think about a dozen people were killed that night in Liverpool.

As you can probably tell, the attack on Liverpool that night was particularly heavy and would have involved a large number of enemy planes, any one of which may have been damaged by anti-aircraft fire or a night fighter and brought down over North Wales. The fighters in the action reports clearly encountered one small part of the raiding force, perhaps even its leading elements since the dogfights were largely over by the time the main raid was getting underway.

Phil is hoping to follow up the item more himself, for I imagine that the Fort Perch Rock Museum would have had a good reason for identifying the piece as part of a bomber brought down in that night’s raid. Whether it was – as the museum felt – one of the planes engaged by the RAF fighters in the late evening, or one of the bombers involved in the larger raid would be interesting to find out, so if I get any updates I will keep you posted.

Creating a ghost photo

The work that goes into a ghost photograph can be quite extensive sometimes, especially if there are few or no features common to both the wartime and modern photograph. The results are usually worth the effort, but I thought I would share with readers some idea of the process involved.

You start off with a wartime photograph of course, in this case a scene from where St George’s Crescent met Lord Street. The premises of Austin Reeds has been severely damaged by bombs and a man with his back to the camera (possibly a soldier) studies the damage.

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The next step is to visit the area and see how it looks today, keeping an eye out for potential problems such as new buildings blocking the view. It often pays to look this up online first, but nothing can beat a visit in person. From this photograph it can be seen that the area in question looks quite different today, however the same basic outline of the buildings and roads concerned remains.

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It also often helps to study pre-war photographs to get a feel for what the area looked like prior to the damage. In this case the corner in our wartime photograph is the same as the one behind the tram on the left in the photograph below. I was able to use this to judge the scale and rough outline of the buildings, judging the modern replacements to be slightly taller but otherwise largely similar.

Castle Square

Using Photoshop the two photographs are then manipulated until a match can be found. At this stage the full wartime image would still be used.

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One in position the merged photograph is then tidied up, with the emphasis as much as possible on the main subject of the wartime image rather than other undamaged buildings.

Austin Reed

The final outcome is what I call a ghost image, something like a look back through time.