The War Years Blog

Welcome to The War Years blog. World War Two resulted in the deaths of 85 million people. Civilian deaths including those subject to war-related disease and famine totalled 55 million. Tens of millions more people were displaced. However, amid all the carnage people demonstrated remarkable courage, fortitude, compassion, mercy and sacrifice. We would like to honour and celebrate all of those people.  

The Abbeville Boys Focke Wulf Fw-190A1

Visiting Flying Legends 2017 WW2 warbirds airshow at IWM Duxford, I happened upon a piece of Focke-Wulf Fw-190 engine cowling. Designed by Kurt Tank in the late 1930s and widely used by the German Luftwaffe during World War II, the Fw-190  Würger (Shrike in English) quickly established itself as a fearsome multi-role aircraft. Until the introduction of the improved Spitfire Mk. IX towards the end of 1942, the RAF didn’t have a comparable interceptor at low and medium altitudes. Named after the Shrike, a small carnivorous bird of prey known for impaling its prey on spikes, the Fw-190 was nicknamed the “butcher bird”.

Piece of cowling, Fw-190A-1 Wn.10036

My particular piece of butcher bird came from Fw-190A-1 Wn.10036. The Fw-190A-1 was in production from June 1941. It was powered by the BMW 801 C-1 engine, rated at 1,560 PS (1,539 hp, 1,147 kW) for take-off. Armament included two fuselage-mounted 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17s and two wing root-mounted 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17s (in all four MG 17s synchronized to fire through the propeller arc) and two outboard wing-mounted 20 mm cannon.

A Focke Wulf Fw190A-8/U-1 of JG54 the Green Heart's now at RAF Hendon Air Museum

On the afternoon of Sunday, 13 July 1942 Oberfeldwebel Helmut Ufer was flying at 16,000 feet near the JG26 airfield of Abbeville in France. Ufer, a long-time member of 4/JG26, was flying Fw-190A-1 Wn.10036, designated White 5, only the thirty-sixth production model.

Luftwaffe pilot Oberfeldwebel Helmut Ufer, 4/JG26

Helmut Ufer had been a tank driver in the Reichwehr. He was released from service in 1935. He volunteered for the Luftwaffe at the start of the war, and began his flight training in March 1940. Ufer had won a number of aerial victories. On the 13th March 1942, Ufer shot down a Spitfire V over Wirre Effroy northeast of Boulogne. The Spitfire belonged to 124 (Baroda) Squadron, RAF, based at Debden. The pilot was Michael Gordon Meston Reid, 116060, who subsequently died of his wounds at a German Naval Hospital on 7th August 1942. Pilot Officer Reid’s grave is one of four commonwealth war graves and one Polish to be found in Hardinghen cemetery, northeast of where he was originally shot down. On 4th April 1942, Ufer shot down one of 11 Spitfires claimed by JG26 over St. Omer. He downed another Spitfire from 222 Squadron at St. Valery-sur-Somme on the 30th April 1942.

Pilot Officer Michael Gordon Meston Reid, 116060, RAF, died of wounds 7th August 1942

Jagdgeschwader (JG) 26 "Schlageter" was known to the Allies as "The Abbeville Boys". The unit crest of a black gothic 'S' on a white shield was created to reflect its involvement in the re-occupation of the Rhineland on March 7, 1936. 4./JG26 belonged to the second Gruppe within the Jagdgeschwader 26 (II./JG26). Karl Ebbighausen then selected a caricature of a tiger's head to represent the unit and it was painted onto each 4.Staffel aeroplane with pride.

The unit emblem of 4/JG26

On that Sunday afternoon, a group Spitfires from 616 Squadron led by Australian Flight Lieutenant F.A.O. 'Tony' Gaze were on a 'Circus' to Abbeville. Tony flew with 616 Squadron until the 29th August 1942, by which time he had destroyed 4 enemy planes and one probable.

Tony Gaze finished the war a double-Ace with 11 destroys and 3 shared, including an Me262 and Arado 234, 4 probables and one V1. He was the first Australian to destroy an enemy jet in combat and the first Australian to fly a jet in combat. He has the rare distinction of being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross three times (DFC with 2 bars) which only 48 people have received in its history. He later went on to have a career in motor racing.

Squadron Leader F.A.O. [Tony] Gaze, OAM, DFC and 2 Bars

Gaze later reported:

“After a right-hand orbit around Abbeville at 21,000 feet I saw a single Fw-190 climbing up at about 16,000 feet between us and the coast. I made sure nothing was above us and led Red Section down to attack. I fired a one-second burst from around 300 yards from astern above seeing cannon strikes on the port main plane near the cockpit. As I started to fire again the '190 flicked to the left emitting a puff of black and white smoke and spun down.”

Several other pilots reported seeing the Fw-190 carry on spinning down, apparently out of control, until they lost sight of it. It must be assumed that Oberfeldwebel Helmut Ufer was killed by Gaze's fire after being caught unawares from behind.

On the ground, the villagers of Nibas, to the south-west of Abbeville, were on their way to mass in the village church. Alerted by the howl of an aircraft engine, some caught sight of it diving, almost vertically, towards them. With a huge explosion, the aircraft crashed into a field about 300 yards away from the church. There was little to be found of the aircraft. A smoking crater and a few fragments of metal was all that was left of Ufer's Fw-190.

The Luftwaffe later recovered Ufer’s body and noted the crash site.

Simon Parry of Aviation Archaeology explains, “The owner of the field, grandson of the war-time owner, was kind enough to point out the location of the Fw-190 crash and allowed a team to excavate what was left of the plane. At length, the BMW801 engine, tail wheel, parts of the armament and other items were recovered from a depth of up to 15 feet.”

Sources: www.tonygaze.com, Wikipedia on Fw-190, JG26, Simon Parry, Aviation Archaeology