The day in 1941 when a Nazi plane landed in my Cork village

When DAVE ALLEN was a seven-year-old boy in 1941, he witnessed a remarkable sight one fine summer’s evening - a German warplane crash-landing in his village. Here, in an article that appears in this year's Holly Bough, he recalls the drama
The day in 1941 when a Nazi plane landed in my Cork village

FIGHTER OF THE SKIES: A Junkers Ju 8 plane similar to the one that landed in Cork in 1941

FOR millions of people across Europe during World War II, the tell-tale airplane markings of a black cross with a Nazi Swastika on the tailfin were a portent of death and destruction.

But for a boy of seven on a fine summer’s evening in Cork in 1941, it made for a thrilling sight.

More than 80 years later, I can easily recall that August day in Belgooly when I saw a stricken German Junkers Ju 88 plane roar overhead and crash-land near my home.

Suddenly, the war which had been fought for almost two years in faraway lands was invading my local village!

******

It all took place shortly before 7pm on Tuesday, August 26, as the long summer holidays were coming to a close.

I remember seeing the aircraft flying low over Belgooly village near our primary school, and a short time later seeing smoke coming from the direction of the Lybe Road.

It transpired the plane had landed in a cornfield in the Ballady townland belonging to Joseph Coppithorne Snr, who was cutting corn nearby at the time. All the four German crew on board had survived the landing.

Dave Allen in the 1940s
Dave Allen in the 1940s

A decade ago, on a visit back to Belgooly, I called to see Bob O’Regan, a local man aged 92, who was about 18 at the time.

He was working in a neighbouring field and recalled: “It was a fine summer’s evening, I was cutting corn on our farm, the noise of the plane as it flew over- head spooked my horses. I had trouble settling them down. As the plane flew by very low, the canopy was thrown off. I could see it floating down in the next field on a neighbour’s farm.”

I was at home at Ballythomas and from our field at the back of our house I had a good view of the village and the surrounding area where the plane landed. I did not see it land, just saw the smoke.

When my late brother Padraig, a Section Leader in the Belgooly Local Defence Force (LDF - later the FCA) heard about it, he raced to the scene.

He had just returned from Cork city with our 1932 Ford truck, with supplies for the General Store our family ran. Dad was annoyed with him for rushing off as he was supposed to unload it!

But the plane crash was a great talking point at our tea table that evening, especially the fact that Padraig had retrieved a piece of metal from the Junkers as a souvenir,

A day later, I remember seeing a big army truck loaded with the tail and other parts of the German plane passing through the village on its way to Kinsale.

Here’s what had happened...

The Junkers Ju 88 was one of the most versatile and reliable of Germany’s Luftwaffe fleet, and was capable of being a bomber, a reconnaissance aircraft, and a heavy fighter. Some 15,000 of the twin-engined planes were built.

That Tuesday, the German crew of this Junkers had apparently set off on a long range photographic reconnaissance mission over South Wales. Although Adolf Hitler had launched Operation Barbarossa, Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, a few weeks earlier, there were still real fears that he would also invade Britain or Ireland.

Somewhere over the Irish Sea off Wales, the Junkers was attacked by two RAF Hawker Hurricanes, who had been scrambled from their base on the island of Anglesey to intercept it.

One of the RAF pilots was British, the other French. They attacked and damaged one of the Junkers’ engines, but it managed to escape by disappearing into a rain cloud. The German pilot, realising the damage done, decided to fly across the Irish Sea to neutral Ireland and carry out an emergency landing there.

The aircraft was observed and reported as it entered Irish air-space. It flew over Barry’s Head and Robert’s Cove, then inland at low altitude over Belgooly.

Dave Allen
Dave Allen

Here, the aircraft appeared to lose height and circled. Some objects were seen to fall from it - a portion of the engine cowling and a window of the pilot’s cabin. Two machine guns were also dropped from the plane and latter collected on the ground.

The Junkers flew over my head and ended its journey with a thud, about four miles north-east of Kinsale.

The crew were Lieutenants Rudolf Lauer and Ludwig Stockbauer, and Herbert Schulze and Gerhard Dreschel, whose ranks of Gefreiter were equivalent to a Private or Corporal.

They were well drilled on what to do once on terra firma. They set their plane on fire by firing incendiary bullets into it, threw their leather coats into the flames and burned their papers and other documents.

The crew were said have been very friendly to locals who rushed to the scene. One of them, suffering slight abdominal injuries and a sprained ankle, was treated by Dr R. Sheehan, of Kinsale.

The men were given refreshments by Mrs Copithorne, wife of the landowner, and when John Dix, of the Nohoval group of the LDF, arrived, the crew handed him their firearms and ammunition. Several other LDF men, including my brother, cordoned off the crash scene.

The drama was reported in the Southern Star four days later, tucked away on Page 3 under a round-up of news snippets called ‘Pars from Kinsale’.

It stated: “The sensational occurrence attracted a large crowd to the spot, and while the German airmen were having refreshments, they signed numerous autographs.”

Some 45 minutes later, at 7.25pm, gárdaí and military arrived from Kinsale, along with many more locals keen to view what was left of the aircraft.

A military guard from the 3rd Field Company, based at the Old Hospital at Kinsale, posted a man on the wreckage. The airmen were taken into custody and removed to Collins Barracks in Cork. They were interrogated by a Command Intelligence Officer.

Lt Lauer, who spoke English very well, told him about their photographic reconnaissance mission and the four men were taken under escort to ‘G’ Camp, the German Internment Compound at the Curragh Military Camp, Co. Kildare.

The remains of the aircraft were removed from the field by a salvage party from the Irish Army Air Corps, initially to Kinsale then on to Baldonnel Aerodrome.

Britain’s RAF Wireless Service had intercepted a final radio transmission from the Junkers: “Have been attacked by two Spitfires (sic). One engine stopped, other damaged. Intend to land in Ireland. Destroying papers on board. We shall return after victory. Heil Hitler.”

******

Postscript: In May, 1953, a lady from Ballinspittle received a letter from Herbert Schulze, one of the German airmen. He had been repatriated to Germany and was living in Wherstaped, in the Ruhr Valley.

He had noticed her name and address in a newspaper after she had won a crossword competition and wrote to her asking if she could supply him with photographs and postcards of Kinsale and a book about Ireland.

It is not known whether she honoured the request.

Read more articles like this in the 2022 Holly Bough, on sale now.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more