Townsend brings down first plane over England

A Hurricane aircraft scrambles

Peter Townsend was Squadron Leader with 43 Squadron, based at Acklington:

On the morning of the 3rd of February, in a cutting wind, the other pilots in my flight and I, went for our Hurricanes dispersed on the far side of the airfield. Far away at Danby Beacon Radar Station, the duty operator picked up the phone, it was 09.03 – the operator had seen a blip, then another – unidentified aircraft, some 60 miles out to sea, were approaching at 1000 ft.

Moments later, blue section of 43 Squadron were scrambled and on their way from Acklington airfield to intercept. Myself with Folkes and Sgt Hallowes in my wake – “Vector 190, bandit attacking ship off Whitby – ‘Buster’ – with throttles wide open, racing south at wave top height and spreading into search formation, Hallowes on my left and Folkes on my right.

Suddenly there it was, a Heinkel just below cloud, ‘Tally-Ho two-o-clock’, banking right in a climbing turn, it came into my sights – I pressed the button – I was firing at Missy, Wilms, Leuschake and Meyer (the names of the Heinkel’s crew) who at Schleswig only a few hours earlier had been shovelling snow and enjoying coffee and sandwiches. It never occurred to me that I was killing men. I only saw a Heinkel with big black crosses on it, but in that Heinkel, Uffz Rudolph Leuschake was already dead, Uffz Johann Meyer, his stomach punctured by bullets was mortally wounded – closing in fast, I passed it as it entered cloud – seconds later Folkes, the Heinkel and I tumbled out of the cloud almost on top of one another, then the German turned shorewards with a trail of smoke behind him and force-landed.

The Heinkel III was forced to land at Bannial Flat Farm, Whitby, Yorkshire at 0940. It was the first enemy aircraft to crash land in England during World War II, although others had previously been forced down in Scotland. Special Constable Arthur Barrett was the first to arrive, in time to prevent Wilms from burning the confidential papers. Rudolph Leuschake was dead and Johann Meyer was screaming in pain, and would die shortly. They were later buried at Catterick. Missy was so seriously wounded that one leg was amputated and he was eventually repatriated to Germany in 1943.

Peter Townsend was to have an illustrious career in the RAF. As Group Captain Townsend he gained some notoriety in the 1950s over his romantic involvement with Princess Margaret.

See Peter Townsend: Time and Chance: An Autobiography