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The Quinton Raid

Raid No. Seven (9th-10th April 1941) - The Bomber Crash on Hales Lane

On the night of 9th April seven German bombers were shot down by the RAF patrols sent to cover the West Midlands. Six of them came down in countryside, but one, a Heinkel 111, crashed into houses in Smethwick. It was the only bomber to crash onto houses in the whole of the area throughout the war.

The Heinkel was attached to Number 4 Squadron of Bomber Group 27, which consisted of 32 Heinkel bombers based at Dinard and Bourges in northern France. At approximately 21.00 hours on Wednesday 9th April 14 bombers set out from the Dinard airfield, reaching the Birmingham area between 0.55 hours and 01.30 hours on Thursday morning. The bomber that crashed on Smethwick had a crew of four on board: the pilot was 23-year-old Unteroffizier Rudolf Muller; the wireless operator and air gunner was 22-year-old Feldwebel Werner Strecke; 28-year-old Egon Grolig was the bomb aimer and 20-year-old Feldwebel Helmut Hacke was the flight engineer.

Flight-Lieutenant E C Deanesly (Officer Commanding "B" Flight) and Sergeant W J Scott of 256 Squadron were based at Squire's Gate Airfield near Blackpool. In his log book Deanesley recorded:
"On the evening of April 9th 1941 we were ordered to provide 'night-fighter cover for the Birmingham region as a raid was imminent. We were ordered to Tern Hill Airfield near Market Drayton. We were flying a Boulton-Paul Defiant coded N-1771-jT-U. We took off at 21.55 hours. We observed incendiary bombs bursting below and condensation trails above. We climbed to a height of 20,000 feet and after two near misses we latched on to an enemy bomber, which we were able to follow by its vapour trail until such time as we were able to deliver an attack. We fired three times up through the soft underbelly of the aircraft. When the glazed nose was illuminated by the flames we were able to identify the aircraft as a Heinkel. We followed the aircraft down to about 10,000 feet but broke off, for fear of hitting barrage balloon cables. The chase had led our aircraft on a southerly course and at the reduced height we had lost radio contact. We climbed back to 15,000 feet and quickly got an accurate homing, landing safely at approximately 02.00 hours."

As the Heinkel descended it struck the cable of a barrage balloon moored at Site 15/17 in Wythall, south of Birmingham. People in the Selly Oak area heard shooting and the renting of metal overhead, and saw the trail of smoke and flames. As the aircraft passed over Harborne, part of its wing fell off and set fire to a row of houses in Balden Road, where two people died.

The pilot, Rudolf Muller, bailed out of the aircraft, and landed on Barston Road, Oldbury, sustaining minor injuries. Detachments of the Oldbury Home Guard, on duty at the Danilo Cinema (now the Quinton Classic) were alerted, and they rushed to deal with him. One of them, Mr Sainsbury, refused to go. He had recently lost his only son on active service and felt he would be unable to control himself if he came face-to-face with a German. The aircraft continued its fall over Warley Woods, with engines spluttering and in flames. Werner Strecke, the wireless operator, then bailed out, landing on the roof of a house belonging to Mr W Scrannage at the corner of Short Road and The Oval. His parachute became entangled on the roof, and injured his foot in the fall. Air Raid Wardens and Home Guards, who gave him tea and cigarettes, brought him down. In broken English he explained how they had been brought down and that there were still two crewmembers left on the aircraft.

The Heinkel finally crashed into the rear of 281 and 283 Hales Lane, near to The Two Brewers public house. A resident was sheltering in a garden nearby, and remembers:
"I was sheltering with my mother and a neighbour in our Anderson. We heard what sounded like gunfire and a terrific noise overhead. We didn't know what it was at the time. Then there was a terrific crashing sound and flames shot up into the night sky. I thought all the houses opposite were on fire, but it was only the reflection of the flames in the windows. An engine from the bomber went through the butcher's window opposite; the walls are still pockmarked today. I remember seeing the body of the German lying in the gutter, covered with a piece of material that I had soaking in a bath full of water. I will always remember Amy Hanson's wedding dress, still hanging on the picture rail in the bedroom. The coal fire in the downstairs living room grate still burned, yet the house was an open ruin. "

The bodies of Egon Grolig and Helmut Hacke were found in the aircraft. There had been seven people in the two houses at the time of the crash and they were all killed. Five of them were members of the Smart family: their Anderson shelter in the garden was untouched. The two other people who died were Mrs Doreen Hanson, and her 24-year-old daughter Amy, who was to have married later the same month. They had recently moved to Smethwick after their home in London had been bombed. The two women had been seen bailing out water from their Anderson shelter, but they had obviously given up and returned to their home.

A number of pumps from the Smethwick Fire Brigade arrived, but exploding ammunition and incendiary bombs hampered the firemen. The next day members of the Royal Air Force examined the whole site in an effort to glean new information about the structure of German aircraft, which would be of assistance to anti-aircraft tacticians. Over the following weeks the crash site was the subject of intense local interest. One enterprising person even charged a fee to see the crash site from his garden, giving all monies received to the Smethwick Spitfire Fund.

This story was in print for many years but certain parts of the story were inaccurate and were corrected by an interview with Rudolf Muller. The society believes that both accounts of the fateful night should be included.

© QLHS 2005

 

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