He III - Werke No. 2989, G1+CP, Widnes

12th March 1941

Last updated: 15.03.2011

Heinkel He111


Type Unit Base Duty Crew
He111 P - 4A


Avord  Raid


March 1941 saw a continuation of the Blitz with widespread heavy bombing across the country and the major ports proving frequent targets as the Luftwaffe tried to disrupt supplies reaching the UK from across the Atlantic. For Liverpool there had been something of a respite since the heavy Christmas raids of 1940, but now as weather conditions improved the Luftwaffe once again turned their attention towards the city and the night of the Wednesday March 12th – 13th saw the city become the main target with 316 of some 373 raiders attacking Britain directed against it. One of the key units of Luftflotte 3, involved in this raid was was Kampfgeschwader (KG, Bomber wing) 55 "Greif" (their aircraft being decorated with the red Greif (Griffon) badge) and II Gruppe of this unit were temporarily based at Avord airfield near Bourges in central France. This raider was one of their aircraft - Heinkel He111 P - 4A, Werke No. 2989, coded G1+CP of 6 Staffel (Squadron) KG55.

At 19:23 hours in the evening of Wednesday the 12th March 1941, G1+CP took off, from Avord along with four other Heinkel He111s of 6/KG55 in cloudless conditions and a full moon, giving good visibility over Northern France, as the set course for their target. In command of  the aircraft was Hauptmann Wolfgang Berlin, the observer and Staffelkapitan (Squadron leader) of 6/KG55, and it was piloted by Oberfedwebel Karl Single.  The other crew members being; Unteroffizer Xavier Diem (wireless operator/gunner), Feldwebel Leonhard Kutznik (flight mechanic/gunner) and Feldwebel Heinrich Ludwinski (gunner). Their planned course took them over the coast at Dieppe then directly towards Merseyside at not less than 14,000 feet, though the actual attack was to be made at 10,500 to 11,500 feet. Their return course would have been via the radio beacon at Fecamp between Le Havre and Dieppe and onto Avord via further beacons at Chartres and Vierzon. By 20:00 hours the radar stations along the south and southeast coasts of Britain had started to detect the raid forming and began to pass back plots on the aircraft coming in. 

Name Position Status
Oberfeldwebel Karl Single Pilot Uninjured/POW  
Hauptmann Wolf Berlin Observer / Aircraft Commander   Uninjured/POW  
Unteroffizier Xavier Diem Wireless Operator   Uninjured/POW  
Feldwebel Heinrich-Johann Ludwinski Gunner   Killed  
Feldwebel Leonhard Kuznik Flight Mechanic / Gunner   Killed  

Having reached Merseyside at around 22:00 hours, about one hour into the raid, the crew of HeIII G1+CP located their designated target, amid the burning city below and released their bombs over the docks at Birkenhead. Almost immediately the aircraft came under attack from behind, as one of No. 96 squadron’s Hurricanes, serial No. V7752, piloted by Sergeant Robin McNair, opened fire on the raider. In all McNair made three attacks on G1+CP, resulting in both engines stopping, though the stricken bomber did not catch fire. 

Wolfgang Berlin, the aircraft’s commander recalled after the war:

 “There was only a little AA fire and not much searchlight activity. The weather was fine and clear and a bright moon was lighting up all of Southern England”. Berlin continued, “If I remember correctly we were flying at about 3,000 metres. After the attack on the docks at Birkenhead we turned for home and shortly afterwards our wireless operator/gunner, Unteroffizeier Xaver Diem, reported on the interphone that a night fighter was coming up from the lower rear. Only seconds later bullets ripped through the Heinkel, this first burst killed our gunner, Feldwebel Heinrich Ludwinski, and flight mechanic/gunner Feldwebel Leonhard Kuznik. The second and third bursts put both our engines out of action so I ordered the radio operator to bale out. However he was unable to open either of the two rear exits because of damage inflicted by the fighter so had to crawl forward along the narrow passage between the bomb chutes to reach the cockpit. I opened the front emergency exit but by this time we were down to about 1,000 metres and rapidly getting lower. We remaining three – pilot, radio operator and me – then got out. As I descended by parachute I could see below me the fenced meadows in the bright moonlight and men running in the direction of my point of landing which was in the middle of a field near a farm house. As soon as I landed the men arrived shouting “Hands Up!” They were members of the Home Guard, but I don’t know how many. Then they guided me to the farmhouse and I was led into the living room where a homely fire was burning. It was very peaceful. The farmer then brought me a piece of buttered toast, so I knew I really was in England! My deep regret is that my schoolboy English was so poor, for I responded with “Thank you so much Madame”! Only the armed guard standing by the door reminded me that a war was going on”.

Sergeant Robin McNair of No 96 squadron gave his account of the events in a Combat Report completed the following day:

 “I took off from Cranage at 20:35 hours , to patrol the Liverpool at 12,000’. I was patrolling [over] the fires when I suddenly sighted a Heinkel III travelling in a Southerly direction. I was in a Hurricane traveling N.E. I got under his tail at once, identified it as a twin engined aircraft by the two exhausts and approached to within about 75 yards astern. The aircraft was well in the sights and I gave it two bursts of four seconds each. My windscreen was then covered in oil and my machine enveloped in smoke. I broke away and noticed the port engine was emitting a good deal of smoke. The port undercarriage was down and appeared to me to be hanging loose with the aircraft swaying about. I gave him another four seconds burst from 75 yards and then made a beam attack from the Port side at 50 yards using the rest of my ammunition. By this time the E/A was down to 3,500’.”

By that stage McNair was dangerously near the balloon barrage, so he gained height quickly and carefully manoeuvred himself out of the barrage and set a course for Cranage where he landed at 23:15 hours, having flown a  total of 2 hours and 40 minutes. In fact he had virtually no fuel left so by carefully nursing the engine and fuel he managed to touch down just before the engine cut out and his aircraft had to be manhandled from the runway.

The aftermath of the destruction of the Heinkel at Widnes – Guards examine the still smouldering remains littering the crash site, whilst onlookers peer through the railings. 

Members of No 922 squadron, “B” Flight, site No 1, Barrage Balloon crew pose proudly with their trophy from the downed Heinkel (Maddock family)

By the time the three surviving crew members of G1+CP had managed to bail out, the Heinkel had fallen from its bombing altitude of around 10,000 feet to around 3,000 feet, now well within the effective height of the barrage balloon defences. The aircraft, with the two crew members who had been killed in the attack still onboard, continued to remain airborne for a short time before it struck a balloon cable belonging to No 922 squadron, “B” Flight, site No 1 anchored on the works tip of McKechnie Brothers Ltd on Ditton Road. The balloon was being flown at 4,500 feet, when at approximately 22:07 hours the He111, approaching from theWest, struck the cable with its port wing tearing a section. The aircraft then slewed around to the North to crash three-quarters of a mile away into a ploughed field adjacent to the ICI recreation field, Widnes at 22:10 hours, where it burst into flames and was completely burnt out. The three surviving crewmembers, who had baled out, were quickly rounded up from the surrounding area and taken into custody for interrogation, whilst at the scene of the crash the gathering civilian onlookers were soon cleared, the bodies of the remaining two crew were recovered and the area secured and placed under guard.

The wreckage was left as it was for a few days to allow a detailed examination to be completed, attracting many sightseers during that time and was then cleared away within two weeks. After which the local children descended on the site looking for souvenirs, but unfortunately for them very little had been left to be found, apart from a few small pieces in the brook at the edge of the field. Feldwebel Heinrich Ludwinski is now buried in block No. 3, grave No. 152 next to Feldwebel Leonhard Kuznik in grave No. 153 at Cannock German Military Cemetery in Staffordshire.

Grid searching this area took all day, even with several experienced detectorists.

In October 2008 a detailed site investigation was carried out to identify, pinpoint and properly record the crash site of this raider, following detailed negotiations with Halton Borough Council, as the site lies on an active sports ground area and in fact proved to be now a well used rugby pitch meaning we also had to wait for a window in the playing season - certainly makes a change from waiting for crops to be harvested!!! Although a couple of photos of the crash site are available, the perspective given by the cameras of the time and the development of the area, including the replacement of the iron railing fence seen in them, had always made any direct comparison a matter of conjecture. We knew the survey was not going to be an easy task, as the recovery operation in 1941 was known to be very thorough as well as a number of unauthorised metal detectorists having targeted the site over the years - including a couple whilst we were actually waiting for access! 

This promising signal on the 22m line proved to be only mineral (iron oxide) contamination (Note: Cricket club buildings in background - also visible in the 1941 photo).

The results of our survey, with all contacts attributable to the He III plotted - Click on image for larger format copy. 

On the day we carried out formal grid searches of the entire rugby pitch (under the watchful eye of the grounds keepers) and the surrounding area, which even with several experienced detectorists and modern machines, took the entire day. The small brook (In fact, little more than a drainage ditch today) running along the boundary by the fence proved the most difficult to cover, as the area was extremely contaminated with metallic rubbish (literally hundreds of drinks cans, foil food containers, metal shopping baskets etc. etc.) to a depth of  up to 18 inches and even when small sections were cleared, the stream bed proved to be highly mineralised making detecting impossible. We also discovered that there were relatively few signals off the pitch itself, particularly between the touchline and the boundary with the cricket grounds - leading us to conclude that this was the area that the previous unauthorised searchers had concentrated on. 

The pitch itself proved to have a surprisingly high signal density and a number of pound coins and a couple of darts were perhaps worrying evidence of the activity of some spectators?  The centre spot proved rich in 10p pieces, presumably lost whilst flipping coins to decide ends and another worrying find was an eight inch javelin spike - lying point uppermost and only just below the surface! But at last we started finding and plotting some fragments from the aircraft including one complete live 7.92 mm round for an Mg 15 and a couple of broken / exploded cartridges. As we dug each signal we also kept an eye out for soil discolouration and we soon noted that in one area, each signal excavated revealed small amounts of "Daz", a powdered corroded aluminium product and darker soil with what looked like small pieces of ash mixed in   - this area also proved, when plotting the finds, to correspond with a slightly greater density of aircraft related finds. During the search we also became aware of a couple of areas that seemed to be giving unusual signals and a few features became apparent, including an isolated length of what we assumed be disused pipe running in a straight line under the pitch and an area with numerous cast iron fragments and much splintered glass in the soil, which we assumed to be the site of an old glass house. One apparently more promising signal was revealed on the 22m line, but we found that the various detectors we had available seemed to be indicting it differently and a small test pit proved it to be only a patch of mineral (iron oxide rich clinker) contamination - not a surprise really considering the industrial past of the site. 

With the grid searching complete, but only a few small fragments from the Heinkel, we still felt confident that we had at least achieved our aim of positively identifying exactly where the aircraft came to rest and burnt out. This area was then grid searched again to ensure no small pieces had been missed and also surveyed with our deep seeking machines, but no deeper contacts were located.


Mark Gaskell, Dick Baker, Russell Brown, Halton Borough Council, Tony Sheridan, Widnes Library, Mr T P Condron, Widnes & Runcorn World, Mrs H Moffat, Mrs Florence Marsh, Mrs Lilian Brereton, Mr O'Callahan, Mr Oaks, Mr Starkey, Mr P Gilhooley, Mr Duncan McNair, Helmut Terbeck, David Ransome, Lionel Quinlan,


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