Disclaimer: The following article is a hard one for me to write. Almost every account I have found has had some errors in it, and many vary wildly from each other. Some of the accounts are from sources that I wouldn't normally give credence to, and may well have an agenda.
So if hard evidence later shows up pointing to a particular comment of from this article being wrong, then bare the above in mind. I suspect that the actual truth lies somewhere in the middle ground.
As we all know Operation Sealion was the German's plan for the invasion of Great Britain. There is no question that such an operation would have been utterly crushed within 24 hours. However some say that there was a battle between Germans and British forces, on the ground during 1940. So today we take a look at that encounter.
On September 27th 1940 things were beginning to look up for the men of A Company, 1st Battalion, London Irish Rifles. The Invasion scare was over, They were winning the friendly rivalry between units about who could capture the most shot down German air crew. At least two German bombers had crash landed in the Marsh near their billets. To top it all they were billeted in a Pub on the edge of Graveney Marsh. Of course the concern about the developing Blitz aimed at London may well have played on their minds. So the Troops just remained watchful and occupied a working bar.
Things should have been as rosy for the crew of a JU88A5 some miles away. The wireless operator, Unteroffizier Erwin Richter, a knights cross winner, which he was able to wear to his recent wedding. Equally they were flying a brand new aircraft, which had only been in service for two weeks. However on the morning of the 27th, I Gruppe, Kampfgeschwader 77 had launched 55 planes against London. The JU88A5 was flown by Unteroffizier Fritz Ruhlandt, and nicknamed Eule. As it flew over Medway the German formation was fired upon by flak. With a bang, one of the engines of the JU88 was damaged. The crew of the bomber watched the other planes from their squadron fly past, as they slowed. During the battle which followed KG77 lost another 5 planes. But for the moment Eule was on her own.
Unsurprisingly she was soon found by fighters from the RAF. In this case No66 and No92 Squadrons. However the planes didn't immediately try to destroy the JU88A5. Orders were to try and capture one of the new bombers for study, and the pilots had identified the wounded bomber as the new model. Although the rear gunners Gefreiter Reiter and an unnamed airman tried their best to keep the fighters away the fighters put in an attack as Ruhlandt tried to dive away from them. The bursts of machine gun fire from the RAF planes knocked out the bombers last engine, and wounded Richter in the foot.
Hearing the commotion the men of the London Irish Rifles looked up to see the damaged JU88A5 splat down into the marsh only a short distance away. Grabbing up their rifles about 12 men rushed from the bar and headed across the boggy ground to capture the German airmen.
Ruhlandt might not have seen the approaching soldiers, however he knew capture of his plane was inevitable, and its secrets lost. Luckily German planes were equipped with demolition charges for just such this eventuality, the crew quickly set the timers.
As the British soldiers approached the plane a sustained barrage of gunshot rang out from the downed German plane. Here's where all the accounts differ. Some say the Germans were shooting at their own plane to try and cause more damage, others say they where engaging the British. Even the weapons used vary, from one machine gun (still mounted in the plane) to several machine guns, dismounted from the plane, and a sub-machine gun. Either way the London Irish Rifles believed the shots were aimed at them, and dived prone in the swampy ground. One group set up a base of fire shooting at the Germans, while another used a nearby dyke as cover to close with the plane. The crawling soldiers found themselves about 50 yards from the German plane.
When this second group opened fire the Germans were pinned in a crossfire and quickly surrendered, with another one of their number having been shot in the foot.
The British troops moved forward and found and disarmed one of the demolition charges and marched their captives off towards their billets.
Again things become confused in the historical records. What is certain is one of the Germans made a comment to the rest of the crew about how the plane would "Go up at any moment". One of the British soldiers spoke enough German to know what he had said. What is also certain is that Captain John Cantopher found out about it, and raced over to the stricken plane. He hunted through the foreign plane and not knowing exactly what he was looking for, but knowing it could explode and kill him at any moment.
Eventually he found the second charge set under the wing near one of the fuel tanks, grabbing the ticking time bomb he raced away from the plane and heaved it into a nearby water filled ditch.
The JU88A5 was taken to be studied at Farnborough, and was said to have "provided highly valuable information". For his actions in ensuring the pinnacle of the Luftwaffe's technology was captured intact Cpt Cantopher was awarded the George Cross.