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Recovery of Messerschmitt Bf 109G-5

November 1996

By

Laurent d' Hondt

with the assistance of The Aircrew Remembrance Society

See here for the loss article: Blochberger Luftwaffe 1944

The Funeral of Herbert Blochberger can be found HERE

Vermisst - Missing

unteroffizier-herbert-blochberger
Ecretteville-les-Baons, France- 23rd November 1996


Researched and Compiled by Melvin Brownless, Laurent d' Hondt and members of the Aircrew Remembrance Society.

The initial research regarding the presumed crashed German aircraft at Ecretteville, was initiated by our friend and colleague Laurent d' Hondt. Laurent spends his spare time researching and investigating crash sites in the Seine-Maritime region. During his investigations in the Yvetot area he discovered an eyewitness who clearly remembered witnessing an air battle between a German fighter and a twin tailed allied fighter high in the sky over the little village of Ecretteville-les-Baons, approximately 50 miles south west of the port of Dieppe. In June 1994, Laurent had already established the field where the aircraft crashed, thanks to the help and co-operation of the landowner M. Leon Racine. Armed with only his two small aluminium divining rods, Laurent and his eyewitness discovered the approximate area where the aircraft came down. During July 1996, we were invited to come to Ecretteville and help Laurent establish the identity of the aircraft and the fate of the pilot. This we were very willing to do in the hope of establishing the identity of the then mystery German fighter lost on the 24th June 1944.

We initially carried out a preliminary hand dig after discovering a very large 100% reading with our deep seeking metal detectors, an area was marked off and we proceeded to dig through the sun baked soil in the hope of finding evidence to establish the type of aircraft. After a few hours of hard toil we discovered substantial corroded aircraft remains two feet below the surface. Due to the abundance of metal and the hard soil, only minor progress could be made. However, a few fragments were recovered one piece being clearly marked "109". This part and its numbering sequence were identified as coming from the tail plane of the German Messerschmitt Bf 109 aircraft but we were still unaware of its type but presumed it must be a Bf 109G. Small corroded parts from the ailerons were also found. After this discovery, plans were drawn up to undertake a major recovery operation using heavy digging equipment, luckily for us Laurent new a friend who was a digger driver who had helped Laurent in previous excavations. The equipment was arranged and the date was finally set for the excavation to take place on the 23rd November 1996.


Unteroffizier Herbert BlochbergerA
The first piece of evidence clearly marked 8-109.310 -1102

With our two hired vehicles the team set out from Newhaven on the 10.00 p.m. ferry crossing which was scheduled to arrive at Dieppe at 2.00 a.m. (3.00 a.m. French time). After driving for approximately one hour, the team arrived at the small village of Ecretteville-les Baons. Locating the exact crash site in the pitch dark with the vegetation totally different from when we were here in July proved to be a considerable challenge, and after driving around the narrow lanes we came to the little track which we remembered from our previous visit. It was definitely time for a nice cup of tea! A few minutes later the Gendarme Laurent arrived with his friend and we all retired to the back of one of our vans to discuss the coming days excavation. Predictably, in northern France in winter, the rain began with a vengeance! The thought of getting very wet was very apparent in our minds! However, the challenge of the recovery overcame all despondency - to hell with the weather! At 7.00 a.m. We clambered out of the vehicle, suitably dressed to cope with any weather conditions!

Dawn was breaking as we approached the crash site area, which we soon identified from the disturbed evidence of our previous initial investigation in July. The mechanical digger was not due to arrive until 9.00 a.m. So it was decided to start an initial hand dig until it arrived. The group split into pairs, and armed with spades we removed two feet of soil from a circular hole approximately eight feet in diameter. At this depth we discovered some corroded tail-plane wreckage, and for the next hour of digging we collected several bags of partially corroded airframe aluminium. At this point, with everyone sweating profusely, the rain subsided and the digger was sighted coming up the lane in the distance, much to everyone's relief! Once the machine had started its work, it was immediately apparent that our attempt to dig by hand to the depth of three feet over the previous couple of hours could be achieved in minutes using this mechanical advantage!, With Laurent using appropriate instructions to the driver an area was soon cleared of the top soil, and the serious work of the recovery operation was under way. The first recognisable items to be unearthed were corroded airframe sections of both tail-plane and port wing, followed at a depth of five feet by a rusty propeller boss and one of the broad propeller blades in reasonable condition. The next item to emerge was the port undercarriage oleo leg minus the wheel and tyre, the leg itself was in good condition, also a section of rear fuselage still with some surviving paint and stencil.

Unteroffizier Herbert BlochbergerB
Above and below: Rear section of fuselage clearly stencilled is "Hier aufboken" (Jack aircraft here)

Unteroffizier Herbert BlochbergerC

We had now reached a depth of around eight feet when suddenly parachute shroud lines had caught on the teeth of the digger bucket, our thoughts then turned to the fate of the unfortunate pilot! Was he lying just beneath our feet? The digger was immediately stopped so we could access the situation. The parachute shroud lines were embedded in the soil below at this stage we had to work very carefully to remove the soil around the lines and parachute silk. We were successful in releasing the parachute in one piece, followed by the parachute pack and harness together with the D ring (parachute release pin) and parachute release box. We realised that we now could be on the verge of finding a missing German pilot. The parachute was carefully brought to the surface, finding the unfortunate pilots parachute was our first indication that we would now find human remains in this area, which is now obviously the cockpit area, sadly most of this was unrecognisable after the incredible 500 mph crash.

Unteroffizier Herbert BlochbergerD
Laurent & Melvin carefully release the entombed parachute lines

Unteroffizier Herbert BlochbergerE     Unteroffizier Herbert BlochbergerF
The parachute pack before and after restoration

Unteroffizier Herbert BlochbergerG
Dignity and Respect!

After the discovery of the parachute, we carefully searched the remains of the flying clothing and uniform fragments for any clues that might lead us to identity of the pilot. Searching these uniform and other fragments was a necessary task we had to carry out, we were hoping to find the pilot's Erkennungsmarke (I.D Disc), but unfortunately this was not found. It is amazing that after 54 years buried in the soil, the textile material has survived incredibly well. Every effort was made to find and collect the remains of the airman and in doing this we discovered other clues to his identity. At this time All of our thoughts were of this young man who paid the ultimate sacrifice in war! We were comforted with our task in the knowledge that after the recovery this young pilot of the German Air Force would no longer lie in an unmarked grave in a French field. He would now have a grave amongst his fallen comrades. It was decided here in England to make a small wooden coffin and also take a wreath of remembrance as a mark of respect from our team in memory of this unknown pilot. It must be expressed that the team did not know the fate of the pilot before the excavation took place and because of this we took the necessary precautions. The dig carefully continued and more cockpit and airframe parts emerged together with some remains of blue service Luftwaffe trousers. In one of the pockets we discovered the pilots Fliegerkappmesser (Gravity knife), and on the wooden grip we discovered the initials H.B these same initials were found embroidered on a handkerchief. Other uniform fragments included the collar tabs showing the rank of Unteroffizier. The machine had now stopped while we carefully searched in the cockpit area. We found the remains of a wallet containing one key (locker) together with some French bank notes and lose coins. All around the site were different piles of aircraft wreckage these consisted of a huge variety of ARGUS hydraulic fittings, fuel tank rubber & components, airframe structural parts all in good condition with no sign of any fire damage whatsoever! We also found the dinghy, Walther signal pistol and flares. An extremely interesting find was the glass lens from the Rb 50/30 photographic camera together with long strips of photographic film. This positively identified this Bf 109 as a photo-reconnaissance version rather than the fighter variant. This probably explains why we only found a few 20 mm cannon shells and smashed remains from the breach of the MG 151 which fired through the engine and out of the propeller hub. Components from the cockpit area included the following; smashed parts from aircraft instruments and makers labels, throttle controls, electrical wiring and fittings.


Unteroffizier Herbert BlochbergerH     Unteroffizier Herbert BlochbergerI
Remains of pilots Fliegerbluse with surviving rank patches & shoulder boards for Unteroffizier

Unteroffizier Herbert BlochbergerJ     Unteroffizier Herbert BlochbergerK
Pilots badge and German Cross in Gold

Unteroffizier Herbert BlochbergerL
Identification and Aircraft Type

Unteroffizier Herbert BlochbergerM
Part of fuselage skinning with remains of the aircraft code number "Blue 1"

Unteroffizier Herbert BlochbergerP     Unteroffizier Herbert BlochbergerO
The throttle quadrant and remains of KG13 control stick

Unteroffizier Herbert Blochberger-2     Unteroffizier Herbert BlochbergerQ
Aircraft serial number 27107

Then came a most incredible find, there laying on the ground was a strip of aluminium measuring approximately six inches by two inches which I immediately picked up and turned over. There in front of my eyes was the aircraft manufacturers data card for a Me 109G, factory coded DQ+GA with the aircraft Wnr. (serial number) 27107. We now had the most important piece of evidence, stating the type and construction serial number of this particular Me 109 G-5 R/2.

Unteroffizier Herbert BlochbergerR
The tail wheel & tyre was found under the engine

Unteroffizier Herbert BlochbergerS
The DB 605 engine

The excavation was at a depth of approximately twelve feet, suddenly there was a heavy thud as the digger struck something big. Within a few seconds the Daimler Benz 605 inverted V12 was lifted from its resting place in the jaws of the mechanical digger, there was a big cheer from the team. On inspection, the Daimler Benz had suffered severe impact damage to the front of the engine the crankcase had split down the centre with the crankshaft holding the two cylinder heads together. The last major recognisable relic to come out of the crater was the tail wheel oleo and tyre which was incredibly under the engine! The excavation had finally revealed all its secrets including the mortal remains of the pilot H.B. After the last remains of the pilot had been found a strange thing happened! All morning the weather had been appalling with wind and rain. We had finished placing the remains of the pilot and the wreath tribute into the box. The dark clouds parted and rays of light, like fingers pointed down on to the site, this was a very moving moment with all thoughts concentrated on the memory of the missing German airman. The farmer arrived with his tractor and trailer to assist the tired but elated group it was time now to restore the field in good condition so that the grazing cattle could return. The site of the remains of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 G-5 on the back of the trailer was incredible, this once powerful machine reduced to small fragments of confetti type aluminium looked so pitiful, but the mystery was now unlocking its doors!

Unteroffizier Herbert BlochbergerT
The smashed remains of the Daimler Benz 605 engine after cleaning

Unteroffizier Herbert BlochbergerU
The engine badge


On return to England we set about the task of identifying the pilot and his unit, we urgently made contact with fellow aviation historians in Germany and America and within a week we had the confirmation of the pilot's identity which we so desperately needed.

The sources of information came from the following;

Herr Ottomar Kruse and Dr.Jochen Prien with help from Mr. James H. Kitchens III Ph.D.

The facts;

Messerschmitt Bf 109G-5 manufactured by Erla Machinen Werke, Leipzig in October 1943

Unit 4/Fernaufklaerungsgruppe 123

Markings Blue 1+

Pilot Unteroffizier Herbert Blochberger (Missing)

Decorations Deutsche Kreuz in Gold, 17th October 1943 when assigned to 2.(H) Heer/AG 31 in Russia.

Circumstance of loss: In combat south of Le Havre on the 24.06.1944 as stated by the VLM (Verlustmeldung)

At the time of writing this report it is not known the exact cause of the loss of this aircraft, we are still trying to find the official reports regarding the combat. But we do have the information written in the personal diary of the eyewitness. The entry for 24.06.44 stated that he saw two aircraft very high engaged in combat, the German aircraft was attacked by a twin-tailed Allied aircraft possibly a P-38 Lightning. We did find bullet strikes in the first-aid access panel from the port side of the rear fuselage the projectile came through from the starboard side from behind. The calibre possibly .303 or maybe .50? The time of the crash was reported around seven, a.m or p.m. We believe that this pilot flew as a wing-man on this mission which was photographic reconnaissance of the Normandy Invasion area. From the decorations of the pilot it is obvious that he was an extremely experienced individual, who despite this experience succumbed to the same fate as many other pilots from both sides who sadly sacrificed their young lives in service of their respective countries!

The engine, cockpit parts and German Cross in Gold are on public display in the Wings Remembrance Museum,
Balcombe, West Sussex

Melvin Brownless © Aircrew Remembrance Society

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