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Mission: Southampton Docks, England.

Date: 8th March 1943

Time: 1.24 a.m.

Unit: 1 Staffel./Kampfgeschwader 2

Type: Dornier Do 217E-4

Werke/Nr. 5526

Coded: U5 + EH

Location: Reeks Wood, Vann Common, Fernhurst, Sussex, England.

Pilot: Feldwebel. Gunter Vestewig 58207/144 POW (Born: 08.01.1921 in Itzehoe.)

Observer: Unteroffizier. Gerhard Polzin 57358/225 POW (Born: 30.04.22 in Ellstrin.)

Radio/Op: Obergefreiter. Hans Witkopp 58207/146 KILLED (Born: 08.06.23 in Jakobsberg.)

Gunner: Obergefreiter. Franz Huske 57358/105 MISSING (Born:10.06.21 in Ammendorf Halle). (Human remains recovered 2005)


On the 8th of March 1943 this aircraft was en-route to Southampton docks when shot down in flames by S/L G. H. Goodman and F/O F. E. Thomas in a Bristol Beaufighter of No. 604 Squadron. Dornier Do 217 coded U5 + EH dived into the ground at great speed, disintegrated and burnt out in Reeks Wood, Vann Common, Fernhurst near Midhurst, Sussex. Two of the crew, namely the pilot, Gunter Vestewig and his observer, Gerhard Polzin managed to bale out successfully! Sadly the 19 year old radio/op Hans Witkopp managed to bale out of the stricken bomber at the last moment, but tragically left his parachute behind. He fell to his death quite near to the crash site. The gunner, 21 year old Franz Huske is believed to have been killed during the attack of the R.A.F night-fighter, he seems to have made no attempt to bale out.

Armament: two MG 131, one 20 mm Oerlikon and two MG 15 traced. Two 500 kg and eight 50 kg bombs carried. Equipment: a FuG 101 radio altimeter was traced. The crew were on their eighth War Flight when shot down

(1) Dornier-Do-217-nose-1943
A Dornier Do 217 in flight (BA)

(2) Vestewig
The pilot of the ill-fated Dornier, Gunter Vestewig pictured in flying clothing
(via Vestewig)

The pilot and observer during training.

The pilot, Gunter Vestewig aged 22 had recently been promoted to the rank of Feldwebel. He started his A/B training at Prenzlau between the autumn of 1940 and July 1941. He was then sent to the ÑCì School at Frstenwalde until June 1942, after which he spent the month of July at the Blind-flying School at Kastrup. After completing his blind-flying course, he was postedto the "C" School at Kolberg as an instructor and remained there for two months.In October 1942 he was posted direct to IV/KG2 at Melun/Villaroche, where he joined a crew, and only two days later was again posted to 1/KG2 at Gilze-Rijen. He reached his operational unit, therefore, without having received any operational training whatsoever, either at the Grosskampffliegerschule, or at the Ergnzungsgruppe, and without having flown a Dornier 217.

The observer, Unteroffizier Gerhard Polzin aged 20 joined the Luftwaffe in October 1940 and carried out his infantry training at Fl.A.R.41, Frankfurt/Oder, after which he was sent to Nest to serve in the Horstkompanie. During August 1941 he was posted to the Observerís School at Bug/R¸gen where he remained until April 1942. He then passed on to the Grosskampffligerschule at Hirsching, and remained there for two and a half months. During this period no flying at all was done, and training was confined to lectures. In July 1942 he was posted to the Grosskampf - fliegerschule at Barth and made his first acquaintance with operational aircraft. This was extremely slender, being confined to three or four flights in an old Dornier 17Z. In September 1942 he also was posted to IV/KG2 at Melun/Villaroche and was put in with a crew for the first time. He flew three circuits and bumps in a Do 217 and then when he was stood down for the day the rest of his crew had a flying accident and were killed. He then hung around for the best part of a month, doing no training at all, until he was put into his present crew and two days later was posted to 1/KG2.

During the ensuing three months this crew received an intensive course of operational flying at Gilze-Rijen. They made a hundred starts in Do 217ís, commencing with circuits and bumps and going on to make cross-country flights lasting about an hour. They also carried out some hedge-hopping practice which, they were told was to prepare them for daylight raids over England. Twenty night circuits and bumps were made, and these were followed by four or five two-hour flights to the Rheims area and back, on which the crew always kept below 3,000 feet.

(3) Huskecc (4) Huske 2
Franz Huske (via Saunders)
cccccccccccccccccccccccccccccc Memorial at crash site (Brownless)

The crew & their previous war-flights

The crew of the U5 + EH, Feldwebel. Gunter Vestewig (pilot) Unteroffizier. Gerhard Polzin (observer) Obergefreiter. Hans Witkopp (Radio/Op) and Obergefreiter. Franz Huske (gunner) joined the 1st Staffel./Kampfgeschwader 2 during October 1942, but were kept on operational training for the next three months. They made their first operational war flight during the first half of February 1943, and were only on their eighth operation when shot down on March 8th. The crew’s first sortie in February 1943 was the Harbour town of Dover. They took off from Gilze- Rijen in a Do 217 and laid two L.M.B. mines near the mole. Their next three sorties were minelaying operations in the Thames Estuary. On each of the four mine-laying flights which the crew of the U5 + EH have made, they had been given a specific point on the coast from which to commence their run-up to the target; in the case of the three flights to the Thames Estuary, this point was Margate. Everything was carefully calculated in advance, and all the crew had to do on their mine-laying run was to fly level at 3,000 feet on a given bearing for a given number of seconds, keeping exactly to a speed of 300 kph I.A.S.

On the night of the 16/17th February they took part in an attack on Swansea, this time the crew flew from Evreux, France. Their aircraft carried two 500 kg's and 50 kg explosive-incendiaries devices and they claim they bombed the dock side area. Their next war flights were during the attack on London on the night of March 3/4th. Five aircraft of 1/KG2 took part in this operation and the U5 + EH made two sorties. On the first sortie, the crew took off from Gilze-Rijen with two 500 kg HE and eight 50 kg explosive-incendiary bombs and flew low over the sea to within twenty minutes flying time of the Thames. They then started climbing and after making landfall at Southend continued westwards to approach East London from the north.

Their target was an area south of the Thames, roughly opposite the West India Docks, and although visibility was not too good the aircraft was held several times by searchlights but succeded in bombing the target from 8,000 feet. The second sortie was identical to the first as regards course and objective. Visibility had improved and the target was bombed from 10,000 feet with successful results obtained.

Last flight of the U5 + EH 8th March 1943 Account by Gunter Vestewig.

On the evening of March 7th six bomb laden aircraft of 1/KG2 took off from Gilze Rijen in Holland en-route to their target in southern England, Southampton Docks. The Do 217E-4 coded U5 + EH piloted by Feldwebel. Gunter Vestewig was carrying a bomb load consisting of two 500 kg and eight 50 kg bombs. The observer, Unteroffizier. Gerhard Polzin set course for Le Havre, flying at 1300 feet and keeping well inland of the French coast.

The crew intended to make landfall at Selsey Bill, curve round the north of Portsmouth and Southampton, and make their bombing run over Southampton from North-West to South-East. They crossed the French coast near Le Havre, and started to climb steadily. Evasive action was taken by constant changes of course as much as 40%, and by switch backing periodically as much as 1500 feet. Whether or not as a result of these manoeuvres, the observer became lost, and when they arrived over Midhurst at 11,000 feet they thought they were a good deal further west. At about this point they were suddenly attacked by a night-fighter. Their aircraft was not equipped with the radar Lichtensteingerate and they were taken completely by surprise! Hits were scored in the starboard fuel tanks and in the starboard BMW 801 engine, and then the latter burst into flames:

Gunter Vestewig takes up the story;

Suddenly there were sparks in the cockpit and I heard glass breaking. The radio ceased to work and from between the starboard engine and the fuselage I could see flames which rapidly spread to the engine itself. I turned the aircraft on its head and nose dived to exstinguish the flames, these got smaller but when I pulled the aircraft out of the dive the flames were bigger than before. I could not now keep the aircraft level and we flew in a descending curve to the left.

The possibility of reaching the French coast was nil and as the danger of an explosion was very great I gave the order to bale out!

My observer cut my radio cable on my flying helmet at this time otherwise I would have strangled myself. We assume we were hit by two shots from a night-fighter which would explain the loss of life and shattered glass in the cockpit and on the other hand, the burning wing. What happened afterwards cannot be reported objectively but the fact that my radio operator Hans Witkopp was killed and is now buried in Chichester Cemetery; my flight engineer Franz Huske has never been found; my observer Gerhard Polzin was wounded by shrapnel in the nose and chin and his left arm and left knee. I was seriously wounded with a fractured skull, broken ribs and a shot through my shin bone! I next remember hanging on my parachute how it opened I do not know and feeling that I was gliding high above the well-lit Olympic stadium in Berlin! I was there in 1936, but surely this could not be possible. I landed in a clearing in some woods, every time I regained consciousness I shouted for help, how long this lasted I do not know. Suddenly there were soldiers. One of them took off his jacket and vest. They poured tea from a flask onto the vest and cleaned my bloodstained face. I became concious again and found myself lying on a stretcher on a farm, there was an old man with a lamp comforting me, he was saying, "my dear son, my dear son". I regained conciousness on the operating table at Bramshot hospital. Gerhard Polzin was also hospitalized. Radio operator Hans Witkopp baled out without a parachute and was found dead near the wreck of his aircraft in Reeks Wood. Flight-engineer and gunner Franz Huske was killed instantly when the Beaufighter attacked, his crumpled body became entombed in the gunners position in the water filled crater created by the U5 + EH as it penetrated twenty feet underground in soft clay. His remains were recovered in 2006 and he now lies near his comrade, Hans Witkopp in Chichester City Cemetery.

(5) Witkoppcc(6) Witkopp Grave
Hans Wittkop (via Witkopp)ccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccc Chichester Cemetery (Ellis)

The last resting place of the Radio/Op Hans Witkopp can be found in Chichester Cemetery: Square 42. Grave No 43.

Re-dig at crash site on Saturday 11th to Sunday 12th June 2005. Excavation carried out by Keith Arnold (Southern Counties Aviation Research) and a team from Tangmere Military Aviation Museum. Melvin Brownless from the "Aircrew Remembrance Society", together with Neal Lumley and his son Daniel assisted the group and the landowner Mr. Greg Fisher in the recovery operation and subsequent identification of Franz Huske due to documents and photographs which we supplied to the district coroner and local history society. Sadly no mention of our participation in the proceedings can be found anywhere.

(7) Newspaper 1
Local newspaper report of the recovery operation.

(8)Huske  burial
Local newspaper report of the burial at Chichester Cemetery
of the mortal remains of Franz Huske.

Researched and compiled by Melvin Brownless and David King over a number of years. With special thanks to Greg Fisher, Keith Arnold, Gunter Vestewig, Heinz Witkopp, Andy Saunders, and Clive Ellis. (Updated March 2015)
The British Library is preserving this site for the future in the UK Web Archive at All Aircrew Remembered on our Remembrance pages, are therefor not just remembered here, but also subsequently remembered and recorded as part of our nation’s history
and heritage at The British Library.