Spitfire PR IB N3069
This is the story regarding the research of the crash of Spitfire N3069. There are still some loose ends and the ARGA is hoping for some help on the internet.
* We are still looking for a photo of Spitfire N3069
* F/O Wheatley flew earlier with 105 squadron. We are looking for any info regarding his time with this unit
* Any information regarding this crash is helpful and greatly appreciated!!
Contact: Sander Woonings
The initial research regarding this crash carried out by Sander Woonings from ARGA dates back to the late 1980’s and early 1990's. F/O Claude Mervyn Wheatley in Spitfire PR IB N3069 crashed near the small village of Herwen some 25 km east of Arnhem, near the Dutch German border. Spitfire N3069 was operated by the Photographic Development Unit(PDU). The first operational aerial reconnaissance unit of the RAF.
Spitfires N3069 and 3071 were the first two Spitfires allocated to the PDU. After being delivered from 6 MU in October 1939 these two Spitfires were modified and refitted at the RAE/ Farnborough as a photographic reconnaissance a/c. The a/c armament was removed to be replaced by the F.24 5 inch focal length lens camera's and the a/c was painted in a mint/green camouflage scheme, Camotint green. Armor including the seat armor of the pilot was removed and all joints were filled with plaster and polished. An extra fuel tank was installed in February 1940 and the 5 inch focal length lenses were replaced by 8 inch lenses designating the Spitfire as a PR IB.
Flying Officer Wheatley(39147) was born on 5 October 1913 in Lewes, East Sussex, England. He was the youngest son of Ernest Albert Wheatley and Marion Wheatley Kirtlan. He had an older brother and sister. He was married to Joan Leal on 8 February 1939.
Wheatley was posted with the PDU on February 21, 1940 after flying Fairey Battle a/c with No. 105 squadron and deployment in France as part of the Advance Air Striking Force.
On Good Friday March 22, 1940 F/O Wheatley was tasked for his 3rd reconnaissance flight with the PDU. His task: further coverage of the German Ruhr area. He took off from Heston aerodrome at 09:50 hours(local time) to RAF Stradishall for refueling. F/O Wheatley was airborne again at approx. 11:15 hours(local time) to carry out his reconnaissance mission.
Luftwaffe high command was aware of the high flying reconnaissance Spitfires and their superiority in maximum ceiling. Both German pilots had extreme difficulties in reaching the altitude of F/O Wheatley. High above their heads they could see the condensation trail of Wheatley’s Spitfire.
The combat report of Harald Jung states the following: “I received orders from my Staffelkapitän for a FLUKO (Flugwach Kommando=Aircraft Observer Command) mission. (Aircraft sounds in the vicinity of Kleve(GE), very high altitude.) together with a Rottenflieger Uffz Koslowski.
After approx. 5 minutes I observed in the direction of Geldern-Wesel-Kleve(GE) the condensation trail of an aircraft which flew at a very high altitude and I immediately started the pursuit. The aircraft followed the course Bocholt-Wesel-Kleve(GE). I closed in at approx. 500 meters over Wesel at an altitude of 10.000 meters and I could clearly see the RAF markings(Red, White and Blue).
At 12:45 hours I had closed the gap at 300 meters and I could definitely identify the aircraft as a Spitfire fighter aircraft. In order to prevent it in escaping to Dutch airspace I opened fire. The enemy aircraft immediately executed evasive actions. I assumed that the pilot was hit with my first burst of machinegun fire because he gave no further effort to get me off his tail.
The enemy had lost approx. 5000 meter in altitude and banked left and right in order to get out of my line of fire but did not succeed because the Bf109 is superior in the turn. I fired again and witnessed the pilot baling out. The pilot was probably hit again because his parachute never deployed. The enemy aircraft didn’t burn and crashed on Dutch territory in the right hand stream of the River Rhine just after its junction.”
(Source: Harald and Hartmut Jung)
More facts were given on June 10 and 14, 2011 by Harald Jung himself during two by telephone given interviews. The Me109 which Jung usually flew was not available due to technical problems. He therefore used Messerschmitt Me109E-1, White 13, Werknummer 3493 for the interception of F/O Wheatley. This aircraft was equipped with 4x MG-17 machineguns instead of the 2x MG-17 and 2x MG-FF 2 cm configuration of his other aircraft and that of Uffz Koslowski’s Me109. Due to this difference in weapons configuration Jung was able to reach the height of 10.500 meters. Koslowski couldn’t reach the altitude and stayed behind at an altitude of 9.500 meters.
Civilians on the ground looked high up the sky. Many in the vicinity of the Dutch villages of Herwen, Lobith, Tolkamer and Spijk were witness of the high altitude chase. The only thing visible were three condensations trails, two apparently following the first. Nobody was aware of any danger, not even after the sounds of gunfire reached the spectators. Suddenly, if hit, the first trail went down nose diving to the earth in a dive from which it didn't recover.
The aircraft crashed in a flooded area just outside the 's Gravenwaardsedijk(dyke) near the village of Herwen. A large fountain of water and mud erupted high in to the sky. Everybody was looking for parachutes but saw none and feared the worse. Only oil and twisted aluminum, which was just visible above the waterline indicated were the Spitfire went down. Dutch military forces immediately created a perimeter around the crash site and started with the recovery of the wreck. They pulled away the a/c parts which they brought to shore with a small boat.
Later that same day local German authorities received a message from the small German village of Düffelward, just across the River Rhine were on the Dutch side the crash site of the Spitfire was. The body of a RAF pilot was found in a field owned by Gottfried Derksen. The parachute didn't open due to a hit to the parachute pack. The body of F/O Claude Mervyn Wheatley was recovered by local villagers and brought to the local school building. On March 22, 1940 at 18.30 hours F/O Wheatley was buried with military honors at the local cemetery. A German army priest held the funeral. F/O Wheatley was reinterred to the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery on 25 April 1947 and now rests in grave 3-F-14.
The recovery was continued by salvaging company Van den Tak Salvaging from Rotterdam. Their salvaging vessel “De Zeeleeuw” with a barge arrived at Saturday march 23, 1940. A diver from the famous diving family Sperling, probably Cornelis Sperling, arrived later that same day. The recovery was assisted by personal and material from Vahali Shipyard, a local shipyard in Gendt.
The results of the first dive made clear that the wreckage had impacted approx. 3 meters deep into the ground. Saturday and Sunday were used to clear the mud and sand from the site by dredging the ground around the wreck but the high water level made it impossible to reach and clear the wreckage. The decision to postpone the recovery until the water level reached normal levels was made on Monday, March 25, 1940 and a day later the salvaging team left the site. A short message in the newspaper on April 17, 1940 stated that it was still not possible to recover the Spitfire due to the high water level.
By combining all research results and eyewitness accounts we can conclude with confidence that the exact crash site is located underneath a dam which was built in 1947-48. This dam was built by a company called the N.V Maatschappij tot Exploitatie van het landgoed “De Bijland”. The only fragment of Wheatley’s Spitfire, a stainless steel gunport cover, was found in the direct vicinity of this dam.