Jersey’s Great Escape Connection
On our tours, we meet a lot of people who had no idea how much went on in the Channel Islands during the Occupation, from the local resistance, RAF attacks, Commando Raids and the US Naval missions. The below story is of a German Born, Free French Airforce Pilot, Bernard Scheidhauer who crash lands on Jersey in 1942.
19-year-old Bernard Scheidhauer was studying in France as the Germans approached Paris. His father advised him to go to England and after a few attempts he gets passage aboard a small trawler. On the 5th of November 1940, he joins the Forces Aériennes Françaises Libres (FAFL). The FAFL was the air Arm of the Free French Forces.
He started training to be a pilot with the RAF in1941 and completed his training in June 1942. He was then assigned to Squadron No.242 and took part in the Dieppe Operation in August 1942. He was then transferred to Squadron No.131 based at RAF Westhampnett.
On the 18th of November 1942 Lieutenant Bernard Scheidhauer and Lieutenant Henri de Bordas boarded their Spitfire Mk.Vb’s and departed Westhampnett at 14:10. Their mission was a Rhubarb over Normandy. “Rhubarb” was a name given to flight missions that used low cloud and poor visibility to search for opportunity targets such as railway locomotives, aircraft on the ground and enemy troops.
They cross the channel just above sea level and first reach St-Aubin-sur-Mer. Then they flew west following the Caen-Cherbourg rail tracks to Carentan. They attacked three trains along this flightpath. At Carentan they head east and Lieutenant de Bordas lost sight of Scheidhauer at Écausseville.
Scheidhauer’s Spitfire had been hit by flak which had damaged his fuel line, his radio and his compass. He became disoriented and headed west instead of north. After crossing a stretch of water, he sighted land that he mistook for the Isle of Wight. Picking out a suitable field he placed his aircraft down in a wheels-up landing, coming to rest in a field of turnips. Climbing from the aircraft he was met by local farm worker Lewis Binnet, who informed him of his navigational error and he was in fact on the German Occupied Isle of Jersey and not the Isle of Wight.
Rough plot of the route that was taken by Lt Scheidhauer
Lieutenant Scheidhauer smashed the instrument panel as best he could and gave away various items of equipment to the gathering crowd of farmers. It took some time before a German soldier appeared who Lewis said had a rifle and spoke good English. He told the group that they were free to talk but as soon as his senior officers came they would have to go and leave Bernard with him. The German Police arrived shortly thereafter and he was taken prisoner.
Site of the crash
Courtesy of Jersey Heritage
In the German POW Camp Lieutenant Scheidhauer was visited by Jersey civilian Dr Shone. Dr Shone reported that he was in good health and had no injuries from the crash. The following day Lieutenant Scheidhauer is transported to France and then onward to Germany. He ends up in Stalag Luft III, a Luftwaffe-run prisoner-of-war camp.
On the 24th and 25th of March 1944 76 Allied prisoners of war escape Stalag Luft III using a tunnel complex they had dug. This including Lieutenant Scheidhauer. Scheidhauer was paired with Squadron Leader Roger Bushell who had organised and led the escape.
Squadron Leader Bushell and Lieutenant Scheidhauer
Squadron Leader Bushell and Lieutenant Scheidhauer were among the first to escape through the tunnel. They traveled by rail, pretending to be French workers. They were arrested at the Saarbrücken railway station, probably on 27 March 1944. They were interned at a local police station under the supervision of civilian detectives. On the 29th of March 1944, they were transferred by automobile by members of the Gestapo. One of the members of the Gestapo, a lieutenant-colonel, was the chief of the Saarbrücken Gestapo, the others belonged to the same service. They were in uniform and the car was driven by a plainclothes Gestapo officer. The automobile was driven to some distance in the country, and parked beside the road.
Squadron Leader Bushell and Lieutenant Scheidhauer were allowed to get out of the car for a toilet break. They walked a few paces away, and at that moment they were shot by the Gestapo officers without warning, while their backs were turned. Only two blows were fired by the two officers. The bodies were then carried to the crematory furnace of Saarbrücken, where they were cremated on 1 April 1944. The urns containing the ashes of the two allied airmen were then sent to the Stalag Luft III.
All but three of the escapees were recaptured, having been hampered by incorrect papers, bad weather and bad luck. The escape so infuriated Hitler that he ordered 50 of them to be shot. Memorably depicted in the famous 1963 movie The Great Escape (itself based on former POW Paul Brickhill’s 1950 book), the breakout from Stalag Luft III has become an iconic event of the Second World War, enshrining both Allied bravery and Nazi evil.
Below is the memorial site on Jersey
Lieutenant Scheidhauer’s Spitfire, EN830, was dismantled and shipped to the Daimler-Benz test facility at Echterdingen. It arrived stripped of its guns and ammunition, with the gun ports closed. The inoperable radio had been replaced with ballast, but it still had its original Merlin 45 engine. It was reassembled and made airworthy. Several flights were made by Daimler-Benz pilots before a conversion was attempted. A decision was made to replace the instruments and the entire electrical system with standard German equipment, because the Luftwaffe used a 24-volt system, whilst the RAF used a 12-volt standard. Its career ended on August 14, 1944, when a formation of US B-17’s attacked Echterdingen, wrecking nine aircraft on the ground, including EN830. Its remains were scrapped.
Below are the photos of EN830 aka the Messerspit