A Spitfire crashes at Dielament Manor in November 1942
The Great Escape, which was made over 50 years ago has a pivotal scene in which Roger Bartlett, played by Richard Attenborough, and Andy McDonald (Gordon Jackson) were about to get on to a bus after showing their papers to a Gestapo agent. McDonald fell for the same trick he warned his fellow POW’s about earlier in the film by replying in English. They were arrested and were shot in cold blood soon after.
The characters in the film were based on real men, or composites of several men. The character of Bartlett was modelled on RAF Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, a habitual escaper who spoke good German. In the real Great Escape Bushell’s travelling companion was Free French Air Force pilot Bernard Scheidhauer, who was captured in Jersey.
Bernard Scheidhauer was born in August 1921 and was a pilot in the Free French Air Force, before joining the RAF and serving in the UK. On 18 November 1942 he was returning to England following a raid in France. He was flying his Spitfire (Supermarine Spitfire Vb EN830/NX-X) over Jersey when he ran out of fuel and crash landed in a field belonging to Dielament Manor, a short distance from a farm owned by the Binet family. The aircraft had been hit by anti-aircraft fire and its fuel limes were damaged, so that he ran out of fuel and was forced to crash land, wheels up, just missing a herd of cows. He initially thought that he was on the Isle of Wight and wanted to return to base, but when he was told where he was, he wanted to destroy the plane to stop it falling into enemy hands. As no petrol was available it proved impossible to destroy the plane.
Lewis Binet was aged 18 at the time and had been with his father Philip at a neighbouring farm making black butter.
He said he left his father around 4pm to return to his farm to tend to the cattle. On the way back he saw a Spitfire circulating overhead with its engine misfiring, as if running out of fuel. He saw the Spitfire land in a neighbouring field of turnips and he ran towards to it. As he got closer he saw the pilot get out of the plane, unhurt and walk towards him. On meeting they shook hands and were having had a general chat in which Binet wanted to know how the war was going. Scheidhauer had a good understanding of English.
They were soon joined by a group of neighbouring farmers with everyone in high spirits as they gathered round the plane, which was undamaged. Surprisingly it took some time before a German soldier with a rifle appeared. He spoke good English and told the group that they were free to talk but as soon as his senior officers came they would have to go and leave the pilot with him.
Soon after a number of soldiers arrived and took him away. Lewis Binet never saw him again.
Stalag Luft III
After his capture Scheidhauer was sent to Stalag Luft III, which was a high security prisoner of war camp for airmen, deemed to be escape proof. Of the 76 who escaped only three reached their destination. It could be said that Scheidhauer was unfortunate to have been teamed up with Bushell, who had been threatened with death should he again attempt to escape. It is evident that whoever was captured with Bushell was likely to be shot with him. Hitler was so enraged by the escape that he ordered that 50 of the escapees be rounded up and shot, in total disregard of the Geneva Convention.
Bernard Scheidhauer’s landing and short stay in Jersey is recognised, with due thanks to Ian Le Sueur who was responsible for erecting a memorial dedicated to him. The Memorial which is some 300 yards away from the initial landing was unveiled by Scheidhauer’s sister on 17 September 1999. Over 300 people attended the service, including Free French Air Force veterans.
It is believed that Scheidhauer and Roger Bushell were taken to a quiet clearing in the woods and shot in the back of their heads. Their bodies were cremated without dignity and all evidence of their existence obliterated.
German trials with plane
Because the crashed aircraft was relatively undamaged, it was taken to Germany, where trials were carried out to assess its capabilities in relation to contemporary front-line German fighters. Once it was fully repaired the Germans went about assessing it and it’s Merlin 45 engine comparing it to previous captured Spitfire marks and to their own Bf109 and Fw190 fighter aircraft. The aircraft was painted in Luftwaffe test markings in order to avoid any frontline Luftwaffe pilot mistaking it for an RAF machine and attacking it. Once these tests were completed talk turned to assessing how the aircraft would handle with a German engine installed. The project was given the go-ahead in early 1944.
The aim of the experiment was to establish whether the engine would dramatically improve the aircraft’s performance to the point beyond that of the Luftwaffe’s fighter. By the time this Franken-Spitfire had been properly tested the original material was already out of date with the Spitfire V having been replaced by the Spitfire IX. The experiment came to an end on 14 August 1944 when the aircraft was destroyed in a US air raid.
This is from an online biography of Bernard Scheidhauer:
- "Born in Landau on 28 August 1921, Bernard Scheidhauer was the son of Colonel Michel William Scheidhauer, who was the Commanding Officer to a Battalion of Moroccan infantry. He grew up in Germany and France and his hopes and aspirations were to become a pilot following his graduation, but this was postponed by the fall of France in May of 1940.
- "Little more than a teenager, he tried once, and failed, a crossing of the Pyrenees to Spain. Then he made his way to Douarnenez, a fishing village just south of Brest on the Brittany coast, where his family had relatives. Along with five other eager young Frenchmen he purchased a small fishing boat called La Petite Anna'. On the night of 20-21 October 1940, the six men set sail for England, with 24 hours worth of rations on board, and a total of 180 litres of fuel. After a couple of days at sea, they ran into heavy weather. Riding out the storm, they used up the remaining fuel and began to drift helplessly. After being at sea for ten days, they were rescued by the British merchant ship, Craighorn, and taken to Milford Haven.
- "On 5 November 1940, Scheidhauer enlisted in the Free French Navy, serving on a ship called Volontaire, which was berthed in Liverpool. His ambition to be a pilot was achieved on 22 January 1941, when he was called to Camberley to start his training.
- "Around 24 June 1942 he received his wings and flew Spitfires. On 18 November he was hit by flak which affected his fuel situation by cutting the lines. Thinking he was heading for home, for some reason he headed west instead of east. He finally ran out of fuel and was forced to crash land, wheels up, by Dielament Manor, just missing a herd of cows.
- "Thinking he was on the Isle of Wight, he wanted to return to base, and then when he was told where he was by the bystanders, wanted to destroy the plane, but without much success. These bystanders helped him to dismantle parts of it, including the cockpit and the laminated wooden propeller, before the occupying forces showed up some 45 minutes later. The pilot was taken prisoner and after the usual formalities, he was assigned to Sagan - Stalag Luft III.
- "Being trilingual in French, English and German, these talents were soon picked up by the camp escape committee, headed by "Big X", Squadron Leader Roger Bushell.
- "He was quite experienced in escape and he soon selected Scheidhauer to form part of the security side of the escape and tunnelling operation. His first main task was to keep a watch on the German guards and report on their every move. When the tunnelling started, he also spent several hours at the tunnel face - a particularly hazardous task with the constant risk of cave-ins and of being buried alive under sandy soil.
- "The tunnel called "Harry" was completed by March 1944 and the first moonless night after this was selected to be the escape day. For the escape, Roger Bushell chose Scheidhauer, because of his language abilities, and they were considered among the 70 escapers most likely to succeed. They were chosen to be third and fourth out of the tunnel. They made their way to the Sagan railway station and caught a train to Breslau. There Bushell and Scheidhauer caught another train to Saarbrucken. Then their luck ran out.
- "They were hoping to continuefrom there into France. However, they were asked to show their papers, arrested and turned over to the Gestapo, who shot them dead a couple of days later. Bushell was 33 and Scheidhauer was 22.
- "On 17 September 1999, on the initiative of Ian Le Sueur, a service was for Bernard Scheidhauer, and a memorial was unveiled near the field where he landed. Members of the Scheidhauer family were in attendance."