On the night of 10th/11th May 1941, a German Heinkel He111 bomber was brought down by a Lewis gunner at a Searchlight Battery near Fulford Hall Farm in Rumbush Lane.
The bomber (aircraft 3971) was a special H-8 type which had massive cable cutting equipment attached to the front of the plane so that it could cut through barrage balloon defences. The plane shot down in Earlswood was from Flieger Division (“Squadron/Flight”) 9 of the Luftwaffe bomber group KG 55.
Three airmen were killed and a fourth was injured and taken prisoner of war. The bodies of the three airmen were found in the early hours of 11th May 1941 and were taken to Robin Hood Cemetery the same day. Their full details were not known, only their surnames.
The three airmen were given a military funeral by the RAF on 14th May 1941 and their graves remained at Robin Hood Cemetery for the next twenty years. One Silhillian recalled how she and her cousin, as children, would pick bluebells to put on their graves.
Once the German Military Cemetery was created on Cannock Chase in the early 1960s, the remains of the three airmen were removed from Robin Hood Cemetery to their new resting place. The men were:
- Oberleutnant Johann Speck, aged 27 (born 15th July 1913)
- Feldwebel Fritz Muhn, aged 23, (born 28th September 1917)
- Feldwebel Siegfried Rühle, aged 24 (born 22nd December 1916)
Oberleutnant is equivalent to Flying Officer in the Royal Air Force. Feldwebel is a non-commissioned officer, equivalent to Sergeant/Warrant Officer. All three are buried near to each other at the German Military Cemetery, Cannock Chase, in Block 3, grave 80 (Speck), grave 81 (Muhn) and grave 82 (Rühle) (pictured above).
Some pieces of wreckage from the place are preserved at the Earlswood Village Museum, which also has reminiscences from the sole survivor of the crash, 21-year-old Rudolf Budde, a Gefreiter (equivalent to Lance Corporal) who was badly burnt and taken to Solihull Hospital. He told the museum staff that the crew was on a mission to bomb a target in Birmingham, but that they followed the wrong railway line and, instead of reaching Bartley Green Reservoir, they found Earlswood.
An account in the Birmingham Mail sheds light on the events, and also suggests why so many women in Earlswood had silk underwear, despite wartime rationing! However, an article in the Solihull News, 23rd June 2017, reports on research by author Steve Richards, which indicates that the parachute silk fragment in Earlswood Village Museum is likely to have come from a parachute mine, rather than from the parachute of the surviving airman.
If you have any further information, please let us know.
Library Specialist: Heritage & Local Studies