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Last week saw the latest archaeological investigation by Operation Nightingale take place, this time on the Lulworth Ranges. Codenamed Exercise Adlertag, after the German military operation by the Luftwaffe to destroy the RAF in WWII, the project aimed to excavate and record the crash site of a Messerschmitt BF110 aircraft.
The plane itself, a twin-engine heavy fighter, is believed to have been from V (Z) Lehrgeschwader 1 and was on a mission to attack Portland when it crashed on 13 August 1940. An eye-witness to the crash tells of the German squadron being intercepted by the RAF off the Dorset Coast and of this aircraft being shot down. The crash was almost certainly fatal to the aviators, and the plane is one of two possible candidates from this squadron. It is thought to be either that crewed by Lt Günter Beck who was killed (buried at Portland Royal Naval cemetery) whilst the bordfunker, Uffz Karl Hoyer, is listed as missing. Or possibly that piloted by Fw Hans Datz, who was made prisoner of war whilst the bordfunker, Uffz Georg Lämmel was killed and is also buried at Portland.
The aim of the Operation Nightingale investigation was to determine the exact location and extent of the crash site and to recover the remains of the air frame, which are suffering damage due to their location directly across on the South West Coastal Path. This project built on the work carried out in August 2013 on the crash site of Spitfire P9503, though this time examining a German wreck from the Battle of Britain.
Following magnetometry, ground penetrating radar and laser-scan surveys, the site investigation began with a walkover survey with metal detectors; with each artefact flagged and recorded by total station. Being located within the active firing area, work was closely monitored by ordnance experts from the RAF bomb disposal squadron. Areas with a high density of results were selected for hand excavation by the team of volunteers, aircraft specialists and injured service personnel and veterans.
The week proved to be very productive with large quantities of material recovered including fragments of propeller, Daimler Benz engines, ammunition (including spend cases illustrating that the rear gunner had, not surprisingly, fired back at RAF fighters), perspex canopy, magneto and other elements. The excavation demonstrated that the aircraft had crashed directly into the cliff at a near-vertical angle and had then been engulfed in flames.
The remains will be brought to the lab here at Wessex Archaeology to be processed by our enthusiastic volunteer team before further analysis can take place.
Written by Laura Joyner (Wessex Archaeology) and Richard Osgood (Defence Infrastructure Organisation)