Aircraft crashes of the Royal Air-Force in Cologne and the surrounding area 1939-1945
In the course of the war, Cologne was attacked 262 times by bomber units of the British Royal Air Force, and from the end of 1943 also by units of the 8th American Bomber Fleet.
But bomber units flying in or back, which had the Ruhr area as their target, also crossed Cologne and the surrounding area in the process.
A dense belt of anti-aircraft guns (Flak) was built around Cologne to protect against these bomber groups and to defend against them. (See a special chapter on "Air Defence").
The German Air Force with its fighter squadrons, later also with the night fighter squadrons, was also deployed to protect the cities on the Rhine and Ruhr from the Allied bombers. (See a special chapter on "Night Fighter").
Both the flak and the German fighters shot down a large number of British and American bombers. But collisions in the air and other accidents also brought down aircraft.
As the war progressed, especially after the Allied landing in Normandy on 6 June 1944, dogfights between single-engine fighters over the Rhineland became more frequent. For the most part, American fighter pilots dueled with pilots of the German Luftwaffe. This also resulted in numerous crashes in and around Cologne.
What happened after the crash of a British aircraft?
Recovery of the crashed aircraft
Once an Allied bomber had crashed, it was up to the police to seal off the crash site completely. Within a radius of at least 300 metres, 8 to 10 soldiers under arms were to seal off the crash site. Only high-ranking officers or Luftwaffe members of the Luftgau command had access to the crashed aircraft.
Civilians were strictly forbidden to enter the crash site, and anyone who appropriated parts of the downed aircraft was severely punished.
Particular caution was required if the crashed aircraft caught fire or crashed already burning. Here, there was the highest danger of explosion due to the aircraft fuel that was still in the wings. Even greater danger, however, came from the bomb load and other ammunition that was detonated by the fire. Many civilians, but also firefighters and security guards, were killed by such explosions.
The air-raid police then informed the air base command in Cologne-Butzweilerhof, which then informed the air force mountain command. Under the direction of an engineer, these units recovered the debris of the crashed aircraft and sent it for recycling in the ironworks in the Ruhr area.
They also recovered, as far as possible, all the radios, bomb sights, maps and other documents that were still in the aircraft.
They also recovered the dead and injured crew.
A so-called "Anfassbericht" was drawn up on all these measures, in which all the essential circumstances of the crash, the crashed aircraft, the exact location of the crash and the injured or killed crew members were noted.
Today, these reports are only available in fragments in some archives. On the instructions of the highest German air force command, the capture reports were destroyed at the end of the war or taken away by the personnel in the chaos of the last days of the war. Others were seized by the American forces after the occupation of Cologne and included in the search documents for their own missing aircraft.
Incidentally, after the end of the war, these "touch reports" were an invaluable source of scrap metal for those who had secured this file material.
When a single-engine fighter crashed, it was usually from a high altitude and at high speed. When it hit the ground, the aircraft drilled itself up to six-seven metres deep into the soil. What remained was a more or less deep crater on the surface and some debris from the sheared wings. At the beginning of the war, the recovery companies still took the trouble to dig out these machines and recover the dead pilot. As the war progressed, only the debris lying on the surface was collected and sent for recycling.
Many aircraft have still not been recovered, and the pilots are still considered missing. Their recovery is all the more difficult today, as the exact crash site is often unknown or no longer known, or is completely inaccessible.
In the course of the war years 1944 - 45, the recovery companies were completely thinned out in terms of personnel; the personnel for debris recovery was simply no longer available in these units. Only the debris that could still be used was salvaged. Prisoners of war or forced labourers were often used for this work, and the harvest wagons of local farmers, who were also paid for this work, often served as recovery vehicles.
Salvage of dead and injured crew members
Injured members of the crew were taken to a German military hospital and transferred to a German prisoner-of-war camp after their recovery. All soldiers were taken to the Durchgangslager-Luft (DULG-Luft) in Oberursel for interrogation immediately after their arrest or release from the military hospital and later transferred to a prisoner-of-war camp.
Dead British soldiers were transferred to the reserve hospital in Cologne-Nippes. Here, the death of the member of the Royal Air Force was documented on the form "Nachweis über den Sterbefall eines Wehrmachtangehörigen". There was therefore no separate form to document the death of Allied soldiers; Form I/0348 was simply "misappropriated" for this purpose.
A civil death certificate was not issued. According to a decree issued by the Reich Minister of the Interior on 7 May 1943 to all district councillors and mayors, the following were permitted
"Deaths of members of an enemy armed force, in particular of members of the crew of enemy aircraft brought down or crashed over the territory of the Reich, were no longer to be documented in the civil register".
The name and rank of the deceased were noted on the form, if this could be determined. Also the date of death, the hour of death and the place where the body was found. However, caution is required with regard to the truthfulness of the last information. If, for example, three planes crashed on the same day in or around Cologne and the crews were found dead, then confusion quickly arose. The mostly burnt and mutilated corpses were examined in the reserve hospital in order. If no name or rank could be found and no identification tag was present, the dead person was recorded as an "unknown airman or unknown Englishman". And so it could happen that the same place of discovery, time and date were recorded for all the soldiers lying there for identification. A fact that today does not exactly make it easier to identify the unknown deceased as belonging to the matching aircraft and the actual crash site.
Furthermore, the cause of death was noted, often " total body disintegration" or "total burns due to plane crash".
Furthermore, the form notes the location of the grave, the cemetery and the day and hour of burial.
British crews were almost exclusively buried in Cologne's South Cemetery. Part of the cemetery, which has been British property from the First World War to the present day, was the first resting place for all British crews who fell in and around Cologne. Only after the end of the war were almost all the British soldiers exhumed and laid to rest outside Germany.