On the night of July 27/28, 1943, HP Halifax II JD150 of 102 (Ceylon) Squadron took off from RAF Pocklington, Yorkshire, to bomb Hamburg in Germany, writes Mike Simms. Whilst on route the aircraft was attacked by a Messerschmitt Bf 110 night fighter of II/NJG3 flown by Fw Hans Meissner. The 19-year-old pilot, Sgt Gordon Brown, battled to keep his crippled aircraft in the air. Eventually the fight was lost and JD150 slammed into the ground and exploded. It was the aircraft’s 14th operation and the crew’s third.
JD150 became just another statistic of the battle of Hamburg until in 2010 German Historian Nils Hempel found fragments of a crashed Halifax near his home. Later he found a 30lb incendiary bomb – he called the local police to report his find. A German EOD unit was dispatched to the site and found many more of these bombs, along with four Rolls Royce Merlin XX engines.
Nils conducted exhaustive research to find the identity of the crashed aircraft. He finally confirmed, through German night fighter reports, that this was the final resting place of JD150. Over the next few months Nils and the EOD unit tried to find a home for the engines, but no one in Germany seemed to want them. Eventually the Wings Museum in Balcombe, West Sussex, was contacted and asked if they would be interested in the engines, needless to say the answer was a resounding ‘yes please’. In 2011, having acquired the necessary authority from British MOD, a team from the museum travelled to Germany to bring the four Merlins home after 68 years.
With the engines in the care of the museum an inspection was carried out. The powerplants had crashed into boggy ground and as a result were not that badly damaged. The decision was taken to restore one of them to ground running condition. This was done and in 2018 at the museum’s ‘Bomber Boys Day’ the unit was given its very first public run. This was a truly unique occasion as the engine is the only one of its kind fitted with the ‘Saxophone’ exhausts that runs. The sound is also much different to other Merlins due to the exhausts.
This year the engine is due to be run on selected days through the summer. The plan is to run the engine once in the morning (11.30am) and again in the afternoon (2.30pm) on the following days (subject to change, check with the museum before making a special journey): June 29, August 3 and October 5. http://wingsmuseum.co.uk