A campaign has been launched to move the bodies of two Luftwaffe pilots to a German war cemetery after their single, unmarked grave was discovered 72 years on. The airmen were buried in the same grave in a Kent churchyard after their two bombers were shot down during a raid on London in August 1940.
Three days later another German bomber crashed in the area, resulting in the remains of four men to be buried in one coffin on top of the other two men. More than 20 years later the German War Graves Service had the remains of all its servicemen killed in Britain in World War Two exhumed, and interred at the Cannock Chase German Military Cemetery, in Staffordshire.
But the two airmen – Oberleutnant Horst von der Groeben and Oberleutnant Gerhard Muller – were left behind as it was not realised their coffins lay underneath the top one. They have remained in the unmarked grave in Whitstable cemetery ever since. Two local historians have now unravelled the macabre mystery and have identified the unknown airmen through their identity disc numbers.
After realising their names were not on the Cannock Chase Memorial, Joe Potter and Andy Saunders researched local records and archives and were able to pinpoint them to ‘War Grave Number 1′ at Whitstable. Now the family of Oblt von der Groeben, the two historians and the Whitstable Royal British Legion are calling on the authorities to move the bodies to Cannock Chase.
Mr Potter said: ‘It is a rather bizarre and macabre mystery.’In 1962 the exhumation team did not realise the graves of another two men lay underneath. ‘Although the local records, which still exist today, show 11 German airmen were buried at Whitstable in August 1940, only nine were relocated to Cannock. ‘Whitstable council should have informed the Germans about the burials of these two men after the war but didn’t.
‘As a result the two men have remained forgotten and unidentified in a scruffy grave that is just a patch of grass with no headstone on.
Von der Groeben and his fellow airman Gerhard Muller were buried in this plot at a churchyard in Whitstable, but the coffins of other German servicemen were placed on top so when the bodies were exhumed 20 years later they were left behind
‘While there is an argument for letting the men rest in peace where they were originally buried it would be fitting for them to join their fallen comrades at Cannock and be added to the official roll of honour there. ‘But it is down to the German War Graves Service to organise and finance.’ Historian and author Mr Saunders said: ‘I researched this story, with Joe Potter, for my book ‘Finding The Foe’.
‘I would be happy to kick-start a fund to help get these men properly buried under named headstones at the German Military Cemetery.’
Horst von Weitershausen, the nephew of Oblt von der Groeben, said: ‘Myself and my two brothers want to move his grave from Whitstable to Cannock.’ In August 1940, Britain faced the real prospect of invasion from the Nazis. During the height of the Battle of Britain Hitler sent wave and wave of bombers to attack strategic military targets across south east of England. On August 13 a squadron of Dornier 17 bombers found themselves on a doomed raid as a communication error meant they had no fighter escorts.
Downed: The wreckage of Oberleutnant Horst von der Groeben’s crashed bomber on Whitstable beach after it was shot down during a raid on London in August 1940
Blitz raid: The airmen’s Dornier 17 bomber was one of five shot down by RAF Hurricanes on August 13, 1940
Oberleutnant Gerhard Muller’s body is carried away from the mudflats near Seasalter, Whitstable. He had bailed out but was killed after his parachute failed to open
After bombing coastal targets the planes came under fierce attack by RAF Hurricanes, resulting in five of them being shot down. Oblt Muller was killed after he bailed out of his plane over Seasalter, near Whitstable, and his parachute failed to open. The body of Oblt von der Groeben was washed up at Whitstable after his crashed on the shoreline there.
From their identity numbers, they were recorded as being buried at Whitstable on August 17 in the deep grave. The Whitstable branch of the Royal British Legion is in contact with the German embassy in London with a view of getting the process of relocation started.
It is thought a fee of about 3,000 pounds will be required to cover the cost of the exhumation and reburial.