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Monday 18 November 2019

Monument marks the site of WWII air crash

26 year old German gunner Josef Niebaur who lost his life when his Heinkel plane crashed at Nethertown, Carne, in 1941.
26 year old German gunner Josef Niebaur who lost his life when his Heinkel plane crashed at Nethertown, Carne, in 1941.

Pádraig Byrne

It was a peaceful summer's morning in Carne on June 10, 1941, when suddenly chaos perforated the Wexford skyline. As children made their way to school, a loud droning could be heard all around the area, as a low flying aircraft approached, seemingly in difficulty.

A German Heinkel aircraft, it came in low over St George's Channel, gradually losing height as it passed the lighthouse at Tuskar. As it approached, it was noted that the plane was in major difficulty. It's starboard engine was on fire and it's port engine was smoking. It was going down.

The aircraft continued to lose altitude and appeared to be making a landing on the sea, but eventually it struck land at Nethertown, Carne, near some houses and about half a mile north-east of Carnsore Point. While locals ran to the scene, the plane inverted in a field, it burst into flames killing all five German airmen on board.

Just one of the major wartime events witnessed on the South Wexford coast, this tragic incident is now marked with a new monument erected at the site of the crash in Nethertown. Having worked with Cllr Ger Carthy to secure funding, local historians Kevin Sills and Brian Murphy were delighted to see the crash commemorated, after carrying out quite a bit of research into it over the years. Kevin has even produced a report of some fifty pages into the crash and has presented his findings to the families of the German airmen who lost their lives when they visited the site in recent years.

The Heinkel aircraft was actually a weather plane on a reconnaissance mission in the channel on the night in question. It was a flight they had done many times before. In fact they flew the same route just two nights previously. However, what they didn't bank on was a British RAF squadron having set up in Pembrokeshire, Wales. The squadron moved to intercept the Heinkel resulting in the deaths of pilot Rudolf Peschmann (27), Meteorologist Dr Herbert Rumpf (32), radio operator Alois Mittermeier (25), radio operator Herbert Moderzewskt (22) and gunner Josef Niebaur (26) at Nethertown.

'Among the people of Carnsore and Tacumshane there was a heightened acceptance and expectation of such an incident since another plane of the German Luftwaffe had crash-landed on the beach of Rostoonstown three months previously,' Kevin explained.

'In this instance, one of the crew of five was dead and the remaining four were subsequently interned in the Curragh.'

At Nethertown, locals did their best to try and save the occupants of the ill-fated Heinkel.

'Mr Michael Murphy of St Yaux and volunteers from Carnsore Point lookout post were quickly on the scene,' Kevin explained. 'They could do nothing to save the aircrew as the plane was blazing fiercely. Also there was a grave danger of further explosions occurring at any time.'

Volunteers at the Carnsore lookout post were restricted in telephoning reports to Dublin and Waterford as the phone wires had been knocked down by the plane. Messages had to be sent from nearby Broadway.'

The bodies of the five aircrew were removed by ambulance to Wexford Military Barracks and left overnight there, for burial the following day, Wednesday, June 11, 1941.

The funerals at Crosstown Cemetery were attended by large numbers of Wexford people and military personnel of different services.

In May 1959 the remains of Ofir. Rudolf Peschmann,R.R. Dr. Herbert Rumpf, Uffz.Alois Mittermeier, Ogefr. Herbert Moderzewski, Uffz. Joseph Niebauer were removed from Crosstown Cemetery, Wexford to The German War Cemetery in Glencree, Co. Wicklow.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating side stories arising from the crash, however, was locals discovery of a piece of tin tubing with a scroll inserted inside at the Nethertown site.

Currently held in the Irish Military Archives in Dublin, academic experts identified it as a script written in Hebrew, which was the equivalent of the Christian Ten Commandments for those of the Jewish faith. Professor Ronan Fanning of UCD came to the conclusion that it was likely that one of the aircrew of the Heinkel may have been secretly Jewish themselves.

'That this tiny piece of parchment survived the crash and its aftermath, and the fact that one of the crew of the Heinkel may have held this on their person as they went to their death, has a certain poignancy,' Kevin noted.

Seventy-eight years on from the crash, although the peace and quiet may have been restored to the Carne coastline, Wexford County Council have erected a permanent reminder to what happened there and why that particular field is known locally as 'Airplane Field'. Kevin Sills, whose extensive work on the project has been invaluable, and Brian Murphy, whose father Ibar was the corporal-in-charge at Greenore Look Out Post in 1941, were delighted to see some of the stories of the impact of world war two on Wexford properly recorded for generations to come.

'There's some fascinating stories there to be told,' Brian noted. 'My own father left notes from the war describing the action he witnessed at Greenore Point and it's fascinating stuff.'

That is certainly the case. From tales of prowling submarines spotted off the coast to a single weekend which saw some 34 mines wash up in Wexford, the South Wexford Coast is home to a whole host of fascinating stories from World War II.

It is hoped that the erection of the monument at Nethertown is only the beginning in terms of telling the tales of 'Wexford's Wartime Coast'.

Wexford People

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