It was a perfect autumn day. The sun shone like a ball of fire in the blues sky. The twittering of the bird and the piping of the wild fowl sounded over the marshes. Nature was at peace, majestic in repose as in time of storm and tempest, but there was something that struck a note of glaring incongruity in the scene.
The green landscape was dotted here and there with the parked weapons of war. Round the house that stood by the side of the track leading on to Faversham, men in khaki and steel helmets stood in groups, or moved to and fro, intent on their duties.
This house was the “Sportsman,” a popular rendezvous for Whitstable people fond of taking a long walk on a fine day. But on this particular day, September 27th, 1940, the doors of the “Sportsman” were not open to visitors in search of refreshment and pleasant companionship. They had been closed when war broke out and the place was requisitioned by the military authorities.
Now it was in the occupation of a battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers. Twice that day the siren had wailed its warning and squadrons of German aircraft, flying at a great height, had roared overhead on their mission of hate and destruction.
Following a protracted lull, the siren wailed a third time, and out of the blue came a solitary enemy plane, one of the famous, yellow-nosed Junkers 88’s. She was flying low, a vulture of the air, wounded and crippled by pursuing Spitfires of the R.A.F.
Down she zig-zagged, coming lower and lower, watched with glistening eager eyes by the soldiers on guard below. Ha! Now she strikes the ground, at a spot a quarter of a mile beyond the “Sportsman” in a “belly” landing that carries her across the flat, desolate marshland for a distance of 300 yards.
Bumping, crashing, rolling drunkenly from side to side in her wild, uncontrollable career, the big Junkers 88 skims across a dyke like some exhausted heron mortally stricken, plunges on another fifty yards, and then settles down never to rise again.
Elsewhere, in places all over Kent, enemy planes had been falling and crashing ever since the Battle of Britain began to star the pages of history with immortal glory. But when they were brought to ground their crews were quick to surrender. All the fight had been knocked out of them. The tame captivity of a prisoner-of-war camp was more to their liking than death for the Fatherland in a last desperate stand on English soil.
But the crew of the yellow-nosed Junkers 88 that came down on the marshes near the “Sportsman” were of tougher mettle. Clambering out of the crippled plane they took up a position behind a small hillock and one of them, lying down flat on his chest, opened fire with a tommy-gun at the company of Royal Irish Fusiliers who, led by an officer, were advancing at the double to surround and capture them. The German with the tommy-gun – we will call him Fritz as his name was never blazoned abroad – must have been a fanatical follower of Hitler, a warrior who thought it shame to surrender so long as he had a gun in his hand. And Fritz, by his defiant stand, made history.
Never before since the Norman conquest of this country had drawn to its close, and its blood-stained passages were things of the past, had a battle with invading enemies been fought on English soil.
This clash with the German crew of the Junkers 88, though a battle in miniature and one of brief duration, will be remembered as the Battle of Seasalter.
What was this battle like? Fritz, lying prone behind the little hillock, opened fire on the advancing company of Irish Fusiliers with his tommy-gun, and kept up the fire until he was wounded by a rifle shot fired by one of the advancing force. Fortunately, only one shot of his, which hit an oncoming Irish Fusilier in the left foot, did any damage. When he himself was hit and wounded his comrades, four in number, put up their hands and surrendered without showing any sign of resistance.
Taken prisoners they were marched off and placed in detention. P.C. H Fullager, who cycled out to the “Sportsman” after receiving a telephone message telling him of what was happening, saw the captured Germans when he arrived on the scene. “They were rough, dirty and unshaven,” he says, “quite unlike the University type of German airman who first came over in the early part of the war.”
The search made of the stranded aircraft revealed a number of time bombs.
These were taken out and stood on a mound, where they were left until security police arrived and removed the fuses. These time-bombs would have been used by the crew of the aircraft, had time and opportunity permitted, to blow her to pieces.
She was a brand-new machine, only three weeks out from the factory, and this was her first, and last, raid on England. Her undercarriage was smashed and the fuselage riddled with machine gun bullets from our Spitfires, but her instruments and machinery were found to be intact. Taken to pieces the crashed Junkers 88 was removed by a demolition squad.
In recognition of his bravery in leading the company of Royal fusiliers to close quarters with the German airmen, when Fritz opened rapid fire with his tommy-gun, the officer in command was awarded the George Cross.
To reach the battle site, walk past the “Sportsman” until you come to a turning on the right. Take the turning and it will bring you to the field on the marsh where on September 27th, 1940, a little battle that made history was fought, on the ground, while the grand boys of the R.A.F. were fighting the Battle of Britain high up overhead in the air.
Written by Ernest Brindle, 1946. Transcribed by Brian Baker, 2018. Note: Image indicative of downed JU88, not actual one.