How downing of Humbie Heinkel made war history 75 years ago
This picture was taken on the Lammermuir Hills 75 years ago this week, capturing a significant moment for the Royal Air Force.
Dubbed ‘the Humbie Heinkel’, it was the first enemy plane shot down on British soil during World War II.
Taken on October 28, 1939, the picture shows sightseers gathering around the wreckage of the German Heinkel He111H-2 bomber after it crash landed in a field. A swastika painted on the tail of the bomber. The cockpit is damaged and the RAF are examining it.
The story behind the image is a poignant one too. A take of tragedy, it is a timely reminder, less than a fortnight before Remembrance Sunday, of the sacrifice made by our armed forces.
The airmen of 602 Squadron based at Drem were fighting an air battle with the Luftwaffe over the fields on East Lothian that day. The Luftwaffe had orders to attack Royal Navy vessels in the Firth of Forth. Spitfires from 603 Squadron joined the battle.
Twenty-five-year-old Flight Lieutenant Archie McKellar seriously damaged the Heinkel with machine gun fire and it crash landed near the small village of Humbie.
Two of the German crew were killed during the air battle. The pilot was wounded, and he and the navigator surrendered to a local policeman, who was the first person to reach the scene, becoming prisoners of war.
Tragically, Archie McKellar was killed a few hours after the official end of the Battle of Britain at the age of 28. His name does not appear on the Battle of Britain Roll of Honour. A memorial plaque commemorating Flight Lieutenant McKellar calls him ‘the Forgotten Ace’.
William Simpson has co-authored the ‘Greatest Squadron of Them All’. He believes the pilots deserve more recognition.
He says: “So many people don’t seem to realise this happened. This was significant. It was the first time that the Germans had attempted to attack anything within British airspace.
“They were trying to attack Royal Navy ships anchored in the east of the Forth Bridge and were intercepted by two squadrons flying Spitfires. These squadrons weren’t regular air force flying the latest Spitfires, but auxiliaries or reservists.
“A lot of people think they don’t get the credit they deserve. People have heard about the Battle of Britain, but these guys, who started the whole thing, are virtually unknown.”