Buried deep in the chalk, below a turnip field in West Sussex, lay the remains of Hawker Hurricane P3700 that was shot down during the Battle Of Britain.
On the 9th September 1940, Sgt Kazimierz Wunsche took off on patrol from RAF Northolt. His Squadron quickly engaged a large Luftwaffe formation of around 40 JU.88’s, escorted by a swarm of ME109’s and ME110’s over the sea near Brighton.
[Above: Hurricane P3700, 303 Squadron. Image © Polish Embassy UK]
Sgt Wunsche was shot down during the combat but luckily managed to bail out of his aircraft, albeit sustaining serious burn injuries. According to an eye-witness at the time, the plane came down vertically under full power, and embedded itself in the hillside close to Saddlescombe Farm. The aircraft disintegrated under the huge impact of the crash, and it’s shattered parts lay relatively undisturbed for 75 years. Happily, Sgt Wunsche parachuted to safety, and went on to enjoy a successful flying career after the war.
[Above: Sgt Kazimierz Wunsche. Image © Polish Embassy UK]
Exactly 75 years later a team of archaeologists, historians, and veterans, led by MoD Archaeologist Richard Osgood, located, excavated and recovered what was left of the aircraft from the famed Polish 303 Squadron. Following my involvement in the Digging War Horse project last year, I was asked to join the team in order to document the dig photographically…
[Above: View of Saddlescombe Farm and the South Downs from the dig site – a stunning backdrop!]
[Above & Below: Once the location of the aircraft was established, the trench area was defined and the clearing of turnips could begin.]
[Above & Below: Small surface finds such as 303 Rounds from the wing-mounted Browning Machine guns were gathered and recorded]
[Above & Below: Alongside the various archaeologists, historians and experts, wounded veterans from Great Britain (Operation Nightingale) and Poland helped with the excavation]
[Above: During the dig, we were privileged to be joined by the pilots daughter Grazyna Gasiorowska and grand-daughter Joanna. Project Leader Richard Osgood shows the family a small selection of excavated finds]
[Above: Military Historian and ammunition expert Mark Khan examines some clipped together rounds from a wing-mounted ammo box.]
[Above: On Wednesday September 9th (the 75th Anniversary of the crash), a freshly painted Hawker Hurricane bearing the P3700 designation was flown over the dig site in a special tribute. I’ll never forget this moment.]
[Above & Below: Shortly after the Hurricanes fly-past, several large pieces of engine were discovered in the crater, including several pistons and the propeller hub from the massive Rolls Royce Merlin engine.]
[Above & Below: The three Polish veterans, who assisted hugely on the dig, pose with the uncovered propeller hub.]
[Above: To conclude the dig, the Last Post was played in honour of those that gave their lives for their countries during the war. Another moment I’ll never forget.]
Once all of the recovered finds have been recorded, categorised and cleaned, they will be displayed at RAF Northolt, where the Polish 303 Squadron was stationed during the war.
This was an extraordinary and, at times, an emotional project. I feel immensely proud to have been involved and to get the opportunity to work with some incredible people. My sincere thanks to Richard Osgood for the invitation.
The Polish Embassy recently issued a Press Release, read it HERE.
Photography © Harvey Mills 2015