The Rudolf Müller Story

Rudolf Muller was shot down in his Heinkel bomber by enemy aircraft on April 9th 1941 during the Second World War. Rudolf Muller was the pilot; his crew members were Egon Grolig; Werner Sträcke and Helmut Hacke. The plane had taken off from its base in Dinard, Northern France. Its target was an engine factory in Birmingham. However, a Boulton Paul Defiant, with a crew of Flight Lieutenant Christopher Deansley and rear gunner Sergeant Jack Scott, attacked the plane.

The Heinkel did not reach its target but crash landed into the houses at 281 and 283 Hales Lane, Smethwick, killing seven civilians. The four crew members of the Heinkel met with different fates, two were killed when the plane was attacked namely Grolig and Hacke. The other two, Muller and Sträcke bailed out, Muller was found in Barston Road, Quinton and Sträcke in Hales Lane, Smethwick.

Report from "The Birmingham Mail" dated Thursday 10, 1941:

A member of a party of firewatchers on duty in the road told a reporter: 'we heard the clatter of machine gun fire and a scream as the plane came down. We threw ourselves flat on the ground in an entry and the machine crashed into the houses immediately opposite. There was only a dull explosion, but there was a blinding flash, and the wreckage of the plane and the houses was blown in all directions. I saw a member of the Home Guard run to the blazing plane and drag out a body. The airman wore an iron cross.

Thomas Packer, a warden, described the capture of one member of the crew. "I was at the post when the airman was brought in by warden Simmons and Home Guards Chadney and Davies." He said they caught him at the Oval immediately after he landed. He had an injury to his foot and limped."

Various memories have been recorded about that fateful night and numerous reports have been archived from various sources. However, in July 2002, after research by Quinton's local historian A N Rosser, one of the pilots, Rudolf Muller was found and invited to return to Quinton. The reasons for the visit were two-fold, initially, in a spirit of friendship and reconciliation. However, the main one was to historically research, at first hand and in the pilot's own words, what actually happened that night.

Rudolf Muller was invited to take part in a question/answer session in a recording studio in Kingswinford. At the interview a German translator was present and below follows a transcript of Rudolf Muller's Story.

"The usual routine was : first we had a meeting when we were told our target. We were shown photographs and short films. There were special planes that just did reconnaissance. They came back with information and details that were right up to date. This information formed the basis of the meetings. Decisions were made as to which order we would take off, so that there was some distance between the planes. We were told the height at which we would fly and then we were shown exact targets. We used maps and instrumentation; we could spot the rivers quite well. Apparently there was a radio signal beamed out from France and one from Norway. Where the two signals met was the target, called Knickenbein. The plane would follow one beam and when it crossed the other, there was a signal in the cockpit that took the form of a 'beeping' sound.

We would simply follow the beam. At night you could not see anything, the navigator couldn't look down and see where he was going. We were not allowed to use any communication. We had locator devices on board so that back at base they could tell where we were, and then they could tell us over the radio. However, once over the Channel all that was switched off and we would simply follow the beam. We would only use the radio in emergency. The English knew about the system and would try to interfere with the signal.

I was on my way to the target, when out of the blue I was shot at from underneath. I realised there was a fighter plane underneath me. The windscreen was smashed and my co-pilot, who was also the navigator, was killed. The instrumentation and the engine began to play up. I tried to get rid of the fighter plane by diving on it, because it was underneath me. Because of this I lost height and was caught up in the barrage balloons.

I feel that I managed to get out alive because the seat I was in had armour plate underneath, whereas my co-pilot's seat didn't. Also my co-pilot was lying forward trying to operate the machine gun. I tried to contact all of the others via the headphones that connected us; two of my crew were dead. Werner Sträcke got out with me. I told Sträcke to evacuate; by the time I got out it was seconds later. I was doing about 200 kilometres per hour, which would explain why I landed in Quinton, and my plane some distance away. I was passing over Quinton at 0200 to 0300 hours.

I had managed to get rid of my payload. I just let it drop, I do not know where. (ANR intervened to say that he had a phone call from someone who said it had landed in the Icknield Road area, by the canals, where it crosses the Dudley Road, near Dudley Road Hospital - Marroway Street.)

The payload had to be activated electronically by buttons in the cockpit. It could be done in two ways, depending on the target. If you wished to destroy a metal bridge then it would be set to go off on impact. If you wished to destroy a building then it would be set to penetrate the shell and then go off inside to get more effect. All that I knew was that my mission was an engine plant near Birmingham.

I bailed out in Barston Road at the rear of no.12 (someone had stated that a pilot had landed on her fence in the garden of no. 68 which is at the rear of no. 12). I cannot recall landing on anything in particular; all I remember was that I had heavy bruising on my leg and my hands were covered in blood caused by my attempts to free myself from the cockpit. I managed to get rid of the roof but the pressure was so great from outside trying to force me back in. One of my boots got stuck under one of the pedals and I had to wriggle free from the boot. I had to concentrate on releasing the parachute because I didn't want to release it too early and get caught in the plane.

Survival was the first thought on my mind, escaping was not an option. The first people arrived within 2-3 minutes, they were more afraid of me than I was of them. As soon as the Home Guard came they disarmed me. I had inflated my air suit because I felt it would help with the landing. That was the reason why I appeared heavier than I was. The Home Guard took me to the cinema then the police came to take me to the police station in Piddock Road. I was then strip searched by the police and was kept at the station for several hours. I was at the station with Sträcke but we were not together.

I was taken to somewhere in Birmingham and placed in cells until they decided what to do with me. Also I recall cages in a field, spaced about 10 metres apart. There was one prisoner in each so we couldn't talk to each other. We were placed separately in the cages and questioned, there were Jewish officers there only for the reason that they spoke German. If you behaved you would be placed outside in the cage, which was more pleasant than being in the cells. There was one particular person who said that I should salute every time he walked by, but I didn't think I should. I was threatened with being shot if I didn't disclose information, but I didn't think they would anyway so I remained silent. After a while there was an exchange of ill and injured soldiers.

The Red Cross was basically the police in the war and they made sure that both sides abided by the Geneva Convention, also that minimum conditions applied in the camps. Another of the jobs of the Red Cross was to identify those who were ill or wounded sufficiently to be considered for exchange. If you had lost a leg you wouldn't be much use to the 'Home Land' so you would be sent home and your war would be over. I managed to get chosen. I was in Cardiff for a short time, then I went by train to Glasgow where I was put on a ship, which was lit up like a Christmas tree, in order that the U-boats could identify them. We were taken to Sweden where we were exchanged for English soldiers.

After I returned to Germany I wasn't allowed to do active service. I was used to deliver planes to strategic places. I didn't really want to deliver the last one but I had to go because the Military Police would have shot me. It was a mission to deliver a plane to Czechoslovakia. I and a few others decided that was enough, so we walked out of the front gate, got some civilian clothes and bicycles, and biked across country. The Russians detained us a few times but they let us go because they thought we were civilians. We cycled quite deep into Germany where the Americans caught us. Because I had a camera they thought I was a spy, so they locked me up for a few days. However, they couldn't get any sense out of me, so I decided to be ill again. I was transferred to a hospital and on the way I convinced the driver I was well enough to walk. I escaped but was caught by the Germans and put back into uniform".

The final question was "With the benefit of hindsight do you think that any good, or benefit, has come to the world following the Second World War?"

"I don't think that we learnt any lessons but everything was done very cleverly. The German youth were led to believe by Hitler that entry into the army was the best thing for them. They were offered the chance of a warm environment with three square meals a day, when at home they had nothing but poverty. So many people joined, at one time part of the SS was represented with Swedes, Danes and Lithuanians, who were all volunteers.

My great love was flying, and to this day I am still a member of a flying club near to my home. The army gave me the chance to fly, and that was really why I joined".

© QLHS 2005


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