People often joke about German bomber
pilots who "bombed
our chippie" or "bombed our pub" . But, these days,
although most people can recognise the uniform of the average WWII
German army soldier, not everyone knows
what bomber pilots wore.
It took Mark
Anthony Craig over three years to get his outfit together - nearly all of it
authentic. And it is so rare that it causes a stir at every event
where he wears it. The remarkably lucky story of how he came to
get it is told here (since so many people ask him).
"Ever since I saw the film Battle of Britain as a child in the
1970s, I had wanted to wear the German Luftwaffe pilots' flight suits
and equipment. I never dreamt that 30 years later I would ever be
lucky to own the kit I have now.
collected militaria for over 20 years. I started with RAF gear
because both my father and uncle were in the RAF. My uncle served
during the war, flying Wellingtons. My dad joined in 1948 as part
of the National Service programme; he served a until 1977, specialising
in aircraft repair and forensic work following air crashes. So
whilst I was a child I grew up on RAF bases both here in the UK and in
Germany and often got to see pilot gear. I even considered joining
the RAF when I was in my late teens, but I wasn't bright at maths,
anything technical - and a different career path loomed.
"Even when I
started re-enacting in 2002, my ambition was that if I was ever lucky
enough to find German Luftwaffe flying kit, I would love to get it and
wear it at shows.
started at the War & Peace show in 2004 when I spotted the flightsuit
that one of the sellers was about to pack away on the last day. I
tried it on and it fitted. I eagerly paid for it with the last of
the money which was in my traditionally empty bank account.
examination of the suit revealed that it was the earlier war pattern, as
probably used by bomber pilots in the Battle of Britain itself.
You can tell by the position of the zips which were different in
later versions. It was the summer issue lightweight material (the
winter issue being blue and padded for extra warmth). Some friends
of mine who knew more about these things commented on how the zips all
appeared to be authentically correct. The bottom of the legs were
a bit shredded - but when
tucked into boots you cannot see this.
show, I also found - on that last day - quite a few pairs of German
pilots' boots. But as I had no money left and there seemed to
be so many of them readily available, I thought I'd wait until
another time when my bank balance had returned to better health. This would prove to be big mistake, as
- for the following three years - I came across no more boots, and certainly
none that were near to my size - until 2007!"
Flying Helmet & Oxygen Mask
2005, I began carefully tracking all the other items I would need
on eBay - particularly German eBay where I soon discovered quite a lot
of Luftwaffe pilot gear comes up for auction. Helmets and masks
appear regularly, but with prices that were frequently beyond my reach.
"In 2005, I
eventually managed to get a summer flight helmet that matched the suit,
and also a winter one in leather - but both had parts missing, either
the ear cups or the throat microphones. However, by 2006 I could
afford better ones, and bought another two that had everything intact.
The summer flight helmet is the LKp S 101 type, made from material that
matches the flight-suit; the colour of the material is known as 'salt
a similar story with the oxygen mask. Being so rare and highly
collectable, these can go for as much as £600 or more. A
German-based eBay seller called "Flieger-Carl" seems to
renovate/restore them for a living, and after buying two from others
sellers in various states of disrepair and vain attempts at
restoring them with my limited restoration skills or patience, I finally took
the plunge and bought one of his restored models.
version I now take to events is the Dräger model 10-6702, and from
what I have read, it was one of the types most commonly used by
bomber crew members.
is awash with German goggles which the sellers claim were used by
the Luftwaffe. I have bought a few pairs of these so far, only
to discover later that - although probably used by some pilots - they
are not the most common types as issued to them.
bought a pair in the correct tin, containing extra shaded lenses,
from a German e-Bay seller. He did explain that the rubber was
somewhat dried out and cracked, but it was not until I bought them
that I found out just how badly deteriorated they were. Fine
for a display - but not to wear. I still have to find the
right pair of goggles for the impression".
item which completes the outfit is one of the most remarkable. I
had only ever seen the extremely rare kapok lifejackets favoured by
bomber pilots either in books, on the internet, or under glass in
museums. I knew that this would be the most difficult item to get.
I had scanned e-Bay. In 5 years I had only ever seen five come up
for sale. One, with huge chunks probably nibbled off it by some
hungry rodents sold for £460, but the others went for between £800 and
giving up hope of ever finding a real one, in desperation I turned to a
certain gentleman in India (nameless incase he sues me for defamation!)
who tried to make two from all the photographs off the internet I could
find. Neither version was any good, although I wore the best of
the two at events for over a year.
breakthrough came in November 2005 when I had an email from a friend of
mine who buys old houses at auction to renovate and rent out. He
had bought an old terraced house in Birkenhead (opposite side of the
River Mersey to Liverpool) after the elderly male owner had died.
In the loft he had found a huge collection of militaria items which the
old man had kept there for many years. Amongst the items were two
lifejackets. My friend recognised one of them as British, but he
had no idea what - or how rare - the other one was.
"In fact, he
had put it for sale on e-Bay starting at £1, and within ten minutes of
doing so had someone from America contact him and offer £100 for it if
he would remove it from sale. When he brought it round to my house
I nearly choked with shock at seeing a real one that I could actually
touch! When I tried it on and it fitted, I could hardly believe it.
I then told my friend how much they were really worth according to e-Bay
prices I had seen. Then he was in shock, admitting that just
before he had left his house to come to me, another e-Bayer had offered
him £400 and he had accepted.
away, looking very pensive. A few days later he rang me to tell me
that he had decided not to sell it for now, and might put it back on
e-Bay in six months time with a much higher starting price. He
said I could borrow it and take it to re-enactment events in the
meantime. I gratefully accepted, but I wished I had the money to
offer him to buy it myself.
"And so I
took it to events during 2006. During that time, my friend queried
the lifejacket with the family of the gentleman whose house he had bought. They told
him their grandfather had told a story of how he had picked it up from
the beach after a German bomber had crashed into the River Mersey.
As the the lifejacket is dated April 1941 inside, and the
metal stud fasteners for the collar and other metalwork are covered with verdigris - a sure sign of corrosion probably caused by immersion in
salt water, I have tried to find out which aircraft it may have been.
Doug Darroch, curator of the Fort Perch Rock museum in New Brighton
(situated at the mouth of the Mersey), is convinced it may have come
from a Heinkel He111 (3975) A1+EK from 2/KG53 which hit a barrage
balloon cable on the night of 4th May 1941 and crashed into the river at
around midnight. The crew of five, Lt K. Baller, Uffz. L.
Palubicki, Uffz. K. Fliechmann, Uffz. G. Stolper and Gefr. E. Donner
were all killed. Wreckage was washed up on the shore, including a
wheel from the aircraft which is now on display at the museum. It
is believed this lifejacket may have been one of the items found on the
end of 2006 my friend suddenly asked if I would like to buy the
lifejacket. He said that it looked great on me with the rest of
the gear that it belonged with. He added that he would rather someone like
me had it because I would be showing it off to the public rather than
hiding it away in an unseen private collection as someone else might have
done. As it happened, at that time, I was in the process of
getting a bank loan for something else - so I used part of the money to
pay him the £500 we agreed on.
lifejacket is the 10-76B. The 10-76A pattern which dated from
just before the war started had the kapok filled sausages down the
back, but these were so buoyant they caused unconscious pilots who
parachuted into water to tip forward and drown. So, the design
was modified as the the 10-76B in early 1941, replacing the back
panels of kapok with a system of web straps. The collar of the
later model can also be folded up around the neck and closed with
some press studs - the ones on mine are now so corroded that this is
no longer possible.
very proud of the whole outfit - and since 2007 I now wear it at more events
than the German Wehrmacht kit which I have traditionally worn since
2002. If I were to try to replace it all now, it would cost
somewhere between £4000 to £5000.
"My ambition was to find others who might be
interested in finding this rare type of kit so that we could
re-enact a German bomber pilots camp at events. This has now
happened and within Northern Forties we have set up a sub-group
Kampfgeschwader 55. If you are
considering doing this too, and possibly joining us, be aware that this is one of the most expensive
outfits to obtain. You will need a great deal of money - and
also a great deal of good luck!"