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Luftwaffe Bomber Pilot

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OUR COLLECTIONS


German Luftwaffe Bomber Pilot


 

Mark's impression of a Heinkel bomber pilot on a night-time mission over Britain - but getting the gear together was quite a story!

 

Mark celebrates finding the flight suit with Ryan George on the last day of the War & Peace Show in July 2004

 

Mark posing with the original kapok lifejacket shortly after seeing it for the first time in late 2005. 

 

The finished collection - though Mark would have preferred doing this photo shoot inside a Heinkel rather than his garden.

 

Mark posing with his equipment at Beaulieu in 2009

 

 

 

Rear of the 10-76A pattern lifejacket, showing the full back panels of kapok which caused many pilots to drown

 

Rear of the 10-76B pattern lifejacket, showing the back panels removed and replaced with webbing that was less buoyant

 

 

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).

Mark says "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. 

"I have 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, physics or 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.

 

The Flight Suit & Boots

"It all 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.

"Closer 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.

"At the 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!"

 

The Flying Helmet & Oxygen Mask

"During 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 and pepper'".

"It was 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. 

"The 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.

 

Goggles

"E-Bay 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.

"I 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".

 

The Life Jacket

"The 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.

"For years, 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 £1200. 

"After 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.

"The 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.

"He went 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 beach.

"Towards 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.

"The 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.

"I feel 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!"