Historians in South Bohemia last Friday the 13th dug up the exceptionally well-preserved wreckage of a German fighter jet shot down during World War II. The Fw-190 Focke-Wulf, of which almost 20,000 were originally produced, went down near the village of Otín. The plane was one of several targeted by US pilots on August 24th, 1944 in what was one of the biggest air battles over Bohemia. The German pilot, Hubert Engst, ejected in time and would survive the war. But the aircraft itself smashed into the ground and remained lost and forgotten until now.
The details of the find were revealed on Monday, only after remaining wreckage – in exceptionally good condition, was dug up in South Bohemia. The remains of the aircraft uncovered included the propeller, damaged cockpit, machine guns and part of the engine, some parts buried five metres deep. The Focke-Wulf is the largest plane found that took part in the largest air battle over Bohemia. I spoke to Jaroslav Pikal, the head of the Museum of Jindřichův Hradec which is overseeing the find and is where the wreckage is stored.
“The battle over the region of Jindřichův Hradec was the last ‘act’ in a mission by American bombers to destroy a refinery and military base in the Pardubice area. On the way back the bombers were separated from their fighter escort, and four were shot down by German fighters. When the escort arrived they engaged the German planes and shot down 12 of them, including this one. The pilot ejected after burning oil apparently sloshed into his cabin. The battle is well-known, but we didn’t know until now whether the wreckage was really there.”
But it was: buried in clayey earth after crashing. The remarkable find, says Mr Pikal, was primarily the work of student Jiří Šašek and his father, whom he described as avid military historians from Prague. They looked up the only remaining witness to the events, an elderly woman by the name of Jiřina Kárová, who was only six when the Luftwaffe plane went down. But she remembered what had happened. The duo then compared historic and present-day satellite imagery to help pinpoint the exact location. Museum director Jaroslav Pikal describes – in more detail – aspects of the find:
Tomáš Fedra of the Museum of Jindřichův Hradec, photo: CTK
“Any expert will recognise immediately it is one of the best preserved planes from the period. Parts we found include a 20 mm calibre cannon, a 13 mm calibre machine gun, the tail of the plane, the cockpit and other parts. The excellent state of preservation – after 67 years – is what makes this find truly exceptional. When we dug up some of the parts they looked brand-new, as if they had left the factory just yesterday.”
Specialists are now examining, cleaning and preserving pieces of the plane at the Museum of Jindřichův Hradec. The remarkable wreckage will be the focus of a planned exhibition there which will open in early November 2011.