Monday, March 9, 2015

A Controversial Victory

Designed as a reconnaissance bomber, the He 59 first flew in September 1931, and had been withdrawn from operational use by the time war broke out. The aircraft were then used for training and (in He 59C-2 form) for search and rescue duties. During the Norwegian and Dutch campaigns, some He 59s were used for transport missions, and for landing assault squads on a canal to allow them to capture a bridge. But by the Battle of Britain, the He 59 was a search and rescue aircraft, pure and simple. Variants in use were the He 59C-2 and the He 59D-l (which combined the roles of the SAR He 59C-2 and the He 59C-l trainer).

While British pilots were shocked when reports emerged of German aircraft shooting at pilots as they descended by parachute, the Germans were equally scandalised by RAF attacks on their unarmed search and rescue aircraft (usually He 59s). At the start of the Battle these were unarmed, civil-registered, white-painted and bore huge red crosses - not the most inconspicuous paint scheme. Britain's propagandists insisted that the aircraft were also used for mine-laying and landing agents, and refused to allow them free passage. After a few He 59s were lost to RAF fighters the aircraft were hastily camouflaged, and defensive guns were introduced.

German records show that 21 of these aircraft were lost to enemy action between July and the end of October, with others failing to return after collisions, sea landing accidents, and, in one case, landing in a minefield.

Due to incomplete records that were lost or damaged during the war, it is not possible to determine the units involved.

9 July 1940
After its losses, Luftflotte 2 sent out a number of He 59 floatplanes on a search and rescue mission. One of these was forced down by No.54 Squadron, who lost two pilots to the Bf 109E escorts. FIt Lt AI Deere collided head-on with another Bf 109, but managed to glide back to force land at Manston.

11 July 1940
Reports of two He 59 floatplanes on the water prompted the navy to send out two destroyers from Plymouth, with air cover provided by three Blenheims. The destroyers were attacked by a Ju 88 which was in turn shot down by the Blenheims, which also chased off an He 111. One of the He 59s was scuttled, and its crew were rescued by the other, which flew off before the RN force could reach the area.

Although several He 59 floatplanes had already been shot down by Fighter Command (despite their red cross markings), it was not until 14 July that an order was circulated to all pilots ordering them to shoot down such aircraft, which were perceived as being used for 'purposes not consistent with the privileges generally accorded to the Red Cross'.

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