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  • Writer's picture Kester Eddy

Foggia (Italy), Budapest (Hegyvidék) – & the final flight of Wellington E-JA512

What have the son of a wealthy Czech-Jewish family, a professor at a German university, the author of several books on nationalism that are still being referred to today, a friend of a former Czechoslovak foreign minister, the father of an illegitimate son born to an MI5 officer, and the tail gunner on an RAF Wellington bomber have in common?

Photo: A Vickers Wellington long-range, medium bomber of a type similar to E-JA512

There can be precious few people alive today in Budapest who remember the night of May 4-5th, 1944. But eighty years ago this weekend, the sirens moaned and the searchlights probed the heavens as a flotilla of British bombers droned overhead, navigating to line up for the bombing run on their target – the Rákos marshalling yard, about two miles north of Nyugati railway station.

But Royal Air Force aircraft were not alone in the sky that night: another wing of fast, powerful Luftwaffe ME110 night fighters, based south of Vienna, was lurking in the skies above Budapest to defend the capital of Hungary, then an ally of Hitler's Third Reich.

Given the limitations of the Mark 1 human eyeball along with the development of radar at the time, intercepting enemy aircraft at night was still far from easy.

But, from the German records, it appears one pilot, Unteroffizier (Sergeant) Herbert Nahlik, latched onto an enemy in the darkness, and within seconds the night fighter moved in on his luckless, lumbering prey.

Pregnant with its bomb load of around two tons, and needing to keep a steady, level course to execute the bombing run, Wellington E-JA512 stood little chance: even one hit from the German's 20 mm cannon could have been enough to mortally wound the British machine.

We shall never know whether it was one or multiple shells which that night smashed into the unique, geodetic structure of the aeroplane, a design which enabled many a damaged Wellington to limp home.

Whatever the number, on this occasion it was enough to render the aircraft uncontrollable, and, after perhaps 40 seconds of last-gasp flight, it crashed into a house on a hillside in the outer area of Budapest District XII.

One man – the bomb aimer – managed to bail out and survived. The remaining five crew members died when the aeroplane hit the ground, the impact exploding most of its bombload, scattering debris over a wide area.

Locals buried the remains of the crew in a common grave nearby. After the cessation of hostilities, with the creation of the British and Commonwealth Military Cemetery at Solymár, north-west of Budapest, their remains were re-interred at their final resting place.

And that, you might think, was that.

Except, decades later, Gábor Nagy, Alan Godsave, amateur military historians, began delving further into the story of E-JA512 - while David Wilkes took time researching the German records.

In particular, Alan has uncovered some fascinating history about the tail gunner on the Wellington that night, to create an intriguing video, which he has just released.

This is Henry's Story:

It will allow you to solve the question posed above.

Photo: Alan Godsave

* Alan and Gábor will head a small group going to the Solymár British and Commonwealth Military Cemetery on Saturday, 4th May at around 15.00 hrs to pay their respects to the crew of E-JA512 at their graves. Anyone wishing to join them is welcome.

** Looking up the history of the ME/Bf110, I found on the Wikipedia page a photo of two of these mean machines over Budapest in 1944. It's possible, of course (though not ver likely) that one of these was actually responsible for downing E-JA512.

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