A skilful 19-year-old German pilot who saved countless lives in a village after managing to career his shot down aircraft away from homes and a church and into an empty forest has been identified.
According to reports, the pilot was protecting the skies from around 700 Allied bombers and 800 escort aircraft targeting airfields and manufacturing facilities in the area, as well as the city of Munich.
Ernst Keller, 72, an amateur historian with a keen interest in World War II, had always been intrigued about the Luftwaffe plane that crashed on 24th April 1944 in a forest near the village of Fuerholzen located in the German state of Bavaria.
The pilot’s story is well known in the German village, with tales saying he was about to crash into a row of houses after his plane was shot down and caught fire.
At the last moment, the pilot reportedly managed to pull the plane up and narrowly avoid the church tower and local school before crashing into the nearby forest.
At the time, the local priest wrote in his diary: “Yesterday at 1.15pm, 14 enemy bombers arrived from [the direction of] Hetzenhausen, and there were dogfights in the skies above us.
“A German plane went down north of the chapel in Sabaeckholz. The pilot is dead.”
Along with historian Marco Graetz, Keller went to the village to speak with residents and research the countless logbooks detailing every crash during the war.
Using a metal detector, Graetz reportedly managed to find parts of the plane in the forest and was able to identify the exact model and the squadron it belonged to.
Keller said: “It was a Messerschmidt Bf 109 G-6 of the 7th Squadron III/JG 3 Udet, a brand new machine.
“The plane was supposed to fight an Allied B-17 bomber group.”
Reports said that the historians later found the plane’s speedometer, cartridge cases and even the pilot’s trousers.
Keller said: “One of the name plates was also found.”
The researchers learned that the German pilot was 19-year-old Kurt Schmidt, who took part in three attacks against the B-17 bombers before being shot down by Allied escort planes during his fourth flight.
Keller and Graetz even discovered that the pilot has a sister who is still alive and never knew about her brother’s fate.
Helene Duenger, 82, said: “It was very emotional when I found out how he died.”
Duenger shared a family photo taken during Christmas 1943 where she is seen as a cute five-year-old next to her three brothers, who all died during the war.
She said: “I was five years old and did not want my brothers to go back to the front. But Kurt wanted it, he was an avid aviator.”
Several years ago, Duenger discovered a letter from 1955 addressed to her father that said Kurt had died in a plane crash.
The dad never told other family members about his son’s demise.
Duenger said: “Father never told us. Mum had already lost two sons. She would never have coped with Kurt’s death. She died believing that he would come back one day.”
She said she is eternally grateful to the two amateur historians, saying that “I can now finally close the chapter”.
A memorial for the pilot has now been placed at the forest crash site.
Keller said: “Kurt Schmidt did not want to crash into the village. If he did, then many more people would have died.”