WORKSHOP: In a workshop in western Sweden, one of the country’s most ambitious aircraft restoration projects, a Heinkel He 111H-3, is gradually taking shape
In August 2008, the wreck of a Heinkel He 111H-3 was recovered from the shore of Lake Sitasjaure, in the far north of Sweden.
The sole survivor of this variant, Werknummer 6830 has since been under restoration at Falkenberg, Sweden, by the volunteer-run Forced Landing Collection (FLC), in co-operation with the NordØsterdal Fly- og Militaerhistorisk Forening’s (Nord-Østerdal Aircraft and Military Historical Society) Museum at Tolga, Norway. The purpose of the FLC is to document the nearly 350 foreign aircraft which, for various reasons, arrived in neutral Sweden during the Second World War. The He 111H-3 is one of very few to have survived. Coded 1H+DN while in service with 5./KG 26, the He 111 forcelanded in Lake Sitasjaure on 15 May 1940 after having been damaged over Narvik by Fleet Air Arm Blackburn Skuas of 800 Squadron. The restoration will ultimately result in a complete He 111H-3. Only four other complete, German-built He 111s survive: an He 111E-3 in the Museo del Aire at Cuatro Vientos, Spain, an He 111P-1 in Norway’s Forsvarets flysamling at Gardermoen, a lateproduction He 111H-22 with the RAF Museum London at Hendon, and an He 111H-2 recovered from a Norwegian lake and stored by the Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin.
Back in 2002, Swedish enthusiasts Bengt Hermansson and Nicklas Östergren recovered small parts of an He 111. The H-3 model — Werknummer 7155, 1H+HK of 2./KG 26 — had crashed into the Hundskampen mountain on 9 November 1942. The pilot, Fw Anton Günther, died, with the rest of the crew sustaining injuries. The Jumo engines were taken away by the Germans as sabotage was suspected. The rest of the wreck was left in situ. Post-war, the He 111 was sold to a scrap dealer at Hamar. The wreck was largely recovered, although for some reason small pieces of the nose were left behind.
The recovery of the few remaining parts was made with the permission of the Norwegian authorities. The idea was to assemble them into a nose section for display at Hermansson’s small museum at Lake Grövelsjön. Although many bits were missing, particularly from the lower sections, the nose was successfully put together in Hermansson’s garden. The idea then arose of attempting to reconstruct a complete nose section.
The missing parts came from He 111H-3 Werknummer 5607, 1H+CK of 2./KG 26, which on 2 June 1940 ditched into Lake Grövelsjön on the Norwegian-Swedish border. The bomber had been damaged by RAF fighters, and came down on the Norwegian side of the lake. The crew survived and was recovered by a Luftwaffe He 115B-1 floatplane, S4+LK, the following day. The He 111 wreck became a source of materials for people from both sides of the frontier.
On 18 September 1947, the He 111 was bought by a private individual, whose relatives still own it. They are reluctant to sell the remains, which today consist of a stripped centre section. During the late 1970s, the Norwegian Forsvarsmuseet managed to obtain some parts for use in the restoration of He 111P 5J+CN. Other elements, including the nose section, had been spirited away by various individuals. Following negotiations, the nose was obtained by Bengt Hermansson.
He contacted Ingvar Johansson and Sune Andersson, both of whom had worked wonders in recovering and restoring parts of 354th Fighter Group P-51B Mustang 43-12126 which crashed at Skummeslöv, southern Sweden, on 15 April 1944. Both Johansson and Andersson agreed to attempt to rebuild the Heinkel parts at their workshop outside Falkenberg.
Just over a year later, the bent components had been transformed into a structurally complete He 111 nose. Viewing the excellent results, the idea of trying to find additional He 111 parts was discussed at length. Where could further wrecks be found? Norway and Russia were suggested as potential sources, but the answer was in northern Sweden.
Following the German invasion of Denmark and Norway on 9 April 1940, the numerically inferior Norwegian army retreated northwards to continue the fight. Within a couple of weeks, the hard-pressed Norwegians were reinforced by British and French forces.
The Luftwaffe units included Kampfgeschwader 26, which during the early stages of the campaign was based at Stavanger-Sola. However, due to the range involved, the bombers had to be redeployed further north. The Norwegian military airfield at Værnes near Trondheim had been captured on 9 April, but was unusable due to wet and muddy runways. Instead, the He 111s of KG 26 were temporarily based at Lake Jonsvattnet. However, by 17 April, the thawing ice rendered Jonsvattnet unsafe for further operations. No fewer than 200 Norwegian carpenters were enrolled to construct a wooden, planked runway at Værnes.
By early May, there was heavy fighting around the strategically important town of Narvik. Luftwaffe bombers attacked Allied forces at Narvik, through which Swedish iron ore — vital for the German war machine — was shipped to Germany. During the morning of 15 May, six He 111s of KG 26 took off from Værnes, the target being Allied shipping in Narvik harbour.
Four were intercepted by three Fleet Air Arm Skuas belonging to Red Section of 800 Squadron, launched from HMS Ark Royal to protect shipping at Tjeldsund and Harstad. After just a few minutes in the air, the Skua crews observed four He 111s in loose formation over Lake Hartigvann. The Luftwaffe bombers were attacking Bjerkvik, where Allied forces had landed two days earlier.
Upon spotting the quartet of Heinkels, the Skua crews attacked. The Luftwaffe bombers tightened formation and climbed towards the cloud cover. It seemed as if the Heinkels deposited their bombs into the sea while flying on a southerly course. Several minutes later, a solitary He 111H, 1H+DN, appeared, dropping its bombs on ships in Narvik harbour. The Skuas attacked the He 111 over the Herjangsfjorden. The German crew of pilot Uffz Siegfried Blume, observer Fw Karl Grube, radio operator Uffz Helmut Benninghof and flight engineer Uffz Werner Wamser escaped uninjured, though their aircraft was badly damaged.
The inhospitable terrain in the border area between Norway and Sweden, seemingly stretching to infinity, did not appear to offer many chances for a successful forced landing. Ahead, though, was Lake Sitasjaure, about a kilometre inside Sweden, where the icy surface had begun to thaw. Blume executed a textbook belly landing close to the shore, the crew exiting through the right-hand escape hatch in the nose. They walked westwards back into Norway towards Skjomen, where they had seen a few houses. However, they were captured by Polish soldiers, and sent to Canada as prisoners of war.
The wreck was discovered by the Swedish authorities on 22 May and examined, several bullet holes being observed. Due to the inaccessibility of the crash site, the wreck was left at Sitasjaure. Soon afterwards, the Heinkel was dragged onto the shore and left to the elements. Through the years, ‘souvenir hunters’ slowly stripped the He 111.
During 1977 the Heinkel, along with the wrecks of a Junkers Ju 88 and a Messerschmitt Bf 110D-0 in northern Swedish Lapland, was claimed by a serving police officer at Kiruna, Roine Nordström, according to the law relating to lost property. Nordström intended to recover all three aircraft, for the purpose of offering them to a Swedish aviation museum. Sadly, Swedish interest was non-existent, which resulted in both the Ju 88 and Bf 110 being sold to Germany. The He 111 was deemed beyond rescue and thus of no interest.
Bengt Hermansson contacted Nordström in 2005 regarding the possibility of recovering the Heinkel. By this time, ownership of the wreck had been transferred by Nordström to Swedish enthusiast Magnus Löwenstein, who was more than happy to donate the He 111 to the FLC. However, the recovery had to be approved by the Swedish provincial authorities. Following a year-long investigation, they saw no problem with it going ahead. In the autumn of 2005, the wreck was visited for close inspection.
Formal planning of the operation began in 2006, which included contacting the Royal Norwegian Air Force for the use of a Westland Sea King helicopter from 330 Skvadron in lifting the wreck to a suitable location. The Norwegian Forsvarsmuseet and the aviation museum at Bodø provided great assistance in securing a Sea King.
Initially, the recovery team was to consist of up to 10 people. That number soon dwindled to three: Swedes Bengt Hermansson and Sune Andersson, and Norwegian Thor-Peder Broen. Special tooling needed to dismantle the bomber was collected from Bodø on 9 August 2008. The team left for the Ballangen holiday camp, and from there drove 70km towards Narvik on a narrow, twisting road. The car was parked on the Norwegian side of the border, and the team trekked from there to the wreck.
The arduous task of dismantling the remains of the He 111 began on 11 August. Hundreds of rivets were removed in order to separate the fuselage from the bomb bay area. The tail section was said to remain in the lake some 60m offshore, but it could not be located. Many smaller parts, including one radiator, sat beneath the main section of the wreckage.
At noon on 14 August 2008, Sea King serial 189 arrived over Lake Sitasjaure. It took three flights to carry the parts to the road on the Norwegian side, where they were loaded onto a trailer for transportation to Falkenberg. The Swedish Tourist Board initially opposed the plans to recover the wreck, saying it was a popular tourist site. However, the starboard wing was left in situ, thus ensuring that at least part of the Heinkel will remain on the side of the lake.
With everything loaded and secured, the team headed for Bodø, where Birger Larsen from the aviation museum had promised further He 111 items. Among those were a complete Jumo 211D-1 engine, rudders, flaps, tyres and two pallets of small components.
There was no room for the starboard wing, in better condition than the one left at Sitasjaure, but this will be collected at a later date.
Upon arrival at Falkenberg on Sweden’s west coast, work to clean and log the parts was initiated prior to the start of restoration. The nose was fitted to the fuselage centre section and they went together nicely, only the upper fitting being out of alignment by just 8mm. Work is under way to fit out a complete cockpit, an instrument panel having been built by Horst Rienecker of Hanover. The KG 26 emblem has been painted on the nose, and the bomb bay area is receiving attention. On the main spar, the number 2501 was painted. This has been reported as the Werknummer, but this is not correct, Werknummer 2501 being an He 111P-1 built at Rostock-Marienehe by Heinkel. The Sitasjaure Heinkel is an H-3 subvariant, Werknummer 6830, built at Oranienburg. It is possible that the wing was intended for an He 111P‑1, but fitted on the production line to an H-3. Both the P-1 and H-3 were built simultaneously for brief periods. It is also conceivable that the Heinkel was modified in the field, exchanging its DB601 engines for Jumo 211s. The aluminium steel plating shows signs of having been repaired while the aircraft was in Luftwaffe service. Incidentally, both Jumo 211D-1s had previously been recovered from the crash site. One has since been obtained for the project, the second being owned by a German enthusiast. As of now, says Bengt Hermansson, “work is concentrating on various detail components of the interior. Some of these components have to be manufactured. It is hoped to start attaching the fuselage outer skin panels in late 2019.”
When completed, it is intended to display the He 111H-3 in a full-scale diorama, showing the Luftwaffe bomber soon after its forced landing. The FLC team is on the look-out for contemporary drawings and technical information to assist in the completion of what counts as one of Sweden’s most ambitious historic aircraft restoration projects to date.