Enemy of the People
This IWFBF feature describes how one man, an enemy, was responsible for more pain, suffering and death on the Isle of Wight than any other individual combatant of the Second World War.
This I discovered purely by chance, as a consequence of digging deeper into the back story behind the attack that killed twelve members of the National Fire Service in January 1943.
The First World War is best remembered for the horrific futility of the trenches, and rightly so, but a lesser publicised factor of the war was German aerial attacks on Britain.
Accounting for over fifty raids, German seaplanes and airships dropped an estimated 5,806 bombs killing 557 people and injuring 1,358. As appalling as these figures are, they were considered a drop in the ocean compared to estimates made in the mid-1930’s based on the developing capabilities of military aviation.
This led, in April 1935, to the creation of the Ministry of Home Security Air Raid Precautions department. Progress was slow, evidenced locally in the minutes of a meeting of the Isle of Wight Fire Brigades Federation at Newport Fire Station in the Guildhall on 12 September 1936.
Under the chairmanship of Newport Chief Officer Sidney Percy Scott, the meeting moved to the ‘any other business’ phase enabling Second Officer Pearson of Ventnor Fire Brigade to ask if there had been any update regarding the business of air raid precautions. The minutes record that – it was the opinion of the meeting that at present nothing definite would be decided upon until further information was received.
Locally, few advances were made for the following twelve months. Sandown Fire Brigade, ever the most progressive of Island fire services, despatched several members to the annual conference of the British Fire Services Association at Cheltenham in September 1937 where, among other lectures, they were shown the latest firefighting equipment including – apparatus for dealing with the effects of air raids. But matters began to snowball and in 1938 culminated in an official notice placed in the Isle of Wight County Press of 19 March which referred to a broadcasted appeal by the Secretary of State encouraging civilians to volunteer for one of eleven different role categories that would comprise the local ARP scheme.
This came almost a year after the notorious combined Condor Legion (Germany) and Aviazione Legionara (Italy) devastating aerial assault on the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. The effect of the bombing was both shocking and horrific, and with rising tensions between Britain and Germany, it proved a wakeup call for the apathetic.
It was no coincidence that in 1938 Royal Assent was granted for the Fire Brigades Act, the United Kingdom’s first nationwide Act that compelled local authorities to provide for fire protection in their districts.
On 5 April 1938, Sandown Fire Brigade’s watchroom log referred to Chief Officer Brown’s receipt of a letter from the Home Office detailing the role of fire services in respect of air raids. The same letters were despatched to Brown’s counterparts in all 1,600 brigades across the nation.
The first mass Air Raid Precautions exercise held on the Island was conducted in the Ryde district on 24 September, just days before Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain waved a piece of paper bearing Adolf Hitler’s signature and proclaiming peace for our time. As hindsight evidence, Chamberlain had achieved a delay, but not prevention, of the Second World War. Perhaps it is telling that despite Chamberlain's public assurances, recruitment, equipping, and preparation of home front civil defence services increased in intensity in winter 1938 and throughout the entire period until declaration of war in September 1939.
An Austrian Boy
German annexation of Austria came as a relief to some. None more so than the family of 17-year-old Leopold Wenger, an Austrian boy from Leoben. Raised by parents that openly expressed resentment at the effect of the treaties that formally ended the First World War, Leopold gravitated to the ranks of the Hitler Youth long before annexation when the organisation operated illegally in his home nation. Leopold was as keen and enthusiastic about exploring his homeland as he was the Nazi party, and, with like-minded boys, spent days at a time on cycling trips. Once such trip, combining cycling with rail travel, took him to a Nazi party rally at Nuremberg where he eagerly photographed Hitler.
His excitement at the eventual arrival of German troops and the Swastika in his hometown is palpable in the words of his journal, accompanied by a plethora of photographs, emphasising his desire to record in words and pictures not only his life, but that of society around him.
In the spring of 1939, Leopold was recruited for youth training at NAPOLA, the National Political Teaching Institute at Koslin, Pomerania, Germany (now part of Poland). On 17 April Leopold was among a cadre of students taken to visit the Luftwaffe school at Berlin-Gatow. The visit sealed his future. In September 1939, eleven days after declaration of war, his placement as student on an officer career path with the Luftwaffe was confirmed. Leopold celebrated his eighteenth birthday two months later.
The Isle of Wight, in late 1939, was unmistakably on a war footing...
Hundreds had been recruited into the ranks of the Air Raid Precautions scheme. Chief Officer’s of fire brigades were snowed under with responsibility to train and administer numbers of auxiliary firemen that multiplied their workload tenfold. All manner of temporary or requisitioned structures bore new signage – Action Station, ARP Warden Post, Fire Post, Air Raid Shelter, Decontamination Post, Rescue Squad Station, and many more, accompanied by a myriad of supporting materials and installations such as dams, collapsible or fixed, filled with water for firefighting or decontamination. Hazards House in Newport became the County ARP headquarters, Carisbrooke Laundry were hired to provide deep-cleansing decontamination services, Southern Vectis were running a skeleton service to reduce fuel wastage, and children from mainland cities were arriving in their droves.
Air raid warnings had been sporadically tested across the Island since 1939, and from December were formalised to be a regular feature at 11:00 on the first Monday of the month, changing to 14:00 from April 1940.
The hubbub and activity of those early days petered out and apathy returned the longer the Phoney War stretched into 1940 until Dunkirk and a real threat of invasion. When the invasion pre-cursor of the bombing began it came as little surprise. No matter what precautions were in place, and undoubted they saved many lives, the fact is that bombers got through, dropped their payloads, and people were killed and injured in their hundreds.
The first warbling of a Red Warning siren on the Island was recorded by Chief Officer Brown of Sandown in his journal at 23:38 in the night of 21 June 1940. Eight days later the Isle of Wight County Press carried the first of its air raid updates, concerned primarily with activities on the south coast within sight and sound of the Island, but otherwise unaffected. Regardless the same edition carried an official notice from the County Council instructing persons where to find notifications of casualties caused by raids.
In Brown’s diary he continues unabated in his duties as Chief Officer of Sandown Fire Brigade and its auxiliary components, but notes an increasing volume of raid warnings, sometimes several each day. Thus far warnings enabled the people of the Wight to hear, or see, bombers passing through Island airspace bound for richer targets on the mainland. Other than the occasional loose bomb, probably dropped during a high speed race back across the Channel, the Isle of Wight appeared to not be under direct threat. Sadly, occasional fatalities and injuries were incurred, but until the Cowes blitz of May 1942, the Island existed under a threatening path to other targets. In contrast the attack on Cowes was a well-planned, sustained, and deliberate attack by waves of bombers. Thankfully it was the only attack of its kind to affect the Island throughout the war.
George Jupe was a nine-year-old boy of Ryde when the war began. As the son of hoteliers Frederick and Elizabeth, George experienced the years of conflict from his home at the London Hotel. During a talk at Lymington just after New Year 2023 he described, with clarity, how the war was felt on the Home Front in a series of phases, and that each phase seemed to generate its own atmosphere. The desperation of Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain began with dread followed by a buoyant elation as the threat of invasion subsided, even more so when the opening of the Eastern Front diverted the lions share of the enemy forces against Russia. But then came a dark and sinister phase – the era of the tip-and-run attacks.
High speed attacks by aircraft flown hazardously close to sea level to avoid radar detection, culminated in the release of a single high explosive bomb from each, most commonly a 500kg SC Sprengbombe Cylindrisch, interspersed with liberal and indiscriminate cannon and machine gun fire, before the raiders, in groups of no more than two to eight aircraft, streaked away across the Channel leaving an incomparable trail of destruction, death and horror in their wake.
Tip and run attacks were deployed against military targets. In comparison to carpet bombing by droves of heavy aircraft, in the hands of skilled pilots the fighter-bombers proved far more effective pound for pound of high explosive. The Isle of Wight, such as the masts on St Boniface Down, came in for Luftwaffe attention from the fighter-bomber squadrons.
But so did the civil population, in a deliberate and orchestrated attempt to break the back of British morale the airborne fascists took every opportunity to attack people in their homes, workplaces, or merely walking in the streets, without even attempting to disguise the attack as one intended for military targets.
Among those who experienced it and who recorded their thoughts in words, exudes a feeling that the tip-and-run attacks were far more personal than carpet bombing, as if the pilot himself had selected you as his avowed target for a cannon or machine gun strafing or the release of his single 500kg bomb.
Leopold Wenger’s flight training reached its climax...
On 3 April 1940 19-year-old Luftwaffe pilot Leopold Wenger’s (Fig.1) flight training reached its climax – his first solo flight. The flight went well, as did his further training in all aspects of aerial combat peppered with continual updates to reinforce the national socialist doctrine. Finally, in December 1940, Lieutenant Wenger was posted to France in his first operational deployment. His first view of the south coast of England occurred during a scouting mission over the channel on 10 January 1941, recorded with glee in a letter home to his parents and siblings.
Serving with a squadron that, mostly, associated its tasks with attacking Allied shipping, both civil and military, Wenger paid little attention to the Isle of Wight which first receives a mention in a letter home describing combat with RAF fighters over and around the Island in May 1942. This was followed by reconnaissance flights along the south coast in June, further maritime engagements in July, and streaking low level across the sky above the Island in the second week of August on route to attack Salisbury.
18th August 1942 - Ventnor
Lieutenant Wenger, or Poldi to those who knew him, first made his presence felt at Ventnor on 18 August 1942 flying with the Red Foxes, recorded in a letter home - On the 18th, we flew an attack against the Isle of Wight and bombarded the city of Ventnor. The row of houses received a direct hit. They didn’t have time to set off any air raid alarms, either. So there was a lot of traffic in the streets. The flak only started firing when we had already turned around to fly off.
The attack cost the lives of,
- Eva Mabel Cheverton (38), of Myrtle Cottage, Albert Street, killed at Geneva, High Street, Ventnor.
- Frank Hollis Damp Russell (78) killed at Geneva, High Street, Ventnor.
- Catherine Victoria White (53) of 1 Springfield Terrace, West Street, Ventnor.
By then Wenger had already demonstrated a willingness to combine his piloting skills with his interest in photography. Letters home were often accompanied by photographs of the places he had seen, and places he’d attacked, often pictured while the attack was in progress.
3rd January 1943 - Shanklin
On 3 January 1943, in an attack that he described as - This time it was Shanklin’s turn to get it – he was one of four pilots to attack the seaside resort in a tip-and-run raid that lasted no more than a few minutes. The death and devastation left in their wake was incomparable to the time it took to execute. The raid left the town in mourning and stands as the greatest loss of fire service life in one incident on the Island.
The flak was quite accurate, but too late. – Wenger wrote to his parents, adding - Once again, we got good photos of the attack. This included an image he took while strafing Winchester House, which was serving as a hospital (Fig.2).
The attack destroyed the Roman Catholic Church in Atherley Road and scored a direct hit on the National Fire Service Sub-divisional headquarters (14D3Z) in the requisitioned Gloster Hotel, causing the Island’s greatest loss of firefighter life in one incident, and terrorised the town with indiscriminate killings and destruction, taking the lives of those listed below.
- Robert William Attrill (16), NFS Messenger of 25 Wilton Park Road, Shanklin, killed at NFS sub-divisional headquarters, Gloster Hotel.
- Alfred Buchanan Brown (36), NFS Leading Fireman of 1 Lind Street, Ryde.
- Eva Cheetham (70), of 4 Kent Terrace, Kent Street, Ventnor, killed at the Roman Catholic Church, Atherley Road, Shanklin.
- David Cohen (35), NFS Fireman of 7 Grove Road, Edgware, Middlesex, killed at NFS sub-divisional headquarters, Gloster Hotel. Temporarily posted to the IW for recuperative purposes after experiencing the intensity of the Blitz bombing in London.
- Ivor Charles Day (39) NFS Fireman of 11 Radcliffe Hill, Winchmore Hill, London, killed at NFS sub-divisional headquarters, Gloster Hotel. Temporarily posted to the IW for recuperative purposes after experiencing the intensity of the Blitz bombing in London.
- Leslie Frank Drudge (29) of 20 Ash Road, Newport, died of his injuries at the Home of Rest Hospital, Shanklin, the day after the attack.
- Lawrence Desmond Eldridge (17), NFS Messenger of 6 Council Houses, West Street, Brading, killed at NFS sub-divisional headquarters, Gloster Hotel.
- Harry Glantzspigel (32), NFS Fireman of 70 Chanctonbury Way, Woodside Park, North Finchley, London, killed at NFS sub-divisional headquarters, Gloster Hotel. Temporarily posted to the IW for recuperative purposes after experiencing the intensity of the Blitz bombing in London.
- Edward Francis Harris (48), NFS Fireman of 1 Arcade, High Street, Shanklin.
- Thomas John Healey (38), NFS Fireman of 14 West Howe Road, Kinson, Bournemouth, killed at NFS sub-divisional headquarters, Gloster Hotel.
- Florence Mabel Hookey (30), of Maureen, Green Lane, Shanklin, killed at 1 Grove Ground, Hyde Road, Shanklin.
- Stella Frances Hookey (4), of Maureen, Green Lane, Shanklin, injured at 1 Grove Ground, Hyde Road, Shanklin, died at the Home of Rest Hospital, Shanklin, later the same day.
- Ruby May Howard (49), NFS Firewoman of 17 Albert Road, Shanklin, killed at NFS sub-divisional headquarters, Gloster Hotel. The only female member of the Island’s fire services to die in service.
- Leslie Alfred Jacobs (39), NFS Fireman of Shoreside, The Esplanade, Shanklin, killed at NFS sub-divisional headquarters, Gloster Hotel.
- Edward James Kingswell (34), NFS Fireman of 85 Landguard Road, Shanklin, killed at NFS sub-divisional headquarters, Gloster Hotel.
- Sister Mary Clare Joseph McLaughlin (60), Sister of Mercy of St Anthony’s Convent, killed at the Roman Catholic Church, Atherley Road, Shanklin.
- Rosemary Frances Poulter (16), of 10 Collingwood Road, Shanklin, killed in the street near her home.
- Mary Agnes Reddie-Fraser (71), of Maysan, Cliff Walk, Shanklin, killed at the Roman Catholic Church, Atherley Road, Shanklin.
- Harry Rogers (64), of 32 Spring Gardens, Shanklin, killed at the Roman Catholic Church, Atherley Road, Shanklin.
- Helena Kate Rogers (66), of 32 Spring Gardens, Shanklin, injured at the Roman Catholic Church, Atherley Road, Shanklin, died of her injuries at the Home of Rest Hospital, Shanklin, three days later.
- Percy James Sheath (38), NFS Fireman of 14 Caesars Road, Newport, killed at NFS sub-divisional headquarters, Gloster Hotel.
- Emily Mary Dale West (55), killed at the Roman Catholic Church, Atherley Road, Shanklin.
- Nina Frances Wright (35), of 2 Alresford Road, Sandown, killed at 1 Grove Ground, Hyde Road, Shanklin.
The images below are a selection from many captured in the aftermath by an agent from the Ministry of Home Security, Research and Experiments Department.
17th February 1943 - Shanklin
Not satisfied that the people of Shanklin had suffered sufficiently, Lieutenant Wenger returned six weeks later on Wednesday 17 February 1943 - This morning, we followed suit with a bigger squadron towards Shanklin on the Isle of Wight and gave them a good beating.
Those who the Nazi pilot delivered a good beating to are listed below.
- Elizabeth Janet Buckley (68), killed at home, 52 Queens Road, Shanklin.
- Dorothy Elizabeth Holden (38), of 7 Culver Road, Shanklin, killed at North Road, Shanklin.
- The Rev. Robert Beattie Irons (65), killed at home, St Paul’s Vicarage, Shanklin.
- Alice Isabella Irons (58), killed at home, St Paul’s Vicarage, Shanklin.
- Dorothy Kingswell (34), killed at home, 85 Landguard Road, Shanklin. The widow of Fireman Edward James Kingswell who was killed in the attack in January.
- Audrey Frances Kingswell (3), injured at home, 85 Landguard Road, Shanklin. The daughter of Fireman Edward James Kingswell who was killed in the attack in January. Died at the Home of Rest Hospital, Shanklin, two days later.
- Mary Ann Kingswell (68), of 2 Albion Cottages, Western Road, Shanklin, killed at 85 Landguard Road, Shanklin, the mother of Fireman Edward James Kingswell who was killed in the attack in January.
- Lily Violet Niblett (30), of 46 St Paul’s Avenue, Shanklin, killed at Chandos, North Road, Shanklin.
- Ethel Fanny Pike (57) killed at home 87 Landguard Road, Shanklin.
- Marjorie Frances Pike (27), killed at home 87 Landguard Road, Shanklin.
- Mary Alice Robertson (86), injured, died of her injuries at the Home of Rest Hospital, Shanklin, on the following day.
- George William Squibb (61), NFS Fireman of Grove House, Apse Heath, killed at North Road, Shanklin.
1st April 1943 - Ventnor
Just over a month later Lieutenant Wenger led a three-aircraft return attack to Ventnor on 1 April 1943, taking a photograph (Fig.3) on the approach run over the sea emphasising how low they flew to avoid detection. Lifting to clear the downland after the lightning fast raid, the aircraft dropped into the valley to strafe farm workers who dived for cover in the fields beyond.
This attack cost the following lives.
- William Newbery (86), of The Retreat, Dudley Road, Ventnor, killed at Marine Parade, Ventnor.
- Ernest George Stickley (68), of 21 Church Street, Ventnor, injured at the Rex Cinema, died of his injuries at the Royal National Hospital on the following day.
- Gabrielle Marie Henrietta Testa (29), died of her injuries at the Royal National Hospital.
- Kate Bessie Ward (72), injured at home Marine Cottage, Esplanade Road, Ventnor, died of her injuries at the Royal National Hospital on the following day.
7th April 1943 - Newport
Less than a week later, Wenger returned, by now leading an attack involving eight fighter-bombers that launched themselves against Newport early in the morning of 7 April 1943. Two of the German attackers were shot down while making their escape after the raid, but that didn’t detract from Wenger’s enthusiastic reflection in a letter home - We attacked the biggest city on the Isle of Wight yesterday, Newport. But we dropped all our bombs under heavy flak, and they all scored direct hits.
The late Pat Ledicott, post-war fireman of Newport and a schoolboy during the war recalled – I think the most frightening thing was the cannon fire, not the bomb, as it had peppered the road and buildings in Crocker Street and Mill Street, leaving big holes in the roadway – the Guild Hall also took a bad shaking and quite a lot of damage was done. Next to the Guild Hall was a public house called the Crown and Sceptre, that was so badly damaged it didn’t open again.
The County Press added – The attack did not last more than a minute. So low did the attackers arrive that a bomb that exploded at Morey’s Timber Yard had first belly-slapped the ground 300 yards away before bouncing and passed through the roof of a house. Another entered the rear wall at the back of a garage, re-emerged through the front doors and continued for 150 yards before striking and exploding in a large store, causing a substantial fire that was attended by Newport sections of the NFS. In Chapel Street five houses were wrecked, creating the gap that is today used as the entry and exit points for the car park. The overnight Fire Watchers positioned on the roof of the cinema were descending the building, their nights work done, when a bomb crashed through the room above them, and continued down into a neighbouring drapery, destroyed in the explosion. The building occupied by the Electric Light Co., was flattened, incredibly Miss Salter who was in bed on the top floor flat, was found crawling from the rubble by the responding ARP Rescue Squad with cuts and bruises. Mrs E. Blee, sleeping in her room above the newspaper offices, leapt from her bed when woken by cannon fire. As she moved from the bed intending to go downstairs, a one-hundred weight printing machine crashed down from above, wrecking the bed and pushing it down through the shattered floorboards below.
But for many, close escapes were not possible. Many years ago my grandmother, resident in Orchard Street at the time of the attack, recalled seeing the body of her friend, a maid at the home and practice of a local doctor, who had been blasted through the air, stripped of all clothing, coming to a grotesque rest entangled in a tree.
- Harold Frank Ablitt (12), of Maida Vale, Linden Road, Parkstone, Dorset, killed at 15 Clarence Road, Newport.
- Donald Edwin Abraham (43), Fire Guard Service, injured at home 13 Clarence Road, Newport, died at St Mary’s Hospital, Newport, on 20th April 1943.
- Frederick Cecil Burt (51), Fire Guard of 24 New Street, Newport, killed at Morey’s Timber Yard.
- Amy Butler (74), of 8 Thornton Crescent, Old Coulsdon, Surrey, killed at 24 Chapel Street, Newport.
- Nellie Carlton (30), of Woodlands Way, Waterbeach, Cambridge, killed at 25 Chapel Street, Newport.
- Norman Douglas Carlton (28), Corporal of the RAF Volunteer Reserve, of Woodlands Way, Waterbeach, Cambridge, killed at 25 Chapel Street, Newport.
- Elizabeth Grace Draper (19), of 27 Victoria Road, Newport, killed at Bradley Lodge, Medina Avenue, Newport.
- Valerie Lilian Dudley (5), killed at home 14 Clarence Road, Newport.
- Violet Lily Dudley (31), Women’s Voluntary Service, killed at home 14 Clarence Road, Newport.
- Julia Mary Flux (90), killed at home, 24 Chapel Street, Newport.
- Harold Mitchell (60), Fire Guard Service, injured at home 25 Chapel Street, Newport, died of his injuries later the same day at St Mary’s Hospital, Newport.
- Celia Ann Mundell (66), killed at home 15 Clarence Road, Newport.
- William Robert Mundell (67), killed at home 15 Clarence Road, Newport.
- Eleanor Adelaide Murphy (76), of 274 East Barnet Road, East Barnet, Hertfordshire, killed at 23 Chapel Street, Newport.
- William Thomas O’Donnell (54), of 1 Norfolk Cottages, Trafalgar Lane, Newport, killed at Morey’s Timber Yard.
- Eva Mary Palmer (36), killed at home 22 Chapel Street, Newport.
- Edward Harold Cecil Shepard (42), Fire Guard Service, injured at home 33 Albert Street, Newport, died of his injuries at St Mary’s Hospital on 9th April 1943.
- Dr Arthur Arbuthnot Straton (59), Fire Guard Service, killed at home Bradley Lodge, Medina Avenue, Newport.
- Edward James Trevett (62), of St Elmo, Yarmouth Road, injured at Terrace Road, Newport, died of his injuries later the same day at St Mary’s Hospital, Newport.
- Ernest Harry Tulley (18), of Old Lodge, Gatcombe, killed at Morey’s Timber Yard.
The photographs below show;
Top row - all four show destroyed homes in Chapel Street, where the gap is now the access to and from the car park.
Bottom left - two photographs of the Jordan and Stanley's store.
Bottom right inner - Morey's Timber Yard.
Bottom right outer - Pyle Street.
1st June 1943 - St Catherine's and Niton
Wenger’s last, and infamous, visit to terrorise those of the Isle of Wight came on 1 June 1943. This attack came following a few torrid days in which Wenger had seen a close friend shot down by the RAF and a ground attack by the RAF on his airfield in France - So to pay them back for their little visit, we paid them another courtesy call, with a big squadron, just for company. Just as we got to the English coast, I saw a 4-motored flying boat. We shot at it, but didn’t have any time to stick around, otherwise we would have given them a good hiding. We had our bombs to drop, after all. Then the fun started. At St. Catherines Point I scored a direct hit on a fuel or ammunition warehouse. In any case, the whole kit and kaboodle blew up with huge jets of flame. We then attacked a couple of targets with cannon and machine gun and raked a radio station. The flak was a bit lively and shot at us as we flew away. English fighter planes came up after us but were too late. In any case, this mission was one we all enjoyed; anyhow we did our job for today.
Wenger’s own bomb had killed three members of Trinity House. Civil Defence worker Viola Gwendoline Mary Evans remarked – The lighthouse was never camouflaged as the German aircraft, when coming across the English Channel, would take their bearing from it, as they used it as a landmark, so it was thought it would never be bombed as long as it remained white.
Among the ‘couple of targets’ mentioned in Wenger’s letter to his parents was a mother and child in a garden, the former managing to shelter the latter as cannon shells spattered around them, and an elderly pensioner enjoying a spot of gardening who wasn’t able to get away quick enough.
- Richard Trenoweth Grenfell (62), Trinity House Principal Keeper, lived and killed at St Catherine’s Lighthouse.
- James Way Jacobs (73), killed in his garden at Hillside, High Street, Niton.
- Edward William Jones (49), Trinity House Assistant Keeper, lived and was killed at St Catherine’s Lighthouse.
- Charles Tompkins (47), Trinity House Assistant Keeper, lived and was killed at St Catherine’s Lighthouse.
Below is a haunting image of St Catherine's photographed by Wenger during his approach just seconds before releasing his bomb.
By the end of June 1943, Wenger had been posted to the Mediterranean, and conducted no more attacks on the Isle of Wight. In November he was sent to the Eastern Front. The tone of his letters home from then on suggest a substantially less vainglorious experience – being in constant combat with armed combatants in the air and on the ground was evidently less appealing than raking fire on civilians. As the German machine began to show cracks, support services broke down, Wenger expressed discontent in a letter home dated 11 January 1945 - I don’t know what I’m supposed to think, as to why I have not heard anything from you.
As the steady attrition of Nazi forces enforced a lengthy retreat, Wenger was returned to Austria, ironically in close proximity to his home and the haunts of his innocent boyhood explorations so eloquently expressed in his teenage journals.
It was in the sky close to Vienna on 10 April 1945, less than a month from the end of the war in Europe, that he failed to return from a mission to curtail the advance of Russian tanks. His aircraft, which had come to rest on a railway embankment near Aspern, was discovered later. Inside was Wenger’s lifeless body bearing a severe wound to the back from which his life ebbed away.
Some accounts claim he was caught out by devious Russian use of captured FW 190 Luftwaffe aircraft, while others claim he was shot from the sky by his own anti-aircraft gunners.
Whatever the cause, the people of the Isle of Wight who had never heard the name Leopold Wenger, had nothing more to fear from him, and with the blessing of the gallant Allied forces, in less than four weeks they had nothing more to fear from those he represented.
This IWFBF feature exposes an individual that impacted incomparably on the lives, and deaths, of Isle of Wight children, civilians, civil defence workers and military personnel during a terrifying ten months of tip-and-run raids during the Second World War.
This is presented with respectful memory of the 66 who died, and for their families and loved ones.
I have endeavoured to ensure that all lives lost in the tip-and-run attacks on the dates given above are accounted for by reference to the Isle of Wight County Press, and the Civilian War Dead Roll of Honour 1939-1945 held at Westminster Abbey, cross-referenced to local memorials.
I apologise for any errors or omissions and welcome corrections from readers, preferably with evidence in order to make accurate amendments.