01.06.

1943: The Nazis Shoot Down a Passenger Plane in an Attempt to Kill Churchill

1943: The Nazis Shoot Down a Passenger Plane in an Attempt to Kill Churchill
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons

Story Highlights

  • Historical event:
  • 1 June 1943
  • Eight German Junkers Ju-88C6 heavy fighters attacked a British airplane when it was about 320 kilometers north of Spain and 800 kilometers west of France.

On this day, during World War II, German Luftwaffe aircraft shot down a Douglas DC-3 civilian airliner over the Bay of Biscay, killing all 17 people on board. 

The passenger aircraft was flying along the line from Lisbon in Portugal to Whitchurch in England. According to some theories, German intelligence learned that Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who was in Algeria, should return to England on that flight.

Eight German Junkers Ju-88C6 heavy fighters attacked the British airplane when it was about 320 kilometers north of Spain and 800 kilometers west of France.

The official German explanation for the destruction of a civilian aircraft was that the pilots had mistakenly identified it as a military plane. It is interesting, however, that the plane was shot down outside the usual areas of German interception.

Among the 17 civilians killed, the most famous was actor and director Leslie Howard (known from the movie “Gone With the Wind,” “Pygmalion”, and “The Scarlet Pimpernel”).

There are theories that Howard was a British spy, and it was also used as a possible motive for the German destruction of the aircraft. Among the passengers was also the Jew Wilfrid B. Israel, a known Zionist and advocate for saving Jews from the Holocaust.

Prime Minister Churchill, of course, was not on the flight. He returned from Algeria three days later, in a flight from Gibraltar in a well-protected and armed B-24 Liberator heavy bomber.

In his memoirs, Churchill expressed his regret that the misconceptions about his activities probably caused the death of the famous actor.

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