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The Heligoland39 Project



On 18 December 1939 the Battle of Heligoland Bight, the first named air battle of World War Two, took place.  This daylight operation was a baptism of fire for the RAF with the loss of 57 airman and 12 Wellington bombers.  As a result of this disaster the tactics of Bomber Command changed to predominantly night time operations and informed RAF tactics for the rest of the War. 

The aim of this project is to find as many relatives of those that participated in this battle in order that they may come together for various commemoration events, remember their relatives, share memorabilia, and ensure that their relative's service is remembered.


Inception of this project was in July 2016 and research began in earnest when The International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln agreed to collaborate in a search for the relatives of all the RAF airmen who participated in the battle. This partnership has proved to be tremendously effective and over 80 relatives attended a very successful commemoration event at Ely Cathedral in December 2018 which marked the beginning of the 80th Anniversary Year of the 1939 action.


A second very successful major event - An Act of Commemoration - was held on the 18th December 2019 at The RAF Memorial Runnymede in Surrey to mark the 80th Anniversary of the Heligoland event. This was immediately followed by a reception and exhibition for guests at nearby Brooklands Museum where Wellington N2980, which took part in the battle, is on permanent exhibition. 

Despite restrictions due to the Covid 19 Pandemic some commemoration events in 2020 and 2021 were able to proceed. You can read about these in our October 2021 Newsletter.

Please follow the story of this ongoing quest on this web-site. 

Update and new pages coming soon

Thank you for your interest


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Project Dates

The Search  April 2018-July 2020

Remembrance Nov &  Dec 2018

Commemoration  Nov & Dec 2019


Further Project Events Planned 2024 - December 2025


Jack Waterfall, H39 Project Leader:

Doug Aylward, H39 Family Researcher:

Caroline Kesseler, H39 Family Researcher:

Markus Graw, H39 Researcher - Germany:

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Heligoland39 Charity Collection -  Donate online to one of our three chosen charities by clicking on the logos below. If possible please reference your support of the H39 Project: 

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We have listed the airmen who flew on planes sent out from RAF Mildenhall (149 Squadron), RAF Feltwell (37 Squadron) and RAF Honington (9 Squadron) on 18 December 1939.  If your family has any connections with those listed on the Squadron pages and wish to become involved with the project, please contact us.



Luftwaffe Losses:


 Unit 10(N)/JG26 Me 109

Shot-down by the rear gunners of Kellett’s section. Ditched 200m off Speigeroog. Managed to get out of his Me109 before it sank. Drowned after his heavy flying suit soaked up the icy water. Oberleutnant Johann Fuhrmann DROWNED


Unit 6/JG77 Me 109

While in pursuit of N2903 at low level. Wingtip touched the surface of the sea west of Borkum and the Me109 disappeared in a cloud of spray and sank Leutnant  Roman Stiegler MISSING

We have already made contact with family members of Roman Stiegler.

We are actively searching for family of Johann Fuhrmann in order that they are aware of and have the opportunity to take part in the planned commemoration events.

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Please email Jack Waterfall, H'39 project leader -

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“The Fighters are our salvation but the bombers alone provide the means of Victory”

 Winston Churchill, September 1940

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