On the 23 June 1942 duty staff at the Royal Air Force (RAF) airfield at Pembrey in Wales stared in disbelief as a German Focke-Wulf FW 190 fighter approached the base, lined up on the runway and landed, apparently undamaged. The uninjured pilot was immediately captured and the aircraft delivered intact to the RAF at Farnborough, where it was examined and tested carefully.
The German pilot was Oberstleutnant Armin Faber, who had been involved in heavy aerial combat with a Spitfire squadron earlier in the day and during the heat of battle had become disoriented. Breaking off contact he attempted to return to his base in France across the Channel but in the confusion following the high-speed battle mistook the Bristol Channel for the English Channel, and flew on a reciprocal heading, travelling north instead of south.
Seeing an airfield he decided to land, thinking he was over German territory in France, whereas he was in fact over southern Wales.
This event, one of the most bizarre incidents of the war, was an absolute windfall for the British as the FW 190 was proving to be more than a match for the existing Spitfires, and technical information was desperately needed to counteract this threat. The British were even considering mounting a commando raid on a French airfield to try and capture an FW 190 for evaluation.
But Faber’s landing dramatically solved this problem by delivering an intact aircraft that could be examined in depth, and the British proceeded with a program of tests, including flying it in mock combat against Spitfires. Invaluable knowledge was gained and the aircraft was eventually scrapped in September 1943.
Faber’s aircraft proved to be the only FW 190 fighter of the war to be captured undamaged, with the other examples being variants of the fighter-bomber types.
Many military aviation experts regard the FW 190 as one of the best aircraft of the war, particularly at low and medium altitudes where it could outperform the Spitfires of the day, both in general flying characteristics and firepower.
Image: Faber’s Focke-Wulf, photographed soon after its capture at RAF Pembrey in June 1942, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.