Fourteen year old, Daniel Rom Kristiansen led a quiet life on his family’s farm in the Danish town of Birkelse. That small town calm was broken when he made international news in March 2017. Who would have though a boy from the countryside in Denmark would discover the unthinkable?
Homework Turned into Historical Discovery
For a school project, Daniel had to research World War II. With that small history assignment in mind, this young boy had no plans for his project to be celebrated globally. He only came across this amazing find because his father, Klaus, made a joke to him. What kind of joke could lead to such an unusual find?
Have You Checked the Fields?
What is this family joke Klaus Kristiansen said that led to all this? Well, what kid doesn’t love a good scavenger hunt? After hearing about the history project, Klaus remembered his grandfather’s infamous story about the land. This story came back to Klaus when his son mentioned the history project.
This Very Farm
His grandfather told Klaus time and time again that something occurred right there on their farm 73 years ago. This farm is where Klaus Kristiansen’s family has lived for generations. They worked on agricultural and grazed cattle. Those fields have seen more than just agriculture and animals though!
The story Klaus heard repeatedly centered on a World War II plane. He elaborated on DR P4 Nordjylland, a Danish radio station, “When Daniel was recently given homework about World War Two, I jokingly told him to go out and find the plane that is supposed to have crashed out in the field.” Though he knew this story very well, he never thought there was any truth to it.
On The Hunt
Not until his son took his joke to check the fields seriously, did something come to light. Klaus probably did not even realize his son would take him so seriously. However, it was lucky young Daniel went with the story and ran with it. The world now has him to thank!
Thus, Klaus took his son out into the field with a metal detector, not expecting to find anything. Klaus recalled he only expected something small. He told a CNN reporter, “I hoped we might find some old plates or something for Daniel to show in school.” Little did he know at the time, they would get much more than he ever bargained for!
Klaus Kristiansen, who is an agricultural worker, thought the story his grandfather told him about a crashed plane was just fiction. Also his grandfather mentioned the wreckage being removed. Despite this, to his surprise, their metal detector went wild!
Need To Go Deeper
The father and son came across fragments from a plane. Once they began to dig, they were discovered things at around 12 feet under the ground. Therefore, they needed help to get deeper.
Continuing The Search
To aid their search, they used a neighbor’s excavator. Once they reached between four and six meters deep, they identified a plane carcass. Oh did we mention the bones they came across once they were seven feet deep? Yeah, definitely more than a few metal pieces as Klaus had hoped.
Laying In The Backyard For 75 Years
In his interview with Danish newspaper, Politiken, Klaus Kristiansen said, “The plane had crashed into thousands of pieces. Everything was so well preserved that you could hardly see it had been laying there for nearly 75 years.”
More Than A Plane
Once they continued, Klaus and Daniel found the motor. Next, came clothes along with personal items like a wallet and money. They were shocked upon this further unraveling! Can you imagine coming across a huge wreckage and then such important evidence along with the metal scarps.
Klaus told the BBC about the process, “In the first moment it was not a plane. It was maybe 2,000 – 5,000 pieces of a plane. And we found a motor…then suddenly we found parts of bones, and parts from [the pilot’s] clothes.” They were definitely on to something huge!
On a field that Klaus said was used only “for grass or cattle,” came a remarkable discovery! With such a wild finding, this local farmer reached out to WWII historians, as well as Danish authorities.
Not A Clue
Can you believe that the family worked that exact land for decades without discovering the crashed plane? Yes, Klaus himself lived on the land for over forty years in ignorance of this artifact on his property.
Luckily for Daniel, they let him stay home from school to stick around for the excavation. His father said, “He’s actually been given the day off school today so that he can watch the police and bomb disposal people working. It’s quite exciting for all of us.”
Tall Tales Become Reality
They found none other than an authentic German World War II aircraft in their fields! This plane, a crucial member of the Luftwaffe’s fighter planes, were posted all over the continent of Europe and even as far as North Africa. Identifying the plane helped them understand a whole lot more.
Dating The Crash
Even before experts dated the artifacts and looked into records, Klaus Kristiansen had his suspicions about when the plane went down. He said, “We think it was around November or December 1944.” This is because his own grandfather once mentioned baking Christmas cookies with Klaus’s grandmother and uncle at the time.
A Secret Skeleton
Besides the aircraft, there were remains of what they speculated to be the pilot of this WWII German aircraft. Once they discovered the decomposed body, the shock to their system was so great it put their health insurance coverage in jeopardy! These remains included bones, a jacket and trousers that were part of a Nazi pilot uniform, all buried under the field’s surface.
Proving His Grandfather Right
It turned out that the story of Klaus’s grandfather was more than just entertainment. The story had real historical value. Now his grandson and great grandson worked together with professionals to uncover the untold parts of this mystery. They didn’t stop at the pilot’s bones or clothes, as we mentioned.
Belongings of a Nazi Pilot
After further inspection, the pockets revealed a wallet decorated with Nazi insignia and emblems and Germany money in addition to rolling paper for cigarettes. Kristiansen spoke about the moment they found these items, “And then we found some personal things – books, a wallet with money…either it was a little Bible or it was Mein Kampf – a book in his pocket. We didn’t touch it, we just put it in some bags.” Again, that’s when the father and son entered uncharted territory and knew it was time to call in professionals.
Handing The Investigation Over
Klaus and his son made the right move to bag the items and not continue their digging. They could have tampered with crucial evidence. There were still so many unanswered questions. Who was the Nazi pilot that crashed? What caused his crash?
Discovering the Story
They were right to pass the work on. It had become too much for untrained citizens to handle. Thus, Klaus and his son passed on all they knew to authorities. Authorities were not starting from scratch though. The crucial details of the Nazi pilot crashing 73 years ago could help start the investigation. The Kristiansens still wanted answers about this mysterious Nazi who crashed on their field. Only the professionals could answer them with meticulous work.
Help from Professionals
After reaching out to the authorities of Denmark in addition to historians of World War II, Klaus let the investigation take its course. The wreckage was then taken to The Historical Museum of Northern Jutland, which is also known as the Nordjyllands Historiske Museum. The discoveries that came next would ring round the world. All of this from a young boy’s search in his family fields. He had no idea what came next would change everything.
Daniel Rom Kristiansen and his father naively believed their findings would only reach local papers. The following day the story blew up. TV stations arrived along with helicopters and journalists all wanting further information on the story. People called from worldwide to get more. Everyone wondering the same things about the pilot and crash and its role in the war. And whether this Nazi’s family cared more about his life insurance policy rather than health insurance coverage.
Up Close with History
The family could not believe their chance run in with historical evidence. Klaus reflected on it when speaking with authorities, “At first we were digging up a lot of dirt with metal fragments in it. Then we suddenly came across bones and pieces of clothes. It was like opening a book from yesterday.” Only this metaphorical book had not been touched in over seventy years! What could it tell us about that moment in time?
Hard to Believe
After living near the field for four decades, Kristiansen was in disbelief, since they never noticed even metal on the field. In fact, he mistakenly believed the occupying forces had taken the plane after the crash as he heard from his grandfather. He believed it to be an old tale, “I mainly thought it was just a good story.” Other family members also didn’t pay much attention to the story and discredited their grandfather because of his age. Meanwhile, they could not have been more wrong! The story continued to unravel.
Reflecting On His Grandfather
Klaus discredited his grandfather’s story at the time, as he recalled to the BBC reporter. Now he’s reconsidered his grandfather’s credibility. He told the reporter,”Unfortunately, he died 15 years ago, but I should have listened more to him when he was alive.” Luckily, it’s never too late to learn from our elders, even if they are gone. Now, Kristiansen gets to be part of the unraveling of this mystery.
Getting Closer to Uncovering the Identity
The site had to be shut down in order to continue the investigation. North Jutland Police closed the area and called in bomb disposal experts. The aircraft had gone down with a large amount of ammunition so the experts were needed to move the findings. The bones and aircraft were carefully moved to the museum.
Reaching Out To The Germans
Spokesman for the German embassy in Copenhagen, Marko Naoki Lins, explained the record keeping process. The special system contains records of deceased German soldiers, in addition to maintaining their graves, aided in the process of body identification. They attempted to match it with documentation in their records. A step closer to uncovering this pilot!
The World War II German plane historian, Soeren Flensted, speculated that this clearly inexperienced pilot may have been on a training mission. Flensted stated, “There are records that someone in northern Denmark crashed into a mire in November 1944, and it was impossible to get him up… So that could be him.” The dots were finally being connected, but what mission could this pilot have been on there?
Famous Fighter Aircraft Slowly Unravels Mystery
During the war, more than three thousand Bf 109s were manufactured for the Luftwaffe. Flensted added that this specific aircraft was in fact the most produced fighter plane in world history. The original purpose for the plane was as an interceptor. Only later did it perform other tasks.
Things like all-weather fighting, bomber escort, reconnaissance aircraft, fighter-bomber and even ground-attack were all handled by the Bf 109. Now that they knew the many purposes of the aircraft, the story of the crash stared to come to light.
Dissecting the Parts
There was more to take a closer look at before drawing definite conclusions. The guns, engine and twisted fuselage gave the museum important information about the wreckage. Was faulty plane parts a reason Nazi pilots should have taken a closer look at their health insurance coverage preflight? Well, let’s not forget this pilot’s remains! Torben Sarauw is the head of archaeology and also curator of the museum. His finds helped bring the pieces of the puzzle together. What were these finds that brought it all together?
The planes themself were not rare, but apparently, this was a rare find. No, not just for a 14 year old to find. It was rare to uncover one of the Bf 109 planes in this particular area of Denmark. Saruw confirmed this,”It’s quite a special find.” He even added that it may be the only time a German plane was found in this part of Denmark. All of this information would be crucial for Saruw and the team to make sense of things.
Small Findings Making Big Impact
So with that, Sarauw spoke with CNN’s Judith Vonber on the other items he found. In addition to two Danish coins and 3 unused condoms, the curator found food stamps. Who knew such a small item could make such a large difference in a case.
Turns out, these food stamps were for a canteen located in Aalborg, Denmark. Aalborg is where the Germans had a training base for pilots. But it wasn’t just the food stamps that moved this investigation along.
Food Stamps Reveal Possible Path of Pilot
Actually this plane was the first of its kind to be uncovered in this area of Denmark, as Sarauw remarked. This tells us a great deal about the the close of the war when the plane went down and also just generally about the occupation. He suspected the food stamps showed that the pilot left the training base just before falling to his demise in Birkelse. But who is this mystery man? Luckily, there was a plethora of information uncovered that led to his identification, which follows.
Careful review of the pilot’s service record, unearthed among the remains, gave just enough for historians and museum experts to take the lead. “It was not in one piece, but it was enough to read his name,” Saruaw explained. Then a name was found written on a tiny calendar, only to be collaborated by a watch. The pilot’s watch had his initials engraved. Another crucial piece that Sarauw located. Now, they could find out more about the pilot.
The Story Behind Mystery Pilot
Hans Wunderlich was the name that Deutsche Dienststelle, the German information office, revealed to be this 19 year old who crashed back on October 10, 1944. Along with the bones and food stamps, the flight log book helped to confirm his identity for authorities.
The young pilot’s military records say he was born in the small Bavarian town of Neusorg in 1925. Unfortunately, the reason for the crash could not be determined. However, in the Nazi war records, they mentioned that the plane crashed in a marshy field but that recovery efforts had been suspended.
As Sarauw said, this was a rare case. Apparently, the Germans reacted to the news of the missing pilot accordingly. They claimed the mission was “in vain.” So they had given up looking for this pilot and had not collected the plane as Klaus heard from his grandfather.
Danish Records Reveal More
After the evidence confirmed the pilot’s identity, his name was published in the Daily Nordjyske. They stated it was likely this deceased pilot would have his remains laid to rest in a Danish war cemetery. Contrary to this pronouncement, the plans were altered after further inquiry into his life.
What To Do With The Remains?
Okay so he wasn’t going to be buried in Denmark, but where would Wunderlich be sent? He died a single man without any children. His parents passed away in 2006, according to German authorities and his sister also died shortly after their parents. Without any living relatives, where do the remains go?
Commission Makes Decision on Remains
Without any living relatives, Danish authorities delegated the decision to the German War Graves commission. This commission deals with funerals of soldiers from World War II. It was decided by the Commission that they would handle the body. Wunderlich’s body would be sent back to Germany. Germans recorded his death officially on March 5, 1945 in the City Hall of Holenbrunn. Yet, there was more before the body and everything else could be laid to rest.
The field was closed, as mentioned earlier because of the danger posed by its ammunition. Only police and other officials were allowed in the area. The aircraft and human remains had to held in The Historical Museum for the duration of the investigation.
Keeping Findings Together
As stated, Wunderlich’s remains will be sent to Germany for a burial. Though, the wreckage and personal items will stay in Denmark. Sarauw explained, “We think it’s important to keep the findings together.” In fact, he mentioned that this remarkable finding has already sparked new interest in the history of WWII with Danish children. Thus, he is hopeful that the artifacts in the Jutland museum can sustain this interest.
Checking Records for More Info
As Lins, the spokesman for the German embassy in Denmark, said, the deceased soldier archives were crucial in finding out more about the pilot. So besides his name and the mysterious crash, what was his role? Why would be flying from the training base over that specific area in Denmark? There was more to this story.
History of Occupation
The German army crossed into Denmark in 1940 not just by land, but also sea and air. At around six hours long, it was one of the shortest military operations of the war recorded. Part of Weserübung Süd, the German operation for invaded Norway, they attacked Denmark, hoping to secure shipping from the city Narvik. Without the airfield outside of Aalborg, this plan would be doomed.
The attack history sheds more light on the pilot’s purpose. High German Command believed the attack on Denmark in addition to Norway would aid them in a swift takeover of Scandinavia. The attack commenced on April 4, 1940.
What the Germans did not predict was that Danes forecasted the attack but chose not to act. The government did not want to instigate the Germans. Thus, the Germans attacked and maintained power until 1944. Again, Klaus’s grandfather was very much on the mark with his timing.
Grandpa’s Stories Were More Than Just Stories
When recalling the story, Klaus mentioned to Carol Off, from the television program, “As It Happens,” that the plane crashed back in November 1944, as his grandfather told him. His grandfather also mentioned this was seven months before Denmark’s liberation from 5 years of occupation. What his grandfather was mistaken about however, was that the plane was removed one week after. Despite that one error, his grandfather’s tale turned out to be true! And Klaus’s joke to his son turned into a world famous discovery.
What About That Assignment?
Hey, what about the assignment this all began with? Don’t worry! Klaus assured journalists that all is well, “Luckily my son has something to write about in his assignment now…It’s quite exciting for all of us.” Of course we cannot imagine Daniel walking away with anything below an A after all of this! He hopes he can update his work once all the details from the investigation come together.
It was remarkable that Hans Wunderlich, a 19 year old pilot of a Messerschmitt, had been undiscovered on this farmland in Birkelse since October 1944! Birkelse village is a total of 155 miles northwest of capital city, Copenhagen. Curator Sarauw remarked on this discovery that, “It’s quite a special find.” What the family did next really was special too!
Once the story became viral, everyone was giving their take on the crashed WWII plane. However, one contribution stood out above all the others. A 94 year old named Sigaard Jenson from Northern Jutland came forward and told Politiken that when he was 22 he witnessed the plane crash. He was looking for peat to fuel his stove when a plane began circling above his head before crashing at a high speed. Apparently, he never even thought about telling someone.
Family Farm’s New Role
After the story reached international fame, the family decided to make commemorate their finding. Thus, in the summer of 2017 they created an exhibit open to the public in their barn building to display large pieces of the aircraft. In addition, the historic Aalborg museum, which created their own exhibits on the aircraft, helped the Kristiansen family with images and plans.
Together with his wife, Britt Rom Kristiansen, and also with help from the local history association, they tried to create a very local angle for their exhibition. In addition, there’s the story of the local Resistance Movement and that site is just a 100 meters from the Kristiansen fame. Also, the artificial city the Germans constructed in the area will be incorporated into the plans.
Actually, the whole family got involved in the operation. Klaus explained how each kid had their own special part in helping bring this exhibit to the public, “Daniel has done a lot of work to make things happen, his 17-year-old Marie is responsible for Facebook and posters, and the 11-year-old twins, Kamilla and Laura, have to sell tickets in the door. There is summer vacation job for the whole family.” Also, Sigaard Jensen, the witness from Brovst, helped them open their exhibit by retelling the story of the plane’s crash.
Fairly Common Occurence
Not to say Daniel’s discovery isn’t unbelievable and remarkable, but the uncovering of WWII bombs, mines and other artifacts has become somewhat common across Europe. In fact, many mines are found on England’s beaches. Two kids discovered a German mine in the summer of 2016 on an English beach.
Immediately, the Newhaven Coastguard was called in. Once they arrives, Seaford Beach was evacuated, and the piece was confirmed to be a piece of a German sea mine. After learning it was just the bottom plate of a mine, the Coastguard announced it was not explosive and therefore, not dangerous to the public.
Actually, beaches in England have been the site of many WWII explosives found years later. It was not just the two children who found a potentially dangerous artifact. In addition, five miles from Seaford Beach, someone discovered what was believed to be a bomb right off the Birling Gap Beach. This had to be destroyed. Also, a dog walker found a shell by East Worthing by the sea.
The Bf 109
But back to the plane they found for all those history buffs! The specific plane they discovered happened to be a Messerschmitt Bf 109 with all-metal monocoque, which is its structural skin, a closed canopy, special retractable landing gear, and a liquid-cooled, inverted V12 engine, among other features, making this cutting-edge technology for its time.
What Was This?
Not only was it called the Bf 109, but Allies and Germans alike, referred to it as the Me 109. This was an original fighter plane from the war that made up the Nazi’s core air force. The aviation engineer Wilhelm “Willy” Messerschmitt was who they named the plane after.
Actually, these planes had crashed from Britain to the Russian front in all the way in the east. Thus, these Danes were not the first to uncover one. Back in 2003, archaeologists extracted one from the floor of an iced-over Russian lake! Still, what an outrageous thing to find in your own backyard! But that was not all the family uncovered.
Listen to your Elders, Folks!
After this whole ordeal Klaus reflected on his naivety, “He was telling a lot of stories, my grandfather. Some of them were not true, and some of them were true – but this one was true. Maybe I should have listened to him a bit more when he was alive!” I guess it’s true what they say. Listen to your elders because you might discover a historical Nazi aircraft in your very own backyard. Hey, that’s not the only thing people have found from WWII recently…
WWII Shipwreck Lard Found On Beach
After a storm in Scotland in the late 60s or even early 70s, the local people began finding washed up barrels of lard. Back during the war, a merchant ship had been bombed off the coast. Wooden barrels housing lard disintegrated years ago but now those lard chunks still hold a barrel shape and have turned white from barnacles. Even to this day, they continue to find more every few decades such as in 2013. In 2013, hard lumps of the lard came onto the St Cyrus beach shore, as a bad storm further broke the WWII shipwreck just off the Scottish beach. Interestingly enough, fishermen were said to have gone to the shipwreck area back in the 70’s since the fish feeding off the fat grew beyond the usual size.
Missing Japanese Mega-Submarine Found
Found in 2013, this Japanese super submarine was found just off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii. It had been missing since back in 1946, but was located about 2,300 feet deep in the water. This I-400 was the most advanced submarine of its time, capable of traveling about one and a half times around the planet without refueling. Also, it could deploy three 1800 kg bombs in minutes of resurfacing. However, it was captured by the American military at the end of the war and kept at Pearl Harbor. Once the Cold War began, the Soviets demanded it according to certain WWII treaty terms, but the Americans did not want the Soviets to acquire the technology and claimed ignorance of its whereabouts.
$36 Million Of Silver Found From WWII Shipwreck
Now, here’s a classic story of sunken treasure! Apparently, the Nazis sunk a British merchant ship that was carrying around 61 tons of silver. The ship was hit by a Nazi U-boat’s torpedo and sunk on February 17 of 1941. In 2011, an American based underwater archaeology group found the shipwreck about 300 miles off Ireland’s coast. It was about 3 miles deep and the silver weighed a total of 1.8 million ounces. Actually, this ship, heading from India to England needed to break from the military convoy because of insufficient coal and the bad weather conditions and then was hit. Only one man from the 86 aboard survived.
WWII Bomb Kills Construction Driver
Unfortunately, some of these WWII artifacts can be dangerous. Sadly, a WWII bomb killed a German construction worker and injured 13 others in 2014. The mechanical digger unknowingly set off the bomb. This bomb had been buried at the site since the 1940s. Apparently, the allied bombs were meant to combat the Nazis by bombing their factories. Nowadays, these bombs are often discovered. While the bulldozer driver lifted debris and dirt, he triggered it and the explosion shook cars and buildings even up to a kilometer away.
German Sub Found Near Nantucket
In 2012, a German U-550 submarine was found off of Nantucket, Massachusetts. There the sub had been attacking merchant ships and also creating blackouts in cities on the coast. Apparently, this U-550 torpedoed a gasoline tanker in April 1944. Despite hiding under the tanker, the USS Joyce located the sub and sent down depth charges. The sub resurfaced and was rammed by another of the American tanker escorts and the Americans attacked with two final depth charges, forcing the crew to abandon and explode the sub to scuttle it. Thus, the sub sunk and remained under water for close to 70 years!
Hidden Bunker for Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels
During the 90’s, once the Berlin wall came down, a remarkable find from the war was uncovered. Once the city began reconstructing the underground infrastructure and working on the Holocaust memorial in 1997, construction workers found Joseph Goebbel’s WWII bunker. Somehow, it survived the Allied munitions at the war’s conclusion. Also a bunker was discovered for the SS Chauffeurs with Nazi murals all over the walls. However, finding Hitler’s bunker in 1999 was the climax of these discoveries. Also they found his bodyguard division’s bunker. Some of Hitler’s bunker had been damaged by Soviets right after the war. The authorities of Berlin sealed off the bunkers, not wanting any Nazi sympathizers to make it a shrine.
Lost Battlefield Found in Papua New Guinea Jungles
In 2010, an untouched battlefield from WWII was found in Papua New Guinea’s jungles by an Australian trekker named Brian Freeman. In fact, the field still had remains of Japanese troops who had died there about 70 years prior. When Freeman looked into maps and diaries from the war he found out about a large 1942 battle in Papua New Guinea’s Eora Creek that ended with 79 dead and 145 Australian troops wounded. That’s why he searched until he found the site, untouched by the local Alola people. They feared the spirits of the dead soldiers haunted the field and also worried about any leftover grenades.
Pigeon Carrier Message From WWII Found In 2012
During the war, many pigeons and even horses, cats and dogs were used to carry messages, written in code. About a quarter of a million carrier pigeons delivered secret messages for the British. In 2012, Anne and David Martin of Surrey, found a pigeon skeleton in their home’s chimney. Attached to the pigeon, they found a small red container containing a WWII message in code. However, even the code breakers working for Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters claimed it was “unbreakable without the original code books.” Then, a month later, a Canadian named Gordon Young apparently partially cracked it with his great uncle’s WWI code book. He claimed it was sent back in 1944, just after the Allied D-Day landing, written by a soldier dropped behind enemy line. In addition, Young said it confirmed American and British troops met up. Young said it read, ‘Hit Jerry’s right, reserve battery here. Electrical engineers headquarters are already known. Troops, batteries, panzers, engineers are here.’ Apparently, fillers were also used to throw off any enemy who intercepted it.
Forest Swastika Discovered in 1992
Now, this is something you don’t see everyday. A swastika symbol in the forest was seen by a pilot flying in 1992 above the Zernikow village, just north of Berlin. They needed to cut down 43 larches to get rid of the symbol, which is outlawed. Experts believe that a forest ranger planted them in 1938, maybe out of enthusiasm or in response to orders. However, when they cut the trees in 1995, it failed to get rid of the symbol, which grew back by 2000. Thus, the authorities needed to chop down 25 additional trees.
Color Photo Of German Surrender Finally Released in 2009
Taken in 1945, the color photographs of the German surrender were kept secret and not released until 2009. It was April 30th of 1945 when the Nazis began their surrender. The two generals, General Admiral Hans von Fiedeburg and General Eberhard Kinzel surrendered to the British Field Marshal, Bernard Montgomery, but photography was restricted. Despite this, clerk of the British Field Marshal, Ronald Playforth snuck a photograph from the bushes. He kept it hidden for more than 64 years and finally sold it to the highest bidder in 2009. In addition, more color photos from Hitler’s personal photographer came to the public in 2009.