People mostly see themselves as ordinary without anything to share to the world. Most of us cruise through life with a pretty regular routine and the occasional exciting event here and there. Daniel Rom Kristiansen, your regular teenager, was probably of the same opinion until March 2017, when he made a shocking discovery for his history school project for which he’d make world news. So what did he discover and why was it so shocking, and more importantly, what did it reveal about WWII? Keep reading to find out.
Daniel Rom Kristiansen was just your average 14-year-old teenage boy living a textbook kind of life with his family on a farm in breathtaking Birkelse, Denmark, when his life took an excitingly unexpected turn in March, 2017. There usually isn’t anything too exciting to report from Scandinavia, but this made world news.
It all started when Kristiansen started working on a history school project that required him to carry out research on World War II. He didn’t plan on discovering anything groundbreaking, especially something that would send shock waves across the world. In fact, the reason for his discovery was just a result of a joke his father, Klaus, made in connection to the project.
When Kristiansen came home with a history assignment, his father immediately recalled a story his own grandfather repeatedly told him about something which happened on the farm 73 years ago. The Kristiansen family have lived on the farm for several generations where they graze cattle and toil the land as agricultural workers.
Klaus, Daniel’s father, told the Danish radio station, DR P4 Nordjylland: “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.” Klaus thought the story might have been one of his grandfather’s tall tales. Was it?
After his father made the joke, the Kristiansen men decided to go on an historical escapade. With metal detectors in hand, both went to the field. Klaus thought they’d probably only find plates or similar objects with the detector, but both were absolutely oblivious of what was to come.
They moved the metal detector over a mound of boggy ground where the detector started beeping. They dug up some of the earth only to realize that they would have to dig deeper, and so they borrowed an excavator from the neighbors. So what exactly was buried underground?
The Kristiansens carefully drilled four to six feet down where they happened upon about 2000-5000 pieces of metal debris of what appeared to be broken pieces of a plane. They then dug a little deeper and found an engine of a Messerschmitt BF 109 plane and Luftwaffe munitions, including bullets from the machine guns.
But what they found seven feet down is what truly left the father and son dumbfounded. After digging a bit deeper, they found shocking objects that were hidden just below the surface for 73 years.
The Kristiansens discovered remains of bones and clothes, which had to have belonged to the pilot that was trapped in the cockpit during the crash. The clothing items buried underground were a jacket and trousers, parts of a Nazi pilot uniform.
It seemed that everything Klaus’s grandfather had told him was true. History has a way of revealing itself somehow; even if it’s buried seven feet underground for decades without anyone knowing much about it. But that wasn’t all…
Once they uncovered the bones, jacket, and trousers of the pilot, they started digging in the pockets of the clothes in which they found a wallet with Nazi emblems and insignia, some German money, and cigarette rolling paper.
Klaus Kristiansen in an interview with BBC recalls: “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.” That’s when they realized they should call authorities and not tamper with anything further. But who was this pilot? And why did he crash his plane? Read on to find out.
The plane they found buried in their fieldwas a German WWII aircraft which formed the backbone of the Luftwaffe’s fighter force, deployed throughout Europe from the Eastern Front to the Battle of Britain and even North Africa.
This aircraft, A Messerschmitt Bf 109, was one of the most advanced fighters of the era, boasting features such as all-metal monocoque (structural skin) construction, retractable landing gear, and a closed canopy. The plane was powered by a liquid-cooled inverted-V12 aero engine. Allies, and even the Germans themselves, called it the Me 109. Imagine finding something like that buried in your back yard. But what else could be there?
The Kristiansens decided that they couldn’t take matters into their own hands once they found the remains of the pilot and identified the Nazi insignia. Who could the pilot be and how exactly did he get there? Did anyone know of this unidentified body after 73 years? These questions could only be addressed by authorities.
Klaus Kristiansen contacted the Danish authorities and WWII historians. The remains of the wreckage were taken to the Nordjyllands Historiske Museum, otherwise known as The Historical Museum of Northern Jutland. What the authorities would discover and reveal would shock the world.
The father and son thought that the story would just make local newspapers, but the next day things were crazy. Journalists, TV Stations, and helicopters arrived at the scene, and people from all over the world started to call.
Klaus Kristiansen told 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.”
Klaus Kristiansen, who have lived near the field for 40 years, stated: “We had never seen anything on the surface. Not a single bit of metal.” He thought the German occupying forces had removed the plane because that’s what his grandfather said.
I mainly thought it was just a good story,” Kristiansen said, but he didn’t really think it was true. Most of his family members brushed off the story because they weren’t really sure if their grandfather knew what he was talking about anymore. However, it turned out they were so wrong, as the story revealed itself further.
The North Jutland Police closed the site for investigation and the plane had to be removed by bomb disposal experts because the aircraft went down with lots ammunition on board. The pieces of the aircraft and the bones were then taken to The Historical Museum.
Marko Naoki Lins, a spokesman for the German embassy in Copenhagen, said that a German organization that archives records of deceased German soldiers and cares for their war graves was helping to identify the body using the remains found at the site and matching it against any documented evidence in the records. So who was the dead soldier?
Soeren Flensted, a historian specializing in WWII German airplanes, reported that the pilot must have been inexperienced and on a training mission. “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,” Flensted said.
Over 3000 Messerschmitt Bf 109 aircrafts were produced for the Luftwaffe during WWII. Flensted explained that the plane was the most produced fighter aircraft in history. It was originally conceived as an interceptor, and then it performed multiple tasks acting as ground-attack aircraft, all-weather fighter, bomber escort, fighter-bomber, and reconnaissance aircraft.
The museum also investigated the twisted fuselage, guns, and the engine from the wreckage, and most importantly, the remains of the pilot stuck in the cockpit. Torben Sarauw, the head of archaeology and curator of the museum, made some interesting finds.
Sarauw began piecing together information that would crack the whole case. Sometimes it just takes one tiny piece of evidence to solve an entire mystery, right? So what else did he discover?
Sarauw, the museum’s curator, told Judith Vonberg of CNN that he uncovered more items in the pilot’s possessions. He found three unused condoms, two Danish coins, and food stamps for a canteen in the Danish city of Aalborg, home to a German pilot training base.
Which one of these items would hit this investigation out of the park? The food stamps had a great role to play, but there was still more, as these kind of things tend to go.
Sarauw, who worked vigorously on this mysterious case at the museum, said that this was the first German plane to be found this way in Denmark, and it that can reveal a lot about Germany’s occupation of Denmark and what happened just before the end of war when the plane supposedly crashed.
The expert archaeologist believed that the food stamps indicated that the pilot must have departed from the training base in Aalborg before he crashed into the field on the farm in Birkelse. Read on to find out if they discovered the ID of the pilot.
His father told journalists: “Luckily my son has something to write about in his assignment now. 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.”
With all the investigation still in the works, it’s safe to say that Kristiansen probably received an A+ on his history school assignment. Young Kristiansen said that he hopes to update the details of the lost plane once everything comes to light. But it does it end here?
The historians and museum experts probed the bits of the pilot’s service record the Kristiansens found in the wreckage. Saruaw said that “It was not in one piece, but it was enough to read his name.”
Luckily, the pilot’s name was also written on a small calendar book, but what formed the final clue of the puzzle were the initials etched on his watch. The watch was another item Sarauw uncovered in the unidentified pilot’s possessions.
German information office Deutsche Dienststelle tracked the pilot to be 19-year-old Hans Wunderlich who crashed the plane on October, 10, 1944. The authorities were able to identify his bones using the food ration stamps and the flight’s log book with his name, among other things
His military records showed that he was born in 1925 in Neusorg, a small German town in Bavaria. The cause of the crash is unknown, but Nazi war records noted that the plane went down in a marshy field. The reports also explained how the recovery efforts were suspended because the mission was determined to be “in vain.”
The name of the pilot was first published by the Danish newspaper, the Daily Nordjyske, which said that it was likely for the pilot to be buried in a Danish war cemetery. After further investigation about the pilot, the plans changed.
Wunderlich died unmarried and with no children, and the German authorities reported that his parents died in 2006. Unfortunately his sister, the only remaining relative, also died soon after their parents passed on. So where would he be laid to rest?
The Danish authorities decided that because there weren’t any remaining living relatives, the German War Graves commission, which handles the funeral of WWII soldiers, was to decide where the pilot would be laid to rest.
The commission decided that the body would return to Germany under the care of the Commission. It was also revealed that the Germans officially recorded his death at Holenbrunn City Hall on March 5, 1945. But that wasn’t all.