The matter of the wooden bombs : one of the last witnesses dies

Former pilot and lieutenant-colonel of the German Air Force, Werner Thiel died on Friday 2 March 2012 in Troisdorf (RFA). Born in Dillenburg on 24 August 1923, he became a pilot with the rank of second-lieutenant in the Luftwaffe in 1943. In October 1943 while he was stationed at the Luftkreigschule Werder not far from Potsdam, he saw with his own eyes a dozen or so fake wooden bombs dropped on decoy planes that were also made out of wood and had been installed on a fake airfield set up by the Germans near Potsdam. The missiles had a sardonic “Wood for wood” written on them in white paint.

Werner Thiel pilote en 1943                                  Lors d'une rencontre en 2010

Werner Thiel’s testimony is exceptional in that it comes from a German military officer. It was filmed on 28 December 2010 in an interview with Pierre-Antoine Courouble, author of the book “The riddle of the wooden bombs”, by film-maker Philippe Leynaud, who was preparing a documentary fiction on the subject (see : YouTube link: ). Werner Thiel ended his interview with a plea in which he expressed the hope of meeting up with a former American pilot or engineer who could be one of the participants in this act of mockery that was nothing if not elegant.

Historians Jean Dewaerheid from Belgium, Peter Haas from Germany and Pierre-Antoine Courouble from France are currently undertaking research amongst American veterans from the Second World War on the other side of the Atlantic. Their aim is to record a witness/participant of the USAF in this matter, for these researchers are now convinced of two things: 1) these droppings are not a myth but reality; 2) the participants in these acts were not English but Americans! So what had been described rather quickly by some as “English humour” could very well have been an expression of Yankee humour!

Extract from the interview with Werner Thiel filmed in Troisdorf on 28 December 2010.

Thiel: Je suis né le 24 aout 1923 à Dillenburg dans le centre de l’Allemagne. Après avoir terminé mes études, j'ai rejoint l’armée de l’air en 1942. J'ai d’abord suivi une formation de pilote en France à Romorantin, Angers et Le Mans puis au mois d’octobre 1943 j'ai été affecté à Werder près de Berlin. C'est à cette l'époque-là que j'ai travaillé sur le faux aérodrome de Borkheide qui comportait une piste sur un axe Est-Ouest. A proximité du terrain une sorte de cabanon, qu’on appellerait plutôt container aujourd'hui, nous servait d'hébergement avec deux abris « anti-bombes ». Il ne s'agissait en fait que de blocs de béton de plein pied, où nous pouvions nous réfugier en cas d’alertes aériennes sur Berlin. Ce qui fut le cas lors d'une alerte à la fin du mois d’octobre 1942. Il y avait l’alerte générale annonçant l'approche d'une escadrille. Nous avions allumé le balisage des pistes d'envol du faux aérodrome et déplacé les leurres d'avions.

PA Courouble: How many decoys were there?

Thiel: About a dozen at the most. They were made of plywood and treated canvas. Enemy observation planes had flown over a few nights before, so we knew that we were going to be a target some time soon. The sky was droning …

PA Courouble: I’m sorry to interrupt you again, but how many people were there on this fake airfield? Thiel: There were about a dozen soldiers.

Thiel: We were all afraid, just like anyone would be during an air-raid. But strangely enough nothing happened where we were. Just the droning of the planes. When it was daylight, we went cautiously outside. You always had to be wary in case there were any time bombs. But as it was, we couldn’t believe our eyes. There were wooden bombs on the ground! I think there were six or ten wooden bombs with the words “wood for wood” written on them.

PA Courouble: And were these bombs hollow or solid?

Thiel: They were carved out of solid wood. One of us was a carpenter and wood turner. He collected them up to make frames with the wood which was a quality species. We used them to frame blow-ups of aerial photos that we hung on the walls in our rooms for decoration. As was the case in training schools, the rooms were always bare devoid of comfort.

PA Courouble: Did you use all the bombs for that?

Thiel: Yes, all of them. There were also the neighbouring guards. That corresponded to a platoon. They said “What lovely frames you’ve got!” Then they were exchanged for cigarettes or food, eggs, milk, semolina and rice …

PA Courouble: Can you remember what you thought at the time? Did you have any idea about the use of these fake wooden bombs?

Thiel: We thought it was a prank. Nowadays you’d say “joke”. “See how stupid you are. You built your fake airfield so badly that it isn’t worth wasting real bombs on it.”

(Werner Thiel picks up his glass of beer and lifts it in the direction of the camera)

Thiel: Thiel: I drink to the health of pilots of all nationalities, and in particular to that my of American friends. I would love to be able to clink glasses with the American pilot who enjoyed dropping wooden bombs on me! Chin, chin!...

Unfortunately, the message relayed on YouTube did not have enough time to enable Werner Thiel to see his wish come true. As part of the shooting of a documentary film on the matter of the wooden bombs, the initiators of the project have not given up on the idea of making the German pilot’s wish come true posthumously. Their intention is to find an American or Allied veteran, a pilot or a member of a plane crew or ground crew, who participated in this astonishing story, and have him answer Werner Thiel’s appeal. The magic of digital technology will enable this meeting to take place beyond time and death.
If you have any information on this subject please get in touch with : Jean dewerheid, Lecturer at the Haute Ecole Lucia de Brouckère, author, translator, lecturer.
Address: Leeuwerikenlaan 17, 1830 Machelen, Belgium. 0032 230 567 00 or Pierre-Antoine Courouble 0033 630 353 220