Monday, 28 March 2011

new from Erik Mombeek - JG 5 history Band/Vol 4 and Luftwaffe Gallery 2



" ...It is with great pleasure and no little sense of relief that I am able to announce the publication of the fourth and final volume of my history of JG 5. Relief because the research for this comprehensive Jagdgeschwader chronicle has been on-going for well over twenty years. The results speak for themselves; around 1,200 pages of text and approximately 1,300 photos collected, hundreds of first person accounts transcribed and documents assembled fom the contributions of nearly 400 former members of the Geschwader who survived, or their families in the case of those that lost their lives in the Far North, Russia, Germany or France. This final volume covers the last year of the war and features 300 mostly unseen photos and personal accounts in the original German language, along with victory and loss lists, the names of all commanding officers and a full index both of names and photos for all four volumes.

At the same time I am also publishing volume two in our Luftwaffe Gallery series (English text). If you enjoyed our first pictorial monograph then I am sure you will find much to delight and interest in this second book. More details from our website  here. ..."

Subjects covered include a detailed look at the 'Mickey mouse' character on Luftwaffe aircraft, scribble paint schemes, Bf 109 Fs in colour, Luftwaffe seaplanes and much more, featuring Thierry Dekker's artwork and English text, including a translated first hand account from the JG 5 history via this blog author..






ME 262 of 7./KG(J)54

currently for sale on delcampe.net are these two nice images of Ofw F. Gentzsch of 7./KG(J)54 in Neuburg, March 1945. These 2 pictures were also published in Radtke's KG 54 history (P. 239). I've contacted the seller & these picture are reprints of the 70's, not originals.
Thanks to ouidjat for the link.


Saturday, 26 March 2011

'The Adder Affair' - Bachem Natter feature from a 1950's issue of RAF Flying review -click to read text




KG 51 Me 262 Blitzbomber and 'Red 9' 10./NJG 11

Over at the scale-models.ru forum visitors are being asked to vote on the best finish/most accurate model from a series of Me 262 builds. Previous posts on this blog have served as reference for two of the contenders; the Me 262s of KG 51 and 10./NJG 11.

Stills of a KG 51 Blitzbomber WNr. 170096 9K+BH of 1./KG 51 based in Rheine in September 1944. A good view of the 'squiggle'-type mottle, which is better captured by the profile artist (unknown) rather than the modeller below.






See the link on this blog for Honza K.'s build of the Tamiya kit with Aires add-ons http://falkeeins.blogspot.com/2011/02/tamiya-me-262-aires-resin-jumo.html




'Red 9' of 10./NJG 11 following repaint by the British and Americans. It would appear that this particular machine initially had an RAF roundel applied following capture by the British, but then rather bizarrely had a Balkenkreuz repainted by the Americans on shipping to the US. The Ju 290 'Alles Kaputt' was also repainted in 'German' markings on its arrival in the US for display at air shows. The kit is the Dragon Me 262 nightfighter.





After serving in 10/NJG11, 'Red 9' was captured by the British and then handed over to the Americans. It would appear that each owner contributed to the camouflage finish of this machine. The German scheme was likely overall RLM 76 with 75 with the addition of an 82 mottle - possibly. The upper surface of the wing and stabilizer were in 75. The lower surfaces were black. The British added roundels and fin flashes and some possibly some additional areas of green on the fuselage, since the mottle appears much denser in the view below. After being handed over to the Americans it was deemed necessary to show that this was a Beute machine, so the Americans 'repainted' the fuselage cross and the tail Hakenkreuz. Some of the British paint was evidently washed off in the process, leading to the 'irregularities' on the fuselage mottle. Note the tip of the nose and the top of the fin were then painted red. Under the stabilizer is the Foreign Evalaution code FE-610.

More on the Me 262s of Kommando Welter on this blog
http://falkeeins.blogspot.com/2011/02/mosquito-hunting-in-luftwaffe-1-me-262s.html










Friday, 25 March 2011

new from Kagero - Topcolors 20 'In Defence of the Reich' & Topcolors 21 'Messerschmitt 109 in North Africa'



'Topcolors' continues with No. 20 'In Defence of the Reich', featuring 8 colour profiles of the Luftwaffe’s most formidable fighters; the Messerschmitt Bf 109, which first saw operational service during the Spanish Civil War and was still in service at the end of World War II, during which time it was the backbone of the Luftwaffe's fighter force; and the Focke Wulf 190, which quickly proved to be superior in all but turn radius to the Royal Air Force's main front line fighter, the Spitfire Mk. V when introduced into service during 1941. Units covered here include the special Moskito-Jagd Staffel 10./JG 300, the Sturmgruppe of JG 300 as well as machines from JG 1 and JG 11. As far as I am aware Staffelkapitän 10./JG 300 Karl Mitterdorfer's 'White 1' with its fantastic cowl 'comet' emblem has only previously been available on a couple of very expensive Lifelike and EagleCals decal sheets. The 'raison d'être' of this series is the stunning A-4 size decal sheet printed by Cartograf for all 8 painting schemes in 3 scales - simply unbeatable value. And with Kagero of course you get a nice A-4 landscape booklet with your decal sheet. The booklet is packed with colour artwork profiles, featuring both sides of the aircraft and a top view. Quite simply superb! Available from http://www.casematepublishing.co.uk/





 
 Also just published is Topcolors 21 featuring the Bf 109 in North Africa. Subjects include rarely seen JG 77 options covered photographically in Jochen Prien's German language history of this Geschwader - so unlikely to have been seen by many. And a little scoop here - if you are planning on getting Erik Mombeek's new Luftwaffe Gallery (issue 2) due imminently, then Topcolors 21 will complement it perfectly for the modellers reading this.




The latest in the 'Monograph' series features the early A-D variants of the Bf 109. Another superbly done title, this volume discusses its origins and early development with detailed coverage of changes made in all its variants and sub-variants, including the special modifications for the foreign recipients. The initial production models of the A, B, C and D series were fitted with the relatively low-powered, 670–700 PS Junkers Jumo 210 series engines. A handful of prototypes of these early aircraft were converted to use the more powerful DB 600. No 'freebies' are included here although I should just point out that a nice selection of decals for ZG 2 Doras can be found in Kagero's 'Bf 109 over Poland' in the 'Air Battles' series. Otherwise there is plenty of well-written text covered the type's operational history in Spain and Poland including many first-person accounts newly translated from rare and obscure German -language titles. A must-have for Luftwaffe enthusiasts!





Thursday, 24 March 2011

Atlantic reconnaissance (1) - Fliegerführer Atlantik, Junkers Ju 290

The Junkers Ju 290 peformed most of its service flying long-range reconnaissance missions with Fernaufklärungsgruppe 5. Formed at Achmer during May 1943, FAGR 5 was established by the Fliegerführer Atlantik on behalf of the Befehlshaber der U-boote as a long range maritime recon group to scout out and locate Allied Atlantic convoys and then shadow them until U-boats could be assembled and close in for the kill. It was intended that the unit would have a complement of some forty Ju 290's - which it never attained. 2. Staffel was the first to complete its training and moved to Mont de Marsan on the French Atlantic coast during November 1943. It was followed by 1. Staffel about two weeks later, the crews being quartered in requisitionned houses on the road between the airfield and the town of Mont de Marsan. During May 1944 both Staffeln had around 8/10 aircraft and 12/14 crews each, while the Gruppenstab had 2/3 aircraft on strength. From its first sorties flown during November of 1943 up until mid-August 1944 FAGR 5 flew 191 missions and located some twenty convoys, losing some nine Ju 290 A's and 91 Offiziere and men. Of these, two were shot down on 16 February 1944 off Northern Ireland by Beaufighters and later that same month one Ju 290 narrowly escaped the close attentions of a Spitfire in poor weather conditions some 200 kilometres west of Ireland by diving down to wave-top height. Ju 290s of the unit were equipped with FuG 200 Hohentwiel radar and the Neptun 216 (later 217) rear warning radar to defend against approaching Allied fighters.

During the night of 25/26 May 1944 two Ju 290s of 1./ FAGR 5 departed Mont de Marsan on a convoy hunting sortie, reporting a contact at around 08h00 on the morning of 26 May. Shortly after 09h00 two more FAGR 5 crews were ordered up to take over the 'shadowing' of the convoy, reporting its composition and course, including Junkers Ju 290 coded '9V+GK' which was equipped with FuG 200 Hohentwiel radar and carried at least one Schwann D/F buoy. Having been airborne for some six hours '9V+GK' came under attack from Hurricanes even before the convoy had been sighted. The tail gunner and rear dorsal gunner opened fire but in a firing pass from astern which seriously wounded the pilot, the Hurricane managed to set an engine alight and damaged the port wing. The Junkers was successfully ditched and five survivors from the crew of ten were picked up a Royal Navy vessel and brought to the UK for interrogation.  Data extracted from A.D.I.(K) report No. 243/1944, courtesy James S. Photo below of '9V+EK'.


NEW from Casemate "The Last Drop" - Operation Varsity March 24-25 1945

"...In March 1945 Allied forces prepared for the final drive into Germany to end World War II. Standing in their way were the Rhine River and, on the opposite bank, desperate German defenders ready to fight to the last man. Operation Varsity--the last major airborne assault of World War II and the largest airborne assault of all time--began on the morning of March 24 when a fleet of Allied transport planes took off from air bases in France and England. In addition to towing more than 1,300 gliders, the planes carried some 17,000 paratroopers from two Allied divisions--the Red Devils of the British 6th Airborne Division and the Thunder from Heaven of the U.S. 17th Airborne Division. While the 6th had parachuted into battle on D-Day, the 17th had never jumped in combat before. Their mission was to drop behind enemy lines near Wesel, Germany, and gain a foothold for the Allied ground troops who would soon pour across the Rhine. The Germans had reinforced the area with antiaircraft artillery and greeted the invading armada with a firestorm of flak. Some Allied planes went down before troops could jump; others burned as paratroopers leapt from them. Upon hitting the ground, the soldiers regrouped, defeated sharp German resistance, and secured their objectives in the fields, forests, and villages around Wesel. Drawing on war diaries, unit histories, after-action reports, and interviews with veterans, The Last Drop captures Operation Varsity as it was experienced by soldiers in the sky and on the ground, from the horrors of parachuting from a C-46 or flying a glider through bursting artillery fire to the mental and physical punishment of infantry combat..."

From the view point of the Luftwaffe's hard-pressed fighters, Varsity was perhaps the final nail in the coffin for those piston-engined fighter units still offering resistance on the western Front. Even the leading Reich defence Geschwader JG 300 was committed against the Allied airborne forces landing east of the Rhine!  The forces put up by III. and IV./JG 300, weakened by losses in combat and accidents, amounted to only some fifteen aircraft per Gruppe while II./JG 300 put 32 fighters in the air. This was to be their last major action of the war. Fw. Ulrich Hampel (7. Staffel) was flying as wingman to Ofw. Rudi Zwesken;

 "...We were jumped by Mustangs with a big height advantage who proceeded to cut to ribbons the last three or four Schwärme of our formation in almost total radio silence! My attention was drawn to a muffled cry, barely audible in my earphones. I thought I heard the word “Mum”, but it was perhaps “Mustang”. I immediately shot a glance behind and saw, staggered back to the horizon, seven or eight palls of black smoke, which marked the sites where my comrades had plunged into the ground. I saw one them going down and impact in a ball of fire. The fact that I was flying in Rudi Zwesken’s Schwarm most probably saved my life. Just as we became aware of the drama being played out behind us, one or two very audible shouts of “Mustang!” shattered the radio silence. The two leading Schwärme broke hard and turned into the enemy fighters. I yoked my ship into a steep turn to starboard while switching on my gunsight and dropping my ventral tank. In such situations of “clear and present danger”, breaking hard to starboard was axiomatic, a sort of practiced routine. The enemy fighters almost certainly failed to follow me because of the surprise effect of this maneuver. Given the low altitude, the combat was brief. As my Schwarm had been split asunder, it was “every man for himself ..."

The mission was a disaster for JG 300 as the Focke Wulfs and Messerschmitts were cut to pieces by P-51s of the 353rd FG. The few remaining fighter aces of the Sturmgruppe II./JG300 were killed including Fw. Ewald Preiß of 6./JG300 and Rudi Noske of 8./JG300.

Of the 32 Focke-Wulf 190s airborne from Löbnitz, barely ten made it back to the airfield. 5. Staffel had lost six pilots.  6. Staffel had been literally wiped out during the encounter. If Lt. “Gustl” Sallfner’s 7. Staffel had returned largely unscathed, claiming two Mustangs shot down, the same could not be said of 8. Staffel. Two of its veteran pilots, Hptm. Kurt Loos and Fw. Rudi Noske, perished near Göttingen. The last Sturmgruppe defending the Reich had suffered irreplaceable losses.

Uffz. Hans Bastek (5./JG 300), shot down and killed over Göttingen on 24 March 1945 by Mustangs of the 353rd FG



Tuesday, 22 March 2011

P-61 Black Widow vs. He 177 Greif


Above; KG 40 Heinkel He 177 crew of pilot Hptm. Stolle (centre) after their 'successful' combat with a 422 NFS P-61 Black Widow during the night of 14/15 August 1944. The Alsatians 'Max' and 'Moritz' also flew sorties.

The American P-61 Black Widow nightfighter enjoyed an inauspicious start to its combat operations in the ETO. Some believed the P-61 was too slow to effectively engage in combat with German fighters and medium bombers, a view which the RAF apparently shared, based on the performance of a single P-61 they had received in early May. And in one of the Black Widow’s first engagements over northern Europe during August 1944 a 422 NFS P-61 sustained heavy damage attempting to down a Heinkel He 177 bomber. This incident was the subject of an article in Jet & Prop magazine (issue 6/97) entitled " Schwarze Witwe contra Greif " (‘Black Widow versus Griffon’) written and compiled by Michael Balss.


The 422nd Night Fighter Squadron was the first P-61-equipped squadron to ship to England and began flying operational missions over England in mid-July 1944. The first P-61 engagement in the European Theatre occurred on July 15 when a P-61 piloted by Lt. Herman Ernst was directed to intercept a V-1 Doodlebug . Diving from above and behind to match the V-1's 350 mph (560 km/h) speed, the P-61's plastic rear cone imploded under the pressure and the attack was aborted. The tail cones would fail on several early P-61 A models before this problem was corrected. On 16 July, Lt. Ernst was again directed to attack a V-1 and, this time, was successful, giving the 422nd NFS and the European Theatre its first P-61 kill. In early August 1944, the 422nd NFS transferred to Maupertus (near Cherbourg, Normandy) and began to encounter German aircraft for the first time.

During the late evening of 14 August 1944 Heinkel He 177 bombers of I./KG 40 took off from Schwäbisch Hall to attack Allied targets in France. One of the ‘Greif’ bombers was the 2. Staffel machine coded F8+AN, Werknummer 550077, flown by Hptm. Stolle. Stolle’s crew reported that the night was ‘clear and light, in fact it was too light..’ The silhouettes of further 2. Staffel He 177s flying in loose formation could be clearly made out from F8+AN. The first part of the mission was uneventful. The flight engineer Fw. R takes up the story;

"..it was shortly before half past midnight. I had just carried out my instrument checks and was about to make my report to Hptm. Stolle when our tail gunner Uffz. Fabinger shouted over the EiV (Eigenverständigung - crew intercom), “ Achtung! Lightning at 6 o’clock. Maintain heading, I’m opening fire. ” At the same time we felt the fuselage shudder as Fabinger’s 2 cm cannon opened up. Fabinger was soon reporting “ .I’ve hit him, he’s alight, his starboard engine is on fire, he’s going down. Abschuß!.." The two other He 177s witnessed the downing (Abschußbestätigung) and confirmed it north of Bafleur (sic), France..(Barfleur, Normandy). The rest of the flight was quiet. Over the target there was some flak, but nothing in our direction and it was around 04:00 when we landed back in Schwäbisch Hall and were able to congratulate our gunner on his success.."

In fact the ‘Lightning at 6 o’ clock’ was a P 61 A "Black Widow" flown by 2nd Lt Lewis A. Gordon (pilot) and 2nd Lt Creel H. Morrison of the 422nd NFS. The Black Widow pilot wrote an account for his niece Allison Gordon in an unpublished memoir entitled "War in the Night Sky";

"..On my eleventh mission, 14 August 1944, we were doing a night patrol over the English Channel, and we got a bogie. So they put us on a heading to intercept, and pretty soon my RO says, "I got him". And we called GCI, and said, "We have him." We closed in, and my RO would tell me, gentle port, gentle starboard, increase your speed, decrease your speed. And he brought me in..Unfortunately he saw me before I saw him, and his tail gunner cut loose knocking out my starboard engine which immediately caught fire.."

The P-61 pilot Al Gordon continued;

“ Some of the enemy fire entered the top of my canopy, and lodged in and exploded the hydraulic reservoir just above and behind my head. That knocked out part of the hydraulic system. Fortunately the P-61 controls didn't operate hydraulically; they were operated by cables. So the hydraulic failure didn't affect the ‘flyability’ of the plane. My first reaction was complete shock—they didn’t tell us about this! Then all the training kicked in and I proceeded to function. I was scared, of course. I'd have to be a liar to say I wasn't. But I was so damn busy, trying to fly the aircraft at that point that I really didn't have much time to think about it. But I knew that I was in trouble, and I was trying to work my way out of it. I could communicate with my RO over the radio, but in hindsight I should have talked more, because he didn't know what the hell I was doing, and he was scared to death...So here I am, a flamer, 50 miles out over the English Channel. I feathered the starboard engine right away-- I did the right thing there. And I dove it a little bit to gain speed, and put the fire out. My radio was still somewhat operational, so GCI vectored me back. My guess is that it might have been fifteen minutes before we reached the airfield, but it seemed like a long, long time. I came in on one engine, and I lowered my landing gear, not realizing that my nose wheel had been shot out from under me. Considering everything, it was a good landing, except that when it came time for the nose wheel to drop, there was no nose wheel. So I skidded on the front of the plane to a stop..."

Impatient Widow" # 91, tail number 42-5591 had its starboard engine shot out along with oil lines and hydraulics. Arriving back at their base in Maupertus the nose-wheel failed to come down but the crew escaped the ensuing crash-landing unscathed, with damage assessed as CAT B/E. The Widow’s fuselage, engines and other salvageable equipment were used for spares of which the ETO Black Widow squadrons had little during their time in northern Europe.

“Nobody was hurt, but I learned a valuable lesson on that mission. Never come in for an attack from the rear, shallow—so the tail gunner can see you. Rather you synchronize speed and heading well below the bogie, then identify, drop back, and shoot. The important thing is to live beyond an experience like this and of course learn from it. One tends to be a little more cautious, increasing one’s chances of lasting through the war.”


Back in Germany Fabinger was awarded the EK 1 for his alertness, marksmanship and observational prowess. As the unnamed flight engineer Fw. R reported ;

“ Fabinger had almost certainly saved the aircraft and our lives. The pictures were taken two days later and we proudly painted a victory marking on the tail fin of the He 177 which was surmounted with an American star. (photo below) I don’t know what became of Fabinger – the crew was split up towards the end of the war and was dispersed to the four winds..”



At that stage of the war the P-61 was a fairly ‘rare’ type, almost certainly completely unknown to the Luftwaffe He 177 crews, so as Balss makes clear, researching the actual circumstances of this incident from the German side posed considerable difficulties. The story was not complete until the discovery of a USAAF photo depicting ‘Impatient Widow’ following its crash landing – the official caption; ‘This P-61 returned home safely after combat with a Heinkel He 177 on the night of 15 August. The He 177 did not escape unscathed..”

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Gunther Eheim - 'Mit Mut nach oben - Mein Leben' - Arado works test pilot memoir



Aged 91 years old, Gunther Eheim from Esslingen is a well-known German industrialist and entrepreneur, self-made millionaire and 'global player'. During WWII Gunther Eheim was no stranger to danger - or risk, as he makes clear in his recently published memoir 'Mit Mut nach oben - Mein Leben'. ( ' With courage to the skies – my life..' ), a well-illustrated 196-page self-published hard back. As a Fernaufklärer long-range recce pilot in Finland his Junkers Ju 88 was on one occasion set upon by Russian fighters, but Eheim brought the aircraft home with an engine on fire. From Finland he was posted to KG 40 and flew the Heinkel He 177 before later joining Arado as a works test pilot where he logged some forty eight in-flight engine failures up to the end of the war ! He was at the controls of, among others, the first Arado Ar 234 C-3 four-engine jet bomber (WerkNr. 250 001) which was test flown in Alt-Lönnewitz on 30 January 1945. He also flew C-3 WerkNr. 250 002 in Alt-Lönnewitz as late as March 1945. At least four more C-3 can be proven by registrations in Flugbücher or by photos according to Griehl's history although up to mid-April 1945 only approximately 12 more C-3 cells were finished. A lack of engines and other equipment prevented delivery to units.

Eheim’s war stories would more than adequately fill a decent-sized book, but his adventures continued in the hard post-war period. In 1947 Eheim established his first company, building small electrical goods and he later enjoyed much success with accessories for model railways and filters and pumps for aquariums which he developed into a multi-million DM/Euro business.


His passion for aviation never left him and in the early 1970's Eheim went into the air charter business with a single Learjet, eventually founding Contact Air, an airline that currently operates scheduled city flights for Lufthansa with eleven aircraft. His other business (Eheim Aquaria) continues to grow with manufacturing plants now established in China for the Far Eastern market. Even at 91 Eheim still spends two days per week in the office. As he himself puts it, his success is testament to hard work and stamina, a sense of adventure and, above all, good fortune.


Tuesday, 15 March 2011

More unknown pilots and aces of JG 26

Rare images of 7./JG 26 Flugzeugführer (pilots) seen in front of and on a Fw 190 A-8 during November 1944 in Reinsehlen. From left; Uffz. Heinz "Muli" Meiss, KIA at the controls of his Dora-9 on 13 March 1945 (Luftkampf mit Spitfire) over Unna-Werl, Lt. Gottfried Dietze who survived the war credited with two victories as StaKa 6./JG 26 and Uffz. Erich Ahrens who was shot down and taken captive on 1.1.1945 during the Bodenplatte operation. The lower photo shows Meiss and Ahrens on the wing of a Fw 190 A.




A portrait of Gottfrid Dietze taken in northern France during early 1942 and in front of his Fw 190 A-8. Bottom, a pilot of 7. or 8 ./JG 26,  Fw. Heinz Gomann pictured in February 1945 in Nordhorn. Gomann survived the war and was credited with 12 Luftsiege.






Below; pilots of 7./JG 26 (or II./JG 26) seen at Stevede-Coesfeld in October 1944. Fliegeralarm over the airfield. From left; Gruppe-TO Lt. Peter Andel who survived the war with six victories, Lt, Siegfried Sy (survived), Uffz. Walter Stumpf, credited with a single victory, and Uffz. Leopold Speer shot down and killed on 1.1.1945 in the vicinity of Nijkerk on the Zuider Zee.



A snapshot of  three JG 26  aces seen in Reinsehlen during November 1944. From left, Lt. Gerhard Vogt, KIA on 14.1.1945 as Kapitän of 5./JG 26 in combat with P-51s south-east of Cologne. Vogt was credited with 48 victories and was awarded the RK on 25.11.1945. Alongside Vogt is Staffelkapitän 7./JG 26 Oblt. Waldemar Radener who survived the war with a total of 37 victories including 17 Viermots. He was later appointed to command II./JG 26 and II./JG 300. On the right is Lt. Adolf Glunz, Staffelkapitän 6./JG 26, 72 Luftsiege RK on 29.8.1943, EL on 24.6.1944.



Nice image of II./JG 26 Flugzeugführer und Gruppen-TO Lt. Peter Andel seen in February-March 1945 in Nordhorn in conversation with Lt. Alfred Viehweg and, below, posing for a snapshot with Miess and Stumpf . Bottom, Andel at the controls of his Fw 190 D-9.







On sale currently in Michael Meyer's Ebay shop

More pilots and aces of JG 26 on my blog

http://falkeeins.blogspot.com/2010/06/luftwaffe-fighter-aces-of-jg26-mietusch.html

Late-war Luftwaffe pilot training in the Bücker Bestmann by Karl Martin Gelbke - 'The War I Saw..'


I am proud to count Karl Gelbke  and Terry Epton as regular readers of this blog. Karl has written a manuscript entitled 'THE WAR I SAW' detailing his wartime experiences and was kind enough to send through an extract for reproduction here.

 'THE WAR I SAW' written by Karl Martin Gelbke with Terry Epton

 I grew up in Hitler's Germany. It was under this malignant regime that I received my education, training, and basic understanding of the world. At seventeen, I became a soldier for the Reich, in the desperate closing weeks of the Second World War. Looking back on those years, I am careful not to glorify my life, my combat experiences, or the Nazi Party. Instead, I work to promote an understanding of this singularly destructive period, that created such sorrow for Europe and for my family......Karl Martin Gelbke


".....In November 1944, twelve of us left Finsterwalde by train for the A/B Pilot School #8 Pretzsch, near the Elbe River. My good friend Herbert Schreiber was with us. The school was fairly new, located on an elevation, with several brick buildings, three unpaved runways, protected by two 20 mm anti-aircraft guns. Everything was under a thick blanket of snow. The next morning, we 24 new recruits were divided into eight man teams, each team with an instructor. Our instructor was an Unteroffizier Loeffler, a highly decorated former fighter pilot, a nice guy. The rest of our first day was taken up receiving our uniform, gear, rifle, helmet and flight suit. On our second day, we took our Obedience Oath. We stood at attention in full uniform, with right hand raised. In front of our officers and an honor guard, we swore before God to obey the orders of Adolf Hitler. If necessary, we would die for him. Later that night, Herbert and I privately discussed the oath. We young volunteers would gladly put our lives on the line to defend our people and our country. But to die for one man? We were starting to have our doubts.

On our next few days of training, it was cold, with heavy snow. We were given instruction about our aircraft, and on how to survive enemy fighters in our slow, unarmed machines. To everyone's surprise and relief, we learned there would be no boot camp, and that flight training would begin at once.
Our school had several Bücker Bestmann Bu-181's, a low wing, cabin two-seater with fixed landing wheels and a 105 hp air cooled four cylinder Hirth engine. For advanced training we had a few Arado AR 96's, a low wing, cabin tandem two-seater with retractable wheels and a six cylinder, 240 hp Argus engine. We also had a couple of bi-planes on skies and a Fieseler Storch FI-156.

I remember my first engine-powered flight well. It was a cold day with clear blue skies. Seven of us were suited up, in a parachute harness, waiting our turn in a hut near the landing strip. When my turn came, I ran to the Bu-181, with Unteroffizier Loeffler on board. I hooked up my harness to the seat parachute. Loeffler told me to pay attention and to hold the controls gently. After a short run, he took off and we were airborne. We circled the airport, came in for a smooth landing, and then took off again. After landing once more, Loeffler asked: "Did you get the feel for it? The crate is all yours.!" I looked at him puzzled. He said: "Don't worry, I'm still with you."

I prepared for take off, and after a short run, the plane lifted up in the brisk wind. My first landings were bumpy. There was a big difference between this 181, with a passenger on board, and the gliders I was used to. But after a few flights I began to feel comfortable and relaxed. Soon I was flying with little help from Loeffler.
Early in December 1945, we began to hear rumors that they would be closing the flight school. We couldn't bring ourselves to believe it, so none of us took the rumors seriously. On one cold sunny day that month, when our group had returned from lunch, we watched a platoon of Volkssturm men being drilled. These were old men that the Reich had scraped together in the closing months of the war, to achieve the hopeless task of reversing the inevitable defeat. We were teenagers in uniform, watching old men in uniform, a sign that Germany was running out of soldiers. We smiled in amusement as we watched these old guys throwing themselves on the ground.

As they did so, two British fighter planes roared in, making a low level pass over our airfield. But they did not fire their guns. An hour later, our sirens sounded. Expecting a bombing attack, all our planes took off quickly for unmarked emergency strips nearby. Our trucks, scout cars and tankers sped into the nearby woods for cover. The rest of us flung ourselves into flimsy earth-dug bomb shelters. We all waited to be bombed. But nothing happened. A large formation of B-17's flew high above us, on their way to some other target.

During the next two weeks, we made rapid progress in the classroom, and in the air, despite harsh weather. We were constantly reminded that if we didn't perform as expected, the infantry was waiting for us. But we were eager to complete our training and earn our wings as fighter pilots. During this hopeless period, so close to the end of the war, German pilots were given no more than around 50 hours of flight time. This was a far cry from the training pilots had been receiving. It was no joke that these young, hastily trained pilots became known as “three day flyers,” because they usually only survived combat for a few days. Pilot training at this stage of the war was a virtual death sentence. Flying against more experienced Allied pilots Luftwaffe pilots were terribly outnumbered. Our cities were being bombed to rubble, our pilot losses kept growing. We were in great demand.

Then, on a late afternoon in mid-December, I took what proved to be my last training flight. The weather was horrible, with strong winds, low overcast and swirling snow. By now I had six hours flight time, and could master the Bestmann without help from Loeffler, who flew with me. He was always on the lookout for enemy fighters, regardless of the weather. He had good reason. As a Me 109 pilot with five confirmed kills, he was shot down during a landing approach, crashed and lost three fingers. When he recovered from his injuries, he became a flight instructor, which were in great demand. On an earlier flight I had told him how much I was enjoying my training. I recall his chilling reply  - "the only safe place for a pilot now is in a P-51 Mustang." This long range American fighter swarmed in German skies and was dominating the air war. The Luftwaffe was almost kaputt, and Loeffler understood this, even if I didn't.

After a forty-five minute flight, I landed our "Baby cradle," which is what advanced students dubbed the Bestmanns. I taxied to our wooded, concealed parking area where we were now were leaving our aircraft following our recent visit from the RAF. I switched off the ignition, and Loeffler said to me: "I hope you have enjoyed the extra time it took today. It will be over soon, anyway." I wasn't sure what he was trying to say, and I didn't ask. As the mechanic took over the plane, he told me: "Take out the parachutes, you won't need them anymore. Flying at this school is over." All training for new pilots was to be suspended at our school, and most other schools. The war was fast closing in on Germany, and we no longer had the luxury of training pilots. I knew what was coming. The fine print on my Luftwaffe application had read: "...If for any reason the training is not completed, the applicant will be transferred to the Fallschirmjäger..."