A Luftwaffe Fighter Pilot bales out

Personnel from the highly successful Stab 3/Jagdgeschwader 51 seen at St Omer/ Clairmarais in the summer of 1940, all wearing the Model 10-30 inflatable life preserver with the full back and flyer’s cap for officers. The officer on the far right has a dye pack hanging from his life-preserver.

They are, left to right, Oberleutnant Otto Kath (Adjutant), Leutnant Werner Pichon-Kalau (Technischer Offizier) wearing his service uniform or Tuchrock, Leutnant Herbert Wehnelt (Nachric/vten Ofzier), and Hauptmann Hannes Trautloft (Gruppen Kommandeur). Trautloft would take command of Jagdgeschwader 54 on 24 August 1940 and end the Battle of Britain with eight kills. Kath (who moved with Trautloft to Jagdgeschwader 54) would shoot down two, as would Wehnelt. Pichon-Kalu would also accompany Trautloft to Jagdgeschwader 54, shooting down six by the end of the Battle of Britain. All four survived the War. (photograph : Chris Goss)

Oberleutnant Anton Stangle was already an ace with 5/Jagdgeswader 54. On the 1st September he found himself in a dogfight over Kent. No amount of experience could prevent a serious accident when there was a melee in the skies, although good observation and quick reactions might help you survive it:

We were ordered to escort a Kampfgruppe which was attacking the harbour facilities east of London. We soon had contact with British Fighters and my Staffel had been split up and each Rotte was having to fight by themselves.

I noticed a Spitfire about 800m below me and I knew immediately that I had an excellent chance of shooting him down so I called up my Rottenflieger and told him to be ready to roll over and attack. Now I did what I always did before rolling over – I started looking back to the left and saw another Bf 109 of an unknown unit some fifty or sixty metres away with its airscrew shining in the sun approaching me at full speed. That look behind saved my life.

I realised immediately that a collision was unavoidable, so I pushed my control column forwards and to the right and felt a tremendous shock of the crash. My head was thrown forwards and hit the gunsight and I blacked out. A few seconds later, I came to and saw that my left wing had gone and a white fountain was shooting out of the engine cowling just a metre in front of me.

Now I reacted as I had been taught at least a hundred times during training. Waiting and thinking for a moment, throwing off the canopy and bailing out. I was thrown out with terrible force and hit my left foot on the part of the canopy which was not jettisoned.

I now fell through the air — a wonderful experience — and after waiting, opened my parachute. It opened at once at about 19,000ft and it took me half an hour to come down. The view was excellent – I could see much of the English Channel, Dungeness on one side, on the other, Calais and the woods some kilometres to the east where our improvised airfield lay.

This account comes from The Luftwaffe Battle of Britain Fighter Pilots’ Kitbag: Uniforms & Equipment from the Summer of 1940 and the Human Stories Behind Them, which is a comprehensively illustrated account of how Luftwaffe Pilots were equipped during the summer of 1940. The following illustrations are reproduced by kind permission of the publisher.

The Model 10-30 inflatable life-preserver made of rubberized canvas was developed by Drager back 1936-7. It is secured by canvas straps across the front and another up between the legs. It is inflated by an oxygen bottle and can be topped up by a mouth tube. This one dates to August 1940 and is marked internally ’26’ in red which could relate to Jagdgeschwader 26. It was originally thought that these were the preserve of the fighter pilots but actually photos can be found of fighter crews wearing both the 10-30 and the Kapok versions. This model has a full back panel which could, if the pilot was unconscious, lead to them floating face down and drowning. It was later modified to an open back and securing straps.

A well thumbed copy of the Luftwaffe Handbook.

A page from the Luftwaffe Handbook showing the new recruit the correct manner in which to store his uniform and equipment.

A page from Luftwaffe Handbook, providing a guide to the badges of rank.

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