Luftwaffe fighters meet USAAF bomber attack

A Luftwaffe model used to study how to attack the B-17 bomber.

A Luftwaffe model used to study how to attack the B-17 bomber.

Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-3 of 11/JG 2 after landing in the UK by mistake in June 1942. Introduced in 1941 to supplement the ME 109, the FW 190 was probably Germany's best piston-engined fighter.

Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-3 of 11/JG 2 after landing in the UK by mistake in June 1942. Introduced in 1941 to supplement the ME 109, the FW 190 was probably Germany’s best piston-engined fighter.

While RAF Bomber Command had finished their campaign against Berlin the 8th USAAF continued with daylight attacks. The RAF would maintain regular night time nuisance raids with Mosquitos, to keep the German capital awake until the end of the war.

The Luftwaffe fighters were doing their best to present a protective screen against the bombers. Since the beginning of the year they had had to contend with growing numbers of escort fighters, accompanying the bombers ‘all the way’. Despite the Allied attacks on the German aircraft industry, they were not short of fighter aircraft. It was the losses of German fighter pilots that was causing the difficulty. Even the most experienced pilots were finding the odds against them were increasing every day. For Luftwaffe ace Heinz Knoke the challenge were especially evident today:

29th April, 1944.

Three Bomber Divisions are launching an offensive from the Great Yarmouth area. Our formations in Holland report strong fighter escorts. My orders are to engage the escorting lighters in combat with my Squadron, draw them off and keep them occupied. Other Squadrons of Focke-Wulfs are thus to be enabled to deal with the bombers eiectively without interference.

1130 hours : off to the west and below I spot the first vapour-trails. They are Lightnings. In a few minutes they are directly below, followed by the heavy bombers. These are strung out in an immense chain as far as the eye can reach. Thunderbolts and Mustangs wheel and spiral overhead and alongside. Then our Focke-Wulfs sweep right into them. At once I peel off and dive into the Lightnings below. They spot us and swing round towards us to meet the attack. A pack of Thunderbolts, about thirty in all, also come wheeling in towards us from the south. This is exactly what I wanted.

The way is now clear for the Focke-Wulfs. The first of the Fortresses are already in flames. Major Moritz goes in to attack with his Squadron of in-fighters (Rammjaeger).

Then we are in a madly milling dog-fight. Our job is done; it is a case of every man for himself. I remain on the tail of a Lightning for several minutes. It flies like the devil himself, turning, diving, and climbing almost like a rocket. I am never able to fire more than a few pot-shots.

Then a flight of Mustangs dives past. Tracers whistle close by my head. I pull back the stick with both hands, and the plane climbs steeply out of the way. My wingman, Sergeant Druhe, remains close to my tail.

Once again I have a chance to fire at a Lightning. My salvoes register at last. Smoke billows out of the right engine. I have to break away, however. Glancing back, I see that I have eight Thunderbolts sitting on my tail. The enemy tracers again come whistling past my head.

Evidently my opponents are old hands at the game. I turn and dive and climb and roll and loop and spin. I use the methanol emergency booster, and try to get away in my favourite “corkscrew climb”. In only a few seconds the bastards are right back on my tail. They keep on firing all the time. I do not know how they just miss me, but they do.

My wingman sticks to me like glue, either behind or along- side. I call him to “Stay right there! ” whatever happens. “Victor, victor,” he calmly replies. In what I think could be a lucky break, I get a Yank in my sights. I open fire with all guns, steep climb. Then all his comrades are back again on my tail.

In spite of the freezing cold, sweat pours down my face. This kind of dog-fight is hell. One moment I am thrust down into the seat in a tight turn; the next I am upside down, hanging in the safety-harness with my head practically touching the canopy roof and the guts coming up into my mouth.

Every second seems like a lifetime.

The Focke-Wulfs have meanwhile done a good job. I have seen neatly thirty of the Fortresses go down in flames. But there are still several hundred more of the heavy bombers winging their way eastwards undaunted. Berlin is in for another hot day.

My fuel indicator needle registers zero. The red light starts to flicker its warning. Ten more minutes only, and my tank will be empty. I go down in a tight spiral dive. The Thunderbolts break away.

In a flash I glance round, and then instinctively duck my head. There is a Thunderbolt sitting right on my tail, followed by seven more. All eight open fire. Their salvoes slam into my plane. My right wing bursts into flames.

Knoke was shot down but lived to fight another day. See See Heinz Knocke: I flew for the Fuhrer: Story of a German Airman for his whole account of this day in action.

B-24 Net has some of the US perspective on this raid. You can also read online Norm Bussel’s account of being the last man out of a burning B-17 at around midday on the 29th.

Contemporary gun camera footage from US fighters over occupied Europe, 1944.

A longer contemporary documentary about the US fighter planes over Germany.

The P-47 Thunderbolt flew its first combat  mission--a sweep over Western Europe. Used as both a high-altitude escort fighter and a  low-level fighter-bomber, the P-47 quickly gained a reputation for ruggedness.  this aircraft from the 8th Air Force was lost in August 1944.

The P-47 Thunderbolt flew its first combat mission–a sweep over Western Europe. Used as both a high-altitude escort fighter and a low-level fighter-bomber, the P-47 quickly gained a reputation for ruggedness. this aircraft from the 8th Air Force was lost in August 1944.

A pair of P-38 Lightnings take off for Germany with drop tanks of extra fuel to give them the range.

A pair of P-38 Lightnings take off for Germany with drop tanks of extra fuel to give them the range.

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