RAF outnumbered in last dogfight over Germany

Viewed from a wrecked German hangar, two Hawker Tempests of No. 3 Squadron RAF receive attention from ground crew in a dispersal at B80/Volkel, Holland.

Viewed from a wrecked German hangar, two Hawker Tempests of No. 3 Squadron RAF receive attention from ground crew in a dispersal at B80/Volkel, Holland.

Tempest Mark V, EJ743, on a test flight following completion at Langley, Buckinghamshire. This aircraft served with No. 3 Squadron RAF.

Tempest Mark V, EJ743, on a test flight following completion at Langley, Buckinghamshire. This aircraft served with No. 3 Squadron RAF.

The Dornier Do 18 flying boat.

The Dornier Do 18 flying boat.

While the Germans began to surrender in large numbers the overall situation remained very unclear. It was far from inevitable that there would be a complete surrender within days. For a long time there had been a suspicion that Hitler would make a last stand in a mountain redoubt. Even though he was now believed to be dead there was plenty of evidence that some fanatical units would continue to fight on.

In these circumstances there could be no slackening of pressure when identifiable threats emerged. French pilot Pierre Clostermann, who although only a Sous-Lieutenant in the French Air Force was now leading a Wing within RAF Fighter Command, commanding many officers who were technically senior in rank to him.

By the 3rd of May they thought they were on “the last lap” but it appeared that the Germans might be trying to hold out in an area from the Kiel Canal, in northern Germany up to Norway. Luftwaffe aircraft appeared to be massing to support a large convoy to Norway. Late in the evening he was ordered up to attack German transport planes on the ground. Maintenance problems meant he only had twenty-four planes instead of the normal complement of ninety-five:

In front of us, either on the ground or just taking off, were more than 100 enormous transport planes – theoretically my primary objective. In the air, about 100 enemy fighters. One group at 1,500 feet, another at 3,000, a third at 4,500 and two others on a level with us, i.e. at about 10,000 feet. Above us there were certainly one more, perhaps two. And I only had 24 Tempests!

My mind was quickly made up. Filmstar Yellow and Blue Sections would attack the fighters above us, and Pink, Black and White Sections, commanded by MacDonald, would engage the Focke-Wulfs below us.

In the meantime I would try to slip through with my Red Section and shoot-up the airfield. I passed this on over the radio and then, closely followed by the rest of my section, I released my auxiliary tanks and went into a vertical dive, passing like a thunderbolt at 600 m.p.h. through a formation of Focke-Wulfs which scattered about the sky like a flock of swallows.

I straightened out gradually, closing the throttle and following a trajectory designed to bring me over the airfield at ground level, from south-west to north-east. All hell was let loose as we arrived. I was doing more than 500 m.p.h. by the clock when I reached the edge of the field. I was 60 feet from the ground and I opened fire at once.

The mottled surface of the anchorage was covered with moored Dornier 24’s and 18’s. Three lines of white foam marked the wake of three planes which had just taken off. A row of Blohm und Voss’s in wheeled cradles was lined up on the launching ramps. I concentrated my fire on a Bv I38. The moorings of the cradle snapped and I passed over the enormous smoking mass as it tipped up on the slope, fell into the sea and began to sink.

The flak redoubled in fury. A flash on my right, and a disabled Tempest crashed into the sea in a shower of spray. Jesus! The boats anchored off shore were armed, and one of them, a large torpedo boat, was blazing away with all it had. I instinctively withdrew my head into my shoulders and, still flying very low, veered slightly to the left, so fast that I couldn’t fire at the Dorniers, then quickly swung to the right behind an enormous Ju 252 which had just taken off and was already getting alarmingly big in my gunsight. I fired one long continuous burst at him and broke away just before we collided. I turned round to see the Ju 252, with two engines ablaze and the tailplane sheared off by my shells, bounce on the sea and explode.

My speed had swept me far on — straight on to the torpedo boat which was spitting away with all her guns. I passed within ten yards of her narrow bows, just above the water and the thousand spouts raised by the flak. I caught a glimpse of white shapes rushing about on deck and of tongues of fire from her guns. The entire camouflaged superstructure seemed to be alive with them. Tracer shells ricocheted on the water and exploded all round over a radius of 500 yards. Some shrapnel mowed down a flock of seagulls which fell in the sea on all sides, panic-stricken and bleeding. Phew! Out of range at last!

I was sweating all over and my throat was so constricted that I couldn’t articulate one word over the radio. Without realizing it I had held my breath through the whole attack and my heart was thumping fit to burst. I regained height by a wide climbing turn to port. What was happening? The situation looked pretty grim. A terrific dog-fight was going on above the airfield. Three planes were coming down in flames – I was too far to see whether they were friend or foe. Another, pulverized, had left a trail of flaming fragments in the sky and a fifth was coming down in a spin, followed by a white trail of smoke. Yet others were burning on the ground.

The radio was transmitting an incomprehensible chaos of shouts, screams and curses, mingled with the vibrations of cannon firing. Near the torpedo boat, in the middle of a patch of foam, the remains of a plane were burning and heavy black smoke curled up from the sheet of burning petrol.

What had happened to the rest of my section? …

More men had been lost, he returned with just thirteen planes out of twenty-four. It had been his last battle.

See Pierre Clostermann: The Big Show

Sous-Officier Pierre Clostermann, when serving as a pilot a with No. 341 (Alsace) Squadron of the Free French Air Force.

Sous-Officier Pierre Clostermann, when serving as a pilot a with No. 341 (Alsace) Squadron of the Free French Air Force.

The RAF also made a fateful attack in the Baltic on this day, when rockets from Typhoons of 198 Squadron hit the SS Cap Ancona, causing “one of the biggest single-incident maritime losses of life in the Second World War.”

Captain Baldwin then ordered the other four planes from the 198th Squadron to follow him. They dove fast and low on the Cap Arcona. No smoke billowed from its large stacks, indicating it was still at anchor in the bay. The target was locked, and the Typhoons released their rockets on the defenseless liner. All of them found their mark, the first rockets striking the large gray liner directly between the first and second smokestacks atop the ship. The next barrage hit the third funnel and sports deck.

The story is told in ‘The Nazi Titanic’, which was one of my featured titles in 2016 and you can read the full excerpt here.

Meanwhile Montgomery received the first German delegation at his HQ but they did not have authority to surrender all the forces facing the British 21st Army Group, and he sent them back to Doenitz to reconsider.

Field Marshal Montgomery (second from the left) greets the German delegation (L to R – Admiral von Friedeburg, General Kinzel and Rear Admiral Wagner) on 3 May 1945 at Lüneburg Heath.

Field Marshal Montgomery (second from the left) greets the German delegation (L to R – Admiral von Friedeburg, General Kinzel and Rear Admiral Wagner) on 3 May 1945 at Lüneburg Heath.

At the same time the Canadians were trying to put emergency measures in place to assist the Dutch population, even though the 117,000 German forces they had cut off in the Netherlands had not yet surrendered.

 Boy outside blackmarket restaurant hoping for food handout. Kids often carried spoon 'just in case'.  Date: 1944-1945 Place: Amsterdam, Netherlands

The occupying Germans were still fighting, and the occupied Dutch were still suffering serious privation under them. The oppressors had flooded the farmlands of western Netherlands and blockaded food and supplies to civilians. The abject neglect of the Dutch by the occupying Germans caused the death of at least 18,000 civilians in the terrible famine known as the Hunger Winter. Boy outside blackmarket restaurant hoping for food handout. Kids often carried a spoon ‘just in case’.

Dutch civilians loading a Canadian-supplied truck with food,

Dutch civilians loading a Canadian-supplied truck with food, following agreement amongst Germans, Dutch and Allies about the distribution of food to the Dutch population. 
Date: 3 May 1945 Wageningen, Netherlands (vicinity)

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Pierre Lagacé May 11, 2015 at 7:36 pm

There are so many untold stories out there.
Keep up your good work.
I really enjoy your Website.

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Earlier in the war:

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