RAF bomber crew find welcome in gloomy France

We were nonplussed by being asked if we thought our government would seek peace terms from Hitler when we were on our own. Our obvious astonishment at such an idea caused general laughter, but, when we were asked penetrating questions about how we thought we would beat the Germans, even if we succeeded in preventing them from over-running us, we found ourselves giving vague, broad—brush answers. In truth, we had no idea.

Bofors gun crews practise firing at low-flying RAF Blenheim bombers, November 1939.
Bofors gun crews practise firing at low-flying RAF Blenheim bombers, November 1939.
Bristol Blenheim Mk IV L4842 being flown by test pilot Bill Pegg near Filton, 29 May 1939. The aircraft served with No. 53 Squadron and was shot down on 17 May 1940 over France.
Bristol Blenheim Mk IV L4842 being flown by test pilot Bill Pegg near Filton, 29 May 1939. The aircraft served with No. 53 Squadron and was shot down on 17 May 1940 over France.

By 11 June 1940 Alastair Panton, an RAF Blenheim bomber pilot with 53 Squadron had already been shot down three times since the German invasion of France. The majority of the BEF had by now been evacuated after their encirclement at Dunkirk. However the 51st Highland Division was still fighting alongside the French and many British support troops remained in France – and a new Expeditionary force would soon be landed further west with a view to establishing a new line of resistance – possibly establishing a joint Anglo-French redoubt in Brittany.

The remaining RAF Blenheim crews, their ranks now much reduced by casualties, were still engaged in the vital business of reconnaissance. They were now mainly flying dangerous, extremely low level sorties, to establish a picture of the rapidly changing battlefield. Panton and his observer Chancery were now due to the meet British Army intelligence officer Major Jameson. In the increasingly confused situation, with many roads impassable with refugees, they had arranged to meet him outside Chartres cathedral sometime that evening, whenever Jameson could find a route through:

The streets were filthy and crowded with refugees; the water and electricity supplies only worked spasmodically; there were queues at all the food shops of customers hoping they would open in spite of the late hour; but the saddest feature was the overall air of resignation. More than ever was I struck by the contrast with the cheerful, purposeful atmosphere at our little encampment in its corner of the airfield.

The pavements around the cathedral were crowded with refugees, as were the steps leadingup to the main entrance.The people, lying or sitting with their belongings, were eyeing us in our flying overalls and forage caps, if not in an openly hostile manner, certainly in a way which showed they were not prepared to help us.

It was only with difficulty that we found space on the steps to sit down and wait for Jameson. When an hour went by without him, we were both feeling ready for a drink. I had noticed a bistro opposite which, unusually, was open, but surprisingly did not seem to be busy.

We decided to investigate and immediately found out why it was not being patronised much. According to a notice pinned to the door, W. Grammond, the proprietor, was charging an entrance fee of 100 francs. We were not short of money as we had had little opportunity to spend any. Without hesitating, we opened the door, cash in hand, and went in to be met by a gigantic hairy man, whom we rightly presumed to be Monsieur Grammond, seated at a table.

We were very pleasantly surprised by our reception, because We had become used to being made to feel not wanted. He jumped to his feet waving aside our proffered francs, crying, ‘Vive l’Angleterre! Vive le Royale Air Force! Entrez! Entrez!’

The other customers smiled their welcome and moved to make seats empty for us. We were soon enjoying large strong cups of coffee and cognac, and delicious they Were. We sat very contentedly at our table from where We could watch the cathedral steps, sipping and listening to the conversation of Monsieur Grammond’s local, clearly tax-exempt, friends.

It was soon evident to us that, in the general opinion, it was only a matter of time before military resistance to the Germans ceased entirely in France,the possibility of holding out in a redoubt such as the Brittany peninsula being discounted.

The majority thought that their government would depart overseas as the Dutch, Belgians and Norwegians had done, and continue the fight from there. Some thought that ‘overseas’ would be in the considerable French colonies in North Africa; others opted for London.

There was a general bitterness about their politicians’ reliance on the Maginot Line, and about our military contribution being far too small.The latter, something which we had never considered, came as a shock to Chancery and me. I suppose we had been blinded by our own personal involvement, but we were made to realise how very few soldiers we had put into the field in comparison with them, the French.

We were nonplussed by being asked if we thought our government would seek peace terms from Hitler when we were on our own. Our obvious astonishment at such an idea caused general laughter, but, when we were asked penetrating questions about how we thought we would beat the Germans, even if we succeeded in preventing them from over-running us, we found ourselves giving vague, broad—brush answers. In truth, we had no idea.

One of our new friends obviously thought things were becoming far too serious, because he started playing “J’attendrai” softly on his mouth-organ. Very soon, Monsieur Grammond went over to him and whispered something in his ear. He broke off his very popular sentimental lament, and started playing the tune of ‘Colonel Bogey’to loud laughter and applause.

Then, with Monsieur Grammond conducting his customers, they started roaring out a song in English with heavily French—accented words. I was hearing it for the first time, and afterwards I often thought of it as an anthem of the French resistance movement.

’Itler ’as only got one ball.
Goering ’as two but very small.
’Immler is somewhat similaire.
But poor old Goebbels ’as no balls at all!

It was a brief respite from the trials of war for Panton, further tragedy would strike his Squadron when many of his ground crew were lost on the Lancastria. Panton would be shot down for a fourth time, surviving as a POW, one of only three officers from the original twenty-two to survive the war. His memoir, published for the first time, posthumously, in 2014, contains an extraordinary series of stories as well as being a tribute to the men who did not survive. See Alastair Panton: Six Weeks of Blenheim Summer: An RAF Officer’s Memoir of the Battle of France 1940.

Bristol Blenheim Mk IV in flight, banking steeply towards the camera aircraft, circa 1940.
Bristol Blenheim Mk IV in flight, banking steeply towards the camera aircraft, circa 1940.
A Cruiser Mk IV tank on the back of a Scammell tank transporter among a host of other military and civilian vehicles in Le Neubourg during the retreat of British forces, 9 (?) June 1940.
A Cruiser Mk IV tank on the back of a Scammell tank transporter among a host of other military and civilian vehicles in Le Neubourg during the retreat of British forces, 9 (?) June 1940.

Blenheim bomber shot down off Dunkirk

As soon as I had seen the enemy, I had yelled to Baird “fighters” and in the meantime he turned to port and headed for North Foreland giving the engines full power. We were slowly picking up speed in a shallow dive but a cold feeling in the small of my back, made me realise we were “sitting ducks” for fighters.

Blenheim bomber over the sea with burning oil tanker below, photographed May 1940

Pilot Officer G.W. Spiers was was the observer on a Blenheim from 254 Squadon, based at Detling in Kent at the end of May. They were sent to support the Dunkirk evacuation. Flying Officer J. W. Baird commanded Blenheim L9481. At 0755, towards the end of their three hour patrol, they were flying at 8,000 feet about two miles out to sea, off Dunkirk:

I was sitting in the seat on the right-hand side of the pilot. Looking out to my right I could see the sand beaches with numerous clusters of troops queueing to embark on small craft. As I looked up I saw recognisable ME 109 German aircraft diving in line astern towards our rear starboard quarter. I managed to count eleven 109s and as I looked downwards I saw our other Blenheim who had, been flying in line astern of us, pass beneath to starboard with both
engines on fire.

As soon as I had seen the enemy, I had yelled to Baird “fighters” and in the meantime he turned to port and headed for North Foreland giving the engines full power. We were slowly picking up speed in a shallow dive but a cold feeling in the small of my back, made me realise we were “sitting ducks” for fighters.

In temper and fear I shouted to Baird to manoeuvre the aircraft about, at the same time I made demonstrations by waving my hand in front of him. Whether or not he understood I never found out, as the cockpit suddenly filled with acrid smoke and flying fragments as the dashboard and instruments disintegrated in front of me, under a series of violent crashes and flashes. Suddenly it stopped. The smoke started to clear and I looked back through the armour plate to see what had happened to Roskrow the Gunner. The fuselage down to the turret was a mass of bullet holes which which were accentuated by the sun beams that shone through the smoke. All I could see of Roskrow was a bloody green flying suit slumped over the gun controls.

Turning to Baird I immediately realised he had been hit although he still held the controls. His head was slumped forward on his chest and blood ran down his right cheek from a wound in the temple that showed through the side of his helmet. Another wound in his neck had covered him with blood and it had gushed all over my left shoulder. He looked very peaceful with his eyes shut; I was sure he was dead. It was miraculous that I had survived that burst of gunfire into the cockpit. The two foot square Perspex panel had many holes in it. The bullets had passed me and gone into Baird and the cockpit panel.

I was now in the unenviable position of any member of aircrew who is not a Pilot as I was flying on my own and it was now up to me to save myself. My immediate reaction was to bale out, so I went forward into the navigation compartment and attempted to lift the Navigator’s seat which was on top of the bale-out hatch. The seat would not fold back and was locked solid in the down position, and after struggling to raise it, for what seemed minutes, I realised the aircraft was beginning to roll to port. I then clambered back to the Pilot’s cabin and viciously hit Baird’s arms off the controls.

Leaning over I pulled back the throttles as the engines were still at full power and were vibrating excessively. Yellow flames from the port engine were beating against the front and side windows and standing at the side of Baird I was about to level the aircraft to prevent the vicious sideslip, that was causing the flames to play on the cockpit, when suddenly the windscreen shattered. I felt a hot searing wind on my face, I felt my cheeks, nose, throat and mouth shrivelling under the heat but have no recollection of any pain. As soon as the aircraft righted, the cockpit cleared of fire and smoke and a noticeable peace descended as the cut back engines purred and the wind gently whined through the shattered glass.

Read the whole account at BBC People’s War

Eisenhower refuses to allow any more German delays

‘You have played for very high stakes,’ Smith said when Jodl had finished. ‘When we crossed the Rhine you had lost the war. Yet you continued to hope for discord among the Allies. That discord has not come. I am in no position to help you out of the difficulties that have grown of this policy of yours. I have to maintain the existing agreements among the Allies. As a soldier I am bound by orders.’ He looked at Jodl and concluded, ‘I do not understand why you do not want to surrender to our Russian allies. It would be the best thing to do for all concerned.’

Australian, British and New Zealand former POWs waiting to board No 463 Squadron Lancasters at Juvincourt near Rheims, as part of the massive operation to fly POWs home, 6 May 1945.
Australian, British and New Zealand former POWs waiting to board No 463 Squadron Lancasters at Juvincourt near Rheims, as part of the massive operation to fly POWs home, 6 May 1945.

The war was not yet over even if a series of armistices had been arranged between the Allied forces in the west and their German counterparts. The overall surrender of Germany still awaited the outcome of negotiations at Eisenhower’s HQ at Rheims in France.

There were millions of displaced persons across Europe and their needs could not wait. A first priority for both the US 8th Air Force and RAF Bomber Command was the repatriation of Prisoners of War back to reception centres in England. The heavy bombers now flew out to Germany one more time.

Ron Smith was a veteran of 65 bombing operations as a rear gunner in a Lancaster, the majority of them with the Pathfinders, who were always first over the target. Now he flew out on a very different operation:

That sinister feeling as we crossed the Dutch coast was revived even though the war was over. ‘Hope all the Jerries know about the bloody armistice,’ a voice remarked, as we skimmed the roof-tops of a large town, where the population were waving excitedly.

Across Germany, we stared aghast at the total destruction in town and city alike. In most cases it was difficult to find a building in any way complete, just skeletons in fields of rubble.

Low-level view of the centre of Magdeburg from over the River Elbe, showing the severe bomb damage to buildings and warehouses in the vicinity of the wharves.
Low-level view of the centre of Magdeburg from over the River Elbe, showing the severe bomb damage to buildings and warehouses in the vicinity of the wharves.
A large devastated industrial plant on the north east outskirts of Hanover.
A large devastated industrial plant on the north east outskirts of Hanover.

So this was what the thousands of tons of bombs had done, all those awful nights, when I had watched the terrible upheavals below. To see it all in broad daylight from only a few feet above, as the macabre scene unfolded behind me, was like viewing the end of the world.

As we circled the airfield at Lubeck, I could see scores of aircraft parked row upon row below, including a number of American Flying Fortress bombers. We came in for a perfect landing, and the Wing Commander laughingly remarked: ‘Must put on a good show with an audience like this.’ After taxying to our position, we were instructed to stay with our aircraft, and on no account to leave the airfield. The ex- prisoners of war were on their way by convoy.

The thumbs-up signal again, and I locked myself in as, at last, we turned for take-off. This our skipper accomplished with practised ease, flying at low level across the German countryside, which looked not unlike our own. It was all over for the people down there, too. I mused upon their feelings as they saw the fleet of aircraft, which they must have heard so often high in the darkened heavens, now speeding low over their homes.

Over the sea, sparkling in the early evening sun, the skipper gave me the clearance to leave the turret and, after checking to ensure the lock was engaged, I eased along backwards until I could join our passengers. I sympathised with those who had been air-sick, and handed out more paper bags.

One or two of the more adventurous were persuaded to climb into the mid-upper turret, and it was with some difficulty that each in turn was induced to come down and give his friends the opportunity to enjoy the novelty. Our pilot even allowed visits up front, and I had a busy time conducting our now eager passengers back and forth past the cramped positions of the wireless operator and the navigator.

As the English coast appeared below, a corporal, whom I had just positioned up forward, leaned over eagerly, his face aglow with excitement. It was all too much: at the sight of his beloved homeland tears ran down his cheeks. I put my arm around his shoulders as he sobbed.

After we had landed, at an airfield where the hangars had been converted into a reception area, I opened the door and lowered the ladder into place. A large crowd of cheering WAAFs and nurses were waiting. I gave a mock bow, perfectly well aware who they were anxious to greet. The soldiers climbed down, bewildered, to be ushered across the tarmac with an attentive female on each arm.

See Ron Smith: Rear Gunner Pathfinders

Also flying into Rheims that day was General Jodl, sent by Doenitz to attempt one more delay before they signed the formal surrender terms. Eisenhower was not persuaded to start negotiating any more than he had been the day before :

Jodl arrived in Rheims on 6 May. In his cold, impersonal manner he repeated the arguments von Friedeburg had offered. General Eisenhower’s terms, he pointed out, provided explicitly that all troops were to remain in the positions they occupied at the moment of surrender. But the German High Command simply could not guarantee that the German forces facing Soviet troops would abide by this condition.

This fact created a dilemma in which the German Government had in the end no choice but to abandon the thought of surrender, and to let things drift as they would – and that meant chaos. He, Jodl, had come to Rheims mainly to state this dilemma and to ask the Americans for their help in solving it.

‘You have played for very high stakes,’ Smith said when Jodl had finished. ‘When we crossed the Rhine you had lost the war. Yet you continued to hope for discord among the Allies. That discord has not come. I am in no position to help you out of the difficulties that have grown of this policy of yours. I have to maintain the existing agreements among the Allies. As a soldier I am bound by orders.’ He looked at Jodl and concluded, ‘I do not understand why you do not want to surrender to our Russian allies. It would be the best thing to do for all concerned.’

‘I shall send a radio message to Marshal Keitel,’ he said in a strained voice. ‘It is to read: “We sign, or general chaos.”’

The reply arrived at half-past one o’clock in the morning of 7 May: ‘Admiral Doenitz authorizes signature of surrender under conditions stated.— Keitel.’

At Rheims on 7 May 1945, General Bedell Smith for General Eisenhower, General Souzloparov and General Jodl signed the document which ended Germany’s second attempt to dominate the world.

The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 3 a.m., local time, 7 May 1945. Eisenhower.

Telegram to the Combined Chiefs of Staff, 7 May

The final signing did not take place until the early hours of the morning of the 7th.
Time Magazine has an original picture story of the signature ceremony at Rheims.

Contemporary newsreel:

The Displaced Persons camp
The Displaced Persons camp within the grounds of Hamburg Zoo was build by the Blohm & Voss company during WWII to house the forced labourers that worked in their factory. The camp was taken over by the British on 5 May 1945 and quickly given over as an arrivals centre for displaced persons. On arrival displaced persons were organised into groups of 50 for processing through the reception centre. They were dusted with anti-louse powder and given a registration card (D.P.3) bearing such details as their name, nationality and place of residence. All were then allotted a bed in one of the accommodation huts. In times of overflow a large former air raid shelter was used as overspill night accommodation. After a few days at the camp and when transport was available displaced persons were sent to the appropriate ‘National Camp’ ready for repatriation to their country of origin. On 4 May 1945, the German authorities estimated there were 45,000 displaced persons in Hamburg. This figure was later increased to 120,000 by 521 Detachment, Military Government, the British formation responsible for all displaced persons in the city.
Polish nationals waiting for the arrival of army lorries to take them from No.17 Displaced Persons Assembly Centre in Hamburg Zoological Gardens to a Polish national camp for repatriation.
Two Polish children, Leon and Janina Waszczuk, are given soup soon after their arrival at No.17 Displaced Persons Assembly Centre located in Hamburg Zoological Gardens. Their mother Władysława is behind them.
Two Polish children, Leon and Janina Waszczuk, are given soup soon after their arrival at No.17 Displaced Persons Assembly Centre located in Hamburg Zoological Gardens. Their mother Władysława is behind them.
German workers assist with the movement of typhus cases from Sandbostel Concentration Camp to 10 Casualty Clearing Station, which is located close to the camp.
German workers assist with the movement of typhus cases from Sandbostel Concentration Camp to 10 Casualty Clearing Station, which is located close to the camp.

‘Maximum effort’ to ‘soften up’ the Rhine

The next morning, 21 March, Bocholt was again listed as the target. On the bombing run No. 1 in the box was badly damaged and an air gunner’s leg was almost shot away but the pilot retained control and made an emergency landing at Eindhoven. No. 2 in the box received a direct hit as the bombs fell away and virtually disintegrated, taking down No. 3, an all-Australian crew, from which one parachute was seen to emerge. This belonged to an air gunner who although captured on landing was freed eight days later by advancing British troops.

Boston Mark III, AL775 ‘RH-D’, of No. 88 Squadron RAF based at Attlebridge, Norfolk, in flight.
Boston Mark III, AL775 ‘RH-D’, of No. 88 Squadron RAF based at Attlebridge, Norfolk, in flight.
North American B-25B Mitchell Mk I, FK161, the first Mitchell to be delivered to RAF Bomber Command, summer 1942.
North American B-25B Mitchell Mk I, FK161, the first Mitchell to be delivered to RAF Bomber Command, summer 1942.

With the Allies on the banks of the Rhine it was obvious to the Germans that they faced an amphibious assault and probably an airborne assault in the near future. They should have been in a strong position, having had a long time to prepare defences in depth. Yet their Ardennes offensive, the Battle of the Bulge, had taken a heavy toll on their last remaining reserves.

Then the surprise survival of the bridge at Remagen had served to unbalance their forces. Hitler had been desperate to close down the bridgehead at Remagen and had drawn off reserves that could have been vital to the anticipated vulnerable areas elsewhere on the Rhine.

With near complete air superiority the Allied bombers were now pounding the German positions. The role of the medium bombers, a sometimes neglected aspect of the bomber war, was as vital as ever. Squadron Leader Malcohn Scott DFC, a Mitchell navigator in 180 Squadron later recalled:

For more than a week during March 1945 the Mitchells and Bostons of 2 Group had been pounding targets in the Rhineland in close support of the 21st Army Group fighting its way to the great river barrier. Some 22,000 British, Canadian and American casualties had been suffered in clearing the area between the Maas and the Rhine.

Xanten, one of 2 Group ’s earlier targets and more recently the recipient of a devastating night raid by Bomber Command, was now occupied by British and Canadian troops. The last strong bastion of the German troops on the west side had fallen and within a few days the rest of the territory was cleared and the Allied armies stood on the west bank looking at the remains of the Wesel bridge blown up by the retreating Germans.

For the six squadrons of 137 and 139 Wings in 2 Group the targets now shifted to the east side of the Rhine. At least two, occasionally three, raids were made each day on marshalling yards, communication centres and bridges, oil dumps, billeting areas and barracks, artillery emplacements and troop concentrations. Some penetrations were deeper to important rail centres but mostly attacks were concentrated in the Weser-Emmerich-Munster area where Plunder, the code name for the overall operation covering the Rhine crossing, was to take place.

Maximum effort had been ordered and quite often up to fifteen aircraft per squadron took part instead of the usual dozen aircraft in two boxes of six.

Montgomery’s preparations for the Rhine crossing were, as always, massive and painstaking: troops being ferried to the rear echelons to practise ‘boat drill’ and the handling of small craft up and down the muddy banks of the River Maas at night in preparation for the real thing.

There could be no misleading or attempted feints this time. Within a mile or two, the Germans could estimate where the Allied crossing would be made. As Kesselring wrote, ‘The enemy’s operations in a clearly limited area, bombing raids on headquarters and the smoke-screening and assembly of bridging materials, indicated their intention to attack between Emmerich and Dinslaken with the point of the main effort on either side of Rees.’ The only questions facing the enemy was when and how?

Always before, the Allies had launched a parachute and glider attack as a prelude to the full force of the main assault. Kesselring could but wait to see where the paras dropped, or so he thought. In the meantime, RAF medium bombers and Typhoons and the 9th AF Marauders and Thunderbolts carried on with their now familiar role of ‘softening up’ the area around the chosen points of the great river and the hinterland of the proposed bridgeheads on the east bank.

One important road and rail junction town and troop-billeting area was Bocholt, which became the object of almost daily attacks and quickly gained a reputation for providing a very warm reception. On 18 March it was bombed and again two days later. We all got back but with our aircraft and a few aircrew heavily peppered by shrapnel.

The next morning, 21 March, Bocholt was again listed as the target. On the bombing run No. 1 in the box was badly damaged and an air gunner’s leg was almost shot away but the pilot retained control and made an emergency landing at Eindhoven. No. 2 in the box received a direct hit as the bombs fell away and virtually disintegrated, taking down No. 3, an all-Australian crew, from which one parachute was seen to emerge. This belonged to an air gunner who although captured on landing was freed eight days later by advancing British troops. The pilot of No. 4 was severely injured, shrapnel smashing through his right thigh bone but he managed to retain consciousness long enough to get his aircraft back over friendly territory after bombing, before passing out. The mid-upper gunner then took over the controls and managed under the pilot’s guidance to crash land at the first airfield en route without further casualties.

The leading aircraft of the second box was seriously damaged by flak, wounding an air gunner but the pilot pressed on, bombed and led his formation back over the Rhine before breaking away to force land at Eindhoven. Bocholt deserved its thick red ring on the map as a place to be avoided if possible!

Of the twelve 180 Squadron Mitchells that had left Melsbroek earlier only seven returned to base, all with varying degrees of flak damage and some with wounded aboard.

This account appears in Martin Bowman(ed): The Reich Intruders: Dramatic RAF Medium Bomber Raids Over Europe in World War Two.

The 5.5-inch guns of 235 and 336 Medium Batteries, Royal Artillery, fire in support of the Rhine crossing, 21 March 1945.
The 5.5-inch guns of 235 and 336 Medium Batteries, Royal Artillery, fire in support of the Rhine crossing, 21 March 1945.
Royal Artillery 7.2-inch howitzers being brought up to fire in support of the Rhine crossing, 21 March 1945.
Royal Artillery 7.2-inch howitzers being brought up to fire in support of the Rhine crossing, 21 March 1945.

Shot down – the fate of one mid upper gunner

He was told: ‘Your mid-upper gunner is a Jew, and so are you”. Evidently, the German authorities had identified my father as Jewish from his name (he didn’t change his name when enlisting as some other Jewish men did) and also from his identity tags which gave the person’s religion. Ted was in a bad way, but was interrogated three times along the same lines.

A No 57 Squadron mid-upper gunner, Sergeant 'Dusty' Miller, 'scans the sky for enemy aircraft' from a Lancaster's Fraser Nash FN50 turret. This image was part of a sequence taken for an Air Ministry picture story entitled 'T for Tommy Makes a Sortie', which portrayed the events surrounding a single Lancaster bomber and its crew during a typical operation.
A No 57 Squadron mid-upper gunner, Sergeant ‘Dusty’ Miller, ‘scans the sky for enemy aircraft’ from a Lancaster’s Fraser Nash FN50 turret. This image was part of a sequence taken for an Air Ministry picture story entitled ‘T for Tommy Makes a Sortie’, which portrayed the events surrounding a single Lancaster bomber and its crew during a typical operation.
Vertical aerial photograph showing an Avro Lancaster over the target area during the daylight raid on Adolf Hitler's chalet complex and the SS guard barracks at Obersalzburg near Berchtesgaden, Germany, by 359 Avro Lancasters and 16 De Havilland Mosquitos of Nos. 1, 5 and 8 Groups. Clouds of smoke from exploding bombs obscure most of the target, but the roofs of the Platterhof Pension can be seen at lower right.
Vertical aerial photograph showing an Avro Lancaster over the target area during the daylight raid on Adolf Hitler’s chalet complex and the SS guard barracks at Obersalzburg near Berchtesgaden, Germany, by 359 Avro Lancasters and 16 De Havilland Mosquitos of Nos. 1, 5 and 8 Groups. Clouds of smoke from exploding bombs obscure most of the target, but the roofs of the Platterhof Pension can be seen at lower right.

On Friday 16th March 1945 RAF Bomber Command sent 277 Lancasters to bomb Nuremburg, the last major raid on the city. The Luftwaffe demonstrated that their night fighters were still a potent force, shooting down 24 Lancasters, after they found their way into the bomber stream as it approached the target.

For each of the seven men on those 24 aircraft there would be terrifying experiences that night, many ending in oblivion. For the all the families of those crews there would be a long period of uncertainty before they learned whether their ‘missing’ sons were dead or not. Even when a death was confirmed there was rarely very much information available on how a loved one met his end.

Michael Goldstein was only five years old at the time. He would rely on the efforts of his uncle Ron to discover the fate of his father, Jacob ‘Jack’ Goldstein, who was a mid upper gunner on Lancaster RF154 (AS-B), nicknamed TARFU (‘Things Are Really ****** Up’):

They were due on the target, the central marshalling yards of Nuremberg, at 9.34pm. By 9.30pm, they were at 20,000 feet and on their approach to the target, which they could see in flames ahead of them. There had been some trouble with the rear guns en route, firing short bursts spontaneously, and again at this time.

There was some flak, and then fighter flares to both port and starboard. They were within seconds of releasing their bombs. And then it happened. My father was heard to shout “Corkscrew p…” — it was thought he was going to say “…port” but he didn’t get that far. By the time the rear gunner (Bob Green) yelled “Corkscrew Skipper for Christ’s sake!” it was too late.

There were shells ripping through the fuselage and starboard wing root which caught fire. The port wing was also on fire, and the bomb bay had also been hit, letting off the incendiaries and setting light to the aircraft floor. The extinguishers were emptied but to no avail. There was no option but to abandon the aircraft.

The bomb aimer (Chuck Goddard) got out first through the front escape hatch, then the flight engineer (Ted Hull). The navigator (Lefty Ethrington) first became stuck in that hatch by his parachute, but after a struggle managed to escape. In the rear turret, the guns had elevated and jammed the foot of the rear gunner (Bob Green); he manually cranked his turret round to ‘beam’, opened the turret doors, leaned out and pulled the ripcord; the opening parachute pulled him out, with his boots left behind.

The way out for the wireless operator (Alf White) was through the normal rear entrance towards the tail; as he made his way there, he passed my father still slung in his harness in the mid-upper gun turret, and slapped his legs in case he had not heard the pilot’s order to bale out.

Throughout this time the pilot (Bud Churchward) struggled to keep the ‘plane on an even keel. He saw the three get out through the front hatch, but would not be able to see the others exit via the rear. When he thought they were all gone, he gave a roll call to check, receiving a response only from the rear gunner (Bob Green). After Bob told him he was going, Bud asked if there was anyone still there. Not hearing any more, he assumed all had jumped. So he himself baled out.

It now seems fairly certain that my father did not bale out of the aircraft, and was likely already dead while still airborne. No-one heard him after his cry: “Corkscrew p…”, and no-one saw him leave; he was still in his harness when Alf White left. An Investigation Report, dated 6 December 1946, from the No 3 Missing Research and Enquiry Unit, British Armed Forces of Occupation, to the Air Ministry London, relating to Lancaster RF154 (my father’s aircraft on that fateful night) contains information about my father’s original burial (described below), and includes the following statement:

“…The other six crew members were taken prisoner, but the deceased [my father] had crashed with the burning aircraft…”

There is, however one anomaly. The aircraft was seriously on fire as it fell from the sky, as the six 1000lb incendiaries had been set off by the shells of the fighter which brought the aircraft down. The 4000lb bomb had not been released when the aircraft was hit, so would have been in the bomb bay when falling to the ground; if it was still in the aircraft when it crashed, which would have caused huge damage on impact. There are some suggestions (for example, from other crew on the raid that night) that the aircraft exploded before hitting the ground. Yet my father did not suffer major burning.

The exhumation report dated 24 June 1947, on my father’s reburial in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Durnbach, Bavaria, describes his clothing and equipment as: “Remains of RAF BD, Sgt’s chevrons, airman issue shirt, long woollen underwear, blue aircrew sweater, blue aircrew socks, airman issue braces. Issue flying boots, escape type. Remains of mae west, and electrically heated flying suit”. The fact that he was buried and re-buried in full flying gear is consistent with the body being very damaged.

German records show that at 9.31pm on 16 March 1995, a Lancaster bomber was shot down by Feldwebel (Sergeant) Schuster from Luftwaffe unit I./NJG5, north of Nuremberg. By all accounts, his aircraft was a Junkers JU88. The Lancaster crashed near Kammerstein, which is in the administrative region of Roth, Bavaria, south of Nuremberg.

As mentioned above, there is an Investigation Report to the Air Ministry dated 6 December 1946, the full text of which is:

“Herr Koelisch, Pfaffenhofen, near Roth was detailed on 17 March 1945 [the day after the night my father’s aircraft was shot down] by an officer from the Luftwaffe Station at Roth to proceed to the New Cemetery at Schwabach and bury seven English [sic] Flyers — the dead members of two crews who crashed near Schwabach in the evening of 16 March 1945. Six of these flyers were brought to the churchyard from a crash in the Penzendorfer Strasse, Schwabach, and Koellisch said that 3 were Canadian and 3 were English. (The aircraft was Lancaster I, PD275, and the seventh crew member, another Canadian, was captured by the Germans and became a Prisoner of War).

After their burial another English flyer was brought from a crash near Kammerstein. The other six crew members were taken prisoner, but the deceased [my father] had crashed with the burning aircraft. All the papers belonging to these Airmen had been taken by the Luftwaffe authorities in Roth. They were the only aircraft to crash in this area on 16 March 1945, therefore the airman taken from the crash at Kammerstein must be Sgt Goldstein. Sgt Goldstein was buried with the other six airmen in a communal grave in the New Cemetery at Schwabach”.

A ‘Graves Concentration Report Form’ completed 2 July 1948 identifies the six other airmen originally buried with my father in Schwabach — P/O Malyon, F/O Kerr and F/Lt Daymond from RCAF; and Sgt Hathaway, P/O Woffenden and Sht McNicol from RAFVR. My father was described as ‘Body 1’ of seven.

They were all reburied, in individual graves of course, on 18 June 1948 at the Commonwealth War Grave cemetery at Durnbach, near Bad Toltz in Bavaria. This is the most southerly of all the Commonwealth War Graves in Germany, and is about 30 miles south of Munich. My father’s grave identification is plot XI, row K, grave 22.

All six survivors of my father’s aircraft crew were captured by the German forces:

Alf White was captured immediately, as his parachute took him onto the lawn of Nuremberg Prison! Lefty Ethrington landed about 10 miles south-west of Nuremberg (his reckoning is likely to be reliable as he was the flight navigator); he was significantly burned, so by the next morning (Saturday 17 March 1945) he was badly in need of medical attention, so gave himself up to a small village near to Kammerstein. Ted Hull’s experience was also seriously burned about the face, and was captured early the next morning (Saturday 17 March 1945). All three (Alf, Lefty and Ted) were taken to Munich for interrogation and then to Nuremberg POW camp, as were Chuck and Bob.

Bud Churchward was not captured for several days, but ended up in a prison in Stuttgart before being marched east. He was liberated by the US Army and did not meet up with the rest of the surviving crew until his return to England.

But Ted Hull’s story of his capture is the most traumatic and relevant to this story. When he was captured on the morning after the crash, he was taken to a nearby camp where he was interrogated by two SS officers for about an hour. They accused him of being Jewish and coming from ‘a Jewish squadron’.

He was told: ‘Your mid-upper gunner is a Jew, and so are you”. Evidently, the German authorities had identified my father as Jewish from his name (he didn’t change his name when enlisting as some other Jewish men did) and also from his identity tags which gave the person’s religion. Ted was in a bad way, but was interrogated three times along the same lines.

He cannot recall how long he was in that camp, and was clearly in a state of shock as well as suffering from his untreated injuries. In his mind he thought he saw my father amongst a small group of men being taken by armed guards to some pits, which he took to be mass graves. For many years after his release, he still maintained that he had seen my father at the camp and was convinced that he had been shot there. But this is inconsistent with all the other information available. Ted described my father as being ‘very distinctive … and not easy to miss’. However, my father’s service record gives his height on enlistment as 5’ 2¼”, which would make it difficult to mark him out in a closely guarded group.

For the whole story see BBC People’s War – The night my father was killed in action

A large Nazi eagle and swastika towers above part of a damaged grandstand at the former Nazi Party rally site in Nuremburg.
A large Nazi eagle and swastika towers above part of a damaged grandstand at the former Nazi Party rally site in Nuremburg.
Nuremburg bomb damage
Nuremburg bomb damage

Maximum Effort: USAAF send a 1000 B-17s to Berlin

And how about those endless hours strapped up in heavy flying gear, under a flak suit, Mae West life preserver and chute harness, pulling your breath through five yards of hose, wondering where the next wall of flak will appear. Or enduring the endless throb of engine sound . . . . not daring to give in to fatigue . . . . or even hunger . . . . or the anticipation and dread of injury at altitude, hours away from medical attention . . . . or bailing out into that fifty-below-zero gale outside.

The route taken by the B-17 crews to Berlin on 3rd February, out across Europe, back over the North Sea.
The route taken by the B-17 crews to Berlin on 3rd February, out across Europe, back over the North Sea.

When the RAF had launched their 1000 Bomber Raids in 1942 they had been epic endeavours that made history. Now the USAAF 8th Air Force was able to mount a 1000 bomber raid in broad daylight with its force of B-17s alone – at the same time 434 B-24s hit the Rothensee oil plant at Magdeburg and targets in the vicinity. On the night of 2nd/3rd RAF Bomber Command had sent 1,252 bombers to hit Germany and on the night of the 3rd/4th over 510 bombers would return.

A large attack on a city centre was unusual for the 8th Airforce – but this raid was undertaken in the belief that the Sixth Panzer Army was being transported by rail across the city, heading for the Eastern front. It was argued that the attack was necessary to support the Red Army.

This was the Mission Report of just one of the Bombardment Squadrons taking part, the 614th, part of the 401 Bombardment Group:

This was an attack on “Big B”, a visual attack for a change. Strikes by the 500 lb G.Ps were seen on the marshalling yards and its surrounding area not previously damaged. The 614th flew the High Element of each Box. There were no fighters but the flak was moderate to intense. Five of the nine 614th aircraft received battle damage. Aircraft 44-6508, piloted by Lt. King, was hit by flak and headed towards the Russian lines – later to turn up out of the blue in mid-March with an interesting story to tell.

This was a 1,000 B-17 attack on the German capital with a 500 escort of fighters – the biggest single raid by the 8th A.F. on a single target, the 401st furnishing a 36 aircraft Group flying as the 94th “B” Group. Captain J.R. Locher was the Air Commander of the Group. The specific target was the Tempelhof marshalling yards and the weather over the target was clear although the preceeding eight Groups left the target area completely covered with smoke.

The Group used the RF-Grid with outlying checkpoints and the Lead and Low Squadrons results were excellent. The High Squadron a little short but they were still in the immediate area of the MPI. There was no escaping the flak over the German capital and the Group found the flak moderate to intense and accurate. Twenty-two of the Group’s aircraft sustained battle damage with one aircraft MIA and two crew members wounded. The escort fighters made sure that the Luftwaffe stayed away from the bombers, shooting down 21 of them in combats. The 614th loading list was as follows: 42-97602 Stauffer, 43-38646 Thompson, 44-6508 King (MIA), 42-97395 Babcock, 42-97478 White, 43-38458 Hartsock, 43-38677 Moran, 42-39012 Richardson.

Details of any bombing missions can be found by searching at 8th Air Force Historical Society.

The first bombs fall on Berlin on 3rd February.
The first bombs fall on Berlin on 3rd February.

Leonard Streitfeld was a bombardier with the 398th Bomb Group, he describes how his own plane approached the target area:

Our group was to be ninth over the target and, as we approached the “IP”, all we could see was smoke and flak over the target area. The smoke had completely covered the city and the sky was peppered with flak bursts that we were going to fly through. As the flak increased in intensity, we were hit in the Tokyo Tanks (Auxiliary tanks for long missions) on the right wing, then the vertical stabilizer, followed by holes in the right waist and in the floor of the nose of the plane where Coy and I were sitting. The flak was stopped by armor plating in the floor. We could hear the pinging sound as the flak hit the plane and it’s a sound that you can never forget for all those who experienced it.

The fact that there were so many bomb groups on this mission one group blended in with the other and there seemed to be a continuous stream of planes close enough that we could see them dropping their bombs.

Due to the strong headwinds that day the true air speed on the bomb run was only 90 MPH. We were sitting ducks. We saw a few planes in the distance get direct hits and go down. One of them exploded leaving a large cloud of black smoke in it’s place.

Whenever a plane was going down we started to count the chutes. It was hoped that everyone would escape but many times the plane would blow up by the time we counted to four or five. It wasn’t pleasant to watch but there was nothing we could do about it except be thankful that it wasn’t our plane that was shot down.

I used to wonder what would happen to me if we were shot down and they saw the “H” on my dog tags. The dog tags had to be worn by everyone and identified their name, rank, serial number and religion. (C meant Catholic, P meant Protestant and H meant Hebrew.) If anyone did not have their tags on and were shot down and captured, that could have been reason to be shot as a spy.

I couldn’t wait until the lead ship dropped its bombs and it seemed like forever before they were released. All of the planes followed suit and unloaded their deadly cargo. The bomb bay doors on every plane began to slowly close as we headed away from the dangerously saturated flak area. The flak eventually thinned out and we were soon in the clear. Although there were enemy fighters in the air, we did not encounter any.

The mission lasted nine hours and most of us would have been glad to go back if we could inflict as much damage again. We would do anything to help bring this war to an end sooner.

See Leonard Streitfeld: Hell from Heaven

Smoke starts to cover the target as more bombers arrive.
Smoke starts to cover the target as more bombers arrive.

Robert A Hand was a bombardier on his 35th and last mission:

“Well goddamn it, Robert,” I thought to myself, “This is what you yearned for so badly, isn’t it? Life in the Army Air Force with all its thrills . . . . dusting off the clouds in a great airplane . . . . . flying combat as a crew member of a “Big Ass Bird” . . . . getting your jollies as a Bombardier with your very own $10,000 Norden “Bomb-Aimer-And- Dropper” and sitting up front with the most exciting, panoramic view in the airplane.

And how about those endless hours strapped up in heavy flying gear, under a flak suit, Mae West life preserver and chute harness, pulling your breath through five yards of hose, wondering where the next wall of flak will appear. Or enduring the endless throb of engine sound . . . . not daring to give in to fatigue . . . . or even hunger . . . . or the anticipation and dread of injury at altitude, hours away from medical attention . . . . or bailing out into that fifty-below-zero gale outside.

Or the horror of watching a formation buddy in a nearby B-17, throw smoke, drop from the squadron and only being able to count six chutes before he disintegrates into a giant smear of debris. Or the hair-raising episodes of close-formation flying when you’re on the bomb run, seconds before release and you look directly up into another B- 17’s open and loaded bomb bay doors and you know he is about to drop his bombs too.

Or how about the nightmare turned real of holding an injured crew member’s head in your hands while he froths at the mouth, babbling incoherently and bleeding profusely from a head wound. Or listening to the heavy breathing on the intercom of a shaken comrade as he asks his God for mercy. Or visions of torture and starvation in an enemy prison camp . . . .

But then you gaze downward at the frozen trenches of Holland five miles below and you thank your lucky stars that you’re up here relatively comfortable in a quartermillion- dollar airplane with nine other guys protecting your back side and with any luck you’ll be back at the base in four or five hours for a shower, something decent to drink and eat and maybe a couple of letters from home.

And you realize that a simple twist of fate . . . . being born a second earlier or later . . . . or to different parents, another country or world . . . . and you might have wound up a footsoldier, lying half-frozen in a lousy foxhole, waiting for an enemy shell to put you out of your misery . . . . or worse. Is this the war to end all wars?

See 303rd Bombardment Group for more about their involvement in this raid.

A post raid reconnaissance picture of Berlin.
A post raid reconnaissance picture of Berlin.

Casualties were relatively light, ‘only’ 36 planes were shot down. The bomb load had contained a high proportion of explosives to incendiaries – even so fires burned and spread for four days. 2,894 people were killed on the ground but 20,000 were injured and an estimated 120,000 made homeless. Diarist Ursula von Kardorff wondered why people did not go mad:

3 February 1945

Today the city centre had its heaviest raid yet. I would not have believed it possible for them to be worse. Luckily I was in the deep shelter, but even there people began to panic. Women started to scream when the lights finally went out for good.

Why does nobody go crazy? Why does nobody go out in the street and shout, ‘I’ve had enough!’ Why is there not a revolution?

‘Stick it out!’ What a stupid motto. So we shall stick it out until we are all dead.

See Ursula von Kardorff: Diary of a nightmare: Berlin, 1942-1945.

Part of the post raid bombing analysis fro 3rd February 1945.
Part of the post raid bombing analysis from 3rd February 1945.

Operation Bodenplatte – disaster for the Luftwaffe

Then followed the details of the take-off, flying order, targets and return flights. Brussels was the target of III/JG 54. The whole mission was to be carried out at less than 600 feet until we reached the targets so that the enemy ground stations could not pick us up. To this end, radio silence was the order until we reached the target. We were given a magnificent breakfast, cutlets, roast beef and a glass of wine. For sweets there were patries and several cups of fragrant coffee.

Some of the p-47 fighters that were destroyed on the ground at Metz airfield during Operation Bodenplatte.
Some of the p-47 fighters that were destroyed on the ground at Metz airfield during Operation Bodenplatte.

To support the German offensive through the Ardennes the Luftwaffe had planned a co-ordinated operation to try to neutralise the Allied fighter bombers. The heavily outnumbered Luftwaffe had made little impact on the battle so far. Rather than directly confronting the Allied fighters in the air, Operation Bodenplatte aimed to destroy as many Allied fighters on the ground as possible. News Year’s Day was the first day that the weather would be favourable from early morning. Luftwaffe pilot Willi Heilman of III Gruppe recalled the early morning excitement:

We were awoken at 3 o’clock in the morning and half an hour later all the pilots of JG 26 and III/JG54 were assembled in the mess room. Hptm. Worner came in with the ominous envelope already open in his hand. ‘To make it brief boys, we’re taking off with more than a thousand fighters at the crack of dawn to prang various airfields on the Dutch-Belgian border’

Then followed the details of the take-off, flying order, targets and return flights. Brussels was the target of III/JG 54. The whole mission was to be carried out at less than 600 feet until we reached the targets so that the enemy ground stations could not pick us up. To this end, radio silence was the order until we reached the target.

We were given a magnificent breakfast, cutlets, roast beef and a glass of wine. For sweets there were patries and several cups of fragrant coffee.

The last minutes before we were airborne seemed an eternity. Nervous fingers stubbed out half smoked cigarettes. In the scarlet glow the sun slowly appeared above the horizon to the east. It was 8.25am. And the armada took off …

This account, together with many more, appears in To Win the Winter Sky: The Air War over the Ardennes 1944-1945

The moment a FW 190A is ripped apart under the guns of an Allied fighter - 1944-45.
The moment a FW 190A explodes under the guns of an Allied fighter – 1944-45.

Despite the careful planning Operation Bodenplatte did not achieve the level of surprise hoped for, only a minority of attacks were to hit undefended airfields. The Allied fighters were soon in the air and the large numbers of very inexperienced German pilots who had been pressed into service paid the price. To make matters worse the secrecy surrounding the operation meant that German anti-aircraft units had not been warned about it and more low flying planes fell to ‘friendly fire’.

The Luftwaffe lost 143 pilots killed and missing, while 70 were captured and 21 wounded – it was the worst single day’s losses for the Luftwaffe. These pilots were irreplaceable.

Although the Allies are estimated to have lost almost 300 aircraft destroyed and about 180 damaged on the ground, these were empty aircraft and such was the Allied supply situation most planes were replaced within a week.

Contemporary film of aerial combat and ground strafing by planes of the 8th Air Force during this period:

The Luftwaffe were now irreparably weakened as the Allied continued with not just the widespread fight bomber attacks, in support of the Army, but the heavy bombers’ assault on German cities. These continued at the same intensity that they had reached in 1944 – in the remaining months of the war 470,000 tons of bombs would fall on Germany, more than twice the tonnage that had fallen in the whole of 1943.

Amongst the targets for the RAF on 1st January 1945 was the familiar site of the Dortmund-Ems Canal, a key route in German industrial supply. In 1940 a raid on the canal had led to the first Victoria Cross for Bomber Command. Now another member of Bomber Command was similarly recognised:

Portrait of George Thompson, a wireless operator with No 9 Squadron, who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry on 1 January 1945 during a raid on the Dortmund-Ems Canal near Ladbergen, Germany.
Portrait of George Thompson, a wireless operator with No 9 Squadron, who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry on 1 January 1945 during a raid on the Dortmund-Ems Canal near Ladbergen, Germany.

1370700 Flight Sergeant George Thompson, R.A.F.V.R., 9 Squadron (Deceased) :-

This airman was the wireless operator in a Lancaster aircraft which attacked the Dortmund-Ems Canal in daylight on 1st January, 1945. The bombs had just been released when a heavy shell hit the aircraft in front of the mid-upper turret. Fire broke out and dense smoke filled the fuselage. The nose of the aircraft was then hit and an inrush of air, clearing the smoke, revealed a scene of utter devastation. Most of the perspex screen of the nose compartment had been shot away, gaping holes had been torn in the canopy above the pilot’s head, the inter-communication wiring was severed, and there was a large hole in the floor of the aircraft. Bedding and other equipment were badly damaged or alight; one engine was on fire.

Flight Sergeant Thompson saw that the gunner was unconscious in the blazing mid-upper turret. Without hesitation he went down the fuselage into the fire and the exploding ammunition. He pulled the gunner from his turret and, edging his way round the hole in the floor, carried him away from the flames. With his bare hands, he extinguished the gunner’s burning clothing. He himself sustained serious burns on his face, hands and legs.

Flight Sergeant Thompson then noticed that the rear gun turret was also on fire. Despite his own severe injuries he moved painfully to the rear of the fuselage where he found the rear gunner with his clothing alight, overcome by flames and fumes. A second time Flight Sergeant Thompson braved the flames. With great difficulty he extricated the helpless gunner and carried him clear. Again, he used his bare hands, already burnt, to beat out flames on a comrade’s clothing.

Flight Sergeant Thompson, by now almost exhausted, felt that his duty was not yet done. He must report the fate of the crew to the captain. He made the perilous journey back through the burning fuselage, clinging to the sides with his burnt hands to get across the hole in the floor. The flow of cold air caused him intense pain and frost-bite developed. So pitiful was his condition that his captain failed to recognise him. Still, his only concern was for the two gunners he had left in the rear of the aircraft. He was given such attention as was possible until a crash-landing was made some forty minutes later.

When the aircraft was hit, Flight Sergeant Thompson might have devoted his efforts to quelling the fire and so have contributed to his own safety. He preferred to go through the fire to succoor his comrades. He knew that he would then be in no position to hear or heed any order which might to given to abandon the aircraft. He hazarded his own life in order to save the lives of others. Young in years and experience, his actions were those of a veteran.

Three weeks later Flight Sergeant Thompson died of his injuries. One of the gunners unfortunately also died, but the other owes his life to the superb gallantry of Flight Sergeant Thompson, whose signal courage and self-sacrifice will ever be an inspiration to the Service.

Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial showing water pouring through a breach in the western channel of the Dortmund-Ems Canal at Ladbergen, Germany, following a daylight attack by aircraft of No. 5 Group, Bomber Command. This was the fourth time that Bomber Command had put the canal out of action, following repairs by the Germans.
Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial showing water pouring through a breach in the western channel of the Dortmund-Ems Canal at Ladbergen, Germany, following a daylight attack by aircraft of No. 5 Group, Bomber Command. This was the fourth time that Bomber Command had put the canal out of action, following repairs by the Germans.

Erhard Milch leads Luftwaffe assault on Norway

When the Nazi’s came to power he played a key role in the rapid expansion of the Luftwaffe and was a close associate of Goering. He came under investigation by the Gestapo because his father, Anton Milch, was a Jew. However his mother swore an affidavit that her husband was not the father of any of her children, and Erhard was able to obtain a German Blood Certificate, required by Nazi race laws to continue in State related employment. He was assisted by Goering who famously declared “I decide who is a Jew”.

Erhard Milch addresses Luftwaffe pilots in Norway, 23rd April 1940

Erhard Milch had commanded a fighter squadron in the First World War even though he was not a pilot himself. After the war he had several roles in the development of the German aircraft industry and was a founding director of Lufthansa, the national German airline. When the Nazi’s came to power he played a key role in the rapid expansion of the Luftwaffe and was a close associate of Goering.

He came under investigation by the Gestapo because his father, Anton Milch, was a Jew. However his mother swore an affidavit that her husband was not the father of any of her children, and Erhard was able to obtain a German Blood Certificate, required by Nazi race laws to continue in State related employment. He was assisted by Goering who famously declared “I decide who is a Jew”. Subsequent research has revealed that Milch’s mother was herself a Jew, making it very likely that Milch was himself wholly Jewish. In only slightly different circumstances the Nazi regime that he served would have been fatal to Milch. Continue reading “Erhard Milch leads Luftwaffe assault on Norway”