A young P-51 pilot shot down over France

The arrival of the long range escorts transformed the bomber campaign against occupied Europe. The welcome sight of P-51 escorts seen from an air gunners perspective, probably a B-29 in the Pacific theatre.
The arrival of the long range escorts transformed the bomber campaign against occupied Europe. The welcome sight of P-51 escorts seen from an air gunners perspective.
In this case probably from a B-29 in the Pacific theatre.

On 5th March 1944 20 year old Flight Officer Yeager was fighter escort to bombers on a mission to hit a Luftwaffe airfield in southern France.

Three FW 190s came in from the rear and cut my elevator cables. I snap-rolled with the rudder and jumped at 18,000 feet. I took off my dinghy-pack, oxygen mask, and helmet in the air; and then, as I was whirling on my back and began to feel dizzy, I pulled the ripcord at 8,000 feet. An FW 190 dove at me, but when he was about 2,000 yards from me a P-51 came in on his tail and blew him to pieces.

I landed into a forest-clearing in which there was a solitary sapling about twenty feet tall. I grabbed the top of the sapling as I passed it and swung gently to the ground. My chute was hung up in the tree, however, I hid my mae west and started off to the south-east, for I thought that I was in the forbidden zone. Before I had gone 200 feet half a dozen Frenchmen ran up to me.

Some of them got my chute down, and one of the men took me by the arm and led me to a house some 200 yards away. There I was given food and civilian clothes. A gendarme was seen approaching the house at this moment, and so I was quickly hidden in the barn. When the gendarme left I was brought back into the house where one of the men who had left the group now returned and gave me a note in English telling me to trust the people in whose hands I was. I was then taken to another house about a kilometer away, and from there my journey was arranged.

Original debriefing report written by Yeager on his return to England after evading capture in German occupied France.
Original debriefing report written by Yeager on his return to England after evading capture in German occupied France.

The report continues

The next morning the same guide returned and took him by bicycle to a young couple of 35 years with a son, Jean, five years old who live in a farmhouse off RN133 near the lake at Font Guillem au Pujo between Pompogne and Houeilles. Here Yeager lived for seven days. Then a farmer from Houeilles took him to a house half a km. from Nerac.

This is the house of the regional maquis (French Resistance) chief, Gabriel; and here Dr. Henri -, the doctor of all the maquis in this part of the country, lives when he is in the vicinity. After Yeager had been here a few days, Dr. Henri arrived in the Franbel (the name of a local pencil company) lorry and went after Nahl and the six sergeants with him whom he then brought to the maquis near Nerac. He then went back to Castel Jaloux and from there brought Seidel to the maquis.

National Archives, Escape and Evasion Case File for Flight Officer Charles (Chuck) E. Yeager (338-EECASEFILES-EECASE660-YEAGER). You can read the original documents on Chuck Yeager.com and you can hear him describe the episode when interviewed on Radio Parallax.

In this interview he also describes the first daylight raid on Berlin on 4th March 1944 when he got an Me 109, his first kill, the day before he was shot down. While escaping over the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain his companion, another evading pilot, Lt. Patterson, they were discovered in a remote mountain hut. They jumped out the back window but Patterson was shot in the knee. Yeager threw him down an ice slide (used to send trees down the mountain), and followed himself, to evade the Germans. After hauling Patterson out of the icy river at the bottom of the slide, Yeager had to amputate his leg, by cutting off the remaining tendon and muscle below the knee with a pocket knife and apply a tourniquet. He then carried his unconscious companion to safety and internment by the Spanish.

Yeager made it back to England only to be told that the rules forbade ex evaders from combat missions over enemy territory, in case they were captured by the Germans and revealed details about the French Resistance. Yeager “raised hell” about this and eventually ended up in a personal meeting with General Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander. He got himself back flying. His war was not yet over and his aviation adventures were just beginning.

You may be interested in Yeager: An Autobiography

P-51D-20NA Glamorous Glen III, is the aircraft in which the future test pilot achieved most of his 12.5 kills--Chuck Yeagers' plane
P-51D-20NA Glamorous Glen III, is the aircraft in which the future test pilot achieved most of his 12.5 kills–Chuck Yeagers’ plane

USAAF raid all the way to Berlin – escort ambushed

The plotted route for the mission on the 3rd March 1944, out over the North Sea, crossing the coast at Hamburg, with a long trek back over occupied Europe.
The plotted route for the mission on the 3rd March 1944, out over the North Sea, crossing the coast north of Hamburg, with a long trek back over occupied Europe. From the 306th Bomber Group original mission reports.

The 8th Air Force crewmen were now being asked to complete 30 full missions before they could complete a tour of duty and get away from operational bombing. The chances of them surviving all 30 missions depended on many factors. There were so many hazards. Sometimes it was the weather, sometimes it was the flak, sometimes it was the Luftwaffe, sometimes it was an accident. Even when a mission was aborted half way and the planes turned back a simple error of navigation might cause disaster and end the lives of many young men in an instant.

Lt. Vern L. Moncur was a B-17 Pilot for the 303rd Bombardment Group (H), 359th Bombardment Squadron based at Molesworth, England:

The target was the “Big B.” The weather was so bad that we were forced to climb to 27,000 feet over the North Sea and were unable to get completely out of the clouds and poor visibility. This excessive altitude took a lot of extra gasoline since we had been briefed to go in at 20,000 feet. Therefore, because of the weather and shortage of gasoline, we were unable to get to the target.

We crossed over the Helgoland Islands and got moderately accurate flak. The combat leader decided to turn around and go back to England just after we had crossed over Helgoland. On our turn around in the haze, two Forts collided and exploded in mid-air. It was quite a spectacular sight. The bombs in these two planes went off like a Fourth of July fireworks display. None of the crew had a chance of getting out of either ship because it happened so quickly. Even had they gotten out, they would have been no better off because they were out over the water when the accident took place.

Upon our return to England, we found fairly decent weather for a change. This was a very welcome exception to the rule for English weather. This was the first mission that we had brought the old “Thunderbird” back without a few holes in it. None of the crew was injured. Our bombs, 12 five-hundred pounders, were dropped over the Helgoland Islands.

Read all of Lt. Vern L. Moncur’s mission reports at 303rd Bomber Group with pictures of the B-17 Thunderbird crew.

Lt Moncur chose the name Thunderbird for his plane  and the nose art incorporated "an Indian symbol for luck and we sure will need it."
Lt Moncur chose the name Thunderbird for his plane and the nose art incorporated “an Indian symbol for luck and we sure will need it.”

Luck was with them that day because waiting over Hamburg was Heinz Knoke and his Luftwaffe fighters. The Luftwaffe had suffered serious losses since the beginning of the year. Knoke’s group were down to less than half the usual number of aircraft, only three experienced pilots were left, all the others had joined them since the beginning of the year. The new USAAF long range fighter escorts, accompanying the bombers all the way, were making a huge difference. When they got the chance to hit back on favourable terms they would not miss it:

3rd March, 1944.

The Americans attack Hamburg. Specht cannot fly, and I am in temporary command of the Squadron. Our original forty aircraft have now been reduced to eighteen. These I take into the air.

Over Hamburg I prepare to attack a small formation of Fortresses. My eighteen crates are 5,000 feet above them.

just as I am about to dive, I observe, about 3,000 feet below and to the left, a pack of some sixty Mustangs. They cannot see us, for we happen to be directly between them and the dazzling sun.

This is a magnificent opportunity!

I throttle back to allow the enemy pack to get a little way ahead of us. Wenneckers draws alongside, waving and clasping his hands in delight. For once we are in a position to teach them a real lesson, but I must be careful not to dive too soon. They have not spotted us yet. After them!

In a practically vertical dive we hurtle into the midst of the Yanks, and almost simultaneously we open fire. We take them completely by surprise. In great spirals the Mustangs attempt to get away. Several of them are in flames before they can reach the clouds. One literally disintegrates under fire from my guns. Yells of triumph echo over our radio.

In the evening I receive the report from Division that the wreckage of no fewer than twelve crashed Mustangs had been found in map reference sectors Caesar-Anton-four and -seven.

There is only one drop of sorrow to tinge the general rejoicing. Methuselah has not returned. Several of the pilots saw a Messerschmitt 109 without wings going down. What has become of Methuselah?

See Heinz Knocke: I flew for the Fuhrer: Story of a German Airman

P-51D-5NA Mustang 44-13357; Lt Vernon Richards, Tika IV 8th AF / 374th FG / 361s t FG. Was later assigned to Lt. Alfred B Cook Jr who renamed it Sailor Girl Shirl - KIA 16 Nov 44 - crashed near Little Walden.
P-51D-5NA Mustang 44-13357; Lt Vernon Richards, Tika IV 8th AF / 374th FG / 361s t FG.
Was later assigned to Lt. Alfred B Cook Jr who renamed it Sailor Girl Shirl – KIA 16 Nov 44 – crashed near Little Walden.

A successful ‘Rodeo’ raid hunting fighters over France

Armourers clean out the cannon of a No 245 Squadron Typhoon (JR311/MR-G) at Westhampnett, 18 January 1944. Like most Typhoon squadrons, No 245 had converted to the fighter-bomber role and was now taking part in an intensive period of dive-bombing attacks against 'Noball' targets (V-1 flying-bomb storage and launch sites) in northern France. Rangers and medium-bomber escorts were also regular activities.
Armourers clean out the cannon of a No 245 Squadron Typhoon (JR311/MR-G) at Westhampnett, 18 January 1944. Like most Typhoon squadrons, No 245 had converted to the fighter-bomber role and was now taking part in an intensive period of dive-bombing attacks against ‘Noball’ targets (V-1 flying-bomb storage and launch sites) in northern France. Rangers and medium-bomber escorts were also regular activities.
Still from camera gun footage shot from a Hawker Typhoon Mark IB flown by Flying Officer J M G "Plum" Plamondon RCAF of No. 198 Squadron RAF, as he shot down a Junkers Ju 88 during a sortie over northern France. Cannon shells strike the fuselage of the Ju 88 which burst into flames and crashed from 50 feet shortly after.
Still from camera gun footage shot from a Hawker Typhoon Mark IB flown by Flying Officer J M G “Plum” Plamondon RCAF of No. 198 Squadron RAF, as he shot down a Junkers Ju 88 during a sortie over northern France. Cannon shells strike the fuselage of the Ju 88 which burst into flames and crashed from 50 feet shortly after.

With the the invasion of Europe now expected by everyone within the next few months, the Allies were making every effort to reduce the strength of the Luftwaffe – and in the opening months of 1944 their combined efforts were very successful. The USAAF had brought long range fighters into operation to accompany their bomber fleets and they were not just protecting the bombers but actively seeking out the German fighters and shooting them down.

The RAF fighter squadrons were equally aggressive, mounting constant ‘Rodeo’ operations over northern France and Belgium. The 10th February saw a particularly successful sweep by a combined force of 8 Typhoons from No. 193 and 266 Squadrons.

The Combat Reports from Wing Commander Baker:

8 Typhoons [from] 193 and 266 [Squadrons] led by W/C Baker
All Typhoons 1b L.R.
1410-1420
Area 10 – 15 miles ESE of Paris
Heavy rainstorms
1Do217 destroyed, 1 FW190 destroyed

After losing touch with my No.2 in cloud I found my aircraft icing up and broke cloud at 700 ft, going down.

After having sorted out the cockpit I suddenly saw a Do217 flying East at 600 feet/200 yards ahead. I closed to about 70 yards dead astern and below, and tried one short burst. The e/a burst into flames and I saw it hit the ground.

I then discovered that I was steering east, so I changed my course to WNW flying at low level through snow flurries. I emerged from one of these and saw one FW190 flying NNW at 600 feet 500 yards ahead. I closed to 50 yards astern and slightly underneath e/a, and carried out the same attack as on the Do217. E/a’s engine caught fire, aircraft rolled over and I saw it hit the deck in flames.

Still steering WNW in bad snowstorm I suddenly found myself over Paris at roof-top level, and immediately changed course to NNW. I saw the Arc de Triomphe from close range, also a game of football going on in a large stadium. There was no flak at all from Paris.

I recrossed coast at 0 ft 8 miles SW of Le Treport, and eventually landed at Newchurch very short of petrol, although Shellpink had given me several vectors around 190 degrees as homing course for English coast.

and Flight Lieutenant Deall

1400 – 1420 hours
Etampes a/f and Bretigny a/f
8/10 to 10/10 rainstorms vis fair to poor
1 Ju88 destroyed in Air, 1 Ju 88 destroyed on ground, 1 D0217 damaged on ground.

I was flying as Lochinvar Blue 1 on 10 Group Rodeo 80 operating from Beaulieu, approaching Etampes Mondesir ‘drome’ when W/Cdr Baker reported e/a on the ground, I think there were about 15 e/a dispersed around this a/f.

I attacked a Ju88 firing a short burst from 300 – 200 yards, hitting the e/a on the fuselage between the main planes. The e/a burst into flames. Looking back after the attack I saw the e/a burning fiercely, flames nearly ten feet high. I claim the e/a as destroyed.

We reformed and set course on 010 degrees. Approaching another ‘drome’ Bretigny, I attacked a large e/a which had landed on its belly, a Do217 I think. The e/a was being worked on by a working party, a vehicle of sorts was standing next to this e/a. My first shells fell a little short but eventually I got strikes on the e/a, scattering the working party left and right and probably killing a few.

After this attack I saw a Ju88 flying west at 1,000 ft. Calling up W/Cdr Baker I went into attack firing a 2 secs burst from 350 yds to 150 yds, angle of attack 20 degrees – 10 degrees, getting large strikes all over the e/a which went up in flames, broke in half, the tail and part of the fuselage hitting the deck after the main part of the e/a.

At this stage I was separated from W/Cdr Baker and his No. 2 with the remaining 3 a/c (2 of 266 and 1 of 193). I set course westwards. After about three minutes on this course my No.2 F/O McGibbon reported e/a to starboard we turned towards the e/a, which were trainer (Harvard) types going into land. I was unable to get in an attack. F/O McGibbon shot down 3 of them.

Seeing no more e/a about, I told the section to reform and set course for home. F/Lt Cassie 193 had run out of ammo. Slight light flak was experienced from the ‘dromes’ attacked, also medium light flak during the engagement with the Ju88 and with the Harvards. A sharp shower of derision (about 20 Bofors shells simultaneously) was hurled at me from a railway station possibly – Rambouillet – I consider this was from train borne flak.

On course for home the weather deteriorated so I climbed the Section through cloud breaking at 8,000 ft. Later descending again breaking cloud cover over the inner estuary of the Seine at 4,000. We crossed out of France five miles S of C. d’Antifer Landing back at Tangmere 2.25 hours after take off.

More about this raid and its pilots can be read at the tribute site which remembers Wing Commander Ernest Baker.

A Hawker Tempest V (foreground) and Hawker Typhoon of No 486 Squadron, Royal New Zealand Air Force based at Castle Camps airfield, Cambridgeshire.
A Hawker Tempest V (foreground) and Hawker Typhoon of No 486 Squadron, Royal New Zealand Air Force based at Castle Camps airfield, Cambridgeshire.
Six stills from camera gun footage shot from a Hawker Typhoon Mark IB of No. 266 Squadron RAF, showing the shooting down in flames of a Messerschmitt Bf 109G which was taking off from an airfield in northern France.
Six stills from camera gun footage shot from a Hawker Typhoon Mark IB of No. 266 Squadron RAF, showing the shooting down in flames of a Messerschmitt Bf 109G which was taking off from an airfield in northern France.

Luftwaffe night fighter scores four RAF Lancasters

Lancaster I R5729/KM-A of No 44 Squadron at Dunholme Lodge, Lincolnshire, before setting out for Berlin on 2 January 1944.
Lancaster I R5729/KM-A of No 44 Squadron at Dunholme Lodge, Lincolnshire, before setting out for Berlin on 2 January 1944.
Avro Lancaster B Mark I, R5729 'KM-A', of No 44 Squadron, Royal Air Force runs up its engines in a dispersal at Dunholme Lodge, Lincolnshire, before setting out on a night raid to Berlin. This veteran aircraft had taken part in more than 70 operations with the Squadron since joining it in 1942. It was finally shot down with the loss of its entire crew during a raid on Brunswick on the night of 14-15 January 1944.
Avro Lancaster B Mark I, R5729 ‘KM-A’, of No 44 Squadron, Royal Air Force runs up its engines in a dispersal at Dunholme Lodge, Lincolnshire, before setting out on a night raid to Berlin. This veteran aircraft had taken part in more than 70 operations with the Squadron since joining it in 1942. It was finally shot down with the loss of its entire crew during a raid on Brunswick on the night of 14-15 January 1944.

On the night of 27th January RAF Bomber Command were headed in strength for Berlin again, with 515 Lancaster bombers. So many factors decided how many of them would get through to bomb and back home safely. Much depended on the weather and the visibility, whether various feints, radar jamming and diversionary raids would fool the Germans.

If enough night fighters found them, the bomber fleet was very vulnerable. An experienced night fighter pilot had little difficulty picking off targets once he found the main bomber stream.

Flying conditions were appalling in northern Germany on the 27th January. Thick freezing fog made any attempt at take off completely reckless. This did not stop Wilhelm Johnen and his comrades in their Me 110s. At the point off take off he saw a friend crash in flames alongside him. Then his own aircraft began to ice up rapidly. Did he press on or attempt the equally dangerous business of landing:

The engines were running at full throttle. Thick ice splinters broke off with loud reports and thumped against the nose.

Mahle reported: “Herr Oberleutnant – it’s pointless. The tail unit’s beginning to ice up. The temperature outside is now 4° below.”

I noticed that my joy-stick was no longer answering. Fortunately the trimming wheel was still working. I set the machine at tail-heavy, and pushed the throttle home to its utmost limit. The engines could rev like this for five minutes at the utmost. But why should I spare the engines when it was a question of the crew’s life.

I remembered the English bomber formation which, in the winter of 1943, iced up over the North Sea and, as a last resort, jettisoned bombs, equipment and petrol in the sea to lighten the machines. And yet they could not reach the safety height, and more than forty four-engined bombers crashed like gigantic lumps of ice into the icy waters. No rescue was possible. Would the same thing happen to me?

Our last chance was to bale out. But it was not very pleasant in this sort of weather to jump into the unknown. So I must go on climbing, climbing, climbing. All eyes were riveted on the wings. The machine was almost on stalling point but at last we were out of danger. The layer of ice gradually broke off. My good old Me. 110 was now climbing faster and the temperature outside sank to 15° below. The danger of icing was past.

But there still remained the darkness and the impenetrable cloud bank around us. The altimeter showed 6,000 feet, but not until 12,000 did we catch a glimpse of the stars. God be praised – we had won through. Now, above us, was a cloudless sky with bright stars such as one only sees on clear winter nights. I skimmed the clouds, heading for the Baltic coast and waited for further orders. I almost felt like patting my Me. 110 as though she had been a human being.

I wondered what could have happened to Hauptmann Bar and his crew. How could he have crashed? I thought of Kamprath and his family. They could not have got away with it for they could not have been at more than 200 feet. This was far too low to bale out.

My thoughts were interrupted by an order from the ground station: “White Argus from Meteor-Achtung, Achtung! Strong bomber formation at 15,000 feet over the Baltic flying on a south-westerly course.”

Above Wismar my radio operator caught the first enemy machine in his SN 2. The magic began.

At 20.36 the first enemy bomber was brought down and spun through the clouds after my first burst. Twenty minutes later, a second crashed just outside the capital. The British drew a square above the clouds with their parachute flares. We could see nothing of the city below. Thousands of flak bursts confirmed our arrival over the target. Wave after wave of bombers flew across the square of light and dropped their loads within this area, through the cloud on to the city.

I approached this square on a southerly course and spotted a couple of four-engined Lancasters directly above the target. After a short attack the first bomber exploded and fell in burning debris through the clouds.

The second banked steeply to starboard, trying to escape. The Tommies fired at me with all their guns framing my aircraft with gleaming tracers. I pressed home the attack; the tail unit grew ever larger in my sights. Now was the time to shoot. The fire power of my guns was terric. My armour-piercing shells riddled the well-protected wing tanks and the pilot’s armoured cockpit; the tracers set fire to the petrol and the shells tore great holes in the wings. It was no wonder that my fourth bomber that night crashed in flames.

See Wilhelm Johnen: Duel Under the Stars: German Night Fighter Pilot in the Second World War

Wilhelm Johnen was officially credited with three victories for this night, on the way to his total of thirty four for the war. He was one of the most successful Luftwaffe night fighter pilots and one of the most highly decorated to survive the war.

An Me 110 'Nachtjagdflugzeugs ' nightfighter prepares for a sortie, 1943.
An Me 110 ‘Nachtjagdflugzeugs ‘ nightfighter prepares for a sortie, 1943.

Malfunction leads to the tragic loss of Spitfire pilot

A Supermarine Spitfire Mark VB carrying two 250-lb GP bombs on underwing shackles, prepares to take off from an airfield in North Africa. No. 152 Squadron RAF began the first use of the Spitfire as a fighter bomber in North Africa, flying "Rhubarb" sorties from Souk el Khemis, Tunisia, in March 1943.
A Supermarine Spitfire Mark VB carrying two 250-lb GP bombs on underwing shackles, prepares to take off from an airfield in North Africa. No. 152 Squadron RAF began the first use of the Spitfire as a fighter bomber in North Africa, flying “Rhubarb” sorties from Souk el Khemis, Tunisia, in March 1943.
Supermarine Spitfire Mark VCs of No. 152 Squadron RAF being refuelled between sorties at Lentini East, Sicily, as another Spitfire flies over them.
Supermarine Spitfire Mark VCs of No. 152 Squadron RAF being refuelled between sorties at Lentini East, Sicily, as another Spitfire flies over them.

No. 152 (Hyderabad) Squadron RAF were a very experienced unit, having been flying Spitfires since they were on the front line of the Battle of Britain. They had then seen service in North Africa and Sicily. In December 1943 they transferred to India where they would soon be taking an active role in the campaign in Burma.

The 5th January 1944 would have seen just another routine training flight for 152 Squadron. Unfortunately it is remembered for a single tragic mistake or malfunction. The following letter is self explanatory:

5th january 1944 CT Cole

Courtesy of the online museum of No. 152 (Hyderabad) Squadron, where

‘ COLE, Flight Sergeant, CHARLES THOMAS, 1316347. 152 Sqdn. Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. 5th January 1944. Age 21. Son of Amy Cole; husband of Marjorie A. Cole, of Longlevens, Gloucestershire.’

is remembered in the the Roll of Honour (worth making sure your speakers are turned up before following this link).

A pilot of No. 152 Squadron RAF climbs into the cockpit of Supermarine Spitfire Mark VC, JG871 ‘L-E’, shortly after the unit re-equipped with the type, at Souk-el-Khemis ("Paddington"), Tunisia.
A pilot of No. 152 Squadron RAF climbs into the cockpit of Supermarine Spitfire Mark VC, JG871 ‘L-E’, shortly after the unit re-equipped with the type, at Souk-el-Khemis (“Paddington”), Tunisia.
Warrant Officer R E Partidge of Brisbane, Australia, (left) and Sergeant Cyril Potter of Northampton, two pilots of No. 152 Squadron RAF at Sinthe, Burma, examine the damage caused to the elevator of Potter's Supermarine Spitfire Mark VIII during a dogfight with Japanese 'Oscars'.
Warrant Officer R E Partidge of Brisbane, Australia, (left) and Sergeant Cyril Potter of Northampton, two pilots of No. 152 Squadron RAF at Sinthe, Burma, examine the damage caused to the elevator of Potter’s Supermarine Spitfire Mark VIII during a dogfight with Japanese ‘Oscars’.

Luftwaffe fighter ace Knoke meets Reich-Marshal Göring

The Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter. The Luftwaffe was now almost constantly on alert for attacks on Germany by day or night.
The Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter. The Luftwaffe was now almost constantly on alert for attacks on Germany by day or night.
Herman Goring, Adolf Hitler and the Armaments Minister Albert Speer in August 1943.
Herman Göring, Adolf Hitler and the Armaments Minister Albert Speer in August 1943.

The Allied bombing of Germany was now an almost daily event, whether by the USAAF by day or the RAF at night. They were both sustaining significant losses – but so too was their principal adversary, the Luftwaffe. The technological race between the two sides would continue until the end of the war, with constant improvements in aircraft, weapons, and guidance systems like airborne and ground radar. However the Germans faced ever greater difficulties in replacing their losses and building new aircraft. For the Allies the situation constantly improved.

The Germans cause was not helped by divisions amongst those supposed to be leading the Luftwaffe response. Nominally in charge was Herman Göring, one of Hitler’s oldest Nazi colleagues and his chosen successor. Hitler was to remain loyal to him almost to the end, despite Görings failure to fulfil promises he made to supply Stalingrad and other shortcomings. Göring was by now addicted to morphine and probably other drugs. He was increasingly absent from decision making.

Yet he still liked to put on a show. On 17th November he met his leading Luftwaffe pilots responsible for defending the Reich. Amongst them was Heinz Knoke, who was not wholly impressed:

17th November 1943

On 14th October, 13th and 15th November, we are sent into action against formations of heavy bombers over the Rhineland ; but no further successes are won by the Flight. Every time we become involved in dog-tights with the escorting Thunderbolts, Mustangs and Lightnings.

This morning the pilots from three of the fighter and fighter-bomber Wings are drawn up for inspection on parade at Achmer. Reich-Marshal Göring appears in a motorcade of approximately thirty vehicles.

My conversation with him lasts for about ten minutes, when the most successful of the Fortress specialists are personally presented to him. At the moment I happen to be leading in the Division Area, with a score of fifteen heavy bombers. Captain Specht and Senior Lieutenant Frey are second and third, with fourteen and twelve respectively.

Göring makes a most peculiar impression. He wears a unique kind of fancy grey uniform. His cap and epaulettes are covered with gold braid. Bulging legs emerge from scarlet boots of doeskin. The bloated, puffy face makes him look to me like a sick man. Close up, I am forced to the conclusion that he uses cosmetics. He has a pleasant voice, however, and is extremely cordial to me. I know that he takes genuine interest in the welfare of his aircrews.

Göring asks about the enemy aircraft I have shot down. He is particularly interested in my first Mosquito last year. He well remembers the occasion. In his opinion, the Mosquito aircraft is nothing but an infernal nuisance and pain in the neck. He reiterates this with emphasis. The two which raided Berlin then caused him particular annoyance because he was starting an important public speech at the time, and had been forced to postpone it for two hours on account of the raid.

He personally awards me the German Gold Cross.

The Reich-Marshal subsequently addresses us, discussing the problems involved in the defence of the Reich and the extraordinary difficulties which must be faced. It is a surprise to us when he expresses the opinion that it is we, the aircrews assigned to the defence of the Reich, who must be held responsible for the failure of air defences in the West.

He refers to the magnificent effort of the British fighter pilots of the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain, and commends their courage as a shining example to us. With this part of his address I am completely in agreement. It seems to me, however, even as he speaks, that the Commander-in-Chief of the German Air Force has actually only a vague idea of what happens when we engage in combat with the strong American formations.

The inescapable fact is that on the technical side our performance is inferior in every respect. The victories in Poland and France resulted in the High Command of the German Air Force simply going to sleep on its laurels. The number of defensive units operating under the general scheme of air defence of the Reich is altogether inadequate for the task.

The numerical superiority of the enemy is in the ratio of at least eight to one. Such successes as are still being achieved in the face of these overwhelming odds are due simply and solely to the excellent morale and fighting spirit of our aircrews.

We need more aircraft, better engines – and fewer Headquarters.

See Heinz Knocke: I flew for the Fuhrer: Story of a German Airman

Despite the best efforts of the Allies to bomb aircraft production fighters like the Messerschmitt Me 109 continued to be produced  in 1943.
Despite the best efforts of the Allies to bomb aircraft production fighters like the Messerschmitt Me 109 continued to be produced in 1943.
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.

Fighters go all the way as USAAF attacks Bremen

Boeing B-17F radar bombing through clouds over Bremen, Germany, on November 13, 1943.
Boeing B-17F radar bombing through clouds over Bremen, Germany, on November 13, 1943.

The USAAF daylight bombing attacks on Germany continued to grow. The 8th Air Force had endured heavy losses during their ‘black fortnight’ in October, beginning with the Marienburg Raid. They were hitting the targets but the accompanying losses were unsustainable, especially on the second Schweinfurt raid on 14th October when they lost 26 per cent of the bombing aircraft.

On the 13th November they introduced a new tactic when they were accompanied on the 750 mile round trip to Bremen by P-38 Lightning and P-47 Thunderbolt fighters. This was to be the key development in providing the protection that the bombers needed over targets in Germany, so far fighters had only accompanied bombers out or met them on the return journey. It was still early days for this tactic, which would not be wholly solved until until the arrival of the long range P-51 Mustang at the end of 1943.

This was the combat report of 1st Lt. Charles W. Dinse of the 350th Fighter Squadron:

Red 2 couldn’t keep up so I took my wing man back to give him protection. We couldn’t find Red 2 and by this time it was too late to catch up with the Squadron, so we turned back for home.

I saw some B17’s at approximately 27,500ft, with P-38 escort above. I saw 20 + Me109’s at about 25000ft, flying parallel to the course of the bombers, and 2 Fw190’s were below us and to the rear of the bombers at about 24000ft, positioning themselves for an attack on the bombers.

I bounced these with my wing man, pressing my attack on the second Fw190 to about 50 yards. I saw strikes on the right wing. The e/a had rocket guns and a belly tank. When I pulled up I was 3,000ft above my wing man, and saw that he had 5 Me109’s on his tail. I told him to break over the R/T, which he did, and then I dived through the Me109’s breaking up their formation.

I was flying in cloud to evade the attack of Me109’s. After getting in a large cumulus cloud, I split ‘S’d for the deck. On the route out I fired two long bursts at a lone locomotive, observing strikes in the vicinity of the locomotive.

and this was the combat report by his wingman 2nd Lt. John H. “Jack” Winder:

I noticed 20 plus e/a at 10 o’clock to us or 3,000ft above and about 5 to 6000 yards away. I reported these facts and as we started our attack we observed 3 Fw190’s heading for the bombers. We shifted our bounce to the Fw190’s and on the way down an Me109 got on my leaders tail. I turned into him and fired a short burst- e/a broke to the deck; no strikes seen.

A Me109 flew directly across my line of flight and I turned to get on his tail losing sight of my element leader. I was bounced by several e/a receiving shell fragments in my left shoulder. I broke for the deck but was unable to lose the e/a until I leveled out at 4,000ft and ducked into a cloud.

The e/a followed me for approximately 30 minutes until I finally lost them in a large cloud. When I finally broke through I was nearing the coast, north of the Zuider Zee. Between clouds I observed 2 Me109’s preparing to deliver an attack so I waited until they were almost within range and then turned into them. I fired a short burst from head on and they broke off the attack. I continued home without further incident.

Damage to Lt Winders aircraft. .
Damage to Lt Winders aircraft. LH-N (a/c 42-22475) “Kalamazoo Gal” was actually the aircraft of Lt Melvin Dawson who was from Kalamazoo, Michigan. He later flew a replacement LH-N “Kalamazoo Gal II” a/c 42-76294 (353rd FG Archive).

For an overview of Mission No 44 on 13th November 1943 by the 350th, 351st and 352nd Fighter Squadrons see 353rd Fighter Group, which has more photographs of the damage to Lt Winders aircraft and of him later receiving the Purple Heart. He recovered from his wounds and went on to fly two more tours of duty.

The escape report of Nicholas Mandell, whose B-24 was shot down on this mission, can be read at B-24.net. With the help of Dutch civilians and the escape organisation of the French he was was able to cross France, then walk over the Pyrenees to Spain, and make it back to England in May 1944.

P-47D-22RE 42-25969 8th AF / 361st FG / 376th FG flown by Capt. John D. Duncan.
P-47D-22RE 42-25969
8th AF / 361st FG / 376th FG
flown by Capt. John D. Duncan. At first the aircraft carried one drop tank under the belly, by 1944 it was adapted to carry one on each wing, further extending the range. There were other enhancements to the aircraft performance as the war continued.

Mosquito night fighter over London AA fire

Mosquito PR Mark IX, LR432 ‘L1’,
Mosquito PR Mark IX, LR432 ‘L1’, of No. 544 Squadron RAF based at Benson, Oxfordshire, in flight. LR432 was delivered to No. 540 Squadron RAF on 4 September 1943 and was passed to 544 Squadron the following month, opening that unit’s day operations with the Mark IX on 15 October. By the time it was passed to No. 8 Operational Training Unit on 22 January 1945, LR432 had flown 43 photographic-reconnaissance sorties.
Airborne Interception Radar: AI Mark VIIIB
Airborne Interception Radar: AI Mark VIIIB indicator and receiver in the operating position, as seen from the observer’s seat of a De Havilland Mosquito NF Mark XIII night fighter. The vizor has been removed from the screen on the indicator unit (top). The receiver unit (bottom) was hinged so as to fold back into the space beneath the indicator unit in order to render access and egress from the cockpit via the door at lower right. Photograph taken at No. 10 Maintenance Unit, Hullavington, Wiltshire

London had been spared the attention of Luftwaffe bombers for some time. With the nights growing darker they had begun to make an infrequent re-appearance, at first regarded as something of a novelty by Londoners. The raids may have allowed the Nazis to claim that they were ‘hitting back’ – but they could not possibly match the scale of devastation that Bomber Command and the USAAF were regularly inflicting on Germany.

The RAF night fighter interception units were ordered to adopt new tactics to take on the intruders. Theirs was a constantly evolving game of ever improving aircraft performance and technological innovation. The ace night fighter John Cunningham and his regular Navigator, C.F. Rawnsley, were ready for the new challenge:

It was probably for some purely political reason – intended, perhaps, as a timely counter to the growing suspicion that London’s defences had more sound than fury – that the decision was made to operate a couple of night fighters over what was known as the Inner Artillery Zone. The guns were to limit their fire to a height of eighteen thousand feet, and the fighters were to patrol at twenty thousand feet or above. I felt that the idea was merely for propaganda purposes with the hope that there might be a spectacular battle with plenty of cannon fire overhead, possibly finishing up with an impressive flamer.

Having watched the London barrage from afar, I hoped that there would be no errors in the height at which they set their fuses ; and remembering our battle over Southampton over two years before, I viewed with mixed feelings the prospect of sending down a flamer into the centre of London.

[On 25th October 1943]

[W]e were scrambled rather too late, because we scarcely had time to reach the height at which we were supposed to operate before we were turned to the south to meet the first raider. I got a contact almost immediately, but it was well above us and we had to turn after it, still climbing as hard as we could. In doing that we inevitably lost range, and a few minutes later we found ourselves at the edge of the gun zone still in contact but some three miles behind.

And then the guns opened up and the fun started. I glanced outside to see what it looked like. The anti-aircraft display was fantastic as it tore the night apart just below the place where our target should have been. Our customer must have been equally impressed because I found when I turned back to the A.I. set that he was throwing himself about all over the place.

There followed a few moments of hectic manoeuvring, and it took all my breath and all John’s skill to keep up with it. Then the raider dropped his bomb, turned and dived for home, going like the wind.

We went down after him, our ears cracking, out across Kent. We were slowly closing the range, and we crossed the coast less than a mile behind our target. If the quivering airframe and the screaming engines of our aircraft held together, I thought, we had a good chance of getting him.

But we had dived in a very short time from the Arctic cold of twenty-five thousand feet, and the moisture from the warmer air below began to cake in solid ice on our windscreen. In a few moments it was opaque, and although by the time we had pulled out of our dive the range had closed to two thousand feet we could see nothing through that sheet of ice.

But the blip was still there, and from the way it was behaving the raider showed no signs of slowing up. We continued after it until we were thirty miles out across the Channel, with the windscreen still iced up and our target still just out of reach.

We had done our best, but that best was just not good enough, and reluctantly we turned back. When we landed we learnt that Rory and George had had no better luck.

See C. F. Rawnsley: Night Fighter.

Flight Lieutenant M Cybulski (left) and Flying Officer H Ladbrook of No 410
Flight Lieutenant M Cybulski (left) and Flying Officer H Ladbrook of No 410 Squadron, RCAF, with their severely charred Mosquito II at Coleby Grange, 27 September 1943. On an intruder sortie over the Netherlands the previous night the pair had attacked a Do217, closing to within 100ft before opening fire. The enemy aircraft exploded with such force that the Mosquito was enveloped by burning fuel and badly scored. Debris also damaged the port engine, which had to be shut down (note the feathered propeller).
Wing Commander F W Hillock, Officer Commanding No. 410 Squadron RCAF
Wing Commander F W Hillock, Officer Commanding No. 410 Squadron RCAF (left), and Flight Lieutenant P O’Neill-Dunne (right), standing in front of their De Havilland Mosquito NF Mark II at Coleby Gange, Lincolnshire, with 300 feet of copper wireless cable which they brought back wrapped around the aircraft from an intruder operation over Holland. On the night of 15 April 1943, Hillock (pilot) and O’Neill-Dunne (observer) mounted a Night Ranger operation to the Ruhr valley. While flying at low level in poor weather they were suddenly confronted with the radio masts of Apeldoorn station. Hillock threw the Mosquito into a vertical bank and flew straight through the antenna, tearing several away in the process. He then continued with the mission before returning to Coleby Grange, whereupon it was discovered that, not only were they encumbered with the cable, but one wing tip had been sliced off by the breaking antenna and the other wing cut through to the main spar (damage visible on the left).

Wounded and lost somewhere over the Eastern front

A captured Focke-Wulf Fw 190A in replicated Luftwaffe insignia, circa 1942-1943.
A captured Focke-Wulf Fw 190A in replicated Luftwaffe insignia, circa 1942-1943.

On the Eastern Front, even as their ground forces pulled back the Luftwaffe remained a potent force, still capable of providing the close aerial support that was a key part of German tactics. Nevertheless they faced a Soviet airforce that was growing in strength every day.

Hermann Buchner was one of the few Luftwaffe pilots to fly both bombers and fighters and to survive the whole war. His memoirs recall how close he came to becoming a casualty:

The 29th of September 1943 was another great day!

That evening, near Krivoi Rog, a tank counter-attack began and we were to fly support. I was assigned as Schwannieger and Hans Wihnerdinger as Rottenieger. From far away one could already see the clouds of smoke, interspersed with the blast clouds from the flak. We were to drop our bombs, but the Yaks and LaGGs appeared, so we jettisoned them. We were ready and looking for a fight. A furious turning battle began.

My Rotte was alone in a group of Russians, but I got into a good shooting position and shot down a Yak in flames. Another Yak was still in front of me and I was in a good position to shoot. My wingman called over the radio that the coast was clear.

It was an old habit of mine that, before opening fire, I glanced behind me. To my horror I saw gunfire coming from a Yak with a red engine cover at close range — how had it got there‘? Already the rounds were hitting my cockpit; he’d hit the armour plating near my head and the splinters injured my head and neck. Instinctively I pulled the stick hard against my chest, my 190 climbed steeply upwards and I lost consciousness.

I was unconscious only momentarily, there was a frightful roar and a gust of wind blew my maps out of the cockpit. My eyes opened and I regained my senses. My machine was in a spin and plummeting towards the ground. On the ground everything was burning and smoking, but I had enough altitude to stabilise my machine and bring it under control, initially towards the sun, to the west.

My gauges were wrecked and the wind had blown my maps away. Anything that was not well anchored down had been blown out of the cabin. I had to stay calm and keep my nerve. I could hear or see nothing of my wingman, I was alone in the area and my course for the time being was westwards towards the sun.

The motor howled, but the tachometer was broken. I throttled back, the engine revs went down and I flew the machine by ear. All instruments were destroyed — only the engine reacted when the throttle was applied. My luck was that I was alone, without enemy aircraft nearby. But I had no idea where I was.

At about 500m altitude, I continued to fly westwards. I calmed down a bit and thought about what I should do next. But then came my next unpleasant discovery: my back was warm and my neck damp. I reached up to examine my neck and to my horror I confirmed that I was bleeding. My hand was sticky with blood — the back of my head had been wounded.

I had to keep my nerve and try to find an airfield. It was my luck, as mentioned, that no enemy fighters were in the area, so I had to be over our own territory. After flying for 25-30 minutes I flew over a small brook running from right to left, so deduced it was owing from north to south. I turned right and flew along the bed of the stream — somewhere along it there had to be a settlement or airfield. I reckoned I was flying at about 1,000 metres, my wounds had stopped bleeding, everything was sticky, and the engine just ran and ran.

I was slowly becoming uneasy: no settlements, no airfields in sight — where on earth was I? There, in the distance I could make out a town. Just stay calm, for the closer I came, the more I would have to concentrate. On the north-east side of the town — it was definitely a town — I found an airfield that had German aircraft on it; He 111s, fighters and Stukas were parked there.

I was relieved, after so much uncertainty, to be back with my own people. I lined up to land from the east, throttled back — everything by feel with the instruments out of order – lowered the undercarriage and gently came down onto the ground. My 190 landed quietly on the ground and taxied. I had done that with my last ounce of strength.

I fell headlong over the controls and lost consciousness. How long I was there and how long my 190 stood on the edge of the airfield I cannot say. Our mechanics were not concerned when they saw a 190 standing on the edge of the airfield; they simply took a motorbike to the standing machine and discovered me unconscious.

See Hermann Buchner: Stormbird: One of the Luftwaffe’s Highest Scoring Me262 Aces

Fw 190A-5 with the under-wing WGr 21 rocket-propelled mortar. The weapon was developed from the 21 cm Nebelwerfer 42 infantry weapon.
Fw 190A-5 with the under-wing WGr 21 rocket-propelled mortar. The weapon was developed from the 21 cm Nebelwerfer 42 infantry weapon.

Luftwaffe surprised by USAAF fighters over Germany

Knoke was flying the Messerschmitt Me 109 G or 'Gustav'.  Seen here over Russia in 1944 equipped with cannon.
Knoke was flying the Messerschmitt Me 109 G or ‘Gustav’. Seen here in 1944 equipped with cannon.
Knoke was flying the Messerschmitt Me 109 G or 'Gustav'. Luftwaffe ground-crew ("black men") positioning a Bf 109 G-6 "Kanonenvogel" equipped with the Rüstsatz VI underwing gondola cannon kit. Note the slats on the leading edge of the port wing. JG 2, France, autumn of 1943.
Luftwaffe ground-crew (“black men”) positioning a Bf 109 G-6 “Kanonenvogel” equipped with the Rüstsatz VI underwing gondola cannon kit. Note the slats on the leading edge of the port wing. JG 2, France, autumn of 1943. Original caption from Wikimedia – see comments.

The early expectation that the Flying Fortresses were sufficiently well armed to defend themselves had proven to be misplaced. Furthermore the Germans had been quick to re-organise their air defences to cope with attacks from the RAF at night and the USAAF by day.

The bombing war saw constantly evolving tactics on both sides. It was obvious from the heavy losses that they were suffering that the bombers needed fighter escorts, and now they began to make their appearance, although they still did not have the range to go all the way deep into Germany.

Heinz Knoke was already an accomplished Luftwaffe pilot by 1943, well on his way to his final tally of 52 aircraft. He and his flight had mastered the right approach to taking on the B-17s. Today, however, there was a surprise:

27th September, 1943.

Enemy concentrations in map reference sector Dora-Dora. Once again the time has come. . . . 1030 hours: stand by. 1045 hours : all set.

I have a new aircraft. Arndt has been polishing it until it shines like a new mirror: no doubt that will add another ten miles per hour to the speed.

1055 hours: the call to action blares as usual from the loudspeakers round the field: “ All Flights take off! All Flights take off! ”

The sky is completely overcast. We come out above the clouds at 10,000 feet, and at the same moment sight our Fortresses directly overhead. We climb on a parallel course, heading east up to 20,000 feet. That is as high as they are flying today.

The reserve tanks are still almost full when I order my Flight to jettison them. We swing quickly in to attack with our rockets. As we get into position, the Fortresses split up into separate groups of some thirty or forty aircraft each, and keep on constantly altering course. The moisture-trails above the cloudbank leave a zigzag pattern in the blue sky.

I order all our rockets to be discharged when we are in formation at a range of 2,000 feet. The next moment a simply fantastic scene unfolds before my eyes. My own two rockets both register a perfect bull’s-eye on a Fortress. Thereupon I am confronted with an enormous solid ball of fire. The bomber has blown up in mid-air with its entire load of bombs. The blazing, smoking fragments come fluttering down.

Wenneckers also scores a direct hit. His victim goes down in flames. My wingman, Sergeant Reinhard, has discharged his rockets to explode beside another Fortress.

The fuselage appears to be damaged, too, and it swerves away off to the left. I observe how Reinhard chases off merrily after it, blazing away with his guns. He fastens on to the tail of the American.

My attention just then is attracted by the rather peculiar appearance overhead of double moisture trails, apparently emanating from very fast aircraft.

Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs, as far as I know, have been sent into action from our side. The peculiar-looking planes keep circling above the bombers. If they are German why do they not attack? I climb up alone for a closer look at them. Lightnings! Twelve or fourteen aircraft: the Yank has brought a fighter escort. I radio the warning to my comrades. Since I cannot undertake operations against them by myself alone, I decide to swoop down once more upon the Fortresses.

Then suddenly four other peculiar-looking single-engine aircraft dive past. They have the white star and broad white stripes as wing markings. Blast! They are Thunderbolts. I have not seen them before.

I immediately dive down after them. They swing round in a steep spiral to the left, heading for a lone Flying Fortress whose two outside engines have stopped. There is a Messerschmitt on its tail: it is Reinhard. The bloody fool has eyes only for his fat bomber, and is unaware of the enemy fighters coming up behind. keeps on firing at his victim.

But now the leading Thunderbolt is a perfect target in my sights. A single burst of fire from my guns is all that is needed. It bursts into flames and goes down spinning like a dead leaf into the depths below. It is my second kill today.

Then there is a sudden hammering noise in my crate. I turn round. There is a Thunderbolt hard on my tail, and two others are coming down to join it. I push the stick right forward with both hands, diving for cover in the clouds.

Too late: my engine is on fire. I can feel the heat: it quickly becomes unbearable.

Knoke survived by parachuting out and was uninjured. Many of the fellow pilots in his Squadron were less fortunate. In one flight of twelve aircraft nine pilots were killed and the three other planes crashed or the pilot had to bale out. See Heinz Knoke: I flew for the Fuhrer: Story of a German Airman .

P-38F-1-LO over California during factory test flights (U.S. Air Force)
P-38F-1-LO over California during factory test flights (U.S. Air Force)
The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt which was now reaching the USAAF in England in numbers.
The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt which was now reaching the USAAF in England in numbers.