Interview May 2008
Where were you born?
1917 in Dresden were I lived until 1922.
What did your father do?
He was an engineer in machine construction. We lived in a small village near Halle an der Saale. 1926 my parents moved to a little village near Goslar in the Harz mountains. He worked in a small factory which produced munition. We stayed there until I finished my Abitur (A levels). My school was in Goslar. On 1st October 1936 I left school and joined the Reichsarbeitsdienst – not as a soldier. I did this only for two months, because on 1st December I started my duty with the air force as a Fahnenjunker (training officer). This was in Werder by Potsdam for three months. In April 1937 I started my AB training. There was a small air field – only grass – and the planes were Stieglitz, Kadett, StÃ¶sser, Arado 66 and 34 for flying blind. After nine months I finished this course at the end of 1937 and returned to Wildpark near NÃ¼rnberg for a third training course. This course was only theory, no flying at all.
Did you get you wings after your AB training?
After how many flying hours?
About a hundred.
At the end of the AB training did you get a grade, a rating?
No rating, just a pass.
Were some men sent home?
We were a hundred students and probably two or three didn’t finish, and one died through a flight accident. After training I changed to the fighter Ring to DÃ¼sseldorf, I was sent there directly, to the Jagdgeschwader 26.
Why were you chosen as a fighter pilot?
That was my request.
So, you had a choice? Did some of your comrades want to become bomber pilots?
Most of them wanted to be fighter pilots. And from seventy, fifty became just that.
Why did you want to become a fighter pilot?
The most important reason was that my father was a pilot in the 1st World War. My father told me a lot of his experiences, so it was not a difficult decision for me.
Which planes did your father fly?
He flew bi-planes, the Fokker D7. All in all I trained for one year as a fighter pilot. My instructor had been to Spain. Then I went to the officers school in FÃ¼rstenfeldbruck. I stayed on for another year. On Saturdays I was an instructor in aerobatics. On 1st August 1939 I became a lieutenant and went to Essen/MÃ¼hlheim, I returned to the JG 26 in the 3rd group. There were nine squadrons, later on increased to twelve. I stayed in MÃ¼hlheim in the winter 1939. I wasn’t involved in the Poland, Denmark of Norway campaigns. It was always training, training and standing-by, but we were always watching the front lines in Poland, Holland and France. Let me tell you a little story which happened before the war. Adjutant MÃ¼ncheberg had to fly from Essen/MÃ¼hlheim to KÃ¶ln for a meeting. On the way back at around 200m height he saw a Bristol-Blenheim and shot this plane down. This was in March and the first incident, a pure chance. Then on 10th May was the start of war for us. Poland, Denmark and Norway had been captured. Our duty was flying against the French and British Hurricanes and Spitfires.
Did you see much action over France?
I suppose it was normal, not very much. Our main job was to protect the bombers.
Was that an exciting time for you?
No, not really.
Were you very confident? Was it a good time for you?
Yes, it was a successful time.
Were there lots of losses?
No, no losses at all, not in our squadron.
Confidence must have been very high.
Yes, it was an easy job.
Were you flying over Dunkirk?
Only for three days, not longer.
Can you remember anything about it?
I shot down two Spitfires, that was all. Dunkirk burned. There were ships and soldiers swimming to the ships and on the beaches and there were Spitfires. It was a normal air battle. We would fly to Dunkirk, which took about one hour, then back for refuelling and rearming and off again for a new attack. We fighters weren’t allowed to attack the soldiers on the ground or the ships, only enemy aircraft.
The reason not to attack is probably being in the way of the bombers?
Maybe. I had to escort Stukas to the estuary of the Thames and our task was only to keep enemy aeroplanes away. The Stukas had their targets. On 12th February 1942 I was involved in the Channel dash. I shot down three Swordfish. On this day we had the order from Galland to attack and if necessary to ram aeroplanes. This was the only time. We were desperate, but the order was still only to attack aircraft. I have to say, I was not happy about this. We flew in a formation of eight Fokker Wolfs. Galland’s younger brother had four and I had four planes. We saw the ships, they were on that course. [must have had a map to show the position to you] The Gneisnau, the Bismark and the Prinz Eugen. I intended to fly home, but looking in the direction of England I saw six dots. First I thought of boats, ships in a formation. We flew towards them. There were aircraft – flying very low. In the lead was a Swordfish which I shot down. The five remaining planes flew in a circle. We shot them all down, everything was very quick. I think I hit Edmond who must have flown in the middle. I didn’t see his face. Edmond’s squadron was stationed near Dover. He had been asked, if he wanted to attack the Bismark and he agreed. It was his own decision. For this mission he received the Victoria cross – posthumously.
After France had capitulated did you think that the next mission would be against Britain?
Yes, it was my feeling that Britain was next. And because we started the Battle of Britain we thought the invasion would follow next.
After the capitulation of France pilots became small dinghies on their planes? Can you remember that?
Not at first. Six weeks after the beginning we had some.
What was your own feeling on the attack on Britain?
As a soldier, a pilot it was orders and targets, not more. Afterwards in the evening you started thinking, but not during the flight. The only thoughts were about the day, not about the war and if it was right or wrong. As a pilot you didn’t really have the time to think about all this. Of course, you thought about the regulations of the war. For instance never attack a human being only the aircraft. But you knew after a hit, when only one man came out that there was still another one in the machine.
What did you think about what happened at Dunkirk? British soldiers on the beaches, soldiers swimming in the sea, ships and lot of smoke. Did you think that Britain was finished?
No, I thought that it was a fault of our commands to stop the war near Dunkirk and let the British army escape. There was a rumour that Hitler stopped the offensive at Dunkirk. General Guderian wanted to close the ring around the British troops but he wasn’t allowed.
Did you talk to your comrades about this?
Yes, it was stupid and strategic not very good.
By the end of June 1940, where were you?
I was in Berlin for only 2 weeks. We had to protect the Reichstag building.
And then back to France?
Yes, near Calais.
Can you remember the name of the place?
No, it was 7 km south of Calais.
Was it just a grass air field?
Yes, a normal field.
Where did you sleep?
It was in farmhouses, there were several.
Did you have a bed?
Yes, mostly yes. Only sometimes we had to sleep on the ground.
At the air field, was there a tent? Where did the pilots wait to fly?
Yes, in tents. The telephones were there as well.
When you woke up in the morning would you have breakfast?
Yes, we had food and coffee in the tent.
Would you be told what to do that day?
We had our task meeting at 9 o’clock, wait for the bombers and heard of the targets, mostly south of London or the air fields around Southampton, Dover – the south-east of England. We had to accompany the bombers, sometimes two or three times a day. And every time we had encounters with Spitfires or Hurricanes.
It must have been very exhausting?
Not then, not in 1940. Later yes.
Did you have enough to eat? Did you have cigarettes and alcohol?
Yes, we had enough. In the evening we would go to the farmhouses and have a talk with our comrades, maybe for an hour. We might have a little bit of red wine and then we went to sleep.
But not getting drunk?
No, no. From time to time we went to Lille. That was when we had bad weather and the bombers couldn’t fly. That happened maybe once a month.
To have a good time?
Yes, to have a little fun.
Was the mood good within your squadron?
Did you have lots of losses?
During the Battle of Britain I believe 30% – minimum.
Was thee respect for the enemy?
Yes, a lot. I still have a lot of respect for the British but not for the Americans.
I’ve noticed you’re not the only one to say that. In your opinion, was the Spitfire better than the Hurricane?
Yes, in 1940 the Spitfire was better. But not better than our planes. Not in 1940.
Why do you think that was?
During the fights our planes were able to move better, to manoeuvre better.
But that changed later. By 1941 the Spitfire had a better engine and cannons.
In my opinion, the Spitfire was the best aircraft during the war – in manoeuvring.
As the summer went on were you surprised that the RAF planes kept going?
We knew that we couldn’t destroy the RAF fighters.
That was not what GÃ¶ring thought.
GÃ¶ring came for a visit. He was our commander. We, twenty-five pilots, were standing in the field and there he was, small with a monocle in his eye. He gave out orders and medals. The weather was very bad, there was no visibility. He looked to the west and said, â€˜If this weather was better we could kick their arses.’ We looked at each other and thought â€œhow?
The replacements were not coming through then? So for full squadron you had twenty men?
Yes, around the area of Dunkirk and Calais there were around 250 day fighters.
The RAF fighter command would replace straight away and if the pilots got tired they would be sent to the North and replaced by pilots from there. Very rarely would they fly longer than three-four weeks. What seems to be strange to me is that the Luftwaffe commanders thought they could finish off the RAF within two weeks. But you pilots did not think that. I wonder why the pilots had a more realistic view?
At Christmas 1940 Hitler came to Galland’s house and he asked him about the West. Gallands answer was that there were not enough wings against Britain. This realisation changed Hitler’s intention more to the East.
What did you think about Garland? Did you think he was a good commander?
Yes, he was the best, after MÃ¶lders. MÃ¶lders was a favourite, more a father figure. Galland was more realistic, braver against the opposition.
Garland was always seen as a legend in Britain. Did he have an ashtray in his Messerschidt, for his cigar?
Yes, he had.
There were several stories around Bader. And he and Galland were good friends. When Bader was shot down did you know who he was?
Yes, he was in the hospital in St Denis. From there he tried to escape three times. The story was that he needed his artificial limb and the English said, we will bring it but with bombs.
When you first started flying, were you excited? Did you fall in love with it?
The first time in an aeroplane I was sitting behind my instructor and I was very nervous.
Did you enjoy it?
I had a very good feeling looking around.
At that time flying was still relatively new.
Not really. There were quite a lot of flying schools, in Dresden, in Gatow, in Werter also. There were several training centres.
At the start of the war the British fighter pilots were classed as special people.
Yes, we as well. We were proud.
A bit arrogant as well?
No not in my unit. If somebody had been arrogant, people would have said that they were idiots.
Did you have any superstitions, any lucky mascots?
Yes, I had three: a small pig, a small squirrel and a small fish.
Fixed on the little loop of the zip.
Did you wear a scarf around your neck?
No, not me.
You and your fellow pilots did you talk about your missions?
No, we didn’t. I thought about this a lot after the war. It would have been so beneficial exchanging ideas and experiences and talking about the procedures. I think the British and Americans did.
Well, at the beginning of the war the fighter tactics were so very much behind. But they caught up. But did you know that the British had radar?
I suspected it.
Did you find it frustrating to escort bombers and Stukas and fly so slowly?
It was not a very good job. The maximum speed of the bombers were 250km.
Our speed was 400 – 450km.
Did you grumble about it?
Yes, we liked the free flights. That was more the fighters.
You were always more successful? Can you remember certain missions? Did you hit aeroplanes?
Yes, on 12th February 1942 – the Channel dash. Then one victory was very curious. I shot down a Spitfire at 10,000m. I fired and at the same time the plane did a loop and all eight cannons were firing. Then came the second and the third loop and then he spiralled down to the ground. I flew with him and saw that he hit the ground. The aeroplane was very flat just like a leaf. The air field of Calais was near, so I landed and there was a military doctor who asked me if I wanted to come to see the machine. The pilot was hit directly. He must have died instantly and his stick got caught under his jacket and that explains the loops and the emptying of the ammunition. This was in 1941.
Here is another example. From the East we escorted two-engine bombers to Lille. We were just direct beside Lille and the bombers flew in a formation 3-3-3-3, twelve planes. I flew over the bombers when I saw a Spitfire. I came in high speed, tried to shoot but was too fast and the plane dived. I looked to the right and saw another plane and shot, then I looked up and the plane flew directly to the airport near Lille. The right engine had stopped. He landed on my air strip, I landed behind him and went to my commander and then I went to the machine. There were the pilot, the observer and the gunner. I escorted to the office and they had a cognac. The pilot Jack Wilson came from New Zealand, the observer came from Ireland and the observer from London.
The German military police came and escorted them to prison. After the war I received a letter from a British author with the address of Jack Wilson. I wrote to him and he answered. He visited us fifteen years ago with his wife and the observer from Ireland came as well. We exchanged letters for a long time. He was in the New Zealand Air Force and flew the six-engine Cumberland flying boat on long distances over the Pacific.
By that time in summer 1940 you must have been a very experienced pilot? And you must have known the 109 very well?
I knew my aeroplane very well. I had always a great technical interest. Actually, I was the squadron technical officer.
What does that mean? What other duties did you have?
When a machine had been serviced or the motor had been changed I had to fly this machine to make sure that everything was alright.
Where you happy flying the 109?
At the beginning of the war, yes.
I changed to the Fokker Wolf at the end of 1945. And the mission against the Swordfish in Febr. 1942 was on a Fokker Wolf. At the end of the war, in March 1945 I changed to the JG 7 and we were trained on the Me 262, but didn’t fly any missions.
In 1940 the Spitfire and the Hurricane only had machine guns and no cannon. Would you have been unhappy to fly with eight machine guns rather than a cannon?
The machine guns were too small.
So in your opinion a canon and two machine guns was better than eight Browning machine guns?
Yes, in the 109 the cannon was good, the cannon was a better weapon, the most important one. The cannon was a 2cm one with a wider calibre.
One of the problems for the RAF pilots was to shoot down the bombers and the fighters. The bombers were an easier target, because they were bigger. But this took longer to achieve with a machine gun and of course became better target themselves. With a canon it was one shot and boom. As long as you shot accurately.
One time we received the message that there was a formation of American bombers over Belgium flying in 7,500m. So we took off from Lille. I passed the bombers on the left side to attack from the front. We had twenty aircraft. I attacked the bomber on the left side and shot very quickly. The Boeing burned for a short time but still flew in formation. I watched but there was no fire, no smoke, then it turned left then left again and I thought the pilot is going home. But then the plane went down and landed in a field against a house. I counted eight people jumping out of this aeroplane. I must have killed the pilot. In a Boeing just above the head of the pilot was a small tank with fuel to start the engine. I must have hit it.
Was the experience gained in Spain very important for the fighter pilots?
Perhaps for tactics.
It didn’t help the bombers. They were small but very successful. Should the Luftwaffe have developed a bigger bomber fleet, a fleet with four-engine planes?
Yes, it was a big mistake not having the 4 engine bombers. We didn’t have a strategic bomber fleet, only a tactical one.
RAF pilots said that nobody can really understand the great camaraderie under fighter pilots? Do you agree?
I don’t know if you can call it that. You were very alone as a fighter pilot. And you could do what you wanted. The camaraderie was probably much stronger within the bomber squadron. The crews and the pilots changed quite a lot. It was one person and one aeroplane. We weren’t a team. We had one pilot in our squadron who was quite anxious, he was a bit of a coward. Twice he left the formation without a reason. He complained about the motor in his machine and because I was the technical officer I had to test the plane. It was all right.
Was this during the Battle of Britain?
Yes. I said to him, â€˜If you do something like that again, I will shoot you.’ Of course, I would not have done it. So, we flew towards the South of England and he crashed into one of our planes with Franz von Werrer on board. Yes, he crashed deliberately. They both escaped and were captured and became POWs. Because Franz von Werrer had nineteen kills already and was only one victory away from his knight’s cross he was very angry. But after the war he received his medal.
Did the officers stay in a house and the crew in another?
All the pilots were together.
Were you a quiet man? Did you like a good joke?
I was a squadron leader and I liked other people. I liked talking to them. Talking was good for solving any problems. I am a person who likes to sort out a problem as soon as it occurs.
During the Battle of Britain how did you spend your spare time?
I played cards, Doppelkopf and Skat.
Did you read?
Did you write home?
Yes, once a week to my mother.
Did you have any brothers and sisters?
No, I was a single child. I was with foster parents who adopted me later.
I had lots of friends.
Did you ever get scared or nervous before a mission?
That was the reason for playing cards. To take my mind off it.
Do you still have your flight book?
Not from the war. The Americans took everything. There was a change in the war when the Americans joined in 1942. I don’t know any cases in the BoB and up to the year 1942 that someone would shoot on a parachutist, saving his life. The Americans tried to shoot me when I came down in my parachute but they didn’t have any success. My squadron was the firstt one to see the Fortress, big American bombers flying in a formation at 8ooom. They flew without fighter planes and we couldn’t shoot any of them down. We had severe losses and General Galland was very angry with us. We couldn’t do anything.
How many victories did you have in the Battle of Britain?
Maybe five. Wing Commander Galland worked for the industry after the war. We met once a year and shortly before he died I asked him why he never had a wing in the Bundesluftwaffe? He said that he tried but they didn’t take him because he was a bit of a rebel in 1923 and he was sad about this. He was never a Nazi. But what he also said that we only won in books written by the enemy. My answer was, yes that’s right.
Do you have a photo of yourself from the war?
I have given them all away. You are too late. During the war my nickname was Fokker Naumann because I was the first one to fly a Fokker Wolf.