Interviewed May 2008
I signed a contract for 12 years to become a pilot in the Luftwaffe. But in winter from 1938 – 1939 I was in the Reichsarbeitsdienst for ½ year. That was for everybody the same.
What did you do?
We worked in the forest and built take off and landing ways ( I am not quite sure, if he said that) not far from Stuttgart. During this time I wrote a letter that I would like to become a pilot. At the end of 1938, around Christmas, I got a letter back telling me that I could start at the Reichssportfliegerschule in Windelsbreite near Bielefeld for some flight training at the 1st April 1939. (didn’t know where the letter came from) There were five or six schools like these in the Reich.
Why were you selected to become a pilot?
I had experience in gliding.
Was this a private school?
Yes, it was private and people had to pay for their training. But there was the rumour of war and the Reich needed pilots. There weren’t any places in the military flying schools. So the government used the civilian schools for the basic training for their pilots. We were sponsored by the government. We were twenty-three students and five instructors. I had a lovely time. We had lots of lessons but we only used private air field. I passed my A2 and B 1 Pilotensscheine. We did an overland flight to Kiel for example.
How many flight hours did you have?
About sixty starts and landings. I flew a very light aircraft – not easy to fly at all. I also did a Schein in aerobatics. At the end of August a LKW from the Luftwaffe arrived and we were driven to Detmold. Before we had to give back our civilian flight clothes. That was the change from a civilian to a soldier, as easy as that. I joined the Fliegerausbildungsregiment in Detmold, but it didn’t have anything to do with flying. There we had basic military training, infantry training, drills, marching etc. Because there were still no places in the flying schools we stayed on for more basic training just to fill in the time. Some of it we did in Thun in Åsterreich. By this time the war had started.
Did you find that frustrating?
Yes, of course but the military pilot schools were still full. But from the 10th January I was sent to Prague to do my AB training. Prague was in the Protektorat from BÃ¶hmen und MÃ¤hren. We had the heavy B2, a heavy aircraft for four people. The B34 – similar to the Ju 52 but with one engine and the Fokker Wolf was there.
How many people were on the course?
We were fourteen. We all started with the general pilot training and on 10th May I received my wings. Before receiving the wings we were asked what we wanted to be and all of us wanted to become fighter pilots – I don’t know if it was the same in the other schools. In our opinion fighter pilots were heroes, they had a good reputation and bomber pilots were like bus drivers.
How did they ever get bomber pilots?
I don’t really know! I think it sorted itself out. But to become a bomber pilot you had to train a further 3 months to do your C-training. On the 14th May I came to Werneuchen near Berlin for my fighter pilot training.
How many were you?
We were sixty, but after two weeks only 40 were selected to stay on as fighter pilots. Every day we flew for one hour and the rest was theory. We also did clay pigeon shooting to train and quicken reactions. Our training planes were the Arado 68s. But there were also the Me108 and later the Me109. After another two weeks another twenty people had to leave. For me it was the 1st time alone in an aeroplane. The Bf109 had higher speed. 650 PS and two propellers.
Can you remember your first flight in a Bf 109?
Yes, it was an excellent aeroplane.
Did you have a particular aptitude in aerobatics, navigation, gunnery?
I was maybe a little bit better than the others. That was the reason why I left after eight weeks and the other candidates stayed on for another four weeks.
Did you think you were confident enough after such a short training?
The instructors decided on that. I didn’t think about it just did what I was asked to do. In the middle of July I joined the ErgÃ¤nzungsjagdgruppe [replacement fleet] in Merseburg. For the first time, after one year, I had one weeks’ holiday and could see my family. I flew three weeks on the 109E – that was the plane used in combat – and we practised starts and landings.
Did you do any gunnery?
We had target practise on a fixed target, never on moving objects.
How big was the target?
Two by two metres. We had two-three approaches towards the target. The ammunition was counted and then later on the holes on the target. Every ten minutes a machine would start – shoot – fly a circle – shoot again and maybe a third time and then land.
Did you have some successes?
Yes, I was satisfied. On one of my target practise flights I saw this sailing boat in the middle of a lake and I flew very low over them. This was absolutely forbidden. But luckily nothing happened except my guilty conscience for a while.
Did you have any training on the radio?
No, not on the radiotelephone system. In the plane was a button we could use to speak.
At that time we were allowed to speak freely.
Later on combat flights speaking was strictly forbidden.
Did you communicate in coded language?
What did you think about the 109E?
It was a great machine with 1100 PS, a three-part propeller and the possibility to adjust them. It was a good feeling to start the machine, to race over the grass and then take off. On the 24th Aug. I came to the Jagdgeschwader 2 in the 4th squadron. Oberleutnant Assi Hahn was in command. We were three new pilots and after our arrival reported for work. The Oberleutnant and squadron members were sitting in front of a tent but got up to greet us. That was a change in behaviour, all of a sudden we were equal we were pilots and not at training schools anymore. After one hour all the others flew to an air strip between Calais and Dunkirk. We newcomers stayed there, we didn’t have an aeroplane yet.
What did you do?
We stayed there for three weeks and built some barracks. The technical staff was there as well.
Did you listen to events and what was happening at the West front?
Not a lot. There weren’t many radios.
Were you itching to go?
Yes, I wanted to fly.
At that time did you think the war was all over and you had missed the boat?
Yes, I was thinking that. I was then moved to Beaumont-le-Roger, west of Rouen. It was just a ten minute flight to Calais. Schermann was the first commandant of the Richthofen wing. I was in the 2nd Staffel. After his death Helmut Wick was the leader. The airstrip was just a grass field and another field where they harvested some cereal. The aeroplanes were under apple trees. Near the air field were Nissen huts and the ground staff lived there. We pilots lived in a nice big house in Beaumont-le-Roger, the owners had left it.
How many pilots were you?
We were ten.
Did you wear the same uniforms?
We had the same leather jackets but with different badges and wings according to their rank.
Did you have a bed?
The three officers occupied the three bedrooms. We stayed in the loft. We had a dining room and had breakfast and dinner together.
Who cooked for you?
We had a German cook.
What was the food like?
It was very good.
Did you have enough cigarettes?
Yes, we had plenty.
What kind of atmosphere was there in the camp? Especially after the knowledge that some of pilots didn’t come back?
We didn’t think too much about that. Who was gone, was gone.
Were you quickly accepted into the squadron or did you feel like an outsider because you didn’t fly for three weeks?
I was unhappy about the situation. After three weeks we, the two other pilots and myself, were flown to a Luftzeugpark near Paris to pick up three new Me109s. We flew the machines back to Beaumont le Roger, refuelled and flew to Mardik, to an air field between Dunkirk and Calais. The airfield was directly behind the dunes.
Could you keep the new aeroplanes or did the more experienced pilots wanted to fly them?
I can’t exactly remember, but I think we kept the machines. The next day I had to fly back to Beaumont le Roger to collect my own and the personal belongings of my colleagues, because there wasn’t the time the evening before. I was the youngest and had to do it. The day after I had to fly Sperrle (protection flight) with the Unteroffizier. He wanted to see how my flying was. Between Calais and Dunkirk were around a hundred trawlers – put into place for a possible invasion of Britain. There were lots of soldiers and vehicles. We had to protect them.
How long was the flight?
Was it a good flight?
Yes, I think the Unteroffizier was satisfied about my flying.
Where did you stay in Mardik?
There was a disused shop building with a lot of rats. We stayed there and the officers lived in the village.
Why didn’t the commander let you fly missions straight away? He must have been frustrated about the situation. Probably losing pilots every day and not getting enough replacements.
He was pleased to have us there and we had to do alert duties.
How many machines were available?
Probably between seven and nine. In mid-September I did my first combat flights. We had to accompany Stukas to the docks of London.
What happened on the first mission?
We met at Cape Grene, a point 6-7000m high above Calais and we waited for the Stukas. We flew towards Dover and saw the flak. I saw black spots flying towards to me but they didn’t hit us because we were too high. But then came the Spitfires and the bombers. I had to keep close to my commandant Meimberg and help him getting into a good shooting position. It was a totally different experience to the training before.
Did you fire your guns?
No, I didn’t get the chance. The Spitfires and Hurricanes wanted to hit the bombers. We had to turn back because there wasn’t enough petrol in our tanks. So our bombers were left on their own for the flight back. We had lots of losses.
Did you talk about your experiences with the other pilots?
Yes, we talked about the missions. Assi Hahn liked singing and we played cards.
Did you talk about the British pilots and the Spitfire and Hurricane?
Yes, we talked a lot about the Spitfire because it was such a flexible plane with it’s eight MG’s. The British pilots were highly respected between us.
Would you have rather liked the eight MG’s on board or were you happy with the two canons and two MG’s in your machine?
The two canons were good, especially when you had a hit. On one of my missions I saw a Hurricane flying away from the combat. My commander Meimberg saw the machine as well and because I had to fly with him I followed. I had the Hurricane in my visor but waited for my commander to open fire first. After returning to our airfield I congratulated him for the hit. He said to me, if there had been two you would have one as well. After five combat flights to the docks they gave up the missions and I came back to Bourmont-Anger.
Where you wondering what was happening to the invasion?
We realised nothing would happen. We didn’t think too much about it.
Have you had any mascots?
When did Helmut Wick become commander?
I met Wick the 1st time in Brest. We had the task to accompany Stukas. These Stukkas had to bomb an English ship which has been damaged and hauled back from Gibraltar. We arrived in Brest but the Stukas came too late. It was already too dark. So we went to a hotel and I saw Wick there wearing his Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves. This was the first time seeing this medal.
Was it quite difficult to protect your leader? Was it mostly Meimberg?
Yes, I flew always with Meimberg. I had to keep at his tail and allow him to get into a good shooting position. I had to keep an eye on the enemy as well, what was going on around us. One had to be a good pilot to do this successfully.
Did you hear about the death of Helmut Wick?
Yes, I heard it on the radio. It was on the 18th November. I was shot down three days before that.
Can you remember what happened?
Yes. We were in 8000m height. In front was the squadron. There were 4 fighter planes for protection. Commandant Meimberg with a new pilot and Dessua and myself. From the left came 12-15 Hurricanes in full flight. Dessua had only 1 hit so far and wanted to attack them. He flew towards them and I had to follow. I had chosen 1 of the Hurricanes and shot. I didn’t know what happened to that plane. We flew into the sunshine when I felt the shots came from behind. They flew passed my head into the dash board. The machine burned and I lost height. I tried to move my stick and the cabin roof flew off. At some point I flew out of the machine, didn’t know the height. For a short while I was unconscious. Luckily I regained consciousness and could open my parachute in 1000m. I was over water. I saw the English coast but my life jacket was useless. Two Spitfires came close, circled twice and I waved at them and flew away. I landed directly on the coast on a road. Some civilians came to me and a police man. He took my parachute away and asked me if I was in pain. A car arrived with an officer. He was a doctor, spoke German because he studied in Frankfurt in Germany. His father was the British ambassador before the war. He looked at my arm and I was sent to hospital. He came twice to see me in hospital. There I had a skin graft. I had injuries to my eye and the two Canadian doctors discussed my arm. They left it.