BLOOD RED SKIES 

OVER BERLIN

 

 

6 MARCH 1944: A DEFEAT FOR THE

“MIGHTY 8TH

 

By Angelos Thalassinos

IN EARLY MARCH 1944 THE U.S. 8TH AIR FORCE DECIDED FOR THE FIRST TIME TO PENETRATE DEEP INTO THE HEART OF THE GERMAN REICH, FOCUSING ITS WRATH ON ITS CAPITAL. COMMITTING MORE THAN 1.500 AIRCRAFT, THE OVERCONFIDENT AMERICANS BLATANTLY CHALLENGED THE LUFTWAFFE KNOWING
THAT THE GERMANS WOULD DEFEND BERLIN AT ANY COST. DURING THE MORNING OF THAT FATEFUL MONDAY THE FLYING FORTS WOULD CLAIM THE MOST VALUABLE PRIZE OF THE WAR: THE SIXTH LARGEST CITY IN THE WORLD. BUT ... GERMAN FIGHTERS HAD DECIDED OTHERWISE 


At least 17 pairs of experienced eyes were continuously scanning the quarters of the crystal clear blue sky: behind, ahead, left, right, above, below -the same old pattern, developed after weeks, months or even years of practice. It had been nearly half an hour since the FW-190A-8's had taken off to meet the oncoming raiding armada of more than 800 fighters escorting 730 bombers, their bellies pregnant with death, each one loaded with five tons of incendiaries and high-explosives, ready to be delivered on some German city. Only this time, things looked as if it was not just going to be any city. 

The German squadron had briefed by its commander for the standard nerve-racking frontal attack: the opponent formations would be approaching each other at a combined closing speed of at least 175 mph and German pilots would have just about two or three seconds in which to aim, fire and break away before they collided with their target. Quite a tricky job for an average fighter pilot and a nearly suicidal one for a green young one. But right now, at 21,000 ft, leading the 17 fighters of Stab and I/JG11 was Hauptmann Rolf Hermichen, a Luftwaffe Expert; a veteran "Giant Killer"; a man who knew even the deepest secrets of his enemy: his fields of fire, how fast a dorsal turret could rotate, or how the guns of the dorsal and belly turrets automatically stopped firing at a frontal target a few degrees to port or starboard of the bomber's nose, in order not to hit the propeller blades. And Hermichen had placed his Gruppe just as expertly for a text-book "Twelve o'clock high" head-on attack. The enemy formation appeared just where the ground controllers had said it should be. Tiny specks on the horizon that gradually grew into dots, then grew into tightly packed box-formations of up to twenty bombers each, bearing a total of 240 heavy machine guns. Hermichen and his pilots would have to pass through this nightmarish holocaust of crisscrossing fire once again. 

 

"Wolves, twelve o'clock high! Closing fast!", the voice that crackled through the intercom announced the most feared words in the USAAF. 

The gunners, huddled in their turrets amidst the ammunition belts, turned to face the threat. Feet stepped on hydraulic pedals and the turrets brought to bear their machine guns against the formation in front. "God! This is my last flight...": that was the first thought that crossed the nose gunner's mind in Captain David Miner's B-17, at the extreme right of the lead squadron of the Low Box, and adrenaline surged into his blood. It was the same thought and the same fear in every single mission. In the eyes and mind of someone who was on the receiving end of a head-on attack the whole thing looked much more than what it really was: a personal attack aimed right at you. You felt exposed, helpless and weak -almost unarmed. The two 12,7mm guns were like paintball guns compared to the Luftwaffe's 30mm cannons, and even the smallest fragment could go clean through that paper-thin glass around you. Given the fact that collision was something that depended entirely on the German fighters, there was nothing you could do but fire ahead and keep flying straight and level.. Well, you could pray of course but it rarely worked out. God was not the safest bet these days...




Hermichen didn't think so, at least today. He strained his neck for one last look around the sky...No fighter cover! Probably looking for trouble elsewhere. God still performed miracles these days! He turned his reflector sight on, set his guns to "fire", squinted his eyes through the blur of the rotating propeller, picked a target at the middle of the bomber formation and concentrated on it, watching the distance closing rapidly with every second passing. At about 1,000 yards he brought the target inside his reticule and just then the air around him filled with red and yellow tracers flashing past his canopy. Sweat run down his spine as every muscle in his body tensed to breaking point; but that didn't matter. All that mattered right now was just his target. Eyes and senses literally dead-locked on it, counting the distance; counting seconds...

"After them!", he shouted, giving the signal for the attack, his mind still fixed on his target. Counting distance...counting seconds...

Two seconds later...600 yards...The growing bomber was now filling the electric light bars on each side of his gun sight at astonishing speed. He eased the stick back to compensate for the curving trajectory of the shells...

Half a second later...500 yards...Fire! 


The thumb and forefinger of his right hand squeezed hard on the twin firing buttons of his four 20mm cannons and two 13mm machine guns for a brief half-second burst. His body shuddered at the recoil, the acrid smell of cordite fumes filled the cockpit and slipped under his oxygen mask, penetrating his nostrils. Bull's eye!


Half second later...400 yards...He draw his fingers off the firing buttons while shoving the controls on one side breaking left to avoid collision. The FW-190 flashed past the bomber while curving arcs of tracers were still chasing his fighter making him crouch instinctively behind the steel armor plate at his back.


A half-second burst. Just that. Not much time to do everything right; still enough to guarantee a kill if the burst was well-aimed at. At least ten shells hit Miner's bomber head-on at a speed of 2,600 feet per second, delivering a sudden, savage blow in sequence of threes: one high explosive containing 20 grams of Hexogen, one armour-piercing and one incendiary with high phosphorus filling that burned at 2,500 degrees centigrade for one second.

The first shell shattered the Perspex nose missing the nose gunner by inches and exploded on contact under the pilot's seat after shattering both Miner's feet amongst the oxygen tanks. Not that it mattered anyway for one twenty sixth of a second later the second shell came through the gaping nose blowing off Miner's skull, spraying brain fragments back to the bomb compartment. The co-pilot beside him never had the time to scream either; his bowels had stopped cold two 13mm
rounds that spread them all over his seat. The next series of shells -HE, AP, incendiary- penetrated the fuselage horizontally, exploding successively to the rear of the top turret gunner, setting the bomber ablaze from waist to tail. Large pieces of metal skin flew off, opening a second gaping hole twice the size of a football, large enough to suck through the radio operator, unharmed without his parachute. He reached the ground 90 seconds later hitting the face of north-western Germany at 120 mph indenting it fourteen inches deep. Fortunately, he was feeling nothing by then. A physical self-defensive reaction to the shock had left him unconscious long before the impact. For Captain Miner and his crew it was indeed their last flight. The rest of I/JG11 followed suit behind his leader, each fighter charging headlong on the forts Focke Wulfs were closely followed by two other waves of 109's from III/JG54. Three more B-17s went down in rapid succession. One exploded in mid-air. A glorious sight of enormous splendour one moment, gone the next. Inside B-17 "Terry and the Pirates" bullets flew like hail, spattering across the fuselage, shattering the control cables...


Zwing!...Thung!... Thung!... 


The starboard waist gunner heard them clearly snapping above his head, not because he had a sharp hearing, but because he was the only one alive around there at the moment. Then a loud CRAAACKKK that covered the deep drone of the four Wright Cyclone engines and the bomber broke in half, abandoning his tail section behind with the tail gunner still trapped inside by the centrifugal forces. Both mutilated sections came tumbling down out of the sky like pieces of a ripped kite. The nose caved in under the pressure of the air stream, letting the bomb-aimer fall free. The waist gunner outlived any of the crew while trying desperately to free his feet entangled in the loose control cables that were strangling him from the knees down, like steel pythons. He lived for what it seemed like four agonizing eons, though in fact it was only four minutes before the bomber crashed. Twenty two and a half meters of its majestic airframe shrunk into eight, with the remains of the dead crew hideously compressed somewhere between the bomb compartment and the ground.


Last in the wave of German fighters came a lone FW-190 which enemy bullets streaming around it seemed somehow to ignore, heading straight for a bomber, dead level at 12 o'clock. The fighter never fired its guns but kept on going headlong onto its target.


"My God! He's going to ram!"... 


Lieutenant Jack Swartout was right. The German pilot was either dead alright or couldn't break off the attack. Or both. No one ever knew. The little fighter skimmed right over the top turret and its starboard wing razed the entire fin and rudder of the bomber like the blade of a brand new steel scalpel going through a cardboard box.


The whole action of that first wave of attack lasted barely longer than a minute but it would live much longer in the minds of those present. Within those sixty seconds a whole combat box of 20 bombers had been annihilated. Then 14 Thunderbolts came up out of the blue to spoil the party. 15 Me-109G of II/JG11, providing top cover for the attacking Focke Wulfs from high above the bomber formation, jettisoned their drop tanks and came swooping down to block the way of the American fighters. Soon the dogfight became a confusing mêlée of twisting, turning and flaming aircraft. The German  Gruppenkommandeur, Major Günther Specht, an one-eyed veteran with 30 kills decorating the rudder of his "Grey Double Chevron", was the first to spot the incoming fighters and reacted aggressively in the usual Luftwaffe "out of the sun"-style. "He had lost an eye in combat early in the war but with his remaining one he could see better than most men could
with two", said of his commander Oberleutnant Heinz Knocke, one of the "old necks" in the Gruppe.


The Thunderbolt formation promptly split into pairs which turned in opposite directions, but one of the pairs would soon turn back the other way to come up behind the tails of the 109's. Knocke and his wingman Feldwebwel Gerd Wennekers, had seen the trick many times before. Knocke chased the ones in front, while Wennekers, protecting his tail, would wait for the other pair to show up. He didn't have to wait long. 



"Watch out! Indians behind you!"


Anticipating the call, Knocke immediately pulled his aircraft into a steep climbing turn, while Wennekers was sending the American pilot to his death. "I've got him!", cried Wennekers over the intercom. _"Danke!", Knocke replied curtly. That was the second time his friend and wingman had saved his life. A second P-47 flashed before Wennekers's nose and he gave it a brief burst, then broke hard left to chase it. Instinctively he turned his neck to check his "6 o'clock": another Thunderbolt was trying to get behind him at 800 yards -too far for an accurate shot. He was wrong. Two well-aimed two-second bursts hit Wenneker's cockpit smashing the instrument panel sending glass fragments all over, some piercing his oxygen mask, hacking at his cheeks and nose and cracking his goggles. Next moment his left hand involuntarily flew away from the throttle lever as if moving on its own accord. White-hot sparks of pain stabbed his left hand and he knew right then that a large part of himself was missing. In fact it was his left wrist but he didn't have the time or the intention to take a look. That was the second burst. Squeezing the stick between his knees he jettisoned the canopy using his right hand. The deafening blast of cold air hit him in the  face and he took to his parachute. Knocke broke away from the troublesome Thunderbolts and headed for a juicy bomber managing a good old frontal firing pass: 500 yards, half second burst, aiming for the cockpit. Six 30mm shells left the propeller hub and the hits flashed around the bomber's nose. It dropped into a screaming dive, banking into an ever-tightening spiral, without ever showing the slightest trails of smoke or parachutes -both pilots killed outright probably.


Now there could be no question about a second concentrated head-on attack. After the initial massed onslaught, all fighters split into smaller groups of twos and threes picking individual targets. The most attractive ones were the crippled bombers, lagging behind their formation with a damaged engine and some wounded inside to complete the image. Others were too busy trying to save themselves from the increasing number of American fighters which were now concentrating in the area and gradually gaining the upper hand.

A wandering Me-109G quickly found a target of his liking to finish off. It was the B-17 "Ronnie R" belonging to the 100th Bomb Group, the notorious "Bloody Hundred", the hardest hit American unit of all; one that was to end the war with the heaviest losses. "Ronnie R" had been hit and was now out of formation. A helpless "cripple" that could only have one inevitable fate: german fighters would soon gather round it like hungry hyenas smelling the blood of a dying victim, until someone would deliver the final blow. The hyena was Oberfeldwebel Herman Reinthaler of Hermichen's Gruppe. A short burst from behind that started a fire in the radio compartment was more than enough. All crew bailed out. One of them reached the ground faster than the others. On his way down his parachute was streaming behind him leaving a thin trail of smoke...

Reinthaler was busy watching the seeds of death he had sown when a stream of yellow tracers passing off to his left warned him of an impending danger. It had been just a few seconds of carelessness; it had been all Lieutenant Robert Wise in his P-47 needed to slip behind him at 600 yards and give him two bursts that missed. Reinthaler woke up from his day-dreaming to enter a day-time nightmare. He slammed his throttle forward to get away in a dive but by then Wise had already gained the initiative. He closed to 300 yards firing three one-second bursts that hit the 109's fuselage. For all Reinthaler could tell, Thor's Hammer fell upon his left arm and foot, spattering everything with blood. Deep in shock from a wound he dared not imagine and gasping in short agonizing breaths, he undid the straps, released the canopy, stood up on the seat, tore his oxygen mask off his face and jumped off missing the tale by inches. The comforting spectacle of a parachute blossoming above his head reward him. But not for long. A sudden terrible shock made the straps bit painfully into his flesh when a huge oak tree ripped the parachute off his back leaving him for a while hanging from the branches. Not for long either. With his weight dragging him down, he saw the earth accelerating up to him for the last six feet and crashed down in excruciating pain with a minor wound in his leg and minus his left arm. He was amazed to realize that it was only the first wound that was causing all the pain.


Some hours later in the hospital, the surgeon was glad to see that the bullet had done a clean job: it had carried away the elbow joint, leaving the arm suspending from a few strips of flesh and tendons sparing him much of the operation: not much left to do here besides a quick patching of the stub and then off to the emergency cases. A number of patients were waiting for him to put their intestines in the right order -that is the one God had once put them many years ago. The surgeon worked hard for the next couple of hours, hands-deep into the gory depths of the perplexed human anatomy, trying to beat God Himself in His own game. God won. But then again God always won 


At 12.30 p.m., as the first German attack was coming to a close the fighters started leaving the scene uncoordinated, singly or in twos, the bombers started closing the gaps left in the formations by their missing friends in order to improve their defensive fire. Some did. Others tried desperately to close the distance between. But occasionally an engine or two were on fire; the controls would not respond; some cracked pipe would be leaking fuel or trailing smoke; and the doomed bomber would be left dragging hopelessly behind the others: one more cripple; one more victory mark on the rudder of some roaming German Expert. In others there would be minor damages, a wounded gunner, or even a dead pilot but the engines were still running smoothly and the bomb load was waiting impatiently to be dropped on the target, for no one among the crews wanted to be sent back and fly a second mission for the same target. No sir! They must get over with it once and for all. And the powerful armada kept droning on. Another 150 miles left to the target. The pilots were trying to encourage their nervous crews, giving them strength to face the next wave. 

Don't waste ammo! There will be more along in a minute!". How true...

 

"To be a good soldier you must love the army. To be a good commander you must be able to order the death of the thing you love", had once said Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Now, 81 years later in a quite different continent, Major Hans Kogler was compelled to do exactly that: to order the death of his 18 remaining pilots."


They were all standing to attention before him, with fear clearly shown in their eyes, for they all knew what would be asked of them. Kogler's lips moved, trembled, but no sound left his throat. He was feeling the very same fear creeping inside him too. That was the most difficult task a commander had to face in battle: he should accept the fact that he was going to die sooner or later. That was inevitable. And just when he would get used to the fact, he should convince every single soldier in his unit to do the same. Two weeks ago on February 20, the Thunderbolts of 56th Fighter Group, had a field day when they bounced 13 Me-110 of Kogler's III/ZG26 out of the sun, shooting down eleven of them in rapid succession. That same afternoon the P-47's came back strafing Kogler's airfield at Wunstorf, leaving behind them another nine damaged aircraft. Within a few hours Kogler had lost 22 aircraft and 17 pilots. 



Now his Gruppe, or rather what was left of it, had received the order to scramble against the raid, leading the second wave of attack. That meant his nine remaining slow, heavy and cumbersome Me-110 against swarms of fast and maneuverable P-47's. That meant certain death. Still, Kogler made one last effort to spare some of his pilots from the massacre. Thinking of no other subtle way to put it, he asked for..."volunteers". Even then no one moved: with the memory of that terrible blow still fresh in their minds, no one had yet the strength to answer his call. Then Kogler appealed more to their sense of comradeship than their sense of patriotism: 



"Will you let me go alone against the bombers?", he asked. 

Reluctantly, resentfully, sullenly, one by one the pilots stepped forward...


The second wave under Kogler's leadership, was even stronger than the first: 24 Me-110 of I and II/ZG 76, 10 Me-410 of II/ZG 26 and nine Me-110 of Kogler's Gruppe, all armed with four 21cm air-to-air rockets. Closely behind those 43 "Zerstörern", were following another 72 Me-109's and FW-190's. It was mass against mass.


"Formations of twin-engined approaching 10 o'clock! 


The spectacle of the forty-odd Me-110's and Me-410's flying almost wingtip to wingtip, was breath-taking. The German attack tactic was called "The Rocketeers": steadily approaching the Fortresses, Kogler deployed its huge formation in close line abreast to disrupt the bombers defensive fire and give its pilots the best position to launch their rockets. The 21cm rocket was not a precision weapon. Far from it: it had to be fired well outside the range of the bombers defensive fire -that is between 1,200 and 1,400m- and it had a curved trajectory for which the standard Luftwaffe Revi 16B reflector gun sight could not be adjusted to compensate for. Therefore, its aim and effectiveness was rather a matter of hard-gained experience than capability. 


Gefreiter Hillringhaus in his Me-110G of III/ZG26 picked his target before entering the bombers range of fire but some nervous, trigger-happy top-turret gunners were already taking pot shots at him that went wide away. As the distance between them closed, Hillringhaus saw the curving streaks of tracer getting uncomfortably close. He bent his head slightly forward to look through his gun sight judging the range and deflection, took a last quick glance around checking for any escort fighters, saw none, took a deep breath and launched his rockets at 1,100 yards...


..."My God, they've fired rockets!"...


...he then pressed the gun firing buttons and the whole world exploded in his face.


Truly he had no t seen any escorts. That was because they were coming head-on, out of the sun: 33 Mustangs which unleashed their deadly fire at the precise moment the Germans were about to launch their rockets. Hillringhaus's rockets exploded four seconds later behind his target, presenting a fearful but harmless show. Four seconds before that his Me-110 had exploded in mid-air by a direct hit in the fuel tanks. Death had come in an instant as he had hoped it would. With two more 110's already spinning down with their engines on fire and both crew killed, the rest of the oncoming Messerschmitts fired their rockets prematurely and scattered every which way to avoid the Mustangs that stormed right through their panic-stricken formation, raking with fire whatever stood in their path almost in point-blank range: the once-promising attack of the Zerstörern had ended in bloody shambles before it got started. Lieutenant Nick Megura met three 110's in front of him still flying close together and gave a full burst to the middle one observing strikes in both engines and an explosion in the cockpit that shattered the canopy. As he swooped over it he heard the thudding sound of flying debris hitting his undercarriage. Somewhere among the pieces were the tiny remnants of the pilot's head.

Although the element of surprise was definitely lost and their losses mounting, the Germans pressed on their attack with unprecedented vigor. Oberstleutnant Friedrich Stehle, Gruppennkommandeur of II/ZG26's Me-410's, and his wingman Feldwebel Willi Bonnecke, got through the fighters shield unscathed heading for the bombers. Stehle had his gun sight locked on a target, opening fire with everything he had and the whole bomber went ablaze from nose to tail. Nothing human could have survived that roaring mass of flames. Still, out of some miracle, a figure emerged out of the radio-operator's hatch on top of the fuselage, crawled backwards among the flames and stood up staggering with his parachute already on fire. He jumped into space just when the bomber's huge horizontal stabilizer slammed onto him with all its force of 250 mph. The lifeless body fell rapidly out of sight like a heavy, empty sack of flesh.





Stehle's rear gunner Alois Slaby, never saw any of it. He had been watching Bonnecke's Me-410 at his left swerving and inexplicably crashing into one of the bombers smashing it in half. The collision tore apart the bomber's tail section and threw the bomber into a shallow left-hand dive, looking for a safe place to crash; quite difficult in the midst of a tight "box" formation. Totally out of control and mutilated from the mid-section backwards, it started dangerously approaching a nearby Fort. Just before the collision, gravity changed its mind and sent the dying B-17 the other way, into the arms of an unsuspecting crew. Slaby watched the scene of the thunderous impact in a horrified trance. In a matter of seconds 22 airmen had met death embraced together inside a torn and twisted mass of wreckage that scattered over a radius of four miles on SW Berlin sometime later. Then the formation of 70-plus German single-engined fighters joined the fray and the american intercoms burst aloud with the cries reporting bandits coming from all over the place.



"Fighters 8 o'clock!...Wolves 6 o'clock!... My God, this Fort is burning! Bail out, boys!... Watch out those three behind you!... Then the reports stopped. There was no point in reporting how many were the too many. Every pilot prepared himself to live his own personal hell. The thundering roar of the titanic clash and the humming of the engines covered once again the silent agony of death, the screams and moans of the dying and wounded, German and American alike, whose flesh was ripped open by shells and shrapnel of glass and steel; shells that tore and slashed through control cables, hydraulics and engines, carrying away torn wings and human lives self-incinerated in the simultaneous combustion of fuel, bombs and shells. Even after a terrible aerial carnage of two and a half hours during which Kogler's III/ZG26 had literally ceased to exist as a fighting unit, the action was not over yet. Outnumbered and tired the pilots of some Jagdgruppen were ordered again at 14.30 to scramble against the depleted American formations now returning to England. Oberleutnant Heinz Knocke was among them. But II/JG11 was now a mere shadow of its former self, reduced down to only five pilots and four operational aircraft of what once had been a Gruppe of 15 aircraft when the day began. The battle-hardened veterans Specht and Knocke took off again, taking with them two green young pilots, leaving behind only Johnny Fest whose aircraft was being serviced. They looked silently at each other before entering their cockpits, only too-aware of the possibility that their inexperienced wingmen, Feldwebeln Zambelli and Hauptmann, were unlikely to return from that second sortie of the day. They were supposed to attack a formation of Liberators but Specht soon discovered that it was not a matter of attack anymore; it was a bitter struggle for survival; a merciless battle against all odds.


When the enemy appeared Specht was again the first to spot it: "Achtung! Enemy fighters!...Thunderbolts, 40 of them!". He led his small force in a tight left turn and then into the cover of a cloud which did not last for long. Whenever the four 109's were out in the open they were bounced again and again by swarms of P-47's. Franz Zambelli was the first to go when he got separated from Knocke who disappeared in the nick of time into a patch of cloud. Searching frantically the sky around him, the only thing Zambelli found was three Thunderbolts on his tail. His second mistake was that he tried to get into a chase-your-tail-turn -hopeless against overwhelming odds. He was in the middle of a tight starboard turn when a the Thunderbolts "boxed" him in for good. A short two-seconds burst struck his wing roots making him realize that he should have dived away instead. Too late now...A round shot him through the left wrist but he managed to bail out.

 

 

Hauptmann was shot just before he entered a small puff of cloud. It was a very short but well-aimed burst. His 109 was getting in and out of the cloud like a furious lady who lost her bag; hid for a second, came out again trailing white smoke, making no other attempt to evade his tormentors. Hauptmann was past caring, slumped forward in his seat bleeding, unable to move, waiting patiently for the end. He had bought his ticket to the other world so he could as well enjoy the ride there Specht and Knocke tried every trick in the book for almost half an hour: power dives, loops, Immelmanns, split-S turns, always maintaining their mutual formation, one protecting the back of the other and surviving many close calls. Their blood stream was going up and down surging their brains one moment, concentrating in their feet the next, in a swirling succesion of red, gray and black-outs. Thus they managed to gain a few seconds in which they outdistanced their hard-chasing enemies and grabbed the opportunity to break for home, hitting the deck at full speed. They could hardly believe
they had made it back alive. The American pilots of 359th Fighter Group could not help themselves from admiring the skill of their
opponents: the epitome of fighter pilots.

 

Hours later when the Americans had finally decided to call it a day, Heinz Knocke and Jonny Fest, terribly exhausted, went right to the mess and sat heavily in the armchairs staring at the blissful emptiness of the ceiling for a long time. They didn't want to think, talk or fly again in their lives. Their mind was full of scraps and scrambles, dogfights and burning kites, more scraps and fights and blurred faces of missing friends. The only thing they wanted right now was just to sit there in utter silence for the rest of the day, drinking and leisurely smoking one cigarette after another. The third remaining pilot in the squadron, Guenther Specht, was calling the Air Division requesting permission to withdraw the squadron temporarily from operations. Permission denied; the squadron was to keep flying until further notice. Coming into the mess, joining the other two, he approached Knocke wearily and said:



We did not show ourselves to be particularly great fighters..." 


Specht was a very brave pilot. One of the bravest anyone would ever have known. But on this day he just had had enough. Knocke's and Fest's glances wandered involuntarily to their lost wingmen and pictures of their fallen comrades hanging on the wall while cigarette buts kept pilling up in the ashtrays. Memories stirred, ghosts wailed...


"Wolny...we were returning from his funeral when a girl suddenly dashed into the road carrying a wreath of pine on her arm. It was his fiancée. She had been ashamed to stand beside us at the grave, afraid she could not control her grief... 


Fuehrmann...we erected a tall oak cross on the spot where his Messerschmitt carried him down... 



Zambelli... He had made it that day, buying a little borrowed time. He used to play the accordion. His last alert came when he was in the middle of a lively dancing tune. It was still lying on the table when we returned from the mission on which he was killed... 


Doelling...did not returned from his second mission... 


Arndt...did not returned from his first mission... 


Kramer...he lost his head when his aircraft went down into the sea... 


Kolbe...we found his body in the wreckage, minus both hands. Then his wife asked for their
wedding- ring. How could we possibly tell her the truth?... 





Reinhard... 


            Hetzel... 


                    Kreuger... 


                                Now only Jonny and I remain..."






BIBLIOGRAPHY: 



1. "Target Berlin, Mission 250, 6 March 1944" by Jeffrey Ethell & Alfred Price. 


2. "I Flew for the Fuehrer" by Heinz Knocke 


3. "AGGRESSORS: vol. 2, Interceptor vs Heavy Bomber" by David Anderton, AirlifePublishing
Ltd. 


4. "Flying Forts" by Martin Caidin

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