Wednesday, 16 September 2009

JG 300 Wilde Sau - Hubert Engst, Ernst Schröder, Walther Dahl, Klaus Bretschneider, Gerhard Stamp Fw 190 Sturmbock

Hubert Engst (6./JG300) climbing up into the cockpit of his armoured Sturmbock Fw 190 in early 1945 (click on the pic for a larger image - photo via Lorant). Another view of 'Red 2' below

 I worked with Jean-Yves Lorant and Richard Goyat on the production and translation of their two-volume history of Jagdgeschwader 300 and still count Jean-Yves and Richard as good friends. I was subsequently able to contact a number of JG 300 veterans and received their accounts and photographs directly. 'Timo' Schenk who served with I./JG 300 during 1944-45 and flew the Me 262 with JG 7 at the end, especially insisted on writing some of his pieces in rather poor English. Ernst Schröder was another vet who wrote to me directly, although he had already responded to an earlier article that I had published in Scale Aircraft Modelling. This is my translation of his account of his first combat sortie, August 1944.

"...Takeoff from Holzkirchen at 10:45. As I was untested in combat, I had been designated to fly as number two, or wingman to Fahnenjunker-Oberfeldwebel Richard Löfgen, who was leading our Sturmgruppe on this sortie. I therefore found myself at the controls of “Red 12” flying in the lead Schwarm. The Gruppe had been able to put a good twenty or so Fw 190s in the air. The weather was fine, the sky virtually cloudless.I recall that we were airborne for quite some time, reaching a height of more than 6,000 meters, which meant that we had to clip on our oxygen masks. Changes of track relayed by Jagddivision (Döberitz?) came loud and clear over the frequency. Finally, after flying for an hour and a half, we were informed that the “fat cars” would soon be in sight. I kept a constant look out, in so far as I was able while maintaining position as the number 2 to the Verbandsführer. We were flying the typical close-knit — and quite restrictive — formation characteristic of the Sturmgruppen. It was imperative to keep station. For an instant I caught sight of a contrail at much higher altitude. It was impossible to know if this was a friendly aircraft or not. It wasn’t long before the information and the orders being transmitted over the radio became more insistent: “You should be able to see the fat cars!”Suddenly I saw our prize: 25 or 30 B 17 bombers, a little off to the right in an oblique line that was as straight as a die, five hundred meters below us. Most of them had a bare-metal aluminium finish, others were camouflaged. On their current track they would cut across our path. It was like watching a gigantic aerial flypast. I instinctively made myself small in the cockpit, imagining, in my fervor as an unfledged fighter pilot, that they had seen us and that hundreds of machine guns were about to open up on us! But nothing of the sort happened and the Americans plowed on below us, unperturbed by our presence. What a majestic sight these enormous aircraft were as they streamed their mostly long trails of condensation behind them.For a moment I wondered why Löfgen had not wheeled down and around to the right to attack them in a dive. And then I realized… bloody hell! Another “Mahalla” was heading towards us, at a slightly higher altitude than the previous formation. Once again we let these bombers pass by below us. I immediately caught sight of a third box, flying more or less at our own altitude. Stretching way back into the distance were yet more boxes of bombers one behind the other, specks that took on the appearance of a swarm of gnats…Suddenly all hell broke loose. The terse order “jettison drop tanks!” came through the earphones, and in the second that followed, numerous pale blue auxiliary tanks went tumbling down into the void. Löfgen had just peeled away, bunting over to the right and was diving between the box of Flying Fortresses that had just gone past below us and the following box which was looming — menacingly — ever larger. I tightened my turn a little to keep close to our number one. I now kept my eyes fixed on him, which meant that I couldn’t watch what was happening around us. Then, exactly 1,500 meters ahead of us, I counted 25 B 17s. Despite being well out of range at this enormous distance, their gunners opened up. The sky was suddenly streaked with thousands of sparkling pearls. Or at least this is how the tracers appeared in the dazzling blue sky. I was instantly reminded of the games that we played as children in our garden and how my brother Helmut would love to try and turn the water hose on me! Thousands of bright, sparkling drops just seconds from sluicing down on me. But I could only throw the briefest of glances forward, forced to keep station on Löfgen’s wing, and anxious, above anything else, not to collide with him.Another order came over the radio: “Pauke, Pauke, auf sieee, Rabazanella!” I had to pick out a bomber immediately. I quickly switched on the gunsight and flicked off the armament safety switch. I almost forgot in my excitement! It was then that I felt intense fear, expecting to be hit at any moment. My bomber was still a respectable distance away, his wings not yet filling the graticule of my Revi. I shot a glance to my left. Löfgen had already opened up, all guns blazing. The Boeing rapidly loomed large in my sight and I opened fire. I saw several flashes up ahead. Were these the impacts of my shells or the gunners returning fire? It was impossible to tell. There were more flashes in the tail gunner’s position and on the rudder. This time my bursts had clearly raked him. The great bulk of the “thing” had assumed imposing proportions, it was time to break off. But how, above or underneath? I unleashed a final salvo, and for a fraction of a second, thought I glimpsed the fuselage ablaze. The tail gunner’s compartment appeared enormous. I rammed the stick forward, flashing past underneath the bomber, pulling negative Gs as I rolled several times while diving headlong before taking stock of what was happening around me. A short while prior to the attack I had seen a very large city off on my starboard side, which from a height of 8,000 meters was laid out like the pattern on an antique ornamental carpet. This could only have been the capital of the Reich — Berlin. Consequently there would be numerous airfields in the area.The constant craning back and forth, to and fro, as I surveyed the sky all around me, had started to make my neck hurt. There was not a single aircraft, either friendly or enemy, in my field of vision. It was time to ease my 190 out of its crazy plunge earthwards. By the time I had leveled out, my altimeter was indicating around 800 meters. There was a rail track ahead of me and a completely empty sky all around!The pressure in my ears, that had built up as I plummeted down, gradually eased and I could hear the roar of my engine again. There were no untoward indications on any of my gauges. I reduced my throttle setting while continuing to keep a careful look out. Above me, the contrails appeared far away. I let down to a height of 150 meters, following the rail line. The red low fuel warning light now flashed up on my instrument panel. I had to quickly locate an airfield. I eventually came to a large town. I pulled up into a quick chandelle and shot a glance all around… still nothing behind me. I was then relieved to make out an airfield up ahead of me. As I overflew it I could see that I was flying parallel with the landing axis as indicated by the cross on the ground. I banked my fighter over, wisps of condensation briefly appearing at my wingtips. Moving away from the field I curved around in a 180° turn over the town, letting down my undercarriage and selecting flaps to come in on a long final. I let down towards the cross, noted that there was a little crosswind and felt the controls suddenly go a little slack. I was still 50 meters above the ground and the airfield was still some way off — about 1,500 meters — and I had to open up the throttle a little. Suddenly I thought I was seeing things: ahead of me there was a succession of flashes and violent detonations and an enormous cloud of smoke. The airfield was literally exploding! I rammed open the throttle, retracted gear and flaps, and yanked the aircraft around in a tight turn to port to put some distance between this hell and myself. Hugging the ground I headed back along the rail line. I kept a careful look out, especially on my tail. Still nothing but the rail track. The red warning light was now permanently illuminated on my instrument panel. I had only ten minutes more flying time before the propeller juddered and quit without any further warning. Was I likely to find an airfield in time or should I select a field to belly in on?Precious minutes ticked by. My neck was really hurting by now. I throttled back to conserve gas. Finally a town appeared. Where was the airfield, where? Was that it back over there? I pulled up a little, selecting gear and flaps down, quickly retrimmed, adjusting the horizontal stabilizer, side slipping, then easing up the nose into the flare… the runway appeared in front of me. I could not make out the usual landing cross but that was hardly important any more. I rounded out, skimming over the ground. There was a bump and then the aircraft was running out and I began to apply the brakes. The airfield appeared strangely deserted. I could see no signs of human activity. Suddenly, someone dashed out from under cover, gesticulating skywards… Realisation dawned. I cut the engine. My propeller came to a standstill. I slid back the canopy and scrambled down from my 190. The air was filled with a deafening noise. I could have cried… From over on the other side of the airfield, there was a thunderous booming of detonating explosions, the ground shook and thick palls of smoke rose up into the sky. I flattened myself in the grass. Would the next salvo hit us? The sky reverberated with the drone of engines as the enemy formations overflew the airfield. I was expecting the next salvo of bombs at any moment.We had enormous good fortune. On the side of the airfield where I found myself, I could see — not too far away — stocks of fuel, their placards bearing the designations “Me” and “Fw”. As luck would have it we were spared. The American’s bombing lacked precision; only the barracks were hit on the airfield, which by the way, was Stendal. I think the previous aerodrome I’d attempted to land at was Brandenburg "

The 17 Messerschmitts of I./JG 300, airborne from Bad Wörishofen at 10:45, had assembled with II./JG 300 over Augsburg. At 12:05 they attempted to close on two boxes of Boeing B-17s south-west of Berlin. At 12:09, several German pilots reported over the radio that an assault by the Mustangs was imminent. Moments later a free-for-all had developed. For ten minutes Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs wheeled around with the P-51s of the 20th FG. Combats spiraled down to low level. II./JG 300 lost nine aircraft and four pilots all told in the days operations. Unteroffiziere Erich Voit, Franz Klein, Robert Janssen and Gfr. Heinz Nowarra crashed at the controls of their Focke-Wulf 190s, having fallen victim to the Mustangs and the Fortresses. Ofw. Richard Löfgen bailed out slightly wounded not far from Brandenburg.Fw. Alfons Zeder (2. Staffel) claimed the destruction of a bomber, that he identified as being a B-17, over Rathenow. Uffz. Heinz Wischhöfer (1. Staffel) flew two passes at a Boeing B 17 at 4,000 meters altitude that had fallen behind on three engines south of Berlin. Surprised at the enemy gunners failure to react, Wischhöfer believed that the bomber had already been abandoned by its crew. Then at 12:27, four parachutes mushroomed open in the wake of the Boeing as it went into a slow spin. It exploded 2,000 meters from the ground above a layer of strato-cumulus. Wischhöfer landed at Jüterbog-altes Lager at 12:50. Fhr. Otto Leisner (1. Staffel), who had taken off from Bad Wörishofen at 10:45 in Bf 109 G 6 “Red 18”, barely survived this sortie;

"..South-west of Berlin, I sighted 10 or 12 Mustangs at about 9,000 meters altitude. It was a very ill-matched combat... My engine and my oil tank were riddled with bullets. My canopy and more especially the windshield were coated in a film of oil leaving me with only limited visibility to the rear through the plate armor glass protecting my head. I shoved the stick forward, brutally plunging downwards and soon saw no more than two Mustangs behind my ship. As I watched them close to a firing position, I transformed my dive into a slewing maneuver, sideslipping and turning or suddenly throttling back. Each time I took power off they swept past my crate, their momentum causing them to overshoot. Finally I went into a cloud. I had to make the most of this by bailing out. Therefore I tried to get rid of my canopy but unfortunately it refused to come free. I drew my pistol and fired several shots through the Plexiglas. I was counting on the slipstream to tear the hood off, thanks to the holes left by the bullets. I crossed the controls, applying rudder and opposite aileron, sideslipping at an oblique angle. The canopy did not budge a centimeter. The only thing left to do was to continue this blind descent. Very quickly my two brightly colored pursuers displaying what looked like sharks teeth markings on their olive green fuselages reappeared. Several seconds later, I put my 109 down in a potato field in front of some houses in the village of Liebsdorf. I scrambled out of my “Red 18” as rapidly as I could and started to run for the cover of the nearest thicket. The two Mustangs came back around at low level. The rattling of their machine-guns drowned out the thumping of my heart. I flattened myself on the ground. They were strafing me as much as the aircraft. I was still wearing my all too visible yellow life jacket. They wanted to finish me off. This yellow garb made me an excellent target. Seconds later I had got rid of it, hurling it as far away from myself as possible. I started to run again. The Amis came in for a second pass, then the thundering roar of their engines receded. They seemed to have gone for good. I picked myself up, then went looking for my life jacket. It had been holed by several bullet strikes. A little further off, my Messerschmitt was burning like a torch.."

The Stabschwarm of JG 300, led by Maj. Dahl, did not make visual contact with the enemy. Having suffered a radio failure, the Kommodore had decided to turn for home. His wingmen followed him. It was their responsibility to protect Walther Dahl, whatever happened. They landed at Bad Wörishofen at 11:10. Seconded just the previous day to the Geschwaderstab, Uffz. Hans Reinartz was summoned after landing to report to the Kommodore. Both he and his comrades were lectured in no uncertain terms. They were torn off a strip for having broken off the sortie to chaperone Maj. Dahl in a sector where there was zero enemy aerial activity. Dahl explained to his pilots that they should have joined the other Schwärme and mounted an attack on the Americans over the target. The instruction “protect the Kommodore come what may” had suddenly become “attack the four-engine bombers at all costs”… ( )

Jagdgeschwader Wilde 300 Sau: A Chronicle of a Fighter Geschwader in the Battle for Germany, Vol. 2: September 1944-May 1945… by Jean-Yves Lorant. Translated by Neil Page

(text extract - my translation)

On 24 January 1945, the sky partially cleared over the Eastern Front. At daybreak a start was made on allocating pilots to the various Schwärme. From 09:30 sortie followed sortie as aircraft were dispatched in increasing tempo from Liegnitz, Schönfeld-Seifersdorf and Lüben. Soviet columns pushing through the sector Steinau-Ostrowo-Rawitsch were machine-gunned with varying results by the pilots of JG 300, still hampered by persistent freezing fog. Lt. Friedrich-Wilhelm “Timo” Schenk, at the controls of his Bf 109 G 10 “Red 5”, was leading a Schwarm from 2. Staffel;

".. Free hunt against all enemy targets. Weather conditions were still relatively poor, horizontal visibility left something to be desired. We were implementing a new tactic. The Schwarmführer no longer flew as number 1, but henceforth as the number 4. In this way he would be better able to direct the Schwarm and would be less likely to lose his bearings should he suffer a loss of engine revs or be hindered by any other factor. We flew towards the enemy positions at about 2,000 meters above ground level. Fog partially shrouded the snow-covered landscape. We quickly reached the village of Trachenberg, about thirty kilometers north of Breslau. This time the Soviet’s presence was evident. In the long main street we saw men on horseback and numerous horsedrawn wagons. We pressed on, flying away until we were out of sight of the new occupants of Trachenberg. Then we wheeled down and around, spacing out until there was at least 400 meters between each Messerschmitt. Once at tree top height we reduced our throttle settings and executed a wide sweep that brought us directly in towards Trachenberg. As soon as the village appeared ahead of us, we pulled up quickly to 250 meters before thundering down on the main street. In front of us a few seconds later was our target: teams of horsedrawn caravans, horses, soldiers in brownish-gray uniforms drawn up in ranks as if on parade. The horses panicked and bolted while their drivers attempted to bring them under control… and there was instant hell and pandemonium! Just seconds later, we came around on a second firing run. I no longer recall whether we flew a third pass. With our ammunition magazines empty, we streaked off at full power in the direction of Liegnitz. On landing we were refueled and re-armed. We took off on a second sortie.."

At 10:30, II./JG 300 put its first Schwarm in the air from Schönfeld-Seifersdorf: five Focke-Wulfs of 5. Staffel and the Gruppenstab flown by Fhj.-Ofw. Richard Löfgen, Maj. Alfred Lindenberger, Ofw. Karl Rusack, Uffz. Walter Beuchel and Uffz. Karl Werner. Leading the Schwarm, Löfgen brought his small force down to 500 meters altitude as they arrived over the front. Having once overflown the Oder, the pilots were unable to discern the slightest sign of enemy activity. Having flown for several minutes over territory that was in theory now in the hands of the Soviets, Ofw. Löfgen throttled back and flew a series of wide weaving curves. The Russians had infiltrated woods and villages everywhere, yet there was nothing to betray their presence. In the skies the enemy air force was nowhere to be seen. Racked by all sorts of doubts, the German pilots knew that they would soon have to turn back, their fuel reserves diminishing rapidly. Ten minutes later, the Focke-Wulf 190s flew over two wrecked farms that were still burning. Suddenly, just as Ofw. Rusack made out the town of Steinau and the river Oder in the distance, a string of tracers flitted through the air around the German fighters. The gunfire was coming from a wood bisected by a small road. With the target thus revealed, Löfgen swept down towards it in a shallow dive. The forest road was teeming with enemy vehicles, drawn up tightly in columns that stretched back some four kilometers! The Focke-Wulfs moved away widening their sweep towards the east, Löfgen attempting to dupe the Soviets into thinking they had avoided an attack. The Schwarm turned hard to starboard and was now at a height of fifty meters. Gunsights were switched on and the pilots scoured the landscape to pick out the forest road. Sure of their bearings the Sturmböcke bore down on the road spitting long volleys of fire. As they pulled up and wheeled around for a second firing run, several vehicles were already in flames. More fires and a violent explosion were observed after the second pass. Despite a wall of light anti-aircraft fire, the Fw 190s bore down a third time, the stabbing flashes of their exploding shells igniting more fires. Ofw. Karl Rusack (5. Staffel) never forget the spectacle that unfolded beneath him;

" In the space of a few seconds we were drawing very dense anti-aircraft fire. We disregarded it. Only our tracers and shells exploding into the enemy tanks and vehicles counted for anything. Numerous columns of black smoke rose into the misty sky. More trucks and tanks that would go no further on German territory. The Soviets were putting up a furious fight. As I came in on my last pass, I could see a Russian soldier standing in a field. He had put his rifle to his shoulder to aim and was about to open fire, if he had not already done so! He had seen our five fighters armed with cannon and machine guns but appeared not to have been at all disconcerted. In that situation, any one of us would have flung himself to the ground... One last time our aircraft shuddered as our guns hammered out their salvos. With a deft touch on the rudder bar I was able for a brief moment to ease the pathetic human silhouette into my sight. A short burst and then I pulled up sharply to avoid a tree. The ground was very close. The Russian had taken to his heels to evade my fire. As I looked over, I was astounded to see that he was now taking pot shots at me. What were we to think of an enemy that acted like this? We landed at Schönfeld-Seifersdorf fifteen minutes later. Two of our aircraft had taken hits from the Russian flak. More of a fright than anything else. My “Red 10” was intact. As I unbuckled my parachute I could see my comrades of the Schwarm on alert line up in turn into the wind. This ballet of sorties lasted up until about 15:00.."

At 11:35, seven Focke-Wulfs of 5. Staffel taxiied out from their dispersals: two Schwärme led by Oblt. Heinz-Dieter Gramberg and Uffz. Ernst Schröder. The latter was leading three Fw 190s that were tasked with top cover to ward off any enemy fighter attacks. Gramberg and his three wingmen were slated to attack ground targets. The Focke-Wulfs lifted off at 11:40 and roared through the sky at low altitude towards Steinau. They skirted round this town, passing less than one kilometer to the south of it and a few moments later had crossed the front line. Over the village of Trachenberg, Uffz. Ernst Schröder saw Gramberg’s Schwarm start to orbit at 500 meters altitude. The new Staffelführer of 5./JG 300 had seen vehicles in the streets below and was attempting to identify them. Three hundred meters above, Ernst Schröder and his two wingmen started to circle. Uffz. Schröder later related what happened next;

" As we were flying three hundred meters higher than our comrades, we could barely make out any details on the ground. That was not our role in any event. I saw Gramberg’s “Red 2” dive down on the village, followed by his wingmen. It seemed evident that our comrades had identified their targets. Their prinicpal quarry, as I realized a few seconds later, was a Russian truck mounting a quadruple machine gun arrangement. Despite the four Fw 190s bearing down on them, the Soviets immediately opened fire. Our Staffelführer’s aircraft was hit. Gramberg nonetheless managed to pull up his Focke-Wulf some fifty meters or so above the road and to bail out. He was unfortunately far too low. The parachute did not have the time to deploy… Our comrade plunged down and smashed into a house on the outskirts of the village! His Focke-Wulf exploded as it crashed in the center of the village a few hundred meters further off. Meanwhile Gramberg’s wingmen had opened up on the truck with the anti-aircraft flak mount, which now ceased firing. My two comrades and I swept down in turn, all guns blazing at the Soviet vehicles, some of which were now in flames. Our MG 151 and MK 108 cannon just ripped through them in terrifying and spectacular fashion. What I saw in the few seconds that I was over this street left a lasting impression on me. We broke off the action and set course back to Schönfeld-Seifersdorf. It was self evident that Oberleutnant Gramberg, who was listed missing for a number of hours, had undoubtedly lost his life in the course of this sortie. Nobody could hope to survive such a fall. Gramberg was moreover one of the rare officer-pilots in our Gruppe to make no secret of his openly National Socialist political opinions. He would make blatant attempts to deny the reality of our impending defeat, forcing the mechanics of 5. Staffel to take part in military drill between sorties... in order to maintain good levels of discipline and to prepare them for some final combat or other. He was not greatly missed ."

Two further II. Gruppe Schwärme took off at 12:55. Ofw. Rudi Zwesken (6. Staffel) led them once again over Trachenberg, which was visible from a distance in the snow-covered landscape as a result of the fires that had been started on the preceding mission. This last attack mounted by II. Gruppe was a complete success. About twenty motorized and horse-drawn vehicles were destroyed along with two armored cars and one tank. On this occasion the pilots had run in and released 250 kg bombs taken from stocks destined to be dropped by their Schlachtflieger comrades. This last sortie flown by II./JG 300 ended without loss, but at around 16:00 it was learnt that Ofw. August Saarholz (6. Staffel) had just been killed ferrying a Fw 190 A 8 from Breslau to Schönfeld-Seifersdorf.The third — and perhaps last — II. Gruppe sortie flown that day was mounted at 15:25. Uffz. Ernst Schröder, flying “Red 20”, had to turn back following a malfunctioning BMW regulating unit and returned to Schönfeld-Seifersdorf, where he landed at 15:50.Throughout the day of 24 January 1945 the pilots of JG 300 flew missions almost continually. At the start of the afternoon, Messerschmitts of I. Gruppe destroyed around ten vehicles and a Soviet observation aircraft near Rawitsch without loss.III. Gruppe was equally very active over the Wielun-Ostrowo-Krotoschin-Rawitsch sector. Hptm. Fritz Lonzius (11. Staffel) led off a Schwarm at 10:01 — the first of a long series. His wingman, Fw. Hansotto Nehls, never forgot the subsequent turn of events on his first sortie on the Eastern Front;

" Airborne from Lüben at the controls of Messerschmitt Bf 109 G 10 “Green 16”. During this sortie we could see large convoys of civilians fleeing ahead of the enemy advance. We quickly realized that Russian army vehicles, including tanks, had infiltrated the refugee columns as a defence against aerial attacks. This was a crude ruse but one to which we had no answer, since we could not for one minute consider opening fire on Russian vehicles which were surrounded by German women and children! At the head of one column, I even saw several women waving pieces of white rag to clearly identify themselves. I cut across this road at right angles at a height of just twenty meters and caught a brief glimpse of enemy soldiers training their weapons in our direction from in among the midst of our civilians. I can still recall my astonishment and even admiration for one man I saw holding the reins of a harness. He was watching over his animals, calmly smoking a pipe as our Messerschmitts thundered overhead. He did not move although he could hardly have had any indications as to what our intentions were! Had he decided he could ignore the threat fom the skies or was he simply demonstrating exceptional coolness? Like a snapshot I can still recall the fleeting glimpse I caught of this untroubled silhouette. We came into land at Lüben at 11:15. Hauptmann Lonzius immediately gathered us together and questioned us. He wanted to know exactly what each one of us had seen. After listening to what we told him, he immediately ordered another sortie and we were airborne again at 14:30. Shortly having overflown the Oder, we were greeted by Soviet flak. Lonzius led us a few minutes later over the spot where that morning we had flown over the enemy tanks and trucks hidden in among the refugee caravan. This time the road was deserted… as was the entire region over a ten kilometer radius! Finally we saw evidence of the presence of Soviet troops towards the Oder-Lissa, near Steinau. We made low level strafing runs on numerous trucks and tanks before heading back to Lüben, where we touched down at 15:22."

The Messerschmitts of IV./JG 300 flew two sorties (11:05 and 15:15) for no losses during the course of the day. Having flown their offensive sweeps against Red Army columns and vehicles, the pilots of III. and IV./JG 300 returned to Lüben with the actions of the Soviet infantrymen under fire very much in their minds. The fact that they had stood and returned fire at the Messerschmitts with rifles and automatic weapons instead of seeking cover had proved something of a revelation. The Bf 109 G 10 “White 6” of Fhr. Horst Vogt (10. Staffel) was damaged in a collision with a Junkers 52 at Lüben. There was no loss of life.During the evening, conflicting news about the capture of Steinau by the Soviets circulated around Lüben, Liegnitz and Schönfeld-Seifersdorf, news which served to demoralize the men of JG 300. At Lüben, women working in the kitchens and administrative services started to abandon their posts to join the refugee columns pushing westwards. As the situation descended into chaos, the airfield quickly became untenable. Towards dusk a message from the Wehrmacht announced that Lüben would be directly threatened by the Red Army during the course of the next forty-eight hours. Lt. Willi Rühl (14. Staffel) wrote in his diary; " Talked with the cleaning ladies in our billet. They are all in a fearful panic and wondering how on earth they are going to escape from this place… Everyone is telling the most terrible stories of atrocities committed by the Bolshevik soldiers. The people streaming past on the roads also peddle tales of acts of savagery that are just as alarming..".

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