Saturday, 25 September 2010
Wolfgang Falck - Colin Heaton interview
An edited version of this interview was published in Military History, February 2000, Vol. 16, No. 6, pp. 42-8. Colin Heaton's website HeatonLewis Books
Wolfgang Falck on the the early days of the Luftwaffe, Zerstörer sorties over Poland and the setting up of the Nachtjagd.
Q-Wolf, when and where were you born?
A- I was born 19 August 1910 in Berlin.
Q- Tell us about your youth, and about your family.
A- My family came from West Prussia in Danzig, which is now Gdansk, Poland. My mother was from Bremen and she married my father who was from Prussia, and he was a pastor. My sister Ilsa was born there on 7 February 1898. My sister Irmgard was born on 19 July 1904. They both married officers and had children, but they have both been deceased for many years.
Q- How about your education Wolfgang; what was it like?
A- From 1917 to 1931 I was educated in the Realgymnasium at Berlin-Teptow and I passed the Abitur. I became a member of a flying group; some of us students who, under the watchful eye and control of a teacher built and flew models of gliders. Since we were living in Berlin I visited all of the air shows in the area, including airports where I admired and studied the different types of aircraft.
Q- How did you become a pilot?
A- That is quite a long story. On 1 April 1931 to March 1932 I was at the German Commercial Flight School in Schleisseim, near Munich where I finished training. I then went on to Infantry School at the training regiment in Dresden for two courses. This was due to the fact that the Versailles Treaty limited Germany to a 100,000 man army, the Navy allowed only 15,000 men and the air force was totally banned. This was called the Reichswehr, and each year the army took about 225 volunteers as cadets to be educated as officers.
Q- How difficult was it to get accepted?
A- Thousands applied each year and it was considered great luck if you were accepted. My unit, the 2nd Rifle Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment ‘Hirschberg-Silesia’ decided to take me as one of the five men accepted each year. Since the German government decided to establish its own air force, the Ministry of Defence selected thirty young men each year, previously enlisted by the regiments to receive the education that was necessary to become pilots. This would go on in secret for one year, and the camouflage was excellent. I was so lucky to be one of the thirty who was selected, which then sent me to Schleissheim at the Deutsche Verkehrsfliegerschule (previously mentioned). We were ‘civilian’ students of the school where we were officially trained as the pilots of the airliners. After the one-year training period twenty were sent back to their regiments, while ten were selected to spend about half a year in Lipetzk, Russia. The trip took twenty-four hours by train with our destination being just south of Moscow, where we were to be trained as fighter pilots.
Q- How was this organised?
A- At that time there existed a Top Secret arrangement between the Reichswehr and the Red Army, and Germany was allowed to operate this school away from the eyes of the western governments. There was also a camp farther to the north for making and training with chemical weapons, with another training camp close to the Ural Mountains for tanks. At this time Germany was not even allowed tanks or U-boats! This was how I spent the summer of 1932, from April to September in Russia. It was a wonderful time for me and for the ‘Black Air Force’. On 1 October 1932 I rejoined my regiment, yet no one but the regimental commanding officer knew that I was a qualified fighter pilot. Now to be a recruit was a hard time for me, then I graduated and we received the regular education as all the other
aspirants in the regiment and throughout the Infantry School. This was the academy for future officers in Dresden until September 1934, with one exception. During this time when the normal cadets trained at a camp proving ground, I was sent with the other pilots for refresher training at Schleissheim. On 1 October 1934 I was promoted to lieutenant and simultaneously eliminated, or ‘retired’ from the army. I then joined the Deutsche Luftfahrtverbände officially, and in this organisation I earned the title of Kettenführer, or ‘section leader’. This organisation was the camouflage for the future Luftwaffe, and I later became the chief instructor. In 1935 Hitler terminated all the restrictions placed on Germany and we were officially designated the Fighter Pilots School, and it was then that we were again officially re-admitted into the German armed forces, in this case the Luftwaffe. I was again reinstated as a lieutenant.
Q- Where did you go after that, Wolfgang?
A- In April 1936 I was assigned to JG-2 ‘Richthofen’ and I was assigned to the fifth Staffel, or 5./JG-2 located at Juterborg-Damm. My primary job while there was to train the young new pilots who came to us from the fighter school. In 1937 I was promoted to first lieutenant. Since the squadron leader was given a command at the academy I became the commanding officer of that squadron at the age of twenty-seven. Later that year I became the adjutant to the group commander and was stationed at Doeberitz, not far from Berlin. In 1938 the third Gruppe of JG-2 was stationed at Fuerstenwalde to the east, and it was there that I became a Staffelkapitän, holding the position but not the rank. Later in 1938 we were given a new name and refitted as 2. Staffel ZG-76, a heavy fighter Geschwader. We received our new aircraft and from this point on we no longer operated in single engine fighters; now we had a rear gunner, two engines and greater range. It was with this unit that I my first missions of World War II.
Q- What was your first combat?
A- On 1 September 1939 we invaded Poland and I flew early morning operations to Krakau in the south. On this mission we escorted a bomber group which flew a raid on an enemy airfield, and we encountered no opposition. No Polish aircraft were to be seen. During the next few days I scored my first three victories, obsolete Polish aircraft. After the Polish campaign was finished we were transferred to the Western Front to protect Germany against possible French air raids, but we never had any. On 17 December 1939 we flew to Northern Germany to our new base at Jever, close to the North Sea west of Wilhelmshaven. I was involved in the 18 December battle, now referred to as ‘The Battle of the German Bight’, or ‘Bay’ where the Royal Air Force tried to bomb German ships in the harbour at Wilhelmshaven with twenty-four Wellington bombers. We managed to shoot down twelve of them. In January 1940 I was promoted to Hauptmann a and made CO of I./ZG 76. While with this wing I participated in the campaigns against Denmark and Norway, which were launched on 9 April 1940. My later operations started on 10 May with the invasions of Holland, Belgium and France, and also operations on the English Channel coast against the RAF.
Q- How did you become the ‘Father of the Night Fighters?’
A- I first began thinking about the night fighter idea after we relocated to Aalborg in Northern Denmark. Every evening the RAF bombers flew over us on their way to bomb Germany, and us as well on their return trip. They would bomb our airfield or machine gun our aircraft during low level attacks, and here we were, the fighter pilots sitting in a trench! This was a very demoralising situation for us. I thought; ‘If the RAF can fly at night, so could we’, and I checked out three other crews as well as myself about the possibility of flying at night, and the results were positive. It was possible, but there would be necessary modifications implemented, as well as making the necessary arrangements with the local anti-aircraft battery commander concerning search lights and later the only radar station which was located not far from us. One night, or rather very early in the morning the RAF returned from a raid into Germany, and as usual dropped a few bombs on our airfield. I ordered the flight to take off with four aircraft where we hoped to meet them. Three of us saw an enemy bomber and we went in to attack, but it disappeared into the fog just over the sea. However, from this we learned that it was possible with a certain amount of organisation, modified aircraft and special ammunition to use at night which would not blind us, we knew that we could fight the bombers. My group commander asked me to write a report about the experiences, including all of my proposals for such missions. I completed the report and I believe that this particular report was more or less the only one read by the higher authorities, including Göring and Hitler.
Q- What was the result of this review?
A- Well, the birthday of the Nachtjagdfliegerdienst was 26 June 1940, when I was made Kommodore of the new outfit. This was after I received a call from General Ernst Udet, asking me to come to Berlin. I ordered two Ju-88 medium bombers to Berlin-Schoenefeld to take part in some tests, but I did not know what this was about at first. Udet informed me that our industry had developed some instruments, which could locate targets with distance and altitude, and this was why my crews were sent there. I met the civilian engineers, and they showed me to the station, called Wuerzburg-Geraete.
Q- How did that work?
A- There was a desk for me and another where another man sat, and he had a map, which was painted on a glass disk showing the present position of one of the Ju-88s, which was playing the ‘enemy.’ This was picked up by ‘Wuerzburg-Geraete’ (WG). The same controller guided the other Ju-88 to the target in order to come up from behind him. I watched this procedure three times. I saw the problem; these engineers were not pilots and they gave the night fighter the present position to the target, which made the fighter fly a ‘hundekurve’ and had problems arriving in the right position. I asked the people if I could take over the directional guidance by radio, and I had no problem finding the heading of the
target, and I gave the night fighter the correct orders to locate the bird, and it worked. The engineers were quite surprised that I guided the fighter to the target so quickly. I was deeply impressed and convinced that this was the way of the future for night fighting. I called Udet and gave him the full report, complete with my assignment and opinions. Udet reacted immediately and positively, and he asked me to arrange for two Fiesler ‘Storch’ aircraft, and to mark off a night fighting manoeuvre area. He believed that if it worked at high speed and high altitude, it should work at lower speeds and altitudes. Udet came in and he took off in a Storch with radio, and I flew the other without any radio communications.
I was the target and Udet was the fighter. If he located me and came in from behind he would fire a signal rocket. I would then disappear and he would do it again. So we flew at night without any position lights and he ‘killed’ me twice. After landing everyone one was happy and this assured continued development. Afterward I reported to (General Josef) Kammhuber, and he then authorised the next step, the Wuerzburg-Reise and on board radar. I then returned to my unit. That was when I was ordered
by Göring to form Nachtjagdgeschwader 1. I was with my wing stationed in France on the North Channel coast, just west of Le Havre, and it was just before the beginning of the Battle of Britain. All of a sudden I received special orders to Duesseldorf in order to fly against the British bombers at night. The RAF was attacking the Ruhrgebiet, Cologne, etc. I was very angry about the order because we had no experience; the crews did not possess the necessary knowledge to accomplish this task, and we did not have all the necessary equipment, all of which I had expressly requested in my report. Two days later I was summoned to Wassenaar in Holland to meet with Field Marshal Hermann Göring, and during this meeting he ordered m to establish the first night fighter group, which I did with the help of Johannes Steinhoff, and it became NJG 1, and Göring made me Kommodore. On 19 July 1940 I was promoted to Major and I was the first Geschwaderkommodore of the new generation, and the youngest. Not long after this I received another wing which became NJG 2. I very soon had crews fresh from Destroyer School as well as a flood of volunteers ad complete groups which we converted to night fighting. Since I was the ‘Old Man’ and the inventor of this idea, the men named me the ‘Father of the Night Fighters’, which has followed me ever since. As you know several books have been written about that over the years.
Q- How long did you remain Kommodore of these groups?
A- About three years, and in 1943 I transferred to the General Staff where I became 1A, which is Chief of Operations in the Staff of Air Fleet Reich at Wansee, west of Berlin. We were responsible for the defence of Germany both night and day, and it was a job full of problems I can tell you. In August I asked my friend and superior, Adolf Galland, who was General of Fighters to give me a command somewhere at the front; I could not take Hitler and Göring anymore. Galland understood. In September 1944 I became Fighter Pilot Leader-Balkans which included Greece, Romania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. The radar systems in Greece to the Peloponnesus were within my ‘empire’ as well. I was situated at Pancevo, near Belgrade, and this meant that I was responsible for the defence of these countries night and day against hostile air raids. This job was important but it did not last long. In October 1944 we corrected our positions because all for the fighter units were withdrawn to the Home Defence of Germany proper, and all during this short period we had constant trouble with partisans and the Russians. As the war closed in on us we retreated towards Vienna, and thus ended my command of the Balkans.
Q- When were you awarded your Knight’s Cross?
A- Göring awarded me the Ritterkreuz on 1 October 1940.
Q- How were the night fighters chosen?
A- In the beginning I visited the Destroyer School. There I created a report for the standards for the foundation of the night fighters, and several pilots came forward. We gave volunteer notifications later. Also from the bomber units and later even from the fighter units came the best men, including Hajo Herrmann and the Wild Boars to take their shot. Returning to the previous question, our night fighter force was impressive, working through intelligence, radar and flak commands; we had our intercept monitors and search reporting service with radar for all of them. That was never at any time any mention of the high frequency war, it was all too knew. That was when I was transferred to the Luftwaffenbefehlshaber Mitte in Berlin.
Q- You knew men such as Prince Heinrich zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, Helmut Lent, Hans-Joachim jabs and Heinz-Wolfgang Schnauffer. What was your opinion of them?
A- Well, you mentioned the best pilots in the world when it came to night fighting. Prince Wittgenstein was a nobleman, not a National Socialist. He fought for Germany as had his family for five hundred years, and he was quite successful and a true gentleman, as were all of them. He was killed in the war, as was Helmut Lent, who won the Diamonds and had over a hundred victories. Hans Jabs is still a good friend of mine
who finished the war with the Oak Leaves and fifty victories, and the best was Schnauffer with 128 kills, all at night. Schnauffer died in France after the war in an automobile accident, a tragic way to go. He also held the Diamonds. These were extraordinarily brave men. All of these men were under my command and all were outstanding persons; full of idealism and first rate hunters and great pilots. They were very distinguishable people, strong willed and very ambitious, but in a good sense. They were highly intelligent with immediate responses to crises, untiring and happiest when they were on flight operations. Each in is own way was a unique character, but very reliable and I was proud to have known them.
Q- Describe the average night fighter mission; what were the hazards a man faced while fighting at night?
A- Many dangers faced the night fighter, which the day fighter was fortunate not to have to experience. We did not have to with escort fighters until later in the war as did the day fighter force, but we had the worry of our own flak, collision with our own aircraft as well as the enemy bombers, the flares dropped by the British planes to blind us, which would also illuminate your plane allowing the enemy gunners to shoot you
down, the possibility of your on board radar not working, leaving you blind, and flying across the sky locating black painted aircraft, it goes on. The fighting at night I think worked on the nerves more than
fighting during the day; all of these unknowns would mentally wear you down.
Q- How did the war effect the people as you saw it, and how did their attitude change as the war dragged on?
A- After the First World War time were very hard; inflation was outrageous, no work, it was terrible. When the Nazis came to power suddenly there were jobs, industry increased, building of homes and cities
were undertaken, and the armaments industry created millions of jobs, and of course the resurgence of the military improved life as well. What we know today about the concentration camps and such were unknown to most of us, even those in high military positions. That does not excuse what happened, but it should be mentioned that it was not a well known, collective operation. These terrible events were undertaken by men who abused their power in the name of the German people, and this led to our
destruction, and had nothing to do with the true soldiers, the professionals.
Q- What were some of your most interesting combat missions, Wolf?
A- My most interesting and dangerous missions were of course against the RAF. Later on I was given the order by my boss that I was not to fly combat any longer because I was needed for the planning and development of the defence organisation.
Q- How many victories did you have during the war?
A- I had seven confirmed victories, with a few more unconfirmed.
Q- How many combat missions did you fly, including day and night?
A- Altogether I flew ninety combat missions.
Q- How did the war end for you, Wolfgang?
A- To begin with, bad! No one dared ire a war criminal, as all of us were labeled. Later I tried to become a night guard in a factory to make enough money to survive, but I did not get that job. They did not dare employ men, even with all of my certificates, qualifications and curriculum vitae, etc., I tried here and
there to find work to earn money, but the British Army of the Rhine must have certain information about
me. They hired me as a ‘Civil Officer’ in 1946 for a series of forty-seven stores not far from Bielefeld. I asked the major, ‘Do you know who I am?’ and he answered ‘yes’, that he knew I had been a colonel in the Air Force and had the Knight’s Cross. He said that they were looking for people they could trust and were reliable. So I became the boss of 145 German labour employees and my boss was a Captain ‘R.E.’, and after some time we became good friends. In the evenings I attended a school for tradesmen
and after some time I passed the examination. In 1948 I joined a German company which was a branch of the medical and pharmaceutical industry, and after some further education I became a businessman.
After that I changed over to a large printing press company, which had started to produce playing cards. I started out as a lowly office employee, being promoted year after year until I finally became the
manager of that company. In 1961 a high level employer with North American Aircraft Company in Los Angeles asked me during an international fighter pilots’ meeting to join his company as a consultant in Germany. That was my chance to return to my old world, and I did this for six years until McDonnell Douglas asked me to join them in the same capacity. So I was very busy in Bonn for the next twenty years working for MDC. I worked for them until I was seventy-five years old! It was a wonderful and most interesting time, and MDC in its policies towards its employees is to say the very least unique. Since my retirement in 1986 I have been living here in Tyrol and I enjoy life in this beautiful countryside. This is the most beautiful part of Austria.
Q- What do you think of the new technology of today’s night fighting aircraft?
A- Today there is no difference between night and day fighter aircraft anymore. They see each other via radar and thermal imagery; they can engage each other without a pilot seeing his target. Because of the
new technologies you cannot compare the aerial warfare of today with the primitive methods we used in the Second World War.
Q- From my first marriage I have a son named Klaus, born in 1937 and today he manages a firm and forests of his mother’s lands in southern Bavaria. He has a daughter himself who is a manager of a large
storehouse in Cologne. My daughter Irmgard was born in 1940; she’s married and lives in Munich and has two sons who are students at the University of Munich. My second wife died in 1982 and she had two sons, both of whom I educated and prepared their careers. One is a banker and married with a son
and a daughter; the other was in the Merchant Marine and then served twenty years with Lufthansa as an instructor in their emergency division, and he also has a son and daughter. My third wife Gisela also has three sons; the eldest is a doctor in Hamburg. Her second son lives in Finland and is an artist, while the youngest owns his own company where he develops and constructs buildings, installations and such all over the world for all kinds of fairs concerning German industry. None of them are married! My wife Gisela is the widow of Hans ‘Assi’ Hahn, a well known fighter pilot who served with JG2 during the Battle of Britain, and during the war he achieved 108 victories, but was shot down and captured over the Soviet Union in 1943 after making a forced landing. He spent over seven years in Russian labour camps until he was released. He wrote his autobiography title "I Tell the Truth". I first met him in 1937 when I joined JG 2 and we, including our wives became good friends. Assi died five weeks after my second wife in 1982, and late 1983 Gisela moved from Southern France where she and Assi had their home, to St. Ulrich in Tyrol, Austria.
Q- Wolf, what advice would you give the young people of today, given the world situation?
A- Be grateful that we are living in relative peace; that you have a home and do not suffer from hunger.
Take over the responsibility for your family and your country, be tolerant of everyone, stay honest and busy, and look forward to what you intend do with your life. Always have a target and make sure that what you are fighting for is worth while. Life is short!