Friday, 31 December 2010

Überlebenschance gleich Null - KG 77 torpedo bomber pilot Bodo Diemer memoir (Helios Verlag)

Bodo Diemer was a Luftwaffe torpedo bomber pilot and flew combat sorties against Allied convoys in the Med, against the D-Day invasion fleet in the Channel and against the Murmansk convoys in the Artic Sea. The torpedo bomber Gruppen of the Luftwaffe sustained some of the heaviest losses of any Luftwaffe units – out of 40 crews he knew personally, only 3, including his own, survived, hence the title of the book which roughly translates to ".. Survival chances - nil..."

Since writing down his wartime experiences at the end of the war while a POW, Bodo Diemer has wrestled with the dilemma of whether or not to put them before a wider audience. Finding a publisher was half the battle. Helios Verlag have a track record of publishing interesting Luftwaffe books and a while ago asked Diemer to prepare his account of his experiences for publication and this nice 322-page volume is now available from their site or your favourite online bookseller. What follows here are my impressions of this worthwhile title and a couple of extracts that I have translated from the German-language text.

Diemer arrived at IV./KG 77 then based in the south of France fresh from training school in early 1944 having enlisted in 1940 and participated in the Norwegian campaign as a driver in an engineering unit. IV./KG77 were flying the Ju 88 A-14 and A-17 torpedo bomber variants and his first Staffelkapitän was Knights's Cross holder Oblt. Johannes Geismann (10./KG77). By that stage of the war his elder brother Arno had already been shot down and killed in a 2./KG 6 Ju 88, falling to an RAF nightfighter over the UK. Elsewhere the family business had been taken over by a 'Nazi' armaments concern. Based as he was in France, Diemer was in regular telephone contact with his family in Germany - both Diemers' parents had voted for Hitler’s NSDAP but did not regard themselves as Nazis and as the intensity of the bombing war builds over the homeland disillusionment and despair increasingly sets in.

Diemer’s accounts of flying the Ju 88 are written in a very straight forward 'Fliegersprache' – aviators language. He describes sorties flown against shipping convoys out over the Atlantic and the Med from the point of view of his crew with plenty of interesting details and insights into the daily life of Luftwaffe bomber crews operating in the late–war period – unreliable, malfunctioning torpedos and equipment, poorly trained crews and out-moded aircraft.

" ..Flying at wave-top height in darkness was the bread-and-butter of the torpedo flyer. Too low and you risked a watery grave, too high and you would be easy prey for the nightfighters...those of our comrades who came to us having passed out from the abbreviated C-Schule programme then in place and who had not been trained for this type of flying were as good as dead already.."

The strain of having to fly the brunt of some hair-raising sorties in the teeth of overwhelming defensive firepower from Allied air and sea power is unremitting.

“ .. .Suddenly the BF shouted ‘..nightfighter on our tail..’ I could already hear the radar return as I threw the kite into a bank to port. “ He’s following us, I think it’s a Beaufighter..” called Walter just as a salvo of tracer flashed past overhead and disappeared into the darkness. With our two ‘eels’ our crate was a lame duck. I pushed the stick forward and nosed down closer to the wave-tops, as low as I dare ..but he was still behind us. Another salvo but as we were in the turn the Beaufighter was unable to draw a bead on us. More tracer flashed past the canopy. Our last chance to get away – jettison the ‘eels’. ‘Torpedo left’ followed by ‘torpedo right’. Luckily for us they went in and straight under – had they bounced we could easily have been brought down by our own torpedoes. Now I was faster, could pull into steeper and tighter curves. I hauled the kite around towards the darker western sky line and dropped right down low to the crests of the waves. There was a heavy swell running – no nightfighter would follow us down here. He would probably assume that we’d turn east towards the ships and we’d give him the slip. We flew on in the darkness. Walter reported in - “ Nothing..”. We’d been lucky. We landed back at Cognac at 07:15. Our comrade Essig had already made it back – he’d come under attack from a nightfighter too and likewise had to save himself by jettisoning his ‘eels’. Ordering a sortie as dawn was breaking with the entire RAF probably in the air and expecting us to sink the Royal Navy with our lame, overladen ‘crows’ was utter madness...”

1945 sees Diemer posted to Norway with KG 26 and the chance to fly the Ju 188.

“ ..that day we reported as ordered to the Technical Officer. We were to fly two modified Ju 188s back to Trondheim and ferry them to III. Gruppe. Both machines were standing outside on the taxyway. I told him that we had never flown the Ju 188 and couldn’t be expected to take the aircraft without at least some classroom instruction. His response – we both wore the EK first class so we must be experienced flyers. There were two Bordfunker ready and waiting to make the trip with us. A pilot who had flown the Ju 188 was on hand to show us the ropes – and quickly before the Mustangs put in an appearance and shot the two machines to pieces. Just great! .. with the Russians in front of Berlin and the Western Allies already fighting around Kassel, here we were standing in our entire worldly possessions and now having to make a 1,500 kilometer trip north in a type that we had never flown before. While we had been flying combat sorties we’d dreamt of being able to give up our old lame Ju 88s for the faster more manoeuvrable Ju 188. Now we were getting our wish. The Ju 188 was a machine of 3,500 hp, almost 700 more horses than my faithful old ‘1H+NH’, and a top speed approaching 530 km/h, almost 100 km/h faster than our old crates... the next morning, half asleep, I climbed up into the unfamiliar cockpit, followed by the BF. Much more spacious, not half as cramped as the Ju 88, although the layout of the instruments and throttles was much the same. Run up the engines quickly and then taxy out. The eastern horizon was already getting lighter – time to get going before the P-51s turned up. Essig followed me and we turned onto the runway. Throttles wide open at the same time and we were airborne tucked in alongside each other just like the good old days. Now we were in our element – low level over the Baltic heading north. The biggest danger now was our own flak, and especially the anti-aircraft defences toted by our warships lying off the coast. An intermediate stop was planned in Aalborg, Denmark before undertaking the long flight over the Skagerrak. The Ju 188 was very pleasant to fly. Much easier on the rudder and the aircraft responded quickly to my inputs on the stick. I could sense the much higher speed – this was turning into a pleasure flight so much so that I waggled my wings at Essig in happiness. He waggled his back in reply...”

89-year old Bodo Diemer veteran Luftwaffe torpedo bomber pilot at his book launch in November 2010