Monday, 16 January 2012

Storming the bombers Volume II - first review. JG 4 Sturmgruppe Defending the Reich

During March 1945, high-ranking Wehrmacht officers undertook a number of tours of Luftwaffe aerodromes with the aim of relaying the following exhortations emanating from the Reichsmarchall Göring and Genraloberst Stumpf:

" The battle for the Reich, for our people and our homeland is entering its decisive phase. In blind hatred the nations of the world have come together to destroy us. We must draw on our last remaining forces to resist this evil tide. Never in our history has our German homeland been threatened with such total destruction from which there will be no rebirth. We can resist this danger only by manifesting the highest qualities of German combativeness. This is why I am turning to you in our most decisive hour of need: save the nation through the sacrifice in battle of your own life! I call upon you now to one last taking up of arms from which there is only a small probability of return. Those who respond to this appeal will immediately enrol for a flying training programme. Comrades - a place of honour awaits you in the roll call of the Luftwaffe's most revered fighting men. By your sacrifice you will give the German people renewed hope of victory and become an example for future generations in this hour of their greatest danger." (s) Göring

Several dozen pilots responded to this appeal - among them senior and experienced pilots from diverse backgrounds. It was explained that they would be called upon to dive their aircraft onto those of the enemy, as well as troop concentrations, pontoon bridges and other kinds of strategic objectives. Many of the contingent of volunteers were to train for the 'suicide' mission mounted by the Sonderkommando Elbe mentioned previously, while other volunteers were kept in reserve for other types of Selbstopfer – or 'self-sacrifice' - operations. For many of them life itself had already lost all meaning following the death of loved ones and the destruction and loss of all their possessions. Having lived since a young age in the Third Reich, they had in all likelihood been convinced by the Nazi Party propaganda machine of the superiority of their nation and their race. Many doubtless considered that their own fate was indivisible from that of the nation. If this value system was to collapse then everything they held dear would be destroyed for ever. For most the only possible outcome was to die in action - to go down with the Third Reich in its death throes.

Those remaining members of JG 4 who had some contact with the activities and operations of these suicide pilots - usually as a result of being assigned to escort them into action - would remain deeply affected by the experience. Lt. Ewald Kraas, of the Stab III./JG 4 recalled;

" In early April 45 - as the Soviet advance along the Oder front was showing signs of stalling - there were a number of discussions on the subject of suicide missions at the level of the Geschwaderstab in JG 4 - we had become aware that a group of volunteer pilots were being called upon to fly their aircraft - packed with explosives - into the pontoon bridges that had been thrown across the Oder. During this period of inflammatory calls to the German fighting spirit it came as no surprise that some of our pilots were coming forward to undertake these kinds of 'self-sacrifice' missions - after all there had never been any shortage of volunteers for the Sturmstaffeln in our Geschwader. However a Rammjäger always had the option of bailing out at the last minute after ramming an enemy bomber - but these Selbstopfer pilots were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, diving their fully fuelled fighters onto enemy targets..

During the middle of April our Kommodore, Obstlt. Michalski, accompanied by several staff officers paid a visit to Jüterbog/Altes Lager - the aerodrome where the suicide volunteers were assembling. On his return he described the situation there to Hptm. Gerhard Strasen- I was present during this conversation. Michalski had seen eighty volunteers - pilots of all ages, ranks, backgrounds and experience. There was even an Oberfeldwebel among their number who had been decorated with the Ritterkreuz. The discussion turned to the motivations of these men and what drove them to want to sacrifice themselves in this way. Michalski turned to me and said : "well, Lt. Kraas, would you ever consider putting yourself forward to fly this kind of mission?"

Without hesitation I replied: "Herr Oberstleutnant, frankly - not at all!" _" No, neither would I" he admitted..

A link to Adam Norenberg's review of "Storming the Bombers - Vol. 2".

" ...The rare oral testimonies found here are backed up by excellent photographs from pilots and crew’s private collections. Credit must go as well to Neil Page who has produced the translation of the text and has made sure the book is never just a dry account of history as many books are when translated into the English language..."