Saturday, 25 February 2012

Matthäus Erhardt 5./JG 300

Well known picture of 5./JG 300 Fw 190 A-8/R2 'red 8' that I received from Matthäus Erhardt when working on the JG 300 books a few years ago..he's on the left, aged 19 years old and alongside him of course Uffz Ernst Schröder also of 5./JG 300. Note four 'victories' on Schröder's victory stick. Erhardt had seven victory claims. The shot dates from September 1944 and some time after it was taken the Sturm fuselage armour plates were removed. Note the absence of the II. Gruppe bar on the rear fuselage Rumpfband. Aeromaster on their "Rammjägers" decal sheet have the front end of the drop tank in red as well. 'Red 8' was lost on 31 December 1944 after combat with P-51s. Erhardt then baled out again on 14 January 1945 while attacking 390th BG B-17s over Berlin, although this time took a shell through the left knee and had to have his leg amputated...his account of his last sortie follows (my translation..)

" I was leading the second Schwarm behind Rudi Zwesken’s and I could make out our Messerschmitt escort above and behind us. While between the Elbe and Berlin, we began to clearly distinguish the US bomber stream and the columns of smoke rising into the sky above the city. At the same time, the I. Jagdkorps controller announced to us through the earphones that the “fat cars” were already over Berlin and that the tail of the raid was still over the North Sea. After waiting for hours during the morning, our nervous excitement was at fever pitch. Zwesken gave the order to flick the armament safety switches off and to ditch auxiliary tanks. We converged on the Boeings beam on, our heading bringing us in at right angles to them. The Americans then made an obvious error. At around 8,000 metres there was a bank of “ice cloud”. The Boeing B‑17s flew under this cloud layer while their Mustangs rode over it! The latter then immediately went after our Messerschmitts, without interfering with us. Thus we were able to turn into the American formation without encountering any opposition. As my three Schwarm comrades had no combat experience, I selected the outer right flank of the box in order to expose them as little as possible to the bombers defensive fire. I opened up on a B-17, firstly aiming to disable the rear gunner, streaming his bursts towards us, then raked the port wing. As the two port engines of the Boeing erupted in flames, I stopped firing, knowing that it would not get far in that state. I intended to attack a second bomber. As I peeled away, my Focke-Wulf flew through a hail of rounds hosed out by one of the gunners. At least three rounds smashed into the cockpit; the first one slammed into the instrument panel showering me in splinters of glass and metal, the second was stopped by my parachute harness buckle and the third shattered my left knee. I heard several explosions and could see that the cockpit was filling with smoke. As it dissipated a little, I realized that my left knee had gone. My leg and foot had slipped back off the rudder bar and through the enormous tear in my leather flying suit, I saw the blood bubbling from a terrible wound. I warned my comrades over the radio that I was wounded and that I was going to try and bale out. Everything happened very quickly: I throttled back, detonated the explosive charge to release the canopy and thrust the stick hard forward… I tumbled down through the atmosphere on my back, managing to stabilize my fall a little by stretching out an arm. This did not work for long unfortunately. My leg had been severed right through and in the slipstream was flailing in all directions like a fish tail. I started to tumble over and over again. After a few seconds effort, my vision started to blur and I tugged at the ripcord. When the parachute popped open, my spirits rose and I looked at my watch. It was exactly 12:20. Above me the battle was still raging. All the time I could see planes plunging in flames around me and counted a good ten or so airmen swinging under their parachutes immediately around me. My landing on the frozen ground was agony. Fearing that I might be an American, those civilians that had watched me fall to earth were very wary of coming to my aid. Eventually, Heinz-Günter Kuring recognized me and asked for assistance. I was transported urgently to hospital at Kyritz, where my left leg was amputated...."