Saturday, 19 October 2013

Der Landser - Fliegergeschichten 'Kampf am nächtlichten Himmel, Einsatzerlebnisse eines Ritterkreuzträgers der Nachtjagd' 'Battle in the night skies ' - Kurt Bundrock’s memoir





After Air War Publications, Vintage Eagle and Flugzeug Classic (Geramond), Pabel-Moewig Verlag goes digital with 'Der Landser' ! While browsing amazon the other day I happened to come across the first digital editions of Der Landser now available for download to your Kindle for very modest sums (the equivalent of 100 pages of text for £1.50). There are some translated Landser editions but the Fliegergeschichten (aviator stories) series is so far untranslated. I know some Luftwaffe enthusiasts turn their noses up at these 'comic-book' style booklets but I quite enjoy them - and they provide some neat accounts unavailable elsewhere..



As a good example the following is a short snippet from Kurt Bundrock’s memoir entitled Kampf am nächtlichten Himmel, Einsatzerlebnisse eines Ritterkreuzträgers der Nachtjagd, first published in the 'Der Landser Grossband' series in 1979 - not yet in a digital edition. The title translates as 'Battle in the night skies, the combat experiences of a Knight's Cross holder of the night fighter arm'. This is a short extract from a much longer piece that Kagero published in the first of their Bf 110 monographs (based on pages 27-30 of the 'Landser' text). Here I have improved the original published piece both stylistically and in terms of the accuracy of the translation. Ofw. Kurt Bundrock was Bordfunker (radio operator) with Bf 110 NJG 1 ace Hptm. Reinhold Knacke (44 night victories). Here he describes a typical 'Dunkle Nachtjagd' sortie of the type that was regularly flown prior to the advent of on-board radar..

" ..We were guided by ground radar to the general target area and were relayed what was known about the altitude and heading of the enemy aircraft. From then on we were reliant solely on our night vision and were entirely at the mercy of the visibility and the whims of the enemy pilot. There were times when the first thing we saw were his exhausts, while the huge outline of the bomber would be all but invisible. Our exhausts were shielded by long flame dampers and were visible only from a position directly behind us..... 


The RAF bombers, even with flame shields, emitted flames that could on occasion be visible from 100-150 meters. Turbulence was a good sign that the enemy was near. When our machine began to shake and lurch, we knew that we were behind him and the pilot would release the gun safety and keep his thumb on the trigger, ready to unleash a salvo from our four machine guns and two cannon at any moment."There he is! Three o'clock,three hundred meters!" Initially we noticed a slight silhouette in the night sky, and then, as we moved in, a more defined outline. Knacke flew his closing approach, keeping some 50 meters below the RAF bomber because it was easier to make out the outline against the sky than the horizon, where it blended in. The bomber flew in a rocking motion and now we were able to make out which type of aircraft it was and whether or not we had to watch out for a dorsal or a belly gunner as well as the almost habitual tail gunner.  Once we were certain, we could decide on the appropriate tactics. In the meantime the pilot's voice came over the headset - 'Short Stirling, Pauke, Pauke!' And ground control would reply - 'Viktor, good luck!' Knacke moved slowly to position himself underneath and to the side of the huge machine. The difference in size between the two aircraft was like that between a small sports car and a furniture removal van. 


When we were 50 meters from the Stirling we started to follow his manoeuvres and closed in to 30 meters."I hope his bombs don't go off when you hit him, sir," I said through the throat-mike. Knacke replied calmly, "I'm going to go for the left wing." That was reassuring to know, because if the bomber took hits in the bomb bay it would explode and take us with it. The Leutnant lifted the nose so fast that it seemed as if something was pushing our tail down. At the same time a long burst ripped from our machine guns and tore into the left wing between the fuselage and engine where the fuel tanks were. We had gotten dangerously close and Knacke allowed the plane to tip away over the starboard wing and brought us out of the dive after we had moved out a safe distance from the Stirling. We saw some embers and sparks and a trail of lightly colored smoke, but there were no flames. The Stirling started to dive to evade us, but we followed it down. At the same time the tail gunner opened up on us and the bomb bay doors opened as the pilot jettisoned his bomb load. From a slightly higher altitude Knacke loosed off bursts at the right wing, allowing the bullets to tear into the fuselage. The tail gunner was constantly correcting his aim, and when we fired he could see us better. We had the advantage of speed though, and we quickly veered from his starboard to port side and went below his line of sight. The Stirling began to burn, and pieces started to come off, swept along by the slipstream. We circled around at a constant altitude and watched as the bomber plunged earthwards. At the point of impact there was an enormous explosion. I made a note of the time, wrote a detailed report of the conditions and based on information from ground control I made an estimate as to the wreck's location. Ground control asked if we had seen any parachutes. We replied that we hadn't... 




But it wasn't always that easy. On average a night fighter had to mount two or three attacks. Often during the second or third attack we would take hits ourselves, which made us stand out from the other crews. Knacke was young, (b. 1919) very courageous but not crazy or foolhardy. In spite of that, he tended to get too close to the enemy. I think he was afraid that he would miss, since I noticed more than once that he wasn't a very good shot and he had trouble aiming at a moving target.
I remember one such occasion when ground control at Würzburg-Riese on Sylt island guided us over the North Sea between Sylt and Heligoland onto a twin engine Whitley bomber....