Wednesday, 20 September 2017

The 'strange' death of Staffelkapitän 11./JG 7 Lt. Erwin Stahlberg, April 1945 - Avions magazine "Hors Série" 'special' published by Lela Presse, "Les pertes des Messerschmitt 262"

The new Avions magazine "Hors Série" 'special' published by Lela Presse, "Les pertes des Messerschmitt 262" by Philippe Saintes (Me 262 losses) is a neat 100-page monograph packed with pics and profiles. Good value for money at only 17 euros, 'Avions' subscribers get a generous discount and economic postage rates (3 euros in Europe) make this a 'must-buy'. See a pdf extract and order here.

A carefully compiled compilation from published works, the main sources used in "Me 262 losses" are most notably the usual Foreman, Smith, Creek and Jurleit. However Philippe has also included one or two errors that can also be seen in these previous tomes. The most blatant example is the reported destruction in combat of the Messerschmitt 262 flown by Oberleutnant Erwin Stahlberg, Staffelkapitän of 11./JG 7 on 14 April 1945, attributed by the author -as in numerous previous works - to a Mustang pilot, Captain Clayton K. Gross of the 354th FG.

This story of the death of Lt. Erwin Stahlberg is unfortunately a total invention, endlessly repeated and misrepresented. At least two Ospreys ('Aces of JG 3' -extract below - and 'JG 7 Nowotny') repeat this 'account'- Stahlberg crashed to his death at the controls of his jet, shot down by the P-51 of Clayton Gross..

Colin Heaton in his 'Me 262 Stormbird' refers to him as Lt. Erich Stahlberg of 9./JG 7, shot down in combat of course.

The truth is that Lt. Erwin Stahlberg did not even fly a sortie on 14 April 1945 far less meet an untimely end in combat. The reality is much more mundane albeit a little bizarre...

15 April 1945 -the closing weeks of the war in Europe. III. Gruppe of JG 7 are completing preparations for one of their final moves, eastwards, via Bavaria, into the Protectorate of Bohemia, part of the one-time Czechoslovakia. This was virtually all that was left of the once-powerful jet command IX. Fliegerkorps (J). Transferring to Prag-Rusin the Gruppe had put down in Plattling the previous day, 14 April, according to one account. However on the morning of the 15th Erwin Stahlberg is still very much alive. But his Me 262 jet is unserviceable. Stahlberg elects to hitch a ride with a convoy of ground crews, jumping up into the cab of a truck with Luftwaffe mechanic Uffz. Theodor Becker and Uffz. Walter Wetzer, previously of 3./JG 300. Stahlberg's truck is towing a trailer loaded with heavy oxygen bottles. The road convoy sets out in the early afternoon on the route that links lower Bavaria with Czechoslovakia. On a section known as the Ruselberg-Strecke between Deggendorf and Regen the road is hilly, steep in places and notorious for accidents. Stahlberg's truck slows as its approaches a bend on a descent on this section. Suddenly it starts to pick up speed. The driver lets out an exclamation - " Scheiße, die Bremsen - the brakes!" By now Stahlberg's truck is speeding downhill. Turning into the bend, the driver fights with the wheel. Tyres squealing, the truck skids side on, sliding into the turn. The momentum of the heavy load pulls both truck and trailer over the edge. Stahlberg is thrown from the cab into the fast-flowing river below. He disappears under the surface. Seconds later the trailer plunges into the water. On top of him. Stahlberg never comes back up. At the crash site the bodies of the three men are retrieved and taken to the church in Deggendorf..

Stahlberg's friend and Staffel comrade Leutnant Friedrich-Wilhelm Schenk, who had followed him to III./JG 7 after the dissolution of I./JG 300 in March 1945 described the accident which cost Stahlberg his life in a letter written during 1983 ;

" ...Stahlberg was unable to make the transfer by air as his machine was not serviceable. The road convoy travelled on the route that links lower Bavaria with Czechoslovakia known as the Ruselberg-Strecke. (Deggendorf-Regen). He was travelling with ground crews in a truck hauling a trailer full of heavy oxygen bottles . The road descends steeply down into Deggendorf. At a sharp bend the brakes gave way and the truck and trailer went off the road straight into the fast-flowing river. Stahlberg was thrown from the cab into the water and the trailer plunged down on top of him. He drowned. I attended his funeral in the cemetery at Deggendorf. His body was later transferred and interred at the graveyard of Hofkirchen-Leithen an der Donau where I took this photo of the headstone.…"

This account by "Timo" Schenk is confirmed by the register of deaths that can be read at the catholic chuch in Deggendorf where the names of those who died in the crash of the truck on the Ruselberg-Strecke are listed;

Stahlberg, Erwin, Oberleutnant, Jagdgeschwader 3 (his unit prior to postings with 1./ JG 300 and 11./JG 7 ). Born 1 March 1917, died 15 April 1945 at 15:00 on the Ruselbergstraße.
Becker, Theodor, Unteroffizier, mechanic, born 25 October 1919 at Daseburg, fractured skull 15:00 15 April 1945 on the Ruselbergstraße.
Wetzer Walter, Unteroffizier with 3./JG 300 (disbanded mid-March 1945) Born 10 September 1921, hospitalised in the Res. Lazarett IA at Deggendorf, died 29 April from complications of lockjaw.

Details of the circumstances of the death of Erwin Stahlberg are related in the history of JG 300 by Lorant and Goyat 'Batailles dans le Ciel d'Allemagne' (Docavia, 2005).

Note that Robert Dorr in his "Fighting Hitler's Jets' publishes Clayton Kelly Gross's account of his jet victory on 14 April - " I sighted the jet ..sporting a large 'Red 1' on its fuselage....I subsequently met the pilot I had shot down that day  - a certain Kurt Lobgesong.."

William Hess in his "German Jets versus the USAAF" writes;