Many enthusiasts know of Werner Roell through his landmark book "Laurels for Prinz Wittgenstein" about his school friend, Major Heinrich Seyn-Wittgenstein, one of the great Nachtjagd aces. But Roell was a decorated Luftwaffe pilot in his own right, awarded the Ritterkreuz in May 1943 as Kommandeur I./St.G 77. He flew over 400 combat sorties, many at the controls of the Ju 87. He was interviewed only rarely but Belgian writers Philippe Saintes and Jean-Louis Roba spent time with him in early 2008 at his home on Lake Constance (Bodensee). Ahead of a more in-depth eArticle from AWP here are some brief extracts from Roell's biography.
" ..My father Paul Roell was an engineer from Krefeld but loved France. In 1912 he settled in Ailly-sur-Noye (south of Amiens) to work in the local factory. He even organised his wedding there and I was born in Ailly on 8 February 1914. But war broke out soon after and we were interned. My mother and I were exchanged for French civilians while my father was imprisoned at Fort Lautrec in Brest for four years. He was held in harsh captivity, but always maintained his great attachment to France. When he returned to Germany at the end of 1918, he started a trading company and I spent my childhood in Solingen. When I obtained my Abitur ( high school diploma) in 1933, my grandmother, who was originally from East Prussia, offered to let me stay in Königsberg. I was going to discover things that I hadn't known up until that point. I, who lived in a demilitarized Rhineland following the Treaty of Versailles, learned that there was a German navy and army. So I decided to become a sailor. In 1934 I joined the Kriegsmarine and spent several months in Flensburg-Mörvik. I served on ships for a time, but in 1934 I was approached by an officer who told me that the fledgling military air force needed volunteers. I decided to apply for this new service..."
After some gliding practice, Fähnrich Roell entered the Salzwedel school on November 1, 1935. Very quickly, he opted to fly Sturzkampflugzeuge and flew the Hs 123 before mastering the Ju 87 A and then B. As a member of II./St.G. 165, he soon became adept at precision bombing. Still single, he was in principle able to apply for the Legion Condor. In fact his application was declined. He recalled;
"I applied to go to the other side of the Pyrenees but was not accepted. I was told that the Legion had sufficient personnel and that there was no need for volunteers.." This is easily explained by the very small number of Ju 87s involved in the civil war! Roell would nevertheless take part in the occupation of Czechoslovakia with his unit. He was one of the first pilots to land in Norway during that campaign. He later flew operations in Yugoslavia and Crete as Staffelkapitän of 4./St. G 77, subsequently flying in Russia.
On the launch of Barbarossa St.G.77 was in almost constant action supporting Guderian's 2. Panzerarmee assaulting Brest-Litovsk, which fell on June 29. The Soviets weathered the initial Blitzkrieg and managed to launch sporadic counter-attacks. Thus, on 7 August, St.G. 77 was called in urgently in the Kanev sector to halt a Soviet assault threatening the German breakthrough towards Uman. The targets did not vary much for Roell and his comrades: tanks, vehicles, fortified positions, flak batteries. From time to time, it became necessary to attack the armoured trains that the Soviets used as artillery support. In September, St.G 77 was deployed to the Crimea in the area of Army Group South. For a while, Roell's 4. Staffel was the only Stuka unit supporting the German troops on the ground in the peninsula. During this period II./St.G. 77 flew sorties against shipping on the Black Sea. On September 21, the Ju 87 Gruppe launched a major operation against a powerful Soviet amphibious force heading towards Grigorevka (west of Odessa). A destroyer, a torpedo boat and a tugboat were sunk within minutes. Two other destroyers are also damaged during this attack. The Ju 87 Bs continued their maritime patrols during the following months. The light cruiser 'Chervona Ukraina' was attacked on 12 November and, badly damaged, was sunk the next day.
Below; Roell, Staffelkapitän of 4./St. G 77, in front of his Berta with his Bf Ofw. Zehle and 1. Wart Uffz. Karl Becker.
Below; loaded 'Berta' of St.G 77 with 'cockerel' badge under the windscreen
After the fall of Sevastopol in July 1942 Roell was promoted to Hauptmann and appointed Staffelkapitän of the Stabsstaffel of St.G. 77. This Staff comprised various aircraft: some Ju 87 Bs and some Ju 88s, the latter replaced by Bf 110s. The new StaKa would develop the offensive character of this unit, which then concentrated on attacks on railway lines while also flying in night pursuit or escorting Ju 87s. Roell achieved some notable successes, among others sinking a light cruiser in the Black Sea. On 27 August 1942, Roell shot down a Soviet twin-engine bomber that fell to the heavy nose armament of his Bf 110 north of Tuaspe. The Stab moved regularly during the summer. After a brief interlude in Armawir at the end of August, the unit reached Taganrog. On September 29, Roell taxied out for a sortie with Ofw Brendemühl and Ofw Rottke from Belorestschenskaja airfield. Powering down the takeoff strip he was on the point of getting airborne when his landing gear collapsed! The Bf 110 F-4 slid along the runway to finish up in the long grass on the edge of the aerodrome (below). Fortunately for the crew, the bombs attached to the belly rack did not detonate.
The new Kommodore, Alfons "Ali" Orthofer had less luck. He had the misfortune to be caught in a bombing raid at the same airfield on October 12, 1942 and, fatally injured, died the same evening at the Lazarett in Maikop. At that time, St.G. 77 took part in the destruction of the oil fields and refineries in Grozny, Caucasus (10-12 October). A month later Baku received the attentions of St. G 77.
Below; Roell's Bf 110 after his takeoff accident on 27 August 1942. The 'death's hand' emblem of the Stabsstaffel is just visible on the nose of the machine..
Roell was appointed Gruppenkommandeur of I./ St. G 77 in February 1943 and awarded the Ritterkreuz three months later in May 1943...
On 1 December 1943, Major Roell was finally withdrawn from the front to become Inspektionschef of the Luftwaffenkriegschule in Bug am Rügen where he taught his pupils the tactics of dive-bombing. Much later in the war, he was sent to serve on the Staff of the "Plenipotentiary of the Reichsmarshall for Jet aircraft" Generalmajor Josef Kammhuber. It was Kammhuber who in early March 1945 ordered JV 44, the so-called Jagdverband Galland, then based at Munich-Riem, to become operational as quickly as possible. JV 44 was an elite unit flying the Luftwaffe's last hope, the Messerchmitt 262. Roell was tasked with ensuring that communication between Kammhuber's staff and the jet combat units ran smoothly. He explained post-war;
"...at that time the situation was really critical. I was sent to Munich-Riem to take care of the logistics and to help set up the necessary infrastructure for the Galland jets. Galland had called on my services although I did not know him personally. We were in the thick of it from the outset because Riem airfield was the daily target of enemy bombers. The runway had to be repaired every day ... "
JV 44 had in its ranks prestigious and experienced officers such as Adolf Galland, Steinhoff, Krupinski, Barkhorn, Heinz Bär, Willi Herget and Günther Lützow. All these RK holders now flew as 'simple' fighter pilots. In a little over a month of fighting, this unit took credit for the destruction of forty-five enemy aircraft. On April 9, 1945, Roell and his friend and former St.G 77 comrade, Maj. Herbert Pabst (former StaKa of 6./St.G 77), were on the road in a Kübelwagen. The airfield at Riem and the surrounding area suddenly became the target of cluster bombs dropped by B-17 bombers;
"..We just had time to reach the Daglfing race-track to take cover. The bombs were literally streaming down, the ground was shaking and the air was filled with thick smoke. Once their cargoes were dropped, the enemy formation headed for Munich in a deluge of fire. The response from our Flak had not been long in coming. At that moment a bomber could be seen breaking away from the formation. Suddenly it exploded in mid-air! Aircraft parts fell tumbling and spinning to the ground, glittering like silver flakes in the sun. What a sight! Suddenly I saw a parachute, just one. At the same time, another tragedy was playing out much closer to us. The stud farm had been hit hard by the raid. Young girls recruited to look after the horses were trembling with fear. An SS man walked to one of the stables, pistol in hand. We heard several shots. Damn the unfortunate horses! It must be awful for a rider to shoot his own horse to shorten his suffering. The individual came out of the stable trembling with rage. Meanwhile, the wind had pushed the parachute in our direction. The bomber crewman who had evidently been the only man to get clear landed behind the building. The man was unable to speak and one of his legs was probably broken. The people from the stud farm put him down on the grass. The poor bugger was obviously in a state of shock but the SS man who was still holding the gun in his hand wanted to shoot him out of hand in retaliation. This was something we could not tolerate. Pabst and I intervened directly. The man may well have been wearing another uniform, but he was first and foremost a human being. We came out of our refuge and confronted him before he committed a terrible act. He didn't understand our reaction, but he finally turned on his heels and walked away. I don't know if the enemy airman, who was prostrate, realized any of this, but he smiled weakly when we gave him a cigarette. You could see the pain in his eyes when we lifted him up to carry him in our Kübelwagen. As we drove through Riem airfield, we also picked up one of our soldiers who was seriously injured. We went to the sisters' house in Eglfing-Haar, the only place where first aid could be obtained. The man guarding the main entrance initially refused to let us in: 'No access for military personnel. We are in the service of the Red Cross. Take them somewhere else!'. (...) However, we managed to convince a doctor to take care of the two wounded. For the German soldier, it was too late because he had succumbed to his wounds. We visited our American charge a few days later, but he had already been transferred to the Schwabinger Hospital in Munich.."
Years after the end of the war, Werner Roell, assisted by an American enthusiast, rediscovered the identity of his "charge" - Lt Warren Cormack Perkins, co-pilot of a 388th BG B-17 (serial number 44-6574). Of the nine crew members, five survived, including Perkins.
As Riem airfield was no longer safe, JV 44 moved to Salzburg-Maxglam at the end of April 1945. The unit was then ordered to move to Prague, but was surprised by American forces on May 3. The war ended for Werner Roell. He escaped capture and was even employed by the Americans as an interpreter. For three years, he even ran a hotel for the occupying troops. He learned, however, that he was formally barred from any course of study. As an officer and Ritterkreuzträger, he could only be a 'fierce Nazi' for the new leaders of Germany. Roell therefore chose to leave the country and cross the border clandestinely in the Alps. Intercepted by the Italian police, he remained in a Rome prison for a few weeks before embarking for Argentina. He worked briefly as a waiter in Buenos Aires before being able to enter the United States. Always passionate about aviation, he became the first German to obtain a pilot's license in the land of Uncle Sam after WWII. Werner Roell then bought a small Cessna 140 for $3,000 and ferried it from Roosevelt Airfield to Long Island. It was the beginning of a new odyssey that would take him across the American continent: Mexico, Guatemala, San Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and, finally, Chile, where he became a physical education teacher at the German school in Santiago in 1948. Four years later, having learned of his father's death, he returned to the country to take over as head of the Roell group. After the usual training, he even became a reserve lieutenant-colonel in the Bundeswehr. Married shortly after his return to Germany, he had four children and one of his grandsons also pursued a career as an aviator.
Werner Roell spent his later years in Switzerland, close to the German border and devoted himself to his two great passions: painting and writing. He passed away on May 10, 2008.
Article based on extracts from "Les As du Junkers Ju 87 Stuka" and with additional material by Jean-Louis Roba.