Thursday, 9 April 2020

Studying the Luftwaffe through prisoner interrogation reports (1)

A good friend of  ' FalkeEins - the Luftwaffe blog ' has kindly transferred many archival POW reports which make fascinating reading. No apologies for taking my cue from the equally fascinating TOCH thread "Studying the Luftwaffe through POW interrogation reports "....

The 'problem' with POW interrogation reports is obviously one of 'reliability' - note the 'Preamble ' to the report on page 1 below ;  " all three prisoners arrived with elaborate cock-and-bull stories ". On page 2 there are dubious statements;  referring to the formation of I./JG 4 the report notes that " is of interest that all these 'old hands' from JG 77 had at some  time or other served sentences for some military offence" ..or even  " Hptm Hahn had over 900 operational flights to his credit.."

The report featured here chiefly concerns the interrogation of Bf 109 pilots from I./JG 4. During early 1944, I./JG 4 was based in Littorio, southern Italy and operated principally over Monte Cassino and Nettuno during this period. Clashes with Allied fighters were frequent and deadly. During the month I./JG 4 lost seven pilots KIA including Kommandeur Hahn on January 22. Although he managed to bail out he struck the airframe and was unable to deploy his parachute. Hahn was replaced by Hptm. Walter Hoeckner and the unit moved to Frabrica di Roma. February 1944 was no better. Twenty victory claims - including three P-51s on February 8 - for seven pilots KIA and two taken prisoner.

On February 6  I./JG 4 carried out at least two escort missions from Fabrica for SG 4 Fw 190s in the Nettuno region. The first started at 09:20 hours. After completing the escort, the mission turned into a ‘free hunt’ which, it appears, was without incident. The aircraft landed at 10:15 hours. The second mission was, on the contrary, far more eventful. The formation (comprising of at least two Schwärme from 2. and 3. Staffeln) took off at 11:05 hours under the leadership of Hptm. Manfred Spenner. Uffz. Edmund Beuth (decorated with the Iron Cross 1st Class) led the Schwarm from 2. Staffel in his 'black 7'. After escorting the Fw 190s to their objective in the Nettuno area, Hptm. Spenner led his men on a strafing attack in the area of the bay. Shortly afterwards the pilots encountered a ‘Dragonfly’ and Spenner added his 9th 'victory' to his scoreboard. However, flying at low altitude, the aircraft were dangerously exposed to anti-aircraft fire. The Bf 109 G-6s of Uffz. Kurt Leopold ('yellow 2')and Uffz. Edmund Beuth were riddled with shrapnel. Leopold related his story to author Erik Mombeeck; 

“..I was flying on Spenner's left flank when the left hand side of my engine was hit by numerous impacts -anti-aircraft fire! I left the formation and banked into a curve, seeking to put distance between myself and the Nettuno sector quickly. I skimmed the tree tops at nearly 750 kph. Seeing a clear space in the Marais Pontins, I nursed the aircraft down for a belly landing. My aircraft careened as far as a large hole, which brutally brought it to a stand. The nose of the aircraft dug in and for a moment I thought it would turn over. Thankfully it settled on its belly and stopped. I clambered out of the cockpit and looked at the hits that had torn into the metal some 50 cms from the cockpit. I considered myself lucky to have survived unhurt! I quickly moved away from the crash site. After about 50 metres two shots rang out behind me. The bullets whistled over my head. Two warning shots! I flung myself full length on the ground and remained motionless. I slowly turned over onto my back to remove my yellow life jacket. Then I crawled towards a bush where I could hide. However I felt a weapon in my back. I became a prisoner of the Americans... "

" Detailed interrogation report on the two Me 109 fighter pilots and Fw 190 fighter-bomber pilot shot down on the ANZIO front on 6th and 7th Feb. resp " ;

Bottom paragraph below;

 " ..In JG 4 discretion is considered the better part of valour where encounters with Spitfires are concerned., particularly as the Bf 109 G-6 pilots are aware that not only are their opponents superior in number, but possess the better aircraft. Engagements with Spitfires are therefore avoided when possible.. "