Friday, 23 September 2022

Deutsche Kunstflugstaffel - Luftwaffe aerobatic display team July 1939


The Deutsche Kunstflugstaffel - which loosely translates as German aerobatic display team - had originally been established unofficially in I./ LG 2 with a 'Kette' of three Bücker 133 'Jungmeister' biplanes. According to Kommandeur Hptm. Hans Trübenbach: 

"It was initially a distraction. Several of my pilots liked aerobatics and and we started with a formation of three aircraft. I led the Kette and my wingmen were the Oberleutnante Gerhard Homuth and Georg Graner. Our first performance took place in Arlon, Belgium on 10 May 1938.." 

Belgian pilot Emile Witmeur participated in the air show and wrote the following account;

'..There is no airfield at Arlon. For the occasion, some meadows have been marked out (...) a grassy rectangle bordered by red flags marks the landing strip, barely three hundred metres long. It is a short runway. A Belgian fighter plane lands outside the marked out area and noses over. The primitive conditions [do not deter] the Germans in their Jungmeister biplanes. Here they come. They are landing in echelon, wingtip to wingtip. They land in about fifty metres. They have machines with brakes (...) Hans Trübenbach explains things to curious onlookers. He expresses himself quite well in our language. Then the display - lined up wingtip to wingtip, facing the crowd, about fifty metres away, they run up their engines without wheel chocks, standing on their brakes. Opening throttles wide, the fuselages rise up to the horizontal. Brakes are released and the Jungmeister power off towards the crowd, getting airborne in thirty metres, passing directly on their backs in a half roll in tight formation. This has never been seen before. They stay wheels up for most of their performance, flying all the classic figures - inverted. A specially adapted fuel supply is fitted to their aircraft to allow them to fly for long periods on their backs. After a very spectacular 'split', we witness a festival of acrobatics, tight crosses and thrills. Trübenbach finishes his act with a double barrel roll twenty metres above the ground before landing. After that, the rest of the display programme was very tame.." 

 According to Trübenbach the 'Kunstflug-Kette' was expanded to Staffel-size that summer, apparently on the suggestion of the Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe. The second Kette was led by the  Staffelkapitan 3./LG 2 Hptm. Wille. Future aces such  as Erwin Clausen, Herman Staege, Josef Heinzeller and Herbert Ihlefeld also flew in the Kunstflugstaffel.  

On July 7, 1939, the Belgian Aéronautique Militaire organised an air show at Evere (Brussels) to celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary in style. The French and the British, among others, were present, but many in Belgium were counting on the presence of the Deutsche Kunstflugstaffel. In the event this would be the last peace-time international air show meet - it was a show marred by a fatal accident. According to Trübenbach;

"...We opened the show with a tight Staffelkeil formation  at a height of 50 metres right past the Royal Gallery while the middle Kette flew a slow formation roll. Then the Staffel climbed to 1,000 metres and dived in line astern to pull up into a loop near the ground, forming a 'wheel' with the no. 1 joining up behind the No. 9 ...[..]  it was then that Hauptmann Joachim Wille, who was leading the second Kette, split off to do a  spectacular 'special trick'  - eine Sondernummer- which he had planned and practised on his own. He was to do a barrel roll on the landing approach, cut the throttle and touch down directly on the runway. But the wind was quite blustery that day in Evere. Coming in on his approach and on his back at that stage, he was caught in a gust and pushed down between two hangars. In factions of a second he must have tried to 'pull up' instead of  'pushing down' . Wille's No. 7 crashed on its back on the edge of the runway. The pilot died from his injuries at the scene.." 

Despite the crash the show continued. The French aerobatic display were next up while the RAF flew its large (for the time)  and impressive Wellington bombers. Belgian Aé. Mi. pilot 1st Sergeant Denys Rolin, attending the show with his mother, turned to her and remarked how dreadful the accident was. To which his mother replied; " Ce n'est qu'un Boche!", a reaction perhaps to be expected from a Belgian woman who had not forgotten the German invasion and occupation of the Great War. Joachim Wille was to receive  posthumously the  Order of Leopold awarded by the Belgian King (Leopold III) that evening. His body was repatriated in a Ju 52 a few days later. Two months later the German invasion of Poland was launched while the Kunstflugstaffel was officially disbanded 'for the duration of the war'.

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