Friday 12 March 2010

'Red 19' Uffz Ernst Schröder Sturmgruppe 5./JG 300

Questions about this machine regularly crop up on modelling forums. Here's a couple of photos I posted on in response to just one such query regarding the camouflage finish of Schröder's Fw 190. 'Red 19' ( WNr. 172733 ) was the regular aircraft of Uffz Ernst Schröder of 5./JG 300 from about August through to November 1944 which was pretty unusual for that time frame. Produced by Focke Wulf in Cottbus during May or June 1944 this machine was produced as a six MG gun Jägerausführung or fighter variant Schröder's Staffel generally flew top-cover for the Sturmgruppe and the pilot would also have preferred to remove the outer MG 151/20 cannon, " but this was strictly prohibited .."  This machine was not equipped with the Mk 108 3-cm cannon. A red Rotbraun 45 Reichsverteidigung fuselage band was applied to this machine during its 25-hour Check or Kontrolle. Rotbraun 45 red oxide primer paint was also applied to the bolts which attached the armoured ring to the front of the cowl. The Kölle alaaf (Kölnisch dialect for 'Cologne is Alive') inscription on the fuselage side is here missing its exclamation mark. The canopy is missing the Antenneumlenkrolle antenna tensioning device so that the aerial wire hung slack along the fuselage with the canopy open. Note a photo of the starboard side of the aircraft taken in November 1944 has the inscription Edelgard under the cockpit, Schröder's girlfriend at the time.

This is my translation of Schröder's own account of his first combat sortie, 8 August 1944

"...Takeoff from Holzkirchen at 10:45. As I was untested in combat, I had been designated to fly as number two, or wingman to Fahnenjunker-Oberfeldwebel Richard Löfgen, who was leading our Sturmgruppe on this sortie. I therefore found myself at the controls of “Red 12” flying in the lead Schwarm. The Gruppe had been able to put a good twenty or so Fw 190s in the air. The weather was fine, the sky virtually cloudless.I recall that we were airborne for quite some time, reaching a height of more than 6,000 meters, which meant that we had to clip on our oxygen masks. Changes of track relayed by Jagddivision (Döberitz?) came loud and clear over the frequency. Finally, after flying for an hour and a half, we were informed that the “fat cars” would soon be in sight. I kept a constant look out, in so far as I was able while maintaining position as the number 2 to the Verbandsführer. We were flying the typical close-knit — and quite restrictive — formation characteristic of the Sturmgruppen. It was imperative to keep station. For an instant I caught sight of a contrail at much higher altitude. It was impossible to know if this was a friendly aircraft or not. It wasn’t long before the information and the orders being transmitted over the radio became more insistent: “You should be able to see the fat cars!” Suddenly I saw our prize: 25 or 30 B 17 bombers, a little off to the right in an oblique line that was as straight as a die, five hundred meters below us. Most of them had a bare-metal aluminium finish, others were camouflaged. On their current track they would cut across our path. It was like watching a gigantic aerial flypast. I instinctively made myself small in the cockpit, imagining, in my fervor as an unfledged fighter pilot, that they had seen us and that hundreds of machine guns were about to open up on us! But nothing of the sort happened and the Americans plowed on below us, unperturbed by our presence. What a majestic sight these enormous aircraft were as they streamed their mostly long trails of condensation behind them.For a moment I wondered why Löfgen had not wheeled down and around to the right to attack them in a dive. And then I realized… bloody hell! Another “Mahalla” was heading towards us, at a slightly higher altitude than the previous formation. Once again we let these bombers pass by below us. I immediately caught sight of a third box, flying more or less at our own altitude. Stretching way back into the distance were yet more boxes of bombers one behind the other, specks that took on the appearance of a swarm of gnats…Suddenly all hell broke loose. The terse order “jettison drop tanks!” came through the earphones, and in the second that followed, numerous pale blue auxiliary tanks went tumbling down into the void. Löfgen had just peeled away, bunting over to the right and was diving between the box of Flying Fortresses that had just gone past below us and the following box which was looming — menacingly — ever larger. I tightened my turn a little to keep close to our number one. I now kept my eyes fixed on him, which meant that I couldn’t watch what was happening around us. Then, exactly 1,500 meters ahead of us, I counted 25 B 17s. Despite being well out of range at this enormous distance, their gunners opened up. The sky was suddenly streaked with thousands of sparkling pearls. Or at least this is how the tracers appeared in the dazzling blue sky. I was instantly reminded of the games that we played as children in our garden and how my brother Helmut would love to try and turn the water hose on me! Thousands of bright, sparkling drops just seconds from sluicing down on me. But I could only throw the briefest of glances forward, forced to keep station on Löfgen’s wing, and anxious, above anything else, not to collide with him.Another order came over the radio: “Pauke, Pauke, auf sieee, Rabazanella!” I had to pick out a bomber immediately. I quickly switched on the gunsight and flicked off the armament safety switch. I almost forgot in my excitement! It was then that I felt intense fear, expecting to be hit at any moment. My bomber was still a respectable distance away, his wings not yet filling the graticule of my Revi. I shot a glance to my left. Löfgen had already opened up, all guns blazing. The Boeing rapidly loomed large in my sight and I opened fire. I saw several flashes up ahead. Were these the impacts of my shells or the gunners returning fire? It was impossible to tell. There were more flashes in the tail gunner’s position and on the rudder. This time my bursts had clearly raked him. The great bulk of the “thing” had assumed imposing proportions, it was time to break off. But how, above or underneath? I unleashed a final salvo, and for a fraction of a second, thought I glimpsed the fuselage ablaze. The tail gunner’s compartment appeared enormous. I rammed the stick forward, flashing past underneath the bomber, pulling negative Gs as I rolled several times while diving headlong before taking stock of what was happening around me. A short while prior to the attack I had seen a very large city off on my starboard side, which from a height of 8,000 meters was laid out like the pattern on an antique ornamental carpet. This could only have been the capital of the Reich — Berlin. Consequently there would be numerous airfields in the area.The constant craning back and forth, to and fro, as I surveyed the sky all around me, had started to make my neck hurt. There was not a single aircraft, either friendly or enemy, in my field of vision. It was time to ease my 190 out of its crazy plunge earthwards. By the time I had leveled out, my altimeter was indicating around 800 meters..."

Schröder had a number of victories over P-51 Mustangs before the events of the 27 September 1944, the so-called 'Kassel catatrophe', the decimation of the 37 B-24 Liberators of the 445th BG, the highest one day loss of any bombardment group in the 8th Air Force. Flying in the third wave of attacking Sturm machines he shot down two 445th BG B-24 Liberators. These were his only Viermot victories.

This machine was 'lost' on 27 November 1944 when Schröder was forced to belly land after a dogfight at low altitude with a P-51. The aircraft was eventually repaired and returned to service with JG 301.

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