Sunday, 9 May 2010

Julius Meimberg (JG2 ace) and Gerhard Baeker - a German view of the Battle of Britain

In an interview published in the British 'Observer' newspaper in the year 2000 prior to the commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, two Luftwaffe pilots who fought over England shoot down what the Germans refer to as the Battle of Britain 'myth'. In a recent thread over on the TOCH forum I was surprised to realise that this 'German' view of the Battle of Britain is not more widely known - probably because it is rather at odds with the accepted view. This piece should be read in conjunction with my earlier blog post on the Battle of Britain here Luftschlacht über England - the significance of the German defeat during the Battle of Britain
I have to say that I don't entirely share the views of the two pilots as related below, that firstly the Luftwaffe wasn't defeated and secondly that the mere presence of the Royal Navy prevented Hitler from proceeding with an invasion. And while Hitler's failure to achieve air supremacy over Britain - which he used as a pretext for postponing invasion - probably didn't alter the outcome of the war, it certainly did eventually allow the Western powers to prevent the entire European mainland from being over-run by the Soviets.

"...Sixty years after the duel in the skies, German veterans in Berlin say that its importance is exaggerated. German fighter pilots, famously seen off during the Battle of Britain, will not be commemorating their dead this year for a simple reason: they believe the British are talking up an 'insignificant' clash in the skies that did not alter the course of the war. Ahead of the sixtieth anniversary of the famous dogfights between Spitfires and Messerschmitts, German pilots are still engaged in fighting talk over the events of 1940 that Winston Churchill declared the victory of 'the few' British pilots on behalf of 'the many' in a battle that saved Britain from becoming part of the German empire.

At 83, Julius Meimberg is typical. He can remember almost every detail of a war in which he flew more than 250 missions as a fighter pilot, including dozens over Britain.

'It's all exaggerated,' he said. 'Churchill succeeded in creating this myth that so few did so much for so many. When you look at how we fought against the Americans later, the Battle of Britain was very little in comparison.'

There will be no official commemoration of the Battle of Britain in Germany, and the few surviving pilots who fought on the German side see no reason to mark the anniversary. Even if they did, Meimberg believes that none of today's generation of Germans would take any notice or express any interest in their wartime adventures.

'Nobody's interested in that here. There's nothing here, they're even getting rid of the memorial rooms for squadrons. You won't see a single swastika there, for example, because a whole period has been wiped out, even though it's part of their history. I think it's a very bad thing to try to undo history,' he said.

Meimberg was a 23-year-old lieutenant in Jagdgeschwader 2 'Richthofen' when he started flying up to four missions a day over Britain. He admits that he seldom thought about his opponents on the British side as people: they were simply targets.

'The people who were inside them [the fighter aircraft] were the same as us, except that they spoke English and we spoke German. We only saw the aircraft. I find that a bit difficult to understand today. We didn't see the people, only the aircraft. We fought aircraft against aircraft. We were fighting for our Fatherland and they for their England. It was like sportsmen - there were good and bad ones,' he said.

Gerhard Baeker was 25 when he flew his first bombing missions over England and he too regards the British preoccupation with the Battle of Britain as disproportionate. Like Meimberg, the former pilot who took part in the bombing of Coventry remembers August and September 1940 as just one incident in a long war.

'For me, the battle lasted from August 1940 until July 1941. What they call the Battle of Britain in England was just August and September.

'But for us it was only starting. England had declared war on us. We didn't want a war with England. We had the Russians at our backs.

'The Hitler-Stalin pact was an unnatural pact. We always hoped that England would give way and recognise that the Russians wanted to effect their world revolution - which was proven to be the case after the war,' he said.

Baeker dismisses as absurd the suggestion that the RAF prevented a German invasion of Britain by depriving the Luftwaffe of air supremacy. He argues that the German armed forces, which had only been fully reconstituted in 1935, could never have secured a bridgehead or defeated the Royal Navy.

Meimberg agrees that the Battle of Britain did not prevent a German invasion, but he claims that, if Germany had attempted to occupy Britain, the operation would have succeeded.

'The Germans could have occupied England afterwards. It was diplomacy that prevented that. It seems to me that the English led the Germans by the nose by showing a willingness to make peace but in reality playing for time. I saw the British at Dunkirk and I know they could not withstand an invasion,' he said.

Meimberg received serious burns and a number of broken bones during his service as a fighter pilot, but he says that the struggle to survive after the war was more difficult than anything he experienced in battle.

Unlike their counterparts in Britain, men like Meimberg and Baeker are at best forgotten and at worst reviled in their own country. A few tiny organisations, such as the German Fighter Pilots' Association, struggle to keep their traditions alive and to take care of veterans who find themselves in difficult circumstances.

But the German public has little time for the defeated soldiers of a war that brought shame and destruction to their nation.

'War is not the continuation of politics by other means, war is the utter failure of politics and politicians. We're described as Hitler's soldiers, but it is a totally false view that we were ideologised,' said Meimberg......"