Thursday 21 May 2015

a new book for my library - " Florennes Raum Sieben" by Roland Charlier - I./ NJG 4 war diary - new Luftwaffe books

Written by local Florennes researcher Roland Charlier, "Florennes Raum Sieben 1942-44" (Florennes Sector Seven - a reference to the airfield's Himmelbett zone) is a thick 470 page A-5 French-language softback presenting aspects of the wartime history of Florennes airfield in Belgium. Most important of these were the activities of I./ NJG 4 under Kommandeur and leading Nachtjagd ace Wilhelm Herget. The book is the result of nearly 30 years research and is packed with unpublished pictures, recollections of former airmen (now all deceased) and anecdotes. It focuses on  local wartime life deeply influenced by the Raum 7 network, the establishment of the Fliegerhorst at Florennes but also the bombings, crashes and air warfare in the area. It is effectively a war diary of I./ NJG 4 for the period covered and features lengthy extracts from the daily diary kept by ace Ludwig Meister's Bordfunker Hannes Forke as well as first-person accounts from Meister, letter extracts from Kommandeur Wilhelm Herget and other pilots.

original diary extract from Hannes Forke, BF to NJG 4 ace Ludwig Meister as published in 'Florennes Raum Sieben'

The book also deals with the deployment of I./ JG 26 to Florennes. Roland received support from noted Belgian historians Jean-Louis Roba and Erik Mombeeck, two leading Luftwaffe researchers who need no introduction here - needless to say they carried out many interviews with Luftwaffe veterans during the 1980s.

I am really enjoying this book. The detail is fascinating - how the pilots lived and how the airfield was organised with lots of local colour, as well as pilot accounts and rare pictures. If you can cope with the French text then I recommend it highly. The A-5 format unfortunately means that some of the very nice photos are not given the prominence they deserve, but as the author himself explained to me, the format has certain advantages for ease of transport and stock when self-publishing.

Below;  Lt. Norbert Pietrek at the controls of his 2./ NJG 4 Bf 110 coded '3C+HK' at Florennes. Pietrek shot down a Halifax and a Lancaster on the night of 9-10 August 1943 before flying a daylight sortie against the US 8th AF on 17 August; the famous Schweinfurt-Regensburg raid. The aircraft wears a light 76/77 (?) squiggle finish over the (presumably) grey uppersurfaces (courtesy Roland Charlier, click to view large)

On 17 August 1943 the US 8th Air Force attacked the ball bearing factories at Schweinfurt and the Messerschmitt plants in Regensburg. The Luftwaffe threw just about everything they had into battle that day, including the Messerschmitt Bf 110 Nachtjäger. A dangerous move, because the twin-engine Messerschmitt Bf 110 was no match for the more manoeuverable escorts. 2./NJG 4 pilot Norbert Pietrek recalled;

 "..That day 17 August 1943, we were ordered up to counter an American raid in daylight hours. An assignment that we, night fighters, considered suicide as the Bf 110 could not hope to match the American and British escort fighters. I took off from Florennes together with six comrades, among them Staffelkapitän Altendorf and my Katschmarek Gralmann, heading north. I'm sure Kowalzik and Schulenburg were also with us. But we were intercepted by enemy fighters and we immediately formed a defensive circle. However Kowalzik stupidly left the formation to dive on a lone Spitfire (sic) and that let the enemy fighters in. Both of Gralmann's engines were on fire, but he still managed to pull up his nose to get off a salvo that brought down one of the US fighters before baling out and  jumping clear...."

 In his account Pietrek assumes that the Staffel ran into Spitfires but their adversaries that day were probably Thunderbolts of the 63 Fighter Squadron/56th FG. 1st Lieutenant Edgard D. Whitley claimed a Bf 110, 1st Lieutenant Glen D. Schiltz Jr. and 2nd Lieutenant John H. Truluck each reported having "damaged a Me 210 " The dogfight was, according to US reports, situated between Ans and Sint-Niklaas about 16.25-16.40 British time. Two of the damaged Messerschmitts managed to escape by putting down at Sint-Denijs-Westrem airfield. Staffelkapitän Altendorf and his Bordfunker, Feldwebel Wilfried Arndt, were less fortunate. Their Bf 110 (Werknummer 6160 coded 3C+DK) became uncontrollable, and Aussteigen (bale out) was the only option. According to German records, this event occurred near Assenede. The Staffelkapitän landed safely, his BF Arndt was slightly injured.

Pietrek continued;

"...I managed to find shelter in the clouds and when I emerged glimpsed the coast of England. I could see the condensation trails of B-17s returning from the raid. I closed on a B-17 and brought it down, watched it go down into the sea, but in the absence of a witness, this was a victory that would never be credited ...our Staffel lost three aircraft that day..."

(blog author note; compare Pietrek's account here with his lengthy piece in T. Boiten's 'Nachtjagd' (Crowood 1997) described as having taken place on 25 August against 9th AF Marauder's attacking Rouen!)

 Pietrek's 2. Staffel was led by Oberleutnant Rudolf Altendorf, " a man of great distinction within his unit, thanks to his outstanding record of service". Rudi Altendorf  had already had a successful career as a Zerstörer, returning four victories by day before his transfer to the Nachtjagd. After a short stay in Nachtjagdgeschwader 3, he was transferred in the summer of 1942 as Oberleutnant in I./ NJG 4 based in Laon-Athies, France. I./ NJG 4 moved in March/April 1943 to their newly constructed Fliegerhorst (airbase) Florennes. Altendorf was appointed Staffelkapitän 2./NJG 4. After the summer of 1943 Altendorf and his Staffel were transferred to Germany, where the 2./NJG 4 became 12./NJG 5. On 1 January 1944 Altendorf was promoted to Hauptmann and appointed Kommandeur of IV./ NJG 5 stationed at Brandis. Altendorf survived the war with a total score of 25 victories, for which he was awarded with the Deutsches Kreuz in Gold. 

Below right;  Oblt. Rudolf Altendorf