Saturday, 8 December 2018
“Mosquitos over Berlin” - a chat with Andreas Zapf; Moskitojagd, Kurt Welter and Me 262 jet night fighters
The history of the two-seater versions of the world's first jet fighter has been somewhat neglected. That has not stopped more than a few 'urban myths' taking root around these machines, especially in their role as 'night-hunters'. However Andreas Zapf has virtually single-handedly corrected this state of affairs with his huge " Mosquitos über Berlin. Nachtjagd mit der Messerschmitt Bf 109 und Me 262 " published earlier this year by VDM. Adapted, built and deployed in virtually the last months of the war from the Messerschmitt Me 262 two-seater training aircraft, the history of this aircraft and its employment by the so-called Kommando Welter against the fast Mosquitos of Bomber Command - a machine which was all but "invincible" - is described in what will undoubtedly be the last word on the subject - "Mosquitos over Berlin". Andreas recently took time out to sit down with us at the Luftwaffe blog to discuss the book, Kurt Welter, Me 262 night fighters and Moskitojagd !
“...Late in the summer of 1944, the skies over the Reich were mostly dominated by the Allied air forces. The heavy bombers of the USAAF at day, those of the RAF at night. In addition the fast de Havilland DH.98 ‘Mosquito’ of the Light Night Striking Force roamed the skies over Germany – and with little or no opposition went more or less unchallenged. Besides the ever present Flak, there was not much they had to fear. ‘Not much’, however, is relative. With their fast and agile Messerschmitt Bf 109s, some specialized units such as 10./JG 300 and later II./NJG 11 operated especially against the fast ‘Wooden Wonder’. And starting in December 1944, the first nocturnal missions using the Me 262 jet fighter were added to the threat. Starting out as ‘Kommando Welter’ and being taken into regular operations as 10./NJG 11 later, a handful of skilled pilots flew the single-seater Me262 A and later the Me 262 B-1a/U1 twin-seater to counter the nightly Mosquito attacks. A new book by German author Andreas Zapf book shines a light on the almost untold story of the Nachtjagd with the Me 262. 596 pages, 160 b/w photos, 69 reproduced documents, 24 maps and flight maps are adding to a story reproduced from material hidden in archives around the world, flight logs, written accounts and many hours of personal discussions with those involved. Enjoy the untold story of a unique unit and their nocturnal stalking of the famous ‘Mosquito’...”
Hello Andreas. Congratulations on the publication of your impressive new book ! I've reproduced the jacket blurb above by way of an introduction to our discussion. Firstly, how did you come to research and write the story of “Mosquitos over Berlin”?
Hello Neil – and “thank you very much for the flowers!” – and of course, thank you very much for taking the time to have this little talk about my book and our mutual hobby.
As for choosing the topic, that was pure coincidence – I took over a collection from a fellow researcher some years back who has been writing his books on the German Nachtjagd and other topics a few years back in the 1980s. Contained within the lot was a copy of a Luftwaffe Flugbuch (“flight log”) showing nocturnal flights with Messerschmitt Me 262 B-1a/U1. And there have been letters between the original owner of the files and a variety of pilots that flew the Me 262 with “Kommando Welter”.
This sparked my interest and I started to comb the available literature, just to find out that it was an absolute “stepchild”, hardly mentioned at all and where it was, with a variety of “truths” that were not backed by any sources one could fall back to. In other words: I was unable to say if the previous authors worked on fact, fiction, or hearsay. So I set out to improve and update the story – how difficult could it be? One small unit, a few aircraft, only a couple of months towards the end of the war… naïve and foolish, I can tell you…
Being a Bundesluftwaffe officer, a wreck recovery archeologist and airfield series author, I guess your father inspired your interest in WWII Luftwaffe ?
I think, any boy growing up and and developing a love for books sooner or later raids his father’s “library”. I don’t know what other boy are finding – but besides the usual suspects, my hunting grounds were filled with books about air war, the Luftwaffe and all that. Not a few books but plenty of them. I remember having read Werner Girbig’s “Die nicht Zurückgekehrten” and Toliver/Constable’s “Holt Hartmann vom Himmel!” amongst the first ones… it just caught up with me later, I guess. So yes: inspiration certainly came from that side.
Back to Mosquitos. I'm intrigued to know just how big a problem they were for the Germans. Did you work out how many raids Mosquitos actually flew against Berlin during the war? I read somewhere that they were overhead on 36 consecutive nights?
One of the last things I did before wrapping up and getting the book ready for the printers was a trip to Los Angeles to meet one of the nicest guys I have ever had the honor to meet: Jorg Czypionka. Jorg was a flight instructor with FFS A/B 115 in Austria for most of the war, then was posted to 10./JG 300, stayed with it when II./NJG 11 was formed from it, and finally was posted to 10./NJG 11 in March 1945.
When he read the manuscript, his comment was “ ..so much on the Mosquitos and in comparison it almost looks like we didn’t even fly anymore!” . That hurt a little because I knew they did everything to do their job in a world that was rapidly falling apart around them – so I went and did the math – and amended a chapter in my book, so let me quote myself:
“..Taking March 1945 as an example, we can review the entire set of morning and evening reports of the Luftwaffeführungsstab Ic which lists the missions flown against Mosquito bombers attacking Berlin. They are listing 33 missions with Me 262, spread out across 13 nights. An additional 8 flights with the Ta 154 ‘Moskito’ – also hunting for the fast twin bomber – are documented. Plus seven aircraft of an unidentifiable unit. All in all, a total of 48 missions.
The Light Night Striking Force in return has reached full strength and weather denied flying only on two occasions. Without looking at the early returns, dropouts for other reasons, etc. the Mosquitos mounted some 2,280 missions to Germany. The Luftwaffe pilots were hopelessly outnumbered.
From September 1944 to May 1945, 180 missions against Mosquitos to Berlin are documented, around 60 of them for the jets. During that time frame, the Light Night Striking Force mounted more than 11,000 combat missions to Germany.”
I think, these numbers give anyone of us an idea of the odds during those final months of the war. And yes, the more squadrons the Light Night Striking Force assembled, and the more Mosquitos were readily available, the more flights they managed to pull of – and indeed, the prime target became Berlin. It was rarely the only target during the nightly missions – but it was regularly on the target list and yes, 36 consecutive nights sounds about right.
I'm sure many think that the Me 262s deployed as night fighters were bomber killers as they were by day. This isn't the case though is it? Did the Kommando regularly fly by day as well? I know Becker has one recce Lightning Abschuss?
Initially, the Me 262 of “Kommando Welter” and more importantly the later 10./NJG11 were primarily tasked to intercept and shoot down the Mosquitos bound for Berlin. And only those. Jorg Czypionka told me that on more than one occasion, when the raids were targeting other cities, even close by, they were not given permission to engage. It was Berlin only. Different story during daytime though – here, the otherwise “useless” jets were indeed tasked to intercept Mosquitos and F-5Es on recce missions. Becker got one that is confirmed and I think, I can pin another F-5E on Fritz Reichenbach. But all in all, not on more than maybe 5 – 10 days.
Because the jets were so fast even hunting Mosquitos was fraught with difficulty wasn't it ? - high-closing speeds, no way of slowing down to accurately aim and fire?
Yes, the Me 262 was fast, sometimes too fast. Combined with the relatively low speed of the Mk108 rounds, this gave the pilots not more than one or two seconds to actually aim and fire. Karl-Heinz Becker misjudged and had to fly through the debris of ‘his’ F-5E, subsequently belly landing his bird. Lt. Herbert Altner tried to reduce thrust too quickly on his first flight with the Me 262 B-1a/U1 and experienced a flameout with subsequent loss of the twin seater. It was not an easy attack, especially not at night. You need to remember: despite the Me 262 B-1a/U1 being “the symbol” for Welter’s night fighting activities, only one pilot ever flew her in combat. The others were flying barely modified Me 262 A single-seaters… no speed brakes, a somewhat fragile engine control, darkness all around… today, we would call any pilot flying under these conditions a “reckless flyer”.
How did Welter manage to persuade the powers-that-be that he warranted his own 'Kommando'? Because of his success in 10./JG 300? He was after all still relatively unknown and a junior officer wasn't he ? We hear so much about Hitler wanting the 262 as a bomber and yet here he is apparently authorising the type to fly at night as a fighter? And can you explain what 'Objektjagd' was - the 'Objekt' being Berlin I assume?
Well, that’s a bunch of questions there. First of all, let’s clarify “Objekt”. Yes, the “Objekt” was the to-be-protected target, for the Me 262s mostly Berlin. In other words: rather than hunting free, the night fighters were bound to the Objekt where they used the searchlights to guide them to their prey.
The question about how Welter got to his “Kommando” is an interesting one. Honestly, I never found an answer. There are different stories told, some of them range from “possible” to “bullshit”. Unfortunately, the war may have erased all documented evidence and time certainly has obscured the memories of those that talked about it in the recent years.
The only thing that I know is that Welter got his Knight’s Cross in October 1944 – and documents from Rechlin show the first preparations of their Me 262s (which Welter initially was allowed to use for his trials) around End of October/early November 1944. And on December 12, 1944, Hermann Göring authorizes the trials formally, initially with 3 Me 262 (Welter) and 3 Arado Ar 234 (Bonow). But the first ideas of using the Me 262 (and also the Arado Ar 234) as night fighters dates back to a time before Welter got the Knight’s Cross.
So all I can say is that it looks like he got the “Kommando” the formal way – not, as some are suggesting, by pulling off a stunt flight then then being summoned to Göring. And he may have gotten it because he was in the right place at the right time. After all, he was a successful and skilled night fighter, he got a high decoration and he was eager to improve his success rate.
In your reading and research did you get a better idea of Kurt Welter, the person and the pilot - he was presumably the gifted night fighter that some say but perhaps a little obsessive and 'difficult'? I read in Peter Cronauer's article in Flugzeug Classic (2014) that Welter avoided flying from around mid-March 1945 and drank a lot. And of course filed many unfounded claims?
One of the predicate rules of me writing is “in dubio pro reo” – “if in doubt, for the accused”. Of course, when you deal with Kurt Welter, the first thing you come across is the classification as blunt liar and as an over-claimer. But I think, the story is not that straight forward. But let’s start with the beginning of your question: yes, I learnt a great deal about Kurt Welter and I am happy to say that it was enough to dedicate an entire chapter of 25 pages to his biography.
He certainly was a gifted night fighter and someone described him as a man with “cat’s eyes”. My friend Jorg claims his landing skills were about average but in the air, he was a gifted fighter and skilled marksman. Those that knew him in their letters (and Jorg in person) describe him as “demanding” and maybe a “womanizer” but I have not heard a bad word about him from all that I got from Karl-Heinz Becker, Herbert Altner, and Jorg Czypionka.
He also was what we would call ‘quick-tempered’ today. On the other hand, it seems he also was an ‘organizer’, a man that could get things done. I never met him, obviously, but what I am seeing is a man that – like so many others – went through a war, aged before his time and most certainly suffered the consequences from a world falling apart around him.
Did he drink? I would guess so – but many of them did and as one of the night fighter pilots told me: ‘We never knew if we had another day to live so hell, yes, we drank as if there was no tomorrow.’ – and some of them certainly drowned their fear and despair. But for all I know, he was not the alcoholic that some describe him today.
Did Welter avoid flying? Another good question – again, those that knew him said he always was the first to fly and if there was only one aircraft available, it would have been his. I know he was grounded for some time in February. I know he never flew the twin seater in combat. But did he duck out and put the others in harms way? I did not find a single piece of evidence for that. He was certainly flying in March – when the unit lost their home base, Burg near Magdeburg, after the USAAF raid on 10 April 1945, they supposedly were able to save most of the aircraft and bring them to Lübeck – but there are also intercepted messages about low combat readiness. In general, not too many flights were flown from Lübeck, as it seems – and maybe Welter was busy on the organizing side rather than the combat side.
Which brings us to the last topic and my apologies for the lengthy answer: his claims. First and foremost, I have deliberately denied my book a “scoreboard”. There is too little evidence to create one. But if you search the Internet, you will find more than once place that lists the claims attributed to Welter.
The most interesting question is: where did those claims come from? For Karl-Heinz Becker, we have the Abschussmeldungen. Also a single one for Herbert Altner. But I have yet to see anything for the others, including Welter. I know that Hans Ring and Emil Nonnenmacher compiled their list of Luftwaffe claims and I know that all the dates for Welter are contained in a shortened list of their research which I have a copy of. BUT: no sources given. And what distinguishes these entries in their list from all others: they only got a date but never a time.
You can also use the morning reports of the Luftwaffe-Führungsstab Ic which at least list the claims – but never attribute a claim to a specific pilot. So from my perspective – and that is what I did – we can trace the claims and numbers but except Becker and Altner, we have a truly hard time to put names to most of the other claims.
Then you need to imagine the situation: dark, clouds, no radar, an excess of speed – you fire at your opponent and the Mosquito corkscrews (which was their evasive maneuver) – what does the pilot think and report? It happened to Karl-Heinz Becker and I was able to get in touch with the son of his “victim”. The 30 mm rounds almost severed the tail of the Mosquito…almost. The bird limped home and Becker claimed a kill. It was not on purpose.
Other way round: Welter in his famous letter says he brought down a Mosquito by ramming it. We all went “..bullshit, that’s a clear fake!”. Yet, for one of his early claims while with JG 300 a Mosquito crew files a combat report for exactly the same place Welter claimed and almost exactly the same time: they reported that a Bf 109 (Welter was flying Bf 109 with 10./JG 300 at that time) rammed them and took off parts of their wing so they lost control temporarily before being able to fly home…
All in all: there is evidence for “over-optimistic” reporting – but I doubt that Welter bluntly lied. And I am not even sure that all the reported “claims” are actually claimed by him…
In Manfred Jurleit's book Kurt Lamm talks about a dispute and a falling-out that he had with Welter. How did his pilots regard Welter himself?
As I said: “in dubio pro reo” but Kurt Lamm’s account in Jurleit’s book and in one or two letters that I have copies of is not in line with any evidence I was ever able to find. I don’t want to judge a man that I don’t know and who cannot defend himself anymore – so let me kindly say: I think, Kurt Lamm’s account on Welter might be more “shining a light on Kurt Lamm” than “giving an honest account of Welter”.
As I said earlier: his other pilots – especially Karl-Heinz Becker and Kurt Altner who may have known him best amongst those that we have accounts from never had a bad word to say about the man. Yes, 'womanizer', yes, “quick-tempered”, yes, “demanding.” – but I never heard “coward”, “drunk”, or “liar”.
What was the significance of the 27-28 March 1945 Berlin raid?
That night is – from a personal and non-personal point of view – maybe the single most interesting night to look at when looking at the history of Me 262 night fighting.
From a distance, it is a night at the end of March 1945 which was the most successful and busiest month for Welter and his pilots. Especially in the second half of the month, the conditions improved and they regularly were able to deploy multiple machines night after night. It is a glimpse at the “what if” scenario – if they had more men and machines available, if they had not lost their base early April 1945, if…nobody here wants that “if” but it also shows that the night fighting activities could have been scaled up and what it could have looked like. Then, of course, the date marks the first operational nocturnal flight of the Me 262 B-1a/U1 – the first-ever combat mission of the radar-equipped Me 262. Everyone else was flying on Mosquitos caught in the beams of the search light – but Lt. Herbert Altner and his radio operator, Uffz. Reinhard Lommatzsch, were able to roam free… until their engine flamed out, costing the unit “Rote 12” and Reinhard Lommatzsch his life.
Below; a rare view of 'red 9' - but even under high magnification a figure '9' is extremely hard to discern! There may however be a '306' painted in white on the nose (last three digits of the WNr.) According to 10./NJG 11 pilot Jorg Czypionka only two of the 12 ME 262s seen in the 'flight-line' photos of 10./NJG 11 published hitherto were in fact fitted out with radar - the rest were used in a role similar to Wilde Sau, flown VFR. Cypionka himself returned just a single victory in the 262, in a single seat machine. Again according to Cypionka the two 'antler equipped' Me 262 B-1a airframes were 'oddballs'. According to one source the radar was not effective enough to warrant its installation on more aircraft. Cypionka never flew the twin-seater and he certainly – at least today – has no comments on the radar. Lt. Altner – who was the only pilot to ever fly her in combat, as far as we know – made a very successful attack on a No.85 Sqn. Mosquito Night Hunter and was able to pick-up and engage multiple times so the radar apparently worked well enough. As Andreas Zapf puts it, it was “too little, too late, too few men and machines”. While 'pressed into service' as 'night fighters' the B-1a/U1 were essentially nothing more than a 'proof-of-concept' and their limited sorties amounted to operational test flights. The German term is Behelfsnachtjäger or 'interim night fighter'. A planned B-2a/U1 was to be a different kettle of fish - a "grown up" night-fighter that could easily be inserted into general service, replacing several different types of traditional night fighters. As far as we know, the airframe of a single Me 262 B-2 (the real night fighter) might have been completed but it surely never left the assembly line, maybe falling victim to one of the many Allied bombing raids.
Is there an English translation of 'Mosquitos over Berlin' coming do you think? Your own English is so good you could probably do it yourself. How did you get to master English so well anyway?
When I published the book through VDM, I sat down with Heinz Nickel and discussed the language – we agreed on German being the first shot. However, we both know that a good portion about the book is also about the fate of the airmen of the Light Night Striking Force. And I have been in touch with some of the families who all were very interested and eager to explore what their fathers or grandfathers were up against.
Personally, I want an English version – and sooner than later, because I know about the interest in the rest of the world. We are working on it but we need to find a publisher that we can liaise with. The ball is in VDM’s field so to say – but I know, they are after it and I hope, we can see development in spring next year.
In fact, I have also discussed doing the translation myself and then publish an English version through VDM. The problem is marketing and distribution, especially distribution: if you ship a book of 2.5kg from Germany to any buyer outside Europe, the postage is excessive. Which in return would reduce the sales because barely anyone would be able to pay almost the same for postage than for the book itself. Which makes it financially unattractive to any publisher without international distribution channels.
You also need to consider: an eBook is unfortunately not an option – I tried that in English and with amazon’s self-publishing platform with my much shorter story on JG 3’s adventures on the Eastern Front in 1941 and that worked well. But the Mosquito book is far more complex in layout and won’t work as eBook…so back to the drawing board with finding a suitable publisher.
My English – well, that is a story for itself, but I can safely assume my old English teacher would be somewhat amazed. It has to do with the way foreign languages were taught in school at the time I still went there (back in the 1980s and early 1990s): text, grammar, full stop. Mostly not even talking the language throughout the lesson. When I started my professional career though, I was placed in a multi-national project team with an American project leader… they made sure my language skills improved rather quickly. And I hade the great chance to spend 5 months in the Bay Area and California in 1996, working with our consultants in their office. That did the job but some people claim you can still hear a trace of a Californian accent…
What projects do you intend to work on next?
Nachtjagd somewhat is a burnt topic now – my friend Theo Boiten is just releasing his updated series of Nachtjagd-Books and it is just great. Jean-Yves Lorant and Richard Goyat did a wonderful job on JG 300 and the Mosquito hunters of 10. Staffel. I still have a lot of Mosquito material but for the moment, I am caught up with something else.
Initially, I wanted to work on my own grandfather’s story - he was with a heavy artillery unit, first in the West, then later at the Siege of Leningrad. In preparation, I looked at the operations around Maastricht and Eben-Emael on 10 May 1940 – which included a lot of Stuka activities. At this point, I am gathering data but it might well be that I switch from one of the fasted aircraft of World War II to one of the slowest. And it might well be the Stukas that are going to receive my attention over the next few years!
Thanks Andreas, there's a link to your site below with more on the book and ordering information. All the best for the book and your future projects!