Background: The Nazi published a large number of 32-page booklets in a series titled “War Library of the German Youth.” They were intended to persuade the youth of the glories of war, and often included a pitch to enlist in the military. The RAF had bombed Munich during the festivities of 8-9 November 1940, the anniversary of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. Outraged, Hitler ordered retaliation. The Luftwaffe had formerly focused on London. Now it went after Coventry, a city in the English Midlands.This account claims that the Germans hit only military targets, but in fact heavy anti-aircraft fire kept the bombers high, and they bombed indiscriminately. Although they did hit the cityís factories hard, they also destroyed a great deal of housing, along with the 14th century cathedral.
The source: Carl G. B. Henze, Bomben auf Coventry: Erlebnisse der Besatzung einer “Ju 88” beim Einsatz gegen England (Berlin: Steiniger-Verlage, no date, but 1941). This is #84 in the series “Kriegsbücherei der deutschen Jugend.”
Bombs on Coventry:
It is the end of November 1940. It is an unpleasant, dank and dark night over the Reich capital Berlin. Rain and snow fall from the low-hanging clouds, and the cold, damp air seeps through the clothing of the few people who for some reason are still are out, or who are heading quickly for home.
In the pleasantly warm room that is the living room for foreman Herbert Handorfís family, however, there is no sign of the unfriendly conditions outside. Occasionally the night wind blows on the closed windows and interrupts the monotonous sound of rain drops. The room is well-blacked out, which dampens the sounds of the unfriendly weather so that there is little evidence of it inside. The grandfather clock in the corner rings 11 p.m. Otherwise, the silence of night prevails in the room, for three of the four family members, father, daughter and son, must leave early for work each morning — father Herbert leaves for his factory, daughter Erika for the 45-minute trip to her office in the west of the city, and 13-year-old Horst for the Litzmann School on Mittenwald Street. Each has a long trip from their apartment in the nice building in New Tempelhof, so father Herbert insists that everyone is in bed by 10 p.m.
Today, however, there were two reasons for ignoring fatherís injunction. First, it is Saturday, and one can sleep in tomorrow. Second, there is a special occasion. The oldest is home on leave.
Werner Handorf, the 24-year-old son, worked as a mechanic up to 1935 with Lufthansa, then volunteered for the Luftwaffe. He soon became a pilot, and served with his squadron in Poland. The airman distinguished himself though his bravery and eagerness for action. Later, he flew in the west, over Paris, and become an NCO, joining in the battle over Holland and Belgium. For bravery under difficult conditions over England, he was recently promoted to sergeant. He has a leave after being lightly wounded during a successful mission over Coventry to allow his arm to fully heal.
He showed up unexpectedly this afternoon, after being away for nearly a year. His return must be celebrated. He has been engaged to Marielies, the daughter of the owner of the colonial goods shop on Berlin Street, for a year. She and her brother, one of Horstís schoolmates, fill out the Handorf family gathering. Both really should have been home a long time ago, but Werner, inspired by the pleasant gathering and the grog made with a bottle Marielies had brought from her fatherís shop, began talking after dinner. His father, who had been lead mechanic with Richthofenís fighter squadron during the World War, encouraged him with constant questions to keep talking about his experiences. Naturally it is all devoured by the two boys, who are both members of a model-building club in the German Boys [the part of the Hitler Youth organization for young boys]. With their fathers’ approval, both want to enter the aviation technical preparation school. With so much interest in aviation, mother and the two girls cannot resist. Erika provides the necessary refreshments and brings in a new pot of steaming grog.
Another interruption. Father Handorf lights a new cigar, looks at the clock, and sees that his wife cannot entirely suppress a yawn. He says to his son, who is just tapping his pipe:
“We really should go to bed, but we won’t be as young the next time we meet. If you still have the energy, keep talking. We can sleep in tomorrow if the weather stays this bad. You stopped just as the electrical system failed over Coventry!”
Marielies, too, who works as a stenographer at the Junker factory, is particularly proud that Werner flies a new Ju 88, looks hopefully to mother, who is knitting a new pullover for Horst: “Yes, Werner, you have to finish your story about the mission to Coventry!”
There is no choice. Since Wernerís left arm is still in a sling, Marielies helps him light his pipe. He takes another gulp from his glass, then enjoys everyoneís full attention, even motherís, as he tells about his last mission against an English armaments factory in Coventry.
As the cold, rainy November night hangs over Berlin, and as German airmen with tireless energy continue their regular night missions against England, regardless of the weather, and as Sergeant. Werner Handorfís comrades do their military duty deep in France, the small family gathering gets a picture of the daily life of German flyers, focusing on an event of particular importance — the nocturnal destruction of an enemy armaments center. Coventry is the model of the daily retaliation of the German Luftwaffe, a model also for the strength of Germanyís hammer blows that again and again fall on the island that has no peace. Coventry is the revenge for the cowardly attack on Munich, revenge for the disruption of a celebration of the Greater German Reich. Coventry also shows that, after weeks of attacks on the British capital and its important military targets, other enemy cities also will experience German air attacks. In brief: the crushing attack on Coventry is the beginning of a series of powerful blows against British armaments centers in the Midlands, and on the most important harbors! The story of this difficult mission is being told by one who flew over Coventry. He makes the experiences of that terrible night vivid for his small family circle — a night that will takes its place in the history of the German Luftwaffe alongside other major attacks on England. The story shows that England, which destroyed the worldís peace, is on a path to the abyss. The flaming torches of burning industrial cities will mark the path!
The officers and pilots of the squadron have gathered at headquarters. Together with other squadrons, they have a special mission. The squadron commander speaks:
“OK, comrades, you know know the outlines of our mission this evening. Together with other squadrons, we have the task of taking revenge for the English attack on Munich during the night of 8-9 November. We will not respond in the same way, by bombing innocent apartment buildings, but in a way they will not be able to ignore over there. Our bombs will fall on armaments factories!
The ‘gentlemen’ of the Royal Air Force attacked Munich. The Führer and our commander, the Reich Marshall, are unwilling to let even an attempt to attack the capital of the movement go unpunished. Thus our mission this evening is to destroy Coventryís industry!
You know what that means, comrades! This city is one of the prime manufacturing sites for the enemyís air force, and has other important factories that produce trucks and tanks. It can be said to be the center of English motor vehicle manufacturing, especially of trucks. There are also many factories that manufacture motors, motor parts, and tires. There are several factories that make aircraft motors, most notably Rolls-Royce.
You can see that the mission is worth it! If we damage this armaments center, we will have given another hard blow to Mr. Churchillís war production! That is the purpose for our mission.
It is 1700. We take off at 2130. We will not be the first squadron to take off, but there will be enough left over for us and the comrades who follow. Tomorrow morning, the factories over there must be in ruins.
At ease until 1930, then prepare for take off. Good luck, comrades!”
The crew buttons up. The lieutenant with the Knightís Cross salutes and leaves the room through the door Sergeant. Handorf opens for him. The men start talking. Something new! They already know London perfectly! Slowly the squadronís members leave the room, talking energetically. One of the last to leave is Lieutenant Schmidfeder, the commander, and the pilot of JU 88 “Bruno,” Sergeant. Handorf. Outside, their “third man” is waiting for them, Corporal Bergengrün, the gunner. Other gunners wait for their commanders and pilots.
“My dear Bergengrün,” Lieutenant Schmidfeder waves to the corporal who wears the black and white band of the Iron Cross from the World War, “get ready! We have the important task of attacking an armaments city that has not yet experienced a major air attack — everything is waiting for us to destroy. You will have to keep a sharp eye out for night fighters to keep them from getting too close to our tail!”
“Lieutenant, don’t worry. I have already shot down two of those night-time butterflies with the blue, white and red circles, and I will be delighted to add more to my list! May I ask the target?” The tall corporal looks expectantly to his commander.
He laughs. “I haven’t told you, have I! We are flying to Coventry! What do you think about that?”
Bergengrün stares at the lieutenant. “Thatís a surprise!: He rubs his hands together: “Forgive me, lieutenant, but...”
Schmidfeder claps his fine gunner on his shoulder. “Good, Bergengrün, I know this is a big surprise for you!”
“It sure is, commander. I worked there for about two yours, as you may remember. I am a mechanic by trade, and worked at the Francis-Barnett factory in Coventry. I returned just before the war began, and volunteered immediately. I was a gunner back in 1918.”
The three walk slowly. “I know,” the commander says to Bergengrün, “that it will give you particular pleasure.”
“Yes sir.” Bergengrün grins. “I didn’t get along with them all that well. That stiff, arrogant society.”
“Well, well! Now you are a German flyer again! Letís rest a bit, since we have to be alert all night.”
Bergengrün heads off. Schmidfeder shakeís the pilotís hand. “Take it easy, Handorf — but I don’t think We’ll sleep much. An attractive target, yes? We’ll see each other at dinner at 7:30 p.m.!”
While the crews head for the rest they were ordered to take, the ground crews prepare the planes for the big mission. There is activity everywhere in the hanger. As dusk falls, the lights are turned on. Flashlights provide illumination for the mechanics working on the engines, the guns, and the tail, reflecting from the sides of the planes.
The foreman signs several papers that an NCO gives him. He looks at the calendar on the wall: November 14. One should note the date. Tonight, the factories of Coventry will go up in flames!
I hope all my crews come back safe, thinks foreman Overbeck. They have already had hard missions — this will be OK! He closes the folder, stands up, and heads for the hanger.
He hears hammering, pounding, whistles and soft conversation. His ground crew are great guys! They have shown him again and again during a year of war that he can rely on them. They are the guarantee that everything will work. The wonderful German aircraft industry builds first-rate airplanes, but it takes constant hard work to by the mechanics on the motors and weapons to keep the planes in a condition that their crews can rely on under any circumstances.
Even back in the World War, there was a close relationship between the flight crews and their mechanics. The flyers knew what they owed to the men who maintained their planes. For better or worse, they were bound together. The mechanics took pride in the successes of “their” pilots in fighters and reconnaissance planes, and that is still true today. Trust and camaraderie bind flyers and ground crews together.
Foreman Overbeck stands next to “Bruno.” First mechanic Weber looks at him. He is no longer the youngest. His hair and moustache are a bit gray. He was a young volunteer working on two-seater Albatross biplanes during the World War. Then he worked in the aviation industry for years. When the war broke out, he volunteered immediately for an aircraft unit whose chief had been his commander in Flanders. He was accepted, and now NCO Weber again works on warplanes.
“Well, Weber, what do you think of the Ju 88?” the foreman asked. “We’ve had them long enough to form an opinion.”
“Well, master sergeant, I like them a lot. Our crews seem to like them too. Thatís important! When I think of the old crates we had during the World War — wood and canvas, held together by wires! They didn’t spare wire during my day. It took me a while to accustom myself to modern airplane wings!”
“I can understand that, Weber! As you know, at the beginning of the war — up until this May — I was with a Stuka squadron. The Stuka is the Ju 87, the predecessor of this thing here. We have had great results with the Ju 87, and no one, the English least of all, thought it possible that we could build an even more powerful plane. We succeeded with the Ju 88, You know that it is both a horizontal and a dive bomber, a significant improvement over the still valuable Ju 87. And you know that the Ju 88 will have a big role in our struggle against England. Its speed and combat capacity are well suited for that. Your gunner Bergengrün is perhaps the best proof of that. He has already shot down two English night fighters in the moonlight. No one can equal the work of German workers and German engineering!”
“True, master sergeant, and I would already be feeling sorry for the people in Coventry, were they not English.”
Overbeck laughs. “True, Weber. They will be surprised tonight, if they have time to be. But keep at it so everything is ready for takeoff.”
“Yes, sir. Things will be fine.”
Time passes. A fall evening descends on the airfield. A few clouds float overhead, and a light wind blows from the southeast. The weather forecasters predict the weather for the attack will be good. Some clouds, but it will not be overcast. One can expect the targets to be clearly visible. That is good. Each bomb must hit its assigned target!
After a hearty dinner, the crews are gradually getting ready for the coming mission. They put on their flying suits and get ready for takeoff.
Sergeant. Handorf takes a small picture from his brief case and puts it in his pocket with a smile — a simple picture of his Marielies. that is the good luck charm he has always carried in his left breast pocket of his flying suit. The picture is badly worn, but it has to last for the rest of the war. Without the picture — which he first put in his pocket during the attack on Radon on 1 September 1939 — Handorf will not fly. A superstition, maybe, but thatís the way it has to be!
Meanwhile, the ground crew is wheeling the planes outside. The big birds look ghostly in the dim light of a late November evening. The crew uses their flashlights to check for the last time that everything is in order. The electrician, as always in night flights, has paid particular attention to the electrical equipment. As far as is humanly possible, everything has to work. The bombs are stowed away.
Everything proceeds calmly. The ground crew has gradually gotten used to the special security measures for night flights. The foreman gives an order every so often, a quiet call to his crew. The engine mechanic sits in the pilotís seat and runs the engines slowly, checking their revolutions on the gauges. The powerful engines are running slowly, their quiet humming fills the field. The crews can come. Everything is ready!
They are already gathering, heading three by three to their planes, standing in the normal order, visible to the men even in the evening darkness. Lieutenant Schmidfeder, Sergeant Handorf and Corporal Bergengrün approach their “Bruno.” NCO Weber calls:
“Airplane ‘Bruno’ is filled with fuel, coolant and oil. Ready for takeoff. Engine RPMs normal.”
Lieutenant Schmidfeder salutes. “Thanks!” Then he turns to Handorf and Bergengrün: “OK, letís get in! Everything clear, Handorf?”
“Yes, sir. As far as I am concerned, we are ready. Are we the third plane behind the commander again?”
“Yes, just as always! In ten minutes, we take off. Letís hope that the weather over Coventry is clear and we can look right down at them.”
The corporal and the sergeant. climb through the Ju 88ís hatch. The lieutenant takes a look at the other aircraft, then follows his men. He sits down in the dim light of the instruments, and looks at the clock that slowly moves ahead.
In the distance, two powerful engines can be heard in the cabin. An NCO signals the commanderís plane. The engines grow louder, then gradually fade.
The first plane is in the air, and the second soon follows. Now it is “Brunoís” turn. The plane bumps and rumbles down the runway with engines thundering. Handorf looks ahead. He pulls the stick a bit, and he bumps stop. The plane is in the air.
The planes take off one after the other. Despite the darkness, each pilot and commander knows from long experience where his plane belongs in the squadron, and each commander knows in which wave his squadron is to attack the target. Using the radio, the formation is established.
The commander soon knows that all the planes have taken off smoothly, and are beneath him. With the droning of thousands of horsepower, the planes head toward the enemy target. The black shadows of the metal birds, hardly distinguishable from the black sky, pass over the land beneath while the planes climb to higher altitudes.
Let us stay with Sergeant. Handorfís “Bruno.” Bergengrün is at this battle station in the rear, looking into the dark night. Stars blink between the clouds, which are only a little above the plane. The eyes quickly grow accustomed to the darkness. The horizon is visible in the distance. Below, everything is blacked out according to regulation. Every now and again there is a glimmer of light, showing the presence of a road to the sharp-eyed airmen. Then everything is dark again.
Lieutenant Schmidfeder sits and looks at his map in the faint light. It is a street map of Coventry; Al important targets are marked with red xís. All the lights are turned off in the cockpit, except for the lieutenantís faint light and the blue glow of the instrument lights. Handorf holds the stick with both hands, looking forward and to the sides into the darkness, then back to the numerous instruments, whose absolute reliability is critical for the pilot during these night flights.
How was it during the World War? Our two-seater biplanes were flown at night even then. Lieutenant Siegert, whom one can call the reformer of the old German air force, carried out night flights in 1913, even before the outbreak of the war. With the famous flyer Lieutenant Carganico at the controls, he made the first practical tests. Hardly anyone then believed that an airplane could fly long distances at night, not to mention carrying out military missions.
The World War soon proved that night flights were not only possible, they were necessary. But what kind of instruments did they have? Gauges for fuel and oil, a compass perhaps, maybe a clinometer — that was all there was at the middle of the Word War. With these few aids, our flyers went deep into enemy territory to carry out successful bombing missions.
Today the tasks are much greater. Night flyers have entirely different duties, and industry has created new instruments to help. Still, personal action is the most important.
Now and again voices sound over the radio. The squadron commander gives an order or a comrade asks a question. In slow sentences, Schmidfeder confirms the order or answers the question. Else, everything is quiet save for the droning of the two engines which spin as regularly as clockwork.
The ground is 6,000 meters below, under the clouds. Handorf turns a knob. The oxygen starts to flow.
Schmidfeder looks at the clock. According to plan, they should be over the English Channel. He looks down. Right, they are over water, hardly distinguishable from land. Another voice over the radio, this one from the squadron captain, who cannot be too far from the “Bruno.” The other planes are invisible. Like huge night birds, they carry their destruction-bringing cargo toward the target.
Soon English flak will go into action. The enemy coast is not far distant; the white chalk cliffs shimmer indistinctly ahead. Enemy listening devices will hear the approaching engines. Fires are visible in the distance, some sort of armaments area that German flyers have already “visited.” The planes head over enemy territory toward the Midlands.
The light clouds increase at 2500 to 3000 meters, forming a thin curtain and concealing the planes from the enemyís sight, who will probably soon turn on his searchlights.
In the distance, fires blaze. Our planes have already unloaded their cargo there. The red flames sine unclearly through the light clouds. Soon it will be time to drop to the ordered attack elevation. A command from the lead plane: the target will be reached shortly.
Handorf looks toward the lieutenant, who nods. The drone of the motors declines and changes pitch; the Ju 88ís nose drops slightly. In a gradual glide, the plane passes through the clouds. There is a milky gray mist outside, just as when a car goes through fog. The plane flies through the gray mist for a while, then breaks through the layer of clouds. Ju 88 “Bruno” is now beneath them.
The ground is far below. Bright specks of fire shine through the darkness here and there. To the right and left, near and far, fires reduce British armaments plant to ruin. The first wave of airplanes has already been there. The sky is red and gray above these places of destruction. Vague outlines of jagged flames shine through the night.
200 meters below the clouds, the commander signals Handorf to level the plane. The humming and droning of the motors increase again, and the plane races at full speed toward the target.
Now searchlights dart across the sky, casting a blue glow on the cloud bottoms, moving about as they search for airplanes. Now and again, they catch an attacking plane for a few seconds, but the capable German flyers quickly escape the bright beam of light. A searchlight has already found Schmidfederís crew twice.Each time, Handorf turned the side rudder, worked with the ailerons, and dove, disappearing into the darkness.
He’d drop 200 or 300 meters, then climb again to 2000 meters, swerve here and there, but always return to his course. The plane droned on toward its target.
Sometimes the lieutenant saw another plane of his squadron caught by the searchlights to the right or left, but they, too, disappeared quickly into the darkness. The many German aircraft continued unstoppably toward their target — Coventry.
Now flak and shrapnel were exploding everywhere in the darkness. The flares revealed a confusing network of shell bursts in the heavens, with the long fingers of the searchlights between. Below was the dark fire of the guns. The enemy shells exploded between the German aircraft, but were not dangerous to the attackers. And if a shell exploded near or below a plane, the capable pilot swerved to the side.
Splinters might penetrate the wing or hull, but as long as no critical parts were damaged, it continued to fly through the enemy fire. German planes can take a great deal.
A shell explodes near “Bruno” for the second time. A yellow-red fireball, a glowing cloud. The splinters cut through the thin metal. The plane swerves sharply to the side, then Handorf has it under control again. As he looks to the side, Lieutenant Schmidfeder sees a glaring fire about 600 meters away, at the same altitude. It looks like a huge comet racing through the heavens,. Then it drops straight down, leaving behind a red-gray trail of smoke in the night sky.
They got a comrade. Who might it be? Did the crew bail out? A direct hit? Perhaps the plane flew into one fireball while trying to avoid another.
“Now more than ever!”
That is the oath the men in the machine make whenever they see the fate of a brave comrade, and they will hold to this oath until England, the last enemy of our Greater German Reich, is defeated.
There is still no sign of enemy night fighters. Comrade Bergengrün is at his machine gun looking to the rear through the splendid sparks of light in the night. Now and again he sees a comrade caught in the long finger of light, but it quickly disappears into the darkness again. The Hurricanes and Spitfires seem not to have taken off yet, for otherwise the flak would not be firing. But Bergengrün is alert; he wants to add another night fighter to his list tonight.
The aroused Tommies keep up the flak; then there is a brief pause again. The target is below — the city glows a dark red. The comrades in the first wave have already done good work. Thick clouds of fiery red-yellow smoke tower above the flaming buildings.The dull, pale fingers of several searchlights poke up between. Schmidfeder gives a sign to Handorf. The “Brunoís” nose sinks slowly down. With motors on full, the plane follows a gradually descending course toward its target.
Now the planes are over the cityís edge, with Coventryís motor and armaments plants in every direction.
Some are already in flames. With thundering motors, the Ju 88 keeps going, regardless of the flak, which is firing only sporadically due to the destruction all around. Some guns and crews may already have been destroyed.
Lieutenant Schmidfeder watches the ground carefully. Given the planeís speed, it takes great attentiveness to see the target. No bombs may miss it. The industrial area is illuminated as bright as day by the flames. The lieutenant has memorized the map and sees the target. Now he drops a flare to mark the target more clearly. He waves to Handorf, who understands immediately and turns the plane in the desired direction.
There is the target: a big factory complex that the earlier comrades have ignored. The huge chimneys tower into the bloody clouds, brightly illuminated by the flares. There is fire from neighboring rooftops, but the flak shells explode far above the “Bruno.”
Schmidfeder pulls the bombbay lever. The doors under the plane open and let loose their destruction-bringing cargo. As Handorf turns the plane sharply, the lieutenant sees the heavy bombs falling to earth. A few seconds later, bright flames shoot from the dark buildings, growing like mushrooms atop pillars of smoke above the destroyed factory halls, almost reaching the height at which the Ju 88 is flying. A slight odor of smoke gets through the edges of the glass in the cockpit. Both bombs hit the target!
Things are happening everywhere. The flak is in action again; muzzle flashes are visible even from the shattered rooftops. Fires spring up from nearby buildings. The comrades are having the same success. The defensive fire continues to weaken.
Handorf has brought the “Bruno” back over the target with a long curve. Now two heavy bombs do their duty. The lieutenant does not need to drop a flare this time, for the fires illuminate the target as bright as day. The still undamaged buildings are dark against the bright red fires. Once more the plane speeds toward these targets: two enormous factory halls remain. A pull on the lever, a short turn, and then the second bomb is on its way down. The capable, experienced pilot turns the plane so that the lieutenant can see the results. These two bombs also hit the target!
Once again glow red fire springs up. This factory also will not be able to do any more armaments work for Mr. Churchill. The strength of the explosions makes clear that only ruins remain beneath. The “Bruno” has done its duty for the night. In revenge for the attack on Munich, bombs have fallen on an important area of the English Midlands and have had their effect. The big bombs used when dive bombing — for the Ju 88 is also a dive bomber — were left behind this time, using instead the no less effective bombs that are dropped in horizontal flight from about 1000 meters in the midst of flak. The “Brunoís” bombs alone have laid one factory in ruins. The bombs of the other planes have had similar effect. As the fall morning dawns over Coventry, this armaments center is badly damaged.
Lieutenant Schmidfeder make a broad hand gesture. The sergeant understands. His commander wants to take a wide turn around the town before heading back to survey the results of the attack. After a long silence, the radio sounds again. The nearly 2000 horsepower of the Ju 88 thunder loudly, and the half-glassed cockpit shakes with the force. The lieutenantís voice says:
“We will take a wide circle around a part of the city, then climb to 4,000 meters and head home. That was something, Handorf! All four bombs hit the target. It burned like in a movie!”
“Great, sir. What kind of factories were they?”
“An aviation motor factory or an aircraft factory. Both are right next to each other, Maybe we destroyed both of them. I’ll show it to you on the map when we’re back home. So, letís take a look, then head back.”
The lieutenant looks beneath. There are still the flashes of falling bombs nearby or further away. The streets of the doomed city are bright as day below. Thick clouds of smoke conceal the damage and climb ever higher over the industrial district. Here and there are high, almost smokeless fires. The black of the night has vanished. The flyers see a terrible but beautiful picture of the most modern weapons of destruction. What a peculiar thought that only a few hours ago, activity filled those buildings that now lie in soot and ashes! Albion, that is what you wanted!
What the flyers see is indescribable! It is impossible to describe all the details of an industrial city burning in every corner! The flat clouds that are still at about 3,000 meters have taken on a reddish tinge, here a bit more red, there more gray-red. Hundreds of fires add to the unforgettable picture. Searchlights and flares still shine, almost invisible in the light of the fires. In the distance, new flashes are visible as further attack waves hit their targets.
The lieutenant is just about to give the sergeant. a signal when the power goes out. The radio is silent, the instrument lights go out. Only the reflections from the fires beneath illuminate the cockpit. The motors thunder on, driving the plane forwards. But the instruments are not to be seen, and others dependent on electricity no longer function. Handorf tries various controls, but nothing happens. There is no power.
What a mess! It will make for a pleasant return trip. The clouds cover the whole sky now. No star is to be seen that one could navigate by. The lieutenant and his flyer shout to each other. What could the problem be? Neither has ever had the power fail under normal conditions. Perhaps a flak splinter cut the line. The planeís vibrations have worsened it and caused a short. No other explanation. Good German material does not fail without reason.
But all this is of no help. worst of all, the radio is not working! The airfield cannot be notified.
“If our luck is bad, We’ll land at another airfield — otherwise, thatís the way it goes!” the lieutenant shouts to the sergeant. He shrugs his shoulders, as if to say We’ll see what happens. A German soldier does not complain, whatever the situation. Despite the unpleasant situation, the mood on board has not sunk. The lieutenant smiles to Handorf:
“Well, the main thing is that we served the Tommies our eggs in a way that will spoil their appetite. They won’t like what they see when they crawl out of their air raid shelters in the morning.
The two motors keep going. The plane leaves the destruction behind. The lieutenant looks back once more at the sea of flames, where new bombs are still being dropped.
The plane is heading through the dark sky toward the English Channel, under the faint red gleam of the clouds above. Suddenly, the lieutenant looks to the side and sees to the left the tracer fire of machine guns in the distance. It must be an aerial battle! As he points the sergeantís gaze, Bergengrün yells from the rear:
The “Bruno” is now past the city limits, but still in range of the flak at the edge of Coventry. Several shells from the enemy guns explode too far from the plane to do any damage.
The firing stops and the searchlights fade. Bergengrün, always looking to the rear and beneath, spots two shadows against the red-gray background, a bit lower than the “Bruno.” With the trained eye of a night flyer, he quickly recognized them as English fighters, Spitfires or Hurricanes, too far away to tell. But that is not important.
The corporal sees the tracer fire in the distance. The comrades have already dealt with the Tommies. The enemy fighters must have seen the German plane, for Bergengrün sees the shadows climb suddenly and attempt to catch up with “Bruno.” He move his machine gun into firing position and yells to the front.
Lieutenant Schmidfeder turns his flashlight on, carefully covering it with his hands, and holds it over the instrument panel so that Handorf can see the instruments that are still functioning. He yells to the pilot: “Higher! Higher!”
The opponents cannot get higher than the German plane, since that gives them an advantage, particularly since the “Bruno” is no longer fully maneuverable. Handorf pulls the stick and the Ju stands on its tail and heads upwards. The plane is almost hanging on its two propellers that are pulling it into the heavens. A message from the gunner in the rear, and corresponding orders from the lieutenant in front. The altimeter keeps climbing in the light of the lieutenantís flashlight: 1500, 1800, 2000, 2500, 2800 meters! It is still climbing!
Bergengrünís shouts make it clear that the English are still following. The lieutenant orders: “Fire!” Handorf levels the plane a little, and the machine guns open fire. The English answer. Their tracers flash past the Ju, vanishing into space. Both Tommies are in range of Bergengrünís well-aimed guns, but they twist and turn to avoid his fire.
They attack again, falling under the gunnerís fire. The tracer fire surrounds the three airplanes like a web in the dark sky. Bergengrün sees the ghostly forms of both Englishmen behind him. Neither succeeds in getting ahead of or above the Ju.
The lieutenant illuminates the altimeter. 3000 meters! He signals the sergeant to keep the plane at that altitude. Handorf makes sharp curves to make aiming hard for the Englishmen, then heads straight again so that the corporal can get an occasional shot in. In the midst of it all, Handorf works to keep a general course toward home, as an experienced night pilot has learned to do.
The aerial battle goes on for quite a while. In the night, one can only see the tracer fire and the outlines of the other planes, sometimes near by, sometimes further off. It is not easy to shoot the enemy down. Bergengrün curses in the rear. An experienced gunner, he fires only when the enemy is in his sights. Above all, the Tommies, still hanging beneath the Juís tail, try to climb above, but do not succeed. Since they cannot tell the type of plane in the dark, they think it will be easier to attack the enemy from beneath. But Bergengrün moves to the belly of the plane and treats the “brothers” in the same way. They will be surprised that the German up ahead follows them so carefully and finds a defense. Bergengrün grins to himself.
The lieutenant has crawled below and is behind his machine gun, ready to open fire if Handorfís maneuvers brings one of the enemy planes into the sights of the cockpit guns.
Thus the battle recedes from Coventry, with raging fires still rising to the heavens. The cloud cover, previously at about 3000 meters, seems to be dropping, since the enemy planes occasionally fade in the mist.
Suddenly a large dark shadow flashes just in front of the Ju and vanishes into nothingness. That was a third Englishman, who apparently saw the tracers from a distance and now wants to join the fight. Now there is fire from forward as well, with tracers flashing past the cockpit. The lieutenantís machine guns are firing at the approaching enemy, which suddenly appears like a monster with a distorted shadow, enormous before their eyes — and Handorf instantly pulls the plane higher, then swerves from side to side.
Handorf returns to the former course, keeping the burning Coventry, disappearing into the mist, behind him.
The lieutenant waits for a new attack, but it does not come. Schmidfeder looks at Handorf. He sees a thin stream of blood on the pilotís left arm.
“Handorf, you’re wounded!” the commander shouts. He looks in surprise in the direction the lieutenant points. Right, thatís blood. One of those Tommies got him. In the excitement of the moment, he had not even noticed. Only now can he feel it. He can still move his arm, so it can’t be all that bad. He smiles toward his commander, who expecting further attacks is looking forward again, since he has determined that Handorfís wound is not serious.
Meanwhile, Bergengrün has noticed that one Englander has turned aside. There is now only one enemy behind. The other and the enemy plane ahead seem to have given up the fight after Handorf took the plane up and down 200 meters during the last attack. Either the Brits lost sight of the German, or believed that he had been shot down.
But the last Tommy is tough. Bergengrün sees him approach the Ju again.This time he is a little higher, and the gunner moves higher to give the chap the appropriate reception. There he is!
The corporalís machine guns fires, and the Englishman answers. Suddenly, flames spout from the enemy plane. The enemy plane dives just past the Juís tail. No collision! But the plane passes only a few meters behind the Ju — Bergengrün can almost feel its heat in his face. Trailing a long plume of fire and smoke, the Tommy heads for the depths.
The gunner shouts Hurrah! Handorf looks around, then sets the plane on a course so that the lieutenant, who is still at the machine guns below, can see the plunging Brit.
Well done, Bergengrün, the third one for your collection of night butterflies!
Burning Coventry has disappeared far behind. Bergengrün sees only a faint red shimmer through the thickening and falling clouds — rather like the sky over a bit city on a rainy November night.
The lieutenant has climbed back to his seat and done the best he can to put a bandage on the wounded arm. Thank God, it is only a flesh wound, even if a deep one.
The bone is not injured, though Handorf says it is beginning to hurt. Still, he wants to bring the plane back home, and asks the lieutenant, who wants to relieve him, for permission to stay at the controls. Granted!
Schmidfeder turns and shakes Bergengrünís hand. “Well done, old boy! Best wishes!”
“Thank you, sir, but what else could I do? I had to hurry before those boys got away!” He grins with satisfaction.
The sergeant. also turns to congratulates his old comrade. He sees for the first time that the sergeant is wounded. He looks worried, but the lieutenant tells him that it is not serious.
The German plane makes its lonely way home beneath the clouds.
The altimeter reads 2500 meters, just under the cloud cover. Beneath is black England land, only occasionally broken by a flash of light. Rarely, a searchlight sweeps through the sky. The flak is silent.
They have to be near the English Channel soon. The thoughts of the three men focus on one question: Will we make it home? The lieutenant is wondering how Handorf is piloting the plane without any instruments. Are we at least going in the right general direction!
In the light of his flashlight, the lieutenant sees the pain in the sergeantís face, and notes that it seems to be hard for him to steer the plane. He suggests that he take over, and this time the pilot agrees. The lieutenant takes the pilotís seat and settles in. Now he, the old Ju 87 pilot, is in control again.
The cockpit is dark. It is a peculiar kind of flying with no instruments, and when one can hardly recognize the person sitting next to him. The sergeant. has the flashing, with it slowly dying batteries and holds it over the instrument panel so the lieutenant can read them.
“Fuel!” Schmidfeder calls. Handorf holds the dying flashlight over the electric fuel gauge. Itís not working! Hopefully there is enough! The maneuvering during the battle slowed things up, and it will take a while to find the field.
The dark plane races on. The lieutenantís experience ensures that the plane keeps level, even if the stick is hard to move. “What time is it,” the lieutenant asks.
Handorf turns the light off for a moment. If our course is about right, we should be at the coast. The sergeant. looks down. Yes, that must be the Channel. Now we have to take the right course to the field. But that will be a matter of luck. Hold the course.
The comrades will all be home by now, waiting for the overdue “Bruno.” They will wonder why there has been no radio contact, and will conclude that Schmidfederís crew has stayed with the Tommies.
The lieutenant has no time to think about such things, for he has to bring the plane safety home. Handorf wonders who the comrades were who were shot down over Coventry. He thinks about his girl, about Marielies, whose picture is still in his left breast pocket. This flight will have to turn out OK. He thinks of his wound, which is hurting more — and is angry that it will probably be a while before he can fly to England again. Bergengrün is thinking about his “butterfly collection,” and is happy to have added a third this evening.
They are over the Channel. France is far below. Far and wide, there is not a glimmer of light to be seen. Now they have to find the airfield. The lieutenant looks at the map with the last glimmer of the flashlight, and at his small hand compass. They have to be going in about the right direction.
Three pairs of eyes strain to look below. But there is no landmark, everything is dark and invisible. There some water shimmers! A river! It is the Schelde? If so, they are far to the right! The lieutenant turns. He slows the engines and drops to 1500 meters. Then he speeds the engines up again and the search continues.
Now the port engine begin to skip. Running out of fuel! Fuel is pumped over to it. There is enough fuel for about 30 minutes more. Thatís it. Then the “Bruno” will have to make a forced landing, probably hitting some kind of obstacle.
The commander thinks, then with heavy heart give the order:
“Get ready to bail out!” It is not easy to give up the plane that has taken them so often across the English Channel. But three valuable human lives are at risk.
Lieutenant Schmidfeder takes the important papers and maps and asks the sergeant. if he can risk the jump with his wounded arm, which is now stiff and swollen. He says he can. Everything is ready. “Go,” yells the lieutenant.
Bergengrün opens the bottom hatch. The wind tears it away with a shriek. Schmidfeder turns the engines down. After a quick handshake, the sergeant. falls into the darkness. At almost the same moment, there is another sound. Bergengrün has opened another hatch and jumped out.
The lieutenant is alone in the plane and prepares to bail out. As he looks out the window, he sees a silver glow on the horizon. The moon? Yes! The lieutenant takes the stick again, turns the machine, and looks at his watch with its green glowing numbers.
He had not thought about the moon! The day before yesterday as he and his crew returned from London, it will bright moonlight at 11:30 p.m. Now it is shining at 11 p.m.
If the plane can stay up for another fifteen minutes, there will be full moonlight, which might allow for a smooth landing, provided he can find a decent landing area.
The lieutenant looks involuntarily at the fuel gauge, even though he knows that it is not working. Hopefully the fuel will last until the moon, which is at two-third full, rises over the horizon. He flies in wide circles through the night.
Schmidfeder thinks for a few seconds of his comrades. Die they make a safe landing? As long as they did not hit some sort of obstacle, everything will be OK, since our parachutes are as reliable as a Berlin taxi. Then the lonely flyer thinks about the coming landing as he listens to the motors. Even if it does not work, he will have done everything he could to save their loyal craft.
Suddenly a soft white light falls on the rear of the airplane. The lieutenant looks over to the eastern horizon, where the moon is shining, seeming to climb higher every moment. Well, now is the time. He looks down as a moonbeam illumines the altimeter — 600 meters. He looks down again. There, to the right, is a clover field, or a pasture, or perhaps a harvested field. He turns the engines down, and the plane glides lower. In the uncertain moonlight, he can see that the field is surrounded by tall trees. He is at 200 meters. The right motor dies, then the other one. No choice now — itís out of fuel!
With the assurance of an experienced pilot, the lieutenant curves the plane down in a gentle glide to the end of the field. To reduce the rolling on the ground, he slows the plane down as much as he can. The field grows larger. Now he can see it. It is a meadow. He hears the wind blowing through the open hatch. He has to make a belly landing, for the wheels cannot be lowered. There is not enough time to do it by hand, and he could not do it alone anyway. The planeís metal bottom rushes through the tall grass. It touches down once, then again. The Ju 88 move across the field like a glider, slowing down, then it stops, resting on the left wing. Success! Schmidfeder climbs out and finds he even had a side wind, which was fortunately too light to do any harm. The only damage to the plane is a bent propeller. The Ju rests safety on the meadow.
The lieutenantís two comrades have long since landed safety. They landed near each other, and were surprised to hear the Ju fly on. What is the lieutenant doing? Did he bail out and leave the engines running? But as they stood on the ground, they could see that the plane was still under control. It was flying in wide circles. Did the lieutenant want to land after all?
The sound approached again, and they could see in the moonlight as the big bird lowered its nose. The engines stopped. He landed! But where? Ah, over there, apparently, in the big meadow.
They released their parachutes and headed over, arriving soon after. The lieutenant is astonished to see his crew again.
“There you are, kids! Handorf, get that arm in a cast as soon as possible! Now letís find out where we are. Handorf, stay with the plane. Bergengrün, come with me!”
Soon the lieutenant and his gunner meet a courier on a road not far away. He learns that they are at X, about 80 kilometers from their airfield. The courier takes the lieutenant to the next division headquarters, while Bergengrün returns to the plane.
That same night, a truck is sent from the home field with supplies, fuel, and workers. By the next afternoon, the plane and its crew are back home.
Sergeant. Handorf must go to the hospital. He follows the doctorís orders unwillingly. He would rather fly to England again with his plane. But apparently he must take 14 days leave.
When he returns, he will fly again with his lieutenant and gunner in their loyal Ju 88 against the last points of resistance of the old archenemy. He looks forward to it for his whole leave.
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