Background: These two articles were published in the eighth of a series of booklets on the war. The date is in late in 1940. They give a German perspective on the Battle of Britain.
The source: “Zerstörer kämpfen über London” and “Alarm in Birmingham,” Bomben auf Engeland. Kleine Kriegshefte Nr. 8 (Munich: Zentralverlag der NSDAP., 1940), pp. 1-5 and pp. 7-9.
Fighters Battle over London
The “sharks” are over London again. Protected by their fighters, German bombing planes can carry out their attacks unhindered. 7000 meters are between the German airplanes and the burning capital of a dying empire, 7000 meters obscured by rising flames and choking smoke. Still, the path of the Thames is clear through the haze.
A fresh wind from the west blows the smoke to the side for a moment, and the German He-111s fly through, their bombbays releasing their payloads. As is so often the case, the enemy flak is wild and ineffective. As the German bombers begin their attack, enemy aircraft arrive. The sharks turn to meet then and the air battle begins. But Lieutenant B, wingman to the commander, can tell the story better:
“While the bombers were doing their splendid work, we suddenly noticed a big group of single-engine planes several hundred meters above us. The formation was on the same course as we were and had the same coloring as our Me-109 fighters. Under the lighting conditions we were above the cloud layersthe whole formation looked like a formation of German fighters, and I thought wow, we sure are protected today! We thus held course, and watched our bombers hit their targets. Suddenly I saw a shadow above the cockpit, and heard a clattering in the rear of my aircraft and then saw beneath me enemy fighters. Spitfires and Hurricanes!
A quick look up gave me an unexpected shock. The presumed German fighter squadron was neatly in the process of turning to dive through our formation. They were shooting from every gun. I could see the gas vents. Gas vents? Ah, yes! When Spitfires and Hurricanes fire all of their guns at once, which are close to each other, the exhaust vents on their wings open. Their small flames have a devilish similarity to a burning gas vent.
We were being attacked! It lasted less then a minute, lightning-fast and too quick to understand. The English fighters plunged through our formation, guns blazing. Several daring lads went into spirals to scatter the formation.
Before I could respond, my good plane “Gerda” had been hit. I yelled into my radio, and was relieved to have everyone answer that they were unhurt. “Only hits in the side and the right wing, otherwise everything is in good shape!” Have I mentioned I was the commander’s wingman? Our head shark, the commander was up in front, then me, and behind us the whole group. The high society of the fighter world was gathered above London, and I had the catbird seat. I could hardly be attacked from the rear, since the enemy fighters would have to go through the entire squadron of sharks behind me, something that has not happened before and would be difficult to accomplish.
The English fighters in the meanwhile had turned to the side and were climbing high again, preparing for new attacks on us. We, of course, had hardly been sleeping, and were in the right firing position. They were as stubborn as donkeys, I tell you, attempting the same maneuver again. Suddenly I saw a Spitfire, hugging the tail of the commander flying just in front of me. A pretty picture, I thought to myself for a moment. In the bright sun both planes were vivid: the Spitfire sparkling in the light, gray-green with a strike of brown above and bright light blue beneath.
Its two cockades glittered like the eyes of a beautiful butterfly. I noted that only subconsciously, because I had already moved the stick a bit to pick up speed and get in a good firing position. Just then the radio blared: “Shit!” Spitfire to the left!” Shortly after: “Another Spitfire to the right!” A tough spot, I thought, and than the thought went through my mind that it would be a shame if they shot down our Old Man right before my nose!
You know, everything went through my head in a tenth of a second, and I’d made the decision: Go after the Spitfires to the left and right and save the chief. The position was a good one. The old lady Spitfire was in my sights. I pressed the firing button and the tracers shot forward... and hit! The Spitfire shook, turned its lights had gone out and turned over, all in an instant. I shot once more, and it plunged into the clouds beneath and disappeared. And what the devil, sometimes one’s good deeds are rewarded. In this case, at least, that was true. As I dispatched the Spitfire, my comrades in the rear had done the same to the other one. As I looked back, things were clear behind me...
Now we had a moment of quiet. The fighters were elsewhere. I flew past the commander. But now they were back! We fought back, hardly giving them the chance to get a shot in. I could not see much of what was going on, since I was keeping an eye on the commander’s aircraft. Something had happened to it. It lost altitude at every turn, shook, and seemed likely to crash. Had something happened? Something had happened engine problems. I saw that the right propeller was turning more slowly, and finally stopped moving altogether. The right engine had been hit, and over London, the center of the enemy fighters, right in the middle of a fight with a numerically superior enemy that was coming at us from all directions. Not a pleasant situation. The injured machine was naturally slower and less maneuverable. We had to protect it. That naturally affected the maneuverability and fighting ability of the entire squadron. But our commander was an experienced Lufthansa pilot and he was able to keep the plane in the air.
What else can I say? We shot down three more Spitfires during this battle before we slowly broke from the enemy and headed home. That is always a delicate matter, since it can easily happen that the last plane has a hard time of it, just as the dogs bite the slowest. But not to worry, in this case the sharks did the biting, not the dogs. We reached the coast with no losses. We kept the commander in the middle of the formation to prevent any surprises. We reached the English coast, then the Channel.
We were still quite high. We were cold and needed our oxygen. And then something else happened! A last surprise in this mission that certainly had not been a boring one. The other motor died! The commander’s second one, of course! In the middle of the Channel, far, far from our coast. I must say I was scared. What could the commander do? Bail out? Nothing doing! How about gliding? Rightly handled, our Me 110 makes an excellent glider. And, as I already said, our Old Man can fly. A good thing we still had a lot of altitude. I was not entirely sure of our altitude, speed, and glide path. The old man was wondering if he could make it, and I was too. But it all turned out all right. Slowly, painfully slowly the French coast grew clearer, and soon I could see the broad yellow-brown beach. We were not all that high any more, because the commander had to keep dropping to keep the glide going. He made an unexpected turn in his glide and was flying parallel to the coast. What was he doing? Did the commander want to go still further? Actually, his new course headed directly to the landing strip at B. But then he seemed to have another idea, and kept gliding along the beach.
Things got critical. It looked as if the machine would crash in the last minute. Then I saw how well our chief could fly. He recognized the danger and brought his plane back on course. Shortly afterward the plane made an emergency landing. The landing gear did not descend, since on unfamiliar ground and without the engines, a belly landing is the only possibility. He was good! It was low tide, with a broad glittering beach. He landed the machine right on the boundary between the land and the water. There was a huge spray of water than entirely concealed the plane for a few seconds, then as I looked down I saw the plane at rest in calm water, with the Old Man standing on the wing.”
Alarm in Birmingham