Freiburg, January 18th 2009


I’ve been looking at the 9th Staffel War Diary and were wondering what the personnel and aircraft figures represented?


With the personnel, it’s officers, non-commissioned officers and manschaften – other ranks.  The aircraft refers to what we had in the squadron and what was ready to fly.


And what is an Einweisungsfüge?


It’s an old hand, or one of the experienced pilots, taking a new pilot up and showing him some of the ropes.  A familiarization flight.


And the kühlerschuss?


The kühlerschuss is the cooling system.  If you get shot there you have very little time to get back before the engine seizes.


Tell me a bit more about Guines, the airfield you were operating from during the Battle of Britain, and the technician’s tent.  Presumably that was effectively the gruppe workshop?


Guines was a wheatfield that had just been harvested when we arrived.  This was good because the ground was nice and firm.  The technicians’ tent was really big – big enough to fit an aircraft in.  It was the place where most of the maintenance was done on the machines.


There were references in the diary to ‘Tschika’ and ‘Teddy’?


Not ‘Tschika’ but ‘Chica’!  Chica was my dog, and Teddy was another, who looked a bit like a bear so we called him Teddy.  Chica was my dog, a fox terroer.  I had been in Spain as a boy and had had a good time there.  Chica is the name for a girl in Spain.  So because of my time out there I called my dog Chica.  Chica and Teddy had puppies.  Chica would always flying with me whenever we moved airfields.  She would sit behind my seat – there is a small luggage hold in the 109 and that’s where she went whenever we moved.  She always wanted to fly.  She was a passionate flyer!  She always cried when she wasn’t allowed to come with me.  Everyone always spoiled her – a very cheeky dog.  Everyone would say, ‘It’s the boss’s dog, so…’  But she was a very good dog.  At the end of the war we had to move airfields a lot.  One day we came back from a flight and she wasn’t there any more.  I don’t know what happened to her – if someone took her, or if she was killed.  But she was gone.  We’d been through the whole war together.  It was very sad.


The diary mentions that RAF bombers – Blenheims – making repeated attacks on the airfield.  Did that affect your sleep?


We were always trying to find places to sleep as far away as possible so that we could sleep.  As far as 20 km away. It was the groundcrew who got the short end of the stick because they had to remain at the airfield all the time.  But for us pilots, if there was a pretty girl in one spot you tended to stay there.  You could stay anywhere you wanted.  If we went to Lille, for example, we would come back the following morning.  It wasn’t too much of a problem being that far from the airfield because there were cars and bus to take us there and back.  The British bombers were not effective at all in terms of bomb damage.  They were irritating but not very effective.  I don’t remember really hearing the flak guns too much.  I usually slept pretty well.


There’s a bit in the diary that refers to one of the pilots having a sore throat – or pretending to have a sore throat.  Dödel?  Was that his name?  I wondered whether he was trying get out of flying.


(Laughs).  No, you’ve got it quite wrong!  Saying someone has a sore throat means they are really ambitious.  They are a Dödel because they are trying to get a Knights Cross, which ties around the throat.  A Dödel is a name – a rude name – for a penis, like a dick.  But it is also a name to describe the ritterkreuz.  The Knights Cross and Knights Cross only!  And since the Kinghts Cross tied around the neck, we would say someone had a sore throat.


But what about Kanal Krank – Channel Fever?


Kanal Krank.  There are two sides to this.  One, when your nerves are shot and you simply cannot fly anymore, and second, when you are desperate for a Knights Cross.  One is a syndrome – a mental illness – the other is ambition.  The urge to keep flying and shooting down aircraft.


Most of the time you seem to have no more than nine aircraft in the squadron.  I thought a staffel was supposed to be twelve?


There were supposed to be twelve machines in a squadron but we never had that many.  Usually we had only nine because of all sorts of reasons – later because of a shortage of labour, damage to factories and so, but mainly because of the losses.  The problem was that the 109 was difficult to take off in and to land and we lost a lot during training.  There was a pilot called Müller.  He was a good pilot in the air but bad at taking off and landing.  We called him ‘Crash Müller.’  For every plane he shot down, he lost one himself.  Later, when we were in Russia and we were flying from an airstrip that was surrounded by the Russians, I told him, ‘If you crash your aircraft you will never be able to get out of here.  The Russians will get you.’  He never crashed again.  He was perfectly capable to doing it, but he didn’t concentrate enough.


But were you conscious that there were not enough aircraft during the Battle of Britain?


I was definitely aware that there did not seem to be enough machines.  And as the battle progressed, there were definitely fewer.  Guines was interesting.  Two thirds of the way through the airfield there was a track through the stubble.  It ran across the field just at the point where you took off and just where you landed, but the track caused a bit of a dip.  If you didn’t judge it right, it was very easy to jolt the plane.  Then a wingtip would hit the ground, then the propeller and before you knew it, the  machine had flipped with the engine dug into the ground.  This was a called a ringelpiez.  We lost many that way.  Squadrons that crashed fewer aircraft at their airfields tended to get replacement aircraft quicker.  At least, I assume that was the case.  That’s how it seemed at the time.


When you made it back over the Channel after being hit, how did you manage it?


I was hit in the engine, so I knew the engine could easily seize.  I switched the engine off completely.  But the wind was turning the prop because I was gliding downwards.  Because of this, and because the engine was off and I was gliding, the engine cooled.  Then I could start it up again for a little bit and climb again and repeat the process.  Actually, it was very simple – it’s all about timing.  You can’t keep the engine going too long – but I was the first one to try it.  The trick is to turn off the engine before everything seizes.  It’s the same with any aircraft with an inline engine.  Lots of pilots would crash land or bale out over England rather than ditch in the Channel, but I was determined not to do that.


I was fascinated about the story of your action against the French pilot on 26th May.


What I did on 26th May was forbidden – landing beside him and helping him.  I could have been court-martialled for that.  The Messerschmitt 109 was very fragile and if you didn’t land on a proper airstrip the chances were you’d crash.  But I was an expert!  I was very experienced on the 109 – I had flown every type.  When I got back, I had to admit to what I’d done because I’d away for nearly three hours and I still had fuel left.  I had to say something.  They let me off, though.  I was euphoric – I’d shot this aircraft down, and had then landed beside him and saved him.  If I’d stopped to think about it I would never have done it.  It was an instinctive thing.  This action had been a big fight.  Twenty against twenty, but that then it broke down to one-on-one.  The fact that I was the only one to shoot one down was also a pat on my shoulder.  But I was very experienced by then.  I’d flown the B the Cesar, the Dora and now the Emil.