Date: 6 August 1941
Weather: Clear, Clouds at 1,500 metres
The war goes well. Our forces are advancing on all fronts and the Bolsheviks are retreating just as quickly. I believe the whole affair will be over rather quickly. Once Moscow falls to Guderian's tanks, even Stalin will have to concede the war is lost and will sue for peace. Afterwards, the Tommies will be all alone and the blustering Churchill will recognize the hopeless situation and allow us free reign in Europe under favorable terms. I hope to see action before the war is over!
After weeks with JG 54's Einstazstaffel, I received orders posting me to the 1st Staffel of I./JG 54. Huzzah! My hands were literally trembling with excitement as I clutched them. The Kommandeur actually sent four of us Häschen or "little hares" to the postings. The whole flight was nearly one of those comedies enjoy seeing together. Apparently our forces are advancing so quickly, nobody knows where the units are! We landed at one base, only to be told the 1st Gruppe had left two days ago. Luckily enough fuel was available to fill up our four thirsty birds. Away we went eastward, finally arriving near dusk at the "new" base. Well, there is Flak unit there, but no 1st Gruppe! This is very strange. The staff sargeant let our flight know we are making better time. We are only one day behind them! They are at Siverskaya.
The next day, four very haggard looking pilots reach Siverskaya. Our story of dutifully arriving at one recently vacated base after another didn't elicit very much sympathy from the Kommandeur, Hauptmann von Selle. We were told to eat and rest as he said tomorrow promised to be a "busy" day.
Historical Note: JG 54 didn't occupy the Siverskiya airbase until Sept. 13, 1941, four days after the death of Hubert Mütherich [see JG 54 Loss List]. During the Cold War, the airfield home to 67 BAP (67th Bomber Aviation Regiment) flying Su-24 aircraft. It has served as a nuclear bomber base according to Natural Resources Defense Council. A United States joint military inspection was conducted here February 11, 1992, which confirmed a Su-24 presence. Picture and notes from Google Earth.
In the morning, I'm rousted out of bed by the gruff looking Hauptmann Schultz. I will be his Katchmarek "wooden eye" and he doesn't look pleased about having a lowly Gefreiter on his wing. I might as well be a gnat buzzing around his ear to swat away. The skies are clear with a bright sun - good flying weather! I'll be flying "White 19", a Bf-109F-2. I've heard stories of new pilots given the worst planes. But to me, White 19 is a beauty, despite its worn look.
Morning briefing consisted of me nodding and snapping off repeated "jawohls". I was to stay glued to Schutlz's wing and obey his orders without question. The Hauptmann needn't had worried, I had no plans to go wandering off by myself. The Russian steppes are vast. While with the training staffel, I'd witnessed an entire schwarm run out of fuel and belly land after getting lost. A long walk back to base didn't appeal to me.
My line chief or Oberwerkmeister helps me strap into White 19. Two schwarms of aircraft lift to the skies. I set the prop pitch to its most efficient climbing rating, open the radiator, checks flaps and slowly open the throttle and soon airborne. We circle Siverskaya, gaining altitude all the while. The schwarmführer barks out a command and we all head north, following the railroad tracks and past the elbow in the river. The town of Krasnogvardeisk slides off the left wing as the formation changes heading NE.
Our official briefing explained that we are headed towards Pushkin and Kolpino. We are to overfly the airbases in the area. It's the type of missions we fliegers enjoy, a hunt for the enemy or a "Frei Jagd".
I'm off Hauptmann Schultz's left wing. The fear of Hauptmann Schultz made sure I did all these things because I didn't want to fall behind the formation. Lagging behind your flight is a sure way to tell the enemy fliers "Here is a new pilot! Get him!" My head is constantly moving. I scan the skies in my assigned sector, just like they taught us in flight school. It's an efficient method to scan volumes of space. Far better for a single set of eyes to be responsible for one piece of it than all of the sky. This was repeated over and over by the training Kommandeur. Many pilots have been lost who didn't pay attention or were lax in their searches. I vow not to be one of them!
Our flight is barely on the outbound leg when suddenly the radio crackles to life. Enemy in sight! I rock the wings left and right, trying to find the Russians. This is my first mistake because I immediately lose sight of Hauptmann Schultz's. He screams at me and tells me to stay where I am.
I can't find the Russians, but I listen as two fliegers curve downward and towards them. They announce the Russians are flying the stout I-16. Tracers lead me to the fight, but I remain high above it as ordered by Schultz. A shout of "Horrido!" announces the demise of a Russian. I watch as the I-16 spins lazily towards a meeting with Mother Russia.
Bombers! I crane my neck to the designated spot and see four specks in the distance, slightly above me. We've chanced upon a Russian attack. They are headed directly towards our base, no doubt thinking to catch the Gruppe napping on the ground! The rest of the flight is down below chasing Russians. My heart is pounding when Schultz calmly orders me to engage the bombers. He reassures me that he'll soon join me to assist.
I pivot White 19 on its left wing and ram the throttle forward. I'm almost breathless. I'm sure the flight could hear heavy breathing as I quickly closed the distance on the bombers. They had twin engines and a shiny, metallic finish. Are the Russians running short of paint? Twin machine guns spit tracers towards the bomber. Smoky trails and momentary flashes of orange help me correct my aim.
Too close! The bomber looms large. It's an SB bomber. One of the types that suffered heavily in the early parts of the campaign, trying to destroy the bridgeheads across the Narva river. I press the tit of the cannon, but I veer up and over the bomber to avoid a collision. My second mistake as the bomber gunners greet my aircraft with a hail of bullets. What sounds like hail strike the aircraft and bullets smack against the armored glass of the cockpit. I pull back on the stick and come around again with determination.
I open the radiator and throttle down so as not to quickly overshoot the bomber. I close and aim for the right engine. Bullet and cannon strikes all over the wing and fuselage. "Horrido! He's in flames!" I shout over the radio. Several Abschuss are returned. The blazing wing marking a fiery path across the sky to herald my first victory.
This time I pass under the formation. The rest of the Schwarm has pounced on the formation. All are promptly shot down. One bomber loses a wing and corkscrews to the ground. Joyous shots of fliegers fill the radio waves. All four bombers have been shot down before they reached our base. The Schwarmfuhrer orders the aircraft to form up and resume the original mission. Flying over both towns was uneventful and no other Russians were seen.
A Jabo Rotte joins up and flies home with us.
We return to Siverskaya. I am so excited. I wait my turn, circling the base again and again. I dream about making a pass along the runway and then rolling to announce my first victory. The tower gives me clearance to land. The landing gear indicator lies glare red! Something is wrong. Schultz orders me to make violent maneuvers to shake the gear loose. I comply, but the plan doesn't work. One of the bomber gunners has enacted a sickening revenge on White 19. I adjust the prop pitch, lower the flaps and brace myself for a bellylanding. Everyone is watching as I gently place the aircraft on its belly and skid to a stop and to the side of the runway. I climb out of the cockpit, sweaty, panting but grinning ear to ear. Hauptmann Schultz grunts at me while I'm removing my flight gear. I think this is high praise coming from him!