Date: 8 August 1941
Weather: Clear, Clouds at 600 meters
Muscle aches, stiff limbs, are the body informing you it needs days of rest. A war pauses for no one and neither does First Gruppe. After an early breakfast, the morning briefing revealed that our strike group is heading in the direction of Sologubovka. Russian deserters are saying units along the front line are experiencing a lack of food and ammunition. A supply column has been spotted and we are going to escort a flight of Ju-88s from KG 1 who will try to prevent the column from resupplying the Russians in the area. In all, 11 bombers have been dispatched; such is the importance attached to stopping the supply column.
Historical Note: On August 8, 1941, Panzergruppe 4 opened the push towards Leningrad on the Luga front, southwest of the city. Heavy rainfall slowed progress and curtailed any air activity. [Black Cross Red Star Vol 1, Chapter 17, Bergstrom and Mikhailov].
My line chief or Oberwerkmeister smiles at me when I approach White 19. I am curious to know why he smiles at the young man who has the potential to wreck "his" machine. He's standing in front of the rudder and then moves aside. Behind him is a single, white bar painted on the rudder. My first abschuss is anointed for all to see on the rudder. I can't stop from smiling.
The morning quiet is shattered by the snarl of engines as one by one eight aircraft roar down the runway. Leutnant Klink is leading the first schwarm, while the second is led by Leutnant Ahlers. I'm flying off the wing of Oberfeldwebel Borchert to form the last rotte of the second schwarm. We steer NE, passing between Krasnogvardeisk and Vyimsa. Purposely, our flight path will send us over the town of Tosmo where a Russian airfield resides. We'll tackle any Russians who rise to disrupt the bombers.
We pass through layers of thin clouds and the altimeter dials spins past 1,000 meters, then 2,000 meters, passes 3,000 meters and then 4,000 meters. It is very hard not to pause for a few seconds to simply enjoy flying. It is truly wondrous to be amongst the clouds. They look so soft, ready to catch a pilot should he fall. And, I must also say, from thousands of meters, the Russian steppes have a certain charm. Lush green forests, old towns and villages, and blue rivers crisscross underneath my wing.
It takes time, but we catch up the KG 1 Ju-88s'. This is an experienced unit who devastated the Russian airfields nearly two months ago during the opening phases of the campaign. Out of the early dawn sun, KG 1 bombers rolled onto their backs and then dove onto their targets below to deliver pinpoint attacks. Similar tactics will be used when they find the Russian supply trucks and vehicles.
"Indianers! Carnation One to Jaegers. Attack!" Leutnant Klink's voice pierces the radio waves. Three enemy aircraft below us. In a synchronized ballet, Me's point their noses earthward and dive towards the Russians. The Russians are early and they've intercepted us before we even reached the Tosmo airbase. Ground observers likely spotted our formation and alerted them.
Leutnant Ahlers quickly shouts "Horrido!", announcing his victory. A stricken Rata plummets nearly vertical to the earth, its pilot lucky to escape and take to his parachute. I stay glued to the the wing of Oberfeldwebel Borchert. The other two I-16s are clawing towards the Ju-88s. Borchert chases after the trailing Russian. I obediently follow. The Russian has no hope of outrunning our Friedrichs. Our DB 601 engines are more powerful than the Rata's.
The Russian seems to realize this fact too. Borchert and I are astonished to see the Russian kick rudder in the middle of his climb and point his aircraft right at us! There isn't any time to react or think. I see the nose of Borchert's light up with muzzle flashes as he fires cannon and machine gun at the Rata hurtling downwards. The wings and nose of the I-16 respond with twinkling lights of his own. I see flashes dance across the nose of Borchert's aircraft. His engine begins to sputter and belch smoke. Borchert and the Russian narrowly miss one another.
"Eight, stay with Seven!" Leutnant Ahler has seen Borchert's distress as well. He's quickly on the Russian's tail and dispatches it with a well aimed burst. I follow Borchert's 109, thumbing the radio, trying to get a response. Nothing but static. Is his radio damaged? The propeller has stopped spinning and he's losing altitude. Is he dead? Has a Russian bullet pierced the canopy? I'll never know the answers to those questions because the Oberfeldwebel and his 109 crash into the forest.
Supply column spotted! KG 1 starts their attack. The bombers roll onto their backs, extend dive breaks and plummet towards the supply column. Stick after stick of bomb pot marks the earth. Trucks and vehicles burst into flames. Soldiers scatter into the woods. White circles mark the impact of each bomb.
Job well done, the entire formation begins the return trek home. Despite the KG 1's success, radio chatter is subdued as it always is when a comrade is lost. We are close to Tosmo again. I happen to glance off my left wing. I see two specks below us heading towards the Russian airfield. I shout "Indianer!" I wingover, adjust the prop pitch and quickly close the distance. Stubby wings and fat body declare the aircraft to be more I-16s. I line up the pipper on the rear aircraft. Just as I'm about to pull the trigger, he banks sharply to the right, rolling away. My tracers pass well above him. I smartly decide not to follow such a maneuver with my speed in excess of 400kph. I focus on the second I-16. It's landing gear is down. It's going too slow! I manage to get a few strikes on the Russian's wing, but I'm soon roaring past him. Frustration!
I zoom climb away from the base, intent on coming around to get the Russian. Leutnant Ahlers has brought the res to of the schwarm to help and they are keeping the second I-16 busy. Puffs of black surround my aircraft, but I ignore it. I'm determined in my vengeance. Just as the Russians wheels touch down I'm upon him. Cannon and machine gun bullets churn up the ground and airframe. His right wing is sheared off and the I-16 lumbers off the runway to the right. I stay low to avoid the anti-aircraft fire.
I am filled with a rage over the death of Borchert. I circle the base and approach from a different heading. I spot a parked I-16 and give it the same treatment. It doesn't burst into flames and I can't judge the effectiveness as I'm quickly beyond the base. Flak is more intense.
"Eight, cease attack. Return home!" Leutnant Ahler is reeling in his charge. He's dispatched his third Russian of the day given the tell-tale plume of black smoke rising from the ground. I land. I'm shaking visibly and drenched in sweat. One look at me and the Kommondeur grounds me for the rest of the day. I'm in no condition to fly. Bad weather grounds the rest of the Staffel before noon in any case.