Date: 14 August 1941
Weather: Good, Clouds at 900 meters
Good fortune! Yesterday the Kommodore presented me with a Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL) communique awarding me the Iron Cross, 2nd Class! Feldwebel Lohberger also received the award for his feats on the same mission. I immediately wrote my parents of this honor and know they will be very proud of their son. Of course, Max will be very envious of his older brother. He'll have a very "itchy neck" until an award adorns it. He'll have to finish flight school first.
The Russians are retreating in the face of heavy pressure. Today we'll be flying escort for the Stukas of StG 2. They'll be targeting a bridge near Kipen, just west of Krasnoe Selo. Destroying the bridge will cut-off the Russian retreat and prevent reinforcements and critical supplies from reaching them as well. The Staffelkapitain briefs us on the morning mission.
Once again Oberleutnant Herzl is leading the flight. One by one, eight lethal birds leave their earthly cages and roar into the sky. I fly off the wing of Oberfeldwebel Auricht. I've never flown with him before and not familiar with his style. But as his Katschmarek I'll protect his tail. Herzl swings the group of us west of Krasnogvardeisk to avoid the flak. Stukas fly above us as we climb to our operational altitude.
Each schwarm takes up station to the left and right of the Stuka formation. Visibility is good. Only a few patchy clouds keep the attack group company on its way to the target. I snap my oxygen mark on when the altimeter dial passes 3,500 meters.
"Be alert, gentlemen, for surprises," says a calm voice. It's Kommodore Trautloft. He's flying with us. I crane my neck and spot the Stabschwarm a few kilometers behind and above us. The Kommodore is watching to see how we'll protect the Stukas if Russian fighters appear.
Historical Note: "Russian fighters' tactics involved trying to separate our escorting fighters from their charges, some of their fighters attacking the escort while the rest went after the Stukas. JG 54 became famous among the bomber units because we could be counted on to stay and provide proper protection, whereas on the Central Sector of the front, other units allowed themselves to be separated from the bombers, became engaged in air battles and thus failed in their escort duties. In JG 54, however, we had to answer to the Kommodore if a bomber was lost due to an enemy fighter." [Peter Bremer, 2./JG 54, Jagdwaffe Volume 3, Section 2: Barbarossa, pg 138].
Target sighted! I dip the left wing and spot the bridge across the river. While scanning the sky, I divert my attention to the Stukas to see them enter their famous dive. The Stukas pilots deploy air brakes to slow the dive and improve bombing accuracy. Although slow and vulnerable, a Stuka can enter steep dives of up to 90 degrees. Ground commanders rely on the dive bomber to provide pin-point accuracy on targets in front of them. More than once a Stuka has been called flying artillery.
Bomb after bomb lands on or near the bridge. It soon collapses under the onslaught of high explosives. After its dive is when the Stuka is most vulerable. We jagdfliegers intently monitor the sky. This is the time when Russian fighters might attack. But they are nowhere to be found.
The compass spins and points South. There was no Russian anti-aircraft fire from the bridge, so all the Stukas are undamaged and safe. I take up position on the wing of Auricht for the flight home to Siverskaya.