War Diary of Hans von Voltization – Mission #6

Mission #6

Date: 16 August 1941
Time: 1330
Weather: Good, Clouds at 700 meters

A collective groan will tell anyone within earshot that the next mission is a Jabo mission. We are tasked with finding and destroying an enemy HQ. Army intelligence believes the HQ is located near a road in the Petergof area. The flight will be a familiar one to 1st Staffel. The area north of Krasnogvardeisk is heavily patrolled by the Luftwaffe while the Army moves to take the town. Unfortunately, the Army's demands for air support has kept the Stukas very busy, which means we fliegers assume the role of Jabos today.

Oberleutnant Herzl leads a reduced flight of six Me's. Machines need rest too. Constant flying, several machines are up in the air multiple times a day, adds to the excessive wear and tear on the machines. Even our mounts need a day off. Consequently, we are a flight of six. Clouds are patchy and look like cotton balls. I snap on the oxygen mask when the altimeter spins past 3,000 meters and settle in for the flight north.

This mission marks the first time I fly as wingman to "The Hund". Already 30 victory bars decorate his rudder. Many a jagdflieger desires to fly with The Hund. He has a reputation for "sniffing" out the Russians. It seems that everytime he flies, Russians are encountered where other schwarms and staffels had reported no enemy air activity. Several times he and those with him have returned to base filing victory claims. Undoubtedly, the Hund is one of First Gruppe's shining stars. Interestingly, the Hund's F-2 wears the tactical number White 13, while I fly White 14. I wonder what a Russian pilot will think if he sees a rotte of White 13 and White 14. Aside from White 13 and his victory bars, the Hund's plane is easily recognized by his personal emblem - a white dog. I'll have to ask him what breed the dog is.

Historical Note: The Pe-2 was designed in a sharashka after Vladimir Petlyakov had been arrested and imprisoned in 1937 for allegedly deliberately delaying design work on the Tupolev ANT-42 bomber. In the sharashka, Petlyakov was put in charge of a team to develop a high-altitude fighter escort for the ANT-42 under the designation VI-100. The first of two prototypes flew on December 22, 1939 and was a very sophisticated aircraft for its time, featuring a pressurised cabin, all-metal construction, superchargers and many electrically-actuated systems. Just as production was ready to begin, the air force ordered a re-design of the aircraft. The value of tactical bombing had just been displayed by the Luftwaffe in the Blitzkrieg, and the need for such an aircraft suddenly became much more important than the need for a high-altitude escort fighter. Petlyakov's team was given 45 days to redesign their aircraft as a dive bomber. The cabin pressurization and superchargers were deleted, and dive brakes and a position for a bombardier were added, among a number of aerodynamic refinements. A fuselage bomb-bay was added, along with smaller bays in each engine nacelle. Initially designated PB-100, Stalin was impressed enough with Petlyakov to free him, and his name was permitted to be used in the aircraft's designation. The first aircraft flew on December 15, 1940, rushed through production without a prototype under severe threats from Stalin if a Pe-2 did not fly by the end of the year. Deliveries to combat units began the following Spring. The Pe-2 quickly proved itself to be a highly capable aircraft, capable of eluding the Luftwaffe's interceptors and allowing their crews to develop great accuracy with their bombing. Throughout 1942 the design was steadily refined and improved, in direct consultation with pilots who were actually flying them in combat. [Wikipedia].

"Indianers!" Herzl calls out a formation of enemy aircraft co-altitude with us and directly ahead over Krasnogvardeisk. Smoke exhaust pours out of the Hund's engine as he rams the thottle forward to intercept. We all think it's a group of Russian fighters. But wait, the outline of two engines on the silhouettes tell a different story. Similar to the SB raid a few days ago, we've caught another raid on its way to our airbase. The bombers aren't SB's. These aircraft have twin-tails - Pe-2's!

Herzl orders the attack. The schwarm gets ready to pounce on the attacking Russian bombers.

2nd Staffel has joined the fun! Eager to get at the bombers, a watch a jagdflieger zoom past me. He and the bomber's gunner engage in a personal battle. The gunner seems to be winning when a wisp of dark smoke trails from the fighter's engine. However, there is a sudden explosion near the Pe-2's left engine. It's been sheared off! I watch in amazement to see the propeller cartwheel to the right, while the engine is separated from its housing and falls away to the left. In a panic, the bomber pilot jettisons the load of bombs. The bomber's nose pitches down and both crewman bail out.

I pick the bomber at the far left of the formation. Pe-2's move quickly. I've only known the slow SB's, so I ease the throttle forward to close the distance. At 250 meters I begin firing, watching my initial burst sail high. After adjusting my aim, I fire again, this time at 200 meters. Canon and machine guns firing. The left vertical stabilizer is shredded and there are hits to the left engine. The Pe-2 begins to fill the Revi.

My aim continues to be poor. I'm too close. The slipstream of the bomber's engines is causing my Friedrich to buffet. I kick rudder and struggle with the stick to keep the guns on target. My vision narrows into a tunnel and I find myself aiming for individual panels on the Pe-2. Debris from the bomber clanks against my aircraft.

"Break, Haschen! Break!" The Hund screams at me. It's too late; I'm too close. Fighter plane and bomber are going to hit. My fingers still press the firing tits, all the while I kick the rudder in a vain hope to spray the bomber. I instinctively jerk back on the stick, hoping to skim over the Russian Pe-2. Chunk, chunk, chunk. The propeller slices into the Pe-2's right vertical stabilizer.

I close my eyes, fully expecting to hear a resounding crash when White 14 slams into the bomber. The Pe-2 fills the canopy and then its gone! I've flown over the right wing. I glance over my shoulder to see the Pe-2. Bombs fall from its engine nacelles and it banks away to the east, trailing smoke.

"Haschen!? Are you alright?" The Hund wants to know the well being of his charge. "I remain with the living, but my engine will soon depart it." White 14's engine is angry with me. Gears grind against one another. Finally, the propeller stops turning. The noise of aerial combat is now replaced with an eerie silence. Only the rush of the slipstream past the canopy whispers to me.

The Hund orders me back to Siverskaya. I'm already pointing White 14 to the south. Luckily I'm at over 3,000 meters so I have plenty of altitude. I can glide home. Krasnogvardeisk slip beneath the wings. Strangely, the town's AA guns are quiet. I imagine they must not think a solitary, crippled 109 is not worthy of a few shells. I won't begrudge them of their opinion of me.

I pass through the thin cloud layer again. I circle the base several times in front of the runway. On my final circle I thought I erred because the altitude dropped below 500 meters and I had lost sight of the runway. But there it is in front of me. Flaps and landing gear are down. I know I'm going too fast to land, but I'm committed. The wheels touch the landing strip halfway down. I tap the breaks. But I immediately stop when I feel the tail wheel come off the ground. My foot is on the rudder to keep the plane straight and not veer off into parked vehicles or the tower. The breaks are squealing as the end of the runway rapidly approaches. At the last instance, White 14 slows and settles to a stop.

Control greets me with "Welcome home, Haschen." Indeed, it is wonderful to be home.

A few days later, after learning of the day's battle, the Finns sent word to the Geschwader that a "pilotless Pe-2, lacking half a rudder" was shot down over the Gulf of Finland. Nobody else saw what happened to the Pe-2 due to the melee, except The Hund. He said the bomber peeled away to the north, but he didn't pursue it since he was concerned for my safety after my "German taran".

Historical Note: Russians pilots were known to deliberately ram enemy aircraft and this was known as a taran.

I wonder if this was the same bomber I had encountered and it had somehow flown, without crew, all the way to the Gulf.