Date: 20 August 1941
Weather: Good, Clouds at 1,300 meters
Finally, a mission will not involve fighters strafing ground targets! The Wehrmacht is interested to have the area of Pontonnyi photographed. 1st Staffel assigned one schwarm with the task with providing escort for the reconnaissance plane. Once again, Hptm. Reinhard "Seppel" Seiler, the Staffelkapitain of 1st Staffel, will be leading us. I'll be protecting the wing of "The Hund" again. I've been told he has specifically requested me. I am honored, flattered and filled with slight trepidation. By his reputation, we will undoubtedly find the skies filled with Russians. I know I need to be at my best to protect him and keep myself alive.
The mission will trace a near identical path to the last one, in which the whole formation will cruise at 2,500 meters and steer a north-easterly course to the Pushkin area. We rendezvous with the reconnaisance plane, a Ju-88 bomber. Normally, one would expect to see a Focke-Wulf 189 undertaking a scouting mission, but they must be in short supply. I recall an intelligence briefing detailing how the Russians have placed a high priority to shooting down Fw 189 planes.
Flak greets us as we approach Pavlosk. The town is to the west of us, but it's defenders are letting we fliegers know that they are watching us. The Hund lets the flight know that he "smells Russians closeby". My heartrate starts to race. There is a large cloud bank directly in front of the formation. Surely, the cloud bank offers an excellent place to stage an aerial ambush.
"Fighters, directly ahead!" Seiler shouts. Instinctively, I adjust the prop pitch and ram the throttle forward. White 14 quickly accelerates to combat speed. Three short-winged aircraft burst out the clouds. I quickly recognize them as the all too familiar Ratas.
"Seppl! Indianers below! I'm attacking!" The Hund calls out three more I-16s beneath the clouds, trying to sneak into the fight unnoticed. I watch The Hund's Friedrich dance in the sky and fall upon the I-16s about 1,500 meters below us. Seiler and his wingman do the same, leaving me alone. I charge into the middle of the Russian high cover to disrupt their formation. My plan works and all three I-16s break in different directions.
The Staffelkapitain, his wingman Gerfreiter Roth and The Hund bounce the Russians below, who promptly wildly scatter. Seconds ago the Russians thought to surprise us, but now the tables have been turned. I see Seiler pour bullets into an I-16. The Russian pilot tries to shake Seiler with a barrel roll, but the Staffelkapitain mirrors the maneuver and shoots down the I-16 at the bottom of the roll from point-blank range.
I'm over the fight. Instead of tangling with me, the high cover Russians dove to join their comrades on the deck. I roll onto my back. I'm now looking at the fight through the top of the canopy. I see wisps of German tracer smoke, along with the green tracers identifying the Russian fighters. I pull the stick into my belly, throwing White 14 into a gut wrenching Split-S. Two fighters are shooting green tracers at somebody.
White 14 is going well over 600kph when I complete the Split-S. I quickly close the distance on the two I-16s. Tracers last out at the trailing I-16, but I miss. However, it's close enough to get the Russian's attention. He breaks right and dives for the ground and for the moment is no longer a threat. I don't even try to follow the maneuver I my present speed.
I close in one the lead I-16. Roth is calling for assistance. "I'm here, Roth! Climb! Climb!" Roth's Friedrich claws for the skies. The Russian fighter follows, presenting me with his belly. I open fire with cannon and machine guns.
Debris flies off the left wing. I know I hit him good. The I-16's nose drips, rolls onto its back and plunges earthward in a dive past 90 degrees. I roll 360 degrees so I can watch the final demise over my left wing. I glance at the clock and it reads 8:46.
"Fourteen, break! Break!" Green tracers appear off the right wing. I was so hypnotized by watching my fifth victory that a Russian is now intent on killing me!
"Scheise!!" I yank the stick hard left and kick rudder, hoping to throw of the aim of the Russian. If I die now, it would be rightfully so. I am a fool to be caught unawares because I was watching my own victory in the middle of a fight. Luckily, I still have my speed so I enter a tight, climbing spiral to the left. I'm looking over the left shoulder to see my pursuer.
Fortunately, the Hund is protecting his charge. White 13 snarls and spit out tracer fire. The Russian realizes too late that like me, he forgot to check his six o'clock sector. The Hund's aim is true and sends the I-16 spinning earthward.
"Danke, Hund!!" I get a brief, but sharp reprimand to pay more attention. Properly chastised I scan the area searching for flieger and Russian alike.
I take a deep breath to calm my nerves. Two objects fly east-to-west in front of me. I recognize the sleek silhouette of a Friedrich, but it's also followed by the stubby little shape of an I-16. My brows furrow I set off in pursuit.
I make a quick check of my rear quadrants to see that it is clear. The I-16 is struggling to catch up to the Friedrich, but I'm easily closing the distance on him. He notices me at the last instance and the Russian sends the I-16 into crazy jinks. I fire and manage to hit him in the fuselage and engine area. My speed carries me past the Rata. I climb away to prepare my next attack.
I chandelle to the right, roll onto my back and pull down towards the enemy plane again. He's about a kilometer away, but there are two other specks pursuing the Russian. I get close enough to see the Seiler's accurate cannon fire saw off the left wing of the I-16. "Abschuss!" I shout.
Seiler orders us to rejoin formation. The foolish Ju-88 is screaming for help. He's plodded onto Pushkin without his escort - us - and how is under attack by three other Russian fighters. There is no time to lose. There are six burning wrecks on the ground, but none of them are German. All four of us speed north-west to come to the aid of the Ju-88.
But we are too late. I see three parachutes dotting the horizon in the distance. A plume of smoke also smears the blue sky and also informs us of the demise of the Ju-88. What photographs had been taken of important targets is now lost in the burning pyre of the Ju-88. Worst for the crew, they will have to evade angry Russian troops and villagers in order to return to our lines. Silently, I wish them luck.
"Indianers!" Seiler spots a formation of three planes in a Vic formation. They quickly disappear into a cloud. Wisely, Staffelkapitain Seiler orders the two rottes to flank the cloud formation. The Russians must emerge and which ever rotte is closer will pounce on them. There is a break in the clouds.
"Achtung, I see them!" All three fighters are now in line abreast formation as they emerge. Once again the throttle is jammed forward. My attack is hasty. In my excitement I fire too soon, alerting the Russians to our presence. Each Russian pilot executes a beautiful Split-S and easily evades my gunfire?
I wait a few seconds and then I perform my own Split-S maneuver and chase after the I-16s. We are embroiled in another dogfight. German cyclists and Russian pilots twirl around in the sky trying to gain advantage over the other. I find the trailing I-16. He's dutifully following his wingmates and not paying attention. Just as I am about to place the Revi on him, he starts rolling and jinking. He must have known all along I was there! Nevertheless, I manage to score hits on the tail section and wings. Partly hidden in the muzzle flash is the outline of a fighter hurtling towards me.
"Verdamnt!!" shouts Seiler. I hear the tell-tale noise of a Daimler-Benz DB 601 engine roar past me. We almost collided! I never even saw him as all my focus was on the Russian. I roll right and let the I-16 go. I'm shaken to think I almost flew into the Staffelkapitain! I roar away from the fight to gather myself.
Fate has chosen my path and it leads right into a Friedrich being chased by another Russian. I shake my head violently to clear all thought and take up the pursuit.
It's Roth again calling for assistance. I radio that I am coming to his aid and below his port wing. I use the Messers speed to climb after the pursuing I-16. This Russian sees me coming at him from below. Instead of evading me, he flies directly into the sun, hoping to blind me. I do lose him briefly in the glare, but I see the stubby wings off to the right of the blazing sun. I fire.
Bullets smack into the fuselage convice the Russian to try a different tactic. He performs a sudden Split-S. I'm shocked. I do not follow for surely he will not be able to pull out in time before the ground greets him. I'm wrong. The Russian is a skillful pilot. He recovers nicely. Too bad for him The Hund watched the whole maneuver and was waiting for him to complete it. As soon as the Russian pulled out, White 13's guns chatter. A fiery trail blazes across the forest below.
I bank right upon seeing dots in the distance. Two of them are follwing one another in loop after loop. Hauptmann Seiler calls for help. It's the Staffelkapitain in trouble! Seiler's wingman, Roth, is nowhere to be found and The Hund has just feasted on another Russian. It's up to me!
Once again I find myself below both combatants. Seiler's plane, White 1, has completed a wingover and is flying in my direction. "Hase, I see you. I'll gift the Russian for you," he radios. White 1 immediately performs a left chandelle, climbing for altitude. The I-16 banks left and starts to follow. The stubby body of the I-16 fills the Revi moving left to write. I press the trigger, firing both cannon and machine guns.
I hit him good! Flashes appear all over his belly, walking from the right wing to his left wing. The Russian has stalled. I zoom past the stricken I-16, looking backwards using the canopy top. The I-16's propeller is turning lazily. The plane itself is in a shallow dive towards the forest. I make a quick check of my rear quarter to be sure I'm not going to be an easy target for another Russian.
"Abschuss, Hase!!" shouts Seiler. The I-16 smacks into the forest and explodes. I look at the clock and it reads 9:00. We've been involved in a 20 minute long, running air battle.
There are no other Russians in the sky. The schwarm reforms and we begin the journey home. I think it's going to be a peaceful flight home, but Seiler has other ideas. Our schwarm chances upon a hidden Russian airbase. Seiler orders the attack. Seiler wants the attack to be quick before the defenses wake up. Too late, though. Flak is already shooting at us.
I see Seiler and The Hund destroy transport aircraft at one corner of the base. I fixate on the muzzle flashes of a flak unit. My aim is bad. Bullets sail overhead the flak vehicle and leave a trail of dust and smoke directly behind the truck. Neither of us turn around for another pass. We reform and hurry home.
The Oberwerkmeister helps me out of the cockpit. I'm drenched in sweat, palms are shaking and the knees are weak. The Men in Black are joyous. They rush the four parked planes, cheering and hollering. I manage a weak smile while my back is getting slapped by enthusiastic groundsmen and soldiers.
We managed to destroy nine I-16s. Seiler dispatched three, while I shot down two. The Hund, who is well on his way to the Ritterkreuz, destroyed four! Gerfreiter Roth returned home with a few bullet holes, but none the worse for wear. All these victories were achieved without loss!
The hunting spirit cannot be stopped, even with the loss of the Ju-88. Seiler's report to the Kommandeuer explains the battle in detail and mentions how the Ju-88 continued on the mission without escort.
This is my finest day with JG 54!