Messerschmitt Bf 110 vol. I

Messerschmitt Bf 110C-1, KD+TM in RLM 70/71/65 camouflage. On the photo from German publication the aircraft has retouched fuselage code. [Kageros's Archive]


During the entire dogfight I kept the transmitter button depressed so that ground control could follow what was going on, allowing them to listen in on the conversation between Knacke and myself. Throughout I kept thinking that it would be good if ground control kept track of the situation. This way they would be able to send a search team to fish us out of the cold waters as soon as possible.
We made our second attack from slightly below and directly behind the enemy. It was unsuccessful.
We couldn’t get in close enough due to the defensive fire.
During the third attack we closed from the rear to take out the gunner from a distance of about 80 meters. The Whitley banked into a turn that usually only a fighter plane would make and we knew that a first rate pilot must be flying her. We heard bullets slamming into our kite during the firefight. We made our fourth pass as the Whitley was doing wild aerobatics and a few shots hit her in the belly which caused some ripping but no flames were visible. During the fifth pass we didn’t even get one shot off, but something tore into our “cardboard box,” as we called our planes at the time. We had been conducting these maneuvers at between 1,500 and 2,000 meters. We made our sixth attack, again from behind and from below with the tail gunner still shooting at us. The British pilot decided to try and escape by diving down to wave-top height. This would prevent us from attacking from below and force us to attack from within range of his tail gunner. Our faster plane didn’t help either, since the larger crate was surprisingly agile. The sixth attack failed to produce any visible damage, but the Whitley’s evasive maneuvers had slowed it down. One of our rounds must have hit them in the fuselage. We dove in from above for the seventh attack under heavy fire. Again the bomber’s fire rattled against our Messerschmitt and one of our engines began to cough.
The Englishman began climbing and turned hard on his right wing and almost lost control, but he regained it a moment later and we noticed white smoke coming out of the starboard engine.
Knacke remained quiet and with the port engine starting to splutter, made a wide turn to follow the Whitley. The bomber was to our right and was trailing a medium length banner of white smoke. Knacke turned to follow and the Whitley slowly came into range. The next salvo tore into the area between the fuselage and left engine. The plane flew on like a lethally wounded animal without making any evasive maneuvers. Then we saw a second smoke trail from the right side of the aircraft. The gunners were silent and we had no idea whether they were dead or out of ammunition. The plane plowed on.
During the ninth and last attack there was no defensive reaction of any kind and Knacke hit the left wing with short burst which set off a flash of bright flames. After a short dive the bomber exploded in a bright cloud of fire. We watched as a cloud of light smoke billowed up from the spot where the bomber had impacted the water. The brave crew went down into the depths of the North Sea.
Knacke slowly changed course and headed for Sylt. While still in the turn he had to shut off our port engine, which was coughing and spewing out white smoke. “We’re losing altitude,” he said. “How much farther to Sylt?” he asked. I replied, “I think about 80 or 100 kilometers, I’ll let you know more precisely in a moment.” I asked ground control for our exact position, since they had been monitoring us the whole time and requested that they notify the naval rescue teams in the area. The officer in charge of fighters told me that a rescue boat was in the vicinity, the airfield was being lit and fire fighters were on standby.

Survey of Daimler-Benz DB 601A engine on ­Messerschmitt Bf 110C-4. Note tip of airscrew spinner in squadron color.[Kageros's Archive]


That’s when Knacke told me that we were losing power in the starboard engine. Up until that time, I had never considered the possibility that we wouldn’t make it back to our airfield. We had flown on one engine before without problems, but what would happen now that the second engine was losing power? What would we do if it seized?
Our position was awful. The starboard engine was still losing power and was starting to splutter. We were slowly, but systematically losing altitude. We could still jump as long as we were above 850 meters and in addition to our life jackets there was a two-man inflatable life raft behind my seat.
Finally the airfield came into sight and we could make out the runway lights at Westerland. “Maybe we’ll be able to make it,” I said hopefully. “We have to be prepared for the worst,” Knacke replied softly. We were still about 500 meters above the ground and our airspeed was bleeding off perceptibly. The situation was serious.
“I’ll try and start the port engine to give a little bit more power and altitude,” stated Knacke as he pressed the starter. The engine coughed, spit out a few flames and gave up in a shudder that vibrated the whole plane. It had given up the ghost.