Messerschmitt Bf 109 T the Luftwaffe’s Naval Fighter

The ‘weather frog’1 had forecast that weather conditions would improve.

Everything went as I had thought it would: first, the warning; then combat readiness and an ‘alarmstart’ take-off -all part of the routine. However, the first wave of enemy aircraft suddenly turned back and we were ordered to return to base. It seemed to be a ruse employed by the Americans to wear down our fighter force. If so, it failed to accomplish anything for we immediately re-fuelled and at 11:22 hrs took off again. We were vectored south, where another enemy formation had been detected. At 11:42 hrs our four aircraft made first contact with the enemy in the vicinity of Cuxhaven, at 6500 meters. We overtook the Americans and at 11:44 hrs swerved around for a head-on attack. Unfortunately, we did it too early – and before we could close in, the enemy formation changed course, spoiling our attack. Only two of our machines were properly lined up. Our Schwarm2 reformed and again we raced for the head of the bomber formation.

bl04   z1

It took a considerable amount of time because the Americans were flying quite fast. On this occasion our timing was better and as we whipped around, each of us was well positioned. I was flying the No 3 slot, as the leader of the second pair, behind the Schwarmführer and his Katschmarek3 . Six hundred meters to go… five hundred... We were charging headlong into a Pulk4 of 35 heavy bombers, closing the distance at a combined speed of 1,000 kph. I thumbed the machine gun trigger. The nose of ‘my’ Boeing was centered in the crosshairs of my Revi gunsight, illuminated on the windshield. At 300 meters the Boeing’s wings filled the horizontal reticle of my sight. I squeezed the triggers. My guns ripped out three short bursts. I could see a hail of projectiles hitting the bomber’s wings and engines. I pushed the stick forward to pass below the stricken bomber. Its gunners opened up on me with all they had, but it was already too late for them. I hauled back on the stick, rolled to port and watched the drama unfold below me. The Boeing pulled sharply up, leaving a trail of white smoke – then tipped over to starboard and spun down. Its right wing and engines were aflame. I saw two crew members bail out. A moment later the bomber broke apart, and the burning debris fell into the sea between the Wangerooge and Heligoland islands. I yelled ‘Sieg Heil!’ into the microphone and heard others from my Schwarm congratulate me: but our battle was not over yet. Only then did I notice that an explosive round had blasted through my right wing; however, my machine still handled pretty well. I spotted a Boeing in a wide turn and, with the advantage of height, bore in from the rear. Again, I saw the flashes of my impacting rounds. The bomber’s return fire was waning. My second and third passes went unopposed. I closed in to 50 meters and again blazed away. The Fortress was losing height and straggling behind the formation, but still flying. When I engaged for the fourth time, my guns remained silent – I had run out of ammunition. I then moved to the side of the bomber and waggled my wings to inform the pilot that I wanted him to turn back and land. In response I was raked with a burst from the bomber’s waist gun position. I felt a smack against the engine and a sudden pricking pain in my left arm. When I came to my senses and regained control over my aircraft, I was down to 4,000-5,000 meters. A gush of hot oil spewed back at me from the battered engine and poured into my flying boots. I could barely see outside the cockpit. The left sleeve of my jacket was torn. I felt a burning pain but could still use my left hand. The bullet had merely grazed the muscles of my arm and the wound was superficial. Had it strayed some eight centimeters to the left, it would have hit me in the heart.

bl04   z2

The oil gauge showed zero. I could not throttle up for fear of killing the engine. I resolved to semi-glide towards Heligoland, some 20 kilometers away. I needed some power from the failing engine to get to the island. I readied myself to bail out, but at the same time I strove to maintain as much altitude as possible; 3000 meters, 2000, 1000… My crippled machine was steadily losing height. I hesitated. There was still time to take to my parachute. The airstrip at the island was short. If I miscalculated my approach, I would fall into the sea, slam into the pier or nose over.