Hans' war memoirs

 THE  MEMOIRS  OF  “STUKA”  HANS DEIBL

1939  -  1945

(translated to English by Jochen Mahncke, November 2012)


 

 This is now the story of part of my life. I am not only writing it down because my children wanted it, but it might be possible that a later generation would have an interest in knowing  how it was during the times of the great war from 1939 – 1945, when the whole world was turned upside down.  There apparently exists a great-great-grandfather in the family who was a tiny wheel in the war machinery at the time.   

I am not writing these lines to glorify the war or the period in itself, but will merely try to write about things in the way a nineteen-year old experienced them.

One must understand that I was then a young man, formed by the family, my friends,  and the whole  background. Had only one of my ancestors written down when he had fought against the Prussians in 1866, and when he had marched with Napoleon towards Moscow,…… But they had not!

But I have, and here it is:

I am Hans Deibl, born 3rd November 1921, really the last Johann in a line that began in 1569, according to proof of ancestry, and ended 12 generations later with the last, Sabina.

They have all been through a  lot when, for example, I read from 1683: ”The Turks stole a horse, one ox and four bulls from Mathias Deibl, captured his wife and two children,  but they were  freed again….”.

I  live in Pernitz, Muggendorferstrasse 11, next to the school, and was also born in this house. My mother, Theresia Deibl, who has surely formed me, was midwife in the village, and has almost certainly assisted in 3.000 births. I clearly remember how at night someone hammered at our window, because every expecting father hurried to have the midwife  in his house in time.  And since the houses in the area were widely scattered, some lay even in side valleys and on mountains, it was definitely not an easy profession.

There was not much known about mechanisation at the time since the only motor car belonged to the factory owner, and my mother had to cover the roads on foot or by bicycle. Wealthy farmers arrived with their own carts, but that was the exception. She took me to baby christenings occasionally, and I remember the delicacies even today.

Father was employed by the municipality and was the handyman, because there was only one mayor and one secretary. He had to collect the water levy once a year and was also the meat inspector. This meant he had to inspect  every freshly slaughtered animal, privately, or at the butchery. If it was suitable for human consumption it received a mark, and I will talk about it later.  If it was not suitable it had to be buried or otherwise destroyed. Naturally, the butchers fought against this very much. For such cases father carried a small bottle of petroleum with him from which he sprinkled the fluid on the meat. This created great problems with the butchers, especially if they were relatives. At night he had to spot-check adherence to closing time by the inns. Then he took our dog with him, possibly to be safe against drunkards, which gave him the proud name of “police dog” among us youngsters.

Yes, I must not forget that I had a sister with the name of Grete. She was five years older and I had to defend myself often. I remember that once I received a toy locomotive which landed me in difficulties. I had it fully wound up and placed it on her head, where the little wheels entangled themselves in her hair, and the whole thing sat on her head like a crown.

My father was a happy man who could sometimes deal out powerful hits if it became necessary, but otherwise he left me to roam free. During the war years and afterwards, when meat was strictly rationed and one only received small portions against coupons, he helped us often.  The pigs had to be weighed after home slaughtering, and according to its weight this was deducted from the ration cards. This was the time when  pigs only weighed 40 kg each in Pernitz.

Besides this my life as a youngster, and apparently that of my parents, passed along without real problems. I grew up “wild and free”  because my parents were seldom at home. If  I compare this to what is done to children nowadays…. …During attendance at schools I was a good student with good marks. Only once did I receive a bad mark in “conduct”,  which, however, I immediately obliterated. This can still be seen as a smudge in the report of the third class.

Slowly there arose the choice of a profession.

Originally, and prompted by our games of soldiers with the other boys in our streets, I wanted to become an officer, but for a simple country child without any connections, this was impossible. Therefore, and following the advice of my teachers,  my parents sent me to attend the entrance examination for teachers in Vienna-Neustadt. Unfortunately, although I passed, I was not accepted on account of shortage of space. My parents were advised to let me try at another college based on my pass, as otherwise I would lose one year. Easier said than done. A local chaplain suggested Wien Strebersdorf with the school brothers, but this had the draw- back that I would have to serve as a brother when finished. But there was no other way, as boarding school would have been too expensive. I was accepted at Strebersdorf, but they did not want to release me after a year. Eventually my parents succeeded in having me transferred to Vienna Neustadt  where a vacancy had become available, and I completed my matric there.

But two years before something important had happened. Adolf Hitler came to Austria and we became the  Ostmark of the German Reich.

 

The political arena of the time:

This forces me to step on the political parquet floor and I hope I will not slip up.

Adolf Hitler had been Reichskanzler of Germany since 1933. He did not achieve this through a Putsch (coup), as is sometimes said today,  but  on account of  his majority in parliament  Reichspräsident  v.Hindenburg  had named him as Kanzler.

In Austria not everything went off as peacefully. The Christian Heimwehr  of  Count  Starhemberg and the socialist Schutzbund faced each other, armed and hostile, And when the Socialists wanted power in 1934 with the help of the Februarputsch, Dollfuss put this down with the assistance of Heimwehr and Bundesheer. Only half  a year later the  Nationalsocialist had their Putsch and Dollfuss was assassinated. As his successor, Schuschnigg prohibited NSDAP and Socialist, and forced a large part of the population into the underground.  On the other hand Schuschnigg wanted to raise Austrian Patriotism and formed the Vaterländische Front  and the Schutzscharen as a copy of the Heimwehr and the Schutzbund. “Austria above all else, if it only wants it”,  was the slogan. Despite all endeavours he did not succeed in forming a genuine peoples’ movement from his Vaterländische Front.  Many NSDAP members and their sympathizers fled to Germany, where they were formed into a  Ősterr.Legion.

While Germany experienced a commercial and military upswing, it went downhill in Austria. Germany said: “In my territory the sun never sets”,  and here they said: “In Austria the sun never rises”.

Unemployment spread like a plague across the country where those who had received the dole beyond a certain period were entsteuert,  meaning they did not receive any monetary support at all.

It was not unusual to see men in the prime of their lives standing in Vienna’s streets with a sign around their necks reading: “Academic, 3 children, no dole. Accept work of any type.” In neighbour Germany the ghost of unemployment had been chased away, and all people had again work and bread.  Hitler cancelled the humiliating peace treaty of Versailles and brought home (or annexed, depending on opinion), Saarland, Sudetenland etc., and the Germans sang again: “Deutschland, Deutschland űber alles…!”

It was understandable that Gt.Britain, France etc. disliked this development because they feared German commercial supremacy more than a fire.

Today many opponents of this development naturally say this was only possible because Hitler re-armed, and that the Volk had to pay for this in the subsequent war. There is some truth in this, but at the same time, and after long years of need,  people again had work and bread. And there were the reforms of  protection of mothers, grants for children, Kraft durch Freude, which gave even the simple labourer a chance to have a holiday trip. This new period  was shown in the songs of the period:  “We workers build a new Reich in proud freedom…. …..or  farmer, worker or noble man, they use the sword and the hammer.”

In Austria Schussnigg tried to organize something like this, but he did not succeed, although one must admit he really tried. We youngsters were also told: “Austria above all, if it only wants…”   But apparently it did not want. I was then between 15 and 18 years old and, due to my family being on the Christian-socialist side, not really happy when Hitler came to Austria. We accepted the lesson-free week when soldiers were quartered in our school building. But it was not long before we were also drawn to the enthusiasm. The marching soldiers had been greeted with enthusiasm and people threw flowers at them. People who today say that we had been “occupied” ,  alter the truth. When Hitler rode in his open car in Vienna on  the ”Ring”, thousands of Austrians cheered him when he spoke his famous sentence: “I report to history the entrance of my homeland into the  Grossdeutsches Reich!”

Thus, this 13th March 1938 was for many people the fulfilment of dreams, but also, for a small part, a day of sorrow and grief.

The NSDAP showed itself from its best side. Public marches and march music were organised, and from today to tomorrow people had work and hope for the future, and it was no wonder that the following plebiscite gave an almost total “JA” for the joining of Austria to Germany. By the way, nobody was forced to vote JA, although perhaps there might have been small irregularities in places.

Thank God I have come to the end of my political survey which one may have difficulty to describe in a few short sentences. It is customary today to throw mud on all this. It is only a pity that those who did not live in those times, especially the youth, are incorrectly informed.  There are certainly many people, and they are increasing all the time, who claim to have known then that we were steering  towards  a war which we could not win, but where do you not find such fortune tellers who had known this all along?  Only a small example at the end. Today one says that everybody had been pressured to join the Party and that one was required to be a party member for the smallest job.

I, Hans, Deibl, was not in any Party or one of its affiliates, and no one asked me if I was a member when I wanted to become an officer, although I was checked out for one full week.

 

And then came the war.

Yes, and then it was really war and I sat as a Pilot in a Sturzkampfbomber(Ju-87 Stuka) and attacked the British, but until then it is a long story.

Life in Austria had normalised if one disregarded the signs pointing to a war confrontation. By now the Saarland had been “brought back home”, as the formula said, and the Sudetenland came to Germany which had changed its name to Grossdeutschland. (Perhaps copying the name Grossbritannien). When the “Tschechei” was annexed, it came almost to a war, but the west swallowed this too, since it became only a German “Protectorate”. One of the reasons was probably the fact that it presented a buffer towards Russia, whose ideology and re-armament instilled fear and dread in the west.  

Today, almost 70 years later, I cannot avoid the feeling that they played Germany against Russia in order to save their own blood, and the stupid “Michel” fell for it.  After the “Tschechei”, peace returned to Europe, but it was a  deceptive  peace, because in the meantime Hitler had become too big both commercially and militarily for the western powers. And then suddenly it was the time that Hitler began the war. It was much too early, as we say today, because it was not the time, whether militarily, nor commercially or diplomatically. Yes, in their own country where doubters and opponents to the system in leading positions who were dead set against this development, for instance the chief of the German counter-intelligence, Canaris,  was a spy for the other side.

Hitler’s famous speech:  “…from 5.45 on we have returned fire….”  Started  the war against Poland . Before this one heard reports over the radio, Television did not exist, about political bandits who had attacked the radio station Gleiwitz etc. One notes the Propaganda-ministry under Joseph Göbbels knew its business and kept going until the bitter end when he took his wife and 4 children to his death.  But back to Gleiwitz.  Here one said after the war that not Poles, but criminals dressed as Poles, had been told that they were to recapture the radio station for a film shoot, dressed in Polish uniforms. What is the truth?  I personally knew an officer pilot, Dr.Toni Stangl, who had been ordered to cross the border with his Me 109, to provoke the Poles. The Poles  had a mutual assistance pact with Gt.Britain and Russia  When Hitler attacked Poland,  Gt.Britain declared war on Germany. But not the Russians, they had signed a secret pact with Germany which allowed them to march into Poland as well, and this is what happened. The Germans marched as far as a pre-determined demarcation line, where they waited for the Russians to advance.  Gt.Britain declared war only on Germany, but not on  the Russians. In history books this is described in more detail, but there are always two kinds of history, the one from the victors and the one from the losers.

But I only wanted to talk about my own story which is exciting enough. However, back to the demarcation line in Poland once again. In a prisoner of war camp in Egypt, a Pioneer officer, who had been at this border, told me how badly equipped the Russian soldiers had been. Beginning with the shoes to their weapons.  A clever trickery by the Russians. When Hitler attacked the Russians in 1942, everybody was forced to acknowledge the opposite. Lies and deception wherever one looked

This attack was also the source of a rumour. Hitler had only attacked to get to the wheat of the Ukraine and to move the German border to the east. The truth is, as far as one can come near this during a war, that the Russians wanted to march into Germany and were ready for an attack. How could it otherwise be possible that the Germans made hundreds of thousands of prisoners during the first few days, because the Russians had been ready to attack and not to defend,  which militarily makes a big difference.

And now, perhaps, I come to my own fate. I remember very accurately the hour when war began. As was then customary, we tried to improve our pocket money during school holidays and so I and a friend assisted a land surveyor who worked on a meadow near Hollingersäge. We were in the middle of work when a woman ran from the nearest house and shouted: “War has broken out!” We almost threw our survey equipment onto the meadow and wanted to march off!  But already next day we sat on a friends’ motor bike to volunteer in Vienna Neustadt. The matter was not as simple as we impetuous warriors had envisaged. Because a Prussian sergeant declared with a rasping voice of command that we  would  have to consent to a six-months service period with our application. When he left the room to collect application forms, Sepp and I disappeared quickly, because we felt this was too long. I am grateful that no fairy then whispered into my ear: ”You will not serve six months but six years!”

And then I sat in my school bench once again and made my matric in April 1940, but not before…. but this is the following Chapter.

 

I and the war:

As I said before, the Propaganda Ministry was in full gear, because it very cleverly succeeded in inspiring the Volk and especially the youth, to become enthusiastic about the war. There were maps in all school rooms, offices etc. where the advances of our troops were marked with coloured pins. Everyone crowded around the radio when fanfares with the melody: …”soon swastikas will fly above all streets…”  announced  a special report (Sondermedlung). And then it arrived: “ …our units have reached the outskirts of Warsaw…. see the towers of Moscow….. unfolded the Swastika flag  at the Kaukasus etc.”

No wonder that we youngsters were afraid to miss the war, when it seemed that it would be over in a few months. For me it was certain that I would become a pilot. In the newspapers advertisements appeared: “Do your duty, volunteer to serve in the Wehrmacht. Matriculants volunteer for the Luftwaffe, become officers in the proud air force.” Placards showed clever illustrations of diving or attacking aircraft…. although the enemy fighter planes who shot at them from behind were never shown.     

I therefore volunteered, completed many questionnaires, and on 8th January 1940 reported with ink pen and sports things at the Luftwaffe depot.  However, and that was the crux of the matter, one had to provide a special letter of consent from the father, officially stamped. And this almost sunk my wish to become a pilot. But only almost….My father, who knew the war 1914 – 1918  could not be convinced to sign. It did not matter that I could copy my father’s signature exactly since it had to be officially confirmed. Signing the declaration also included that one would do unlimited duty for  life in service of the Luftwaffe, which was to prevent that one was trained as pilot, only to change over to a private airline after completion.

In the meantime I had carefully copied father’s signature and took this to the local Gendarmerie where an official did duty whom I knew, since he visited our house. Although I knew him as a friendly, fatherly man, he disappointed me with the words: “This looks strange that your father signed it, I will come by in the afternoon to talk to him.”

This was the end of my plan No.1. I had to find another way, and I already had one. Father always carried the key to the administrative office with him, which was only one room. During one night I organised this key and  crept to the office. Since I had been there often, it was easy for me, without switching on the light, to extract the stamp from the stand and press it onto the form below father’s signature. But the devil is in the detail. When I looked at my work by light at home, I saw to my horror that under Josef’s signature was a stamp copy, but it read: “Official meat inspector of the village of Pernitz”.  Another hope was broken. But giving up was not for me. So I began again. New form, falsified signature, because Joseph, the son of the motorcar dealer Joseph Schönthaler in  the centre of Pernitz, was not the mayor but only a friend, who sneaked into the office, this time with pocket flashlight etc. This time everything went well, and soon a letter of application was on its way to the Annahmestelle fűr Offiziere der Luftwaffe” in Berlin. I waited four full weeks until the reply arrived. Eight days call-up for a suitability test in Vienna.  Now I faced another stumbling stone on my road to becoming a pilot.

 

The examination.

I proceeded to the Stiftskaserne on the designated day, nervous and full of doubts, and reported to the appropriate office. Everything was strange and oppressive for me, the many class rooms, the running soldiers etc. In my luggage was the latest school certificate as I did not have matric yet, then the required sports clothes, sponge bag, pyjama etc. because it was to last a few days. And the somewhat strict commandos were unusual: stand here, carry this over there, wait here etc. In addition, I and the other applicants were uncertain of how this would all turn out. The first day was taken up by general medical examinations and we were chased from one department to another. If one applicant was not completely sound: heart, lungs, eyes and so forth, he was immediately rejected and could return home. We stood excited while waiting for the diagnoses from the various surgeries. So far everything went well with me since I was a healthy boy through and through. Next day came the special examinations for the flying personnel, I was strapped into the inside of a large wheel and they set this in motion. I was fitted with  microphone and earphones in a face mask, and was asked many questions about all sorts of things. When the wheel stopped and I was unstrapped, I almost fell over. When testing my eyes’ field of vision I remember an impatient  doctor  with a very loud voice who was unable to formulate his sentences properly. I had to look through a pipe where I saw the picture of a warship at the end, above which flew an aircraft. I had to guess if the aircraft was before or behind the ship. He meant it three-dimensional, but I thought differently. After he had corrected me twice in a very loud voice, I became impatient, plucked up all my courage and asked him to look into the pipe himself to see where the plane was. With waving of hands this was cleared up and we were taken to supper. There we discovered that from twenty applicants six had already been eliminated. This did not improve our mood.

Next day it was the turn of the ears. After the routine examinations, one strapped or bound us onto a sort of swivel chair, similar to a dentist’s chair, covered our eyes and pulled a hood over our heads, and then the chair began  to rotate. It turned forever faster, and it we were ordered to say in which direction it was turning, to the right or to the left. I said left, left, left, now we are standing still, now right, right, right etc. Afterwards the cautious question: “Was everything correct?”  Answer: “No, you always turned around to the left.”

Not wanting to fail so soon, the answer gave me a shock. “Impossible, at the start I had turned to the left, then I stood still, then I turned right.” “Well, young man, you did react correctly, in reality you turned always to the left, but due to the  high speeds,  the equilibrium organs of  the inner ear believed that they stood still, then they received outside pressure and showed a wrong result, so everything is alright. If you had always said “left” then this would have pointed to a growth inside the equilibrium organs.”        

For the next morning swimming had been announced, but there was nothing about swimming, it was rather a test of courage. Standing in line at the 3 m springboard in a small hall, and jump into the water, no matter how. The terrible thing was, one had the feeling of jumping on top of the previous man. But nobody asked beforehand  if one could swim, One could not and he reported this, but the reply was: “Just jump, we will pull you out of the water.”

Then came the  “drop off”. One had to stand stiff at the end of the springboard, looking away from the pool, arms tight to the body, and in this manner fall into the pool. Really quite easy, but one had to use all courage not to quit.

And then arrived the Psychologists for tests etc., which at the time were strange to us. We were led into a hall where at one end five or six gentlemen sat at a table. One had to stand in front of the table and the questioning began. They were questions we did not understand. F.i.. “Can you play an instrument? In which colour is the manufacturer’s name printed on it? Are you for the death penalty? Have you masturbated? Have you had intercourse? A member of your family is murdered, what would you do with murderer? When was the present Pope christened?” In this manner and mixture it carried on. One wanted to test our speed to react in a certain way. I would have really liked to read my analysis, because the gentlemen were very busy writing things down.

One day was reserved for sports examinations, again in extreme forms. After the usual moves at the vaulting horse, the beam etc. we went to the high bar. The exercise there has remained clearly in my memory. It started when I could not reach the bar with my 1.66 cm and had to really stretch. But then came an exercise everyone had to perform/ Hang onto the high bar and do a jump over the low bar, which meant a squat vault, A  terrible exercise for an untrained person. Even if a heavy mat was spread at the landing site, one had to use a lot of courage, or desperation, to throw oneself over the bar.

One afternoon was reserved for resourcefulness, and a special test remains in my memory: In the centre of a small room  was  a beam in abt.30  cm height. The task was to secure the beam with a supplied rope in such a manner  that  we could lead a group of men across a ravine. There were a number of hooks in the walls onto which the rope could be secured. We also  had to stand on the beam and were not allowed to fall down, because the ravine was underneath. I  fastened  myself on the beam to be sure not to fall down  into the “ravine”. This forced one of the  examinators to the laughing comment: ”Very clever, nobody has done this before”. I hoped that this would give me plus points for cleverness and not negative points for cowardice.

The tests went on until the weekend because there was enough time to examine the aspiring pilots. When we were released, we were not given the results, which meant that the hearts of the young pilots were left in uncertainty.       

Home  again, it took three weeks until the relieving news arrived: “Passed examination, you have been accepted as officer cadet for pilot training, and will shortly receive the call up.”  This arrived soon after matric, it had turned April 1940, and I searched on the map for the first training base, and this was Salzwedel, a town between Berlin and Hamburg. The last days at school I arranged to be easy for me, and whenever it became critical, “I  have to report to the military command office”.

The day to leave home arrived. Mother cried when I left the house with my suitcase, and father hugged me and called me a stupid boy, because he somehow doubted  the ”voluntary report”, but then he pressed a note into the hand of the boy who marched to war. Having been thus sent off,  I climbed into the railway coach to ride to the unknown north. After twenty hours ride I arrived in Salzwedel and saw immediately that  more young men with large suitcases stepped down.  In front of the station stood a military bus, and a loud commando voice shouted with a North-German accent: “New call-ups for the pilot training camp into the bus.” So we climbed in with mixed emotions as the harsh North-German tongue was new to us. And off we went from the town as the airfield was situated outside the built-up areas. At the gate of the airfield we had to leave the bus, were checked individually and our names ticked off the lists.

The buildings and hangars of the Fliegerhorst seemed large and impressed with their size and camouflage. Because on some of the roofs where aircraft were parked, real forests had been planted. Having arrived at our designated building at a fast march tempo: “Quick, quick you lazy Spunde.”, (The name Spund was given to the most recent arrivals and was the lowest form of life.),  and entered our quarters and allocated  rooms, and milled around, shocked and ignorant, until we were called to the barrack square.

With much unnecessary shouting we shocked newcomers were divided  into sections, and the Kommandeur,  Freiherr von Biedermann, who said of himself that:  “Everybody can become a Colonel, but you have to be born as a  Freiherr.”, greeted us with the words: “I greet you in the name of the Luftwaffe. Having decided to volunteer for this job does not grant you special privileges. On the contrary, this war with our enemy demands that we train you to become proficient soldiers and pilots in the shortest possible time, and I prefer to call you soldiers first and  pilots second for a reason. Your training will be hard and not always a pleasure for you. That you want to become officers adds a stronger meaning  to your training. Do not be surprised if we give you a dressing down and push you to the limit of your ability. We have the best teachers and pilot instructors in Germany. The military complaints’ procedure does not apply to you. Who wants to command later will first have to obey. Hauptmann Frohme takes over this cadet company, and he guarantees that you will be trained hard and correct. The company will be divided into groups which will be supervised by “cadet fathers”,  decorated officers with frontline experience. Dismissed, and off to work.”

This was our reception. Confused and shocked, we looked at each other. Then we went to collect our uniforms and equipment, from socks to the steel helmets. A  first small taste of being trained  to obey came when an N.C.O. threw a cigarette end into an ashtray and said: “Please damp it.” And when I looked at him without understanding,  he shouted immediately: “Are you deaf, you are supposed to kill the cigarette end”.

Then we started filling the palliasses, an activity none of us knew. Some of us asked ourselves during the first few hours, if it had  been  advisable to report voluntarily to this club. The uniforms which were thrown at us by the quartermaster, guessing our sizes, did in no way satisfy our expectations of a smart pilot’s uniform. After detailing the barrack rooms, the fatigue roster was drawn up to determine who was responsible for cleaning, because every night this was checked with an unbelievable thoroughness. The duty NCO came with white gloves with which he searched for dust. It was impossible that the gloves remained white when he swiped across the top surfaces. Therefore we cleaned these with a wet rag to at least give him wet gloves. The bed required special care. Because the sleeping blanket had been covered with a white sheet, we required a long time to smooth it down. Their seams and the edges of the cushions  we sprinkled with water to press them into sharp edges. The rubbish bin had to be washed and brushed every evening, but we did not use it and instead filled the rubbish into an own  bag. But if the NCO wanted, he could always find something wrong since he was trained to do  this. Then it often happened  that: “The illumination is bad. Into the yard with the complete room, march!” Then we had to carry everything, from the boxes and the beds to the rubbish bin, to the yard and, after a repeat check, back to the first floor.

During our first drill on the parade ground there was a puddle which had remained from the morning rain. This approached me directly, and I did a wide sidestep while marching.to avoid it. At once there was the shout: “Everybody halt!”,  our instructor had seen my evasive step. I had to step forward, and he directed me with the commands: turn left, turn right, two steps forward, until I stood directly in front of the puddle. Then came a new command: “Down, up, down, up, turn around etc.”,. until I was  completely wet to my skin and the puddle almost dry. We did not wear uniforms during our exercises but the so called Drillichanzug , loose overalls, made from linen. Then in the evening we stood in the cellar and tried to wash the mud from our overalls and dry them, as otherwise we would have to wear them wet during exercises the following day. The so called Maskenball, masquerade, was well known in the German Army. Alarm at one in the morning: “Get up! Section B  assemble in battle dress in the yard.”  Then a detailed check if everything was correct. If it was, then: “In five minutes assemble in walking-out uniform.”  Then strict control again to see if one  had  wound a handkerchief around the neck instead of wearing a white shirt. And then often the crowning remark: “You  are in stepping-out uniform and not shaved?  Quick march, everybody collect his shaving kit but without brush and water. ” And like this we stood in the yard and tried to shave the whiskers off which sometimes led to blood. How much different had I expected my pilot training to be, sitting in an aircraft in a smart flying suit. But we first had to become soldiers, and in the  German  Army  this  meant: unconditional obedience. Some reader might think that it was absolute craziness to demand these things, but in this training there lay surely the successes of German soldiers. .Unfortunately, ” they were gambled away.”  Just think, dear reader, Poland was beaten in a few weeks, France, Jugoslavia, Greece, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Denmark etc. Have a look at the map, from the Nordkap to North Africa, everything was in German hands. But even Churchill is reported to have said: “Leave the Germans alone, they will eventually win to their deaths”.  But all these successes were the fruit of our training. When later our squadron leader said: “Below left, Tobruk harbour, we attack the two large ships”, then some of us might have thought that this was impossible, facing  the defensive fire from the harbour guns, but nobody remained behind  and we all dived. (One of us did not dive because he had a radiator defect, and when he had an engine malfunction once again before diving,  he was replaced.).

But we were still busy with infantry drill and were  trained in courage: jumping through burning hoops, loop across a high table. I had never done anything like this in my life, but when Hauptmann Frohme, who happened to be present, performed the loop in full uniform, did we throw ourselves in loops over the table, defying death, and never mind the blue patches afterwards.

Until now we had never seen anything of flying, although we lived on an airfield, and only saw the aircraft in a distance. But now came the “Inspection”, and we were expected to show what we had learned. Naturally, Hauptmann Frohme wanted to “shine” with his cadets, and we were drilled accordingly. It happened like this:

Because one could expect from a future officer that he could handle all kinds of weapons in use in the German Army, (these were remnants from the times when there existed only one type of rifle and one gun!!) he had to know them all, which meant we could dismantle and reassemble them.  This was certainly an impossible demand considering our short training period. But since the inspecting General was an old infantry man and known to be very strict, we had to train again and again on the available weapons.  The weapons, i.e. rifle, machine gun and anti-aircraft gun were formed into a circle, and behind or next to each one lay three of us. When one was reasonably familiar with the rifle, the sergeant shouted: “Move to the next weapon”,  and we had to jump up and run to the next position. We did this in such a way, though, that when the sergeant shouted, we did not run to the next weapon but created  confusion, which enabled us to end at our own weapon we knew well. It is understandable that our Oberstleutnant  Arnie used to say: “Every inspection by a high ranking animal is a sabotage attempt at our training.” .    

Since we were expected to jump through burning hoops and perform similar jokes during the inspection, as we had done before,  the  3rd cadet group was soon called “Circus Frohme”

When we marched in formation outside our barracks this was something special. If an approaching soldier on the  sidewalk did not salute properly, our Chief called him and said: “Do you call this production a proper salute? Join us at the end of the column.”  Now these were normally all soldiers in stepping-out uniforms who wanted to go somewhere, but they had to march with us. There were no exceptions. It was a mixed bag marching at the end of us, pilots with side weapon, sailors etc. and we were always curious what would happen to the next soldier who walked towards us.

At last the hard training period was over, we had become real “soldiers” and were transferred to Kriegsschule, as military academies were called at the time.

 

At  the Kriegsschule Berlin-Gatow:

It must have been end of July 1940 when we arrived there. Once again we marvelled at the gigantic installations, laid out almost .like a park. Surely the drill would be just like the one in Salzwedel with a more ‘humane” undertone. Again we were distributed to the rooms, five men each, but we were not any more responsible for the cleaning because we were educated to become gentlemen. We did not see anything of aircraft at the beginning, because it was now theory, aerodynamics, engine design, meteorology etc. we were fed on in a shortened and  therefore concentrated  form, and we were often overtired and had to fight against sleep during lessons.

We were divided into sections again, one section was equivalent to a platoon, with three sections forming a company. A section was led by a cadet father, although ours possessed little of a father but had a kind and understanding heart.  It did not take long and we would have walked through fire for him. On the other hand it must have been a  satisfying  task for him to educate and train such young, healthy and very willing boys. He was an example to follow in all situations, because during the one-and-a-half year he took care of us, he was responsible less for flying but more for developing  human qualities and building our characters, and in many ways we even tried to copy him, since, despite his military roughness, he was a “Sir” as one would say today. I remember one of his maxims: “Gentlemen and dogs never close a door themselves.” He liked me on account of my Austrian heritage for which North-Germans have a soft spot, and he sometimes let matters slide when he could have been more strict. He also tried to train us in proper drinking habits since he believed that here the human shows his true colours.  Naturally, there was no saying “Prost” when he gave a toast, instead one lifted the glass to the first uniform button and drank as long as “he” drank. If one wanted to toast him we said: “Herr Oberleutnant, may I please have your permission to give you a toast?”

We arranged many parties while we were at the academy. Once, when the Kommandant  of the academy visited us at a party and the beer was finished, we all emptied our glasses into a larger one, and when Nolte shouted: “A beer for the Herr Oberst,” he was served the  collection of beer left-overs.  Afterwards Nolte promised to stretch the Hammelbeine  (sheeps’  legs)  of any person who leaked the story, meaning a severe dressing down.  In my section served  Gustl Cuk from Bruck an der Mur who was my friend and a happy and clever chap. Once, when he was incapable of standing erect, Nolte asked us to push his bed from the room, and when he wanted to sleep because he was very tired, four men had to carry the bed into the shower room and turn the water on. I can still hear his howling under the cold water. Sadly, he had to pay with his life for his carelessness and easy-going style. On his return from a mission his plane started to burn shortly before reaching our airfield. Unfortunately,  he  had not secured his parachute properly, the bag slipped  before jumping, and Gustl was unable to  find the emergency ripcord with the grip which is  normally under the left armpit, The result was that he fell “brakeless”, ungebremst,  from the sky. We jokingly called this “unsharpened in the bone bag (flying suit) into the ground”, because we had no ejection seats etc. However, we are not there yet, but are sitting tired in the lecture room. We had been in the Luftwaffe for four months, and  still had not seen an aircraft. Despite all obvious efforts  to  put us into an aircraft and send us to the front,  training was done with typical German thoroughness. We were busy from six in the morning to the evening hours, and it was therefore normal that we fell asleep in the lecture rooms while sitting up, especially during boring lectures. It was not pleasant when the head snapped back. This mostly happened during  boring lectures by a technician about engines that went far above our heads. Kapitän  Wegerer,  who was responsible for weather science, personified the typical seadog on great adventures. He managed to convince us to strive for thoroughness and accuracy. Since he also spiced his lectures with examples from his eventful life, we always looked forward to weather science. He also taught us navigation.  The examinations were very fair, and I really preferred them, then having to jump from a 3 m board in the swimming hall. As it had been before, we were under constant observation and in this week as well some were sent home or transferred to other units. The official term was “relieved”, and it was feared by us very much.

I would like to submit a book extract which will describe our training much better than I can, and this is from the book “Stuka”  by Hans Jűrgen Baron von Koskull, published 1973 by the Lehmann Verlag, Munich.

“Chapter seven. Pilot training.

Training in the Luftwaffe was very hard and has reached a higher level than in other countries, as has been generally acknowledged.  The reason was the formation of a special training inspectorate in the German ministry for aviation. With dynamic and enthusiastic flying instructors, Göring succeeded in recruiting suitable young men for his, in every aspect preferentially treated,  Luftwaffe.

As might be expected, and based on German military history, basic training followed  general military guidelines rather than aviation requirements. Before the young men could become pilots they first had to get accustomed to proper military discipline.  Every recruit and every officer cadet spent part of his training with an air force training regiment, where he was trained according to military requirements.” “ During infantry training smoking and drinking was forbidden. (not correct!). Besides battle training, emphasis was placed on physical education and sports training.” End of the extract.

But otherwise we lived the life of young men in war academy  who did not know what to do with their energy, and not even the worst harassment, whether in the lecture rooms or on the drill square could affect our sense of companionship. Regrettably, “pass” was written in small letters only and we  suffered. …..”not every day has sunshine, only staff goes on holiday!”,  as the popular song said.  We learned this every day. Not even at Christmas were we allowed to go home or leave the barracks, but the goal was nearly reached with the theory of flying almost oozing from our eyes. Once again we were tested for flying ability in the smallest detail and then we had arrived. Flying training began.

Flying training.

We marched proudly and under a sunny sky to the airfield in our newly fitted flying suits and felt like little idols.

As already mentioned, we had only qualified personnel to train us, this applied to flying too, and my teacher was the former pilot of  the Abessinian Kaiser Haile Selassi, Count Schack. He was around 50 years old, in my eyes an old gentleman, understanding and patient. He did everything slowly and exactly; his successor was the opposite. After I had been strapped into the plane, it was the Focke Wulf 44, called Stieglitz, he first rolled around the airfield a bit and let me hold the throttle to feel how the engine responded etc.  The Stieglitz was the standard training aircraft with two seats, identical instrument panels for front and rear. Schack had unscrewed my control column to prevent me from doing something silly.

The first trips had the purpose of getting accustomed to the feel of  flying  “Well, Deibl, enjoy this trip, have a look around in the air, feel like a passenger not a trainee pilot.”  It was simply marvellous, this was really flying. Today with the travel planes, this is not flying but moving through the \air. But here one felt the wind around the head, the roar of the engine, and  had the impression of being a bird in the air. I could not imagine a greater feeling of happiness, not then and not today.  Von Schack flew to the Havelseen, then across to the Spreewald with its many channels, circled around Königswusterhausen,  and landed after more than an hour back home.


I had done about 10 flying hours with von Schack, when reality caught up with me. Von Schack was called away and I received a new flying instructor, Feldwebel Riethoff.  His name sounded rough to me and I did not expect much. The fatherly concern and consideration of an elderly gentleman had to give way to  the brusque treatment by a Prussian Feldwebel.

But training continued, we were on the airfield every day in groups of five,  weather permitting,  and all training really only consisted of starts and landings. We were allowed to hold the control column and press hard on the rudder pedal. Then move  the controls a bit, which gave the young pilot the impression that he was flying solo. During one landing approach I seemed to fly too high to bring the plane down, when Riethoff suddenly pulled up, and with a giant “slip”, like an aerobatic figure,  almost pancaked.  I  had  a big fright and expected the end ahead,  but he came down safely. After we had landed, he shouted at me if I had been crazy etc. However, Herr Feldwebel  was out of luck. The air traffic controller of our section in the control tower had observed the  manoeuver, and Riekhoff was ordered to report/  He  was perhaps told what a good instructor should be like and rejected.  Rickhoff  was probably a good  pilot but unsuitable as teacher due to his impatience and temper.

 

The first solo flight.

After 75 flights with the instructor it was finally time, and the first solo flight approached. The candidate was reported to the control tower, and an officer arrived and settled in the machine to oversee the three examination flights. Now the trainee sat in the front seat and the examiner in the rear, but he would only act in an emergency. Excited,  I started the engine and was only expected to perform three simple runs around the airfield, which went well without the examiner having to interfere, and he said: “I am not worried about you,  you will come down safely because no one has remained up there yet.”

In the meantime my aircraft had been prepared for my first solo trip: red flags were fastened to the wing tips and the rudder to indicate to other pilots in the air: here is a very young rabbit, keep your distance!

I remember my heart pounding when I stood alone on the taxiway, and pushed the throttle forward.  A few rumbles across the grass and I was really in the air, free and alone like a bird.  A  left turn, then straight again. I sang, no  I  shouted  loud: “I am flying, I am flying.”  All efforts and obstacles on my way to this goal were forgotten, a goal reached through single-minded determination.

After  landing  an old pilots‘ custom was performed: I knelt on the ground and everybody present was allowed to give me a smack on my bottom, and some made good use of this.

Besides flying training, theoretical instructions continued. And since the good weather was used for flying, theory lagged behind. Therefore, legal science, lessons in deportment, swimming etc. carried on into the evening. And we continued drilling, shooting and marching. For us young, thoroughbred youngsters it was often not easy to fulfil the demands made on us and we always went to bed dog-tired.  Passes  into town, which we had missed in the past, were no problem anymore. But when we did visit the town, the fun started, although with our boisterous attitude we had to be careful, as we could be immediately identified as officer cadets by our uniforms. I still remember how fascinated I was in a bar, it was the “Delphi”, that one could telephone from one table to another and ask a young girl for a dance.

We 19 year olds  most certainly felt like Kings, and when I think back with my 82 years, this is what we were. The pilots’ uniform was fashionably cut and we did not wear the standard military loden,  but were allowed to have uniforms of worsted material made by the tailor, added to which was a white shirt and dark tie. Altogether this presented a pleasant picture with our young faces.

Before our first pass we were very carefully scrutinized by Nolte. Cap off, shoes polished, inspect nails etc. During a check the pass could be quickly cancelled, and it was hard to see the comrades walk off and remain behind.

Before Christmas we were promoted to Cadet N.C.O.s and the pilots’ extra pay, which was added to the standard pay, was increased. This meant that we had no financial difficulties.

Hans as NCO

Despite the war our food was  exceptional, we were fed with everything that was healthy. One took great care that for breakfast we all ate our porridge like little children, and  then the real breakfast arrived. On Sundays we always had a feast, and  pork knuckle was not a rarity.

Flying continued apace as well, and I completed one test after another. I had to do three emergency landings with an instructor who, at 1000 m altitude, suddenly switched the engine to idle without prior warning to the trainee. He quickly had to decide on which space or meadow he was going to land the aircraft. During landing approach full throttle was given and the instructor decided if the test had been successfully completed.  I had done three correct landing approaches and completed the tests. Such tests were varied. For instance: at an altitude of 1000 m above the airfield, the engine was switched off and one had to land as close to the landing marker as possible. We especially liked the so-called cross country trips to other airfields, because then we really flew over the country. It was pleasant when, during further training, we were allowed to fly to airfields close to home.

We are flying across the open country.

During all flying assignments when we had to fly to another airfield, our air traffic control took special care that not two aircraft approached the same town. The reason came probably from the experience that when two planes flew the same route, they were apt to do something silly. And this is what happened. Gustl had to fly to the city of Plauen, close to the Chech border and I,  strangely enough, received the same instructions. However, my time for take-off had been moved forward  by 20 minutes from Gustl’s plane.  And what did we do?  I dawled during take-off and Gustl started early. The agreed meeting point was to be  the  radio masts at Königswusterhausen. I did not have to circle for long when Gustl wobbled along in his Arado 66,  and we happily continued south.

We had marked all female Arbeitsdienstlager in our maps, and there we paused,  demonstrating our artistry, and at the end thundered low over the camp above the waving girls. And we carried on happily. People working in the fields were also forced to duck because we had received training in low level flying as well. After some time I had no idea where I was,  since orientation from the air is not easy once one has lost the thread.   So I flew closer to Gustl’s  plane and held up my map because we had no radio contact with each other. But he also showed me his map and we both did not know where we were. What to do now? We circled through the air for a while and I lost him out of my eyes. Slowly it dawned on me that my altimeter showed 1000 m, and when I looked out of the plane my guess was that I was flying about 300 m up. No wonder,  I flew above the Erzgebirge!  Carrying on, I spotted at last  a large town ahead with a railway line, where the main station could be a great help if one flew low to read the  name. But it was also not easy to locate the name on the map, the last resort for a “lost” pilot. Unfortunately, I was unable to read the name since the sign was obscured by the roof. Suddenly, green flares rose into the sky close by. Normally this signalled: “You are allowed to land.”  Off  in  the direction of the signals!  It was the airfield of Eger in Tschekoslovakia. I performed a perfect landing in order not to be dressed down and was happy to have firm ground under my feet again. When I reported they was very merciful, I had expected a rocket, but they decided to release me with a full  tank to fly to Plauen, which, once in the air,  I was unable to  locate,  as  I had lost my orientation again. A fact a non-flyer will find difficult to understand.  Therefore I decided to fly straight north towards Berlin. I would be able to find my way in a familiar territory and the many lakes. But suddenly barrage balloons almost barred my way, and a fighter plane  pushed  me unmistakeably to the west. This area had been pencilled in red on all maps as prohibited area on account of the large Buna factories producing synthetic fuel. Since we had been told that any aircraft, regardless of nationality, would be shot down,  I was most grateful to the pilot of the fighter plane that he had spared me. He probably realized that I was merely a stupid trainee in a training plane.

Here in Merseburg, however, I was given the rocket I had avoided at Eger, although  in a much worse form. The Major in charge of  air traffic control called me all names of animals one finds in a Zoo, and ordered my aircraft to be taken away, which forced me to ride home to Berlin-Gatow by train.  This was the  biggest disgrace for a young  pilot. When the pilot of the fighter plane reported back, the Major said to me: “You can thank him that you are still alive, he acted against his orders.”

At home I received three days severe detention on account of “flying offences”, as the wording said. During detention I heard that Gustl had also lost his way and been “collected” by an instructor, which meant that he was forced to fly home behind him to Berlin.

For further training I came under the wings of  Herr Schottka, World Aerobatics Champion from 1937. It was his task to introduce me to this art. He was a typical civilian, even when he wore his uniform, but he was able to teach me this art without strict military commands. Once again I started by sitting behind or next to him, without touching the controls. I was quite glad I did not have to worry when the aircraft turned upside down etc. when he demonstrated his complete repertoire. Then he explained gently and carefully the individual positions  of  the controls which, in the case of some figures, were not easy to perform, and he even did a loop forward.  Soon figures like rolls, where I rolled the plane left or right around its axis, turns and loops etc. were not difficult anymore and they must  have looked reasonably good, as  I was allowed to train solo during the next days.  Schottka merely remained on the ground, observing me with his field glasses, to correct me afterwards. During one turn, though, I received quite a fright. The turn is a figure during which one increases speed and then shoots straight up into the sky until the plane is almost at a standstill, then one presses right or left rudder and the plane falls straight down. If one presses too early, one does not turn but performs a curve. I pressed too late, and this is what happened. I had “starved”  the bird to perform a perfect turn, but it was too much and for a few seconds all became quiet, and the plane’s controls  did not respond  anymore but allowed the plane to fall forward. My turn had turned into a “sit-up position”, a difficult and dangerous performance which is not taught any longer. This was the reason while Schottka asked: “Who showed you the beautiful sit-up?”

For the aerobatic examinations we received a paper on which all figures had been printed we had to perform above the airfield, and in the correct sequence, while the crowd of strict examiners watched with their field glasses. As with other flying tests, one was allowed three tries. I was lucky and received a good note for my first try. Probably not only due  to  my own aptitude, but because I had Schottka as teacher who, with his yearlong experiences and  ability,  managed to shape me properly. I remember that my examination began with the “rolling cross”, where the  plane rotates continuously around its own axis while flying a circle. I am convinced it was not a nice circle I flew, but this was really a difficult figure to perform. Professionals fastened smoke cartridges to the wing tips for better control.

 

Cross Country Trips.

I almost forgot to mention the cross country trips which were customary for our training. We were able to control the planes reasonably well, so there was really nothing to worry about, unless orientation became a problem…  Look at my trip to Plauen! The reason for cross country trips was to fly without supervision. We generally flew to airfields in Central Germany or in the East.  The West was out of bounds since enemy aircraft could interfere. Nolte distributed the airfields we had to approach, and the young pilots naturally wanted to fly close to home which was not appreciated. The pilots wanted to show off  their  aerobatic skills at home and this could lead to crashes. This was proved by my case.  I had obtained  an order to fly to Vienne Neustadt which almost ended in tragedy, if my proverbial luck had not flown with me. I came from the north, had passed the Unterberg, and pushed the plane, a twin-engine Focke-Wulf 44, to fly into the Pernitz valley. Unfortunately, I had not correctly estimated this plane’s wider turning circle and  almost touched the hills of the Kitzberg, nearly  ending my flying display, then flew via the Piesting Valley to Vienna Neustadt, drenched in sweat. The two engines of the plane had not been suitable for such aerobatics, and I am happy, even today, that no cross of remembrance stands on the Kitzberg.for me.

When I later, (the cat will not forget mousing) as fully trained pilot with my heavy Sturzkampfmachine Junkers 87R and a 1.600 HP engine, flew over Pernitz, the whole situation was different.  

Now back to military academy in Berlin, as it was time to decide which units to join, fighters, bombers, scouts, destroyers or dive bombers. In part, this decision was influenced by our different assessments regarding courage, tenacity etc. Prior to this we were put into pressure chambers to test our reaction at different altitudes. We were placed in a hermetically sealed pipe and were given pencil and paper on which was a sentence, f.i. “Tomorrow we fly to Poland.” This sentence had to be copied one under the other, while air was released to simulate different altitudes. The pipe was fitted with round port holes like a submarine, through which the candidates could be observed from outside. I wrote industriously: “We fly to Poland”,  and felt extremely well. Then the test was complete and oxygen pumped in. I took my paper and looked at it with horror. My handwriting had become worse with each sentence, and at the end it was unreadable. What had happened?

As already stated,  the  tests were designed to evaluate the candidate’s  reactions and  responses to higher altitudes. We were expected.to put a pencil mark next to the sentence if we noticed a change in the oxygen supply, which meant one was prepared to drop to lower altitudes. There are two kinds of people, the one realizes this but not the other. I belonged to the “others”. For example: I could expect altitude-death at 6.000 m without prior warning.  It is apparently the most wonderful death since one feels excellent until the end. A  probable end for a pilot with a defective oxygen mask. Therefore, Hans: Always check the oxygen. The other people do not suffer because they become ill early enough.

For us young, daredevil boys to decide which arm of the service we should select, depended also on the duration of  the training period. Being a pilot was not everything, one had  to  undergo special training. We were worried to “miss” the war and Gustl and I reported to the Sturzkampfflieger who had the shortest training period, although the shortest life expectancy as well. On the day I was shot down in Africa, our group alone lost 14 aircraft and crews, and according to the Luftwaffe general-quartermaster’s casualty list, the Sturzkampf  units suffered a loss of  1.269 crews from 1.9.1939 to 30.9.1943. (We did obviously not know these figures then, because we might have changed our minds). Gustl Cuk, a proper wild dog, joined us as well. Prior to our departure from war academy, there arrived the hour for promotions to Oberfähnrich and swearing-in ceremony. This rank was the best of the officer career, one felt like an officer without having their responsibilities.

 

Induction by Adolf Hitler.

The day of the ceremony came close, but we still did not know where, how and through whom this would be done.  Only later did we understand this secrecy, because no one was to know where and when Hitler would be present to prevent preparations for an assassination attempt. Once it was said the ceremony would take place in the Waffensaal of the academy, then in the Sportpalast in Berlin, but if the weather was fine on our airfield. Since everything had to be rehearsed a hundred times in the Prussian Army, a few of our planes were placed in a circle and we as well. Then we were ordered  into the Waffensaal which impressed us greatly. On the next day we heard that the commander of the academy would induct us, then Göring, the Reichsmarschall  and commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe would do this himself. We had to practise: an officer entered the hall representing our commander and shouted: “Heil meine Fähnriche!” and we had to reply: “Heil Herr Oberst.”, which we shouted loud and had to repeat ten times. But in case Göring was to arrive himself, we had to shout: “Heil, Herr Reichsmarschall”. This went on for days. But in case Hitler should arrive, we had to practise: “Heil unser Fűhrer!”

When on the day of the ceremony, after one hundred checks of hair-cuts, uniform and other things, passenger buses arrived in the yard, we realized we would go to Berlin. But even our officers did not know who would induct us. It must have been mid-May 1941 when we entered the Sportpalast, which had been  magnificently decorated with flowers and flags.  

Once again we had to rehearse: “Attention”, which produced a terrible noise caused by 150 young men jumping up from their chairs. And then  the big moment arrived when the stage curtains moved and our commander shouted his “Attention” into the hall. We almost did not believe our eyes when we saw Hitler suddenly appear in front of us. He looked around slowly as if he wanted to fix everyone with his light blue eyes, and said quietly, contrary to the standard barrack square shouts: “Heil meine Jugend!”. Our  reply: “Heil mein Fűhrer”, almost tore the plaster from the walls. I could study him closely as I stood in the second row.

He talked to us for half an hour without notes about:: …”the pride of the Nation, the burden we had to carry,  our duty for the German Volk, and our imminent sacrifices….”. When at the end  he  asked  us to sacrifice our last drop  of  blood for Germany, he could have ordered us to jump into a gorge and we would all have jumped. This remarkable day closed with the handing-over of our promotion documents,  music and pomp. In the decree,  signed  by Göring,  there is the wording: “ Ich vollziehe diese Urkunde in der Erwartung, dass der Genannte getreu seinem Diensteide seine Berufspflicht gewissenhaft erfűllt und das Vertrauen rechtfertigt, dass ihm durch seine Beförderung bewiesen wird. Zugleich darf er des besonderen Schutzes des Fűhrers sicher sein. Der Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe H.Göring.”

Saying goodbye to our friends with whom we had lived and suffered together over years, was not easy. It had been a  hard education  but  now we faced  new goals. There were not many girls from whom we had to part since we had been under the whip and  had neither time nor inclination. We were not even allowed to interrupt training for one day over Christmas. Thus we left Berlin in our blue-grey uniforms, proudly wearing the pilot badge on our chest.

 

Further training in Bad Aibling and Graz.

The present Stuka pilots’ training course had not yet finished, and we were first sent to the airfield at Aibling in Bavaria. This was a good choice. Despite the war, Bad Aibling was still a peaceful, flourishing, charming spa, as one remembered them from films and novels. We young cadets in our smart uniforms soon became a happy part of this town. Our course-leader was an elderly, easy-going reserve officer who showed a lot of understanding for us young people. There were no flying problems either, since we believed we knew it all.

But we used the extra time well and completed the BI Blind Flying certificate, and trained a lot on the predecessor of the Ju 87, the Henschel 123, a plane which I liked. With aircraft it is the same, one either likes a plane or not. I liked the Henschel, a single-engine all-metal design with a very powerful engine. I often flew along the Bavarian Alps and its  many lakes.

We also had boyish fun  flying as low as possible approaching yachts and suddenly pulling the plane up in front of the boats which, if they were not careful,  flipped  over. The experienced yachtsmen got used to this fun and soon we were playing cat and mouse. One day we came to grief. :Ludwig Auer touched the lake’s surface and died.  This finished our careless undertakings, although flying under bridges became now fashionable.

There was a beautiful, arched bridge across the Inn  river. Fipa, proper name Philips, from Linz,  flew a small training aircraft underneath and bragged a lot about it afterwards. Of course, we did not want to stand back, but our strict instructor had discovered this and blocked it by promises of drastic  punishment.

We lived well in Bad Aibling and were short of nothing. Now we had time for girls too, and formed  a happy circle with Eva, Lotte and Lisa. The Henschel 123 remained our main training aircraft, because there were only a few Ju 87 available, and they were the old type. The Henschel had only one disadvantage.  If one pulled the plane up too hard, (űberziehen) during aerobatics, it began to spin out of control, and it was then  most difficult to correct this dangerous figure. Whoever succeeded was not given a wreath for his grave but 8 days special leave.

The days in Bad Aibling passed quickly, too quickly, as we were given lots of flying duties, and once they were over, the beautiful Kurmädchen  (spa-cuties) were waiting.. I  remember Eva, daughter of a Bishop from the north, who called me  Haneken instead of Hans, and had already sent her parents my photograph for an “assessment”.  I did not like this. But the friendship with this girl was “a honourable one” as one said at the time. My future wife, Friedl, visited me in Aibling as well. And then the hour of parting came close.

In addition to the standard  tests, we had to fulfil one for target shooting. Not with a rifle but with the machine guns  mounted in the wings. It was like this:  an area near Aibling had been cordoned off to be used for shooting trials from the air. Tilted frames were placed there, 2 x 2 m square and covered with white paper. We were given machine guns with 200 rounds of proper ammunition and, during four approaches, had to try to hit the targets as often as possible. When this was done we flew off, wings wobbling, to show the soldiers in their bunkers that we were finished and shooting was over. They ran to the frames to fit new papers. The machine guns in the wings had been adjusted  that the bullets crossed 150 m in front of the plane. Ideally and theoretically, one should have stopped in  midair  at 150 m from the target and begin firing. Since this was impossible, one had to select the correct moment to press the button on the control column. If it was the wrong moment, the bullets either ended before or beyond the target.in the moor. Before the test an older pilot had given us the advice to disconnect one machine gun and only shoot with the other. This had the advantage that we could observe the hits and correct accordingly. We first emptied the one gun and then the other. And now bad luck happened.  Egon Reimann saw his hits on the target and came down, wanting to empty the gun, with his plane touching the ground. As we did not fly horizontally but  sloping  down, our speed was considerable and Egon would not have felt anything!  A military funeral was the end of our time in Aibling. However, at the following Stuka school  it was much worse.

We were transferred to Stukaschule 2 in Graz.  It was decisive for us that our rail tickets were for 3rd class, (officers travelled 2nd class only), and because we already felt like little Görings in our youthful state, we found the proper solution in that we erased the number “3” and replaced it with a number “2”. But we did not feel too self-confident when a military police patrol  checked tickets.  And when we were asked why we sat in 2nd class, we explained that Stuka pilots in the rank of  Oberfähnrich always travelled 2nd class by train. The old reserve Hauptmann did not notice that we had erased the number, perhaps he did not have his glasses on. But  he wrote it all down and told us  he would have to report the incident to higher authority. We had survived with a “blaues Auge”, (by a whisker).. Nevertheless, two weeks later in Graz  we had to report to the Chef , but were in luck since the report had been so badly written  one could gain the impression we had occupied 2nd class without permission. We explained that the train had been overcrowded, and this closed the case.

At airfield Graz Thalerhof the Stuka bombers waited  in line for us to maltreat them. I hope there will be boys among my grandchildren interested in technical details:

Junkers Ju 87 liquid cooled, hanging, 12 cylinder 1.300 HP engine,

Width 13,6 m,  Length 11,1 m, Height 3,9 m

Weight, without weapons and bombs, 5.720 kg

Weapons: 2 machine guns in the wings

                1 machine gun for the rear gunner in the cockpit

                250 kg or 500 kg bombs under the wings

Speed: 390 km,  service altitude: 8000 m

Dive brake under the wing

Dive sirens at both wheels

Pull up  pressure  3.9 g

Altogether we were nine cadets of which, sadly,  seven were to die during operations. The eighth, Karli Stritter,  would be severely injured, and I, lucky beggar, only suffered burns. But we did not know this yet.

Our instructor was a very young Oberleutnant Möbus who certainly impressed us greatly with his Knight’s Cross which he had received for sinking a destroyer. As an experienced frontline pilot he was expected to teach us the necessary skills. With a fighter plane, Messerschmidt  109,  he flew faint attacks on us trainees. It happened often after landing that he said: ”After the second  attack above the Riegersburg I could have shot you down like a lame duck when you pulled up. You must stay very close to the ground.” 

Hans at the Stuka school in Graz

Pulling the plane up from a dive was something else. If  it  was done suddenly,  the  pressure on the body was 5 g, and, due to lack of blood in the brain, we blacked out. If one  pulled  the control column too slow, the pull-out radius became too wide and we came very close to the ground.   Generalleutnant Mahlke writes in his book “Stuka” on page 41.

“It was generally left to oneself how hard one wanted to pull the aircraft up…I do not exclude that the physical strain experienced was felt differently by each pilot, and  perhaps might have even come close to the limit of  being able to take stress. The pressure in the ears was very unpleasant if the pressure balance did not work during sudden increases in air pressure. A sudden cracking in the eardrum showed that air pressure had been normalised. Among laymen it was widely believed that an almost vertical dive  created  an enormous load. But this was not correct, because the vertical dive with extended dive brakes cannot be measured differently than a horizontal flight, as the powers of acceleration only begin when pulling out. The crew is pressed into the seats by  multiple bodyweight  (3-5g).”.  End of Mahlke’s note..

In Graz we began with aimed  bomb drops.  Not proper bombs but those made from cement of the same weight. They looked very similar to the real ones and were fitted with glass vials inside who created a smoke cloud when they hit the ground. This made it possible to check the drop’s  accuracy. Our own bomb dropping field was at Wildon near Graz, in the centre of which was a white wooden table of abt. 2 m side length. This was our target, but it was seldom hit by our bombs. Although it was claimed that Stuka were able to hit any target they dived on, such accuracy was  rarely achieved, as we dived from a height of  4.000 m at high speed, reaching 600 km despite dive brakes. If it happened, though, one had to pay for a case of beer. At the side of the bomb terrain were two bunkers to observe the hits. The lines were measured with a protractor and sent through to the control station where they were drawn on grid paper, and where the two lines met, there was the hit. On this paper was then added: “Bombenabwurfplatz Wildon, 15.9.1941, 16.32 h, Pilot Oberfähnrich Deibl, Treffer 28 m sűdöstl.vom Zielmittelpunkt”, (Hit 28 m south-east of target centre).

We were slowly getting familiar with  the 90 degree dive, because it was not easy for a well-honed, twenty-year-old body to master this flying manoeuver, even if it was 4.000 m down.  With the help of  all  possible and impossible exercises one  taught us how to master our machines, we were full of enthusiasm, healthy and courageous; all necessary requirements were present. Our unit’s exercises served the same purpose when we, as Kettenhunde, had to follow the leader of the Kette (flight leader) very close. I remember that Möbus once asked me, after we had swept across the airfield flying low: “Well, Deibl, flying rather careful today?”  I was so cross  I said to Gustl, who was flight leader: “Gustl, when we do low flying again, just be calm, I will move as close to you as possible.” And this is what I did, and with my right wingtip lamp hit his left wingtip lamp, breaking it. When I asked Möbus, who had observed all this from the ground, if I had flown close enough to the flight leader, he chased me away.

I forgot to say that the flight leader has a great responsibility when flying low. If he makes a left turn for instance,  he must consider carefully that his left  Kettenhund  may easily come near the ground, because he has his eyes fixed on the leader and follows him exactly.

At this stage of our training we were allocated our Bordschűtsen, rear gunners, i.e. we could select one. Rear gunner is one who defends the aircraft against attacks from the rear with his machine gun and  operates the Radio communication equipment. His most important task is to keep his eyes on the air behind  the aircraft, because enemy fighters almost always attack from the rear. A machine gun was fitted into the  cockpit  which the gunner could point in every direction. He sat against my back during a dive, which was not comfortable for him. We used special cues to tell me the attacker’s position, because if a fighter f.i. came from my left I had to turn left. This might sound paradoxical, but if I had turned right, the fighter would have had me right in front of his guns. There were many possibilities that  enemy fighters, and they were our main enemies, came from above, below or both sides.  For the pilot’s protection a steel sheet had been built between him and the gunner, with a little window that could be opened or shut. When we flew normally, the window was always open, and Willy Luberichs, that was the  name of my happy radio operator from the Rhein, was allowed to give me a piece of chocolate or something else. If it became critical or dangerous, I closed the steel plate. This might sound a bit horrible, because he looked the attacking enemy fighter right into the eyes.  But the pilot had to be protected since he had to bring the plane and the gunner back home.

Now back to Graz, where we were trained for all eventualities, and since we flew mostly in formation, this was also practised continuously. A stop watch was used  to check the time expired between the first and the last bomb hit. This period, measured in seconds, had to be as short as possible, and the planes had to dive very close after each other. For one inspecting General this period was too long, and we were sent up once again, having been urged to fly even closer. The result was that one of us, during diving, came so close to the pilot in front that his propeller cut off  his rudder. The outcome was terrible. Both planes dived “unsharpened” into the ground and four young men were dead.  But we were young, full of energy, enthusiasm for flying and well fed, and were able to put such terrible moments and tragedies behind us.

We spent many happy hours in Graz. As an example: There was a coffee restaurant with a large terrace almost next to our take-off, and when the girls in their summer dresses visited, sometimes complete classes, we  rolled along in our planes, windows open, and felt very proud, especially with our image being high in the public’s eyes. There were nice restaurants in  town  and  we  had enough money, and this gave me, for the third time in my career, five days detention.  According to my penalty document, I had been caught in the American bar after closing time,  making music,  and had refused to salute the military police patrol when it entered. What really had  happened  was that we did not leave the bar at 1 a.m.closing time after we had consumed a lot of drinks, but  instead wanted to make music. I played the piano, Fips the violin and Richard directed because as a North-German he was completely unmusical. Both were killed in Norway.

During my time in Graz I completed the glider exams  “C”  “on the side”. The reason was that the  Segelfliegerverein in Graz had no towing pilot and searched among us military pilots for  suitable persons. The law required that this pilot had to possess the glider pilot certificate. Since there was no one suitable, and I was very keen, I was given this certificate within a few days. Two friends joined me, and together we almost created a deadly accident. The towing pilot is connected with a rope to the glider which he tows  to  the altitude  requested. Has it been reached, he releases the rope and his aircraft circles low above the airfield and throws the rope to the ground. The helpers then collect the rope and secure it to the next glider. But not with me, a fully trained  Stuka pilot. Like a young idiot I put my aircraft into a dive to throw the rope right in front of the next glider to save them the trouble of collecting it. However, my training was not all that good, the rope fell onto the textile covered wing, almost cutting it off.  The damage was not severe, but I could easily have decapitated the pilot who was sitting in his glider. A bet with the Graz’ glider club almost made us into criminals. One of their unpleasant members bragged consistently that he could perform twenty loops from 1.000 m altitude with his glider. He did it long enough for Richard  to ask to be towed to this altitude, and he did twenty two loops, and I did twenty four afterwards, and the crazy Fips twenty eight, which brought him very close to the ground with his last one. When Möbus heard about this we were close to a report for: “Endangering people and property”. But we were cocky dogs, burning to be sent to the front against a real enemy, although it was not yet the time, because we had to be thoroughly trained.



 

At the Ergänzungsstaffel in Saloniki.


The reserve squadron of twelve operational aircraft belonged to a front line wing and was under the command of its Kommandeur .  This squadron was not stationed at the front but somewhere in the Hinterland. Our wing was  somewhere in Africa, and we at the airfield  in Saloniki. Losses of crews at the front were made good by us. We young pilots were given the final touches, and transferred pilots who had been at the front familiarized us with  the circumstances of the wing. Before this we also had  to face a reaction test which was simple and difficult at the same time. One sat at a small table on which coloured circles appeared. With the help of a similar coloured switch they had to be tilted, i.e. red circle, red switch. This was not too bad, but then all colours appeared at the same time, and up left a bell shrilled, and then one had to press a pedal with the right foot to stop it, and then top right a bell for the left foot. After  a short time to get used to it, a test paper was fitted to the table, and for ten minutes it was: left, right, up left, up right, red, yellow etc. The colours disappeared after a few seconds etc. The band next to me moved and punched a hole for every mistake and omission. This was not simple but very logical because too many holes signified slow reaction.

The move to Saloniki went by train from the Sűdbahnhof  where Friedl; said goodbye. My pain of parting caused me to forget my suitcase and everything else on the station platform. I only noticed this at Belgrade when I became hungry and wanted to look for the sausages mother had packed. My radioman Willy had to travel back to Vienna and I arrived in Saloniki in my stepping-out uniform and not service uniform which was in my suitcase. The first impression I made  must not have been a good one. But my happiness was great when I met Gustl  in our new surroundings who had been here for one week. .Now we flew and  trained the same dives, flying-, and attack manoeuvers in Greece we had done in Graz. Soon I received a compliment from the workshop supervisor of our squadron, Oberfeldwebel Fűrsching, from Bavaria. He always had to fly with the machines which left his workshop, and therefore knew the knowledge and peculiarities of everyone exactly. And he said: “You know,  this flying with different pilots is not really a pleasure.  But I really like to fly with you.” And this was spoken in the broadest Bavarian dialect.  

Every squadron officer had to be responsible for a job and therefore the squadron leader, Oberleuitnant Schubert, promoted me to “technical officer”, although I only knew little about technics. But perhaps Fűrsching was behind this, as I was his superior. But it made me laugh. And I did not beat around the bush. The pleasant side effect was that I could detail myself to collect spares from our depot in Vienna Neustadt, which once allowed me eight days holiday. It was like this:  Our aircraft had to have its wings exchanged, although they were not in stock in Vienna-Neustadt for type R2.  Nobody said anything to me and built wings of  Type R 1 into my plane. Generally, this was not really a problem and might not have been noticed by anybody. Now my proverbial luck kicked in in the person of a service man, who was from Pernitz, and he discovered it.  Following the usual greeting, he asked: “Is this your plane? We did not have the correct wings and have fitted  R1, because they believed you would not find out…”  I  thanked  him, promised to keep quiet and climbed into the plane with the responsible service supervisor.  Immediately after the start I began to trim the plane   continuously, and the supervisor, who could not see it from his seat, said over the intercom: