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April 7, 1945

Dad was flying '10 Shillin' Annie (12 pence=1 shilling, 20 shillings=1 pound) on April 7.

The war was nearing an end, but on April 7 something new was added. Over a thousand bombers ranged out over various targets in Germany and the escort fighters tangled with a score of jets and a potent force of Me-109s and FW-190s, the first they had met for some time.


By September 1944 Allied forces were exerting what was to prove fatal pressure in their stranglehold of the Reich. Within the increasingly desperate remains of the Third Reich many proposals were considered by German commanders-plans which would stop or even repel the invading enemy forces. Whilst facing the unending onslaught from the feared Soviets in the East, the Reich was being forced to endure a ceaseless bombardment by the aircraft of both the RAF and the United States Army Air Forces, whose aircraft roamed at the head of the relentlessly advancing Allied formations.

The once mighty Luftwaffe had been reduced by both combat attrition and bombardment to a mere shadow of its former glory. With the seemingly invincible Allied air forces visible daily over what remained of the Reich, civilians and ground forces alike had come to view the remnants of Reichsmarschall Goring's force, especially the fighters of the Jagdwaffe (Fighter arm of Luftwaffe), with distaste and scorn. The promise of 'wonder weapons' offered the only encouragement to those still involved in the daily battle of survival. Plans for counter-attacks or a concentration of forces to repel these invaders existed in profusion, but all such hopes depended on one vital ingredient-a Luftwaffe force able to gain the upper hand over its adversaries.

To both members of the armed forces and their leaders, a means to gain this vital control did exist: the Luftwaffe's jet aircraft. What was needed was a breathing space in which this force could be built, strengthened and fully trained. Having endured over six years of continued combat, the Luftwaffe was left with few experienced leaders. Those who had survived through exceptional skill and excessive good fortune would be required to lead any rebuilt force. It was therefore essential that the proposals being drafted allowed this nucleus to pass on their knowledge.

By 1944 Oberst Hajo Herrmann had come to realize that the Reich was doomed. Numerical superiority and a massive production programme by the Allied powers was proving capable of wearing down all remaining resistance. What he and others now wished for was the opportunity to survive. Such survival required the fight to continue, until the Allies could be forced to offer acceptable terms. In another bold proposal, he resurrected his plan from the summer of 1944 which called for a massed formation of younger, inexperienced pilots to be employed in a decisive action against the USAAF. He considered the existing propeller-driven fighter aircraft now surplus to requirements: their crews would be more suitably employed in conversion to the jets. This force could be used in a final operation which would remove the USAAF bombers from the skies above the jet bases, allowing the force to be strengthened and fully trained. Herrmann's plan would, in effect, result in the last flight of the conventional Luftwaffe, which would then be allowed time to rebuild itself and emerge as a formidable jet force:

The time until Me 262 operations can be expanded must be bridged; the time is also approaching by which the conventional fighter force, which, as is known, has only a slight prospect of success, will be completely exhausted and grounded. We need to achieve success of such numerical significance that the enemy will change both the frequency of his attacks and his methods. We need the consequences that only success can bring. The enemy's reserves of personnel and equipment are known. The enemy has fought for months and sustained few casualties. Therefore, the enemy is reluctant to take risks and would be hard hit by a heavy loss of blood. Our Luftwaffe men possess high operational motivation. No change can be expected or hoped for in the coming weeks using other means and methods.

Schulungslehrgang 'Elbe'
(Training Course 'Elbe')

It must again be stressed that all involved in these preparations, both the young pilots and their commanders, were seeking a method of escaping the impact of fighter and bomber. Having accepted the task ahead and the importance of the mission to the Jagdwaffe, to the Luftwaffe and to Germany, each pilot had his own clear plan. At the given signal the pilots intended to launch their aircraft, reach the bombers whilst avoiding the USAAF escorts, claim their victim and then parachute to safety. Yes, their mission was dangerous, and yes, the costs would be high, but if they completed their task as expected they themselves would live to fight again, having proved their worth in combat. More importantly still, the USAAF would suffer a shock defeat sufficiently severe to halt its daylight operations for a desperately needed period.

It was accepted that the modified Schulungslehrgang 'Elbe' fighters would be unable to defend themselves in the face of US escort fighters and Herrmann's plans had accordingly been modified: the mission planned for 7 April would now be a large-scale operation with every available fighter in northern Germany joining the force. As Luftwaffe High Command issued the appropriate operational orders, it was something of an irony that a mission intended to allow a breathing space for the building of a large jet force would be allocated a protection force consisting mainly of Me 262s. To provide additional support to the 'Elbe' force and to join their attack upon the American bombers, further conventional fighter units were included in the revised plans.

Routes to targets
click image to enlarge
Routes to targets, 7 April 1945
It is easy to tell the origin of German cities by studying their names. Many town names in southern Germany end with heim (Mannheim, Rosenheim). This means they were settled by Frankish people. (Not everyone is aware of the fact that France has a German name. The Germanic people who overran the Roman province of Gaul in the fifth century were called the Franks. This name came from the Old Germanic word for "free". These people had never been under Roman rule, and were renowned for their hatred of Roman rule and civilization.) The ending syllable furt (as in Frankfurt) means the town grew up around a ford, a place where travelers could wade across a river. If town names end or begin with reuth, reut, reute, rode, or rath (Bayreuth, Reutlingen), this means space for the original village was hacked out of a forest (roden in German). Many towns in southern and western Germany were founded by the Romans. All names ending in weiler, weier, wihl, or weil (Appenweier, Rottweil) came from the Latin word villa, meaning house. The ending kastel, as in Bemkastel, stems from the Latin word castellum, or castle. If a town name ends with burg (Hamburg), the town grew around a German castle, a Burg.

USAAF Field Order 1914A

The USAAF mission of 7 April 1945, Field Order 1914A, was officially the 931st raid by crews of the Eighth Air Force. This mission was to be the target for the pilots of Schulungslehrgang 'Elbe'. An examination of the list of targets selected by Eighth Air Force commanders finds a typical mission for this late-war period. Targets had been selected from the high-priority list and concentrated upon ordnance depots and jet airfields.

The Liberators of the 2nd AD were to fly a route similar to those elements of the 3rd AD who had targets around the city of Hamburg. They would cross into Europe near Harlingen after flying over Texel Island. From here their route, until the time they returned to their bases, would be almost parallel to that of the 3rd AD. The routes had been planned to allow enough airspace between these two Divisions so that they could be dispatched simultaneously to their various targets.

The crews had been woken just before 0200 to find an airfield blanketed by ground fog, with visibility reduced to only twenty yards. Whilst the bleary-eyed men huddled together in loose groups attempting to eat their early breakfast, one of many topics of conversation was the weather: would the mission still go ahead? By the time of their briefing, 0255, the crews found that the initial postponement of thirty minutes had been changed again. The new orders which reached the Group from their headquarters at High Wycombe informed them of the rescheduled zero hour: take-off would be at 1030. Upon hearing the revised takeoff time many men complained about the now unnecessary early start to the day. In quite a few of the post-mission reports a common complaint amongst Eighth Air Force crews was that no extra provision had been made to feed the crews again before their mission began-a long wait for bored and hungry young men.

The Eighth Air Force field orders for 7 April indicate that the Luftwaffe jets were expected again to make an appearance. The clear weather forecast over the target areas and the Jagdwaffe airfields would allow the jets to reach the bombers despite possibly being delayed by lingering patches of weather on take-off. Intelligence reports suggested that a jet force estimated to be around 50 aircraft could be brought to bear. Interestingly the orders suggested that it would be the B 24 Liberators of the 2nd Air Division which would receive the most concentrated attacks by the defending fighters. This resulted from the forecast improvement in weather conditions as the day progressed which would coincide with the Liberators' attacks. With such a threat being posed by the strong formations, all the escort fighters on this day were forbidden to attempt freelance patrols and strafing attacks and were instead told to ensure that close support was provided for the bombers.

Over 1,300 bombers and almost 850 fighters were launched by the USAAF for this mission, and their presence was reported quickly, via the remaining communication links, to the headquarters of Fliegerkorps (AirCorps) at Treuenbrietzen. The assembly of the force would not have been the first sign of an imminent attack. Throughout the morning the Luftwaffe would have been intercepting both the signals of the Eighth Air Force units in England and also the reports from the weather and route scouts already airborne in advance of the main force. Although the targets could not yet be forecast with any accuracy, these initial warnings were common indicators of large formations, indicators which the Luftwaffe had a great deal of experience in interpreting. This activity was enough to persuade Oberst Hajo Herrmann to issue an order which placed the Schulungslehrgang 'Elbe' force on standby.

With the Eighth Air Force formations assembled and now on the first leg of their journey, their approach was monitored by the remaining elements of the Luftwaffe's early warning systems. With their foe approaching, the time had come for the young Luftwaffe pilots of Schulungslehrgang 'Elbe' to climb into their fighters. Special attention had been given to the collection of parachutes: unlike normal operations, if these pilots succeeded they would be returning to their airfields after having used their parachutes. The pack containing the carefully folded silk was today a very important piece of equipment. All of those men collected on the airfields occupied by the Schulungslehrgang 'Elbe' fighters, whatever their role, knew what lay ahead. After all the planning and preparation, for the young men in the cockpits the time to do battle had arrived.

As the first bomber formations reached the Dutch coast the escorting fighters, their 'Little Friends', positioned themselves to defend their flock. By 1100hrs the leading groups were over Holland itself and this now enabled an estimated plot to be calculated by the staff at Treuenbrietzen. The bombers seemed to be heading for the area between Hanover and Bremen, and in about an hour they could become the targets for the 'Elbe' pilots. Oberst Herrmann committed his force.

With its short take-off run, each fighter was seemingly keen to join the others in its mission. The Schulungslehrgang 'Elbe' operation was at last under way. In a matter of hours, when all the reports were in, Oberst Herrmann would discover if his plans had succeeded. At the five airfields nearest to the incoming bombers, a total of 120 Messerschmitts had been launched. The time was just after 1115. On take-off the resounding notes of martial music were broadcast over their headphones to the pilots; as the pilots climbed to gain altitude and their mission began in earnest, this music was replaced by a woman's voice reminding them of the dead of Dresden and of the hopes of their family and friends.

At this point it is perhaps worth examining the radio messages reaching the ears of the German pilots and also being recorded by the Allied listening stations. It had become standard practice in both daylight and nocturnal Luftwaffe operations for a running commentary to be given to guide fighter pilots to their quarry. On 7 April this commentary was again quickly noted by Allied listening posts: a defensive operation was under way. What distinguished today's broadcasts was the inclusion of the patriotic slogans and various appeals to the pilots. Obviously lacking in navigation skills, the Schulungslehrgang 'Elbe' pilots required a commentary which attempted to place the fighters in the correct airspace. The other sections of the transmissions were attempts to reinforce the commitment of the pilots to their task. Although something of a melodramatic touch-after all, the pilots had already decided their reasons for taking part-the commentary did serve to concentrate the minds of many. To this day, even after the passage of so many years, many of the Schulungslehrgang 'Elbe' survivors clearly remember the voice of the woman who seemed to be speaking directly to them, reminding them of the destruction wrought upon their homes by the hated bombers they were about to face.

At about midday the USAAF formations began the turn on to the leg of their journey which would carry them towards their target areas. Near to Lubeck the leading bomber crews prepared themselves for the hardest part of their flight. As well as facing any danger from flak above their targets, they were now approaching the areas where the Jagdwaffe was known still to hunt. Despite the reduced danger now posed by the depleted enemy force, each gunner, in each bomber, began to search his section of sky for any warning of the approach of an unfriendly fighter.

Combat

As the radio began to report the growing contacts and sightings, the American pilots found themselves in an action of a scale not seen for some time. It could no longer be assumed that the approaching dark shape would turn out to be a friendly fighter. Any aircraft, especially any approaching the massed ranks of bombers, was carefully followed by many watchful eyes. With so many aircraft now becoming concentrated within a relatively small area of sky, the number of encounters increased-as did the confusion.

The Thunderbolts of the 56th FG spotted some of the Me 262 force as they approached their flock of bombers near Nienburg. Their immediate reaction was to turn towards the menacing jets. This was exactly the response the German pilots had hoped for, the escort force being drawn away from the bombers.

The B-24s of the 2nd AD and their escorts continued to record the first clashes as they moved across the skies towards their targets. It was the approach of Me 262s which signaled the start of today's action as the bombers flew towards their target at Duneburg. Flying to the north of the leading bombers, as they began to approach the Weser south of Bremen, the first tell-tale contrails of approaching Me 282s. It was now approximately 1220. The airwaves began to fill with reports of the jets. They were flying at about 30,000ft and were now clearly heading for the Liberators.

In combat reports pilots described how the jets had flashed through the bomber stream without firing; as they circled back, seemingly intent upon preparing for a fresh pass, they were driven off by the sight of approaching Mustangs. A more likely interpretation is that the Me 262s were being flown according to the orders of the day, attempting to draw away the escorts without engaging the bombers, leaving these targets unprotected for the following conventional fighters. This interpretation seems quite accurate as the P-51s were led further and further from the bombers. By the time they broke contact they had been led down to 15,000ft into the area around Bremen.

The Turn

As the battle began to rage in the skies above Luneburg Heath the USAAF crews realized that they were experiencing an attack of a scale not matched for some time, Both the number of Luftwaffe fighters in the air today and the tactics being employed marked 7 April as unusual. Until now each day's mission had been recorded in a diary, reflecting the steady decline in the defensive operations mounted by German aircraft.

Regardless of the unexpected ferocity of the attacks upon them, the bomber crews were attempting to keep to their timetable. The planned left turn by the B-24s of the 2nd AD towards their targets near the River Elbe was a little ahead of schedule and in the circumstances perhaps a little ragged. But by 1230hrs the trailing bombers had completed their maneuver and the entire formation was on its new heading.

The determination of the young 'Elbe' pilots and the sheer numbers of fighters approaching the bombers ensured that today the Viermote (Four-engine bomber abbreviation) would not pass unmolested. At the head of the 2nd Air Division's four combat wings was the 2nd CBW, and leading this formation were the B-24s of the 389th BG. The 'Sky Scorpions' were being led by their group commanding officer, Colonel John B. Herboth Jr. Finding his force on the receiving end of so much unwanted attention, Herboth would have wished to get his crews to their targets and then on to their route home as soon as possible. With his attention focused upon his unenviable task, he was undoubtedly unaware of the approach of a Bf 109, piloted by a young German on his first combat mission. This 'Elbe' pilot was Unteroffizier Heinrich Rosner, who had volunteered for the operation soon after he had qualified as a pilot with III./JG 102. Somehow he had avoided the escorts and, now in the air to the west of Soltau, had found the hated bombers. He required no further bidding, knowing he had been fortunate to get this close to his target. Pushing his Messerschmitt into a dive, he had selected as his quarry the Liberators leading the formation before him.

The last seconds before Rosner's fighter impacted with Herboth's B-24 are understandably confused. The propeller of the 'Elbe' fighter ripped into the huge four-engine bomber before the crew could react. The extent of the damage this caused is difficult to judge. Whether it was enough to bring the bomber down instantly or whether Colonel Herboth was at the time attempting to haul his aircraft away from the enemy attack, the result was horrific. Although the Messerschmitt and the Liberator appeared to part company, the bomber then swung wildly from its position at the head of the formation and was brutally thrown on to its nearest neighbor. Both of the bombers were unable to survive such a collision, indeed it is amazing that both were not instantly engulfed in a fireball. In the second B-24 Lieutenant-Colonel Kunkel the Deputy Leader of the Group, miraculously regained control of his bomber, but only for a brief moment. He hoped that he could provide his crew with the seconds they needed to escape, but his efforts were frustrated as the dying bomber began to break apart around him. As the first B-24 fell to earth the second was following close behind. The 389th BG and so the 2nd Air Division had in a matter of seconds been robbed of their leaders.

This account of the downing of Colonel Herboth's 24 varies greatly with Dad's account on the previous page and others. Steve Birdsall in Log Of The Liberators describes it: "About half the interceptors managed to break through the fighter screen, and a Messerschmitt 109 screamed into the nose of the 389th Pathfinder leading the Second Air Division to Dunenberg. The decapitated Liberator lurched into the left wing of the deputy leader, and both fell in a horrifying torrent of flame and torn metal. In the wreckage was Colonel John Herboth, the 389th's commander."

Recalling how the story was related to me by Dad and the rest of the crew, these are added elements to the event: Dad was on Colonel Herboth's right wing. The Me 109, though shot up was still flying past on Dad's left wing, where he said he could tell that the pilot was passed out (his head laying to one side), it was black lacquered and had several battle markings. As it flew on, it continued to receive fire but returned none, all of a sudden it snapped rolled into the lead, as if the pilot had regained consciousness and made one last attempt at a kill, but Dad and the crew could not tell for sure. They saw no chutes from the 109 or either 24.

They did know, however, that Freddie (their bombardier) was in the lead and given that and even though they were now damaged and still being shot at, I think this is a more accurate telling.

The Bombers Reach Their Targets

Despite the best efforts of the Jagdwaffe, the bombers of the Eighth Air Force had continued to fly towards their targets. Although in some places the formations were ragged and spaces indicated where aircraft had been torn from their positions, the remaining crews maintained course. The first aircraft to approach their targets were the Liberators of the 2nd AD, the 2nd/20th CBW being fractionally ahead of the other formations and the first to open their bomb bays. At 1257 the first bombs had fell free from the racks of the B-24s of the 389th BG on the ammunition factory at Duneburg, situated on the western edge of Geesthacht. This target had in total 350 tons of bombs dropped upon it by 128 aircraft within a space of five minutes. Before the trailing bombers had turned from the target the site was visibly shaken by a huge explosion which appeared at the center of what had been identified as the explosive distribution area.

Four minutes after the first B-24s released their loads on Duneburg the first of 452 tons of bombs were falling upon the other explosive production site at Krummel, dropped by the leading Liberators of the l4th/96th CBW. Again the site was well targeted and a number of explosions followed the initial bombing. As the aircraft then swung north-west to commence their return flight, the last of the day's targets for the 2nd AD bombers, their secondary target at the railway yards at Neumunster, was shaken by the first of 70 tons of bombs which fell at 1327. At Neumunster the bombing was more widespread and the Eighth Air Force post-combat reports admit that the built-up housing area of the town received a number of hits. Interestingly, surviving German reports indicate that in these raids the greatest damage was inflicted upon the railway targets, a destruction which would be increased by the 3rd AD which would follow. In these initial raids the greatest loss of life had resulted from the bombing of Kummel, where 108 people were killed.

And so the B-17s and B-24s of the Eighth Air Force headed for their bases. In total, 1,257 bombers had succeeded in releasing their bomb loads over or near to their targets, the vast majority of which were first priority. A total of 3,446 tons of bombs fell upon Germany and on the whole achieved their intended objective. Four Luftwaffe airfields suffered quite extensive damage, and although few aircraft appear to have been destroyed two of these airfields had been rendered inoperable. The rail network had again suffered extensive disruption, which was made worse by the number of munition and supply trains destroyed or damaged during the attacks. As well as the destruction of such urgently needed supplies, on their way to front-line troops, perhaps more important was the damage inflicted upon production facilities. Not only was the transportation system being systematically smashed but the means to replace the destroyed weapons and ammunition were also being removed. Whilst attempts were being made to reduce the arms industry to rubble, the equally important oil facilities had again been targeted. Although not decisively carried out on 7 April, the raids upon Buchen and Hitzacker disrupted any remaining production and added to the damage needing to be repaired. In addition, even before the costs to the bomber crews and fighter pilots are considered, these operations had already accounted for the loss of up to 850 lives on the ground.

As the American bombers returned to their collection of airfields in England, the initial reports of the attacks they had suffered began to be confirmed by the crews. As the debriefing sessions began, the crews who had found themselves under attack made a special point of commenting upon the ferocity of the Luftwaffe fighters. Whilst for some time the greatest danger had been posed by the jet fighters, the bombers had today found that the single-engine conventional force seemed to have proved themselves still capable of striking a severe blow. As the intelligence officers recorded details of the attacks, the number and method of these assaults began to give cause for concern. Later, as these reports were being coordinated, the attacks by the Schulungslehrgang 'Elbe' aircraft were highlighted amongst the Luftwaffe operations. It is unclear whether at this stage a determined effort was made to play down these attacks or whether more senior officers decided that it was simply the inexperience of Luftwaffe pilots which had accounted for the rammings. Whatever the reason, as the reports were being typed and distributed, the official interpretation of events had been decided upon.

It is quite obvious that, had the rumors of 'suicidal pilots' operating against the Eighth Air Force bombers had been allowed to circulate, Oberst Herrmann would have achieved an important success. Many of the crews had been shaken by the Schulungslehrgang 'Elbe' operations, and the news that ramming by enemy fighters had been intentional, successful or not, would have given understandable cause for concern amongst the crews. The reports prepared by the staff of Brigadier Charles Y. Banfill, the Eighth Air Force's Director of Intelligence, included the following analysis of the day's Luftwaffe action:

After a lapse of several weeks during which conventional single-engined enemy aircraft have largely been non-active partners in the air war and even when encountered have shown very little fighting spirit, today in excellent flying conditions the Luftwaffe put up a force of some 115-130 single-engined fighters supplemented by 50-plus jets. From all reports it appears that this was a desperation attempt on the part of the enemy, and although enemy aircraft fought aggressively and made determined efforts to get through to the bombers our losses were comparatively light while more than half the enemy force was destroyed or damaged. Signs of desperation are evidenced by the fact that Fw 190 pilots deliberately rammed the bombers, balling out before their planes went into the formations and making fanatical attacks through a murderous hail of fire. Tactics were thrown to the wind and attacks were made from all positions, mainly in ones and twos.

Mention of Fw 190s being involved in the attacks is of interest. When Brigadier Banfill forwarded his memorandum to his commander he commented further on this aspect:

The desperation of the enemy attacks and the closeness and abandon with which they were pressed seemed to be evidence of 'suicidal ramming'. These were not suicidal ramming attacks, but in each case were aircraft clearly out of control either through injury to pilot or structural failure of attacking aircraft. The closeness of attack has given rise to rumors of ramming but review of complete Division experience fails to substantiate ramming theory.

Evidence in the form of P.O.W. reports had previously indicated that a special Jagdstaffel (Fighter squadron) of Focke Wulf pilots were experimenting with ramming. Reportedly they were practicing a maneuver whereby they could catapult themselves from their aircraft after removing the canopy but prior to the actual ramming. This has never been substantiated.

Clearly, news of the operations and tactics (short sharp attacks en masse at close range) of the earlier Sturmstaffeln had reached the headquarters of the Eighth Air Force. When the events of 7 April were examined it was naturally assumed that the ramming attacks were possibly from such a force. But despite the existence of intelligence reports suggesting that such a force may have existed, the official version was clear: the ramming had not been intentional. Any rumors to the contrary were being quashed.

With the Luftwaffe combat operations of 7 April having led Eighth Air Force officers to decide that it was necessary to halt the rumors of intentional ramming attacks, the stage seemed now perfectly set for the German propaganda machine to exploit the action of Schulungslehrgang 'Elbe'. Having been promised by General Koller that an initial success would be backed by a large-scale operation, Oberst Herrmann felt that his plans had been justified. Had his pilots not proved their courage and, despite their limited numbers, had they not succeeded in achieving a number of victories?

Despite the devastation of Germany and the destruction of her armed forces, the various elements continued their own feuds and pointed the finger of blame for failure at each other. After the failure of an SS division to provide the required defense of its assigned area, the entire division had been stripped by Hitler of its honor title and its personnel ordered to remove from their uniforms the armbands which carried this ornately embroidered wording. At this disgrace Reichsfuhrer Himmler protested that the Luftwaffe's greater failure had not resulted in a similar punishment. Amidst the collapse of the combined defenses, that such arguments could still continue is incredible. The deteriorating situation was duly recorded by Dr Goebbels, who wrote further of the Schulungslehrgang 'Elbe' mission:

The first use of our suicide fighters has not produced the success hoped for. The reason given is that the enemy bomber formations did not fly concentrated, so that they had to be attacked individually. In addition our suicide fighters encountered such heavy defensive fire from the enemy fighters that only in a few cases were they able to ram. But we must not lose courage as a result. This is only an initial trial which is to be repeated in the next few days, hopefully with better results.

Having initially recorded his misunderstanding of the role of these pilots, he also clearly showed his failure to understand their planned mission.

What was now to become of Hajo Herrmann's pilots? In the skies above them the answer was abruptly written on 8 April. A force of over 1,100 Eighth Air Force bombers returned again to their targets in Germany, seemingly oblivious to the previous day's attacks by Schulungslehrgang 'Elbe'.


There had been other collisions during the forty-five minute battle, and it was thought that these were the result of overly zealous attacks by poorly trained fighter pilots or damaged aircraft gone out of control. Intelligence reports showed it was something else, something the Americans found hard to comprehend. Volunteers had been formed into a group known as Sonderkommando Elbe (Task force Elbe USAAF designation); they had been filled full of Nazi propaganda and sent out to win the war and turn back the bombers by ramming them. The one concession to the civilized mind was that they were permitted to bail out once their planes were certain to hit their target. Of eighteen bombers lost on April 7 eight were believed to be victims of the suicide force, which was evidently never sent against the Eighth again.

2nd AD Targets, 7 April 1945
PriorityTargetSortiesEffectiveTonnageResults
Primary
Primary
Secondary
Krummel explosive plant
Duneburg explosive plant
Neumunster M/Y
148
192
128
168
26
350.0
452.8
70.0
V good
V good
V good

322

872.8
Information based upon 8th AF HQ summary No 342

An Additional "Last Word" On Duneberg

I have read all the different versions of the mission to Duneberg on 7 April, 1945 during which a ME109 took out three of our planes including the Lead and Deputy Lead. Some have claimed it was a suicide attack. I had a ring side seat that day, the left waist gunner in the high right. My version was that the pilot of the ME109 stalled out over the formation with every top turret firing at it. It looped around and hit the two leaders head on. I have claimed that the pilot was dead when he hit the two leaders.

'Gefreiter' (Private First Class) Heinrich Rossner was the pilot of the Me109. He survived the head on collision and passed away in 2001. When I first read that a few years ago, I still had my doubts, but since then I have been in touch with Arno Rose, a classmate of Rosner's in the Ram Unit and he has sent me information about their training and participation regarding the mission of 7 April, 1945.

With all of Arno Rose's evidence in hand, I have to believe that there was a unit in the Luftwaffe trained to ram our bombers and that the pilot on April 7 at Duneberg was Heinrich Rosner who survived the mission.

Arno Rose goes on to write: "It was not a suicide mission, but nearly. They rammed intentionally, but should survive if even possible. They had parachutes. Almost 50% of the ram pilots who really rammed survived - even Rosner, the pilot who rammed Col Herboth's and Major Tolleson's heavies." Arno continues, "I knew him personally. After the war he became a teacher. We both, and others, volunteered to the German Ram unit. The German leaders intended to bring down hundreds of heavies during one mission to shock the American airmen. The ram attack of April 7, 1945 was only a test. If it had had more effect, they planned to bring up a force of 1000 ram fighters at once. But wise men hindered a second mission - one reason why I am still living."

Arno recommends the book "The Last Flight of the Luftwaffe, the Suicide Attack on the Eighth Air Force, 7 April 1945" by Adrian Weir. (Arno disagrees with the word suicide.) The book covers all three divisions of the 8th AF on that mission. I found a few mistakes regarding Rosner's head on collision with the 389th. The author claims our lead plane, after being hit by Rosner's ME109, veered into the deputy lead. That did not happen. The lead plane went down immediately and the deputy lead stayed level for a few seconds, then gained altitude, then headed straight down without spinning.

I had a check of the Stars & Stripes for the April dates following the raid and there is no mention of Luftwaffe pilots intentionally ramming our planes. This can be interpreted in two ways. First, no one thought the rammings were intentional although some B17s were rammed that day. Second, if the brass at HQs thought the ramming intentional, they didn't want to encourage further attempts by giving any statistics to the Germans. As I remember, during the V-1 attacks, the British press did not give exact locations of their landings, in some cases even giving false information.

So here I sit with a red face. I would have bet a months pay that the pilot of the ME109 could not have survived those collisions.

Earl Zimmerman. Here we go again? An Additional "Last Word" On Duneberg. 389th Bomb Group Newsletter. Vol., 18 #3 Summer, 2005.

The Last Flight of the Luftwaffe: The Suicide Attack on the Eighth Air Force, 7 April 1945 The Last Flight of the Luftwaffe: The Suicide Attack on the Eighth Air Force, 7 April 1945

By April 7, 1945, Germany had to struggle to stop the invading enemy forces, relying on small-scale operations that required limited quantities of fuel and weapons, and calling upon relatively inexperienced air crews. How did one of the world's most victorious airforces come to such a crisis? The answer lies in this amazing story, told in minute-by-minute detail, of the Luftwaffe's final flight, and the suicide mission directly into a raiding formation of US bombers.




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Hillard E. Johnmeyer | 2nd Lt. Hillard Johnmeyer | Heath Elliot Johnmeyer | Land-based - The Army | Lineage Of The United States Air Force | Marine Corps | The Navy | Private Military Companies | Firearms Have Purchased Our Unique Way Of Life | Military Rank And Insignia | The Three Services | Support For The Troops And Their Families | Military Tribunals | United States Wars & Conflicts | Infatuation With War | French and Indian War | The American Revolution | The Indian Wars | War Of 1812 | The State Of Texas | The Mexican War | The Civil War | Spanish-American War | World War | Since The Second World War | Smaller, Undeclared Wars | Weapons And Equipment | Why Men Fight?
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