December 28, 1944

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the old Sage
May 20, 2004
Platonic Sphere
from ace P. Spoden to me this morning ......... past recollections in part from his memory

Erich und Käthe

For a few days at least the Americans learned for the first time in the past century how to run backwards, something the Germans had been much better at than them for many years in the last part of the war. The Belgian town of Bastogne was encircled by German Panzer formations on 21 December 1944. It was feared that American paratroops would be brought in by night in gliders to relieve the town. According to the War Diary mentioned earlier NJG 6 scrambled nine Ju 88s and Me 110s on 27 December 1944 in the Bastogne-Metz -Sedan-Verdun area. My great-grandfather in 1871 and my father in 1916 had fought there as soldiers - what an irony of fate!

I can still remember that night very clearly. It was a clear, starlit night, and the peaks of the Eifel hills were snow-covered. In our Ju 88 2Z+FP we flew low through the valleys. >From a flying point of view that was admittedly not without its dangers, but it was still much better than flying higher and falling victim to one of the many British night fighters. In the vicinity of the front line we could see houses burning and light artillery fire. I flew twice through one valley, which was a mistake, because on the second pass I came under heavy fire from a hilltop, so that my port engine burst into flame. We were at an altitude of about 100 metres and between hills, and it would have been impossible for the four of us to bale out in an orderly fashion. In front of me I saw a snow-covered clearing in the forest, and I headed for it. Petrol off, belly landing, crash!

I hit my head on the gun-sight mechanism, began to bleed heavily and was dragged from the burning aircraft by my crew. Apart from a few painful bruises and grazes the other members of the crew, Wireless Operator Wilhelm Koy, Wireless Operator Bernhard Iwert and Air Gunner Friedrich Pelzer, had escaped injury. I was certain that I had been shot down by American Flak, so I called to the crew, 'Burn all the radio papers! Run for it!' Then we heard a German voice: 'Is there anyone alive here?' It was a German soldier on forward guard duty, and he was advancing cautiously towards the burning aircraft, his machine pistol at the ready, having seen the German markings on the fuselage. The first thing I asked him was who was in possession of the hill from which I had come under anti-aircraft fire. He said it was a high-school class with a German corporal from nearby Stadtkyll that had just been conscripted into the Flak Artillery. We were flabbergasted! We went to a dressing station, where our wounds were stitched and our scratches treated. One of the doctors working on my cuts remarked, 'Just like duelling wounds! You aviators are enjoying this war, aren't you?' That is something else that I still haven't forgotten . I could have hit him in the face!

In July 1996 a Herr Axel Paul from the Eifel area, a member of the Association for Rhineland War History, sent me a sketch of Lampertstal, where the remains of my Ju 88 2Z-FP had been discovered. He invited me to go with him to see the site. What could I say? I love forest walks but I did not want to go there again. On 25 July 2000 it had a frightful effect on me when I saw the Concorde crash with an engine on fire near Paris. What incredible good luck we had had in the Eifel!

The Battalion Commander of the Panzer Grenadiers put a jeep at our disposal,. and we drove out to the Flak position. It was unbelievable - the young fifteen- and sixteen-year-old anti-aircraft gunners had already painted a ring round the barrel of their two-centimetre gun, the sign for a kill. The corporal in charge of these immature soldiers looked at me wide-eyed and realised at once who I was. 'Herr Oberleutnant, I thought you were a Mosquito. There aren't many German machines any more. Please don't report me, or I'll be court-martialled!' I said I would do as he asked if he would get me twenty litres of petrol for me to get back to my Staffel.

The drive back to the airfield at Schwäbisch-Hall took me many days - or, rather, many nights. The January sky had cleared and all day long the Allies scrambled their entire air forces. Mustangs, Lightnings, Thunderbolts and Fortresses, shooting down everything that moved on the left bank of the Rhine. Railway trains, stations, bridges, passenger vehicles, lorries, school buses, even farmers behind their plough, everything came under attack. Electricity and telephones were things of the past. General Patton marched north and relieved Bastogne. The Ardennes Offensive had collapsed. My parents were informed that their son was missing. My father, who had long feared something of the sort, immediately hastened to Schwäbisch-Hall and was very happy when he found me after a few days, albeit with my head in bandages. He repeated his urgent plea, 'My son, don't get shot and killed. The war is over!'

On the airfield I showed him my brand-new Ju 88 G6 equipped with the latest radar. 'Everything's secret,' I told him, and I pointed to the Me 262 jets that were standing about, and the Me 163 rocket-powered fighter, and I mentioned the V1 and V2 rockets, the retaliation weapons for area bombing whose sites I had seen. 'Papa, we'll make it yet!' I told him, 'We've got to make it!' He just shook his head.

I must genuinely have believed it at that time, because I remember my words to my father in January 1945 very clearly. We often spoke about it after the war. I still had another four months to fly on night-fighter missions. End of the chapter.

Dear Erich, you know Peter Hinchliffe who had a fall and is in bad shape right now, translated my book. I dont know if you can bring this chapter in 12 OCH, I dont like "propaganda" for my book, but maybe not every one has my book and these lines show what was going on in these days in Germany.

To you and your wife "Ein Glueckliches Neues Jahr" Prosit Neujahr! Peter und Hannelore -
Thanks for the story Erich. It's always interesting to hear what the Germans were doing from their own lips, and not just our Intelligence Reports, which could also be innaccurate.

I suppose if I saw all these cool weapons like the Germans had, I would want to keep fighting too. But the Allies won by numbers. And cunning and high tech machines couldn't stop the pounds of heavy Allied weight crawling to Germany.
Thank you
It is the kind of story you don't usually get from the history books. The desperation of the last big push, the hope of forestalling the inevitable. High School "troops" trying their best and proud of it! Fighting for one's country, regardless of political ideologies, makes one proud and sad at the same time.

My former High School band director was a B.A.R. infantryman in the Arden that cold December. His unit was over-run and he was captured and sent to a POW Camp for the duration(he was one of the lucky ones). He did not like to talk about his experiences. A lot of pain there. A lot on both sides to go around.
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