Flying the 109

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Senior Airman
Aug 2, 2005
Campospinoso (PV), Italy
Spotted this in another forum, I think that by quoting the original poster I don't commit felony...

Here is the direct link
SimHQ Forums: Met a 109 pilot today....

Poster nick is : AntEater


As the title says...
Today, I spent a few hours of conversation with Manfred Leisebein.

The backround was that Mr. Leisebein had been at the annual JG 52 reunion which was taking place in Altenstein during the weekend, and afterwards he wanted to drop by at Speyer to have a look at the Bf 109G-4 "white 3" there, which was flown by JG 52.

He called the manager of the museum and told him to invite some friends. That included NSU (of "Bir Hacheim" campaign fame) and, through NSU, me...

Sadly Yogy and CSThor couldn't come, so it was just a very small group.
I had met a really famous Luftwaffe ace in April, Walter Schuck, but that was more like talking to a celebrity at a booksighning session, while today it was a private conversation.

Fähnrich Walter Leisebein began flight training in late 1944 and joined 3./JG 52 in December 1945.
He flew 35 combat sorties and shot down five russian aircraft and was awarded the EK II.
He went into russian captivity together with Hartmann and the rest of I. and III. JG 52.
He flew 109G-10s and G-14s in combat and 109G-6s and G-12s as well as Bücker 181 and others in training.

While being around 80, I was suprised how youthful he seemed to me, and how good his memory was. He pretty much seemed to recall every move in every air combat he ever flew.

He delved a lot into how it was to fly the 109, how tricky the takeoff and landing was if you were not used to its peculiarities, though he himself never had any serious takeoff or landing accident, except by combat damage.
Interesting was how difficult the fighting in 1945 Silesia was. While JG 52 certainly didnt suffer the same degree of losses as the west front units, it operated under far more primitive circumstances, with nonexisting ground control and from camouflaged bases which were literally air acres, not airfields.

Regarding the "how Il2 compares" question, he shed light on some points:

- 109s never lost any rudder or elevator control until around 800 km/h and you couldnt go faster with a 109 anyway.
- He never even noticed muzzle flash, even from the Mk 108, which was his weapon of choice against Il-2s
- You definitely could not hear any sounds of other aircraft or even weapons of enemy aircraft firing. He didnt notice a La-5/7 firing behind him until he looked back and looked directly into its gun muzzles.
- Drop tanks were hated because even the rack reduced speed by some 20 km/h
- nobody used manual prop pitch except to feather the prop for gliding and belly landings. It was possible to use it but nobody saw any point in it as the automatic always was more effective
- most feared enemy aircraft was the Yak-3, as it could outclimb the 109. However, he only encountered La-5 or La-7s, Yak-9s and Il-2s and once a Pe-2
- identification in the air was very difficult, and mostly nobody bothered with anything more than seeing red stars. After that, no one had time to think about anything else than survival and getting a kill
- Lavotchkin units were very agressive and sought offensive combat, yet they still engaged 4 Las with 2 109s once and no one was hurt on either side.
- Yak units mostly operated as close escort for Il-2s and flew defensively, rather seeking to draw off 109s from the Sturmoviks than to seek kills. Still he recalls them as very disciplined and good flyers.
- Il-2s usually flew tight low level formations of 5-8 planes which kept formation and left defense to the rear gunners, but once in a while one would do a crazy thing and go offensive.
- Nobody ever bothered about convergence. MGs were set to 200 meters and the cannon was not converging at all.
- it was extremely difficult to aim at low altitudes, as the ground effect buffeted your plane. This even became worse when he entered the enemy's prop wash.

Some things maybe unique for the theater he flew in:

- radio communications were extremely bad, often did not work at all.
- they flew in extremely bad weather. One of his Il-2 kills was made when the bottom of the clouds was just 250m above ground!
Such bad weather made any kind of altitude fighting impossible. They tried to sneak on Il-2s flying extremely low (3-4 meters on flat ground!) and if the escorts noticed them, they engaged in turning fights.
Flying into a cloud usually put you out of the fight for good, so you could always get away if you wanted, but if you came out again you had lost the enemy and your wingmen.
Basically no combat was above 2000 meters, and the only enemy plane he ever saw that was higher was a recon Pe-2 his leader failed to spot, even after he fired a warning burst over his plane!

- if low on fuel, he usually strafed russian troop columns with his remaining ammo until it ran out, but dedicated strafing or ground attack was not flown and he never dropped a bomb. JG 52 was strictly an air-to-air unit.

Historically interesting:
- he actually volunteered for a suicide mission (!) in April 1945, only to be turned down by his Staffelkapitän:"JG 52 pilots dont commit suicide, they shoot down enemy planes!"

- Erich Hartmann tried to drive through a wooden barracks building on a Kettenkrad while drunk

Apparently this happened on 8th May after he had just claimed his last victim and got dead drunk on the news that the war was over.

Regarding other aces, he knows most of them quite well. Mostly not because of his wartime merits, but because of his easygoing personality and his intelligence, I suppose. But JG 52 certainly has a strong comradeship until this day.

In wartime, Hartmann was his Gruppenkommandeur.
Hartmann had almost a godlike status to young pilots like him, and he quite seemed to enjoy it. Yet he was a responsible and very able leader who took great care of his men.
Being a little vein and being a real hero can go together

Of course nobody of the younger crowd called him Bubi, rather Herr Major.
Yet, even a young, relatively fanatical pilot like our Fähnrich openly disagreed with Hartmann regarding his "go close" method, as he was convinced that it wasnt necessary and the risk of damaging your plane by debris was too high.
Hartmann once put him in hack for three days because of a slight noseup while taxying and also for insulting his long serving supply officer. Still, in other units this might have caused official disciplinary action while Herrmann Graf had the strict "JG 52 internal" policy. No member of JG 52 was handed over to military justice for anything but a capital crime. This again shows how unjustly Graf was treated by Tolliver/Constable.
As a Leipziger, he was released into the GDR and tried to join the east german air force in the 1950s. He was refused, but not because of being a "fascist" pilot but because a relative had run away into the west!
Yet he still managed to log the occasional flying hour all these years while working as a construction engineer and still continues to fly today.
I can only recommend anyone who has the opportunity to do so, if you know a veteran, talk to him...
Not all of them may be such amicable and modest people like Leisebein, but it is still worth it.

Part 2

Some points I forgot:

- He told that pilots were urged to use Methanol (MW50) only in emergency.
Theoretically the engine could sustain 10 minutes of use but that was a chance no one was willing to take. There were good engines who might tolerate even longer use and there were bad ones which seized up as soon as you activated Methanol.
He himself used it for hard climbing turns while evading Lavotchkins.

- Quality of planes was still not a problem until the very last Messerschmitt. There were cases of deliberate sabotage but usually the planes were reliable and had no structural deficits.

- He usually sighted by tracer, at least in non deflection shots. MG hits on Il-2s gave spectacular ricochets which you couldnt miss and as soon as you saw that, you fired the cannon.

- Evading rear gunners after a firing run was done by passing over the Il-2s as close as possible to give the gunners a high deflection target for a short time only.
Generally only one pass was made and usually the Rottenflieger engaged as well after the leader had made his run.

How he got into JG 52:
As usual he had volunteered for Reich defense and was trained in order to engage four-engined bombers. At this time advanced and operational training was merged to save fuel (which didnt exactly improve training).
He never met Herrmann Graf (Kommodore of JG 52 in 1945) personally but a friend from training did so at his birthday. Leisebein was invited as well but he couldnt come as that was before 1990.
Apparently Graf was on leave in the region, he came from the area near Lake Constance where advanced training was, and visited the school to recruit new pilots for JG 52.
Apparently he told the commander of the school something like "give me the best ones" and so Leisebein and some others recieved news that they would join JG 52 instead of Reichsverteidigung the very moment they were packing their bags!
They were overjoyed by the prospect, as JG 52 had a legendary reputation and east front fighting was an individualists war, not the large-formation mass combat in the west.
Basically, Graf saved his life, as hardly anyone of the new pilots sent to the Reichsverteidigung survived...
yes, very interesting
I should learn Japanese so i could meet some Japanese vets around the place myself
Great read. Thanks for writing and posting it. Not enough of that sort of thing around.

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