Today, there are only a few examples of intact Bf 110s still in existence, and there are not many people left who sat under its canopy. Fortunately, we were able to sit down with someone who spent most of the war with this aircraft. “Luther Haarte” flew the first half of the war as a radio operator/gunner, seeing firsthand the Blitz over England – and later fought in Russia. After being wounded twice in Russia, he was grounded. He served as a ground-based radio operator for a Luftwaffe forward air control unit when he was sent back to Russia. (Writer’s note: The subject’s name has been changed at his request. While he wanted to share the experiences of a typical German airman in World War II, he preferred to remain anonymous. No other details have been changed.)
His story, which began with his descriptions of the early campaign against Poland through the Battle of Britain and continued with his experiences on the Russian front, has been told here over the course of three installments. It is a first-person account of the aircraft and what it meant to be in military campaigns that suffered setback after setback due to poor planning, inadequate logistical support, and a seriously over-extended military.
This final installment focuses on the aircraft with which the Luftwaffe planned to replace the Bf 110, how Luftwaffe personnel viewed their enemies, and the last desperate months of the war.
How did German aircrews perceive their British counterparts?
Well for one reason or another, the Germans always had a respect for the British, for their discipline, for their warring, for their military toughness. The British are very tough, and we had respect for them.
For instance, if we saw that a British plane could not fight back because of the reasons of problems or no ammunition, whatever, we waved our wings and then let them go. The British did the same. The British never shot at pilots or airmen going down by parachute. Some Americans did. The British never, never did that. So, in other words, between the British and us – as bad as we were fighting each other, we respected each other.
My cousin was flying with the RAF at that time, and he later told me that he was always scared that he would one day see me in a German airplane.
And the bombing campaigns?
The British bombed the hell out of Germany. There’s no question about that. They did it in a criminal way, but we showed them how to do it. According to Goering, he was going to eliminate a whole city; he bragged about it. There wasn’t anything left there, just a city that was bombed to shit.
The Americans only bombed during the day, and the British only bombed at night. It was the British who did the most harm, because they had an effective system to get firestorms started when they bombed, which killed most of the people.
With all the aerial activity over Germany, was it common to come in contact with downed aircraft?
One night, there was heavy bombing in the town next to where we were stationed. It was so bad that our windows were shaking. And during that night, there was an English plane that came down maybe 200 yards from our camp and crashed in the ground.
The next morning, we went to look at it, and there were four people dead in there. They were Canadians. Our officers had the bodies dressed in coffins and buried with honors and a rifle salute. After all, they were doing their jobs the same way we were.
Later we crawled through their airplane to inspect it. The plane hadn’t burned, it blew apart. That plane was very well made. The first thing that jumped out was that the insulation on their electrical wiring was much better than ours – ours was always coming apart [laughs].
One of the crewmembers had stuck a picture of a girl onto the wall of that plane. She was very pretty, and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her and for him. They were all young people in that plane.
The air forces on both sides lost so many people in that war. We always noticed that the Americans didn’t even paint their airplanes. It didn’t matter if we shot them down, because new ones would just take their place – new planes with new crews.
Did you ever meet any American flyers after the war?
When I later moved to America, one of the guys in my factory had been an American airplane navigator who got shot down. He spent three years in a German prison camp. He told me that the worst part of that was the fact that officers weren’t allowed to work. The other men were sent to out to work on farms and other places – sometimes they would be given food from the families – but he had to spend the entire time behind bars.
Messerschmitt Me 210
In 1942, they moved us back to Germany—in Bavaria—and took all our planes away. They were going to be used as night fighters. And they gave us a new version of the 110, the Messerschmitt 210. It was a beautiful plane to look at, with a wide-open canopy and rear machine guns that were mounted on the side of the plane. Those were very nice because you could not shoot your own tail off anymore (Writer’s note: The Bf 210’s defensive guns were electronically controlled by the radioman, and their range of motion included up, down, and outward. A trigger cutoff was designed into the aiming system to prevent gunners from shooting their tails off).