But there were many accidents as we were getting trained to fly the 210. The plane would just suddenly drop out of the sky. Nobody could understand what was going on. Our casualties in training were as bad as when we were in Russia. Pretty soon, the people in Germany were talking about it, because they could see what was happening to the airplanes. So they took us away, and moved us to France for more training – near Tours. The same thing happened there, and pretty soon people were talking about it over there, too. So they made us stop flying those planes.
We were later told that there were two problems with the Bf 210. The first was that the fuselage was about one meter too short. We were also told that there was one little part in the plane, which was ersatz material, which broke and created the problems. But the major problem was that the plane was too short, and what we didn’t understand that a plane like this, which was too short and had problems, was on the production line – it was produced in numbers. To us, it was inconceivable that they could get that airplane into mass production with those problems. They should have found that out beforehand.
We were in Bavaria, I would say about two, three months, and then we were in Tours, another two, three months or more. Suddenly, the whole [training] stopped, and we got the 110s back, and they quickly they sent us back to Russia.
Did you ever fly in those 210s?
No, not at all. I was grounded at that time. Fortunately.
The 110 was eventually replaced.
Yes, the Messerschmitt 410 was a very, very good airplane, but it came too late in the war. During training, one of the Me 410s actually shot down a captured American fighter – a Mustang! But like I said, the plane came out too late to help us.
It was the same when Germany came out with the jets (Me 262). Nobody could believe those planes when they saw them. Coincidentally, many of our best (Bf 110) pilots were taken away to fly those new jets. One of our best pilots was a wing commander – I flew with him when he was lieutenant. He was a real wild one but a good pilot. Later he became a major and was taken away; we didn’t know where he went. I heard that he had been transferred to fly the jets (Me 262). Later on after the war, when Germany started rebuilding its air forces, I heard that he was made a general.
Toward the end of the war, they stopped giving us the twin-seater airplanes, and they just loaded us with 109s. Radio operators from the 110s were being quickly trained to fly. It was a desperate situation.
I would say we received about 60 Me 410 airplanes at most, and the rest of the pilots, they did not get one. They got an Me 109 or the Focke Wulf 190.
Were the 110 pilots excited to be reassigned to the 109s?
No. Not at all. Because to fly a fighter plane you needed a lot of training, which they didn’t get.
As a matter of fact, we lost so many 109s because the pilots were not that skilled that later, they took the radio operators from the 110s and trained them to fly the 109, which was even more of a disaster. They did that in hours and hours and hours to train them, then let them loose. They did not let them loose in Russia, which they would have a better chance, no? They were flying against the Americans and the British.
They had no chance.
Then we got orders again from the headquarters that if a plane was damaged, he was not supposed to fly back to seek safety. He had to ram an enemy plane like kamikaze. That was the order from Goering, yes, himself. Of course, nobody, nobody, nobody ever did that.
That was the end of war. They even gave us and the pilots, they gave medals, you know, for bravery and so on. But much more accepted and appreciated than medals was getting gift parcels with ham, and sausage, and all kind of things in it. And the bigger the medal was, the bigger the package was. I’m not kidding.
The gift package was more appreciated. (Laughs)
How many hours of flight training did radio operators receive before they were assigned to fly the 109s?
I would say about 21. At the most.
You must have been very happy to be grounded by this point.
That’s right. Very much. Because I wouldn’t be here anymore. It was ridiculous.
Were pilots assigned to the Bf 110 for the whole war?
We had fighter pilots that had hundreds of victories, you know, the old ones. And they got away with it, they were alive, they were all generals there. As a matter of fact, some of them, they became later on generals in the new German Luftwaffe. You know, after the war, when they started another army and then they were back again. Like the one I had been flying with at the beginning of the war, and then he was a major, he was an ace. And he disappeared with a lot of other good pilots. He was even an ace with the Me 110. He was a very brave man, and I was a very scared man, sitting in the back while he was doing what he was doing.
But years later – I would think it was in 1944 – he suddenly disappeared. He had about 65 victories. He and other officers which had been doing very well, they disappeared. (And those guys, I knew them; they weren’t Nazis, not at all. They were Germans – officers and that’s all. They were not… they were fighting for Germany, they believed in it.) So, they disappeared, and they wound up in the new jet plane groups. We found that out later – that they flew jet planes later on (Me 262).