The first WWII casualty on British soil.

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The first Luftwaffe bombing on British soil took place on November 13,1939 northeast of the mainland of Scotland. at Sullom, Northmavine, Shetland . Of the 8 bombs which were dropped only 4 were dropped on land, the other 4 landed in sea.

Eye witness Laurence Shuardson said the following of the air raid.

I was going to school and I had two miles to walk. I was on top of a hill at a place called Bobby Ratter Loch, when this black pencil like aircraft came from behind me. I could see the people in the aircraft, it was that low. I later found out it was a Dornier 17.

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As it passed over the guns started firing from Sullum Voe, the shells were dropping in the sea and exploding in the air. I took fright, ran down the hill to see my friends and told them that I wasn’t going to school that day, and then I ran all the way home and hid in a haystack.

The bombs and shells were dropping in the sea and making big splashes. One hit near a village school. My uncle, who was a haulage contractor helping to build the airfield at Sullum Voe, went and picked up a fragment of this bomb. It lay around the house for years as a doorstop.

Apparently the only casualty was a rabbit; and there were pictures in the national press about this rabbit. I was led to believe that the ‘Crazy Gang’ wrote a song called “Run Rabbit, Run” – what truth there is in that I don’t know!! That was the very first bomb dropped in the Second World War.”

Now the song ‘Run Rabbit, Run’ was actually not inspired by the event because it had been around long before the air raid.

The intended target had been  RAF Sullom Voe which was was a Flying boat base and was closely associated with the adjacent airfield of RAF Scatsta. But the base was not hit.

The only fatal casualty was a rabbit, although there may have been 2 dead rabbits. Some people have suggested that these rabbits were planted to underline the complete  incompetence of the Luftwaffe. And to be honest the rabbits did look in good shape especially after being pulled out of a crater.

But against my better judgement I will not be cynical today and will contribute the rabbits as casualties of war.

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Sources

BBC

Shetland museum archives

 

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First man-made object in space.

V2

One could be forgiven for thinking that the space race was between the USSR and the USA, and that the USSR were the first to initiate the race.

But it was in fact the Germans who on this day 75 years ago ,sent  the first man-made object to reach outer space.

The test launch of the MW 18014 ,a German  A-4/V-2 rocket  took place on 20 June 1944. It attained an apoapsis(The point of a body’s elliptical orbit about the system’s center of mass where the distance between the body and the center of mass is at its maximum) of 176 kilometers

MW 18014 was part of a series of vertical test launches conducted in June 1944, in Peenemunde, designed to gauge the rocket’s behavior in vacuum. MW 18014 broke the altitude record set by one of its predecessors to attain an apoapsis of 176 km.

It was the first man-made object to cross  the 100 km Kármán Line, which is the currently accepted boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. About 20 months later on October 24,1946 the US Air force took the first photo taken of Earth from outer space. with a camera mounted on an adapted V2 rocket.

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Sigmund Rascher’s end

Rascher

Sigmund Rascher was without a shadow if a doubt one of the most evil men of the Nazi regime. He was an SS Doctor in service of the Luftwaffe and was one of Himmler’s favourites. Rascher’s wife the actress ,Karoline “Nini” Diehl, was a friend of Himmler, rumours had it that she was Himmler’s mistress but this was never verified.

Rascher conducted deadly experiments on the effect of high altitude , freezing and blood coagulation on human subjects in Dachau, this all under the patronage of Heinrich Himmler.

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Aside from the extremely cruel and deadly experiments he also used human skin to make saddles. It is no wonder that he was executed on April 26,1945.

However you’d be wrong to think he was executed by the allies or for the aforementioned crimes.

In order to impress Himmler, Rascher claimed  that population growth could be sped up by extending female childbearing age, Rascher publicized  that his wife had given birth to three children even after reaching 48 years of age. Himmler so impressed by this used a photograph of Rascher’s family as propaganda material.

But, during the  fourth “pregnancy,” of Mrs. Rascher , she was caught attempting to kidnap a baby and was arrested . A subsequent  investigation revealed that her other three children had been either bought or kidnapped. Himmler was furious and felt betrayed, Rascher was arrested in April 1944.

Additionally to the fraudulent childbearing scheme it was also accused of financial irregularities, the murder of his former lab assistant, and scientific fraud.

On April 26,1945 just 3 days before US troops reached Dachau, Rascher was executed by SS-Hauptscharführer Theodor Bongartz ,allegedly on Himmler’s direct order.

DACHAU US TROOPS

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Squadron Leader Phil Lamason & the KLB Club

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I could have gone with any of 168 stories of the members of this club, but I decided to go with the highest ranking officer.

The KLB Club (initials for Konzentrationslager Buchenwald) was formed on 12 October 1944, and included the 168 allied airmen who were held prisoner at Buchenwald concentration camp between 20 August and 19 October 1944.166 airmen survived Buchenwald, while two died of sickness at the camp.

Buchenwald Gate

The “terror fliers” heads were shaved, they were denied shoes, and forced to sleep outside without shelter for about three weeks. They were given one thin blanket for three men.  They were assigned to a section of the camp called, “Little Camp,” which was a quarantine area.  Prisoners in the Little Camp received the least food and the harshest treatment.

After a short time, the men figured out who was the ranking officer of all the prisoners. Squadron Leader Phil Lamason, a Lancaster bomber pilot from New Zealand, was the most senior officer. Lamason called everyone together after their first meal together and made a speech, saying,

Phillip John Lamason DFC & Bar (15 September 1918 – 19 May 2012) was a pilot in the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) during the Second World War, who rose to prominence as the senior officer in charge of 168 Allied airmen taken to Buchenwald concentration camp, Germany, in August 1944.

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Lamason’s Lancaster was shot down while attacking railway yards near Paris two days after D-Day. Two of his crew were killed; Lamason bailed out with the other four, three of whom eventually made it back to England. For seven weeks Lamason and his navigator were hidden by the French Resistance before they were betrayed to the Gestapo, who interrogated them at the infamous Fresnes prison near Paris. Lamason was wearing civilian clothes when he was captured and was therefore treated as a spy rather than as a prisoner of war.

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On August 15 1944, five days before Paris was liberated, Lamason and his navigator were taken in cattle trucks with a group of 168 other airmen to Buchenwald, a journey that took five days .

 

As the most senior officer, Lamason insisted on military discipline and bearing. He did not do this just to improve morale but also because he saw it as his responsibility to carry on his war duties despite the circumstances.

Once at Buchenwald, he risked his life on numerous occasions as he sought to obtain the men’s release and to smuggle news of their plight to the Luftwaffe — RAF prisoners of war were the responsibility of the Luftwaffe, not of the Gestapo.

By negotiating with the camp authorities he was able to secure extra blankets, clothes, clogs and food for the airmen. In October he learned that the Gestapo had ordered their execution, and he increased his efforts to secure the fliers’ release.

In late 1944 a rumor crossed inspector of day fighters Colonel Hannes Trautloft’s desk that a large number of Allied airmen were being held at Buchenwald. Trautloft decided to visit the camp and see for himself under the pretence of inspecting aerial bomb damage near the camp.

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Trautloft was about to leave the camp when captured US airman Bernard Scharf called out to him in fluent German from behind a fence. The SS guards tried to intervene, but Trautloft pointed out that he out-ranked them and made them stand back. Scharf explained that he was one of more than 160 allied airmen imprisoned at the camp and begged Trautloft to rescue him and the other airmen Trautloft’s adjutant also spoke to the group’s commanding officer, Phil Lamason.

Disturbed by the event, Trautloft returned to Berlin and began the process to have the airmen transferred out of Buchenwald. Seven days before their scheduled execution, the airmen were taken by train by the Luftwaffe to Stalag Luft III on 19 October 1944,where their shaven-headed, emaciated appearance shocked their fellow PoWs. One of Lamason’s colleagues described him as “a man of true grit, he was the wonderful unsung hero of Buchenwald”; most of the airmen who had been sent to that camp attributed their survival to his leadership and determination.

Nationalities of the 168 airmen
United States 82 American
United Kingdom 48 British
Canada 26 Canadian
Australia 9 Australian
New Zealand 2 New Zealander
Jamaica 1 Jamaican

00345664(this is not a picture of the actual men)

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Continue reading

the Battle of Britain

Heinkel_He_111_during_the_Battle_of_Britain

The Battle of Britain was a military campaign of the Second World War, when the Royal Air Force (RAF) defended the United Kingdom (UK) against the German Air Force (Luftwaffe).

The British officially recognise its duration as from 10 July until 31 October 1940, which overlaps with the period of large-scale night attacks known as the Blitz,while German historians do not accept this subdivision and regard it as a campaign lasting from July 1940 to June 1941.

But rather then going into too much detail, thus article will mainly consist of photographs. I couldn’t possibly add anything more then what is already written about this.

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Not all of the pilots were British .Czech pilots of No. 310 Squadron at RAF Duxford in September 1940..

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The RAF was organised into different ‘Commands’ based on function or role, including Fighter, Bomber and Coastal Commands. While victory in the Battle of Britain was decisively gained by Fighter Command, defence was carried out by the whole of the Royal Air Force.

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During the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe was dealt an almost lethal blow from which it never fully recovered. Although Fighter Command suffered heavy losses and was often outnumbered during actual engagements, the British outproduced the Germans and maintained a level of aircraft production that helped them withstand their losses.

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One of many German maps of the planned invasion of Britain.

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Although not a major contributor to the 1940 air campaign against Britain, Italy did volunteer as many as 170 planes to the effort. In fact, more than five per cent of the 2,500 Axis aircraft committed to the battle were Italian

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Oberleutnant Armin Faber-Oops I did not mean that to happen.

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Oberleutnant Armin Faber was a Luftwaffe pilot in World War II who mistook the Bristol Channel for the English Channel and landed his Focke-Wulf 190 (Fw 190) intact at RAF Pembrey in south Wales. His plane was the first Fw 190 to be captured by the Allies and was tested to reveal any weaknesses that could be exploited.

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Oberleutnant Armin Faber anxiously scanned the ground below, his eyes constantly drawn to the fuel gauge of his Focke-Wulf 190 fighter, hoping desperately to spot an airfield. It was the evening of 23 June 1942 and the Luftwaffe pilot, running perilously low on fuel after an intense dogfight over southern England, was searching for somewhere to put his aircraft down.

Minutes later a feeling of relief washed over him. There in the distance was an aerodrome. He rapidly descended, gently bumped the Fw 190 down onto the grass airstrip, cut his engine and breathed a deep sigh of relief.

No sooner had he done so, however, than a man in blue uniform came running towards his plane, holding what looked like a pistol. Strange, the German pilot thought. Then, as the figure came nearer, he recognised the man’s uniform and his heart instantly sank – it was that of an RAF officer!

Before Faber could restart his engine the man reached the cockpit and shoved a Very pistol in his face. Faber realised that he wasn’t in France at all. In fact, the Luftwaffe pilot had landed at RAF Pembrey in South Wales, home to the RAF’s Air Gunnery School.

 

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In June 1942, Oberleutnant Armin Faber was Gruppen-Adjutant to the commander of the III fighter Gruppe of Jagdgeschwader 2 (JG 2, Second Fighter Wing) based in Morlaix in Brittany. On 23 June, he was given special permission to fly a combat mission with 7th Staffel. The unit operated Focke-Wulf 190 fighters.

Faber’s Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-3 of III/JG 2 at RAF Pembrey, June 1942

The Fw 190 had only recently arrived with front line units at this time and its superior performance had caused the Allies so many problems that they were considering mounting a commando raid on a French airfield to capture one for evaluation.

7th Staffel was scrambled to intercept a force of six Bostons on their way back from a bombing mission;

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the Bostons were escorted by three Czechoslovak-manned RAF squadrons, 310 Squadron, 312 Squadron and 313 Squadron commanded by Alois Vašátko.

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All the Bostons returned safely while a fight developed over the English Channel with the escorting Spitfires, which resulted in the loss of two Fw 190s and seven Spitfires, including that of Alois Vašátko, who was killed when he collided with an Fw 190 (the German pilot bailed out and was captured).

During the combat, Faber became disoriented and separated from the other German aircraft. He was attacked by Sergeant František Trejtnar of 310 Squadron. In his efforts to shake off the Spitfire, Faber flew north over Exeter in Devon. After much high-speed maneuvering, Faber, with only one cannon working, pulled an Immelmann turn into the sun and shot down his pursuer in a head-on attack.

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Trejnar bailed out safely, although he had a shrapnel wound in his arm and sustained a broken leg on landing; his Spitfire crashed near the village of Black Dog, Devon.M

Meanwhile, the disorientated Faber now mistook the Bristol Channel for the English Channel and flew north instead of south. Thinking South Wales was France, he turned towards the nearest airfield – RAF Pembrey.

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Observers on the ground could not believe their eyes as Faber waggled his wings in a victory celebration, lowered the Focke-Wulf’s undercarriage and landed.

The Pembrey Duty Pilot, Sergeant Jeffreys, identified the aircraft as German while it was landing and he ordered his men to signal it to park in the dispersal area. As the Fw 190 slowed, he jumped onto its wing and took Faber prisoner with a flare gun (as Pembrey was a training station, Jeffreys had no other weapon to hand).

Faber was later driven to RAF Fairwood Common for interrogation under the escort of Group Captain David Atcherley (twin brother of Richard Atcherley).

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Atcherley, fearful of an escape attempt, aimed his revolver at Faber for the entire journey. This was possibly unwise as at one point, the car hit a pothole, causing the weapon to fire; the shot only narrowly missed Faber.

What the RAF needed was an intact Fw 190 so that they could unpick the technical secrets of Hitler’s new super-fighter. But how to get hold of one? Various schemes were put forward, one of the more outlandish being proposed by Squadron Leader and decorated ‘ace’ Paul Richey, which sounds like a plot straight out of Dad’s Army.

His plan was for a German-speaking RAF pilot, wearing Luftwaffe uniform, to fly a captured Messerschmitt fighter (of which the RAF possessed several) made to look as if it had been damaged in combat, into France and land at an Fw 190 aerodrome. The “German” pilot, would then “taxi in to where the 190s were, let off a stream of German, say he was a Colonel so-and-so, and wanted a new aeroplane as there was a heavy raid coming this way. With any luck, an airman would see him into a Focke Wulf…and he’d take off and head for home..

But Richey plan was not required because Armin Faber delivered the RAF with the FW 190,’free of charge’.

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Leonidas Squadron-Germany’s Suicide Squadron.

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The Leonidas Squadron, formally known as 5th Staffel of Kampfgeschwader 200 was a unit which was originally formed to fly the Fieseler Fi 103R (Reichenberg), a manned version of the V-1 flying bomb, in attacks in which the pilot was likely to be killed, or at best to parachute down at the attack site. The Reichenberg was never used in combat because Werner Baumbach, the commander of KG 200, and his superiors considered it an unnecessary waste of life and resources.

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He preferred to use the Mistel bomb instead, piloted from a regular Luftwaffe single-seat fighter used as an integral parasite aircraft, as the only manned part of the composite aircraft Mistel ordnance system, which released the lower, unmanned flying bomb component aircraft towards its target and returned.

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The establishment of a suicide squadron (staffel) was originally proposed by Otto Skorzeny and Hajo Herrmann. The proposal was supported by noted test pilot Hanna Reitsch.

 

The idea proposed was that Germany would use volunteers as suicide pilots in order to overcome the Allies’ numerical advantages with their fanatic spirit. The idea had roots in German mythology that was glorified by Nazi propaganda. Hitler was reluctant, but eventually agreed to Reitsch’s request to establish and train a suicide attack air unit, with the proviso that it would not be operated in combat without his approval. The new unit, nicknamed the “Leonidas Squadron”, became part of KG 200. It was named after Leonidas I, the king of Sparta who in 480 BC resisted the invading Persian army at the Battle of Thermopylae with 300 elite warriors who fought to the last man.

Reitsch’s plan was to attack Allied invasion shipping using the Messerschmitt Me 328 as a suicide weapon which would dive into the sea underneath ships and explode a 900 kilograms (2,000 lb) bomb.

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Heinrich Himmler approved the idea, and suggested using convicted criminals as pilots. The Luftwaffe’s High Command was unenthusiastic; Erhard Milch turned the plan down as impractical, and Hermann Göring showed little interest. Adolf Hitler was against the idea of self-sacrifice, believing that it was not in keeping with the German character, and furthermore did not see the war situation as being bad enough to require such extreme measures. Despite this, he allowed Reitsch to proceed with the project after she had shown the plan to him in February 1944. Günther Korten, the Luftwaffe’s head of general staff, gave the matter to the commander of KG 200 to deal with.

Over 70 volunteers, mostly young recruits, came forward; they were required to sign a declaration which said, “I hereby voluntarily apply to be enrolled in the suicide group as part of a human glider-bomb. I fully understand that employment in this capacity will entail my own death.”

Problems were experienced in converting the Me 328, and the decision was taken to use instead a manned version of the V-1 flying bomb, the Fieseler Fi 103R (Reichenberg); however, it never entered operation.

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On 9 June 1944, Karl Koller announced that a Gruppe of KG 200 equipped with special Focke-Wulf Fw 190s was ready for “total operations”.

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Each aircraft carried a heavy bomb, due to whose weight the machines could not carry enough fuel for a return flight, and the pilots were trained only using gliders. This project came to nothing, and Werner Baumbach, at that stage the commander of KG 200, persuaded his friend Albert Speer that it would be more productive to use the men against Russian power stations than the Allied invasion fleet; Speer passed this on to Hitler.

During the Battle for Berlin the Luftwaffe flew “Self-sacrifice missions” (Selbstopfereinsätze) against Soviet held bridges over the Oder River. These ‘total missions’ were flown by pilots of the Leonidas Squadron under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Heiner Lange from 17 April until 20 April 1945, using any aircraft that were available.

While suicide missions were never officially part of Allied strategy, there were a number of instances of British, Polish, American and Soviet pilots sacrificing themselves to destroy enemy targets.

One of the first casualties of the war was Leopold Pamula, a Polish pilot who intentionally slammed his outclassed PZL P.11c into a German aircraft in the opening hours of the war.

 

Colin P. Kelly, was heralded for flying his own plane into an enemy warship in much the same way kamikazes would do two and a half years later.

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According to the story, only three days after the Pearl Harbor raid, Kelly’s B-17 Flying Fortress came under attack by Zeroes after bombing a Japanese warship off the Philippines.

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The doomed pilot kept his stricken plane in the air long enough for the crew to escape, at which point he deliberately plowed his Flying Fortress right into the smokestack of the Japanese ship Ashigara.

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Horten H IX- Hitler’s”Stealth” bomber

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When we think of stealth bombers we think of reasonably recent bombers like the F-117-Nighthawk (1981) or B2-Spirit (1989) bombers.

 

But in fact it was the Horten brothers who designed the first stealth fighters/bombers in 1942.

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The Horten Ho 229 is generally known by a few unique names. The plane was called the H.IX, by the Horten Brothers. The identity Ho 229 had been given to the plane by the German Ministry of Aviation. Sometimes, it was also called the Gotha Go 229, because Gothaer Waggonfabrik was the name of the German maker who manufactured the plane.

This plane has been recently called “Hitler’s Stealth fighter”, despite the fact that the plane’s stealth capacities may have been accidental. As per William Green, creator of “Warplanes of the Third Reich,” the Ho 229 was the principal “flying wing” air ship with a jet engine.

It was the primary plane with elements in its design which can be alluded to as stealth innovation, to obstruct the ability of radar to identify the plane.

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In 1937, the Hortens began using motorized airplanes, with the debut of the twin-engined pusher-prop airplane H.VII (an earlier glider had a mule engine). The Luftwaffe, however, did not actually use many of the Hortens’ designs until 1942, but gave enthusiastic support to a twin-turbojet-powered fighter/bomber design, designated under wartime protocols as the Horten H.IX.For their completion of the three Ho 229 prototypes (V1,V2,V3) the Horten brothers were awarded 500,000 Reichmarks.

Securing the allocation of turbojets was difficult in wartime Germany, as other projects carried higher priority due to their rank in the overall war effort. Although the turbojet-equipped Ho 229 V2 nearly reached a then-astonishing 800 km/h (500 mph) in trials, the production of the third prototype V3 was given over to the coachbuilder Gothaer Waggonfabrik, subsequently called Gotha Go 229. The Go 229 was captured by the U.S. Army at the end of World War 2, in which the completed but unflown V3 third prototype aircraft is presently housed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.

 

The Ho 229 had potential, but was too late to see service. The Horten brothers also worked on the Horten H.XVIII, an intercontinental bomber that was part of the Amerika Bomber project.

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Among other advanced Horten designs of the 1940s was the supersonic delta-wing H.X, designed as a hybrid turbojet/rocket fighter with a top speed of Mach 1.4, but tested only in glider form

The first prototype H.IX V1, an unpowered glider with fixed tricycle landing gear, flew on 1 March 1944. Flight results were very favorable, but there was an accident when the pilot attempted to land without first retracting an instrument-carrying pole extending from the aircraft. The design was taken from the Horten brothers and given to Gothaer Waggonfabrik. The Gotha team made some changes: they added a simple ejection seat, dramatically changed the undercarriage to enable a higher gross weight, changed the jet engine inlets, and added ducting to air-cool the jet engine’s outer casing to prevent damage to the wooden wing.

The H.IX V1 was followed in December 1944 by the Junkers Jumo 004-powered second prototype H.IX V2; the BMW 003 engine was preferred, but unavailable. Göring believed in the design and ordered a production series of 40 aircraft from Gothaer Waggonfabrik with the RLM designation Ho 229, even though it had not yet taken to the air under jet power. The first flight of the H.IX V2 was made in Oranienburg on 2 February 1945.

 

The outcome of the war would have been completely different if the Germans would have been able to mass produce these bombers.

The Horten HIX was shipped over to the US after the war under Operation Seahorse among the air crafts below.

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The Luftwaffe Bombing of Sandhurst Road School

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The bombing of Sandhurst Road School occurred during an air raid on Wednesday, 20 January 1943 when the school on Minard Road, Catford, south east London was seriously damaged. A German fighter-bomber dropped a single 500 kg (1,100 lb) bomb on the school at 12.30 pm, killing 38 children (32 killed at the school and 6 more died in hospital) and 6 staff and injuring another 60 people. Many were buried for hours under the rubble.

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The German attack was part of a raid by 28 Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-4U3 fighter-bombers escorted by Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters, which took off at noon from an airfield in German-occupied France.

The planes were to attack any targets of opportunity in what the Germans called a Terrorangriff (“terror raid”).The German pilot who attacked the school was Hauptmann Heinz Schumann from Jagdgeschwader 2. He was flying a Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-4 carrying a single 500 kg SC 500 bomb.

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It is debated whether Schumann deliberately targeted the school, or simply attacked what looked like a large factory (the school was several stories high).

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Due to inefficiencies of the warning system, the air raid siren had not sounded by the time the German planes arrived. Many children were having their lunch and the attack destroyed the area of the school where they were eating. Witness reports suggest the attacking planes first flew past the school and then bombed it on a second run.Another plane is alleged to have also strafed the playground and local streets. In the same raid four barrage balloon sites were destroyed in Lewisham, a large gas holder in Sydenham was set alight, a Deptford power station suffered three direct hits, and the President’s House at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich.

The bomb killed (either immediately or later in hospital) 24 pupils and 2 teachers in the dining room. Five more children were killed on a staircase and nine in second floor classrooms. The blast also destroyed the staff room killing three teachers and another was killed in a science room. Roughly 60 others were injured. The teachers who died were: Mrs Connie Taylor, Mrs Ethel Betts, Mrs Virginia Carr, Miss Mary Jukes, Miss Gladys Knowelden and Miss Harriet Langdon.

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Of the 38 children and 6 teachers killed by the bombing, 31 children and 1 teacher were buried together at Hither Green Cemetery in a civilian war dead plot. The mass grave has a rectangular stone surround that contains a raised tablet with inscription. The burial was conducted by the Bishop of Southwark Bertram Simpson, and over 7,000 mourners attended The school now has both a stained glass window and a memorial garden commemorating the event.

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Sonderkommando Elbe- The German Kamikazes

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SonderkommandoElbe was the name of a World War II Luftwaffe task force assigned to bring down heavy bombers by ramming aircraft into them mid-air. The tactic aimed to cause losses sufficient to halt or at least reduce the western Allies’ bombing of Germany.

The pilots were expected to parachute out either just before or after they had collided with their target. The chances of a Sonderkommando Elbe pilot surviving such a practice were low, at a time when the Luftwaffe was lacking sufficient numbers of well-trained pilots.

This bold tactic of the Luftwaffe was created by Colonel Hans Joachim ” Hajo ” Hermann; a desperate attempt to regain control of the sky.

Hajo Herrmann

The aircraft of choice for this mission was the G-version (Gustav) of the Messerschmitt Bf 109, stripped of armor and armament. The heavily stripped-down planes had one synchronized machine gun (usually a single MG 131 in the upper engine cowling) instead of up to four automatic weapons (usually including a pair of 20mm or 30mm underwing-mount autocannon) on fully equipped Bf 109G interceptors, and were only allotted 60 rounds each, a normally insufficient amount for bomber-interception missions.

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To accomplish their mission, Sonderkommando Elbe pilots would typically aim to ram one of three sensitive areas on the bombers: the empennage with its relatively delicate control surfaces, the engine nacelles which were connected to the highly explosive fuel system, or the cockpit itself.

The most visible and famous encounter during this attack was that of Uffz Heinrich Rosner against the lead formation of 389th Bomb Group “Sky Scorpions” (with 31 B-24 Liberators, the most produced four-engine heavy bomber of World War II).

He managed to fly his 109 through the entire formation, slice through the cockpit of the lead B-24 “Palace of Dallas” and then careen into the deputy lead B-24, taking them both out (the 389th completed its mission successfully despite this loss). Amazingly, Rosner bailed out and survived with minor injuries.

Adding to the last-ditch nature of this task force, the only mission was flown on 7 April 1945 by a sortie of 180 Bf 109s. While only 15 Allied bombers were attacked in this manner, eight were successfully destroyed.

The “Sonderkommando Elbe”, which began recruiting at the end of 1944, consisted mostly of young volunteers who had grown up under the Nazi regime and were ready to sacrifice their lives for their leaders and their country.  Their use, however, remained limited. The only official use of the Sonderkommando Elbe was over the Steinhude Sea, Germany’s largest inland sea, on April 7, 1945. Most of the pilots died, but the enemy was not harmed as much as had been hoped.  The attack on the bridges over the Oder yielded similarly weak results.

A manned version of the “Vengeance Weapon” V-1, the first cruise missile in military history, was never employed. The first 175 copies were built with a cockpit made for flight tests, but the Luftwaffe briefly considered using these simple bombs as suicide weapons.

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This device bore a surprising similarity to the Japanese “Oka” (“Cherry Blossom”) aircraft, which was essentially a manned glide bomb. These Japanese planes, in contrast with the German ones, were used more than 70 times between March and June 1945.  However, only one US destroyer was sunk while half a dozen smaller warships were badly damaged.

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It is likely that the German suicide pilot missions were inspired by the Japanese example, but there is no conclusive evidence to confirm that. It is clear, however, that this murderous plan fell short of its goal: though the psychological impact of the missions was immense, the physical damage they incurred was minimal. Once the US Navy was able to recover from the initial terror of the attacks, their effect waned. Any approaching aircraft that were believed to be on kamikaze missions were shot down before they had a chance to reach their target.

Several hundred pilots who were ready to sacrifice their lives still remained in service by the time the Japanese surrendered at the end of World War II. On the day of the Armistice, their commander took his life. Yet Hajo Hermann, who led the German suicide pilots, began a new life after the war. Following a decade of prison in the Soviet Union, he became a lawyer, before dying last November at the age of 97.