"And I made an emergency landing on the street in a little village. And belly landing and we all were, we were all wounded but we all came out alive."
I was enlisted in the Luftwaffe [German Air Force] on the first of October, 1939. At first, there was basic training, this was in Rerik on the Baltic Sea, near Wismar. Oh, that was the real basic infantry and soldier’s training, the basic soldier’s training for six weeks. Very tough. From there, I went to, no, in the same facility then, after we became [received] classroom training, and then first of December, 1939, I was transferred to the pilot training school in Berlin-Gatow.
And so we started flying, it was marvelous. At first after this basic training in small aircraft, we were trained to that what is nowadays the PPL [Private Pilot Licence] and the CPL, the Commercial Pilot Licence. And then I was transferred from Berlin to a school in Austria where I was trained on bigger aircraft and heavier aircraft. And only after that training, I came to the special training for the Junkers 88. Junkers 88 was the best pilot aircraft I have ever flown. That was fun to fly. It had, the total weight of the aircraft was in the area of about, what was it, 11 tons or so. And it had two very strong engines and you could fly it like a fighter aircraft. Very smooth, very good to fly.
Oh, I loved it from the first outset. Yeah. It was a pilot that - it fitted on me like a glove on the hand. From the basic training, from the Junkers 88, I was transferred finally to a squadron. And that squadron, and then meanwhile, the war with Russia came up and my squadron, and we went to Russia. We flew our missions, we were long distance reconnaissance, so we took up, we looked at the targets, photographed them and collected the number of what we had [been] looking at and made it luckily back.
Flying along railway tracks, big roads, cities, to see the traffic, to photograph it, to count the amount of traffic to get a picture how busy these roads are and so on. There was in the air, the Russian had nothing which was comparable to any, let’s say to England or France, nothing. That changed very rapidly and finally the Americans and the British equipped the Russians with their aircraft. And then it became different.
The first time, I was hit by flak [anti-aircraft fire] and lost an engine. And the other engine was then damaged as well so I had a hard time to fly back and I just made it over the main battle line, just to make an emergency landing on our side. That was the first time; that was in September 1941. And the second time was in May 1942. And that was a bit tighter and we just had came back from a long mission and we were flying relatively low down to the, to where our airport is. We came about a piece of wood where suddenly, enormous fire of machine guns and guns and all that came up and I was literally, the aircraft was full of, of hits. And I made an emergency landing on the street in a little village. And belly landing and we all were, we were all wounded but we all came out alive.
There was, both engines were alright, no, no choice anymore. These Russian villages are very wide. You have the main road on which there’s a 50, 100-metres wide. So there’s no problem. There’s not an asphalted road that is just earth, nothing else. On the 63rd mission, I was finally shot down the third time and became a prisoner of war.