(I JG 54) Combat Operations... 15 August 1940
Attack mission, on the Fairlight Installation Chain Home (Low)
Two Schwarm's will carry out the operation...
Schwarn Eins will provide high cover
Schwarm Zwei will mount the main attack
Note: Main target building is small and in the open... (see Int photo below). Expect small arms and light flak defences.
Take off 1500hrs, distance to target 125 km.
Time to target, 20 mins. Weather over target: expect partial cloud.
Approach altitude to enemy coastline 4700m.
MAX STADLER, DIARY RECORD.
I could not sleep much last night... Today is my first combat mission with the Staffel. To say I am excited would be an understatement!
The old hands have made us, the new pilots welcome over the last few days and have gone out of their way to provide us with as much of their experience and knowledge, plus
orientation and combat training flights as we could handle.
Yes, excitement and perhaps an acknowledgement of an increase of the usual butterflies that one feels before taking a step into an unknown scenario.
But to be honest, they disappeared as soon as my aircrafts engine roared into life as the Staffel prepared to take off, and then all my concentration was focused on managing my Emil!
My Schwarm Leader, Hauptgefreiter Grueneberg, warned me to stay vigilant from the moment I took off, to the moment I came into land, as the Tommies will know we are coming.
He had no need to worry, as my eyes were everywhere I can assure you.
The first thing I noticed was that we did not approach from 4700m as our orders stated, but as we approached England we were only at 2900m as the coastline came into view.
I don't think anything could have prepared me for the amount of flak that the Tommies put up as we crossed over the coast... the noise could be heard over my engine,
and I could feel it too, whenever a close one jostled little Emil around like a childs toy... I'm not scared to say I was 'a little worried'...
Grueneberg led us inland and westward, but keeping the coast to our left at all times... I then realised that Zeuch wasn't with us, and that he must have been hit.
But more worryingly, the enemy flak was simply following our Schwarm as we progressed towards our target at Fairlight... and our leader was only cruising at 2000m at less than 300 km/h.
I remember thinking that this was madness, but Grueneberg must know what he is doing, surely?
There was a flash to my right, and I was horrified to see Rehwald's aircraft belch fire and smoke, then turn over and it went straight down, but I did see him bail out, thank god.
After that it was just grit my teeth, hold it together and pray the same thing didn't happen to me, as the flak had intensified as we passed by Hawkinge airfield...
At last Fairlight station came into view, and the Hauptgefreiter went full power and we all screamed down after him, thankful that we were at combat speed...
We made three attacks on the station, and each time the Englander AA was forever present, looking for another victim... it is safe to say I was sweating, and scared.
Somehow, no one was hit, but I know for sure I hit the target building with my cannons on at least one of our attacks.
At full power we raced away, out to sea... but we weren't safe yet.
Where was the Royal Air Force?... after all the flak they put up, plus we passed close by at least two of their airfields, we were pretty sure they would attempt an intercept as we made our way back across the 'Canal'.
At any second I was expecting someone to shout out 'INDIANER', and I was looking constanly behind and above so much that my neck was aching... yet, nothing!
I can say, that I was never more relieved to see friendly shores again, and that touching down and taxying in at our home field, watching our Kameraden gliding in to land was a joyful and emotional moment.
I had survived my first real test over enemy lines, but was aware that others had not been so lucky...
On debrief, I sat in a bit of a daze, listening to the others, only then realising that men were lost, and this experience was going to happen to me again and again.
I was informed by Grueneberg that I had done 'ok' but had fell out of formation a couple of times and that it was never to happen again.
Later, we had a 'congratulations' from higher formation on our attack... we had severely damaged the station, but at a cost.
Our Schwarm had lost two aircraft... Zeuch had bailed out over the sea and was missing. Even though I had seen him bail, Rehwald had been killed in action according to a despatch from the British.
Schwarm Eins had lost their Flight Leader, Oberleutnant Haehnike... bailed out, missing.
I suppose I should be writing that I am elated, but somehow I can't be bothered, I'm tired, exhausted even, but the old hands told me it's normal, I'll get used to it, but more importantly, as I have completed my first combat, I have to report to the bar and buy them all a very large drink... Hals und beinbruch!!!