Messerschmitt Bf 109 A-D
The enemy aircraft were growing ever bigger, almost filling my windshield. I could now clearly see the wide, red fuselage bands. I attacked from above slicing through the formation at the highest possible speed before pulling up sharply to target the second flight of the bomber stream.
Within seconds my presence was detected and I was greeted with a wild volley of bullets. Hang on now, don’t panic, hold your fire until you’re really close! The aircraft on the right is growing in my sights. When its starboard engine completely fills the gun sight I move my fingers to the gun triggers. At just 20 meters the three guns begin to rattle. There is a bright flash of fire as I haul on the stick and stand my aircraft on the tail. In the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of the enemy bomber exploding in mid-air and falling to the ground in hundreds of pieces. I am completely calm and composed, which clearly cannot be said of the flight leader: having lost his cool he drops the nose and runs for the deck in a mad dash. I quickly catch up with his flight and position myself behind his left wingman. As the white trails of tracer rounds are streaking past my aircraft, I again put my machine guns to work. There is a flash of fire followed by a loud explosion and within seconds I’m flying through the spot where the enemy bomber used to be just moments ago: now it’s just a cloud of smoke and burning debris. It’s just me and the flight leader then. Within seconds his machine too is engulfed in a ball of fire and disintegrates in the air. The remaining bombers are bogging out in a loose formation. I decide to give chase targeting the lead flight. Taking a quick look around I spot Rata fighters setting up for an attack, hell-bent on knocking me out of the sky. I also notice three 109s whose pilots have already detected the threat and are on their way to join the fight. “The leader has to go down” – the thought replays itself in my head like a mantra. I can now clearly see the lead flight at my 12 o’clock, still maintaining a fairly tight formation. The only way to get to the leader is to squeeze right between his two wingmen. As I hurl my aircraft between the two enemy machines, just barely clearing their wingtips, the gunners open up on me. I can see the blue muzzle flashes and hear the ominous rattling sound of bullets hitting the fuselage of my fighter. It is too little, too late, though: my machine guns also begin to talk and seconds later the enemy bomber is falling out of the sky like a comet trailing a tail of fire and thick smoke. There goes number four of the day.
Then, out of the blue, my aircraft is violently jolted by a tremendous impact. The rudder is stuck and the cockpit is quickly filling with thick smoke. Looks like it is me now who is about to go down like a falling comet. It was not to be, though: I needed that little bit of luck and my prayers were answered. The Messerschmitt was still controllable. I calmed down and took another look around to take stock of the situation. The mad air battle was still raging behind me. Taking a glance at the engine instruments I noticed the oil temperature was rapidly rising. The engine’s oil system was clearly damaged. I set course for the home plate when suddenly there was a flash of fire just behind the cockpit and I heard a loud bang. I immediately went into a steep climb followed by a wingover and a run for the deck. As I leveled off just meters above the ground and looked back to check my six. There was nothing there except a trail of thick, black smoke. I stayed as low as I could skimming over the ground at just ten meters. Then, right in front of me, there was the Teruel church tower. I knew I was crossing the frontline when small arms fire erupted on the ground. I made it! Now it was just a matter of finding a suitable place for a forced landing. I soon spotted a fairly large field and put the Messerschmitt down. The rollout was uneventful and soon the machine came to a halt. Now the stress of combat finally got me – I was frozen in my seat, completely unable to climb out of the cockpit. I looked around: high above I could still see trails of black smoke crisscrossing the sky: one, two, five, nine. Feeling extremely exhausted, with my hands shaking wildly, I finally managed to extract myself from the cockpit. When I looked at my aircraft I couldn’t believe my eyes: it was riddled with bullet holes! The rudder control cables were severed, oil and fuel tanks completely shot up. So were the wings and the canopy. Theoretically, I was a dead man. [The account of an air-to-air battle fought on February 7, 1938 by Oblt. Wilhelm Balthasar of 2J/88 in: Ries Karl, Ring Hans, Legion Condor 1936-1939, Eine Illustrierte Dokumentation, Mainz 1979, pp.122-123..]
Origins and history of the design