Eight Focke Wulf 190s were powering west wards, climbing smoothly, thundering over the fields and woods below.
The vivid shades of green on the ground contrasted with and highlighted the red tile-colored roofs of the dwellings in the French villages and small towns dotted here and there. Railroad tracks snaked from east to west to disappear below the horizon.
Major Kurt Bühligen, the tenth Kommodore of the famous Richthofen Geschwader and an Eichenlaub (Oakleaves) winner, was carefully scanning the sky and the ground, in anticipation of the classic bounce by enemy fighters. It was 7 June 1944. Just the previous day a huge Allied invasion force had arrived off the coast of Normandy and started landed on the beaches. Fierce combat was taking place both in the air and on the ground. After a whole day of sorties, Bühligen’s JG 2 could put no more than eight serviceable machines into the air. It was no surprise therefore that the most experienced pilots were at the controls of these 190s following the order to fly to Carpiquet airfield east of Caen. According to the command post, enemy fighter-bombers were attacking German positions, the ground troops putting up desperate defensive action. There was no time to lose.
The western horizon was hidden by clouds of smoke. Fires small and large could be distinguished in the distance. Moments later, the pilots saw artillery cannonades on the ground, the blasts raising fountains of earth, and tanks, small and box-like to the fighters, flashing fire from their guns time and time again. It was an unmistakable sign – they had arrived at the frontline.
Agitated voices could suddenly be heard in the earphones. Someone was announcing the beginning of an attack. There was no doubt that fighters had tangled in a whirling melee close by.
“Abschuß! Got one!”
Bühligen recognized the voice. It was “Pips” Priller, Kommodore of the Schlageter pilots.
“Pips, where are you?” he said via the throat mike...
“Is that you, Kamel?”
“Couldn’t leave you alone,” Bühligen laughed. “I’m not leaving you behind!”
Everyone knew that these two Kommodoren were closing on the magic number of 100 victories. The other pilots of both JG 2 and JG 26 were closely following the unofficial competition.
“I’m in UC 36. Damn! There’s more and more of them!”
“Keep going! Leave one for me!”
Bühligen looked at the map. Quadrant UC 36 was not far. He turned north and after a while saw aircraft engaged in a swirling dogfight.
“Fight, one o’clock, Hanni 40,”1 this was only pro forma – all the pilots knew their task.
Major Bühligen felt a shiver of excitement down his spine, the first sign of “hunting fever”. He saw a whirl of aircraft before him. He easily recognized the FW 190s and silver Thunderbolts with black-and-white bands on the wings. There were many of the latter – too many!
“Gunsights on! Release weapon safety! Attack on my signal!”
The other Focke Wulfs waggled their wings. Hptm. Huppertz, flying next to the Major, glanced across at him. At the same moment he noticed another group of Thunderbolts approaching from the south.
“Indians at nine o’clock!”
“Victor!” he heard Bühligen. “Take care of them. Horrido! ”
The Kommodore of JG 2 banked his Focke Wulf over and swept in with the sun on his back. The fighter was accelerating fast. It was becoming less responsive to the movements of the stick. Bühligen had already selected his target. His eyes glaring at the gunsight, he counted down the distance: 500 m, 400 m, 300 m… The glinting wings of a Thunderbolt quickly filled his gun sight as he bore in on his quarry. The enemy did not react. Then the P-47 veered to port and prepared to attack one of the JG 26 pilots. Bühligen repeated his maneuver like a shadow. 150 meters. Not yet. Closer, closer! The German could already see the code letters on the opponent’s fuselage. 80 meters! He squeezed off a burst of fire. The FW 190 shook as the machine guns hammered. Within a fraction of a second, he registered the salvo slamming into the Thunderbolt. Bühligen pulled back hard on the stick to avoid a collision with the enemy. He shot a glance to the rear. The P-47 was going down trailing a long banner of smoke. After a moment, the bulky form of the pilot tumbled away from the falling aircraft. The white canopy of a parachute mushroomed open in the sky.
“Abschuß!” he shouted happily.
“Victor!” said his wingman.
Huppertz claimed a victory at the same time as he did.
“Katschmarek, form up!” the commander’s voice was now calm.