AIRCRAFT ACES 1

AIRCRAFT ACES 1

Before the noon of November 28, 1940 we transferred to Cherbourg West

As I was the only Gruppe staff pilot there, I phoned my old Schwarm leader and Geschwader commander in one person, Major Wick, who was at the fighter force headquarters, and asked his permission to join his Schwarm. Needless to say, he consented. At an agreed time Helmut flew past above our field, and I took off to join his formation as number 4. The other members were: leader – Geschwaderkommodore Maj. Wick, wingman – JG 2 adjutant Oblt. Leie, second Rotte leader – JG 2 technical officer Oblt. Pflanz, and his wingman – I./JG 2 adjutant Lt. Fiby.

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We kept gaining height until we reached 10,500 m (it was the first time I had gone above 10,000 m) with I. and II./JG 2 as well as one Gruppe of JG 77 following behind. Helmut was flying very fast, causing Rudi Pflanz to continually complain on the radio about his throttle problems. Since Helmut had outdistanced us by almost 1 km, I decided to overtake Rudi, which I did. Now wanting to approach Wick, I suddenly saw him open fire. At the same time I noticed what I identified as a Hurricane falling out of the sky in flames. I flew on, with an intention to fire on another machine. To the right, I could see numerous aircraft leaving vapor trails – assuming they were our boys, I still watched them closely. Meantime, Helmut began an escape, while one of the aircraft above unexpectedly dived in as if to attack me. I saw it was a Spitfire. Could see light being reflected on his leading edges. Turning sharply, I pulled into a dive at him. At the same moment I received Rudi’s warning, “Fibst, watch out. Get away!” Pflanz turned at the Briton, who broke off his charge. That would have allowed me to keep fighting, but I was still going at 600 to 700 km/h. 25 long minutes later, after being suspended alone between the sky and the sea and all there was to be seen were clouds, I reached the base. The Geschwader had scored four kills by Wick, Leie, Seeger and Schuhmann. Casualties – nil.

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At 16.30 hours: another takeoff, a fighter sortie to Southampton. Again, I joined the staff, we climbed to 10,500 m, and fought a battle over the Isle of Wight. While attacking, Pflanz separated from the Schwarm, whereas we dashed at two Spitfires. On seeing us, they fled lower down in mad evasions. We had to stop attacking. Trying to restore formation between 7,000 and 8,000 m, we were suddenly fallen upon by some fifteen machines above. Seeing one turning so as to attack Pflanz, I shouted, “Rudi, machines on your port side and above. Got to move out of here!” While saying this, I pulled my stick sharply to the right and departed the battle site. I lost sight of Rudi and headed home.
We maintained radio contact, confirming to one another we were feeling fine. When I was somewhere halfway across the Channel, I heard that one of the Geschwader aircraft made contact with the sea rescue base – a pilot bailing out had been noticed to the southeast of Wight. At first I took it for Major Wick’s voice, but later it turned out to be Rudi Pflanz’s.
About 20.00 hours I had a phone call and was asked if I had heard Major Wick’s voice on the radio since he had not as yet made a landing anywhere. I went to the Geschwader headquarters, where I found Rudi giving the following report: “When I lost sight of Fibs, I dropped and headed home. I could see two machines in front of me and was flying in their direction. Too late, I found the second one to be the Spitfire that had shot down the Bf 109 whose pilot bailed out. I shot down the Spitfire and its pilot into the sea. Then I contacted the sea rescue.”

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Putting these memories in writing, I relived the situation. I recalled a radio report which, however, I had not understood then. I had only picked up the name of Major Beck and wondered why such a name should have been given. I had thought it was an order to return to base. According to my current knowledge, that must have been Major Wick reporting his trouble and then bailing out. Like Pflanz, I believe Helmut had an engine failure (compressor damage) and could not defend himself. I had flown as wingman (Katschmarek) to Wick for eight months, whereas Rudi had been a Rotte leader of the same Schwarm for three months. We knew his flying abilities best. Typically, Wick would separate from enemies at top speed. As a result, he moved very fast on his way home, especially when there were not many comrades around him. Since Rudi managed to catch the Spitfire, though, Helmut could not have been flying at full throttle. Helmut probably only radioed his message about engine trouble in order to get helped, of which I only understood “Beck” instead of “Wick”. Then came the disaster. I think he must have realized he would be shot down since he was unable to defend himself. I will not accept it that he should have been taken unawares – he was too old a fox for that and he always sighted the enemy first.1

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British documents published in recent years explain the mystery of Major Wick’s death. Around 17.10 hours Spitfires of No. 609 Sqn RAF encountered Messerschmitt Bf 109Es. The rearmost of the British formation was Pilot Officer Keith Ogilvie, who was the first to notice three Bf 109s with yellow engine cowlings; they were coming from astern. He immediately warned his comrades. The leading Messerschmitt opened fire, several bullets hitting Ogilvie’s fuselage. The latter dived steeply, evading the attacker. Almost simultaneous hit was taken by a Spitfire flown by Pilot Officer Paul Baillon, who bailed out to safety and landed in the Channel some 20 miles south of Bournemouth. It was Maj. Helmut Wick’s 56th and last aerial victory.
A violent air fight took place over the next seconds. At some point the RAF pilots heard the excited voice of Flight Lieutnant John Dundas, “Hurray! I got a ‘109!” Squadron Leader Robinson said after a while, “Well done, John.”
However, John Dundas failed to hear those words, as his aircraft was hit by Oblt. Pflanz’s bursts and fell into the sea. His body was never found. Maj. Wick’s aircraft was the thirteenth he had scored in the war.

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Meanwhile, the fate of two JG 2 pilots who failed to return from the sortie was causing anxiety at Luftwaffe airfields in France. They were Oblt. Pflanz and Maj. Wick. Pflanz soon appeared, flying on the last drops of fuel and force-landing on a coastal strip of grass. When he reported the course of the sortie, there was no more doubt as to who had been piloting the Messerschmitt which fell to the British over the Channel: it was Maj. Wick. The JG 2 aide-de-camp, Oblt. Leie, notified the Luftwaffe headquarters about the missing Geschwaderkommodore. Moved by the news, Reichsmarschall Göring ordered that all possible measures be taken to rescue Maj. Wick. With rough seas in the Channel, it was impossible to dispatch rescue boats, so Cherbourg-stationed Kriegsmarine torpedo boats set out instead, while all coastal posts between Le Havre and Brest were alerted.
Next morning Luftwaffe joined the search, including JG 2 fighters under Maj. Wick. All was in vain, though. Lt. Franz Fiby wrote under the date of November 29, 1940 in his diary: “The Geschwader is looking for its commander. Patrols have been flown all day. Sea rescue aircraft flew out 22 times. Part of our machines were escorting them, whereas the others were scanning the sea at low level. No matter what the circumstances, we wanted to get our commander back, dead or alive. He should have had a pontoon, but apart from two big oil spills that might have come from either fallen machine we found nothing. It was already after dusk when the Reichsmarschall sent all Channel-stationed navy vessels out to sea. All possible means were used, but to no avail.”
Six days later the Wehrmacht High Command released the following communiqué: opublikowało oficjalny komunikat: “On December 4, 1940, the ‘Richthofen’ Geschwaderkommodore, Major Helmut Wick, failed to return after scoring his 56th aerial victory. Thereby the German Luftwaffe lost one of its bravest and most skillful fighter pilots. Major Wick, who was a holder of the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves for his devoted fight for the future of the German nation, will continue to be an example for the German nation, and particularly for the German youth.”

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