Countdown to Kassel - September 13, 1944

Battle Over Germany

Twelve-year-old Walter Hassenpflug loved airplanes. He belonged to the Hitler Youth modeling club that got together one evening a week at the museum center to build replicas of German, American and RAF planes. He knew them all and could identify them down to their divisions when they flew overhead.

He didn’t know about the secret Sturmgruppen.

Walter Hassenpflug, Summer 1943

Walter Hassenpflug, Summer 1943

Even though the Eighth Air Force claimed air superiority over Europe that past May, the Germans kept fighting back. By summer, fighter production reached its wartime peak.

Earlier in the year, the Germans had managed to assemble an experimental squadron of bold and accomplished pilots to fly the new planes.  The Sturmgruppen (literally “storm or shock groups”) registered a series of stunning successes, attracting pilots (who were returning from other fronts) with its reputation for fearless confrontation.  Employing new tactics meant to break up entire enemy bomber divisions, the Sturmgruppen zeroed in on the weakest link in bomber formations—the groups in the center. Flying wingtip to wingtip in chevron formations of twelve to fifteen planes, the pilots attacked from the rear, ignoring the heavy defensive fire from American and British enemy’s tail gunners.

German engineers had reinforced their Focke Wolfe 190 fighters with strong side “blinkers,” special Plexiglas windscreens and additional armor on the fuselage, enabling the planes to withstand close-range counter fire. The only drawback was the extra weight. Although the FW-190 could still outmaneuver any bomber, they could not compete with the more agile Allied fighters. So they needed fighter escorts of their own—quick, light Messerschmidt 109 fighters that could fight off enemy fighters when they appeared long enough for the FW-190s to escape.

On September 13, the boys watched an air battle from a hill outside of town. Although one unit of the the Sturmgruppen tried to follow the 8th, it was too far back to engage. Walter didn’t know any of that. For him, all that mattered was that the skies were clear, and the planes looked almost close enough to touch.

The battle had spanned three days, and on this, the third day, he and his friends were avid as they watched seven German fighters fall to the ground with huge concussions. From their vantage point, the boys saw an immense cloud of smoke, and the fire.

They ran to get a glimpse of the downed planes but when they got there, the military chased the boys away but not before they got to see the charred bodies of two German fighter pilots.

No one thought much about the dead pilots. They were heroes who had given their lives for Germany like so many others.

Death was nothing new to the German people. It seemed that everyone had lost a son, a father, a brother, a lover, a husband. Walter had seen cousins grieve for their fathers and aunts and uncles grieve for dead sons.

© 2019 Linda Alice Dewey