February 15, 1945

On February 15th, 1945, the time has come for the first aerial victory recorded for 10./NJG 11 that is not attributed to Kurt Welter: Fw. Karl-Heinz Becker is send up in a daylight mission to intercept an allied reconnaissance aircraft – here is his own account:

“Then – what a relieve! – we got the flight orders for a single Me 262. A lone ‘Lightning’, on a reconnaissance mission to Berlin was returning west. It was my turn! I took the orders, then Welter drove me out to the Me 262 with his own car. It was ‘Red 2’. Welter helped me to strap in. Once the engines were running, he gave me a clap on the shoulder and jumped off the aircraft. Shortly thereafter, I took off towards the west. It was 14:52 hrs.”

This undated account was provided by Manfred Boehme, Karl-Heinz Becker had written it himself though. The take-off time matches the time given in his flight log, the aircraft’s tactical sign, ‘Rote 2’ does not – according to his log, he flew ‘Rote 7’.

FB Becker - Page 2

Here is how the story continues:

“Everything was normal. I got contact with the ILO[1]Note: ILO refers to the “Jägerleitoffizier”, the fighter controller on the ground. Climbing, I gained altitude flying between the towering clouds. At 4.000 meters, I was above the cloud layer – no more clouds further up. Far in the west, I could see many contrails in the air and the cloud coverage increased so I found myself over a closed layer of clouds very soon, flying at 7.500 meters now.”

That day, the 8th USAAF attacked the Marshaling Yards at Cottbus (3 AD), the city of Dresden (1 AD), and the city of Magdeburg (2 AD)[2]Freeman, Roger: 8th USAAF Operations Diary, Page 440. The contrails Karl-Heinz Becker observes more than likely were from any one of these groups. Karl-Heinz Becker continues his account:

“I was given a series of course corrections by the ILO to intercept the enemy. I maintained my altitude and followed the orders. The sun was low in the west and on some courses, I was blinded by its light. Under these conditions, it was difficult to find the ‘Lightning’ I was set up against. Then, I assume, the reading and calculations the ILO did were too inaccurate, the difference in speed between a Me 109 and a Me 262 were simply too big. As a result, I got positions reported that I had long flown past.”

This is in fact a problem that was reported by others as well: the ground controllers, that followed the position of an aircraft by it’s signals returns and interpolation of speed, were not used to the speed of a jet – as Karl-Heinz Becker continues, this will be a significant problem with a loss in the near future:

“This inaccuracy was a deadly risk when having to descend through a cloud layer. We lost our Fw. Weibl that way, he was on a calibration flight with a Me 262 and crashed. He was my flight instructor when I had my flight training at Straubing/Donau.

The calibration flight had allowed for a guided descent through the closed layer of clouds near Burg.  He was lost in the process and is missing in action, neither he nor his aircraft have ever been found. At Döberitz, we tried to determine the location of the loss by recalculating the exact location with the available data – we came to the conclusion that he was not lost near Burg but more to the west, over the Harz mountains.”[3]Note: Fw. Weibl is lost on March 3rd, 1945. The circumstances of the loss will be covered then.

Becker continues his account:

“I did not know my own position at that time, I was unable to verify my position on the map because of the lack of ground view. My air time and my fuel indicators suggested that I broke off this mission and I reported my intentions to the ILO and turned left 180° towards Burg. I yet had to receive corrections for my course to Burg. The sun had already sunk to the horizon, my own aircraft was not casting a shadow on the clouds. And then I saw this dot against the clouds below me. He was coming towards me, to the left, set off to the side a little but, about 1.500 meters below me.”

So here we are – Karl-Heinz Becker was ready to abort the mission due to fuel constraints and a lack of knowledge of his own position when he finally intercepts the allied aircraft.

“The tension was high, I almost forgot to breathe. The distances ate up rapidly at these speeds – it was the ‘Lightning’ I was set up against, I could clearly see her now. I maintained course and speed and wondered what he was going to do. Did he see me? How will he react?

The ‘Lightning’ was to the left of my aircraft, below me and flying the opposite direction. She maintained her course and did not make any evasive maneuvers. I am sure he did not see me, the setting sun must have blinded him. If she had a gunner on board, I was not able to see – but it was essential for an attack. But he maintained his course, probably feeling safe due to the cloud layer at 4.000 meters.

She gained distance and I circled to the left and descended a little bit. I already had reported the sighting and my intentions to attack to my ILO. I now tried to sink below the ‘Lightning’ and got into position below the target. The descent increased my speed, I did not dare to throttle back the engine at this altitude. I sank below 6.000 meters, my speed climbing to almost 950 km/h. The pressure on the ailerons increased, I heard the slight crackling of the aircraft. The strain on the aircraft at these speeds was enormous.

The air around me was quiet and without turbulence – I could concentrate on my opponent. He had not changed course or height and I closed in quickly. It was my first real encounter with an enemy in the Me 262. Concentration and excitement also grew my nervousness which I tried to keep under control.”

Now in firing position, Karl-Heinz Becker gives his account on the actual attack:

“I had set the firing sequence to all four canons. The setting sun now also blinded me and I had some difficulties to get the enemy in my gun sights. In a slight climb, I was closing in from a 6-o’clock-low position. If he had a rear gunner, he had not seen me. The ‘Lightning’ quickly grew in my ‘Revi'[4]Revi: the gun sight of the Luftwaffe fighters but I decided to wait a bit longer. The ‘Lighning’ was now fully filling my sights.

I kept my Me 262 calm with all of my powers, the wings of the enemy now exceeded the ‘Revi’ sights, which meant a distance of about 180 meters. I pulled the trigger and the canons fired but I did not see any effect on the enemy aircraft.

I could not believe it! Once more, I pulled the trigger and there – a huge fireball right in front of me! Instinctively, I pulled my aircraft up but my Me 262 is going right through the debris. Yelling into the radio, I claimed my victory: ‘Horrido! Please locate…’ and take a left turn. Looking back at the enemy, I could see… nothing. She had evaporated. Some very few puffs of smoke, that’s it. But I could see my own engine on fire now, I am trailing a huge flame on the left and the engine is not running smoothly any longer.”

What had happened? Karl-Heinz Becker’s Me 262 was armed with four Rheinmetall-Borsing Mk 108 canons. Each one of them fired a 3 cm projectile with a muzzle velocity of roughly 500 meters per second. And although fast, it is significantly slower than the muzzle velocity of an MG 151 (which is 800-1.000 m/s).

Becker had not missed on his first shot, as he though, he just had not waited for long enough to allow the bullets to actually hit! Closing in even more, he was too close to significantly alter his course when the enemy aircraft exploded and thus went straight through the debris, damaging his own engine. He now had to find a place to land.

“So here I was, above the clounds, with a Me 262 on one engine. She was behaving just fine, was good to control, despite the reduced power.

A few instructions came from my ILO who told me I was not in the area of Paderborn. They wanted me to land on the airfield there. I did not not it, never had been there before. Did it have a runway? Or was it a grass surface? And where was it in relation to the town?

Now, I had to try to get below the clouds, my speed at about 400 km/h. At 4.000 meters, I vanished into the cloud layer, it was getting darker quickly. Rain was floating over my canopy. Maintaining my left circle, I descended through the clouds at a constant rate. There was no turbulence, my aircraft was riding smoothly through the mist. The ILO called in, telling me I was east of the airfield. My altimeter showed 1.500 meters. I reduced my rate of sinking slightly to come out of the clouds in a flat angel.

Things were getting a but more turbulent now, the clouds started to break up. I turned to 270° and started into a straight and even descent, awaiting to break free from the cloud cover. There! The first details on the ground! Patches of forest, a road to my right with trees and poles. I had reached a minimum altitude in light rain and very poor visibility. In growing darkness, the rain intensified, leaving me with only a blurry vision of the world around me. No flying here, I put in more power and got back up into the clouds. After a little while, I broke the clouds at 4.000 meters with the bright light of the setting sun around me.

I gave my ILO my position and then turned west, following my instincts. Maybe I could reach the backside of the weather system? Maybe I could find some flat terrain? Trying to land at Paderborn under these conditions was suicide, not a choice. My ILO went quiet, maybe I had drifted to far west to be able to receive his signals.”

Karl-Heinz Becker’s account on this incident is much more detailed than his formal combat report. And much more lively.

“Suddenly the voice of another ILO! ‘Turn east! You are over enemy-controlled territory near Wesel! We are trying to get you to Münster-Handorf!’

I turned east and started my descent again. At 3.000 meters, I was back in the clouds. The fuel indicators by now had almost gone to zero, with a bit of anxiousness I switched to the next tank – just hoping the engine would not die on me! But it went well, the remaining engine continues its smooth humming. Heading east and at about 200 meters, I broke the clouds, flat terrain, light rain and very, very poor visibility!

There were twin railroad tracks running north-south, I turned to the north and followed them. Told my ILO about my position and maintained the little altitude I had, sometimes touching the lower ceiling of the clouds. At 120 meters, I could see a field of bomb craters to my left, no buildings. I complete a full circle, now barracks come into sight. Someone is firing red signal ammo into my path, no landing here.

Getting back to my original altitude, I continue to follow the train tracks. More switching of gas tanks, the engine is still running. ILO calls in,sending me onto a course to the north east. Rain, darkness – I can barely see! Here and there, I notice farms, patches of wood. A village, I almost hit the bell tower! Then, the engine dies – the fuel is used up! RPM are slowly dropping, I put the nose down. Speed is going down, so am I. I am trying to see the terrain in front of me, maybe at 20 meters. In front of me, a small tree line, I am slightly pulling up the bird and the spoilers are coming out – 250 km/h!

The engines are barely clearing the tree tops, and – what a miracle! – a flat field in front of me. I put the nose down, go into a slight right turn and touch down on the engine nacelles. It’s a cattle range with areas fenced in. Sliding on the nacelles, I am breaking the fences. In front of me, some man is throwing away his fork and runs the hell out of my way – he makes it. Finally, I am seeing a pole of an electrical line coming up. And my Messerschmitt stops just 5 meters off that pole. Parts of my wing are extending into the road, I am trying to report my position but the radio is dead.

Out of the aircraft, I am inspecting the left engine: all the blades of the compressor are gone, the casing of the ‘Riedelmotor’ is badly damaged. So here is where the parts of the ‘Lightning’ had hit me…”

Karl-Heinz Becker hat put down his Messerschmitt between the vilages of Warendorf and Telgte.

1945-02-15 - 500075

The loss is also reflected in the loss lists of the Generalquartiermeister[5]Genst. Gen. Qu. 6 Abt, Nr. 210/45:

GQM Verlust 1945-02-15

But what about the P-38 Lightning (which correctly identified would have been an “F-5” being a reconnaissance aircraft)? The USAAF lists one F-5 as missing[6]Freeman, Roger: 8th USAAF Operations Diary, Page 440 – she belongs to 7th Photo reconnaissance Group, 13th Squadron. and is flown by 1st Lt. Ross Madden[7]USAAF Missing Air Crew Report 12376.

1945-02-15 - 44-24271Ross Madden has filled in the Casualty Questionnaire after the war, unfortunately, it does not hold and relevant information with respect to the loss – except for him confirming the location to be “near Paderborn”.

1945-02-15 - ASM 1 BeckerFrom Karl-Heinz Becker, the original Abschussmeldung has survived the time, also his associated Gefechtsbericht.

Except for one Victory Claim by Herbert Altner, the set of Abschussmeldungen for Karl-Heinz Becker is the only set of documents available so far.

What makes these document invaluable with respect to the research of 10./NJG 11 is that they not only contain information about the actual victory: they also contain information about the number of Abschussmeldungen submitted for the unit as a whole. Therefore, knowing the numbers on Karl-Heinz Becker’s documents, one also knows how many other claims (by other pilots) must have been made in between. An important hint when it comes to tracing the claims attributed to Kommando Welter.

1945-02-15 - ASM 1 Becker - Anhang

The “external landing” of “Red 7” is not the last time an aircraft of Kommando Welter does not return to the home airfield this month. The next was soon to follow…

References   [ + ]

1. Note: ILO refers to the “Jägerleitoffizier”, the fighter controller on the ground.
2, 6. Freeman, Roger: 8th USAAF Operations Diary, Page 440
3. Note: Fw. Weibl is lost on March 3rd, 1945. The circumstances of the loss will be covered then.
4. Revi: the gun sight of the Luftwaffe fighters
5. Genst. Gen. Qu. 6 Abt, Nr. 210/45
7. USAAF Missing Air Crew Report 12376
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