In World War II, the Luftwaffe produced a galaxy of combat airmen whose records can never be approached. Maj. Erich Hartmann remains the world’s leading fighter ace, and Col. Hans-Ulrich Rudel dominates the lethal trade of tank buster. Their names, and others, are known to two generations of aviation-history students.
But who were the Reich’s bomber stars? Who has heard of Maj. Rudolf Midler, with 680 missions over Europe, the Mediterranean and Russia, or of Maj. Hans-Georg Batcher’s 658 sorties, including some 200 Russian missions in five months of 1942? Four other German bomber pilots logged more than 500 combat flights.
American bomber crews in Europe flew tours of 25 to 35 missions before rotating home. A few returned for second tours. In Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command, a tour usually was 30 “ops,” with many crews surviving multiple tours. Still, 100 bomber missions was rare. Yet some German fliers were active for most of the European war, from September 1939 to May 1945.
Consider the case of Carl Francke. On September 26, 1939, the British Royal Navy deployed a powerful task force in the North Sea. Sighted by Luftwaffe recon, the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal became the focus of attention as nine He 111s and four Ju 88s launched on short notice from Westerland in northern Germany. The hasty takeoff, coupled with low clouds, dispersed the Germans. Kampfgeschwader (KG) 26’s Heinkels attacked nearby British cruisers without result, and three of the Junkers pounced on the battle cruiser HMS Hood, scoring one minor hit.
That left Corp. Carl Francke of KG 30 to attack the carrier. Francke was an anomaly: an enlisted pilot with an engineering diploma and a stellar reputation as a test pilot. He had test-flown the Ju 88 and soon would make the inaugural flight in the He 177. Over the 22,000-ton carrier, he nosed into a steep dive, tracking the ship in his reflector sight. He quickly recognized that the alignment was wrong, so amid bursting flak he aborted the run.
The next time, Francke was satisfied. The automatic release-and-dive recovery system dropped the bombs and effected a high-G pullout. Francke’s observer shouted, “Water fountain hard beside the ship!” Upon return to base, Francke made a modest report: one bomb missed, the other might have hit.
Read the full article from the October 2019 issue of Flight Journal, click here.
by Barrett Tillman