Ancient history

At the controls of an Emil (Bf109E)

Last updated:2022-07-25

Luftwaffe fighter pilot Heinz Knoke (opposite) and his squadron are sent to Norway,
about forty kilometers from Oslo. This is to protect
the damaged battleship "Prince Eugène", which has taken refuge in a fjord.
But the RAF wants to finish it and sends a photographic reconnaissance plane.
Knoke will intercept it

February 26, 1942.
A 1:12 p.m., our radar posts signaled the approach of a very fast enemy plane. Obviously, it is a reconnaissance aircraft.
At 1:15 p.m., I take off, alone. At all costs, I must intercept this fellow.
By an endless spiral, I climb up to 8,000 meters. The patrol section has been ordered to circle above Prince Eugene.
I zigzag, look right, left, the sky is empty. Not the slightest trace of English. The ground control indications are too imprecise to guide me. After prowling in vain for eighty-five minutes, I sit down, furious and disappointed. This outing for nothing just brought me the onset of frostbite on my feet.
February 27, 1942.
That's the second time I've tried to catch this lonely Tommy, and that he slipped through my fingers.
February 28, 1942.
The NCO on duty rushes into the desk where I black out pages and report pages.
Lieutenant, the recon device has returned! I jump out of the window and, wading through the snow, race down the embankment, towards the main trail.
Already, the mechanics are busy around my zinc, tear off the tarpaulins, push back the porthole. As I buckle into my seat, the engine begins to heat up.
The window closes, the mechanics squat on the planes and let themselves slide. I open wide the gas inlet. The engine starts to howl. Springing behind the fuselage, a high whirlwind of snow accompanies me to the runway. Twenty seconds later, I tear off the device and immediately start climbing.
Today the controller is in good shape. With perfect precision, he showed me the successive positions of the enemy.
Like yesterday and the day before yesterday, the English crossed the coast at Christiansand. Altitude 8000. It will take me eighteen minutes to climb up to it.
Indian in Berta-Kurfürst. Hanni eight-zero. How is Victor? shouts the controller's voice.
Which means in normal language:enemy reconnaissance aircraft in square B-K of the map. Altitude 8000. Can you hear me well? I respond immediately:
Excellent Victor! (I can hear you perfectly.)
If the control is not wrong, I must see my game any moment. Unfortunately, wisps of mist significantly obstruct the view. My eyes widen, I turn my head to the right, to the left, still nothing.
Indian now in Berta-Ludwig!
Name of a dog, where is he hiding, this ghost bird!
To avoid a cloud, I turn sharply, to the right. Suddenly, I jump. A few meters above me hovers a Spitfire. I can clearly make out the cockade in the British colours, the size of a wagon wheel.

Suddenly, I rear up and climb into a candle. This time, he won't escape me!
The Englishman saw me, too. Skidding on the wing, it rushes to pass under my belly.
I push the throttle and throw my cuckoo in a tight turn to the maximum. Above all, do not lose sight of it! With both hands, I pull on the handle. A giant fist pushes me back into the hollow of the seat, an intolerable vibration passes before my eyes...
Here he is again! Launched at maximum power, it swoops, almost vertically, towards the west, towards the sea. Immediately, I tip over and set off in pursuit. The engine runs at breakneck speed. As I turn on the collimator, I realize that my wings are beginning to vibrate.
I trigger the shot before I even get into range. To increase the speed, I close the radiator shutters. Too bad if the engine blows!
Like an arrow, the Spitfire flies towards the ground. Despite my nervousness, I can't help admiring the elegance of its silhouette, and also the guts of its pilot.
6,000 meters! I hold it in my sights. How can you resist the temptation to shoot it!
5,500 meters! The distance is still too great, at least 300 meters.
4,000 meters, 3,000, 2,000... my engine is about to burn out... our dive is getting more and more dive the vertical, there is nothing to do, the Spitfire is too fast. The distance, instead of decreasing, is constantly increasing. I feel like my head is going to burst. Painful crackles crackle in my ears. I've ripped off the oxygen mask, and I can smell the acrid odor of overheated glycol. The radiators are boiling! And the badin still indicates 800 km / h.
At 1,000 meters, the Englishman slowly recovers from his dive. One behind the other, we zoom over the snowfields of the Coast Mountains. I grit my teeth seeing that my old "Emil" is lagging behind miserably. Of course, it's a veteran, a survivor of the Polish campaign, while the sleek, brand new Spitfire certainly represents the latest in modern sophistication.
As we emerge into the above the sea, I give up the vain pursuit. With rage in my heart, I open the radiator shutters and start a wide bend to get back to the coast. The Englishman is no more than a tiny black dot on the horizon. Bon voyage, my friend, and may the North Sea winds be favorable to you! See you soon, no doubt...
The propeller in step, I engage between the steep walls of the fjord whose wild beauty consoles me somewhat for my disappointment.
The landing on the ice rink that is the big track is not funny. When the device has finally finished waltzing, I realize that I am shaking, from fatigue, cold, nervousness. Basically, it's not surprising:this senseless dive would have shaken the nerves of a hippopotamus.
A cognac, quickly!
March 4, 1942.
It's been three days since “my” Tommy came back. The commander offers a bottle of real Hennessy, a real treasure. to whoever is going to take him down. It's certainly a tempting bounty, but, for me, this story has become about self-love. Three times already, I tried to kill this boy who seems to taunt us. The fourth must be the right one!

March 5, 1942.
A sudden commotion in the central barracks:“The Englishman is coming back! Even the switchboard operator is passionate about this elusive game.
One jump out of the window, twenty leaps in the snow, and I climb into the cockpit of my “Emil”. A few seconds later, I take off.
1:20 p.m. With all the power of my brave engine, I screw myself into the clear sky.
1:10 p.m. At 5,000 meters, I put on the mask. My God ! How cold it is!
Indian in Caesar-Ida, Hanni seven-zero (1)!
Victor, Victor (2), I say, my teeth chattering.
Indian now in Caesar-Kurfurst.

Since the Englishman is walking at 7,000 meters, I will go up to 8,000 to secure the advantage.
Indian in Berta-Ludwig!
That's what I thought . It turns towards the northern end of the bay, where our ships are moored.
Here I am at 8,000 meters. Systematically, I scan the sky devoid of clouds. Soon I discover, on my left, a black point which seems to hover above a field of snow. No doubt, it's my Spitfire. Trailing a short trickle of condensation, it turns to approach the fjord. Arrived at the vertical of its objective, it describes two complete circles. Obviously, he takes pictures.
I take this opportunity to place myself above him. Absorbed by his work, he does not see me. A few seconds later, he heads back west.
Opening the throttle fully, I unlock my guns and swoop down on him. Transforming the 1,000 meters above sea level into extra speed, I arrive in the blink of an eye behind him, this time within good range. With violent pressure, I crush the trigger of my guns. As attracted by a magnet, my shells sink into its fuselage. Spasmodic gleams light up behind his porthole.
Surprised, the Englishman launches into a series of wild turns. But I'm not letting go. With strong rudder thrusts, I managed to keep him in my sights.
He skidded, fell, recovered 500 meters below. Now he unwinds a faint plume of smoke. "He draws", as we say in pilot jargon. The plume grows... I'm still shooting...
Suddenly, something viscous claps on my porthole. Oil ! I swear:my front window has become opaque, I can no longer see the injured Spit who may be escaping...
No damnation! However, my engine runs normally, and the oil pressure remains constant. Probably the sticky liquid that robs me of a certain victory comes from the burst radiators of the Spitfire. I turn slightly to the right in order to observe the Englishman through the side windows.
He moves away more and more slowly, but finally, he still holds in the air. The plume of smoke has become imperceptible. Looks like he's going to be fine.
As I continue to rant, I hear a mocking voice in the headphones:
So, old man, did you draw a blank again?
My friend Dieter, officially Lieutenant Gerhard, climbs towards me and comes to stand on my left:I explain the situation to him.
Don't worry. I'm going to finish him, he shouts to me.
Launched at full speed, he quickly arrives in the tail of the wounded Spit. A single sheaf, and the right plane of the Englishman stands out. Spinning like a dead leaf, the device swoops down.
I feel a strange sensation. This pilot who crossed the North Sea to come and walk above the fjord, all alone, in the face and under the beard of an entire squadron, basically, I admire him. Is he alive? If so, what is he waiting for to jump?
The Spit, a ball of fire rolling on itself, rushes towards a field of snow. A few more seconds and it will crash, smashing the pilot's body to a pulp.

Distraught, I start screaming:
Jump, for God's sake, jump!
As if the unfortunate could hear me! I'm shaking, I feel a sour nausea rising in my throat... This Englishman is a soldier, like me, an airman who loves his job just like me. Maybe he has a wife too, like me.
Jump, old man, jump!
Then I see a body break away from the flames, perform a cabriole, then glide under a white corolla which gently carries it towards the mountain.
My anguish gives way to total joy... Finally, we have had our first Inglish.
Dieter and I, we share the bottle of cognac. We drink to the health of the hunt, a noble weapon among all, and to the rescue of our Tommy. Then Dieter takes off, with the aid of a "stork" (1) equipped with skis, to look for him at the bottom of a nearby valley. I'm glad to see that the Englishman is as likeable as I had imagined:a tall, nonchalant lad, a lieutenant in the R.A.F. He also needs a brandy. He smiled when he learned that the whole bottle was dedicated to him.

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