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Mission: Interception of enemy aircraft
Date: 26th November 1943

Unit: 6 Staffel./Jagdgeschwader 27

Type: Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6

Werke/Nr. 160842

Coded: 9 + - (Yellow)

Location: Makkinga? (The Netherlands).

Pilot: Gefreiter. Maximilian Soentgerath. 68416/173. Born 14.12.1922 in Cologne.

Pasted Graphic
Max pictured here in flight gear (Soentgerath).


At 10:55 hours. Again it starts with a stand-by. Then –shortly after: “Alarm take-off” The mechanic turns the engine on, the flywheel hums louder and louder until I pull the starter, berck, breck, breck, brrrrrrr. The engine comes to life. As if they are fixed to a rope one craft after the other rolls to the starting point, full throttle and up into the air. I pull the wheels in and adjust the propeller to travel speed, and try to find connection to the nearest Me 109. Everybody has his own position. I take my place to the left of Otto. Three times 16 planes assemble to a formation and then fly into the direction of Düsseldorf. The Squadron Leader Oberleutnant. Kientsch leads his Squadron with the first group in the lead, the second, led by Otto, right behind him. Every time 4 Me109’s spread behind and to the sides. In the fall you can see the migrating birds fly like this, the humans copied this from them. A group is four planes flying in a wedge shape, wing to wing. The squadron is build up by four groups.

Sixteen Messeschmitt’s pull through cloud cover. I can see only the wingtip of Otto’s Me. To me it looks like we are in a laundry kitchen, haze and fog all around me and below no visibility at all. Where is up, where is down, misery will I lose my connection now, I still can see a shimmer from Otto. In closed formation every plane follows the other. The Squadron captain has instrument flying equipment in his plane. He does have a couple of instruments that we do not have and he manages to get us out of the cloud. The sound of the propeller even tells me that we are gaining speed. I stem the speed. Also our flight conditions seem to be not OK. My artificial horizon goes beserk. We fall more out of the clouds towards the ground instead of flying. But our Squadron captain gets us back to a stable flight. I pull my Messerschmitt up like the others and suddenly I have the Rhine Valley in front of me. Ahead I see the Cologne Cathedral, and while I look at it we already are flying over the damaged town. Oh God, is my Cologne destroyed, only the Cathedral looks undamaged, it seems to swear with its fingers in the air: “Stop this damned war and let it become peace again”. After such a view one is motivated to do anything to prevent the enemy formations from entering your country. Over the headphone I hear that the enemy formations are flying in over Holland. ”Furniture truck sighted over the Channel” we are told. It is the code name for enemy bombers. With “Indians” enemy fighters are meant.

Düsseldorf tankstop.

We have to get fuel and land at Düsseldorf. Our Squadron begins to land at 11.15 hrs and taxies right away to the edge of the runway to fuel up. What are they hanging between our wheels? An extra fuel tank. When I get a hit in there I will burn like a torch I think to myself. “Before enemy contact drop it” Otto shouts to me, he has had the before, for me it was the first time. Without them I could only stay in the air as long as 50 minutes during my missions in Italy after my illness I have been with my comrades here in Germany for only a few days.

It is the same Squadron as in Italy, but many faces have changed. Except for a few old ones like Otto, Willy and Karl they are all younger as I am. Where are the others, the ones from my class? Where are they? I console myself by thinking that they must be in a hospital like myself. One day they will join the Squadron again. The young pilots that I meet here have followed the shortened training. We, that is Otto, Willy and myself were from May 1941 till April 1943 at various schools before we went to front service, Anyway always two year, and the young ones were sent to our Squadron after 8 months. For my information I have another look in my logbook and it says that we took off again at 11:22. Now it goes into the direction of The Netherlands and towards the enemy formations.

As I told in the beginning, I fly as wingman of my group, left outside with the order to stick close to the Me of Otto ( for me no problem, 2 meters from wing to wing). With this I got a lot of experience during the last two years, but attacking a bomber formation head on is for me the first time. Everything is once the first time I tell myself, and Otto is experienced so I will stick to his side. Like a flock of bees, large and black, before us the coastline in the haze and we at about 7.500 meters. “Climb to 8.000 meters” I hear in my headphone, and the whole Squadron follows the instruction. My aircraft is soft as butter in the air and I have hardly any pressure on the rudders. I think it will change when we dive on the bombers at 6.000 meters. Strange but a moment ago when I could not see any enemy plane I felt my heart beating as far down as in my trousers, now that is away, not a trace of excitement. Until now for me it was all theory but now it comes over me like a fire-storm. To see where Otto is, or have a look to see what the other Me’s are doing, no time. Now drop the spare tank, which they installed between the wheels at Düsseldorf, goes through my head. I push the “drop” button on my stick.

Then I get a machinegun volley in my wings. The foil breaks open like a rosette, I push all buttons of my weapon system, a four engine bomber is coming straight at me. A giant tail rises from the end of the fuselage. A Fortress II, precisely just in front of me, a flying fortress with 8- 10 machineguns goes through my mind. I do not let the buttons for my cannons and machine guns go, and fly now at the same level towards the bomber. The two right engines are bellowing dark smoke. I pull up, just in time for not thundering against the huge tail structure. Where is my formation? To the left under me a Me, on the right in front of me the second formation of bombers, I am right in the middle. Again hits on my plane, from where does the fire come? Flames outside of my cockpit I want to catch up with the Me and dive towards him. Inside on the right where I have a control glass tube in my fuel line the fluid is boiling. I did drop the spare tank. Where do the flames come from?

That here is from the spare tank, I‘ve got to get out, first jettison the canopy and-the plane spins, I’ve lost control on the rudders. Above me the canopy flies away. The flames hit my face, from the heat and the fire I can hardly see. I keep my hand spread out before my face. On the right of me I suddenly see another Me. I cannot get out. The centrifugal force presses me into the seat. I want to get out I cry, I want. I unbuckle and I push with all weight against the stick. A moment, yes a very small moment the plane stops its spin. The upper part of my body is caught by the wind and pulled out of the seat and I fly past the stabilizer, quite close.- an explosion disturbs the silence-metal pieces fly through the air, quite close to me. It looks like everything is turning around me. My body and parts of the wreck fall with the same speed towards the ground. The ground, where is she? I look down, she turns like a rotating disk. Far above me are dots that become very fast smaller and smaller, below me shreds of clouds that offer now and then a view of the coast. I must drop further down. Do not pull the chute now. After tumbling and turning a bit my trip downwards becomes quieter. The earth stops turning. Below me ditches and houses far ahead the sea. But where is my arm? I try to find my left arm. I am lucky to find the handle of my ripcord on my flight combination. I am still not low enough, I will wait. Now I can pull, a whispering of silk behind me, or is it above me, a drag on my upper leg, and it becomes silent around me. The parachute has opened. I sing a song, one I heard a couple of days ago. Then the ground is already coming at me, much faster then I believed, and the ditches and the pastures. I am towed over the meadow. When I hit the release switch of the belt I am liberated from my chute. Farmers come running towards me. The women quickly grab the parachute and the men carry me to a road. Where is my left arm, I ask, and in Dutch I hear:”it is behind you” It is at least still there I think. Shortly after a car comes to pick me up. I am driven to a hospital in Leeuwarden. In my hospital bed I discover Otto next to me.

He tells me that he landed with his parachute in the middle of a greenhouse. That is the reason for the cuts on his body. And how are you looking Otto says pointing at me. You have a “Stucka” on your left arm (that is the name for that type of supporting bandage) a turban and a head bandage, only my mouth and eyes are visible. Hardly were we taken care off when our Oberleutnant Kientsch comes in. One bomber came down, did you hit it? Yes obvious, we both had him in front of us. Both the right engines were on fire, I tell him. And Otto said also the two on the left. That however was not the case. His statement nearly cost me my claim. When both sides were burning then it was not the wreck that came down, in that case you have been firing at something else. I have visited the bomber that was shot down and I have found that he was only shot up on the right side.“ But now I want to hear the details about the attack from each of you. You Max come first to the waiting room.” I follow him and he let me sit on a chair. “ OK, you tell me what you have seen and how was the situation with the hits.” “I saw a Fortress II come at me and while I was flying in the left of our formation I aimed at the two right engines and they caught fire. A fat smoke trail showed me that I hit the target, after I passed the “Flying Fortress” I dived down and was shot up myself, this is how it went.” “Go back and let Otto come to see me.” Back in the hospital room I said: “Otto it is your turn, Obl. Kientsch is expecting you in the room.” “Herr Oberleutnant, I have taken a shot at the bomber”he said but he had not recognized the type and thus did not qualify for the claim. “Eight crewmembers of the bomber are in the room next to you.” Was the next thing Klientsch told us. “Yes I have seen them come down on their parachutes, they must have landed quite close to me” is what I said. “Correct,” Klientsch said, “you have given the right description, I would like to know what Otto has been shooting at”. Otto did not say anything. Later he tells me that it all went so quick that he really did not know at what he had been firing, certainly not at the Fortress.

On the same floor in the hospital I get to know the eight crewmembers who rescued themselves with their chute. How strange, they are airmen and they understand each other even when they speak with hands and feet. I may smoke my first American cigarettes, and it makes me sick. They tell me how they were attacked by me, and I learn that the tail gunner who hit me did not make it out of the aircraft. Practical daily we meet in the corridor, not a trace from the “enemy”. The crew remains as long as Otto and me in the hospital, there after they will be transported away as POW’s. In the hospital however they get from the Dutch the same treatment as we.

Burial detail: None. (Survived the war)

Researched & compiled by Melvin Brownless with special thanks to Max Soentgerath for his gripping personal account, Dave Kirby for translation (April 2013).