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Mission: Defense of the Reich.

Date: 15th March 1944

Unit: 5 Staffel./Jagdgeschwader 11

Type: Messerschmitt Bf 109G-5

Werke/Nr: 27127

Coded: (Black) 4 +

Location: Dyle, 4 km W of Nienburg, Germany.

Pilot: Unteroffizier. Franz Zambelli. – Killed. Born 27.03.1921 in Budenheim.

1 Franz Zambelli
Unteroffizier. Franz Zambelli portrait (Ireland)


(Extract from Oblt..Heinz Knoke's book "I flew for the Fuehrer").

"No.4 Flight places one of its aircraft at my disposal (Knoke) by order of the Commanding Officer.

Specht and I take off together with Uffz. Hauptmann and Uffz. Zambelli as our wingmen. When we attempt to attack a formation of Liberators over Luenburg Heath, we were taken by surprise by approximately 40 Thunderbolts. In the ensuing dog-fight our two wingmen are shot down. Zambelli.... used to play the accordion. His last alert came when he was in the middle of playing a lively dance - tune. His accordion was still lying on the table when the rest of us returned from the mission - he was killed."

2 Franz Zambelli
Franz Zambelli relaxing with accordion (Ireland)

Note: Knoke has recorded the death of Franz Zambelli as being on the 08.03.44 which is obviously wrong. Also worth mentioning is no trace of a Uffz. Hauptmann, who was also reported shot down on the same day as Zambelli in German loss records. There is however a 5/JG11 loss on the 20.02.1944 which shows a Uffz. Karl-Heinz Hauptmann shot down near Einbeck in a Focke Wulf Fw 190A-6 Wnr.470076. So unfortunately Knocke's records are partly incorrect.

Jochen Prien has a Fw. Franz Zambelli (5/JG11) listed in his records as being shot down in a Me 109G-6 near Nienburg by P-47 Thunderbolts on the 06.03.1944 with Zambelli baling out. He also details the loss of Uffz. Franz Zambelli (5/JG11) on the 15.03.1944 which is listed above. Prien also lists a Uffz. Hans Weissgerber (5/JG11) lost on the 15.03.1944 flying Me 109G-6 Wnr.20075, so perhaps he is the other wingman lost with Zambelli this day?

3 Franz Zambellicc4 Franz Zambelli
Left: Franz Zambelli portrait. Right: Uffz. Franz Zambelli - Fighter pilot. (Tom Kracker via Brad Ireland)

Report by Brad Ireland regarding the life of Franz;

Franz Zambelli was born in Budenheim on the Rein river outside Meintz on March 27, 1921. His mother was Margarette Beckhaus Zambelli and his Father was Luigi Zambelli. Luigi owned a ran a trucking business and was drafted by the army to transport supplies with his trucks. Margarette ran a laundry business from thier home. He had one older sister Elise who pass away a few years ago, and a younger sister, my Grandmother, Margaret (She marrried a G.I. stationed in Budenheim shortly after the war, my Grandfather George W. Bradford).

He loved to ride motorcycles (I have a picture of him on it if you want it), he played several instruments (fife in Hitler Youth, banjo mandoline, and accordian in a band ) He also loved to fly and belonged to a glider club before enlisting in the army. He trained to be a mechanic.

Of his military carreer, he spent some time in the infantry as a reserve laborer before he was able to enlist in the Luftwaffe. He was assigned to 5JG-11. He was not allowed to be an officer as he was half Italian so he enlisted to fly as an unter-officer. Apparently he was shot down once, bailed out and lived to fly again. Then on a mission with Heinz Knoke (his wingman), another officer and another Unterofficer he was shot down and killed. The account of his death is in the book I flew for the Furer by Knoke. The accordian (in the photograph in the attached file and spoken of in the book) was in my Grandmother's posession until 2 years ago when she threw it in the dumpster. I begged her not to do it and to give it to me but she said it was broken and would cost too much to repair than what its worth. I guess she doesn't understand the value of an artefact attached to a soldier, especially one spoken of in a book.

What my Grandmother tells me of this death: He was shot through the chest but managed to land his plane in a field. By the time someone got to him (a farmer I believe) he was already dead. His mechanic brought his posession’s to his parents some time after his death. He also gave his mother his log book. My grandmother says that in his log book, he shot down and/or assisted in shooting down 16 planes. My Great Grandmother wept for the "poor Americans". When the Americans advanced into Germany and into Budenheim, she burned many of his records and this book so I can not speak to its accuracy, only the memory of my 88 year old Grandmother. My Great Grandmother was afraid of retrobution from the Americans if they found out her son was a Pilot.

My Great Aunt Elise never had any children. My Grandmother had 2 sons and 1 Daughter (my Mother). I am her only grandchild. I was lucky to be able to spend three weeks in my families home in Budenheim that was built by my Great Great Grandfather. Elise lived there until she died a few years ago and then my Grandmother sold it.

Brad Ireland

Researched and compiled by Melvin Brownless (September 2011) with thanks to Tom Kracker and Brad Ireland for supplying photos.
Updated July 2014.