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2 Soentgerathccc3 Max Soentgerath
Life story of Max Soentgerath former JG27 fighter pilot. Max Soentgerath

You have to write that down....

Just when I was telling a group of journalists what had happened to me on the 20th July 1944 in the Prague Hospital, situated on the right Moldau bank, between two bridges when the radio message came through about the murder attempt on Hitler. Here one of the journalists interrupted me and said: “You must write that down”
In the meantime I have written down some of the memories.But as I do not want to start at the end I must begin at the time of my youth which began before the Hitler era and ended with Hitler coming to power and the terrible war.

From the time when I was ten years old I was allowed to join the St. Georges Boys Scouts. And while I had a good voice I also joined the church coir. Every weekend we went out into the woods of the Bergisches Land or into the Westerwald.

We participated in tent camps and kept watch with an older boy at the camp fire. Sometimes the Hitler Jugend boys were spying aroud our camp, sometimes the Comunist Youth Group and the Youth of the Socialistische Partei Deutschland. The St. George Scouts was an a-political purely religious oriented organisation. There was enough tension between the groups. When one night a tent collapsed while ther herrings were pulled out of the ground, all hell broke loose. The larger boys were looking for the enemy camp and they did find it. These boy did not have a reason for laughing next night . Not only their tents collapsed but their flag was stolen and much more.

I was free to participate in these tent camps until the middle of August 1934, then they were banned by the new government. They had decided to forbid all organisations even the student’s to appear in public.

We Scouts continued for two more years by singing and story telling in youth homes. Then here also came the end. Finished. Closed. Some of the friends that I knew partly from the streets were now members of the Hitler Jugend and tried to convince me to join them. What they told me from their new activities did not appeal at all to me. Until Hans took me one time with him to Brück in the Eifel.
They let me sit in a glider trainer and keep balance against the wind. He managed to get me interested in flying. Therefore however I had to join the HJ. My parents did not like this idea.
My father remained Inspector and could forget about further promotions. Before the take over of power by Hitler he belonged to the Schräder Group- leaning towards the SPD- and did not want to join THE PARTY. But because my mother was an early stage flying enthusiast this made it easy for me. Before I was ten years old she was already flying with Major Kannstein in a bi-plane from Butzweiler-Hof over the Rheintal and the Eifel. She told my father, who knows he may benefit from joining the HJ. Maybe it also helps you. As long as you are not a party member you can forget a promotion and this way you can refer to your son. I want to become a pilot I told her then already, like other boys Locomotive-driver or racer.
The medical test for pilot did not create any problem for me. My parents signed the permission for me to follow pilot training. I became a member of the HJ. Before the summer of 1940 I reached level B. B stands for basic training for glider pilot.. For “A “ it was sufficient to glide down from the slope and make a few turns left and right, for the “B” training I had to fly correct , gain altitude, make target trial landings etc.
All the political confusion of those day went by me. In the meantime I was attending the Dreikönigen Gymnasium an I had little time for other things. Main thing was to reach my class targets.

I observed howeven that some boys were no longer in the class. No one asked why. Maybe gone away, because he could not reach the class targets? Or did his parents move and did he no longer live in Köln. From the discussions between my parents I found out that my father had not been promoted in his job as a government employee because he was not a Party member. Other collegues were already higher as he was. It is your party membership card I heard my mother say. You can better swim with the stream than against it. So finally he became a member of the party and soon afterwards was promoted to chief inspector.When the war started on 1st September 1939 he was commanded to the occupation of Warsaw and later to Prague. Again with a promotion to counselor. That was the result of being a party member.

All from the Gymnasium who joined the military as a volunteer did not have to perform the written examination. From the 21 in examination class above me however only 3 voluntered.
At that point I had no idea that I also would volunteer.

In September 1940 the whole family moved to Prague. We lived in the Rilkestreet, straight across the Letná. My only and first meeting with a Jewish merchantman I had in the same street, next to us. On the groundfloor, it was a sous terrain building, was an antique shop. In the window was a Leica- one witch a brass housing. Next to it was a sign: “Low price due to closuere of shop” I entered the small shop and asked for the price. “You can have that one cheap my boy” He spoke to me in perfect German, how would I have answered him in the Czech language?
“50 Reichs Mark ( how many Krone? I do not remember anymore) that is all you can afford” I was surprised again , he had a good estimate of my financial situation. “Yes I would like to have it, I go to my mother next door and I will be right back”. My mother gave me the money as an advance on my pocket money. It was meant for the whole month. Back in the shop I showed the bill and recieved the Leica. When I want to look for something else a couple of days later the shop was closed. I praised myself as a lucky guy that I had at least the Leica before the shop was closed. The reason for the closure I only learned much later.

In the neighborhood restaurant I played to accompany the singing Czech guests with an accordeon. In exchange I got beer (Pivo) and food.
To start something in Prague without the knowledge of the Czech language was not easy so I decided for a pilot training. For that however I had to volunteer. During a game of chess in Cafe Srobek I met a pilot who told me how to enlist. I learned that the training would take two years, by then the war would be over.

In retrospective this step was too early, but I could not know at that moment that shortly thereafter I would get to know my wife. She lived in Holešovice near the orchard (Stromovka). I must admit that before I did not yet have a relation with a girl. I only one thing on my mind and that was flying. I did not even have the thought to be on the lookout for a girlfriend in a foreign town where I did not even understand the language. Coincidence or no coincidence? But mrs Porsche gave me the key to gate of her garden so I could swim in a branch of the Moldau river and change in the garden house. The offer was tempting so I took it. The offer to walk through the orchard and turn left at the steel bridge and open garden gate nr 17 was quickly put into action.

When I wanted to open the door it was already unlocked and when I entered the garden I saw a girl dressed in swimsuit sunbathing in a beachchair .
We introduced and her name was Olly, from Olga and as petname she was even called Ollynka. She got from the garden house a chessboard and we played a game.
We swam together in the branch of the Moldau, and later I also brought her home. From now on we met daily. Her girlfriend was not allowed to come anymore which of course she did not like.
With her I got to know Prague. We climbed the “Mountain” to the Obsevatory and visited theatres and conserts. When the schools started again I went to meet her every day after school at the Stephans-Gymnasium. But I had enlisted for the pilot training and was not able to change that. Thus on the 2nd October 1940 I was called up. I knew Olly since one month.

In Pardobitz I went through boot camp.

Anything but flying. They dragged us around the barracks square and much more. I wrote my girlfriend every day and nearly every day she replied.
One of the things we had to learn during basic training was rifle shooting. Arly in the morning we marched towards the shooting range on the heather. Every soldier had to practise target shooting. The target was devided by circles around a point. One officer was controlling the whole thing. Never had a gun in my hand before (and afterwards defenitely never again) I shouldered the rifle, when it was my turn, aimed for the black center and pulled the trigger. With a stick they indicated near the target where the shot had gone. They signalled a 12 and the officer shouted: “Who was that? Who fired that last one? “ I was surprised, and I thought : “What have I done wrong?” so hesitating I said “ Yes me.”
The officer comes to my stand and tells me proudly: “when you do that again twice a 12 you get three days special leave.” I thought about Olly and..... peng another 12.
Keep breathing, keep quiet and aim another time. The shot fell and the stick indicated another 12. Man, you are a true marksman, where did you learn to shoot? I told him that never before I had had such a club in my hands.
Next weekend, Friday, Saturday and Sunday I was allowed to travel to Prague. Everyone surprised, the Komendas and the Soentgeraths. How quick these three day were passed and how long would it be before I could travel to Prague the next time.

Crash from 2.000 meters with the FW 56

On May 22 1941 it all began, at the flight school Prossnitz in Moravia I got my pilot training. I always wanted to become a pilot., as other boys wanted to drive a locomotive or become captain on a large ship. Already at 14 I was flying training gliders and later the Baby, a glider that really could fly. So for my flight teacher it was no surprise to let me solo after 10 hours.
Earlier the chief of the training Leutnant Bierach had made a test flight with me and they let me do my frrst soloflight with white and red streamers on the wings.
It was beautiful to fly alone without hearing the instructor’s comments: “Do not let the wing hang down, keep the engine cover in line with the horizon, watch the vario meter and the altitude indicator” were the standard remarks.
The struts were singing in the wind and the engine was humming its song, around me was quietness, silence and under me the airfield which I had to circle and then land softly on a laid out on the landing strip.“Well done”said Kasbrowsky, and I was allowed to fly some extra rounds until another candidate was relieving me.

Kasbrowsky was a Polish pilot who came to the Germans and became instructor. He had understood he would never have to play an active role in the war and wanted to remain instructor, no matter where.
I also contemplated an idea like him. In any case to remain a student pilot as long as possible, this included of course training on other types of aircraft and finally the decision to chose the fighter side or the bomber side.
I will not dwell on these specific training courses but I will tell about the exciting events, which I experienced as a pilot. Here is the first highflyer.

Kasbrowsky gave me the order to climb with type Focke Wulf 56 up to 2.000 meters and stay up there without changes in altitude for an hour then after the elapsed time make a landing with a gentle glide path. Should the cloud cover close completely then I should end the flight,but when I still could see the field then I was allowed to complete the excersise.
It sounds quiet easy, so I thought and as a control gadget they installed a barograph in the fuselage. It would record all movements of the plane. I taxied to the crossbars at the take off position, looked at the windsock which hang down like a wet towel, thus: no wind, waited for the sign from the aircontroller and throttled up. After about 50 meters I was airborne. Now heaven was mine. It was a beautiful autumn day and I had visibility till the mountains that were in a haze in front of me.
At 1.000 meters allready it felt chilly in the cockpit and it made me shiver a bit. Why did not I put on a second sweather, can I stand it for one hour at 2.000? Or should I discontinue now and land?
But no I think, I will hold on, they would laugh at me when I had to do this excersise a second time. Arriving at 2.000 meters I saw a warm sun and I imagined that she was warming me up.
An hour, what is an hour? But there up in the cold the hour became longer and longer and the clouds started coming, I could only see the field through holes in the clouds. What had the teacher told me?
“When you cannot see the field anymore end the excersise”. I did not give up because I had already 50 minutes behind me and for the 10 minutes left I did not want to stop.
So when I saw a hole in the cloudcover through which I could see I decided to go through it before the whole deck would be closed. The cover was at 1.000 meter below me, I only had to keep my eye on the hole and once through it I would see the landing strip and the whole field.
I started the glide path as I had been told. In flat turns I approached the cloud bank with the hole and view on the earth below.
Now I dive in and I see.... what do I see? The bottom of the wings of a FW 56 coming at me. That cannot be true I think and I pull my plane in a different direction. Too late. The wheels of my plane crash into the wings of the other aircraft.
Finished - I do not fly anymore, I fall, sink. My plane has no lift. Shall I bail out? I have the parachute on, I am sitting more or less on top of it. No, save the plane and of course also yourself. Below me the airfield is getting closer and closer. I try to steer towerds the landing strip.
It is not working. She simply is falling down. I try full throttle. The engine roars. I feel a light pressure on both rudders. That should be enough I think and cross country I initiate the landing. The shoot me red flares. In general this means no landing. I do not think about this and I am down already and roll out towards te hangars. There I halt. My next thought is: where is the other plane? How did the other student manage his problem? Soon I will know the answer. Just like me crosscountry, greeted by red flares he touches down close to me and rolls out and also comes to a stand still near the hangars
After we climbed out of our planes all the flying personel had gathered around us. What is the matter? What have you been doing? All were looking at the planes and shaking their heads. It is a miracle that you both landed in one piece. The wings of both planes had large holes.
This evening we celebrated –Helmut and me- our birthday, our rebirth that is. We could have been in heaven already, for ever.

The wake up call came next morning. To the director, to mr Major Schrőder was the message. We had to go to the control tower where in a separate room the commander and a guard were waiting for us. A voice shouted: “You will be court martialed, I will show you what discipline means you damned dumbo’s. With me you cannot do such a thing, you will go to the front as cannon fodder and demoted as ground personel”
“March them out and transport them to Vienna to court martial them” The Feldwebel saluted. “Yes sir Major”and guided us out. In the cell we were visited by our teacher Kasbrwsky. “What has happened, what have you done?”
On the barograph all looked normal only the landing was a bit sudden. Dont you worry, I will come with you to Vienna. In my opinion you should have be decorated, you save two planes by risking your lives. They can be repaired, not a big deal for the technicians.

Next morning, accompanied by the Feldwebel, two soldiers and our instructor we took the train to Vienna. The session would take place in the afternoon and the train arrived only at 14.00 hrs. We were allowed to eat something and then the guards brought us to the courthouse. To me it was like a puppet show when were led into the room by the guards with their bayonets fixed. The president, we found out during the session was a civilian and had not the faintest idea what flying was about. Whether this was good or bad for us remained to be seen. “What do you have to say for your defence” “Sir President may I know what the accusation is?” “Yes certain but has this not been given to you so you could read it?” “No Sir Mr Judge, we were arrested right away on the airfield by the Commander and left ignorant of what would happen to us”
That is an error in the procedure, do you insist that we suspend the session and start again when you have read the charges?” We both looked at our instructor and he gave us a sign to continue. “No a verbal explanation of the accusation will do for me”.
“Good, you are accused to have intentionaly damaged military property by your negligence. What can you tell me about this?”

I asked the instructor if he had the barograph with him and quickly answered: “I have the Hőhenschreiber (barograph) with me to prove our innocence. “Well that is at least something. Usher, let Mr Hőhenschreiber come into the room” The audience, the airmen in the room were smiling. Then came the instructor with the barograph and put it on the table in front of the judge. “ Here Mr President you can see exactly that the accused did not deviate from his flightplan.” He pointed at the climbing, horizontal an descending line on the barograph”.

“Only a silly coincidence is responsible for the fact, that precisely on the moment when the accused flew through the cloud, a student who is also accused made a looping just under the base of the cloud and both aircraft hit each other belly to belly.
Luckily only material damage followed and both students landed unharmed.”

I had not expected that our Krasbrowsky to pledge for us in such a manner. “Yes then everything is clear, I will consult with my fellow judges and later tell you the verdict” After some time the gentlemen came back. The president stood up and so did all in the room, and then: “In the name of the people, both accused are free” A stone dropped from my heart, I could really hear it plop. Our train back was sceduled at 20:30, the guards were away. What to do? We allowed ourselves a stroll on the Vienna Prater, and that is what we should have done, because when we came to the station our train had left already.

When we came to the barracks next day, we were ordered to the commaander of the airfield. He first congratulated us with our acquittal, he had heard it from the others, but after that he commanded us with a harsh tone: “Attention, I punish you with 3 days heavy while you missed the taptoo” For non-insiders: we did not reach the barracks before the last signal before midnight. We served the 3 days.

And again I could travel to Prague, but that was by accident, a team was formed to play against Slavia Prague. The Luftwaffe Sports Club had to play against a Prague team. I absolutely knew nothing about soccer. I did not know how a football field looked like.
I reported to the sargeant major (the “Spieß”) he was the leader of the three group units. Can you put me in the team, they go to Prague dont they?

The team has been named already, I can only put you at a reserve position, then run quickly to Uffz. Meier, he has the travel plan. Again the same question from Meier, do you know how to play soccer? Sure becouse I played in the youth team of F.C. Köln. Well ok then, you will be only used when we have to replace one of the players. Next weekend, Friday, Saturday and Sunday we will be away. The game was on Saturday and the day before and after were the travel days. Friday at 15.00 we were allready in Prague and I was allowed to go home, yes I did not yet you tell but my family was living in Prague in the Rilkestasse. If this was not a sign for my later connection with lyrics. The great poet als streetname. Exactly at 10:30 I should be in the Sparta Stadium. The stadium was straight across the Sommerberg, called Letna. Olly was there of course she came from the exibition field to the stadium.Later she told me that she was afraid that one of the team had to be me. How would have I been able to influence the game? Just like on the target range, by shooting a 12, here with a goal, or worse, being chased off the field? I am glad it did not happen this way.
The game was won: 3 to 2 and no reserve was used by our team. Until the next day when the train left for Prosnitz I had leave with Olly. That was even the second time on leave during the training.

Action in the Mediteranean.

For telling my experience during the war as accurate as possible I am using my pilot record books that I happy to say were saved. After my second crash which I still have to tell you about I was able to send my two books to my aunt in Cologne. She kept them for me and after I was release as a prisoner of war I got them back.

Salon 27th April 1943, 14:40 hrs. Action in the Bight of Marseille

It is written like this in my flight record book as a closing remark for the day. “Today we fly a bit further out at sea, and you all must keep a close formation” warns our Squadron leader. His name was Kappler or Keppler, let us stick to Keppler, is not so important. After take off we should –as often trained- assemble and form three rows. Everybody knows his position and I take my place next to number 4.
The number is painted here also on the fuselage of the aircraft, sometimes in white, red, yellow or blue. We climb to an altitude of 300 meters, and then it goes into the direction of the Bight of Lyon. I have some idea of what we can expect in the Gulf of Lyon. The commander operates there a sailing yacht and he is friends with out Squadron leader Oberleutnant Keppler. We have seen often this yacht while flying over the Bight and we were made aware of it then.

Over the sea we fly at 4 to 5 meters over the water. So close to the waves that you can nearly touch them. Now the lead plane turns towards the ship. The white sails form a clear contrast against the blue sea.
The first flight reaches the boat and over it turns away and climbs into the sky. The boat rocks but does not capsize.So I think by myself, what will happen when we fly just a bit lower, pull up when we pass them and give full wind into the rigging? We are indeed a bit lower, just above the sails . Now the flightleader should pull up, now- he really does it. All four Me’s follow him. That did it.After a turn we see our Christmas present.
The cutter of the Commander is in the “brook”. So back to the base and no word!
No one knows anything , no one has seen anything. So we all think without having made an agreement. We land again in Salon, the whole Squadron. “Who has tipped the ship of Commander over? Come on tell me, who was it?”
“Our flight was always right behind you Sir Oberleutnant, and we have not seen anything, there were so many cutters, which one would it have been then?”
“Then one from the chief of course” he shouts now. “I have seen it with my own eyes when we had made the turn” “Who was the unlucky bird?”
Nobody stood up, nobody did it, no one had seen anything. I told you I know our flight.

The soldiers were very surprised and they marveled about my stories and the rescue. I would have loved to thank the french who rescued me but I did not even know the name of the port.
But from that moment I have a lot of sympathy for them, even today. After my 24 hours sleep I immedately wrote a card to my parents. I was glad to hear that it arrived before the parcel did, so they were not shocked when they opened it.

The leave after the leave.

When I got my recovery leave of 14 days after my forced bath in the Mediteranean, Olly and I had some happy and quiet days and we spent the time together in Prague.
But also 14 days come to an end and I was thinking about the possibility of how to make this leave last longer. Say Olly I asked, how was that with that appendix that you no longer have?
Oh that? I lost it very early when I was a young girl. Tell me, how was it, where did you feel the pain? Olly showed me the spot where the doctor had pressed and where she felt the pain. And thats all. But what do you want to do with my experience as an ex appendix patient?
Just wait. Two days before the end of my leave I reported to the Air Force Hospital for an examination. The hospital was an old convent situated along the Moldau river. When you looked out of the window you could see the Letna, in german the Sommerberg.
Yes and behind that mountain was our home in Prague, Rilkerstrasse 52. Strange but I still remember the house number. I was to come back the next day, sober for the examination.

I had told that after every meal I had belly ache. Yes that can be all kind of problems, so remain sober tomorrow and we will examine you. How long is your leave? I replied until the day after tomorrow. Oh you know what, I will examine you right away. Go ahead into the examination room. A male nurse showed me the room. Right after him came the doctor, who told me to undress and to lay down on the stretcher.
He pressed at the points that Olly had told me and suddenly pulled back. Ahh I yelled, so he said that was painful, where precisely? Not there where you pushed but on the oposite side. Suspect of an appendicitis. Are you ready to stay here now? We have to operate on you.
I phoned my mother - Olly had no phone - and I told her that I had to stay in the hospital, could she bring me a couple of things and also tell Olly? She lives in the Hermanngasse 17, near the Exibition Building at the Stromovka (City park). I was put into a four bed room and I was not allowed to eat or drink in order to be prepared for the next day, prepared for what I asked, yes for an operation. We have to take the appendix out.
We follow a new procedure the anaesthesiologist told me while he was preparing me for the day to come We inject near the vertebra and you remain consious during the operation.After the operation you must remain the whole day flat in your bed without a cushion, so the poison can distribute easier. So, what had I done te get in this situation? Well love is worth anything.

The next day came, they shoved me into O.R., got the said injection and they waited, until I could not feel anything below my navel.They tested with a needle. When I did not feel anything they cut my belly up, it felt funny, no pain, as cutting through leather.
I will make it short.They proceeded till my appendix, removed it and held it in front of my nose. And what is this? The doctor asked, I answered: the appendix. Yes but where is the inflamation? Yes Herr. doctor, you did the diagnosis, not me. Okay my friend, in that case we’d better not talk about it anymore. I was discharged as “cured” and got another fourteen days Prague-leave with my darling. Thereafter it was back to the unit, to live through more war adventures.

On 27-6-1943 We move from Salon to the front in the south of Italy

The deployment at Salon was no front action, only occasionally we had and air or sea skirmish. Here in the south it would be different, but not as bad as in our homeland from October 1943. With the transfer papers in my pocket I borded the train with direction Lecce.
That is the last point of Italy near the boot, more to the right towards the heel. When you look at the map it is halfway the heel, where you are half an hour away from the Adriatic sea or into the west into the direction of the Mediteranean, at the Gulf of Tarento. I swam in both seas.

Further to the South it is not so easy to reach your travel target. Instead of trains for transport of people you could find more for the transport of cattle, and instead of cattle there were soldiers in them. Me amongst them. Suddenly the train came to a stop in an open plain. Enemy planes following the railroad. All people out of the cars and into the ditches next to the rails. Tratt, tratt, tratt, the first volleys from a machine gun from an enemy plane making a low pass over us. No defence, nothing against this aircraft attack, absolutely nothing. All men back in the Railcars, avanti, avanti a voice shouted and there the train went again. In order to make my story short, from Salon in the South of France to Lecce in the South of Italy, I needed, let me look im my diary, also my Pilot Logbook next to me. Yes there it is: Departure 27-06-1943, Arrival 7-07-1943 in St. Vito.

In Lecce the airfield had been ploughed by bombs, and the unit, in my case Jagdgeschwader 27 Group II of the famous Obltn. Marseilles, was transferred to St. Vito. Finally I found this place. Right on my arrivel I got the first big mouth, it was directed at me in fact but more towards the bunch that sent me there to the front by train. You arrive here without a Me 109 and you also want to fly? Do I see that correct? Yes he saw it correct.Already the next day they sent me back by train into the direction of Verona ( North of Italy region of Milano). Here I got the desired airplane and I brought it back with me in good shape to the front. So said the commander, that one belongs now to me, you can take my old one. But sir, Oberleutnant, there is your whole score list painted on the stabilizer. So what he said, wipe them away. I must have another look in my Logbook.

When did I finally meet the enemy? Eurazo 16-7-1943 enemy contact with Spitfire, maybe English? No idea. But the entry in the book notes my first succes a couple of days later. First I had to collect some front experience. Today only my memory and my diary helps me.
Actually I did not want to go back that far.What remains are the big moments, but I have allready written those down. We took off early in the morning into the direction of Sicily. It was from there that they kept coming to level our airbases. One bomb carpet and no more take-offs. Thats what we wanted to prevent from happening. The bombers however were flying with fighter protection which we should separate from the bomberstream. Another group would then have access to the bombers. I had no experience except for some small skirmishes during the past few days.
Willy the groupleader told me, Max, stay on my wing, do what I do, and when you stay close to me alogside nothing will happen to you. He should know, he was already awarded with the German Cross in gold. You could not see this on his flight gear but the comrades had told me.
I did exactly what he had told me and suddenly he started turning, an upward turn, a roll, a steep dive, and, and, and, I had to change position quite often, then below him, then next to him, but he could fly as he wanted, I stayed on his side like a burdock.
After 40 minutes the hunt stopped and we flew back to the base.

Well done Max, I can use you, you stay at least on my side, quite a few of you predessesors could not do it and they paid with their lives. So, now back to business, did you see my kill? The Spitfire came straight at us... you saw it, she exploded and disappeared in smoke. What- say it again. I saw it?
I have not seen anything, I was busy staying close to you. You made an acrobatic manoevre towards the others, I had only eyes in my head to stay next to you. He looked at my Me 109, that cannot be true, the rubber plugs are still in his machine guns. Those are plugs that fly away with the first shot. I had not fired a shot. The dammed guy has not seen anything in the middle of a dog fight, you can tell that to your granny but not to me.

No I cried, really , I have not seen anything, what do you think, if I had seen the Spitfires then of course I also would have fired at them. Willy got the kill on his name after all, the other comrades had seen it. The next day I could have the second introduction to a Spitfire. In those days I did not have the guts to tell anyone, but after all this time it does not bother me anymore. Before me in the sun something was flying, it looked like a fighter, but I could not recognize it, the sun was blinding me.I tried to get closer and behind him. The pilot turned in and we flew a circus, both in the circle.
Once he in the sun then myself in the sun. Moments I saw the enemy plane. On the fuselage the white five pointed star. A Mustang or a Spitfire I could not identify it. Both of us however could not get close enough behind the other to fire at him, then my warning light came on: landing within 10 minutes or the propellor will come to a stop. With rudder movements right and left, we broke the circus. Both flew bravely home and did not tell anything. This is what I think: “we both were beginners and glad that we only sniffed each other.

But a couple of days later it was the moment. This time over sea. I was again flying with Willy towards the coast of Sicily.There in the haze they came, a whole pack of Spitfires, and we straight at them. They want to beat us while we are in the air and following them are the bombers that will close our base. I learned from Willy, stay close to his wing, keep the eyes open and aim, and hit. It is him or you, that is what he had hammered into me, and it goes fast very fast. The enemy fighters were lower that we were, so we could benefit and dive on top of them. My left wing got hits, where do they come from? The AA from the ships is also firing at us, or was it the first fighter ahead of me? He came flying up from the sea, yes that must have been him. I push the stick forward and close in on a Spitfire, clack, clack, clack do my guns and the first fighter turns away with a fat smoke feather. Now jump, I think before it blows up. Somewhere you had the feeling that he is also a pilot like you and me. Something white flies from the plane, it is the chute, a fireball lights the air and in a lot of spray the plane goes down into the sea. I have not been able to see if the parachute of my opponent opened, I hope so for him. Later in the hospitals I found out how close you can come to each other. I got my first cigarettes from an opponent. When you met each other on the ground you had the feeling: that is also one of us.

This time I was not amongst those who were shot down. But in the dogfight I lost my Willy, shortly after I joined others from the Squadron and reached our field. Willy did not come back and I feared the worse. When our captain shouted at us that some of our Squadron had landed at Eurazo we all had good hope to see our comrades back.To days later my plane did not want to start up at a scramble, it was the old one from the commander. Only at the third attemp did it start, unfortunately I could not reach the group anymore.
What to do in enemy territory, it was over the occupied Sicily, the Americans had landed. I could not find any one to join. Shortly I turned and landed again at our field. “The 16 to me,” At that moment an unknown Oberst shouted, he was with his Squadron also on the same base as we were. I ran towards him, stood at attention and waited for what was to come. Stand still, I punish you with three days heavy arrest, because you came back on your own. He did not want to hear an explanation.But until now I remember his name, it was Oberst Lützow from another Squadron.
My Squadron captain with whom I was on “du” speaking level ( not “Sie”) told me: “ come on do not worry, I am not going to lock you up for that, the only thing is you will have to wait again before you get a promotion. That left me indifferent.

The first action in Germany.

Our base back home was Wiesbaden-Erbenheim. We pulled back from Italy in order to protect our homeland against the massive bombardments. The newest Messerschmitt fighters, the Me 109 Gustav, for insiders the Bf 109G, was rigged up for high altitude, to make it possible to meet the enemy bombers at 8 to 9.000 meters. We tested the first planes. We really reached this top altitude, although the planes were weak and unstable to fly. For propellor planes this was the end, higher was not possible.
The view was beautiful, you could recognize the curving of the globe. Only the introduction of the turbo engines changed this. Today every airliner flies far higher and the passengers experience ths feeling every flight.
I remember, it was the 23rd of November 1943

Waiting we sit in front of our aircraft next to the runway in the sun. The autumn winds play through our hair and fallen leaves come drifting by. No ideal weather for flying, but the war is not choosy, the bombers come at any type of weather.
We in the fighters cannot fly in all types of weather because we lack the instruments and so we need stable weather conditions, this however is relative. We went up already in storm and rain. From the loudspeakers sounds music, top hits like Black Panther, and even the sound of American jazz from Glenn Miller.
Suddenly the order: “Standby in the planes” The playing cards, magazines or books with which we were killing the time fall on the ground. I run as fast as I can to my bird, the number 16, clear and luminescent painted on the fuselage. My mechanic runs behind me. Normally it does not take long before the command “Take Off” But this time the enemy bombers turn away and fly towards Berlin. Again nothing and on top of that, the weather is no good anyway. After some time we get the order: “End of alarm” Out of the planes and back to our quarters.

Some days later: It is the 26th of November 1943 at 10:55 Hours.

Again it starts with a standby . 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 ajust the propellor to travel speed, and try to find connextion 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 Me 109’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 Messeschmitts pull through a 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 when I loose my connection now, I still can see a shimmer from Otto. In closed formation every plane follows the other. The Squadron captain has an instrument flying equipment in his plane. He does have a couple of instuments that we do not have and he manages to get us out of the cloud. The sound of the propellor 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 by myself.
“Before enemy contact drop it” Otto shouts to me, he has had them 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. in 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 wil 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 firestorm. 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.

There I get a machine gun volley in my wings. The surface 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 machine guns 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 were 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 an other 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.
There the ground is already coming at me, much faster than I believed, and the ditches and the pastures and the fence. 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 we were 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 waitng 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 cought 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, Oblt. 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 crew members 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 crew members 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 tailgunner 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. Shortly before Christmas Otto and me drive back via Cologne to Wiesbaden-Erbenheim. In Cologne we make a stop to see my aunt and uncle in Nippes. During the bomber alarm at night we stay in bed. The quicker is our farewell next morning, we want to get away, away from the bombing attacks on the town that is already in ruins.

My recovery leave of 14 days I pass in Prague. With my burnt face I must have looked funny because all, parents and friends were laughing about my looks.The flames left red stripes between the fingers of my hand that I had used to screen my face. I am glad that eventually it went away, the burns were only second grade, and today you do not notice anything anymore. Back with my unit I got for my Christmas the recognition for my air victory. An Iron Cross instead of an “Iron in my cross”. It looks like a miracle that I survived all this. Or?

Before my return, Ollynka told my parents that she had dreamt that I had been shot down, but after the war I would return home in good health. Why are you so sure my mother asked her. “I saw a wilting flower on the side of the street laying on the ground. I brought it fresh water and it stood back up. I believe this to be a symbol for Max.” Olly was right.

2nd March 1944

My orders are to fly a Bf 109G to Metz. The Squadron captain told me that I would have the opportunity to fly back to Eschborn with an Arado 66 bi-plane. It would take some time to get used to flying again after such a long time. In November I was shot down at 8.000 meters over Holland and after my cure and recovery in Bad Wiessee at the Tegernsee this would be my first flight with a Messerschmitt. Fly over the Rhine valley, the Eifel to Metz with a clear visibility and no enemy contact was allready a joyfull event. That’s what I wanted, to fly and to fly. After landing I gave the aircraft to the Fighter Group. As agreed I did not have to travel back by train, there was a bi-plane standby for me. I should also bring back one of our mechanics. I went to the administration, found my mechanic got a bed in the barracs and we discussed the next day’s flight back.
“Meet me at the weather shack around 9 and then we decide further when we can fly back.” Next morning it was not nice at all. Fog, rain and too much wind. The weatherfreaks have a term for that type of weather: “QBI”. Forget the trip back today.
“OK lets meet again here tomorrow same time” I told my passenger. We separated.

Two days . that can easy be the delay before I can take off, that is what I think and I dont feel sorry about it at all, another two days without the war. When I watch the barracks square with a group of recruits, I recognize one of my old pilot friends. He was with met at the pilot training in Prosznitz.
“Man Josef”, I shout over the square. A fresh young Luitenant looks at me, he sees me in my pilot’s outfit without rank insignias. Josef comes to me is a moment astonished and embraces me. “Max you old bandit, you are alive, how great to see you.” “Wait I will send the recruits to their room and you must tell me your story. Feldwebel Meier, take over and dismiss the men.” he ordered.
“Come on we go to my place, I have a room of my own” Josef tells me “there we can talk about everything without being disturbed. How long ago is it when we last met?” he asks me. Let me think. “You did start your training as bomber pilot in the region of Prague when we finished our basic training? And I signed up with the fighter school” “In December ‘42 we we ready with our A/B . On our Christmas party I remember you telling that you were to go to the fighters” says Josef . I answer: “And I do remember that you were moving for the “C” training tp Prague”.

For laymen: the A training is for beginners, the B training is the follow up and finally the C is for “blind” or instrument flying. “Tell me about yourself and what are you doing here in training recruits?” “In Prague I got –as you know- my instrument rating and I flew on Salon the He 111 with torpedo’s under the belly, to look for enemy ships in the Mediterenean.” “I was there as well” I interrupted him. “Right- did not we meet each other there?” he answered. “I looked out of the window from a He 111 when you were going in your flight gear and with parachute to your Bf 109F. It is not a coincidence, and now again here.” I ask him “ you are not flying anymore?” “No, said Josef, after my punctured lung they did not find me fit for flying anymore.” “So that is why you are here, training recruits” “And do you know”, he went on “I am even glad that I do not have to launch torpedo’s against ships any more and to have to watch the poor sailors jump overboard and wait in their lifejackets for rescue.”

Researched and compiled by Melvin Brownless in memory of Max Soentgerath.
Special thanks to Max Soentgerath, former Jagdgeschwader 27 fighter pilot for correspondance and photographs, not forgetting Dave Kirby for his help in translating Max’s document June 2013.
The British Library is preserving this site for the future in the UK Web Archive at All Aircrew Remembered on our Remembrance pages, are therefor not just remembered here, but also subsequently remembered and recorded as part of our nation’s history
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