The Luftwaffe's Lion-Taming, Escapist Fighter Ace!
My first H&V of the year. I'm going to be trying out some slightly different formatting for this one. If I decide I like the formatting, I may go back and revamp some older entries. First off, I'm going to dress up my articles with sensational (but true) headlines. Like a 50's stag mag. 50's stag mags knew how to get attention and interest.
Franz Von Werra joined the Luftwaffe in 1936, and qualified as a fighter pilot by 1938. Upon the formation of the fighter group Jagdgeschwader 3 , he was assigned as an officer, and flew combat over France, scoring 4 kills by the time the invasion was over.
Von Werra maintained a reputation as an eccentric upper-class playboy. His squadron had a pet lion named Simba, and photographs of the man often feature this mascot. He often returned from missions with wild tales of impossible feats and odds. His penchant for tall tales earned him the nickname Baron, a reference to the fictional Baron Münchausen, who also spun tall tales of adventure and achievement. On August 28 of 1940, he returned from a sortie claiming to have downed 9 RAF Hurricanes after getting separated from his squad.
Soon, Von Werra would have an opportunity to make his facts much more impressive than his fiction. September 5th, 1940, The Bf 109 E-4 "Black >" of Stab II./JG3 (Von Werra's fighter) crash landed in Kent.
The exact circumstances aren't entirely clear, but here's what I've determined. Von Werra's plane was damaged (possibly by friendly fire, possibly by P/O Bennions of the RAF), causing him to drop altitude over the Kent district of England. An RAF pilot named Gerald Stapleton reported engaging a wounded fighter matching Black >'s description in that area, forcing it down in a field outside Marden, Kent. Also according to Stapleton, Von Werra was apprehended by an unarmed cook who had been manning a searchlight.
Actually, the Brits got some great photos out of this wreck and I'd hate to have them go to waste.
The Brits put Von Werra's smug ass to work at Maidstone Barracks, digging ditches. He attempted to overpower a guard with his pickaxe, and was moved to a slightly more prison-y location, Grizedale Hall
The Brits, in their eternal quest to be upper-class weirdos, apparently allowed the prisoners at Grizedale to have an escorted walk each day. Von Werra collaborated with the other prisoners to block the guard's view while he slipped away. And it worked! Briefly. After an extensive search, the Home Guard found him in a ditch and dragged him back to prison. This time, he was sent to Camp 13 at Derbyshire.
From Camp 13, Von Werra participated in an escape attempt with four other prisoners. They created fake IDs and paperwork to leave the country, and then built a tunnel out of the camp. The plan worked, and all five of them escaped the camp. Four were quickly recaptured, but Von Werra was unaccounted for.
For his part, Von Werra had convinced a local train driver that he was a Dutch pilot, Captain Von Lott, and he needed some help getting back to his unit. During the journey, they were stopped by the police and questioned, but the cops failed to realize the passenger with the heavy accent might have been the person they were looking for.
It wasn't until he was literally in the cockpit of a fueled up British plane, running a quick check and figuring out the controls, did anyone realize he was Franz Von Werra. In the nick of time, he was pulled from the cockpit at gunpoint. The Brits were finally tired of Von Werra's shit, and decided to send him to Canada.
Once they reached Ontario, the Brits put Von Werra on a train to his new home. He and a few other prisoners hopped off the train as soon as they had a chance. Naturally, everyone but Von Werra was quickly captured and put back on the train. He was nowhere to be found.
Von Werra managed to cross the northern border of the United States and made his way to New York City, where the police planned on arresting him for entering the country illegally. I'm not making that up. However, the German embassy demanded his release, and got it. They then shipped him down south to Brazil, and from Brazil, back to the Axis forces.
In October of '41, the Luftwaffe assigned Von Werra to I./JG53, to go fight on the Ostfront. They also issued him one of the new Bf 109 F series, which he put to use downing 12 soviet aircraft (mostly bombers, but his last kill was an Il-2). Then on October 25th, Von Werra was on a practice flight when his engine failed over the North Sea. He was never seen again.
He would be remembered by Germany as a vain playboy, prone to telling tall tales, but who managed the skill and guile to hold up his stories.
The Brits would remember Von Werra as "The One Who Got Away".
- Kacha, Petr. Aces of the Luftwaffe - Franz Von Werra, www.luftwaffe.cz/werra.html.
- This one was a discussion of the circumstances that led to Von Werra getting shot down.