aviation

Heroes & Villains - Franz Von Werra

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 and Simba inspecting his Bf 109 E-4. They're checking out the MG FF/M cannon in the wing. I believe this was taken in August of 1940. (That's just an educated guess, however)

Franz Von Werra and Simba inspecting his Bf 109 E-4. They're checking out the MG FF/M cannon in the wing. I believe this was taken in August of 1940. (That's just an educated guess, however)

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.

Another picture with his lion cub. I wonder if it was concerned that the British Spitfire would turn out to be more than a match for the Bf 109 E series.

Another picture with his lion cub. I wonder if it was concerned that the British Spitfire would turn out to be more than a match for the Bf 109 E series.

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.

British soldiers at the "Black >" wreck. That's an annoying name, but I'm pretty sure that's how the name is supposed to be written.

British soldiers at the "Black >" wreck. That's an annoying name, but I'm pretty sure that's how the name is supposed to be written.

Actually, the Brits got some great photos out of this wreck and I'd hate to have them go to waste.

"Commander, an extensive review of the wreck turned up suspicious amounts of pussy hair. We'll be wanting to let the folks at Bletchley know about this."

"Commander, an extensive review of the wreck turned up suspicious amounts of pussy hair. We'll be wanting to let the folks at Bletchley know about this."

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

Everywhere in England is castles. Even their homeless shelters are castles. Hell, this image is proof that even their goddamned prisons are castles.

Everywhere in England is castles. Even their homeless shelters are castles. Hell, this image is proof that even their goddamned prisons are castles.

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.

Seriously? I wanna go to British war prison.

Seriously? I wanna go to British war prison.

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.

The Ostfront, where the only thing colder than the weather was the pitch black lump of ash pretending it was Stalin's heart.

The Ostfront, where the only thing colder than the weather was the pitch black lump of ash pretending it was Stalin's heart.

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".


Sources

  • Kacha, Petr. Aces of the Luftwaffe - Franz Von Werra, www.luftwaffe.cz/werra.html.
  • http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/12th-october-1956/16/the-thruster
  • https://ww2aircraft.net/forum/threads/done-1-48-bf-109e-4-von-werra-defense-of-britain-atlantic.43991/
  • https://forum.keypublishing.com/showthread.php?73749-Who-shot-down-Franz-Von-Werra
    • This one was a discussion of the circumstances that led to Von Werra getting shot down.
  • https://www.warhistoryonline.com/featured/franz-the-one-that-got-away-von-werra.html

Saburo Sakai and Harold Jones

I'll be trying a "new" and "exciting" technique here sometimes referred to as "Tarintino-ing it". So I apologize if this comes out dumb as shit.

In 1982, Japanese fighter ace Saburo Sakai met with a man named Harold "Lew" Jones for Memorial Day. They seemed to hit it off quite well. Inspiring, considering that 40 years earlier, they were duty bound to hate the shit out of one another.

Saburo Sakai, looking like a villain, but also fantastic.

Saburo Sakai, looking like a villain, but also fantastic.

Harold "Lew" Jones, looking like a suave Florida bumpkin, which he was.

Harold "Lew" Jones, looking like a suave Florida bumpkin, which he was.

Image from PacificWrecks.org, who I understand keeps a rather large library of donated private photographs. I wish them and their collection well.

Image from PacificWrecks.org, who I understand keeps a rather large library of donated private photographs. I wish them and their collection well.

Now, I will be true to my word, and back us up 40 years. The previous time these two men met was August 7th, 1942, over Guadalcanal. Sakai, in his Zero, was flying out to intercept what he thought to be a flight of F4F Wildcat fighters. The Wildcat was a fine plane, but the A6M2 Zero was a hell of a hard target for even a group of them. Sakai spotted a flight of 8 American naval planes in formation, and moved in to engage.

An F4F, for reference

An F4F, for reference

However, Sakai had misidentified his target. These were not fighters, but SBDs. For those of you that don't know, the SBD (Scout Bomber, Douglas) was a dive bomber that featured a twin .30 caliber machine gun turret covering the rear arc.

This plane is also sexy. But not as sexy as the F6, not being featured in this story, sadly.

This plane is also sexy. But not as sexy as the F6, not being featured in this story, sadly.

Sakai realized his error only when he pulled close enough to prompt the tail gunners to open up. Among these gunners was Harold Jones. Jones later described watching pieces of Sakai's Zero go flying, including bits of the canopy. He also said he caught a glimpse of what was most likely a dead pilot, slumped back in the chair as the Zero tipped upward, apparently out of control. And then it was gone. Jones's squad finished their mission and returned home.

In his short engagement of the bombers, Sakai had absolutely riddled Jones's plane with bullet and cannon rounds, and a medical team had actually run out, anticipating that they'd be pulling a dead tail gunner from the damaged plane once the SBD was landed. But Jones was fine. Well, as much as someone who had just stared down a Zero and also a dead Zero pilot could be, anyways.

Side Note: Based on the accounts I have reviewed, I can't promise that it was Jones that scored the "killing" shot on Sakai's Zero, but it's just as likely him as any of the other 7 bombers.

Meanwhile, Saburo Sakai was *not* fine. One of the gunner's rounds had pierced his canopy, and also his head. According to his account of the incident, he was in extreme pain, and wanted to die. In addition, he received chastisement and also apparently navigation help from a hallucination of his mother. After a 4+ hour flight back home, he touched down as safely as someone with a gunshot wound to the head could touch down in a damaged Zero.

The picture's kind of grainy, and he looks more dazed than anything here. But part of that is because he stopped some of the bleeding with his silk scarf earlier. Combat pilots are a practical type.

The picture's kind of grainy, and he looks more dazed than anything here. But part of that is because he stopped some of the bleeding with his silk scarf earlier. Combat pilots are a practical type.

Sakai survived his injuries, against considerable odds. Before accepting medical attention, he insisted giving a report to his superior officer, and did so, before collapsing. Apparently, most of the staff at his base were too busy to help one of their most experienced, qualified pilots, so one of his squad mates (who would later die over the Philippines), had to stuff him in a staff car and drive him to the medic themselves.

Sakai would lose most sight from his right eye, but returned to flying first as an instructor, and then back to full combat duty near the end of the war. (Rumor is that he was behind the controls of an N1K2 that was especially dangerous to bomber flights, but accounts are dubious, and Sakai himself credits a different pilot with those missions).

Moving forward to 1982, Sabro Sakai met, shook hands with, and got along pretty damn well with the man who most likely shot him in the fucking face 40 years earlier.

Ignore the exceptionally unfortunately placed watermark and observe, if you will, Sakai pointing out the hole in his pilot helmet where the bullet passed through.

Ignore the exceptionally unfortunately placed watermark and observe, if you will, Sakai pointing out the hole in his pilot helmet where the bullet passed through.


There are a number of lessons to be learned from the whole incident. The first is that Saburo Sakai was a hardcore badass. The second is that it's amazing who you can be friends with if you look around past transgressions. And the third is to make absolutely sure that anything you're about to kill is, in fact, the thing you think you're about to kill.

 

Nazis hate her: Single woman entrepreneur improves Merlin engine with this odd, simple fix.

During the days of the Blitz, the RAF relied on two primary aircraft for routing the Luftwaffe. these were the Spitfire and the Hawker Hurricane. 

Hurricane (top) with Spitfire (bottom) 

Hurricane (top) with Spitfire (bottom) 

Both of these aircraft were surprisingly capable of holding their own against the Luftwaffe's Bf-109E series fighters. The Spitfire in particular went on to become one of the most effective and important aircraft of the war.  Both of these planes' early variants were powered by the Rolls-Royce "Merlin" engine. 

 

What a British looking piece of equipment.  

What a British looking piece of equipment.  

Though a fine engine, the Merlin suffered from a very major drawback. When pulling negative G-force (nosing down to enter a sharp dive quickly, in particular), the carburettor  would flood with fuel, stalling the engine.  

As the Bf-109 utilized injection type engines, they did not suffer from this same issue, and thus could perform evasive maneuvers that the Spitfire and Hurricane could not match.  

Enter: Beatrice Shilling. 

 

Here she is, looking cooler than you ever will in your life.  

Here she is, looking cooler than you ever will in your life.  

Shilling had an interest in engineering (and motorcycles) her whole life. By 1936, she had a reputation as a tinkerer, motorcycle racer, and genius. When she wasn't tuning up her bike and dominating the Brooklands race-track, she enjoyed a long engineering carreer with the Royal Aircraft Establishment.  As promised by my headline, Shilling's fix for the "negative G" issue was simple, and odd in its simplicity. 

The component itself is shown in the lower left of this diagram. That's all there was to it.  

The component itself is shown in the lower left of this diagram. That's all there was to it.  

The RAE Restrictor would manage the flow of fuel during negative G conditions, preventing the carburettor from flooding, and letting RAF pilots match a diving Nazi fighter with confidence. The component was also referred to as "Miss Shilling's Oriface" which sounds remarkably dirty to anyone who isn't British.  

By 1941, every plane powered by a Merlin engine had this component installed, and later engines utilized injection like their Luftwaffe counterparts, or integrated Shilling's design.  Still, this simple but brilliant fix made a huge difference in the RAF's ability to combat the Luftwaffe's assault on England, as well as their ability to push the offensive later in the war.