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FürstenfeldbruckIt is not possible to fully understand the history of the Second World War without refering to the forces of the Axis.
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Hans Busch Kampfgeschwader 51Toward WW II’s end, Hans Busch was sent aloft to intercept P-47 Thunderbolts that were attacking Neuburg in Southern Germany. Ten years earlier, Busch had fallen in love with flying when the National Socialist Flying Corps established a program for members of the Hitler Youth in his hometown of Travemünde in northern Germany. “I was fourteen. First, we started by learning to build a glider. We cut all the ribs and the other parts under supervision and then assembled it all. It was very simple: a wing and a tail with an open wood frame for the fuselage.”
When the 12 boys in his group had successfully built the SG-38, they had the opportunity to fly it. “We went on weekends and lived in tents. Each of us flew it. There was no flight training. You got in, took hold of the stick, put your feet on the pedals, and then the instructor let go. The wind coming uphill was strong enough to hold it level; you could operate the controls, and it would bank back and forth. Once you showed you could keep it level, he would let you fly.” The gliders were catapulted with a large bungee. “We were told to stay straight and keep the wings level. The glider might go 50 or 60 meters down the hill—maybe more if there was a good wind that day and you did everything right; then it would touch down on the skid, and you would hold the wings level until you ran out of wind speed.” The group would then drag its glider back up the hill, and the next boy would fly. “We got up at dawn, ran around the lake, jumped in and got cleaned up, had breakfast and then spent the day flying. By the end of the day, we were ready to drop on those straw pallets—no matter how hard they were and knowing that you’d never sleep on such a thing at home. It was a hell of a lot of fun!”
Busch continued to fly gliders as he completed his education at the local Gymnasium. “When war came in 1939, I was too young to go. I knew I wanted to join the Luftwaffe, which meant I had to finish my education.” Graduating from the Gymnasium in 1942, Busch immediately applied to the Luftwaffe. “Since we were at war, I naturally assumed a decision would be made quickly, but that wasn’t the way it worked.” Busch and several other applicants went to Hanover for physical and psychological examinations that lasted several days. “At the end, there was no word whether you had passed or failed. You went home and waited for notification.” Back home, the draft board kept track of young Busch, and he received a draft notice to serve in the heavy artillery. “That certainly wasn’t what I wanted! I kept hoping I’d get that letter from the Air Force and be saved that fate.” A week before he was to report, the notification from the Reichluftfahrtsministerium arrived: he had been accepted for officer training in the Luftwaffe. “I took that letter to the draft board, and that ended my career in the heavy artillery.”
Even then, Busch wasn’t ordered to report until January 1943. Assigned to Fliegerschule AB, Busch spent the next few months in basic training, after which he went to Luftkriegsschule 4. “There was more boot camp, and also ground school. There were originally 40 of us in the class, but only 24 weren’t washed out.” On completion of ground school, Fähnrich Busch went through primary flight training at Landsberg and became acquainted with another SG-38. “Once we mastered the SG-38, we went on to train on the Grunau glider. After that, it was powered-flight training in Ulm, where Busch flew the Bucker Bu 131 Jungmann trainer and then the Bu 181 and Klemm Kl-35. “Later in life, I had the opportunity to fly the Stearman, which was the American trainer equivalent of our Bu 131. It flies like a truck in comparison! The Bu 131 was perfectly light on the controls and a lot of fun to fly.” In intermediate flight training, Busch flew the Fw 44 for aerobatic training.
Even in 1943, Busch’s flight training was only slightly shorter than the prewar courses had been. “After we flew the Ar 66, we went to the Junkers W33 and W34, which introduced us to heavier airplanes, and then to multi-engine training on the Caudron C.445.” Busch completed flight training in January 1944 and wanted to volunteer for single-seat fighters. “One of my instructors convinced me to request Zerstörer—the twin-engine fighters such as the Bf 110. He said that that training would be useful after the War. I was accepted and sent to Blindflugschule and trained in Brandis.”
At Brandis, Busch was given multi-engine and instrument training, starting in the old Junkers Ju 86. “It was powered by diesels, and these engines weren’t really suited for all the short-flight takeoffs and landings; they were much better at taking off and cruising a long distance before landing.” The Ju 86s were replaced by Siebel Si 204s. “It was an airplane about the size of a twin Beech but had better performance, and it was an excellent multi-engine and instrument trainer.” The final aircraft were the Ju 88 and the Ju 52. “The Ju 88 was very nice; it had lots of performance for a twin. ‘Tante Ju’ was very forgiving, very comfortable.” At graduation, Busch was awarded his multi-engine/instrument license, a commission as Leutnant and an assignment to Kampfgeschwader 51 Edelweiss. “It was bombers! Just what I didn’t want.”
KG 51’s IV. Gruppe was at München-Riem, east of Munich. “They had just received orders to convert to the Bf 110 as a night-fighter unit. We had several Bf 110s there and spent the next month or so getting checked out in them.” Busch remembers that some of the older bomber pilots had difficulty transitioning to fighters in which the pilots were also expected to handle navigation and communication.
As the unit designated to bring a technological revolution to warfare, the bomber pilots of KG 51 had a lot of work ahead of them. “They first selected the most experienced pilots, but, in fact, most just couldn’t think fast enough to keep up with the airplane, even if it was just a transition to a Bf 110 to be checked out in a multi-engine, single-seat airplane; it was too much of a workload.” Indeed, the younger pilots like Busch found it easiest. “Our experience with planes like the 110 was more recent.” Once they had been checked out in the 110, they flew the Fw 190 to get used to flying a high-performance single-seater. “I loved the 190; its performance was just beautiful. Flying aerobatics in it was marvelous.” Flying the Fw 190 wasn’t all about the joy of flying, however. “We flew them to train for the kind of bombing attacks we would make. The Me 262 had no dive brakes or any other way of slowing its flight except to work the throttles, which you couldn’t do during the dive. There was no way we could dive-bomb a target, as the speed would build up too fast to allow us to safely pull out.” Instead, they trained to make gentle, 15-degree dives that would give sufficient speed to evade the enemy defenses while still allow them to maintain control. “The problem was that we didn’t have a bomb sight—only a gunsight. You could dive-bomb with the gunsight, but all we could do as we approached the target was guess as to where to drop the bomb. With enough practice, you could make a pretty good guess, but a good guess isn’t good enough when you have only one chance with two 250-kilo bombs.” In fact, when KG 51 was committed to combat in the late winter of 1945, they scored badly when attacking British airfields in Holland and against the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen (Germany) in March. “In fact, the raids that the groups did manage to accomplish were just pinpricks, particularly when you compare what we were able to do with what could have been done with a thousand bombers flying over a target.”
In late November, the pilots were at last introduced to the Me 262 when they moved to Neuburg on the Danube. “It was beautiful. It looked like nothing any of us had ever seen—like something from the future.” As there were no two-seat-conversion trainers, initial training constituted familiarization. “The flight instructors were guys who had done it ahead of us. We sat in the cockpit and memorized where everything was … what we had to do for various procedures to operate the machine. When we were able to sit in the cockpit blindfolded and find everything and clearly explain every procedure and move the controls to accomplish them while blindfolded, we were considered ready to try a flight.” Starting the Me 262 was unlike anything the young pilot had experienced. “With the Fw 190, you had this 1,700hp engine out front making a lot of noise. With the Me 262, it was just a soft hum.” Busch recalls that taxiing wasn’t easy because the brakes faded if they were used too much.
On the runway before takeoff, the brakes could hold the Me 262 until full takeoff power was reached. “It accelerated very slowly on the runway; then you pulled up the nose when you reached the proper speed, and you hoped that there was enough runway out ahead to stop if you didn’t get the required speed. Then you lifted off, retracted the gear and set the throttles, and when you looked back out, it was whoa! Where is everything? It flew so much faster than what we were used to that it was a long way from the field before you were ready to do anything. Some of the pilots actually got lost in the pattern. Fortunately, I had done much of my training in southern Germany, so I was very familiar with the countryside, but it was still amazing how much room the airplane took to do things.” As the Battle of the Bulge raged, the pilots of KG 51 spent as much time as limited gasoline supplies—and the worst winter in Europe for a century—would permit, getting comfortable to the point at which they could enter combat with some hope of success.
Busch has good reason to remember his mission of January 13, 1945. “I was halfway down the runway on takeoff when the right engine failed. I looked ahead and had two choices: I could plow into the building at the end of the runway or attempt to get over it. The first choice seemed fatal, and the second not much better. I got enough speed to pull it off and get over the roof, but just past the building, it stalled and fell off to the right. The right wingtip hit the ground, and the plane kept rolling while it started to cartwheel. When the nose tucked and the tail came over and it went inverted, the rear fuel tank burst into flame on impact; but fortunately, it burned out quickly, and the airplane continued on over to the left. When everything came to a stop, I looked around, and the only part still left was the cockpit. I think that was because it was built so strong, since they wanted to pressurize it eventually.”
Busch climbed over the sill of the cockpit and took several steps away from the wreck. “I realized I was pretty dizzy and sat down. I checked that my hands and arms and legs and feet were still attached and working. I realized my helmet had come off when I saw it on the ground. It had been pulled off over my head without detaching the oxygen mask or the radio leads! How that happened without taking my head with it, I don’t know.” When the rescue crew arrived, Busch refused to go in the ambulance. Riding back to the hangars, he saw friends look at him and turn away. “I discovered that I was burned a little on my face and hair and was all smoke-blackened. They must have thought, after seeing the crash, that I was a ghost.” With a badly wrenched knee, Busch was taken off flight status until the end of February. “By that time, the group was going on operations, and we had some fatalities.”
Busch’s only combat experience in Messerschmitt’s jet came in late March, as described earlier. “After we had given the airplanes to Galland’s group, they had us repair the airfield after it had been bombed by Marauders. Then they issued us rifles and Panzerfaust, and we were expected to become the infantry.” Not liking these prospects, Busch was quick to volunteer for a special flying mission in mid-April 1945. “We went to Fürstenfeldbruck to fly with Kommando Bienenstock, a special unit equipped with Bu 131s. The idea was to take a specially trained infantryman with you at night, land behind enemy lines, and let him out to become a commando. It was a last-ditch kind of thing. The day we got there, we were told they had flown their last mission.”
Returning to what was left of KG 51, Busch was one of a group sent to Austria to “stand by.” “We sat there for a week, doing nothing. Then one day, an American tank approached the field, but the country road was so narrow that it ran off it and got stuck. We asked whether they wanted help. That sergeant—the first American I ever met—had some choice words that I had never heard during six years of English instruction, but he was glad of the help. We had a half-track, and we towed him out of the ditch and back onto the road.” The Americans set up on the far side of the village and left Busch’s men alone. “After the surrender, an American officer asked whether we would become military police for them. It meant we got to eat, and they gave us papers that told other American groups who we were. We had a big open Mercedes and were told to drive around Austria and find any German soldiers who had walked back from Italy. We were supposed to pick them up and take them into a detention center. I never took one. I figured if a guy had managed to come that far, he had a right to get home; so we gave them rides in the direction they were going, let them off, and we’d leave.”
Busch immigrated to the U.S. in the 1950s to fly commercially, and he earned his commercial pilot’s license and instrument rating but could not get airline employment because he wasn’t a U.S. citizen. “The day I received my U.S. citizenship, I applied again and was told I was too old—at 32!” He went to Southern California and, once again, became an active pilot involved with the Civil Air Patrol. “It had been ten years or so since I had flown, but flying an airplane is like riding a bicycle: you remember everything.” His most recent aviation-related activity was to provide information for a group that is tasked with building five new Me 262s. “They asked me a little while ago whether I had anything they could use, and I found my old pilot’s notes. I copied them and told them that the stamp in German on the first page meant ‘Top secret,’ so they had better hope they don’t suffer a security lapse,”.Thomas Cleaver
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