|Karl-Heinz Lüdtke autobiografy part 3|
"Once upon a time"
The beginning - The places where I was based - the end
with the flying personel of the German air force
Uffz a.D. Karlheinz Lüdtke
7. Seenotstaffel Athens/Phaleron
I like to tell you the story of what happened to me, the beginning and the end of the mechanic on the Dornier Do-24. What I saw of the world, half of Europe and a bit of Africa. Where the holidays go to, how we were as young guns, not voluntary though.
It is very interesting to know how to get into the Luftwaffe at the age of 17. It wasn't that easy, because you had to take a test and that took 4 days. This test I had in the Autumn of 1939 in Leipzig/Paunsdorf. I would like to tell you what happened there...
On the first day you were tested verbaly and on paper on writing, calculating and so on. The tests were not that easy as we found out during those four days, half of the applicants were sent home. The second day we were examined by a doctor for our ability against motionsickness, I will never forget this day... We had to strip down and were called into the doctors room one after the other. When I entered the room there was a nurse sitting beside the table and there I was with my 17 years and I could not get any more red. On the third day again a number of applicants had to pack and were sent home. That third day was the psycoligical test, what that was we didn't know, but we were soon to find out!! I cannot remember all the equipment used in these tests, but one I will never forget. It wasa thing that could be swung around in every direction and you were tied in in the middle. The apparatus was swung around and you didn't know what was up or down. I had two electic buttons, one in my left hand and one in my right hand. The guy who tested us called out arithmetic problems, when the solution was even I had to press the right switch and it was odds I had to press the left switch turning on a red light so the tester could see. It was a very difficult test and this is where most of the applicants failed. The last of the four days was concentrated on sports and as I had the sportbadge I was excused and could go home earlier of course being proud I made it in one piece. I would like to explain that these checks were required by me in the initial phase of the war and that it wasn't easy to fail them. When I was back home the transfer to flying personel came. I was ordered to Straubing on November 1st 1940 to enlist in the 9th Luftwaffen-Ausbildungs-Kompanie (9th Airforce-Training-Company) that was situated on the airbase used by a pilottraining school. I have to tell you something that will astound you. Pilots received a yellow shawl and a neat parade uniform. I was on my way by train to the gathering point Hirschberg and from there by special train to Staubing. How does an 18 year old get such a uniform. I was then a enlisted soldier in the antiaircraft munitions depot in a small town in the Oberlausitz. There was another soldier there who was in need of money which I had at that time. He even changed the colors on the uniform from red to yellow for me. The infantery part of the training was bearable. Many things happened then which I still remember and one thing I will tell you. Our trainer was getting married and he needed food for the wedding. As the airfield was surrounded by farmers a field exercise was ordered to gather bacon and eggs. We gathered so much that the next day I went to Eger to deliver the remaining bacon and eggs to a high ranking officer. The infantery training ended quicker than we expected. One thing I have to mention, at this time we were still dancing (before that was prohibited) adn you have to imagine the faces of the rest of the trainees as I was dancing there in a parade uniform.
A new stage in the training started. As we didn't know out final destination we were granted a vacation, to see the world! We were ordered to guard a facility where older civilians workers were trained in military engineering. It wasn't hard work and there was always plenty to eat.
It went on, I was sent to a technical company of the A/B school in Straubing. There the Klemm Kl-35 and Bücker Bü-131 trainers were serviced. Again it was a short, but this time important, stay, because I then decided I wanted to become a mechanic. What I learned there I could use in the future. As I said the time there was short and were went traveling.
With all my stuff I went to Franzensbad where I stayed in a small barak on the edge of a small airfield. What I was supposed to do there I don't know, not even to this day. It was however a pleasant stay. I found the hotels there very special, I had never seen such beautiful hotels before. You have to know I come from a small town with only farms and cows. When I entered a hotel there everything was marmor and I realy felt in place with my parade uniform, only this time with little money. Time was short in Franzensbad and I was ordered to my next assignment.
Diedenhofen-Metz airfield was my next stop, this time no baraks but a real building to sleep in and that was about the only positive thing about this airfield. Again what I was supposed to do there I still don't know. I mean it was a place to put me while my final destination was not vacated yet. What has stayed with me is my memory of my first flight with a Junkers W34. I was allowed to fly along at one occasion but nothing more happened there. At least if you don't count my going along with another 18 year old to Diedenhofen. We entered a house there and soon my face turned red as I found out we were in a whorehouse. Again the order to move on didn't take long.
This time I was sent to Rahmel/Sargosch near Gotenhafen where I had many a long sleep, meaning there was nothing to do around there. I did however learn something during the daytime there. Rahmel/Sargosch was a trainingground for ground and airborne gunners, shooting with live ammunition. We learned to shoot with the MG15, Karabiener 98 and pistol. In a Focke Wulf Fw-58 Weihe I was trained in air-to-ground shooting and air-to-air shooting on an airbag. When we were unable to shoot from the Weihe, for some reason or another, the pilot would do acrobatics in the air, outraged that he had to do the procedure again. You can understand that a young gunner, who had no knowledge of flying, went completely crazy during these acrobatics adn that the next "attack" on the airbag would not be so succesfull. During these training sessions you had to make a minimum of flying hours, so we took off, made a nice scenic flight to Gotenhafen and went back to the airfield, me in the cockpit having a nice conversation with the pilot. The conversation went on even during the approach and the pilot forgot to down the landinggear. As he made a smooth approach the landing was not to hard and we were unhurt, but we were lucky because things could have been a lot worse. The time in Rahmel/Sargosch went fast because they gave us something different to do everyday. Outside the training nothing was organized during those four to five weeks there and I was glad to leave this cultural desert behind. After the training almost all of us received a vacation which was nececary after all the strains. The next station was already known and it was not far off route from my parents house in Warthegau. They were happily suprised to see me. My time there was joyfull and unfortunately very short. Leaving my parents was very diffucult because I didn't know when and if I was ever going to see them again.
My next assignment was with the 4th bomberschool in Thorn. Here we flew the Junkers Ju-88A-2 and A-4. The crew consisted of a pilot, observer, radio-operator and me, the gunner. I wasn't meant to be only a gunner but a mechanic so I only flew along, We trained in engines failures, dives etc. I didn't like it, but I had to go through it. And behold the German burocracy noticed and I was transferred to a unit which needed a mechanic. This unit was the 9th Seenotstaffel in Kiel-Holtenau. Here my actual training as mechanic started. In Kiel were learned the Dornier Do-24 form the inside-out. We didn't only fly the Do-24 but also the Dornier Do-18 and the Heinkel He-59, all flyingboats and this meant training in vanal things, which we did in Ribnitz/Damgarten. Weather reconnaissance, knotting, engines, warship recognition etc. The training was unique and even the expressions and codes were taken from the naval jargon. We also trained in boats, mostly rowing. The time here was great but it all went by so fast. After several weeks we were ordered back to Kiel-Holtenau.
The job of a mechanic on the Do-24 was manning the 20 mm cannon and for that I was sent to the gunneryschool just outside of Merseburg. Here we learned the ins and outs of the 404, a French production cannon which was used on the Do-24. And of course we shot with the gun. Our training there didn't last very long and during our spare time we took the tram to the city of Merseburg. Not many mechanics learned the 404 as it was quickly replaced by the much better MG 151/20 cannon. Training was over quickly and I was transferred back via Hannover to Kiel-Holtenau. There is one story that always makes me smile when I think about it. We were young lads, in for anything. Shortly before Hannover my friend Helmut climbed in the net above the chairs (for the luggage) and started talking nonsence. Another friend tried to get him down from there and pulled at his shoes. He was jerking at the shoes, which suddenly came loose and flew out of the window. Helmut lived in Hannover and as we got out of the coach I was on one side and another friend on the other and with Helmut in the middle as a wounded soldier we went to his parents house, who were very suprised to see him. After a short stay we went on to Kiel, Helmut wearing his new shoes. In Kiel-Holtenau we awaited our final destination because our training was almost over. I was transferred to the 6th Seenotstaffel in Syracus on Sicily, the year was 1942.
The trip to Syracus with the train was wonderful, I was traveling with two friends from Kiel to Munich where we had a few days to ourselves. That was realy something, a major city. We used the opportunity to visit the local brewery. The few days went by so fast and the trip went on via Austria to Italy because a military train was not allowed to travel through Switserland. We went via Zagreb, Triest, Bologna, Rome and Napels to San Giovanni, to most southern tip of the Italien mainland. The ride took us along the westcoast of Italy with a constant beautiful view of the Mediterranean and the Italian railways weren't so bad, we had many opportunities to get out of the train and visit to local villages. In San Giovanni we had to change trains to Messina where we had to change again for Catania, the endstation. Here was the headquarters of the 6th Seenotstaffel. The flying personel were housed in Hotel Grang. I was placed in the crew of pilot Unteroffizier Schwarze as second mechanic. We made rescue missions and transportflights, one of these to Bizerta in Tunisia. There we were housed with a naval unit. Were were a couple of days in Bizerta and were used there for rescue missions. When the time came to fly back to Sicily were were transported to the Do-24 in a truck. The beduïns in the truck offered us cookies, for money of course. We didn't take the coockies because you could never know. The flight back to Syracus was uneventfull. The 6th Seenotstaffel had a small base at Marsalla on westcoast of Sicily and we were ordered there. Here we were housed with a Italian torpedoplane squadron. Two accounts I would like to mention. We had to do guard duties and as we were on an Italian base we had to know the Italian and the German signals, most of the time we didn't know either of them and we knew the Italians were quick on the trigger! The other thing in Marsalla was the excellent wine, very sweet and loaded with alcohol. When you didn't watch your intake it could knock you out!
When we returned to Syracus we were ordered out on a rescue mission, what we didn't know was that the English tried to counter the rescue, but we were to find out. Two Lightnings were circling and preparing to attack. We had never come across fighters before and of course we returned fire, we even had a gunner who had already shot one plane down before. Unfortunately we had to made an emergancylanding on the water and only then could we see the damage done. The tailgunner and the radio-operator were both killed, pilot Schwarze's left hand was shattered by a bullet as with my left hand. My hand wasn't so bad as the pilot's. The only one with not a scrach was the first mechanic, his name I can't remember. We were lucky because when we landed on the water the two fighters stopped shooting at us and went away. The Do-24 was burning in the tail and this was spreading fast so we had to act fast. I was the last in the aircraft and had to put the dinghy in the water. The other surviving crewmembers were already in the water swimming away from the burning aircarft. We were all wearing our lifevests. I was the only one in the dinghy and I tried to pull everyon on board which supprisingly worked, the only trouble was with Schwarze and his shattered hand. Here we were floating in the mediterranean, hoping to be spotted. An Italian fisherman witnessed the airbattle and was soon on the spot to rescue not only us but also the dinghy. The fischermen tried to get paid for their service and demended out watches. They were becoming aggresive but fortunately an Italian warship arrived and took us aboard. The Italian boat was fast and radioed ahead to its base Castelvertrano to have an ambulance ready. We thanked the captain when he put us ashore and only now the grief set in of the two lost comrades. Both of them went down with the sinking Do-24, the hatches of the aircraft were open so it went down faster than we were able to get them out.
The crew that were not wounded returned to Seenotstaffel 6 in Syracuse, but for Unteroffizier Schwarze and Me, Obergefreiter Lüdtke, a new life started. We were brought to the Luftwaffe hospital in Trapani. Because the hospital was overcrowded both Schwarze and me slept on the floor. What happened thereafter is an interesting story. We would not stay long in Trapani, we were brought by ambulance to Palermo, which was the endstation of the european trainnetwork. Here the hospital train was filled with wounded from all around. My hand and arm were in plaster and was fixed in the heil Hitler position. After a while the train was full and off we went, back to Germany. At least that was where we were supposed to go. I made the same wonderful trip along the westcoast of Italy as on the way in, but this time I had a bed. The weather was beautiful and for varying reasons we made several stops and as I could still walk i saw many a beautiful Italian village. The surprise came in Rimini on the eastcoast of Italy when we had to get of the train at our, what we then found out, final stop. It was now shortly before easter in 1943. It was a special time for me there, something were always the same, always mortadela saucage for breakfast, macaroni and tomatos for lunch and bread for dinner. During easter we were visited by some females. among them very young ones. I was visited by a young woman who spoke a little German as her sister was married to a German ingenieur. She brought some raisengoodies with her. Our time in the Hospital in Rimini was short and soon we were again put on a hospital train for Germany. When we finally stopped we were in Ötting, a village consisting of Altötting and Neuötting. I was placed in a hospital in Neuötting. The hospital used to be for the physycaly handicapt and was run by nun's and doctors of the wehrmacht. I and the other wounded were amazed at what the nun's all did, not only taking care of the wounded but also coocking, cleaning, backing and making their own saucages. I have to tell a story about one of the wounded soldiers there, his wounds were treated by a nun and the soldier must have gotten a craving to know what the nun was wearing under her dress. So he found a mirror and held it so that the other wounded could see what she was wearing. The others were shocked and speachless. When the nun was gone he boasted about his gag. Other small things I remember was that if the nun's had to transport heavy objects the wounded who could helped them out. For that they received an extra pudding or, even better, a big cookie. I had to leave Neuötting and was send to the Luftwaffen Ersatz-Staffel in Kamp on the Eastsea near Kolberg. Here the wounded were treated for re-entry in the Luftwaffe or when the wounds were to bad you were sent home. Here I was able, for the first time since being shot down, to visit my parents in Warthegau. My parents were the best, my mother always made sure that her guests, whoever they might be, were never hungry and my father was the great organiser. It once that my brother, my brother-in-law and me were home at the same time, something very rare in those times. This vacation also had to end and when I was recovered from my wounds I was sent back to the Ersatzstaffel in Kamp where I received my transferorders. Again a long traintrip, this time to Seenotstaffel 7 in Athens-Phaleron in Greece. My only thoughts were if it would smell the same, the oranges, appels, suacages, and would I sleep in a grand hotel like before. Yes there were many good memories of my time with Seenotstaffel 7.
The first part of the trip was to Munich. The big Bayern capital was still beautiful and I slept in a great hotel waiting for the the train and the passengers to get all there. When everything arrived the train set on it's way, through Austria, Slovenia to Belgrade. In Belgrade there was another stop, waiting for the train to Athens. We slept in an old school on some hay and food come from the army kitchen, overall not bad. I visited the army radio station there and took a look around in town, which was beautiful. The people never bothered us which was something different from the story told after the war how no German soldier was safe in Yugoslavia from the partizans. Next to me in the school a group of soldiers slept who all spoke multiple languages, what they did or where they were going they wouldn't tell, my suspition was that they were spies. After a few days the order came to go on board the train to Athens. We were all asigned to a railroad car and were equipped with a gun! My god what was going to happen. Besides that every railroad car had it's own commander. How dangerous it was we would soon find out. Along the track there were many railroad cars and locomotives burned out. I felt sorry for the traindrivers who had to ride this track time and time again. From what I learned then was that they were part of Organization Todt, as they were wearing brown uniforms. The train had two locomotives, one in the front and one in the back. This because it went all uphill towards Skopje in the beginning, Skopje being the highest point on this ride. In Skopje there was a pause as the trains and traindrivers were switched. In Skopje there was time to do some shopping and trading and when you wern't paying attention the locals would overcharge you, something that you only found out when you were on your way again. The next part of the journey went to Thessaloniki, almost all going downhill. The train was going at an tremendous speed. From Thessaloniki it went on to Athens. I got of the train and set on my way to Athens-Phaleron.