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The Luftwaffe’s Flying Dutchmen
The following is the translation from French of an article by German historian Hans-Werner Neulen which was published in the February/March 2001 issue of AÉRO JOURNAL magazine, published bi-monthly by Aéro-Éditions of F-32500 Fleurance.
All the countries occupied by the Germans between 1939 and 1945 supplied the Luftwaffe with aircrew contingents, of greater or lesser importance and for the most part these were comprised of volunteers. In proportion to the size of their small nation, the Dutch were probably the most numerous. The following is the history of four such men.
To face the German invasion of the Netherlands on 10th May 1940 the LVA could assemble some three hundred aircraft, of which 25% were combat types (being utilised by Lv regiments 1 & 2) Dutch military aviation offered vigorous resistance to the Luftwaffe. In five days of combat, the Dutch lost 80 aircraft (70% of their front-line strength). The Germans losses totalled 328 machines (1) (including 206 brought down by anti-aircraft guns)
Five years of occupation followed. During this period a small number of Dutch nationals collaborated with the new masters of the Netherlands. Some fifty thousand Dutch volunteered for Service in either German military (Waffen-SS, Kriegsmarine) or para-military (NSKK, OT, RAD etc) units. Only a minute fraction of these volunteers chose aviation.
A list prepared in 1945 for judicial purposes (Strijders in Duitschen Dienst aan het Oostfront) states – via informants or unit names – the existence of twenty-two Dutch nationals who served as ‘aviators' (2) This list is most likely incomplete, it was prepared in haste shortly after the country was liberated and thus with little retrospection. It is however accepted that about a dozen Dutchmen did serve as active aircrew. This is a large contingent for a western European nation.
It may be said that the citizens of the Netherlands possessed a ‘trump card’ faced with the racial policies of the national-socialists. They were viewed as a Germanic race and so could enrol without problems in units such as the Waffen-SS. The Luftwaffe authorities however, were for their part, more reserved and hardly willing to put their machines in the hands of foreigners. It was too easy for a candidate to desert in possession of a modern aircraft or to reach neutral countries or land behind enemy lines. This intransigent opinion was to be relaxed during the course of the war. The losses of German aviation provide evidence of how it became possible for Estonians Latvians, Russians, Norwegians, Danes, French, Belgians and others to enter the exclusive ranks of German aircrew. They are found in all units, fighter, night-harassment, bomber, etc. Despite understandable desertions at the war’s end, it is nonetheless clear that the greater part of these foreign volunteers died alongside their German colleagues before the final collapse of the IIIrd Reich.
The reasons why foreign volunteers chose to serve in the Luftwaffe are simple to understand; a desire for adventure, idealism, love of flying, fascination with modern technology, political convictions and even as a profession (it may have been seen as training and preparation for a post-war career in civil aviation) Another important element was the fear of ending up as an infantryman on the eastern front. This was the lot of most Estonians, Latvians and the French from Alsace-Lorraine who having been incorporated into the Reich were then automatically enrolled into the Wehrmacht. Fear of foot service in the East was undeniably a factor for prospective foreign aircrew. In view of all this and of the skills and capabilities demanded of aircrew, it is becomes clear why those of a mercenary disposition, attracted to military service merely for the pay, are not found among the ranks of aircrew. This is also true of the four Dutch volunteers whose tales are related below.
Klaas Visser was born on 24th December 1921 in Amsterdam; the son of a shopkeeper/delivery driver. He attended school from 1927 to 1936. Then his schooling was interrupted and he worked fulltime in his parent’s shop, whilst attending evening classes through to 1937. In September 1942 for reasons which remain unknown he volunteered for active service in a German unit which also remains unidentified. Whatever, in a CV signed by him on 10 July 1943 he states being employed as a chauffeur in Berlin. His military ID states that he was attached to aerodrome A 9/VII, namely Crailsheim. On 20 March 1943 he concluded basic training at Fliegerregiment 51 and was posted on 1 June 1943 to 6/Fl.Rgt.90. He was subsequently assigned on 1944 to 9/NJG.1 His engagement seems to have come as a shock to his family, as he wrote in his CV. ‘My relationship with my parents, my brothers and sisters and my friends is not good in view of my voluntary service in the Wehrmacht’
Perhaps Visser was thinking of reversing his choice – but this would prove to be out of the question. His voluntary Luftwaffe service was not to be terminated by a voluntary retirement! In September 1944 in regard to the fast advancing allies, NJG 1 had to abandon its bases in Belgium & Netherlands. III/NJG 1 reached Fritzlar via Werl and Krefeld. Visser was allocated to a crew as gunner (3). On the evening of 12 December 1944, Bf 110G-4 G9+OT (Werknummer 440135) with Flieger Hans Apel (pilot) Unteroffizier Walter Trenck and our Gefreiter Visser took off on a sortie. That night Essen was the RAF’s target – during which they dropped more than 2354 tonnes of bombs on the town. G9+OT was engaged and destroyed by an allied night-fighter. Trenck and Apel survived (4) but Visser was killed near Dorsten. The young Dutch volunteer is buried in the local cemetery of Marl-Brassert.
JOHANNES DE VLIEGHER
Another compatriot of Klaas Visser would have a similar destiny, ironical perhaps due to the meaning of his surname in Dutch; ‘flyer/airman’. Johannes de Vliegher was born on 30th July 1918 in Rosendaal. He must have been influenced by the propaganda campaign aimed at the enrolment of all Germanic men, because at the start of 1941, before the German invasion of the Soviet Union, he had enlisted in the SS Infanterie Ersatz Batallion Westland. This was perhaps a stopgap measure as Vliegher had served previously as a student-cadet in the Dutch air arm. In October 1939 he was at Vlissingen aerodrome and progressed from there in the following month to the flying training school at Haamstede. In January 1940 he crashed Koolhoven FK51 (N° 9) during a flight. It is likely that his possession of a Dutch pilot’s brevet (wings) was the reason for his passing (as an exceptional case) from the SS back into aviation. (5) On the 15th October 1941 – despite holding a pilot’s license – he commenced a prolonged re-training at 1./Flug-Anwärter-Batallion des Höheren-Flieger Ausbildung-Kommando 10 at Neisse-Stefandorf; then instruction at 4./EJG West at Neudorf, and ending up in September at Jagdgeschwader 50, a unit comprising of two strengthened Jagdgeschwadern which had only been in existence for a couple of months.
On 7th December 1943, Feldwebel de Vliegher was posted to what would be his final unit, Stab JG11. This unit based in Northern Germany was principally tasked with defence against the Allied bombers streams coming from the west. We do not know how many missions were flown by Feldwebel de Vliegher. On 20th February 1944 the USAAF enfolded its Big Week (Operation Argument) an ambitious program of massive bombardment, concentrated at industrial targets within the Reich. Vliegher attacked a B17 on this day, but his aircraft was hit by return fire from the ‘Flying Fortress’. His a/c Bf 109G-6 (blue 6) Werknummer 29091 (6) fell away out of control and crashed near Eggstedt, on the Kaiser-Wilhelm canal (today called the Nord-Ostsee-Kanal) The young pilot attempted to save himself, but did not survive his fall .... His body rests at the new cemetery of Uetersen in the area of Pinneberg.
WILLEM EDUARD DE GRAAF
De Graaf, an experienced and competent KLM pilot would prove to have more of a chance. He was born on 11th January 1908 in Soekaboemi (Netherlands East Indies) His father originated from the Netherlands, his mother was Indonesian. He joined KLM in 1926 to become an aeronautical engineer. From October 1930 through to the start of 1933 he was in the service of the LVA so as to obtain his military pilot’s brevet (in 1931) and his B brevet (in 1933) As of May 1st 1933 he was appointed a co-pilot on KLM’s European and Asian routes. It is most probable that, during this period, he experienced rebuffs or prejudices due to his appearance and background and these accordingly may have influenced his attitude.
After the invasion of his country De Graaf became an adherent of the NSB and was accepted with no problems. (perhaps understandable in view of the close links between the mother country and her colonies). De Graaf’s choice perhaps can be explained with simple ‘belonging’ psychology: that of being a ‘half-caste’ who was always viewed as an ‘outsider’ by the ‘Dutch’ – then becoming a fully accepted member of the party which collaborated with the Germans.
In 1942 he applied to join the Luftwaffe and was eagerly accepted despite his ancestry not exactly complying with ‘Aryan’ requirements. In April this member of the ‘old brigade’ found himself in the 4th recruit company of Fliegerausbildungsregiment 42 in Salzwedel. But he soon left this ‘boy’s unit ’ to serve as a delivery pilot between an aircraft factory in Leipzig and Rangsdorf airfield. In 1943 he was with the celebrated Versuchsverband des ObdL. This was an elite unit carrying out special missions and dropping agents behind enemy lines. This posting proves in itself the obvious capabilities of the Dutch-Indonesian pilot, and the confidence placed in him by his superiors. On November 3rd 1943 he received a serious leg injury when his B-71 (Czech licence-built Tupolev SB2) DR+PG Werknummer 230 crashed in the northern Crimea. His injuries kept him from the front for some months.
In February 1944 the Versuchsverband des ObdL was incorporated into the equally renowned KG 200 and De Graaf and his comrades performed many more audacious and secret missions as Kommando Maria of I./KG200. Flying diverse aircraft, often captured types, they would ensure agents were dropped close as possible to targets before leaving them. Willem Eduard De Graaf survived to 1945 when he was trained to fly jet fighters. After Germany capitulated he went undercover for a period in Germany itself before reaching South America. At this point all trace of him was lost (7).
JOHANNES ANTONIUS KUHN
Johannes Antonius Kuhn. Born in Amsterdam on 15th November 1908 was destined to survive WW2. Having obtained his pilot’s brevet in 1932, he was applied in 1937 for a six-year posting to the KNIL. He was accepted on August 14th. In the colony the reserve NCO flew Martin 139 bombers, but in 1938 he was repatriated due to health problems related to the tropical climate. En 1939 he re-engaged for service in the ML. He started with the unit I-2 LvR (equipped with Fokker C-V & Koolhoven FK-51) before progressing at the end of 1939 to V-2 LvR (a fighter unit) to re-train as a fighter pilot. At the start of 1940 he was the pilot of a Douglas DB-8A. The Netherlands had 28 of these aircraft. It is amazing that they were in service as fighters as they were designed as two-seat bombers. A shortage of fighter aircraft had forced the Dutch to take this drastic measure. Kuhn’s (nicknamed ‘Bulletje’ by his colleagues on account of his short stature) involvement in the May 1940 actions was to be brief. On the 1oth May his DB-8A N° 392 was shot down near Pijnacker (probably by a Bf 110 of II./ZG1) Kuhn and his radio-operator NCO Staal were able to leave the machine but Kuhn suffered serious injury to a knee as a result of the crash landing. This meant long months of recuperation in hospital which then followed. In 1942 he was regarded as fully recovered and discharged on 15th October, having been declared as unsuitable for flying duties. That same year he applied to join the Luftwaffe. What was his motivation? In 1944 during interrogation by the British he stated that his German fiancée pushed him into making this choice. One suspects that this was purely an excuse.
Anyhow, in view of his prolonged absence from flying, the Luftwaffe were not going to let him escape the need for re-training! From October 1942 through to April 1943 he was at Flieger-Ausbildung-Regiment 63 at Toul (F) before moving on to the Flugzeugführerüberprüfungschule at Prenzlau. Subsequently at the start of January 1944 he moved to Schlachtgeschwader 101 (a ground-attack unit equipped with Fw 190 and some Hs 129s) based at Orly (F) After an interlude training at Quedlinburg, the Dutchman was transferred to Überführungsgruppe West, a ferry unit formed in mid-1943to fly new or repaired aircraft from factories to front-line units.
Überführungsgruppe West comprised 4 Geschwader. Kuhn belonged to the third. It Willie recognised that Kuhn had arrived at a bad moment. In the weeks preceding June 6th 1944 the ferry pilots had to accept the risk of allied intruder fighters spoiling for a fight. Many pilots were shot down due to this cause. When the ferried aircraft finally reached the airfields, they were then likely to become targets for allied bombers. After the invasion on D-Day 6th June, Überführungsgruppe West abandoned their advance bases and retreated to within the Reich borders. The quality of the pilots declined rapidly as a result of losses reaching 35/40%! Kuhn was particularly depressed as, being based at Langendiebach, he regularly had to take-off in He IIIs of TG 30 participating in supply flights for the German pockets of resistance on the Atlantic coast.
He decided to desert. To do so he had to wait for a favourable moment, which presented itself on 30th August 1944. On that day he was flying one of fourteen FW 190A8s being sent to reinforce JG 26 at Brussels-Melbroek. Kuhn was flying Werknummer 171747. Time was getting short. At 11:30 he took off for Belgium. He passed Aachen & Ostend and then headed west. Close to the many ships at sea he crossed the North Sea. So as not to run the risk of being shot down by British flak, he did not head for a known aerodrome, but managed to put his aircraft down in open country near Monkton in Kent. It was a good landing and his aircraft suffered only minor damage. It would receive the serial AM230 and would be displayed to the public many times; at Farnborough in 1945 , then going to the Science Museum in London in 1946. It was later scrapped.
As for Kuhn he remained a POW in Great Britain until 1949. In the 1980s he was given a friendly welcome by Dutch military aviation veterans. His peers managed to sponge over his ‘intermezzo’ in the Luftwaffe.
1. Including losses inflicted by British & French fighters....
2. It is likely that some listed as ‘aviators’ were actually Luftwaffe drivers or flak crew.
3. Gunners did not need such long training as pilots or radio operators. Often groundcrew flew as gunners
4. A brief respite. Both were later KIA on 21 February 1945
5. This is as amazing as the case of Fleming Guido Rombouts, who joined the Algemeen SS and transferred straight away to the Luftwaffe. Rombout was succesful in achieving his goal although it seems he did not even at the time possess a civil pilot’s licence. He eventually joined JG 1 and was also killed in combat.
6. Other sources (Prien & Rodeike) state Werk-Nr. 27091 and call him <Fw. Dr Johann Vliegner > – some Dutchman!
7. Perhaps, like many others, he intended becoming a civil airline pilot in S. America
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- Location: the Netherlands
I also found something more: "About 1600 men, were forced in to the Luftwaffe and about 1000 were true volunteers. These 1600 men, who were forced into the Lw., were civilians, taken from the streets in Rotterdam and Noord Oostpolder in November 1944, in the Netherlands, and brought to Germany. In December 1944 800 were brought to Oldenburg, von Zeppelin barracks and about 800 brought to Pardubitz in Tjechie. All were then trained as Flak-personnel. Mostly Eisenbahnflak. About 200 became operational.
In the about 1000 volunteers were 350-400 Flakhelfer, kids of 16 and 17 years old, and 400 Nachrichtenhelferinnen. The other 200, and increasing in number, are Lw. Flieger, that is the rank of a Lw. soldier in training, pilots, wireless op., gunners(Bordschütze), Flak gunners, maintenance personnel, para's and soldiers of the Lw. Feld-divisonen."
- In memoriam
- Posts: 1911
- Joined: 13 Mar 2002 00:58
- Location: Portland OR U.S.A.
One , who spoke German said; Stay as you are, he who even moves a muscle will be shot.
A few did, and were.