Two nearly unknown WW II aviation stories by Mark Felton

(1) A commenter alerted me to this video by Mark Felton about the time Hitler (y”sh) came close (sadly not close enough) to dying in an airplane accident.

Briefly, on June 4, 1942, he flew from the Wolf’s Lair in Rastenburg to Finland on a state visit to his ally malgré-soi, Field Marshal Gustav Mannerheim. As usual, two identical Focke-Wulf FW-200 Condors took off. Upon takeoff, pilot Hans Baur noticed the brake on the left undercarriage had jammed. Then upon landing, he was faced with a much-too-short landing strip. He braked vigorously to ensure he would not skate off the runway: this caused the failing left brake to overheat and the brake fluid to catch fire.

Could the world have been spared three more years of war and butchery, were it not for an alert ground crew member who noticed the fire and moved quickly to extinguish it? Felton’s footage shows a noticeable fire but not a spectacular one. But had the plane made a stopover in Tallinn as originally scheduled, and had no emergency braking been necessary there, then (so Felton argues) a flaming undercarriage might have been retracted upon departure for the onward flight, and… history would have looked very different.

There is an infinity of Pasts[…] At each and every instant of Time, however brief you suppose it, the line of events forks like the stem of a tree putting forth twin branches[…] One of these branches represents the sequence of facts as you, poor mortal, knew it; and the other represents what History would have become if one single detail had been other than it was.

André Maurois (1931)

(2) The Luftwaffe’s last major operation, on VE-day, May 8, 1945, was an evacuation flight to the Courland/Kurland Pocket. 33 Junkers Ju-52 “Old Aunties” and four transport-version Heinkel He-111 flew into the pocket with minimal crews (pilot and navigator) and took off with as many Wehrmacht personnel as the planes could lift. =

Any war fiction writer can imagine the elation of those taken aboard, and the despair of those that had to be left behind. But a cynic once wrote: “Despair is seeing your ship come on — and realizing it’s the Titanic.” What ensued can only be described as what American war flyers would call a “turkey shoot”, in which all except two Ju-52s, and all four He-111, were downed by Soviet fighter planes. The two surviving Ju-52 had managed to dodge out flying at treetop and then wavetop level.

On the same day, in the final chapter of Operation Hannibal, five convoys still managed to leave the port of Libau (presently Liepaja, Latvia) escorted by the last remaining fighter planes of Jagdgeschwader (fighter wing) JG 54. Despite Soviet fighter attacks, these still conveyed 27,700 men to Germany. The remaining 190,000 soldiers and officers (including 42 generals) surrendered to the Soviets and joined the about 2.7 million Wehrmacht POWs in their custody. [*]

[*] According to the Soviet NKVD’s own figures, about 381,067, or 13.9%, died in custody. This needs to be seen in the context of the percentage of Soviet POWs that died in Wehrmacht “custody”, which reaches 57%.

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