The Butcher Bird with Clipped Wings
By George Wootton - 40 Squadron RAF
Air Gunners were always told - Never look at the target. When you were leaving it was a time when you could get jumped by a fighter. Nevertheless the conflagration, from end to end, of the marshalling yards at Freilassing, was so bright, that in the corner of my eye, it was visible for miles
Over the target we had dropped to 8500 feet. Now, over the snow covered Alps we were climbing back to 15000 feet. We had to be clear of high points on the route back to our Italian base. Suddenly there was a call of ‘bandit’ from the waist gunner. There, in the brilliant moonlight was a single engined fighter. It was way out on our starboard wing and probably about a mile away. It was flying straight and level a similar course and at a similar height. We identified it as a FW190. We watched it like hawks. Our ‘point fives’ were trained. The pilot must have seen us. We all had ‘butterflies.’ Had it turned towards us we were prepared for evasive action. Suddenly, it veered away and disappeared. We were relieved and amazed.
In our briefing we had been told, if, after leaving the target, we encountered a twin engined fighter, we were to broadcast one word twice. That word was ‘window.’ Our Flight Engineers, or in the case of our South African crews their 2nd Pilots, were to listen out. Then, to confuse radar, all crews on the operation were to drop a bundle of the small metal strips at the rate of one a minute. This did NOT apply to any single engined fighter sighted.
At our debriefing and later, over tots of rum, we discussed that fighter. After all, the Nazis had been expected to make a last stand in Bavaria. We concluded that, as everyone knew the war was nearing an end, very luckily for us, that pilot did not want to get involved.
Not long after I began to use the Internet, I got an answer from the Luftwaffe researchers.
During the final days of the war, four FW190D-9s were flown from Munich-Riem to Ainring. It was safer to move them one at a time and at night. Ainring was about two miles from Freilassing. The fighters were part of Jagdverband 44’s protection Squadron, a part of Galland’s Flying Circus. They were not allowed to enter into combat unless one of the ME262 jets, which needed a long take off and landing, was attacked. The jets were moved to Ainring and also Innsbruck during the day. I could not find out more:
Above. A surviving FW190 at Ainring just after the war
and the insignia of JV44 – the Wurger (Butcher Bird) Staffel
In 2007 a young historian with family roots in Freilassing took up the challenge. He believed that the Ainring Station Record Book had been destroyed This was probably when the Luftwaffe pilots, after setting off grenades in the engines, set light to aviation spirit, which, had been poured over the ME262s. When the Americans arrived there was little intact except for the FW190s. All the squadron pilots were Aces and together had over 1000 kills. Although it could not be proved for certain, Michael came to a conclusion that our fighter was probably piloted by a Klaus Faber. If it was, he had an inscription on his aircraft “In he goes even though both of us will cry”
We were lucky. Nobody had to cry.
Above. The insignia of Forty Squadron and my crew at Aviano - with a couple of Partisans - on 18th May 1945.