Purring like a well-loved kitten, the Daimler Benz in-line engine calms me to an almost meditative state as I soar above snow-capped Alpine peaks. Near the ceiling for my 109, I scan past slopes I’ve hiked into what was until a few years ago Austria, hoping to see nothing approaching from the distant horizon.
Another day without an incursion would make two in a row.
“It’s the whole damn Luftwaffe at 3 o’clock!” Gehrig calls out.
Snapping my neck to the right, my vision crosses Verstanclahorn toward Dreiländerspitze where it settles on a flight of at least fifty planes coming out of Germany following 27 West.
Fifty don’t get lost, particularly when following a road. We’re gonna have to fight this one.
“Form up on me!” I order, although my guys know what they’re doing without me telling them.
Even with fourteen flying in from across the patrol frontier, we’re going to have a hard time today.
We usually have approximately ten percent of our fighter force in the air at this border at any one time. The Germans have been more daring this week, intentionally testing our neutrality by trying to use our airspace to bomb France.
“Get behind them, then we’ll turn around and attack from high in the East.” I order my guys.
They’ve got at least thirty fighters escorting those bombers. That’s a first. Usually the bombers come alone, or lightly escorted.
“This is East Patrol Leader Nufer, authorization 44783. Send up the standby fighters toward Piz Mundin at 30. At least fifty German aircraft, of which thirty-five fighters, heading West along 27.” I radio to base.
At an accelerated rate of ascent, varying distances, and who knows what status of readiness, it will be at least fifteen minutes before any reinforcements get here.
I look down toward the German planes, quickly taking a mental picture.
They’re flying Messerschmidts too, at least we’ll fight with the same tools today.
As I’m looking down toward the German flight I notice some of its fighters beginning to peal off.
They’ve seen us!
“Dive boys, game on!” I order moments after my peripheral vision catches some of my wing headed down toward the German fighters.
My guys are always a moment ahead of me.
Gaining speed, my 109 races toward the German 109’s. Lining up my sights, I target the lead fighter, noting the yellow paint on his nose.
I really do appreciate them telling me who’s in charge over there!
1000 meters between us.
900. . .
800. . .
700. . .
My trigger finger rests gently against the firing button, waiting for the right moment to bring my guns to life.
600. . .
550. . .
I pull the firing button back, releasing a hailstorm of bullets and tracers toward the lead German 109.
Early, I know, but I got the jump on him.
A split second passes before I see gun bursts from the nose and wings of his plane.
Here they come!
I hold steady, firing directly into the German plane. He holds steady firing directly at me.
No maneuvering today friend.
Tracers streak past the cockpit canopy. Sounds of metal ripping through metal accompany the furious roar of an engine strained to pick up speed.
Who’s getting out of this alive?
200 meters from the German fighter I pull right.
At the same moment he pulls left, heading in the same direction as me.
The undersides of our planes face each other as we scramble for new firing positions. I take this moment to look around.
Where are my boys?
I see Messerschmidts chasing Messerschmidts across the sky, Swiss white crosses darting in between German black crosses.
Circling around, I can make out the yellow nose of a smoke streaming 109 turning to hide in a bank of clouds.
You’re not getting away from me!
Pushing the throttle forward to max, I beeline toward the other fighter.
You can’t just come in here, shoot at me, and leave you son-of-a-bitch!
My 109 bursts into the cloud, aiming to catch up with that yellow-nosed plane.
Just as I break out of the clouds a grey-nosed German 109 streaks across my 11, spewing forth fiery lead. My left wing buckles, tears, and simply disappears.
Over, and over, and over, and over my plane spins as the weight of one wing twirls me through the air.
Out, I’ve gotta get Out!
Reaching for the canopy latch, my hands have a hard time centering as the centrifugal force pushes them away from my target.
Gotta get the latch!
My right hand meets the latch, yanks it, releasing the canopy.
I push off with my legs, leaping out of the plane, hoping to miss the right wing as it whips around again.
I’m lucky I didn’t get cut in half!
My body tumbles through the air, maintaining the spin of the plane, minus the projective power of my legs in a perpendicular direction. With my eyes open, I look around to get my bearing, but the ground and air take each other’s place every half-a-second as I hurtle toward the earth.
If I pull my ripcord now my parachute may be ripped off or tangled. If I don’t, I may be able to level myself out.
Stretching out my arms and legs creates a larger surface area for greater air resistance. The air-land exchange begins to slow.
I have to pull soon. I can’t be that high anymore.
As I continue spinning, I can start to make out the ground when it’s in sight.
Yep, time to pull.
My right hand tears at the ripcord, releasing my parachute.
Luckily my spin is slowing.
Unraveling as it’s supposed to, my parachute begins wrapping around me because of my spin. With both hands I attempt to push it over my head at each revolution.
If it’s not tangled on me maybe it won’t get tangled in the air above me.
I look up to see the parachute beginning to open. The cord is twisted, but doesn’t look tangled.
I will have to unravel once it opens completely. How am I supposed to do that if I’m still spinning in the wrong direction?
As I look up toward the parachute I notice another chute about 2000 meters to my left.
It’s a German chute, and it’s opened perfectly. Bastard!
My chute keeps catching, fighting the tendency to tangle, as I keep spinning against it.
I may not make it, but at least he’s out of the war too. Not a fair trade!
My spin is slowing, so I keep my hands out, palms against the force of the turn, legs out wide, hoping to continue slowing myself down. Above me, my parachute continues to fight me, slowly opening more as my spin slows.
I may make it after all.
The German in the chute at a distance seems to be going a lot slower than me, as his chute is fully open. He is gently descending to the earth as I seem to be in far more of a hurry.
My chute finally opens completely, slowing my body’s descent. I still have a few hundred meters to go.
I’ve made it. Now, to not hit a tree or anything.
I look back at the German.
We’ll both be landing in Switzerland. I may be back in a fighter this afternoon. His war is over.
Switzerland was neutral during World War II. Instead of peace and tranquility, this meant that the Swiss had to maintain their neutrality through military force. This often meant fighting both sides if either committed an incursion into Swiss territory, particularly airspace. Patrolling that airspace was a motley collection of French, German, Dutch, and Swiss made aircraft numbering only 300 pilots and 210 planes early in 1940 when the Germans invaded France. The bulk of the Swiss fighters were 90 German Messerschmidt 109’s, the same planes the Germans flew in great number at that time. On one occasion, fourteen of these Swiss fighters pounced upon thirty-eight German 109’s that were escorting German bombers on their way to bomb France. The fight was relatively short-lived, as World War II air battles go, but in the end the Germans lost four planes and the Swiss lost one.