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The Wrath of the Tuskegee Airmen

Editors note: the following story was written by Erich Immel in response to an article in "Model Aviation."  It has been reproduced here with permission for your enjoyment.

Just going through the latest edition of "Model Aviation" (October 1999) I was very glad to see your article about a new monument for these brave and excellent pilots, flying the P-47 Thunderbolt Razorbacks. You must consider that I was fighting on the other side of the fence, as a young 17 year old Luftwaffe soldier in France (too young to fly).
We were stationed in Middle France during the D-Day invasion and our company with 500 men had to march to a new destination, due to the pressure of the attacking forces. We had nothing but rifles and a few light machine-guns. Every rifleman had 28 rounds of ammo. During the retreat we had to march in a column and our equipment was transported along on French horse drawn wagons.

It was on the 10th of September, at ten o'clock in the morning, 1944, when we had to cross a mile long cow pasture, it was the only road available and all around were woods. I was ordered to watch for airplanes and the commander handed me his pair of binoculars, as he knew I spent six months of involuntary service in the FLAX in Mannheim. I knew all the airplane types and due to one of my feet being flat he ordered me to sit on top of the last wagon. It was a beautiful morning. Suddenly I spotted a silent flying sholder wing plane, circling right over our column. I realized that it was not a Fieseler Storch! A minute or so later I see a fighter plane come right from the front at tree-top level... Without question, I recognized the oval shape of the Thunderbolt's radial cowling. When I shouted "THUNDERBOLT" the commander called me and said that may have been a FW 190, after the plane had raced over our heads and horse drawn wagons. But I know better. The strange thing was that the Thunderbolt did not fire one shot. (Now I know, it was a warning for the French farmers to get the hell out of there). I saw the men racing towards the fields, when the first few of the twelve Thunderbolts came thundering towards the column, from the front, the sides and the rear. All below tree-top level!!! How I got off that wagon I still do not remember, but I saw one the fighters apparently trying to cut the grass next to me...  This was when I pumped the first two rounds into his plane, PMK ammo. I saw the pilot and fired point-blank. The pilot was black. The next split second I figured he is going to dig into the street, which was about three feet higher. Well, he pulled up, under the electrical lines along the street!

Our 500 men from the company had already begun to pump the planes full of bullet holes, POINT-BLANK. Nobody could miss the huge plane, right next to you. Some fired rockets onto the wagons and I saw the blue flames coming out of both wings, right towards me. While bullets were sailing all over the place I was busy reloading my rifle and firing point-blank. I made sure I saw the face of every pilot coming near me. The roaring sound from the big radial engine, the howling of the propellers and the thundering of the guns filled my lungs and ears. The strange situation was, that there were several huge heaps of compressed straw, a bunch of our guys running around them, the Thunderbolts attacking the heaps to set them afire, and they never burned. I also saw one of our sergeants standing upright, and firing his 8mm hand pistol into the planes. This went on for 30 minutes straight, a wild circus. One Thunderbolt had a huge hole in one side of the wing and smoked bad. I think the ammo in his wing had exploded. But, those boys were brave!

When it was all over, the street was burning, the horses were cut to shreds, the wagons destroyed, etc. Surprisingly only two of our men were wounded. I dug-out a smoking bullet, right next to me in the ground. Yes, I found it and burned my hand. I put the bullet later into my pocket for a souvenir. When I got taken PW by the American troops two weeks later, I still carried the bullet with me, hiding it in my hair, under my arm-pit, in a shoe etc. They never found it untill I was in Louisiana and we were searched again. I had it in my shoe. The guy who found the bullet called me over and wanted to know where I got it. He said "You were carrying this from France? You are insane. This is an explosive airplane bullet," and he threw it far away...  my souvenir. I told our commander after the attack that the pilots were all black, and he called me "crazy".

Since I know the exact date of the attack (September 10, 1944), I wonder if there would be any place where they collect the gun camera films? This would be highly interesting to see it today.

The video I bought, "The Tuskegee Airmen" showed only Mustang planes and I think their Thunderbolts were so riddled from bullets from our 500 rifles, at 28 rounds each, plus about seven machine guns that it was impossible to repair them...?

Naturally I love airplanes, I have built models since 1939, gliders, rubber powered, and scale. Today I still build scale models and belong to BARCS radio control club. Although flying is not my strong side, I love building and designing unusual and scale models.

Erich Immel

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