were taken somewhere, some time in April of 1945.
|Route of the Question Mark|
|(A) Obermarsberg to (B) Eberschutz, Germany (30 miles)|
2 April to 10 April 1945
On the 10th of April, 1945 the 20th Fighter Group was escorting about 1,300 B-17s and B-24s to targets in the Magdeburg and Berlin/Oranienburg area. The escorts were a mixed group of 800-plus P-51s and P-47s. Joe Peterburs, USAF (Retired), Combat Fighter Pilot in WWII, Korea and Vietnam tells his story of that day and a day years later.
Peterburs, flying his 49th mission, says he and his flight leader, Captain Dick Tracy, were flying high cover as a pair, the number three and four fighters having aborted the mission. Just after the bombers dropped their payloads, a swarm of Me-262 jets appeared. Peterburs today tells this story from the unique position of having first-hand information from Luftwaffe pilots who were in that day’s air battle:
Joe Peterburs, P-51 PilotThere were about 50 Me-262s that took off to meet us. At Parchem Airfield, four of them were destroyed; two on the ground and two, just after they took off, were shot down. They were from 10/JG 7, and the other group that I am aware of was 3/JG7, led by an German ace Oberleutnant Walter Schuck. Schuck had spent most the war with JG5Eismeer, flying Bf 109s from Finland against Russians on the Allied supply route to Murmansk. He had 198 victories in that theater before he was sent to fly the Me-262. His transition to the 262 had consisted of being told to watch the jets take-off and land from a vantage point at the end of the runway, followed by a cockpit checkout. Before long, he was commanding 3/JG7.On April 10th, 1945, the Luftwaffe had known the USAAF was headed over to bomb, and the alert to take off came as no surprise.They wove up through the formation and Shuck kept his seven 262s together in close formation until they got through the first group of bombers and he destroyed two B-17s. Then he went sliding over to the second formation, the one that I was escorting.Peterburs says he was flying about 5,000 feet over the bombers when he saw two Me-262s coming into the formation. He rolled over and started down.
Artist's Rendering of "Josephine",
P-51 flown by Joe PeterbursShuck is behind one of the B-17s. A little short burst of 30mm and - - bang, the 17 is gone. I’m still not on his tail and he pulls onto the second one... His tactic was porpoising through the formation. After hitting a B-17, he’d pull up to lose speed, then he’d come down and go on to the next one. By now, he’d blown up his fourth B-17, the second one that I’d seen personally blow up, and just at that time I’m pulling into his six o’clock position and I start firing. I get hits in his left engine and see some smoke and a little flame. Then he immediately goes into a slow right turn, diving down into the Berlin area.Peterburs says even with the Me 262’s damaged engine he lost his speed advantage from the original dive, and he chased the jet down to about 3,000 feet, where Shuck turned and disappeared into a cloud layer, and then turned sharply to the left. The Luftwaffe ace figured the P-51 chasing him might try to pursue on the far side of the overcast. Shortly after the turn, Shuck's damaged engine began to disintegrate and Shuck was forced to bail out.
Walter Schuck, Me-262 Pilot
Peterburs decided against following the jet into the clouds, and with Capt. Dick Tracy still with him, he headed further down to an airfield near Berlin that he found out later was Finsterwalde.It’s just loaded with aircraft, just every type you could think of. Dick takes over the lead and we get down on the deck, throttles wide open and we’re just cutting grass. We come up to the airfield, pop up and strafe. It was really nice. We caught ‘em by surprise. Dick got two on his first pass and I got one.The two P-51s pulled up and came around for a second pass, when Peterburs saw a flak position he attacked. Capt. Tracy hit two more parked planes and was pulling up when his aircraft was hit, and he had to do a quick bailout at about 300 feet. He landed in a river near the airfield and was later captured.I came around again, and I think I’m 20 years old, don’t have anything else to do, and here’s all these aircraft and I’m not going to leave them when I have them allto myself. So I crank myself down under the armor plating as far as I can get and continue to make passes. I end up making three more passes and get hit on the last two. The next to the last I got hit on the wing, but it didn’t cause any problems to Josephine. On the last pass I got an Fw-200 Condor. I was told recently that it happened to be one of Hitler’s fleet of Condors. That thing just blew. I got it, raked it right through the whole fuselage and it blew by the time I was pulling off. But then I felt a thud. I could see smoke and flame in my engine and I just pulled back as hard as I could to get as much altitude as I could.Joe had destroyed at least 5 aircraft - - an Fw-190, Ju-88, two Me-109's and the Fw-200, damaged several others and exacted heavy damage on several hangars. Now, at about 10,000 feet, he made a decision to turn west. He was about 15 miles from Magdeburg, and losing altitude when he came under attack by an Fw-190.By this time I’m down to 1,000 feet. At three o’clock, I see the Fw-190 coming at me. And he’s firing his guns, and he has some rockets and he fires those and they all miss. And I’m cussing like heck. I look at my altimeter and I’m at 500 feet, too low to bail out. So I grab the stick and start looking for a place to belly it in. And then it comes to my stupid head that I’m all un-strapped. Because I was going to bail out and if I’d bellied the thing in, I’m just not going to make it.Peterburs says these thoughts raced through his mind in probably a millisecond. While the altimeter wound down to 350 feet, he climbed out on the left wing of the P-51 (the right side was burning) and let go.I hit the tail with my right knee, pulled the ripcord, the chute opened, I swung once and hit the ground. Hard, very hard.Peterburs found himself in the middle of a field, with a group of 15-20 farmers running toward him. He took his .45 pistol out, removed the clip and threw it one direction, threw the extra clip in another direction, and threw the .45 in a third direction. He says the farmers were upon him and were ready to do him in when a Luftwaffe sergeant rode up on a motorcycle, fired a couple of warning shots from a Luger and told the farmers to let the downed airman go. Next, another group of citizens came and talked the sergeant into bringing Joe to what he thought was the town hall.
Peterburs says the local police chief, a man with a black leather glove over what had been his left hand, pulled out his Luger, placing the barrel at Joe’s temple and threatening to shoot. But the Luftwaffe sergeant trained his pistol at the police chief and said he would be leaving with Peterburs. A twenty-minute motorcycle ride later, Joe was at a nearby airfield, where he was placed in solitary confinement and interrogated by the Gestapo for three days. While there, he spent the nights in a bomb shelter with the Germans during nightly bombings by the British.
Peterburs was next moved by rail boxcar to Stalag 11, which became a short stay because the Germans were evacuating the camp before advancing Allied forces. The Germans put him with a group of about 100 British soldiers for a ten-day march towards the east, a march under constant attack by Allied fighter planes.We get to Stalag 3 at Luckenwalde which was a Russian and Scandinavian prisoner camp. And guess who I bump into? Capt. Tracy has been sitting there for ten days, along with Sgt. Lewis who was in one of the B-17s shot down, as well as Sgt. Krup, who could speak fluent Russian.The four men, acting on a plan hatched before Peterburs arrived, took advantage of lax security and went under the fence. About 4-5 miles from the camp, the freed POWs heard the rumble of Soviets tanks, and sent Sgt. Krup (who could speak Russian) to speak with the Russians. Handed weapons, the four airmen were inducted into a Red Army tank corps and fought with them from Juterberg to the Elbe.As we were going, German civilians, as soon as they found out Americans were with the Russians, sought us out. They wanted us to sleep with their daughters, sleep in their houses, so they’d be protected from the rape and pillage that was going on with the Russians. I accepted sleeping in their house, but not sleeping with their daughters.When the Soviets reached the Elbe he joined a US Army infantry unit that met with the Russians and did mop up operations around Halle, a major Luftwaffe base.
We eventually got to Wittenberg, preceded by the Stormaviks flying close air support. About that time I noticed they were keeping tighter control of me. I didn’t know why, but this was the time of the Potsdam Conference and tensions were starting to become high between the Allies and the Russians.I was able to pick up some beautiful souvenirs: flying suits, dress uniforms and the like. I stuffed them in my duffel bag. Then we finally ended up playing poker and the Army guys getting me so drunk I lost all my souvenirs. I got mad and just took off by myself and walked about five miles down the road.There, Joe saw a C-47 parked in a field, with some political prisoners being loaded on board for a flight to Paris. Peterburs asked for a ride and soon found himself in the French capital, stamped, deloused and sent to a POW collection point called "Camp Lucky Strike" to soon be returned to the United States. The war was over for him, he was anxious to be married and settle into a ‘regular’ life.
Fifty-four years later (1998), Peterburs was contacted by Werner Dietrich, an amateur historian in from Burg, Germany. In a letter, Dietrich stated that on April 10, 1945 he was a 13-year old boy hiding in a ditch watching an air battle above him. He saw a Fw-190 fire rockets at a P-51 and miss, and saw Peterburs bail out. Dietrich also said he knew where the Mustang crashed. In 1996, after East and West Germany were reunified, Dietrich used the serial number from aircraft parts he found to begin an exhaustive 19-month search for the pilot. In May of 1998, when a documentary producer invited Peterburs to Germany for a reunion with Dietrich, Joe had to refuse. He was caring for his wife after her stroke and was unwilling to leave her. The producer made arrangements for Dietrich and a video crew to visit him in Colorado Springs for a follow-up documentary.
Meanwhile, Dietrich kept working on the story, talking to people from Finsterwalde and finding the pilot of the Me-262 that Peterburs had hit. About three months later, Dietrich announced by letter he’d found the jet pilot, 206 aerial victory Luftwaffe ace Walter Schuck. Peterburs says he gave it about a 50% chance of being the true story.That was the way I left it until about 2003. I get an email from a Christer Bergstrom, a prolific writer on German air operations in World War Two. He’s writing Walter’s biography. And I’d been in contact with Mario Schultz from Oranianberg, who had also been researching that particular mission.Schultz requested Peterburs’ account of that April 10, 1945 mission. In less than a week he told Joe that it must be conclusive that Joe had shot down Walter Schuck. Shultz’s conclusion was based on confirmation that Shuck was the only Me-262 pilot who shot down two B-17s on that day, and that Peterburs’ description of Shuck’s last two B-17 shootdowns that day was, detail-by-detail, virtually identical. On 18 May 2005 Joe Peterburs met Walter Shuck in person.It was a tremendous experience, and we took to each other immediately. We are the best of friends.
Walter (on the wing), Joe and a P-51 named "Josephine".