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Old 04-27-2010, 04:28 PM
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"It was like a ritual. The last thing each pilot did before climbing into his plane to go off on a mission was to walk a discreet distance to the rear of the plane and take a "nervous pee". Given that there wouldn't be another opportunity to empty the bladder for five or even six hours, this was a prudent thing to do. While it is true that the Mustang was equipped with a "relief tube" (a funnel attached to a rubber hose), it was next to impossible to use because of the layers of clothing and parachute straps in the way. So the ritual was born of necessity.

Aside from being necessary, the nervous pee was a manifestation of underlying tension, which varied a great deal from pilot to pilot. There were a few among us who developed over time an aversion to combat flying. Initially I was unaware of this, naively believing that all fighter pilots were gung-ho. After all, they were all fighter pilots by choice. When push had come to shove, however, a few had found out that they had bitten off more than they could chew. For them it could be tough going. This was a sensitive subject that was never openly discussed - but should fear grab hold of a pilot, he could become a danger to himself and his comrades.

There were various tell-tale signs of aversion to combat flying: early return from missions with an airplane malfunction that could not be duplicated by the mechanics; hanging back when an engagment with enemy aircraft was imminent or in progress; unusual weight loss; heavy drinking; and physical ailments for which the doctor could find no cause.

I knew of only a couple of cases that required direct action. One pilot, after only a few missions, threw in the towel. It was too much for him to handle, he told Vic Warford. Vic didn't want to add to the poor fellow's shame and embarrassment, and was compassionate in dealing with him; he arranged for a transfer to an air transport outfit. The second case was handled in a similar manner.

Others who felt undue stress just toughed it out. I don't know how many there were in the squadron but I suspected that two or three were having a difficult time. I admired them for persevering but knew that this wasn't necessarily in the best interests of the other pilots. Years later one of them confirmed what I had suspected. He told me that he lost thirty pounds then, had recurring nightmares and didn't think he would make it to the end of his tour. He did make it and spent a long period afterward hospitalized for "combat fatigue". In looking back at his record, he was not an effective combat pilot despite his love of flying."

From: George Loving, "Woodbine Red Leader: A P51 Mustang Ace in the Mediterranean Theater

"You know, every time we take off on a combat mission, it is with mixed feelings, because it never turns out to be a pleasure trip. It is so depressing when one realises that our 'comrades from the other side' are far superior to oneself, and to know that when one engages the Viermots [4-motors, German name for B17s and B24s], sooner or later one gets shot down. During the only short period we've been here, our Staffel has already lost two pilots killed and two wounded. One had a hand shot clean off and from the other he lost a couple of fingers. The second injured pilot lost an eye. So, our Staffel, nominally on strength with 12 planes, has only four or five serviceable kites left. In the beginning, the Gruppe operated with 30 to 35 machines. Nowadays, only 10 to 15 can be scrambled at any one time.

On the other hand, we have gained fame here on the Channel coast. Not a single Gruppe has chalked up such great combat results in this theatre, and such a thing is simply impossible without incurring losses. All this results in our frame of mind being that of a lost bunch. We call ourselves 'The Last Knights' and indeed, it is a great thing to see how everyone gets at our adversary and fires doggedly. I do admire my 'Chief' who has already been shot down twice here, who almost always gets back to base with his machine shot up and still rushes in and, with his thick Westphalian skull, approaches his adversaries to point blank range to make sure of the kill. One can only say, 'Hats Off'. I am always satisfied with the hits I register and then make it back home. I must add that there is no choice but to get at them regardless of our losses, in an effort to prevent them from wreaking more destruction than they already do. One feels so impotent and can only watch powerless when facing such an opponent. In Russia, we would have completely destroyed any formation. Over here, any formation destroys us. How can you win! Sometimes, I fly as Schwarm (Flight ) leader. That usually is the task of a very experienced pilot but one has to have this first. I am responsible for the safety of three men, who I lead into combat behind me. How could I ever do that? A hundred or more enemy aircraft in the sky (I am not exaggerating) and I should cover my 4th man's tail? Only the other day, my wingman got shot down. You know, the most sacred commitment for a flight leader is the one to his wingman. I am hanging in the middle of a pulk [German for enemy squadron or formation] with my men behind me, enemy fighters appear, I look around and see my wingman but no angry enemy. When I finally believe to have got away reasonably unscathed, my wingman is gone. I assume he has fled from the scene one way or the other, but when I touch down at base some time later, he is missing. Only that night, whilst I have been reproaching myself severely, one reports that he is in hospital in Aachen. The poor fellow's eye has been removed. Things like that easily get on one's nerves.

Tonight we will celebrate 'Daddy's' birthday. 'Daddy' is our boss. There's only five of us pilots left now. Didn't we have a great time in the early days in Russia when there were still 16 of us. When I think of it, I feel tears welling up in my eyes. I never write such letters, but I have to get these thoughts off my chest and you are the only one I can confide in. Here, we don't discuss such things. The boss only talks about it in ruthless jokes, obviously trying suppress his weaker side and compassion. Still, he can't hide the fact that it has made a deep impression on him too, today he turned 27 but looks 37. It is a privilege to meet such men, who make one keen to get on with the job and who one admires.

But isn't being a fighter pilot a great thing? Speedily dashing through the skies and then plunging into the action. My dear, it makes one's heart shout with joy! Sometimes, it also trembles but only occasionally. Do you know the saying: "Enjoy the war, because the coming Peace will be dreadful!" Every day we repeat this with a sadistic pleasure. The boss is very good at it, which helps him to keep his bunch of men together as best he can."

Unteroffizier Uwe Michels, fighter pilot, II/JG3, 6th Staffel, at Schiphol, writing to his girlfriend Ilse, 11 October 1943. He was KIA one week later.
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