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Werner Muffey and the Führungskette X. Fliegerkorps

Werner Muffey's first operational posting as a newly-promoted Leutnant was to Athens and the Führungskette X. Fliegerkorps which needed another officer-led crew to compensate for recent losses:

When we arrived at the beginning of July 1941, the only other officer and leader of the unit had just returned back home to try and cure his arthritis he had acquired in Norway during the previous winter making sorties across the North Sea … Unexperienced [sic] as I was, I had nevertheless to take over the lot and tried to do my best during the following months without achieving anything breathtaking … My He 111 was P4+AA [He 111 H-6, W.Nr. 7338], the two others were P4+BA and P4+DA. Main targets for night bombing were Tobruk, Mersa Matruh, Sollum and other places in the North African coastal desert, the railway along the coastline and the British Fleet of the East Mediterranean at Alexandria. The [Naval] AA batteries did quite a good job and several times we just made it back to Crete with an emergency landing.

… Things changed considerably when one day during summer 1942 the Chief of Luftflotte 2, Gen. Feldmarschall Kesselring paid his first visit to our Commander-in-Chief, Gen. Geissler. Kesselring used to fly a Do 215 with his special pilot but on that day he came only as far as Foggia on his way from Athens to Rome due to an engine failure. Much to his embarrassment, an Italian Savoia Marchetti had to take him from there to Tatoi. I was then chosen to pilot the rest of his itinerary, which included Derna (to meet Rommel) and via Benghazi back to Rome. He must obviously have liked it, because that started a whole series of flights across the Mediterranean until, at last, we were again called to pick him up at Fuka (not far from Alex).

He had left a message there that he still had to see Rommel and was going back to Derna, where we should meet him the following day to get him back to Rome. So I decided to spend a free afternoon in Crete and when we happily cruised at 1500 m heading for Heraklion, the radio operator reported a fighter approaching from behind, that he soon identified as a Me 109 of our friends from JG 27. Nevertheless, the man was so eager to catch an easy prey that he opened fire at a very short distance and had the port engine burning immediately, the controls of the elevator out of action and parts of the right wing damaged. Since I had pushed down the old 111 initially to escape, we were in an ever-accelerating dive and the only means to put her level again seemed to be full throttle. Although that worked for a while, we were gathering speed all the time and—to cut the story short—we ended up in a head-on dive into the waves at a speed of certainly more than 400 km/h.

… Willy Mensching and I were the only survivors out of a crew of five, hours later being picked up by German speedboats, temporarily ruling the waves 40 km north of the coastline near Mersa Matruh, and brought to a hospital there. The whole thing happened on the 10th of August 1942 and it was not before May the following year that I had sufficiently recovered to join the unit again in Saloniki.

ULTRA intercepts show Muffey’s recollections to have been impressively accurate. On 8 August 1942, Kesselring was advised that the chief of the Italian General Staff, Maresciallo d’Italia Ugo Cavallero, had suggested the two of them meet in Tatoi three days hence. Fliegerkorps X duly advised Ob. Süd that Muffey’s He 111 would land at Fuka at 0400 on the 10th to collect him and asked when the Feldmarschall was expected in Heraklion. Kesselring then requested that the Fl.Kps. X Chief of Staff, Oberst Sigismund Freiherr von Falkenstein, should also join the Tatoi discussions.

At midday on 10 August 1942, the Führungskette had a strength of 3 (2) aircraft. Reporting on 39 sorties flown by its units that day, Fliegerkorps X noted that:

He 111 of Korps Führungskette … on a communications flight was shot down by our own fighters over the sea NW of Mersa Matruh. 2 members of the crew were saved, 2 are missing.

That evening, Fliegerführer Afrika’s situation report for the day included:

Special incidents: 1 of our own He 111 of Korps Führungskette, Fliegerkorps X was shot down NW of Mersa Matruh over the sea. 2 members of the crew were saved. 1 member of the crew and 1 passenger are missing. An investigation is in progress. As our own fighters approached to escort coastal A-lighters [Artilleriefährprähme] between Sidi Barrani and Mersa Matruh they were several times fired at by lighters.

NOTE: The unfortunate Heinkel was W.Nr. 7338 and the crew members who died were Uffz. Heinrich Niesten (observer) and Fw. Herbert Schulze (air-gunner). By 19 September the Führungskette would have a new P4+AA, this time a Do 215.

The meeting in Tatoi went ahead, nevertheless: on the afternoon of 10 August, Ob. Süd signalled that Cavallero would land in Tatoi at about 0900 the next morning.. There was another development on the 10th:

According to visual observation from Tarifa and Ceuta it appears that a large convoy has run through from the West into the Mediterranean today.

Cavallero arrived in Tatoi at 11.30 local time on 11 August and left four hours later. While there, he was notified that he was needed back in Rome “in view of the aero-naval battle that will take place in the Mediterranean from the 14th–15th”. Operation PEDESTAL, the resupply of Malta, was underway.

A "friendly fire" incident in August 1942.