At the end of July 1944, Horst Götz, head of the Sonderkommando (a special Luftwaffe detachment), took off on the Arado 234’s first operational mission from Juvincourt Airbase. Unfortunately, his plane caught fire after take off and one of its Junkers jet engines had to be changed.
Before the war, Götz had been an aerial reconnaissance instructor with the Soviet Air Force, as part of the Nazi-Soviet pact of 23 August 1939.
Horst Götz and Erich Sommer worked together for almost the entire war, from the Norwegian Campaign in 1940 until the end of September 1944, when their paths finally separated. After the Norwegian Campaign, they were both appointed as attaches to the Luftwaffe for the Armistice Commission, paying particular attention to the movements of Marshal Pétain, ensuring that he didn’t try to leave France by aeroplane. Later they were posted to Casablanca, still working with the Armistice Commission and staying in the Hotel Anfa.
Erich Sommer, centre, in his flight suit at the beginning of the war. (Erich Sommer Collection)
At the beginning of August 1942, they were recalled to Beauvais to take part in a high-altitude bombing raid of England: the era of ‘the raiders’ had begun. After having faced no opposition on several missions, targeting the towns of Aldershot, Luton and Bristol, on board their Junkers Ju 86 R (T5+PM), they prepared to carry out a bombing raid of Cardiff on 12 September, armed with a single 250kg bomb. To their great astonishment, following an error in transmission, they were intercepted at 44,000ft by a Spitfire IX (BF273), which proceeded to pursue them for forty-five minutes. Horst Götz managed to get as far as Caen-Carpiquet, his Ju 86 R having been hit by shrapnel down one side. This would be the first and only engagement at such an altitude throughout the whole of the war (see chapter four).
At the start of 1943, whilst posted to Toulouse, the two pilots learnt that Roosevelt and Churchill were attending a top level conference in Casablanca - at their former residence, the Hotel Anfa. As specialists in accurate high-altitude bombardment, they approached Admiral Canaris (head of German Military Intelligence) and proposed destroying the hotel. Canaris’ ambiguous role in this mission would lead to its eventual failure.
A photograph from Erich Sommer’s personal archives, showing his comrade Horst Götz in gallant company in August 1941. Erich Sommer said (in a tongue in cheek way ) ‘Can men carry the shopping bags? - No, they don’t have to’. (Collection Erich Sommer)
In early 1944, Götz and Sommer were truly getting to grips with the Arado Ar 234 and during their service, the two pilots were able to assist in the first flight of the four jet-engined Ar 238 on 4 February.
Eventually, Erich Sommer was captured by the Americans in Italy and his logbook was seized. Horst Götz, on the other hand, was captured by the Russians, who treated him well during his imprisonment in Germany, even allowing him to keep his logbook.
I had the good fortune to know both these men in later life, until Horst Götz’s death in 2000 and Erich Sommer’s in 2006.
Leutnant Erich Sommer. He is wearing the Narvikschild, the commemorative badge for the soldiers who fought at Narvik in the Norwegian campaign. (Collection Erich Sommer)
Narvikschild (Hermann Historica)
Erich Sommer. Portrait dating from 1942, when he was a lieutenant. (Erich Sommer)
Erich Sommer and Horst Götz in Morocco, 1942, where they sat on the Armistice Commission. (Erich Sommer)
Summer hat for Luftwaffe officers. (Hermann Historica)
Collar tabs of an aircrew lieutenant (Hermann Historica)
Silver flight clip for bombing awarded after 60 combat missions. 110 missions were required in order to obtain a gold one. (Hermann Historica)
Erich Sommer in Italy, 28 April 1945, just before his capture by the Americans. (Erich Sommer)
Horst Götz met with the author at his home. He died in 2000. (Philippe Bauduin)
Erich Sommer at his home in Australia holding the periscope he invented for monitoring the exhaust trails at the back of the Arado. (Philippe Bauduin/Photo: W. Gallasch)
Erich Sommer, relaxing whilst on leave. (DR)