Leopold Wenger

A close encounter between wartime rivals only revealed 74 years later

Published by carolyn on Fri, 2016-08-26 16:51

On August 28, 1942, kite-flying four-year-old John Lewthwaite of St. Just, Cornwall got a "cheery wave" from Lt. Poldi Wenger as he flew by at very low level on his way to Penzance.

By Carolyn Yeager
copyright 2016 Carolyn Yeager

IT'S A STORY THAT ALWAYS BEGGED TO BE TOLD, but the sensitivities of the English concerning the bombing by Germany in 1940-42 made it one that John Lewthwaite was hesitant to tell. Even today.

So he wrote to me with his tale.

The encounter took place seventy-four years ago this month on August 28, as he remembered it. Lewthwaite was only 4 years old, but he's sure of what he experienced on that summer afternoon while out flying kites with a friend, in a field just north of Lands End.

Leopold Wenger's last letters from the Eastern Front, Aug. 1944-Jan. 1945

Published by carolyn on Fri, 2014-06-06 15:26

Poldi Wenger receives the Knights Cross from Generaloberst Otto Dessloch, Chief of Luftflotte 4, on 19 January, 1945, assisted by the General's adjutant. (click to enlarge)


copyright 2014 Wilhelm Wenger and Carolyn Yeager
Translated from the German by Carlos Whitlock Porter

First, an account of the fall of Sevastopol and the loss of Ukraine by the end of June 1944, assembled by Willy Wenger. The letters that follow, the last ones Leopold Wenger wrote to his family, spanned August '44 to January '45. Poldi had been in Ukraine since November 1943, relocating only slowly westward, but now his Group begins to move around, first to Poland, finally closer to Vienna.

Sevastopol Falls

In six to eight weeks, the situation looked quite different. The Allies had landed in Normandy. On 5 May, the 2nd [Russian] Guard Army went on the offensive on the west side of Sevastopol. On 7 May, the [Soviet] 51st Army and Coastal Army expanded their offensives to Balaklava and conquered the crest of the Sapun mountains, with which the German commanders, two years before, had sealed the [fate of the] siege. The German commanders now abandoned their lines all the way to Inkerman, where they intended to regroup for a counterattack, after gaining the relative security of the commanding mountain heights. The situation of the defenders was desperate. One German division after the other gave way. On 8 May, General Schörner issued an order to the Navy and Luftwaffe to make the best of a bad job. On 9 May, the Soviets liberated Sevastopol. A single German unit fought a rearguard action for four days on the Kherson peninsula to permit the embarkation of survivors.

Leopold Wenger's letters from the Eastern Front, Nov 1943-Feb 1944

Published by carolyn on Wed, 2014-03-19 17:20


Oberleutnant Poldi Wenger stands at his squadron's [13th/SG10] command bunker at Koskov, in Ukraine, in January 1944. Note their "red fox" insignia above the entrance.


copyright 2014 Wilhelm Wenger and Carolyn Yeager
Translated from the German by Carlos Whitlock Porter


VIENNA - Officers’ military hospital

3 October 1943: I had hardly gotten here when they stuck me in bed again, which didn’t hardly please me. I’m in a military hospital here, officers only. There are four of us to a room, all of them sick; there are no wounded, and it’s nowhere near as beautiful as Constance. Now, once again, I’ve got a thick bandage on my knee and once again, the famous black ointment “Ichtiol” on it.

A few days ago I travelled to Meersburg [on the other side of the Lake Constance], which Mom had described to me as being so beautiful. I’m very glad to have undertaken this short outing; I really didn’t regret it. [Poldi received a visit from a lady friend of some years standing, one of the Luftwaffe auxiliary personnel, whom he had met in France; they travelled together on the trip to Meersberg. -WW]

Here in Vienna, visits are only permitted three times a week; but I very much hope that Father and Mother will be able to make it here together. In other respects our superiors here are rather strict; nevertheless I hope [sentence cut off]

[I myself was in Linz an der Donau at this time, assigned to the anti-aircraft auxiliary personnel as an anti-aircraft gunner, where I also attended grammar school at the Humanities High School at Marburg an der Drau. I was supposed to go to Leoben on holiday in the next few days and wanted to spend the holiday with our parents there together with Bibi (Poldi). -WW]

Leopold Wenger's letters from Sicily and Lake Constance, June-Nov. 1943

Published by carolyn on Sun, 2014-02-23 15:02

Poldi Wenger's "beautiful" plane after being destroyed in an air attack and fire while parked in Marsa del Oro, Sicily on July 7, 1943


copyright 2014 Wilhelm Wenger and Carolyn Yeager
Translated from the German by Carlos Whitlock Porter

Notes from Poldi's brother, Willy Wenger:
The mission on 4 June 1943 was also Poldi’s last combat flight on the Channel coast and the letter to his mother dated 14 June 1943 was the last one from France, since he was transferred to Sicily on 15 June1943.

After the death of Hauptmann Frank LIESENDAHL, Oberleutnant Fritz SCHRÖTER took over command of the 10th Jagdgeschwader (Day Fighter Wing) JG 2 until 31 December 1942, after which Hauptmann Heinz SCHUMANN took over in April 1943 following SCHRÖTER’s transfer to Tunisia. In the meantime, the following name changes were made:

The 10th /JG 2 (Jagdgeschwader–Fighter-Bomber Wing) was renamed the 13th/ SKG10 (Schnellkampfgeschwader - Fast Bomber Wing)        Squadron Commander - Lieutenant Poldi WENGER

The 10th /JG 26 and the 10th /JG 54 were renamed the 14th/ SKG10
Squadron Commander – Lieutenant Colonel Erwin BUSCH

The newly appointed 15th/SKG10  --  Squadron Commander - Lieutenant Erhard NIPPA

The three squadrons formed the Second Group (Gruppe) of SKG10, the name of which was changed, as of December 1942, over the course of a reorganisation of the close combat flier units, to SG10 (Schlachtgeschwader – Ground Attack Wing)  ---  Group Commander – Hauptmann Heinz SCHUMANN

Transfer to SICILY
Take-off on 15.6.1943 at 13h53 with stopovers in Bourges, Istres and Albenga (near Allassio, Italy) on 16.6. to Pratrica di Mare near Rome. After refuelling, off to Capodichino near Naples on 17.6 over the Straits of Messina and Catania to Gerbini-West.

Throughout the entire stretch of 2,270 kilometers, Poldi’s first maintenance engineer Thielen had to sit crammed into the baggage compartment directly behind the pilot’s seat and must have needed a lot of endurance to sit hunched up in this cramped compartment for hours.

Taking off from the foot of Mount Aetna, they flew the first dive bomber and high-altitude bombing attacks against large Allied convoys in the Mediterranean and achieved great results. They bombed harbor installations on the island of Pantelleria from a VERY high altitude. The whole group flew hard missions against Allied invasion troops, particularly around Gela, achieving the first tank kill and damaging several landing craft. -WW

___________________________

Leopold Wenger's letters from France, January-June 1943

Published by carolyn on Tue, 2014-02-11 20:52

Leopold Wenger, Jr climbs into the cockpit of his plane as he talks with his mechanic. In April '43, Poldi was made squadron leader.


copyright 2014 Wilhelm Wenger and Carolyn Yeager
Translated from the German by Carlos Whitlock Porter

4 January 1943: We had some very strong wind and monstrous sea swells in the past few days. Heavy surf on the coast, like you hardly ever saw. I didn’t even celebrate New Year’s Eve at all this time. I was already in bed by 22 hours, since we wanted to convey our New Year’s Best Wishes to the tommies really early in the morning. But once we got outside on New Year’s Day, you couldn’t fly at all, the weather was so bad. So on the 2nd we bombed a small town, Knightbridge, until there was not much left of it. I took really good photographs during this attack. We were over there again yesterday. This time it was Shanklin’s turn to get it, a city on the Isle of Wight. The flak was quite accurate, but too late. Once again, we got good photos of the attack.

A deep attack was made into Knightbridge on Jan. 2nd (above) and on Jan. 3rd, Shanklin (below). Photos from Poldi's on-board camera.

Leopold Wenger's letters from France, February - July 1942

Published by carolyn on Tue, 2013-12-24 20:16

Celebrating a victory with a champagne breakfast in Caen, July 9, 1942, left to right: Schröter, Nippa and Poldi wearing his newly awarded Iron Cross 2. (Picture taken by a war reporter) Enlarge


The letters from 1942 begin with Operation Cerberus, for which Leopold "Poldi" Wenger's squadron  (Jagdgeschwader 2 "Richthofen") played an essential role. This is the first of two major operations in which he was to take part in 1942, the second being the Battle of Dieppe in August. In between these two, we read of continuing dog-fights over the Channel. Poldi's first letter home was not until after Cerberus was successfully completed.

copyright 2013 Wilhelm Wenger and Carolyn Yeager
Translated from the German by Carlos Whitlock Porter

14 February 1942: Everything has been happening at once over the past few days, as you have, of course, heard from the Christmas news bulletins; and this time we are involved, too. We flew fighter support for the German fleet and were present at precisely the most exciting moments shortly before the breakthrough at the narrowest point on the Channel and in the evening air and sea battles. It was a bold undertaking and a surprise attack right in front of the Englishmen’s own front door, so to speak, with the two battleships “Gneisenau” and “Scharnhorst”, as well as with the heavy cruiser “Prinz Eugen” and many convoy ships, torpedo boats and destroyers in the front line. [Poldi is describing Operation Cerberus that I wrote about here.] 

Leopold Wenger's letters from France, May-December 1941

Published by carolyn on Tue, 2013-11-26 10:56

'Poldi in Brest, France, 1941, in his Me 109


copyright 2013 Wilhelm Wenger and Carolyn Yeager
Translated from the German by Markus

Continued from Jan-April 1941

1 May 1941: [Still in the city of Cherbourg] Drunk sailors are found in all corners today because it is a common holiday. I used this free afternoon to thoroughly sleep myself out because where we live, and get up at 5 a.m. for emergency service which lasts until 10 p.m., drastically gets on one's nerves. Then the commuting from the city to our squadron location takes another half hour. I will be happy whenever I can go back to my squadron, which is heading further West.

How are my two little siblings doing? Is Gerhard still so terrible? [2 years old] Or has he gotten better? And Greterl [6 years old] ought to get her hair cut again, for then I will send her chocolate.

Leopold Wenger's letters from France: January-April 1941

Published by carolyn on Wed, 2013-11-06 07:06

"I am on the beach almost every day," writes Leopold Wenger to his family from his location in France on the English Channel coast.


copyright 2013 Wilhelm Wenger and Carolyn Yeager
Translated from the German by Hasso Castrup

10 January 1941: Today I flew for the first time in the new year and have seen England's coast for the first time. About the false alarm in Leoben on Christmas Eve, I had to laugh.

So far none of us can fly! And for us, there are no more air-raid alarms; there is no time for that—bombing starts immediately.

20 January 1941: Today, all the snow has melted away. It's positively unpleasant—you can hardly believe it. The soil is just bottomless. It looks like Spring wants to begin already. I am almost every day on the beach, watching the sunset again and again, a truly wonderful, impressive experience. Today, however, there came up a very violent storm and I had to think of Mom whose desire  has always been to experience a storm at sea up close, with lashing waves. Our guards, however, are less enthusiastic about it.

8 March 1941: [After returning back from a vacation] I came back to my hotel half an hour ago, at 20 hours, and since I am a worthy son, I write immediately. I had a long stay in Trier. This morning, I arrived at 11 o'clock in Rouen, and I stayed there till 17 hours. I looked around in the city and saw what was there to see. The cathedral, harbor. Finally, I went to the soldier cinema. I came back with the last tram just before the front door closed for the night. 

Leopold Wenger's letters from flight training in Ochatz and Pilsen: 1939-40

Published by carolyn on Sun, 2013-10-06 07:50

'Bibi' Wenger enters the Luftwaffe flight service training and drops the Bibi to become 'Poldi from now on.


copyright 2013 Wilhelm Wenger and Carolyn Yeager
Translated from the German by David Coyle

Oschatz, November 18th and 26th 1939: On Wednesday November 15th I set out from Berlin and was at the airport by noon. I’ve swapped Pomerania for Saxony as my new residence. Our accommodations are set in the woods, very nicely surrounded by the pines. We are five to a room, an agreeable number, and we have parquet flooring. None of us recruits is older than twenty-one.

Gilbert Geisendorfer learned of his success in his school finals at the very last moment in an inspection. At first it seemed his schooling was done, but that turned out to be deceptive for there is always more to learn, although of different sorts of things. During this time all the other soldiers and I have learnt a great deal in new areas. Naturally no one is flying yet. I’m doing well for cash: we’re on wartime pay like all soldiers and get 1 RM per day.

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