Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The last stand of Inge Dombrowski

Yelena Zelenskaya portraying Inge in "Downfall"

As the Third Reich collapsed and the Red army cut through the German heartlands horror stories drifted west and filled the civilian population with dread.

The territory of East Prussia had been mauled by the advancing Russians. Civilians had been murdered, the weak, elderly, women and children. Women were gang raped by whole squads of Russian soldiers others raped to death. POWs were like wise shot, tortured or marched off to the East never to be seen again.

The Wehrmacht couldn't protect the civilians, either they were too busy fighting for their lives or using their arms to steal transport west or food. The organs of the state were similarly wreaking vengeance upon those who were seen as traitors or trying to save their own wretched hides and ill-gotten loot.

Scarily, these horror stories were true.

Anarchy and fear shook Germany to its very core. Many fled the red tide as it swept west. Others wouldn't flee preferring to fight on to buy the others time or to preserve Germany. Many could not leave for fear of retribution, lack of transport, physical inability or because they'd heard of refugees being murdered on the road or shot up by Russian aircraft.

The home front had gotten all the more desperate as time went by. As men of fighting age were quickly issued Karbiners, MP-40 or Panzerfausts and pushed towards the lines so the elderly, young boys and even young girls of the Deutsche Bunde Mädel filled in the gaps on second line positions. This included aiding the similarly aged Luftwaffe Flakhelfer.

As the Air war turned against the Luftwaffe in the skies above Germany's cities priorities for defence turned to Anti Aircraft guns over fighters. Great Flak towers were constructed and batteries of 88 mm guns were deployed. The 88 was a superb AA gun with the added bonus that it was mobile and could punch a hole through a medium tank quite easily. Like they had been on the front the 88s were deployed in the streets of Berlin at choke points to hold back the tide of Russian armoured vehicles and their barrels lowered.

In the centre of this storm and grim defenders was a teenage girl, Inge Dombrowski, a member of the Deutsche Bunde Mädel who served in the crew of one of the tank traps. There would have been shortages of ammunition, battle fatigue and somehow the knowledge that the war was coming to a close.

As a young girl, Inge would have been indoctrinated fully into the notions of National Socialism and the three Ks of the female Doctrine; Kinder, Kirche, Kuche. (Chilren, Church and Cooking.) Whether or not she was a strong believer or not can not be confirmed or denied but Nazism as a doctrine would have been drummed into her at school and at the BDM meetings etc.

The stress and the noise would have been horrendous as waves of Russian soldiers probed up the streets with heavy fire from Soviet Artillery regiments being rained down on targets the knowledge that they were only holding and unable to stop the Soviets nagging at them as they kept up a rate of fire on anything that appeared in the street before them never knowing when their last shot would be. The whole defence was an act of futility but with orders from the very top to stand their ground and for the young and indoctrinated, an unswerving belief in the Fuhrer and the promise of secret weapons or relief from the IX army to the south it was carried out. Fear of capture by the Soviets or of execution by the SS or Civilian death squads who roamed the lines looking for "cowards" and "traitors" also kept them at their posts. Boys and girls who were still of school age manning Flak guns against a battle hardened Soviet army - Chuikov's rifles had been in Stalingrad two years before and were baying for vengeance.
The incident of her last stand was shown in Downfall but is referenced though I've only found it in one book so far;  Joachim Fest, Inside Hitler's Bunker, pg 73-74. As the 88s fired until they wore down or were taken out by aircraft or their crews were picked off by snipers and infantry fire the inexperienced crews and young lads began to falter and flee for their lives.

Inge, fearing falling into the hands of the Russians because of the stories from East Prussia and other captured territories and what might happen to her, or like Magda Goebbels she believed in the Reich and Hitler to the extent that she couldn't imagine life in the world with out it and begged her Leutnant to take her life.

He is said to have drawn his Luger and fired then wracked with guilt or afflicted from the same sentiment and delusions of Nazi indoctrination, he also committed suicide.

Inge's death was symptomatic of the chaos of the end of the Reich and the desperate measures many felt they needed to take in the wake of the Soviet advance and the chaos that ensued. It is highly probable that had she fallen into Soviet hands she would have been raped and or killed as was the case for many women civilian and combatant in Berlin and with the fear of the future and not willing for this to be her fate, I can understand her choice in this.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Dornier down at Goodwin!

On the 26th August 1940 the German bomber came to rest on the sea off Deal on the Goodwin sands.
Dornier Do.17z in formation
Her surviving crew struggled free and into the sea praying for rescue as the bomber began to slip beneath the waves.

5K + AR (Werke no. 1160) had been part of the 7th squadron of the 3 bomber wing or 7/KG3 based in Antwerp-Deurne in occupied Belgium.[1] The crew of four were Unteroffizier Reinhard and Ritzel who were listed as Missing, Gefrieter Huhn who was killed and only Feldwebel Essmert was captured.[2] However Historian Chris Goss stated that two crew men were killed (one buried in Holland and One at the German Cemetery in Staffordshire) with two being captured. [3]

The BBC website ( ) has a recreation of the crash. During a raid on the South east of England  (Some of 7 Staffel were chalked to attackk the RAF base at West Malling [4]) others seem to have been raiding the coastal areas such as Margate, Folkestone and Dover around lunch time returning to base at around 12:50. [5] Whatever her target 5K + AR was damaged by fire from an RAF Boulton-Paul Defiant most likely from 264 Squadron which claimed several Do. 17s on 26th August. Fw. Essmert would have brought his bomber down to a low altitude to draw less attention and to use the aircraft's superior low altitude handling to his advantage. Also it meant if he lost power it would be easier to bring in for a crash landing. It was a lost cause though, losing power he was forced to attempt a ditched landing over the Goodwins. The sea isn't an ideal surface to land on and it appears a wing was clipped and it flipped the aircraft which is why she is laying on her back.

So why is this find so important?

The Luftwaffe had three main bombers during the battle of Britain, the ubiquitous Heinkel He 111, the Junkers Ju 88 and the Dornier Do. 17z. Where as the Heinkel and Junkers would continue on as mainstays of the Luftwaffe's Kampflieger the Dornier was gradually retired by late 1941 and replaced by the Dornier Do. 215 and Do. 217 which used similar airframes but were different aircraft altogether. No Do. 17s are known to have survived and the last was scrapped in Finland in the 50s. Most of the Luftwaffe ones were either sold on, scrapped for their raw materials or converted for other uses.

It was one of the first modern bombers to be added to the fledgling Luftwaffe's stables in the mid thirties and was tested extensively in Spain by the Condor Legion. Although she was graceful, very manoeuvrable and her slim lines made her a hard target to hit compared to the bulky Heinkel, her bomb load was lacking as was the range. As the war went on and Luftwaffe strategists had to look at the very real possibility of prolonged fighting on the front with the need to strike further behind static lines rather than impressive high speed low altitude raids. The Ju 88 and He 111 were considered better suited and the Dornier line discontinued.

Parts and bits are held by various museums and collectors but not a complete airframe (minus cockpit glazing and undercarriage doors). Although she is made of Aluminium which degrades very quickly in salt water, it has been buried under the shifting sands which should hopefully have protected it.

As the planned lift occurs this weekend archaeologists and historians hold their breath to see what they will discover in her fuselage.


[1] Aircraft casualties in Kent Part 1; 1939 to 1940, Kent aviation historical research society, Meresborough books, Rainham, 1990 p.39

[2] Ibid.


[4] Aircraft casualties in Kent Part 1, p. 39 entry numbers: 554, 561 and 567 all Dornier Do.17z's of 7/ Kg 3


Other sources:

Jon Lake, The battle of Britain, Amber books, London, 2000