Messerschmitt Bf 109E-4

Franz von Werra

One major advantage the British had over the Germans in the Battle of Britain was that pilots who survived being shot down could be reclaimed by the British, but they were lost to the Germans.  With one notable exception.  Franz von Werra was shot down over England and returned to duty.

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His story after the jump.

Franz von Werra joined the Luftwaffe before World War II and fought in the Spanish Civil War.  When World War II started he quickly proved himself a competent pilot and officer.  He scored kills in the Battle of France and made ace early in the Battle of Britain.  He had 9 kills by September 5, 1940, when he was shot down over Kent.

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Over the next several months he made several escape attempts.  Including one in December of 1940 when he’d made it as far as an RAF airfield, and talked his way into a British cockpit, when the suspicious squadron leader arrived with military police to arrest him.  To avoid any further trouble with this prisoner, he was part of a large group shipped off to Canada, where he should be out of the war for good.

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On January 21, 1941, he jumped out of a window of a prison transport train in Ontario.  Seven other prisoners also made a break for it that day.  The rest were quickly recaptured, but the confusion bought von Werra several days before his absence was noted.  Of course the US was still neutral (until December 1941), so von Werra escaped across the border to Ogdensburg New York where he turned himself in to police.  He was charged with illegal immigration and remanded to the custody of the German Ambassador.  US sympathies were with the British, and extradition negotiations started to return him  to Britain or Canada; but the German Ambassador smuggled him into Mexico.  From there, he flew commercially to Brazil, Spain, Italy and home.

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On his return home in April of 1941 von Werra was awarded the Knight’s Cross, and was commander of a Fighter Squadron at the start of the German invasion of Russia.  He raised his score to 22 kills before he was killed in a flying accident in October of 1941.

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The story is well documented, von Werra wrote an unpublished book about his experiences, and other writers and film makers have told his story.  But if ever a war story was in need of an “A List” film treatment this is it!

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This is the Tamiya kit, with Aeromaster Decals of the plane von Werra was shot down in over England.  Both products were flawless.  But that doesn’t mean no controversy!  A famous photo of the downed aircraft looks like there is a color break from the engine cowling to the forward fuselage.  Artists, modelers etc have assumed for years this was white; but its recently been suggested it may have been the same RLM 65 Light Blue as the fuselage, but had recently been cleaned, replaced, or caught the light funny.  It does look like it might be darker than the white segment on the propeller spinner.  Hard to say.

Notice the color change on the forward cowl. Is it white or blue?

Franz von Werra. Proud of his Knight’s Cross, and one of his kills (looks like an SB-2 to me).

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About atcDave

I'm 54 years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I've been an air traffic controller for 31 years; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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10 Responses to Messerschmitt Bf 109E-4

  1. Theresa says:

    Interesting story and marvelous plane.

    • atcDave says:

      Thanks. Its definitely a story worthy of the movies. I wonder if its been mostly ignored because the main character was fighting so hard to return to service with the German military (!), and he died in a stupid accident shortly after returning to service.

  2. John says:

    Hardy KrugerHe first came to the attention of English language audiences in the 1957 British war film The One That Got Away, the story of Franz von Werra, the only German prisoner of war to successfully escape from Allied custody and return to Germany.

    • atcDave says:

      “Flight of the Phoenix” and “A Bridge Too Far” are what I know him from. But I’ve never seen “The One That Got Away”. Any good?

      And thanks for offering that up John, I’m happy to hear from another reader!

      • John says:

        Yes, it is a pretty good war movie in the 1950s British war movie vein. As I understand it Hardy had a hand in producing the movie too. Maybe you can find more information about it at IMDB.com.

      • atcDave says:

        I saw it was available on DVD, maybe I can download it.

      • atcDave says:

        Three bucks to rent at iTunes! Sounds like I have a movie for this weekend.

  3. atcDave says:

    Okay so I watched “The One That Got Away” tonight. It was a good movie, not all time classic, but classy and well made. It is in Black and White, and pacing is slow in places. But there’s a lot of humor to it, its fun and exciting even when you know the end.
    The one really cheesy effect is von Werra’s crash; but at least its actually a model of a Bf 109E, and the static model after the crash was excellent. It was funny when he tried to escape from the British airfield, I couldn’t determine what the actual historic aircraft should have been. But in the movie they used the Hurricane “Last of the Many” (LF363), a standard Mk IIc dressed up as a IIa. But the dialogue suggested it was something “experimental”. Well you never know what special gear might be on some non-descript aircraft, but I had a hard time swallowing anyone being overly impressed with a Hurricane IIa in December of 1940. The Hurricane was obsolescent, and the IIa in particular was in general use.
    Of course that’s nit-picking. And I imagine the options open to the film-makers in 1957 were pretty limited. They needed something “period appropriate”, and LF363 fit the bill. Last I knew, that airplane still flies with “The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight”. It has a pretty extensive filmography of its own at this point.

  4. John says:

    Excellent review, it’s been awhile since I’ve seen the film on cable. As an aside, I discovered this site at Chuck This. I never missed an episode of Chuck or Chuck This’s coverage.

    • atcDave says:

      It’s great to find a reader I share more than one interest with! And it’s good to know those links are seeing at least a little use.
      I’ve enjoyed doing Chuck This a lot, and it’s the thing that gave me the nerve to try this. But until we get some new Chuck content someday, I just felt like I’d said everything I really needed to say about the show. I still enjoy that community and the experience, but I know I’m mostly repeating myself at this point. This way I get to combine what I’ve learned from that blog with a much older interest.

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