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Harry W. Flannery was CBS correspondent in Berlin for a year from October 1940. The USA was of course still neutral at that time. Whilst on a trip to occupied Paris in November 1940, not long after the first major air raids on Birmingham, he was given the opportunity to interview a Luftwaffe bomber group commander, "Captain" Burchard Flakowski. The interview was broadcast live to the American people via shortwave radio. These are abstracts from the interview.

Flannery: Captain Flakowski has taken part in the air war over Norway and England, in flights recently over London, Birmingham, Bristol, Coventry, and Southampton.............How black is an English blackout? Can you see anything?

Captain: England is blacked out well. But one can always see something.

Flannery: That means that ordinarily you can see very little. In that case, how can you find your objectives?

Captain: We find our objectives by accurate navigation and by thorough preparation beforehand. One can always see certain landmarks - rivers and so on - and from these one can determine the definite target.

Flannery: Can you see your objectives at night? How do you know when you hit your target?

Captain: Yes, of course, you can see your objectives at night. It's easy to see the objectives if there's some blaze down there. Usually we drop flares first. In Birmingham, for instance, I saw several hundreds of goods wagons near the central station, lighted by a blaze of fire set by a previous plane. It was easy to hit this target, and my rearguard saw the goods wagons thrown about in all directions.............

Flannery: How about mass attacks? How many planes did you use over Coventry?

Captain: Well, the German Command said five hundred.

Flannery: How many were used over Birmingham, Bristol, and the other cities recently attacked?

Captain: About the same. Just about the same.

Flannery: How much damage would you estimate was done in Coventry, Birmingham, Bristol, Southampton?

Captain: My opinion is that these cities attacked must be almost - as far as the military objectives are concerned - destroyed. For instance, I flew over Birmingham the morning after the bombing. I could see that at least the east side - where several big factories are - was all on fire. And I saw the station burning, too. You could see the blaze for about a hundred miles away.

(Read Flakowski's history below - after the following personal reminiscence from the receiving end. And view this fascinating YouTube clip, a Nazi newsreel item showing aircraft attacking Birmingham in 1941).


(A memory from the Webmaster of

Whilst Captain Flakowski was risking his life above, he was also risking mine several thousand feet below where I was four and a half and being hurried in a blanket towards our shelter. We were very lucky: we lived a mile or so outside the city boundary, to the north-east, and therefore a reasonable distance away from the main industrial targets like "The Dunlop", Nuffields, BSA, ICI, Lucas and the rest. But the ghastly air raid warning siren was nevertheless taken very seriously indeed. I would be roused from my slumbers, wrapped up in a blanket and carried to the half open french windows at the back of our house. There the wooden blackout frames would have been removed and we would wait by the open door in total darkness for my father to decide that there was a lull overhead and it was safe to scurry the twenty-odd yards to the shelter down the garden.

Our shelter was an impressive structure. My father, an inveterate do-it-yourselfer years before it became fashionable, had constructed it himself in late 1938 and early 1939, well before the outbreak of war and to the ill-concealed derision of friends and neighbours. But now two years later his family was protected by a two foot thick slab of concrete while the neighbours sheltered under their stairs or beneath a structure of thin corrugated iron covered by a few inches of soil. One of my earliest memories is of its construction, its walls being cast with barrowloads of concrete reinforced with steel mesh. It was mainly below ground and its design must have owed much to the dugouts my father had occupied on the Western Front just 23 years earlier. It was always known within the family as "The Dugout" and it almost certainly survives today, still defying efforts to demolish it.

One entered the dugout down several angled steps. Inside there were a couple of bunks, one above the other, made of rough wood and chicken netting. These were for my sister and my mother. I reclined in some sort of orange box wedged across the far wall. I don’t ever remember it as being uncomfortable - in fact it was quite cosy - but my main recollection is the ever-present smell of mustiness and of fumes from the paraffin heater and the hurricane lamp or candles which we inhaled over the following hours.

While Capt. Flakowski and his Kameraden were overhead, the three of us would spend the rest of the night in relative safety and comfort whilst my father and elder brother, if they were not elsewhere on Home Guard duty, would maintain a vigil up at ground level protected only by their tin hats. One was well aware of the seriousness of the situation - I once got thoroughly ticked off for allowing the torch I was holding to point briefly upwards as I went down the steps - but it never seemed particularly frightening, thanks, I suppose, to my parents protecting me from their worst fears and somehow keeping me cocooned. There was apprehension, of course. But one accepted it all as part of normal life. How my parents felt as they strove to protect their children in these extraordinary circumstances I prefer not to imagine. I have to say however that my own sense of relative security was one day somewhat compromised by my elder sister who airily advised me that this massive structure would, as everyone knew, not survive a direct hit. This was a disturbing nugget of information which I could happily have forgone.

We spent many nights like that - I cannot remember how many. But as the war progressed and the siren continued to sound from time to time my father seemed to develop some sort of system to assess the risk. Sometimes I was allowed to stay in bed where I would lie awake, waiting for the wail of the all-clear and the feeling of relief. On other occasions I would be taken downstairs where it was deemed safe enough to sleep on the floor whilst unknown aircraft droned far overhead in the darkness. And sometimes it would be back to the orange box.

But history reveals that no direct hit ever materialised, neither on the dugout, nor in the immediate vicinity. Many of those nights were full of distant thumps and glows on the horizon and on one occasion we could see an area of Sutton Park ablaze - "The so-and-sos really thought they had hit something worthwhile", the grown-ups chortled the following morning. But nothing close, the buckets of sand and water standing ready in the house were never put to use, the stirrup pump stayed idle. Unlike those living in the more central areas for whom the memories are far less cosy, we were, as I say, very lucky.


And what of "Captain" Flakowski whose voice was heard on the other side of the Atlantic?
This is his story.


March 28th
He is born in Königsberg, East Prussia. His name is most appropriate for his later career as it can be loosely, and jokingly, translated as Burchard, Son of Flak (flak being the German for anti-aircraft fire).

As an adult he is over 6ft tall and unmarried. He lives in England for almost a year in 1930 where he becomes an amateur light-heavyweight boxing champion. At some stage, he joins the Luftwaffe whose existence, in contravention of the Treaty of Versailles, is announced in 1935. He trains as a pilot.

Appointed Hauptmann (captain) in the Luftwaffe. His role and affiliation immediately after the outbreak of war on September 1st are unknown.

April 9th
He participates in the Norwegian campaign. Awarded the Iron Cross, Second Class for commanding 'only the third Luftwaffe aircraft' to land at Oslo. This probably means only the third transport aircraft to land there. This is a Ju-52, loaded with six squadron ground crew of I/ZG76 and ammunition and it lands whilst the airfield of Oslo-Fornebu is still being defended by Norwegian troops. A number of Me-110 aircraft of that squadron have already landed there. Only later in the day when further Ju-52s arrive laden with airborne troops will the area be secured by the German forces. At this time Flakowski is described as an "instrument flying instructor" and it is possible that he is still formally attached to I/KGzbV 103, a transport unit to whom the aircraft may also belong. Fairly shortly afterwards he transfers to a bomber unit, probably II/KG76.
With his bomber unit he takes part in daylight attacks on many British aerodromes and is awarded the Iron Cross, First Class for his role in these operations.
He participates in raids on many British cities including London, Bristol, Coventry, Southampton and Birmingham, flying either Do-17 or Ju-88A aircraft. As the Luftwaffe loses the Battle of Britain daytime air raids change to night attacks.
Early December
He is brought to Paris from his base (either Cormeilles-en-Vexin or Creil, both some 50/60km north of the city) to be interviewed by CBS for a short-wave broadcast to the American nation. He is described as a "commander of a bomber group" which could mean a Gruppe comprising some 60-70 aircraft or a Stafel of 10-15, although apart from the comment in the CBS interview no further documentary evidence of his role seems to have survived. In the interview he talks of the challenge of night flying and navigation, of what can be seen from above during night attacks on British cities especially Birmingham, the frequency of operations for individual aircrew, the quality of the Luftwaffe bombsight, the size of the bombing fleets used on British targets and attacks on marine targets. His most recent operation has been the previous Saturday, against Southampton – probably that of November 30th which had particularly devastating effects on the city. A record of this conversation which was scripted and of course tightly censored, survives. Another pilot, Lt. Peter Hinkeldeyn, from Schwerin, is similarly interviewed by a second US radio network.

Unknown - but at some stage, possibly from the beginning, he is involved in the Russian campaign which begins on June 22nd 1941.

January 8th
Operating from Orscha-Süd, midway between Minsk and Smolensk, he is posted missing in action near Staritsa, some 300km south-west of Moscow, together with his three crew members, Lt. Dankmar Meyer, Uffz. Hans Mewes and Ofw. Friedrich Wegner. He is flying a Ju-88A-4, ser. no. 2609.
February 14th
Whilst still missing he is awarded the DkiG (German Gold Cross, one rank up from the Iron Cross First Class) as a member of II/KG 76.

He appears, still as a Hauptmann, on the Luftwaffe list of serving officers, since his fate has not been confirmed.

1945 – 2007
He remains missing.

© CM 2007

(Sources of the above information to whom acknowledgement is gratefully made:
"Assignment to Berlin" by Harry W. Flannery - Michael Joseph Ltd., London, 1942; contributors to the Luftwaffe forum; the Volksbund and several other websites. The information on Burchard Flakowski is not based on original research and therefore cannot be regarded as definitive but is believed to be essentially accurate).