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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.
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 staffshomeguard.co.uk........)
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
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,
And what of "Captain" Flakowski
whose voice was heard on the other side of the Atlantic?
This is his story.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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
12oclockhigh.net 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