Adolf Hitler used a modified prototype, the Fw 200 V3 as his personal transport.
Most in Hitler’s inner circle expected the Führer to flee Berlin before the Soviets managed to encircle the ruined city. As the Red Army closed in on Berlin, Hitler’s personal pilot Hans Baur, promoted by Hitler on 30 January 1945 to SS-Gruppenführer, frantically tried to preserve the F.d.F aircraft for the expected escape south to Berchtesgaden. Standing by in Pöcking, near Passau in Lower Bavaria, was a brand new aircraft for Hitler’s exclusive use that would be the perfect getaway vehicle from the ruins of the Thousand Year Reich.
On 26 November 1943 Hitler had attended a demonstration of new Luftwaffe aircraft types at Insterburg in East Prussia. One aircraft in particular had caught his eye. The giant Junkers Ju 290 was a long-range transport, maritime patrol aircraft and heavy bomber first introduced into Luftwaffe service in August 1942 to replace the slower and smaller Condor. With a crew of nine, the Ju 290 was 28.64m long with a wingspan of 42m. Capable of a maximum speed of 440km/h it had a range of 6,150km and a maximum service ceiling of 6,000m. Hitler asked Göring for one to be assigned to the F.d.F. for his personal use.
The aircraft destined for Hitler’s squadron was a former maritime reconnaissance aircraft that had been extensively refitted. A Ju 290A-7, it was given the code KRzLW. Hitler’s passenger cabin was protected by 12mm of armour plating and 50mm thick bulletproof glass. As on his main Condor, a special parachute seat and escape hatch was fitted.
The plane was ready for Hitler’s use from February 1945, just as the situation around Berlin was turning very bad. Baur was able to visit Pöcking and test-flew the new plane once. If Hitler, Eva Braun and the inner circle were going to escape death or capture in Berlin, the Ju 290 was going to be their salvation. It had the range to carry them to a neutral country like Spain and Baur prepared for what he thought would be an inevitable final rescue mission. Even if Hitler did not leave Germany at this point, most felt certain that he would nonetheless flee Berlin for Berchtesgaden and continue to direct the war from his mountaintop hideout in Bavaria. But Hitler had no intention of leaving the capital and instead continued to use both the partially wrecked Reich Chancellery and the Führerbunker to direct the resistance to Stalin’s encroaching Soviet juggernaut. Baur was left frustrated and increasingly concerned for the safety of the remaining aircraft that made up the F.d.F.
Baur, spent most of his days organising last-minute flights out of the doomed city for certain VIPs aboard the handful of serviceable transport aircraft.
This movement of key personnel was codenamed Operation ‘Seraglio’. Konteadmiral Hans von Puttkammer, Hitler’s naval aide, was ordered to destroy all of Hitler’s personal papers at the Berghof. Hitler’s personal Condor, CEzIB, carried the Puttkamer party south from Berlin’s Gatow Airport to Neubiberg near Munich. Among the passengers was Hitler’s personal doctor, Theodor Morell, who carried an army footlocker containing all of Hitler’s medical records.
On 21 April Grossadmiral Karl Dönitz’s personal Condor, GCzSJ, was pressed into service on a secret mission. The aircraft had just returned from a hazardous sortie to evacuate Spanish diplomats and some important German passengers from Berlin to Munich. Hitler had decided to send more non-essential staff out of Berlin to Berchtesgaden. GCzSJ touched down at Tempelhof, which was by then under fire, and met three black cars. Leading the group was NSKK-Gruppenführer Albert Bormann, brother of Hitler’s much-feared secretary Martin Bormann. Accompanying him were his family, servants and twenty-five former occupants of the Berlin Führerbunker.
The plane was soon airborne and the pilot ducked into thick cloud cover to avoid Soviet fighters and flak. Near Dresden the Condor again came under Soviet anti-aircraft fire. Shell fragments struck the cockpit, shattering some of the instrument displays. One engine was knocked out but they made it intact to Neubiberg Airfield near Munich.
Albert Speer’s Condor, TAzMR, had been destroyed in a bombing raid and on 21 April his personal pilot, Major Erich Adam, had flown Heinkel He 111 transport TQzMU to Neubiberg. As the flak-damaged Condor GCzSJ carrying Albert Bormann and party came in to land at Neubiberg’s blacked out airfield the pilot, Hauptmann Husslein, suddenly saw Major Adam’s Heinkel 111 sitting on the runway directly ahead. The Condor’s brakes were engaged so hard that all four landing gear tires blew out, but a terrible ground collision was narrowly avoided.
Hitler had by now decided to stay in Berlin and die in the Führer-bunker, so the Führer’s personal squadron and its aircraft had essentially become surplus to requirements. The huge Junkers Ju 290 that was to have replaced the Condor as Hitler’s personal transport was never used by the Führer. On 24 March 1945 Hans Baur had flown the Ju 290 to Munich-Riem Airport. It was parked inside a large hanger while Baur visited his home nearby. He was informed that American bombers had destroyed the hanger and the plane, killing several of his men. Baur was flown back to Berlin in a smaller aircraft – an extremely dangerous flight as Soviet fighters had gained air superiority over the capital.
More F.d.F aircraft were destroyed during the final weeks of the war. Baur had stashed some aircraft and crews at the airfield at Schoenwalde outside Berlin. In late March Baur visited the base during a large scale American air raid on the capital. Two P-51 Mustang fighters, escorting the attacking B-17s, broke off and engaged ground targets at Schoenwalde. As the silver Mustangs screamed down onto the airfield for a strafing run Baur and his crews took cover in a bunker while Luftwaffe anti-aircraft guns opened up. American cannon shells set fire to a Condor and a Junkers 52, both aircraft blowing up in massive fireballs. Berlin was now virtually untenable, so Baur transferred the remaining F.d.F aircraft and spare engines to Pöcking in Bavaria and to Bad Reichenhall Airfield, also in southern Germany.
At this time, Baur turned over operational control of the F.d.F to a highly decorated Luftwaffe officer, 28-year-old Oberstleutnant Werner Baumbach. A holder of the Knight’s Cross with Oakleaves and Swords, Baumbach had previously commanded the Luftwaffe’s special operations squadron, the top secret Kampfgeschwader 200. Baur, it seems, had decided to stay with his Führer inside the bunker.
As Hitler continued to try and salvage the battle raging in the capital, and with Soviet forces smashing their way into eastern Berlin, Grossadmiral Karl Dönitz had been ordered to take command of what was left of the Reich in northern Europe, establishing a rump state and ad hoc government at Flensburg on the Danish border. This was where the F.d.F still had a job to perform. Baumbach ordered several F.d.F aircraft north to Flensburg to assist with the new government.
Once Hitler announced that he would definitely not fly south to Bavaria, but instead remain in Berlin and commit suicide when the government quarter was about to fall, the remaining F.d.F aircraft were no longer held on standby and instead could be sent away. Condor TKzCV, flown by Hitler’s co-pilot, Oberleutnant Hans Münsterer, left Gatow with twelve passengers and delivered them to Wittstock in northern Germany, then flew back into Berlin, landing safely at Schoenwalde Airfield.
As Soviet ground forces threatened Schoenwalde, most of the remaining F.d.F. aircraft there flew out in one group. It consisted of three aircraft: a Siebel Fh 104, Junkers Ju 52/3m SFzIF and Junkers Ju 352 KTzVJ. They powered away from the burning capital, managing successfully to dodge Soviet fighters. Hitler’s Condor, TKzCV, was flown to Staaken, outside Berlin. All aircraft moved again when Staaken, and also Tempelhof Airport, came under Soviet ground attack. The planes were now placed at the disposal of the OKW.
Hitler’s support aircraft, Condor CEzIC, piloted by Hauptmann Joachim Hübner, was shot down by Soviet flak as it attempted to bring a party of Kriegsmarine sailors into Gatow who had been sent by Dönitz to try and bolster Berlin’s defences. The Condor crash-landed in a forest killing eight of those aboard. But by now most people were trying to get out of Berlin rather than enter the maelstrom of a lost battle.
Like rats on a sinking ship, so the people around the Führer had a choice – go down with Hitler or escape. Many were starting to look to escaping, but in spite of the chaos and the ultimate futility of resistance, Hitler’s bodyguard units continued with a dogged defence of the increasingly threatened government quarter. In doing so, they bought precious time for the final act to be played out.