The Führer’s Squadron

Adolf Hitler with Heinkel He-111 P-2 [CA+NA]

13 March 1943. An airfield set amongst dense forest just outside the Ukrainian city of Smolensk. Hitler and his entourage walked towards two huge Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor aircraft belonging to the Führer transport squadron. A young army officer, Oberleutnant Fabian von Schlabrendorff, walked slightly behind the large party of senior officers headed for Hitler’s plane, carrying a medium-sized wooden box in his arms. As the Führer climbed a short ladder into the Condor followed by his senior staff members, Generalmajor Henning von Treskow reminded Oberstleutnant Heinz Brandt, who would be travelling with the Führer, to take the parcel. Unnoticed, Schlabrendorff had opened the top, crushed a short metal tube with a pair of pliers, resealed the package and then stepped forward smartly and handed it to Brandt. Inside were what appeared at first glance to be two bottles of French cognac. Treskow inveigled Brandt into taking the liquor to Germany for him as payment for a bet lost to Generalmajor Helmut Stieff, Chief of Organisation at Army High Command. Brandt was more than happy to oblige and such behaviour was not unusual among the senior military officers who worked around the Führer.

As the two Condors powered down the grass landing strip and headed off into the wide blue sky towards Germany Treskow and Schlabrendorff exchanged a knowing look. In thirty minutes Hitler would be dead and the plan to take back Germany from the Nazis would swing into action.

Due to the size of Hitler’s empire, the most efficient way to get around it was by plane. As with so many aspects of Hitler’s leadership style and security arrangements, he set a standard by using aeroplanes in an era when air travel was still a novelty. Hitler was the first modern politician to travel by aircraft, beginning during his election campaigning in the 1920s and 1930s. Once he became a war leader he utilised a fleet of aircraft to move speedily between his various headquarters, much like modern presidents and generals today. The speed of the modern battlefield dictated that if he wished to exercise effective command and control, and Hitler became increasingly ‘hands on’ as the war progressed much to his generals’ indignation and frustration, then air travel was really the only way he could do this. But air travel is intrinsically dangerous, particularly during wartime, so extreme precautions were taken by the Germans to ensure that Hitler travelled not only in comfort, but also in safety, including some very novel emergency equipment designed to preserve the Führer’s life if his aircraft was ever fatally damaged.

Hitler first flew to a war front during the Polish campaign in September 1939. Two modified Junkers Ju 52/3m transport planes, the tri-motor corrugated metal workhorses of the German armed forces, were used to fly Hitler and his military entourage to a recently captured Polish airfield, closely escorted by several Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter planes. Following a short meeting at an army headquarters at the front Hitler was flown back to Berlin by his personal pilot and friend, Hans Baur.

Baur, who was born in Ampfing, Bavaria in 1897, had transferred to the flying service in 1915 as an artillery spotter. By 1918 he had claimed six aerial victories, plus three probables, and had been awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class for bravery. After the war Baur worked as a courier pilot and was one of the first six pilots employed by the fledgling German national carrier Lufthansa. In 1926 he pioneered Lufthansa’s new ‘Alpine Route’ between Munich, Milan and Rome, one of his passengers being Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria. That same year Baur joined the Nazi Party and later came to Hitler’s attention. He first flew Hitler during the 1932 elections. When Hitler became chancellor in 1933 he acquired a Junkers Ju 52/3m that he named ‘Immelmann II’ in honour of a famous First World War German fighter ace. Baur was selected to be the Führer’s principal pilot. At this time, because of the stipulations of the Treaty of Versailles, the Luftwaffe did not exist, so in order to give Baur some authority and power Hitler had him appointed an SS-Standartenführer. Because of this, Hitler’s personal pilots were never Luftwaffe officers, always SS.

After the old Reich President Paul von Hindenburg died in 1934 Hitler was able to absorb the posts of president and chancellor into one new office, becoming ‘Führer’. He also reorganized the government and, with Lufthansa’s help, acquired a further Ju 52/3m, which he christened ‘Richthofen’ after the Red Baron. In 1935 ‘Immelmann II’ was replaced by ‘Buddecke’ and ‘Richthofen’ was renamed ‘Immelmann II’. Hitler used his new powers to create the Regirungsstaffel (Government Squadron) with Baur as its commander headquartered at Berlin’s vast Tempelhof Airport.

The new Government Squadron was quickly expanded to include eight Ju 52/3ms, each capable of carrying seventeen passengers in relative comfort. These aircraft were to be used to ferry around Hitler, his senior inner circle of ministers and the all-important army generals. Some leaders were of such importance that they were assigned their own personal pilots, all of the flyers being former Lufthansa captains. Baur’s second-in-command and co-pilot on Hitler’s aircraft was Georg Betz. Deputy-Führer Rudolf Hess was assigned Kurt Schuhmann. Propaganda Minister Dr Goebbels’ pilot was Max von Müller, while Grossadmiral Erich Raeder, professional head of the German Navy, was assigned Peter Strasser. An aristocrat, Count Schilly, flew the two chiefs of the army general staff, Werner Frengel and Walther von Brauchitsch.

Baur soon became one of Hitler’s court favourites. Hitler knew how to extract personal loyalty from his immediate subordinates and Baur was no exception. To celebrate Baur’s fortieth birthday in 1937 Hitler hosted a lavish dinner in his honour at the New Reich Chancellery in Berlin. He also presented him with a brand new Mercedes car as a present. It is small wonder that so many of Hitler’s subordinates stayed close to the Führer until the regime’s very bitter end.

In September 1939 Hitler ordered the government squadron renamed. It would now be called Die Fliegerstaffel des Führers (F.d.F), becoming in effect Hitler’s private squadron.

Hitler visited Poland for a second time by air shortly after the invasion began, this time the first part of the journey completed aboard the Führersonderzug, his personal train. Baur picked him up in a Ju 52 and flew the Führer along the front lines so that he could see his panzers racing into action.

On 5 October 1939 Hitler first flew in the aircraft that was to become his primary means of aerial transport during the war – the Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor. Baur had convinced Hitler that the Condor was a superior aircraft over the older Ju 52, as well as being much safer. Hitler, who often consulted Baur on matters aerial, including Luftwaffe strategy, was easily won over by his trusted subordinate. Originally proposed to Lufthansa as a transatlantic airliner by Kurt Tank of Focke-Wulf, the aircraft entered service in 1937. In Luftwaffe service the Condor, named after the famous Andean bird because of its huge wing-span, was utilized as a transport, maritime reconnaissance aircraft and bomber. In the transport configuration a Condor could carry thirty fully-armed troops. With a length of 23.45m and a wingspan of 32.85m, the Condor had a maximum speed of 360km/h at 4,800m with a service ceiling of 6,000m. The aircraft’s range was an impressive 3,560km.

As well as Hitler, some of the Reich’s more important military commanders were assigned personal aircraft, but not at this stage the new Condor. These aircraft were mostly converted Heinkel He 111, Junkers Ju 52/3m, Siebel Fh 104A or the small Fieseler Fi 156 Storch spotter plane.

In 1939 Baur flew Hitler from Berlin to recently conquered Warsaw aboard Fw 200A-O Condor ‘Grenzmark’ for a special victory parade through the devastated Polish capital. Hitler was by now sold on the Condor and steps were taken to formally integrate more of the aircraft into the F.d.F. Baur also arranged for several Ju 52/3m transports to be transferred from their civilian operators to the Luftwaffe where two were to join Hitler’s private squadron as back-up aircraft. As well as a few smaller liaison planes, Baur also had some Luftwaffe pilots and ground crew transferred into his squadron in addition to ground crew from the German national airline Lufthansa. Baur never joined Hermann Göring’s Luftwaffe, remaining an SS officer throughout the war.

In Berlin on 10 November 1939 Hitler flew for the first time in his new personal transport aircraft – an Fw 200A-0 named ‘Immelmann III’, taking off from Templehof Airport. The day before, Hitler had narrowly avoided being killed by a bomb planted by a carpenter called Georg Elser inside the Burgerbraukeller beer hall in Munich.

By 1942 Baur had requested three armed Condor aircraft for the F.d.F. At the Wolf’s Lair at Rastenburg, Hitler’s main Eastern Front HQ, the runway had been strengthened and also lengthened to accommodate these larger aircraft. The first aircraft delivered was an Fw 200C-3/U9 marked KEzIX. This plane was not intended as the Führer’s personal transport – instead it would act as a passenger plane for ferrying around Hitler’s large retinue of staff when visiting the front. It was armed with a 13mm MG131 machine gun in an upper turret just behind the cockpit and a 7.9mm MG15 firing from a raised dorsal position aft of the main door. Another MG15 was mounted in the nose. Under its fuselage was a long gondola with a machine gun position. The other two aircraft were also delivered at this point. Of course, these weapons would be a last resort, for it was never expected that F.d.F. should have to fight it out with enemy fighters. When they were airborne these large transports were well protected by a strong Luftwaffe fighter escort.

Hitler’s personal plane, the “Führermachine”, was an Fw 200C-4/U1 (CEzIB). It had the same comfortable layout as the older ‘Immelmann III’. Behind the cockpit was an equipment compartment containing the flight engineer’s panel and positions for the radio operator and navigator. From here two of the gun positions could also be accessed. The next small compartment housed equipment, lubricants and fuel tanks, with a small toilet on the starboard side. Behind this, accessed through a door, was Hitler’s specially insulated cabin containing an elaborate ‘parachute seat’ on the right facing forward, with a wooden table in front.

According to Baur the Führer’s seat was fitted with a parachute harness. This harness was installed in the back of the seat cushions. The backrest was attached above by two buttons in the chair, and this had to be pulled forward to reach the stowed parachute. In an emergency Hitler would have donned the parachute harness in the back of the seat and pulled hard on a red lever on the wall. This would have opened a spring loaded escape hatch in the floor of the aircraft in front of him. The seat back cushion and seat bottom cushion remained attached to the jumper with the parachute harness. Hitler would then have climbed through the hatch and baled out. Once free of the aircraft he would have manually released his parachute and floated down to safety. However, the likelihood of a middle aged and increasingly infirm man managing this in an emergency does seem a little farfetched. Normal parachutes were stored in the cabin for Hitler’s other passengers who would have presumably baled out through the main door or through one of the gun positions. Needless to say, none of this was ever put to the test in reality, though a Luftwaffe volunteer made a successful test of Hitler’s parachute seat, proving the theory at least. All parachutes were checked at least once a month.

On the left side of the cabin were four seats, two side by side. The cabin was armoured against enemy machine gun bullets, cannon shells and anti-aircraft bursts. The walls, floor and ceiling were lined with 12mm thick armour plate and the windows were 50mm thick bulletproof glass.

The crew consisted of pilot Baur, co-pilot Betz, a flight engineer (who also doubled as a gunner), navigator/radio operator (also working as a gunner if required), and a steward. Moving aft beyond Hitler’s cabin was another passenger cabin that was fitted with six seats, two on the right facing each other, and four on the left that also faced one another. Maximum passenger capacity on Hitler’s personal aircraft was thirteen.

In both cabins the windows had curtains for privacy and to prevent sun glare and the interior was finished in highly polished wood so that it more closely resembled a railway carriage or a ship’s cabin than an aircraft. ‘The inside of Hitler’s Condor looked like a gent’s salon,’ recalled Hauptmann Alexander Stahlberg, who flew in the aircraft in his capacity as an aide to Generaloberst Erich von Manstein in mid-April 1942 from his headquarters in the Crimea to a meeting at the Wolf’s Lair. ‘The walls were wood-panelled and the furniture leather covered. China and cutlery were solid silver and bore the NSDAP insignia. A steward was on board and served meals and drinks as desired.’

At the rear of the plane was a small galley, located behind the rear gunner’s position. No cooking was permitted on Hitler’s plane; instead a specially insulated cabinet contained pre-heated meals that were similar to those found on today’s commercial airliners. Hot coffee and hot water for tea were also available, though not alcohol. Luggage and clothing was stored separately in an unheated cargo hold and for safety each passenger had an oxygen tank under his seat.

The third Condor acquired by Baur for the F.d.F. was an Fw 200C-4/U2 (CEzIC). This plane was used primarily for transporting staff and guests but Hitler did travel on this and KEzIX occasionally. CEzIC was fitted with fourteen seats in a single large panelled cabin, but lacked a special parachute seat for the Führer.

Because of the added weight of bulletproof windows and armour plating, CEzIB and CEzIC had a maximum ceiling of 5,800m, a top speed of 330 kph (though they cruised at 280 kph) and normally loaded could travel just over 3,200km without refuelling.

Before every trip that carried the Führer was very carefully managed. In particular, measures were taken to prevent the use of bombs onboard the plane. The best type of bomb to be successfully smuggled aboard Hitler’s plane would have been one fitted with a barometric fuse that detonated when the plane reached a certain altitude. This avoided the need for ticking parts in the bomb. To counter anyone trying something like this, before every trip Hitler’s aircraft was taken for a ten or fifteen-minute test flight, including up to cruising altitude. Of course, such measures were useless had anyone managed to smuggle a time bomb aboard Hitler’s plane.

The Condor also had a significant Achilles heel, a design fault that could have killed Hitler on several occasions. In June 1942 when his Condor landed at Michaeli near Wiborg in Finland so that Hitler could have a meeting with Finnish leader Field Marshal Mannerheim, Finnish ground crewmen were filmed running towards the plane’s landing gear armed with fire extinguishers. The problem was in the design of the brake actuating cams. When the brakes were used ‘forcefully’, such as in landing, they overcentred and locked slightly in the ‘on’ position, with the brake shoes dragging on the drums. This friction could cause the linings to catch fire on landing. The problem could also manifest itself during takeoff as well. If the plane was parked overnight with the brakes on, or if the brakes had not released cleanly on parking, they did not free up fully when taxiing and this would lead to the linings catching fire on takeoff. This could be lethal, and several Condors were lost in Luftwaffe service because of this small technical fault. The wheels retracted into bays that were adjacent to the wing fuel tanks, the last place one would want to have a fire.

Ju.290A-6 Unit: I/KG 200 This airplane was to be personal Hitler’s transport. But it was served with KG 200 and used for special operations. In April 1945 it flew to Barcelona with escaped Nazi leaders (piloted by Capt.Braun). Later it served with Spanish AF until 1956.

Air travel was dangerous, particularly during wartime, yet Hitler seemed to prefer the risks rather than using his train for most long-distance journeys. Hundreds or even thousands of railway workers, any one of whom could have been a potential assassin, would know about Hitler’s train and its route, whereas air travel and Hitler’s unpredictable changes in his plans better protected the Führer from plotters. But in flying he risked thunderstorms, burning wheels, foggy takeoffs and landings, soft ground, and, later in the war, enemy fighters and flak.

The plot that came very close to killing Hitler in the Ukraine in 1943 centered on the idea of destroying his Condor aircraft whilst it was in flight over the Soviet Union. It appeared that of all the methods of killing Hitler, a catastrophic high-altitude explosion was the surest. But it was not the first method that was discussed. Henning von Treskow’s plan was the result of several discussions that he had had with the hard core of anti-Hitler plotters who were centered around General-feldmarschall Gunther von Kluge and Army Group Centre headquarters at Vinnitsa and Smolensk in the Ukraine.

Kluge’s officers had carefully worked out three options to kill Hitler. The first idea was that an officer armed with a pistol would simply shoot Hitler dead during lunch when he next visited Army Group Centre headquarters. But the problem was that no officer could be found who was willing to do it. This was not only because it was clearly a suicide mission, but for a higher principle. It was not a question of courage, for all of the plotters were highly decorated combat soldiers, but a question of morality. These largely aristocratic Junkers could not countenance the idea of assassinating an unarmed man, particularly their commander-in-chief. They took the personal oath that they had sworn to Hitler very seriously, not because of the Führer as a man but because oath taking was part of their rigid code of honour. To break an oath was to impugn one’s personal and family honour. It was unthinkable.

Von Treskow admitted, probably realistically, that any putative assassin would in all likelihood freeze at the vital moment when face-to-face with his supreme commander. This was not without precedent, for the year before a young Luftwaffe officer, less hidebound by military tradition, had concealed himself in woods at the Wolf’s Lair in East Prussia planning to ambush Hitler during his morning walk accompanied by his pet Alsatian Blondi. When Hitler appeared the officer found that he could not move his arms. It may sound dramatic, but Hitler was more than just a man, he was a cult that loomed like a mental colossus over most of his subordinates. Few were immune from the invisible aura of power that surrounded the man. Junior officers, perhaps because they spent little time in close proximity to Hitler and never engaged him in ‘normal’ or relaxed conversation, unlike the field marshals and generals, could not view him simply as a man. To shoot Hitler face-to-face would require not only nerves of steel but also incredibly fast reactions and accurate shooting. Any hesitation during a heavily guarded lunch would result in the assassin being gunned down by Hitler’s RSD escort within seconds of raising a weapon. Waves of arrests and interrogations would then follow, potentially destroying the entire anti-Hitler resistance. Of course, success would also mean death, as the RSD bodyguards would kill the assailant even after he had shot Hitler.

Rittmeister Georg Baron von Boeselager, the highly decorated 28-year-old deputy commander of cavalry regiments in Army Group Centre suggested that he kill Hitler using an entire unit of soldiers. Boeselager, a deeply religious man, had come to believe that Hitler was the anti-Christ and that it was his sacred duty to rid the world of this evil man and save Germany from further destruction. He was prepared to break his oath to Hitler for the higher ideal of the Fatherland.

Boeselager formed a cavalry “honour guard” consisting largely of fellow anti-Hitler officers. His plan was to intercept Hitler’s fleet of cars as they drove from the airfield to the field HQ near Smolensk. The cavalry would then overwhelm and destroy Hitler’s FBB and RSD escort and kill the Führer. Generalfeldmarschall von Kluge stymied this plan, objecting to the idea of German soldiers fighting each other, even if the other side were SS. Kluge also believed that Hitler’s SS escort was too strong for Boeselager’s men to overcome, leading to failure, great loss of life and the exposure of the remaining plotters.

The British inadvertently made the third option possible. The Abwehr, German military intelligence whose head, Wilhelm Canaris, was sympathetic to the Resistance, had captured several British Plastic-C time bombs from SOE agents who had been dropped by parachute into France. Sympathetic Abwehr officers passed some of this material on to the anti-Hitler movement.

The bomb was ingenious, but also so simple as to be virtually foolproof. An acid fuse contained within a slim copper tube was inserted into a slab of plastic explosive. Using a pair of pliers the assassin simply crushed the fuse, releasing the acid inside which slowly ate away at a wire. When the wire snapped it released a spring-driven hammer that struck a small percussion cap, setting off the explosive charge. The bomb was silent as there were no parts to make a telltale ticking sound, and the chemical fuse did not give off any smell as it burned. Therefore, it was virtually undetectable. The length of fuse determined the time delay before detonation, and for the attack on Hitler’s aircraft Treskow selected a 30-minute fuse. All going well, Hitler’s aircraft would be destroyed somewhere over Minsk. The loss of the Condor so close to the front could have been attributed to Soviet fighters, giving the conspirators more justification in taking immediate control of the Reich in the event of the Führer’s sudden death.

Disguised as a parcel containing two bottles of cognac, Oberstleutnant Brandt unknowingly took Treskow’s bomb aboard Hitler’s Condor. He intended to hand the package to Generalmajor Stieff on arrival in Germany. Stieff, though sympathetic to the resistance, was not yet an active plotter. But he was Treskow’s friend, so sending him the cognac as payment for a lost bet looked perfectly normal. Ironically, Hitler disliked the 42-year-old Stieff greatly. A small man, Hitler called him a ‘poisonous little dwarf’. Unsurprisingly, in light of his commander-in-chief’s insults Stieff soon became more active in the plot to kill the Führer.

The 13 March 1943 should have been Hitler’s last day alive. Brandt handed the parcel to the plane’s steward, who placed it with the other luggage in the unheated cargo hold. This was in direct contravention of the accepted rules for loading Hitler’s aircraft. All servicing, repairs and loading of luggage at any airport could only be done in the presence of the flight engineer or another member of the crew, as well as in the presence of RSD guards. Brandt knew this full well, but as with many security procedures the people most likely to break them were those who lived within this restrictive arena day in, day out. Perhaps it was a case of familiarity breeding contempt.

As the two Condors taxied down the grass strip and lifted off into the clear blue sky Treskow and Schlabrendorff exchanged a look before settling into a radio truck to listen for news of the Führer’s demise. In thirty minutes, with Hitler dead, they would institute a takeover plan. General der Infanterie Friedrich Olbricht in Berlin would order the Replacement Army to seize the capital as well as Vienna and Munich.

The Replacement Army was a sprawling organisation which provided reinforcements and replacements to the field army. Its garrison units would be used to overcome any SS resistance to the army high command seizing control, though whether individual generals and their subordinates would obey the orders of Olbricht and the other plotters is open to question. Many army officers were devoted Nazis, and the Waffen-SS and Gestapo very strong. The plan was for a new anti-Nazi government to be placed in charge and the senior Nazis either arrested or shot. A negotiated peace could then be made with the Allies and the war ended before Germany was militarily defeated and occupied.

At the airfield outside Smolensk the expected news that Hitler’s plane had crashed did not arrive. Something had gone terribly awry. ‘Treskow and I,’ wrote Schlabrendorff, ‘judging from our own experiments, were convinced that the amount of explosive in the bomb would be sufficient to tear the entire plane apart, or at least to make a fatal crash inevitable.’ No word came for two agonizing hours. The two men could not understand what had happened – the plan and the equipment appeared to be foolproof.

Treskow was suddenly informed by phone that the Führer’s plane had landed safely at Rastenburg airfield. It was almost unbelievable. Schlabrendorff hurriedly took the next plane to Germany and retrieved the parcel before Brandt became aware of its true contents. When the bomb was examined it was found that it had actually worked perfectly. The acid had released the spring hammer and struck the percussion cap. But because of the intense cold inside the unheated cargo hold, the percussion cap had failed to detonate and the bomb had not exploded. Hitler had been saved from certain death once again by the tiniest of flaws, one conspirator commenting bitterly that he appeared to have a ‘guardian devil.’ If the parcel had been carried inside the heated passenger cabin everyone onboard the plane would have perished. The explosives were returned to storage until they could be used for another attempt to kill Hitler.

The plot to destroy Hitler’s aircraft was never discovered, and so the Führer continued to travel by air, oblivious of the potential dangers. But air travel was becoming risky for reasons other than the aristocratic plotters within the Wehrmacht. American B-17 Flying Fortresses had first bombed Berlin on 6 March 1944, followed by repeated American and British raids. When the promoted SS-Brigadeführer Baur, Hitler’s personal pilot, flew the Führer from Rastenburg to Salzburg in early March, so Hitler could visit the Berghof, he had to fully coordinate the flight plan with the Luftwaffe air control centre to make sure that they did not encounter Allied aircraft or German fighters and flak en route.

The same precautions were taken in June when Hitler received word of the Normandy landings whilst he was at the Berghof. Deciding to take battlefield command, Hitler was flown on 17 June from Salzburg to Metz and then driven in a heavily armed convoy of cars to his headquarters at Margival, near Soissons.

In early July 1944 Hitler, who had returned to Berchtesgaden, was flown to Rastenburg in order to coordinate efforts to stop the massive Soviet spring offensive that had filleted Army Group Centre. It was at the Wolf’s Lair on 20 July that the German resistance struck again, coming closest to killing Hitler.

Following the July Plot, the German war situation entered terminal decline. Hitler’s special transport squadron started to run short of spare parts for their planes. In the wake of the bomb at Rastenburg, security was so tight that even conducting routine maintenance on the flight’s aircraft became difficult. Hitler’s Condors were closely guarded twenty-four hours a day by the FBB and closely inspected for sabotage before every flight. The chances of smuggling a bomb aboard in a similar fashion to that at Smolensk in 1943 had decreased to virtually zero, as every item of luggage and cargo was minutely examined. The only possibility would have been someone wearing a suicide vest, and this was never considered, largely because the explosives and detonator could not be modified to be carried or let alone worn in such a way without attracting attention.

Due to the pressing war situation, most Nazi leaders had lost their personal aircraft, with the exception of Albert Speer and Heinrich Himmler. Speer, Minister for Armaments and War Production, needed to constantly visit factories, secret missile and aircraft projects and the regional Gauleiters, and could only do so efficiently by air. Himmler remained the second most powerful man in Germany, controlling the vast SS empire. Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel, Head of the OKW, was permitted a Junkers Ju 52/3m BDzDH as the Reich’s senior military officer.

In September 1944 Hitler was flown from Rastenburg to bomb-damaged Berlin for an important conference, the planning for Operation ‘Watch on the Rhine’, more commonly known to history as The Battle of the Bulge. But at the same time the Wolf’s Lair was threatened, as the Soviet juggernaut continued its inexorable advance into East Prussia. Baur expected Soviet air attacks on the airfield at Rastenburg, and dispersed the F.d.F aircraft and supplies between the main airfield and a local airport. Knowing full well that an evacuation was inevitable, Baur obtained use of the large warehouse at an airfield in Pöcking, between Braunau and Passau in Bavaria, where he could relocate the F.d.F.12

In early December 1944 fifty personnel, spares, tools and engines were on their way to Pöcking by train when they were involved in a collision with another locomotive in western Poland. Seventeen members of the F.d.F were killed, its highest losses during the war.

Baur decided to disperse Hitler’s squadron around Berlin. Small detachments were sent to carefully camouflaged airfields at Schoenwalde, Rangsdorf, Rechlin and Finsterwalde. Realising that Hitler must shortly move to Berlin, Baur flew Condor TKzCV to an airfield near Berlin. This aircraft would be kept ready for immediate use by the Führer should he need to flee the capital. In the event, Hitler chose to die in Berlin, but the F.d.F. remained a vital component in the hectic last few weeks of the war.

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