The skies over Poland saw many air battles during the last world war, the most intense occurring during the German advance in September ‘39 and again during the long retreat of ‘44/45. This is the story of one of the many aircraft that was lost, not in one of those battles, but in preparing the young pilots who were to fight them.
On the morning of May 28, 1944, Feldwebel [Sergeant] Ernst Plaines of the 2nd Staffel ‘Jagdgruppe West ‘ [Fighter Training School West] lifted ‘RED 3’, werke nummer 163306 into the air from the strip at Gebbert, Pomerania. It is believed that minutes after takeoff, the 24 year old pilot, lost control of the machine after experiencing a sudden loss of power, stalled, and crashed into nearby Lake Trzebun. Plaines was killed instantly upon impact, his body was later recovered and buried in the town cemetery.
This story, like many others in wartime, may have ended there, but for the discovery of the wreck some 56 years later by a group which decided to follow up the rumour of an ‘old aircraft wreck’ in the lake.
In mid 1999 divers recovered the aircraft on behalf of the Polish Eagle Aviation Foundation which is based at the small airfield of Goraszka on the outskirts if Warsaw. The aircraft was found to be resting on her back in three sections with the main gear extended. The fuselage was separated from the nose just behind the cockpit and the engine was buried in the muddy lake bottom. Forty four gallon drums and airbags were used to raise the wreck the 60 feet to the surface and once ashore, close inspection revealed her to be remarkably well preserved. The original camouflage was evident, with the tactical number ‘3’ still red in colour. Unfortunately the paint soon began to flake off as the aircraft started to dry out, allowing the radio call sign ‘RQ+DR’ to be seen.
The aircraft had a very short service career with the Luftwaffe before her demise. Manufactured at the Messerschmitt- Regensburg plant in the spring of 1944 her acceptance flight is believed to have taken place in early May, after which time she was issued directly to the training unit – approximately one month later her war was over.
Since the recovery great strides have been made in restoring this historic machine, it is hoped, to eventual taxiing condition. The small team headed by Zbigniew Korneluk have been able to secure help from the Polish Aviation Museum in Krakow and also from some German based organizations.
Once her restoration is completed she will spend her time being displayed on a rotational basis between Warsaw and Krakow, a reminder of one of the many of her type that fought the desperate air battles over Poland.