Golden Gate Wing Guest Speaker Archive

Presentation Date: February 22, 2007

SR SGT Eberhard P. Woertz LUFTWAFFE

Speaker Photo

Me 109 Pilot & Observer, WWII Luftwaffe Tactical Reconnaissance
* First, required to serve in Luftwaffe Communications; trained in highly-secret ENIGMA system
* Luftwaffe Pilot Wings in late 1943; rated an Me 109 fighter pilot
* Flew on Eastern Front against Russians; example: trapped by seven Yak fighter planes, yet escaped
* Of 176,000 Luftwaffe pilots during WWII, only ~7,000 earned combination training as both pilot & observer for critical reconnaissance flying; Eberhard was one of these select few
* Will also share his insights & experiences of growing up in Germany during the rise & supremacy of Hitler; also a general overview of wartime Germany
Eberhard P. Woertz, WWII Luftwaffe Pilot, Engineering & Management Professional, USA since 1955 Me 109 Pilot & Observer, WWII Luftwaffe Tactical Reconnaissance
* Joined Luftwaffe in 1939 to become a combat pilot
* First, required to serve in Luftwaffe Communications; trained in highly-secret ENIGMA system
* Flight Training @ AB School # 23 in Central Germany; flew many gliders & aircraft types, including Bueker 181, Me 108, Arado 96, leading up to Me 109
* Luftwaffe Pilot Wings in late 1943; rated an Me 109 fighter pilot
* Sent to fighter and observer training for highly-specialized Tactical Reconnaissance missions
* Flew on Eastern Front against Russians; example: trapped by seven Yak fighter planes, yet escaped
* Of 176,000 Luftwaffe pilots during WWII, only ~7,000 earned combination training as both pilot & observer for critical reconnaissance flying; Eberhard was one of these select few
* Will also share his insights & experiences of growing up in Germany during the rise & supremacy of Hitler; also a general overview of wartime Germany
* After WWII, earned rare selection to German-American Exchange Program; sent to Toledo, OH with Doehler-Jarvis Tool & Die Co, while studying engineering & mgt. @ U. of Toledo
* Eventually earned degrees in engineering & management; came to USA permanently in 1955
Eberhard P. Woertz, WWII Luftwaffe Pilot, Engineering & Management Professional, USA since 1955

The average American knows little about the colossal World War II struggle between Germany and the Soviet Union, and hears even less of the “German side” of the war. The Golden Gate Wing this past February, had a rare opportunity to hear one of its members speak on those very topics. Eberhard Woerz was a German soldier, a member of the Luftwaffe. He is now, by choice, a citizen of America, and his loyalties have been here for more than 50 years.

Born September 7, 1922 in Ulm, Germany, along the Danube River, Eberhard Woerz grew up in South Africa, where his father and mother lived and worked.  Eberhard developed a knowledge and sense for logistics watching his father round up cotton gins and coordinate trucks and fuel to take the annual cotton crop to market.

When World War II started in Europe, he remembers watching Germany’s tanks race outward in conquest, and wondering how they could be supplied by columns of horse-drawn wagons.

In September of 1939, Hitler invaded Poland, declaring war three days after Panzers and troops poured across the border. When Hitler refused to withdraw from Poland, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany.

“The German population had been on what I call a high-tension wire since 1937, due to things that were going on internationally. War had been expected in 1938 after the German invasion of Czechoslovakia.”

 Woerz says the German population in general was very concerned, wondering why the war was necessary and how Germany could hope to come out ahead when it ended.

“After the First World War, the Allies blockaded Germany so no food or raw materials could come in, and Germany had a very limited base of resources. Germany stood against the British Empire, the French and their sympathetic partners: the United States and other countries. Germany essentially had Italy and if you want to draw it out, Japan, as its allies. It was not easily understood how this constellation would prevail against the huge superiority on the other side.”

“On the other hand, the feeling in Germany was that it was almost impossible to live with the consequences of the Treaty of Versailles.”

That final settlement of World War I placed Germany with the blame for starting the war, as well as a huge material and financial debt to pay.

“That’s essentially how Hitler got the people to support his policies. You have been told the other side of the story, so it sounds strange to you.

“The Germans also lost their overseas possessions, their colonies, their commercial enterprises, their commercial fleet – all was confiscated.  The German patents, what I call the treasury of the German nation, were taken and not allowed in any paying for what, later on, would be called reparations.”

Other parts of the settlement included a ban on building warplanes, and an initial ban (which later became negotiated limitations) on the number and size of warships. The overall settlement itself was not negotiated: Germany’s refusal to sign would lead to occupation by the Allied Powers.

In the years between the World Wars, Germany went bankrupt, its unemployment was over seven million people and there were bread lines.  In 1919 when the Allies upheld a blockade, about one half million people starved to death and about 800,000 women had miscarriages. 

“When the French Prime Minister said in the Versailles meeting with his compatriots, ‘There are 20-million too many Germans in the world,’ you become very sensitive that you are on the list to be starved, to be killed, to be somehow eliminated.”

“When a man like Hitler comes and promises you he will end that, when he promises that he will get you back to work, and he says ‘Give me four years and I will show you’. And in four years, we had German full employment.

“With France bankrupt, unemployed, and being taken over by communists, England with unemployment but holding onto its Empire, barely: what do you think the sympathy of the Germans should be? What do you think the average German thought, who didn’t know of all the things on the side that were going on?” 

 Woerz points to negotiations in1935 in which the British agreed to allow Hitler to build a naval fleet one-third the size of Britain’s, and the lack of any reaction when German troops marched into the Rhineland in 1935, as examples of the Allied unwillingness to enforce a failing Versailles Treaty.

On the issue of fleet size, Woerz says Germany’s Kreigsmarine was limited to building ships with a displacement of 10,000 tons, essentially the size of a light cruiser of the day.

“German inventiveness developed the concept of welding the plates of the ship instead riveting them...  By doing this they were able to build a ship that was 10,000 tons, but in reality was 17,000 tons.”

 The Army and Luftwaffe also subverted the system, Woerz says. The latter military force, in 1927, leased 60 square miles of Russian territory, using the space to train pilots and design airplanes.  By 1935, he says, the Luftwaffe had 160 pilots and 80 observers.



By the mid-1930s, Germany’s remilitarizing reached Eberhard, literally.

“I was standing in the street in front of one of the garrisons in my hometown of Ulm, when mobilization took place. This is when all of the troops were called to the colors and all of their help was submitted.  The German commercial enterprise could report 250,000 privately owned passenger cars. Most of those that were in reasonable condition were ‘drafted’. They were painted in either Luftwaffe blue or Army grey or Navy dark blue.”  

 Woerz says the checkerboard of makes and models of passenger cars proved a logistical nightmare when it came to service and parts. Additionally, farmers came forward with horses to supply the cavalry and pull artillery and supply wagons.

“Some of them came in with tears in their eyes as they turned in their horses. Some of them brought in wagons they had to turn in. As a statistical observation, today’s reports show about 82 percent of the German army was horse drawn.”

“The British had no horses. The French had a few cavalry brigades. The Poles had cavalry brigades and the Russians had cavalry brigades in addition to their motorized units.”

Germany launched its Blitzkrieg attack on Poland with three panzer (tank) divisions and four motorized infantry divisions, all far from being ‘modern’ in terms of today’s motorized military units.

“When you say ‘motorized’,” notes Woerz, ”you probably think of what you see today - - modern armored personnel carriers. But these were trucks, where the soldiers rode on top. This was okay in the Western campaign, but in Russia where there were no roads, most of these soldiers were infantry (and marched). The trucks were used to bring in supplies.”

 Woerz cites numbers of aircraft and armored vehicles to argue the relative material preparedness of France and Great Britain to battle Germany’s early thrust:

“When you consider that statistically speaking, in 1939, the French claimed 84 Army divisions, 3,400 airplanes, and 5,400 tanks.  You can say of those 5,400 tanks, 3,000 were WWI survivors, but they all had either 4 centimeter or 4.5 centimeter guns.

“Of the 3,122 German tanks, 1,600 had 20mm cannons and a .30 cal machine gun. Another 800 had two .30 cal machine guns, 200 had a 7.5cm short-barreled cannon and another 320 had a 3.7cm gun.”

 Woerz says the bulk of the Wehrmacht’s tanks were no match for either French or British tanks, which carried larger guns and heavier armor. The “saviors” for the Panzer divisions, he says, were the German 8.8cm antiaircraft gun - - accurate, hard-hitting and mobile - - and the dive-bombing capabilities of the Ju-87 Stuka. The tactics of blitzkrieg called for close coordination of anti-tank weapons and air support to remove tough targets like tanks.

 Woerz reminded the audience that before the Polish were overwhelmed, they put up a fight that took a toll on armor, aircraft, and munitions.

“When the campaign in Poland was over, Germany had essentially used up all of its ammunition supplies. If the West had attacked, the Germans would have had to fight back with cement bombs.  Because, besides the 25 kilogram and 50 kilogram bombs, the 200 and 250 kilogram bombs, they were down to what was called 30% of the required quantities.”

The supply issue, according to Woerz, was a challenge not only of manufacturing war materiel at a brisk pace. There was also a German ‘war resistance’, particularly a group of high-ranking Army officers who believed the war was not winnable, and tried to ‘let Hitler lose’, by slowing the manufacture of weapons and delivery of weapons and manpower.


Western Campaign

In May 1940, French military strength was about twice that of Germany’s. As Panzer divisions prepared to roll into Holland, Belgium and France, French troops and armor and a British Expeditionary Force established a line north of France in Belgium. The Allies expected their right flank to be protected by fortifications of the Maginot Line.

The Germans attacked Holland, Belgium and France, but also drove through the Ardennes, through the Maginot and defenses at Sedan, and behind the bulk of French and British forces. In short, when that occurred, the British panicked and the French slid towards collapse. Rather than counter-attack south with its 300 tanks, the B.E.F. instead fought its way West, to pull out from the beaches at Dunkirk.

 Woerz says French Gen. Charles De Gaulle, a French tank warfare expert and a rival to German General Heinz Guderian could have had more than 500 tanks at his disposal and stopped the German Army, but never got an opportunity.

“If he had been given the necessary support by the French and British air forces, I think the whole thing would have been over in 1940. But the German air force was in charge of the sky. They had demolished the French air force and diminished the British and Belgian and Dutch air forces, and had bombed the hell out of (France’s) tanks.

After two weeks of the Battle of France, the British Expeditionary Force held open a corridor to the coast, to escape across the Channel. Between May 27th and June 4th, about 700 ships brought 338,000 troops, of whom 140,000 were members of the French Army, back to Britain.

Historians have pondered why Hitler ordered his army to stop advancing for two days instead of racing to Dunkirk and foiling Britain’s withdrawal.  Some suggest Goering requested the Luftwaffe be allowed to destroy the British Expeditionary Force from the air. Woerz believes the Fuhrer stopped his Panzers to prevent them from overstretching their supply lines.


The Battle of Britain

After France fell, the planned invasion of Great Britain in 1940 became an objective primarily for the Luftwaffe. Of the about 2,300 Luftwaffe aircraft available, Woerz says only about 1,700 could be put in the air for a “maximum effort”.

“The Messerchmitt 109 fighter was designed to fly 55 minutes. If you fly from France over England, it takes you from most bases between 25 and 35 minutes. How do you get home, if it takes 35 minutes to get there, if you have 55 minutes worth of fuel?

So all the airplanes were moved to the most forward fields where supply had to be arranged.”

 Woerz says that once the bombing campaign started, both combat and operational attrition diminished the numbers of Luftwaffe aircraft sent to bomb England or to protect the bombers.

“That meant half of the airplanes that went there were greeted by a very determined British air force. And at that time, the British had developed a radar system by which they could gauge where the Germans were coming form and going to and allow them to concentrate their fighters into the area where they were needed.”

The Royal Air Force was thus able to bring large numbers of Hurricanes and Spitfires to directly intercept the mostly-unprotected bombers. And Woerz says they consistently downed the unescorted, short-range bombers:

“The Germans had two-engine bombers that were designed to defend Germany.

They could go about 700 kilometers into enemy territory, and German fighters could go about 250 kilometers, function in their capacity and make it home with the fuel that was available.”

“You could make a concession like the air force did later on in Norway.  You could put in more fuel and less bombs, but it doesn’t make much sense if you only fly with 1000 kilograms of bombs. The German bombers were carrying two tons maximum, the Ju-88s, three tons.”

By contrast U.S. Army Air Force B-17s carried nine tons of bombs; B-24s, ten tons; and both aircraft could stay in the air more than six hours.

 Woerz explained Junkers and Dornier had been developing a strategic, four-engine bomber since the late 1930s. But Hermann Goering nearly curtailed that development, explaining that he could much more impress Hitler with the production of 700 twin-engine bombers instead of half as many four-engine bombers.

And Woerz notes that a strategic four-engine bomber fleet would have allowed Germany to disrupt the Soviet Union’s industry behind the Ural mountains, which was producing about five times as many tanks and artillery pieces as German industry.



In June1941, Hitler turned Germany’s military to an invasion of the Soviet Union. Before that happened, though, Hitler bailed out Mussolini’s flailing forces in Yugoslavia, Greece and Albania, and in North Africa.

“When I passed through the Suez Canal, I saw the British fleet in Alexandria and positions in Aden and said to myself ‘they are everywhere.’ My idea was that instead of giving Rommel two divisions, he should have been given six or seven, or ten divisions. And he should have cut through the Suez Canal and Palestine to Tehran, getting the British oil supply and the Russian oil supply.”

Instead of initiating the planned May 25 attack of Russia, the date was pushed forward to June 22nd, a delay Woerz says Germany’s military paid for.

“One month late was one month lost and we didn’t take Moscow and we didn’t take Leningrad. And from then on out it was a matter of exhaustion.”

In general, Americans have little concept of the scope of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union, the Eastern Front.  Between June ’41 and June of the next year, the Soviet Union lost about three million soldiers, against German losses of 270,000. In the following year, losses for the Soviets and Germans were four million and 800,000, respectively.

“It was a matter of mathematics that even the Russians would eventually run out of people.”


The Air War

 Woerz has run numbers to analyze many factors affecting the Luftwaffe.

 By 1943, when the United States began fighting in Europe, Woerz argues the Luftwaffe was short of state-of-the-art aircraft. Focke-Wulf was starting mass manufacture of the Fw-190, but the fighter mainstay was the Bf 109, upgraded with a larger engine and guns. And neither aircraft held a technology edge over their Allied counterparts. The personnel side of the scale had also tipped against the Luftwaffe.

“We become painfully aware that this thing was becoming a rat-race. The pilots got less and less training because there was less fuel and less replacement airplanes.

Where in peacetime a German pilot had about 150 hours in basic training and then 300 hours in fighters or bombers, by 1944, this was down to 120 hours.” 

 Woerz says by contrast, many American pilots had 300-500 hours of training before flying their first combat missions.

In 1939 Eberhard joined the Luftwaffe. He was required to serve in communications and was trained in the highly secret Enigma encryption system.  Woerz served in communications at an airfield near Brest, France.

Transferred to flight training at AB School # 23 in Central Germany, he flew gliders and aircraft types including the Bucker 181, Me-108 and Arado-96 before flying the Me-109. In late 1943 Woerz received his pilot wings, was rated a fighter pilot, and was sent to fighter and observer training for highly specialized tactical reconnaissance work.

 Photo recon had become particularly important on the Eastern Front. Providing the basis for maps of the vast Russian terrain, photo missions required a discipline of flying exacting routes at specific altitudes. And, photos often were critical to convincing field commanders, whose ground patrols had not accurately assessed enemy positions or strength.

 Woerz says that by the time he began flying operationally, the Luftwaffe

had lost much of its elite status. The service had been “ground-up” over the many years it had been at war. Lack of fuel, ammunition and parts and unmet maintenance needs took a regular toll, but two major events had overtaxed the already-strained air force – the Battle of Britain and relief for the German Army at Stalingrad.

In spite of these challenges, the Luftwaffe in the West continued to try to inflict damage on Allied bombers appearing regularly by day and night. In the East, Woerz and his fellow reconnaissance pilots flew to deliver the latest whereabouts of the Soviet Army, as it pushed Germany’s troops back towards their homeland.


Eyes for the Wehrmacht

By 1945, the Americans had advanced to the Hartz Mountains - - Patton aimed for Berlin - - and the British were coming around the northern coast, with Montgomery aiming for Hamburg. Woerz was tasked with flying tactical reconnaissance to determine where Berlin’s defenses still stood.

“It happened to be my luck that the High Command needed to know where the Americans were. As I was doing this, an Army Colonel said, ‘When he comes back, maybe he can tell us where the Russians are. That’s how desperate the situation was.’

The Soviet Army had surrounded Berlin and was pressing west toward the Elbe, while the Americans were in Saxonia, headed east toward the Elbe.

“In order to be sure I would get that information, I was going to get 35 fighter escorts. It was morally supportive. I took off and my wingman said his engine was overheating. I said go home.”

 Woerz troubles were just starting though. He got a radio message that the fighter unit warming up to escort him had just been attacked and had no planes to send. He had already decided to fly low to avoid Allied radar, come in low behind the 3,500 foot Hartz mountains, to sneak around the other side and pull up to 10,000 meters to fly back and run the cameras.

“Up I went to 12,000 meters. And there were hundreds of moving vehicles. From that altitude I couldn’t see what they were, tanks or trucks or jeeps. They were moving just like ants on the floor. The cameras were running.

“I looked around and looked around and there was still open air. I was halfway back and was about over Halberstadt when I looked back and said, ‘Oh my God, the American Air Force is going to attack Berlin.’ I didn’t take it personal, but there were so many of them I said I better not get mixed up with those guys.”

 Woerz says he decided to drop to the deck, just above the grass, and hopping the hedges, to get back to base with his film.

“Then there were seven dots coming at me very appreciably. They were maybe 600 meters high, passed me and I thought they didn’t see me. But somebody looking backwards and down must have seen me, so they made a big turn, and I was pushing to get going.

“They were coming four on top and three under. It was a cat and mouse game. I didn’t think I was going to get away, but I was going to give it a try. I am a stubborn Swabian.”

The enemy fighters were P-51s.

What was going through  Woerz’s mind? Survival was key, as was completing the mission to bring the film back.  Woerz said he also had his fighter pilot’s ego to satisfy, and that meant he had to win the contest.

The nap-of-the-earth chase led to a high-tension power line.

“The lowest spot between the towers was about thirty meters from the ground, and maybe another 15 meters higher nearer the towers. So you go closer to the tower and then go over it.”

Whether the hazardous flight path, fuel gauges leaning toward empty or some other reason led to the decision,  Woerz said the Allied fighters chose not to follow him under the lines. After he flew past a few towers, the P-51s stopped giving chase.

“When I landed and got out of the airplane, the mechanic asked if I’d gotten out of the shower. The water was running out of my overalls. I was absolutely at the end of my energy level.”

Personally taking the camera into the staff room,  Woerz pointed out on maps the vanguard of the American forces, and was told he should personally deliver them to the Luftwaffe High Command in Berlin. Taking the next train,  Woerz appeared with developed photos at the debriefing.

“In comes one of those gold-braid guys, a general. And he says, ‘I hear you are the pilot who flew this morning. You know, we looked at the radar, and we said, that poor sucker. There were 316 of theirs and one of ours. How did you do it?”

“I said, ‘Sir, don’t ask me. I’m here.’ ”