Golden Gate Wing Guest Speaker Archive

Presentation Date: September 25, 2008

Leutnant Jorg Cizpionka ME262 Pilot

Speaker Photo

(Jorg was originally scheduled to speak in April but had to postpone)
* Born 1921 in Grunewald, Berlin
* Joined the Luftwaffe in 1939 - just wanted to fly.
* Instructed in the "fliegerschule" in Wels (near Linz), Austria in over 30 different aircraft.
* Attended flighter pilot school in 1944, and learned to fly the ME-262, the first jet fighter.
* Assigned to a Special Commando unit - Nacht Jagt Geschwader (Night Fighter Squadron) 11 within NJG 10, he flew out of Burg, near Magdeburg, against the British RAF Mosquitos, which carried a 2,000 lb. each, and followed in groups of 69 at times a Pathfinder which marked the targets for them.
* At the end of the war his squadron flew off of the Autobahns near Uterberg in Schleswig-Holstein, not far from the Danish border. His squadron did not destroy their 6-7 ME-262s, but turned them over to the British in August 1945. * Born 1921 in Grunewald, Berlin
* Moved with his family to Ostrow, Czechloslovakia with his family at age six (6).
* His father managed a plant manufacturing cables for the mining industry.
* Jorg attended a German school in Silesia, near the Polish border.
* Joined the Luftwaffe in 1939 - just wanted to fly.
* Instructed in the "fliegerschule" in Wels (near Linz), Austria in over 30 different aircraft.
* Attended flighter pilot school in 1944, and learned to fly the ME-262, the first jet fighter.
* Assigned to a Special Commando unit - Nacht Jagt Geschwader (Night Fighter Squadron) 11 within NJG 10, he flew out of Burg, near Magdeburg, against the British RAF Mosquitos, which carried a 2,000 lb. each, and followed in groups of 69 at times a Pathfinder which marked the targets for them.
* At the end of the war his squadron flew off of the Autobahns near Uterberg in Schleswig-Holstein, not far from the Danish border. His squadron did not destroy their 6-7 ME-262s, but turned them over to the British in August 1945, and then he and his men were told to "go home" - no prison.
* He worked repairing typewriters in Hamburg after the war. Times were very bad and he still was wearing the remnants of his uniform four years later.
* In 1948 he attended the university and graduated as a textile engineer, ultimately becoming the Director for a major company, and traveled to South Africa, Hong Kong, Japan, and Taiwan.
* Jorg retired early and came to the States, marrying his American wife, still an active loan officer.
* They live in San Gabriel and have three children and eight grandchildren.

Leutnant Jorg Czypionka

Luftwaffe Me 262 Pilot

"I wanted to fly and I did. I was doing it from the beginning of the war, from the first days until the last one. I was flying first as a student and then as an instructor, for about 3-1/2 years."

Most of Jorg’s adventures in World War II didn’t involve shooting at other aircraft. Only during the final months of the European conflict, did he begin logging time as a combat pilot.

Jorg Czypionka was born in 1921 In Berlin, Germany and was raised in Czechoslovakia. As did so many of the other young boys of his generation, Jorg grew up wanting to be a pilot, and at age 14 he learned to fly gliders, soaring during the summer months in the hills of Czechoslovakia. Then, in 1939, his wish to become a pilot came true.

"I joined the Luftwaffe shortly after graduating from high school, and went through some basic training and some technical training before entering flying school."

Jorg says he was fortunate to have had good instructors before being mentored by a chief instructor who had only two other students instead of five or six. That meant extra flying time and some preferential treatment, as he tried to fly as many different types of aircraft as possible. Among the aircraft most flown were the He 72 Kadett biplane, the Junkers W 34, and Bucker aerobatic planes.

After six months, he became an assistant instructor himself while he continued advanced training in aerobatic, instrument, night, and high altitude flying, which led him to become a full-fledged instructor.

That Extra Edge

Czypionka was based at an airfield at the small-town of Wels (near Linz), Austria. He says he and his fellow instructors and students had lots of time for extra-curricular flying activities.

"I justified it when I took my students on daredevil missions and flights. I said that these guys should have more than the basic training. They will probably need it when they go into combat later.

"But, it was also that I, myself, wanted to have thrills! As many as possible, given the limited time we were aloft."

Czypionka says when thinking back to some of those experiences, he must have been crazy… but not irresponsible.

"I tried to always know my limits and learn how to judge your limits. You needed courage, responsibility and concentration. This was important to me every time I did these things. We flew with our trainers under telephone lines, between poplar trees in knife edge flight, or along village roads, knife edge, between the houses.

"In these little villages, people liked us. We were their fliers and they were proud to have us around. It was strictly forbidden to do these things, but there were some excuses, as I mentioned."

Czypionka recalled that (WWI fighter ace) Ernst Udet had been known for his airshow precision, plucking handkerchiefs from the ground with a hook on his airplane’s wingtip. He thought that if Udet could perform with such skill, he could too, although he didn’t have the wingtip hook.

Another highly skilled flier, and Czypionka’s idol, was Hans Joachim Marseille, who was the Luftwaffe’s leading Bf 109 ace in North Africa.

"To me, he was the best flyer that existed."

Czypionka had heard of missions, such as one in September, 1942 when Marseille attacked a ‘Lufbery Circle’ of RAF P-40 Tomahawks and systematically shot down 6 of them… on his way to downing a total of 17 Allied aircraft that day.

As a reward for the best student of the day, Czypionka said four or five instructors would meet between 5000-6000 thousand feet altitude for a dogfight that would wind down to ground level.

Night Skies

Czypionka’s training went on until August/September 1944 when he was transferred to a Special Commando unit - Nacht Jagd Geschwader (Night Fighter Squadron) 10 within NJG 11, a task force to battle almost nightly incursions to Berlin by about 60 deHavilland Mosquito bombers. The unit was based at Jueterbog, south of Berlin.

"Each bomber carried a 2000-pound bomb which exploded just above the ground. It created a vacuum and the houses just collapsed. So there was big devastation from these bombers.

"This task force was a modification of the earlier Wilde Sau system—single seat Messerschmitt 109s without radar, using ground-based navigation and communication.

"The Mosquitoes came in very loosely, never in formation, but flying singly. And they were spread all over the place.

Czypionka says the ground-based radar would vector the Me 109s toward the incoming bombers and then searchlights would try to illuminate the intruders, one at a time. The challenge was to catch the swift Mosquito bombers.

"It was very difficult because the 109 was not faster than the Mosquito, and they came in and flew out as fast as they could from the target area. So we had to be elevated about a thousand meters above the altitude of the Mosquitoes, mostly at about 10,000 meters (25,000 feet), waiting until we saw a Mosquito and could try to shoot it down. It was a very difficult task."

In one instance, Czypionka recalls being vectored to a Mosquito that was captured in the glare of as many as 30 searchlights. He approached the speeding bomber from behind, and as he was lining up his shot, the searchlights went out. Czypionka says he fired anyway, but had no way of knowing if he ever hit the aircraft.

Flying was most important to Czypionka, not combat. He says his mother had told him not to kill anybody. The young pilot says he found enough challenge and risk in simply flying at night—alone in the cockpit with the roar of a fighter’s single 2,000 horsepower engine, the sky at 30,000 feet: cold, huge and pitch-black.

"When you get home from this you are trembling a little bit and have to recover."

On the just mentioned Mosquito-chasing mission, Czypionka says he had an added problem. He’d pushed the throttle to full power too long, and asked too much of the Me 109’s engine.

"On the way back home the engine blew. The blower or something blew and started a fire. Oil came out and so there was no chance to do anything. I just kept my cool and talked to my control officer, who said he knew where I was, and I bailed out.

"I counted, because I knew how high I was. It was a wonderful feeling there, in the night with a little bit of the moon. It was like being in a down bed. And then pulled my parachute.

"Then, all of a sudden something comes up on my side and… I’m on the ground. I saw I was still about 100 feet above the ground. I wondered if I’d passed a monument or a church tower for I shot my illuminating pistol and then bounced on my backside. I’d passed a chimney of a brick factory, and I was on the roof of this brick factory, right between the forest and a lake.

"As I’d come down I saw these dark and lighter places and decided to go to the light area, which may be the water. If you fell into trees, they were fir trees and you could get badly hurt. If you fell in the water, (we had been taught) you could dive to get rid of the parachute, swim a little underwater and then come up somewhere.

"So, all of a sudden I was on this roof. The factory was right on the beach of this lake and over there was the forest. I’m sitting there and the parachute came down slowly. There was a little light coming from a hut and I called out.

"Two people came out from the hut: the night watchman, about 60 years old, and a young guy, a Polish worker. They came and lit me up with a light and the young guy said, ‘You’re a terror-bomber. You’re Amerikanski!’.

"I said I was German, but he again insisted I was ‘Amerikanski.’ So I sent down some identification and they took it into the hut to read it. Then the Polish guy came back out and said ‘Herr officer, Herr officer.’ And they came out with a ladder and I climbed down on the ladder.

"Then I had to tell my story, while I was relaxing on my parachute, because it was a little bit of a shock to me.

Czypionka says they sent him with his parachute through the forest to the nearest train station, a trek that brought its own special terror.

"I thought behind every tree there was some guy standing who was going to shoot at me. I was in shock. I had my pistol in hand, my parachute on my back… and I was so afraid. It was about 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning and still dark when I came to a street and then a little village’s train stop.

"I laid down on this bench and fell asleep. When I woke up, there were people standing around in a circle—villagers waiting to take the train into Berlin to go to work—who were whispering to keep from waking me."

He says one woman stepped up and told Jorg to follow him to her home, where she gave him coffee and plum cake. She got a few neighbors to come over and asked him to tell them his story. And that’s how Czypionka passed the time until the next train arrived.

On the train, the downed pilot was surprised but relieved to find he was not required to have paid for a ticket for his ride into Berlin.

Night Swallows

Night flying over the Berlin area continued into the winter of 1944-45, the weather increasing the hazards of flying. Above the clouds, fog and rain the sky would be clear. But getting up, and returning from that celestial position was another matter.

"There would be pouring rain at night, with barely a light on the ground. I flew on instruments only, and it was some adventure. I’d take off in the pouring rain and come back down at some other airfield, only to have to come back to my home airfield the next day. My airfield would have fog, low clouds, with an 80 meter (250 feet) ceiling.

"I had a wonderful control officer who understood me very well. I never met him but we were like brothers. What he said, I did and everything worked very well. I remember one day when I called him from another airfield. I had permission to decide myself whether to return to base in the weather. I called this guy on the telephone and asked him whether I could fly home under these weather conditions."

Czypionka says his control officer said he could, if he would exactly, meticulously follow his directions to ensure a safe flight home.

"I went up into the clouds with the 109 through rain. He took me up to a couple of thousand meters, and then he said to come down at exactly two meters per second in a spiral. I did this exactly as he said."

The controller then set the fighter pilot on a new course to bring him to the airfield.

"I set this course, and was very low. At one time I could feel the treetops banging into the airplane’s belly. So I pulled up a little and continued in the same direction. All of a sudden he said I was at the southwest corner of the airfield. His voice was so low I could barely hear him. But I went down and there I was.

"It was fantastic. This kind of thing made me proud. I liked these challenges and the positive results. On the whole I knew this aircraft, like an extension of my own limbs. I could do everything with this aircraft, it was wonderful.

Yet, the interception program against British bombers was not as successful as was hoped for. The Mosquitoes returned and continued nightly bombing runs on Berlin.

Czypionka says his commander eventually succeeded in securing a small unit of up to eight Me 262 (Schwalbe, or Swallow) jet fighters to counter the threat. At the time, both the Me 262 and the Arado 234 were operational. But the Arado was proved ill suited for night work because its glass nose reflected light entering the cockpit, hampering a pilot’s vision. The Me 262s were unmodified for this night fighting task— they were single seat fighters without radar, scrambled as the Mosquitoes approached Berlin, and capable of only about one hour and ten minutes flying time.

By January 1945, the Me 262s were regularly flying night sorties, continuing until May of ’45 and the end of the war in Europe. Czypionka says during this period of less than five months pilots flying Me 262 day fighters would shoot down as many Mosquitoes as the Me 109 task force had shot down in one full year of operation.

There were few Me 262s available, and even fewer trained pilots for the aircraft and these missions.

"In March, 1945, an old buddy and a fellow squadron leader (named Kurt Welter), called me to ask if I would like to fly the Me 262. And I said of, course, I did. That same day, I was on a train to go to Burg, near Magdeburg, about 120 kilometers southwest of Berlin. It was about March 20, and when I arrived in the afternoon it was already getting dark.

"I came to this airfield and here was this aircraft. I knew we had the Me 262, but had not seen it. Standing in front of it, I thought, "My God, this is unbelievable. This is the future! It is out of this word!

Czypionka stood in awe of the elegant triangular cross-section of the Me 262, its twin Jumo 004 engines hanging beneath the swept-back wings. He says he was told to have the chief mechanic explain everything about the aircraft and then report back.

"I sat in the aircraft for about 45 minutes while the chief mechanic explained about the temperatures, the engine revolutions and how to start the engine, where the instruments were. Because it was a Messerschmitt, the layout and instruments were arranged almost the same as a 109—electric on the right side and pneumatic things on the left side, and things like this."

Then Czypionka went to his commander’s bedroom, where he was shaving and preparing for his next night sortie, and was told to sit down and explain how to fly the jet around the airfield.

" I concentrated and told him every movement I would do. In between he had some questions like ‘Now we have to switch the tanks’, and I told him how it was done. Then it was ‘Undercarriage…emergency…’ and things like this. When I had answered all his questions he said, ‘Now go off and fly.’

Czypionka says he returned to the airfield, the mechanic started the Me 262’s engines and Jorg took off. He made two circuits of the airfield and made perfect landings, amazed at the aircraft’s speed and smoothness in flight, and its relative silence from inside the cockpit. He had made his transition to the jet.

Returning from Berlin one night after an interdiction mission, Czypionka noted a fuel warning light was on, a warning he had about 15 minutes worth of fuel in the Me 262’s tanks. He was flying at about 6,000 meters (20,000 feet) when a Mosquito at the same altitude suddenly crossed just in front of him.

"Had I been half a second earlier, I would have hit him or he would have hit me. We would have collided. Imagine, in this big sky, exactly the same altitude, the same time.

"I followed the flames from the exhaust pipes as he flew slow esses home. He didn’t suspect anything; he didn’t know I was there.

I followed these lights and I thought, ‘What should I do. Should I shoot at him or should I not. The war was almost over. Two people sitting in this aircraft. If I shoot at him, they’re gone. Maybe they have family…’

"But then, I said, ’Well, he comes from Berlin and he dropped a bomb there and maybe killed hundreds of people with just one bomb. Try it.’

"I shot a burst at the Mosquito when it came into my gun sight and down she went."

The armament of an Me 262 was phenomenal—four 30mm cannons in its nose—and a short burst on target at close range promised jolting explosions, no matter whether the targeted aircraft was made of aluminum or plywood, as was the Mosquito.

Czypionka says his radar controller confirmed the British bomber as having been shot down. For Jorg, though, there was a new challenge of returning to his home airfield while his Me 262 still had fuel.

"On approach to the airfield, at about 2,500 feet, one engines stopped. I got a flameout. The mixture or air and fuel did not correspond any more, because one tank was empty. If you have a flameout on a jet, it’s almost impossible to get the engine running again.

"I’m now about 600 meters above the ground with one engine flamed out, and I don’t know how I did it, but I switched to the other tank and it must have been very, very quick. With great luck, the engine restarted.

"I’ve later heard from experts about two curves, one for the engine revolutions and one for the airspeed. If they meet—these two curves—you can restart the engine, but only at this point. If airspeed is a little higher and doesn’t correspond to the revolution of the engine, there is nothing happening.

"I was, luckily, exactly at this point. Otherwise I cannot explain it. The engine came to life. So all of a sudden I had two engines again… was going down normally and everything was fine.

"I approached the airfield at about 50 meters. They had switched off the four lights from a previous aircraft that had landed before me. It was one of my colleagues and he radioed me, saying he had a flat tire, but he had cleared the main runway. So there was nothing I could do but make a 360-degree circle—landing gear out, flaps fully out and altitude of 150 feet—in the dark. And when I was half through the circle, I was at only 160 kilometers/hour (100 miles an hour) on the speedometer. I was talking to the aircraft, saying, ‘Do it, do it! Don’t let me down.’

"I made it almost through the 360 degree circle. In the meantime the tower had realized that the main landing strip was free and switched the lights on and off again. So I had to do another 30 degrees, at the lowest possible altitude and little fuel. I made it, and as I touched down, both engines stopped. There was not a drop of gas in the tanks.

"This is luck. My mother had sent my guardian angel and this guardian angel was with me that night!"

April 10th, 1945 was Easter Sunday, and the holiday coincided with a U.S. Army Air Force plan to carpet bomb all airfields suspected of hosting Me 262 jet fighters. Czypionka remembers he’d gone to bed at about 3:00 in the morning after being sent aloft after Mosquitoes that night. When the air raid alarm woke him, he methodically placed his belongings next to a column in the cellar of his flat, thinking if the building was hit, he’d be more likely to find them.

When he arrived at the airfield, he noticed all the aircraft had been evacuated—tractored to revetments away from the tarmac—and there were no other pilots to be seen. At the tower he found a young woman wearing a fur coat, sitting in a lounge chair. She was the commander’s friend and one of the telephone operators at the base.

"I asked, ‘What are you doing here?’ She said she’d had a fight with my friend. I said there would be another attack and there would be danger. They were probably going to hit us."

Czypionka says he sought out two manholes—access to underground utilities—and removed the steel lids. A few minutes later, the precaution proved necessary with the rumbling approach of more than 2000 bombers.

"They started dropping markers, so I grabbed her and threw her into the manhole there and ran into the other manhole. This was the time I had the biggest fear of my life. I was so afraid when the bombs dropped all over.

"Both of us were unhurt, just completely covered in dust and my uniform a little torn at the knee. I came out and she came out and I grabbed her and we tried to escape somewhere into the forest.

"Now came the strafers, some Mustangs, and they were shooting at us. We were running from one crater to another. This was annoying and I didn’t like it. Really, I thought, the war is over. Why are you shooting at people who are already in this distress and misery?! I couldn’t understand that."

Remarkably, the only aircraft damaged in the air raid was Czypionka’s Me 262, and the damage was limited to the tire on the nose wheel, accidentally torn off by the ground crew trying to tow the jet to cover. Aerial photos Czypionka saw after the war showed the fighter on the runway, surrounded by bomb craters, yet apparently unscathed by the ordnance that had fallen around it.

Unfortunately, Jorg could not say the same thing about his living quarters. He could find none of his belongings in the remaining debris of the house, leaving him with only the clothing he was wearing. He spent that night at his undamaged commander’s house, before seeking out some personal provisions while the squadron’s aircraft were towed or flown to nearby Lubeck the next day. One widow offered him her husband’s underwear and socks.


Final Flights

The war in Europe had not completely ended, though. Czypionka says he flew one final sortie, taking off from the autobahn between Lubeck and Hamburg, flying wingman to another pilot. The duo of Me 262s came across six Typhoon or Tempest fighters headed west after a mission, attacked two of the British fighters, and then broke away as fast as possible, short on fuel.

When Czypionka arrived back at Lubeck, there were six Spitfires circling the airfield amid antiaircraft fire from below.

"I told my leader we had to come in from opposite sides. We would both keep to the right and land from different directions just to avert the Spitfires. They must have been confused and didn’t know which to follow and so there was time.

"They shot at me a little bit but not much happened. The aircraft was hit in three places. I was very lucky again. One shot went in front of me, one behind me, through the fuselage, and one in the rudder. But I was unhurt.

"I didn’t know if the aircraft was capable of landing on the wheels, so I retracted the wheels and made a belly landing. Not much damage, just the engines full of grass. And the British left.

Czypionka says his commander, Welter, was furious with him for having attacked the flight of British fighters, knowing his own jet was low on fuel. He wanted me to get another aircraft, just as I did, so we could continue our sorties.

In a hangar, Czypionka did find an Me 262, but it was missing both engines. The chief mechanic told the pilot that in a village about 50 kilometers east, there were two engines. Czypionka was given a brand new truck and trailer, and two mechanics, to fetch the twin powerplants.

"We drove east, very slowly, to some village, meeting all of these refugees— thousands of people, many old men and women—coming from the other direction. At this village there were two engines in an auto repair shop. These engines had short lives, only 10-15 hours, and had to be overhauled, and it was so organized that the auto shops were assigned to overhaul these engines.

They loaded the two engines on the truck and drove them back to Lubeck, where the mechanic said to come back in two hours and the engines would be installed. Then, without any test flight, Czypionka was back on the autobahn to make his last flight.

"We had decided not to destroy our aircraft but to keep them as a bargaining chip, as they were something very new and nobody had a jet aircraft. It was a good decision. We brought the aircraft… about seven of them… to one of the last remaining airfields, near the Danish border (Schleswig-Jagel), and waited until the British came to take those over."

As he was one of the few Luftwaffe personnel who could speak some English, Czypionka stayed with the aircraft to hand it over to the RAF. One of the British airmen was a young Fleet Air Arm pilot named Eric Brown. (Brown would become one of Britain’s most famous test pilots, amassing 60,000-plus hours in the cockpits of some 500 aircraft types.)

Post War

Jorg Czypionka assisted the British in getting to know the Me 262, and was rewarded for his cooperation. Rather than being sent to a relocation camp in August of 1945, Czypionka had been given a document allowing him to go home. Even with that little break, life in war-torn Hamburg was most difficult.

"I wore my uniform for another two years, the same boots through the winter. Nothing was available after the war. It was the most miserable time in my life—freezing, nothing to eat, no work…"

He says he knew nothing about the fate of his parents—imprisoned in Czechoslovakia after the war—nor his sister and brother. But he was eventually reunited with his parents in 1947, discovering they had spent 2-1/2 years in concentration camps.

"They were so sick, thin and worn that they died shortly thereafter."

His brother had been wounded and made his way on foot from northern Germany to Austria. And Jorg’s sister, though mistreated by Soviets, had returned relatively unscathed.

Because he had been a Luftwaffe officer, and not a native of Hamburg, Czypionka was unable to study at the university in Hamburg. Czypionka says he was a stranger in his own homeland for more than two years.

Long after he had come to the United States, Jorg Czypionka communicated with the navigator of that Mosquito he had shot down. It turned out the RAF airman was on his last sortie, a pathfinding mission for the night bombers, when the Mosquito was hit. He says he last saw his pilot on the wing of the Mosquito as they bailed out, and assumed he must have survived.

Asked by his Luftwaffe captors if he knew what had shot him down, the navigator replied he assumed it was flak. When told it had been a jet, he was surprised, adding that RAF crews felt relatively safe; unaware the jets were flying at night.

Czypionka says the two men also traded notes on their thoughts and feelings of those final days of the War in Europe: both men felt uncomfortable doing what they were told to do—taking lives in the dark skies over Germany.

(sidebar )

Teething troubles?

Many writings about the Me 262 paint a picture of a temperamental aircraft, prone to fuel flow problems and flameouts. Yet Jorg Czypionka says he never experienced these problems while flying the jet.

"If you fly another aircraft, you have to know the limits of the aircraft and find out what the aircraft wants. You do what the aircraft wants.

"I knew that the throttle had to be moved slowly forward and backward, because the air and fuel mixture pumps were not sophisticated. They had no computer or anything. These pumps just demanded that you moved the throttle slowly and not abruptly. I never had any problems with the engine or with the aircraft.

"I think that many accidents that happened, where engines failed and only had ten hours life before needing overhaul… I think that the fighter pilots, especially the younger ones who flew both the Me 109 and Focke Wulf 190, were used to making abrupt movements with the throttle in dogfights, and in their excitement they did no think first and so got a flameout.

Czypionka cites the testimony of experten with whom he’s spoken—Walter Schuck, Johannes Steinhoff and Gunther Rall—who say they never had mechanical problems with the Me 262

(Sidebar) - -

Also Remembering Udet

When Golden Gate Wing member Paul FitzGerald was about fifteen years old (in 1933) he was growing up in Hollywood, California. There was a big airshow held in Los Angeles at the airport then called Mines Field. Paul says he saved up his meager earnings from selling the Los Angeles Herald newspaper (for which he received one cent per copy), and made the long trip by bus and streetcar from Hollywood to Mines Field, to attend the show. In those days, it took him 90 minutes to get there.

WWI German ace Ernst Udet was one of the stunt pilots who appeared at this show, and one of his many stunts was to fly at top speed down the runway, dip his aircraft’s wingtip to hook a white banner and snatch it into the air. Paul remembers Udet did this at least three times and each time the crowd went wild.

Four years later Paul completed his aircraft flight training at this same Mines Field, soloed and later earned his first pilot’s license there, on the way to becoming a P-38 pilot.