Stories as a German air force pilot provide compelling tales for kids
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 3, 2008
By ROBIN SHANNON
LAPLACE – Regardless of the length of time served, or the war in which they fought, all veterans living in the United States have vivid recollections of their time in the Armed Forces. Few of those stories, however, compare to the one Joachim Hoehne has to tell.
Hoehne, an 81-year-old Denham Springs resident, was a German anti-aircraft gunner, and air force pilot for the Axis powers during World War II. The stories of his service to the German war effort are compiled in “Glory Refused . . . The Memoirs of a
Teenage Rocket Pilot of the Third Reich,” which he wrote with the help of author Randall Holden of Baton Rouge.
Hoehne recently made a stop at the St. John Parish Library in LaPlace to sign copies of the book, and speak to a group of about 80 St. John residents about the stories inside.
“It’s just my way of telling a younger generation what happened to me in the war,” said Hoehne in his deeply German accent. “There are no political undertones, just my story.”
Hoehne explained that he was introduced to aircraft at a very young age. His father, Commander Walter Otto Hoehne, was a World War I flying ace, and piloted many dogfights during the war.
“He was a decorated pilot who had the opportunity to fly with the ‘Red Baron,’” said Hoehne. “Being the son of a commander, I had a lot of access to the airport.”
At the age of 10, Hoehne was enlisted into the “Hitler Youth,” a militaristic boys group that taught the ways of Nazi society. Hoehne said this was his first exposure to the ideals and beliefs of Adolph Hitler.
“They filled our head with all sorts of propaganda about the German people,” said Hoehne. “They said we were the superior race, but I didn’t buy into everything.”
Hoehne spent five years in the “Hitler Youth,” and obtained a leadership role. At 15, he was drafted into the German Air Force to begin his first formal fight training. He said he got his start piloting simple gliders that were pushed off of steep hills, or launched with an elastic cord. He would continue his training, eventually progressing to more sophisticated flyers, until 1943, when the war’s tide was no longer favored the Axis.
“That’s when they sent us off to work as anti-aircraft gun crews,” said Hoehne. “British and U.S. forces were heavily bombing German targets, and we needed men on the ground to shoot them down.”
Hoehene said he manned 88 mm flak cannons all over Germany. He recalled one particular close call, where a British plane crashed only a few yards from where he was stationed.
“I thought that was it for me,” said Hoehne. “It was just too close for comfort.”
In 1944, at the age of 17, Hoehne signed up for a top-secret mission as test pilot for a developmental German fighter plane called the ME163B Komet. Hoehne explained that the Komet launched with rocket propulsion, and then became a glider once the fuel ran out. He said they were very small crafts, which were painted bluish grey so they were hard to see.
Hoehne called the planes “very sophisticated, but also very dangerous.” In the early training stages, the crafts were prone to explode on take off, or in mid flight.
“It frightened many good pilots away,” said Hoehne. “We flew them very high in the air, sometimes over 30,000 feet. It gets quite cold that high.”
Hoehne flew a number of training flights with the Komet, but never saw combat. In the later stages of the war in Europe, the Komet fleet was loaded on to trains and shipped out of the area.
In early 1945, Hoehne was given orders to move to the east to engage in battle with the Soviet forces in Russia, but he decided not to go. He had been given old orders to report to another base, and boarded a train toward Dresden. When his paperwork did not match up, Hoehne was arrested and detained in a basement prison just outside the city. This all took place a few days before the infamous firebombing of Dresden on February 13, 1945.
“I was lucky to have been taken off that train,” said Hoehne. “Everyone on board perished.”
After the war, Hoehne grew tired of Communist Germany. Since all of his living relatives had fled to the United States, he decided to follow suit. He resided in Houston for a while before moving to Jackson, Miss., and later into Louisiana. He spent his time working as a concrete engineer, and oversaw construction of much of the nation’s highway and interstate system. He also helped design runways for various Air Force bases in the south. He remained a pilot of personal aircrafts until 2003, when the FAA denied him a license because of health reasons. He now spends his time building replica aircrafts from World War I.
“Just like the ones my father piloted,” said Hoehne.