Enemies to friends: following the cessation of World War II hostilities in Germany on May 8, 1945, it did not take long for former bitter foes to become welcome allies--or even friends.
I first met Roderick Cescotti in 1957 when, as a major in the new Luftwaffe, he led the first group of 300 German cadets to London and Centralia, Ontario, to commence pilot training. Later I was to find among this group one who, as a high school student in March 1943, was manning the flak battery that initiated the train of events that led to the destruction of my Halifax bomber and 800 days of internment. We also became friends.
As a squadron leader in charge of the ground courses for the cadets, I seized the opportunity to greet all new arrivals, both Canadian and European, and to integrate them as NATO trainees, believing that the political aspects would eventually outweigh the military. From the start I found Rod to be a conscientious, hard-working, and likable officer. I recognized in him a man with immense air experience that he had to hide. The military was not popular in post-war Germany and uniforms were restricted to military bases. In Canada, there was residual resentment towards rebuilding the German military and--although he genuinely believed the right side won the war--Rod had to tread cautiously. For him there were no reunions or war stories that the rest of u.s enjoyed. It has taken me years to gradually piece together Rod's amazing, varied, and most dangerous career and to come up with this very brief summary.
Roderick Cescotti was born in Bad Herrenalb, in southwest Germany, on May 4, 1919. He joined the Luftwaffe in 1937, earning his wings and commission in 1939. He was sent to Norway, after the invasion, to fly bombers against the Rolls Royce plant near Glasgow, shipping off Scotland, and Murmansk convoys. The climax of the Battle of Britain, on September 15, 1940, was the date of Rod's 12th raid on England. Near London, a Spitfire put 30 holes in his Heinkel 111. Staggering home to his Belgian base, he crash-landed. Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring was making a surprise visit and all personnel had to assemble quickly, including bruised and battered Rod. Goring's scowl at seeing this unkempt officer in the ranks turned to smiles when his queries revealed Rod's career. He summoned his aide, the chief of Luftwaffe personnel, and pinned an Iron Cross on Rod's flying jacket.
Rod was again wounded in 1941 by naval flak while attacking shipping, but he went on to fly hornier 217s and Focke-Wulf200s, and he survived an amazing 129 bombing operations over Britain, the Russian front, including Stalingrad, Tunisia, Italy, and southern France. In January 1944 he crash-landed his Heinkel 177 bomber to save his crew, but dislocated his shoulder when thrown out of his harness. It required a 12-centimetre pin, and it still bothers him. We of the Royal Air Forces could retire from combat after 60 operations. Only death or capture could retire Luftwaffe crews.
In October 1944 Rod was based at Celle, northeast of Hannover, after Kampfgeschwader 100--with its He 177s and Dornier 217s, equipped with remote-controlled glide and buzz bombs, and amour-piercing anti-shipping bombs-had been disbanded because German priorities were now shifting to home defence. Major Aufhammer, Kommodore of Jagdgeschwader 301 (JG 301), which flew FW190s and Me 109s, needed a wing technical officer responsible for 278 fighters, and chose Rod. Aufhammer, a former bomber pilot, had destroyed with his bomber formation the USAAF plan to use Soviet bases for "shuttle bombing" by knocking out 42 B-17s, 15 P-51s and Soviet aircraft on the ground at Poltawa.
New wings were being formed to combat Allied air attacks and Rod discovered it was easier to get new FW19Os than experienced pilots, as most were now dead. Pilots were being posted in with very little flying experience, which resulted in high casualties. One day, in bad weather, a decorated commander of the neighbouring JG 300 refused to scramble his young pilots against an incoming Berlin raid. Goring ordered the entire station to assemble. He called them cowards and tore the Knight's Cross from the neck of the commander, then demoted him. In protest, all the pilots in Wings 300 and 301 swore not to wear their medals for the rest of the war.
The life expectancy of pilots and their FW190s was 10 flying hours. Fuel was another major problem. It was now taking a week to refuel all aircraft after a major attack. Units of JG 301 were based at Welzow, from where they buzzed my POW camp in Sagan. We inferred the pilots were young and inexperienced as one barely survived when he hit the top of a tree on the compound perimeter. We imagined the questions that awaited his return to base.
Rod also flew the Tank, named for Kurt Tank, the FW190 designer. This high-altitude fighter was designed to combat the B-29. In April 1945 Rod took command, in the rank of hauptmann (captain), of II/JG 301 with its four squadrons. Knowing the war was about over, he sought to safeguard the lives of his air and ground crews. His last operational flight was on April 25, 1945 against Soviet artillery bombing Berlin. He then took his men on a hazardous trek to a safe area to await the inevitable surrender.
During the war, Rod had sustained flak damage to his personal aircraft on 14 occasions.
On June 8, 1945, feeling that death was no longer imminent, Rod married Otti Hemmerling, who had worked in the operations section of JG 301. They had two sons and one daughter. One son now lives in Brussels, the other in Moscow with his Russian wife. The daughter lives in Munich.
On July 1 the British disbanded JG 301, moving its personnel to POW camps. As a POW, Rod worked on the now-RAF bases of Munster-Handorf and Gutersloh as an interpreter. He then attended language college and became an export executive for a steel company. In 1952 he joined the new Luftwaffe in the Air Planning Group, where he remained until going to Canada in 1957. In 1959 he went to Luftwaffe Training Command, and then spent five years as commanding officer of a tactical reconnaissance wing in Schleswig-Holstein flying RF-84Fs and RF-104Gs. He then attended the NATO Staff College in Paris. From 1965 to 1969 lie served in Washington and Brussels. In 1969 he was promoted to brigadier-general and appointed air attach in London. In 1973 he went to Lisbon as chief of the German military mission. In 1974 he assumed command of Allied Sector Two at Uedem. In 1975 he was promoted to major-general to be chief of staff at TWO ATAF (Allied Tactical Air Force), and, in 1977, he was appointed commander of Allied Air Forces Baltic Approaches (BALTAP) in Denmark. He retired in 1980, after 4,000 flying hours and qualifying on 34 different types of aircraft.
Never idle, Rod went on to publish a 312-page, illustrated book on Luftwaffe bomber and reconnaissance aircraft as well as several editions of a German-English aeronautical dictionary. I am the proud possessor of copies of all.
We continue to correspond.
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|Title Annotation:||SECOND WORLD WAR|
|Publication:||Esprit de Corps|
|Date:||May 1, 2012|
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