Slipping the Bonds
by George Paterson

Fw 190D-9-5.JG26 – Mueller-Berneck

Introduction

Amid the chaos of the final weeks of WW II, Luftwaffe aircraft made many flights to escape airfields that were in imminent danger of being overrun by Allied forces, or to avoid falling into Soviet hands, or, quite simply, to get back to their homes. One of the most unusual flights was that of Gerhard Mueller-Berneck, who, on 6.May 1945, flew his Fw 190D-9 all the way from Lister in Norway to southern Germany, a distance of 500 nautical miles, 70% of which was over enemy-held territory.

He was one of a small group of pilots from II.JG26 who were to be transferred with their aircraft to 15.JG5 “Eismeer” in order to continue operations on the Eastern Front. They flew to Lister on 5.May, but Mueller-Berneck quietly decided that he wasn't going further north; during the night he managed to refuel his aircraft, and at first light on 6.May he took off and headed south, intending to go all the way to Karlsbad (now Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic), near his home in the Sudetenland.

Unfortunately, the Karlsbad area was still shrouded in morning mist (first light at Lister at that time of year was probably around 3am!). Seeing no possibility of landing, Mueller-Berneck doubled back, and eventually made a belly landing in a meadow near Hof, just over the German border and about 60 miles west of Karlsbad. Shortly after he was taken by U.S. troops, and spent the remaining two days of the War as a POW.

I don't know how long he stayed in custody, but he was better off there than if he had managed to reach home in the Sudetenland; Czech ethnic cleansing of the Sudeten Germans was ferocious, and many were killed in the grisly process of expelling them from their ancestral homes.

The Initial Image

The starting point for my image is very irregular; it is a tiny part of a painting by Jerry Crandall, showing a very small secondary aircraft, a long distance behind and below the primary, which is the famous D-13 of Franz Goetz. The reason I was interested in this image was that the perspective of the airframe is almost nil, as is appropriate for an object remote from the viewer. I'm sometimes surprised that even some eminent artists put too much recession in their secondaries, which causes the eye to be confused by the inconsistent implied vanishing points, but Jerry does not made that kind of mistake.

Treatment of the Image

Obviously, since the image is pretty fuzzy when blown up to full frame size, it can only be used to get the fundamental airframe geometry, and I duly did the work needed to generate that. It's noticeable that the front fuselage seems rather small, while the rear appears too big, including the fin/rudder. That is the effect of the virtually zero recession.

Next came the task of defining all salient details of the airframe, though stopping well short of showing rivets.

I then used Tomas Poruba's profile in DLP volume 1 to fill in the camo and marking details of Mueller-Berneck's aircraft. The most important point to note is that the upper colours are the two greens RLM82 and 83, rather than the RLM83 and 75 (light grey) of the earliest D-9 scheme. The two-greens scheme came in gradually, starting a little before W.Nr.210100.

I actually did more than one version of this image, showing several different aircraft; I think I did five in all!

As a background I chose a photograph of a lake in the south of Germany, in terrain that is typical of the areas north of, but not too far from the Alps proper. The area between Karlsbad and Hof is similar to this, and the picture shows it in a slightly hazy condition, as if an early morning mist is starting to burn off.

Conclusions

Apart from his escapade on 6. May, I have not much information about Gerhard Mueller-Berneck. There is a reference in Crandall volume 1 that he had been a reconaissance pilot earlier in the War, which may help to explain the absence of victory markings on his aircraft. I was unable to find anything about his life after 6. May 1945, which was a pity. Did he later go back to Karlovy Vary after the post-war reprisals had run their course? I suspect not; when I visited the town in the 1990's there was no sign of ethnic Germans there at all. There were lots of Russian officers though, no doubt enjoying the amenities of this ancient spa town.

By the way, one of the versions I made of the airframe portrayed W.Nr. 210069, with the early flat canopy and green/grey top colours. This aircraft was with the small JG26 group that arrived at Lister on 5. May. As a companion to the present image I also made one showing both aircraft in formation, on their flight over to Norway.