HUGO BROCH doesn’t look his age and certainly not like a veteran of the Second World War. His bearing and physical presence is that of a man in his late 60s or early 70s, yet 75 years ago he flew his 324th and final combat mission on the Eastern Front piloting a FW 190 A-8 of Jagdgeschwader 54, the ‘Green Hearts’ squadron, writes Robin Schäfer.
Born in 1922 at Leichlingen, near Leverkusen in Germany, he was assigned to 6./JG54 on 6 January 1943. Gathering his first combat experiences while flying as Kaczmarek (wingman) to Horst Adameit (166 victories) and “Bazi” Sterr (130 victories) he scored his first victory on 7 March 1943 during his first combat mission, yet this victory was discredited as punishment for breaking formation with his Rottenführer. On 31 August, 1943, he scored a double victory against a Yak-9 and a LaGG 3, raising his total to 20 confirmed victories for which he was awarded the Ehrenpokal (honor goblet) of the Luftwaffe. In October,1943, he scored his 44th victory, for which he was decorated with the German Cross in Gold. From winter 1943 to June 1944 he was posted to the western front, serving as fighter instructor for Ergänzungs- Jagdgruppe Ost. Returning to combat duty in August 1944, and re-assigned to his old unit (6./JG54), he raised his victory count to 71 by the end of 1944. From November 1944, now with 8./JG54, he flew in support of Army Group Courland scoring his 79th victory (an IL-2) on 12 March 1945, for which he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. In total, he flew 324 combat missions and was credited with 81 confirmed kills. His tally includes 18 IL-2 Sturmoviks, twelve double victories and three triple victories. He was never shot down and never lost a wingman in combat. Today, he is aged 95 and the world’s most successful living fighter ace. His secret to achieving this ripe old age in good health is simple: ‘Never stop dreaming and avoid boredom’. He keeps a ‘bucket list’ of things he wants to achieve before his 100th birthday, and high up on that list was the wish to again sit at the controls of a World War Two fighter.
This dream came true with the help of historian and broadcaster Dan Snow, German military historian Robin Schäfer, aviation historian, Britain at War Editor, Andy Saunders, and the kind support of the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar team. After receiving standing ovations at Chalke Valley History Festival, where he was invited as a speaker, he was brought to Biggin Hill and had the chance to find out what it was like to fly a Spitfire.
Aviation history was written when Hugo nimbly climbed into the cockpit of Spitfire Mk.IX MJ627, built in autumn 1943, and another Second World War veteran, which entered service with 441 (Silver Fox) Sqn, RCAF, on 25 September, 1944, serving with the RAF from Advanced Landing Ground B70 in Belgium. During a patrol in MJ627 on 27 September, 1944 Plt Off Bregman was credited with a Me 109 in the Arnhem area. Now, on 27 June 2016, a former Luftwaffe ace and Me 109 pilot (120 of Hugo’s 324 missions were flown on ‘109s) would take off in the same aircraft from the most iconic of all British wartime airfields. Above Kent, the German ace was treated to a victory roll and allowed to take control of the Spitfire for about 10 minutes. The fighter, later converted into a two-seater, and flown by former Sea Harrier pilot, Don Sigournay, touched down gently after a 20-minute flight. “Es war wunderbar! Einfach wunderbar” proclaimed Hugo when the cockpit hood was opened. “The Spitfire is an amazing aircraft and it was flown by an excellent pilot. All this has reminded me how wonderful it is to fly and how wonderful it feels”.
Witnessing the flight from the ground where two RAF veterans, Flt Lt Colin Bell DFC, who flew 50 missions in a de Havilland Mosquito in 608 and 162 Sqns as part of the Light Night Strike Force and Flt Lt Rodney Scrase DFC who flew Spitfires with 72 Sqn over North Africa, Sicily and Italy and in the last months of the war flew bomber escort missions over Europe. Smiles were exchanged and hands were shaken when the former enemies met. “He was defending his country. I was defending mine - Fair do’s” said Colin after giving Hugo a comradely hug. As a final treat Hugo, was reunited with another old comrade.
Messerschmitt 109 E-4 “White 14” is one of only two airworthy Me 109E aircraft in the world and saw service during the Battle of Britain. Answering unnecessary explanations on how to properly enter the cockpit with a short “Ich weiss” (I know) Hugo swiftly entered the cramped interior of “White 14”. Sitting quietly mesmerized for a while, it was clear this was a moving experience for the German veteran. “This panel wasn’t in here back then - this instrument isn’t German either” were the first things he remarked when asked about his feelings. When asked if he could still fly the 109 today, his answer was quick and clear: “Give me a dozen taxi runs on the airfield before take-off. Just to get used to it again - I would have no problems with it”.
Having dreams and keeping life exciting and interesting is Hugo’s secret to a happy and long life. Next on his bucket list? Breaking the sound barrier in a jet fighter and a trip to the moon!