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Arado 234, July - August 1944:
no ordinary missions.

by Philippe Bauduin
translation: Mike Leveillard


Summer 1944, a young 14 years old Norman observes with curiosity a very strange airplane passing in the sky above. Later in life, he will be the interpreter of aerial photography for squadron 2/33 (Saint- Exupery's squadron). This explains without any doubts why Philippe Bauduin has spent so much energy to search for the lost photos taken by the Luftwaffe's Arado 234, one of the first jet airplane truly operational, over the Normandy theater in the summer of 1944.
The publication of a book written in cooperation with Eric Charon was not the end of this adventure, far from it. New findings were made available to him, and most importantly, he was able to trace, and meet the pilots of those "no ordinary missions" with a totally

Le first reconnaissance model of the Arado 234 was not yet equipped with a conventional landing gear. Takeoff was made with a tricycle dolly, which was released, once airborne, and slowed with a parachute. After the completion of the flight, the airplane was landed, or rather "skidded" on a grass runway by mean of its three retractable skids, and slowed with a parachute.
This photo was more than likely taken in Juvincourt.

Deutsche Bundesarchiv Koblenz Document   Click

the mission

On August 2nd 1944, the weather is satisfactory, and the order is given to fly the first reconnaissance mission. The weather must be ideal over the objectives, in particular over the artificial harbor at Arromanches, and the airfields; photo quality depends on it. Sommer enters his airplane through the right-hand canopy, the airplane is lifted on its takeoff dolly, and the ground technicians verify the last minute smallest details. Outside around the Arado, all the access doors are closed.
Already positioned on the "Rollstrasse" (taxiway) from its underground hangar, the Arado is directed towards the concrete runway. Elsewhere, propeller driven fighters ME 109s and Focke-Wulf 190s from IV/JG 27 and from I/JG are warming up their engines. Their role in this mission is to escort, and protect the Arado during its departure and its return, the flight segments where the airplane could be shot down by allied fighters.
Once arrived at the departure end of the runway, and with the assistance of the ground technicians, Sommer starts the jet engines with a "Riedel" auxiliary power unit.

Ground crewmen, equipped with fire extinguishers are ready to intervene in case of problems. Sommer has very little room to move around in the cockpit of his twin jet airplane. On his left, there are two levers, which must be manipulated with the "hand of an angel" to control the regime of the engines. One last look outside indicates that everything is OK. Via radio communications, the control tower provides the latest instructions, and the airplane is ready for takeoff.
Slowly, the Arado accelerates, and the whistling noise produced by the jet engines seems strange to the inhabitants of Juvincourt used to the noise of propeller airplanes. From afar, they look at the airplane taking off towards the west.
With a slight bump, the dolly falls off the airplane slowed by a parachute, but
for safety reasons in case of problems during takeoff, the three skids designed for landing are left extended a while longer.
With the skids just barely retracted, Sommer is surrounded by the escort German fighters, and while verifying the multitude of instruments, he climbs, and finally reaches twelve thousands meters. This is the altitude at which he will be invulnerable to anti aircraft guns, and enemy fighters, with the exception of a few stratospheric spitfires reserved for the surveillance of Britain. Flying at nearly nine hundred kilometers per hour, it takes very little time to reach Normandy, and before arriving over the objectives, the pilot readies the cameras (RB 50/30). In front of him, a periscope permits to check the sky, mostly for vapor trails, because if too numerous they could attract the attention of the anti aircraft gun observers. Sommer checks his map, and begins the photographic session. Below the ground war is still raging, and although the Arromanches sector is now only a logistical area, it is still very important to the allieds. By flying three different passes, he meticulously photographs the airdromes where the famous Typhoons "tank killers" are based, the troop transports, the boats, and even some fields that have resisted to the June assault. It is now time to return to base. A shallow bank turn is necessary at this high altitude to avoid the aerodynamic stall onset, and then he proceeds towards the east to return to Juvincourt.

All has gone well, and without any difficulties. Overhead Soissons, the Arado begins to lose altitude and rejoins the fighters that have got airborne to protect it. Juvincourt is in sight and Sommer extends the long central landing skid as well as the other two located under the jet engines. He reduces the airspeed, lower the flaps and prepares for the landing after one hour and thirty minutes aloft. Gently, under radio contact with the operator responsible to guide him towards the grass runway, the descent continues: two hundred meters, fifty, twenty, ten, and he cuts off the engines. Thanks to a Luftwaffe archive film, it can be seen that ground contact is somewhat rough, with the airplane skidding at a fast speed after touching down. The pilot extends the drag chute, and the long landing on the green grass ends; all three landing skids have endured the landing, and now ground personnel are rushing towards him. In the cockpit, Officer pilot Sommer unhooks his oxygen mask, and takes a deep breath. He sees his comrades smiling at him through the canopy. Helped by a technician assigned to the Arado, he unfastens his seat belts and shoulder harnesses that have held him solidly attached during the flight.

Outside the airplane, the sun is blinding, and some ground personnel hurry to shake his hand. After all, this has been the world's first reconnaissance flight with a jet airplane.

Source from: "Normandie 44, pictures of the spy plane"
© Maît Jacques Publisher. 1997.

August 2nd 1944, 1632 hours. Eric Sommer photographs the artificial harbor at Arromanches from his Arado 234 at an altitude of 11,000 meters. This photo which was transmitted to the German high command reveals the floating docks and more than three hundred ships.

Erich Sommer / US National Archives Document.  Click

To see the datasheet: click here.

Erich Sommer in 1942
Erich Sommer private collection.

September 28th 1944, Juvincourt is now an allied military airfield. Eric Sommer with his Arado 234 flies over the base where he took off from for his historic flight over Normandy. Now the new occupants are 165 P-47 Thunderbolts and one Avro Lancaster. A camp consisting of tents has been erected. Outlined with dots, the bunkers that sheltered the Arados two-month before can be seen.

Erich Sommer/US National Archives document.  Click

The pressurized cockpit of a Ju 86R. The small hand crank is used to adjust the precision bombsight.

Erich Sommer private collection.  Click

the pilots

Horst Götz and Erich Sommer have practically fought the entire war together, from the Norwegian Campaign until September 1944 when their destiny took different paths.
After the Norwegian Campaign, they were both assigned as "attachés" of the Luftwaffe's Armistice Commission, and particularly to the surveillance of Maréchal Pétain's whereabouts to prevent him from leaving France by airplane.
We find them again in Casablanca, still attached to the Armistice commission.
At the beginning of August 1942, they are called in Beauvais to be part of high altitude bombing raids over England. The era of the "raiders" had begun.
After several missions without opposition in August of 1942 over Aldershot, Luton, and Bristol with their JU 86R (T5+PM) armed with only a 250 kilos bomb, they now prepare for a bombing raid over Cardiff on September 12, 1942.
Much to their surprise, they are intercepted at 44,000 feet by a Spitfire IX flown by Emmanuel Galitzine of BF 273 due to a transmission error. The pursuit in on and will last for forty-five minutes! H. Götz and E. Sommer will successfully bring their airplane back, having to land in Caen due to canon shells having pierced the airplane all over. It will be the first, and the only air battle at this high altitude during the entire war.

At the beginning of 1944, we find our two pilots at the Arado 234 proving test program. During their training on February of 1944, they will witness the world's first flight of a four engine jet airplane; the Arado V8.

Erich Sommer& Horst Götz.
Erich Sommer private collection.

The Arado Company

In 1913 the naval yards of Friedrichhafen specialized in the construction of all sorts of vehicles, including seaplanes. In 1914, a runway was built near the naval yards, and aeronautical activity began lasting through the big war. After the war, financial difficulties drove the company into bankruptcy. Arado (meaning plow in Spanish), was the name chosen for the rebirth of the company in 1925, to keep the philosophy of the naval yards; "the plower of the seas", and also to designate their seaplanes. We can also find this naval attachment in the numerous torpedo seaplanes produced by the Arado Company; the floatplane AR-196 being the most known.

Heading the group of investors who took over the bankrupt Friedrichafen naval yards in 1925 was Heinrich Lübbe, whom brought to the new Arado Company the necessary knowledge and dynamism.

Born in 1884, Lübbe had begun a career as a merchant marine sailor. Soon, he became interested in aviation, and in 1909 during one of his many trips to Paris, he met Audemars, and Blériot, and he also became a close friend of Roland Garros.
He renewed acquaintance again with his friend in 1915 when Roland Garros made a forced landing behind the German lines. In the airplane wreckage, Lübbe found the famous firing "through the propeller" system invented by Garros, which he perfected for the Fokker Company, and which would equip among other, the Red Baron's airplane. After the war, Heinrich Lübbe was to be highly honored.

In 1936, Lübbe refused to join the nazi party. His enterprise was nationalized, and he was ousted. He died in 1940 at fifty-six years of age, ruined, and without witnessing the development, and the work of his associates to whom he had passed on his personal knowledge, and discipline for excellence. The nationalized Company was totally liquidated in 1945. It is worth noting that its competitors; Junkers, Messerschmitt, BMW, Heinkel, etc. are all today in the Airbus consortium. We must therefore questioned the morale of this story…

As it is the case with the Company Blohm & Voss, the Company Arado was founded in the naval yards. Both, Companies had innovative ideas in common.
1939 publicity page for the Arado 79, a civilian two place trainer. Some of those airplanes were still flying as late as 1967 in the Sarre region.

Arado Flugzeuge GmbH document.  Click

After much work and long researches, Philippe Bauduin and Eric Charon present in Normandie 44, the photo of the spy plane, the photos taken by the Arados 234 of Juvincourt, and their narrative concerning this fascinating story.  Click    In French only

the "Résistance" and Juvincourt.

The base of Juvincourt, located between Reims and Laon alongside RN 44 (National highway 44), was one of the Luftwaffe's largest in France; three concrete runways, and more than 300 protected airplane alvéoles (bunkers). The base was constantly under observation by the resistance web of Commandant Dromas.
Juvincourt was well known by the German who had occupied the area during the First World War. Juvincourt is located at the eastern most end of Chemin des Dames. It is at Juvincourt that Caesar defeated the Barbarians (Belgium and Gaulles) in 57 BC.
In 1939, aviation was already present in Juvincourt; it had an airfield with grass runways. During the summer of 1944 the following airplanes were based on the German occupied French airfield: the Arado 234s T9+LH flown by H. Götz, and T9+MH flown by E. Sommer, as well as some Me 262s, the jet airplanes that attracted the attention of the resistance. MI 6 was immediately notified and the runways were bombed right away. RN 44 at first served as an emergency runway, then as the main runway. It is interesting to note that RN 44 was never bombarded! Sommer reports that during one of his takeoff he observed a civilian hidden in the grass taking pictures. He immediately reported the incident to security, and the pursuit of the intruder was on. The precious photos would eventually be delivered to the Allieds in Normandy. To this day however, the British Secret Service ferociously denies having received such photos.

After a delightful stay at the "Relais Sainte Marie" located on RN 44, it is possible to visit the surviving Juvincourt runways, and the numerous bunkers still holding many mysteries. From several locations on RN 44 it is possible to see clearly the two special Arado underground hangars, which by the way, were recently visited by E. Sommer.

© Aérostories 2000.

One of the semi underground bunkers built to accommodate the Arados at Juvincourt, as it can now be seen more than fifty years after Eric Sommer's flight.

Eric Charon picture.         Click

2001: As the D-day landing beaches just became classified as "Grand Historical Site" while awaiting the title of "Humanity's Heritage," the Juvincourt Air Base is once again in the news as a potential third airport for Paris. The link between those two sites is the Arado 234. In order to demonstrate the richness of the documentaries available in Aérostories' possession to potential video-producers, we had the "Banque d'Images Régionales" compile over 8 minutes of video tape from the archives of Erich Sommer and from NARA. This video tape contains images of the pilot, as well as details of the Arado 234 and great shots of the takeoff and landing

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