Not all fighter pilots are short, cocky guys wearing a big watch and offended if characterized as “cerebral.” Dr. Guido Hans Mutke was just the opposite, nearly six feet tall, well built, and possessed of a tremendous intellect that propelled him into the forefront of space medicine. He was not an ace, but he flew in hundreds of sorties in many different aircraft during his five combat filled years in the Luftwaffe. He did everything from night reconnaissance to strafing T-34 tanks crossing the Oder River to an ultimate achievement—going supersonic in the Messerschmitt Me 262—or so he thought.
Outlandish claims? Maybe not!
Despite not scoring five kills, Mutke twice made indelible marks on the flying world. First, it is “his” Messerschmitt Me 262, Weisse 3, you see at the wonderful Deutsches Museum in Munich. And for many years he startled the aviation world by asserting that he was the first man to have burst the sound barrier, having reached supersonic speed in a reckless dive that bent his Me 262 out of shape. Not everyone agreed that this was possible, but he fervently believed it until his death in 2004. He respected Chuck Yeager but regarded him as a Johnny-come-lately in the world of supersonic flight.
I got to know the good Doctor well during the last half of the 1990s when he asked me to write a book on his adventures. I would have been happy to do so, but our schedules never permitted it. We had many meetings, however, where I learned that Guido Hans Mutke was a force of nature, filling up any room he entered. Despite his innately courteous nature, he dominated every conversation no matter who was present. Mutke spoke English very well, but unfortunately did not understand it with equal facility, and it was often difficult to get an idea across to him. In consequence, he tended to seize control of conversations and let his own ideas roll forth.
And ideas he had, on everything from his being the first man to break the sound barrier in a swept-wing, jet-powered Me 262, to the effects of space travel on women’s physiology, the latter often being told in more intimate detail than most people wished.
Yet despite his preeminence in medical science, Mutke was at heart a fighter pilot, more interested in talking about flying than in anything else. He maintained his flying skills until at least 1996, when he wrote me a long, excited letter about getting his annual checkout.
Never a Nazi but determined to fly
Born on March 25, 1921 in Neisse, Germany, Mutke grew up in a strict Catholic family and was educated at a Jesuit grammar school in Berlin. He never renounced the principles he learned then. Along with all school children, he was forced into the Hitler Youth at age 13. He happily participated in the local glider training program, but was barred from the powered flight familiarization training course because he would not join the Nazi Party.
With the audacity of youth, he went straight to the top, turning up at the nearby home of General Ernst Udet and demanding to be allowed into the powered flight program. Udet, good natured if technically inept, was amused and ordered that Mutke be given admission. The young Mutke did well, setting the path for his wartime career.
In the years before World War II, Mutke entered medical training. He was a student at the prestigious Charité University Hospital in Berlin in 1939 when he was called up for military service. He received formal Luftwaffe training as a pilot, but was excluded from becoming an officer because of his refusal to join the Nazi party. His natural piloting talent prevailed, however, and he graduated with honors. Mutke went to specialized night-fighter training schools at Schleissheim and Riem. This prepared him for his role as a long-distance reconnaissance pilot in the Messerschmitt Bf 110 and Dornier Do 217.
Adventures in the dark
In five years of combat flying he had more adventures than many more famous aces, but never advanced beyond the rank of Fahnrich, an “officer candidate.” He flew hundreds of missions as a night fighter pilot, some over Great Britain. In October 1942, he was assigned to shoot down an aircraft purportedly carrying Winston Churchill back from a visit to the Soviet Union. He recounts the mission with a combination of sadness at his Do 217 not being able to reach the altitude where the Mosquito was flying and relief that he did not become the man who shot down Churchill.
The weather often was bad in Germany, but the night-fighter pilots always had to take off, uncertain whether they’d be able to land safely. Mutke made four forced landings in bad weather and bailed out once from his Bf 110 in a heavy snowstorm near Paris. He was terribly injured in a crash when an engine of his Do 217 failed just after taking off in a raging snowstorm.
Mutke said that most of his night-flying work was in what he termed “Kleber- Flying” aircraft. (His conversational style was a unique combination of American and German vernacular.) He roughly translated “Kleber-Flying” as “sticking” with theenemy airplanes. He said, “My job was to take off as soon as a bomber formation was identified. I would fly to them and then fly a close formation, radioing their altitude, airspeed and course to ground stations. I was not supposed to shoot down the enemy bombers, only shadow them so that the right orders could be given to the nightfighters still waiting on the ground.”
Mutke spoke enthusiastically about the Messerschmitt Bf 110 he flew with NJG1, calling it “responsive and accommodating” to instrument in weather. He was less enthusiastic about the Do 217.
He never emphasized his prowess in discussing individual missions. When asked about the obvious hazards of stalking a Lancaster at night but not shooting at it, he said only that if he was attacked, he had plenty of firepower to respond, and that his aircraft was heavily armored. When I forced the conversation back to his Bf 110 experiences, he usually deflected the question, speaking with genuine appreciation about the courage and dedication of the rear gunners, the mechanics, and the primitive conditions under which they often lived.
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