Through the mist, as the sun burned off the vapour, the glimpses of pale metal turned to a definite outline, which at first was blurred by the most, but then became clear. In a few moments, as the metal object moved across the secluded pasture, both I and the infantrymen with me drew breath and lowered our guns.
The object was an aircraft - of a design that we had sign in the newsreels and soldiers’ magazines, presented to use as the greatest of its type - but surely none of us believed we would ever see one in person. This was a Messerchmitt 262, the legendary jet-powered Schwalbe or swan, the sleek and beautiful twin-engined creation that was one of our wonder weapons. I was astonished to how big it was - in the newsreels, it seemed so much smaller - and I was astonished too at the crude nature of its construction. Its metal panels were evidently hammered by hand, and their metal skin unpainted except for the German cross on its fuselage and the swastika on its tail fin.
‘No propellers!’ One of the foot soldiers said to himself. 'Hier ist wunder! Here’s a miracle!’
The aircraft was balanced on its wheels, which were sinking into the lush turf. It was being dragged by a team of oxen - the simple, wagon-pulling oxen that had been bred in this part of Germany for thousands of years. The oxen were roped together, and the rope was looped around the 262’s undercarriage, and metre by metre these ancient beasts, guided by a farm boy ten years of age, were dragging the jet plane through the grass to the safety of the trees.
We common soldiers stood mute at this sight. What did this mean for us, and for Germany? Our wonder weapons existed, they were there in front of our eyes, and they were superbly designed with the greatest science that human kind could summon. But the machine was crudely made, it was uneven, and it was being hauled like a medieval cart on its wheels by a gang of oxen, each animal trailing a cloud of flies from its arse. And it was leaking fuel: splashes of liquid was pouring from its hull, making the whole forest reek.
'Don’t light a cigarette, my friends, or you’re all finished.’
A Luftwaffe pilot squatted beside us, grinning. He was middle-aged, and he looked exhausted, with hollow cheeks and thin hair oiled over a balding skull. His flying boots were perfectly polished, but his moustache was yellow with nicotine. He gave us an account of how he had brought the plane down in an emergency landing on the pasture, leaking the precious jet fuel that was more valuable to the Reich than gold.
We shook hands with him, eager to clasp the hand of a legend. Our complaints, our bitter jokes about the Luftwaffe were forgotten for a minute, as we watched the superb aircraft being pulled into the shadow of the elm trees, where it was to be stored, the pilot told us, until it could somehow be returned to service. As we left the thicket, the lowing of the oxen began, a sound that I recognised as the beasts of burden being unyoked from their load.
A minute after that, the whole corner of the forest behind us was lit up, and we turned to see a colossal orange fireball climbing into the air above the trees. The fireball was dripping with burning fuel, rolling over as it rose, so hot that it burned the mist from the treetops for hundreds of metres around. The farm boy who had driven the oxen came running after us, shouting hysterically.
'He lit a cigarette, the fool! As if he wanted to die.’
The Last Panther - Slaughter of the Reich - Halbe Kessel 1945, by Wolfgang Faust
Happy Valentine’s Day! Perfect time for some fun Swan Queen! I know I haven’t uploaded anything lately and I apologize. I’ve been channeling my Swan Queen feelings through my fanfiction lately (please go here and check it out if you want: http://www.fanfiction.net/s/8952699/1/), but here’s something. Enjoy!