It is August 20, 1938 on the Bremgarten Forest circuit in the Swiss capital city of Bern where the Swiss Grand Prix was always held. The car is a Mercedes-Benz W154 being driven by Manfred von Brauchitsch, the photograph taken during the dry practice period prior to the race which was run in wet conditions. Von Brauchitsch could always be identified by his red linen head covering which here matched the red-painted grille on his car to allow easier signaling identification from the pits. Note the photographer standing only a few feet inside the apex of the turn.
Bremgarten is a forested park area which lies on the northwest side of Bern, between the city and the Wohlensee and the Aare river. The circuit itself was just over 7 km in length and used a series of sweeping generally right hand corners as it described a rough oval shape within the park. Narrow and bordered by trees all around and a quarry on the west side, it was very dangerous due to the resulting series of sunlit and shady areas and the very slippery “Belgian block” surface, not aided by drippings of tree sap, especially in the rain. Racing at Bremgarten lasted from 1931 through 1954, except for the war years, but all circuit racing was outlawed within Switzerland following the Le Mans disaster of 1955.
In practice for the 1938 Swiss Grand Prix, Dick Seaman, fresh from his stunning victory at the German Grand Prix on the Nürburgring, surprised everyone by being over three seconds faster than any other car. Seaman led from the start but once the rains came his teammate Rudolf Caracciola, the acknowledged prewar regenmeister, took the lead which he maintained to the end. Von Brauchitsch was third. The Auto Unions had challenged the Mercedes early on before suffering various problems. The fourth Mercedes, driven by ex-Mercedes mechanic Hermann Lang, although second fastest in practice, had trouble in the race, finishing a long way back.
Manfred von Brauchitsch came from a Prussian military family. He was released from the German army in the late 1920s for health reasons and began a racing career. He was only a general’s secretary during World War II but an uncle was an important Nazi general. After the war, von Brauchitsch, retired from racing, spent time in Argentina before moving to East Germany where he became involved with motor sport in that country. Manfred von Brauchtisch died in 2003 at the age of 97.
An example of his sometimes imperial demeanor is illustrated by the following story, perhaps apocryphal. When the three German Mercedes team drivers were in the Roxy Bar in Berlin in the late 1930s, von Brauchitsch said to a waiter, “A bottle of champagne for Herr Caracciola and myself and a beer for Lang.”
Photo by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com