german fighter ace

Otto “Bruno” Kittel

Leningrad Front;

During the summer, 1942, aerial victories were hard to come by. Operating in the northern sector of the front usually meant little action as all the Soviet air activity was now combating German Army Group South’s summer offensive, Case Blue. Every now and again an enemy aircraft would be sighted and shot down, but Kittel was frustrated. The ground crews kept up his spirits. On 19 February 1943, Feldwebel Kittel achieved his 39th victory, which was also JG 54’s 4,000th of the war. JG 54 Geschwaderkommodore Hannes Trautloft congratulated Kittel and said the following: “I have instructed that you’re no longer to be assigned as wingman. Instead you’re to be sent on freie Jagd  on your own whenever there’s an opportunity.” In early 1943, JG 54 had been withdrawn from the frontline to convert to the Fw 190. With stronger undercarriage for the harsher conditions on the Eastern Front, greater firepower, speed and agility, the fighter was popular among pilots. Kittel, in particular, was pleased. The Fw 190 was an ideal interceptor against the tough and heavily armoured Shturmovik, his favourite target. At this point, Kittel’s victory tally climbed rapidly. By mid-March 1943, Kittel had reached 46 victories, encompassing all types of aircraft.

On 14 or 15 March 1943 while on a mission over the Demyansk pocket, Kittel’s Fw 190 suffered engine failure. He was 80 kilometres (50 mi) behind Soviet lines. He removed his precision board clock, an intricately engineered instrument (all pilots were ordered to do so) and landed his Fw 190 which slid 150 metres (490 ft) to a stop in a snow-covered field. His comrade, and a member of the flight, Herbert Broennle, advised him to hide after landing, to travel only by night and use a compass on a heading of 255 degrees (north-west) which would take him to Stayara Russa, towards JG 54’s base behind German lines. Broennle himself had been shot down under the same circumstances in 1941, and had experience. Kittel ran for the nearest forest after landing. Several Russian women and children saw the crash from two houses nearby and came running out. No men were in sight. When Kittel got to the forest he found he had left his emergency rations behind, having only chocolate bar with him. He continued through the forest, able to move through the forest during the day unseen, resting often. Needing to eat, he raided several empty houses and found clothes but no food. Determined to find food, and now looking like a Russian peasant, he passed through several Soviet checkpoints looking for something to eat. Kittel spoke Czech and some Russian and managed to evade detection. On the route he stopped at several points and was given food. Eventually Kittel made it to the edge of Lake Ilmen. At night he crossed the frozen lake and made it to German lines. Kittel was ‘recaptured’ three days after crashing by a German sentry.

Kittel took leave in March/April 1943. By the time he returned Walter Nowotny had taken over the Gruppe. Hans Philipp had left to take command of Jagdgeschwader 1 (JG 1) in Germany. He was killed on 8 October 1943. On 3 May 1943, Kittel resumed his combat career with three victories. However he was shot down and forced landed owing to return fire from a bombers’ gunner. On 10 June 1943 Kittel achieved another kill to reach 50.

Kursk and back to the Baltic;

JG 54 took part in many of the spring battles over the Crimea Peninsula, Vyazma-Bryansk, Vitebsk, Kharkov, Orsha and Orel regions. As the spring battles ended, the Germans prepared for Operation Citadel, which led to the Battle of Kursk. During the air battles Kittel’s unit escorted Junkers Ju 87 Stukas of III./Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 (Third Group, StG 2, or Dive Bomber Wing 2), which achieved fame under the leadership of Hans-Ulrich Rudel. On 5 July 1943, the Germans launched their attack. By this date, Otto Kittel had claimed 56 victories. During the first day of Citadel Kittel became an “ace-in-a-day” claiming six victories. The next day he shot down three more Soviet aircraft. It was at this point Kittel won recognition and become one of the most prominent aces. After the German defeat at Kursk, Kittel continued participating in further battles as the German Army retreated to the Dnieper river. Kittel had achieved a one kill per day average to reach 94 victories on 4 September 1943. Just 11 days later, on 15 September 1943, Kittel claimed his 100th aerial victory. He was the 53rd Luftwaffe pilot to achieve the century mark He received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes) on 29 October 1943 for 120 victories. By the time he was awarded it on 29 October, he had added three more victories to reach 123. Between November 1943 through January 1944 Kittel was chief instructor of the Ergänzungs-Jagdgruppe Ost (Training Group East) in Biarritz, France, passing on knowledge and experience to the Jagdflieger of the future. Unhappy in a teaching role, Kittel filed several applications to return to combat, and in March 1944 Kittel returned to JG 54 on the Eastern Front.

On 2 April 1944, having achieved 144 victories, Kittel claimed a further six for a total of 150. Kittel’s 150th victory was claimed sometime between 4–8 April 1944. On April 14 he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub) for his 152nd aerial victory, claimed on 12 April. Kittel received the Oak Leaves from Adolf Hitler at the Wolf’s Lair in East Prussia on 5 May 1944, becoming the 449th German so recognised. Kittel continued to increase his tally, shooting down another 50 aircraft by 26 August 1944, bringing his overall total to 200.[36] At this time, Kittel was flying a Fw 190A-6, “Yellow 5”. By the 27 October 1944, Kittel had achieved 254 victories, a total of 102 in just six months. He earned the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern) on 25 November 1944 for 264 victories, only the 113th German serviceman to receive the award. Kittel flew to Hitler’s Headquarters to receive the award and then continued to Germany to spend his leave there. When he returned in January 1945 he took over 2 ./JG 54, or 2 Staffel. Kittel added a further three victories during his time as the Staffel’s leader. By 13 February 1945, Kittel had a personal total of 266 aerial victories.

At 12:06 on 14 or 16 February 1945, Otto Kittel took off with his Geschwader  flying Fw 190 A-8 “Black 1”, Werknummer 690 282, to engage a formation of 14 Shturmovik aircraft over the Courland Pocket. At 12:13 he made contact with the formation at low altitude, no more than 100–150 metres (328 to 492 feet). Kittel attacked, firing at and damaging several Shturmovik. Kittel damaged one aircraft and chased it. As he closed in for the kill, his Focke-Wulf was hit by return fire from a rear gunner, and descended towards the ground on fire. Kittel, probably incapacitated and unable to use his parachute, did not bail out and the Fw 190 crashed in flames. The site of the crash is believed to have been six kilometres (3.7 miles) south-west of Džūkste in Latvia. Witnesses from Kittel’s formation reported that a Shturmovik had been shot down by Otto before he himself was killed during the air battle having scored his 267th and final victory

Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak 18 Aug 1921 - 1 Aug 1943

“…… after shooting down another Bf.109 confirmed and possibly a second, Litvyak was engaged by two 109s on her fourth sortie of the day. Fatigued, still nursing her wounds, the last confirmed sighting of Litvyak was by one of her wingmen through a gap in the clouds as she frantically fought with the pair of 109s.”

Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak, also known as Lily Litvak, was born in Moscow, Russia. At age 14, she entered a club of flight enthusiasts, and by 15 she was piloting small aircraft. In the late 1930s, she earned a flight instructor license.

After Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Litvyak attempted to join a military aviation unit, but was initially turned down for lack of experience; she forged her records by adding an additional 100 hours of flight time, and was eventually admitted into the 586th Fighter Regiment consisted of all female pilots. She trained in a Yak-1 fighter with a white lily (mistaken for a rose) painted on the side of the fuselage. In the summer of 1942, the 586th Fighter Regiment flew over Saratov, Russia, where the blonde-haired, grey-eyed young pilot flew her first combat flight. In Sep 1942, she was transferred into the mixed-sex 437th Fighter Regiment at Stalingrad in southern Russia. Her chauvinistic commander initially refused to let her fly, but finally backed down largely due to the demands of the war. On 13 Sep 1942, she flew her second combat mission in a La-5 fighter; she shot down a Ju 88 bomber and an unidentified fighter, marking her first and second kills of her career. She quickly gained the nick name “the White Rose of Stalingrad”, referring to the mis-identified lily found on her training fighter.

In late 1942, Litvyak was transferred to the 9th Guards Fighter Regiment, and then very shortly after, in Jan 1943, she was transferred again to teh 296th Fighter Regiment, which was later renamed to the 73rd Guards Fighter Regiment. On 23 Feb she was awarded the Order of the Red Star. During her combat career, she scored 11 solo kills and 3 shared kills. Many German pilots she shot down were in shock that they were shot down by a woman. A German fighter ace shot down and captured outright refused to believe a woman had shot him down until he was brought before Litvyak, who described to him the details of the dogfight that only the two pilots engaged in the combat would know. She was not invincible, however. She was shot down two or three times (22 Mar 1943, 16 Jul 1943, and possibly another time) and at least one time she sustained serious injury to her legs, but she refused to be sidelined.

In early 1943, Litvayk was made a junior lieutenant. On 1 Aug 1943, Litvyak flew a Yak-1b fighter on a combat mission. She was shot down by a group of eight German fighters. Because her body was not found, Soviet leadership assumed she was captured. Since Joseph Stalin had always believed that a captured Russian was to be automatically considered a traitor, she did not receive the award of the Hero of the Soviet Union like some thought she deserved. Her remains were not found until 1979. On 6 May 1990, Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev finally granted her the Hero of the Soviet Union award with a posthumous promotion to the rank of senior lieutenant.

Max Immelmann Killed

Max Immelmann, pictured in 1916.

June 18 1916, Lens–Max Immelmann, one of the first German pilots to fly a Fokker equipped with a synchronization gear, had become Germany’s most successful fighter pilot of the war so far.  The first German fighter ace with his fifth victory in September 1915, and by June 1916 had scored fifteen times.

At 9:45 PM on June 18, Immelmann encountered British planes from the 25th Squadron of the RFC over the front lines near Arras.  This was the second time he had encountered them today, and he helped shoot down yet another British plane.  However, in his engagement with a second plane, his own aircraft fell apart catastrophically at 6000’ altitude.  Witnesses saw the tail break away, the wings collapse, and the fuselage fall straight down.

What caused this is still unclear.  The Germans, unwilling to believe that their greatest ace could be shot down by the enemy, initially claimed he was brought down by German anti-aircraft fire by mistake.  Later, they said his synchronization gear malfunctioned and he shot off half of his own propeller; the resulting instability of the engine tore the plane apart. The British, however, quickly credited their own pilots with the victory; the pilot claimed in a later interview that they descended on him from above while Immelmann was performing one of his namesake turns.

The remains of the plane fell on the German side of the lines, and his corpse was recovered and given a state funeral.

Today in 1915: Foch Halts French Offensive in Artois

His mother, Princess Walburga, commented that: “… he was boundlessly disillusioned and boundlessly disappointed. In 1943 he contemplated the thought of shooting Hitler. It was only out of sense of honor and duty that Heinrich went on fighting, carried along by the ambition to overtake Major Lent in his score of enemy aircraft shot down”.

In her memoirs, Tatiana von Metternich reported that Wittgenstein planned to kill Hitler after the ceremony at which he received his Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross in 1943. He said, “I am not married, I have no children—I am expendable. He will receive me personally. Who else among us can ever get as near to him?”

Erich Alfred Hartmann (19 April 1922 – 20 September 1993), nicknamed “Bubi” by his comrades and “The Black Devil” by his Soviet adversaries, was a German fighter pilot during World War II who is the most successful fighter ace in the history of aerial warfare. He flew 1,404 combat missions and participated in aerial combat on 825 separate occasions. He claimed, and was credited with, shooting down 352 Allied aircraft—345 Soviet and 7 American—while serving with the Luftwaffe. During the course of his career, Hartmann was forced to crash-land his damaged fighter 14 times due to damage received from parts of enemy aircraft he had just shot down or mechanical failure. Hartmann was never shot down or forced to land due to enemy fire,

Hartmann, a pre-war glider pilot, joined the Luftwaffe in 1940 and completed his fighter pilot training in 1942. He was posted to Jagdgeschwader 52 (JG 52) on the Eastern Front and was fortunate to be placed under the supervision of some of the Luftwaffe’s most experienced fighter pilots. Under their guidance, Hartmann steadily developed his tactics, which earned him the coveted Ritterkreuz mit Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten (Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds) on 25 August 1944 for claiming 301 aerial victories. At the time of its presentation to Hartmann, this was Germany’s highest military decoration.

Hartmann scored his 352nd and last aerial victory on 8 May 1945. Along with the remainder of JG 52, he surrendered to United States Army forces and was turned over to the Red Army. In an attempt to pressure him into service with the Soviet-friendly East German Volksarmee, he was convicted of false war crimes, a conviction posthumously voided by a Russian court as a malicious prosecution. Hartmann was sentenced to 25 years of hard labour and spent 10 years in various Soviet prison camps and gulags until he was released in 1955.

In 1956, Hartmann joined the newly established West German Luftwaffe in the Bundeswehr, and became the first Geschwaderkommodore of Jagdgeschwader 71 “Richthofen”. Hartmann resigned early from the Bundeswehr in 1970, largely due to his opposition to the F-104 Starfighter deployment in the Luftwaffe and the resulting clashes with his superiors over this issue. In his later years, after his military career had ended, he became a civilian flight instructor. He died of natural causes on 20 September 1993.

Otto “Bruno” Kittel (21 February 1917 –  16 February 1945) was a World War II Luftwaffe fighter ace. He flew 583 combat missions on the Eastern Front, claiming 267 aerial victories, making him the fourth highest scoring ace in aviation history. Kittel claimed all of his victories flying the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Focke-Wulf Fw 190 against the Red Air Force.

Kittel joined the Luftwaffe in 1939, at the age of 22 and flew his first combat missions in 1941. In spring 1941, he joined Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54) supporting Army Group North on the Eastern Front. Kittel claimed his first victory on 22 June 1941, the opening day of Operation Barbarossa. Kittel took time to amass his personal tally of aerial victories. By February 1943, he reached 39 kills, relatively insignificant when compared with some other German aces. In 1943, his tally began to increase when JG 54 began to operate the Fw 190. Kittel earned the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes) on 29 October 1943, for reaching 120 aerial victories. By the time he was officially awarded the decoration he had a tally of 123. A large number of his Soviet victims included the IL-2 Shturmovik aircraft, leading the German Army to call him the “Butcher Killer”, a nickname they had given to the tough Shturmovik.

During the remainder of World War II, Kittel was credited with 144 other aerial victories, which earned him the coveted Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. On his 583rd combat mission, he was shot down and killed by the air gunner of a Shturmovik on 16 February 1945. Kittel was the most successful German fighter pilot to be killed in action.


Jagdverband 44

JV 44; was a special fighter unit of top German fighter ace pilots in the Luftwaffe during the last months of World War II.  The main aircraft used by the unit was the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter. They were known by various nicknames, including “Der Galland-Zirkus” (The Galland Circus).
The commander of JV 44 was General Adolf Galland (103 victories) the former General der Jagdflieger (General of Fighter pilots) who had recently been sacked from his staff post by Hermann Göring for relentlessly criticizing the operational policies, strategic doctrine, and tactics mandated by the Luftwaffe High Command. It may have been hoped by Galland’s superiors that his return to combat-flying in a front-line command would result in his death in action. Galland was charged with setting up a small Me 262 unit of staffel strength to demonstrate that the jet could be developed into the superior fighter it promised to be. The unit was to be independent of all other Luftwaffe commands, including division, corps or air fleets. Galland inspected a number of facilities, and eventually settled on Brandenburg-Briest airfield, west of Berlin for its initial base.

In late February, Galland discussed his personnel and logistical requirements with the Luftwaffe Chief of General Staff. The staff approved the establishment of JV 44, with its cadre of pilots provided through the normal channels, and ground personnel provided from 16 Staffel, JG 54. Col. Johannes Steinhoff was also recruited as Operations Officer, who had just been replaced as Kommodore of JG 7.

Galland also compiled a list of experienced pilots whom he considered to be competent enough to convert quickly to the Me 262. The list included some of the Jagdwaffe’s most skilled and successful formation leaders. Thus JV 44 eventually comprised a core of highly experienced pilots chosen from Galland’s former staff or otherwise recruited from units which had been disbanded or were being re-equipped. With an aircraft that could make devastating strikes on bombers and easily escape any Allied fighter, and would be flown by a collection of the Luftwaffe’s top surviving aces, JV 44 performed with great success during its brief history, achieving a 4-to-1 kill ratio. However, it had relatively few operational jet planes available for any single sortie and was repeatedly forced to relocate due to the approach of Allied ground forces. At war’s end the unit was disbanded and its brief history came to an end.

Major Erich Rudorffer

Former German Luftwaffe fighter ace, one of a handful who served with the Luftwaffe through the whole of World War II. He is the 7th most successful fighter pilot in the history of air warfare and, as of 2014, both the oldest jet fighter ace and the most successful ace still living. Rudorffer claimed a total of 222 victories, fighting in all the major German theaters of war, including the European and Mediterranean Theatre of Operations and the Eastern Front. During the war he flew more than 1000 combat missions, was engaged in aerial combat over 300 times, was shot down by flak and enemy fighters 16 times and had to take to his parachute 9 times. His 222 aerial victories include 58 heavily armoured Il-2 Sturmovik ground attack aircraft. He also claimed that he sank a British submarine on 19 May 1941 off the Isle of Portland but Royal Navy losses do not corroborate this claim and the Luftwaffe only credited him with damaging the submarine. Rudorffer is the last living recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves and Swords.

Leutnant Walter Blume (10 January 1896 – 27 May 1964) was a German fighter ace of World War I. During World War I, he flew with Jastas 26 and 9, gaining 28 aerial victories and earning the Iron Cross and the Pour le Merite.

Post World War I he became a prominent aircraft designer for both Albatros and Arado, being one of the pioneers of jet propulsion design in airplanes.

Walter Blume was born in Hirschberg, Silesia, and originally served in the 5th Silesian Jaeger Battalion in September 1914. After being wounded early in the conflict, he trained as a pilot beginning 30 June 1915. He began his flying career in two-seater Aviatik aircraft with Feldflieger abteilung (Field Flier Detachment) 65 from 18 June 1916 through 20 January 1917. He received an Iron Cross Second Class during this time, on 24 July 1916. He then successfully asked for a transfer to flying single-seat fighters for Jasta 26 in January 1917. In August 1916, he was promoted to Vizefeldwebel. On 31 January 1917, he was commissioned a leutnant. This was also the month he would shift to Jasta 26.

He scored his first victory for Jasta 26 on 10 May 1917. On 14 August, he received the Iron Cross First Class. He became an ace on 24 October 1917, and on 29 November 1917 received a serious chest wound in combat with No. 48 Squadron RFC’s Bristol F.2 Fighters. He was hospitalised for over 3 months.

After a spell with Fliegerersatz-Abteilung (Replacement Detachment) 3, on 5 March 1918 Blume returned to active duty, commanding Jasta 9. He scored a further 22 victories, all with his new unit. With the exception of double scores on 31 August 1918 and 14 September 1918, he accumulated his successes singly, mostly fighters. Only four of his victories were over two-seater aircraft. He flew in both Albatros fighters and the Fokker D.VII.

Blume was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the House Order of Hohenzollern on 7 August 1918. This was followed by his receipt of the German Empire’s most prestigious medal, the Pour le Merite on 2 October 1918, the same day as his 27th and penultimate victory.

He resigned from military service on 15 January 1919.

After World War I, he remained in aviation. He trained as an aeronautical engineer at the Technical University at Hanover, and subsequently joined the German Arado Flugzeugwerke in the mid-1920s, where he was involved in the design of the Ar 95, Arado Ar 96, and Ar 196. In early 1933 he was appointed Chief Design Engineer of Arado Flugzeugwerke and over the next ten years was responsible for the design of some of the world’s first jets, such as the Ar 234 twin-jet reconnaissance aircraft, which he saw through its development in several different prototypes and finally to the twin-jet bomber, the Ar 234 Blitz. Towards the end of World War II he led the Arado design team in upgrading the Ar 234 to a Four-Jet Bomber variant, but one which only reached “Proof of Concept” form. He attempted to revive one of his designs, the Blume Bl.502, for Arado as a light civil aircraft, but met with no commercial success.After the German surrender he was captured by the Soviet Army and taken to the Soviet Union, where for several years he helped develop their fledgling jet aircraft program.

This weekend marks the 71st anniversary of a heart-warming Christmas story from WWII…

Four days before Christmas 1943, German fighter ace Franz Stigler approached a badly damaged American B-17 limping over Germany.

Realizing the bomber was defenseless, Franz lifted his finger from the trigger. “My God, how are you still flying?” he thought.

Inside the bomber’s cockpit, the 21-year-old American pilot, Charlie Brown, was thinking the same thing. An earlier air battle had shredded his B-17 from nose to tail.

When Charlie leaned forward to check an engine on his right wing, a sight made his heart skip. Beyond his wingtip flew a German Bf-109 fighter. Charlie closed his eyes then opened them—the German was still there.

“He’s going to destroy us,” Charlie said aloud. But instead, Franz Stigler did something incredible—he nodded to Charlie.

Alongside his enemy, Franz had changed. He had only become a fighter pilot to avenge his brother, a pilot killed early in the war. But then and there, Franz decided to break the cycle of violence, to spare the bomber and more—to escort it out of Germany.

It was a gesture that Charlie Brown would never forget. In his old age, he would search the world for Franz. Against all odds, they’d reunite in 1990, not as former enemies but as brothers separated for 46 years.

Their story is now told in the bestselling book, “A Higher Call,” available in bookstores in time for Christmas.

This December 20th, on the 71st anniversary of the encounter, please join us in remembering Charlie Brown and his guardian angel, Franz Stigler.
(Via America in WWII Magazine on FB)

August 9, 1916 - Imperial German Air Service Reorganized, Fighter Squadrons Formed

Pictured - A “jagdstaffel” of German fighter planes lined up at an aerodrome in 1917.

For a long stretch of 1915 German airplanes dominated the skies above the Western Front, during the so-called “Fokker Scourge”.  Single-seat Fokker monoplanes, used as fighters by the Imperial German Air Service, destroyed their British and French opponents with ease.  However, the Allies re-organized their air units in the summer, deploying new fighters like the French Nieuport 11 and the two-seater pusher plane the British FE2.B, one of which killed German fighter ace Max Immelman.  As the Battle of Verdun wound down and the Somme began, Allied pilots started to rack up kills.  French Captain René Fonck scored his first kill in August - by the end of the war he would be the Allies’ top ace and the second-highest scorer of the conflict.

Germany decided to re-shuffle its squadrons to compete again.  The Imperial German Air Service became the Deutschen Luftstreitkräfte, the German Air Force, demonstrating a greater independence from the Army, although it still remained an Army-controlled formation.  With this new name came a restructuring to form dedicated fighter squadrons, called Jagdstaffels, hunting squadrons.  Called “Flying Circuses” by the British, these units of elite flyers had one mission only: establishing air superiority over the Western Front, opening a new, fiercer dimension to the air war.