September 23, 1917 - German Ace Werner Voss Killed
Pictured - With 48 kills to his name, Voss was a rival with Richthofen for the title of Germany’s greatest ace.
“The Flying Circus” was a name that could strike dread into the heart of British flyers. It is what they called the German fighter wing Jagdgeschwader 1, a combination of Germany’s greatest squadrons. Led by Manfred von Richthofen, the fighter wing also included innumerable other aces, including Werner Voss.
Born in 1897, Voss was a cavalryman at the beginning of the war but transferred to the Imperial German Air Service. Serving under the renowned pilot Oswald Boecke, Voss became a talented pilot in his own right, with 28 victories by May 1917. That year he joined Richthofen fighter wing, where he added 20 more kills to his credit and took command of a squadron, Jasta 10.
Voss set out for his final flight on September 23. Flying over Belgium in his silver triplane, he was attacked by seven Royal Flying Corps Se.5 Scouts, a nimble fighter. The British flyers were from 56 Squadron, which included so many aces that some German pilots wondered if it had been formed specifically to kill Richthofen and his men.
Voss fought one-against-seven with the British for ten minutes, before being shot down by Arthur Rhys-Davids. James McCudden, another British ace, witnessed the fight: “I shall never forget my admiration for that German pilot, who single
handed, fought seven of us for ten minutes. I saw him go into a fairly
steep dive and so I continued to watch, and then saw the triplane hit
the ground and disappear into a thousand fragments, for it seemed to me
that it literally went into powder.”
Rhys-Davids shot down another German ace, Carl Menckhoff, who arrived to try and help Voss. Despite overwhelming odds, the two Germans had almost managed to elude their pursuers. McCudden wrote of Voss: “His flying is wonderful, his courage magnificent and in my opinion he
was the bravest German airman whom it has been my privilege to see.”
On 9 June 1944, the Soviets launched an attack on both sides of Lake Ladoga, one of the aims of which was to knock Finland out of the war. The attack, which tanks to wireless intercepts, did not take the Finns long to completely by surprise, was strongly supported by artillery and air power and the outgunned and outnumbered Finnish troops were soon forced to retreat. The formidable Mannerheim line was breached and with Soviet forces advancing on Viipuri, the Finns called for German assistance. As well as supplying the Finns with a number of BF 109s, the Germans organized a a Gefechtsverband, or Battle Groupe, at Petseri in Estonia comprising I./SG 3 with 32 JU 87 Ds, and 4. and 5./HG 54 plus I./SG 5 with a total of 23 FW 109s. Later, five reconnaissance BF 109s from NAG 1 arrived. The Battle Group, which was tasked with supporting Finish forces in their defensive battles, arrived with full technical support at Immola in Finland on 16 June. The fighters of 4. and 5./JG 54 immediately went into action against Soviet aircraft operating in support of their drive towards Viipuri which, however, fell on 20 June. Two days later, when the Soviets attacked again, strongly supported by artillery and aircraft, all formations of the battle group were in action and by the end of June their contribution in support of their Finnish allies succeeded in halting the Soviet Advance. Although most units were progressively withdrawn, with I./SG 3 flying its last mission on 17 July, the fighter-bomber Staffel I./SG 5 was reinforced on 12 August when they flew their last missions and returned to Estonia two days later. During their time in Finland, the JU 87s and FW 190s of Gefechtsverband Kuhlmey flew 1,242 sorties and released 577 tons of bombs, while the fighter pilots of II./JG 45 claimed 100 victories. Plate01: Major Erich Rudorffer wearing the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, awarded 11 June 1944. Plates 02,03 & 04: This FW 190 A-6 was flown by Major Erich Rudorffer, the Kommandeur of II./JG 54, before being passed on to II. Gruppe. Apart from the resprayed ares to either side of the fuselage Balkenkreuz, upon which was repainted a double chevron and a II. Gruppe bar, the machine remained the same as when flown by Horst Ademeit.
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. 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
Oberleutnant Walter Nowotny, Staffelkapitän of 1./JG 54, returns to Nikolskoye on 15 June 1943 after his 100th victory. Oberleutnant Franz Eisenach (right), Staffelkapitän of 3./JG 54, congratulates him.