luftwaffe fighter ace

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.

“Stuka Ace” Hans-Ulrich Rudel, far left. The most highly decorated German serviceman of the war, Rudel was one of only 27 military men to be awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, and the only person to be awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds. He was a legendary teetotaler and nonsmoker, and fellow pilots coined the phrase “Hans-Ulrich Rudel, he drinks only sparkling water.”.

Rudel flew 2,530 combat missions claiming a total of 2,000 targets destroyed; including 800 vehicles, 519 tanks, 150 artillery pieces, 70 landing craft, nine aircraft, four armored trains, several bridges, a destroyer, two cruisers, and the Soviet battleship “Marat”. After the war, his input was sought in the development of the A-10 Thunderbolt II “Warthog”.

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

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Hans-Joachim Marseille (13 December 1919 – 30 September 1942) was a Luftwaffe fighter pilot and flying ace during World War II. He is noted for his aerial battles during the North African Campaignand his Bohemian lifestyle. One of the most successful fighter pilots, he was nicknamed the “Star of Africa”. Marseille claimed all but seven of his “official” 158 victories against the British Commonwealth’s Desert Air Force over North Africa, flying the Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter for his entire combat career. No other pilot claimed as many Western Allied aircraft as Marseille.

Marseille, of French Huguenot ancestry, joined the Luftwaffe in 1938. At the age of 20 he graduated from one of the Luftwaffe’s fighter pilot schools just in time to participate in the Battle of Britain, without notable success. A charming person, he had such a busy night life that sometimes he was too tired to be allowed to fly the next morning. As a result, he was transferred to another unit, which relocated to North Africa in April 1941.

Under the guidance of his new commander, who recognised the latent potential in the young officer, Marseille quickly developed his abilities as a fighter pilot. He reached the zenith of his fighter pilot career on 1 September 1942, when during the course of three combat sorties he claimed 17 enemy fighters shot down, earning him the Ritterkreuz mit Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten (Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds). Only 29 days later, Marseille was killed in a flying accident, when he was forced to abandon his fighter due to engine failure. After he exited the smoke-filled cockpit, Marseille’s chest struck the vertical stabiliser of his aircraft. The blow either killed him instantly or incapacitated him so that he was unable to open his parachute.

Luftwaffe ace fighter and bomber pilots meet with Adolf Hitler. From left to right : Oberst Werner Streib : Luftwaffe night fighter. 66 victories. 2) Major Gerhard Barkhorn : Luftwaffe day fighter. 301 victories. 3) Generalmajor Erich Walther : Commander of a Fallschirmjäger regiment (paratroopers). 4) Oberstleutnant Kurt Bühligen: Luftwaffe day fighter. 112 victories. 5) Oberstleutnant Hans-Joachim Jabs : Luftwaffe night fighter. 50 victories. 6)
Oberstleutnant Bernhard Jope : Luftwaffe bomber Kommodore. 7) Major Reinhard Seiler : Luftwaffe day fighter. 109 victories. 8) Major Erich Hartmann ( hidden by Hitler) : Luftwaffe day fighter. 352 victories (the highest score ever for a fighter pilot). 9) Major Horst Ademeit : Luftwaffe day fighter. 166 victories. 10) Major Johannes Wiese : Luftwaffe day fighter. 133 victories. 11) Wachtmeister Fritz Petersen : Flak commander. 12) Major Dr. Maximilian Otte: Luftwaffe Stuka pilot. 13) Hauptmann Walter Krupinski : Luftwaffe day fighter. 197 victories.

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?”

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.

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.

“The Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler incident occurred on 20 December 1943, when, after a successful bomb run on Bremen, Charles ‘Charlie’ Brown’s B-17 Flying Fortress named "Ye Olde Pub” was severely damaged by German fighters. Luftwaffe pilot and ace Franz Stigler was ordered to shoot down the crippled bomber, but instead, for humanitarian reasons, decided to allow the crew to fly back to their airfield in England. The two pilots met each other 40 years later after an extensive search by Charlie Brown and the friendship that the two developed lasted until their deaths.“ Wiki. USAAF photo

Major Walter “Nowi” Nowotny (7 December 1920 – 8 November 1944) was an Austrian-born German fighter ace of World War II. He is credited with 258 aerial victories—that is, 258 aerial combat encounters resulting in the destruction of the enemy aircraft—in 442 combat missions. Nowotny achieved 255 of these victories on the Eastern Front and three while flying one of the first jet fighters, the Messerschmitt Me 262, in the Defense of the Reich. He scored most of his victories in the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, and approximately 50 in the Messerschmitt Bf 109.

Nowotny joined the Luftwaffe in 1939 and completed his fighter pilot training in 1941, after which he was posted to Jagdgeschwader 54 “Grünherz” (JG 54) on the Eastern Front. Nowotny was the first pilot to achieve 250 victories – 194 in 1943 alone – earning him the coveted Ritterkreuz mit Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten (Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds) on 19 October 1943. For propaganda reasons, he was ordered to cease operational flying.

Reinstated to front-line service in September 1944, Nowotny tested and developed tactics for the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter. He was credited with three victories in this aircraft type before being killed in a crash following combat with United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) fighters on 8 November 1944. After his death, the first operational jet fighter wing, Jagdgeschwader 7 “Nowotny”, was named in his honor.