This page features former Third Reich officers and personnel that served in the modern Bundeswehr after its creation in 1955.
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Lieutenant-General Gerhard “Gerd” Barkhorn (20 March 1919 – 8 January 1983) was the second most successful fighter ace of all time after fellow Luftwaffe pilot Erich Hartmann. Barkhorn joined the Luftwaffe in 1937 and completed his training in 1939.
Barkhorn flew his first combat missions in May 1940, during the Battle of France and then the Battle of Britain without scoring an aerial victory—that is an aerial combat encounter resulting in the destruction of the enemy aircraft. His first victory came in July 1941 and his total rose steadily against Soviet opposition. In March 1944 he was awarded the third highest decoration in the Wehrmacht when he received the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (Ritterkreuz mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern) for 250 aerial victories. Despite being the second highest scoring pilot in aviation history, Barkhorn was not awarded the Diamonds to his Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords after achieving his 300th victory on 5 January 1945.
Barkhorn flew 1,104 combat sorties and was credited with 301 victories on the Eastern Front against the Soviet Red Air Force piloting the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Focke-Wulf Fw 190D-9. He flew with the famed Jagdgeschwader 52 (JG 52—Fighter Wing 52), alongside fellow aces Hartmann and Günther Rall, and Jagdgeschwader 2 (JG 2). Less than two weeks later he left JG 52 on the Eastern Front and joined Jagdgeschwader 3 (JG 3), defending Germany from Western Allied air attack.
Barkhorn survived the war and was taken prisoner by the Western Allies in May 1945 and released later that year. After the war Barkhorn joined the Luftwaffe of the Bundeswehr also called colloquially Bundesluftwaffe, serving until 1976. On 6 January 1983, Barkhorn was involved in a car accident with his wife Christl. She died instantly and Gerhard died two days later on 8 January 1983.
Otto Kretschmer (1 May 1912 – 5 August 1998) was the most successful German U-boat commander in the Second World War and later an admiral in the Bundesmarine. From September 1939 until his surrender in March 1941, he sank 47 ships, a total of 274,333 tons. For this he received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords, among other awards. He earned the nickname “Silent Otto” both for his successful use of the “silent running” capability of U-boats as well as for his reluctance to transmit radio messages during patrols. After the war, he served in the German Federal Navy and retired in 1970 with the rank of Flottillenadmiral (flotilla admiral).
Gustav Rödel (born 24 October 1915 in Merseburg – died 6 February 1995 in Bonn-Bad Godesberg) was a German World War II Luftwaffe fighter ace. He scored all but one of his 98 victories against the Western Allies in over 980 combat missions whilst flying the Messerschmitt Bf 109. He was also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves. The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. He often said to the men under his command “You are fighter pilots first, last, always. If I ever hear of any of you shooting at someone in a parachute, I’ll shoot you myself.” This has played an important role in Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler incident.
In 1957, Rödel joined the Bundeswehr. He retired on 30 September 1971, holding the rank of Brigadegeneral.
Erich Topp (2 July 1914 – 26 December 2005) was the third most successful of German U-Boat commanders of World War II. He was a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords of Nazi Germany. He sank 35 ships for a total of 197,460 gross register tons (GRT). After the war he served with the Federal German Navy, reaching the rank of Konteradmiral (rear admiral). He later served in NATO.
Johannes “Hannes” Trautloft (3 March 1912 – 11 January 1995) was a German World War II fighter ace who served in the Luftwaffe from 1932 until the end of the war and again from 1957–70. He flew 560 combat sorties and was credited with 58 victories.
Hannes Trautloft was born in Großobringen near Weimar in Thüringen. On 7 April 1931, he began his pilot training at the Deutsche Verkehrsfliegerschule (German Air Transport School) at Schleißheim. The course he and 29 other trainees attended was called Kameradschaft 31, abbreviated “K 31”. Among the members of K 31 were men like Wolfgang Falck and Günther Lützow. Trautloft graduated from the Deutsche Verkehrfliegerschule 19 February 1932. From K 31 Trautloft and 9 others were recommended for Sonderausbildung (special training) at the Lipetsk fighter-pilot school. These 10 men were the privileged few and were allowed to attend fighter pilot training.During this training, he spent four months in the Soviet Union, at the secret training facility Lipetsk. Upon returning to Germany Trautloft was promoted to Leutnant. With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Trautloft was one of six pilots sent aboard the Ursaramo to Cadiz to secretly aid General Franco. With them, the pilots had six crated Heinkel He 51 biplane fighters.
The men and machines arrived in Spain on 7 August 1936. Originally, they were intended to act as instructors, but the Spanish pilots struggled with learning to fly the He-51, so the German pilots soon took up combat duties. On 25 August, Trautloft scored his first victory, shooting down a Republican Breguet XIX light bomber. Five days later, shortly after scoring his second victory (a Potez 54), Trautloft was himself shot down, crash-landing in his aircraft coded 2-4. This was the first Luftwaffe pilot to be shot down in Spain. Trautloft escaped capture, however, and continued flying combat missions.
As the war dragged on, the Soviets sent better planes to aid the Republicans. Among these were the agile Polikarpov I-15 and Polikarpov I-16 fighters. The He-51 proved no match for these new aircraft, and after pressure from the German pilots, four of the new prototype Bf-109 V3 were dispatched to the theater. Trautloft flew one of these new fighters, and scored a further three victories in Spain. Trautloft had the green heart symbolizing Thüringen painted on his plane. This symbol would later be the symbol of JG 54 once he assumed command.
Following his service in Spain, Trautloft held various Staffelkapitän positions, and at the outbreak of World War II on 1 September 1939 he was the commander of 2./Jagdgeschwader 77. He commanded this squadron during the Invasion of Poland, in which he got one victory. Trautloft was promoted to Hauptmann and appointed Gruppenkommandeur of I./JG 20 on 19 September.
Trautloft got a further two victories during the Battle of France in May 1940. On 4 July I./JG 20 was redesignated III./JG 51. During the Battle of Britain Trautloft got a further two victories with JG 51, bringing his total to 10. In late August, it was becoming apparent to the German High Command that the battle of Britain was not going as planned. A frustrated Göring relieved several Geschwaderkommodore of their commands, and appointed younger, more aggressive men in their place. Adolf Galland was given command of JG 26 on 22 August, and Trautloft was given command of JG 54 on 25 August and promoted to Major. Trautloft flew over 120 combat sorties over the English Channel with JG 54, and the Geschwader earned a positive reputation among the German bomber crews. During this period Trautloft scored three more victories, bringing his total to 13.
In 1941, the Geschwader saw action in the East. First JG 54 took part in the Balkans Campaign, then Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June. On 27 June, Trautloft was awarded the Ritterkreuz for 20 confirmed victories and outstanding leadership. On 4 December, Trautloft ordered that all the aircraft of JG 54 would wear the Green Heart symbol of Thüringen that he himself had on his aircraft in Spain. From this date forth JG 54 became known as the Grünherz-Geschwader.
During 1942 and 1943, Trautloft proved a popular leader, and his tally rose to 58. On 6 July 1943, Trautloft was appointed as Jagdflieger Inspizient Ost, serving with the General der Jagdflieger office. This position put him in overall charge as Inspector of all the Fighter aircraft units fighting on the Eastern Front. In November, he became Inspekteur der Tagjäger, giving him overall responsibilities for all day-fighters.
In late 1944, a rumor crossed Trautloft’s desk that a large number of Allied airmen were being held at Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Trautloft decided to visit the camp and see for himself under the pretence of inspecting aerial bomb damage near the camp. Trautloft was about to leave the camp when captured US airman Bernard Scharf called out to him in fluent German from behind a fence. The SS guards tried to intervene, but Trautloft pointed out that he out-ranked them and made them stand back. Scharf explained that he was one of more than 160 allied airmen imprisoned at the camp and begged Trautloft to rescue him and the other airmen. Trautloft’s adjutant also spoke to the group’s commanding officer, Phil Lamason. Disturbed by the event, Trautloft returned to Berlin and began the process to have the airmen transferred out of Buchenwald. Seven days before their scheduled execution, the airmen were taken by train by the Luftwaffe to Stalag Luft III.
In early 1945, Trautloft joined other high-ranking pilots in the “Fighter Pilots Revolt”, protesting the squandering of the precious Luftwaffe fighters and pilots in high-loss operations like Operation Bodenplatte. Following this revolt, Trautloft was relieved of his position and sent to command the 4 Flieger-Schule Division (4th Pilot School Division) in Strassburg. He spent the remainder of the war there. Trautloft ended the war as an Oberst.
After the war, Trautloft joined the new Bundesluftwaffe on 1 October 1957, now with the rank of Brigadegeneral. He served throughout the 1960s as deputy Inspector General of the Bundesluftwaffe, and retired in 1970 as a Generalleutnant. He was an active member of many veteran organizations including the Gemeinschaft der Jagdflieger until his death on 11 January 1995 at Bad Wiessee.