Luftwaffe Pilots & Airmen – N thru S

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Walter Nowotny

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 honour. Nowotny was a member of the Nazi Party.

Walter Oesau

Walter “Gulle” Oesau (28 June 1913 – 11 May 1944) was a German World War II fighter ace who served in the Luftwaffe from 1934 until his death in 1944. He rose to command Jagdgeschwader 1, which was named in his honor after his death.

He served with the Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War, with 3 Staffel of Jagdgruppe 88 (3./J 88), claiming 8 aircraft during the campaign, becoming one of only 28 people to earn the award of the Spanish Cross in Gold and Diamonds.

At the start of World War II, Oesau was given command of 2 Staffel, Jagdgeschwader 20. The group was moved to the Eastern Front at the start of the Invasion of Poland, moving back to the Western Front later as the redesignated III Gruppe, Jagdgeschwader 51 (III./JG 51). After his first victory of World War II in the Battle of France, Oesau operated on both the Western and Eastern Fronts, where he was wounded and received the Silver Wound Badge.

He returned to operations as Geschwaderkommodore of Jagdgeschwader 1 (JG 1). He was killed in action on 11 May 1944 aged 30. JG 1 was given the suffix “Oesau” in his honor.

Max-Hellmuth Ostermann

Max-Hellmuth Ostermann (11 December 1917 – 9 August 1942) was a German Luftwaffe fighter ace during World War II. A flying ace or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft during aerial combat. He is credited with 102 enemy aircraft shot down claimed in over 300 combat missions. The majority of his victories were claimed over the Eastern Front with eight claims over the Western Front and one over Belgrade.  Ostermann was of such short height that wooden blocks had to be attached to his rudder pedals for him to engage in tight turning aerial combat.

Ostermann was born in Hamburg on 11 December 1917. He joined the military service of the Luftwaffe in 1937 and was trained as a pilot. After a brief period with Zerstörergeschwader 1 (ZG 1), a heavy fighter unit, he was transferred to Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54). He participated in the Battle of France and Britain before transferring east. He became the sixth fighter pilot in aviation history to achieve 100 aerial victories on the Eastern Front for which he was awarded Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. He was killed in aerial combat with Soviet fighters southeast of Lake Ilmen on 9 August 1942.

Dietrich Peltz

Dietrich Peltz (9 June 1914 – 10 August 2001) was a German World War II Luftwaffe bomber pilot and youngest general of the Wehrmacht. As a pilot he flew approximately 320 combat missions, including roughly 130 as a bomber pilot on the Eastern Front, 90 as a bomber pilot on the Western Front, and 102 as a dive bomber pilot during the Invasion of Poland and Battle of France.

Born in Gera, Peltz joined the military service in the Reichswehr, later renamed Wehrmacht, of the Third Reich in 1934. Initially serving in the Heer (Army), he transferred to the Luftwaffe (Air Force) in 1935. He flew combat missions over Poland and France as a dive bomber pilot. He then converted to the Junkers Ju 88 bomber and was assigned to Kampfgeschwader 77 (KG 77—77th Bomber Wing). With this unit he flew further combat missions in the Battle of Britain. He was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross on 14 October 1940. During Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Peltz was instrumental in developing bombing techniques which allowed precision bombing attacks. This achievement earned him the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves on 31 December 1941. He was then posted to a bomber unit leader’s school before he was tasked to form a unit, I. Gruppe (1st group) of Kampfgeschwader 60 (KG 60—60th Bomber Wing), specialized on the use of precision-guided munition against Allied shipping.

In early 1943 Peltz was appointed Inspector of Combat Flight, a role in which he oversaw the strategic development of the German bomber arm. As of August 1943, he was appointed commanding general of the IX. Fliegerkorps (9th Air Corps) and was tasked with reviving the German bomber offensive as Angriffsführer England (attack leader England) against Britain and was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords on 23 July 1943 for his leadership. This initiative lead to a night-time strategic bombing campaign against southern England code-named Operation Steinbock, which ended in heavy losses for German bombers in early 1944. Although a bomber expert, he was appointed commanding general of the II. Jagdkorps (2nd Fighter Corps) and was responsible for the planning of the unsuccessful Operation Bodenplatte, the attack of German fighters on Allied air bases in Belgium and the Netherlands. He was tasked with the entire aerial Defense of the Reich in March 1945 and advocated the idea of “ramming” to halt the air campaign against Germany even at the risk of sustaining high losses. His last service position was commanding general of I. Fliegerkorps (1st Air Corps). After the war he worked for Krupp and Telefunken and died on 10 August 2001 in Munich.

Hans Philipp

Hans Philipp (17 March 1917 – 8 October 1943) was a German Luftwaffe fighter ace during World War II. A flying ace or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft during aerial combat. He is credited with 206 enemy aircraft shot down in over 500 combat missions. The majority of his victories were claimed over the Eastern Front, with 29 claims over the Western Front.

Born in Meissen, Philipp grew up in the Weimar Republic and Third Reich as the only child of a single parent, Alma Philipp. He was raised under challenging financial circumstances, and volunteered for military service in the Wehrmacht in 1936. Following flight training, he was posted to Jagdgeschwader 76 (JG 76—76th Fighter Wing) and participated in the invasion of Poland and as a Staffelkapitän (squadron leader) in the Battle of France. His unit was reformed as II./Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54—54th Fighter Wing) in June 1940. He was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes) on 22 October 1940 during the Battle of Britain. He then fought in the aerial battles of the Balkans Campaign and Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union. He received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub) after 62 aerial victories on 24 August 1941 and the Swords (Schwerter) to his Knight’s Cross on 12 March 1942, his score now at 86 aerial victories. He claimed his 100th victory on 31 March 1942, the fourth fighter pilot to achieve this mark,[Note 3] and his 150th aerial victory on 14 January 1943. Philipp claimed four aircraft shot down on 17 March 1943 taking his total to 203 aerial victories. He thus surpassed Hermann Graf as the leading German fighter pilot at the time, and six months after Graf, became the second pilot to claim more than 200 victories.

Philipp was promoted to Major (major) and given command as the Geschwaderkommodore (wing commander) of Jagdgeschwader 1 (JG 1—1st Fighter Wing) on 1 April 1943, conducting Defense of the Reich operations against the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF). He was promoted to Oberstleutnant (lieutenant colonel) on 1 October 1943 and was killed in action a week later on 8 October during an attack on Bremen. It is believed that he was shot down by the P-47 Thunderbolt pilot Robert S. Johnson. Philipp managed to bail out but his parachute failed to open.

Artur Pipan

Hauptmann Artur Pipan (12 May 1919 – 8 January 2009), Stuka ace holder KC, flew a total of 758 missions, and destroyed 10 railway engines, 9 bridges, one gun boat and many panzers.

Josef Priller

Josef “Pips” Priller  (27 July 1915 – 20 May 1961) was a German World War II fighter ace. He has become famous because of the publicity regarding his Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-8’s single strafing pass attack onSword Beach on 6 June 1944 (D-Day), accompanied by his wingman Heinz Wodarczyk. This act was first brought to the world’s attention by the book, then the film, The Longest Day. Contrary to popular belief, Priller and his wingman were not the onlyLuftwaffe forces to attack the beachhead that day. Both Luftwaffe Hauptmann (Captain) Helmut Eberspächer, leading a ground-attack four-plane element of Fw 190s of SKG 10, which was responsible for downing a quartet of RAF Avro Lancastersat 0500 over the invasion area, and the Luftwaffe bomber wing Kampfgeschwader 54 made several attacks on the Britishbeachheads on D-Day. Priller was also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves and Swords was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.

Günther Rall

Günther Rall (10 March 1918 – 4 October 2009) was the third most successful fighter ace in history. He achieved a total of 275 victories during World War II: 272 on the Eastern Front, of which 241 were against Soviet fighters. He flew a total of 621 combat missions, was shot down eight times and was wounded three times. He fought 1940 in the Battle of France, the Battle of Britain, 1941 in the Balkan Campaign and over Crete. He began the conflict as a Second Lieutenant, and was a Major and Geschwaderkommodore of JG 300 at the surrender. He claimed all of his victories in the Messerschmitt Bf 109.

Ernst-Wilhelm Reinert

Ernst-Wilhelm Reinert (2 February 1919 – 5 September 2007) was a German former Luftwaffe fighter ace and recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords during World War II. A flying ace or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft during aerial combat. The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves and Swords was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.

Gustav Rödel

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.

Hans-Ulrich Rudel

Hans-Ulrich Rudel (2 July 1916 – 18 December 1982) was a Stuka dive-bomber pilot during World War II. 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 (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit goldenem Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten), Germany’s highest military decoration at the time.

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.

Friedrich Rumpelhardt

Friedrich “Fritz” Rumpelhardt (19 June 1920 – 20 January 2011) was a highly decorated Leutnant in the Luftwaffe during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes). The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.

During his career he participated in 130 missions as a Bordfunker (radio/radar operator) with Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 and Nachtjagdgeschwader 4, and participated in 100 aerial victories as a crewman with Major Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer from October 1942 (as a Unteroffizier) until the end of the war. He was the most successful radar operator—in terms of aerial victories claimed—in the Luftwaffe night fighter force.

Heinrich Prinz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein

Heinrich Alexander Ludwig Peter Prinz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein (14 August 1916 – 21 January 1944) was a German of aristocratic descent and a Luftwaffe night fighter flying ace during World War II. A flying ace or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft during aerial combat. At the time of his death, he was the highest scoring night fighter pilot in the Luftwaffe and still the third highest by the end of World War II, with 83 aerial victories to his credit.

Prinz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein was born on 14 August 1916 in Copenhagen, Denmark, and joined the cavalry of the German Wehrmacht in the spring of 1937. He was accepted for flight training and transferred to the emerging Luftwaffe. He initially served as an observer and later as pilot in Kampfgeschwader 1 (KG 1) and Kampfgeschwader 51 (KG 51). With these units he fought in the Battle of France, Battle of Britain and Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, before he transferred to the night fighter force. He claimed his first aerial victory on the night of 6/7 May 1942. By October 1942, he had accumulated 22 aerial victories for which he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross on 7 October 1942. He received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves on 31 August 1943, for 54 aerial victories.

He was tasked with the leadership of Nachtjagdgeschwader 2 (NJG 2) in January 1944, and was killed in action on the night of 21 January 1944 after he had shot down his 83rd enemy aircraft. Posthumously he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords.

Wolfgang Schenck

Wolfgang Schenck (7 February 1913 – 5 March 2010) was a German Luftwaffe fighter ace and recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves during World War II. He was born in Windhoek in German West Africa (now Namibia). Wolfgang Schenck was an important figure in the Luftwaffe’s development of the fighter-bomber, as well as pioneering work in the use of the Me 262 jet-bomber.

Gerhart Schirmer

Gerhart Schirmer (9 January 1913 – 5 September 2004) was an officer in the Wehrmacht during World War II. He was a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, awarded by Nazi Germany to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. Schrimer was taken prisoner by British troops in 1945 and then handed over to Soviet troops. He was held until 1956; later that year he joined the Bundeswehr and served until retirement in 1971.

Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer

Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer (16 February 1922 – 15 July 1950) was a German Luftwaffe night fighter pilot and is the highest scoring night fighter ace in the history of aerial warfare. A flying ace or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft during combat. All of his 121 victories were claimed during World War II at night, mostly against British four-engine bombers, for which he was awarded the coveted Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten) on 16 October 1944, Germany’s highest military decoration at the time. He was nicknamed “The Spook of St. Trond”, from the location of his unit’s base in occupied Belgium.

Born in Calw, Schnaufer grew up in the Weimar Republic and Third Reich as the first of four children of Alfred Schnaufer and his wife Martha. The family owned and operated a winery business. Schnaufer, a good student and already a glider pilot at school, began military service in the Wehrmacht by joining the Luftwaffe in 1939. After training at various pilot and fighter-pilot schools, he was posted to Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 (NJG 1—1st Night Fighter Wing), operating on the Western Front, in November 1941. He flew his first combat sorties in support of Operation Cerberus, the breakout of the German ships Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Prinz Eugen from Brest. Schnaufer participated in the Defence of the Reich campaign from 1942 onwards, in which he would achieve most of his success. He claimed his first aerial victory on the night of 1/2 June 1942. As the war progressed, he accumulated further victories and was given leadership responsibilities, at first as a technical officer, then as a squadron leader and group commander. He was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross for 42 aerial victories on 31 December 1943.

Schnaufer achieved his 100th aerial victory on 9 October 1944 and was awarded the Diamonds to his Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords on 16 October. He was appointed Geschwaderkommodore (wing commander) of Nachtjagdgeschwader 4 (NJG 4) on 4 November 1944. By the end of hostilities, Schnaufer’s night fighter crew held the unique distinction that every member—radio operator and air gunner—was decorated with the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. Schnaufer was taken prisoner of war by British forces in May 1945. After his release a year later, he returned to his home town and took over the family wine business. He sustained injuries in a road accident on 13 July 1950 during a wine-purchasing visit to France, and died in a Bordeaux hospital two days later.

Werner Schröer

Werner Schröer (12 February 1918 in Mülheim an der Ruhr – 10 February 1985 in Ottobrunn) was a German World War II fighter ace who served in the Luftwaffe from 1937, initially as a member of the ground staff, until the end of World War II in Europe on 8 May 1945, by which time he had reached the highest ranks of combat leadership. A flying ace or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft during aerial combat. Schröer was also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves and Swords was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. For the fighter pilots, the grades of the Knight’s Cross were also a quantifiable measure of their success and skill. Werner Schröer was the second most successful claimant of air victories after Hans-Joachim Marseille in the Mediterranean.

Heinrich Setz

Heinrich Setz (12 March 1915 – 13 March 1943) was a German Luftwaffe military aviator during World War II, a fighter ace credited with 138 enemy aircraft shot down in 274 combat missions. The majority of his victories were claimed over the Eastern Front, with six claims over the Western Front.

Born in Gundelsdorf, Setz volunteered for military service in the Luftwaffe of the Third Reich in 1936. Following flight training and a period at a fighter pilot training school as an instructor, he was posted to Jagdgeschwader 77 (JG 77—77th Fighter Wing) in 1940. Following the Norwegian Campaign, he claimed his first ,three aerial victories in late 1940 in that theater. Setz was appointed Staffelkapitän (squadron leader) of the 4. Staffel (4th squadron) of JG 77 in June 1941 which he led in Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Following his 43rd aerial victory, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross on 31 December 1941 and the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves on 23 June 1942 after 81 victories. He claimed his 100th aerial victory on 24 July 1942.

In February 1943, Setz was appointed Gruppenkommandeur (group commander) of the I. Gruppe (1st group) of Jagdgeschwader 27 (JG 27—27th Fighter Wing) which was based in France on the Western Front. Setz claimed three more victories before he was killed in action on his 274th combat mission in a midair collision with a Supermarine Spitfire on 13 March 1943.

Günther Specht

Günther Specht (13 November 1914 – 1 January 1945) was a German Luftwaffe fighter ace during World War II.

Johannes Steinhoff

Johannes “Macky” Steinhoff (15 September 1913 – 21 February 1994) was a German Luftwaffe fighter ace of World War II, and later a senior West German Air Force officer and military commander of NATO. He played a significant role in rebuilding the post war Luftwaffe, eventually serving as chief of staff from 1966 – 1970 and then as chairman of NATO’s Military Committee from 1971 – 1974. In retirement, Steinhoff became a widely read author of books on German military aviation during the war and the experiences of the German people at that time.

Steinhoff was one of very few Luftwaffe pilots who survived to fly operationally through the whole of the war period 1939–45. He was also one of the highest-scoring pilots with 176 victories, and one of the first to fly the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter in combat as a member of the famous aces squadron Jagdverband 44 led by Adolf Galland. Steinhoff was decorated with both the Oak Leaves and Swords to the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. He played a role in the so-called Fighter Pilots Conspiracy when several senior air force officers confronted Hermann Göring late in the war.

Hans-Karl Stepp

Hans-Karl Stepp (2 September 1914 – 12 December 2006) was a German Stuka ace in the Luftwaffe during World War II and a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, awarded by Nazi Germany to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.

Hans-Karl Stepp was born on 2 September 1914 in Gießen as son to a University professor. Stepp studied eight semesters of law in Tübingen, Breslau and Munich before joining the Luftwaffe as Fahnenjunker in 1936. He fought in the Invasion of Poland and Battle of France. He also served in the Reichsluftwaffenministerium in Berlin.

Hans Strelow

Hans Strelow (26 March 1922 – 22 May 1942) was a German former Luftwaffe fighter ace and recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub) during World War II. 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 received the award two days before his 20th birthday making him the youngest recipient of the Oak Leaves.

To avoid capture by the Red Army Strelow committed suicide after he was shot down by a Petlyakov Pe-2 twin-engine bomber in Bf 109 F-2 “Black 10” (Werknummer 8239—factory number). He had made a forced landing 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) behind Soviet lines.

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German Military History with a focus on World War 2 History including other areas of German History

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