This page features former Third Reich officers and personnel that served in the modern Bundeswehr & Other Branches 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.
Dietrich “Dieter” Hrabak, 19 December 1914 – 15 September 1995, was a Luftwaffe military aviator and wing commander during World War II. Following the war, he became a Generalmajor (Major General) in the German Air Force of West Germany. As a fighter ace, he claimed 125 enemy aircraft shot down in over 1000 combat missions. The majority of his aerial victories were claimed over the Eastern Front with 16 claims over the Western Allies.
Born in Großdeuben, Hrabak grew up in the German Empire and the Weimar Republic. Following graduation from school, he volunteered for military service in the Reichsmarine in 1934. In November 1935, he transferred to the Luftwaffe. Following flight training, he was posted to a Jagdgeschwader (fighter wing). In 1939, Hrabak was made a Staffelkapitän (squadron leader) and with Jagdgeschwader 76 (JG 76—76th Fighter Wing) participated in the Invasion of Poland and Battle of France and claimed his first aerial victory on 13 May 1940. In July 1940, JG 76 was integrated into Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54—54th Fighter Wing). During the Battle of Britain, Hrabak was made a Gruppenkommandeur in JG 54 and awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross in October 1940. In 1941, he participated in Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union. In November 1942, Hrabak left JG 54 and was appointed Geschwaderkommodore (wing commander) of Jagdgeschwader 52 (JG 52—52nd Fighter Wing). There, following his 118th aerial victory, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves on 25 November 1943. In October 1944 Hrabak, returned to JG 54, serving as its last Geschwaderkommodore until the end of the war.
Following World War II, Hrabak initially worked in the private industry. During the Wiederbewaffnung (rearmament) of West Germany, Hrabak joined the newly established German Air Force in 1955. He then went on to command the Advanced Pilot Training Center at Fürstenfeldbruck. Following further command positions, Hrabak was named NATO’s Chief of Air Defense/Central Europe until becoming the special manager for the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter program. Hrabak retired in September 1970 and died on 15 September 1995.
Walter Gericke, 23 December 1907 – 19 October 1991, was a German Fallschirmjäger during World War II and Generalmajor of the West German Bundeswehr. He was also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, awarded by Nazi Germany to recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.
Gericke participated in the Battle of the Netherlands and the Battle of Crete as a Battalion commander of the Fallschirmjäger. He later commanded the Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 11 and fought in the defensive battles at Anzio. He joined the newly formed Bundeswehr after the rearmament of West Germany and as a Generalmajor led the 1. Luftlande-Division from 1962 to 1965.
Josef Kammhuber, 19 August 19, 1896 – 25 January 1986, was a career officer in the Luftwaffe and post-World War II German Air Force and is best known as the first general of night fighters in the Luftwaffe during World War II. He is credited with setting up the first truly successful night fighter defense system, the so-called Kammhuber Line, but a detailed knowledge of the system provided to the Royal Air Force by British military intelligence allowed them to render it ineffective. Personal battles between himself and Erhard Milch, director of the Reich Air Ministry, eventually led to his dismissal in 1943. After the war, he returned to the military sphere in Germany’s Federal Defense Force.
Karl Kessel (B), 1 June 1912 – 24 August 1997, was a highly decorated Oberst in the Luftwaffe during World War II and a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. He was awarded the Knights Cross on 23 January 1944. Kessel joined the Bundeswehr in 1956 and retired in 1970 as a Generalmajor.
Heinz-Michael Koller-Kraus, 27 May 1909 – 22 April 1993, was a German officer of the Reichswehr and the Wehrmacht, last Colonel in the General Staff and winner of the German Cross in Gold and General of the Bundeswehr.
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).
Hans-Joachim Löser, 4 April 1918 – 13 February 2001, was an officer of the Wehrmacht during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. Löser joined the Bundeswehr in 1956 and retired in 1974 as a Generalmajor.
Hellmuth Mäder (B), 5 July 1908 – 12 May 1984, was a German General during World War II. He was a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords of Germany.
In 1956, Mäder joined the Bundeswehr, serving with the rank of Brigadegeneral and command of the Infanterieschule Hammelburg. His last rank before retirement was Generalleutnant. In 1974, he was arrested and convicted to two years imprisonment for money he embezzled in his position in the Bundeswehr as well as for inconsistencies in his expense reports. It was an accusation which he denied until he died on May 12, 1984 in Konstanz.
Hans-Gotthard Pestke, 17 June 1914 – 30 April 2001, was a highly decorated Colonel in the Wehrmacht during World WII. He was a recipient of the Knights 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 recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. Hans-Gotthard Pestke was captured by British troops in May 1945 and was released in 1947. In 1956, he joined the Bundeswehr and served until 1972.
Otto Franz Pollmann (B), 3 March 1915 – 28 February 1958, was a Kapitänleutnant of the Reserves with the Kriegsmarine during World War II and a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves. Pollmann claimed the destruction of 14 submarines, but only one, the sinking of HMS Tigris in February 1943, can be substantiated.
Following World War II, Pollmann joined the military service of the Federal Republic of Germany with the Bundesmarine of the Bundeswehr on 1 July 1956 holding the rank of Korvettenkapitän (Corvette Captain). Here he served in the staff of the department for submarine hunters of the commando for Naval weapons. Pollmann died on 28 February 1958 while on active duty serving as a NATO liaison officer in the Netherlands.
Günther Rall, 10 March 1918 – 4 October 2009, was a German lieutenant-general, the third most successful fighter ace in history and later head of the West German Air Force during the Cold War.
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. By the end of the war, he reached the rank of Major and was the commander of Jagdgeschwader 300 when the war ended. He claimed all of his victories in the Messerschmitt Bf 109.
In 1956 he again became a pilot in the West German Air Force, and from the 1960s he held increasingly prominent command posts. He served as Inspector of the Air Force 1971–1974 and as the German Military Representative to the NATO Military Committee 1974–1975. He attended the NATO Defense College in 1964.
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.
Richard Schimpf, 16 May 1897 – 30 December 1972, was a paratroop general in the Luftwaffe of Nazi Germany during World War II. He was a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. He joined the post-war West German Air Force in 1957 and retired in 1962 as a Generalmajor.
Franz Schmitz (B), 12 October 1918 – 10 June 1985, was a highly decorated Sanitäts-Unteroffizier in the Wehrmacht during World War II and an Oberstabsfeldwebel in the Bundeswehr. He was also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. He is remembered especially for his medical care and rescue of wounded German soldiers with the amount being roughly 2,000, along with his care for wounded Russian soldiers isolated on the battlefield. Franz Schmitz joined the Bundeswehr in 1956 and served until 1962.
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.
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 (B), 3 March 1912 – 11 January 1995, was a highly decorated Oberst in the Luftwaffe during World War II and a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. He was awarded the Knights Cross on 5 May 1945.
He served in the Luftwaffe from 1932 until the end of the war and again from 1957–70 in which he attained the rank of Generalleutnant. He flew 560 combat sorties and was credited with 58 victories.
Heinrich “Heinz” Trettner, 19 September 1907 – 18 September 2006, was a German general serving during World War II and from 1964 to 1966 Inspector General of the Bundeswehr. 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 recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. He was the last living general of the Wehrmacht.
Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte
Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte, 30 March 1907 – 7 July 1994, was a German paratroop officer during World War II who later served in the armed forces of West Germany, achieving the rank of General. Following the war, Heydte pursued academic, political and military career, as a Catholic-conservative professor of political science. In 1962, Heydte was involved in the Spiegel scandal.
Johann von Kielmansegg
Count Johann Adolf Graf von Kielmansegg, 30 December 1906 – 26 May 2006, was a German general staff officer during the Second World War and later general of the Bundeswehr.
Kurt Freiherr von Liebenstein
Kurt Freiherr von Liebenstein, 28 February 1899 – 3 August 1975, was a general in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany during World War II.
On 10 May 1943, he was decorated with the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. Three days later, while commanding the 164th Infantry Division, he surrendered to the British forces in Tunisia, with the 164th Infantry earning the distinction of being the last major German formation in North Africa to lay down its arms. He was sent to Trent Park, a special camp for generals north of London. In 1955, he joined the Bundeswehr. In 1960, he retired as Generalmajor.
Irnfried Freiherr von Wechmar
Irnfried Freiherr von Wechmar, 12 February 1899 – 27 November 1959, was a highly decorated Oberst in the Wehrmacht during World War II and an Oberst der Reserve in the Bundeswehr. He was also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross was awarded to recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.
Bundesgrenzschutz – Federal Border Guard
Willy Langkeit (B), 2 June 1907 – 27 October 1969, was a Generalmajor in the Wehrmacht during World War II, and one of only 882 recipients 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 recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. Willy Langkeit was taken prisoner by American troops in May 1945 and transferred to British custody later that month. He was held until 1947 and later joined the Bundesgrenzschutz (Federal Border Guards) in 1951, retiring in 1967.