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Herbert Hampe, 10 October 1913 – 13 September 1999, was a highly decorated Oberfeldwebel in the Luftwaffe during World War II, and 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.
Oberfeldwebel Herbert Hampe is one of a few examples of an outstanding career for an enlisted man, from 1931 to 1945. Involved in more than 500 highly-risked missions as a bomber pilot, he participated in the Spanish Civil War, Invasion of Poland, Battle of France, Battle of Britain, Invasion of Yugoslavia, Battle of Crete, and the Eastern Front.
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 and 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—the destruction of each termed an “aerial victory”—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 malicious prosecution. Hartmann was sentenced to 25 years of hard labor 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.
Hanns Horst Heise, 1 February 1913 – 18 May 1992, was a highly decorated Oberstleutnant in the Luftwaffe during World War II and 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.
Gerhard Hein, 9 July 1916 – 6 June 2008, was a highly decorated Lieutenant Colonel of the Reserve in the Wehrmacht during World War II. Hein what a recipient of the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leave. 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.
Oberst Joachim Helbig, 10 September 1915 – 5 October 1985, was an officer and pilot in the German Luftwaffe bomber arm during World War II. He was credited with the destruction of 182,000 gross register tons (GRT) of Allied shipping accomplished in 480 missions during World War II.
Joachim Helbig was born in 1915 and joined the Luftwaffe in 1936. At the outbreak of World War II, he served as an observer in Lehrgeschwader 1 (LG 1) and participated in the invasion of Poland. He saw further action in the Norwegian Campaign and the Battles of the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. For his contribution and military success in these campaigns, Helbig received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes) on 9 November 1940. He was then transferred to the Mediterranean theater of operations where he operated against Malta, the British Mediterranean Fleet and in support of the Deutsches Afrikakorps (DAK). Helbig became the 20th recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern) on 28 September 1942 for the support of Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel’s 1942 summer offensive and the sinking of 182,000 GRT of enemy shipping.
Initially, Helbig was banned from further combat flying and became an inspector on the staff of the General der Kampfflieger, the senior officer responsible for the Luftwaffe’s bomber force. In August 1943 he was made Geschwaderkommodore of Lehrgeschwader 1 operating against the Allied invasion forces in Italy. In the last weeks of the war in Europe, Helbig commanded a combat unit on the Eastern Front consisting of elements of Lehrgeschwader 1 and Kampfgeschwader 200 (KG 200). After the war, he worked as a manager for a brewery in Berlin. Joachim Helbing died in Malente on 5 October 1985 following a car accident on vacation in Spain.
Hauptmann Rudolf Henne, 10 September 1913 – 5 October 1962, was a Luftwaffe Bomber Ace in the German Luftwaffe during World War II in Staffelkapitän of the 9./Kampfgeschwader 51. He was awarded the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross on 12 April 1942. Rudolf flew 200 missions with the Condor Legion during the Spanish civil war in Spain
Hans-Joachim “Hajo” Herrmann, 1 August 1913 – 5 November 2010, was a Luftwaffe bomber pilot and later after the end of World War II, focusing his activities as a lawyer on civil and criminal law. In World War II, he was a high ranking and influential member of the Luftwaffe. He was also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern). The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves and Swords was awarded to recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.
Oberstleutnant Hermann Hogeback, 25 August 1914 – 15 February 2004, was a German Luftwaffe bomber pilot and flew more than 100 operational sorties during the Spanish Civil War and 500 during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern). The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves and Swords was awarded to recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. His last service position was Geschwaderkommodore (wing commander) of Kampfgeschwader 6 (KG 6—6th Bomber Wing).
Born in 1914, Hogeback joined the military service of the Wehrmacht in 1934. He transferred to the Luftwaffe in 1935 and following flight training and service with various bomber wings he volunteered for service with the Condor Legion in the Spanish Civil War. During World War II he fought in the Invasion of Poland, Battle of France, Operation Weserübung, the German invasion of Norway, Battle of Britain, Battle of Crete, the Siege of Malta, Mediterranean theatre of operations, over the Eastern Front and in Defense of the Reich. By the end of hostilities, Hogeback’s bomber crew held the unique distinction that every member—radio operator, combat observer and air gunner—was decorated with the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross
Walter Horten, 13 November 1913 – 9 December 1998 in Baden-Baden, Germany, was a German aircraft pilot and enthusiast. Although he had little, if any, formal training in aeronautics or related fields, Horten with his brother Reimar Horten designed some of the most advanced aircraft of the 1940s, including the world’s first jet-powered flying wing, the Horten Ho 229.
Dietrich “Dieter” Hrabak, 19 December 1914 – 15 September 1995, was a German 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.
Herbert Ihlefeld, 1 June 1914-8 August 1995, was a German World War II fighter ace who served in the Air Force from 1936 until the very end of World War II in May 1945. He therefore what 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 what Awarded to Recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. He claimed 132 enemy aircraft shot down; Nine in the Spanish Civil War, 67 on the Eastern Front, and 56 on the Western Front, Including 15 four-engined bombers and 26 Spitfires. He survived being shot down eight times during his 1,000 combat missions.
Hans-Joachim Jabs, 14 November 1917 – 26 October 2003, was both a day and night fighter ace in the German Luftwaffe during World War II. 50 victories were scored. Jabs flew variants of the Messerschmitt Bf 110 Zerstörer heavy day fighter and night fighter.
Erhard Jähnert, 17 August 1917 – 23 July 2006, was a highly decorated Major in the Luftwaffe during World War II. 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. During his career, he was credited with flying 622 missions. At the end of the war, Erhard Jähnert was captured by British troops.
Born on August 17, 1917, in Panitzsch, near Leipzig, Germany, Erhard Jähnert became interested in flight from a young age, getting his brief glider pilot, class “C” as a teenager. So, by volunteering to serve in the Luftwaffe in 1935, shortly after turning 18, Jähnert was following a calling that was his dream.
He completed his pilot training in June 1938, at the school in Kaufberen, and in early 1939 was appointed to serve as Feldwebel with Gruppe II of Stukageschwader 2 (II./St.G 2). With this unity, Jähnert had his baptism of fire in the invasion of Poland in September 1939 and then took part in the Blitzkrieg against France in May 1940. From December 1940, he began acting in the theater of operations of the Mediterranean, and from February 1941 to April 1943, also operated in North Africa as a member of the III./St.G 3.
Jähnert would stand out in the missions executed against the British forces stationed in the island of Malta, operating from bases in Sicily. On June 17, 1942, as Oberfeldwebel, he received the Germanic Cross in Gold and on 1 December 1942 was promoted to Leutnant. Following the defeat of Afrika Korps in North Africa, Jähnert and his unit were transferred to the southern sector of the Eastern Front. Flying on missions against the Soviets on the Crimean peninsula, Leutnant Erhard Jähnert was finally awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross on May 18, 1943, when it amounted to no fewer than 300 combat missions.
Jähnert was appointed Staffelkapitän of 9 / St.G 2 in August 1943 and on 06.10.1943 led this unit on a mission that resulted in the sinking of three Soviet destroyers south of the Crimea, and at the end of that year, with a total of 500 combat missions. Between January and September 1944, Jähnert served as an instructor at the Schlachtflieger-Schule (School of Flight of Ground Support Pilots) in Deutsch-Brod, returning to the battlefront to serve as Staffelkapitän of 2./SG 3 (2nd Staffel of the Schlachtgeschwader 3 ), then operating from the pocket of Kurland.
Promoted to Hauptmann, Jähnert completed his 600th mission on 18.02.1945, commanding his Staffel into Kurland’s pocket until the final surrender on May 8, 1945, when he was able to fly with his Fw 190 to an area occupied by Western allies, avoiding their capture by the Soviets. At the end of the conflict, Jähnert had executed a total of 622 combat missions in the commands of the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka and of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 of which 50 were carried out in Kurland, during which he destroyed no less than 25 enemy armor. Although it was appointed to receive the Oak Leaves of the Knight’s Cross, the war came to an end before this award was approved by the High Command.
Erhardt Jähnert passed away from natural causes in Jever, Germany, on July 23, 2006, at the age of 88.
Oberleutnant Hans-Joachim Jäschke was one of II. Gruppe / Schlachtgeschwader 1’s most experienced pilots at 22 years old. He joined the Gruppe at the beginning of 1942 and by the end of March 1944 was Staffelkapitän of 4./SG 1. On 26 March 1944, immediately after the Gruppe’s arrival at Rovaniemi (Finland), Jäschke was awarded the Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes (Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross). By then he had flown 553 combat missions and destroying 78 tanks, 27 guns, more than 100 trucks, and 11 bridges! The two photographs show Jäschke at Rovaniemi at the beginning of April 1944. One of his comrades adjusts his Ritterkreuz for the photo opportunity. Note the cloth version of the Deutsches Kreuz in Gold (German Cross in Gold), awarded on 2 August 1943, with a metal wreath. Jäschke also wears Frontflugspange in Gold (Operational Flying Clasp in Gold) with 500 pendants and the cloth version of Flugzeugführerabzeichen (Pilot’s Badge). Like all the pilots of II./SG 1, in the summer of 1944 Hans-Joachim Jäschke was forced to give up his faithful Junkers Ju 87 “Stuka” and retrain on the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 F-8. The change did not bring him luck. On 21 July 1944, during a low-level attack on an enemy column near Klezcsele in Hungary, Jäschke was shot down in flames by Russian anti-aircraft fire. He failed to get out and was killed in the ensuing crash and explosion. This photo itself was taken by an unidentified Hauptmann of the Gruppenstab who was taken prisoner in southern Germany in May 1945. The American soldiers took from him several rolls of exposed, but undeveloped, film. The film was later developed by Kodak in the USA, and decades after that a collector discovered the collection by chance. The photographs were subsequently returned to Germany, albeit in poor condition.
Bernhard Jope, 10 May 1914 – 31 July 1995, was a German World War II Luftwaffe bomber pilot. He was also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub). 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. Jope flew the Focke-Wulf Fw 200 “Condor” on missions across the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean in support of the Kriegsmarine, damaging the RMS Empress of Britain in October 1940. He led Kampfgeschwader 100 (KG 100—100th Bomber Wing) in the attacks on the Italian battleship Roma, the British battleship HMS Warspite and cruiser HMS Uganda, and the US cruiser USS Savannah.
Johann-Alfred Klaus, 4 September 1918, was an Oberleutnant in the Luftwaffe during World War II and 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.
Konrad Knabe, 18 September 1915 – 27 March 1996, was a highly decorated Major in the Luftwaffe during World War II and 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.
Reinhold Knacke, 1 Jan 1919 in Landkreis Mecklenburgische Seenplatte, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany – 3 Feb 1943
Barneveld, Barneveld Municipality, Gelderland, Netherlands, was a World War II Night Fighter Ace and holder of the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves with 44 confirmed victories. In the fall of 1940, he was seconded for night fighter training. He then was assigned to the 3rd Staffel of NG1, flying the Bf 110 twin-engine night fighter, where he later was Staffel Leader. He was awarded the Knight’s Cross and promoted to First Lieutenant in July of 1942. In January 1943, he earned his 40th victory but was shot down shortly thereafter in aerial combat with an RAF Wellington bomber. His radar operator was able to bail out but he was not, and he was found with the wreckage of his Bf 110-F4 aircraft near Achterveld, The Netherlands. He was awarded the 190th Oak Leaves to his Knight’s Cross posthumously. He also held the Iron Cross First and Second Class, the honor Cup of the Luftwaffe, and the German Cross in Gold and was mentioned once in the Wehrmachtbericht in May 1942, honoring his 20th victory.
Alfons Köster, 6 February 1919 – 6 January 1945, was a German Luftwaffe night fighter ace and recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross during World War II. Alfons Köster claimed 26 aerial victories, 25 of them at night. On 6 January 1945, Alfons Köster was shot down and killed over Varel. He was posthumously promoted to Hauptmann.
Walter “Graf Punski” Krupinski, 11 November 1920 – 7 October 2000, was a German Luftwaffe fighter ace of World War II and a senior West German air force officer after the war. He was one of the highest-scoring pilots, credited with 197 victories in 1,100 sorties. He was called by his fellow pilots Graf Punski (Count Punski) due to his Prussian origins. Krupinski was one of the first to fly the Me 262 jet fighter in combat as a member of the famous aces squadron JV 44 led by Adolf Galland.
Oberst Dr. jur. Ernst Kupfer, 2 July 1907 in Coburg – killed in an aircraft accident on 6 November 1943, 60 km (37 mi) north of Thessaloniki in the Kerkini mountain range, was a German World War II Luftwaffe Stuka ace. He was also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern). The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves and Swords was awarded to recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.
Oberst Helmut Lent, 13 June 1918 – 7 October 1944, was a German night-fighter ace in World War II. Lent shot down 110 aircraft, 102 of them at night, far more than the minimum of five enemy aircraft required for the title of ace. Born into a devoutly religious family, he showed an early passion for glider flying; against his father’s wishes, he joined the Luftwaffe in 1936. After completing his training, he was assigned to the 1. Squadron, or Staffel, of Zerstörergeschwader 76 (ZG 76), a wing flying the Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engine heavy fighter. Lent claimed his first aerial victories at the outset of World War II in the invasion of Poland and over the North Sea. During the invasion of Norway, he flew ground support missions before he was transferred to the newly established Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 (NJG 1), a night-fighter wing.
Lent claimed his first nocturnal victory on 12 May 1941 and on 30 August 1941 was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross for 22 victories. His steady accumulation of aerial victories resulted in regular promotions and awards. On the night of 15 June 1944, Major Lent was the first-night fighter pilot to claim 100 nocturnal aerial victories, a feat which earned him the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds on 31 July 1944.
On 5 October 1944, Lent flew a Junkers Ju 88 on a routine transit flight from Stade to Nordborchen, 5 kilometers (3 mi) south of Paderborn. On the landing approach one of the engines cut out and the aircraft collided with power lines. All four members of the crew were mortally injured. Three men died shortly after the crash and Lent succumbed to his injuries two days later on 7 October 1944.
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 Campaign and 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 nightlife 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 recognized 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 exiting the smoke-filled cockpit, Marseille’s chest struck the vertical stabilizer of his aircraft, either killing him instantly or incapacitating him so that he was unable to open his parachute.
Egon Mayer, 19 August 1917 – 2 March 1944, was a Luftwaffe wing commander and fighter ace of Nazi Germany during World War II. He was credited with 102 enemy aircraft shot down in over 353 combat missions. His victories were all claimed over the Western Front and included 26 four-engine bombers, 51 Supermarine Spitfires, and 12 P-47 Thunderbolts. Mayer was the first fighter pilot to score 100 victories entirely on the Western Front.
Born in Konstanz, Mayer, volunteered for military service in the Luftwaffe of Nazi Germany in 1937. Following flight training, he was posted to Jagdgeschwader 2 “Richthofen” (JG 2—2nd Fighter Wing) in 1939. He fought in the Battle of France and claimed his first aerial victory in that campaign on 13 June 1940. Mayer was appointed squadron leader of the 7. Staffel (7th squadron) of JG 2 in June 1941. Two months later, following his 21st aerial victory, he received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross on 1 August 1941. He claimed 16 further victories and was awarded the German Cross in Gold on 16 July 1942. In November 1942, Mayer was appointed commander of the III. Gruppe (3rd group) of JG 2.
Mayer claimed his first victories over United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) four-engine bombers when he shot down two B-17 Flying Fortresses and a B-24 Liberator on 23 November 1942. Together with fellow fighter ace Georg-Peter Eder, Mayer developed the head-on attack as the most effective tactic against the Allied daylight heavy combat box bomber formations. He received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves on 16 April 1943 after 63 victories. On 1 July 1943, he replaced Walter Oesau as commander of JG 2. He claimed his 90th victory on 31 December 1943 and on 5 February 1944 became the first pilot on the Channel Front to reach 100 victories. Mayer was killed in action on 2 March 1944 while leading an attack on a USAAF bomber formation. He was shot down by P-47 Thunderbolt escort fighters near Montmédy, France. He was posthumously awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron
Manfred Meurer, 8 September 1919 – 22 January 1944, was a Luftwaffe night fighter flying ace of World War II. Meurer was credited with 65 aerial victories claimed in 130 combat missions. He was also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub). 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.
Gerhard Michalski, 25 June 1917 – 22 February 1946, was a German Luftwaffe military aviator and wing commander during World War II. As a fighter ace, he is credited with 73 aerial victories in 652 missions, of which 59 victories were achieved over the Western Front including 13 four-engine bombers, and 14 over the Eastern Front. He was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, the highest award in the military forces of Germany during World War II.
Martin Möbus, 9 May 1917 – 2 June 1944, was a highly decorated Major in the Luftwaffe 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. In 1940, he claimed the sinking of HMS Sussex, which in fact was heavily damaged and was back operationally in 1942. Martin Möbus was killed on 2 June 1944 in an auto-accident in Pori, Finland. In more than 800+ flights he was credited with the destruction of several ships, 60+ tanks, 600 vehicles, 18 anti-aircraft guns, and 5 armored trains.
Werner Mölders, 18 March 1913 – 22 November 1941, was a World War II German Luftwaffe pilot and the leading German fighter ace in the Spanish Civil War. Mölders became the first pilot in aviation history to claim 100 aerial victories—that is, 100 aerial combat encounters resulting in the destruction of the enemy aircraft, and was highly decorated for his achievements. He was instrumental in the development of new fighter tactics that led to the finger-four formation. He died in an air crash in which he was a passenger.
Mölders joined the Luftwaffe in 1934 at the age of 21. In 1938, he volunteered for service in the Condor Legion, which supported General Francisco Franco’s Nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War and shot down 15 aircraft. In World War II, he lost two wingmen in the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain but shot down 53 enemy aircraft. With his tally standing at 68 victories, Mölders and his unit, the Jagdgeschwader 51 (JG 51), were transferred to the Eastern Front in June 1941 for the opening of Operation Barbarossa. By the end of 22 June 1941, the first day of Barbarossa, he had added another four victories to his tally and a week later, Mölders surpassed Manfred von Richthofen’s 1918 record of 80 victories. By mid-July, he had 100 World War II victories.
Prevented from flying further combat missions for propaganda reasons, at the age of 28 Mölders was promoted to Oberst, and appointed Inspector General of Fighters. He was inspecting the Luftwaffe units in the Crimea when he was ordered to Berlin to attend the state funeral of Ernst Udet, the World War I flying ace. On the flight to Berlin, the Heinkel He 111 in which he was traveling as a passenger encountered a heavy thunderstorm during which one of the aircraft’s engines failed. While attempting to land, the Heinkel crashed at Breslau, killing Mölders and two others.
The German Wehrmacht of the Third Reich and the Bundeswehr of the Federal Republic of Germany both honored him by naming two fighter wings, a destroyer, and barracks after him. However, in 1998, the German Parliament decided that members of the Condor Legion such as Mölders, should “no longer be honored”. Therefore, in 2005, the German Ministry of Defence decided to remove the name “Mölders” from the fighter wing still bearing his name.
Rudolf “Rudi” Müller, 21 November 1920 – 21 October 1943, was a former German Luftwaffe fighter ace and recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross during World War II. The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross was awarded to recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. Rudolf “Rudi” Müller was credited with 94 victories.
Joachim Müncheberg, 31 December 1918 – 23 March 1943, was a German Luftwaffe military aviator during World War II, a fighter ace credited with 135 enemy aircraft shot down in over 500 combat missions. The majority of his victories were claimed over the Western Front, with 33 claims over the Eastern Front. Of his 102 aerial victories achieved over the Western Allies, 46 were against Supermarine Spitfire fighters.
Born in Friedrichsdorf, Müncheberg, who had strong ambitions as a track and field athlete, volunteered for military service in the Wehrmacht of the Third Reich in 1936. Initially serving in the Heer (Army), he transferred to the Luftwaffe (Air Force) in 1938. Following flight training, he was posted to Jagdgeschwader 234 (JG 234—234th Fighter Wing) in October 1938. He was transferred to Jagdgeschwader 26 “Schlageter” (JG 26—26th Fighter Wing) a year later and was appointed adjutant of the III. Gruppe (3rd Group). He fought in the Battle of France and received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes) following his 20th aerial victory and during the Battle of Britain. Serving as a Staffelkapitän (Squadron Leader) he fought in the aerial battles during the siege of Malta and Balkans Campaign. He received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub) and Italian Gold Medal of Military Valor (Italian: Medaglia d’oro al Valore Militare) after 43 aerial victories.
Müncheberg then briefly served in North Africa in support of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps before transferring to France. He was given command of JG 26’s II. Gruppe (2nd Group) in September 1941 and was then posted to Jagdgeschwader 51 (JG 51—51st Fighter Wing), operating on the Eastern Front, in July 1942. Serving as a Geschwaderkommodore (Wing Commander) in training under JG 51 wing commander Karl-Gottfried Nordmann, he claimed his 100th aerial victory on 5 September 1942 for which he was awarded the Swords (Schwerter) to his Knight’s Cross on 9 September, his score then at 103 aerial victories. On 1 October 1942 Müncheberg was given command of Jagdgeschwader 77 (JG 77—77th Fighter Wing), operating in the Mediterranean Theatre. He died of wounds following a mid-air collision during combat near Meknassy, Tunisia on 23 March 1943.