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Bernd Barbas' remarkable two-volume work is the result of years of interviews with surviving Luftwaffe pilots. He has organized it by fighter unit with each chapter devoted to a different Jagdgeschwader. Each volume is profusely illustrated with approximately 400 rare and hitherto unpublished photographs taken from the private collections of the pilots including 24 pages of color photographs. There are twelve beautiful 2-page color profiles of aircraft painted by Richard Goyat
Günther Rall joined the rapidly expanding German Army in 1936, but he transferred to the Luftwaffe in 1937. He was serving with II./JG 52 when Germany attacked Poland, but this unit was stationed near Stuttgart to guard against a French attack that never materialized. As a result, Rall did not score his first victory until Germany invaded France the following year. He scored this victory over a French P-36 on 12 May 1940, and this was the first of a remarkable total of 275. Rall transferred to the 3rd Gruppe and served with 8./JG 52 during the Battle of Britain. He considered the British to be the toughest pilots he faced during the war, and he thought that the Spitfire was the best enemy aircraft. Rall's unit transferred to Rumania after the Battle of Britain and was given the task of guarding the oil fields. He participated in the invasion of Crete and then returned to Rumania to convert to the Bf 109F shortly before the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. After successfully defending the Rumanian oil fields against Soviet bombers, JG 52 moved into the Soviet Union to support the rapidly advancing Army Group South. Rall was the Staffelkapitän of 8./JG 52 by 28 November 1941 when he was shot down. It was nearly dark when he tangled with Soviet fighters, and he allowed himself a momentary lapse of concentration as he watched the spectacular flaming descent of his 36th victim. Another Soviet fighter got behind him, crippled his aircraft, and Rall had a very rough crash-landing. He broke his back in three places and was told that he would never fly again. However, Rall was determined, and he succeeded in returning to his unit on 28 August 1942. The impetus of the German offensive in 1942 was in the South, and this placed JG 52 in the thick of the action. Rall's victory total grew rapidly. He was awarded the Knight's Cross on 3 September 1942 with 65 victories and the Oakleaves on 26 October 1942 with 100. He was awarded the Swords on 12 September 1943 with 200 victories and went on to score about 40 victories in the month of October. That November Rall became the second pilot, behind Walter Nowotny, to score 250 victories, but he was wounded shortly thereafter and out of action for six months. He returned to combat in the spring of 1944 as the comander of II./JG 11 in the West. This unit was a special high altitude group charged with engaging the enemy fighter escort while more heavily armed fighters attacked the bombers. On 12 May 1944 Rall's thumb was shot off by a P-47, and he was forced to bail out of his crippled aircraft near Berlin. He contracted diptheria while recovering and remained hospitalized until November. He was then posted to General der Jagdflieger Adolf Galland's staff and given command of a school for squadron commanders at Königsberg-Neumark. In March 1945 he was assigned to be the commander of JG 300 and flew an Fw 190D-9, though his favorite aircraft of the war was the Bf 109. Lack of fuel severely restricted operations, and JG 300 surrendered to the Americans near Salzburg. Rall was very fortunate to avoid being captured by the Soviets, for they would have surely imprisoned such an effective enemy for a long time. Rall joined the Bundesluftwaffe in 1956 and rose to command it as a Lieutenant General from 1970 to 1974. He is the third ranking ace in the history of aerial warfare.
Hans-Joachim "Hajo" Herrmann had a brilliant career as a bomber pilot and later emerged as an innovative tactician. He joined the Luftwaffe in August 1935, five months after its existence had been officially acknowledged, following a chance encounter with Göring. Herrmann had already gained some flying experience with gliders. He was one of the first bomber pilots sent to Spain with the Legion Condor and flew Ju 52s with 1/K 88. Herrmann flew eighteen sorties over Poland in a He 111 with the 4th Staffel in III./KG 4. Following the Polish campaign III./KG 4 was redesignated III./KG 30, and Herrmann converted to the Ju 88 in May 1940. On 31 May 1940 he was shot down over Dunkirk, but he managed to crash-land in shallow water. Herrmann had a memorable experience on the evening of 22/23 July 1940 while on a mission to drop mines near Plymouth. His Ju 88 stalled as he tried to avoid barrage balloons and ended up landing directly on top of one of them. The balloon and the aircraft started to descend rapidly, but the bomber finally slid off. Herrmann regained control and proceeded to drop his mines. On 18 October 1940 he was injured in an accident during take-off and hospitalized for six weeks. While still recuperating, Herrmann was awarded the Knight's Cross on October 30. In February 1941 he was transferred to Sicily and bombed targets in Malta. During the invasion of Greece in April 1941 Herrmann commanded 7./KG 30. On April 6 he participated in a mission to mine the port of Piraeus, but acting against orders, Herrmann also carried a single SC250 bomb. After dropping his mines, he selected a target for his one bomb and scored a hit on the Clan Fraser which was loaded with about 250 tons of ammunition. The massive explosion destroyed the transport, sank ten other ships, and rendered the port unusable for several weeks. Herrmann was given command of III./KG 30 in August 1941, and the unit was transferred to northern Norway to attack the Arctic convoys which were supplying the Soviet Union. In July 1942 Herrmann was withdrawn from combat and transferred to the Luftwaffe Headquarters Staff. He had flown 320 missions and sunk twelve ships totalling over 60,000 tons. Herrmann used his new position to advocate the strengthening of the Luftwaffe fighter force by converting a large number of bomber and Stuka pilots to fighters. He recognized the vulnerability of Germany even at this early point, but his proposal was rejected. In the summer of 1943 Herrmann devised his famous "Wilde Sau" tactics. On the night of 25/26 July 1943 Hamburg suffered the most horrifying air raid of the war up to that point. It was the first time the RAF bombers dropped clouds of metal foil, called "Window," in order to confuse the German radar system upon which the German night fighters relied. Herrmann had noticed during his own bombing missions how visible bombers were when viewed from above over a burning city. Herrmann suggested using conventional day fighters against the bombers, and he was given command of 30. Jagddivision with JG 300, 301, and 302. Herrmann himself flew "Wilde Sau" sorties and succeeded in shooting down nine bombers. On 2 August 1943 he was awarded the Oakleaves. By early 1944 German radar technology was able to cope with "Window," and the "Wilde Sau" sorties ended. On 23 January 1944 Herrmann was personally awarded the Swords by Hitler, and in March 1944 he was given command of 1. Jagddivision which included both day and night fighters and was responsible for an area that included Berlin. Herrmann pressed for a single massive attack against the USAAF bomber formations in order to gain time for the Luftwaffe to re-equip with the Me 262. He had had an oppurtunity to fly the jet in July 1943 and, like many other Luftwaffe officers, believed that the Me 262 was their only chance. His proposal was rejected, and in October 1944 he was removed from command of 1. Jagddivision. Herrmann was soon posted under Generalmajor Dietrich Peltz at II. Fliegerkorps to help plan the Luftwaffe support for the Ardennes offensive. He suggested using night fighter pilots on nocturnal ground attack missions, and Herrmann succeeded in destroying a train while flying a Ju 88 on just such a sortie. He was given command of 9. Fliegerdivision and again called for a single massive attack to gain time. Relatively inexperienced pilots would be used to gain time for better pilots to equip with the Me 262. The young pilots would resort to ramming the enemy bombers and hopefully survive by bailing out. Herrmann's desperate plan was actually carried out on 7 April 1945 by Schulungslehrgang "Elbe," but by that time it was clearly too late to have an effect. Herrmann was captured by the Soviets and imprisoned for ten years. He is the author of Eagle's Wings.
Walter Schuck scored 206 victories and was awarded the Knight's Cross with Oakleaves. In April 1942 he was sent to the bitterly cold Eismeer Front with 7./JG 5 at Petsamo, Finland. In March 1944 he shot down seven Boston bombers in one day. On 1 August 1944 he was given command of 10./JG 5. He was transferred to the West to fly the Me 262 and was appointed Staffelkapitän of 3./JG 7 on 24 March 1945. He shot down eight aircraft while flying the Me 262, including four B-17s on April 10. He was forced to bail out on the same mission.
Johannes Steinhoff scored 176 victories during 900 sorties and was awarded the Knight's Cross with Oakleaves and Swords. He was Staffelkapitän of 10./JG 26 at the beginning of the war, but was transferred to JG 52 in February 1940 and served with that unit during the Battle of Britain. Jagdgeschwader 52 was posted to the East for the attack on the Soviet Union, and 148 of Steinhoff's victories were scored on the Eastern Front. He was given command of II./JG 52 in early 1942, but was transferred to North Africa on 28 October 1942 to take command of JG 77. Steinhoff was among the elite pilots of the Luftwaffe to survive and serve in the few units equipped with the Me 262 near the end of the war. He served in JG 7 and with Adolf Galland in JV 44. He scored five victories with the Me 262, but was horribly burned on 18 April 1945 after an accident occured during take-off. There is a photograph of his charred Me 262 on page 98 of volume one, and Steinhoff has signed it! He spent the next two years in a hospital. His eyelids were completely burned away, and he did not close his eyes until 1969 when a British doctor used skin from his arm to make new eyelids. Despite these difficulties, he served in the Bundesluftwaffe and rose to become Chief of Staff of NATO Air Forces. Steinhoff died in 1994.
Ernst-Wilhelm Reinert scored 174 victories and was awarded the Knight's Cross with Oakleaves and Swords. He served with JG 77 in the East and scored 103 victories on the Eastern Front. He served as the commanding officer of IV./JG 27 in the West and was the top scoring ace of the Tunisian campaign, claiming 51 victories between January and April 1943. On 8 May 1943 Reinert evacuated Tunisia and flew his Bf 109G to Sicily with two other men crammed into the fighter. By removing the canopy and the armor behind the seat, two men were able to fit behind Reinert. While over the Mediterranean, he attacked and shot down a British Fleet Air Arm Grumman Martlet fighter in spite of his extra passengers and his lack of armor.
Dietrich Hrabak scored 125 victories, 109 in the East and 16 in the West, and was awarded the Knight's Cross with Oakleaves. He had a close call on the third day of the war in Poland when he crash-landed behind enemy lines following combat with P.23s, but he was able to find his way back through the front lines. He scored his first victory during the battle for France when he shot down a Potez 63 on 13 May 1940. Hrabak fought in the Battle of Britain and was awarded the Knight's Cross on 21 October 1940 with sixteen victories. He went on to serve in Yugoslavia and Greece before the attack on the Soviet Union. Hrabak commanded II./JG 54 from 26 August 1940 to 27 October 1942 when he took command of JG 52. He returned to take command of JG 54 on 1 October 1944 and served in that capacity until the end of the war. Hrabak died in 1995.
Wolfgang Späte scored 99 victories and was awarded the Knight's Cross with Oakleaves. He began his flying career with gliders in 1927, and by 1937 he was employed as a test pilot by the Deutsches Forschungsinstitut für Segelflug. In 1938 he won the 19th Rhön Glider Competition. He enlisted in the Luftwaffe and flew an Hs 126 with 2./H 23 in Poland and France. Späte converted to fighter aircraft and joined 5./JG 54 on 1 June 1941 just prior to the attack on the Soviet Union. He enjoyed immediate success and was awarded the Knight's Cross on 5 October 1941 with 45 victories and the Oakleaves on 23 April 1942 with 72 victories. Due to his experience with gliders, he was appointed as the Luftwaffe's director for the development of the Me 163 rocket fighter and commander of Erprobungs-Kommando 16. His glider experience was necessary because the Me 163 was designed to glide back to base after the rocket fuel had been expended. Späte returned to combat and served as the commander of IV./JG 54 from May to September 1944. That period proved to be a very difficult time. After converting from the Bf 109 to the Fw 190A-8, IV./JG 54 suffered heavy losses while trying to stem the tide of the great Soviet summer offensive. Späte was forced to bail out and was wounded. His unit was pulled back to the West, built back up, and virtually annihilated during the Allied attempt to take Arnhem. Following this debacle, Späte returned to work on the Me 163 and became the commander of JG 400 on 1 December 1944. He ended the war flying the Me 262 as the commander of III./JG 7. He shot down five B-17s while flying the jet, including three on 25 April 1945.
Diethelm von Eichel-Streiber scored 96 victories and was awarded the Knight's Cross. He served with JG 1, 26, 27, 51, and ended the war flying the Me 262 with JV 44.
Horst Petzschler joined the Luftwaffe on 1 April 1941 and recieved his first combat posting in August 1943 when he joined JG 51. On 7 September 1943 he flew his first mission in a Fw 190A-4 and was forced to bail out after being hit by ground fire. Petzschler flew many hazardous ground attack missions, and oppurtunities for aerial victories were not readily available. He scored his first victory on 5 November 1943 when he shot down a Yak-7 and then shot down two Il-2s on November 10. Petzschler was transferred to the West on 13 April 1944 and joined 2./JG 3 near Magdeburg. He clashed with the USAAF for the first time on 12 May 1944 while flying a Bf 109G-10 and managed to shoot down a B-17 and a P-51 before being forced to crash-land. He claimed a B-24 on May 14 and a P-51 on the 28th, but he was forced to bail out during the latter sortie. Petzschler returned to his old unit in June 1944 when he was transferred to the East to join JG 51, and he resumed the ground attack sorties with the Fw 190. He was withdrawn from combat on 23 September 1944 to serve as an instructor, but returned to JG 51 near Danzig on 13 February 1945. Petzschler scored his last victory on April 27 when he shot down a Pe-2 and finished the war with 26 victories and 297 sorties. He was shot down thirteen times — once by P-51s and the rest by ground fire — and was forced to bail out on two occasions. Petzschler flew his aircraft to Sweden at the end of the war, but the Swedes turned him over to the Soviets on 22 January 1946. He was released on 22 September 1949.
Ernst Scheufele scored 18 victories, including three heavy bombers, and served with JG 4 and 5. He rose to command 14./JG 4, but on 3 December 1944 he was shot down by ground fire near Aachen.
Walter Boerner has signed on the front free endpaper of both volumes and on pages 25 and 157 of volume two. He scored 13 victories while serving with JG 54.
Hubert Heckmann has signed on the front free endpapers of both volumes. He served with JG 1 and 7 and scored five victories.
Hans Busch has signed on the front free endpapers of both volumes. He flew the bomber variant of the Me 262 with KG 51.
Urban L. Drew flew P-51s with the 375th Fighter Squadron, 361st Fighter Group in the Eighth Air Force. He shot down his first aircraft, a Bf 109, on just his sixth mission on 25 June 1944, and he later added two more Bf 109s to his total. On 11 September 1944 he shot down a He 111, and he and two others strafed and sank the enormous six-engined Bv 238V-1 flying boat on Lake Schaal. Drew is best known for his accomplishment on 7 October 1944. Flying at 15,000 feet, he managed to spot two Me 262s of Kommando Nowotny taking off from Achmer. Drew dove on them and surprised the second jet to take-off. It exploded in mid-air after taking hits, and Leutnant Gerhard Kobert was killed. The other jet banked to come around at Drew, but the latter crippled it with a difficult deflection shot. Oberleutnant Paul Bley was able to bail out before the jet crashed. Bley was killed two weeks later when his jet suffered engine failure on take-off. Drew was the first Allied pilot to shoot down two Me 262s on one mission. He finished the war with six victories.
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