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Aces of the Nachtjagdgeschwader Luftwaffe

Written by Sakhal

Heinrich zu Sayn-Wittgenstein

At the moment of his death, Prince Heinrich zu Sayn-Wittgenstein was the record pilot among the ones of night fight of the Luftwaffe, having downed not less than 83 Allied aircraft in the darkness. Only Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer and Helmut Lent could improve his record. Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, the 14th August 1916, Prince Heinrich enlisted in the Luftwaffe before the Second World War and initially he served as bomber pilot. In August 1941, after having performed about 150 flight missions, he was transferred to the Nachtjagdgeschwader (Night Fighter Wing). The Prince demonstrated to be a particularly deadly enemy at the controls of his night fighter - in those moments a Messerschmitt Bf 110G - and when his record reached 22 aircraft destroyed he was rewarded with the Knight's Cross, the 2nd October. In the following month of July he destroyed seven bombers in a single night - which was then considered as a worldwide record -, which earned him the category of Oak Leaves for his Knight's Cross the 31st August. Between September and November, he commanded the II Gruppe of the Nachtjagdgeschwader 3, but the 1st January 1944 he was promoted to Commander of the entire Nachtjagdgeschwader 2.

The 21st January, Prince Heinrich took off from Stendal in his night fighter Ju 88C-6C, equipped with radar SN-2 Lichtenstein and armed with cannons MG 151 of oblique trajectory ("Schrage Musik"). He was oriented by his radar operator, Feldwebel Ostheimer, towards a wave of bombers from the Royal Air Force, which moved towards Magdeburg, and one hour later he downed a Lancaster bomber with his "Schrage Musik" cannons; he destroyed three more heavy bombers in quick succession and immediately engaged a fourth aircraft. When opening fire with his cannon against the bombs compartment of the bomber, his operator saw the beginning of a fire which, apparently, was extinguished. Approaching the Lancaster with his aircraft, Prince Heinrich wanted to open fire once more against the bomber, when this one suddenly exploded. In that moment were heard violent explosions in the larboard wing of the German fighter; Prince Heinrich ordered his operator to throw in parachute while he tried to take control of his damaged aircraft. But, while Ostheimer survived to the parachuting, Prince Heinrich died in the cockpit of the Ju 88, which crashed near Schonhausen. Near there were found the remainings of a Heinkel He 219 piloted by another great German fighter pilot, Captain Manfred Meurer, who had 65 victories in his record. It was believed then that Meurer could have crashed against the Lancaster downed by Prince Heinrich. Two days later, this latter was rewarded posthumously with the category of Swords for his Knight's Cross.

Aces of the Nachtjagdgeschwader Luftwaffe

Junkers Ju 88C-6C from the Nachtjagdgeschwader 2, piloted by Major Heinrich zu Sayn-Wittgenstein in January 1944.

Wingspan: 20 meters

Length: 14.36 meters (excluding antennas)

Height: 5.06 meters

Engines: Two Junkers Jumo 211J of 1350 horsepower

Maximum speed: 488 kilometers/hour

Operative ceiling: 9900 meters

Maximum range: 1980 kilometers

Armament: Three MG FF/M 20-millimeter cannons (one in the nose and two in the ventral gondola), two MG 151 20-millimeter cannons (in dorsal position), three MG 17 7.92-millimeter machine guns (in the nose) and one MG 131 13-millimeter machine gun (in the cockpit shooting backwards)

Martin Becker

Martin Becker was one of the most important German night pilots of the last months of the Second World War; he earned fame due to his extraordinary series of multiple victories achieved in single night missions, piloting his Messerschmitt Me Bf 110G. Born in Wiesbaden the 12th April 1916, "Tino" Becker enlisted in the Luftwaffe immediately before the outbreak of the Second World War, training as reconnaissance pilot. He was assigned a position in an Aufrarungsgruppe, which piloted the Me Bf 110C in 1940, and remained in this unit until the early 1943, when he was transferred to the night fighters, also Me Bf 110. He achieved his first victory during the early hours of the 23rd September 1943, when he destroyed a heavy bomber Avro Lancaster which took part in the bombing over Hannover. Quickly it was established his reputation as excellent pilot in any meteorological situation, taking off frequently in missions against the Royal Air Force when the bad visibility forced the largest part of the German night force to remain in land. In that time he was Oberleutnant in the I Gruppe of the Nachtjagdgeschwader 4. During the Battle of the Ruhr he destroyed at least six night bombers of the RAF, but it was in the Battle of Berlin where he would achieve his most outright success.

Because the Bomber Command of the RAF had to disperse its efforts in attacks against targets other than the German capital, the night of the 22nd-23rd March 1944 a large amount of bombers Avro Lancaster and Handley Page Halifax overflew the strongly defended city of Frankfurt-am-Main. Taking off from Finthen, airfield near Mainz, Becker penetrated in the bomber formation and downed six of the 33 heavy cuatrimotors that the RAF lost that night. In the first hours of the 31st March, piloting again a Me Bf 110G-4, he performed two sorties against the RAF bombers that tried to attack Nuremberg in that famous but failed operation. In the timespan elapsed between 00:20 and 00:50 hours, he localized and destroyed three Halifax and three Lancaster. After that, he landed to refill fuel and ammunitions. Taking off again, he attacked a Halifax - of the Canadian force, 429th Squadron "Brison" - that was on its returning flight, downing it 48 kilometers north of Metz.

Until then, Becker had been flying aircraft equipped with machine guns of telescopic aiming and he had employed the attack method known as "von unter hinden", reducing speed to attack from beneath and towards the tail. Soon he was fond of the deadly "Schrage Musik", which allowed him to attack the enemy bombers from beneath just by passing below them, and use the telescopic-aiming cannons against the vulnerable fuel tanks and bombs compartment of the unaware bombers. In September 1944 we was promoted to Captain and given the command of the IV Gruppe Nachtjagdgeschwader 6, piloting the heavily armed Me Bf 110G-4B/R3. With two MK 108 30 millimeters telescopic-aiming cannons and four 20-millimeter cannons mounted in "Schrage Musik" configuration, he achieved his most resonant success in a single mission the night of the 14th-15th March 1945, when he destroyed not less than nine Lancaster during a bombing over Zweibrucken. Martin Becker survived the war, with a record of 58 victories achieved in about 80 night missions.

Aces of the Nachtjagdgeschwader Luftwaffe

Messerschmitt Me Bf 110G-4B/R3 from the IV Gruppe, Nachtjagdgeschwader 6, piloted by Captain Martin Becker on 14-15 March 1945.

Wingspan: 16.25 meters

Length: 13.05 meters

Height: 4.18 meters

Engines: Two Gnome-Rhone 14 M 4/5 of 700 horsepower

Maximum speed: 550 kilometers/hour

Operative ceiling: 8000 meters

Maximum range: 2100 kilometers

Armament: Two MK 108 30-millimeter cannons, four MG 151 20-millimeter cannons and one MG 812 7.9 millimeters twin machine gun

Categories: Aviation - World War Two - 20th Century - [General] - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2015-07-01

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