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Aces of the Zerstorer Luftwaffe

Written by Sakhal

Hans-Ulrich Rudel

The achievements of Hans-Ulrich Rudel during the Second World War have not been equalled by any aviator in History and he received the only Knight's Cross with Golden Oak Leaves awarded to any German serviceman. Albeit he enlisted in the Luftwaffe in 1936 and received training as bomber pilot, he spent the most part of the three following years as observer. Until 1941 he was not destined to the dive bombers Ju 87 "Stuka". The day of the Operation Barbarossa, 22nd June 1941, he performed the first four combat sorties as a Stuka pilot, flying the Ju 87B. The 23rd September of that year, flying as technical officer of the II Gruppe, Rudel attacked units of the Soviet fleet in Kronstadt, sinking the battleship Marat of 23600 tonnes; in later attacks he sank a cruiser and a destroyer. The 6th June 1942 he was awarded the Knight's Cross after having completed more than 400 operative missions. Then he enjoyed a short resting period, after which he was appointed Staffelkapitan of the Staffel 9 in the Caucasus. Rudel flew his mission number 500 the 24th September of that year and the number 1000 the 10th February of the following year, using frequently the Ju 86D. In 1943, Rudel started to fly the anti-tank version Ju 87G, armed with two 37-millimeter cannons. The 14th April he was awarded the Oak Leaves for his Knight's Cross.

The record of Rudel on destroyed enemy tanks started to raise quickly from the first day of the Battle of Kursk, the 5th July 1943. In his first sortie he destroyed four T-34 tanks; during the rest of the day his record increased to twelve. The 12th August he made his sortie number 1300, while Erwin Hentschel, his radio operator, made his sortie number 1000, and the next month, Rudel took the command of the III Gruppe. The 30th October he destroyed his Soviet tank number 100 with the Ju 87G. To this followed the Swords for his Knight's Cross the 25th November and the promotion to Major the 1st March 1944. The 26th March, Rudel destroyed 17 tanks he alone, raising his record of victories over enemy tanks to 202. The 1st June he departed in his mission number 2000, destroying his enemy tank number 301; this earned him the Diamonds for his Knight's Cross, the Pilots and Observer's Badge in Gold and the Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe in Gold with Diamonds. The 19th August his aircraft was shot down and he suffered injuries in the legs, but remained in the front, being sent as Lieutenant Colonel at the command of the Schlachtgeschwader 2 "Immelmann". The Golden Oak Leaves were awarded to him the 29th December. In February 1945, his record of missions had far exceeded 2400 sorties and his record on enemy tanks reached 505, but the 8th February, Rudel's aircraft was shot down by anti-aircraft fire near Lebus. He saved his life thanks to his aft gunner, Dr. Gadermann, but he had his right foot amputated in a first-line aid station. But despite of the uncured wound, Rudel continued fighting and managed to destroy 26 tanks more before the end of the war.

Aces of the Zerstorer Luftwaffe

Junkers Ju 87B-2 from the III Gruppe Stukageschwader 2, piloted by Hauptmann Hans-Ulrich Rudel the 23rd September 1942. Wingspan: 13.8 meters; length: 11.10 meters; height: 4.01 meters; engine: one Junkers Jumo 211 of 1200 horsepower; maximum speed: 383 kilometers/hour; service ceiling: 8000 meters; operational range: 790 kilometers; armament: three MG 17 7.92-millimeter machine guns and one 500-kilogram bomb.

Aces of the Zerstorer Luftwaffe

Junkers Ju 87G-1 from the Staffel 5 of the II/ Schlachtgeschwader 3, serving in the Eastern Front in the late 1944. The Ju 87G-1 was a reconversion - devised by Hans-Ulrich Rudel - from the basic Ju 87D-5, adapted to carry two formidable cannons Flak 18 of 37 millimeters in underwing pylons. The cannons could be removed and bombs installed in their place, but this version of the Stuka lacked dive brakes. Wingspan: 15 meters; length: 11.50 meters; height: 3.90 meters; engine: one Junkers Jumo 211J-1 of 1400 horsepower; maximum speed: 383 kilometers/hour; service ceiling: 8000 meters; operational range: 790 kilometers; armament: two BK 3.7 37-millimeter cannons (or up to 1800 kilograms of bombs) and one MG 81 7.92-millimeter machine gun.

Bruno Meyer

Born in Jeremie, in the island of Haiti, in the West Indies, the 13th November 1915, Bruno Meyer entered the German Army the 4th April 1934, but later he was transferred to the Luftwaffe attending the flight school at Hildesheim in 1937. During the campaign in Poland, he served in the only assault group that the Luftwaffe had, the II Lehrgeschwader, under command by Major Werner Spielvogel, which used the biplanes Henschel Hs 123 and attacked Radom, Warsaw and Modlin. He remained in this unit during the campaign in France and took part in the attacks upon Arras, Cambrai and Soissons. He also took part in air combats during the Battle of Britain. In 1941 Meyer was appointed Staffelkapitan of the Staffel 5 Lehrgeschwader 2 during the attack to Greece and Crete. The Lehrgeschwader 2 remained active during the first stages of the Operation Barbarossa and Meyer took part in the battle at Wop, before being transferred to the northern sector where he intervened in the tank combats at Vitebsk. The 21st August 1941 he was awarded the Knight's Cross after completing 200 flight missions. In October 1942 he was transferred to North Africa, aggregated to the Schlaghtgeschwader 2. The following month, as Oberleutnant, he took the command of the Staffel 4, which flew the Henschel Hs 129 in anti-tank missions.

Fled to Italy before the fall of Tunisia, he returned to Germany, to create and command the IV Gruppe of the Schlachtfliegergeschwader 9, and led his unit to the Eastern Front, with enough time to take part in the Operation Zitadelle, the massive tank battle in Kursk, started the 5th July 1943. After three days of terrible combats between both armored forces, the group of Meyer was assigned to the support of the German southern flank. It was expected that the Russian reinforcements would attack from that side. In the early morning of the 8th July, the pilots from a patrol led personally by Meyer, detected a certain number of Russian tanks advancing in the forest area nearby to Bielgorod. Calling to base to request reinforcements, Meyer ordered his pilots to attack and soon later joined the attack the squadrons 4/SchG 2 commanded by Hauptmann Matuschek, 8/SchG 2 commanded by Oberleutnant Franz Oswald, 4/SchG 1 commanded by Oberleutnant Dornemann and 8/SchG 1 commanded by Leutnant Orth. Without own casualties, the sixty aircraft Henschel led by Meyer destroyed or put out of action more than 80 Russian tanks, and many other armored vehicles, which were about to attack the unguarded flank of the II SS Panzer Korps. Meyer continued his flight missions in the East, achieving success specially in Kriwoy Rog. In July 1944 he was sent to the headquarters of the Luftwaffe's High Staff, spending almost all of the rest of the war in bureaucratic positions.

Aces of the Zerstorer Luftwaffe

Henschel Hs 129 from the IV Gruppe of the Schlachtfliegergeschwader 9, piloted by Hauptmann Bruno Meyer in the Battle of Kursk, in July 1943. The largest part of the aircraft Hs 129 used for close support were used in the Eastern Front. Among the interchangeable weapons that these aircraft could carry was the 75-millimeter anti-tank cannon BK 7.5, which could destroy even the heavy tank IS-2 with a single hit. The unit commanded by Meyer used this cannon during the Battle of Kursk. Wingspan: 14.20 meters; length: 9.75 meters; height: 3.25 meters; engine: two Gnome-Rhone 14 M 4/5 of 700 horsepower; maximum speed: 407 kilometers/hour; service ceiling: 9000 meters; operational range: 690 kilometers; armament: one MK 101 30-millimeter cannon, two MG 151 20 millimeters cannons and two MG 17 7.92-millimeter machine guns.

Edouard Tratt

Edouard Tratt was the fighter-bomber pilot with higher number of victories in the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. He was also, at the age of 24, an exceptionally young squadron commander. Born in Wurzburg the 24th February 1919, he joined the Luftwaffe in 1938, finishing his instruction as pilot soon after the outbreak of the war. He was sent as Lieutenant to the Staffel 1, in the Zerstorergeschwader 1, very soon before the campaign in France, piloting the Messerschmitt Me Bf 110. The young pilot raised such high hopes that he was chosen to form part of the Erprobungsgruppe 210, led by Walter Rubensdorffer, for operations of exploration and fighter-bomber during the Battle of Britain. In four months he had achieved twelve combat victories with the Staffel of the I Gruppe, of which half were against the Hurricane and Spitfire of the Royal Air Force, which was not little thing for an aviation whose vulnerability against single-seater interceptors was so obvious. Tratt remained in the Erprobungsgruppe 210 piloting the Me Bf 110E-1 with the I Gruppe, in ground-strike missions in the Eastern Front. During those operations it was attributed to him the destruction of 24 tanks and 26 aircraft at ground. In the early 1942 he was promoted to First Lieutenant and transferred again to the Zerstorergeschwader 1, of whose Staffel 1 was then Captain. The 12th April he was awarded the Knight's Cross, having in his record twenty victories in 165 sorties.

In May 1943 he was appointed to command a special test unit, the Erprobungskommando 25, born in Wittmundhafe, to develop anti-bomber tactics to counter the sharp increment of Allied diurnal attacks against German territory. The commando was composed of three Staffeln, of which one flew some Me Bf 110, a Me 210 and a couple of Me 410. Despite of its experimental role, the pilots of the Zerstorerstaffel claimed the destruction of more than 50 Allied bombers against the loss of ten of their own aircraft. In September, Tratt took the command of the "Horst Wessel" II/ Zerstorergeschwader 26, in Oberpfaffenhofen, recently equipped with the heavy fighters Me 410 - some of which were of the variant A-1/U4 armed with cannons BK 5 of 50 millimeters -, for the defense of Germany. The aircraft which Tratt usually piloted during this period is the one depicted in the illustration. In the early 1944, the II/ZG 26 was transferred to Konigsburg/Oder, to escape from the attention of the long-range Allied bombers. During their attacks against the enemy bombers, the German pilots were covered by fighters Focke-Wulf Fw 190 and Messerschmitt Me Bf 109 from the Jagdgeschwader 300. However, the 22nd February, Tratt performed a valiant but reckless attack, without support, on a formation of bombers, near Nordhausen-Hartz; his Me 410 was promptly attacked and shot down by the escorting Republic P-47, causing the death of the pilot. The 26th March 1944, it was conceded posthumously to him the category of Oak Leaves for his Knight's Cross. At the time of his death, he had performed 350 combat missions, during which he destroyed 38 flying aircraft, 26 grounded aircraft, 24 tanks, 312 military transport vehicles and 23 anti-aircraft positions.

Aces of the Zerstorer Luftwaffe

Messerschmitt Me 410A-1/U4 from the II Gruppe Zerstorergeschwader 26 "Horst Wessel", piloted by Major Edouard Tratt in October 1943. Wingspan: 16.35 meters; length: 12.48 meters; height: 4.28 meters; engine: two Daimler-Benz DB 603A of 1850 horsepower; maximum speed: 600 kilometers/hour; service ceiling: 10000 meters; operational range: 1690 kilometers; armament: one BK 5 50 millimeters cannon and two MG 131 13-millimeter machine guns.

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


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2015-06-30

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