|Oberst Erich "Bubi" Hartmann|
(19 April 1922 – 20 September 1993)
As I'm reading the latest issue of Luftwaffe I notice a small article indicating that the man in the photo above had died on the 20th of September. I mentioned to my German colleagues, "Hey, did you guys see that Erich Hartmann died?"
Three Teutonic blank looks followed by a "Who?"
Of course, you have to remember that World War II is something most Germans don't like to remember. Much evil was committed in the name of Germany. Spurred on by a "Bohemian corporal" who wasn't even German!
So in hindsight, I understand. After all, at said point in time, I had only been in Germany for slightly under two years. But at the time it seemed to me that a German airman not knowing who Erich Hartmann was was rather like an American airman not knowing who Eddie Rickenbacker was.
(As time passes, I realize that there are many Americans, including those wearing Air Force blue, who have no idea who Eddie Rickenbacker was. But again, I digress.)
For you see, Erich Hartmann was the top scoring ace of all time.
352 confirmed aerial victories.
Much was written in the post-war years about German victory claims being inflated. Later research showed that the Germans were extremely strict regarding victory claims. Whatever faults the Germans may have, impreciseness is not one of them!
Erich Alfred Hartmann, 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.Some have argued that since Hartmann's victories were all on the Eastern Front, that makes them less valid than kills scored on other fronts, against "Western" opponents. Notwithstanding that the two top scoring Allied aces were Russian (Ivan Kozhedub, 64 victories and Aleksandr Ivanovich Pokryshkin with 59 victories). The two top scoring "Western" aces were Dick Bong of the United States, 40 victories and Pat Pattle of South Africa (flying with the RAF) also with 40 victories. So the Russians were hardly "soft" or "easy" opponents. Then there's this -
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 were 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 a malicious prosecution. Hartmann was sentenced to 25 years of hard labour 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.
On 21 May 1944, Hartmann engaged United States Army Air Forces aircraft for the first time. While flying "top cover" for another Schwarm, Hartmann attacked a flight of four P-51s over Bucharest, Romania, downing two, while the other two P-51s fell victim to his fellow pilots. On 1 June 1944, Hartmann shot down four P-51s in a single mission over the Ploieşti oil fields. Later that month, during his fifth combat with American pilots, he shot down two more P-51s before being forced to bail out, when eight other P-51s ran his Messerschmitt out of fuel. During the intense manoeuvring, Hartmann managed to line up one of the P-51s at close range, but heard only a "clank" when he fired, as he had run out of ammunition. While he was hanging in his parachute, the P-51s circled above him, and Hartmann wondered if they would take this opportunity to kill him. One of the P-51Bs flown by Lt. Robert J. Goebel of the 308th Squadron, 31st Fighter Group, broke away and headed straight for him. Goebel was making a camera pass to record the bailout and banked away from him only at the last moment, waving at Hartmann as he went by. - WikipediaI think that pretty much puts that argument to rest.
Hartmann was one of the best to ever fly in combat. His tally of victories marks him as perhaps the best to ever take to the air in a fighter plane.
|Soviet LaGG-5 Falls to Hartmann's Karaya 1|
|Soviet Yak-9 Downed by Hartmann|
|Hartmann Post-War, Commanding JG-1 Richthofen|
|Note the paint scheme. The same "Black Tulip" design as used on Hartmann's Bf-109G Karaya 1|
If you're ever in the McMinnville, Oregon area (about 40 miles southwest of Portland) the Evergreen Museum (which has a fine collection of aircraft, including Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose) has a Bf-109G painted in the "Black Tulip" design Hartmann favored.
|Oberst Erich Hartmann, Ace of Aces|