Erich Hartmann

Erich Hartmann

Infobox Military Person
name=Erich Hartmann
born=birth date|1922|4|19|df=y
died=death date and age|1993|9|20|1922|4|19|df=y
placeofbirth=Weissach, Württemberg
placeofdeath=Weil im Schönbuch

caption=Erich Hartmann
"The Blond Knight"
The "Black Devil"
The "Black Devil of the South" (to the Soviets)
allegiance=flagicon|Nazi Germany Nazi Germany (to 1945)
flagicon|West Germany West Germany
serviceyears=1940 – 1945
1956 – 1970
rank=Major (Wehrmacht)
Oberst (Bundeswehr)
commands=I./JG 52 and JG 71
unit=JG 52, JG 53 and JG 71
battles=World War II
* Eastern front
* Defense of the Reich
awards=Ritterkreuz mit Eichenlaub, Schwerten und Brillianten
laterwork= Civilian Flight instructor

Erich Alfred "Bubi" Hartmann (19 April 1922 – 20 September 1993), also nicknamed "The Blond Knight of Germany" by friends and "The Black Devil" by his enemies, was a German fighter pilot and still is the highest scoring fighter ace in the history of aerial combat. He scored 352 aerial victories (of which 345 were won against the Soviet Air Force, and 260 of which were fighters) in 1,404 combat missions and engaging in aerial combat 825 times while serving with the "Luftwaffe" in World War II. During the course of his career, Hartmann was forced to crash land his damaged fighter 14 times. This was due to damage received from parts of enemy aircraft he had just shot down, or mechanical failure. Hartmann claimed never to have been shot down or forced to land due to fire from enemy aircraft. [Toliver & Constable 1986, p. 12.]

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 would earn him the coveted Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds on 25 August 1944 for claiming 301 aerial victories.

He scored his 352nd and last aerial victory on 8 May 1945. He and the remainder of JG 52 surrendered to United States Army forces and were turned over to the Red Army. Convicted of false "War Crimes" and sentenced to 25 years of hard labour, Hartmann would spend 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 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 "Bundesluftwaffe" and the resulting clashes with his superiors over this issue. Erich Hartmann died in 1993.Berger 1999, p. 107.]

Early life

Erich Hartmann was born on 19 April 1922, in Weissach, Württemberg, to Doctor Alfred Erich Hartmann and his wife Elisabeth Wilhelmine Machtholf. The economic depression that followed the First World War in Germany prompted Doctor Hartmann to find work in Changsha, China, and Erich spent his early childhood there. The family was forced to return to Germany in 1928 when civil war broke out in China. [Toliver and Constable 1986, pp. 15, 16. During the Second World War, Hartmann's younger brother, Alfred, would also join the Luftwaffe, serving as a gunner on a Ju 87 in North Africa. He was captured by the British and spent four years as a Prisoner of war.]

Erich was educated at the Volksschule in Weil im Schönbuch (April 1928 – April 1932), the Gymnasium in Böblingen (April 1932 – April 1936), the National Political Institutes of Education in Rottweil (April 1936 – April 1937), and the Gymnasium in Korntal (April 1937 – April 1940), from which received his Abitur. It was at Korntal that he met his wife-to-be, Ursula "Usch" Paetsch. She was 15 years old, and initially her parents disapproved of the relationship.Toliver and Constable 1986, p. 296.]

Hartmann's flying career began when he joined the glider training program of the fledgling "Luftwaffe", and was taught to fly by his mother, one of the first female glider pilots in Germany. The Hartmanns also owned a light aircraft, but were forced to sell it in 1932 as the German economy collapsed. The rise to power of the Nazi party in 1933 resulted in government support for gliding, and in 1936 Elisabeth Hartmann helped set up a flying school at Weil im Schönbuch, where fourteen-year-old Erich became an instructor. In 1939 he gained his pilot's license, allowing him to fly powered aircraft. [Kaplan 2007, p. 89.]

Luftwaffe career

Hartmann began his military training on 1 October 1940 at the 10th Flying Regiment in Neukuhren. On 1 March 1941 he progressed to the "Luftkriegsschule 2" in Berlin-Gatow, where his first flight with an instructor took place four days later, followed in just under three weeks by his first solo flight. He completed his basic flying training in October 1941, and began advanced flight training at pre-fighter school 2 in Lachen-Speyerdorf on 1 November 1941. There Hartmann learned combat techniques and gunnery skills. His advanced pilot training was completed on 31 January 1942, and between 1 March 1942 and 20 August 1942 he learned to fly the Messerschmitt Bf 109 at the "Jagdfliegerschule 2" in Zerbst/Anhalt. [Kaplan 2007, p. 90.]

Hartmann's time as a trainee pilot did not always go smoothly, and on occasion he ran foul of his superiors. On 31 March 1942, during a gunnery training flight, he ignored regulations and performed some aerobatics in his Bf 109 over the Zerbst airfield. His punishment was a three-month period of confinement to quarters with the loss of two-thirds of his pay in fines. Hartmann later recalled that the incident saved his life:

That week confined to my room actually saved my life. I had been scheduled to go up on a gunnery flight the afternoon that I was confined. My roommate took the flight instead of me, in an aircraft I had been scheduled to fly. Shortly after he took off, while on his way to the gunnery range, he developed engine trouble and had to crash-land near the Hindenburg-Kattowitz railroad. He was killed in the crash. [Kaplan 2007, p. 90.] [Toliver and Constable 1986, p. 31. en icon]

Afterwards Hartmann practiced hard. During a gunnery practice session in June 1942, he hit a target drogue with 24 of the allotted 50 rounds of machine gun fire; a feat that was considered difficult to achieve. His training had qualified him to fly 17 different types of powered aircraft, and following his graduation he was posted on 21 August 1942 to "Jagdergänzungsgruppe Ost" (Fighter Supply Group, East) in Gleiwitz, Upper Silesia, where he remained until 10 October 1942. [Kaplan 2007, p. 90.]

To the frontline

In October 1942 Hartmann was assigned to fighter wing Jagdgeschwader 52 (JG 52), based at Maykop on the Eastern Front in the Soviet Union. The wing was equipped with the Messerschmitt Bf 109G, but Hartmann and several other pilots were initially given the task of ferrying Junkers Ju 87 Stukas down to Mariupol. His first flight ended with brake failure, causing the Stuka to crash into and destroy the controller's hut. [Toliver and Constable 1986, pp. 32-33.] Hartmann was assigned to III./JG 52ref label|Note1|a|a, led by Gruppenkommandeur Major Hubertus von Bonin, and placed under the experienced Oberfeldwebel Edmund "Paule" Roßmann, although he also flew with such experienced pilots as Alfred Grislawski, Hans Dammers and Josef Zwernemann. After a few days of intensive mock combats and practice flights, Grislawski conceded that, although Hartmann had much to learn regarding combat tactics, he was a quite talented pilot. It was, however, Paule Rossmann who taught Hartmann the fundamentals of the surprise attack, a tactic, which would lead to his "See – Decide – Attack – Reverse" style of aerial combat.Toliver and Constable 1986, pp. 46–47, 54, 61, 84.]

Hartmann flew his first combat mission on 14 October 1942 as Rossmann's wingman. When they encountered ten enemy aircraft below, Hartmann, obsessed by the idea of scoring his first kill, opened full throttle and became separated from Rossmann. He engaged an enemy fighter, but failed to score any hits, and nearly collided with it instead. He then ran for cover in low cloud, and his mission subsequently ended with a crash landing after his aircraft ran out of fuel. Hartmann had violated almost every rule of air-to-air combat, and von Bonin sentenced him to three days of working with the ground crew. Twenty-two days later, Hartmann claimed his first kill, an Il-2 of the 7th Guards Ground Attack Aviation Regiment, but by the end of 1942 he had added only one more kill to his tally. As with many top aces, it was to take some time to establish himself as a consistently scoring fighter pilot. [Deac 1998, p. 30.]

Hartmann's youthful appearance earned him the nickname Bubi (the hypocoristic form of "young boy" in the German language), and the ace Walter Krupinski, to whom Hartmann was assigned as wingman, would constantly urge him: "Hey, Bubi, get in closer". [Toliver & Constable 1986, p. 54.] On 25 May he shot down a LaGG-5 before colliding with another Soviet fighter, but was able to maintain control of his damaged aircraft. [Kurowski 1996, p. 177.] On 7 July 1943, in the massive dogfights that occurred during the Battle of Kursk, he shot down seven enemy aircraft. At the start of August 1943 his tally stood at 50, and by the end of the month he had added another 48 kills. The following month he was appointed "Staffelkapitän" of "9./JG 52". [Williamson 2006, p. 45.]

In the first year of service Hartmann felt a distinct lack of respect towards Russian pilots. He recalled that most Soviet fighters did not have proper gunsights, and their pilots resorted to drawing them on the windshield by hand.

In the early days, incredible as it may seem, there was no reason for you to feel fear if the Russian fighter was behind you. With their hand-painted "gunsights" they couldn't pull the lead properly or hit you

While Hartmann considered the P-39 Airacobra, Curtiss P-40, and Hawker Hurricane inferior to the Fw 190 and Bf 109, they did provide the Soviets with valuable gunsight technology. [Kaplan 2007, p. 93.]

The Germans did learn a few tricks from their enemy. Oil freezing in the Daimler-Benz DB 605 engines of their Bf 109G-6s made them difficult to start in the extreme cold of the Russian winter. A captured Soviet airman demonstrated how pouring fuel into the aircraft's oil sump would thaw the oil and allow the engine to start first time. Another solution to this problem, also learned from the Soviets, was to ignite fuel under the engine. [Kaplan 2007, p. 104.]

Behind enemy lines

By late August of 1943, Hartmann had ninety aerial victories, but on 19 August, in combat with Il-2s, his aircraft was damaged by debris and he was forced to land behind Soviet lines. Hartmann's "Geschwaderkommodore", Dietrich Hrabak, had given orders to Erich's unit to support the dive-bombers of "Sturzkampfgeschwader 2", led by the famous "Stuka" pilot Hans-Ulrich Rudel in a counter attack. The situation had changed, and the flight of eight German fighters engaged a mass of Russian Yak-9 and Lavochkin La-7 fighter aircraft that were protecting Il-2 Sturmoviks on a ground-attack mission. Hartmann shot down two enemy aircraft before his fighter was hit by debris and he was forced to make an emergency landing. He then, in accordance with Luftwaffe regulations, attempted to recover the precision board clock. As he was doing so, Soviet ground troops approached. Realising that capture was unavoidable, he faked internal injuries. Hartmann's acting so convinced the Soviets that they put him on a stretcher and placed him on a truck. [Kaplan 2007, p. 102.]

Hartmann patiently waited for the right moment to escape, then, using the distraction of the Stukas attack, he attacked the single guard. Hartmann "bailed out" the back of the truck and ran into a large field of giant sunflowers; evading the pursuing soldiers, Hartmann hid and waited for nightfall. In the dark, Hartmann followed a Russian patrol heading west to the front. As he approached the German position, a sentry challenged him and fired a shot which passed through Hartmann's trousers. When Hartmann's Crew Chief, Heinz "Bimmel" Mertens, heard what had happened, he took a rifle and went to search for Hartmann. [Toliver and Constable 1986, pp. 64–77.]

The Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross

In October 1943, Hartmann claimed another 33 kills, and on October 29 he was awarded the "Ritterkreuz", at which point his tally stood at 148 kills. By the end of the year this had risen to 159. [Deac 1998, p. 34.] In the first two months of 1944 Hartmann claimed another 50 kills. Hartmann continued scoring at an even greater pace. His spectacular rate of kills raised a few eyebrows even in the Luftwaffe High Command; his claims were double- and triple-checked, and his performance closely monitored by an observer flying in his formation. On 2 March, he reached 202 kills. [Weal 2001, p. 73.] By this time, the Soviet pilots were familiar with Hartmann's radio call-sign of "Karaya 1" and the Soviet Command had put a price of 10,000 rubles on the German pilot's head. [Kaplan 2007, p. 104.] Hartmann, for a time, used a black Tulip design around the engine cowling near the spinner of his aircraft, so Soviet personnel consequently nicknamed him "Cherniye Chort" ("Black Devil"). However, Hartmann's opponents were often reluctant to stay and fight if they noticed his personal design. As a result, this aircraft was often allocated to novices, who could fly it in relative safety. On 21 March, Hartmann scored "JG 52"s 3,500th kill of the war. [Weal 2003a, p.74.] Adversely, the reluctance of the Soviet airmen to fight caused Hartmann's kill rate to drop. Hartmann then had the tulip design removed, and his aircraft painted just like the rest of his unit. In the following two months, Hartmann amassed over 50 kills. [Kaplan 2007, pp. 104-105.]

In March 1944, Erich Hartmann, Gerhard Barkhorn, Walter Krupinski and Johannes Wiese were summoned to Adolf Hitler's Berghof in Berchtesgaden. Barkhorn was to be honoured with the Swords while Hartmann, Krupinski and Wiese were to receive the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross. On the train, all four of them got drunk on cognac and champagne. Supporting each other and unable to stand, they arrived at Berchtesgarden. Major Nicolaus von Below, Hitler's Luftwaffe adjutant, was shocked. After some sobering up, Hartmann was still intoxicated. Hartmann took a German officer hat from a stand and put it on, but it was too large. Von Below became upset and told Hartmann it was Hitler’s and ordered him to put it back. [Toliver and Constable 1986, pp. 9–11.]

Fighting the United States Army Air Forces

On 21 May 1944, Hartmann engaged United States Army Air Force aircraft in Defense of the Reich for the first time. While flying "top cover" for another "Schwarm", Hartmann attacked a flight of four P-51 Mustangs over Bucharest, Romania, downing two while the other two P-51s fell victim to his fellow pilots.Kaplan 2007, p. 115.] On 1 June 1944, Hartmann shot down four Mustangs in a single mission over the Ploieşti oil fields. [Toliver and Constable 1985, pp. 177–182, 339 de icon] Later that month, during his fifth combat with American pilots, he shot down two more Mustangs before being forced to bail out, when eight other Mustangs ran his Messerschmitt out of fuel. During the intense manoeuvring, Hartmann managed to line-up one of the Mustangs at close range, but heard only a "clank" when he fired, as he had run out of ammunition. [Toliver and Constable 1986, pp. 165–169.] Whilst hanging in his parachute, the Mustangs circled above him, and Erich wondered if they would take this opportunity to kill him. One of the Mustangs broke away and headed straight for him, only to bank away from him at the last moment, waving at Erich as he went by. [Kaplan 2007, p. 116.]

On 17 August 1944, Hartmann became the top scoring fighter ace, surpassing fellow "JG 52" pilot Gerhard Barkhorn, with his 274th kill.ref label|Note2|b|b

The Diamonds to the Knight's Cross

On 23 August 1944 Erich claimed eight victories in three combat missions bringing his score to 290 victories. [Weal 2001, p. 78.] Erich Hartmann passed the 300 kill mark the on 24 August 1944, a day on which he shot down 11 aircraft in two combat missions bringing the number of aerial victories to an unprecedented 301 victories. He was immediately grounded by "Luftwaffe" chief of staff Hermann Göring, who was fearful of the effect on German morale should such a hero be lost. Hartmann, however, later successfully lobbied to be reinstated as a combat pilot.

He became one of only 27 German soldiers in World War II to receive the Diamonds to his Knight's Cross. [Weal 2003a, p. 71.] Hartmann was summoned to the "Führerhauptquartier Wolfsschanze", Adolf Hitler's military headquarter near "Rastenburg", to receive the coveted award from Hitler personally. On arrival, he was asked to surrender his side arm – a security measure caused by the aftermaths of the failed assassination attempt on 20 July 1944. Hartmann refused and threatened to decline the Diamonds if he were not trusted to carry his pistol. After consulting Oberst Nicolaus von Below, Hitler's Luftwaffe adjutant, Hartmann was allowed to keep his side arm and accepted the Diamonds. [Toliver and Constable 1986, pp. 142–143.]

During Hartmann's meeting with Hitler, Hartmann discussed at length the shortcomings of fighter pilot training. Allegedly, Hitler revealed to Hartmann that he believed that, "militarily, the war is lost", and that he wished the "Luftwaffe" had "more like him and Rudel". [Weal 2001, p. 79.]

The Diamonds to the Knight's Cross also earned him a ten day leave. On his way to his vacation, Hartmann was ordered by "General der Jagdflieger" Adolf Galland to attend a meeting in Berlin-Gatow. Galland wanted to transfer Hartmann to the Messerschmitt Me 262 test program. Hartmann requested that the transfer be cancelled on the grounds of his deep attachment to JG 52. Galland, valuing comradeship and seeing the merit in Hartmann's request, cancelled the transfer to the jet squadron and rescinded the order that had taken him off combat operations. Galland then ordered Hartmann to the "Jagdfliegerheim" (vacation resort for fighter pilots) in Bad Wiessee. [Toliver and Constable 1985, p. 148.] It is here that on 10 September 1944, Hartmann married his long-time teenage love, Ursula "Usch" Paetsch. Witnesses to the wedding included his friends Barkhorn and Batz. [Hartman and Jäger 1992, pp. 139–145.]

Fighting technique

Unlike Hans-Joachim Marseille who was a marksman and expert in the art of deflection shooting, Hartmann was a master of stalk-and-ambush tactics. By his own account he was convinced that 80% of the pilots he downed did not even realize what hit them. He relied on the powerful engine of his Messerschmitt Bf-109 for high-power sweeps and quick approaches, occasionally diving through entire enemy formations to take advantage of the confusion that followed in order to disengage. His favourite method of attack was to hold fire until extremely close (60ft/20m or less), then unleash a short burst at point-blank range – a technique he learned while flying as wingman of his former commander, Walter Krupinski, who favoured this approach. This technique, as opposed to long-range shooting, allowed him to: [Spick 1996, p. 201.]

* reveal his position only at the last possible moment
* compensate for the low muzzle velocity of the slower firing 30 mm MK 108 cannon equipping some of the later Bf 109 models, (though most of his victories were claimed with Messerschmitts equipped with the high velocity MG 151 cannon)
* place his shots accurately with minimum waste of ammunition
* prevent the adversary from taking evasive actions

However, firing at close range ran the risk of having to fly through the debris of a damaged or exploding aircraft, thereby damaging his own fighter in the process (much of the damage Hartmann sustained in combat was caused by collision with flying debris). If it was dangerous to dog-fight further he would break off and content himself with one victory. His careful approach was described by himself by the line "See – Decide – Attack – Break": observe the enemy, decide how to proceed with the attack, make the attack, and then disengage to re-evaluate the situation.


From 1 February to 14 February 1945, Hartmann briefly led I./JG 53 as acting "Gruppenkommandeur" until he was replaced by Helmut Lipfert. In March of 1945, Hartmann, his score now standing at 336 aerial victories, was asked a second time by General Adolf Galland to join the Me-262 units forming to fly the new jet fighter. Hartmann attended the jet conversion program led by Heinrich Bär. Galland also intended Hartmann to fly with JV 44. Hartmann declined the offer, preferring to remain with "JG 52". Some sources report that Hartmann's decision to stay with his unit was due to a request via telegram made by "Oberstleutnant" Hermann Graf. [Weal 2003a, p.82.] Now "Gruppenkommandeur" of "I./JG 52", Erich Hartmann claimed his 350th aerial victory on 17 April 1945, in the vicinity of Chrudim. The last wartime photograph of Hartmann known was taken in connection with this victory. [Weal 2004, p. 119.]

At the end of the war, Erich Hartmann disobeyed General Hans Seidemann's order to Hartmann and Hermann Graf to fly to the British sector to avoid capture by Soviet forces. Hartmann later explained:

:I must say that during the war I never disobeyed an order, but when General Seidemann ordered Graf and me to fly to the British sector and surrender to avoid the Russians, with the rest of the wing to surrender to the Soviets. I could not leave my men. That would have been bad leadership. [ Interview by Colin Heaton] ]

Hartmann's last kill occurred over Brno, Czechoslovakia, on 8 May 1945, the last day of the war in Europe. Early that morning, he was ordered to fly a reconnaissance mission and report the position of Soviet forces. Hartmann took off with his wingman at 08:30 and spotted the first Soviet units just forty kilometres away. Passing over the area, Hartmann saw two Yak-9 fighters performing aerobatics for the Soviet columns. Determined to "spoil the party", Hartmann dove upon the fighters from his vantage point at convert|12000|ft|m|abbr=on and shot one down from a range of convert|200|ft|m. As he lined up the second fighter, Hartmann noticed a flicker of shiny dots above him coming from the West: they were P-51 Mustangs. Rather than make a stand and be caught between the Soviets and the Americans, Hartmann and his wingman fled into the pall of smoke that covered Brno at low level. [Kaplan 2007, p. 117.] When he landed, Hartmann learned that the Soviet forces were within artillery range of the airfield, so "JG 52" destroyed "Karaya One", 24 other Bf 109s, and large quantities of ammunition. Hartmann's last violent action in the war was to fire the guns on his fighter, while on the ground, into the forest that surrounded the airfield. Kaplan 2007, p. 118.] Hartmann later recalled that

we destroyed the aircraft and all munitions, everything. I sat in my fighter and fired the guns into the woods where all the fuel had been dropped, and then jumped out. We destroyed twenty-five perfectly good fighters. They would be nice to have in museums now.

As "Gruppenkommandeur" of "I./JG 52", Hartmann chose to surrender his unit to members of the US 90th Infantry Division.Kaplan 2007, pp. 118–119.]


After his capture, the U.S. Army handed Hartmann, his pilots, and ground crew over to the Soviet Union on 24 May 1945, where he was imprisoned in accordance with the Yalta Agreements which stated that airmen and soldiers fighting Soviet forces had to surrender directly to them.Hartmann and his unit were led by the Americans to a large open air compound to await the transfer. The number of prisoners grew to 50,000. Living conditions deteriorated and some American guards turned "a blind eye" to escapes. In some cases, they assisted by providing food and maps.

After being handed over to the Soviets, the German group was split up into groups according to gender. Hartmann witnessed widespread rape and murder of civilians. When the outnumbered Americans tried to intervene the Soviet soldiers charged towards them, firing into the air and threatening to kill them. Order was later restored, and some of the guilty soldiers were hanged "on the spot" by a Soviet commander.

Initially, the Russians tried to convince Erich to cooperate with them. He was asked to spy on fellow officers and become a "Stukatch" or "stool pigeon". He refused and was given 10 days solitary confinement in a four by nine by six foot chamber. He slept on a concrete floor and was given only bread and water. On another occasion, the Soviets threatened to kidnap his wife and murder her (the death of his son was kept from Hartmann). During similar interrogations, about his knowledge of the Me 262, Hartmann was struck by a Soviet officer using a cane, prompting Hartmann to slam his chair down on the head of the Russian, knocking him out. Expecting to be shot, Erich was transferred back to the small bunker.Kaplan 2007, p. 121.]

Hartmann, not ashamed of his war service, opted to go on hunger strike and starve rather than fold to "Soviet will", as he called it. [Kaplan 2007, p. 120.] The Russians allowed the hunger strike to go on for four days before force feeding Hartmann. More subtle efforts by the Soviet authorities to convert Hartmann to Communism also failed. He was offered a post in the "Luftstreitkräfte der Nationale Volksarmee" (East German Air Force), which he refused:

If, after I am home in the West, you make me a normal contract offer, a business deal such as people sign every day all over the world, and I like your offer, then I will come back and work with you in accordance with the contract. But if you try to put me to work under coercion of any kind, then I will resist to my dying gasp.

False War Crimes Charges

Hartmann had gone too far with his resistance. He was falsely charged with war crimes, specifically the deliberate shooting of 780 Soviet civilians in the village of Briansk, attacking a "bread factory" on 23 May 1943, and destroying 345 "expensive" Soviet aircraft.Kaplan 2007, p. 122.] He was subjected to harsh treatment during the early years of his imprisonment, including solitary confinement in total darkness. Hartmann refused to confess to these charges, and conducted his own defence, which was a waste of time, according to the judge. Hartmann was sentenced to 25 years hard labour; but he refused to work. He was eventually put into solitary confinement, which enraged his fellow prisoners. They began a revolt, overpowered the guards, and freed him. Hartmann made a complaint to the Kommandant's office, asking for a representative from Moscow and a international inspection as well as a tribunal to acquit him of his unlawful conviction. This was refused and he was transferred to another camp in Novocherkassk, spending five months in solitary confinement. Eventually, Hartmann was granted a tribunal, which upheld the sentence. He was sent to another camp in Diaterka, in the Ural Mountains. [Kaplan 2007, pp. 122–123.]

During his long imprisonment, Hartmann's son, Erich-Peter, was born in 1945 and died as a three-year-old in 1948, without Hartmann ever seeing him. (Hartmann later had a daughter, Ursula Isabel, born on 23 February 1957). [Kaplan 2007, p. 125] In 1955, Hartmann's mother wrote to the new West German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer to secure his freedom. Hartmann's release, and that of another 16,000 German military personnel, was obtained as part of a trade agreement between the two countries.After spending ten and a half years in Soviet POW camps, he was among the last batch of prisoners to be released in 1955 and returned to West Germany, where he was reunited with his wife Ursula, to whom he had written every day of the war. [Toliver and Constable 1986, p. 255–256.en icon]

In January 1997, the Russian government, as a legal successor to the Soviet Union, exonerated Hartmann, by admitting that his conviction for war crimes was unlawful.

In the Luftwaffe of the Bundeswehr

When he returned to West Germany, Hartmann reentered military service in the Bundeswehr and became an officer in the West German Air Force ("Bundesluftwaffe"), where he commanded West Germany's first all-jet unit, "Jagdgeschwader 71 "Richthofen"", which was equipped initially with Canadair Sabres and later with Lockheed F-104 Starfighters. He also made several trips to the United States, where he was trained on U.S. Air Force equipment. He had the JG 71 aircraft painted with the same spreading black tulip pattern used by "Karaya 1" on the Eastern Front. [Toliver and Constable 1985, p. 278.]

Hartmann considered the F-104 a fundamentally flawed and unsafe aircraft and strongly opposed its adoption by the "Bundesluftwaffe". Although events subsequently validated his low opinion of the aircraft (282 crashes and 115 German pilots killed on the F-104 in non-combat missions, along with allegations of bribes culminating in the Lockheed scandal), Hartmann's outspoken criticism proved unpopular with his superiors. General Werner Panitzki, successor to General Josef Kammhuber as "Inspekteur der Luftwaffe", said "Erich is a good pilot but not a good officer" and this relationship with his superiors forced Hartmann into early retirement in 1970. [Toliver and Constable 1985, pp. 285–286.]

After retirement, from 1971 to 1974, he worked as a flight instructor in Hangelar, near Bonn. Hartmann also flew in an aerobatics team with "Dolfo" Galland. Hartmann had a sudden change in his lifestyle when in 1980 he had caught a cold, which developed into angina pectoris that had killed his father at the age of 58. He recovered and by 1983 had passed the medical examinations for flying and resumed instructing at the various flying schools. However, fearing a second attack, he became overly cautious and limited the number of public appearances. He stated: "I am retired and I am a civilian, and now I like to have my rest and peace. I do not live for exhibitions." [Toliver and Constable 1986, p. 289.] After that, he decided to relax and enjoy life. Erich Hartmann died on 20 September 1993, at the age of 71, in Weil im Schönbuch.ref label|Note3|c|c

ummary of career

Erich Hartmann flew 1,404 combat missions during World War II resulting in 825 engagements, [Toliver and Constable 1985, p.340.] and was never shot down. He was never wounded and never bailed out due to damage inflicted by enemy pilots. His kill tally included some 200 various single-engined Soviet-built fighters, more than 80 US-built P-39s, 15 Il-2 ground attack aircraft, and 10 twin-engined medium bombers. He often said that he was more proud of the fact that he had never lost a wingman in combat than he was about his rate of kills. However it appears Hartmann did lose one wingman. Major Günther Capito had joined the unit in the spring of 1943. Capito was a former bomber pilot who had retrained on fighters. After scoring his fifth victory Capito asked to be Hartmann's wingman. Hartmann refused initially, believing Capito was insufficiently trained on Messerschmitts. On their first mission together they were engaged by P-39 Airacobras: [Toliver and Constable 1986, p. 57–58.en icon]

I called to him to turn hard opposite, so I could sandwich the Red fighters, but in his standard-rate bomber turn he got hit. I saw the whole thing and ordered him to dive and bail out immediately. To my intense relief I saw him leave the aircraft and his parachute blossom. I was happy to get this Airacobra, but I was mad at myself for not harkening to my intuition not to fly with Günther Capito. [Kaplan 2007, p. 100.]

Hartmann destroyed both the Soviet fighters soon afterwards.


One Soviet historian, Dimitri Khazanov, has attempted to prove that Hartmann did not score anywhere near 352 victories. Khazanov quoted Hartmann having shot down 70-80 Soviet aircraft. However, Khazanov has been heavily criticised by Jean-Yves Lorant and Hans Ring for faulty research. Ring and Lorant both point out that the missions that Khazonov tried to use to prove Hartmann's claims false, were riddled with false and misleading information. For example, Khazonov claimed on a mission on 20 August 1943, Hartmann claimed two victories west of Millerowo, but not a single Soviet aircraft was lost. German records show not a single claim was made in that area. Hartmann's victories were recorded east of Kuteinikowo, some 160 kilometres away. [ Criticism of Dimitri Khazanov] ] On 29 May 1944, Khazanov claimed Hartmann reported three Lavochkin La-5s shot down over Roman, Romania. This was also false. Hartmann claimed a single P-39 Aircobra over Jassy.Hans Ring said the mistakes in Khuzanov's work, "serve to expose the superficial nature of Khazanov's assertions and confirm that his only goal in compiling his article was to discredit Hartmann and his record".Even Khazanov points out in his article that during Hartmann's show trial, one of the Soviet charges was the destruction of 352 [the actual number was 345] Soviet aircraft. [ [ Erich Hartmann's kills] ]


* Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe in Gold with Pennant "1300"Berger 1999, p. 105.]
* Combined Pilots-Observation Badge in Gold with Diamonds
* Ehrenpokal der Luftwaffe (13 September 1943)
* German Cross in Gold (17 October 1943) [Patzwall & Scherzer 2001, p. 166.]
* Iron Cross 2. and 1. class
* Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds
** Knight's Cross (29 October 1943) [Fellgiebel 2000, p. 214.]
** 420. Oak Leaves (2 March 1944) [Fellgiebel 2000, p. 79.]
** 75. Swords (2 July 1944) [Fellgiebel 2000, p. 43.]
** 18. Diamonds (25 August 1944) [Fellgiebel 2000, p. 37.]
* Mentioned two times in the Wehrmachtbericht

References in the Wehrmachtbericht

Dates of rank

Erich Hartmann joined the military service in Wehrmacht on 1 October 1940. His first station was Neukuhren in East Prussia where he received his military basic training as a Luftwaffe recruit. [Toliver & Constable 1985, p. 296–297.]


*note label|Note1|a|aFor an explanation of the meaning of Luftwaffe unit designation see Luftwaffe Organization
*note label|Note2|b|bSources over the exact number of P-51 victories are inconclusive and vary between seven and eight. Toliver & Constable give the impression that eight kills are probable, while other sources speak of seven victories.
*note label|Note3|c|c [ Erich Hartmann's Grave]




* Berger, Florian. "Mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern. Die höchstdekorierten Soldaten des Zweiten Weltkrieges". (in German) Selbstverlag, Germany: Florian Berger, 2006. ISBN 3-9501307-0-5.
* Deac, Wil. "Air War's Top Ace." "WWII Air War, The Men, The Machines, The Missions". Stamford, Connecticut: Cowles Enthusiast Media, 1998. ISBN 1-558-36193-6.
* Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer. "Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939-1945" (in German). Friedburg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas, 2000. ISBN 3-7909-0284-5.
* Hartmann, Ursula and Manfred Jäger. "German Fighter Ace Erich Hartmann". Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1992. ISBN 0-88740-396-4.
* Jackson, Robert. "Fighter Aces of World War II: The True Stories of Fourteen of World War II's Fighter Pilots": London: Corgi Books, 1978. ISBN 0-55210-783-2.
* Kaplan, Philip. "Fighter Aces of the Luftwaffe in World War WWII". Auldgirth, Dumfriesshire, UK: Pen & Sword Aviation, 2007. ISBN 184415460-2.
* Kurowski, Franz. "Luftwaffe Aces". Winnipeg, Canada: J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc., 1996. ISBN 0-921991-31-2.
* Murawski, Erich. "Der deutsche Wehrmachtbericht 1939 - 1945, vom 1.7.1944 bis zum 9.5.1945" (in German). Boppoard am Rhein, Germany: Harald Boldt Verlag, 1962.
* Patzwall, Klaus D. and Veit Scherzer. "Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 - 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II" (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall, 2001. ISBN 3-931533-45-X.
* Sims, Edward H. "Jagdflieger Die Grossen Gegner von Einst" (in German). Stuttgart, Germany: Motorbuch Verlag, 1982. ISBN 3-87943-115-9.
* Spick, Mike (1996). Luftwaffe Fighter Aces. New York: Ivy Books. ISBN 0-8041-1696-2.
* Toliver, Raymond F. and Trevor J. Constable. "Holt Hartmann vom Himmel!" (in German). Stuttgart, Germany: Motorbuch Verlag, 1985. ISBN 3-87943-216-3.
* Toliver, Raymond F. and Trevor J. Constable. "The Blond Knight of Germany". New York: McGraw-Hill, 1986. ISBN 0-8306-8189-2.
* Weal, John. "Bf 109 Aces of the Russian Front". Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing Limited, 2003. ISBN 1-84176-084-6.
* Weal, John. "Jagdgeschwader 52: The Experten (Aviation Elite Units)". Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing Limited, 2004. ISBN 1-84176-786-7.
* Williamson, Gordon. "Knight's Cross with Diamonds Recipients 1941-1945". Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing Limited, 2006. ISBN 1-84176-644-5.

External links

* [ Detailed biography of Erich Hartmann w/ photos]
* [,M1 The Blond Knight of Germany Biography of Erich Hartmann]
* [ Short biography]
* [ Short biography]
* [ The Final Interview with Erich Hartmann]
* - Neil Page's web site - translated German pilot accounts - detailed look at Hartmann's claims and his final victory
* [ Svetski rat] sr icon
* [ Lawrence Thompson meets Hartmann's G-14] Possibly spurious yet highly captivating account of an American pilot's encounter with a German fighter ace
* [ Hartmann receiving the Diamonds] from German Wartime Newsreels (Die Deutsche Wochenschau)

NAME=Hartmann, Erich
SHORT DESCRIPTION=German World War II fighter pilot
DATE OF BIRTH=April 19, 1922
PLACE OF BIRTH=Weissach, Germany
DATE OF DEATH=September 20, 1993
PLACE OF DEATH=Weil im Schönbuch, Germany

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