Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Fighting Airmen of Two World Wars — Part 1 of 4: German Aviators

[Editor's note:  The subsequent articles in this series will be presented on each of the following Thursdays during October 2022. MH]

By Adrian Roberts

Many of the men who survived combat in the Great War served again in the Second World War, though usually in second-line duties such as Home Defence or training roles. Most of the commanding officers of WWII had served in WWI, but their roles generally kept them out of direct combat—except possibly naval officers who have always shared the same dangers as their men. In the air, the role of a fighter pilot is particularly associated with younger men, and yet there were just a few who flew in combat in both wars. 

The Germans were somewhat more lenient about age limitations than the Allies. The best-known are listed below; their Allied equivalents will be listed in another article. 

Theodor Osterkamp is the only pilot who is considered by most sources to have been an ace in both wars (an ace is generally defined as having at least five aerial combat victories). He was born in 1892 and joined the marinefliegerkorps of the Imperial German Navy on the outbreak of the war, which like the Royal Naval Air Service operated squadrons on the Western Front, as well as seaplanes along the coast. He followed the usual route in the German Air Services of serving as an observer and then a two-seater pilot, before becoming a fighter* pilot. From April 1917 until the end of the war, first with Marinefeldjagdstaffel I and then MFJ II, he was credited with 32 victories, flying first the Albatros scout, then the Fokker D.VII, and finally the D.VIII monoplane.

After the Armistice, he continued fighting against the Bolsheviks in Russia, ironically on the same side as the highest-scoring British Empire naval ace Raymond Collishaw. After that, like many ex-combatants, he found great difficulty adjusting to civilian life and had a mental breakdown at one point. However, he was able to join the new Luftwaffe when it reformed in 1935, and by May 1940 was commanding Jadgeschwader (fighter group) 51. At the age of 48, he was credited with six victories in the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain, including a Spitfire (though there is some doubt about two of these), before being ordered to cease combat flying. He was eventually promoted to Generalleutnant, commanding the Luftwaffe in Italy, but was sacked in December 1944 after disputes with Luftwaffe High Command. He died in 1975. 

Harry von Bülow-Bothkamp was born on his aristocratic family’s estate in Holstein in 1897. He also served first as a two-seater pilot, and then when flying single-seaters with Jasta 36, commanded by his brother Walter, he was credited with six victories. Walter, a 28-victory ace, was killed in action in January 1918. Another brother had been killed with a cavalry unit in 1914, and Harry was taken off combat duties in June 1918, only to lose another brother in a flying accident later. He rejoined the Luftwaffe in 1935, and on the outbreak of war he commanded JG77 and then JG2. Wikipedia claims that he shot down 12 aircraft in WW2, but my other sources do not claim this figure or even that he was an ace, so it is wise to question the exact number. Later he commanded various training units, and retired to his estate after the war, dying in 1976. 

Theodor Quandt, born in 1897, also flew with Jasta 36. Previously, he fought at the Battle of Tannenberg as an infantryman, age only 17. He was credited with 15 aerial victories in WWI. He was shot down and killed, as a major, in June 1940 in a Me109.

Karl Ritscherle, born 1898, enlisted in the infantry age 16. After joining the air service, he scored three victories as an observer, before training as a pilot and scoring five more victories with Jasta 60, flying Fokker D.VIIs, In WWII, he was shot down over England in a Heinkel 111 bomber on 24 August 1940 and drowned when he parachuted into a reservoir. He is buried at Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof, Cannock Chase, Staffordshire.

Hasso von Wedel commanded Jasta 75 from February 1918 and was credited with five victories. He was shot down over England on 15 September 1940 and taken POW. He was repatriated but died in the final battle for Berlin in 1945. Sources are unclear as to why he was repatriated and whether he was killed fighting in the air or on land.


* Note that in WWI, single-seaters were referred to as scouts not fighters, certainly until late in the war. Originally, a fighter was a two-seater, as in the Bristol Fighter. This derives from the early days of air combat when aeroplanes such as the BE2c could not carry an observer/gunner as well as a substantial bomb-load. Therefore the bombers were flown solo, escorted by others with a crew of two, which were the fighters. 

Photo sources include the Commonwealth War Graves Commission; In Distant Skies; Wikipedia, and the author's collection.

No comments:

Post a Comment