Germany’s Top WWII Fighter Pilot Ace – Erich Hartmann – was born on April 19, 1922 and spent the first few years of his childhood in China. His father – a doctor – found work in China after Germany suffered an economic depression after World War I. In 1928, the break out of the Chinese Civil War – mandated the family return home to Germany.
Prior to the war, Hartmann was a glider pilot. He had been instructed by his mother – one of Germany’s first female glider pilots. He completed his fighter pilot training after joining the Luftwaffe. A stunt by Hartmann while still in training, cost him three months confinement, but ultimately saved his life. A flight he was scheduled to pilot was instead flown by his roommate. Shortly after takeoff, engine trouble and his roommate crash-landed the aircraft. He did not survive.
Hartmann’s comrades called him “Bubi”. Of his 352 victories, 345 were against the Soviet Air force. As a result, he became known by his Soviet enemies as “The Black Devil”. Hartmann flew just over 1,400 combat missions, engaging in aerial combat during 825 of those flights. Though Hartmann had been forced to crash land 14 times due to engine failure or damage incurred from other aircraft he shot down. He was never shot down by enemy fire.
Erich Hartmann was one of only 27 Germans to receive the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds from Adolf Hitler. He received additional awards but many report, despite his victory record and accomplished recognitions, Hartmann was most pleased with yet another record – he never lost a wingman.
After the war, Hartmann returned to Germany where he achieved officer status in the Bundeswehr – the unified armed forces of Germany and headed up Germany’s first all-jet unit.
Erich Hartmann – Germany’s Top WWII Fighter Ace Pilot – died on September 20, 1993; and to this day, he remains the top scoring fighter ace not only of WWII, but in the recorded history of aerial warfare.