Hauptmann Maximilian-Otto Christoph Albrecht Ernst Wolf-Heinrich von Houwald
10 June 1911 – 24 July 1940
Wolf-Heinrich von Houwald was born on 10 June 1911 in Frankfurt an der Oder.
On 15 March 1935, he was appointed Staffelkapitän of 9./JG 134.
The Spanish Civil War started on 17 July 1936.
After a meeting on 25 July, Adolf Hitler authorised German help to the Nationalist cause under the codename Untemehmen Feuerzauber (Operation Magic Fire).
As part of this, a fleet of Ju 52/3ms under the command of Generalleutnant Helmuth Wilberg was to take General Franco’s forces from Tetuán in Spanish Morocco to Seville. Wilberg was to establish a new, highly covert “Special Staff” to be known as Sonderstab W after its leader.
The initial German help to the Nationalists were in the form of military technicians, 20 pieces of artillery, ammunition, 20 Ju 52/3ms and six Heinkel He 51s (which received the type identification number ‘2’).
On 27 July, the pilots of the Luftwaffe's fighter units, the He 51-equipped I./JG 132 ”Richthofen” at Döberitz and the Ar 65- and Ar 68-equipped I./JG 134 ”Horst Wessel” at Dortmund, received an appeal for ‘volunteers’ to join a mysterious expeditionary force destined for an unidentified foreign country. In some cases, however, word seems to have got out, as in the case of Oberleutnant Hannes Trautloft. Trautloft was actually serving with 9. Staffel of II./JG 134, which had located to Köln-Butzweilerhof following the occupation of the Rhineland. He recalled:
“On 28 July 1936, whilst serving as an oberleutnant with 9./JG 134 at Köln, I received a telephone call from my Kommandeur, Hauptmann Horst Dinort. His first question was “Are you engaged to be married?” I stated that I was not. He then swore me to secrecy and began to explain to me about the situation in Spain and the need for well-trained pilots in that country. Before he even had the chance to ask me if I would be prepared to go there, I said to him “I volunteer!”Initial pilots were Oberleutnant Hannes Trautloft of 9. Staffel of II./JG 134, Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel and Leutnant von Houwald, both also from III./JG 134, and Oberleutnant Kraft Eberhardt, Leutnant Gerhard Klein and Leutnant Ekkehard Hefter. During a farewell inspection along with the rest of the group by General Erhard Milch and Generalleutnant Wilberg, they were told not to enter combat under any circumstances at their eventual destination - the role of the Heinkel pilots would be purely to protect and defend the Junkers transports that would be ferrying troops.
Dinort then told me to get ready to travel to Dortmund within the next two hours, where I would receive orders directly from a Geschwaderkommodore. He also ordered me to maintain absolute discretion about the whole thing, for it would not be easy to explain to my comrades what I was doing when they saw me hurriedly packing my bags!”
SS Usaramo with the first contingent of German volunteers arrived at the roadstead off Cádiz on 6 August before docking the next day. They were sent by train to Seville. Hannes Trautloft recalled:
“The next morning we found ourselves at Seville airfield [Tablada], a frequent target for “Red” airmen. On 9 August we started the job of rebuilding our six He 51s - a real piece of teamwork involving pilots and ground personnel. The Spanish personnel were quite surprised to witness us work with such energy, but we really were getting quite impatient and wanted to get our machines into the air as soon as possible.”Conditions at Tablada were rudimentary. Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel recorded of this initial period:
“Our single-seaters had to be put together rapidly, as we wanted to strike out as soon as possible to the Front. Breaking open crates, raising aircraft fuselages, attaching wings, fixing bracing struts - that was our first occupation. In doing so, we established friendships with the Spanish pilots [Joaquín García] Morato, [Julio] Salvador, [Luis] Rambaud and others, and with the Spanish mechanics. Many beads of sweat flowed.”On 10 August, the first He 51 was fully assembled and ready for operations.
“After some seven days of strenuous work, with our toothbrushes and shaving gear stashed in the stowage compartment of our He 51s, we flew via Salamanca and the Sierra de Gredos to our small combat airfield of Escalona del Prado, near Segovia.Von Houwald also recorded his observations of early conditions in Spain:
There, on the northern perimeter of the Guadarrama hills, we were located together with an Escuadrilla de reconocimiento, with whom we soon established a warm friendship. The aircraft stood in the open, replacement parts, ammunition and fuel and oil laying protected from the sun under tarpaulins at the edge of the forest. We ourselves likewise lay to some extent protected from the full glare of the sun and slept when we were not flying, or else had language tuition with the Spanish crews.”
“We arrived at Salamanca, the second stopping place on our way to Escalona - a small town close to the Madrid Front. Salamanca was the first combat airfield I saw. We took a big chance in actually finding it because everything, including the aircraft, was very well camouflaged. We refuelled and took off for Escalona, an airfield that we heard was incredibly small and hard to find. It lay so close to the front that it was quite probable that we would engage the enemy. Nevertheless, we found it after half-an-hour and landed. The airfield was so poor that we were worried whether our Spanish comrades would be able to fly our aircraft from there.The small cadre of Spanish pilots working with the Germans had formed themselves loosely into what they called the Escuadrilla Rambaud. After the losses suffered on 23 August, the Escuadrilla was disbanded in the end of the month.
Next day I had a most annoying experience. Full of enthusiasm and idealism, five Spaniards proudly climbed into our aircraft. They did not want foreigners to fight for them while they had to stay on the ground with nothing to do. But as they returned, my aircraft crashed on landing. Fortunately, the other Heinkels managed to land safely. From now on, without an aircraft, I had to stay on the ground while the others each shot down two or three enemy in short order. I had nothing better to do than to wait for new aircraft to come from home. I kept thinking that they would arrive too late because the “Rojos” would be forced to surrender in front of Franco’s massive offensive.”
On 5 September, Leutnant von Houwald claimed one Ni-H.52 and Breguet XIX during the day while Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel claimed a second Ni-H.52.
On 15 September, the German Heinkels flew, for the first time, a mission in direct support of friendly ground forces advancing along the Tajo valley, when they were called upon to conduct a low-level strafing mission against Republican infantry. For this operation the group was relocated south, to Navalmorales, not far from the walled city of Ávila between the Sierra de Gredos and the Sierra de la Paramera. Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel recalled:
“We flew daily to-and-fro between Cáceres, Navalmorales and Talavera and accompanied the Spanish columns in the Tajo valley as they advanced on Madrid. It was here that Trautloft and Houwald brought down some enemy light bombers. This was greeted in especially lively fashion by the brave Moroccans of the Spanish Foreign Legion. At Navalmoral forward airfield, the Morros supplied us with tea and mutton when, after our first flight to the front in the Talavera region, we made an interim landing there for breakfast.
Starting from here, we also escorted the first Spanish Ju 52 bombers to the Front. In this way, we took part in the capture of Maquedas. This village, and road nodal point, was especially heavily defended by the enemy. The road from Madrid to Maquedas was choked with trucks and cars, taxis and various other types of vehicles, in which enemy troops had been brought up. Some bombs dropped by our Spanish comrades into these columns caused the enemy to panic so that that village was soon captured and enemy troops hastily driven away to the east.”
On 26 September, the German pilots accounted for the destruction of three enemy aircraft - a Vickers Vildebeest for Leutnant von Houwald and a Breguet XIX each for Oberleutnants Ekkehard Hefter and Alfons Klein.
On 19 October, at Zaragoza, the German He 51s made their presence felt when a Kette formed of Leutnant von Houwald, Leutnant Henning Strümpell and Oberleutnant Oskar Henrici was attacked by 13 Republican aircraft, but shot down five of their number on the Alcubierre, northeast of Zaragoza. Oberleutnant Henrici claimed a Ni-H.52C, a Breguet XIX and a Fokker F VII, while Leutnant von Houwald and Leutnant Strümpell each accounted for a Nieuport. Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel recalled:
“Henrici alone had shot down three. He rammed one of them, a Breguet 19, on its wing with his undercarriage. Afterwards, he said quite simply, “Well, after that he really ‘fell out of his slippers’”. Our Oskar - we all called Henrici by his first name - was able to fetch the devil out of hell, if it came to that. And our mechanics and armourers were as pleased as we were about this success. They had, again and again, untiringly put the machine guns and engines in order, and had thereby helped the pilots to achieve success.”
In the afternoon on 13 November, nine He 51s from the German Legion Condor took off from Ávila to provide escort for five German-flown Ju 52/3ms and three He 46s, which were to attack the Republican positions on the west bank of the Manzanares. It seems that at least six CR.32s also were present.
At 15:00, twelve I-16 type 5 “Moscas” and twelve I-15s intercepted them over Madrid. The I-16s were led by the Russian squadron leader Kapitan Sergey Tarkhov (’Antonio’) (he was the commander of the first and newly created escuadrilla of I-16s) in their first combat while the I-15s (Escuadrilla Palancar) were again led by Starshii Leitenant Pavel Rychagov. All Republican pilots taking part in this combat were Russians.
The Republican fighters dove on the Henrici Kette. Unteroffizier Ernst Mratzek was able to claim an I-16 as it dove past. Oberleutnant Oskar Henrici claimed a Russian fighter in the same way as the He 51s dove into the clouds. A bitter dogfight raged over Madrid at 1,500 meters. The Knüppel Kette dove into a cloud, reversed course in a steep turn and re-emerged below the Republican aircraft. Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel and Unteroffizier Erwin Sawallisch claimed two I-15s; Sawallisch made his way home with some difficulty with shot-up tail surfaces. The Eberhardt Kette had remained above the bombers as top cover. Oberleutnant Kraft Eberhardt collided with an enemy fighter he had shot down and was killed when his fighter crashed to the ground at Casa de Campo; the Russian pilot was able to bail out. Oberleutnant Henrici took a bullet through the lung, but was able to land his aircraft in friendly territory at Alcorcon. As he left his aircraft, however, he collapsed and died. The German Staffel became completely scattered, each pilot seeking cover in cloud and making his own way back to Avila. Leutnant Henning Strümpell and Leutnant Dietrich von Bothmer reported the destruction of two further I-15s.
Henrici was probably shot down by Leitenant Sergei Chernykh, (I-16 in Escuadrilla Kolesnikov). It seems that Eberhardt collided with Tarkhov since it’s reported that he single-handed fought against a number of He 51s before being forced to bail out after a collision. While hanging in his parachute, Republican soldiers mistook him for Nationalist pilot and opened fire, hitting him six times. Tarkhov landed in Madrid but was attacked by the public because they thought he was a German. He died of his injuries at Gómes Ulla hospital on 23 November. This led General Miaja to the issue following order the next day:
“Any aviator who jumps from his aircraft using a parachute is out of the battle and, therefore, I order all forces defending Madrid not to shoot at parachutists under any circumstances. They may be our own men, but, if they prove to be enemies they can provide us with valuable information, which will be of great use for our operations.”A second Russian pilot was killed when Starshii Leitenant Vladimir Mikhailovich Bocharov (’Jose Galarza’), after claiming a He 51, was wounded and made a forced-landing in enemy territory with his I-16 “Black 9”. He died of wounds or was killed by Nationalists; according to Russian sources, the next day a wooden box was dropped by an enemy aircraft. When opened it was found to contain the mutilated corpse of Bocharov (who was a detachment leader in Escuadrilla Tarkhov).
“13 November 1936 was the blackest day for the Jagdstaffel Eberhardt. We flew in the afternoon as escort for the Kampfstaffel of Oberleutnant von Moreau, starting out from Ávila and heading to Madrid. Following the second bombing run, we were attacked by around 24 low-winged and biplane fighters (Ratas and “Curtisses”) from above on the eastern border of Madrid at an altitude of between 1200-1500 metres. It developed into an exceedingly hard air battle.”Leutnant von Houwald recorded:
“On Friday, 13 November 1936, we encountered the Ratas for the first time and a wild melee resulted. We downed five of them, but what were these victories when compared with the loss of our Staffelführer? This only served to show that our good old He 51s were too slow compared with the new Ratas - they could play with us as they wanted. Furthermore, the Soviet “Martin Bombers” [Tupolev SB], which were arriving daily, were 50 km/h faster than us, and the people were scared of them. Feverishly, we waited for the Bf 109s to arrive from Germany.”Following Eberhardt’s death, Hauptmann Knüppel became the new Staffelkapitän. Eberhardt and Henrici were awarded a posthumous Cruz Laureada de San Fernando. This was the He 51s first combat with Soviet fighters.
On 4 January 1937, the He 51B-1s of J/88 escorted Ju 52/3ms bombing enemy positions when they were surprised above Torrijos by Republican I-15s. The escorting fighters claimed three enemy fighters over the Bilbao area when Leutnant von Houwald (2 Staffel) claimed an I-16 and Unteroffizier Erwin Sawallisch (4 Staffel) and Oberleutnant Harro Harder (1 Staffel) claimed an I-15 each. Oberleutnant Harder (flying He 51B-1 2-64) described his first claim for a subsequent propaganda article:
“I hear machine guns behind me. A Red is coming for me sharply from above, his radial engine appearing like a giant eye. I pull “2-64” into a turn and the Red streaks past with two of our fighters already in pursuit. Far below, down in the valley, I see one turning around. Using my superior speed I know I can block him off. I get behind him, fire, he turns, I cut him off, another turn, the smoke twists from my tracer shells disappear into his machine. Now he climbs, black, with a red band in front of the tail, rolls onto his back and plunges almost vertically to the ground. I pull myself together - the intoxication has blinded me to everything else going on. I see a He 51 nearby. Exhausted, I pull up and fly to Vitoria, where I make a low-level loop over the airfield.”One Ju 52/3m from 3.K/88 was lost over Bilbao when they attacked the Campsa fuel depots. Oberfeldwebel Adolf Hermann and Karl Schmidt parachuted but Feldwebel Herbert Barowski, Unteroffizier Paul Ziepek and Gefreiter Hans Schüll were all unable to escape the burning bomber and were all killed. This was the only bomber loss on this day. Once upon the ground, Oberfeldwebel Adolf Hermann tried to defend himself with his pistol from an armed mob but was rapidly overpowered. His body was dragged through the streets of Bilbao provoking a demand for rerisals by the Legion Condor which were, however, refused.
On 2 March, the Chief of Staff, Oberstleutnant Dr.-Ing. von Richthofen’s plans for reorganisation and rotation began to start when four of the original pilots, Oberleutnant Hannes Trautloft, Leutnant von Houwald, Unteroffizier Erwin Sawallisch and Oberleutnant Alfons Klein, were sent back to Germany.
Von Houwald ended the Spanish Civil War with 5 biplane victories.
He was decorated with the Spanienkreuz in Gold mit Schwerten for his service in Spain.
On 1 July 1937, he was appointed Staffelkapitän of 3./JG 234.
On 1 November 1938, this unit was redesignated to 3./JG 132.
On 1 May 1939, the unit was redesignated to 3./JG 26.
Von Houwald remained Staffelkapitän of 3./JG 26 until 29 February 1940.
On 1 March 1940, he was appointed Kommandeur of III./JG 52.
A convoy set sail from the Medway soon after 11:00 on 24 July 1940. About 18 Do 17s appeared escorted by upwards of 40 Bf 109s of Adolf Galland’s III./JG 26. With some warning of the raid’s approach, 54 Squadron (Spitfires) was ordered up at 11:20 and soon afterwards was locked in combat with the escorting Bf 109s. They reported that at 11:25, the whole squadron took part in what they termed as ”The Battle of the Thames Estuary” when a whole convoy was attacked by 18 Do 17s, two squadrons of Bf 109s and unknown number of He 113s [sic]. The squadron claimed five destroyed, ten unconfirmed and one damaged. Pilot Officer John Allen DFC was lost in this encounter when he was attacked by a Bf109 off the coast near Margate and was seen coming down with the engine of his aircraft (Spitfire R6812) stopped, although it appeared that he seemed to be in full control. Suddenly his engine came to life and he appeared to be making for a landing at Manston, but the engine cut again and he appeared to turn the aircraft in the direction of Foulness. The aircraft stalled over the coast and the Spitfire went into an uncontrollable spin. Pilot Officer Allen did not bale out, and the aircraft crashed in flames near the Olde Charles Inn at Cliftonville near Margate. Sergeant George Collet force-landed N3192, slightly wounded near Ofordness.
Six Spitfires from 65 Squadron from Manston was scrambled to assist as was nine Spitfires from 610 Squadron from Biggin Hill with orders to patrol near Dover and perhaps cut off the retreat of the Estuary raid.
65 Squadron entered the fray and, seeing the escort preoccupied elsewhere, attempted to attack the Dorniers. Although they loosed off some long-rang bursts they were unable to approach the bombers closely owing to the compactness of the enemy’s formation and their extremely effective cross-fire. The bombers escaped unscathed even if the squadron claimed seven Do 17s damaged and one Bf 109 destroyed.
The battle took place almost over the town of Margate. Dorniers diving low and pulling out at almost sea level attempting to avoid the Spitfires almost touched the rooftops of seaside hotels, Spitfires being chased by Bf109s weaved about in all directions in the sky above. A Bf109 was shot down by one of the Spitfires and its pilot bailed out but his parachute failed to open and his pilotless aircraft smashed into a quiet avenue in residential Margate. Another Bf109 of III./JG 26 was hit and had to make a forced landing just outside the town, the pilot, seriously injured was taken prisoner. The Messerschmitt pilots were held in combat for so long that fear of fuel shortage compelled them to break off the engagement and, knowing that they could out-dive the Spitfires, many sought this method of escape. These tactics undoubtedly mislead several of the Spitfire pilots into believing that more of the enemy aircraft had been shot down.
As III./JG 26 made good its escape at low altitude over Kent, III./JG 52 came in over Dover on a free chase to protect it – and ran straight into the nine Spitfires of 610 Squadron, which claimed three Messerschmitts.
The returning German fighters claimed five Spitfires shot down.
This large combat resulted in RAF claims for nine destroyed Bf 109s, ten unconfirmed and one damaged and seven Do 17s damaged for the loss of two Spitfires (Allen and Collet of 54 Squadron). The Luftwaffe claimed five Spitfires while losing seven Bf 109s.
Claiming Luftwaffe pilots were Unteroffizier Edmund Rossmann of 7./JG 52 (one Spitfire 13:26 north-east of Margate), Unteroffizier Josef Zwernemann of 7./JG 52 (one Spitfire north-east of Margate), one Spitfire north-east of Margate claimed by an unknown pilot of 7./JG 52, Feldwebel Karl Straub of 7./JG 26 (one Spitfire 13:30 at 1000m north of Margate) and Major Adolf Galland of Stab III./JG 26 (one Spitfire at 13:35 30km north-east of Margate at 3000-2200m).
The Luftwaffe losses were:
III./JG 26 Bf 109 E-1 shot down near North Foreland at 11:48 Leutnant Josef Schauff KIA
III./JG 26 Bf 109 E-1 shot down Thames Estuary at 11:20 pilot KIA
III./JG 26 Bf 109 E-1 (<+I WNr 6296) shot down off North Kent at ca. 12:35 Technische Offizier in Stab III./JG 26 Leutnant Werner Bartels WIA
III./JG 52 Bf 109E shot down near Margate at 11:48 Hauptmann von Houwald KIA
7./JG 52 Bf 109 E-1 shot down N Dover at 11:25 Staffekapitän Oberleutnant Herbert Ferner KIA
7./JG 52 Bf 109 E-1 shot down near Margate at 11:28 pilot KIA
8./JG 52 Bf 109 E-1 shot down over convoy W Dover at 15:20 Staffelkapitän Oberleutnant Lothar Ehrlich KIA
Claimants from 54 Squadron were Pilot Officer Edward Coleman (two unconfirmed Bf 109s in the Margate area), Sergeant George Collet (one Bf 109 destroyed in the Margate area in N3192), Flying Officer Al Deere (one Bf 109 destroyed over the Thames Estuary in R6895), Pilot Officer Colin Gray (one Bf 109 destroyed 7-8m from North Foreland and one unconfirmed Bf 109 north-west of Margate in R6892/T), Pilot Officer Dorian Gribble (two unconfirmed Bf 109Es north of North Foreland in R6899), Pilot Officer Henry Matthews (one damaged Bf 109 over the Thames Estuary), Pilot Officer Desmond McMullen (one destroyed and one unconfirmed Bf 109 over the Thames Estuary in R6814), Pilot Officer Douglas Turley-George (two unconfirmed Bf 109s in the Margate area) and Flight Lieutenant Basil Way (two unconfirmed Bf 109s off Margate and over North Foreland in R6707).
Claimants from 65 Squadron were Flight Sergeant Robert McPherson (one damaged Do 17 off Dover in R6884), Flying Officer John Nicholas (one damaged Do 17 in the Dover area), Flight Sergeant Norman Phillips (two damaged Do 17s in the Dover area) and Squadron Leader Henry Sawyer (three damaged Do 17s and one destroyed Bf 109 off Dover).
Claimants from 610 Squadron were Sergeant Horatio Chandler (one Bf 109E destroyed 4m south of Dover in R6630/X), Flight Lieutenant John Ellis (one Bf 109E destroyed 10m south of Dover in R6595/O) and Flight Lieutenant Edward Smith (one Bf 109E destroyed 10m south of Dover in R6976/A).
Von Houwald is buried at Ysselsteyn.
At the time of his death, von Houwald was credited with 5 biplane victories.
|Kill no.||Date||Time||Number||Type||Result||Plane type||Serial no.||Locality||Unit|
|1||05/09/36||1||Ni-H.52||Destroyed||Heinkel He 51B||Spain||J/88|
|2||05/09/36||1||Breguet XIX||Destroyed||Heinkel He 51B||Spain||J/88|
|3||26/09/36||1||Potez 540||Destroyed||Heinkel He 51B-1||Spain||J/88|
|4||19/10/36||1||Ni-H.52||Destroyed||Heinkel He 51B-1||Alcubierre||J/88|
|5||04/01/37||1||I-16 (a)||Destroyed||Heinkel He 51B-1||Bilbao area||2.J/88|
Biplane victories: 5 destroyed.
TOTAL: 5 destroyed.
(a) Not verified with Republican records.
Aces of the Legion Condor – Robert Forsyth, 2011 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84908-347-8
Aces of the Luftwaffe
Battle over Britain - Francis K. Mason, 1969 McWhirter Twins Ltd
Condor: The Luftwaffe in Spain 1936-1939 - Patrick Laureau, 2000 Hikoki Publications, Ottringham, ISBN 1-902109-10-4
Russian Fighter Aces of 1914-1953 years
Soviet airmen in the Spanish civil war 1936-1939 - Paul Whelan, 2014 Schiffer Publishing Ltd, ISBN 978-0-7643-0
Spanish Republican Aces – Rafael A. Permuy López, 2012 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84908-668-4
The Battle of Britain Historical Society
The Legion Condor - Karl Ries and Hans Ring, 1992 Schiffer Publishing, ISBN 0-88740-339-5
The Luftwaffe, 1933-45
Additional information kindly provided by Alfredo Logoluso.