Biplane fighter aces

Germany

Generalleutnant Hans ‘Hannes’ Trautloft

3 March 1912 – 11 January 1995

Hannes Trautloft was born on 3 March 1912 at Groß-Obringen near Weimar in Thüringen.

Hannes Trautlof was ordered to Deutschen Verkehrsfliegerschule Schliessheim for flight training on 1 April 1931.

In 1932, he spent 4 months at Lipezk/Russia for fighter training.

On 15 October 1932, he was posted to Infanteri Regiment 15 and during 1933-34, he served with the Army.

On 1 January 1934, he was promoted to Leutnant.

During 1934, he was transferred to Jagdfliegerschule Schliessheim.

On 1 March 1936, he was promoted to Oberleutnant.

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 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!”
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!”
Initial pilots were Oberleutnant Trautloft of 9. Staffel of II./JG 134, Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel and Leutnant Wolf-Heinrich 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.
At the Petersen Dock in Hamburg, the pilots and other personnel of the volunteer group boarded the Woerman Line cargo vessel SS Usaramo, onto which they assisted with the loading of 773 crates of equipment. According to Trautloft, ”I would quickly learn that our aircraft were stowed in disassembled components”.
Around midnight on 31 July, the Usaramo sailed from Hamburg bound for Cádiz, in southern Spain.

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. 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.
The German pilots at Tablada were able to put on a display patrol to both test the re-assembled Heinkels and to impress their Spanish comrades with the performance of their aircraft. In accordance with their instructions they were not authorised to enter combat, and so the first few days were spent training five rebel Spaniards selected from the first group of 18 fighter pilots to join the Nationalist side; capitán Luis Rambaud and Joaquín García Morato and teniente Miguel García Pardo, Ramiro Pascual and Julio Salvador.
Eventually, the German pilots requested that they be allowed to engage in combat operations, and this permission was granted by general Alfredo Kindelán y Duany, the commander of what was now viewed as the ’Nationalist’ air forces. Of this time Herwig Knüppel recorded:
“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.
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.”
Wolf-Heinrich von Houwald also recorded his observations of early conditions in Spain:
“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.
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.”
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.

Of the time at Escalona del Prado, Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel wrote:

“A fighter pilot must always be ready for action. We flew other pilots back in a Ju 52 in rotation in order to fetch aviation fuel for our next flights over the front. Our mechanics worked untiringly to maintain the engines and machine guns. We – as the “Kette Eberhardt” – flew four to five times daily to the front, with a view of the buildings of Madrid lying in the distance in the haze of the sun. Eberhardt, Trautloft and I proudly called ourselves “the Jäger from Guadarrama”.”

On the afternoon on 25 August, the German fighters made their operational debut in support of the drive on Madrid. A patrol comprising Oberleutnant Kraft Eberhardt (now in nominal command of the German fighter force) , Oberleutnant Trautloft and Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel took off. The Spanish heat made conditions somewhat unusual for aerial combat, and as Trautloft recorded ’I sat in my aircraft in shorts and a T-shirt - my tennis clothes!’ Knüppel recalled:

“It was once again a sunny day with a clear blue sky. Catalonia lay beneath us, with its superb Guadarrama forested hills, on whose heights battles were being fought on the Puerto de Somosierra, Navicicerada and on the pass road from León. In the northwest, beyond the hills, lay Segovia, and in the southwest, the mighty rectangle of the Escorial, with its imposing walls, domes and towers, while in the south, in the haze of the summer day, Madrid. We were flying on our way to the west. Suddenly, Oberleutnant Eberhardt gave the signal for attack.”
Eberhardt had spotted three Republican Breguet XIXs about two kilometres away over the outskirts of Madrid, flying towards, and about 500 metres below, the Heinkels. With his hands ’shaking from excitement, Trautloft switched on his gunsight, entered into a dive from the sun, closed to within 30 metres and opened fire with his MG 17s:
“As I approach I see the gunner aiming his gun at me and then the muzzle lights up as he opens fire. It all looks rather harmless. With my first burst, the gunner disappears - his machine gun points vertically towards the sky. The “Red” now pushes over into a steep dive. My second burst is brief, but on target, because all of a sudden the Breguet rears up, rolls over, roars towards the earth in a steep, uncontrolled dive and smashes into the ground north of the village of Comenar.”
Trautloft had claimed what is believed to be the first aerial victory by German forces in Spain. Knüppel was forced to break off his attack when his guns jammed but Eberhardt claimed the second Breguet. When the Heinkels landed back at Escalona del Prado, Eberhardt and Trautloft each lodged a claim for a Breguet shot down, and celebrated the occasion wildly with their mechanics.

On 29 August, Oberleutnant Kraft Eberhardt claimed an unconfirmed Potez 540 over the Sierra Guadarrama.
It seems that Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel and Oberleutnant Trautloft were involved in (inconclusive) combat with Potez 540s over the Sierra Guadarrama during the day and they reported that during their first pass, they had their windscreens smeared with oil from the shot-up Potez, forcing them to break off their attacks. They were also set upon by a Dewoitine D.372 fighter.

On 30 August, the three He 51Bs flown by Oberleutnants Kraft Eberhardt, Herwig Knüppel and Trautloft chased three Potez 540 deep over enemy territory, Trautloft angrily expended almost all of his ammunition from just 50 metres away and behind. In response, the bomber simply went into a steep glide, again spraying oil all over the German’s windscreen and severely limiting his ability to see anything. Eberhardt and Knüppel were similarly frustrated. Lessons were being learned, for as Trautloft noted:

“From this range we can't possibly have missed. We suspect that the pilot’s seat in the Potez bomber is armoured. Therefore in future we shall have to attack from the front.
“I attempt an attack from the front in an effort to knock out the pilot. But he has, meanwhile, got a good lead and my machine just is not fast enough. In addition we are almost out of ammunition, so there is nothing else for it but to break off our attack.”
There was perhaps cold comfort for the Germans since the bombers did, in fact, come down, and all three pilots were credited with the destruction of a Potez.

On a later mission the same day Oberleutnant Trautloft (again flying in his tennis gear) was bounced by an enemy fighter (probably a Dewoitine D.371) whose machine gun fire raked the right wing of his Heinkel (2-4), sending it into a spiral dive. With his controls shot away, Trautloft decided to parachute, and opened his parachute at about 8000 ft. The attacking Republican fighter attempted to return for a second pass and open fire at the vulnerable German airman, but Kraft Eberhardt and Herwig Knüppel chased him away. Trautloft recalled:

“In spite of these encouraging results against the Potez, it was clear that our aircraft were not superior enough for us to feel completely safe from the enemy. In fact, on 30 August, I was, for my part, shot down and had to bail out. I was lucky that I was not wounded and that I landed behind Nationalist lines. However, Franco’s troops were, of course, not only surprised to see a tennis player landing in their positions by parachute, they were also very suspicious of me. I did not speak Spanish very well and I suppose they thought that I could have been a foreign volunteer for the “Red Army”. I proved to them that this was not the case by showing them my passport. In it was written “Este aparate y su piloti Don. Hannes Trautloft, estan al servicio del Ejercito Nacional del Norte”. After having carefully read these lines, the Spanish officer shook my hand and I was treated in a very friendly fashion.'
It is possible that Trautloft had been attacked and shot down by teniente Ramón Puparelli Francia of the Grupo de Caza No 11, who claimed a He 51 during the day and this is the only known Republican claim this day.

On 1 September, Oberleutnant Trautloft claimed a 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.”

Taking off from Ávila on 30 September, Oberleutnant Trautloft managed to inflict sufficient damage on a Potez 540 that it crashed into the ground. Staffelkapitän Oberleutnant Kraft Eberhardt claimed a second Potez.

By the beginning of October 1936 six of the new batch of He 51s had arrived in Spain, together with ten volunteer pilots and more mechanics - ”a necessary and welcome strengthening”, as Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel described it. ”Just like we had done two months previously, they had put together their He 51 single-seaters in Seville, for which we soon almost fell around their necks with joy.”
This latest batch of pilots comprised Oberleutnante Dietrich von Bothmer, Oskar Henrici and Günther Radusch, Leutnante Kurt von Gilsa, Paul Rehahn and Henning Strümpell and Unteroffiziere Willi Gödecke, Kowalski, Ernst Mratzek and Erwin Sawallisch. It was now possible to split the Jagdstaffel into two elements – five aircraft under Oberleutnant Trautloft headed north on 5 October to León to escort supply and bombing missions around the Nationalist enclave at Oviedo in Asturias, while the others, under Oberleutnant Kraft Eberhardt, went to Barahona and eventually on to Zaragoza. Communications between the two Ketten would be maintained by a solitary Fokker F VII that had been assigned to the Staffel.

By the middle of October, more Heinkels had arrived, and the strength of the fighter Staffel increased to 14 He 51s.

On 8 December, Leutnant Paul Rehahn of 4. J/88 (He 51B-1) claimed a Breguet XIX. In fact it seems that it was a Casa-Vickers Vildebeest, which force-landed near Yurre.
Oberleutnant Trautloft and Leutnant Dietrich von Bothmer both also from 4. J/88 claimed an I-16 each.

On 2 March 1937, 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 Trautloft, Leutnant Wolf-Heinrich von Houwald, Unteroffizier Erwin Sawallisch and Oberleutnant Alfons Klein, were sent back to Germany.

Trautloft 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 April 1937, he was appointed Staffelkapitän of 1./JG 135.

Four months after leaving the Legion Condor, during which time he had written a book on his experiences in Spain, Trautloft joined the winning three-aircraft team in the Alpine formation speed competition at the 4th International Flying Meeting held at Zurich-Dübendorf between 23 July and 1 August 1937. Six Bf 109 prototypes were also included in the German team, this being the first time that the aircraft had been shown to the public, apart from a brief prior appearance at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
The Bf 109 proved to be an outstanding success at Zurich, winning four first prizes for climbing and diving, for speed, in an Alpenflug (with the V8 piloted by Major Seidemann, who would also serve with the Legion Condor) and for a team Alpenflug. The competing foreign teams were totally outclassed by the Bf 109, and its performance came as something of an eye-opener to both the British and French.

He was appointed Staffelkapitän of 12./JG 132 on 1 July 1938.
On 1 November 1938, IV./JG 132 became I./JG 331 and Trautloft became Staffelkapitän of 2./JG 331.

On 1 May 1939, I./JG 331 became I./JG 77 and Trautloft became Staffelkapitän of 2./JG 77.

Hauptmann Trautloft was appointed Kommandeur of I./JG 20 on 19 September 1939.
On 4 July 1940, I./JG 20 became III./JG 51.

On 25 August 1940, Major Trautloft was appointed Kommodore of JG 54 and he remained in this command until 5 July 1943.

He made a belly-landing in the vicinity of Pécs, Hungary, on 22 April 1941 due to engine failure.

Trautloft was decorated with the Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes on 27 July 1941.

He was awarded the Deutsches Kreuz in Gold on 27 July 1942.

On 1 February 1943, he was promoted to Oberstleutnant.

Around 6 July 1943, he was appointed as Inspekteur der Jagdflieger Ost.

On 1 December 1943, he was promoted to Oberst.

He was appointed as Inspekteur der Tagjagd on 17 December 1943.

In January 1945, he was transferred to 4. Flieger-Schuldivision due to his involvement in the so-called “Mutiny of the Fighter Pilots”.

Around 8 May 1945, he was captured at Döberitz-Elsgrund.

Trautloft ended the war with 5 biplane victories and a total of 58. These claims were made in 560 combat missions.

On 1 October 1957, he joined the Bundesluftwaffe with the rank of Brigadegeneral.

On 1 November 1960, he became Chef des Stabes im Führungsstab der Luftwaffe and was simultaneously appointed the Inspector General of the Bundesluftwaffe.

In January 1962, he was appointed Kommandierenden General der Luftwaffengruppe Süd in Karlsruhe.

On 30 October 1962, he was promoted to Generalleutnant.

Trautloft retired on 30 June 1970 with the rank of Generalleutnant. And awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz mit Stern.

Trautloft died on 11 January 1995 at Bad Wiessee near München.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1936                
1 25/08/36 p.m. 1 Breguet XIX Destroyed Heinkel He 51B-1   Madrid area J/88
2 30/08/36   1 Potez 540 Destroyed Heinkel He 51B-1   Sierra Guadarrama J/88
3 01/09/36   1 Ni-H.52 Destroyed Heinkel He 51B-1   Spain J/88
4 30/09/36   1 Potez 540 Destroyed Heinkel He 51B   Ávila area J/88
5 08/12/36   1 I-16 Destroyed Heinkel He 51B   Spain 4.J/88
  1939                
6 05/09/39 08:20 1 PZL P.23 Destroyed Bf 109   Warta 15km NW Sieradz Stab I./JG 77
  1940                
7 29/05/40 18:40 1 Spitfire Destroyed Bf 109   SE Dünkirchen Stab I./JG 20
8 31/05/40 18:06 1 Spitfire Destroyed Bf 109   N Dünkirchen Stab I./JG 20
9 19/07/40 13:42 1 Defiant Destroyed Bf 109   S Foolkestone Stab III./JG 51
10 08/08/40 12:48 1 Spitfire Destroyed Bf 109   Dungeness Stab III./JG 51
11 25/08/40 20:20 1 Spitfire Destroyed Bf 109   Ärmelkanal Stab/JG 54
12 07/09/40 19:00 1 Hurricane Destroyed Bf 109   Maidstone Stab/JG 54
13 27/10/40 15:05 1 Spitfire Destroyed Bf 109   Ashford Stab/JG 54
  1941                
14 22/06/41 16:48 1 DB-3 Destroyed     NW Mariampol Stab/JG 54
15 23/06/41 10:15 1 SB-3 Destroyed     Kussen Stab/JG 54
16 24/06/41 19:30 1 DB-3 Destroyed     N Tauroggen Stab/JG 54
17 25/06/41 09:30 1 DB-3 Destroyed     S Schaulen Stab/JG 54
18 30/06/41 15:10 1 DB-3 Destroyed     N Dünaburg Stab/JG 54
19 30/06/41 15:30 1 DB-3 Destroyed     N Dünaburg Stab/JG 54
20 06/07/41 19:10 1 DB-3 Destroyed     SE Ostrow Stab/JG 54
21 13/07/41 17:34 1 I-18 Destroyed     NE Šoltzy Stab/JG 54
22 14/07/41 18:12 1 I-18 Destroyed     SE Kingisepp Stab/JG 54
23 21/07/41 21:00 1 SB Destroyed     Waluj Stab/JG 54
24 24/07/41   1 SB-3 Destroyed       Stab/JG 54
25 24/07/41 19:52 1 SB-3 Destroyed     E Porchow Stab/JG 54
26 24/07/41 20:00 1 SB-3 Destroyed     E Dno Stab/JG 54
27 17/09/41   1 I-18 Destroyed       Stab/JG 54
28 04/10/41 10:40 1 I-26 Destroyed     Leningrad/Ljuban Stab/JG 54
29 07/10/41 15:10 1 I-16 Destroyed     Smolino Stab/JG 54
30 07/10/41 15:15 1 I-18 Destroyed     Smolino Stab/JG 54
31 25/10/41 09:38 1 Pe-2 Destroyed     Budogoschtsch Stab/JG 54
32 25/10/41 14:26 1 SB Destroyed     NE Oskuje Stab/JG 54
33 29/10/41 11:07 1 I-26 Destroyed     vor Tichwin Stab/JG 54
34 08/11/41   1 I-26 Destroyed       Stab/JG 54
  1942                
? 09/05/42 15:50 1 Yak-1 Destroyed       Stab/JG 54
? 09/05/42 16:10 1 Pe-2 Destroyed       Stab/JG 54
? 30/05/42 09:24 1 MiG-3 Destroyed       Stab/JG 54
? 05/08/42 18:35 1 Pe-2 Destroyed     SE Shimsk: 6500m (Novgorod) Stab/JG 54
? 09/08/42 10:00 1 Pe-2 Destroyed     NE Reschew: 1000m (Reshew) Stab/JG 54
? 22/08/42 10:15 1 LaGG-3 Destroyed     N Uljanovo Stab/JG 54
? 28/08/42 05:12 1 LaGG-3 Destroyed     N Rschev: 800m Stab/JG 54
  1943                
? 17/01/43 10:01 1 Il-2 Destroyed     N Mga: 200m Stab/JG 54
? 14/02/43 14:10 1 Il-2 Destroyed     10 523: 300m Stab/JG 54
? 14/02/43 14:15 1 Il-2 Destroyed     10 562: 200m Stab/JG 54
? 14/02/43 14:30 1 Il-2mH. Destroyed     10 524: 300m Stab/JG 54
? 15/02/43 09:28 1 Mustang Destroyed     00 444: 1000m Stab/JG 54
? 17/02/43 15:02 1 Il-2mH. Destroyed     10 522: 400m Stab/JG 54
? 18/02/43 09:50 1 Il-2 Destroyed     10 382: 400m Stab/JG 54
? 07/03/43 14:10 1 Il-2 Destroyed     18 324: 200m Stab/JG 54
? 30/05/43 09:24 1 MiG-3 Destroyed       Stab/JG 54

Biplane victories: 5 destroyed.
TOTAL: 58 destroyed, 2 unconfirmed.

Sources:
Aces of the Legion Condor – Robert Forsyth, 2011 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84908-347-8
Aces of the Luftwaffe
Aircrew Remembered
Spanish Republican Aces – Rafael A. Permuy López, 2012 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84908-668-4
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.




Last modified 23 March 2015