Erich Alfred Hartmann (19 April 1922 – 20 September 1993), nicknamed “Bubi” (the hypocoristic form of “young boy”) by his comrades and “The Black Devil” by his Soviet enemies, was a German World War II fighter pilot and is the highest-scoring fighter ace in the history of aerial warfare. He claimed 352 aerial victories (of which 345 were won against the Soviet Air Force, and 260 of which were fighters) in 1,404 combat missions. He engaged in aerial combat 825 times while serving with the Luftwaffe. 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 was never shot down or forced to land due to fire from enemy aircraft.
Hartmann flew his first combat mission on 14 October 1942, at the age of 20, as Edmund Roßmann's wingman. When they encountered 10 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 Ilyushin 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 took him some time to establish himself as a consistently scoring fighter pilot.
By late August 1943, Hartmann had 90 aerial victories. 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 Hartmann's unit to support the dive bombers of Sturzkampfgeschwader 2, led by the famous Stuka pilot Hans-Ulrich Rudel in a counterattack. The situation had changed, and the flight of eight German fighters engaged a mass of Russian Yakovlev Yak-9 and Lavochkin La-5 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. When Hartmann's Crew Chief, Heinz "Bimmel" Mertens, heard what had happened, he took a rifle and went to search for Hartmann.
Hartmann patiently waited for the right moment to escape, then, using the distraction of the Stukas attack, he attacked the single guard. Hartmann jumped out of 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, he was challenged by a sentry who fired a shot which passed through his trousers.
In March 1944, he reached 202 kills. 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. 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 Cherniy 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, it was Hartmann who scored JG 52' 3500th kill of the war. 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. Consequently, in the following two months, Hartmann amassed over 50 kills.
On 21 May 1944, Hartmann engaged United States Army Air Forces aircraft in Reichsverteidigung for the first time. While flying "top cover" for another Schwarm, Hartmann attacked a flight of four P-51s over Bucharest, Romania, downing two, while the other two P-51s fell victim to his fellow pilots. On 1 June 1944, Hartmann shot down four P-51s in a single mission over the Ploieşti oil fields. Later that month, during his fifth combat with American pilots, he shot down two more P-51s before being forced to bail out, when eight other P-51s ran his Messerschmitt out of fuel. During the intense manoeuvring, Hartmann managed to line up one of the P-51s at close range, but heard only a "clank" when he fired, as he had run out of ammunition. While he was hanging in his parachute, the P-51s circled above him, and Hartmann wondered if they would take this opportunity to kill him. One of the P-51Bs flown by Lt. Robert J. Goebel of the 308th Squadron, 31st Fighter Group, broke away and headed straight for him. Goebel was making a camera pass to record the bailout and banked away from him only at the last moment, waving at Hartmann as he went by.
Unlike Hans-Joachim Marseille ( http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid= ... 0769132141
), 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 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 (20 m (66 ft) 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:
- reveal his position only at the last possible moment
- compensate for the low muzzle velocity of the slower firing 30 mm MK 108 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.
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, which handed Hartmann, his pilots, and ground crew over to the Soviet Union on 24 May, 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.
Soon after being handed over to the Soviet armed forces, Hartmann experienced the following:
"The first thing the Russians did was to separate the German women and girls from the men. What followed was a brutal orgy of rape and debauchery by Red Army soldiers. When the greatly outnumbered Americans tried to intervene, the Russians charged towards them firing into the air and threatening to kill them if they interfered. The raping continued throughout the night. The next day a Russian General arrived at the encampment and immediately ordered a cessation... Later when a few Russians violated the order again and assaulted a German girl, she was asked to identify them from a lineup. There were no formalities, no court martial. The guilty parties were immediately hanged in front of all their comrades. The point was made."
In an attempt to pressure him into service with the Soviet-friendly East German Volksarmee, he was convicted of false war crimes, a conviction posthumously voided by a Russian court as a malicious prosecution. Hartmann was sentenced to 25 years of hard labour and spent 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, which he considered a fundamentally flawed and unsafe aircraft. 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. Hartmann was forced into early retirement in 1970. He died of natural causes on 20 September 1993.