Wednesday 30 September 2020

Alte Adler - Great War pilots in the WWII Luftwaffe

There were a number of notable 'alte Adler' who flew combat in WWI and who then went on to serve  in the WW II Luftwaffe- aviators such as Mix, Osterkamp, Loerzer, von Greim, von Schleich, Hasso von Wedel, Vollbracht, Frommherz, Huth, Hammes etc etc. But while most of these men flew in the new Luftwaffe either pre-war or during the early years of WWII very few achieved any great 'success' in the air - over the preceding 25 years advances in aeronautics and the mental and physical requirements of flying had grown exponentially. And during the summer of 1940 a number of more 'senior' commanders were removed from their posts by Göring to be replaced with younger more dynamic men. However a few names do stand out - in this blog post we look briefly at the careers of some of the more notable 'alte Adler'; Alexander von Winterfeldt, Hans Krug and Alfred Lindenberger.

Alexander von Winterfeldt was born in Berlin on 30 October 1898. He was the younger brother of Rudolf, eldest son of Detlof von Winterfeldt and Marianne née Freeia von Rotenhan. Born into a family with a strong tradition of high-ranking military service and related to the German nobility, Alexander was named after Prince Alexander of Prussia, a cousin of the Kaiser. His grandfather had served at court as Prince Alexander’s aide-de-camp.

He served as an infantryman, then flew fighters during WWI . In August 1918 he had been posted to Jasta 20 - 'Jasta Busse', deployed since January 1917 above Belgian Flanders. In August 1918, the unit was based in Menin (Menen) near Courtrai and was commanded by an ace, Leutnant Joachim von Busse, then credited with half a dozen victories
A brief translated extract from von Winterfeldt's memoir, a 64-page unpublished manuscript entitled "Meine Erlebnisse in den Kriegsjahren 1916 - 1919";

 "..I wrote to you when I shot down my first victim. Yesterday I achieved my second aerial victory. With five Fokkers, we attacked a dozen Sopwith Camels, a dangerous single-seater opponent. My comrades engaged the enemy, killed one, and then disappeared. I stayed with the Sopwiths because I wasn’t going to leave without having at least taken them on. I was flying in all directions as they were all trying to bring me down. I took about twenty impacts in my machine but was able to down one of the Camels in flames. The English are no laughing matter but the German fighters are formidable in combat. Every day a dozen Englishmen are shot down by our pilots. But here we no longer have proper accommodation which is a real burden and we fly constantly – many sorties per day. We are now in Wingene near Ghent. We are like flying gypsies. Many of our Ketten however are totally annihilated and our losses are heavy. But at home it appears that things are even worse as those returning from leave tell us. So I feel much better at the front. Brother Rudolf is not far from here. He is fighting in Flanders as a battalion commander. "

Alexander’s father was one of the plenipotentiaries that assembled at Compiegne to sign the 11 November 1918 armistice. However like many of the Kaiser’s officers he refused to accept, even passively, the drastic conditions imposed on his country. Little is known about his activities during the inter-war period, aside from a long voyage to China on a sales trip for the Henschel firm. Called up as a 'reserve officer' on the outbreak of WWII he flew with JG 2 in the Westfeldzug (campaign in the West, 1940) aged 42 years old. He was subsequently appointed Kommandeur of III./JG 77 for Barbarossa. Russia took a toll on his health and he was repatriated home. Promoted to Oberstleutnant, he was sent to Austria to command a training school, JFS 4 in Wien-Schwechat (Vienna) but on 16 May 1942, Alexander von Winterfeldt perished in the crash of his Bf 109 E near the airfield. He was buried with military honours on 20 May 1942. Alexander von Winterfeldt was credited with four air victories in 1918, a further nine during 1940/1941 and fifteen aircraft destroyed on the ground. Of the three von Winterfeldt brothers only Rudolf survived the war – younger brother Kurt was killed serving with an armoured unit in Poland during February 1945.

On February 9, 1986, Richard Kraut celebrated his 91st birthday. As a Leutnant he had been posted to Jasta 4 on August 3, 1918. He subsequently served with JG 2 and JG 54 in the WWII Luftwaffe and was one of the last surviving Richthofener or "Eisgrauen" ( a term that denoted membership of the Jagdgeschwader Freiherr von Richthofen during the period 1917-1918..).

On February 6, 1986 Fritz Fromme (left) celebrated his 90th birthday as one of the last surviving WWI aviators at that time. Born in Dusseldorf in 1896 he underwent pilot training in Johannisthal in late 1915 and then trained on fighters. In March 1917 he served with Fliegerabteilung  A265 based near the French town of Laon. During the inter-war period he was a Fluglehrer and sports flyer. With the occupation of the Rhineland in 1936 he joined the Luftwaffe and was posted to JG 26 and from May 1941 commanded the Ergänzungsgruppe of JG 26 until he entered American captivity at the end of the war. He never flew again - quoted in the German fighter pilots magazine  Jägerblatt he stated;

 " ...after two eye and two hip operations, two crashes and two World Wars I've had my fill.."

A 1983 issue of Jägerblatt featured the career of former Jagdstaffel 18 ace Paul Strähle. He returned 14 victories under Htpm. Berthold before being appointed to command Jagdstaffel 57 towards the end of the war. In the interwar period he founded his own air transport business 'Luftverkehr Strähle' before the monopoly of such activities was turned over to Lufthansa. He then set up in business taking aerial photographs until such activity was banned by the authorities in 1938. During WWII he 'continued' this specialism serving as a 'reserve' officer in the reconnaissance arm - Luftaufklärung.

 Lt. Hans Krug of 5./JG 26 had served as an airman in the Royal Bavarian Air Service during WWI. He later flew as a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War and achieved nine confirmed victories during World War II. His last victory was Fairey Battle of No. 142 Sq. RAF claimed on August 23, 1940 in the evening near Boulogne. Six British crews were tasked with attacking the E-Boots. Two were shot down by German fighters and two made an emergency landing in England. The fighters from JG 3 and JG 26 claimed six victories.

Born in Nürtingen, south-east of Stuttgart, in April 1897 Alfred Lindenberger served initially during WWI in the Württemburger infantry regiment 119. He had achieved three 'kills' as an observer/air gunner in Flieger Abteilung 234 before pilot training during early 1918 and joining Jasta 'Boelcke' where in a matter of months he went on to become an ace. With the formation of the 'new' Luftwaffe in the 1930s he served as a flying instructor. During early 1944 he applied to fly in the defense of the Reich. Given that his superiors had already removed a number of 'old hands' from combat commands, it seems unusual to find a veteran of his age being allowed to fly combat. In the end Lindenberger - known as 'the Kaiser' to his new comrades - flew his first combat sortie at  the controls of a Fw 190 during September 1944 in II./JG 300. Some sources state that Lindenberger flew with IV.(Sturm)/ JG 3, or that he assumed command of II.(Sturm)/JG 300 during the summer of 1944 - he did not in any practical sense. JG 300 of course was no longer a 'wilde Sau' unit by June 1944 and through the summer of 1944 operated heavily armed and armoured single-engine fighters against US bomber streams in the Sturmgruppe role.  Lindenberger claimed two Viermots before his 'blue 17' was shot down over Halberstadt on 28 September 1944. He parachuted to safety and was back in the cockpit to return two more claims against the bombers on 17 December. JG 300 shifted to the Eastern Front in late January 1945. Lindenberger flew his first 'ground-attack' sortie against Soviet troops east of the Oder on 24 January 1945. II./JG 300 had flown east on 23 January arriving at Schönfeld-Seifersdorf. Lindenberger flew his last sortie of the war on 2 April 1945 - probably as wingman to Bauer, who filed his last claim that day - but was forced to make a crash-landing gear up at Löbnitz.

Much more on Lindenberger's story in issue 232 of 'Avions' magazine..

Lindenberger as Rumpler gunner/observer in FA 234 with ace pilot Vzfw. Karl Jentsch. Jentsch published his memoir 'Jagdflieger im Feuer' in 1937.