Wednesday 31 January 2024

" Masters of the Air " new Spielberg/Hanks drama currently on Apple TV


review by Daniel Brown

“..'Masters of the Air' (based on the book of the same name by Donald L. Miller) brings the World War II air war over Europe to life courtesy of the same team that created “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific”, notably Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. The series centers on the 100th Bomb Squadron of the Eighth Air Force based in England, rightfully nicknamed “The Bloody Hundredth” for the frightful casualties they endured.

The air war is usually interpreted by civilians as clean and pristine compared to the mud and blood on the ground but in fact, the Eighth alone suffered more combat deaths than the entire Marine Corps in the Pacific Theater. Flying in tight formations in the worst weather imaginable, enduring -50 temperatures in unpressurized aircraft and fighting off waves of German fighters, the crews of the B-17s were sitting ducks. Many who weren’t killed fell to mental breakdowns.

“Band of Brothers” is one hard act to follow but this is your basic buddy movie with an ensemble cast; the only actor I recognized is Austin Butler (“Elvis”). I’ve only seen two episodes and they have yet to gel as characters I care about. The dialogue isn’t quite up to the superb standards of its mighty predecessors but the graphics are excellent and the attention to detail noteworthy. The portrayal of the combat missions are terrifying enough and the plot lines will branch out as the series progresses.

For any aviation aficionado, the real heroes are the B-17 Flying Fortresses, the actual metal birds not the CGI editions. In all, this is a worthy addition to the Hanks/Spielberg team’s effort to commentate the Greatest Generation before they pass off into memory. That alone is reason to watch 'Masters of the Air'....”

review by Richard Hill

"..Was really hoping for a factually accurate representation of Air Combat in WW2, but what I was presented with (and in fairness I'm only 2 episodes in, so it might improve) is revisionist [pro-American, anti-English] nonsense that spends more time portraying squadrons, for want of a better word, "fannying around" than actually flying.

It spends precisely zero time building the main characters up during training like Band of Brothers. As a result, I just have zero emotional investment in any of them. Also, and sadly, the writers have fallen into the trap of creating the main characters like a lot of modern characters are. That is, they've been written to be overly cool, confident, super accomplished, "Mary Sue's" that can do no wrong and win at everything they do. Examples of this is fighting with the British in the pub where the American pilots (who are known as and, until this point, portrayed as, being overly confident and brash), immediately switch personalites with the British (who are known as and, until this point portrayed as, more reserved), and utterly humiliate a British pilot by dancing all round him, making him fall over. The result is that, really, the main characters are just thoroughly unlikeable and boring that you have absolutely no emotional investment in. The absolute opposite of Dick Winters et al from the peerless Band of Brothers.

But really, a lot of it was really down to the overconfidence of the US leadership. They refused to learn lessons identified by the RAF and Luftwaffe that bombing during the day was counterproductive. Sure, you may be able to hit the target more on the first run, but by the end of it, you had so few bombers and crew left you couldn't reliably hit anything. This was proved correct when, on 22nd October 1943, the 8th Army stopped bombing it's unescorted daylight raids because they realised it was unsustainable. During this time, the USAAF, working with RAF Bomber Command, tried switching to night bombing, but found that the B-17s simply weren't capable and the crews not skilled enough to bomb with any amount of relevant precision. The ONLY reason day bombing could continue was due to the P51, which could escort bombers all the way to the target and back again.

Not only this, but the much vaunted (and boasted about in the show), Norden Bombsight, was nowhere near as accurate as it is believed. Under test conditions, it was great. Under combat conditions where aircraft had to zig zag to evade being hit by flak and flying over poor European weather conditions, meant that it was barely more accurate than night bombing anyway! Meaning many of those deaths were a waste.

Sadly, what we've got here is a total misrepresentation of actual history, portrayed by a bunch of unlikeable characters simultaneously embodying the worst stereotypes of American soldiers and "modern" character development by writers that seem to have completely lost the ability to create a likeable character. The best I can say is that the visuals are good..."

review by Jeff

" As a former Air Force pilot and present day airline pilot, I am very impressed by this show so far. It takes a subject that isn’t easy for the public to understand and gives them a sense of the realities of aerial warfare. During that timeframe, aviation was fraught with dangers and terror. Outside of the Combat, just flying aircraft was dangerous. That still exists today. I remember that training missions in the U.S. were often more dangerous than wartime missions. Only discipline, knowledge of the aircraft and teamwork brings you home. The scene where all the crews from all the aircraft from the bomb group were reading the exact same checklist to start and takeoff exactly the same way is what aviation is about. Discipline in addition to skill. Then you add the unknown and terror of WWII aerial combat with flak batteries and fighter planes, especially prior to fighter escorts like the P51 Mustang and you get a sense of the terror that existed every day. And the difference in the type of war experience. The partying and comradeship and drinking in pubs in England portrays a play hard, because tomorrow may never come situation. It’s a completely different type of war then the 101st Airborne or First Marines experienced, but it was brutal and terrifying in its own way. My only complaint so far is still with CGI aircraft. It’s a technology for movies that’s improving, but still needs some work..."

review by Chris Anderson

"..So far the first two episodes are I would say, drawn from Harry Crosby's memoir 'On a wing and a prayer' rather than Masters of the air which if you’ve read will know it is an overview of the whole 8th airforce campaign with reference to the 100th BG’s characters part in it. What has impressed me the most though is the attention to detail in the small things which ordinarily would go unnoticed. I live nearby to the old Thorpe Abbotts airfield and have walked in the area many times. I tried with aid of old photographs to imagine the locations of buildings, runways and hard stands which have unfortunately long gone. It’s quite clear though that the production team have really done their research, most likely with aid of the museum at the old airfield control tower and the 100th bomb group association. The airfield in the show is not just visually accurate, it’s actually dimensionally accurate! it’s amazing to see such continuity in a show or film these days. One error I would point out though is there is a scene in episode 2 where they are watching an air raid from a shelter at the accommodation site. Butlers character says “Norwich is getting it tonight” unfortunately although Norwich was bombed extensively during April to May 1942 there were no raids of the magnitude shown in July, August 1943. I know my comments are geeky but from a local to the area I appreciate the detail..."

A visit to Thorpe Abbotts on my model blog;

Visiting the ghost airfields of Norfolk and Suffolk

Hptm. Helmut Fuhrhop Gkr. I./KG 6 - archive photo scan (9)


Seen here in Soesterberg during March 1943, Hptm. Helmut Fuhrhop - hand on rudder gust lock - helps push his Ju 88 out of its hangar. The Gruppenkommandeur of I./KG 6 was shot down and killed during February 1944. 

Tuesday 30 January 2024

Ofw. Heinz Humburg JG 26/ JG 7

Several images from an expired ebay auction from the estate of ex-III./JG 26 pilot Ofw. Heinz Humburg. Note the Spanish Cross with swords on his tunic, lower left. Humburg did not fly as a pilot in  Spain contrary to what is implied elsewhere. This biography attempts to correct further inaccurate accounts online.

Humburg was born in October 1915 and trained as a sheet metal worker after leaving school. He joined the Luftwaffe in 1936 but was not accepted for pilot training. He went to Spain and flew his first combat sorties during 1937 as a Bordmechaniker. On his return from Spain he was accepted for pilot training which he concluded at Jagdschule Werneuchen following the outbreak of  WW II. He arrived at JG 26 on 18 May 1940 from Erg.Jgr.Merseburg according to the JG 26 pilot listing (RL 10 /265). He was posted to 9. Staffel of JG 26 Schlageter and according to the 'Kracker archive' he downed a Spitfire, east of Dover on 15 August, 1940.  This is probably not correct  - he was awarded an EK II during September 1940 and then according to the same source (RL 10/265)  was sent back to flight school for further training and did not rejoin the Geschwader until 1 September 1943. This followed a spell with Luftdienstkdo. 2 / III. at Venlo, an airfield which was undergoing major expansion during late 1940-early 1941 as home to the premier Nachtjagd Gruppe I./NJG 1. According to his obituary in Jägerblatt issue 3/90 he was "..subsequently shot down three times and on three occasions was forced to bail out of his 'Gustav'.."

Again, according to Kracker, Humburg was WIA on 16 December, 1943 when he ran out of fuel and crashed in "White 1" at Hoya Weser, injuring himself. According to the JG 26 pilot listing in RL 10/265, he was hospitalised in early January 1944 following illness. Assigned to the Frontfliegersammelgruppe Quedlinburg -  which is where all pilots suitable for front-line service (often after hospital stays) were 'collected' (but not necessarily in the 'physical' sense') and then re-assigned to the respective front-line units - he was sent back to III./JG 26 in mid-February 1944. He made some 77 Feindflüge (combat sorties), earning the Frontflugspange in Silber (awarded 28 September 1944) and returned four 'confirmed' victories in JG 26; two P-47s, a P-51 (27 September at Arnhem) and a B-17 between August and September, 1944. Additional claims according to Perry include a P-47 at Yerville on 7 June, 1944 and a P-47 at Rugles on 17 July, 1944 (Perry Claims). His 7th, an "e/a" in February, 1945, no date given.

In November 1944 he was trained on the Me 262 at Lechfeld and was posted to III./EJG 2 and then JG 7 in March 1945. He died on 5 May 1990.

Also on this blog; 

Wednesday 24 January 2024

one week left at the 'Naval and Military Press' winter sale


Lawrence Paterson's 'Eagles over the Sea 43-45', volume 2 of the author's history of Luftwaffe maritime operations, is now on deep discount in the Naval and Military Press winter sale -73% off. Only one week to go. Normal price is £30, now only £7.99.

Naval and Military Press winter sale is here
Volume I of 'Eagles over the Sea' (1939-42) was reviewed on this blog here

Saturday 13 January 2024

Scanning negatives - archive photo scan series


Having a while ago - on the advice of a friend - acquired a (cheap) second-hand Epson V330 scanner and scanned my first images for the 'archive photo series', I was recently invited over to the Continent for the weekend to scan some negatives. Folders and folders of them... 

Having  spoken to some scanner 'pros' about settings, we arrived in Bruges on the Friday afternoon and departed on the Monday evening. Over the weekend we managed to scan some 200 negative 'strips' - some with up to six images per strip - as well as numerous print photos. Most scanners can scan negatives if  the negative is adequately 'back-lit' - there's at least one decent video on youtube with some good tips. The Epson V330 and newer models feature a 'reflective light unit' in the lid. However the unit in my machine did not appear to be working, nor was the Epson software working with a new Dell laptop. Fortunately I'd brought my old Dell laptop with me (Windows 7) and this seemed to work although the scanner still didn't seem to be functioning correctly.  We soldiered on. The negative strips were organised into 'albums' according to who had originally provided them - and represented lots of time and effort travelling around Germany and Austria visiting the veterans. However the scans were coming out with all sorts of zig-zag 'effects', primarily in the 'highlighted' areas. Increasing resolution and 'slowing' down the speed of the scanning head seemed to work in reducing this effect....but obviously increases the scan time.

A few basic pointers; avoid fingerprints on negatives! Emulsion up, emulsion down seemed to make no difference to the quality of the scan. Select at least 600 dpi or higher, depending on the size of the final scan. 24-bit color at 200% also seemed to work well, although 48-bit color will give more pixels to work with, albeit each scan will take several minutes longer. Getting decent results from scanning a negative of course depends on the quality of the negative. To get the full value of the photo you will need some manipulation software since the scanned image needs to be 'enhanced'. The enhancement process is 50% of the work. "Photopad" image editor is a cheap and useful piece of software if you don't have anything else available. The 'Autocorrect' function does all the hard work too..


Wednesday 10 January 2024

Airfix 2024 range reveal - Wolfdieter Huy archive photo scan #13


Scintillating Tooby box-art (aside from the windscreen perhaps?) from the Airfix 2024 range 'reveal' yesterday, a 72nd Bf 109 Friedrich 'Starter set' in the markings of Wolf dieter Huy (III./JG 77).  Huy was the long-time Staffelkapitän of the Jabo Staffel in III./JG 77, well-known for the dark green finish of their aircraft and their rudder 'scoreboards'. After Crete they moved to the southern sector of the Eastern Front for the launch of Barbarossa. Note this is a 'simplified' kit replicated by Airfix in a 'simplified' scheme - just four paints - for the 'Starter Set'. 

A photo scan of one of Huy's early Friedrichs with a very unusual and very small Staffel number. The yellow band is presumably aft of the Balkenkreuz. Image below this depicts Huy's 'white 1' on the day of his RK award (July 1941) with Blumenstrauß alongside rudder decoration. Note 'white 6' with yellow band behind the fuselage cross in the background. Click to view large..

Tuesday 9 January 2024

KG 2 Dornier Do 217 E 'white dove' walkaround - Bundesarchiv photo find, archive photo scan #11


Here's a good example of the potential difficulties of determining the origins of, or claiming ownership or 'copyright' on, Luftwaffe photos. Images of this particular subject - the Do 217 Es used for daylight raids over England - can be found in numerous albums and collections. There are no doubt many many similar photo 'themes' that feature in archives and private collections.

 Finished in an overall RLM 76 scheme, KG 2 flew a (presumably) small number of Do 217 Es on low-level daylight so-called 'pirate' raids over the UK during 1942. Photos appear in a number of locations/collections; obviously you can find a series in the Bundesarchiv, but there's a similar album at the ECPA-D. A selection of them feature in a large private photo album collected to illustrate a published two volume history of KG 2 and from where I scanned them a few weeks ago! And no doubt in other photo albums too. Some of these images have been published, others not. Needless to say, some of these  - or similar- also appear in, among others, the Classic (Bomber colours) and Do 217 volumes by Chris Goss, especially the Osprey Combat units and the recent Classic Pubs book on the type.

Im Westen.- Auf einem Flugplatz. Wartung, Betanken (?) eines Flugzeug Dornier Do 217 mit weißem / hellgrauem Tarnanstrich

As usual Bundesarchiv photos may be used on a non-commercial basis under a Wiki Commons license.  

The next four images were scanned from a private album by this blogger. The first two have not been 'enhanced' and the fact that they appear on a negative strip is evident. 

Several views of Oblt. Ernst Schneiderbauer's 3./KG 2 Do 217 E-4 (WNr. 5441) and his crew..the aircraft is coded 'U5+BL' and camouflaged for low-level daylight 'pinpoint' attacks, so -called Pirateneinsätze....

Note the inscription under the cockpit reads 'Sturmvogel'. In the first image below the 'U5' code is just visible on the rear fuselage, although the Hakenkreuz is not...

Previously with I./KG 40, Schneiderbauer was downed on March 12, 1943 during a night raid on Newcastle and taken captive along with his crew. Bailing out he landed safely and subsequently had an encounter with Lady Beatrice Scrope ('.. fur coat over her long underwear..') as related by Chris Goss in his Classic Do 217 tome (p78).

A close-up of the name 'Sturmvogel' painted under the cockpit of this specially camouflaged Do 217 E-4 used on daylight nuisance raids by - among others - the crew of Oblt. Sengschmitt. According to Balke the second name was 'die weisse Taube' ('the white dove'). Perhaps this was just a 'generic' name as such. Although in his history of KG 2 ('Luftkreig in Europa',Vol I) the caption for pics 19 and 20 states, " Two of the Do 217 E-4s deployed on 'pirate' raids against the UK..."

Above; a crew member seen alongside the tail of 'U5+BL'

The next two images are from an ECPA-D file, DAA 2559, and were taken by this blogger on my phone. They are simply photos of photos, again from an actual album. Captioned as " a Do 217 arrives at an airfield of KG 2, Eindhoven or Soesterberg.." The photographer is listed as 'unknown' and there is no date on these either..

Thursday 4 January 2024

New book title by Peter Kaššák: '2 July 1944 - Allied strategic aerial operations in the MTO and the Axis defense response'


Peter Kaššák has recently managed to finish another of his 'day' airwar histories from the summer of 1944. On 2 July 1944, the US 15th AF dispatched a total of 161 B-17s, 551 B-24s, 198 P-51s (including 45 8th AF P-51s) and 140 P-38s against oil industry, aerodromes and railroad infrastructure targets in the Budapest area in Hungary - one of the biggest raids of the war against the city and part of the Allies attempts to destroy Hungary’s most important industrial and transport facilities. A heavy overcast encountered over Budapest Almásfüzitő Oil Refinery limited the complete success of the day’s operations. The other targets were, however, successfully attacked. Peter's new book features detailed descriptions of the combats as seen from both sides - including Luftwaffe fighters from JG 52, JG 301 and JG 300, the Hungarian 101 Pumas and US fighters from the 325th and 52nd Fighter Groups. P-51s from the 8th's 4th and 352nd FGs also flew sweeps over the city - the mission is 'famous' for the loss of Ralph 'Kid' Hofer. Blakeslee had offered his P-51s as additional escorts for the 15th Air Force’s heavy bombers. Over Hungary the 4th ran into a large formation of Bf 109s and was scattered in the melee that ensued. When the P-51s returned to Italy later that day six were missing, including Hofer's.The fates of airmen KIA and MIA and the results of the attacks are presented in the text for the reader along with a complete list of Axis losses and victories, as well as those for the 15th US AF. This self-published 'print-on-demand' and inexpensive softback is now available to order through 

For more information and how to order Peter's book "2 July 1944" on please go here 
Books authored by Peter Kaššák - a presentation on here
Peter's '16 June 1944' title is the subject of an in-depth review here

Tuesday 2 January 2024

Wolf and Rudorffer - Horridoh for the 7,000th kill at JG 54 - archive photo scan #12


a set of (different) low-res images from an ECPA-D photo series file ref KBZ 24 F234.  Six photos from the series were published in Tome 2 of Philippe Saintes' JG 54 history "Les Aigles au Coeur Vert" (Lela Presse) and others more recently in Jochen Prien's JfV Teil 15/II. " Einsatz im Osten 1944" 

Jagdgeschwader 54 "Grünherz" ace Lt. Albin Wolf seen on his return from a sortie flown on 23 March, 1944 in Pechory/Pskov. Kommandeur Rudorffer is seen with Wolf as the celebrations on the 7,000th victory claimed by the Geschwader get under way with the successful StaKa of 6./JG 54. Only a handful of images in this series by PK Reimers actually show much of Wolf's Fw 190. Other images in the series show the pilot being welcomed by his comrades StaKa 5./JG 54 Lang and Heinrich Sterr StaKa of 4./JG 54 while bottles of Pommery Champagne and brandy are opened to celebrate the event. Wolf had also just returned his 135th victory downing a Soviet Yak 1 fighter. The pilot's Focke-Wulf Fw-190 A 6 is seen although none of the images show the Staffel number. Wolf would be shot down and killed barely a week later 20 km south-east of Pskov (Pleskau) - on 2 April 1944 at 09:30 during combat at low altitude with a Yak-9 his Fw 190 A-6 (WNr 551142) took a direct hit from an anti-aircraft shell. Wolf received a posthumous promotion to Oblt. and the Eichenlaub. 

Monday 1 January 2024

Kurt Pflugbeil, General der Flieger, Oberbefehlshaber Luftflotte 1


Reading through the list of the approximately 7300 Knight's Cross winners, you soon notice quite a few Ritterkreuzträger-Familien or 'families' where the Knight's Cross is represented more than once. For example, the following pairs of brothers from the individual branches of the Wehrmacht: Heer: Georg and Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager, Luftwaffe: Adolf and Wilhelm Ferdinand Galland, Kriegsmarine: Gerd and Reinhard Suhren, Waffen-SS: Boris and Hugo Krass. However, there are also brothers who did not earn their Knight's Cross in the same branch of the Wehrmacht. These include Generalleutnant des Heeres Johann Pflugbeil (1882-1951) and his younger brother Kurt Pflugbeil (1890-1955), who ended the war as General der Flieger and Oberbefehlshaber Luftflotte 1 - Commander-in-Chief of air fleet 1. The following write-up of Pflugbeil's career is now the most comprehensive and easily accessible on the internet.

The Pflugbeil brothers were born in Hütten near Königstein in Saxony as sons of a sawmill owner. After attending school, the younger Pflugbeil brother joined the Saxon 10th Infantry Regiment No. 134 in Plauen as a Fahnenjunker (ensign) on 1 April 1910. Here, after attending war school, the high school graduate was promoted to Leutnant on 23 November 1911. As a platoon leader, World War I began for Lt.Pflugbeil and his regiment on 2 August 1914. As early as 1915 he applied for a transfer to the Fliegertruppe, which was granted at the end of 1915. From then on, he was mostly deployed as a fighter pilot and observer during the war. In the process, he earned the reputation of being "invulnerable" and finally returned home as a highly decorated flight officer. Among other things, he was also awarded the second-highest Prussian war medal for officers after the Pour le Mérite, the Ritterkreuz mit Schwertern zum Königlichen Hausorden von Hohenzollern (Knight's Cross with Swords of the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern). Kurt Pflugbeil ended the war in November 1918 with the rank of Hauptmann.

Postwar the Germans were forbidden warplanes by the Treaty of Versailles of 1919. Hptm. Pflugbeil therefore returned to his first branch of the service, the infantry. Via the Grenzjägerregiment Zeithain and the Vorläufige Reichswehr, he finally joined the 11th (Saxon) Infantry Regiment on 1 April 1921, whose 1st and 2nd companies stationed in Freiberg/Saxony were official "Traditionsträger" (tradition forebears) of Pflugbeil's former IR (Infantry Regiment) 134. For five years - from 1921 to 1926 - Pflugbeil was the Chef der 1. Kompanie of IR 11 until 1926, when he was able to to refresh his flying knowledge and experience by taking part in longer training courses at the Reichswehr's secret flying training centre at the Soviet airfield in Lipetsk. During this time, he was appointed as a Rittmeister in the 11th (Prussian) Rifle Corps, which was spread over three Silesian garrisons.

With his promotion to Major on 1 November 1931, Kurt Pflugbeil - by now forty-one years old - was appointed Kommandeur of the 2nd Prussian Fahrabteilung, which was located with two 'eskadrons' each in Altdamm/Pomerania and in Rendsburg/Schleswig-Holstein. The plans prepared by the Reichswehr Ministry for a possible re-formation of the German air forces after the abolition of the restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles envisaged this Fahrabteilung as the parent unit of future flying formations and, in particular, as a personnel reserve for the training of radio operators and aerial gunners. In fact, from 1933 onwards, Major Pflugbeil's Fahrabteilung 2, initially formed covertly from many individual components, was 'unofficially' run as the "Fliegerersatzabteilung" in the Luftwaffe.

In 1934/35, the experienced World War I Kampfflieger served as "Director of the High Altitude Flight Centre of the German Aeronautical Weather Service" in Lechfeld/Bavaria, a cover name for the first Kampffliegerschule of the future Luftwaffe. Hitler's decree on 26 February 1935 unmasked the "Reichsluftwaffe" with effect from 1 March 1935 and made it an independent part of the Wehrmacht alongside the Reichsheer and the Reichsmarine. Pflugbeil then transferred to the RLM (Reich's Air Ministry) in Berlin as Inspector of Kampfflieger.

On mobilization for the attack on Poland in early September 1939, Major General Pflugbeil was initially appointed commander of Luftgaustab z.b.V.* 16. After the French campaign in the summer of 1940, he then became Commanding General and Commander in the Luftgau Belgium and Northern France on August 1, 1940. Here his main task was to organize the future air defense of this area and to prepare the ground organization for the air forces to be deployed against England. He then took a leading part in operations against England himself, after he had been promoted to Generalleutnant  on 1 September 1940, succeeding General der Flieger Alfred Keller as commanding general of 
IV. Fliegerkorps, which was under the command of Luftflotte 3 led by Generalfeldmarschall Sperrle. Among his units were Lehrgeschwader 1 (equipped with the Ju 88 medium bomber), Kampfgeschwader (KG) 27 (with the He 111, the Luftwaffe's standard bomber) and Stuka-Geschwader 3 (Ju 87). When the war against the Soviet Union (Unternehmen "Barbarossa") began on June 22, 1941, Pflugbeil's IV Fliegerkorps, together with Ritter von Greim's V Fliegerkorps formed Luftflotte 4, deployed in the southern section of the Eastern Front under Generaloberst Alexander Löhr (1885-1947), former Chief of the Austrian Air Force.

The achievements of Pflugbeil's IV Fliegerkorps during the first months of the campaign in the East received official recognition on 5 October 1941 with the award of the Knight's Cross. On 31 October 1941 Pflugbeil was mentioned by name for the first time in the report of the OKW (Wehrmacht High Command). This mention was to be followed by three more in the next few years. With his appointment as commander-in-chief of Luftflotte 1 in the summer of 1943 as successor to General Günther Korten, who had been appointed chief of staff of the Luftwaffe, the career of General der Flieger (since 1 February, 1942) Pflugbeil reached its high point. He remained at this post practically until the end of the war, even as Luftflotte 1, deployed throughout in the northern section of the Eastern Front, was renamed "Luftwaffenkommando Kurland".

On 28 April1944 General Pflugbeil was the 562nd soldier of the German Wehrmacht to be awarded the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross - on 11 April 1944 the OKW report stated that his air fleet had played an outstanding part in the success of the defensive battle south of Pleskau near Lake Peipus. About four months later, Pflugbeil's brother Johann received the Knight's Cross as Lieutenant General of the Army and combat commander of Mitau.

The  defensive battles of the Kurlandfront  were General der Flieger Kurt Pflugbeil's last wartime missions. Events at the turn of the year 1944/45 were described in the OKW report of 1 January1945 as follows;

"... In eleven days of heavy fighting ... Army units, Waffen SS and Latvian SS volunteers, excellently supported by flying units and anti-aircraft units of the Luftwaffe under the leadership of their commander-in-chief, General der Flieger Pflugbeil, defeated the onslaught of 46 rifle divisions and 22 tank and assault gun units. Thanks to the high performance of leadership and troops, the front in Courland remained firmly in our own hands, except for insignificant losses in terrain."

Relentless Soviet offensives in Courland (the sixth was launched on 16 March 1945) gradually resulted in a considerable reduction in the number of sorties flown by the defending fighters of JG 54 given the general shortages of fuel and machines in the ever-shrinking pocket. Their primary mission was as escort for the rocket-toting Fw 190 ground-attack machines operated by SG 3 against Soviet armour. Only then were ‘free hunts’ against the Soviet medium bombers authorised. Oblt. Gerd Thyben, Staffelkapitän of 7./JG 54 remembered;

“..Fuel for the Heeresgruppe Kurland – and thus our fighters – came to us, if at all, by sea. ‘Papi’ Kurt Pflugbeil of Luftflotte Kurland only occasionally ordered sorties and then only with the orders ‘ An die bomber!’

Below; Two Ritterkreuzträger photographed at Cirava, Courland during March 1945 having just received their decorations from 'Papi' Kurt Pflugbeil (right). Staffelkapitän 8./JG 54 Lt. Hermann Schleinhege (left) with his  comrade Lt. Hugo Broch.

Pflugbeil's organisational talents could not of course avert final defeat but did enable him to send home large numbers of the Luftwaffe soldiers under his command before the official surrender. As the Red Army closed on Windau, where the " Befehlshaber der Luftwaffenkommando Kurland " (commander of the Kurland Air Force Command) had his headquarters, he himself declined to use the He 111 available to him to return west and entered Soviet captivity. After months of imprisonment in Moscow and Ivanovo, he was sentenced to twenty-five years hard labour on 8 June, 1950. Seriously ill, the now almost sixty-four-year-old general was released early on 5 January 1954. He survived the return home only by seventeen months. Kurt Pflugbeil died on 31 May 1955 in  hospital near Göttingen..

( A detailed account of JG 54's flight out of Courland appears in this blogger's "Luftwaffe Fighters -Combat on all Fronts" Volume I)