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) 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for visiting the Luftwaffe Blog. We welcome your comments.