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Memories of an old figher pilot re. Erich Hartmann

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#1 harolds



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Posted 13 February 2012 - 07:38 PM

The following is an email I received from ex-fighter pilot John Smith way back in 2005. If John sees this I hope he can elucidate more on his experiences with former Luftwaffe vets.--Harold

"Right after graduating from Russian Language School in Oberammergau I did some work for Air Intelligence in Frankfurt Germany. Coincidentally, Erich Hartmann was released from a Russian POW camp (one of the last German POWs to be released) and returned to Germany; but not after they had tried to coerce him into (1) building an East German Air Force, and (2) being a Soviet agent in West German, failing in both efforts. There weren't any other jet fighter pilots available who spoke both Russian and German and knew the right questions ton ask in order to get Hartmann's responces, so I got tagged to do an out-briefing."

"It started with me being impressed he wasn't bitter about the U.S. Army handing him over to the Russians after he surrendered to Americans on the Bavaria-Czech border. He was REALLY bitter about Berlin in May 1945 ordering him to take Jagdgeschwader 52 to the West and surrender to the Americans or the British though.. (He talked a lot about Jagdgeschwader 52)"

"When the war ended on May 8th he understood that being turned over to the Russians was a result of the Potsdam Agreements; that all German military and civilians in the Soviet Zone of Occupation were to be turned over to the Soviets; the Soviets, of course, stuck them in box cars and shiped them back to Russia as slave labor. Most of the military POWs received 50 year sentences in Siberia in 1945, but in 1955 the Russians began releasing them and sending them home to Germany."

"When he came out of Russia he was as skinny as Twiggy (he never did run very heavy) but otherwise in pretty good health and spirits. What he wanted most was to get back into a cockpit-any cockpit."

"The Luftwaffe was officially disbanded by the Allied Control Commission, then West Germany joined NATO the year Erich came home, the Western Allies agreeing a new West German Luftwaffe was needed in view of the increasing threat militarily from the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. In 1946 the West German Luftwaffe was equipped with mostly U. S.-designed fighters manufactured locally under license. It didn't take any effort at all to get Erich back into the Bundesluftwaffe as a Major, alongside Barkhorn, Gunther Rall and Steinhoff and on his way to the States for upgreading in the F-84-G at Luke AFB Arizona."

"I had returned from the UK and 20th Fighter Wind and was requested to be Erich's IP at Luke for the initial stages of his upgrading, the Patillo brother and the usual cadre taking over after that."

"Erich sort of giggled at the F-84-G Thunderjet vis a vis the Me-262 but liked the stability of the Lead Sled in formation and its long range capability. He also liked very much the A-1-CM radar-ranging gunsight, opining he could have increased his kills by at least 20% had he had one in the Me-262." (this may be an error and he meant Me-109, --Harold)

On the other hand, Erich Hartmann often said the way to win in air combat was to drive in until your windscreen was full of nothing but the enemy, then blow his fadutnick out of the sky. Doesn't take a rader-ranging gunsight ot do that."

"After Luke I didn't see Erich for several years, having gone first the F-84-F, then the F-100-D route with the 401st Fighter Wing at Langley AFB for couple of years, following that with a Staff assignment in the Deployments Branch of Hq. 12th Air Force, Waco, Texas. After a couple of years there I was selected for USAF/USN Exchange Duty, spending 2 years flying A4D's with the Navy and 10 1/2 months deployed to WESPAC aboard the USS Hancock (CVA-19)."

"In 1962 I returned from the Navy tour and was assigned to the 31st Fighter Wing, 1st Fighter Day(?), George AFB, CA as Ass't OPs Officer. Chuck Yeager was CO, but he was soon to leave for a return to Edwards AFB and the squadron had been redesignated as the 306th Tactical Fighter Squadron. I had been there only a few days, trying to adjust my fadutnick to the Ops desk when I got a call on the ops line from Washington, D.C. it was Erich Hartmann. he told me he had tracked me down and would like to see me while he was in the States. I told him, 'Sure, come on out. It's only about twice as far from Germany to North Africa, but come on. We'll get togerther some fighter jocks and get into trouble.' I really didn't expect him to make the trip to California."

A couple of days later, Lt. Col. Yeager told me to hustle my buns over to wing Hq and report to the Wing Commander, Colonel John A. "Big John" Dunning. No sweat: Big John had been my Wing Commander in the 20th in England, so that didn't bother me, but I did wonder if I was in some sort of trouble-again."

"I scooted on over to wing, was admitted to the Commander's sanctum and was still saluting when I realized there was another officer in there, seated just at the edge of my eyesight. I damn near fell over when I realized it was Erich Hartmann. Colonel Dunning put me at ease, told me to take a seat, then explained why Major Hartmann was there."

"Erich had made a request for my assignment as USAF Air Advisor to the Bundesluftwaffe, with further assignment to his Jagdgeschwader 71 'Richthofen'."

" I said I thought that was a TERRIFIC idea and so did Erich, but Big John said it was a lousy idea for me. I had just come off a 2-year 'fringe assignment' and another such assignment would suck me right out of the promotion cycle, possibly ruining my career. I regretfully negated the assignment but have often wondered where it might have led me, just as turning down an assignment as Ass't Air Attache, Moscow for a a good cockpit assignment would have irrevocably altered my career."

"My bride prepared a wunderbar dinner in Erich's honor and we invited in 4 of our on-base neighbor fighter pilots for coffee and 'whatever' after dinner. My Jo got on the horn and gabbed with Erich's wife in Germany for about ten minutes, then we got down to some serious hangar flying. Looking back on it, I see Erich sitting there, holder of the Knights's Cross to the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, doing the air combat maneuvering bit with his hands and fitting in like any other fighter pilot."

"Erich Hartmann died in 1993. I have often wondered where I might be if I had been able to talk my Wing Commander into letting me screw up my career."

Y.o. s.,

Long John

Edited by harolds, 14 February 2012 - 03:24 PM.
clean up some typos

#2 CAC


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Posted 13 February 2012 - 10:50 PM

Thanks for posting this...Anything on Hartmann is spell binding...
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#3 The_Historian



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Posted 14 February 2012 - 02:44 PM

Very nice indeed.:cool:



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