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Knight's Cross And Oak-Leaves Recipient Joachim Helbig

Discussion in 'German WWII Medals and Awards' started by Jim, Sep 13, 2007.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Oberst Joachim Helbig

    Joachim Helbig was born on 10 September 1915 in the town of Borln. Like several other Luftwaffe aces, the early part of his military career was actually spent in the Army: he was for a time an officer cadet in the artillery, serving with Artillery-Regiment 4 in Dresden. He transferred to the Luftwaffe with the rank of Leutnant in 1936 and initially served as an observer (Beobachter) before going on to undertake flying training and becoming a pilot.
    On the outbreak of war, Helbig served as an Oberleutnant with Lehrgeschwader 1 and flew missions during the Polish campaign. Only a few days after the opening of the campaign, he was involved in a motorcycle accident and missed the remainder, though in the following months he was involved in anti-shipping strikes against British vessels, flying the Heinkel He III. During this period he was awarded the Iron Cross Second Class. He subsequently saw service during the invasion of Norway, on one occasion having to use all his skills to nurse his badly damaged He III back to base with his crew badly wounded too: the nerve-wracking flight took two and a half hours. His unit was re-equipped with Junkers Ju 88 bombers, and during the assaults on France and the Low Countries he earned the Iron Cross First Class. Helbig was a fearless combat pilot. On one occasion after a dive-bombing attack on a British warship, he engaged and despatched three Spitfires, throwing his large twin-engined bomber around like a tiny fighter. Despite serious damage to his aircraft, and his own serious wounds, he managed to return his aircraft safely to Dusseldorf: one of his crewmen bandaged his wounds as he piloted the aircraft. At the conclusion of the campaign in the West, Helbig was promoted to Hauptmann. On 13 August 1940, Helbig led his Staffel as part of II.Gruppe, Lehrgeschwader 1 on an attack on the British airfield at Worthy Down. Helbig's nine Ju 88s were flying at the end of the German formation, the position most likely to be attacked first. When the Germans did come under attack by some 80 Spitfires, Helbig's Staffel bore the brunt of the assault. The German formation was torn apart, and the skies filled with the parachutes of aircrew bailing out from their doomed aircraft. Soon, Helbig's aircraft was the sole survivor of the Staffel as his crew fought desperately to fend off attack after attack by enemy fighters. With his port engine shot up and his gunner and radio operator seriously wounded, Helbig headed back towards the Channel. As he edged out over the sea, believing he had reached safety, another Spitfire appeared on his tail and Helbig awaited the coup de grace for his crippled bomber. But no attempt was made to attack. The British fighter flew 30m from the wingtip of the damaged Ju 88 all the way back across the Channel. As they approached the French coast, the Germans watched in amazement as the British pilot saluted, waggled his wings and set course back to England. Had the British pilot shown chivalrous respect to a wounded enemy, or had he simply run out of ammunition? Helbig was the only pilot of his Staffel to return, and he subsequently undertook many more attacks, both day and night, on targets in England. On 24 November 1940, after completing a total of 75 combat missions, he was decorated with the Knight's Cross. Whereas fighter pilots were usually granted the award based on the number of enemy aircraft shot down, bomber pilots were normally cited for the number of combat missions flown. Helbig was then transferred to the Mediterranean theatre where he took part in the air assault on Malta. By January 1942, his total of combat missions flown had reached 300, and on the 16th of that month he became the 64th soldier to receive the Oak-Leaves addition to the Knight's Cross.

    Major Joachim Helbig, leader of the squadron which became notorious to RAF pilots as 'The Helbig Flyers'. Helbig was a superb pilot, and like his comrade in arms Baumbach achieved such a tally of enemy ships sunk that it placed him alongside the great U-boat aces.

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    Helbig and his crews were part of the elite band of German airmen who became personally known to the enemy: the British called his squadron 'The Helbig Flyers'. He was also extremely proficient in attacking enemy shipping and during his stint of duty in the Mediterranean his squadron sank three British destroyers. The British made determined efforts to put Helbig's squadron out of action, even resorting to a commando raid in July 1942, when many of his aircraft were destroyed on the ground. As soon as replacement aircraft arrived, Helbig was back in action again, and by 28 September 1942, he had amassed an astonishing 500 combat missions and 200,000 tons of enemy shipping sunk, earning him the Swords to his Oak-Leaves, the 20th recipient of the award, along with promotion to the rank of Major. Two months later, during an attack on an Allied convoy, Helbig destroyed a 10,000-ton ammunition ship, bringing his own personal score of enemy shipping sunk to 180,000 tons. As already witnessed, it was common practice for the top aces across all branches to be transferred to non-combat duties, in order to avoid damage to German morale should they be killed in action, and to ensure that their immense practical combat experience could be passed on by using them to coach and train the next generation of potential aces. Helbig's break from combat was not long, however, and by 1944 pilot attrition forced his return to combat duty. He took an active part in the defence of the Anzio/Nettuno and Normandy fronts. Helbig survived the war, and died in an automobile accident in Spain in October 1965.
     

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