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Colonel Hermann Graf (24 October, 1912 – 11 April, 1988) was a Germanmarker Luftwaffe World War II fighter ace. During the war he became one of only 27 people to be awarded the Knight's Cross with leaves, swords, and diamonds. He served on both the Eastern and Western Fronts. He became the first pilot in aviation history to claim 200 aerial victories—that is, 200 aerial combat encounters resulting in the destruction of the enemy aircraft. He claimed 212 aerial victories in over 830 combat missions, 202 of which were on the Eastern Front.

Early life

Hermann Graf was born in Engenmarker in Baden. Coming from a modest background and with relatively poor schooling, Graf first took an apprenticeship as a locksmith, and later worked as a clerk. Graf was a talented soccer player, playing as goalkeeper. Indeed, had the war not intervened, he may have become a German international. He did, like many other German youths, pursue gliding and this led to his being accepted to basic aviation training in 1936, and in 1938 Graf completed the advanced flying training. He was originally selected for multi-engine aircraft training, but he wanted to fly fighters and was assigned to 2./Jagdgeschwader 51 (JG 51) on 31 May 1939 with the rank of Unteroffizier.

World War 2

At the outbreak of War on 1 September 1939 JG 51 was stationed at the Frenchmarker border. Graf, now a Feldwebel, flew many patrols, but had no opportunity to engage the enemy during this phoney war.

In early 1940 Graf was posted to a training unit, during which time he was promoted to leutnant on 1 May. On 6 October Graf was assigned to 9./Jagdgeschwader 52 (JG 52). His wingman at the time was Leopold Steinbatz. A few days later JG 52 was transferred to Romaniamarker, to help train Romanian pilots.

In May 1941 III./JG 52 was transferred to Greecemarker to support Operation Merkur, the invasion of Cretemarker. The unit flew mostly ground attack missions during this time. In early June the unit transferred back to Romaniamarker, and from 22 June the unit supported Operation Barbarossa. On 1 August JG 52 transferred to forward airfields in Ukrainemarker, and on 4 August Graf got his first aerial victory against an I-16 while escorting a Ju 87 strike against Kievmarker. At this point he had clearly found his 'shooting eye' and quickly racked up further victories.

By early 1942 he had 45 victories, for which he was awarded the Ritterkreuz on 24 January. On 23 March Graf was appointed Staffelkapitän of 9./JG 52. Shortly thereafter he had an impressive string of successes, shooting down48 enemy aircraft over a period of three weeks. On 14 May he shot down 8 enemy aircraft, and on 17 May he was awarded the Eichenlaub to his Ritterkreuz for reaching 104 victories. Only two days later he was awarded the Schwerter, after adding a further two victories to his tally.

From August onwards JG 52 supported Heeresgrüppe Süd's advances towards Stalingradmarker and Graf continued shooting down enemies at a high rate. In September alone he shot down 64 enemy aircraft, including 10 on 23 September. During this month he also became the first pilot to down 200 enemy aircraft, earning him the Brillanten on 16 September. Some time after this Graf was ordered not to fly operationally any more, as the High Command was concerned about the potential morale loss if he was to be shot down. Indeed, Graf received heavy damage to his aircraft on several occasions, including a cannon hit to the cockpit, and half the rudder shot away.

In early 1943 Graf, now a major, was sent to France to command Ergänzungs-Jagdgruppe Ost, an advanced fighter pilot school stationed near Bordeauxmarker. On 21 June he was appointed commander of Jagdgruppe 50, a high-altitude fighter unit charged with combating the increasing menace of the high flying RAF De Havilland Mosquitos. Here Graf pulled together the Karaya Quartet.

In 1943, Graf used his fame and influence to intervene to save all the best German soccer players from front-line service, having them transferred into JGr 50, under the pretext that they were "badly needed technical experts". These included Fritz Walter, future captain of the West German World Cup winning team in 1954. Walter was the star in Graf's own soccer team, following Graf from JGr 50 to JG 1, JG 11, and JG 52.

During this assignment Graf shot down three more enemy aircraft, including two B-17 Flying Fortress bombers. In October the unit was disbanded by Göring and absorbed into I./JG 301, and Graf was promoted to Oberst and appointed Geschwaderkommodore of JG 11 on 11 November. JG 11 was tasked with Reichsverteidigung (Defense of the Reich), and despite officially being banned from flying operational missions Graf managed to down 6 more aircraft over the next four months.

On 29 March 1944 Graf shot down one P-51 Mustang and in the confusion of the dog fight collided with another. He managed to bail out, but was injured and had to spend some time in a hospital. After recovering he was appointed Kommodore of his old unit JG 52 on 1 October, which was still operating on the Eastern Front. With German forces in retreat by this time Graf did not have opportunity for air combat. He managed to bring his tally to 212 before he surrendered to the Americans on 8 May 1945. Graf had disobeyed an order from General Hans Seidemann. Seidemann had ordered him and Erich Hartmann to fly to the British sector, to avoid capture by the Russians, with the rest of the wing surrendering to the Soviets. Instead Graf chose to surrender his unit to the 90th US Infantry Division.

Of his 212 victories, 10 were achieved in the West, and 6 of these were against heavy bombers.

After the War

Along with most of the JG 52 personnel, Graf was handed over to the Russians shortly after his surrender. Having become famous via the Nazi propaganda machine and as the Commander of JG 52, Graf was singled out for attention by the Soviets. He was imprisoned until 29 December 1949. This relatively early release was by many perceived to be caused by his willingness to co-operate with his Soviet captors, something fellow pilots criticized him for, especially following a 1950s book by fellow fighter ace & Soviet POW Hans "Assi" Hahn entitled I Tell the Truth.

This led to Graf being largely ostracized from post-war Luftwaffe comrade associations. After his release Graf became a salesman for an electronics manufacturer, and eventually rose to Head of Sales for the company. In 1965 Graf was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and he died in his hometown Engen on 11 April 1988.

Quote

"We have to begin a new thinking, I am on the Russian side, and therefore I would like to live with the Russians.... I am happy now to be a Russian prisoner. I know that all I have done is wrong and I have now only one wish. That is to fly with the Russian Air Force." -Herman Graf

Awards



Notes

  1. Some sources claim 214 as the correct, with 12 victories in the West.
  2. For an explanation of the meaning of Luftwaffe unit designation see Luftwaffe Organization
  3. Bergström
  4. Toliver & Constable, p. 267
  5. Patzwall and Scherzer 2001, p. 144.
  6. Scherzer 2007, p. 344.
  7. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 39.


References

Citations
  1. Some sources claim 214 as the correct, with 12 victories in the West.
  2. For an explanation of the meaning of Luftwaffe unit designation see Luftwaffe Organization
  3. Bergström
  4. Toliver & Constable, p. 267
  5. Patzwall and Scherzer 2001, p. 144.
  6. Scherzer 2007, p. 344.
  7. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 39.
Biography
  • Berger, Florian (1999). Mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern. Die höchstdekorierten Soldaten des Zweiten Weltkrieges. Selbstverlag Florian Berger. ISBN 3-9501307-0-5.
  • Bergström, Christer (2002). Graf & Grislawski. Vlad Antipov.
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939-1945. Friedburg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 3-7909-0284-5.
  • Fraschka, Günther (1994). Knights of the Reich. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Military/Aviation History. ISBN 0-88740-580-0.
  • Jochim, Berthold K (1998). Oberst Hermann Graf 200 Luftsiege in 13 Monaten Ein Jagdfliegerleben. Rastatt, Germany: VPM Verlagsunion Pabel Moewig. ISBN 3-8118-1455-9.
  • Patzwall, Klaus D. and Scherzer, Veit (2001). Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 - 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II. Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN 3-931533-45-X.
  • Obermaier, Ernst (1989). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Luftwaffe Jagdflieger 1939 - 1945 (in German). Mainz, Germany: Verlag Dieter Hoffmann. ISBN 3-87341-065-6.
  • Schaulen, Fritjof (2003). Eichenlaubträger 1940 - 1945 Zeitgeschichte in Farbe I Abraham - Huppertz (in German). Selent, Germany: Pour le Mérite. ISBN 3-932381-20-3.
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007). Ritterkreuzträger 1939 - 1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.
  • Toliver, Raymond & Constable, Trevor. Horrido. Bantam Books
  • Williamson, Gordon (2006). Knight's Cross with Diamonds Recipients 1941-45. Osprey Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-84176-644-5.
  • Helden der Wehrmacht - Unsterbliche deutsche Soldaten (in German). München, Germany: FZ-Verlag GmbH, 2004. ISBN 3-924309-53-1.


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