• Hartmann gave this final interview before his death in 1993.

    Q: Erich, when and where were you born?

    A: I was born on 19 April 1922 in Weissach. This is near Wuerttemberg.

    A: What was your family like?

    Q: My father was a respected physician who had been a doctor in the Army in the
    First War, and my mother was a licensed pilot. My brother later became a
    doctor also.

    Q: Tell about your youth in China.

    A: My father?s cousin was a diplomat there, and he convinced father to move us
    to China since Germany was not exactly the best place to be economically. We
    lived in Changsha province, and I was young and Alfred was even younger,
    but I barely remember any of it. Father had gone ahead and we followed.
    Finally things became bad for foreigners and father sent us home. We
    relocated in Stuttgart and father came back later. This was where I lived until
    the war.

    Q: What made you want to become a pilot?

    A: Probably the same reason as most boys; the glory of the aces in the Great War,

    as well as the fact that my mother was a licensed pilot. Mother used to take us

    up and teach us things. That was perhaps the greatest factor. I knew I wanted

    to fly. I became a licensed glider pilot at fourteen, and flew as often as I could

    I became an instructor at age fifteen in the Hitler Youth. Alfred became a

    Stuka gunner and was captured in Tunisia. That was probably lucky for him

    and saved his life. My father was not pleased that I wanted to be a pilot, he

    wanted us to follow him in medicine, and this was also a dream that I had, but

    it would not be.

    Q: When did you join the Luftwaffe?

    A: I started military flight training in October 1940 in East Prussia. This lasted

    until January 1942 when I went to Zerbst-Anhalt. I graduated as a leutnant in

    March 1942. Later I went to advanced aerial gunnery school, where I got into

    a little trouble. I was showing off, buzzing the airfield and was sentenced to house arrest. Ironically my roommate flew the same aircraft I had been in and it developed a technical problem, and he was killed in the crash. That was ironic. I arrived in Russia and reported to JG-52 in just before the winter, after a slight mishap.

    Q: Was that when you crashed a Stuka?

    A: Well, I would not say crashed, because I never got off the ground. We were

    supposed to fly them to Mariopol, but when I started the Stuka I realized that it

    had no brakes, and it reacted differently from a Messerschmitt 109. I crashed into he operations shack, and another man flipped his Ju-87 up over on it?s nose. They decided to send us in a Ju-52, since it was safer for us and the aircraft.

    Q: Was this when you first met Dieter Hrabak?

    A: Yes, who has been a good friend over the years, as you know. Dieter was the

    first person to tell me to talk to you, since he and the others trust you. I like

    you also. Dieter was a very understanding yet disciplined commander, and his

    experience showed. He taught us how not just to fly and fight, but how to

    work as a team and stay alive. That was his greatest gift. He was very open to

    discussing his own mistakes, and how he learned from them, hoping we would

    learn also. Hrabak assigned me to 7/III/JG-52 under Major Hubertus von

    Bonin, an old eagle from the Spanish Civil War and Battle of Britain. We

    learned a lot from him also. My first mission was on 14 October 1942.

    Q: Your first mission was less than spectacular. What happened?

    A: Well, Rossmann and I were in our flight, and Rossmann radioed that he

    spotted ten enemy aircraft below us. We were at 12,000 feet and the enemy

    was far below us. I could see nothing but followed Rossmann down, then we

    came on them. I knew that I had to get my first kill, so I went full throttle and

    left Rossmann to shoot at a plane. My shots missed and I almost collided into

    him and had to pull up. Suddenly I was surrounded by the Soviets and I

    headed for low cloud cover to escape. All along Rossmann kept talking to me,

    and I had a low fuel warning. Then the engine went dead and I bellied in,

    destroying my fighter. I knew I was in trouble. I had violated every

    commandment a fighter pilot lives by, and I expected to be thrown out.

    Q: What was your fate?

    A: I was sentenced by von Bonin to three days of working with the ground crews.

    It gave me time to think about what I had done. What I learned from

    Rossmann and later Krupinski I later taught to new pilots when I became a


    Q: When did you score your first kill?

    A: That was a day I will never forget, 5 November 1942, a Shturmovik IL-2,

    which was the toughest aircraft to bring down because of the heavy armor

    plate. You had to shoot out the oil cooler underneath, otherwise it would not

    go down. That was also the day of my second forced landing since I had flown

    into the debris of my kill. I learned two things that day; get in close and shoot

    and break away immediately after scoring the kill. The next kill came in

    February the following year. This was when Krupinski came to Taman and

    was my new squadron leader.

    Q: Walter told me about the day he arrived, and his episode with the two fighters.

    What do you remember?

    A: He came in, introduced himself, demanded a plane, went up, was hot down,

    and brought back by car. He then took another, scored two kills and returned,

    then wanted dinner. The whole event was treated as casually as a card game.

    Q: Ho did you meet Gunther Rall?

    A: Well, I know that Gunther had to have told you about this. He replaced von

    Bonin as Gruppenkommandeur and we were introduced. That was the

    beginning. In August 1943 Rall made me kommandeur of the 9th squadron,

    which had been Herman Graf?s command.

    Q: You flew with Krupinski as his wingman often. What was that like, and how

    different was it from flying with Rossmann?

    A: Well, the partnership was a little uneasy at first, but we found that we worked

    well together. We both had strengths and weaknesses and managed to

    overcome these problems. It worked out well. Besides, I had to make sure that

    he came home due to his many girlfriends always waiting on him to come

    down. I won the Iron Cross 2nd Class while flying with ?Krupi?. The one thing

    I learned from him was that the worst thing to do was to lose a wingman. Kills

    were less important than survival. I only lost one wingman, Gunther Capito, a

    former bomber pilot, but this was due to his inexperience with fighters, but he


    Q: How many kills did you have before you won the Knight?s Cross?

    A: I had scored 148 kills by 29 October 1943. My award was sort of late I guess.

    There were many men who had more than fifty kills who did not receive the

    Knight?s Cross, which I think was unfair. I also thought it unfair that men like

    Rall, Barkhorn, Kittel, Baer and Rudorffer did not receive higher decorations.

    They deserved them.

    Q: Tell about your first meeting with Krupinski. I have heard his version from

    Walter, but I would like your version..

    A: I was being addressed by my new Wing Commander (Hrabak) when a fighter

    came in smoking, and suddenly landed, flipped over and exploded. We knew

    the pilot was dead. One of the men said that ?it is Krupinski?, and out of the

    blinding smoke this man walked out of the wreckage with a singed uniform,

    but no other damage. He was smiling and complained about the flak over the

    Caucasus, but without any real surprise on his face. This was my first meeting

    with ?The Count.?

    Q: Who were you first assigned to as wingman?

    A: Feldwebel Eduard ?Paule? Rossmann, who took me under his wing.

    Q: Was it typical that an officer would be assigned to a non-commissioned officer?

    A: It was for us, since he was a seasoned combat veteran. Rank meant little over

    experience, and that was why we were so successful I think.

    Q: Who was your best friend during those days?

    A: There were so many, most of whom are still alive, but my closest relationship

    was with Heinz Mertens, my crew chief. You rely upon your wingmen to

    cover you in the air, and your team mates in aerial battle, but the man who

    keeps your machine flying and safe is the most important man you know. We

    became best of friends, and none of my success would have been possible if

    not for Mertens.

    Q: The bond you two had is also legendary. Why the closeness?

    A: I can?t explain it. When I went missing on the mission where I was captured

    and escaped, Mertens had taken a rifle and went looking for me. He would not

    give up. That is a loyalty you never find outside the military.

    Q: Describe the that time you were captured.

    A: The Russians were attacking in our area and Hrabak gave us our orders. This

    was in August 1943, and our mission was to support the Stukas of Hans-Ulrich

    Ruedel in a counterattack. Then things changed. The Red Air Force was

    bombing German ground positions in support of their offensive, so my flight

    of eight fighters located and attacked the enemy, about forty Laggs and Yaks

    with another forty or so Shturmovik ground attack aircraft. I shot down two

    when something hit my plane. I made a forced landing and was captured by

    Soviet soldiers. I faked that I was injured as they approached the plane. The

    believed me and took me to their HQ and their doctor examined me, and he

    even believed me. They placed me back in the truck (which was German) on a

    stretcher, and as Stukas made their attacks I rushed the one guard in the truck.

    He went down and I left out the back. As soon as I did that I heard the truck

    stop, so I had to keep moving. I found myself in a great field of very tall

    sunflowers where I tried to hide as I ran, all the while the men chasing me

    were firing wildly in my direction. I found a small village occupied by

    Russians, and decided to return to the area I had just come from and wait for

    nightfall. [It was during this time that Mertens took it upon himself to take off

    and find Hartmann, armed with only a rifle and water, being concerned when

    his friend had not returned]. I reached my secure area and took a nap, and later

    I awoke and took off again headed west. I passed a patrol of Russians, about

    ten I think, so I decided to follow them. Then the patrol disappeared over a

    small hill, and then there was a firefight. I knew that that must be the German

    lines, since the men of the patrol came flying back over on my side. I then

    walked to the other side and was challenged by a German sentry who also

    fired a bullet at me, which ripped open my trouser leg. I was pretty upset, but

    this man was in complete fear. I was welcomed into their position, given an

    interrogation and was asked to prepare for contact. Another group of Russians,

    obviously drunk walked towards our trenches, and the leutnant gave the order

    to fire when they came within about twenty meters. They were all destroyed. I

    was later told that a group of Russians had entered their perimeter speaking

    fluent German, claiming to be escaped POWs, and when they came in they

    pulled out some Tommy guns and killed some men. This explained their

    caution over accepting me on face value, as I had no identification on me.

    Everything had been taken when I was captured.

    Q: What happened to Mertens? How did you et back?

    A: The infantry commander contacted Hrabak and who I was confirmed. They

    sent me back by car, and I was met by Krupi who had just come back from the

    hospital. I was also informed about what Bimmel had gone and done, and I

    was very upset. The next day Bimmel came back and we saw each other, and

    we had a ?birthday party.?

    Q: Explain was a ?birthday party? is?

    A: That is a party that is thrown in honor of a pilot who survived a situation that

    should have killed him. We had a lot of those.

    Q: Perhaps the greatest legend surrounding your life was the time you first met

    Ushi, and the love that endured through the years. Describe that first meeting.

    A: We were in the same school, and finally I decided to track her down. I caught

    up with her and a girlfriend and stopped my bicycle, and introduced myself. I

    knew that she was the one for me, although I was only seventeen and she was

    two years younger. Our parents were none too thrilled about it, I can tell you,

    but they came around.

    Q: You had competition for her didn?t you?

    A: Yes, but I resolved that problem, it was nothing. Ushi and I were destined to

    be together, that was fate. And she waited a long time, even after the war. We

    were married in 1944, but still had little time to spend together.[Actually Erich

    warned the much older boy away from her, and when Ushi told him that he

    was harassing her, Erich beat him up, ending the problem]. We were married

    after I had the Diamonds, and Gerd {Barkhorn] was my best man, with Willi

    Batz and Krupi as witnesses. We could not marry in a church die to the

    logistical problems. That would have to wait until 1956

    A: Tell about the time you received the Oak Leaves from Hitler.

    Q: That was a strange time. First, most of us were drunk. Gerd Barkhorn, Walter

    Krupinski, Johannes Wiese and I were to report to Berchtesgaden. All of us

    except Gerd were getting the Oak Leaves, he was getting the Swords. By the

    time we got their we were trying to sober up. Walter always stated years later

    that we had to hold each other up. We had been drinking cognac and

    champagne, a deadly combination when you have not eaten in a couple of

    days. The first person we met off the train was Hitler?s Luftwaffe adjutant,

    Major von Below, who was I think in a state of shock at our condition. Were

    to meet Hitler in a couple of hours, and we could hardly stand. This was in

    March 1944, and there was a lot of snow at that time at that altitude.

    Q: I spoke to Walter Krupinski and read about the ?hat event? in your biography

    by Ray Toliver and Trevor Constable. What was that about?

    A: I could not find my hat, and my vision was not the best, so I took a hat on a

    stand and put it on, and it was too large. I knew it was not mine at that time.

    Below became upset and told me it was Hitler?s, and to put it back. Everyone

    was laughing about it except Below. I made some joke about Hitler having a

    big head, and that it ?must go with the job,? which created even more laughter.

    Q: What was your impression of Hitler?

    A: I found him a little disappointing, although very interested in the war at the

    front and extremely well informed on events as I knew them. However, he had

    a tendency to drone on about minor things that I found boring. I found him

    interesting yet not that imposing. I also found him lacking in sufficient know-

    ledge about the air war in the east. He was more concerned with the Western

    Front?s air war and the bombing of cities. Of course the Eastern Front ground

    war was his area of most interest. This was evident. Hitler listened to the men

    from the Western Front, and assured them that weapons and fighter production

    were increasing, and history proved this to be correct. Then he went into the

    U-boat war, how we were going to decidedly destroy maritime commerce, and

    all of that. I found him an isolated and disturbed man.

    Q: What was the feeling about the war in your unit at this time?

    A: I don?t recall anyone talking of defeat, but I do know that we talked about

    some of the great pilots killed already, and the news of the American

    Mustangs reaching deep into Germany, and even farther. Few of us had any

    experience against the Americans, although many old timers had fought the

    British. Those who fought Americans had done so in North Africa, and their

    insights proved interesting.

    Q: What was the atmosphere like when you won the Swords?

    A: I had just landed after a successful mission when I was told that I had been

    awarded the Swords. This was June 1944. I arrived on 3 August 1944 to visit

    Hitler again for the award ceremony, and there were ten of us Luftwaffe guys

    in all. Hitler was not the same man. This was just after the bomb plot to kill

    him, and his right arm was shaking, and he looked exhausted. He had to turn

    to his left ear to hear anyone speak because he was deaf in the other one from

    the blast. Hitler discussed the cowardly act to kill him, and attacked the quality

    of his generals, with a few exceptions. He also stated that God had spared his

    life so that he may deliver Germany from destruction, and that the Western

    Allies would be thrown back inevitably. I was very surprised at all of this. I

    wanted to leave and see my Ushi, and I did.

    Q: How was the meeting with Hitler and receiving the Diamonds different from

    the previous two encounters?

    A: Well Dieter Hrabak and the rest threw a party before I left, and I was so drunk

    I could not stand the next day. It sounds like we were all alcoholics, but this

    was not the case. We lived and played hard. You never knew what the next

    day would bring. I few my 109 to Insterburg, and JG-52 gave me an escort.

    When I arrived at the Wolfschanze the world had changed. Hitler had already

    begun the trials and executions of those involved and everyone was under

    suspicion. You had to enter three areas of security, and no one was allowed to

    carry a weapon into the last section. I told Hitler?s SS guard to tell the Fuehrer

    that I would not receive the Diamonds if I were not trusted to carry my

    Walther pistol. The guy looked like I had just married his mother. He went to

    speak with von Below, who was a Colonel then, and Below came out said it

    was all right. I hung my cap and pistol belt on the stand and Hitler came to me,

    and said, ?I wish we had more like you and Ruedel,? and he gave me the

    Diamonds, which were encrusted upon another set of Oak Leaves and Swords.

    We had coffee and lunch, and he confided in me, saying ?militarily the war is

    lost,? and that I must already know this, and that if we waited the Western

    Allies and Soviets would be at war with each other. He also spoke about the

    partisan problem and he asked me of my experience. Hitler asked me my

    opinion of the tactics used in fighting the American and British bombers.

    Since I did not have a lot of experience with this, I simply stated what I

    thought was a fact. Goering?s orders to combat them and the method

    employed was in error. I also informed him of the deficiencies in pilot

    training; too many minimally trained men were simply throwing their lives

    away. He also spoke about the new weapons and tactics, and then we parted.

    That was the last time I saw him, 25 August 1944. I flew back to the unit,

    where an order for ten days leave waited. I also had to report to Galland,

    where we discussed the Me-262 situation. I went back to marry my Ushi, that

    was all that mattered to me.

    Q: During the war what were your worst fears?

    A: Well, I feared capture in Russia, that was a very eye-opening prospect. The

    bombing of our cities also worried us, as our families were very dear to us. I

    suppose I was most worried that Ushi would not wait, so I always tried to see

    her whenever I was on leave. Medals meant leave, and that was an incentive. I

    had the choice of losing her or returning all the decorations, I would send the

    medals back. She was too important to me, and always has been. It was later

    learned that the Soviets knew exactly who I was and Stalin placed a 10,000

    ruble price on my head. This was later increased, and Ruedel and I had the

    highest bounties of any Germans during the war, probably with exception to

    Hitler and a few of the Nazi elite. Every time I went up I knew that someone

    would be looking for me. I had thoughts of the American western films, where

    the top gunfighter is called out into the street; another person wanting to make

    his mark. I felt marked, so I had to change my aircraft occasionally. I found

    that when I used the black tulip I had more difficulty in finding opponents,

    who avoided me for the most part. I needed camouflage.

    Q: What were conditions like in Russia?

    A: Well, in the winter you can imagine. We seldom had hard shelter, living in

    tents. The lice were the worst, and there was little you could but hold your

    clothes to a fire and listen to them pop. We had DDT and bathed when we

    could. Illness, especially pneumonia and trench foot were bad, especially

    among the ground crews. Food was always a concern, especially later in the

    war, and fuel restrictions made every mission count. We always flew from grass strips and we were often bombed. These strips were easy to repair, although the terrain made every take off and landing an adventure. Sometimes

    fighters would snap their landing gear, or just dig in and topple over. Mainten-ance was another nightmare, as supplies and parts were difficult to get to, especially when we were moving around all the time. Despite these problems we were very successful in the Crimea through 1943-44.

    Q: I know that JG-52 as well as other units flew with foreign air forces. What

    was your experience with this?

    A: We had a Royal Hungarian unit assigned to us, as well as Croats. They were

    good pilots and fearless in many ways. Good men. We had even more contact

    especially with the Romanians when we were stationed there, and this was

    where we engaged both the Americans and Soviets; a very trying time. We

    were flying in Russia against twenty to one. In Romania it was thirty to one.

    Q: The evacuation from the Crimea was described to me by Hrabak. How was it

    for you?

    A: Well, I would not call it an evacuation, but a full retreat. We had to move, and

    I discovered that when the radio, armor plate and rear wall, you could stack

    four men in the tail, but three was about the most I would try. We managed to

    save many of our precious ground crew from capture using this method.

    Q: What were the Soviets like that you captured? Was there any open racism

    among your men towards these people?

    A: Not at all. In fact I would say that in our group there were the majority who
    found all the National Socialist idiocy a little sickening. Hrabak made it a
    point to explain to the new young pilots that if they thought they were fighting
    for National Socialism and the Fuehrer they needed to transfer to the Waffen
    SS or something. He had no time for political types. He was fighting a war
    against a superb enemy, not holding a political rally. I think this approach
    damaged Hrabak in the eyes of Goering and others, but he was a real man and
    did not care about anything but his men. Hannes Trautloft was the same way,
    as was Galland. All the greats with a few exceptions were like that. We even
    had a Russian prisoner show us how to start our engines in the sub-zero cold
    by mixing gasoline into the oil crankcase. This was unheard of to us and we
    were sure we would lose a fighter in the explosion. It worked, because the fuel
    thinned out the congealed oil, and evaporated as the starter engaged. It was
    wonderful. Another guy showed us how to start a fire under the cowling and
    start the engine, another helpful hint. This same guy showed us how to keep
    the weapons firing by dipping them in boiling water removing the lubricants
    which froze the mechanisms shut. Without the oils they worked fine. I felt sad
    for these men, who hated no one and were forced to fight a war they would
    rather have avoided.

    Q: What were some of your more memorable combat experiences in fighting
    enemy aircraft?

    A: One situation comes to mind. I was in a duel with a Red Banner flown Yak-9,

    and this guy was good, and absolutely insane. He tried and tried to get in

    behind me, and every time he went to open fire I would jerk out of the way of

    his rounds. Then he pulled up and rolled, and we approached each other head

    on, firing, with no hits either way. This happened two times. Finally I rolled

    into a negative G dive, out of his line of sight, and rolled out to chase him at

    full throttle. I came in from below in a shallow climb and flamed him. The

    pilot bailed out and was later captured. I met and spoke with this man, a

    captain, who was a likeable guy. We gave him some food and allowed him to

    roam the base after having his word that he would not escape. He was happy

    to be alive, but he was very confused, since his superiors told him that Soviet

    pilots would be shot immediately upon capture. This guy had just had one of

    the best meals of the war and had made new friends. I like to think that people

    like that went back home and told their countrymen the truth about us, not the

    propaganda that erupted after the war, although there were some terrible things

    that happened, no doubt. Once I attacked a flight of four IL-2s and shot one

    up. All four tried to roll out in formation at low altitude, and all four crashed

    into the ground, unable to recover since their bomb loads reduced their

    maneuverability. Those were the easiest four kills I ever had. However, I

    remember the time I saw over 20,000 dead Germans littering a valley where the Soviet tank and Cossacks had attacked a trapped unit, and that sight, even from the air was perhaps the most memorable of my life. I can close my eyes and see this even now. Such a tragedy. I remember that I cried as I flew low over the scene; I could not believe my eyes. Another time was in May 1944 near Jassy, my wingman Blessin and I were jumped by fighters, he broke right and the enemy followed him down. I rolled and followed the enemy fighter down to the deck. I radioed to my wingman to pull up and slip right in a shallow turn so I could get a good shot. I told him to look back, and see what happens when you do not watch your tail, and I fired. The fighter blew apart and fell like confetti. However, separate from Krupinski?s crash the day I met him, one event is clear and comical. My wingman on many missions was Carl Junger. He came in for a landing and a Polish farmer with horse cart crossed his path. He crashed into it, killing the horse and the fighter was nothing but twisted wreckage. We all saw it and began thinking about the funeral, when suddenly the debris moved and he climbed out without a scratch, still wearing his sunglasses. He was ready to go up again. Amazing! Then there was the American Mustangs that we both dreaded and anticipated meeting. We knew that they were a much better aircraft than ours; newer and faster, and with a great range. Once in Romania we had an interesting experience with both Russians and Americans.

    Q: What happened on that mission?

    A: We took off on a mission to intercept Soviet bombers attacking Prague, and

    we counted many American made aircraft with Red Stars, part of your Lend

    Lease. But then there were American fighters also nearby, and I was above

    them all by a thousand meters. It seemed that the Americans and Russians

    were busy examining each other and were unaware that we were around. I

    gave the order to drop down through the Mustangs, then the Russian fighters,

    and through the bombers in just one hit and run attack, then we would get the

    hell out of there, since there were only the two of us. I shot down two P-51s

    quickly in my dive, and I then fired on a Boston bomber, scored good hits but

    it was not a kill. The second element also scored a kill against the Mustangs,

    and my wingman and I were all right. Suddenly the most amazing thin

    happened. The Soviet fighters and Americans began fighting each other, and

    the confusion worked for us. They must have not realized that it was a

    schwarm of Germans that started the whole thing! The Russian bombers

    dropped their bombs in panic and turned away. I saw three Yaks get shot down

    and a Mustang damaged trailing white smoke. That was my last fight against

    the Americans.

    Q: When did you first encounter the American pilots?

    A: This was in the defense of Ploesti and Bucharest, and also over Hungary when

    the bombers came in and they had heavy fighter escort. I was recalled to take

    over the command I/JG-52, and this was 23 June 1944. B-17s were attacking

    the railroad junction, and we were formed up. We did not see the Mustangs at

    first and prepared to attack the bombers. Suddenly four of them flew across us

    and below, so I gave the order to attack the fighters. I closed in on one and

    fired, his fighter coming apart and some pieces hit my wings, and I

    immediately found myself behind another and I fired, and he flipped in. My

    second flight shot down the other two fighters. But then we saw others and

    again attacked. I shot down another and saw that the leader still had his drop

    tanks, which limited his ability to turn. I was very relieved that this pilot was

    able to successfully bail out. I was out of ammunition after the fight. But this

    success was not to be repeated, because the Americans learned and they were

    not to be ambushed again. They protected the bombers very well, and we were

    never able to get close enough to do any damage. I did have the opportunity to

    engage the Mustangs again when a flight was being pursued from the rear and

    I tried to warn them on the radio, but they could not hear. I dived down and

    closed on a P-51 that was shooting up an 109, and I blew him up. I half rolled

    and recovered to fire on another of the three remaining enemy planes and

    flamed him as well. As soon as that happened I was warned that I had several

    on my tail so I headed for the deck, a swarm of eight Americans behind me.

    That is a very uncomfortable feeling I can tell you! I made jerking turns left

    and right as they fired, but they fired from too far away to be effective. I

    was headed for the base so the defensive guns would help me, but I ran out of

    fuel and had to bail out. I was certain that this one pilot was lining me up for a

    strafe, but he banked away and looked at me, waving. I landed four miles from

    the base; I almost made it. That day we lost half our aircraft; we were too

    outnumbered and many of the young pilots were inexperienced.

    Q: How did you assess your enemy in the air?

    A: I knew that if an enemy pilot started firing early, well outside the maximum

    effective range of his guns then he was an easy kill. But, if a pilot closed in

    and held his fire, and seemed to be watching the situation, then you knew that

    an experienced pilot was on you. Also, I developed different tactics for various

    conditions, such as always turning into the guns of an approaching enemy, or

    rolling into a negative G dive forcing him to follow or break off, then rolling

    out and sometimes reducing air speed to allow him to over commit. That was

    when you took advantage of his failing.

    Q: There were some skeptics who questioned your kills. Tell about that, and how

    high did it go?

    A: Well, this happened to a few of us. Goering could not believe the staggering

    kills being recorded from 1941 on. I even had a man in my unit, someone you

    also know, Fritz Oblesser, who questioned my kills. I asked Rall to have him

    transferred from the 8th Squadron to be my wingman for a while. Oblesser

    became a believer and signed off on some kills as a witness, and we became

    friends after that.

    Q: Adolf Galland told me of how he tried to get you into his JV-44 in 1945. Why

    did you not take him up on the offer, like Krupi and Barkhorn?

    A: I did qualify in the Me-262, but my heart and friends were in JG-52, and I felt

    that was where I belonged. Unit loyalty to me was important. Plus I had many

    new pilots who needed guidance and instruction. They were getting younger

    all the time and had fewer and fewer hours of flight instruction before they

    were thrown into battle. I was needed and that was where I stayed. Rall,

    Krupinski, Steinhoff and others were transferred to the Reich Defense, where

    they ended their war. I was torn between these facts, but I felt that I made the

    right decision at the time. In later years I realized that my life would have been

    very different if I had stayed with JV-44.

    Q: How did you end up in Soviet custody?

    A: On 8 May 1945 I took off at around 0800 hours from my field in Czechoslo-
    vakia going to Bruenn. My wingman and I saw eight Yaks below us. I shot one
    down and that was my last victory. I decided not to attack the others once I
    saw that there were twelve Mustangs on the scene above me. My wingman
    and I headed for the deck where the smoke of the bombing could hide us. We
    pulled through the smoke and saw once again the two allies fighting each
    other above us. Incredible! Well we landed at the field and were told that the
    war was over.I must say that during the war I never disobeyed an order, but
    when General Seidemann ordered me and Graf to fly to the British sector and
    surrender to avoid the Russians, with the rest of the wing to surrender to the
    Soviets. I could not leave my men. That would have been bad leadership.
    There was a large bounty on my head, much like Ruedel. I was well known
    and everyone knew that Stalin would like to get me. I was marching with my
    unit through Czechoslovakia when we surrendered to an American armored
    unit. They handed all of us over to the Soviets. I remember Graf telling me
    that, as Diamonds winners the Soviets would probably execute us if they got
    us. I had no doubt he was right at the time. Graf also mentioned the women,
    children and ground personnel who would have no one to help them; they
    would be at the mercy of the Red Army, and we all knew what that meant.
    Well, we destroyed the aircraft and all munitions, everything. I sat in my
    fighter and fired the guns into the woods where all the fuel had been dropped,
    and then jumped out. We destroyed twenty-five perfectly good fighters. They
    would be nice to have in museums now.

    Q: What was it like for you when you surrendered?

    A: Graf, Grasser and I surrendered to the 90th Infantry Division, and we were

    placed in a barbed wire camp. The conditions were terrible. Many men

    decided to escape, and some were assisted by the guards. We went eight days

    without any food, and then were told we were to be moved. All of us, even

    women and children were taken to an open field. The trucks stopped and there

    were Soviet troops there waiting for us. The Russians then separated the

    women and girls from the men, and the most horrible things happened, which

    you know and I cannot say here. We saw this; the Americans saw this, and we

    could do nothing to stop it. Men who fought like lions cried like babies at the

    sight of complete strangers being raped repeatedly. A couple of girls managed

    to run to a truck and the Americans pulled them in, but the Russians, most

    were drunk pointed their guns at the allies and fired a few shots. Then the truck drivers decided to drive away quickly. Some women were shot after the

    rapes. Others were not so lucky. I remember a twelve year old girl whose

    mother had been raped and shot being raped by several soldiers. She died from

    these acts soon afterward. Then more Russians came, and it began all over again and lasted through the night. During the night entire families committed suicide, men killing their wives and daughters, then themselves. I still cannot believe these things as I speak now. I know many will never believe this story, but it is true. Soon a Russian general came and issued orders for all of this to stop. He was serious, because some of the Russians who did not stay away and came to rape were executed on the spot by their own men by hanging.

    Q: What was your internment like in Russia?

    A: Well, I was somewhat famous, or infamous, depending upon your perspective,

    and the Soviets were very interested in making an example of me. I was never

    badly beaten and tortured, but I was starved and threatened for several years.

    The interrogations were the worst. I know that you have interviewed several

    Germans who experienced the same thing. The stories are pretty much the same, so I won?t go into details. The first thing they did was give us physical exams to determine how fit we were for hard labor. Then they put us on a train which was diverted from Vienna to the Carpathians in Romania. We were placed in another wired prison with Romanian Communist guards. This lasted a week and then we boarded another train. There was no room in these small train cars, so not all could sit, so we took turns. Finally we arrived near Kirov and disembarked in a swamp. This was our home for a while. Of the 1,500 POWs who were dropped at this place about 200 lived through the first winter. This I know from some who survived. They were not fed, just worked to death. I was sent to Gryazovets where Assi Hahn was already. He had been a POW since 1943.

    Q: Which camp were you in as a POW?

    A: I was in several camps, Shakhty, Novocherkassk, where they kept me in

    solitary confinement, and Diaterka. I had gone on a hunger strike to protest the

    slave labor conditions and the fact that the Soviets were simply working men

    to death out of spite. I was ironically placed in a camp at Kuteynikovo where

    my squadron had been based in 1943.

    Q: Which camp had the revolt?

    A: That was Shakhty. This was when I and others refused to work, invoking the

    Geneva Convention. They placed me back in solitary. This was a work camp

    for mining and many men were tired of it, and I think my being gone started

    the problem. Within a few days the POWs jumped the guards, cornered the

    camp commandant and freed me. It was quite exciting. Then they sent me to the other camps, and at Diaterka there 4,000 men there.

    Q: Describe a camp, how was it laid out?

    A: A fine example was Diaterka. There was a high fence, then a dead zone with a

    walkway for guards and dogs, then another fence with watch towers with more

    guards and machine guns. There were long rows of barracks which were not

    insulated against the cold, and the winters were quite cold I can tell you. Each

    barrack held between 200 and 400 prisoners depending on its size, and there

    were rows of wooden bunks in tiers of three to four. The camp was divided

    into maximum and minimum security sections, with us being in the most

    secure section. The ultra maximum security section housed elite members of

    the Third Reich and special Soviet political prisoners, which was another

    section even within our part within its own wired enclosure. This was where

    Hitler?s SS adjutant Otto Gunsche and Count von der Schulenburg were held,

    among others. I stayed there until 1954 when I was sent back to Novocher-

    kassk. This was my last camp.

    Q: Did the Soviets try and recruit you, as they did others?

    A: Yes, they offered me the opportunity to return home if I worked as an agent

    for them, which was out of the question. They did not like this either. I was

    assigned kitchen duties as an inducement to become a converted Communist. I

    think that if they could get us high ranking and highly decorated officers to

    convert their job would be made much easier. They converted Graf, which was

    a shame, but he did not embrace Communism. He looked at it as a pragmatist-

    it was either the western way or Soviet way, and he was already there. They

    did release him in 1950, but I would not be so lucky. Those of us who resisted

    were punished much longer. They wanted me as an informer and even gave

    me a list of names of officers they wanted information on. They promised me

    early release if I did this. I refused. They placed me in solitary a few times, for

    a long time.

    Q: How did you maintain your sanity when others did not?

    A: I thought of my Ushi. She kept me going, and the thought of my family

    waiting for me. They threatened to kill my wife and son, or forcibly bring

    them to Russia, and they spoke about doing terrible things. All of this was to

    break you down.

    Q: Did you have mail or communication with Germany?

    A: We were allowed only twenty-five words on a post card to send out, some-

    times a lot less, and this was not often. The letters I smuggled out with

    returning POWs provided the information they needed. I received about fifty

    letters from Ushi in the ten and a half years, but she wrote over 400. Getting a

    letter was the greatest morale boost you could imagine.

    Q: You and Graf had a parting in Russia. Why was that?

    A: Well, we had agreed never to surrender our Diamonds to the Soviets. My

    originals were with Ushi, and a copy was taken by an American, and another

    copy I had also. I threw them away, although they were worthless, rather than

    surrender the, Graf and had given his, and they were on the table of the NKVD

    officer when I was called in. He wanted mine also. He did not get them. They

    also wanted detailed information on the Me-262, which they had several

    captured machines they wanted to evaluate. I did not help them.

    Q: What separated the Germans from the rest of the international prisoners; how

    did all of you manage to survive when so many perished?

    A: I would have to say our discipline; we never lost our military bearing and our

    rigid system and mutual respect for our own authority maintained us. We had

    the rank structure and presence of mind to form our own leadership

    committees. Even though we wore no rank everyone understood their place

    and all worked within the system. That was our strength, as well as many of us

    having our faith in God. I thought of my faith and my Ushi, and that got me

    through. Many men found it difficult when word would come that their wives

    had divorced them, or that a relative, such as a parent had died. My son Peter

    died while I was a POW but I only learned of this much later, a year or more,

    as with my father. I learned more when I was repatriated in 1955 along with

    Hans Baur, Ferdinand Schoerner, Hajo Herrmann, Herman Graf, Johannes

    Wiese, and several others. Assi Hahn was released earlier than the rest of us,

    as was Walter Wolfram who had been badly wounded before our capture.

    Wolfram smuggled a private letter to Usch for me, which let he know I was

    still alive.

    Q: You did receive Red Cross packages available to all prisoners didn?t you?

    A: Yes, sometimes, but these were often rifled through and delayed so long the

    food contents were worthless. Those packages that did arrive well were very

    helpful, especially when it came to trading with the local civilians. We made

    many friends with the local peasants, and they had no ill will towards us, nor

    we them.

    Q: How many missions did you fly in the war?

    A: I flew around 1,456 I think, but I am not sure of the exact number.

    Q: What was you favorite method of attack?

    A: Coming out of the sun and getting close; dog-fighting was a waste of time.

    The hit and run with the element of surprise served me well, as with most of

    the high scoring pilots. Once a Russian was shot down, especially the leader

    they became disorganized and easy to attack. This was not always the case,

    especially later in the war, and there were special units of highly skilled and

    disciplined pilots, such as the Red Banner units who would make life difficult.

    Q: You were never wounded were you?

    A: No. I was very lucky, unlike Rall and Krupinski, and especially Steinhoff who

    was almost burned alive. I was almost killed by a German sentry once returning from a brief period of captivity. That was too close for me.

    Q: Were you ever shot down?

    A: No, never by an enemy plane, but I had to crash land fourteen times due to

    damage from my victories or mechanical failure, but I never took to the

    parachute. I never became another pilot?s victory.

    Q; As far as we know you were the youngest recipients of the Diamonds, at

    twenty-two. Did you find that distinction problematic?

    A: I think that being a captain and a Diamonds winner at that age forced a lot of

    responsibility upon me. I think that I was able to handle all of that

    responsibility because of the strength and friendship of my comrades. I would

    say that I was ambitious and eager; I can?t think of any fighter pilot who

    would not have those qualities. Becoming a hero is not always easy, as you

    find yourself living up to the expectations of others. I would have preferred to

    just do my job and finish the war anonymously. It would have made life as a

    Soviet POW much easier.

    Q: What events secured your release?

    A: Chancellor Konrad Adenauer was very crucial in this. My mother had written

    Stalin and Molotov on my behalf without any response. She wrote to Adenauer and he replied personally that he was working on the problem. The

    Soviets wanted a trade agreement with the west, especially West Germany, and part of this deal was the release of all the POWs. I knew something was going on when we were allowed to go to the cinema and were issued new clothes, suits of a kind, and not prison issue. We boarded a bus to Rostov where we boarded a train in October 1955. Other trains would follow with the

    last coming in December. As soon as the train stopped at Herleshausen I was able to send a telegram to my Ushi.

    Q: What would you say were the greatest highs and lows of coming home in


    A: I learned that my son Peter Erich and father had died while I was in prison,

    and that was a hard thing for me, and I will say no more. But my mother and

    lovely Ushi were there waiting for me. They never gave up hope, and I think

    that my belief in their strength was what got me through the most terrible

    torture or starvation. Whatever the NKVD did to me, I just thought about my

    family, and focused upon that. Another sad thing was that when the train

    stopped and we got out, hundreds of women and men were holding

    photographs of sons, brothers, husbands and fathers, all asking everyone they

    saw if they knew of their love one. Many thousands had died and there was

    rarely any communication back home to anyone as to what had happened, so

    many never returned and the families knew nothing. They were simply ghosts

    who vanished. I find that very sad.

    Q: What was one of the first things you wanted when you came home?

    A: Well, a good meal, and a hot bath! But to see my Ushi was the greatest dream.

    I also read everything I could find; newspapers, books and magazines, I

    wanted information. I had been in an intellectual vacuum for so long, I wanted

    knowledge. Of course Ushi and I had our church wedding, long overdue.

    Q: Was there any celebration for your return?

    A: Yes, a big party was planned but I declined it. I did not feel that it was

    appropriate until everyone was home who was still alive. I also could not

    believe the rebuilt areas and numbers of new cars, the airplanes in the peaceful

    sky. The clothes style was new, all of it was new. One of the first people to

    meet me was Assi Hahn, who had been home five years before.

    Q: Why did you join the Bundesluftwaffe. Was there anything in your mind that

    would have prevented you from wearing a uniform again?

    A: There is always the thought that you may once again be in the same situation

    again. I was thirty-three when I came home, and that is late in life to start a

    career. I had lost touch with much of the world, but the one thing I knew was

    flying and the military. That was a safe call to make. The thought of fighting

    another war also frightened me. But I also thought about the needs of my

    country, and my old comrades had joined and were pressuring me to do the

    same. Krupi called and wanted me to join he and Gerd Barkhorn on a flying

    trip to England. Dieter Hrabak even came and talked to me at the house. I

    joined in 1956. The old boys were back.

    Q: How did you get back into flying?

    A: I had a friend who let me fly his light plane, and I certified as a private pilot.

    Heinz Baer was also a great help, as were others. I took refresher and conversion training in Germany, England and the United States on the newer models. I was made the first Kommodore of the new JG-71 ?Richthofen? and I was very proud.

    Q: I know that you and Steinhoff, among others warned the German government

    off the F-104 program, and that this was a very sensitive issue. What do you

    say about that today?

    A: Yes. Well, the Starfighter was a great plane, but it had problems, and I did not

    feel that Germany needed, or that our pilots could even handle this machine

    without a lot more experience. Many higher up felt that I was out of line, but I

    stated what I thought was accurate, and I was proven correct, but this made me

    enemies. I also did other things that were considered criminal, such as having

    the unit?s F-86s painted with my old tulip patter, and I created the squadron

    bars, like in the old days, and this raised eyebrows. I felt that morale was

    important and camaraderie through a unique and distinguishing emblem was

    needed. The bars were killed under superior directives, although today all

    squadrons have them. I did have supporters, such as General Kammhuber, but

    he was a rare breed from the old days.

    Q: What did you do after retirement?

    A: I instructed and flew at a few air clubs, and flew in an aerobatics team with

    Dolfo Galland. Later I just decided to relax and enjoy life. I have my family

    and friends, and am always meeting new ones, like you Colin. We have

    spoken often for many years, but I feel that now is the time to say some of the

    things I never really spoke about. There is always a time for everything.

    Q: One question many people may have is how can you not have hatred for the

    Russians after your experiences with them?

    A: One thing I learned is this: Never allow yourself to hate a people because of

    the actions of a few. Hatred and bigotry destroyed my nation, and millions

    died. I would hope that most people did not hate Germans because of the

    Nazis, or Americans because of slaves. Never hate, it only eats you alive.

    Keep an open mind and always look for the good in people. You may be

    surprised at what you find.

  • Lawrence Thompson meets Hartmann's G-14

    Take notice: the concensus on this story seems to be that it is not authentic. If the story is real, it was not Hartmann that Thompson met. It is a good read, neverthless.

    ".... this was my first major dogfight I had in the war, in January 1945. I was flying a P-51D and we were supposed to meet with bombers over Romania. Well, the bombers never showed up! And we kept circling and wasting our fuel. When we were low on fuel the squadron leader orders us back to base, with the top group at 24,000 feet and the four bait Mustangs ordered to 15,000 feet. Now you might not really think about it, but the difference in altitude, 9,000 feet, is almost two miles, and assuming that the top flight could dive and rescue the 'bait' airplanes, it might take a full sixty seconds or more for the top group to come to the rescue. A heck of alot can happen in sixty seconds. Earlier, I requested to fly in the bait section believing that I'd have a better chance to get some scores (at that time I had no victories either) and this was my seventh mission. I have to say now that I grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, and my older brother flew a Jenny biplane in the late 1930s, so I learned the basics of flying even before joining the Army.

    So we're all heading back to Italy when, all of a sudden, a dozen or so Me109's bounce us. From one moment it's a clear blue sky, next moment there are dozens' of tracers passing my cockpit. I'm hit several times and I roll over to the right, and below me is an P-51, heading for the deck, with an Me109 chasing him. I begin to chase the Me109. All this time I believe there was another Me109 chasing me! It was a racetrack, all four of us were racing for the finish line! Eventually I caught up with the first Me109 and I fired a long burst at about 1,000 yards, to no effect. Then I waited until about 600 yards, I fired two very long bursts, probably five seconds each (P-51 has ammo for about 18 seconds of continuous bursts for four machine guns, the remaining two machine guns will shoot for about 24 seconds). I noticed that part of his engine cowling flew off and he immediately broke off his attack on the lead P-51. I check my rear view mirrors and there's nothing behind me now; somehow, I have managed to lose the Me109 following me, probably because the diving speed of the P-51 is sixty mph faster than the Me109. So I pull up on the yoke and level out; suddenly a Me109 loomes about as large as a barn door right in front of me! And he fires his guns at me, and he rolls to the right, in a Lufberry circle. I peel off, following this Me109. I can see silver P-51s and black nosed camouflaged painted Me109s everywhere I look, there's Me109 or P-51 everywhere! At this time I cannot get on the transmitter and talk, everyone else in the squadron is yelling and talking, and there's nothing but yelling, screaming, and incoherent interference as everyone presses their mike buttons at the same time. I can smell something in the cockpit. Hydraulic fluid! I knew I got hit earlier.

    .... I'm still following this Me109. I just got my first confirmed kill of my tour, and now I'm really hot. I believe that I am the hottest pilot in the USAAF! And now I'm thinking to myself: am I going to shoot this Me109 down too?! He rolls and we turn, and turn; somehow, I cannot catch up with him in the Lufberry circle, we just keep circling. About the third 360 degree turn he and I must have spotted two Mustangs flying below us, about 2,000 feet below, and he dives for the two P-51s.

    Now I'm about 150 yards from him, and I get my gunsight on his tail, but I cannot shoot, because if I shoot wide, or my bullets pass through him, I might shoot down one or both P-51s, so I get a front seat, watching, fearful that this guy will shoot down a P-51 we're approaching at about 390 mph. There's so much interference on the R/T I cannot warn the two Mustangs, I fire one very long burst of about seven or eight seconds purposely wide, so it misses the Mustangs, and the Me109 pilot can see the tracers. None of the Mustang pilots see the tracers either! I was half hoping expecting that they'd see my tracers and turn out of the way of the diving Me109. But no such luck. I quit firing. The Me109 still dives, and as he approaches the two P-51s he holds his fire, and as the gap closes, two hundred yards, one hundred yards, fifty yards the Hun does not fire a shot. No tracers, nothing! At less than ten yards, it looks like he's going to ram the lead P-51 and the Hun fires one single shot from his 20mm cannon! And Bang! Engine parts, white smoke, glycol, whatnot from the lead P-51 is everywhere, and that unfortunate Mustang begins a gentle roll to the right.

    I try to watch the Mustang down, but cannot, Now my full attention is on the Hun! Zoom. We fly through the two Mustangs (he was taken POW). Now the advantage of the P-51 is really apparent, as in a dive I am catching up to the Me109 faster than a runaway freight train. I press the trigger for only a second then I let up on the trigger, I believe at that time I was about 250 yards distant, but the Hun was really pulling lots' of negative and positive g's and pulling up to the horizon. He levels out and then does a vertical tail stand! And next thing I know, he's using his built up velocity from the dive to make a vertical ninety degree climb. This guy is really an experienced pilot. I'm in a vertical climb, and my P-51 begins to roll clockwise violently, only by pushing my left rudder almost through the floor can I stop my P-51 from turning. We climb for altitude; in the straight climb that Me109 begins to out distance me, though my built up diving speed makes us about equal in the climb. We climb one thousand fifteen hundred feet, and at eighteen hundred feet, the hun levels his aircraft out. A vertical climb of 1,800 feet! I've never heard of a piston aircraft climbing more than 1,000 feet in a tail stand. At this time we're both down to stall speed, and he levels out. My airspeed indicator reads less than 90 mph! So we level out. I'm really close now to the Me109, less than twenty five yards! Now if I can get my guns on him.........

    At this range, the gunsight is more of nuisance than a help. Next thing, he dumps his flaps fast and I begin to overshoot him! That's not what I want to do, because then he can bear his guns on me. The P-51 has good armor, but not good enough to stop 20mm cannon hits. This Luftwaffe pilot must be one heck of a marksman, I just witnessed him shooting down a P-51 with a single 20mm cannon shot! So I do the same thing, I dump my flaps, and as I start to overshoot him, I pull my nose up, this really slows me down; S-T-A-L-L warning comes on! and I can't see anything ahead of me nor in the rear view mirror. Now I'm sweating everywhere. My eyes are burning because salty sweat keeps blinding me: 'Where is He!?!' I shout to myself. I level out to prevent from stalling. And there he is. Flying on my right side. We are flying side to side, less than twenty feet separates our wingtips. He's smiling and laughing at himself. I notice that he has a red heart painted on his aircraft, just below the cockpit. The nose and spinner are painted black. It's my guess that he's a very experienced ace from the Russian front. His tail has a number painted on it: "200". I wonder: what the "two hundred" means!? Now I began to examine his airplane for any bullet hits, afterall, I estimate that I just fired 1,600 rounds at the hun. I cannot see a single bullet hole in his aircraft! I could swear that I must have gotten at least a dozen hits! I keep inspecting his aircraft for any damage. One time, he even lifts his left wing about 15 degrees, to let me see the underside, still no hits! That's impossible I tell myself. Totally impossible. Then I turn my attention back to the "200" which is painted on the tail rudder. German aces normally paint a marker for each victory on their tail. It dawns on me that quick: TWO HUNDRED KILLS !! We fly side by side for five minutes. Those five minutes take centuries to pass. Less than twenty five feet away from me is a Luftwaffe ace, with over two hundred kills. We had been in a slow gradual dive now, my altitude indicates 8,000 feet. I'm panicking now, even my socks are soaked in sweat. The German pilot points at his tail, obviously meaning the "200" victories, and then very slowly and dramatically makes a knife-cutting motion across his throat, and points at me. He's telling me in sign language that I'm going to be his 201 kill! Panic! I'm breathing so hard, it sounds like a wind tunnel with my mask on. My heart rate must have doubled to 170 beats per minute; I can feel my chest, thump-thump and so.

    This goes on for centuries, and centuries. The two of us flying at stall speed, wingtip to wingtip. I think more than once of simply ramming him. He keeps watching my ailerons, maybe that's what he expects me to do. We had heard of desperate pilots who, after running out of ammunition, would commit suicide by ramming an enemy plane. Then I decide that I can Immelmann out of the situation, and I began to climb, but because my flaps are down, my Mustang only climbs about one hundred feet, pitches over violently to the right and stalls. The next instant I'm dangerously spinning, heading ninety degrees vertically down! And the IAS reads 300 mph! My P-51 just falls like a rock to the earth! I hold the yoke in the lower left corner and sit on the left rudder, flaps up, and apply FULL POWER! I pull out of the dive at about 500 feet, level out, (I began to black out so with my left hand I pinch my veins in my neck to stop blackout). I scan the sky for anything! There's not a plane in the sky, I dive to about fifty feet elevation, heading towards Italy. I fly at maximum power for about ten minutes, and then reduce my rpm (to save gasoline), otherwise the P-51 has very limited range at full power. I fly like this for maybe an hour, no planes in the vicinity; all the time I scan the sky, check my rear view mirrors.

    I never saw the Me109 with the red heart again. At the mess I mention the Me109 with the red heart and "200" written on the tail. That's when the whole room, I mean everybody, gets instantly quiet. Like you could hear a pin drop. Two weeks later the base commander shows me a telex: "....according to intelligence, the German pilot with a red heart is Eric Hartmann who has downed 250 aircraft and there is a reward of fifty thousand dollars offered by Stalin for shooting him down. I've never before heard of a cash reward for shooting down an enemy ace ... "

    Regards Duggy.


  • I have read this story by Thompson before. I am sure it is a fake. There were no US bomber escort missions over Romania in January 1945. Romania had already switched sides and was fighting with the Red Army against Germany and Hungary and the frontline was hundreds of kilometers away near Budapest. At this time Hartmanns unit was based far away in southern Poland.

  • I've just been re-reading The Blond Knight of Germany so this is very timely. Quite an amazing pilot, and a brilliant setting for a campaign. The poor guy had a rough time of things for a while, although who from that generation in Europe did not.

    Would love to see A&A guys' versions of the Black Tulip 109 he flew.

  • Thanks for this interview Duggy, Hartmann was quite a character.

    Authenticated or not, Thompson's account is also rivetting, a great read.

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