Gerhard Sommer (pilot)

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Gerhard Sommer
Born 14 September 1919
Steinpleis
Died 12 May 1944(1944-05-12) (aged 24)
Salzkotten
Allegiance  Nazi Germany
Service/branch Luftwaffe
Years of service ?-1944
Rank Hauptmann
Unit JG 1
JG 11
Battles/wars

World War II

Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross

Gerhard Sommer (14 September 1919 – 12 May 1944) was a German Luftwaffe ace and recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross during World War II. The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership - for the fighter pilots, it was a quantifiable measure of skill and combat success. Gerhard Sommer was killed on 12 May 1944 after aerial combat with P-47 fighters. He was posthumously awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 27 July 1944. During his career he was credited with 20 aerial victories, all on the Western front.

Career[edit]

Born 14 September 1919 at Steipleis near Zwickau in Saxony.[1] After completing his pilot training, about December 1941, Leutnant Sommer was posted to the 3rd Staffel of Jagdgeschwader 1 (3./JG 1).[2] At the time the unit was on Reich Defence duties, and relatively quiet covering the north-western approaches across the North Sea. It was not until 11 August 1942 that he scored his first victory - an RAF Wellington bomber southwest of Helgoland island. In autumn 1942 he was transferred and promoted to Staffelkapitän (Squadron Leader) of 1./ JG 1.

It was 26 February 1943 before he scored his second victory - a B-17 of the 8th US Bomber Command, the first of his 15 Viermot (4-engined bomber) victories. Having started in late January, the daylight incursions from the American bombers would become constant and steadily increase in size. However, with the Allied escort fighters forced to turn back as they neared the German frontier for lack of fuel, the German commanders had the time to carefully improve and hone their combat tactics against these mighty opponents.[3] The threat was quickly appreciated and a new air unit, JG 11, was authorised to be set up for Reich defence, by drawing on the experienced cadre of pilots in JG 1.[4] Thus, on 1 April 1943, Sommer's squadron 1./JG 1 was redesignated 4./JG 11.

So by 17 April, when the Americans made their first and only raid in April, (on the Focke Wulf factory in Bremen) the Luftwaffe could now field over 20 squadrons of Bf109 and Fw190 fighters and it proved to be the costliest raid (Mission #50) to date: 16 of the 115 bombers were shot down. Although Sommer himself didn't add to his tally that day, Heinz Knoke and his pilots of sister-squadron 5./JG 11 had a degree of success by air-to-air bombing - dropping bombs into the middle of the bomber formations, primed on a short time-delay fuse, to break up and scatter the formation to make individual aircraft more vulnerable.

Sommer did score a B-24 victory (his 4th overall) on the 14 May raid (Mission #56 on the submarine pens at Kiel), and his 5th a week later (a B-17 over Wilhelmshaven). About this time, II./JG 11 was re-equipping with Bf109G-6 'gunboats', carrying a pair of underwing 30mm cannons for a far-heavier punch.[5] Now an experienced pilot against the Viermots Sommer's tally steadily rose and he scored a victory on most of the American raids in 1943. The odds were now stacking up against the American bombers, still without fighter cover over a good third of their mission, and with increasing numbers of Luftwaffe fighters drawn into Reich Defence. For example on 13 June, where Sommer scored his 7th victory, the Mission #62 on Kiel lost a catastrophic 22 bombers out of 60 sent.[6] Desperate to provide any sort of fighter cover, the Allies were trying to develop jettisonable fuel-tanks on their P-47D Thunderbolts to give them extra range.

The last week of July was designated by the Allies for Operation Gomorrah - a 6-day round-the-clock pounding of the Reich by the Americans by day and the British by night (including the devastating Hamburg fire-raid of 27 July). Sommer shot down 3 bombers that week, taking his tally now to 11 victories. Missing the carnage of the combined Schweinfurt/Regensburg raids (#84) in August, Sommer's next victory was a B-17 on 27 September. This raid marked the operational debut of the long-range P-47s, now finally able to escort the bombers well into the Reich, and despite Sommer's success, II./11 took its heaviest losses to date.[7]

Reflecting the change in the airwar over the Reich, Sommer's three victories (15-17v.) in December 1943 were all P-47 escort fighters. Another aspect was the vast increase in numbers - his 18th victory, a B-17, was one of 650 bombers sent on Mission #182 to bomb the aircraft factories in the Brunswick area. The bad weather of January 1944 limited operations but February saw the advent of the P-51 Mustang - a fighter capable of escorting the bombers for the full 100% mission distance, forever tipping the scales in the Allies favour in the Rich bombing campaign. February 20 was the start of Operation Avalanche, better known as 'Big Week', a coordinated assault on the Luftwaffe, its airfields and its factories, then in March attention turned to Berlin.

Gerhard Sommer would not survive the war though - he scored a final Viermot on the Berlin raid of 29 April (Mission #327), in what would be the last time in the war that the 8th USAAF lost over 60 bombers on a mission.[8] Promoted to Hauptmann on 1 May, his last victory was a P-47 fighter on yet another Berlin raid, on 8 May. Four days later, on 12 May, still as the StaKa (Staffelkapitän) of 4./JG 11, he was shot down and killed in his Bf109 G-6 'White 14' (W.Nr 140028) by P-47 fighters south of Bielefeld.[9]

At the time of his death, Hauptmann Sommer was 25 years old and one of the Luftwaffe's highest scoring Viermot-Töters (Bomber-killers) with 14 (or 15) of his confirmed 20 victories being Viermots. In recognition of this he was awarded a posthumous Knight's Cross on 27 July 1944.

Victories[edit]

No Date Time Unit & Airfield Gruppe Kommandeur[10] Location Claimed Aircraft Source / Comments[11]
1 11 Aug 1942 12:47 3./JG 1 - Wangerooge Maj Dr Erich Mix 10 km SW of Helgoland Wellington -
- 19 Aug 1942 15:48 2./JG 1? - Jever Maj Dr Erich Mix 10 km NE of Scharmbeck: 8800m Mosquito C.2031/II AnerkNr 45
2 26 Feb 1943 11:35 1./JG 1 - Borkum Hptm Günther Beise 2 km N of Sengwarden: 7500m B-17 C.2027/I AnerkNr 7
3 22 Mar 1943 15:23 1./JG 1 - Borkum Hptm Günther Beise 05Ost S75/8/2: SW of Helgoland B-24 C.2031/II AnerkNr 9
4 14 May 1943 12:20 4./JG 11 - Jever Hptm Adolf Dickfeld 9581: NW of Neumünster: 7000m B-24 C.2031/II
5 21 May 1943 ~12:50 4./JG 11 - Jever Hptm Günther Specht 8415: N of Wilhelmshaven: 7000m B-17 C.2031/II
6 11 Jun 1943 14:45 4./JG 11 - Jever Hptm Günther Specht 20 km E of Wangerooge: 8300m B-17 C.2027/I
7 13 Jun 1943 9:54 4./JG 11 - Jever Hptm Günther Specht 05Ost 3/4/4: 9000m B-17 C.2027/I
8 20 Jun 1943 20:31 4./JG 11 - Jever Hptm Günther Specht 05Ost 55/5/8: 100 km N of Terschelling Lightning F5 C.2027/I
9 26 Jul 1943 11:59 4./JG 11 - Jever Hptm Günther Specht UQ-8: 15 km S of Helgoland: 8500m B-17 C.2027/I
10 28 Jul 1943 9:02 4./JG 11 - Jever Hptm Günther Specht SR-4: Worms: 6500m B-17 C.2027/I
11 28 Jul 1943 12:15 4./JG 11 - Jever Hptm Günther Specht HM-87: Arnhem: 6500m B-17 C.2027/I
12 27 Sep 1943 11:20 4./JG 11 - Jever Hptm Günther Specht UP-7: 38 km NW of Nordeney: 8000m B-17 C.2031/II
13 4 Oct 1943 10:16 4./JG 11 - Marx Hptm Günther Specht 05Ost S/UM: SE of Kassel: 7000m B-24 C.2031/II
14 9 Oct 1943 15:20 4./JG 11 - Marx Hptm Günther Specht PS-7.2: 3800m B-17 C.2031/II; AnerkNr 62
15 1 Dec 1943 12:05 4./JG 11 - Plantlünne Hptm Günther Specht PO-9.9: Solingen area: 9000m P-47 C.2031/II; AnerkNr 68
16 11 Dec 1943 12:15 4./JG 11 - Plantlünne Hptm Günther Specht AP-5.5: 25 km N of Nordeney: 8000m P-47 of 56th FG; C.2031/II; AnerkNr 79
17 11 Dec 1943 12:15 4./JG 11 - Plantlünne Hptm Günther Specht AP-5.5: 25 km N of Nordeney: 9000m P-47 of 56th FG; C.2031/II; AnerkNr 78
18 11 Jan 1944  ? 4./JG 11 - Wunstorf Hptm Günther Specht  ? B-17 Prien; JG 1/11 List
19 29 Apr 1944 13:30 4./JG 11 - Wunstorf Maj Günther Rall 05Ost S/FS: Diepholz area: 6000m B-24 C.2027/I; AnerkNr 69
20 8 May 1944 12:20 4./JG 11 - Hustedt Maj Günther Rall 05Ost S/FU: NW of Hannover P-47 C.2027/I; AnerkNr 72

Awards[edit]

References[edit]

Citations
  1. ^ Aces of the Luftwaffe website.
  2. ^ Luftwaffe Officer Career Summaries website.
  3. ^ Spick 2006, pp. 134-137.
  4. ^ Weal 2006, pp. 21-22.
  5. ^ Weal 2006, pg. 26.
  6. ^ Weal 2006, pg. 28.
  7. ^ Weal 2006, pp. 49-50.
  8. ^ Weal 2006, pg. 71.
  9. ^ Weal 2006, pg. 73.
  10. ^ Luftwaffe Air Units: Single–Engined Fighters website.
  11. ^ Aces of the Luftwaffe website.
  12. ^ Patzwall and Scherzer 2001, p. 448.
  13. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 327.
Bibliography
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 – Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtsteile [The Bearers of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939–1945 — The Owners of the Highest Award of the Second World War of all Wehrmacht Branches] (in German). Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6. 
  • Patzwall, Klaus D.; Scherzer, Veit (2001). Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 – 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II [The German Cross 1941 – 1945 History and Recipients Volume 2] (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN 978-3-931533-45-8. 
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007). Die 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 [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives] (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2. 
  • Spick, Mike (2006). Aces of the Reich. Greenhill Books. ISBN 1-85367-675-6
  • Weal, John (1999). Bf109F/G/K Aces of the Western Front. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-85532-905-0.
  • Weal, John (2006). Bf109 Defence of the Reich Aces. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-84176-879-0.

External links[edit]