|Birth name||Oskar-Heinz Bär|
|Nickname(s)||Pritzl or Reeste|
25 May 1913|
Sommerfeld, Kingdom of Saxony, German Empire
|Died||28 April 1957
Braunschweig, Lower Saxony, West Germany
|Years of service||1934–45|
|Rank||Lieutenant Colonel (Oberstleutnant)|
|Unit||JG 51, JG 77, JGr Süd, JG 1, JG 3, EJG 2 and JV 44|
|Commands held||12./JG 51, I.JG 77, JGr Süd, II./JG 1, JG 3, III./EJG 2 and JV 44|
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords|
|Other work||test pilot|
Oskar-Heinz (Heinrich) "Pritzl" Bär (pronounced [ˈhaɪnʁɪç bɛːɐ̯]; 25 May 1913 – 28 April 1957) was a German Luftwaffe flying ace who served throughout World War II in Europe. Bär flew more than one thousand combat missions, and fought in all major German theaters of the war, including the Western, Eastern and Mediterranean fronts. On 18 occasions he survived being shot down, and he was credited with 220 or 221 aerial victories,[Note 1] around 16 of which were in a jet fighter.
Bär, a Saxon with a strong accent, joined the Reichswehr in 1934 and transferred to the Luftwaffe in 1935. Serving first as a mechanic, then as a pilot on transport aircraft, he was informally trained as a fighter pilot. He claimed his first aerial victory in September 1939 on the French border. By the end of the Battle of Britain, his tally of victories had increased to 17. Transferred to the Eastern Front to participate in Operation Barbarossa, he quickly accumulated further kills, a feat that earned him the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern) for 90 aerial victories in February 1942.
During the remainder of World War II, Bär was credited with 130 other aerial victories, including 16 while flying one of the first jet fighters, the Me 262, an achievement which would normally have earned him the coveted Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten). Hermann Göring's personal dislike of Bär, coupled with Bär's insubordinate character and lack of military discipline, deprived him of this award. After World War II, Bär continued his career as an aviator. He was killed in a flying accident on 28 April 1957 near Braunschweig.
Bär was born on 25 May 1913 in Sommerfeld near Leipzig in the Kingdom of Saxony, a federated state of the German Empire. His parents were farmers, and Bär initially wanted to become a forester, for everything associated with wildlife and forests interested him. His first sight of a Junkers transport aircraft changed his mind and convinced him that he should become an aviator. As a teenager, he became a glider pilot and had ambitions to become an airline pilot with Deutsche Luft Hansa. He acquired the nickname Pritzl because of his affection for Pritzl candy bars.
The Great Depression prevented Bär from gaining a civil pilot license. In 1934, he joined the Reichswehr and was assigned to the Kraftfahrabteilung 4 as a mechanic. He served in this position until the following year, when he was transferred to a combat unit of the Luftwaffe. A few months later, he was accepted for pilot training, receiving his transport aircraft pilot's license in 1937. He was transferred to I./Jagdgeschwader 135, the core of the future Jagdgeschwader 51 (JG 51), on 1 September 1938, usually flying the Junkers Ju 86.[Note 2] The Squadron Leader (Staffelkapitän) Douglas Pitcairn noticed Bär's flying talents and tried to convince Bär to become a fighter pilot. Initially Bär refused, but after he illegally conducted some aerobatics in the Ju 86 leading to an engine failure, he reluctantly accepted and became a fighter pilot.
World War II
Stationed on the border with France, Bär achieved his first victory—a Curtiss P-36 Hawk—on 25 September 1939 during the Phoney War air skirmishes with the Armée de l'Air (French air force), earning him the Iron Cross 2nd Class on 27 September 1939. During the Battle of France, he is credited with two more aerial victories before adding a further ten during the Battle of Britain. During this time, he had several emergency landings with badly damaged planes and was shot down over the English Channel on 2 September 1940 by a Spitfire. Bär was summoned to appear before Hermann Göring and report on this battle.[Note 3] When Göring asked him what he was thinking about while in the water, Bär immediately replied, "Your speech, Herr Reichsmarschall, in which you said that England is no longer an island!", alluding to an address that Göring had made before the German fighter pilots. Incidents like this are testimony to his often blatant disregard for higher authority, a trait that frequently landed him in trouble. In early 1941, he is credited with an additional four aerial victories against the Royal Air Force (RAF), bringing his total to 17.
In June 1941, JG 51 was transferred East to take part in Operation Barbarossa. JG 51 at the time was part of the II. Fliegerkorps, operating in the central sector of the Eastern Front. Bär claimed five aerial victories on 30 June 1941, bringing his total to 22. On this day JG 51 was credited with 113 aerial victories in total, among them their 1,000th aerial victory—the first unit to reach this figure—and Colonel (Oberst) Werner Mölders, with 82 aerial victories, surpassed Manfred von Richthofen in number of victories. Within two weeks of combat against the Soviet Air Force, Bär's tally rose to 27, which earned him the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes) on 2 July, followed by his promotion to First Lieutenant (Oberleutnant) on 1 August 1941. On 14 August, he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub) for 60 victories, and on 30 August he became an "ace in one day" by shooting down six Soviet aircraft. On 31 August, Bär was shot down some 50 kilometres (31 mi) behind Soviet lines, near Novgorod-Seversky. He suffered back injuries while bailing out, but managed to walk back to the German lines; his wounds necessitated a lengthy hospital treatment.
Bär was promoted to Captain (Hauptmann) in late 1941 and appointed Squadron Leader of 12./JG 51 in early 1942. His long time wingman at the time was Heinrich Hoffmann. He received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern) on 16 February as his tally rose to 90. This achievement was mentioned in the daily Wehrmachtbericht (daily report by the High Command of the German Armed Forces regarding the military situation on all fronts) on 12 February 1942, his first of three references during the course of the war. On 11 May, Bär was transferred from IV./JG 51 on the Moscow front to take command of I. Gruppe of Gordon Gollob's Jagdgeschwader 77 (JG 77) flying wing; JG 77 was tasked with supporting the hard fighting over the Kerch straits on the Crimean peninsula. Led by the flying aces (Experten) Gollob and Bär, JG 77 took over the air space above Kerch-Taman as Gollob and Bär shot down two and three LaGG-3s respectively, raising Bär's victory total to 93. Mutual animosity between the two men, Gollob, a disciplinarian pro-Nazi, and Bär, an anti-authoritarian, ensured an intense rivalry. On 19 May 1942, Bär claimed five further aerial victories; his victory total now stood at 103. That same day, Inspector of Fighters (General der Jagdflieger) Adolf Galland arrived to inspect Bär's I./JG 77 and JG 77 surpassed 2,000 victories. This flying achievement earned Bär a second mention in the daily Wehrmachtbericht on 20 May 1942.
A book was published about Bär in 1942 with the title "Und so wuchsen ihm Flügel" - "And thus he grew wings". Mentioning his early interest in flying and his somewhat atypical career in the Luftwaffe with his changing from transport units to fighter pilot, it treated his participation in the West and in Russia. His being awarded the Swords and his deployment in the Mediterranean are mentioned in the epilogue.
In June 1942, JG 77 was moved to the Mediterranean theater and took part in the air battles over Malta before relocating to Tunisia and participating in the North African Campaign. After Bär achieved his 149th aerial victory, General Hans-Jürgen von Arnim submitted him for the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten). Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring ignored this request, denying Bär the "Diamonds". The reason for this remains uncertain, but it is believed that Göring disliked Bär for his insubordinate character and strong Saxon dialect, which Göring was known to detest.
Bär and his I. Gruppe of JG 77 operated from Fatnassa, Tunisia, in early March 1943. On 1 March, Bär claimed a Spitfire shot down, then in the evening met Galland, who was making a surprise visit to I./JG 77. Galland was greeted by Major Joachim Müncheberg, who introduced Bär to Galland. Thus began a comradeship which outlasted World War II.
Over North Africa and the Mediterranean theater, Bär had increased his tally to 179, but, fighting a losing battle against ever-increasing Allied air superiority, Bär lost his fighting spirit, and suffered severe mental and physical exhaustion. After several arguments with JG 77's new Commander Colonel Johannes Steinhoff and Hermann Göring, in mid-1943 Bär was transferred to France "for cowardice before the enemy" and demoted to Squadron Leader. He took over command of an operational training unit, Jagdgruppe Süd.
Defense of the Reich
His combat skills were hard to overlook and hence Bär was transferred to II./Jagdgeschwader 1 (JG 1) on 21 January 1944 as an ordinary pilot. He was assigned to 6./JG 1. Jagdgeschwader 1 (JG 1) Wing Commander (Geschwaderkommodore) Colonel Walter Oesau welcomed him with a reminder that he had promised Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL) Göring that Bär would not be given any command responsibilities. Although Bär accepted this with humor, he later commented to others that in the air he was the "Kommodore of his own crate".
On 15 March 1944, Bär, now a Major and rehabilitated from the demotion, was given command of II./Jagdgeschwader 1 (JG 1). This was after the death of Hauptmann Hermann Segatz on 8 March 1944. JG 1 was tasked with Reichsverteidigung (Defense of the Reich) and equipped with the Focke Wulf 190 A-7 fighter. Morale of the group soared following his appointment. He was considered the unofficial leader of the group and the best officer in the entire Geschwader. On 11 April 1944, Bär achieved his 199th aerial victory over a B-17 Flying Fortress near Fallersleben. His 200th aerial victory, a B-24 Liberator, was claimed on 22 April accompanied by his regular wingman Warrant Officer (Oberfeldwebel) Leo Schuhmacher, who would be awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 1 March 1945 as a fighter pilot in II./JG 1. Bär had just landed at Störmede airfield from a II./JG 1 intercept when a smoking United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) B-24 of the 458th Bombardment Group passed overhead. Bär and his wingman quickly got into their aircraft and intercepted the B-24. The bomber's gunners had already bailed out of the aircraft, making it an easy aerial victory. Bär returned to Störmede airfield to the congratulations of his men. This double century victory earned Bär his third and final reference in the Wehrmachtbericht on 24 April 1944. After Oesau's death on 11 May 1944, Bär was made acting Wing Commander of JG 1. In June, he was appointed Wing Commander of Jagdgeschwader 3 (JG 3) following the death of Friedrich-Karl Müller. By the end of 1944, Bär's score had risen to 203.
Bär's 204th and 205th victories, against two Hawker Typhoons, were achieved on 1 January 1945 during Unternehmen Bodenplatte, a Luftwaffe mass attack against Allied airfields in the Benelux area. The operation resulted in hundreds of aircraft losses on both sides. Bär's JG 3 contributed by raiding Eindhoven in the Netherlands, shooting down about six RAF fighters and destroying many aircraft on the ground. One of Bär's 'aerial kills' may not have been airborne. Historian Norman Franks states both aircraft, from No. 438 Squadron RAF, were taxiing when hit. Flight Lieutenant Pete Wilson was wounded and later died from his injuries after Bär's strafing attack. The second Typhoon did get airborne. Its pilot, Flight Officer Ross Keller was killed. This version of events is contradicted by a witness, Pilot Officer 'Bill' Harle, who thought both aircraft were airborne.
Combat in the Me 262
In February, Bär was transferred to command the jet fighter training unit III./Ergänzungs-Jagdgeschwader 2 (EJG 2). In March, the unit was equipped with the Messerschmitt Me 262 fighter and sent into battle. Bär shot down 13 enemy aircraft, many of them heavy bombers like the B-17 and the B-24, bringing his score to 217. On 23 April, Bär transferred to the elite Jet Experten unit Jagdverband 44 (JV 44), led by Adolf Galland. On 26 April, he assumed command of the unit when Galland was wounded. Bär possibly flew his first operational sortie with JV 44 on 27 April 1945. Flying the Me 262 A-1/U5, a six MK 108 cannon prototype, he was accompanied by Major Wilhelm Herget and the non-commissioned officer NCO (Unteroffizier) Franz Köster when the trio engaged American fighters over Riem; Bär claimed one aerial victory. While not flying operationally, Bär spent most of his time giving hasty instruction to the new pilots still being assigned to JV 44. With JV 44, he achieved his final four aerial victories (3 P-47s and 1 Mosquito) on 28 April, bringing his total to 220. All told, he had achieved 16 victories in the Me 262, making him the second most successful Jet Expert of the war, which he finished as a Lieutenant Colonel (Oberstleutnant).[Note 4]
During the final days of the Second World War in Europe, Lieutenant General (Generalleutnant) Adolf Galland attempted to surrender JV 44 to American forces from his hospital bed. At the same time Air General (General der Flieger) Karl Koller had ordered JV 44 to relocate to Prague and continue fighting. Bär, as a Galland loyalist, attempted to ignore the order. Bär was further pressured to relocate JV 44 when Major General (Generalmajor) Dietrich Peltz, commander of IX. Fliegerkorps, and Colonel Hajo Herrmann, commander of 9. Flieger-Division (J), unexpectedly emerged at the control room in Maxglan on 2 May 1945. A heated and violent dispute erupted between Bär, Peltz and Herrmann, witnessed by Walter Krupinski. He later recalled that Bär responded with "Yes, sir, but we are under the command of Generalleutnant Galland, and I will only follow orders of Generalleutnant Galland!"—a final act of disobedience that Krupinski believed could have led to Bär being shot for insubordination.
In the early morning hours of 4 May 1945, Bär gathered the pilots of JV 44 for a final briefing. Bär ordered the remaining Me 262 destroyed before going into captivity and interrogation by US Intelligence officers of the 1st Tactical Air Force's Air Prisoner of War Interrogation Unit, based at Heidelberg.
After the war
Bär did not return to his home in Sommerfeld after World War II. He settled in Braunschweig, where he continued his career in aviation, including a lead position for motor-powered flight with the Deutscher Aero Club. He also worked as a consultant and test pilot in the field of sport aviation, testing aircraft before they went on the market. On 28 April 1957, while conducting a routine flight-check in a light aircraft, a LF-1 Zaunkönig, Bär put the aircraft into a flat spin, the final manoeuvre in the test process. The aircraft spun down to 50 metres (160 ft) then, unable to regain control, Bär was killed in the resulting crash at Braunschweig-Waggum.
Summary of career
Heinrich Bär, call sign "Bussard 1", flew more than 1,000 combat missions. His 220 confirmed aerial victories place him eighth on the overall list of Experten.[Note 1][Note 5] His claim of 124 aerial victories over Western-flown aircraft is second only to Hans-Joachim Marseille's total of 158; almost all of the latter's victories occurred in Africa. He achieved four victories during the Battle of France, 13 during the Battle of Britain and 61 over Libya and Tunisia. On the Eastern Front he had claimed 96 aerial victories. At least 75 of his victories had been claimed against British- and American-flown aircraft over Europe, 16 of these while flying the Me 262 jet fighter. Also among these 75 aerial victories are 21 US heavy bombers and one Mosquito. Bär crash-landed or bailed out 18 times and was wounded three times in combat.
- Wound Badge (1939) in Silver
- in Black (26 November 1941)
- German Cross in Gold on 27 May 1942 as Hauptmann in the I./JG 77
- Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe in Gold with Pennant "1000"
- in Gold (25 May 1942)
- Combined Pilots-Observation Badge
- Honor Goblet of the Luftwaffe on 8 June 1942 as Hauptmann and Gruppenkommandeur[Note 6]
- Eastern Front Medal (23 August 1943)
- "Africa" Cuffband
- Iron Cross (1939)
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
- Knight's Cross on 2 July 1941 as pilot and Second Lieutenant (Leutnant) in the 1./JG 51 after 27 aerial victories[Note 7]
- 31st Oak Leaves on 14 August 1941 as pilot and Second Lieutenant in the 1./JG 51 after 60 aerial victories[Note 7]
- 7th Swords on 16 February 1942 as Captain and Squadron Leader of the 1./JG 51 after 90 aerial victories[Note 8]
- Mentioned three times in the Wehrmachtbericht
Three times Heinz Bär was recommended for the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds. All three commendations were denied by Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring. Bär shot down a further 130 enemy aircraft after he had received the Swords.
References in the Wehrmachtbericht
|Date||Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording||Direct English translation|
|Thursday, 12 February 1942||Hauptmann Baer, Staffelkapitän in einem Jagdgeschwader, errang seinen 89. und 90. Luftsieg.||Hauptmann Baer, squadron leader in a fighter wing, recorded his 89th and 90th aerial victory.|
|Wednesday, 20 May 1942||Hauptmann Baer, Gruppenkommandeur in einem Jagdgeschwader, errang am gestrigen Tag seinen 99. bis 103. Luftsieg.||Hauptmann Baer, group commander in a fighter wing, recorded yesterday his 99th to 103rd aerial victory.|
|24 April 1944||Major Baer, Gruppenkommandeur in einem Jagdgeschwader, errang im Kampf mit britisch-nordamerikanischen Flugzeugen seinen 200. Luftsieg.||Major Baer, group commander in a fighter wing, recorded in combat with British-North American aircraft his 200th aerial victory.|
Dates of rank
|1 August 1940:||Leutnant (Second Lieutenant)|
|1 August 1941:||Oberleutnant (First Lieutenant)|
|September/October 1941:||Hauptmann (Captain)|
|1 March 1943:||Major (Major)|
|1 January 1945:||Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant Colonel)|
- Some sources claim he is credited with 220 aerial victories, but 221 seems to be correct based on his log book and personal file. Sources that list him with 220 include Luftwaffe Fighter Aces by Mike Spick, German Jet Aces of World War 2 by Hugh Morgan and John Weal. Sources that list him with 221 aerial victories include Luftwaffe Aces by Franz Korowski. Such World War II air combat statistics are liable to dispute.
- For an explanation of the meaning of Luftwaffe unit designation see Luftwaffe Organization
- Sources are inconclusive with respect to whether Göring had witnessed the incident personally or whether it was reported to him on 8 September 1940 by Werner Mölders.
- For a list of Luftwaffe Jet aces see List of German World War II jet aces
- For a list of World War II aces see List of World War II air aces
- According to Kurowski on 1 June 1942.
- According to Scherzer as Leutnant of the Reserves.
- According to Scherzer as Hauptmann of the Reserves.
- Spick 1996, pp. 3–4.
- Spick 1996, p. 227.
- Morgan & Weal 1998, p. 88.
- Kurowski 1996, p. 122.
- Schaulen 2003, p. 26.
- Toliver & Constable 1998, p. 360.
- Kurowski 1996, pp. 103–105.
- Kurowski 1996, p. 73.
- Toliver & Constable 1998, p. 358.
- Bergström & Mikhailov 2000, p. 86.
- Aders & Held 1993, pp. 29,30.
- Toliver & Constable 1998, p. 359.
- Aders & Held 1993, p. 47.
- Spick 1996, p. 219.
- Aders & Held 1993, p. 68.
- Berger 1999, p. 13.
- Bergström & Mikhailov 2000, p. 61.
- Aders & Held 1993, p. 90
- Weal 2001, p. 22.
- Kurowski 1996, pp. 83–87.
- Weal 2006, p. 67.
- Bergström & Mikhailov 2001, p. 159.
- Bergström & Mikhailov 2001, p. 160.
- Kurowski 1996, p. 92.
- Kurowski 1996, p. 96.
- MacLean 2007, p. 6.
- Kurowski 2007, p. 70.
- Berger 1999, p. 14.
- Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 153.
- Weal 1996, p. 55.
- Schuelke (1995).
- Kurowski 1996, p. 107.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 688.
- Caldwell & Muller 2007, pp. 184–185.
- Caldwell & Muller 2007, pp. 170–202.
- Girbig 1997, p. 172.
- Franks 2000, p. 131.
- Manrho & Pütz 2004, pp. 76–77.
- Forsyth 2008, p. 93.
- Forsyth 2008, p. 94.
- Caldwell & Muller 2007, pp. 284–285.
- Kurowski 1996, pp. 117–121.
- Caldwell 2007, pp. 284–285.
- Forsyth 2008, pp. 111, 112.
- Forsyth 2008, pp. 115, 116.
- Forsyth 2008, pp. 119, 120.
- Helden der Wehrmacht 2004, p. 148.
- Kurowski 2007, p. 157.
- Spick 1996, pp. 220, 227.
- Kurowski 2007, p. 156.
- Schumann 2009, p. 11.
- Patzwall & Scherzer 2001, p. 23.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 199.
- Schumann 2009, p. 8.
- Patzwall 2008, p. 44.
- Schumann 2009, p. 21.
- MacLean 2007, p. 222
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 120.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 55.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 39.
- Kurowski 2007, p. 154
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 2, p. 32.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 2, p. 136.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, p. 87.
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- Frey, Gerhard; Herrmann, Hajo (2004). Helden der Wehrmacht - Unsterbliche deutsche Soldaten [Heroes of the Wehrmacht - Immortal German Soldiers] (in German). München, Germany: FZ-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-924309-53-4.
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- Media related to Oskar-Heinrich Bär at Wikimedia Commons
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- Bergström, Christer; Tyminski, Dariusz. "Heinz "Pritzl" Bär in competition with Gollob". World War II Ace Stories. Retrieved 9 July 2014.
- Bajor, Greg. "Heinz Bär's plane". Flickr. Retrieved 9 July 2014.
- "7. Schwerterträger Heinrich Bär". Ritterkreuzträger 1939 – 1945 (in German). Retrieved 9 July 2014.
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Oberst Walter Oesau
|Commander of Jagdgeschwader 1 Oesau
12 May 1944 – 20 May 1944
Oberst Herbert Ihlefeld
Major Friedrich Karl Müller
|Commander of Jagdgeschwader 3 Udet
1 June 1944 – 13 February 1945
Major Werner Schröer
Generalleutnant Adolf Galland
|Commander of Jagdverband 44
26 April 1945 – 8 May 1945