Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer (16 February 1922 – 15 July 1950) was a German Luftwaffe night fighter pilot and is the highest scoring night fighter ace in the history of aerial warfare. A flying ace or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five (in some services, notably the World War I German air force, classification as an ace required ten) or more enemy aircraft during aerial combat. All of his 121 aerial victories were claimed during World War II at night, mostly against British four-engine bombers.[Notes 1] He was nicknamed "The Spook of St. Trond", from the location of his unit's base in occupied Belgium.
Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer was born 16 February 1922 in Calw, Württemberg. He learned to fly gliders as a member of a National Political Institutes of Education in 1939.
Schnaufer entered the Luftwaffe as a trainee pilot in November 1939, and underwent flying training in 1940. In April 1941, Lt. Schnaufer was posted to Nachtjagdschule 1, to learn the rudiments of night-fighting . In November 1941 Schnaufer was posted to II./NJG 1. Schnaufer's first operation came in February, when II./NJG 1 flew escort for the German navy’s capital ships Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Prinz Eugen when they broke out from Brest in the Channel Dash. His first victory was claimed on the night 1/2 June 1942; a Handley Page Halifax over Belgium. However, while attacking a second enemy aircraft, his aircraft was hit by return fire and he was wounded in the leg. He successfully landed his damaged aircraft. By the end of the year, his total stood at 7, with 3 victories recorded on one night. Schnaufer was promoted to Oberleutnant in July 1943, when his total was 17.
Schnaufer was transferred to IV./NJG 1, based in Holland, where he was appointed Staffelkapitän in August 1943. Oberleutnant Schnaufer was awarded the Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes for 42 victories in December 1943. He recorded his 50th victory (IV./NJG 1’s 500th victory) on the night of 24/25 February 1944.[Notes 2]
March 1944 saw Schnaufer appointed Gruppenkommandeur IV./NJG 1. He claimed five enemy aircraft on the night of 24/25 May. Hauptmann Schnaufer was awarded the Eichenlaub on 24 June for 84 victories and the Schwerter on 30 July, with his total at 89.
In September 1944, IV./NJG 1 retreated into Germany, Schnaufer achieved his 100th victory on 9 October 1944. He was awarded the Brillanten personally by Adolf Hitler. Schnaufer was then appointed Geschwaderkommodore of NJG 4 on 4 November 1944; the youngest Geschwaderkommodore in the Luftwaffe at 22. At the end of the year, his victory total stood at 106.
Members of the Royal Australian Air Force pose with Schnaufer's Me 110G-4 (G9+BA) at Schleswig, Germany, shortly after the end of the war (19 June 1945)
Schnaufer's greatest one-night success came on 21 February 1945, when he claimed nine Royal Air Force (RAF) heavy bombers in the course of one day: two in the early hours of the morning and a further seven, in just 19 minutes, in the evening. On 7 March, he claimed three RAF four-engine bombers as his last victories of the war.
Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer was the top-scoring Nachtjäger of World War II. He was credited with 121 victories recorded in just 164 combat missions. His victory total includes 114 RAF four-engine bombers; arguably accounting for more RAF casualties than any other Luftwaffe ace and becoming the third highest Luftwaffe claimant against the Western Allied Air Forces.
His radar operator on his first 12 claims was Fw. Dr. Baro, while 100 of his claims were with Lt. Friedrich "Fritz" Rumpelhardt. His air gunner on 98 claims was Oberfeldwebel Wilhelm Gänsler. Both the latter received the Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes.
Schnaufer flew variants of the Messerschmitt Bf 110 exclusively.
One of the tail fins of Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer's Bf 110. It displays all of his 121 victories,Imperial War Museum (2010)
Schnaufer was taken prisoner by the British Army in Schleswig-Holstein in May 1945, but was released later that year when he took over the family wine business. He died in 1950 as the result of an accident in which his open sports car collided with a truck near Bordeaux. Heavy gas cylinders from the truck fell on to Schnaufer's car, and at least one of them hit Schnaufer on the head. He died in a hospital on 15 July 1950.
The portside vertical stabiliser from the twin tail of his Bf 110G, tallying all his kills, is on display at the Imperial War Museum in London. In addition, another fin from a Bf-110 of Schnaufer's is at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
References in the Wehrmachtbericht
||Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording
||Direct English translation
|10 October 1944
||Der vom Führer mit dem Eichenlaub mit Schwertern zum Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes ausgezeichnete Hauptmann Schnaufer, Gruppenkommandeur in einem Nachtjagdgeschwader, errang in der Nacht vom 9. zum 10. Oktober seinen 100. Nachtjagdsieg.
||During the night of the 9th to the 10 October Haupmann Schnaufer, Gruppenkommandeur (group commander) in a Nachtjagdgeschwader (night fighter wing), whom the Führer has decorated with the Oak Leaves with Swords to the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, scored his 100th night aerial victory.
Dates of rank
- ^ Spick 1996, pp. 3–4.
- ^ Imperial War Museum (2011). "EPH 2961 - fin fragment from a German Messerschmitt Me 110 aircraft (flown by Major Heinz Wolfgang Schnaufer)". Imperial War Museum Collection Search. Retrieved 1 July 2012.
- ^ a b Kurowski 2007, p. 139.
- ^ Obermaier 1989, p. 25.
- ^ Patzwall and Scherzer 2001, p. 417.
- ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 384.
- ^ a b c d Scherzer 2007, p. 675.
- ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 84.
- ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 44.
- ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 38.
- ^ Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939-1945 Band 3, p. 284.
- ^ Kurowski 1996, p. 380.
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