Heinz Knoke

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Heinz Knoke
Nickname(s) "The Last Prussian"
Born (1921-03-24)24 March 1921
Hamelin, Germany
Died 18 May 1993(1993-05-18) (aged 72)
Bad Iburg, Germany
Allegiance  Nazi Germany
Service/branch Luftwaffe
Years of service 1939 – 1945
Rank Hauptmann
Unit JG 52, JG 1, JG 11
Commands held III./JG 11
Battles/wars

World War II

Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross

Heinz Knoke (24 March 1921 – 18 May 1993) was a World War II Luftwaffe flying ace. He is credited with 33 confirmed aerial victories, all claimed over the Western theatre of operations, and claimed a further 19 unconfirmed kills in over 2000 flights. His total included 19 heavy bombers of the USAAF.[1]

Early life[edit]

Born the son of a policeman on 24 March 1921 in Hamelin. On 6 July 1938, whilst watching an air display Knoke made his first flight, a fifteen-minute joy ride in an old transport aircraft and took the preliminary exam for entry into the Luftwaffe. On 15 November 1939 Knoke underwent flight training at No. 11 Flying Training Regiment Schonwald, nr. Berlin and in August 1940 attended Jagdfliegerschule 1 (Werneuchen) under instructor Flight Sergeant Kuhl, an experienced operational pilot who had already seen action in both the invasions of Poland and France.

War career 1941-42[edit]

In early 1941 Knoke received his first combat posting, joining Jagdgeschwader 52. Posted to II Gruppe under Hauptmann Erich Woitke, his comrades included future aces Gerhard Barkhorn, Günther Rall and Walter Krupinski. After initial operations during the invasion of Soviet Russia in June 1941, Knoke was transferred to Jagdgeschwader 1 (JG 1) in July 1941. On 28 August 1941 Heinz married Elisabeth "Lilo" Makowski in Schieratz.

In February 1942, Knoke participated with 3./JG 1 in Operation Donnerkeil, the Channel Dash of the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen.

On 14 February 1942 Knoke was detached to Jagdgruppe "Losigkeit" (Fritz Losigkeit), charged with the air protection of these boats over the Norway coast. He returned to JG 1 in March 1942. On 5 March 1942 he shared in shooting down a Spitfire of No. 1 Photo Reconnaissance Unit (PRU), RAF. Its pilot, F/L ADM Gunn, was taken prisoner. In October 1942 Knoke became Commanding officer of 2nd Staffel, JG 1. He claimed his solo first kill on 31 October, an Royal Air Force (RAF) Bristol Blenheim.

Against the USAAF 1943-44[edit]

As the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) daylight bomber offensive increased steadily in intensity through 1943, so operations by the defending JG 1 and JG 11 grew in proportion. Knoke destroyed his first 'heavy' on his 164th operation, Maisie, a B-24 of the 44th Bombardment Group, shot down over Zwischenahn on 26 February 1943. Two of the crew survived.[2]

The problem of attacking heavily armed bombers effectively occupied the minds of the Luftwaffe in early 1943. Oberleutnant Heinz Knoke and his friend, Leutnant Dieter Gerhardt (killed in action against B-24s on 18 March 1943), developed the idea of aerial bombing as a means to break up the tight combat boxes, thereby compromising the defensively strong USAAF bomber formations.

Knoke claimed his fifth victory, a B-24 of the 93rd Bomb Group on 18 March over Helgoland. On 22 March, Knoke successfully downed B-17 Liberty Bell, of the 91st Bombardment Group, with a 250 kg bomb, intercepting its return flight from bombing Wilhelmshaven. The B-17 fell into the North Sea 30 kilometres (19 mi) west of Helgoland. He thus became the first of very few fighter pilots in aviation history to down an enemy aircraft with a bomb. All the crew were killed.[3] However, the practice was soon curtailed, as the carriage of 250 kg bombs severely affected the high altitude performance of the Bf 109-G and also made the fighter bombers vulnerable to any escorting fighters.

In April 1943 I./JG 1 became II gruppe of the newly formed Jagdgeschwader 11 (JG 11), Knoke's 2 Staffel becoming 5./JG 11.

During 1943 Knoke claimed some 17 kills, the majority B-17 and B-24 'heavies' of the USAAF. Another B-17 (of the 95th Bomb Group) was downed on 11 June 1943. On 25 June 1943 Knoke was wounded in the hand by return fire from a bomber, resulting in the amputation of part of his thumb.

On 17 August 1943 while intercepting the raid on Regensburg he was wounded by shrapnel fragments and his aircraft damaged by bomber return fire. Knoke belly landed near Bonn, his Bf 109 G-6 written off.

On 27 September 1943 Knoke shot down a B-17, Elusive Elcy, of the 94th Bomb group using Werfer-Granate 21 unguided rockets launched from modified mortar tubes. Encountering the USAAF escort fighters for the first time, he also shot down a P-47 of the 56th Fighter Group flown by Lt. H.P Dugas, who was killed. Knoke was then shot down by other P-47s and had to bail out.

Knoke was shot down again on 4 October 1943. After downing a B-24 of the 392nd Bombardment Group in a frontal attack, he was hit by the dorsal gunner's fire and Knoke bailed out of his damaged fighter into the bitterly cold North Sea. Covered by aircraft of his unit, Knoke managed to climb into an inflatable raft dropped by a Focke-Wulf Weihe. He was rescued two hours later by a lifeboat.

Knoke claimed his 18th victory on 10 October 1943, a B-17, although his 109-G was hit by P-47s and 75% damaged, force landing at Twente.

Knoke was again shot down on 4 January 1944. On 10 February 1944 Gruppenkommandeur Günther Specht was wounded and Knoke became acting commander of II./JG 11.

On 4 March Knoke was leading II./JG 11, and was involved in the decimation of the 363rd Fighter Group. In a surprise attack on some 60 Mustangs over Hamburg, the USAAF lost 12 P-51's in a single combat, Knoke claiming one himself.

From 15 to 20 April 1944 Knoke was attached to the Experimental Station at Lechfeld, where he flew for the first time the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter.

On 28 April 1944 Knoke was promoted to the rank of Hauptmann, for "bravery in the face of the enemy", and made Gruppenkommandeur of II./ JG 11. At 23 years of age Knoke was, at the time, the youngest Gruppenkommandeur in the Luftwaffe.

Knoke was shot down on 29 April in action against the P-47 of Capt. James Cannon of the 354th Fighter Group and was hospitalised until August 1944 with severe concussion. Before he bailed out, Knoke managed in turn to shoot down the overshooting P-47 piloted by Capt. Cannon, who was taken prisoner.

Normandy 1944[edit]

Still recovering from his wounds, Knoke was then transferred on 13 August 1944 to command III./ JG 1. Operating over the Normandy front, Knoke claimed a P-47 over Rânes, southeast of Argentan on 14 August,(of the 358th Fighter Group, piloted by 2/Lt.S.A. Giamalva, killed) and another the next day. On 16 August he claimed a Spitfire near Étampes. A P-38 of the 31st Photo Squadron (1/Lt.T.L.Wood KIA) was shot down on the 17th, followed by an unconfirmed B-26 later the same day. Two P-51s were claimed on 18 August.

On 25 August another P-51 of the 354th Fighter Group was claimed but Knoke was shot down during the engagement. Bailing out behind the fluidly moving front lines, Knoke was almost captured by French Maquis forces. Shooting his way clear, Knoke managed to regain German lines and returned safely to his unit.

By the end of August 1944 III./ JG 1 had been almost wiped out in the air battles over the Western front, and Knoke was ordered to move the unit to Fels am Wagram, prior to transfer back to Germany for reinforcement and re-equipment.

Given orders to then transfer III./JG 1 to Vienna, during a car journey near Prague on 9 October 1944, Hauptmann Knoke was seriously injured in the legs by a Partisan-planted land mine.

In March 1945, while still on crutches, Knoke became the officer commanding at Jever air base. He also oversaw the work on defensive fortifications around Wilhelmshaven.

On 27 April 1945 he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes).

In September 1945 Heinz Knoke returned to civilian life.

Political career[edit]

In 1951 Heinz Knoke was elected to the legislature of Lower Saxony as member of the Socialist Reich Party. Although the Supreme Court of Federal Republic of Germany declared this party illegal in 1952, Knoke remained in politics as a member of the parish council of the Gemeinde Schortens (Gemeindeparlament) from April 1954.

For several years he also worked as a Manager with the Jever Pilsener Brauhaus.

He was member of the Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Liberal Democratic Party), and was elected for the community parliament/parish parliament at the elections of October 1956, and was returned to office in the March 1961, September 1964, and September 1968 elections.

He retired in October 1972 and in the mid 1980s joined Osnabrück University to study literature and philosophy.

War time writings[edit]

During the 1950s Knoke wrote a book about his wartime career entitled I Flew for the Führer published by C. Boesendahl in 1952 (an English version was initially published in 1953). The book became an aviation classic, as one of the first quality narratives to appear in the West as told by one of the Luftwaffe aces.

Awards[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Knoke, 1997, p. 191
  2. ^ 'Battles with the Luftwaffe'; Boiten & Bowman, 2001, page 29
  3. ^ Weal, 1999, p. 53.
  4. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 263.
  5. ^ Scherzer 2007, p. 454.

References[edit]

  • 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. 
  • Knoke, Heinz (1997). I Flew for the Führer. Greenhill Books. ISBN 1-85367-263-7.
  • Patzwall, Klaus D. & Scherzer, Veit (2001). Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 - 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II. Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall, 2001. ISBN 3-931533-45-X.
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007). Die Ritterkreuzträger 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. Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.
  • Weal, John (1999). Bf 109F/G/K Aces of the Western Front. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-85532-905-0.

External links[edit]