24 October 1912|
|Died||4 November 1988
|Buried at||City cemetery in Engen|
|Years of service||1936 – 1945|
|Unit||JG 51, EJGr Merseburg, JG 52, JG 50 and JG 11|
|Commands held||JG 50(21 June 1943)
JG 11(11 November 1943)
JG 52(1 October 1944)
|Awards||Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub, Schwerten und Brillanten|
|Other work||Salesman for an electronics manufacturer|
Colonel Hermann Graf (24 October 1912 – 4 November 1988) was a German Luftwaffe Second World War fighter ace. A flying ace or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft during aerial combat. He served on both the Eastern and Western Fronts. He became the first pilot in aviation history to claim 200 aerial victories—that is, 200 aerial combat encounters resulting in the destruction of the enemy aircraft. He claimed 212 aerial victories in over 830 combat missions, 202 of which were on the Eastern Front.[Note 1]
Graf, a pre-war football player and glider pilot, joined the Luftwaffe in 1935 and initially selected for transport aviation was posted to Jagdgeschwader 51 (JG 51—Fighter Wing 51) in May 1939. At the outbreak of war he was stationed on the German–Franco border flying uneventful patrols. Serving as a flight instructor he was stationed in Romania as part of a German military mission training Romanian pilots. Graf flew a few ground support missions in the closing days of the German invasion of Crete.
In the late spring, 1941 Graf claimed his first aerial victory on 4 August 1941 during Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union. He was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes) after 45 victories on 24 January 1942. By 16 September 1942 his number of victories had increased to 172 for which he was honored with the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten). At the time of its presentation to Graf it was Germany's highest military decoration.[Note 2] On 26 September 1942 he became the first fighter pilot in aviation history to claim 200 enemy aircraft shot down.
A national hero, Graf was taken off combat operations and posted to a fighter pilot training school in France before being tasked with leadership of a high flying de Havilland Mosquito intercept unit called Jagdgeschwader 50. In November 1943 Graf returned to combat operations. He was appointed Geschwaderkommodore (Wing Commander) of Jagdgeschwader 11 (JG 11—Fighter Wing 11) and claimed his last aerial victory on 29 March 1944. He was severely injured during this encounter and after a period of convalescence became Geschwaderkommodore of Jagdgeschwader 52 (JG 52—Fighter Wing 52). He and the remainder of JG 52 surrendered to units of the United States Army on 8 May 1945, and were turned over to the Red Army. Graf was held in Soviet captivity until 1949. After the war he worked as an electronic sales manager and died of Parkinson's disease in his home town of Engen on 4 November 1988.
Hermann Anton Graf was born on 24 October 1912 in Engen in the Grand Duchy of Baden not far from the Swiss border, the son of Wilhelm Graf, a small farmer, and his wife Maria, née Sailer. He was the third of three children, with two older brothers, Wilhelm Wilhelm and Josef Wilhelm. His father had fought in World War I as an artillery soldier and was awarded the Iron Cross (Eisernes Kreuz). He did not return home until Hermann was six years old. The young Hermann's main reference point was therefore his mother, and the bond he formed with her lasted the remainder of her life. Inflation in the Weimar Republic in 1923 wiped out all the family savings. From a very early age, Hermann learned to work very hard to make a living.
As a young boy, Graf was fascinated by football. He started with the football club DJK Engen (Deutsche Jugendkraft—Litteral for "German Youthful Strength", a Catholic sports organisation dating back to 1920) and later became a goalkeeper in FC Höhen. In his teens, he had been selected to join a group of talented young football players who were trained by Sepp Herberger, a former forward (1921–1925) of the German national football team and later head coach of the German team winning the 1954 FIFA World Cup. A broken thumb ended all of Graf's early hopes for a career on the national football team.
Graf graduated from the Volksschule (primary school) in 1926 at the age of thirteen. Since the savings for Graf's higher education had been lost in the 1923 inflation, he had no option but to apply for a vocational education. For the next three years, Graf worked as a locksmith apprentice at a local factory. A locksmith had a low income and when he received an offer to work as a clerk apprentice, he gladly accepted a change in careers. In this position, Graf helped Jewish families escape to Switzerland at a time when the "J" stamp in German Jews' passport had been demanded by Germany's neighbouring countries. He took a great personal risk and came close to getting caught. Graf was assisted by Gruppenführer (Group Leader) Albert Keller of the Nazi Glider Club NSFK in Engen, who cleared all the tracks that Graf had left.
Amateur pilot and joining the Luftwaffe
Graf saw his first aircraft when he was twelve years old causing an emotional conflict between his passion for football and aviation. He had started working at the Engen town Hall in 1930, saving all his money to buy a glider. Before his twentieth birthday he contributed a homemade glider to the newly founded Engen Glider Club. Every Sunday he would go out to the nearby Ballenberg mountain until an almost fatal crash destroyed his glider in the fall of 1932. In 1935 when Adolf Hitler nullified the Treaty of Versailles, Hermann Graf applied for flight training in the newly created Luftwaffe.
Graf was accepted for the Luftwaffe's A pilot training school in Karlsruhe on 2 June 1936. Following basic training, flight training progressed through the levels A1, A2 and B1, B2, referred to as A/B flight training. Graf's A training included theoretical and practical training in aerobatics, navigation, long-distance flights and dead-stick landings, graduating from A2 on 25 September 1936. Graf joined the B1 school in Ulm-Dornstadt on 4 October 1937. The B courses included high-altitude flights, instrument flights, night landings and training to handle the aircraft in difficult situations. He completed his B1 training on 23 December 1937 and progressed to B2 training in Karlsruhe on 19 January 1938, completing on 31 May 1938.
After the B2 course the pilots were either selected for fighter pilot training and transferred to a Jagdfliegerschule (fighter pilot school) or chosen for bomber or transport pilot training at a C flight school. Graf, at the age of twenty-six, was initially thought to be too old for fighter pilot training and selected for the transport pilot C school. Largely due to the fact that the fighter force was in dire need for new officers Unteroffizier (non-commissioned officer) Graf, without training on modern fighter aircraft, was transferred to the 2. Staffel (2nd squadron) of the I./Jagdgeschwader 51 (I./JG 51—1st group of the 51st fighter wing) at Bad Aibling on 31 May 1939 after he had completed his officers candidate training at Neubiberg.[Note 3] I./JG 51 was equipped with the most modern German fighter aircraft at the time, the Messerschmitt Bf 109 E1. Graf, who had never flown a modern fighter aircraft before, ended his first flight on the Bf 109 with a crash. In July 1939, I./JG 51 was briefly reequipped with the Czechoslovakian built Avia B-534 biplane, giving Graf an opportunity to show his flying skills as well as to reestablish his self-confidence.
World War II
At the outbreak of war on 1 September 1939 I./JG 51 was stationed at the French border at Speyer and Graf was promoted to Feldwebel (sergeant). I./JG 51 exchanged the Avia B-534 biplanes again for the Bf 109 and was tasked with protection of Germany's Western border during the Phoney War—the phase in the months following Britain and France's declaration of war on Germany in September 1939 and preceding the Battle of France in May 1940. Graf flew twenty-one combat sorties without firing his guns and was still considered an unreliable pilot. On 20 January 1940, his Gruppenkommandeur (Group Commander) Hans-Heinrich Brustellin had Graf transferred to the Ergänzungs-Jagdgruppe Merseburg (a supplementary training unit stationed at Merseburg) where he provided newly trained fighter pilots from the fighter pilot schools with combat experience as an instructor. His assignment led to the promotion to Leutnant (second lieutenant) on 1 May 1940. At Merseburg Graf met and befriended two fighter pilot trainees Alfred Grislawski and Heinrich Füllgrabe. Ergänzungs-Jagdgruppe Merseburg at the time was under the command of Major Gotthard Handrick, the 1936 Olympic gold medalist and former commander of Jagdgruppe 88 of the "Condor Legion" during the Spanish Civil War. On 6 October 1940, Major Handrick was appointed Gruppenkommandeur of III./Jagdgeschwader 52 (III./JG 52—3rd group of the 52nd fighter wing). Handrick had some influence on the personnel rotation within the Luftwaffe and had Graf, Füllgrabe and Grislawski transferred to 9./JG 52 (9th squadron of the 52nd fighter wing) on 6 October 1940 as well.
Service in Romania and invasion of Greece
Romania, isolated and threatened following the non-aggression pact signed by Germany and the Soviet Union, was seeking to uphold its neutrality. The Soviet occupation of Romania's regions, Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, consented to by the king Carol II of Romania, caused Carol's popularity to fall. This gave Ion Antonescu an opportunity to rise to power and he soon established a dictatorship in Romania.
Under Antonescu, Romania's armed forces were reorganized, supported by a military mission from Germany called Luftwaffenmission Rumänien (Luftwaffe Mission Romania) under the command of Generalleutnant (Lieutenant General) Wilhelm Speidel. Stationed in Bucharest, III./JG 52 was temporarily renamed I./Jagdgeschwader 28 (I./JG 28—1st group of the 28th fighter wing) until 27 December 1940. Its primary task was to train the Romanian Air Force personnel. Here the trio of Füllgrabe, Graf and Grislawski is joined by Ernst Süß, and later by Leopold Steinbatz and Edmund Roßmann.
The German airmen of 9./JG 52 spent a number a very relaxing days in Bucharest. Graf even managed to play football when a team of the Deutsche Luftwaffe played against Cyclope Bucharest at the Bucharest Sport's Arena before thirty thousand spectators. The relaxed life continued until late 1940 when the Romanian internal political situation deteriorated. Ion Antonescu, mainly a nationalist and the Iron Guard, led by Horia Sima, formed a tense alliance climaxing in the brief but bloody civil war from 21–24 January 1941. The three-day civil war was eventually won by Antonescu with support from the German army.
War against the Soviet Union
In early June the unit transferred back to Romania, and from 22 June the unit supported Operation Barbarossa. On 1 August JG 52 transferred to forward airfields in Ukraine, and on 4 August Graf claimed his first aerial victory against an Polikarpov I-16 while escorting a Junkers Ju 87 strike. Graf recorded the victory at 06:20. His second victory fell the next day. Graf became an official ace upon achieving his fifth victory on 6 September 1941. The victory was achieved at night, 18:23 local time, in the vicinity of Krementschug.
By early 1942 he had 45 victories, for which he was awarded the Ritterkreuz on 24 January. On 23 March Graf was appointed Staffelkapitän of 9./JG 52. Shortly thereafter he shot down 48 enemy aircraft over a period of three weeks. On 14 May he shot down 8 enemy aircraft, and on 17 May he was awarded the Eichenlaub to his Ritterkreuz for reaching 104 victories. Only two days later he was awarded the Schwerter, after adding a further two victories to his tally.
From August onwards JG 52 supported Heeresgruppe Süd's advances towards Stalingrad and Graf continued shooting down enemies at a high rate. In September alone he shot down 64 enemy aircraft, including 10 on 23 September. During this month he also became the first pilot to down 200 enemy aircraft, earning him the Brillanten on 16 September. Some time after this Graf was ordered not to fly operationally any more, as the High Command was concerned about the potential morale loss if he was to be shot down. Indeed, Graf received heavy damage to his aircraft on several occasions, including a cannon hit to the cockpit, and half the rudder shot away.
Defence of the Reich
In early 1943 Graf, now a major, was sent to France to command Ergänzungs-Jagdgruppe Ost, an advanced fighter pilot school stationed near Bordeaux. On 21 June he was appointed commander of Jagdgeschwader 50, a high-altitude fighter unit charged with combating the increasing menace of the high flying RAF De Havilland Mosquitos. Here Graf pulled together the Karaya Quartet.
In 1943, Graf used his fame and influence to intervene to save all the best German soccer players from front-line service, having them transferred into JGr 50, under the pretext that they were "badly needed technical experts". These included Fritz Walter, future captain of the West German World Cup winning team in 1954. Walter was the star in Graf's own soccer team, following Graf from JGr 50 to JG 1, JG 11, and JG 52.
During this assignment Graf shot down three more enemy aircraft, including two B-17 Flying Fortress bombers. In October the unit was disbanded by Göring and absorbed into I./JG 301, and Graf was promoted to Oberst and appointed Geschwaderkommodore of JG 11 on 11 November. JG 11 was tasked with Reichsverteidigung (Defence of the Reich), and despite officially being banned from flying operational missions Graf managed to down 6 more aircraft over the next four months.
On 29 March 1944 Graf shot down one P-51 Mustang and in the confusion of the dog fight collided with another. He managed to bail out, but was injured and had to spend some time in a hospital. While on convalescence leave Graf married the German actress Jola Jobst on 24 June 1944. The couple was formally divorced after Graf returned as a prisoner of war. Jola Jobst would go on to marry Wolfgang Kieling in 1950 and committed suicide in October 1952.
After recovering he was appointed Kommodore of his old unit JG 52 on 1 October, which was still operating on the Eastern Front. With German forces in retreat by this time Graf did not have opportunity for air combat. He managed to bring his tally to 212 before he surrendered to the Americans on 8 May 1945. Graf had disobeyed an order from General Hans Seidemann. Seidemann had ordered him and Erich Hartmann to fly to the British sector, to avoid capture by the Russians, with the rest of the wing surrendering to the Soviets. Instead Graf chose to surrender his unit to the 90th US Infantry Division.
Prisoner of war
Along with most of the JG 52 personnel, Graf was handed over to the Russians shortly after his surrender. Having become famous via the Nazi propaganda machine and as the Commander of JG 52, Graf was singled out for attention by the Soviets. He was imprisoned until 29 December 1949. This relatively early release was by many perceived to be caused by his willingness to co-operate with his Soviet captors, something fellow pilots criticized him for, especially following a 1950s book by fellow fighter ace & Soviet POW Hans "Assi" Hahn entitled I Tell the Truth. This led to Graf being largely ostracized from post-war Luftwaffe comrade associations.
After Hermann Graf had returned from Soviet captivity in December 1949 his marriage with Jola Jobst collapsed and they were divorced. Initially Graf had a hard time obtaining work but his relationship in the football community helped him. Sepp Herberger introduced Graf to Roland Endler, an electronics manufacturer ("Elektro-Schweiss-Industrie GmbH") from Neuss who also was president of the FC Bayern Munich football club between 1958 and 1962. Endler employed Graf as a salesman in his company, and Graf would eventually advance to branch leader in Baden-Württemberg and Chief of Sales.
Graf eventually re-married twice. His third marriage from May 1959 with Helga Graf resulted in the birth of his son, Hermann-Ulrich born in 1959, and his daughter Birgit born in 1961. In 1965 Graf was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease which had a slow deteriorating effect on his health. Parkinson's disease affected many of those who had flown high-altitude missions during the war. Hermann died in his hometown Engen on 4 November 1988.
"We have to begin a new thinking, I am on the Russian side, and therefore I would like to live with the Russians.... I am happy now to be a Russian prisoner. I know that all I have done is wrong and I have now only one wish. That is to fly with the Russian Air Force." -Herman Graf
- Wound Badge in Silver
- Ehrenpokal der Luftwaffe (9 December 1941)[Note 4]
- Combined Pilots-Observation Badge in Gold with Diamonds
- Romanian Pilots Badge
- Romanian Knight of Order of the Crown (23 May 1941)
- German Cross in Gold in April 1942
- Iron Cross (1939)
- Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe for Fighter Pilots in Gold
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds
- Knight's Cross on 24 January 1942 as Leutnant of the Reserves and pilot in the 9./JG 52
- 93rd Oak Leaves on 17 May 1942 as Leutnant of the Reserves and Staffelführer of the 9./JG 52
- 11th Swords on 19 May 1942 as Leutnant of the Reserves and Staffelkapitän of the 9./JG 52[Note 5]
- 5th Diamonds on 16 September 1942 as Oberleutnant of the Reserves and Staffelkapitän of the 9./JG 52
- Mentioned five times in the Wehrmachtbericht
Reference in the Wehrmachtbericht
|Date||Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording||Direct English translation|
|Sunday, 3 May 1942||Am gestrigen Tage errangen an der Ostfront Leutnant Koeppen seinen 80. bis 84. Leutnant Graf seinen 70. bis 76. und Feldwebel Steinbatz seinen 44. bis 49. Luftsieg.||Yesterday on the Eastern front, Leutnant Koeppen achieved his 80th to 84th, Leutnant Graf his 70th to 76th and Feldwebel Steinbatz his 44th to 49th aerial victory.|
|Friday, 15 May 1942||In den gestrigen Luftkämpfen an der Ostfront errang Leutnant Graf seinen 98. bis 104., Leutnant Dickfeld seinen 82. bis 90. Luftsieg.||Leutnant Graf achieved his 98th to 104th, Leutnant Dickfeld his 82nd to 90th aerial victory in yesterdays aerial combat on the Eastern front.|
|Saturday, 5 September 1942||Oberleutnant Graf, Staffelkapitän in einem Jagdgeschwader, errang am 4. September an der Ostfront seinen 150. Luftsieg.||Oberleutnant Graf, squadron leader in a fighter wing, achieved his 150th aerial victory on the Eastern front on September 4.|
|Tuesday, 22 September 1942||Hauptmann Graf errang als Jagdflieger am 21. September seinen 182. bis 185. Luftsieg.||Hauptmann Graf achieved his 182nd to 185th aerial victory as a fighter pilot on September 21.|
|Sunday, 27 September 1942||Hauptmann Graf, Staffelkapitän in einem Jagdgeschwader, errang am 26. September seinen 200. bis 202. Luftsieg.||Hauptmann Graf, squadron leader in a fighter wing, achieved his 200th to 202nd aerial victory on September 26.|
- His 209th aerial victory west of Berlin on 6 March 1944 over a B-24 Liberator of the 453d Bombardment Group of the 8th Air Force was actually an Herausschuss (separation shot)—a severely damaged heavy bomber forced to separate from his combat box which counted as an aerial victory.
- In 1942, the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds was second only to the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross (Großkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes), which was awarded only to senior commanders for winning a major battle or campaign, in the military order of the Third Reich. The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds as the highest military order was surpassed on 29 December 1944 by the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Goldenem Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten).
- For an explanation of the meaning of Luftwaffe unit designation see Luftwaffe Organization
- According to Obermaier on 15 December 1941.
- According to Scherzer on 18 May 1942.
- Spick 1996, pp. 3–4.
- Bergström, Antipov and Sundin 2003, p. 295.
- Bergström, Antipov and Sundin 2003, p. 11.
- Bergström, Antipov and Sundin 2003, pp. 11–12.
- Bergström, Antipov and Sundin 2003, p. 12.
- Bergström, Antipov and Sundin 2003, p. 17.
- Bergström, Antipov and Sundin 2003, p. 18.
- Bergström, Antipov and Sundin 2003, p. 19.
- Bergström, Antipov and Sundin 2003, p. 21.
- Bergström, Antipov and Sundin 2003, p. 23.
- Bergström, Antipov and Sundin 2003, p. 25.
- Bergström, Antipov and Sundin 2003, p. 26.
- Bergström, Antipov and Sundin 2003, p. 28.
- Bergström, Antipov and Sundin 2003, pp. 29–30.
- Joachim 1998 pp. 12–15.
- Joachim 1998, p. 49.
- Bergström, Antipov and Sundin 2003, p. 239.
- Bergström, Antipov and Sundin 2003, p. 269.
- Bergström, Antipov and Sundin 2003, p. 270.
- Toliver & Constable, p. 267
- Bergström, Antipov and Sundin 2003, p. 93.
- Obermaier 1989, p. 21.
- Patzwall and Scherzer 2001, p. 144.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 344.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 39.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 2, p. 103.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 2, p. 129.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 2, p. 276.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 2, p. 295.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 2, p. 300.
- Berger, Florian (1999). Mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern. Die höchstdekorierten Soldaten des Zweiten Weltkrieges (in German). Selbstverlag Florian Berger. ISBN 3-9501307-0-5.
- Bergström, Christer; Antipov, Vlad and Sundin, Claes (2003). Graf & Grislawski—A Pair of Aces. Hamilton MT: Eagle Editions Ltd. ISBN 0-9721060-4-9.
- Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 (in German). Friedburg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 3-7909-0284-5.
- Fraschka, Günther (1994). Knights of the Reich. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Military/Aviation History. ISBN 0-88740-580-0.
- Jochim, Berthold K (1998). Oberst Hermann Graf 200 Luftsiege in 13 Monaten Ein Jagdfliegerleben (in German). Rastatt, Germany: VPM Verlagsunion Pabel Moewig. ISBN 3-8118-1455-9.
- Patzwall, Klaus D. and Scherzer, Veit (2001). Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 – 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN 3-931533-45-X.
- Obermaier, Ernst (1989). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Luftwaffe Jagdflieger 1939 – 1945 (in German). Mainz, Germany: Verlag Dieter Hoffmann. ISBN 3-87341-065-6.
- Schaulen, Fritjof (2003). Eichenlaubträger 1940 – 1945 Zeitgeschichte in Farbe I Abraham – Huppertz (in German). Selent, Germany: Pour le Mérite. ISBN 3-932381-20-3.
- Scherzer, Veit (2007). 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 (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.
- Spick, Mike (1996). Luftwaffe Fighter Aces. New York: Ivy Books. ISBN 0-8041-1696-2.
- Toliver, Raymond & Constable, Trevor. Horrido. Bantam Books
- Williamson, Gordon (2006). Knight's Cross with Diamonds Recipients 1941–45. Osprey Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-84176-644-5.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 2, 1. Januar 1942 bis 31. Dezember 1943. München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, 1985. ISBN 3-423-05944-3.
- Helden der Wehrmacht—Unsterbliche deutsche Soldaten (in German). München, Germany: FZ-Verlag GmbH, 2004. ISBN 3-924309-53-1.
- Hermann Graf in the German National Library catalogue
- "Hermann Graf". Aces of the Luftwaffe. Retrieved 18 September 2011.
- Marielle D. Marne. "Hermann Graf". History.Net. Retrieved 18 September 2011.
- "Hermann Graf". World War II Awards. Retrieved 18 September 2011.
Obstlt Hans Philipp
|Commander of Jagdgeschwader 1 Oesau
9 October 1943 – 10 November 1943
Oberst Walter Oesau
Major Anton Mader
|Commander of Jagdgeschwader 11
11 November 1943 – 29 March 1944
Major Anton Hackl
|Commander of Jagdgeschwader 50
July 1943 – October 1943
Oberstleutnant Dietrich Hrabak
|Commander of Jagdgeschwader 52
1 October 1944 – 8 May 1945