Sonderkommando Elbe

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Sonderkommando "ELBE"
Active 7 April 1945
Country  Nazi Germany
Branch  Luftwaffe
Role special attack interceptor
Size 2000 aircraft
2000 volunteers
300 fighter pilots
Motto "Treu, Tapfer, Gehorsam"
("loyal, valiant, obedient")
Colors Black and White
Engagements Air war/aerial ramming over Germany, 7 April 1945
Roundel Balkenkreuz
Aircraft flown
Interceptor Messerschmitt Bf 109

Sonderkommando "ELBE" was the name of a World War II Luftwaffe task force assigned to bring down Allied bombers by ramming German aircraft into them mid-air, with the desperate strategic aim of causing the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Forces to halt or at least reduce their air campaign against Germany.[1]


Sonderkommando literally means "special command", and Elbe is one of the main rivers in Germany. While the Luftwaffe had a ready supply of airplanes at this point in the war; however, well-trained pilots and fuel were two components in short supply. Despite the grim prospects of surviving such a mission, the unit was not a true "suicide unit" as pilots were expected to attempt a bail out just before or subsequently after colliding with the Allied aircraft. This is quite unlike the Japanese kamikaze attacks against Allied ships in the Pacific Theatre, in which Japanese forces loaded their pilots' aircraft with explosives, often within the structure of the aircraft with the full intention to crash the aircraft and sacrifice the pilot at the intended target. The Japanese Ohka is an example of a purpose designed rocket-powered suicide aircraft. The closest airframe design that Germany ever developed in purpose to the Ohka was the Reichenberg R-IV manned version of the pulsejet-powered V-1 flying bomb.

A 1944 drawing by Helmuth Ellgaard illustrating "ramming"

The aircraft of choice for this mission was usually a later G-version (Gustav) of the Messerschmitt Bf 109, stripped of armor and armament. The heavily stripped-down planes had one synchronized machine gun (usually a single MG 131 in the upper engine cowling) instead of up to four automatic weapons (usually including a pair of 20mm or 30mm underwing-mount autocannon) on fully equipped Bf 109G interceptors, and were only allotted 60 rounds each, a normally insufficient amount for bomber-interception missions. To accomplish their mission, Sonderkommando Elbe pilots would typically aim to ram one of three sensitive areas on the bombers: the empennage with its relatively delicate control surfaces, the engine nacelles which were connected to the highly explosive fuel system, or the cockpit itself. One of the most famous reports of cockpit ramming was against a Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber, nicknamed "Palace of Dallas", along with another bomber that the German plane careened into after slicing the cockpit of the "Palace of Dallas".[citation needed]

Adding to the last-ditch nature of this task force, the only mission was flown on 7 April 1945 by a sortie of 180 Bf 109s. While only 15 Allied bombers were attacked in this manner, eight were successfully destroyed.[2][3][4]

Similarities to Japanese kamikaze units[edit]

Unlike that of Japan, Germany′s geographical position did not allow mass self-sacrificing attacks on enemy troops and installations. The largest targets that Germans were able to hit with ramming tactics were Allied four-engined bombers and some strategic bridges over the Oder, with their Mistel composite attack aircraft.

Order of battle[edit]

Successful missions[edit]

Rank / Name / Former Unit e/a Unit Status

  • Uffz. Heinrich Rosner, (ex-III/JG.102), 2 B-24 Liberators of the 389th Bomb Group; 1st B-24 rammed was lead bomber "Palace of Dallas", then careened into 2nd B-24—deputy lead bomber—unknown,[5] Survived
  • Obfw. Werner Linder, (ex-EJG.1), 1 B-17 Flying Fortress 388th Bomb Group,[6] KIA
  • Fhr. Eberhard Prock, 1 B-17 452nd Bomb Group,[7] KIA, Shot while descending in his parachute.
  • Fw. Reinhold Hedwig, 1 B-17 452nd Bomb Group,[8] KIA, Shot down by 339 Fighter Group P-51.
  • Uffz. Werner Zell, 1 B-17 100th Bomb Group.[9]
  • Uffz. Werner Zell, 1 B-17 452nd Bomb Group,[10] WIA Shot down by P-51.
  • Ogfr. Horst Siedel, 1 B-17 452nd Bomb Group,[11] KIA
  • Lt. Hans Nagel, (ex-IV/JG.102), 1 B-17 490th Bomb Group,[12] KIA, Shot it down by conventional armament, damaged a second B-17 by ramming.
  • Fritz Marktschaftel
  • Uffz. Klaus Hahn, 1 B-17 487th Bomb Group,[13] WIA - Left arm by 4 P-51Ds fire.
  • Heinrich Henkel, 1 B-24 "Sacktime" 467th Bomb Group,[14] WIA by P-51s, Survived.
  • Unknown Bf 109 pilot, 1 B-17 100th Bomb Group,[15] KIA
  • Unknown Bf 109 pilot, 1 B-17 490th Bomb Group,[16] KIA

Luftwaffe records claim at least 22-24 American aircraft fell victim to the Sonderkommando Elbe unit.

(WIA - wounded in action / KIA - killed in action)

See also[edit]


  • "Kamikaze", Dogfights Season 1
  • "The Luftwaffe's Deadliest Mission", Dogfights Season 1
  • Adrian Weir “The Last Flight of the Luftwaffe”, Arms and Armour Press 1997
  • David Irving “Goering: Eine Biographie”, Reinbeck bei Hamburg 1989
  • Alfred Price “The Last Year of the Luftwaffe”, Arms and Armour Press 1991
  • David Irving “Hitler's War”, Macmillan 1977
  • “Rise and Fall of the German Air Force 1933-1945”, St. Martin Press 1983
  • William Green “Warplanes of the Third Reich”, Macdonald and Jane΄s 1970
  • Martin Caidin “Flying Forts”, Ballantine Books 1968
  • Werner Girbig “Six months to oblivion”, Schiffer Military History 1991
  • David Baker “Adolf Galland: The authorized biography”, Presidio Press 1997
  • Herrmann Hajo “Eagle's Wings”, Airlife 1991

External links[edit]