Wolf-Dietrich Wilcke

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Wolf-Dietrich Wilcke
Wolf-Dietrich Wilcke.jpg
Wolf-Dietrich Wilcke
Nickname(s) "Fürst"
Born (1913-03-11)11 March 1913
Schrimm, Posen
Died 23 March 1944(1944-03-23) (aged 31)
near Schöppenstedt
Buried at Cemetery in Mönchengladbach-Holt
Allegiance  Nazi Germany
Service/branch Heer (1934–35)
Luftwaffe (1935–44)
Condor Legion (1939)
Years of service 1934–44
Rank Oberst
Unit JG 132, J/88, JG 53, JG 3
Commands held III./JG 53, JG 3

Spanish Civil War

World War II

Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
Relations Friedrich von Scotti (stepfather)

Wolf-Dietrich Wilcke (11 March 1913 – 23 March 1944) was a German Luftwaffe military aviator during World War II, a fighter ace credited with 162 enemy aircraft shot down in 732 combat missions. The majority of his victories were claimed over the Eastern Front, with 25 claims over the Western Front which included four four-engined bombers.

Born in Schrimm in the Province of Posen, Wilcke volunteered for military service in the Wehrmacht of the Third Reich in 1934. Initially serving in the Heer (Army), he transferred to the Luftwaffe (Air Force) in 1935. Following flight training, he was posted to Jagdgeschwader "Richthofen" (Fighter Wing "Richthofen") in April 1936. Following an assignment as fighter pilot instructor he volunteered for service with the Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War in early 1939. After his return from Spain, he was appointed Staffelkapitän (squadron leader) of the 7. Staffel (7th squadron) of Jagdgeschwader 53 (JG 53—53rd Fighter Wing). Following the outbreak of World War II, he claimed his first aerial victory on 7 November 1939. On 18 May 1940 and during the Battle of France he was shot down and taken prisoner of war. Following the armistice with France, he returned from captivity and was appointed Gruppenkommandeur (group commander) of the III. Gruppe (3rd group) of JG 53 during the Battle of Britain and claimed 10 victories over England.

Wilcke then fought in the aerial battles of Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union. There, after 25 aerial victories, he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 6 August 1941. In September 1941, he relocated with his group to the Mediterranean Theatre, where he was able to claim further victories. In end May 1942, he was transferred to the Stab (headquarters unit) of Jagdgeschwader 3 (JG 3—3rd Fighter Wing) "Udet" and in August 1942 he was appointed as its Geschwaderkommodore (wing commander). Following his 100th aerial victory on 6 September, he received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves on 9 September 1942. During the Battle of Stalingrad, on 17 December 1942, he claimed his 150th aerial victory. On 23 December 1942, he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords, his total now 155 aerial victories.

Following the presentation of the Swords to his Knight's Cross, he was officially banned from operational flying. Occasionally he still flew combat missions and on 23 March 1944, flying in defense of the Reich, he claimed his 162nd and last aerial victory and was killed in action by United States Army Air Forces long-range P-51 Mustang fighters.

Early life and career[edit]

Wilcke was born on 11 March 1913 in Schrimm in the Province of Posen, at the time a province of the Kingdom of Prussia. Today it is Śrem in the Greater Poland Voivodeship, Poland. Wilcke was the son of a Hauptmann (captain) of Infanterie-Regiment 47 (47th Infantry Regiment), Hans Wilcke, who died of pneumonia when Wilcke was just four weeks of age. His mother, Hertha von Schuckmann, married again on 14 June 1919.[1] In 1931, Wilcke was arrested for attending a then illegal demonstration of the Nazi Party. His loyal affiliation to the Nazi cause is emphasized multiple times in his personal military files.[2] He volunteered for military service in the Reichswehr after receiving his Abitur (diploma). He joined Artillerie-Regiment 6 (6th Artillery Regiment) in Minden as a Fahnenjunker (officer cadet) on 1 April 1934. His legal guardian and stepfather, Friedrich von Scotti, also served in this regiment.[1]

As a Fähnrich (officer candidate), he was posted to the Kriegsschule (war school) in Dresden on 1 October 1934. On 1 November 1935, he was transferred to the newly emerging Luftwaffe holding the rank of Oberfähnrich (senior officer candidate). While serving at the flight school in Perleberg, he was promoted to Leutnant (second lieutenant) on 20 April 1936. On 15 October 1936, he was transferred to Jagdgeschwader "Richthofen" (Fighter Wing "Richthofen"), named after the after World War I fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen and forerunner of Jagdgeschwader 2 (JG 2—2nd Fighter Wing) "Richthofen".[Note 1] There he excelled as a pilot and showed exceptional leadership ability and was sent as fighter pilot instructor to the Jagdfliegerschule (fighter pilot school) in Werneuchen in the second half of 1937.[3]

In March 1939, Wilcke volunteered for service with Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War. For a few weeks, he flew with 1. Staffel (1st squadron) of Jagdgruppe 88 (J/88—88th Fighter Group) without claiming any aerial victories.[4] He was awarded the Spanish Cross in Bronze with Swords (Spanienkreuz in Bronze mit Schwertern) for his service in Spain.[5] In Spain he became friends with Werner Mölders and when Mölders was appointed Gruppenkommandeur (group commander) of the newly created III. Gruppe (3rd group) of Jagdgeschwader 53 (JG 53—53rd Fighter Wing), he selected Wilcke as Staffelkapitän (squadron leader) of the 7. Staffel (7th squadron) of JG 53.[3]

World War II[edit]

World War II in Europe began on Friday, 1 September 1939, when German forces invaded Poland. Wilcke, who at the time was still a member of 3. Staffel (3rd squadron) of JG 53, flew missions over Poland and claimed his first aerial victory on 7 November 1939 when he shot down an Armée de l'Air (French Air Force) Potez 630 twin-engined fighter near Völklingen during the early Phoney War period.[6] For this achievement he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class (Eisernes Kreuz 2. Klasse) on 25 November 1939.[3]

From 2–16 January 1940, Wilcke and other pilots from III. Gruppe went on a ski vacation to Vorarlberg.[7] On 11 March 1940, he shot down another Potez at an altitude of 7,000 meters (23,000 feet) near the "three-nations-corner" north of Metz. He claimed his third victory at 2:55 pm on 25 March. 7. Staffel engaged a flight of Morane-Saulnier M.S.406 at 4,000 m (13,000 ft). In the resulting aerial battle, Wilcke shot down a Morane over Diedenhofen.[8]

Battle of France and Britain[edit]

The Battle of France, the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, began on 10 May 1940. On 18 May 1940, he engaged in aerial combat with eight French Curtiss P-36 Hawk and was shot down west of Rethel.[9] His victor may have been sous lieutenant Camille Plubeau.[10] Wilcke bailed out and was taken prisoner of war. Following the armistice with France, he and Mölders, who had also been a prisoner of war, he returned to his unit on 30 June 1940.[11] He was promoted to Hauptmann the next day and again took command of 7. Staffel. On 11 July 1940, he was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class (Eisernes Kreuz 1. Klasse).[3]

A Messerschmitt Bf 109 E-1's of JG 53, similar to those flown by Wilcke.

On 13 August 1940 during the Battle of Britain, Wilcke replaced Hauptmann Harro Harder as Gruppenkommandeur of the III. Gruppe.[Note 2] Harder was last seen at 1:35 pm on 12 August and was reported as missing in action following combat east of the Isle of Wight. The day of his appointment, Wilcke almost lost his life too when he was forced to bail out following engine failure over the English Channel. He was later rescued that night by a Dornier Do 18 flying boat.[12] III. Gruppe flew a bomber escort mission targeting London on 30 August. Wilcke destroyed a barrage balloon on the morning mission and claimed his fourth victory, a Supermarine Spitfire shot down in the vicinity of Dover during his second mission of the day.[13] On 1 September 1940, on anther bomber escort mission which started at 11:20 am, Wilcke claimed his fifth victory, a Hawker Hurricane shot down south of London.[14] His sixth victory, probably a Fairey Swordfish biplane, was claimed on 11 September over the Channel between Dover and Calais.[15] On 15 September, III. Gruppe engaged 20 to 30 Royal Air Force (RAF) fighters south of London. In the resulting combat, Wilcke claimed the destruction of his second Hurricane. Two days later, on a mission which began at 4:35 pm, Wilcke achieved his ninth victory overall, another Hurricane.[16] His tenth victory, again a Hurricane, was claimed on a 11:15 am mission targeting the London area on 20 September 1940.[17] He claimed two victories on the last day of September 1940 taking his total to 12. It was the second mission of the day which began at 1:45 pm escorting Dornier Do 17 to London.[18] In combat with RAF Spitfires, Wick claimed his 13th victory at 11:45 am on 10 October 1940, his final of the Battle of Britain.[19] Following these achievements he was awarded the Honor Goblet of the Luftwaffe (Ehrenpokal der Luftwaffe) on 1 April 1941.[3]

Operation Barbarossa[edit]

III. Gruppe of JG 53 then took part in Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Soviet Russia. On 22 June 1941, Wilcke became an "ace-in-a-day". III. Gruppe encountered a formation of Polikarpov I-15 biplane fighters, Wilcke claiming three of the fighters. He recorded two more victories later that day to take his total to 18. Wilcke was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes) on 6 August 1941 for 25 victories. The presentation was made by Generalfeldmarschall (field marshal) Albert Kesselring.[20]

In December 1941, III./JG 53 were transferred into Sicily to operating over Malta. Wilcke added four RAF fighters to his score. In May 1942, III./JG 53 switched to North Africa.

Wing commander of JG 3[edit]

On 18 May 1942, Wilcke was transferred to Jagdgeschwader 3 "Udet" (JG 3—3rd Fighter Wing), named after the after World War I fighter ace Ernst Udet. Operating on the Eastern Front, he became a Geschwaderkommodore (wing commander) of JG 3 "Udet" in August, replacing Oberst (Colonel) Günther Lützow who was posted to the staff of the General der Jagdflieger (General of Fighters) as Inspector of Day Fighters, Eastern Front.[20]

His 100th claim on 6 September led to the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub) award. Wilcke was heavily involved in the organisation of fighter defense during the Battle of Stalingrad. Based at Pitomnik Airfield he directed day fighter operations over the city. During the intensive summer offensive the Geschwaderstab of JG 3 recorded 137 victories of which Wilcke claimed some 97. In September 1942 Wilcke claimed 32 victories.

When Russian forces encircled Stalingrad, the Stab/JG 3 "Udet" was transferred to Morozovskaya-Öst, outside the pocket in order for Wilcke to direct the escort missions for the transport aircraft supplying the encircled 6th Army.

On 16 September 1942, the Soviets launched an offensive north of Stalingrad. Wilcke led about 40 serviceable German fighters against the Soviet 8 Vozdyshnaya Armiya (8 VA—8th Air Army), 16 Vozdyshnaya Armiya (16 VA—16th Air Army), and 102 Istrebitel'naya Aviatsionnaya Diviziya Protivo-Vozdushnaya Oborona (102 IAD PVO—Fighter Aviation Division of the Home Air Defense) over Stalingrad. At the time, Wilcke often flew with Hauptmann Walther Dahl as his wingman.[21]

On 22 September 1942, Wilcke shot down six Yakovlev Yak-1 fighters over Stalingrad, another "ace-in-day" feat. It is possible that one of his opponents was Leytenant (Second Lieutenant) Nikolai Karnachyonok of 434 Istrebitel'nyy Aviatsionyy Polk (434 IAP—434th Fighter Aviation Regiment) who was killed in action that day and was posthumously made a Hero of the Soviet Union.[22]

Wilcke was the fourth German fighter pilot to achieve 150 aerial victories in combat.{{#tag:ref|The first pilot to claim 150 aerial victories was Gordon Gollob on 29 August 1942, the second pilot was Hermann Graf on 4 September 1942 and the third pilot was Hans-Joachim Marseille on 15 September 1942.[23] He achieved this mark over Stalingrad on 17 December 1942 after another "ace-in-a-day" feat, claiming aerial victories 147–151. Following his 155th victory, he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern) on 23 December 1943, the 23rd member of the Wehrmacht to be so honored. Along with the Swords came the ban from flying further operational combat missions.[24]

He then led the unit to Morozovskaya-Süd to escape the advance of the Russian armor. A further move to Tazinskaya on 3 January 1943 ensued before the unit withdrew from the area. During this time the unit claimed 25 victories for the loss in action of two pilots.

In March 1943, Wilcke led JG 3 during operations against the Kuban bridgehead before withdrawal to Germany in May 1943, based at Mönchengladbach.

Defense of the Reich and death[edit]

Wilcke was promoted to Oberst (colonel) on 1 December 1943 and requested permission to again fly operassionally and lead his Geschwader from the air.[24] However, he still flew unofficially through February 1944 and claimed four victories over United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers and a single North American P-51 Mustang. On 6 March, his Bf 109G-6 was crippled in combat and had to make an emergency landing.

On 23 March 1944, Wilcke led JG 3 in an attack on an USAAF bomber formation near Braunschweig. During the ensuing combat, Wilcke shot down his last enemy aircraft, a P-51 Mustang fighter, but was then shot down near Schöppenstedt.[25] It is assumed that his victors were Captain Don Gentile and Captain John Trevor Godfrey of the 4th Fighter Group.[26] By this date, Wilcke had shot down 162 enemy aircraft claimed in 732 combat missions.[27] His death was announced in the Wehrmachtbericht, an information bulletin issued by the headquarters of the Wehrmacht, on 30 March.[28]

Wilcke had been nicknamed "Fürst" (prince) by his comrades on account of his attitude towards his men and paternal sense of responsibility.[29] His funeral ceremony was held at the airfield in München-Gladbach, now Mönchengladbach. Among others, the funeral ceremony was attended by his stepfather. Wilcke was buried in the honor section of the cemetery in Mönchengladbach-Holt.[24]


Wehrmachtbericht reference[edit]

Date Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording Direct English translation
30 March 1944 Der Kommodore eines Jagdgeschwaders Oberst Wilke, der für 155 Luftsiege vom Führer mit dem Eichenlaub und Schwertern zum Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes ausgezeichnet worden war, fand im Luftkampf den Heldentod. Mit ihm verliert die deutsche Luftwaffe einen ihrer hervorragendsten Jagdflieger und Verbandsführer.[28] The commodore of a fighter wing, Colonel Wilke, who had been awarded the Oak Leaves and Swords to the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross for 155 aerial victories by the Führer, found a heroes death in aerial combat. With him the Luftwaffe loses one of their most outstanding night fighter pilots and formation leaders.


  1. ^ For an explanation of Luftwaffe unit designations see Organization of the Luftwaffe during World War II.
  2. ^ Harro Harder was the brother of Jürgen Harder.
  3. ^ Von Seemen presents two dates for the presentation of the Oak Leaves, the first date is 9 September 1942,[35] the second is 10 September 1942.[37]



  1. ^ a b Stockert 1997, p. 70.
  2. ^ Berger 1999, p. 407.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Stockert 1997, p. 71.
  4. ^ Forsyth 2011, p. 101.
  5. ^ Obermaier 1989, p. 33.
  6. ^ Prien 1997, pp. 51, 56.
  7. ^ Prien 1997, pp. 70–71.
  8. ^ Prien 1997, p. 75.
  9. ^ Prien 1997, pp. 104, 127.
  10. ^ Sutherland & Canwell 2011, p. 143.
  11. ^ Prien 1997, p. 123.
  12. ^ Prien 1997, p. 140.
  13. ^ Prien 1997, p. 149.
  14. ^ Prien 1997, p. 150.
  15. ^ Prien 1997, p. 157.
  16. ^ Prien 1997, p. 160.
  17. ^ Prien 1997, p. 163.
  18. ^ Prien 1997, p. 167.
  19. ^ Prien 1997, p. 173.
  20. ^ a b Stockert 1997, p. 72.
  21. ^ Bergström, Dikov, Antipov, Sundin 2006, pp. 153–154.
  22. ^ Bergström, Dikov, Antipov, Sundin 2006, p. 163.
  23. ^ Obermaier 1989, pp. 19–21.
  24. ^ a b c Stockert 1997, p. 73.
  25. ^ Berger 2000, pp. 379, 380.
  26. ^ Scutts 1987, p. 58.
  27. ^ Spick 1996, p. 229
  28. ^ a b Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, p. 69.
  29. ^ Weal 1999, p. 64.
  30. ^ a b c d Berger 1999, p. 377.
  31. ^ a b Thomas 1998, p. 445.
  32. ^ Patzwall & Scherzer 2001, p. 513.
  33. ^ a b c Scherzer 2007, p. 786.
  34. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 446.
  35. ^ a b c Von Seemen 1976, p. 360.
  36. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 61.
  37. ^ Von Seemen 1976, p. 30.
  38. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 40.
  39. ^ Von Seemen 1976, p. 14.


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External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Oberst Günther Lützow
Commander of Jagdgeschwader 3 Udet
8 August 1942 – 23 March 1944
Succeeded by
Major Friedrich-Karl Müller