|Born||8 July 1920
|Died||12 March 1997
|Years of service||~1940–1945|
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross|
Ernst-Georg Drünkler (8 July 1920 – 12 March 1997) was a Luftwaffe night fighter ace and recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross during World War II. The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. Drünkler claimed 46 aerial victories, 45 of them at night.[Note 1]
World War II
Drünkler was born on 8 July 1920 in Bernburg, at the time in the Weimar Republic. On 16 May 1942, he was posted to the II. Gruppe (2nd group) of Zerstörergeschwader 2 (ZG 2—2nd Destroyer Wing) operating on the Eastern Front of World War II. There, he flew nine ground attack and was credited with the destruction of an armored train, five locomotives, two freight cars and five trucks. Predominately however, he was tasked with making courier flights. On 1 October 1942, Drünkler transferred to the 2. Staffel (2nd squadron) of Nachtjagdgeschwader 5 (NJG 5—5th Night Fighter Wing) where he was trained as a night fighter pilot.
On 12/13 June 1943 RAF Bomber Command committed 503 aircraft—323 Avro Lancasters and 167 Handley-Page Halifax bombers with support from 11 de Havilland Mosquitos to Bochum, as it continued the British Battle of the Ruhr operation. 14 Lancaster and 10 Halifax bombers were lost, 4.8 per cent of the attacking force. Drünkler claimed his first two aerial victories. In the early hours of 13 June 1943, north of Schagen, he claimed a Avro Lancaster bomber shot down at 02:20 and a further Lancaster at 02:51 approximately 45 km (28 mi) west of Alkmaar. German pilots claimed 19 Lancasters and 9 Halifax bombers shot down.
On the night of the 21/22 June 705 RAF bombers—262 Lancasters, 209 Halifax, 117 Short Stirlings, 105 Vickers Wellingtons and—12 Mosquitos attacked Krefeld. 17 Halifax, 9 Lancasters, 9 Wellingtons and 9 Stirlings were lost o the operation. This represented 6.2 per cent of the force. The raid was carried out before the full moon period was over and the heavy casualties were mostly caused by night fighters. 12 of the aircraft lost were from the Pathfinders; No. 35 Squadron RAF lost 6 out of the 19 Halifax bombers it sent. The raid took place in good visibility and the Pathfinders produced an almost perfect marking effort, ground-markers dropped by Oboe-equipped Mosquitos were supplemented by the Pathfinder heavies. 619 aircraft bombed struck the area within 3 miles of the centre of the target. Drünkler intercepted the bomber stream west of Makkum and claimed a Short Stirling at 02:39.
On the 23/24 July 1943 Air Marshall Arthur Harris, Air Officer Commanding, Bomber Command, initiated Operation Gomorrah, a concerted attempt to destroy Hamburg and step up the area bombing of German industrial cities. The RAF mustered 791 aircraft—347 Lancasters, 246 Halifax, 125 Stirlings and 73 Wellingtons— for the operation. The British lost 12 aircraft—four Halifaxes, four Lancasters, three Stirlings and a Wellington which amounted to 1.5 per cent of the force. The raid was very successful, "Window" helped confuse German radar defences and H2S radar was used to map and bomb the target. Over the Bay of Kiel in the early hours of 24 July, Drünkler claimed a Halifax shot down at 00:54. It was one of only 12 claims made by the German night fighter pilots that night because of the effectiveness of "window". Six Halifax, a Wellington, two Stirlings and three Lancasters were claimed.
In support of Bomber Command the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) Eighth Air Force also targeted Hamburg, bombing the shipyards. The USAAF referred to the attacks as Blitz Week. 300 B-17 Flying Fortress from the 1st Bombardment Wing were to attack Hamburg, while a small force was to bomb the U-Boat years at Kiel. The 4th Bombardment Wing was to attack the Focke-Wulf plant at Warnemünde, near Rostock. Drünkler's night fighter unit was used in a daylight mission to intercept. At 18:22, the same day, 25 July, northwest of Vlieland, he claimed a B-17 shot down. The 1st Bomb Wing lost 15 B-17s in the operation and the 4th lost four. It is believed most fell after being damaged by anti-aircraft artillery. Jagdgeschwader 1 and Jagdgeschwader 26 intercepted but were not successful. JG 26 claimed three for the loss of two fighters and JG 1 claimed three for the loss of four pilots wounded in action. This mission highlighted the need to upgrade the armament of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Focke-Wulf Fw 190. A notable loss was Karl-Heinz Leesmann, who was killed in action and a night fighter crew that came down in the North Sea and were captured by a Royal Navy vessel. Drünkler's claim qualified him as an ace with four night and one day victory.
After a spell as an instructor with 13./NJG 5, he became Staffelkapitän of 1./NJG 5 on 16 February 1944, which he led until the war ended. Drünkler arrived back as the RAF Berlin offensive was coming to an end. He achieved his 6th victory on 24 March 1944 near Langen at 22:23. Another heavy bomber, type unknown, was claimed at 23:10. Thirty minutes later he downed another near Langensalza. On the night of the 30/31 March 1944, Bomber Command suffered its heaviest loss of the war an operation to bomb Nürnberg. Bomber Command dispatched 795 aircraft, including 572 Lancasters, 214 Halifaxes and nine Mosquitos. A further 49 Halifax aircraft were sent on minelaying operations in the Heligoland area, 13 Mosquito night fighters were sent to German night-fighter airfields, 34 Mosquitos flew on diversions to Aachen, Cologne and Kassel. 95 bombers were lost: 64 Lancasters and 31 Halifaxes which amounted to 11.9 per cent of the force. It was the largest Bomber Command loss of the war. Drünkler claimed a Halifax northeast of Frankfurt-am-Main at 00:55. His 10th victory over another Halifax was recorded at 01:06 east of Oberndorf.
1./NJG 5 was transferred to France in the spring, 1944. Bomber Command attacked the rail networks in Belgium and France as a prelude to Operation Overlord, scheduled to begin on 6 June 1944. On one such operation, Bomber Command sent 219 aircraft (125 Lancaster and 86 Halifax bombers supported by 8 Mosquitos) to attack the railway yards at Trappes to the west of Paris in 2 waves. Four Lancasters lost on the operation. Another 82 Lancasters and four Mosquitos of No. 5 Group RAF attacked and destroyed a railway junction at Saumur without loss. Drünkler attacked and shot down a Lancaster at 02:05 southwest of Rambouillet. On 2/3 June 1944 Bomber Command sent 128 aircraft—105 Halifaxes, 19 Lancasters and four Mosquitos—of 1, 4 and No. 8 Group RAF attacked the railway yards at Trappes again. 15 Halifax and one Lancaster were lost: 12.5 per cent of the force. Drünkler claimed a heavy bomber (type unknown) over Trappes at 01:00 for his 13th victory. Bomber Command lost 17 aircraft in total this night on operations. German night fighter units claimed 19.
Drünkler had another successful night on the 12/13 June 1944, six days after D-Day, when he accounted for two heavy bombers shot down. One fell north of Arques at 00:43 and the other northwest of Dunkirk at 00:56. Drünkler's victims were from 671 aircraft (348 Halifax and 285 Lancaster, 38 Mosquito) of No 4, 5, 6 and 8 Group, sent to attack communications at Amiens, Longueau, Arras, Caen, Cambrai and Poitiers. 23 bombers including 17 Halifaxes and 6 Lancasters from 4 and 6 Groups were lost. On 24/25 June 1944 535 Lancaster, 165 Halifax bombers, and 39 Mosquito intruders from all RAF groups attacked seven V-1 flying bomb sites. 23 bombers were lost—all Lancasters. Drünkler erroneously claimed a Stirling near Berck-sur-Mer at 03:45. German pilots claimed 38 bombers that night. A 17th claim made at 28/29 June over Château-Thierry at 01:08 was his last of the month. At 02:18 on 13 July Dunkler scored his 18th victory at "Chaumont"; which Chaumont this refers to was not reported. Drünkler continued his success in France on the 14/15 July when he destroyed two Lancasters west of Chaumont (02:08) and southeast of Bar-sur-Seine (02:17) to reach a total of 20. The victim may have been Lancaster III ND994, UL-F2, of No. 576 Squadron RAF. Flying Officer Raymond Linklater (service number J/25837) and his crew were killed.
Drünkler and his crew scored another double on 18/19 July at 01:37 and 01:45 northwest of Sommevoire and northwest of Conde en Barre, respectively. Drünkler accounted for his last successes on 28/29 July and 4/5 August. On the former night a Lancaster was shot down northwest of Mirecourt at 01:09 and an unknown location at 01:04 on the latter night. On 8/9 August in "Grid GJ" he claimed a Lancaster at 03:10, before sunrise for his 25th victory. It was his last claim in Normandy.
Defence of the Reich
On the last night of the Normandy campaign, as the German front collapsed, Drünkler, 1/NJG 5 was moved to East Prussia. Bomber Command sent 402 Lancasters and one Mosquito of Nos. 1, 3, 6 and 8 Groups to Stettin on 29/30 August 1944. 23 Lancasters were lost, 5.7 per cent of the force. This was a successful raid. A further 189 Lancasters of No. 5 Group carried a successful attack on Königsberg at extreme range. Only 480 tons of bombs could be carried because of the range of the target but severe damage was caused. Wing Commander J. Woodroffe led the attack. Bomber Command estimated that 41 per cent of all the housing and 20 per cent of all the industry in Königsberg was destroyed. There was heavy night fighter opposition over the target and 15 Lancasters, (7.9 per cent of the force) were lost. Northwest of the city he accounted for his 26th victory. Drünkler then engaged a Lancaster northwest of Pillau at 01:56 and claimed the bomber destroyed.
While based in East Prussia, Drünkler accounted for a Red Air Force Ilyushin DB-3 shot down southeast of Georgenburg at 01:56 for his 28th victory. He followed this up with a Lisunov Li-2 on 16/17 October 1944 at 17:57, the location was not recorded in his report. Another of this type at 18:12 on 23 October brought his score to 30. On 1 January 1945, Drünkler was awarded the German Cross in Gold.
On 8/9 February 1945 the Stettin area was attacked by Bomber Command again. A series of raids were carried out on Germany this night and Bomber Command lost 17 aircraft. 10 Lancasters of No. 5 Group began minelaying off Swinemünde, near Stettin. Rail yards at Krefeld were attacked by 151 bombers and the synthetic oil plant at Pölitz was bombed by 475 heavy bombers. Drünkler intercepted three bombers and claimed them shot down within nine minutes: 21:03 to 21:12 southwest and west of the city. Bomber Command lost Lancaster HK620 from 15 Squadron, LL911 16 Squadron,. ME299 44 Squadron (flown by Flying Officer K. Mangos RNZAF killed with four crewman and two captured), ME314 619 Squadron, ME443, 61 Squadron, ND554 617 Squadron, ND912 7 Squadron, PB737 61 Squadron, and PB759 also from 61 Squadron. German night fighter pilots claimed eight bombers this night, three by Drünkler, three by Walter Borchers of Stab./NJG 5 and one by Hauptmann Herbert Koch of I./NJG 3, for this 18th victory northeast of Copenhagen.
On the night of the 14 February 1945, Bomber Command commenced Operation Thunderclap. The target was Chemnitz: 499 Lancaster and 218 Halifax heavy bombers of No. 1, 3, 4, 6 and 8 Groups bombed the town ineffectively owing to heavy cloud cover. Post-raid reconnaissance suggest the raid was ineffective and all though parts of the city were hit, most of the bombs fell in open country. Bomber Command lost eight Lancaster and five Halifax bombers this night. Drünkler intercepted a Lancaster northeast of Chemnitz at shot it down at 21:05 for victory number 34. Chemnitz and Bohlen were the targets on 5/6 March 1945 were struck by 498 and 248 bombers. Drünkler claimed a heavy bomber southeast of Zwickau at 22:05. Two nights later on 7/8 March he claimed a Lancaster northeast of Erfurt for his 36th claim. Drünkler downed a trio of heavy bombers on 16/17 March 1945, over, east and south of Ansbach from 21:15 to 21:43. This night was also notable for the successes of Johannes Hager who claimed five RAF bombers and Herbert Lütje, who claimed his 50th victory that night.
On 20 March 1945 Ernst-Georg Drünkler was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross for 39 victories. That night, southwest of Leipzig, in the early hours of 21 March he claimed his 40th victory at 03:28. On 21 March 1945 at 03:38, southwest of Leipzig, Drünkler claimed a Lancaster for his 40th victory. Lancaster I PB845 of No. 463 Squadron RAF on the mission to the synthetic oil refinery at Böhlen, crashed at Tachenau, just south of the target area, killing all seven crew members including pilot Flying Officer Richard Stuart Bennett RAAF (on secondment). It is believed PB845 was destroyed by Drünkler.
By April 1945 the Red Army had reached the Oder and was advancing to Berlin, while on the Western Front, the Western Alliance, which had begun in the third week of March, was now advancing deep into Germany. 1./NJG 5 remained on operations. On 8 April at 22:56, east of Kolleda, Drünkler defeated his 41st opponent. On 10/11 April he claimed three bombers between 22:55 and 23:05 northwest and east of Leipzig. On 17 April northwest of Strasburg and north of Fürstenwalde at 23:21 and 23:47 he accounted for two Ilyushin Il-4s, Drünkler's penultimate victory claims of the war. Drünkler was credited with 46 aerial victories—45 nocturnal, including five over Russian bombers, and one daytime victory over Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress—plus further seven unconfirmed claims. He flew 102 combat missions, 83 of which as a night fighter, four night ground attack missions, and 15 daytime sorties.
- Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe in Gold
- Iron Cross (1939) 2nd andce 1st Class
- German Cross in Gold on 1 January 1945 as Oberleutnant in the 1./Nachtjagdgeschwader 5
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 20 March 1945 as Hauptmann and Staffelkapitän of the 1./Nachtjagdgeschwader 5
- For a list of Luftwaffe night fighter aces see List of German World War II night fighter aces.
- Obermaier 1989, p. 103.
- Everitt & Middlebrook 2014, p. 168.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 85.
- Everitt & Middlebrook 2014, p. 171.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 88.
- Everitt & Middlebrook 2014, pp. 183-185.
- Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 99.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 97.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, pp. 157-158.
- Everitt & Middlebrook 2014, p. 278.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, pp. 161-162.
- Everitt & Middlebrook 2014, p. 315.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 181.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 187.
- Everitt & Middlebrook 2014, pp. 324-26.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 193.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 194.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 200.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 201.
- Chorley 2007, p. 413.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 202.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, pp. 205, 207–208.
- Everitt & Middlebrook 2014, p. 385.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, pp. 213–214.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 215.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 220.
- Patzwall & Scherzer 2001, p. 93.
- Everitt & Middlebrook 2014, p. 452.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 234.
- Chorley 1998, p. 72.
- Chorley 1998, p. 71.
- Chorley 1998, p. 73.
- Everitt & Middlebrook 2014, p. 499.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, pp. 240–244.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 140.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 244.
- Chorley 1998, p. 141.
- Chorley 2007, p. 460.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 246.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 247.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 282.
- Caldwell, Donald; Muller, Richard (2007). The Luftwaffe Over Germany: Defense of the Reich. MBI Publishing Company. ISBN 1-85367-712-4.
- Chorley, W. R (1998). Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War: Aircraft and crew losses: 1945. Midland Counties Publications. ISBN 978-0-90459-792-9.
- Chorley, W. R (2007). Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War: Volume 9 Roll of Honour 1939-1947. Midland Counties Publications. ISBN 978-1-85780-195-8.
- Everitt, Chris; Middlebrook, Martin. (2014) . The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Pen & Sword. ISBN 978-1-78346360-2.
- Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000) . Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 — Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtteile [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.
- Foreman, John; Parry, Simon; Matthews, Johannes (2004). Luftwaffe Night Fighter Claims 1939–1945. Walton on Thames: Red Kite. ISBN 978-0-9538061-4-0.
- Obermaier, Ernst (1989). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Luftwaffe Jagdflieger 1939 – 1945 [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the Luftwaffe Fighter Force 1939 – 1945] (in German). Mainz, Germany: Verlag Dieter Hoffmann. ISBN 978-3-87341-065-7.
- Patzwall, Klaus D.; Scherzer, Veit (2001). Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941–1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II [The German Cross 1941–1945 History and Recipients Volume 2] (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN 978-3-931533-45-8.
- Scherzer, Veit (2007). Die 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 [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives] (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Militaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.