13 November 1914|
|Died||1 January 1945
Maastricht, status MIA
|Years of service||1936–1945|
Ergänzungsgruppe NJG 1,
JG 1 Oesau,
Ehrenpokal der Luftwaffe,
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Having joined the Luftwaffe in 1935 and completed his pilot training, at the start of the war Specht was a Leutnant in 3./ZG 26 "Horst Wessel" (the 3rd squadron of the 26th Heavy Fighter Wing). In 1939 he was wounded by an RAF tail gunner and blinded in one eye. He returned to active duty and was shot down six times during the war. After his recovery in 1939, he chose to return to active service but was shot down again in France and was seriously injured. These injuries kept him grounded for the next two years. In 1942 he returned to active duty with 1st Fighter Wing (Jagdgeschwader 1 Oesau; JG 1)). He was then made Group Commander (Gruppenkommandeur) of II Group of JG 11 (II./JG 11) and promoted to Major. He was appointed as Wing Commander (Geschwaderkommodore) of JG 11 and was listed as missing in action during the attack on the Allied bases at Asch and Ophoven as part of Operation Bodenplatte. He was posthumously promoted to lieutenant colonel (German: Oberstleutnant) and was recommended for the Oak Leaves (German: Eichenlaub) to the Knight's Cross, which was never actioned amongst all the confusion in the last months of the war.
Specht was considered as one of the best fighter leaders during the war and was a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes). During his combat career he was credited with 34 enemy aircraft destroyed, all downed on the Western Front.
Specht was born on 13 November 1914 in Frankenstein (modern Ząbkowice Śląskie) of Prussia (modern Poland). Specht was short in stature but full of energy. He had a distinguishing patch of gray in his hair just above his forehead. He was a perfectionist with a high sense of duty, and expected his men to follow his high standards. Although he lost his left eye in late 1939, according to Squadron Leader (German: Staffelkapitän) Heinz Knoke of 5./JG 11, he could see like a vulture and was an excellent marksman. Specht also had an eye for detail, and he wrote detailed mission log reports for future use.
Specht's personal emblems adorning his aircraft included a design by Specht of a pencil superimposed on a chevron (termed a winged pencil) as a wry comment on being deskbound following his injuries. His single-engine aircraft with JG 11 sported a green spinner and a Knight's Cross painted on the cowling after he was awarded the honour in April 1944.
Specht would not allow women on the group base, considering them an unnecessary diversion. According to Knoke, one time Specht's wife came to visit him on the II./JG 11 base but was held at the guard room on Specht's orders and refused to receive calls from the guard. Instead he asked Knoke to pass a message to her to 'put herself on ice', saying that he would only have time for her after the war. Specht however did not survive, dying five months before the war in Europe came to an end.
After taking command of II./JG 11, Specht led the group on every mission in which it participated. Following each mission, he wrote detailed and analytical mission reports. He soon gained a reputation as one of the most reliable formation leaders, with II./JG 11 reputed to be one of the best units among the fighter force (German: jagdwaffe) on Reich air defense (German: Reichsluftverteidigung).
On 17 August 1943 Specht led the group from Gilze en Rijen on an intercept and sighted the B-17 Flying Fortresses of 381 Bombing Group near Antwerp. He waited for 30 minutes until the escorts turned back at Eupen before attacking. Within the next half hour, sixty percent of the bombers went down. Specht himself was credited with downing two as his 16th and 17th victories.
On 11 September 1944 Specht and the JG 11 Headquarters-flight (German: Stabsschwarm) led a combined formation of II./JG 4 (Sturm) (German: Sturmgruppen) and III./JG 4. Due to Specht's skills, they positioned themselves against thirty-four B-17s of the "Bloody 100th" and fifteen B-17s were downed before the escorting P-51s arrived. Specht was credited with one P-51.
Having joined the Luftwaffe in 1935 and completed his pilot training, when war started in September 1939 Specht was a Leutnant in 3./ZG 26 "Horst Wessel" (the 3rd squadron of the 26th Heavy Fighter Wing). Supposedly equipped with the new, twin-engine, Bf 110 heavy fighter, its production was so far behind schedule that 7 of the 10 Zerstörergruppen (including Specht’s I./ZG 26) had to be equipped with old Messerschmitt Bf 109C and D single-engined fighters. They thus took no role in the Polish campaign, instead based on the North Sea coast near Wilhelmshaven.
This was virtually the only part of the Western Front, during the Phoney War, where there was significant aerial activity in the early months of the war, as RAF bombers flew unescorted raids on the German naval bases. So it did not take long for Specht to score his first victories: two Handley Page Hampden medium bombers in a squadron conducting an armed reconnaissance operation near Heligoland, shot down on 29 September. Needing a long-range fighter to better intercept the British bombers at distance, I./ZG 26 was thus the next Gruppe selected for re-equipping onto the Bf 110.
On 3 December 1939, 24 RAF Vickers Wellington bombers from Marham and Mildenhall bases attacked Heligoland. These were intercepted by I./ZG 26 along with other Messerschmitt Bf 109 units. Specht scored his third victory, shooting down a bomber over the North Sea. But he was also seriously injured by return fire from the Wellington's tail gunner, seriously wounding him in the face. Ditching into the sea, he was picked up by rescue craft. Losing the sight in his left eye, he spent the next six months in recovery. He was shot down by Corporal Copley of No. 38 Squadron RAF.
However, he returned to active service, as Gruppe Adjutant of I./ZG 26. Still able to fly combat missions, his aircraft sported a pencil under his Adjutant’s chevron – bemoaning the combat pilot’s universal loathing of paperwork!  During the French campaign, on 23 May 1940, Spitfires were encountered by Bf 110s and Bf 109s for the first time. The engagement resulted in the loss of two Bf 110s and two Bf 109s. However, Specht would claim three RAF Supermarine Spitfire fighters shot down. The British No. 92 Squadron RAF involved lost three Spitfires in the entire engagement. Squadron Leader Roger J Bushell became a prisoner of war while Paul H. Klipsch and Patrick Alexander George Learmond were killed in action. During the course of this battle, Specht and his rear gunner/radio operator were wounded, force land near Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer with a damaged aircraft. Again he was badly injured and spent further time in hospital.
After recovering he took up staff duties for a year, until 16 September 1941, when he was made Staffelkapitän (Squadron leader) of a newly formed night-fighter training unit, 2./Nachtjagdschule 1 (coming out of 2./Zerstörerschule 1). Soon after, on 31 October, Hauptmann (Captain) Specht was promoted to Kommandeur of III./NJS 1. Located at Ingolstadt-Manching, Specht instructed pilots in conversion to night fighting. Paul Zorner, a future night fighter expert, was one of his students. Leading the Gruppe for exactly one year, this was the last time Specht flew a twin engine aircraft, whereupon he returned to combat duties.
Initially reassigned to 10./JG 1 based in the Ruhr, he shot down his first Viermot (four-engined bomber), his 7th victory, on 26 February 1943. This was the beginning of a new war for Specht – the 8th USAAF was starting its bombing offensive on the Reich’s industrial complex. Soon afterward, on 27 March, he was appointed StaKa of the newly reformed 7./JG 1, then in May 1943 he was promoted to Kommandeur of II/JG 11. Jagdgeschwader 11 was a new fighter wing, created in April 1943 by dividing Jagdgeschwader 1 (flying Fw 190s) in half and filling it out into a full wing with new Gruppen flying Me 109G-6 'gunboats', to increase the homeland protection. He was based back near his original airfields on the North Sea coast, his unit the first line of defense against the bomber streams and their fighter escorts.
Throughout 1943, as the Luftwaffe took the fight to the bombers flying unescorted over the Reich, Specht scored regularly. Leading by example, he soon became one of the top Viermot aces shooting down 14 bombers out of his 18 victories that year. This included his 13th victory on 26 July, during Blitz Week, when bombers targeted the Blohm & Voss U Boat yards in Hamburg and the synthetic rubber factories of Continental AG and Nordhafen in Hanover.; as well a pair on 17 August on the infamous Schweinfurt raid. He was awarded the Ehrenpokal (Goblet of Honour) on 23 August, and the German Cross in Gold on 25 November. Specht became increasingly critical of the relatively weak armament of the Bf 109 during this time. Towards the end of 1943, with longer-ranged fighter-escorts accompanying the Allied bombers, tactics had to change: The single-engined fighters would engage the fighter screen while a Zerstörergruppe would take on the bombers. Coincidentally, for a while Specht’s II./JG 11 was paired up with his old unit, I./ZG 26.
He continued his success into 1944: On 11 February 1944 II./JG 11 engaged escort fighters returning from a raid on Frankfurt with Specht downing 2nd Lieutenant Richard McDonald of the 354th Fighter Group, who crashed his P-51 Mustang "Plane Jane" near Oberalben. Nine days later, (the opening of the 8th USAAF's "Big Week") Specht had to crash land on the Ærø Island as a result of technical problems with his Bf 109G. Despite that, he was back in the air the next day claiming a P-47 fighter, and a bomber and a fighter the day after, to take his tally to 30. On 15 March II./JG 11 lost six killed in action, two wounded, and eight aircraft lost, resulting in Specht declaring the unit non-operational for six weeks to rest and replace losses.
On 8 April 1944 Specht was awarded the Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes for his 30 victories on the Western Front. On 15 April after his commander, Hermann Graf was injured, he gave up his command of II./JG 11, and moved to the Geschwaderstab (Wing Command flight) as Kommodore-in-training, under Herbert Ihlefeld. Promoted to Major on 1 May, he was given full command of JG 11 on 15 May, replacing Ihlefeld who was himself transferred to command JG 1. But little could be done as the Allied bombing offensive stepped up a gear. His units were decimated over the skies of Normandy in June and July. He himself was injured in July, suffering head injuries in yet another crash-landing. Despite severe pain from his injuries Specht remained on combat duty. His wing was retired to the Rhineland to be rebuilt, but they were crushed again in the latter half of 1944. The Allies were now sending overwhelming numbers of bombers to destroy the German industrial and military factories and now protected by the advent of the P-51 Mustang, providing fighter cover right into the heart of the Reich and back.
During Operation Market Garden, the Allied parachute landings in the Netherlands, JG 11 was credited with 22 aircraft downed on 22 September, with two credited to Specht. Four days later, Specht claimed two RAF Hawker Typhoons near Deventer. According to RAF records only three Typhoons were shot down on 26 September; two to flak and one in aerial combat against Jagdgeschwader 53 Bf 109s near Apeldoorn. No fighters were recorded lost near Deventer. However, it may be the case that loss records were lost or not well kept, meaning Specht's claims cannot be traced and may well be accurate.
In December, Hitler ordered his final, desperate attack in the west - through the snow-covered forests of the Ardennes. Poor weather kept the promised air support grounded, but early on the morning of New Year's Day, long after it was tactically useful or relevant, the Luftwaffe launched Operation Bodenplatte ('Baseplate') - not against the devastating strategic bombers, but on the frontline fighter airbases.
Virtually all available fighter groups in the west were allocated to this mission, JG 11 was assigned the USAAF airfield at Asch (Code Name Y–29) and the RAF airfield at Ophoven north of Asch. The 366th Fighter Group (366th FG, Ninth Air Force) and the 352nd Fighter Group (352 FG, Eighth Air Force) were based at Asch. No. 41, No. 130, 350 and No. 610 Squadrons of the 2nd Tactical Wing were based at Ophoven.
For this mission Specht wore his full dress uniform with medals instead of his flight suit. JG 11 was based at Darmstadt-Griesheim, Zellhausen, and Gross-Ostheim. I./JG 11, III./JG 11 (Fw 190 A–9), and II./JG 11 (Bf 109G) mustered sixty-five aircraft for this mission. Specht flew Fw 190 A-9 (Wk. Nr. 205033) "Black 4". Overall the operation was a major failure. With the large proportion of inexperienced, green pilots, flight coordination was extremely difficult and due to the extreme secrecy many pilots were shot down by their own FlaK antiaircraft, who were not pre-warned of the operation. It also resulted in the loss of a number of irreplaceable combat leaders.
As regards JG 11 specifically, at 8:08 am[c] the aircraft took off and assembled over Aschaffenburg with two Junkers Ju 188 'Pathfinders' to navigate. After assembling, Specht ordered all aircraft to fly at 400 feet (120 m) to the target area, climbing to 1,500 feet (460 m) prior to commencing the attack. Some P-47 Thunderbolts of the 390th Fighter Squadron, 366th FG, were already airborne and Mustangs of the 487th Fighter Squadron, 352nd FG, were on the runway. The formation was disrupted by flak, and several German aircraft were shot down.[a]
Death and subsequent confusion
There was some confusion over the circumstance of Specht's death. Lt. Melvin Paisley and his wingman Flight Officer Dave Johnson were flying 366th FG P-47s; Johnson shot down two German fighters before his aircraft was heavily damaged from return fire. Bailing out, he landed in a field near Asch. A Bf 109 he had shot down had belly landed close by and Johnson rode a borrowed bicycle over to inspect it. The aircraft was intact but the pilot was dead. Johnson took the pilot's identification card and gun and rode back to base. The identification card identified the pilot as an Oberstleutnant (Lt Colonel); however, the card actually belonged to Oberleutnant (German: Oberleutnant) August Engel of 8 Staffel.
Further research has revealed more detail. German records confirmed Specht flew a Fw 190, not a Bf 109, and that he was a Major at the time, confirming Johnson's victim was most likely to have been Engel. Johnson's claim form revealed he had claimed a Bf 109, not an Fw 190. The ID card of Johnson's victim was passed on to a member of the ground crew who spoke German. This individual stated that the rank was given as Lieutenant Colonel. The incorrect identification was most likely a language error and misunderstanding of German ranks. This may have caused the belief that Johnson had killed Specht. Johnson died in October 1976, and aviation historians were unable to secure his version of events.
Specht was officially listed as Missing In Action over Maastricht, and to date he remains missing. The cause of his death is unknown, but possibly shot down by enemy anti-aircraft fire. Specht was promoted posthumously to Oberstleutnant and nominated for the Eichenlaub (Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross) though this was never awarded in the bedlam of the final weeks of the war. Shot down six times in his career, he preferred to ride the plane to a landing rather than taking to his parachute. Specht was credited with 34 aerial victories, which included 15 Viermots, all achieved over the Western Front.[b]
Summary of career
- Iron Cross in 1939 2nd and 1st Class.
- Ehrenpokal der Luftwaffe on 23 August 1943 as Hauptmann and Gruppenkommandeur of II./JG 11.
- German Cross in Gold on 25 November 1943 while serving in the II./JG 11.
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 8 April 1944 as Major and Gruppenkommandeur of the II./JG 11.
Dates of rank
|23 May 1940:||Oberleutnant|
|8 April 1944:||Major, (or possibly 1 May 1944)|
|1 January 1945:||Oberstleutnant.|
|No||Date||Time||Unit & Airfield||Gruppe Kommandeur||Location / Planquad||Claimed Aircraft||Source / Comments|
|1||29 September 1939||10:01||3./ZG 26 – Varel||Hptm Karl Kaschka||SE of Heligoland||Hampden||Prien & Bock, of RAF 144 Sqn|
|2||29 Sep '39||10:05||3./ZG 26 – Varel||Hptm Karl Kaschka||SE of Heligoland||Hampden||Prien & Bock, of RAF 144 Sqn|
|3||3 Dec '39||?||3./ZG 26 – Varel||Hptm Karl Kaschka||near Heligoland||Wellington||Prien & Bock, of RAF 38 Sqn|
|4||23 May 1940||?||Sb I/ZG 26 – Rouen||Hptm Wilhelm Makrocki||near Calais||Spitfire||P/O Paul Klipsch of 92 Sqn|
|5||23 May '40||?||Sb I/ZG 26 – Rouen||Hptm Wilhelm Makrocki||near Calais||Spitfire||S/L Roger Bushell of 92 Sqn|
|6||23 May '40||?||Sb I/ZG 26 – Rouen||Hptm Wilhelm Makrocki||near Calais||Spitfire|
|7||26 February 1943||12:18||10./JG 1 – Deelen||Hptm Fritz Losigkeit||50 km NNW of Borkum||B-17||C.2027/I ANr 1|
|8||14 May '43||12:14||II./JG 11 – Jever||Maj Anton Mader||E of Schleswig: 7500m||B-24||C.2031/II|
|9||15 May '43||10:55||II./JG 11 – Jever||Maj Anton Mader||Elbe estuary : 7200m||B-17||C.2031/II|
|10||19 May '43||13:17||II./JG 11 – Jever||Maj Anton Mader||S of Pellworm [05Ost N/8562]: 8200m||B-17||C.2031/II|
|11||11 Jun '43||18:05||II./JG 11 – Jever||Maj Anton Mader||[05Ost S/84715]: 8300m||B-17||C.2027/I|
|12||25 Jun '43||8:52||II./JG 11 – Jever||Maj Anton Mader||off Friesian Is [05Ost S/AQ56]: 7900m||B-17||C.2027/I|
|13||26 Jul '43||11:42||II./JG 11 – Jever||Maj Anton Mader||N of Wagenfeld [05Ost S/FS54]: 8200m||B-17||C.2027/I|
|14||28 Jul '43||9:02||II./JG 11 – Jever||Maj Anton Mader||S of Darmstadt [05Ost S/RS47]: 5200m||B-17||C.2027/I|
|15||17 Aug '43||15:00||II./JG 11 – Jever||Maj Anton Mader||22 km NNE of Dienst: 6000m||B-17||C.2031/II ANr.11|
|16||17 Aug '43||15:20||II./JG 11 – Jever||Maj Anton Mader||2 km W of Hergarden: 6000m||B-17||C.2031/II ANr.12|
|17||4 Oct '43||10:16||II./JG 11 – Marx||Maj Anton Mader||[05Ost S/TN6]: 4500m||B-24||C.2031/II|
|18||8 Oct '43||16:39||II./JG 11 – Marx||Maj Anton Mader||over North Sea [05Ost N/AR6]: 7800m||B-24||C.2031/II|
|19||9 Oct '43||15:30||II./JG 11 – Marx||Maj Anton Mader||[? /MI8]: 4000m||B-17||C.2031/II ANr.16|
|20||13 Nov '43||11:20||II./JG 11 – Vörden||Obstlt Hermann Graf||Fürstenau [05Ost N/FQ73]: 8500m||P-38||C.2031/II ANr.17|
|21||26 Nov '43||12:30||II./JG 11 – Plantlünne||Obstlt Hermann Graf||near Bremen [05Ost N/ER27]: 7000m||B-17||C.2031/II|
|22||29 Nov '43||15:30||II./JG 11 – Plantlünne||Obstlt Hermann Graf||near Bremen [05Ost N/EQ57]: 8800m||P-47||C.2031/II|
|23||20 Dec '43||11:50||II./JG 11 – Wunstorf||Obstlt Hermann Graf||Bremen: 9000m||P-51||C.2031/II ANr.19; of USAAF 354 FG|
|24||22 Dec '43||?||II./JG 11 – Wunstorf||Obstlt Hermann Graf||Münster||P-47||Prien JG 1 & 11 lists|
|25||5 January 1944||?||II./JG 11 – Wunstorf||Obstlt Hermann Graf||Kiel/Cuxhaven||P-38||Prien JG 1 & 11 lists|
|26||30 Jan '44||?||II./JG 11 – Wunstorf||Obstlt Hermann Graf||[05Ost S/ ?]||P-47||Prien JG 1 & 11 lists|
|27||11 Feb '44||12:15||II./JG 11 – Wunstorf||Obstlt Hermann Graf||near St Wendel [05Ost S/SP6]: 8000m||P-51||C.2025/I ANr.20; 2nd Lt R.McDonald of 354 FG|
|28||21 Feb '44||13:54||II./JG 11 – Wunstorf||Obstlt Hermann Graf||NE of Minden: 8000m||P-47||C.2025/I ANr.14|
|29||22 Feb '44||13:35||II./JG 11 – Wunstorf||Obstlt Hermann Graf||near Blomberg: 2000m||P-51||C.2025/I ANr.15|
|30||22 Feb '44||13:42||II./JG 11 – Wunstorf||Obstlt Hermann Graf||near Detmold: 7100m||B-17||C.2025/I ANr.21|
|31||11 Sep '44||?||Stab/JG 11 – Finsterwalde||-||? : 150m||P-51||C.2027/II|
|32||26 Sep '44||14:04||Stab/JG 11 – Gütersloh||-||Deventer [05Ost S/HN-GN]: 2000m||Typhoon||C.2027/II|
|33||26 Sep '44||14:06||Stab/JG 11 – Gütersloh||-||Deventer [05Ost S/HN-GN]: 2000m||Typhoon||C.2027/II|
|34||5 Dec '44||12:35||Stab/JG 11 – Wunstorf||-||S of Mitteland Canal [05Ost S/GT]: 2-400m||P-51||C.2027/II|
|MIA||1 January 1945||?||Stab/JG 11 – Biblis||-||Asch, Belgium|
- a Zorner (not being there) did not know the reason for putting on the uniform. But he speculated that Specht may have known about his impending death.
- b The similar but differing meaning of Oberleutnant and Oberstleutnant may have contributed to the misunderstanding. It is not clear whether Johnson himself said Specht's name was on the ID card. Johnson died in 1976 and the authors were unable to confirm this.
- c According to Uffz. Ludwig Bertram of I./JG 1, the Geschwader took off at 08:08 am.
- Caldwell & Muller (2007), p. 182 Cite error: Invalid
<ref>tag; name "Caldwell.07.78" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
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- Weal (1999b), p. 36
- Caldwell & Mulller (2007), p. 233
- Aces of the Luftwaffe website.
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- Weal (1996a), pp. 20–21
- Weal (1999b), p. 101
- Holmes (2010), p. 32.
- Droog, Bart. "RAF - No. 92 Squadron." Traces of World War 2 23 January 2008. Retrieved: 20 September 2010.
- Holm (1997–2003)
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- Caldwell & Muller (2007), p. 124,184
- Forsyth (2011), p66.
- Reardon (14 July 1997), The Patriot Ledger
- Caldwell & Muller (2007), p. 184
- Gunther Specht on World War 2 Awards
- Franks (2000), p. 101.
- Franks (2000). p. 7.
- Parker (1998), pp. 383, 385–391
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- Parker (1998), pp. 385–391.
- Manrho & Pütz (2004), pp. 148-149.
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- Gunther Specht Biography
Military Offices held
|Group Adjutant of I./ZG 26
May, 1940 – October 31, 1941
Oblt Rüdiger Proske
None: new unit
|Squadron Leader of 2./Nachtjagdschule 1
September 16, 1941 – October 31, 1941
None: new unit
|Group Commander of III./Nachtjagdschule 1
October 31, 1941 – October 31, 1942
Hptm Helmut Peters
None: new unit
|Squadron Leader of 7./JG 1
March 27, 1943 – May, 1943
Ltn Heinrich Klöpper
Maj Adolf Dickfeld
|Group Commander of II./JG 11
May, 1943 – May 15, 1944
Maj Günther Rall
Maj Herbert Ihlefeld
|Wing Commander of JG 11
May 15, 1944 – January 1, 1945
Maj Jürgen Harder