|Born||6 June 1920
|Died||11 January 1977
|Years of service||1939–45|
|Unit||NJG 3, NJG 2|
|Commands held||I./NJG 2|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves|
Gerhard Ferdinand Otto Raht (6 June 1920 – 11 January 1977) was a German Luftwaffe night fighter ace and recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves during World War II. The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. Raht claimed 58 nocturnal aerial victories in 171 combat missions. Raht was the tenth most successful night fighter pilot in the history of aerial warfare.
Early life and career
Gerhard Raht was born on 6 June 1920 in Reinfeld, Schleswig-Holstein near Bad Oldesloe, in Weimar Germany. He was born into a family a carpenters who ran a furniture making business. After attending school and passing his Abitur (School Leaving Certificate) he opted to join the Luftwaffe as a Fahnenjunker (Officer candidate) on 1 October 1939, one month after the German-Soviet invasion of Poland, which began World War II in Europe. On the 1 February 1941, as an officer candidate, he advanced to the rank of Leutnant. In early 1942 he was assigned to 4 Staffel (Squadron) of Nachtjagdgeschwader 3 (NJG 3—Night Fighter Wing 3).
World War II
NJG 3 was initially based as Stade, defending northern Germany. On 3 April 1942 Raht was awarded the Iron Cross second class for his service. It is not clear whether Raht had claimed any aerial successes prior to the award. 4./NJG 3 received credit for the destruction of three bombers on the night of the 1/2 April 1942, between 00:20 and 01:28. The names of the claiming crews are not listed and the type of enemy aircraft and location is also omitted from German records.
Raht's first official victory was recorded on the night of the 26/27 July 1942 when he shot down a Royal Air Force (RAF) Handley-Page Halifax southwest of Pellworm at 01:019. This night, Air Marshal Arthur Harris, Air Officer Commanding (AOC) RAF Bomber Command sent a force of 181 Vickers Wellingtons, 77 Avro Lancaster, 73 Halifax, 39 Short Stirling and 33 Handley-Page Hampdens against Hamburg, in one of the first raids against the city, before Operation Gomorrah, exactly a year later. By the date of this first victory, Raht had transferred to 5 staffel. Raht's second victory occurred on 17 January 1943 when he claimed a Lancaster over Hademarschen at 21:59. The victory was recorded with 4 staffel, indicating he had returned to his original unit. Raht was promoted to Oberleutnant on 1 February 1943.
Ruhr and Baltic
The night war escalated dramatically in 1943. Harris felt that Bomber Command has amassed sufficient resources to attack and destroy the Ruhr where large concentrations of German war industry was located, and particularly the steel producing centres of Germany. Harris had 53 squadrons available, of which 17 were medium bomber units. Harris also had pathfinder units equipped with H2S radar which mapped the terrain and could penetrate through haze and smoke for greater bombing accuracy. Bomber Command also utilised "window" to confound German ground radar in July. The attacks were dubbed the Battle of the Ruhr (March–July 1943). Raht and NJG 3 were heavily involved in countering Bomber Command's operations.
On the night of 10/11 March 1943 Raht claimed his third victory. At 22:12 south of Middelfart, Denmark. This victory report suggests Raht had once again returned to 5 staffel. He was also the only German night fighter pilot in the Luftwaffe to claim a victory this night. Bomber Command reported the loss of two Lancasters on mine-laying operations this night. The bomber was identified as Lancaster I ED305, KM-S, No. 44 Squadron RAF crashed into Lille Bælt. Pilot Sergeant Brian T. C. Smith, Flight Engineer Sergeant Gordon R. Black RCAF, navigator Flying Officer Robert H. Carr, Bombardier Sergeant Charles H. D. Cook, wireless operator Geoffrey S. Love, air gunners Sergeant Charles V. Brown and Alfred Healey were killed in action. On 13 March Raht was awarded the Iron Cross First Class and appointed Staffelkapitän of 1./NJG 3.
On 30 March at 00:50, over Welmbuttel, Raht shot down a Halifax. Raht became a night fighter ace on 21/22 June when he claimed a Stirling west of Antwerp, Belgium at 01:32. His victim was claimed out of a 705-strong force that bombed Krefeld. 262 Lancaster, 209 Halifax, 117 Stirling, 105 Wellington bombers, supported by 12 de Havilland Mosquitos took part. Bomber Command lost 44; 17 Halifax and exactly nine each of the Lancaster, Stirling, and Wellington types were lost. In on the night of 29/30 July 1943 Raht achieved his most successful night to date, downing four bombers. Over Hanover at 23:10 and southeast Heide at 00:23 he claimed an unidentified heavy bomber and a Lancaster to increase his personal telly to 8. Hovering in the same sector he downed a Halifax southeast of Heide at 00:40 and then northeast of the town at Raht caught and shot down another Halifax at 00:52 for his 10th victory. One of the bombers was No. 158 Squadron RAF Halifax II, JD277 NP-G. Flying Officer A. H. Boyle survived but pilot Flight Sergeant N. R. McDonald and five others were killed. The other may have been Halifax II JB956, KN-O of No. 77 Squadron RAF flown by Flight Sergeant George Henry Sutton. All eight men were killed on their 11th operation. Raht was flying a Dornier Do 217 on this operation.
On 17/18 August 1943, Harris ordered Operation Hydra, a series of attacks against the Peenemünde Army Research Center producing V-weapons. Raht scrambled to intercept but only caught one Lancaster with his radar operator east of Flensburg at 02:57. Raht spotted the bomber caught in searchlights and fired off an identification flare to force the anti-aircraft batteries to cease-fire against the bomber. Raht swiftly dispatched the bomber, identified as ED725 PM-P. It belonged to No. 103 Squadron RAF and P. J. O'Donnell and his crew were killed. On 23/24 August Raht claimed his 12th victory southeast of Thomsdorf at 00:58. Raht did not score a victory again until 27/28 September 1943, when he accounted for a Lancaster over Hanover. The report lists Raht as belonging to 4./NJG 3 at this time. Raht claimed his 14th victory northeast of Stendal. The report described the enemy aircraft as a four engine bomber by did not specify the type. The 15th claim was filed that same night, when he reported a Lancaster shot down over Hagenau.
Berlin and North Sea
On 18 November 1943 Harris began his Berlin offensive. Stab./NJG 3 under Helmut Lent was based at Stade, I./NJG 3 under Hauptmann Walter Milius, based at Vechta, II./NJG 3 under Egmont Prinz zur Lippe-Weißenfeld, at Schleswig, III./NJG 3 under Major Bart, also at Stade, and IV./NJG 3 under Major Simon at Grove, prepared to the meet the offensive. II./NJG 3, to which Raht's most recent unit, 4 staffel, belonged was equipped with an assortment of Junkers Ju 88C, Messerschmitt Bf 110G and Dornier Do 217 night fighters.
Raht's 16th and first success in the defence of Berlin occurred in the early evening of the 1 December 1943, when he claimed a Stirling shot down over the Frisian Islands at 15:54. It was one of only two claims submitted by a German night fighter pilot on this night. The other was reported shot down by a Feldwebel Weilding north of Aschaffenburg at 21:15. Bomber Command sent 19 Stirling and 12 Halifax aircraft to the Frisians and to the east coast of Denmark on mine-laying operations. Two Stirlings were reported missing. Stirling III EH880 of No. 75 Squadron RAF, piloted by Warrant Officer G. J. S. Kerr was one of the missing aircraft. All the crew perished when it crashed after reaching base. It hit a house at the end of the airfield and five children were killed. Stirling III, EF191, WP-H, of No. 90 Squadron RAF also crashed near Esjberg in Denmark. Sergeant J. L. Blackwood, E. Draper, J. H. Flack, Warrant Officer J. E. Nixon, Flight Sergeant C. E. Quickfall, Sergeants H. E. Steele and R. G. Whitmarsh were killed.
On 28/29 January 1944 Raht scrambled with 4 staffel and shot down a Halifax and Lancaster at 02:34 and 02:37. The location of these successes are not recorded. Seventeen days later accounted for victory 19 northeast of "Hallersleben" (possibly Fallersleben) at 20:03. On this date, Raht was awarded the German Cross in Gold. Raht reached the 20-mark on 24/25 February 1944 when he shot down a heavy bomber at 22:02 between Metz and Baden Baden.
Bomber Command switched their effort to Augsburg on 25/26 February 1944. Harris committed 594 bombers, including 461 Lancasters and 123 Halifax bombers supported by 10 Mosquitos. South of Augsburg he accounted for his 21st victory at 22:43. On 15/16 March Raht gained a 22nd victory on 23:12 southwest of Stuttgart. On the night of the 22/23 March Raht achieved two victories at 21:28 near Hanover and two north and northwest of Frankfurt at 21:48 and 21:54 to reach 25. Raht scored again at 22:14, his fourth bomber of the night. North of Berlin scored again on 24/25 March at 22:28 as the Berlin offensive came to an end.
On the night of the 30/31 March 1944, Bomber Command suffered heavy losses on a raid to Nürnberg. The British 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. Some German night fighter pilots scored heavily this night but Hauptmann Raht accounted for just a single claim—a Lancaster—southwest of Bonn at 00:26.
Pointblank and Normandy
In April 1944 Bomber Command turned to support the American United States Army Air Force (USAAF) Pointblank directive with greater regularity. Against the wishes of Harris, Bomber Command now turned to attacking rail yards, bridges and communications to facilitate Operation Overlord and the D-Day landings when they occurred. II./NJG 3 was based at Vechta on 1 April 1944, at the outset of the offensive. On night of the 22/23 April 1944 Bomber Command attacked targets throughout Germany. Raht caught a Halifax south west of Düsseldorf at 01:23 and another northwest of the city at 01:44 for his 30th victory. One of Raht's victims was Avro Lancaster I DV394, KC-M, from the famous No. 617 Squadron RAF "Dambusters". Flight Lieutenant J. L. Cooper DFC was taken prisoner with all but one of crew—J. H. C. A Lepine DFM (RCAF seconded) was the only member of the crew killed. 24/25 April Raht downed a Lancaster 30 to 40 kilometres (19 to 25 miles) south of Echterdingen. The next night over Schweinfurt at 02:15 Raht claimed another Lancaster. On 1 May 1944 Raht was promoted to Hauptmann.
Raht did not score again until the Allied invasion had begun on 6 June 1944. The month he transferred to Nachtjagdgeschwader 2 (NJG 2) as Gruppenkommandeur of I./NJG 2 in France. Raht's combat claim for the night of the 11/12 June 1944 simply stated he shot down a four-engine bomber over the French coast at 00:53. Another unidentified bomber was claimed southeast of Compiegne at 01:01 on 23 June. His 34th victory was one of 11 claims made by German night fighter crews on this night. The main thrust of Bomber Command operations this night had been inland. 221 aircraft—111 Lancaster and 100 Halifax bombers, supported by 10 Mosquitos from No. 1, 4 and 8 Groups attacked railway yards at Laon and Rheims. Four Halifax were lost from the Laon raid and four Lancaster bombers from the Rheims raid were reported missing. Minelaying sorties around French ports did not incur losses from German defences. Raht was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes) on 24 June 1944 for 34 night victories.
A Lancaster over Bailleau-le-Pin at 01:44 on 1 July and another three at 01:04, 01:11 and sector "TD-TE" at 01:29 on 8 July brought his tall to 38. Another double claim at 02:07 and 02:17 over Coulommiers and Gien took him to 40. On the night of the 28/29 July 1944 494 Lancasters and two Mosquitos of No. 1, 3, 5 and 8 Groups attacked Stuttgart. German fighters intercepted the bomber stream while over France on the outward flight; there was a full moon and 39 Lancaster bombers were shot down, 19 per cent of the force. 307 aircraft (187 Halifax, 106 Lancaster, 14 Mosquitos from No. 1, 6 and 8 Groups) raided Hamburg. German fighters again appeared, this time on the homeward flight, and 18 Halifax and four Lancaster bombers were lost, 12 per cent of the force. The bombing was judged ineffective in the later attack. 119 aircraft of No. 1, 4 and 8 Groups also attacked the flying bomb stores area at Forêt De Nieppe without loss. 95 training aircraft flew on a diversionary sweep over the North Sea, and 13 Mosquitos flew to Frankfurt, 50 Mosquito mounted night fighter patrols while five Halifax bombers carried out minelaying in the River Elbe without loss. The conditions and size of the attack saw the Luftwaffe mount a considerable response. This night German night fighters claimed 87 bombers shot down. Raht claimed a bomber shot down his 41st victory over France at 00:45. On 25/26 August 1944 Raht downed his last of the campaign at 01:38 at an unknown location.
Defence of the Reich
In southern Germany, Raht commanded the Gruppe against night intrusions. On 2/3 1945 he accounted for a Halifax and on 3/4 February a Lancaster. Southwest of Mannheim, he claimed a Halifax at 23:49 on the first night and on the second a Lancaster at 20:00 over an unreported location. On the night of 7/8 February 1945, Raht became an "ace-in-a-day" after he claimed six four-engined bombers of unknown type. His victories were claimed at 22:22, at 22:41, at 23:00, at 00:08, at 00:16 and at 00:23 respectively: his 46th to 51st victories. This achievement was mentioned in the addendum of the Wehrmachtbericht, a propaganda radio report, on 10 February 1945.
On the night of the 3/4 March 1945 Raht took part in Operation Gisela, an intruder mission over England. At 23:00 Raht took off leading I./NJG 2 from their base in Twente to intercept a homeward bound Bomber Command raid. Over England, at 01:04 and 01:26 he claimed two four-engine bombers. According to Heinz Rökker, one of Raht's pilots in the group, they flew the Junkers Ju 88G-6 on the mission. The Ju 88s were loaded with bombs and crews were ordered to attack the airfields as well as attack bombers. The group was ordered to fly to the Grimsby-Lincoln area. Rökker was not successful and stated that he believed Raht to be the only successful pilot of the group that night.
On 15/16 March 1945 Bomber Command sent a force of 267 aircraft(134 Lancaster and 122 Halifax bombers plus 11 Mosquitos) of 4, 6 and 8 Groups to bomb Hagen. Six Lancaster and four Halifax bombers were lost lost. This area attack took place in clear visibility and caused severe damage. The main attack fell in the centre and eastern districts. Another 257 Lancasters and eight Mosquitos of 1 and 8 Groups attacked the refinery at Misburg, on the outskirts of Hannover. Four Lancasters were lost. Ten aircraft—seven four-engine bombers, a B-25 Mitchell, a Mosquito and a Lancaster were claimed shot down by German night fighter pilots this night. Rökker claimed two heavy bombers, the B-25 and Mosquito. Wilhelm Johnen scored his 34th victory against a Lancaster. Raht claimed the other five between 20:49 and 21:20. The locations for each claim are not recorded. Raht had claimed his 54th to 58th, and last victories, of the war.
Raht remained in command of I./NJG 2 until the end of the war. On 15 April 1945 Raht became the 833rd Oak Leaves as Hauptmann and Gruppenkommandeur of the I./NJG 2. He was taken prisoner when the German forces surrendered on 8/9 May 1945. He joined the German Air Force as a reservist and died on 11 January 1977.
- Iron Cross (1939)
- Honour Goblet of the Luftwaffe (Ehrenpokal der Luftwaffe) on 6 September 1943 as Oberleutnant and pilot[Note 1]
- German Cross in Gold on 28 January 1944 as Oberleutnant in the II./NJG 3
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
- Mentioned in the addendum of the Wehrmachtbericht on 10 February 1945
- Obermaier 1989, p. 75.
- Scutts 1998, p. 88.
- Stockert 2011, p. 85.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 37.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 51.
- Everitt & Middlebrook 2014, p. 41.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 65.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 69.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 70.
- Everitt & Middlebrook 2014, p. 134.
- Chorley 1996, p. 69.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 72.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 87.
- Everitt & Middlebrook 2014, p. 171.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 98.
- Chorley 1996, p. 250.
- Bowman 2016, p. 176.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 104.
- Middlebrook 2014, p. 183.
- Chorley 1996, p. 273.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 106.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 117.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 123.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 124.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 127.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 130.
- Everitt & Middlebrook 2014, p. 240.
- Chorley 1996, p. 408.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 144.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 147.
- Patzwall & Scherzer 2001, p. 364.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 151.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 152.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, pp. 156–157.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 158.
- Everitt & Middlebrook 2014, p. 278.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 160.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 163.
- Chorley 1997, p. 190.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 170.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 186.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 192.
- Everitt & Middlebrook 2014, p. 333.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 348.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, pp. 195, 198, 199, 202.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 205.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 211.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 234.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, p. 575.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 240.
- Boiten 1997, pp. 54–55.
- Foreman, Parry & Matthews 2004, p. 242.
- Thomas 1998, p. 180.
- Patzwall 2008, p. 121.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 611.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 102.
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