Helmut Wick, October 1940
5 August 1915|
|Died||28 November 1940
Missing in action – English Channel
|Years of service||1936–40|
|Unit||JG 133, JG 53|
|Commands held||JG 2|
World War II
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves|
Helmut Paul Emil Wick (5 August 1915 – 28 November 1940) was a Luftwaffe Major and flying ace, and the fourth recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves. The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade, the Oak Leaves, was awarded by the Third Reich to recognise extreme bravery in battle or successful military leadership. It was Germany's highest military decoration at the time of its presentation to Helmut Wick.[Note 1]
Born in Mannheim, Wick joined the Luftwaffe in 1936 and was trained as a fighter pilot. He was assigned to Jagdgeschwader 2 "Richthofen" (JG 2—2nd Fighter Wing), and saw combat in the Battles of France and Britain.[Note 2] Promoted to Major in October 1940, he was given the position of Geschwaderkommodore (wing commander) of JG 2—the youngest in the Luftwaffe to hold this rank and position. He was shot down in the vicinity of the Isle of Wight on 28 November 1940, very likely by the British ace John Dundas, who was subsequently shot down by Wick's wingman. Helmut Wick was posted as missing in action, presumed dead. By then he had been credited with destroying 56 enemy aircraft in aerial combat, making him the leading German fighter pilot at the time. Flying the Messerschmitt Bf 109, he claimed all of his victories against the Western Allies.
Early life and pre-war service
Helmut Paul Emil Wick was born on 5 August 1915 in Mannheim, Germany, the youngest of three children of a civil engineer, Karl Wick and Berta Wick, née Schenck.[Note 3] Helmut's eldest brother Walter was born in Swakopmund, at the time in the German protectorate in South-West Africa. The outbreak of World War I forced the family to return to Germany and Helmut's sister, Doris, was born in Rohrbach, near Heidelberg. Owing to the demand for his father's skills and expertise building roads and bridges, Helmut spent most of his childhood traveling throughout the German Reich. The Wick family moved to Hanover in 1919; Helmut's mother died there in February 1922. His father then took the family to Oliva, near Danzig and Königsberg in East Prussia, finally settling in Berlin in 1935.
Upon graduating from Gymnasium (high school) in 1935, Wick, who initially considered a career as a forester, applied to the officer candidate course of the new German Air Force. Scoring well on the suitability tests, he was accepted into the German military on 6 April 1936 at the Luftwaffe officer candidate school in Dresden, after completing compulsory Reichsarbeitsdienst (Reich Labour Service). He swore the oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler on 16 April. After passing officer training courses, Wick was assessed as "well suited to become an officer" on 13 July. He then started flight training and shortly later soloed in a Focke-Wulf Fw 44 "Stieglitz". Wick was considered an average pilot and had difficulties with his theoretical training, especially those topics that were of little or no interest to him. In early May 1937, he was briefly transferred to the 6. Staffel (6th squadron) of Kampfgeschwader 254 (254th Bomber Wing). A month later he returned to Dresden to complete his officer training.
Wick failed to pass the third course of his training but was given a second chance and on 1 April 1938 reported to the officer candidate school at the Luftkriegsschule III (3rd air war school), Wildpark-West near Werder. He successfully completed the course and in mid-1938 started special pilot training at the Fighter Training facility at Werneuchen. Upon graduation, he was assigned to II.Gruppe Jagdgeschwader 135 (135th Fighter Wing) which on 1 November 1938 became Jagdgeschwader 333 (333rd Fighter Wing) under Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant Colonel) Max Ibel at Herzogenaurach, flying obsolete Arado Ar 68 biplane fighters. On 8 November 1938, Oberfähnrich (senior ensign) Wick was promoted to Leutnant (second lieutenant) and on 1 January 1939 was transferred to 1. Staffel of Jagdgeschwader 133 (133rd Fighter Wing), which was later renamed Jagdgeschwader 53 (JG 53—53rd Fighter Wing). It was there that Wick began flying the Messerschmitt Bf 109 monoplane fighter under the tutelage of Werner Mölders, a Spanish Civil War flying ace credited with 14 aerial victories. Under Mölders' guidance, Wick became a Schwarmführer (flight leader).
World War II
Phoney War and Battle of France
On 31 August 1939 Wick was given orders to transfer to "Jagdgeschwader Richthofen Nr. I". At the time there was no such unit; the intention was to send him to Jagdgeschwader 1 (JG 1−1st Fighter Wing), based in Döberitz, near Berlin. During World War I the "Richthofen Geschwader" name had been attached to the World War I era Jagdgeschwader 1. The "Richthofen" name had been incorrectly put on Wick's order. Only Wick noticed the mistake, realizing that he could now choose between JG 1 or the famous Jagdgeschwader 2 (JG 2—2nd Fighter Wing) which currently bore the "Richthofen" name. He chose the Richthofen Geschwader, commanded by Oberst (Colonel) Gerd von Massow, the unit was equipped with the Bf 109 E-3 and used the tactical code Yellow 3. On 1 September, Wick joined its 3. Staffel, serving in the air defence of Berlin during the Polish Campaign. Following the German victory in Poland, JG 2 was transferred to Frankfurt-Rebstock and tasked with protection of Germany's Western border during the Phoney War—the phase between Britain and France's declaration of war on Germany in September 1939, and the Battle of France in May 1940. Flying his sixth combat mission, Leutnant Wick claimed his first, and the Geschwader's second victory on 22 November 1939.[Note 4] Near Nancy, he shot down a French Curtiss Hawk 75 fighter piloted by Sergent Saillard of the Groupe de Chasse II/4 Armée de l’Air, who was killed. For this feat, Wick received the Iron Cross 2nd Class (Eisernes Kreuz 2. Klasse). Wick was allowed to take home leave from his Geschwader and spent Christmas with his wife Ursel, his baby son Walter, and his parents, before returning to his Gruppe at Frankfurt-Rebstock. From 10 to 17 February 1940, Wick and six other members from JG 2 spent a week in the Black Forest on the Feldberg, skiing and relaxing.
On 10 May 1940, German forces launched an offensive in Western Europe, but Wick remained on the ground while his aircraft, Bf 109 Yellow 2, underwent an engine change. Seven days later, he was back in the air, recording three victories over French LeO 45 bombers in one mission. By 6 June, Wick had 10 confirmed and two unconfirmed victories, including four French Bloch 151/152 fighters that he shot down on 5 June to record his fifth through eighth victories. The two unconfirmed victories were Royal Navy Fairey Swordfish biplane torpedo bombers claimed on 19 May and for which he had no witnesses. On 6 June, Wick became the first pilot of the I. Gruppe to complete 100 combat missions, claiming his ninth and tenth victory the same day. For this achievement he was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class (Eisernes Kreuz 1. Klasse) by Oberstleutnant Harry von Bülow-Bothkamp. By the end of the French Campaign, Wick's total stood at 14 confirmed victories, trailing only Hauptmann (Captain) Mölders of JG 53 with 25 victories and Hauptmann Wilhelm Balthasar of JG 27 with 23 victories as the Luftwaffe's top scorer. At the end of the French campaign, 3. Staffel headquarters moved into the house of Louis Aston Knight, an artist who had fled a few days before the Germans arrived.
Battle of Britain
During the Battle of Britain against the Royal Air Force (RAF) in mid-1940, Wick rose quickly in rank and in profile, both in the battle zone and as a public figure back in Germany. On 21 July 1940, the just promoted Oberleutnant (first lieutenant) also became leader of 3. Staffel, succeeding Major Henning Stümpell. Although the fighting in the air grew increasingly difficult, Wick kept adding victories to his tally. He recorded his 20th victory on 24 August and added two more fighters a day later. This achievement earned Wick a reference in the Wehrmachtbericht (his first of five in total), an information bulletin issued by the headquarters of the Wehrmacht. To be singled out individually in the Wehrmachtbericht was an honour and was entered in the Orders and Decorations' section of a soldier's Service Record Book. Twenty aerial victories also made Wick eligible for the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes), a higher grade of the Iron Cross. Wick was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 27 August 1940 at Karinhall by Reichsmarschall (Empire's Marshal) Hermann Göring. He was also interviewed by an Adler (Eagle—the Luftwaffe weekly magazine) journalist prior to the presentation. Several articles about Wick appeared at the time. Wick was granted four days of leave, which he spent with his family in Berlin.
Upon his return to France Wick was promoted to Hauptmann and on 9 September was named Gruppenkommandeur (group commander) of I. Gruppe JG 2. During September he continued adding to his score, and on 5 October gained his 41st combat victory on his way to overtake his two closest rivals, Major Adolf Galland and Oberstleutnant Mölders. The 41st victory earned him his second reference in the Wehrmachtbericht on 6 October 1940. He also became the fourth member of the armed forces to receive the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub) directly from Hitler at Berghof in Bavaria on 8 September 1940.
Wick received orders in the late afternoon of 6 October to report to Reichsmarschall Göring in Berlin by 3 p.m. the following day. Due to bad weather, he chose to drive from Normandy to Berlin by car. Together with his wingman and friend, Rudolf Pflanz, Wick travelled all night and arrived at the Reich Air Ministry right on time to meet with Göring, Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal) Erhard Milch, Generaloberst (Colonel General) Ernst Udet, General der Flieger (General of the Flyers) Kurt Student and General der Flieger Karl Bodenschatz. After the meeting in Berlin, Wick and Göring drove to Berchtesgaden in the Reichsmarschall's personal train, where they arrived at 5 p.m. on 8 October for the official Oak Leaves presentation. Wick was then exposed by Otto Dietrich, the Third Reich's Press Chief, to the international public at a press conference and presented as a "hero". His performance left a predominantly negative impression, since Wick presented himself as a "busybody" (Life Magazine), and made fun of his victims.
On 19 October 1940, Wick was promoted to Major and appointed Geschwaderkommodore (wing commander) of Jagdgeschwader 27 (JG 27—27th Fighter Wing). He had no ambition to leave his Gruppe in JG 2 "Richthofen" and, after giving the matter some thought, asked Göring to let him remain with his Gruppe instead. The next day Göring revoked his decision and gave Wick command of JG 2 "Richthofen". At 25 years of age, he thus became the youngest Major and Geschwaderkommodore in the Luftwaffe. Major Wolfgang Schellmann, who had commanded JG 2 since the beginning of September 1940, was placed in command of JG 27 instead of Wick.
JG 2 "Richthofen" claimed its 500th aerial victory on 16 November 1940, earning Wick another reference in the Wehrmachtbericht. To celebrate the 500th victory, Wick, the Gruppenkommandeure, all of the headquarters personnel, and the Staffelkapitäne went to Paris on 22 November—exactly one year after JG 2's first aerial victory. They visited the show at "Casino de Paris" and dined at the "Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild".
Helmut Wick, accompanied by his Stabsschwarm—including Oberleutnant Rudolf Pflanz, Leutnant Franz Fiby and Oberleutnant Erich Leie — claimed his 55th aerial victory when he shot down a Spitfire on the afternoon of 28 November 1940.[Note 5] His opponent could have been No. 602 Squadron's Pilot Officer Archibald Lyall, who was reported killed in the engagement. This made Wick the highest-scoring fighter pilot in the Luftwaffe, surpassing Mölders, whose score at the time stood at 54 victories. Returning from this mission to Cherbourg- Querqueville, Wick ordered the aircraft refueled and re-armed. Together with Erich Leie as his wingman, Wick took off at 4:10 p.m. and returned to the vicinity of the Isle of Wight. Spotting a flight of Spitfires he climbed to intercept from a more favourable attack position. In a diving attack Wick shot down and killed Pilot Officer Paul A. Baillon, of No. 609 Squadron, flying Spitfire R6631.
Shortly afterwards, around 5 p.m., Wick's Bf 109 E-4 (Werknummer 5344 — factory number) was shot down, probably by twelve–victory ace Flight Lieutenant John Dundas of No. 609 Squadron, though it is also possible that Wick fell victim to Pilot Officer Eric Marrs; Polish pilot Zygmunt Klein of 234 Squadron may have also scored hits on Wick's aircraft; he was also shot down and killed during the battle.
Rudolf Pflanz saw a Spitfire shoot down a Bf 109, whose pilot bailed out. Pflanz then shot down the Spitfire, which he observed to crash in the sea with its pilot still inside.
Only later did Pflanz find out that it was Wick he saw bailing out. Göring had ordered Kriegsmarine torpedo boats on a night-long search-and-rescue mission for Wick. The next day, other naval vessels and the Seenotdienst (air-sea rescue) service, escorted by fighters of JG 2, continued in vain to search for him. He was never found, however, and the Luftwaffe declared him missing in action, presumed dead, on 4 December 1940, earning him his last reference in the daily Wehrmachtbericht. Wick, on his 168th combat mission, was the first Oak Leaves recipient to lose his life in combat.
On 5 August 1939, Wick married Ursel Rolfs (1916–1968) in Berlin. The marriage produced two children, Walter (born in October 1939) and a girl, Sabine, born after Wick's death, in February 1941. On 23 January 1941, Wick's father received a telephone call from Karl Bodenschatz at the Führer Headquarters that Helmut Wick had been rescued and taken prisoner of war. Apparently an official Reuters report had indicated that a 25-year-old Luftwaffe Major, credited with 56 aerial victories, had been interned in a prisoner-of-war camp in Canada. Both Hitler and Göring initiated steps to get confirmation of the report. On 5 February 1941, a telegram from Ottawa informed Ursel that Wick was not interned in Canada. Ursel married the military doctor, Stabsarzt (equivalent to captain) Dr. Gerhard Tausch, later in the war.
- Iron Cross (1939) 2nd Class (21 December 1939) & 1st Class (6 June 1940)
- Pilot/Observer Badge in Gold with Diamonds
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
- Mentioned five times in the Wehrmachtbericht (26 August 1940, 6 October 1940, 8 November 1940, 16 November 1940 and 4 December 1940)
- In 1940, the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves was second only to the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross (Großkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes), which was awarded only to senior commanders for winning a major battle or campaign, in the military order of the Third Reich. The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves as highest military order was surpassed on 28 September 1941 by the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords.
- See Organization of the Luftwaffe during World War II for an explanation of the Luftwaffe structure.
- According to Ringlstetter, Helmut's fathers name is spelled Karl Wick.
- According to Ringlstetter the Geschwader's first victory was credited to Oberfeldwebel Erwin Kley, who received a gold watch and for this achievement. Weal states that the first victory went to Wick.
- The book Helmut Wick—Das Leben eines Fliegerhelden (Helmut Wick—Life of a Flying Hero), published in 1943, was based in large part on Franz Fiby's diary. The prime author was Kriegsberichter (war correspondent) Josef Grabler. Grabler was killed in action on 21 May 1941 during the Invasion of Crete.
- According to Scherzer on 25 October 1940.
- Williamson & Bujeiro 2004, pp. 3, 7.
- Ringlstetter 2005, p. 10.
- Ringlstetter 2005, p. 11.
- Ringlstetter 2005, p. 12.
- Ringlstetter 2005, p. 14.
- Ringlstetter 2005, p. 16.
- Ringlstetter 2005, p. 17.
- Neher 1943, p. 13.
- Ringlstetter 2005, p. 18.
- Ringlstetter 2005, p. 20.
- Weal 2000, p. 26.
- Ringlstetter 2005, p. 21.
- Ringlstetter 2005, p. 31.
- Ringlstetter 2005, p. 83.
- Ringlstetter 2005, p. 47.
- Ringlstetter 2005, p. 64.
- Michulec 2002, p. 36.
- Ringlstetter 2005, p. 66.
- Ringlstetter 2005, p. 68.
- Ringlstetter 2005, p. 87.
- Hagen 1998, p. 255.
- Ringlstetter 2005, pp. 85–87.
- "Nazi Flier Laughs at British Airmen". The New York Times of 13 October 1940. Retrieved 22 June 2012.
- Ringlstetter 2005, p. 97.
- Ringlstetter 2005, p. 111.
- Ringlstetter 2005, p. 142.
- Grabler 1943, p. 6.
- Weal 2000, p. 69.
- "The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. Z Klein". The Battle of Britain London Monument. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
- Ringlstetter 2005, p. 9.
- Ringlstetter 2005, pp. 124–127.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 1, p. 375.
- Obermaier 1989, p. 45.
- Ringlstetter 2005, p. 140.
- Thomas 1998, p. 441.
- Neher 1943, p. 1.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 783.
- Von Seemen 1976, p. 358.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 445.
- Von Seemen 1976, p. 25.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 53.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 1, pp. 288, 321, 354, 361, 375.
- 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.
- Grabler, Josef (1943). Helmut Wick — Das Leben eines Fliegerhelden (in German). Berlin, Germany. ASIN B0025WIWAQ.
- Hagen, Hans-Peter (1998). Husaren des Himmels Berühmte deutsche Jagdflieger und die Geschichte ihrer Waffe (in German). Rastatt, Germany: Moewig. ISBN 978-3-8118-1456-1.
- Michulec, Robert (2002). Luftwaffe at War/Luftwaffe Aces of the Western Front. London: Greenhill Books. ISBN 978-1-85367-486-0.
- Neher, F. L. (1943). WICK (in German). Berlin - Herrlingen: Hanns Arens Verlag.
- 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.
- Ringlstetter, Herbert (2005). Helmut Wick, An Illustrated Biography of the Luftwaffe Ace and Commander of Jagdgeschwader 2 During the Battle of Britain. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7643-2217-4.
- 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.
- Thomas, Franz (1998). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 2: L–Z [The Oak Leaves Bearers 1939–1945 Volume 2: L–Z] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2300-9.
- Von Seemen, Gerhard (1976). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 : die Ritterkreuzträger sämtlicher Wehrmachtteile, Brillanten-, Schwerter- und Eichenlaubträger in der Reihenfolge der Verleihung : Anhang mit Verleihungsbestimmungen und weiteren Angaben [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 : The Knight's Cross Bearers of All the Armed Services, Diamonds, Swords and Oak Leaves Bearers in the Order of Presentation: Appendix with Further Information and Presentation Requirements] (in German). Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7909-0051-4.
- Weal, John (2000). Jagdgeschwader 2 'Richthofen'. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84176-046-9.
- Williamson, Gordon; Bujeiro, Ramiro (2004). Knight's Cross and Oak Leaves Recipients 1939–40. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84176-641-6.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 1, 1. September 1939 bis 31. Dezember 1941 [The Wehrmacht Reports 1939–1945 Volume 1, 1 September 1939 to 31 December 1941] (in German). München, Germany: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG. 1985. ISBN 978-3-423-05944-2.
Major Wolfgang Schellmann
|Commander of Jagdgeschwader 2 Richthofen
20 September 1940 – 28 November 1940
Hauptmann Karl-Heinz Greisert