Joachim Müncheberg

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Joachim Müncheberg
A black and white photo of the head and shoulders of a young man. He wears a peaked cap and military uniform with an Iron Cross displayed at the front of his shirt collar.
Born(1918-12-31)31 December 1918
Friedrichsdorf, Dramburg, Province of Pomerania
Died23 March 1943(1943-03-23) (aged 24)
Meknassy, Tunisia
Buried
German Military Cemetery at Bordj-Cedria
Allegiance Nazi Germany
Service/branch German Army (1936–38)
 Luftwaffe (1938–43)
Years of service1936–43
RankMajor
UnitJG 26, JG 51, JG 77
Commands held7./JG 26, II./JG 26, JG 77
Battles/warsWorld War II
AwardsKnight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
Gold Medal of Military Valor

Joachim Müncheberg (31 December 1918 – 23 March 1943) was a German Luftwaffe fighter pilot during World War II and an ace credited with 135 air victories.

The majority of his victories were claimed over the Western Front, with 33 claims over the Eastern Front. Of his 102 aerial victories achieved over the Western Allies, 46 were against Supermarine Spitfire fighters.

Born in Friedrichsdorf, Müncheberg volunteered for military service in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany in 1936. Initially serving in the Army, he transferred to the Luftwaffe (air force) in 1938. Following flight training, he was posted to Jagdgeschwader 234 (JG 234—234th Fighter Wing) in October 1938. He was transferred to Jagdgeschwader 26 "Schlageter" (JG 26—26th Fighter Wing) a year later and was appointed adjutant of the III. Gruppe (3rd Group). He fought in the Battle of France and received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross following his 20th aerial victory and during the Battle of Britain. Serving as a Staffelkapitän (Squadron Leader) he fought in the aerial battles during the siege of Malta and Balkans Campaign. He received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Italian Gold Medal of Military Valor (Medaglia d'oro al Valore Militare) after 43 aerial victories.

Müncheberg then briefly served in North Africa in support of the Afrika Korps before transferring to France. He was given command of JG 26's II. Gruppe (2nd Group) in September 1941 and was then posted to Jagdgeschwader 51 (JG 51 —51st Fighter Wing), on the Eastern Front, in July 1942. Serving as a Geschwaderkommodore (Wing Commander) in training under JG 51 wing commander Karl-Gottfried Nordmann, he claimed his 100th aerial victory on 5 September 1942 for which he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (Schwerter) on 9 September 1942, his score then at 103 aerial victories. On 1 October 1942 Müncheberg was given command of Jagdgeschwader 77 (JG 77—77th Fighter Wing), operating in the Mediterranean Theatre. He died of wounds following a mid-air collision during combat near Meknassy, Tunisia on 23 March 1943.

Childhood, education and early career[edit]

Joachim "Jochen" Müncheberg was born on 31 December 1918 in Friedrichsdorf near Dramburg in the Province of Pomerania, at the time a province of the Free State of Prussia. Today it is Darskowo in the administrative district of Gmina Złocieniec, within Drawsko County, Poland. He was the second child of Paul Müncheberg, a farmer, and his wife Erika, née Ulrich. His sister Eva-Brigitte was one and a half years older.[1] His father had served as a cavalry officer of the reserves during World War I. The hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic forced his father to sell their farm Friedrichshof in 1923; they resettled in Königsberg, where Müncheberg started his elementary schooling (Grundschule). His father was able to repurchase their old farm in 1927 and the family moved back to Friedrichshof. Müncheberg completed his elementary school in Falkenburg, Pomerania. He walked or rode on a horse-drawn wagon 24 kilometres (15 mi) each way to school. In 1928 he transferred to the Realgymnasium (a type of secondary school) in Dramburg and graduated with his Abitur (diploma) in 1936.[1]

Colour photo of the Rila Monastery
Rila Monastery

Müncheberg, who was talented in sports and athletics, played football for the T.V. Falkenburg youth team in the early 1930s. He attended the Sturmabteilung-sports school in Hammerstein for a few weeks in 1934 and in 1935 spent his summer vacation in Bulgaria where he, among other places, stayed at the Rila Monastery. In early 1936 he attended a National Socialism course in Lauenburg, Pomerania. He completed his compulsory labour service (Reichsarbeitsdienst) in October 1936 with Abteilung (department) 5/50 in Lüttmannshagen, district of Cammin. As an athlete, he especially excelled in the decathlon; almost daily he practised the ten different disciplines. Aged 17, he attended a summer camp held in conjunction with the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.[1]

His interest in flying was kindled by his cousin Hermann Hackbusch, a pilot during World War I, who often took Müncheberg to the Berlin-Staaken airfield for sightseeing flights.[2] He volunteered for service in the then newly emerging Luftwaffe and started his recruit training on 4 December 1936 in the Army of the Wehrmacht. Müncheberg spent his 1936/37 winter vacation in Altenberg in the Erzgebirge.[1] He then attended the III. Lehrgang (3rd training course) in the 4. Schülerkompanie (4th student company) at the Luftkriegsschule 1 (1st Air War School) in Dresden as a Fahnenjunker (Officer Applicant) from 1 April to 30 June 1937.[3] A year later he completed his flight training there and was promoted to Fähnrich (Officer Cadet) on 16 December 1937.[4][Note 1] He transferred to the Luftwaffe in 1938 and attended the Jagdfliegerschule (Fighter Pilot School) in Werneuchen, under the command of Oberst (Colonel) Theodor Osterkamp. He was then posted to I. Gruppe (1st group) of Jagdgeschwader 234 (JG 234—234th Fighter Wing) stationed at Cologne on 23 September 1938.[5][6][7][Note 2] He was promoted to Leutnant (Second Lieutenant) on 8 November 1938.[8]

While stationed in Cologne, Müncheberg trained for the decathlon at the ASV Köln (sports club in Cologne) during his spare time and competed in various national and international track and field events. He even had a training field built on the family estate at Friedrichshof in Pomerania and at the time had strong ambitions to compete in the 1940 Summer Olympics. His commanding officers supported him in this athletic vision and gave him additional time off to practice for the Olympics. Müncheberg owned a dachshund (Dackel), which his mother had bred, named Seppl. The dog accompanied him from the start of World War II until his death on 23 March 1943.[7]

I./JG 234 was equipped with the Messerschmitt Bf 109 E-3 in December 1938 and re-designated as I. Gruppe of Jagdgeschwader 26 "Schlageter" (JG 26—26th Fighter Wing), named after Albert Leo Schlageter, on 1 May 1939. Müncheberg was transferred to 11. Staffel of Lehrgeschwader 2 (11./LG 2—11th squadron of the 2nd Demonstration Wing) in mid-1939. 11.(Nacht)/LG 2 was formed on 1 August 1939 and experimented with night fighting techniques. Only pilots with excellent flying abilities, especially blind flying, were chosen.[7]

World War II[edit]

World War II in Europe began on Friday 1 September 1939 when German forces invaded Poland. 11.(Nacht)/LG 2 was re-designated to 10.(Nachtjagd) Staffel of Jagdgeschwader 26 which was led by Oberleutnant (First Lieutenant) Johannes Steinhoff. III. Gruppe was formed on 23 September 1939 in Werl and Müncheberg was appointed its adjutant.[7] III. Gruppe relocated to Essen-Mülheim in early November 1939 during the Phoney War period (October 1939 – April 1940). From this airfield, he claimed his first victory on 7 November 1939, a Royal Air Force (RAF) Bristol Blenheim Mk. I bomber L1325 of No. 57 Squadron RAF, piloted by Pilot Officer H.R. Bewlay. This achievement earned him the Iron Cross 2nd Class (Eisernes Kreuz zweiter Klasse) on 9 November 1939.[9][10][11]

Battle of France[edit]

The Battle of France, the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, began on 10 May 1940. II. and III. Gruppe flew close air support missions in support of German airborne landings by the Fallschirmjäger (paratroopers) in the Netherlands. Müncheberg filed claim for his second victory on 11 May 1940 when he shot down a Armée de l'Air (French Air Force) Curtiss P-36 Hawk northwest of Antwerp. On 13 May 1940, III. Gruppe was moved to München Gladbach, present-day Mönchengladbach, closer to the border with the Netherlands and Belgium.[12][13] After the surrender of the Netherlands on 17 May 1940, III. Gruppe moved to Peer in Belgium and again moved on 19 May, this time to Beauvechain near Brussels.[14]

four Messerschmidt Bf 109 E of Fighter Wing 51 "Mölders" on a grass airfield
Bf 109 Es, similar to those flown by Müncheberg over France and Belgium.

Operating from Chièvres Air Base from 27 May 1940, Müncheberg claimed his fifth aerial victory over a Supermarine Spitfire on 29 May 1940. This achievement earned him the Iron Cross 1st Class (Eisernes Kreuz erster Klasse). At the time, III. Gruppe was providing fighter escort for Junkers Ju 87 "Stuka" dive bombers and Messerschmitt Bf 110 heavy fighters operating against the beachhead held by British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in the Battle of Dunkirk.[15] On 4 June 1940, III. Gruppe relocated to La Capelle near Boulogne. The second and decisive phase, Fall Rot (Case Red), of the Battle of France began on 5 June. Major (Major) Adolf Galland was appointed Gruppenkommandeur (group commander) of the III. Gruppe on 6 June and Müncheberg became his first adjutant. The Gruppe was again relocated on 13 June, this time to Les Thilliers-en-Vexin and on 17 June to Villacoublay near Paris. Müncheberg flew ground support missions against the retreating French forces at the time. France surrendered on 22 June 1940 and III. Gruppe of JG 26 "Schlageter" moved back to München Gladbach in Germany.[16] In total, Müncheberg claimed eight Allied aircraft shot down during the invasion of France, including four on 31 May 1940, bringing his total to nine.[17] The Gruppe then moved to Döberitz on 1 July to provide fighter protection for Berlin. The time was also used to repair and upgrade the Bf 109 E-3s to Bf 109 E-4s.[16]

Battle of Britain[edit]

On 21 July 1940, JG 26 "Schlageter" received orders to relocate to Caffiers in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais in preparation for actions against Britain in what would become the Battle of Britain. Adolf Hitler had issued Führer Directive no. 17 (Weisung Nr. 17) on 1 August 1940; the strategic objective was to engage and defeat the RAF to achieve air supremacy, or at least air superiority, in preparation for Operation Sea Lion (Unternehmen Seelöwe), the proposed amphibious invasion of Great Britain. III. Gruppe flew fighter protection for bomber formations attacking allied shipping in the English Channel on 24 July. These missions were referred to as Kanalkampf (channel combat) by the Germans. The unit flew its next mission one day later, providing fighter protection for Stuka's again targeting shipping. Müncheberg, who had been promoted to Oberleutnant on 19 July 1940, claimed his 10th aerial victory on 28 July when he shot down a No. 257 Squadron Hawker Hurricane 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) northeast of Dover.[18] The claim was made at 15:15. No other German pilot from JG 26 claimed a Hurricane at that time.[19] The only loss suffered by 257 Squadron was Sergeant Ronald V. Forward who bailed out wounded. Müncheberg is credited with downing Forward.[20] However, RAF records appear to show he was shot down at 18:40, almost three and a half hours after Müncheberg's claim.[21] Müncheberg was credited with his 11th victory on 8 August, claiming a No. 65 Squadron Spitfire piloted by Flight Sergeant Norman T. Phillips shot down.[22] The claim would seem unlikely. The war diary for JG 26 "Schlageter" shows that Müncheberg made his claim at 12:55 in the afternoon as did three other pilots. No. 65 Squadron lost only two Spitfires that day, one flown by Phillips. British records show Phillips was killed in action at 10:45 in No. 65 Squadron's first mission of the morning, approximately two hours earlier.[23][24] On this day, the Germans lost 22 aircraft shot down and 23 damaged; the British lost 16 aircraft shot down and four damaged.[25] Only one III. Gruppe Bf 109 was lost.[26] The only RAF losses occurring at the time of Müncheberg's claim were two Hurricanes belonging to No. 238 Squadron - Flight Lieutenant D.E Turner and Flying Officer D.C. McCaw were killed in action at roughly 12:30.[27]

III. Gruppe continued to fly combat air patrols over the English Channel on 11 and 12 August, however Müncheberg did not claim any aircraft shot down on these days. The fighting reached a climax on 13 August when Eagle Day was launched (code name Adlertag).[18] Müncheberg claimed a Hurricane shot down from either No. 32 Squadron or No. 615. Squadron on 14 August. On 15 August he claimed a Spitfire from No. 64 Squadron while flying escort for Kampfgeschwader 1 Hindenburg (KG 1—1st Bomber Wing) and Kampfgeschwader 2 Holzhammer (KG 2—2nd Bomber Wing).[28] Galland was appointed Geschwaderkommodore (Wing Commander) of JG 26 "Schlageter" on 22 August 1940. In consequence, Hauptmann Gerhard Schöpfel, who had led 9. Staffel, was appointed Gruppenkomandeur of the III. Gruppe and Müncheberg was given command of the 7. Staffel as Staffelkapitän (Squadron Leader), replacing Oberleutnant Georg Beyer who had been prisoner of war after being shot down.[29]

Flying another fighter escort mission on 24 August in an attack south of London, Müncheberg claimed a victory over a Hurricane from No. 151 Squadron and another Hurricane on 31 August. This brought his total to 15 aerial victories, which increased to 16 the next day. On 13 September 1940, he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes) the same day he achieved his 20th aerial victory - the second in JG 26.[30] This achievement earned Müncheberg a reference in the Wehrmachtbericht (his first of five total), a bulletin issued by the headquarters of the Wehrmacht.[28] Following the award presentation Müncheberg was sent on three weeks home leave.[31] He returned in early October, after the third phase of the Battle of Britain where the Luftwaffe had targeted the British airfields, had come to an end. He claimed his first victory following his vacation on 17 October over a Free French Air Force Bloch MB.150. He shot down a Spitfire on 25 October. The Gruppe then relocated to Abbeville-Drucat on 10 November. He claimed his last victory in the Battle of Britain, and his last of 1940, on 14 November, when Galland and Müncheberg each claimed a Spitfire in combat with No. 66. Squadron and No. 74. Squadron. This was Müncheberg's 23rd victory, and was claimed southeast of Dover. The weather then deteriorated, and fog and heavy rain prevented further flight operations.[32] Hitler visited JG 26 "Schlageter" at Christmas 1940. Hitler dined with a selected group of pilots, among them Oberleutnant Gustav Sprick, Hauptmann Walter Adolph, Hauptmann Rolf Pingel, Galland, Schöpfel and Müncheberg.[28] The war of attrition against the RAF had cost JG 26 "Schlageter" dearly, 7. Staffel alone lost 13 pilots, and the entire Geschwader had to be moved back to Germany to reform and re-equip in early 1941. III. Gruppe was stationed at Bonn-Hangelar, in Sankt Augustin. Before the Gruppe received new aircraft, the men were sent on a skiing vacation at Sankt Anton am Arlberg.[33]

Malta, Balkans and North Africa in 1941[edit]

On 4 February 1941, Müncheberg was informed by Gruppenkommandeur Schöpfel that the 7. Staffel had to relocate to Sicily in support of X. Fliegerkorps, under the command of General der Flieger (General of the Flyers) Hans Geisler, for actions against the strategically important island of Malta. With the opening of a new front in North Africa in mid-1940, British air and sea forces based on the island could attack Axis ships transporting vital supplies and reinforcements from Europe to North Africa. To counter this threat the Luftwaffe and the Regia Aeronautica (Italian Royal Air Force) were tasked with bombing raids in an effort to neutralise the RAF defences and the ports.[34]


red heart in black square
The red heart was displayed on both sides of the Bf 109 engine cowling, earning the unit the nickname "Red Hearts".[35]

Following a brief stopover in Rome, 7. Staffel arrived in Gela on Sicily on 9 February 1941. Here Müncheberg received a factory new Bf 109 E-7/N with the Werknummer (factory number) 3826 and marked as "White 12".[36] He claimed his first victory in the Siege of Malta on 12 February over a No. 261 Squadron Hurricane south of Siġġiewi, Malta.[37] On 16 February Müncheberg claimed his 26th victory over No. 261 Squadron Hurricane of ace Flight Lieutenant James MacLachlan, who baled out severely wounded. MacLachlan lost his arm, but returned to combat in late 1941.[38][39] Müncheberg claimed a slow flying Hurricane—he assumed that the Hurricane had engine trouble - on 25 February. Flying fighter protection for the Stukas, which were targeting the airfield at Luqa, he claimed another Hurricane at 14:06 and another one the following day.[40] Müncheberg claimed his 33rd victory on 28 March 1941. This was also his 200th combat mission which was celebrated by the entire Staffel.[41]

The 7. Staffel, and elements of the support ground personnel, were relocated to Grottaglie airfield near Taranto in Apulia on 5 April 1941. Here the pilots learned that the Wehrmacht would invade Yugoslavia and Greece on 6 April. In support of this invasion, the pilots attacked the airfield at Podgorica.[41] Müncheberg claimed a Yugoslav Hawker Fury biplane of Independent Fighter Eskadrila, 81 (Bomber) Grupa, Jugoslovensko Kraljevsko Ratno Vazduhoplovstvo (JKRV - Yugoslav Royal Air Force) on 6 April 1941. Its pilot Porucnik (First Lieutenant) Milenko Milivojevic was killed.[42] He claimed another Fury and a Breguet 19 destroyed on the ground, but he was only given credit for the first aircraft destroyed in aerial combat. The two Furys were in fact Avia BH-33 biplanes.[43]

The Balkan intermezzo was short and the detachment relocated back to Gela beginning on 8 April. On 28 March Müncheberg completed his 200th mission and claimed his 33rd victory, another Hurricane.[44] Müncheberg claimed two Hurricanes of No. 261 Squadron, the first one on 11 April and the second one on 23 April: in the former case the two pilots were killed when they attacked a Messerschmitt Bf 110 reconnaissance aircraft and failed to notice Müncheberg and his wingman flying as escort; in the latter case the pilot survived the parachute jump but drowned. British naval forces were ordered not to undertake rescue missions in the midst of an air raid.[45] A reconnaissance Bf 109 detected a four-engine Short Sunderland L5807, belonging to No. 228 Squadron RAF at RAF Kalafrana on 27 April. Müncheberg led his 7. Staffel in the attack, destroying the Sunderland. Pilot Officer Rees and his crew survived.[46] On 29 April, 7. Staffel provided fighter protection for Junkers Ju 88 bombers attacking Malta. 7. Staffel claimed two Hurricanes shot down, one by Münchberg, for the loss of one Ju 88. The German actress and UFA star, Carola Höhn, wife of bomber pilot Arved Crüger, on a mission to provide entertainment to the troops, visited the pilots at Gela. According to Röll, Müncheberg was especially attracted to the actress and personally accompanied her during her visit.[47]

Müncheberg surpassed 40 aerial victories on 1 May 1941 after downing two aircraft on an early morning mission. This feat earned him his second mention in the Wehrmachtbericht. In the afternoon, 7. Staffel flew fighter cover for Italian Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 bombers. In aerial combat with six Hurricanes over the airfields at Hal Far and Luqa he shot down his third opponent of the day. In total, 7. Staffel was credited with six victories on this day, three by Müncheberg.[48] The entire 7. Staffel at the time was anxiously awaiting the announcement that Müncheberg had been awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub). Following two more Hurricanes shot down on 6 May, his total now at 43 victories, Müncheberg received the news of his award on the early morning of 7 May. Müncheberg became the 12th member of the Wehrmacht to be honoured with the Oak Leaves and two hours later received news that Duce Benito Mussolini had awarded him the Gold Medal of Military Valor (Medaglia d'Oro), the first German to receive this award.[49] Hitler sent him a teleprinter message on 7 May 1941 congratulating him on his 40th aerial victory.[50]

four men in military uniforms standing in front of a propeller driven aircraft
Müncheberg (left) and General (later field marshal) Erwin Rommel in North Africa, 1941.[Note 3]

7. Staffel then began a series of relocations which eventually took them to the North African theatre of operations. The Staffel first relocated to Greece at the end of May. The ground personnel were shipped from Catania to Piraeus and then to the airfield at Molaoi on the southern tip of the Peloponnese region. The original intent was to participate in the Battle of Crete. The relatively quick but costly victory made these plans obsolete. The Staffel was then given two weeks of rest at Catania before moving on to Molaoi. Here the pilots were initially tasked with long range combat air patrols before Operation Battleaxe, a British Army operation with the goal of clearing eastern Cyrenaica of German and Italian forces, was initiated on 15 June. 7. Staffel was immediately ordered to relocate to North Africa where they were subordinated to I. Gruppe of Jagdgeschwader 27 (I./JG 27 - 1st group of the 27th Fighter Wing), then under the command of Hauptmann Eduard Neumann.[52] The unit was based at Gazala on 31 May.[53]

In North Africa, Müncheberg just barely escaped being killed when one of his headphone speakers was shot off by small arms fire during a low level strafing attack.[54] In total, Müncheberg claimed five victories in this theatre. His first three victories were over Hurricanes. The one on 20 June was claimed against pilots from either No. 1 Squadron or No. 2 Squadron of the South African Air Force (SAAF). His victory on 24 June was over Pilot Officer James Alan Frederick Sowrey of No. 6 Squadron who was killed in the engagement. The opponent claimed on 15 July was either a No. 73 Squadron or No. 229 Squadron RAF pilot.[55] The final two victories in North Africa of 1941 were over Curtiss P-40 Warhawks, both on 29 July 1941, from No. 2 Squadron SAAF. This took his total to 48 aerial victories.[56][57][58]

Channel operations[edit]

Fliegerführer Afrika received orders on 4 August 1941 to downsize the 7. Staffel in Africa to four aircraft. The remaining aircraft and aircrews were to relocate to France back to Jagdgeschwader 26. Before Müncheberg arrived in France, he stopped in Rome where he received the Gold Medal of Military Valour from Mussolini. He then travelled to the Wolf's Lair, Hitler's headquarters in Rastenburg, present-day Kętrzyn in Poland, for the Oak Leaves presentation. Following the presentation Müncheberg went on two weeks of vacation.[59] Following their return from North Africa to France the pilots of 7. Staffel were given newer Bf 109 F-4 aircraft in replacement for the older Bf 109 E-7 type. Müncheberg claimed his first victory here on 28 August over a Spitfire and another one, his 50th overall, on 29 August. He claimed two Spitfires on 4 September and one more from No. 71 Squadron three days later.[60]

On 19 September 1941, Müncheberg was promoted to the rank of Hauptmann and became Gruppenkommandeur of II./JG 26 "Schlageter" following the death of Hauptmann Walter Adolph the day before, in aerial combat with RAF Spitfire fighters. Müncheberg's position of Staffelkapitän of the 7. Staffel was passed on to Oberleutnant Klaus Mietusch. II. Gruppe had already been equipped with the new Focke-Wulf Fw 190 A-1. It was the first Gruppe in the Luftwaffe completely equipped with the Fw 190.[60] Müncheberg's number of victories continued to increase; all but his 55th on 18 September, which was over a No. 607 Squadron Hurricane, were claimed against Spitfires. Galland was replaced by Schöpfel on 5 December as Geschwaderkommodore of JG 26 "Schlageter". Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring had appointed Galland as General der Jagdflieger (General of Fighters) following the death of Oberst Werner Mölders.

On 8 November 1941, in an air battle near Dunkirk which involved Spitfire Vb's of RCAF No. 412 Squadron, based at RAF Wellingore, Müncheberg attacked a section of four Spitfires, shooting down three of them; all three pilots were killed. The fourth Spitfire in the section, which was undamaged, and its pilot unharmed, was flown by John Gillespie Magee Jr., author of the famous aviation poem, "High Flight."[61]

On 8 December Müncheberg achieved his 60th aerial victory which was announced in the Wehrmachtbericht, his third such mention.[62] He claimed his 62nd overall victory and the last of the year 1941 on 16 December 1941.[63] Müncheberg went on a lengthy vacation in early 1942, not returning before March 1942. He therefore did not participate in Operation Donnerkeil (11–12 February 1942), the air superiority operation to support the Kriegsmarine's (German Navy) Operation Cerberus.[64]

Müncheberg claimed the first victory following his vacation on 13 March 1942, a Spitfire of No. 124 Squadron. During his absence the Fw 190 A-1 and A-2 had been replaced with the newer A-3 variant. Two Spitfires of No. 412 Squadron fell to his guns on 24 March which brought his score to 65.[65] Müncheberg claimed his 70th and 71st victory on 26 April within two minutes of combat. II. Gruppe at the time was referred to as the "Abbeville Boys" by the RAF pilots based on the Abbeville airfield where they were stationed.[66] On 29 April 1942 he probably shot down and killed No. 131 Wing RAF leader and Polish ace Wing Commander Marian Pisarek.[67] On 2 June, II. Gruppe intercepted No. 403 Squadron on a fighter-bomber mission. Müncheberg was credited with the destruction of two Spitfires taking his total to 81 aerial victories. This achievement was announced on 4 June 1942 in the Wehrmachtbericht and was followed by the presentation of the German Cross in Gold (Deutsches Kreuz in Gold) on 5 June. He claimed his final two victories (82–83) with II. Gruppe on 20 June 1942 in combat with Spitfires of No. 118 and No. 501 Squadron. II. Gruppe was credited with the destruction of five enemy aircraft without suffering any losses.[68]

Eastern Front[edit]

Following his 83rd aerial victory, Müncheberg was summoned to his commanding officer, Geschwaderkommodore Schöpfel, who informed him of his transfer to Jagdgeschwader 51 (JG 51—51st Fighter Wing) on the Eastern Front. Müncheberg was destined to become a Geschwaderkommodore but prior to receiving his own command he would have to serve as a Kommodore in training. He went on a three weeks home leave, staying at his parents home, before he received his orders to head east on 21 July 1942.[69]

On his way to the Eastern Front, Müncheberg travelled to Berlin where he briefly served on the staff of the General der Jagdflieger Galland discussing air combat tactics and how to lead a fighter wing. On 26 July 1942 he participated in the German track and field championships, starting for the ASV Köln in the decathlon. Müncheberg finally arrived on the Eastern Front in early August 1942 where he was welcomed by the Geschwaderkommodore of JG 51, Major Karl-Gottfried Nordmann.[70] Initially Müncheberg believed that combat on the Eastern Front was child's play in comparison to the Western Front. In the first four weeks his aircraft was twice severely damaged in combat. His first major task was re-equipping JG 51 with the Fw 190. Under his leadership JG 51 became the first fighter wing on the Eastern Front to equip with this type. He claimed his first victories in the east on 3 August 1942, shooting down two Petlyakov Pe-2 dive bombers near Rzhev.[71]

He quickly achieved further victories, reaching 90 victories on 22 August and surpassing the 100 victories on 5 September. He was the 19th Luftwaffe pilot to achieve the century mark.[72] On 9 September, he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern) following his 103rd victory. Müncheberg was the 19th member of the Wehrmacht and the 13th fighter pilot who had received this award.[73] Müncheberg claimed his last victory in this theatre on 22 September 1942, claiming 33 victories in total over Russian aircraft, this took his overall score to 116 aerial victories. He was then ordered to the Wolf's Lair where Hitler presented him the Swords to his Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves. Following the award ceremony he was granted home leave before being appointed Geschwaderkommodore of Jagdgeschwader 77 (JG 77—77th Fighter Wing), replacing Gordon Gollob in this role.[74]

North Africa[edit]

Müncheberg took over command of Jagdgeschwader 77 on 1 October 1942. Jagdgeschwader 77 at the time was deployed on the southern sector of the Eastern Front and was scheduled to relocate to North Africa where I. Gruppe under the command of Heinz Bär arrived in Ain el Gazala on 27 October. Under the leadership of Müncheberg, the Geschwaderstab (headquarters unit) which was equipped with new Bf 109 G-2s, arrived on 29 October.[75] He scored over a No. 92 Squadron Spitfire piloted by Flight Sergeant Blades on 9 November.[76] Promoted to Major on 30 November 1942, he claimed a No. 601 Squadron RAF fighter 10 December and made a forced landing in his Bf 109 G-2 (Werknummer 10 725—factory number; 35% damage) following combat with a P-40 of the 66th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, 57th Fighter Group, United States Army Air Forces (USAAF). Warrant Officer B. Raises was posted missing in action from 601 Squadron.[77] On 15 December Müncheberg took off with seven Bf 109s from III./JG 77 and attacked eight American P-40s practicing ground attack tactics; he claimed one shot down. The pilot crashed onto the shore and was captured.[78]

On 22 January 1943 Müncheberg accounted for two 3 RAAF P-40s. Sergeant Righetti parachuted out and Flying Officer Russell was wounded and his aircraft damaged.[79] Another success claimed on 28 January was a P-40 belonging to the 33rd Fighter Group which crashed.[80] On 10 March Müncheberg claimed Flight Lieutenant R. R. Smith DFC, a Canadian pilot with 8 victory claims who was captured. No. 112 Squadron RAF lost six in that fight, but claimed their 200th victory.[81] A Bell P-39 Airacobra from 93d Fighter Squadron, 81st Fighter Group was claimed that day.[82] Three days later, 10 P-39s of the 92nd Squadron and two from the 91st Squadron, 81st Fighter Group were ordered to attack targets of opportunity in the La Fauconnerie area. Spitfires of the 307th and 308th Squadrons of the 31st Fighter Group acted as escort but were distracted by Fw 190s and left the P-39s unprotected. Müncheberg claimed one, Ernst-Wilhelm Reinert, claimed four and Siegfried Freytag claimed two.[83] The US units lost seven; Lieutenants Murray, Turkington, Smith, Leech, McCreight and Lewis of the 93rd and Lt Lyons of the 91st were lost.[83] Murray escaped and returned the following day.[83] The success was added to another claimed earlier in the morning when his unit engaged 34 P-40s from the US 57th Fighter Group, containing the 64th, 65th and 66th Squadrons. Reinert and another pilot claimed two each—the Americans lost four, with one pilot escaping to Allied lines, and most likely the pilot shot down by Müncheberg.[83]

Death[edit]

Müncheberg died of wounds after an engagement in his Bf 109 G-6 (Werknummer 16 381) on 23 March 1943 over Tunisia when his 135th victim, a USAAF 52nd Fighter Group Spitfire exploded in front of him after a close range burst of cannon fire, incapacitating Muncheberg's aircraft. The Spitfire was piloted by Captain Theodore Sweetman.[84][85] Captain Hugh L. Williamson, who was also shot down in the engagement, later stated that he thought Sweetmann had deliberately rammed Müncheberg's aircraft with his burning Spitfire.[86] Müncheberg's body was originally buried at El Aouina; it was later moved to the "Heroes' Cemetery" at Tunis. In the 1950s it was moved again and re-buried at the German Military Cemetery at Bordj-Cedria.[87] The Wehrmachtbericht announced his death on 25 March 1943.[88]

Summary of career[edit]

Aerial victory claims[edit]

Müncheberg was credited with 135 aerial victories, claimed in more than 500 combat missions, 102 on the Western Front - including 19 over Malta, one in Yugoslavia and 24 in North Africa - and 33 on the Eastern Front. His tally includes at least 46 Supermarine Spitfire fighter aircraft shot down.[89] Matthews and Foreman, authors of Luftwaffe Aces - Biographies and Victory Claims, researched the German Federal Archives and found documentation for 135 aerial victory claims, plus nine further unconfirmed claims. This number includes 102 on the Western Front and 33 on the Eastern Front.[90]

Victory claims were logged to a map-reference (PQ = Planquadrat), for example "PQ 47591". The Luftwaffe grid map (Jägermeldenetz) covered all of Europe, western Russia, and North Africa. It was composed of rectangles measuring 15 minutes of latitude by 30 minutes of longitude, an area of about 360 square miles (930 km2). These sectors were then subdivided into 36 smaller units to give a location area 3 km × 4 km in size.[91]

Awards and honours[edit]

On 30 November 1962 an honorary one-time pension of 1,500 DM was paid to the relatives of Müncheberg (and relatives of Hans-Joachim Marseille) by the Italian Minister of Defence Giulio Andreotti.[123]

Dates of rank[edit]

1 August 1937: Fahnenjunker-Unteroffizier[89]
16 December 1937: Fähnrich[89]
13 September 1938: Oberfähnrich[89]
8 November 1938: Leutnant (Second Lieutenant)[89]
19 July 1940: Oberleutnant (First Lieutenant)[89]
19 September 1941: Hauptmann (Captain)[89]
30 November 1942: Major (Major)[89]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Flight training in the Luftwaffe progressed through the levels A1, A2 and B1, B2, referred to as A/B flight training. A training included theoretical and practical training in aerobatics, navigation, long-distance flights and dead-stick landings. The B courses included high-altitude flights, instrument flights, night landings and training to handle the aircraft in difficult situations.
  2. ^ For an explanation of Luftwaffe unit designations, see Organisation of the Luftwaffe during World War II.
  3. ^ Hardly visible from this angle, the picture shows Müncheberg wearing a bandage on his left knee. He injured himself in a sporting competition at Erfurt in May 1941. He fell running the 110 metres hurdles.[51]
  4. ^ According to Matthews and Foreman claimed at 07:55.[98]
  5. ^ According to Matthews and Foreman claimed at 17:14.[98]
  6. ^ a b c d This unconfirmed claim is listed by Matthews and Foreman,[103] but not by Prien, Stemmer, Rodeike and Bock.[102][104]
  7. ^ According to Matthews and Foreman this claim is unconfirmed.[98]
  8. ^ According to Matthews and Foreman claimed at 18:55.[110]
  9. ^ According to Matthews and Foreman claimed at 18:06.[110]
  10. ^ According to Matthews and Foreman claimed at 18:07.[110]
  11. ^ According to Matthews and Foreman claimed at 17:57.[110]
  12. ^ a b According to Matthews and Foreman claimed on 14 September 1942 at 17:07.[110]
  13. ^ According to Matthews and Foreman claimed at 11:17.[114]
  14. ^ According to Matthews and Foreman claimed at 11:21.[114]
  15. ^ According to Matthews and Foreman claimed at 11:23.[114]
  16. ^ According to Matthews and Foreman this claim is listed as Müncheberg's 126th aerial victory.[114] However, Prien, Stemmer, Rodeike and Bock do not list this claim.[115]
  17. ^ According to Röll on 9 November 1939.[8]
  18. ^ According to Scherzer as adjutant in the III./Jagdgeschwader 26 "Schlageter".[120]

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Röll 2010, p. 59.
  2. ^ Schumann & Westerwelle 2010, p. 2.
  3. ^ Röll 2010, pp. 59–60.
  4. ^ Röll 2010, pp. 60, 154.
  5. ^ Schumann & Westerwelle 2010, p. 3.
  6. ^ Williamson & Bujeiro 2005, p. 59.
  7. ^ a b c d Röll 2010, p. 60.
  8. ^ a b c Röll 2010, p. 154.
  9. ^ Röll 2010, pp. 11–14, 60, 154.
  10. ^ Warner 2002, p. 149.
  11. ^ Caldwell 1991, p. 14.
  12. ^ Schumann & Westerwelle 2010, p. 6.
  13. ^ Röll 2010, p. 15.
  14. ^ Röll 2010, p. 16.
  15. ^ Röll 2010, p. 19.
  16. ^ a b Röll 2010, p. 24.
  17. ^ Caldwell 1996, p. 34.
  18. ^ a b Röll 2010, p. 25.
  19. ^ Caldwell 1996, p. 50.
  20. ^ Bergström 2015, p. 88.
  21. ^ Mason 1969, p. 195.
  22. ^ Kershaw 2007, p. 97.
  23. ^ Caldwell 1996, p. 51.
  24. ^ Mason 1969, p. 217.
  25. ^ Mason 1969, pp. 217–219.
  26. ^ Mason 1969, p. 219.
  27. ^ Mason 1969, pp. 217–218.
  28. ^ a b c Schumann & Westerwelle 2010, p. 10.
  29. ^ Röll 2010, p. 26.
  30. ^ Caldwell 1996, p. 73.
  31. ^ Röll 2010, p. 58.
  32. ^ Röll 2010, p. 61.
  33. ^ Röll 2010, p. 62.
  34. ^ Röll 2010, pp. 63–65.
  35. ^ Caldwell 2012, p. 110.
  36. ^ Röll 2010, p. 65.
  37. ^ Röll 2010, p. 66.
  38. ^ Röll 2010, pp. 67–68.
  39. ^ Cull & Symons 2003, p. 83.
  40. ^ Röll 2010, p. 68.
  41. ^ a b Röll 2010, p. 69.
  42. ^ Shores, Cull & Malizia 1987, p. 205.
  43. ^ Caldwell 2012, p. 109.
  44. ^ Caldwell 2012, p. 108.
  45. ^ Caldwell 2012, pp. 110–111.
  46. ^ Rogers 2017, pp. 24, 162.
  47. ^ Röll 2010, p. 70.
  48. ^ Röll 2010, pp. 70–71.
  49. ^ Röll 2010, pp. 72–77.
  50. ^ Bruppacher 2013, p. 273.
  51. ^ Röll 2010, p. 96.
  52. ^ Röll 2010, pp. 79–80.
  53. ^ Shores & Ring 1969, p. 41.
  54. ^ Schumann & Westerwelle 2010, p. 24.
  55. ^ Shores & Ring 1969, p. 49.
  56. ^ Röll 2010, pp. 80, 97–102.
  57. ^ Schumann & Westerwelle 2010, p. 41.
  58. ^ Shores & Ring 1969, p. 47-55.
  59. ^ Röll 2010, p. 103.
  60. ^ a b Röll 2010, p. 104.
  61. ^ Stephen M. Fochuk, Air Force Magazine, Vol. 41, No. 3, 15 December 2017, p. 46.
  62. ^ Röll 2010, p. 105.
  63. ^ Röll 2010, pp. 150–153.
  64. ^ Röll 2010, pp. 106–107.
  65. ^ Röll 2010, p. 107.
  66. ^ Röll 2010, pp. 110–111.
  67. ^ Gretzyngier 2014, p. 23.
  68. ^ Röll 2010, p. 111.
  69. ^ Röll 2010, p. 112.
  70. ^ Röll 2010, pp. 112–113.
  71. ^ Röll 2010, p. 113.
  72. ^ Obermaier 1989, p. 243.
  73. ^ Schumann & Westerwelle 2010, p. 30.
  74. ^ Röll 2010, p. 119.
  75. ^ Schumann & Westerwelle 2010, p. 32.
  76. ^ Shores & Ring 1969, p. 206.
  77. ^ Shores, Massimello & Guest 2012, pp. 470–471.
  78. ^ Shores & Ring 1969, p. 215.
  79. ^ Shores, Massimello & Guest 2012, p. 510.
  80. ^ Shores, Ring & Hess 1975, p. 180.
  81. ^ Shores, Massimello & Guest 2012, pp. 536–537.
  82. ^ Shores, Ring & Hess 1975, p. 244.
  83. ^ a b c d Shores, Ring & Hess 1975, p. 247.
  84. ^ Scutts 1994, p. 88.
  85. ^ Molesworth 2011, p. 50.
  86. ^ Schumann & Westerwelle 2010, p. 39.
  87. ^ Röll 2010, p. 148.
  88. ^ Röll 2010, p. 149.
  89. ^ a b c d e f g h Schumann & Westerwelle 2010, p. ii.
  90. ^ Matthews & Foreman 2015, pp. 889–892.
  91. ^ Planquadrat.
  92. ^ Matthews & Foreman 2015, p. 889.
  93. ^ Prien et al. 2001, p. 210.
  94. ^ a b Matthews & Foreman 2015, pp. 889–890.
  95. ^ a b c d e f g h Prien et al. 2000, p. 228.
  96. ^ a b c Prien et al. 2002, p. 335.
  97. ^ a b Prien et al. 2002, p. 336.
  98. ^ a b c d e f g Matthews & Foreman 2015, p. 890.
  99. ^ a b c d e Prien et al. 2002, p. 337.
  100. ^ a b c d Prien et al. 2002, p. 340.
  101. ^ a b c d e f g h i Prien et al. 2003, p. 339.
  102. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Prien et al. 2003, p. 340.
  103. ^ Matthews & Foreman 2015, pp. 890, 892.
  104. ^ a b c d e f g Prien et al. 2004b, p. 268.
  105. ^ a b c d e f g h Prien et al. 2003, p. 549.
  106. ^ a b c d e f Prien et al. 2003, p. 533.
  107. ^ Matthews & Foreman 2015, pp. 890–891.
  108. ^ a b c d e Prien et al. 2004a, p. 371.
  109. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Prien et al. 2004a, p. 372.
  110. ^ a b c d e Matthews & Foreman 2015, p. 891.
  111. ^ Matthews & Foreman 2015, pp. 891–892.
  112. ^ a b Prien et al. 2006, p. 244.
  113. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae Prien et al. 2006, p. 245.
  114. ^ a b c d e f Matthews & Foreman 2015, p. 892.
  115. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Prien et al. 2011, p. 301.
  116. ^ Prien et al. 2011, p. 302.
  117. ^ a b Thomas 1998, p. 107.
  118. ^ Patzwall & Scherzer 2001, p. 323.
  119. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 319.
  120. ^ a b c Scherzer 2007, p. 559.
  121. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 54.
  122. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 40.
  123. ^ Wübbe 2001, p. 66.

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Military offices
Preceded by
Major Gordon Gollob
Commander of Jagdgeschwader 77 Herz As
1 October 1942 – 23 March 1943
Succeeded by
Oberstleutnant Johannes Steinhoff