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|Born||26 March 1916
|Died||8 April 1944
|Years of service||1935–44|
|Unit||JG 52, JG 77, JG 11|
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves|
Josef Zwernemann was born on 26 March 1916 in Kirchworbis in the Province of Thuringia. During World War II he served as a fighter pilot in German Luftwaffe. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub). 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.
Zwernemann initially served in the Kriegsmarine where he completed his basic training. Unteroffizier Zwernemanns' service with 7./Jagdgeschwader 52 (JG 52—52nd Fighter Wing) began on 1 March 1940 and participated in the Battle of France.[Note 1] He claimed his first aerial victory over a Supermarine Spitfire in July 1940. In May 1941 he fought in the Battle of Crete.
With the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, his tally increased and he became one of the most successful pilots of his Jagdgruppe (fighter group). By the end of 1941 his score stood at twenty and he was awarded Ehrenpokal der Luftwaffe on 12 December 1941. In May 1942 the number of victories had increased to thirty and he was honored with the German Cross in Gold on 25 May 1942. The Oberfeldwebel received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross for 57 victories on 23 June 1942. In the month of September 1942 he claimed over thirty victories. On 1 October 1942 claimed four victories increasing his score to 103, for which he received the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross. He was the 26th Luftwaffe pilot to achieve the century mark. He was promoted to Leutnant in the spring of 1943. One of Zwernemanns' wingmen and students was history's top-scoring ace Erich Hartmann.
While serving with 9./JG 52, Zwernemann claimed his 113th victory on 15 April 1943 and victory 117 on 7 May 1943. One of his victories on 15 April 1943 was Starshiy Leytenant Dmitriy Glinka, who had already been recommended to be appointed a Hero of the Soviet Union. At the end of May 1943 he was posted to the fighter pilot training school, Ergänzungsgruppe Ost. He returned to combat service in the fall of 1943, this time serving with 3./Jagdgeschwader 77 (JG 77—77th Fighter Wing) in Italy. From here he was posted to 1./JG 11 (JG 11—11th Fighter Wing) on 15 December 1943 serving in Defense of the Reich duties and claimed a further 9 victories. As of 15 December he was acting Staffelkapitän (squadron leader), representing Hauptmann Siegfried Simsch. Zwernemann was promoted to Hauptmann on 1 April 1944.
On 8 April 1944 1st Staffel took off from Rotenburg together with I. and II./JG 11 to intercept an inbound B-24 Liberator bomber formation, which was protected by P-51 Mustang escort fighters. JG 11 reported the destruction of 8 bombers and 6 P-51 Mustangs for the loss of 20 fighters. Eleven pilots were killed in action and three wounded in action.
Among those killed in action was Josef Zwernemann. Zwernemann had claimed his sixth heavy bomber and one P-51 in the space of little more than 60 seconds before he himself was shot down by two P-51s. His comrades reported that Zwernemann bailed out but was shot in his parachute. Josef Zwernemann was killed 8 April 1944 near Gardelegen, Altmark after more than 600 combat missions and 126 aerial victories.
- Iron Cross (1939)
- Ehrenpokal der Luftwaffe on 15 December 1941 as Feldwebel and pilot[Note 2]
- German Cross in Gold on 11 May 1942 as Oberfeldwebel in the III./JG 52
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
- Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe with Pennant
- Pilot/Observer Badge
- Commemorative Medal for the Italo-German Campaign in Africa
- Eastern Front Medal
- West Wall Medal
- Obermaier 1989, p. 244.
- Weal 2011, p. 70.
- Thomas 1998, p. 478.
- Patzwall 2008, p. 225.
- Obermaier 1989, p. 55.
- Patzwall & Scherzer 2001, p. 534.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 810.
- 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.
- Obermaier, Ernst (1989). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Luftwaffe Jagdflieger 1939 – 1945 [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the Luftwaffe Fighter Force 1939 – 1945] (in German). Mainz, Germany: Verlag Dieter Hoffmann. ISBN 978-3-87341-065-7.
- Patzwall, Klaus D.; Scherzer, Veit (2001). Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 – 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II [The German Cross 1941 – 1945 History and Recipients Volume 2] (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN 978-3-931533-45-8.
- Patzwall, Klaus D. (2008). Der Ehrenpokal für besondere Leistung im Luftkrieg [The Honor Goblet for Outstanding Achievement in the Air War] (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN 978-3-931533-08-3.
- 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.
- Stockert, Peter (2012) . Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 2 [The Oak Leaves Bearers 1939–1945 Volume 2] (in German) (4th ed.). Bad Friedrichshall, Germany: Friedrichshaller Rundblick. ISBN 978-3-9802222-9-7.
- 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.
- Weal, John (2004). Jagdgeschwader 52: The Experten (Aviation Elite Units). London, UK: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84176-786-4.
- Weal, John (2011). Fw 190 Defence of the Reich Aces. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84603-482-4.