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30 August 1909|
Rawitsch, Province of Posen
|Died||6 October 1989
|Years of service||1935–45|
|Unit||Condor Legion, JG 54, JG 104|
|Commands held||I./JG 54, JG 104|
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves|
Reinhard Seiler (30 August 1909 – 6 October 1989) was a Spanish Civil War and World War II Luftwaffe Major and ace, commander of Jagdgeschwader 104 and a winner of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves of Nazi Germany; for the fighter pilots, it was a quantifiable measure of skill and combat success. Reinhard Seiler was credited with 100 victories during World War II, over the course of about 500 combat missions. He recorded an additional 9 victories during the Spanish Civil War.
Childhood and early career
Seiler was born on 30 August 1909 in Rawitsch, in the Province of Posen at the time a Prussian province in the German Empire and now in Poland. He joined the fledgling Luftwaffe in 1935. After completing his pilot training, he was sent to Spain with the Condor Legion, and served from 1938–1939 with 2./JGr 88 (2nd Squadron of Jagdgruppe 88). During that time he established himself as one of the top aces in the Condor Legion, returning to Germany with 9 victories, and in June 1939 he was awarded the Spanish Cross in Gold with Diamonds.
World War II
After his return, on May 1939, he was appointed the Staffelkapitän (Squadron leader) of the newly established 1./Jagdgeschwader 70 (JG 70—70th Fighter Wing) based near Nürnberg, being declared operational in July 1939. As war opened in September 1939 it was kept back on Home Defence duties. Soon after, on 15 September, the Gruppe was re-designated I./Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54—54th Fighter Wing)—with Seiler's unit now renamed 1./JG 54—and transferred to the Western Front to cover the southernmost region of the French border. He scored his first victory of the war on 10 January 1940, shooting down a French reconnaissance Potez southwest of Freiburg. He scored a second victory on 7 April west of Strasbourg. However he scored no further in the subsequent Battle of France, when his unit covered the Panzer advance through the Ardennes forests and later over the Dunkirk bridgehead. Pulled out early, back to occupied Netherlands as the campaign wound down, I./JG 54 was then one of the first units to re-occupy the Pas de Calais, in early August 1940 in anticipation of the upcoming Battle of Britain. On a bomber escort mission over Dover on 5 August 1940 Oberleutnant Seiler scored his third victory (a Spitfire), but was bounced by a Hurricane squadron, shot down and severely injured. Taking to his parachute over the English Channel, he was rescued and hospitalised, but was out of action for over 6 months.
Invasion of the Soviet Union
Promoted to Hauptmann (Captain) in December, he returned to his command of 1./JG 54 in the spring of 1941, as the Luftwaffe prepared for the upcoming invasion of Russia - Operation Barbarossa. JG 54 was tasked with providing the fighter cover for Army Group North and its advance toward Leningrad. On the opening day of the campaign (22 June 1941) he shot down 3 aircraft, thereby doubling his score, and as his unit leap-frogged to new airbases across the Baltic States over the next few weeks his score continued to rise. By the end of September, he had 33 victories and his unit had finally settled down, establishing itself at Siverskaya, (about 60 kilometers (37 mi) south of Leningrad). He had been awarded the Ehrenpokal on 20 August recognising his leadership and combat success.
With the loss of Arnold Lignitz on 30 September (shot down over Leningrad), Hauptmann Seiler was assigned to command III Gruppe (also based at Siverskaya), as Barbarossa entered its critical phase. Despite surrounding the city, it could not be taken so Hitler decided instead to besiege it. For the next three years, JG 54 would stay, essentially, encamped outside the city interdicting the supply lines and intercepting the frantic attempts of the Russians to lift the siege in offensive after offensive.
Seiler himself remained as Gruppenkommandeur of III./JG 54 for nearly one and a half years. He was awarded the German Cross in Gold on 15 October then the Knight's Cross on 20 December 1941, having flown 200 missions. In spring 1942 Geschwaderkommodore (Wing Commander) Hannes Trautloft had the idea for fighter interceptions of Soviet night-harassment raids on moonlit nights. A great success, they claimed 56 victories for no losses. Seiler was the most successful pilot in these missions, scoring 16 night-victories between March and June 1942 and he was also promoted to Major in June. Throughout 1942, JG 54 continued to cover the north: the Leningrad siege and Demyansk fronts. In December though, Seiler took his III./JG 54 to Smolensk in the centre, and then soon after in early 1943 rotated back to the west as part of Adolf Galland's mis-guided plan to swap units between the western and eastern fronts in exchange for I./Jagdgeschwader 26 (JG 26—26th Fighter Wing).
"Defence of the Reich"
Re-equipping instead onto Bf 109G-4s, they spent 6 weeks on the Channel Front. Unused to operating at higher altitudes and in large formations, JG 26 Geschwaderkommodore Josef Priller refused to declare the unit ready for operations. Finally in March, they were transferred back to Oldenburg in northern Germany for further training and to stay on Defence of the Reich duties. Fittingly perhaps, with the unit's first successes on 17 April, unit commander Seiler scored his one and only Viermot (4-engine bomber) kill. However, he was already under orders to return to the Leningrad Front, as on 15 April he had been made the new Gruppenkommandeur of I./JG 54, flying the Focke-Wulf Fw 190. He was replacing Hans Philipp who had just become the 2nd pilot to reach 200 victories, and who was himself being rotated back to Germany for Reich Defence command duties.
Unseasonably bad weather limited operations for the next few months and then all attention was turned to the main 1943 offensive - Operation Citadel against the Kursk salient. Seiler's I./JG 54 was transferred in June to Orel to join the fighter cover over the northern attack. On the opening day of the offensive, 5 July, he scored 5 victories to take his tally to 97. The following day he scored a further two kills. Eager to reach the magic 'century', he chased and shot down an Airacobra of 30th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment (30 GIAP). However immediately afterward he was himself shot and forced to bail out badly wounded over enemy territory east of Ponyri, midway between Orel and Kursk. He was the 44th Luftwaffe pilot to achieve the century mark. He was declared unfit for further combat duties.
In recognition of his long service and command in JG 54, he was awarded the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross on 2 March 1944. Later in the year, on 8 August, he was appointed Geschwaderkommodore of the fighter-pilot training unit Jagdgeschwader 104 and served in this position until it was disbanded on 28 April 1945, just days before the end of World War II. Released in 1946, Reinhard Seiler died on 6 October 1989, at the age of 80, in the town of Grafengehaig near Kulmbach, in Bavaria. Over approximately 500 missions, he was credited with 168 air victories, including 9 in Spain and just 4 in the west. The remaining 155 victories were scored over the Russian Front.
- Spanish Cross in Gold with Swords and Diamonds (6 June 1939)
- Iron Cross (1939)
- Ehrenpokal der Luftwaffe (20 August 1941)
- German Cross in Gold on 15 October 1941 as Hauptmann in the 1./Jagdgeschwader 54
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
- Mentioned in the Wehrmachtbericht
- Luftwaffe 39-45 Historia website.
- Weal 2001, p.18.
- Weal 2001, p.25.
- Weal 2001, p. 54.
- Weal 2001, pp. 85–86.
- Bergstrom 2007, p.48.
- Obermaier 1989, p. 243.
- Thomas 1998, p. 312.
- Obermaier 1989, p. 62.
- Patzwall & Scherzer 2001, p. 441.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 700.
- Bergström, Christer (2007). Kursk – The Air Battle, July 1943 Hersham, Surrey: Ian Allan Publishing ISBN 1-90322-388-1
- 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.
- 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.
- Weal, John (2001). Aviation Elite Units #6: Jagdgeschwader 54 ‘Grünherz’. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84176-286-5
- Weal, John (2001b). Bf 109 Aces of the Russian Front. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84176-084-1.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 2, 1. Januar 1942 bis 31. Dezember 1943 [The Wehrmacht Reports 1939–1945 Volume 2, 1 January 1942 to 31 December 1943] (in German). München, Germany: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG. 1985. ISBN 978-3-423-05944-2.