Sonderkommando Elbe

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Sonderkommando "Elbe"
Active7 April 1945
Country Nazi Germany
BranchBalkenkreuz (Iron Cross) Luftwaffe
Rolespecial attack interceptor
Size2,000 aircraft
2,000 volunteers
300 fighter pilots
Motto(s)"Treu, Tapfer, Gehorsam"
("loyal, valiant, obedient")
ColorsBlack and White
EngagementsAir war/aerial ramming over Germany, 7 April 1945
Aircraft flown
InterceptorMesserschmitt Bf 109

Sonderkommando "Elbe" was the name of a World War II Luftwaffe task force assigned to bring down heavy bombers by ramming aircraft into them mid-air. The tactic aimed to cause losses sufficient to halt or at least reduce the Western Allies' bombing of Germany.[1]

The pilots were expected to parachute out either just before or after they had collided with their target. The chances of a Sonderkommando Elbe pilot surviving such a practice were low, at a time when the Luftwaffe was lacking sufficient numbers of well-trained pilots.


Sonderkommando literally means "special command", and the Elbe is one of the main rivers in Germany.

A 1944 drawing by Helmuth Ellgaard illustrating "ramming"

The aircraft of choice for this mission was usually a later G-version (Gustav) of the Messerschmitt Bf 109, stripped of armor and armament. The heavily stripped-down planes had one synchronized machine gun (usually a single MG 131 in the upper engine cowling) instead of up to four automatic weapons (usually including a pair of 20mm or 30mm underwing-mount autocannon) on fully equipped Bf 109G interceptors, and were only allotted 60 rounds each, a normally insufficient amount for bomber-interception missions. To accomplish their mission, Sonderkommando Elbe pilots would typically aim to ram one of three sensitive areas on the bombers: the empennage with its relatively delicate control surfaces, the engine nacelles which were connected to the highly explosive fuel system, or the cockpit itself. One of the most famous reports of cockpit ramming was against a Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber, nicknamed "Palace of Dallas", along with another bomber that the German plane careered into after slicing the cockpit of the Palace of Dallas.[2]

Adding to the last-ditch nature of this task force, the only mission was flown on 7 April 1945 by a sortie of 180 Bf 109s. While only 15 Allied bombers were attacked in this manner, eight were successfully destroyed.[3][4][5]

Order of battle[edit]

Successful missions[edit]

Rank / Name / Former Unit e/a Unit Status

  • Uffz. Heinrich Rosner, (ex-III/JG.102), two B-24 Liberators of the 389th Bomb Group; the first B-24 rammed was lead bomber 44-49533 "Palace of Dallas"; Rosner's aircraft then careened into an unidentified second B-24, possibly the deputy lead bomber;[6] Survived
  • Obfw. Werner Linder, (ex-EJG.1), 1 B-17 Flying Fortress 388th Bomb Group,[7] KIA
  • Fhr. Eberhard Prock, 1 B-17 452nd Bomb Group,[8] KIA, Shot while descending in his parachute.
  • Fw. Reinhold Hedwig, 1 B-17 452nd Bomb Group,[9] KIA, Shot down by 339 Fighter Group P-51.
  • Uffz. Werner Zell, 1 B-17 100th Bomb Group.
  • Uffz. Werner Zell, 1 B-17 452nd Bomb Group,[10] WIA Shot down by P-51.
  • Ogfr. Horst Siedel, 1 B-17 452nd Bomb Group,[11] KIA
  • Lt. Hans Nagel, (ex-IV/JG.102), 1 B-17 490th Bomb Group,[12] KIA, Shot it down by conventional armament, damaged a second B-17 by ramming.
  • Fritz Marktschaftel
  • Uffz. Klaus Hahn, 1 B-17 487th Bomb Group,[13] WIA – Left arm by 4 P-51Ds fire.
  • Heinrich Henkel, 1 B-24 "Sacktime" 467th Bomb Group,[14] WIA by P-51s, Survived.
  • Unknown Bf 109 pilot, 1 B-17 100th Bomb Group,[15] KIA
  • Unknown Bf 109 pilot, 1 B-17 490th Bomb Group,[16] KIA

Luftwaffe records claim at least 22–24 American aircraft fell victim to the Sonderkommando Elbe unit.

(WIA – wounded in action / KIA – killed in action)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Der Spiegel – Deutsche Kamikaze-Flieger; Himmelfahrtskommando für Hitler
  2. ^ #44-49533 12 O'clock High Forum
  3. ^ "German Pilot Perspective". RootsWeb. Retrieved 2 October 2007.
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ in addition to the list above B-17 44-8744 385th BG/550th BS also reported lost by ramming 7 April 1945
  6. ^ #44-49533 12 O'clock High Forum
  7. ^ [Either B-17 42-97105 or B-17 43-38869 both reported rammed "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 7 July 2011. Retrieved 28 July 2010.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) 388th BG Forum]
  8. ^ 12 O'clock high Forum
  9. ^ 12 O'clock high Forum
  10. ^ 12 O'clock high Forum
  11. ^ 12 O'clock high Forum
  12. ^ 12 O'clock high Forum
  13. ^ [B-17 43-39126 damaged Wentz account]
  14. ^ [b-24 #42-94931 467th Bomb group]
  15. ^ [B-17 42-97071 rammed. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 12 December 2010. Retrieved 28 July 2010.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) 100th Bomb Group]
  16. ^ [B-17 380558 severely damaged]
  • "Kamikaze", Dogfights Season 1
  • "The Luftwaffe's Deadliest Mission", Dogfights Season 1
  • Adrian Weir “The Last Flight of the Luftwaffe”, Arms and Armour Press 1997
  • David Irving “Goering: Eine Biographie”, Reinbeck bei Hamburg 1989
  • Alfred Price “The Last Year of the Luftwaffe”, Arms and Armour Press 1991
  • David Irving “Hitler's War”, Macmillan 1977
  • “Rise and Fall of the German Air Force 1933–1945”, St. Martin Press 1983
  • William Green “Warplanes of the Third Reich”, Macdonald and Jane΄s 1970
  • Martin Caidin “Flying Forts”, Ballantine Books 1968
  • Werner Girbig “Six months to oblivion”, Schiffer Publishing 1991
  • David Baker “Adolf Galland: The authorized biography”, Presidio Press 1997
  • Herrmann Hajo “Eagle's Wings”, Airlife 1991

External links[edit]