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2 February 1914|
|Died||3 July 1941
KIA – near Saint-Omer, France
|Buried at||German war cemetery at Illies, France|
|Years of service||1933–41|
JG 1, JG 27, JG 3, JG 2
|Commands held||JG 2|
|Awards||Spanienkreuz in Gold mit Schwertern und Brillanten
Ritterkreuz mit Eichenlaub
Major Wilhelm Balthasar (2 February 1914 – 3 July 1941) was a German World War II Luftwaffe flying ace, commander of Jagdgeschwader 2 (JG 2) and 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. Legally it was Germany's highest military decoration at the time of its presentation to Wilhelm Balthasar.[Note 1]
During his Luftwaffe career, Wilhelm Balthasar was credited with 47 victories, including 7 in the Spanish Civil War, and 13 destroyed on the ground.[Note 2] Between 1939 and 1941 he flew about 300 combat missions in addition to 465 in Spain.
Balthasar was born in Fulda, Hesse-Kassel. Like his father, who was killed in action on Western Front in World War I, Wilhelm served in the Reichswehr as an artillery officer from 1933 until his transfer to the Luftwaffe in 1935. In November 1936, he volunteered to join Sonderstab W, named after its commander General Helmuth Wilberg, for deployment in the Spanish Civil War.
Following his arrival in Spain, Balthasar served with Kampfgruppe K/88 and Aufklärungsgruppe A/88 flying bomber and reconnaissance missions in Junkers Ju 52 and Heinkel He 70. On 23 November 1936, he brought back information that enabled German forces to successfully bomb the port city of Cartagena and also gained his first victory when he shot down a Spanish Republican Air Force I-16 on 20 January 1937.
On 16 March 1937 Balthasar made an emergency landing at Almorox airfield. As he landed his crippled He-70, 3 J/88s fighters were taking off on a train strafing mission. Spotting an experimental Heinkel He-112 fighter nearby Balthasar, claiming to be an experienced fighter pilot, received permission to fly the monoplane fighter. Balthasar took off and using the Heinkel's 20mm cannon blew up an ammunition rail-car. On his way back to the airfield, he also claimed a republican tank destroyed. Upon landing, Balthasar was initially reprimanded by the commanding officer. However, when the commander learned of his escapade, he was given command of Aufklärungsgruppe A/88, a detachment of He-45 biplanes and the He-112 fighter given the tasks of armed reconnaissance, ground attacks and artillery spotting.
In September 1937, Wilhelm Balthasar joined Jagdgruppe 88 J/88 and claimed six more victories (including four Tupolev SB bombers in one mission on 7 February 1938) flying He-51 and the legendary Messerschmitt Bf 109. He returned to Germany in March 1938. For his bravery and leadership in Spain he became one of only 28 men to be awarded the Spanienkreuz in Gold mit Schwertern und Brillanten.
World War II
At the outset of World War II, Balthasar was Staffelkapitän of 1./Jagdgeschwader 1, which was in July 1940 renamed 7./Jagdgeschwader 27. The squadron did not see any action during the 1939 operation Fall Weiss, as it was tasked with the air defense of Berlin. On 10 May 1940 German forces launched the offensive in Western Europe and it was there Balthasar made his mark. On his first mission, 11 May 1940, he claimed three Belgian Air Force Gloster Gladiator fighters and a French Morane 406. He also recorded 9 victories in two days between 5 and 6 June 1940, which brought his World War II tally to 21. For this achievement, on 14 June 1940, Hauptmann Balthasar was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes), becoming the second Luftwaffe fighter pilot after Werner Mölders, to be so decorated. Ultimately, Balthasar was the most successful German fighter pilot of the French campaign with 23 victories.
On 1 September 1940, Balthasar was appointed Gruppenkommandeur of III/ Jagdgeschwader 3, hunting in the skies above London. On 4 September he was seriously wounded in the leg during a dogfight with several 222 Squadron Spitfires over Canterbury and although still on crutches, Balthasar was flying operationally again some 14 days later. On 23 September 1940 he claimed two Spitfires and had three more victories before returning for hospital treatment in November 1940.
On 16 February 1941 Hauptmann Balthasar took over the Richthofen Geschwader, succeeding Hauptmann Greisert who assumed temporary command following the loss of Helmut Wick . Between 22 June and 27 June 1941 he claimed another nine Royal Air Force (RAF) aircraft, including five Bristol Blenheim bombers on 23 June, which brought his victory total to 40. For this milestone, he was awarded Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub) on 2 July 1941.
Wilhelm Balthasar was killed only a day later during an aerial combat with RAF fighters over Aire, France. As he was diving violently in his Bf 109 F-4, the wing of his aircraft malfunctioned and he crashed to his death near Saint-Omer. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of Major and buried at a World War I cemetery in Flanders alongside his father.
Summary of Luftwaffe career
Dates of rank
- Leutnant: 20 April 1935
- Oberleutnant: 18 January 1938
- Hauptmann: December 1939
- Major: posthumously in 1941
- Iron Cross (1939)
- 2nd Class (20 September 1939)
- 1st Class
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
- Spanish Cross in Gold with Swords and Diamonds (1938)
- Pilot Badge (?)
- Mentioned three times in the Wehrmachtbericht on 15 June 1940, 2 July 1941 and 10 July 1941
- Until late September 1941, 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 officially surpassed on 28 September 1941 by the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern), however the first presentation of the Swords to Adolf Galland was made prior to this date on 21 June 1941.
- See also List of Spanish Civil War air aces.
- According to Scherzer as Staffelkapitän of the 1./JG 1
- Nauroth 1999, p. 133.
- Thomas 1997, p. 21.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 121.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 201.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 54.
- 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.
- Nauroth, Holger (1999). Jagdgeschwader 2 "Richthofen" Eine Bildchronik (in German). Stuttgart, Germany: Motorbuch Verlag. ISBN 3-613-01935-3.
- Nauroth, Holger (2005). Jagdgeschwader 2 "Richthofen", A Photographic History. Schiffer Publishing, Atglen, PA. ISBN 0-7643-2094-7.
- 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. Helmut Wick, An Illustrated Biography Of The Luftwaffe Ace And Commander Of Jagdgeschwader 2 During The Battle Of Britain. Schiffer Publishing, Atglen, PA, 2005. ISBN 0-7643-2217-6.
- 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.
- Spick, Mike (1996). Luftwaffe Fighter Aces. New York: Ivy Books. ISBN 978-0-8041-1696-1.
- Thomas, Franz (1997). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 1: A–K [The Oak Leaves Bearers 1939–1945 Volume 1: A–K] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2299-6.
- 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.
Hauptmann Karl-Heinz Greisert
|Commander of Jagdgeschwader 2 Richthofen
16 February 1941 – 3 July 1941
Oberstleutnant Walter Oesau