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|Born||15 January 1912
|Died||1 August 1966
|Years of service||1936–45|
|Commands held||I./JG 4|
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross|
World War II
Wilhelm Steinmann joined the Luftwaffe in 1936, training as a bomber pilot. Upon his graduation from training, he was posted to 3./Kampfgeschwader 53 (the 3rd squadron of the 53rd Bomber Group) and flew a Heinkel He 111 in 54 missions in the 1940-1941 campaigns against France and Britain.
In 1941 he joined the staff of Fliegerkorps II (the 2nd Air Corps), under which KG 53 had previously been assigned. He served as a Technical Officer for Gen. Bruno Loerzer before volunteering for re-training as a fighter pilot. Upon completing his course in October 1942, he was posted to the Stab (HQ) flight of I./Jagdgeschwader 27. Following its mauling in North Africa the previous month, at the battle of El Alamein, it had been recently withdrawn to France to rest and reform.
Six months later he was serving with 3./JG 27 when he scored his first victory on 18 May 1943: an RAF Hawker Typhoon over the English Channel. On 1 June he claimed his second victory – an RAF Spitfire. However, it was in fact the Bf 109G-6 of his own Gruppenkommandeur, Hptm Erich Hohagen. Wounded, and forced to bail out, he was very unimpressed with the mis-identification. Steinmann was promptly given a transfer to the backwater command of the Jagdfliegerführer Rumänien (Fighter Command – Romania), arriving on 10 June. The commander, Obstlt Bernhard Woldenga himself used to be a commander of JG 27.
Steinmann was soon deployed into action though – promoted to Staffelkapitän (Squadron leader) of 1./JG 4. Jagdgeschwader 4 was still only a single Gruppe in strength at the time and had been set up to provide air protection against bombing raids on the vital Ploiești oil refineries, north of Bucharest. His next combat success came on 1 August 1943, when he claimed two B-24 ‘Liberator’ bombers during Operation Tidal Wave. Injured by return fire from the bombers he was in hospital for six weeks before returning as StaKa of 1./JG 4 on 14 September.
He was injured again on 15 November, and when he returned to his unit in December 1943 it had, in the interim, been transferred to northern Italy. Here it was tasked with protecting against the increasing incursions from the 15th USAAF staging bombing raids over the Alps on the Reich from its Mediterranean bases. He temporarily took command of the Gruppe for 3 weeks after the death of his Kommandeur, Hptm Franz Hahn on 22 January 1944. The Gruppe was now based on the front line of the Italian Front, with the Allies halted at Monte Cassino and bottled up after the landings at Anzio. The role of I./JG 4 at this time was primarily to provide escort for the ground attack aircraft, and against overwhelming numbers, there were plenty of targets. Despite the risks, Steinmann was now scoring regularly – he claimed his 15th on 3 March. On 1 May he was awarded the Ehrenpokal der Luftwaffe (Trophy of Honour) for those 15 victories.
With Rome falling on 5 June 1944, and the Overlord landings in Normandy the day after, I./JG 4 was soon recalled to Germany, for the Defense of the Reich campaign to cover for the fighters sent to France. JG 4 had recently been finally expanded to the full Geschwader strength of three Gruppen by converting the Zerstörer pilots of ZG 1 onto single-seat fighters, so I./JG 4 was joining the rest of its sibling units. On 26 August, now with 23 victories, he was appointed Gruppenkommandeur of I./JG 4 following the death of Hptm Walter Höckner. The unit was in the process of moving forward and deployed to Antwerp for a week before they were forced to abandon their bases to scramble to Mannheim, as the British captured the city on 4 September. Smashed by the great waves of Allied fighters in the skies, the unit was pulled back to Berlin at the end of September to be rebuilt.
The unit was sent back to the Western Front (albeit, on the Rhine) in mid-November. On 18 December Steinmann claimed an RAF Mosquito bomber for his 29th victory and on 1 January 1945 was awarded the German Cross in Gold. New Year’s Day was also the Luftwaffe’s last major air offensive – the ill-fated Operation Bodenplatte. However, Steinmann (now promoted to Major) had been grounded and was thus fortunate to miss the shambles that was JG 4’s part in the operation, where it suffered some of the greatest losses of all the air units involved.
After more heavy losses, in late January his unit was pulled back to Berlin again as the Soviet offensive stormed across Poland. Now flying ground attack missions for which his pilots had no training, the unit was, inevitably, smashed again, although Steinmann himself shot down four Russian aircraft. The unit was formally disbanded on 19 March 1945.
Steinmann, as a veteran pilot, again missed the destruction as he had already been transferred to III./Ergänzungs-Jagdgeschwader 2 (EJG 2) and begun flight-training on the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter. He recorded four victories in the jet. Finally, on 28 March 1945, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross after achieving 44 victories. It is reported that he spent the final weeks of the war flying with JV 44, under the command of Adolf Galland, although late-April staff-returns do not mention him.
Wilhelm Steinmann was credited with 44 victories in 234 missions, with all but four scored against the Western Allies. He survived the war, but died on 1 August 1966 at Ansbach, aged 54 years.
- Iron Cross (1939) 2nd and 1st class
- Ehrenpokal der Luftwaffe (1 May 1944)
- German Cross in Gold (1 January 1945)
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 28 March 1945 as Major of the reserves and Gruppenkommandeur of the I./JG 4
- Scutts 1994, p. 63.
- Manrho & Pütz, p. 188.
- Forsyth 2008, pp. 122–123.
- Obermaier 1989, p. 210.
- Fellgiebel 2000, pp. 410, 505.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 722.
- Caldwell, Donald; Muller, Richard (2007), The Luftwaffe over Germany: Defense of the Reich, Oxford: Greenhill, ISBN 978-1-85367-712-0.
- 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.
- Forsyth, Robert (2008). Aviation Elite Units #27: Jagdverband 44 Squadron of Experten. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84603-294-3.
- Manrho, John & Putz, Ron (2010). Bodenplatte-The Luftwaffe's Last Hope Stackpole Books ISBN 0811-70686-9
- 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.
- 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.
- Scutts, Jerry (1994). Bf 109 Aces of North Africa and the Mediterranean. London, UK: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-85532-448-0.
- Smith, J.Richard & Creek, Eddie J (2005). Jagdwaffe Vol 5, Sec4: Jet Fighters and Rocket Interceptors 1944 - 1945 Hersham, Surrey: Ian Allan Publishing ISBN 1-903223-52-0