Luftwaffe aces meet Hitler after an awards ceremony at the Berghof, 1944

Adolf Hitler talks with his flying aces of the Luftwaffe after an award ceremony (Eichenlaub and Schwartern) in Berghof Obersalzburg, April 1944.

All of these Luftwaffe officers' aces received their Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross of Oak Leaves or Swords or Diamonds, the highest award given by Nazi Germany to recognize extreme battlefield bravery or outstanding military leadership. The eight officers shown here made a total of 1,486 air kills. Only two of them went missing in action, and most survived until the 1990s/2000s.

Left To Right:

1) Obest Werner Strib - Luftwaffe Night Fighter. He is officially credited with shooting down 66 enemy aircraft, with 65 claimed during the night. He was the first knight fighter pilot to be awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords.

2) Major Gerhard "Gerd" Barkhorn - Luftwaffe Day Fighter. He won 301 victories, achieved in 1,104 missions; All his victories took place on the Russian front. Despite being the second highest scoring pilot in aviation history, Barkhorn was not awarded his Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords of Diamonds until his 300th victory on 5 January 1945.

3) Generalmajor Erich Walther - commander of a Folschrmjger regiment (paratroopers). He was a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. Promoted to general major on 30 January 1945, he was taken prisoner of war by the Red Army on 8 May 1945. Eric Walther died on 26 December 1947 in Soviet Special Camp 2.

4) Oberstalutnant Kurt Bühligen - Luftwaffe Day Fighter. By 1944 he had killed his 100th victim. While taking off over Soviet-occupied territory, his engine failed and he was forced to land. He was captured by the Russians and held as a POW until 1950. He had won a total of 112.

5) Oberstalutnant Hans-Joachim Jabs - Luftwaffe day and night fighter. 50 wins. Jabs flew variants of the Messerschmitt Bf 110 Zerstörer heavy day fighter and night fighter.

6) Oberstalutnant Bernhard Jopp: Luftwaffe bomber pilot. Recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves. Jopp flew the Focke-Wulf Fw 200 "Condor" on missions in support of the Kriegsmarine in the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean.

7) Major Reinhard Seeler - Luftwaffe Day Fight. He was credited with exactly 100 victories during the nearly 500 combat campaigns during World War II. He recorded an additional 9 victories during the Spanish Civil War. In total 109 victories.

8) Major Erich Hartmann (hidden by Hitler) - Luftwaffe Day Fighter. Nicknamed "Bubby" by his peers and "The Black Devil" by his Soviet opponents, Erich Hartmann is the most successful fighter ace in the history of aerial warfare. "The Blonde Knight of Germany" carried out 1,404 combat missions and participated in aerial combat on 825 separate occasions.

He claimed and was credited with shooting down 352 Allied aircraft – 345 Soviet and 7 American. Over the course of his career, Hartmann was forced to crash-land his damaged fighter 14 times due to damage received or mechanical failure from parts of enemy aircraft.

Hartmann was never shot down or forced to land due to enemy fire. Hartmann claimed, that of all his achievements, he was proud of the fact that he never lost a wingman (Günther Capito was shot but survived).

He received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds on 25 August 1944 for claiming 301 aerial victories. At the time of its presentation to Hartmann, it was Germany's highest military decoration.

9) Major Horst Admit - Luftwaffe Day Fighter. He was credited with 166 victories in over 600 missions and recorded 164 victories on the Eastern Front. He was posthumously promoted to Major.

10) Major Johannes Wiese - Luftwaffe Day Fighter. It was officially attributed to 133 victories claimed in 480 combat campaigns. Additionally, he had 75 more unconfirmed claims. Among their claims are 70 Il-2 Stormovics. So Soviet fighter pilots respected Vise very much, and called him the "lion of the Kuban".

11) Wachmeister Fritz Petersen - Flak Commander. He received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves for his extreme battlefield bravery.

12) Major Dr. Maximilian Otte - Luftwaffe Stuka pilot. He was killed by Soviet flank during the first Jassy-Kishinev offensive on 20 May 1944. During his career, he flew 1179 missions.

13) Hauptmann Walter "Graf Punsky" Krupinsky - Luftwaffe Day Fighter. He was credited with 197 victories in 1,100 sorties. He was called by his fellow pilots Graf Punsky (Count Punsky) because of his Prussian origins. Krupinski was one of the first to fly a Me 262 jet fighter in combat as a member of the famous Aces Squadron JV 44, led by Adolf Galland.


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