Aces High - WW II
American P-51 pilot Lawence Thompson flies into his first dogfight and begins to chase a German ME-109, he soon wishes he had picked a different German...
".... This was my first major dogfight I had in the war, in January 1945. I was flying a P-51D and we were supposed to meet with bombers over
So we're all heading back to
right in front of me! And he fires his guns at me, and he rolls to the right, in a Lufbery circle. I peel off, following this Me109. I can see silver P-51s and black nosed camouflaged painted Me109s everywhere I look. At this time I cannot get on the
transmitter and talk, everyone else in the squadron is yelling and talking, and there's nothing but yelling, screaming, and incoherent interference as everyone presses their mike buttons at the same time. I can smell something in the cockpit. Hydraulic fluid! I knew I got hit earlier..... I'm still following this Me109. I just got my first confirmed kill of my tour, and now I'm really hot. I believe that I am the hottest pilot in the USAAF! And now I'm thinking to myself: am I going to shoot this Me109 down too?! He rolls and we turn, and turn; somehow, I cannot catch up with him in the Lufbery circle, we just keep circling. About the third 360 degree turn he and I must have spotted two Mustangs flying below us, about 2,000 feet below, and he dives for the two P-51s.
Now I'm about 150 yards from him, and I get my gun sight on his tail, but I cannot shoot, because if I shoot wide, or my bullets pass through him, I might shoot down one or both P-51s, so I get a front seat, watching, fearful that this guy will shoot down a P-51. We're approaching at about 390 mph. There's so much interference on the R/T I cannot warn the two Mustangs, I fire one very long burst of about seven or eight seconds purposely wide, so it misses the Mustangs, and the Me109 pilot can see the tracers. None of the Mustang pilots see the tracers either! I was half hoping that they'd see my tracers and turn out of the way of the diving Me109. But no such luck. I quit firing. The Me109 still dives, and as he approaches the two P-51s he holds his fire, and as the gap closes, two hundred yards, one hundred yards, fifty yards the Hun does not fire a shot. No tracers, nothing! At less than ten yards the Hun fires one single shot from his 20mm cannon! And Bang! Engine parts, white smoke, glycol, what not from the lead P-51 is everywhere, and that unfortunate Mustang begins a gentle roll to the right (he was taken POW).
I try to watch the Mustang down, but cannot; now my full attention is on the Hun! Zoom. We fly through the two Mustangs, now the advantage of the P-51 is really apparent, as in a dive I am catching up to the Me109 faster than a runaway freight train. I press the trigger for only a second then let up, I believe at that time I was about 250 yards distant, but the Hun was really pulling lots' of negative and positive g's and pulling up to
the horizon. He levels out and then does a vertical tail stand! And next thing I know, he's using his built up velocity from the dive to make a vertical ninety degree climb. This guy is really an experienced pilot. I'm in a vertical climb, and my P-51 begins to roll clockwise violently, only by pushing my left rudder almost through the floor can I stop my P-51 from turning. We climb for altitude; in the straight climb that Me109 begins to out distance me, though my built up diving speed makes us about equal in the climb. We climb one thousand fifteen hundred feet, and at eighteen hundred feet, the Hun levels his aircraft out. A vertical climb of 1,800 feet! I've never heard of a piston aircraft climbing more than 1,000 feet in a tail stand. At this time we're both down to stall speed, and he levels out. My airspeed indicator reads less than 90 mph! I'm really close now to the Me109, less than twenty five yards! Now if I can get my guns on him.........
At this range, the gun sight is more of nuisance than a help. Next thing, he dumps his flaps fast and I begin to overshoot him! That's not what I want to do, because then he can bear his guns on me. The P-51 has good armor, but not good enough to stop 20mm cannon hits. This Luftwaffe pilot must be one heck of a marksman, I just witnessed him shoot down a P-51 with a single 20mm cannon shot! So I do the same thing, I dump my flaps, and as I start to overshoot him, I pull my nose up, this really slows me down; S-T-A-L-L warning comes on! And I can't see anything ahead of me nor in the rear view mirror. Now I'm sweating everywhere. My eyes are burning because salty sweat keeps blinding me: 'Where is He!?!' I shout to myself. I level out to prevent from stalling. And there he is, flying on my right side. We are flying side to side, less than twenty feet separates our wingtips. He's smiling and laughing at himself. I notice that he has
a red heart painted on his aircraft, just below the cockpit. The nose and spinner are painted black.
It's my guess that he's a very experienced ace from the Russian front. His tail has a number painted on it: "200". I wonder: what the "two hundred" means!? Now I began to examine his airplane for any bullet hits, after all, I estimate that I just fired 1,600 rounds at the Hun. I cannot see a single bullet hole in his aircraft! I could swear that I must have gotten at least a dozen hits! I keep inspecting his aircraft for any damage. One time, he even lifts his left wing about 15 degrees, to let me see the underside, still no hits! That's impossible I tell myself. Totally impossible. Then I turn my attention back to the "200" which is painted on the tail rudder. German aces normally paint a marker for each victory on their tail. It dawns on me that quick: TWO HUNDRED KILLS !! We fly side by side for five minutes. Those five minutes take centuries to pass. Less than twenty five feet away from me is a Luftwaffe ace, with over two hundred kills. We had been in a slow gradual dive now, and my altitude indicates 8,000 feet. I'm panicking now, even my socks are soaked in sweat. The German pilot points at his tail, obviously meaning the "200" victories, and then very slowly and dramatically makes a knife cutting motion across his throat, and points at me. He's telling me in sign language that I'm going to be his 201 kill! Panic! I'm breathing so hard, it sounds like a wind tunnel with my mask on. My heart rate must have doubled to 170 beats per minute; I can feel my chest, thump-thump and so this goes on for centuries, and centuries. The two of us flying at stall speed, wingtip to wingtip. I think more than once of simply ramming him. He keeps watching my ailerons; maybe that's what he expects me to do. We had heard of desperate pilots who, after running out of ammunition, would commit suicide by ramming an enemy plane. Then I decide that I can Immelmann out of the situation, and I began to climb, but because my flaps are down, my Mustang only climbs about one hundred feet, pitches over violently to the right and stalls. The next instant I'm dangerously spinning, heading ninety degrees vertically down! And the IAS reads 300 mph! My P-51 just falls like a rock to the earth! I hold the yoke in the lower left corner and sit on the left rudder, flaps up, and apply
I never saw the Me109 with the red heart again. At the mess I mention the Me109 with the red heart and "200" written on the tail. That's when the whole room, I mean everybody, gets instantly quiet. Like you could hear a pin drop. Two weeks later the base commander shows me a telex: "....according to intelligence, the German pilot with a red heart is Erich Hartmann who has downed 250 aircraft and there is a reward of fifty thousand dollars offered by Stalin for shooting him down. I’ve never before heard of a cash reward for shooting down an enemy ace ...
Erich "Bubi" Hartmann...aka ”Karaya one” (1922-1995)
Victories: 352 total, seven P-51s over Rumania( Ploesti), all others Eastern Front, all in Bf 109.
Sorties: 1,400 total, 850 aerial combats
Units Flown With: JG52, a brief stay at JG53 and Me-262 ”Erprobungs” unit
Shot Down: 16 times, never wounded
Awarded: Das Ritterkreuz zum Eisernen Kreuz mit Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillianten
Age during War: 19-23
Captured in 1945 by Russia, spent 10 years in Russian captivity, released in 1955
Hartmann's 352 kills makes him the top scoring ace in history.
To put Hartmann's statistics into perspective, consider this: During WW II -
105 German pilots had over 100 kills, 15 had over 200, and 2 over 300. The Luftwaffe had what they called "experten" which was the equivilent to the Allied "ace", except that a pilot had to demonstrate overall flying and battle expertise. The pilot could be rated experten after 5 kills, or, he might be rated experten after 60.
The top Soviet ace, Ivan Kozhedub had 62 kills.
The top British ace, Marmaduke Pattle from South Africa, had 51 kills. (KIA)
The top American ace, Richard Bong had 40 kills, flying against Japan (KIA)