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Erich Rudorffer in 1944
|Nickname||Fighter of Libau|
1 November 1917 |
Zwochau, Saxony, German Empire
|Years of service||1939–1945|
|Unit||JG 2, JG 7 and JG 54|
|Commands held||6. JG 2, II./JG 2, I./JG 7 and II.JG 54|
|Awards||Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords|
Major Erich Rudorffer (born 1 November 1917) is a German former Luftwaffe fighter ace, one of a handful who served with the Luftwaffe through the whole of World War II. He is the 7th most successful fighter pilot in the history of air warfare, and currently both the oldest jet fighter ace, and the most successful ace still living. Rudorffer claimed a total of 222 victories, fighting in all the major German theaters of war, including the European and Mediterranean Theatre of Operations and the Eastern Front. During the war he flew more than 1000 combat missions, was engaged in aerial combat over 300 times, was shot down by flak and enemy fighters 16 times and had to take to his parachute 9 times. His 222 aerial victories include 58 heavily armoured Il-2 Sturmovik ground attack aircraft. He was also responsible for sinking a British submarine.
Rudorffer was born in Zwochau, Sachsen. He flew for Deutsche Lufthansa until two months after the beginning of World War II, when all pilots were transferred to the Luftwaffe. In early 1940 Rudorffer was transferred to Jagdgeschwader 2 Richthofen.
World War II
Rudorffer got his first victory over a Curtiss Hawk 75, on 14 May 1940. He scored eight more times before the capitulation of France. He flew throughout the Battle of Britain, and legend has him being pursued down Croydon High Street below rooftop level by a Hurricane. He achieved his nineteenth victory on 1 May 1941; he was then awarded the Ritterkreuz of the Iron Cross and appointed Staffelkapitän of 6./Jagdgeschwader 2 (JG 2) "Richthofen" the following month. By the end of December 1941 he had claimed 40 kills.
In 1942 Rudorffer participated in Operation Cerberus (Channel Dash) and flew over the Allied landings at Dieppe in August 1942. After 45 victories in November 1942 his unit was transferred south to Sicily and later Tunisia. On 9 February 1943 Rudorffer claimed to have defeated 8 British pilots during a 32-minute aerial battle, and collected his first multiple victories. Again on 15 February he was victorious over 7 allied aircraft. Among his victories over North Africa are 10 Allied bombers.
In July 1943 Hauptmann Rudorffer was appointed to command II./Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54) on the Eastern Front. He claimed his first victory in that theater on 7 August. Due to the experience gained by fighting the RAF he achieved incredible success. During his first sortie on 24 August 1943, 5 Soviet aircraft were downed in 4 minutes. On 11 October 1943 Erich Rudorffer wrote history when during 17 minutes he claimed 13 kills.
Erich Rudorffer earned his nickname Fighter of Libau on 28 October 1944 near the Latvian city of Libau. While preparing to land he spotted a Soviet task force of about 60 close air support aircraft on its way to attack Libau airfields. He broke off the landing and engaged the enemy without any backup. He drove off the attackers, shooting down nine enemy aircraft within 10 minutes.
In the winter of 1944, Major Rudorffer was trained on the Messerschmitt Me 262 Jet fighter. In February 1945 he was recalled to command I./Jagdgeschwader 7 (JG 7). Between December 1944 and beginning of April 1945 the I./JG 7 operated from the then newly-built Luftwaffe Airbase in Kaltenkirchen north of Hamburg. So he seems to have been Group Commander more or less for the one month of March 1945. Rudorffer claimed 12 victories with the Me 262,[Notes 1] to bring his total to 222.
His tally included 136 on the Eastern Front, 26 in North Africa and 60 on the Western Front including 10 heavy bombers.
After the war
Pilots and flying students remember him as a hired PPL instructor in Lübeck, Germany, at a local flying school in the late 60s for some time, and other people recollect he later ran an auto gas station in nearby Mölln, well into the 70s. His returning to active aviation later than 1980 seems highly unlikely.
- Verwundetenabzeichen in Black
- Ehrenpokal der Luftwaffe (20 October 1940)
- Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe in Gold with Pennant "1000"
- Combined Pilots-Observation Badge
- Finnish Order of the Cross of Liberty (2nd class)
- German Cross in Gold on 9 December 1941 as Leutnant in the 2./JG 2
- Iron Cross (1939)
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
- Mentioned in the Wehrmachtbericht
Reference in the Wehrmachtbericht
|Date||Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording||Direct English translation|
|30 October 1944
|Bei den gestern gemeldeten Abschußerfolgen in Kurland errang der mit dem Eichenlaub zum Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes ausgezeichnete Major Rudorffer durch Abschuß von elf Flugzeugen seinen 206. Luftsieg.||Among those aerial victories in Courland that had been reported yesterday are eleven aircraft shot down by the recipient of the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross Major Rudorffer bringing his total to 206 aerial victories.|
- Flug Werk's homepage with replica
- Patzwall and Scherzer 2001, p. 389.
- Thomas 1998, p. 230.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 367.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 643.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 81.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 47.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939-1945 Band 3, p. 573.
- Berger, Florian (1999). Mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern. Die höchstdekorierten Soldaten des Zweiten Weltkrieges (in German). Selbstverlag Florian Berger.
- Boehme, Manfred. JG 7 The World's First Jet Fighter Unit 1944/1945. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-88740-395-6.
- Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939-1945 (in German). Friedburg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 3-7909-0284-5.
- Musciano, Walter A (1995). Die berühmten Me 109 und ihre Piloten (in German). Weltbild Verlag GmbH.
- Obermaier, Ernst (1989). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Luftwaffe Jagdflieger 1939 - 1945 (in German). Mainz, Germany: Verlag Dieter Hoffmann. ISBN 3-87341-065-6.
- Patzwall, Klaus D. and Scherzer, Veit (2001). Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 - 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN 3-931533-45-X.
- Schaulen, Fritjof (2005). Eichenlaubträger 1940 - 1945 Zeitgeschichte in Farbe III Radusch - Zwernemann (in German). Selent, Germany: Pour le Mérite. ISBN 3-932381-22-X.
- 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 (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.
- Sprick, Mike (1996). Luftwaffe Fighter Aces: The Jagdflieger and their combat tactics and techniques. Ivy Books, 1996.
- Thomas, Franz (1998). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 2: L–Z (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 3-7648-2300-3.
- Williamson, Gordon (2006). Knight's Cross, Oak-Leaves and Swords Recipients 1941-45. Osprey Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-84176-643-7.
Media related to Erich Rudorffer at Wikimedia Commons