Hannes Trautloft

Hannes Trautloft

Quite simply, Hannes Trautloft is the father of the Grunherzgeschwader. Many historians consider Trautloft as one of the Luftwaffe's most effective leaders and should be mentioned in the same breath with Molders, Galland and Lutzow.

Trautloft was born March 3, 1912 in Grossobringen in the Thüringen area of Germany.

In April 1932, he entered the Deutsche Verkehrfliegerschule - German Air Transport School and a few months later was sent to the secret training base in Lipezk, Russia. Lipezk is located 310 miles south-east of Moscow and is the result of an agreement between Germany and Russia. In exchange for technical assistance to the new and developing Russian Air Force, the Germans were allowed a clandestine flight school and test centre. The secrecy surrounding the Lipezk centre was necessary given that Germany was forbidden, by the Treaty of Versailles, to develop a miliary air arm.

When Germany decided to secretly aid to General Franco of Nationalist Spain, Hannes Trautloft was one of six pilots aboard the Ursaramo. The pilots arrived at Cadiz, Spain on August 7, 1936. Also onboard were six crated He-51 biplane fighters. After the Spanish pilots had difficulty with the biplane, the German pilots soon took over the flying duties.

Trautloft and Kraft Eberhardt scored the first German victories in Spain by each claiming a Breguet XIX on August 25, 1936. Then on August 30, he claimed a Potez 540 for his second victory. Unfortunately, during this combat Trautloft became the first German pilot shot down over Spain. Lucikly, he parachuted near Nationalist forces and returned unharmed

The Soviet Union became active in supporting the Spanish Republican forces by sending SB bombers and the quick and agile I-15 and I-16 fighters. The He-51 could not match the new opponents in the air and the cry soon went out for better fighters to be sent to Spain. Eventually, four prototype Bf 109s were delivered in December 1936. Trautloft was one of the first pilots to test fly the new monowing fighter from Messerschmitt. Wanting to show some individuality, Trautloft had the green heart emblem of his homeland, Thüringen, applied to the V3 prototype.

Messerschmitt Bf 109V3

Flown By Oberleutnant Hannes Trautloft, of VJ/88, Sevilla, Spain, December 1936 ©Claes Sundin 1999

The young Trautloft went on to score three more confirmed victories (Nieuport 52, Potez 540 and I-16) for a total of five in Spain.

During the Polish campaign, Trautloft was Staffelkaptain of 2./JG 77. He was subsequently promoted to Hauptmann and became Gruppenkommanduere of III./JG 51 on September 19, 1939.

The fates of Hannes Trautloft and JG 54 converged in August of 1940. Late in August, it became apparent that Adler Tag, "Eagle Day", had failed to win the air superiority promised by Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering. Ever ready to deflect the blame from his failed strategy, the Reichmarschall pointed to his fighter pilots' lack of aggressiveness. Several of the older Kommodoren were replaced by younger, more 'aggressive' types. JG 26 was blessed with Adolf Galland at its new Kommodore. JG 54 also experienced good fortune with the arrival of its new Kommodore, Hannes Trautloft on August 25, 1940, a post he would hold until July 5, 1943.

Under the leadership of its new Kommodore, JG 54 became one of two Jagdgeschwader most requested by bomber crews for escort duties during the remainder of the Battle of Britain; the other being Adolf Galland's JG 26.

Hannes Trautloft himself flew over the Channel no less than 120 times before JG 54 was rotated to the rear for rest and refit.

Along with all but two Jagdgeschwader, Trautloft and JG 54 participated in Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia. He was awarded the Ritterkreuz, Knights Cross, on June 27, 1941, for achieving 20 victories and outstanding leadership.

On December 4, 1941, Trautloft made the decision that all geschwader aircraft had to wear the 'green heart' emblem. He decided on a green heart with a narrow white outline. First seen in Spain, this badge was a tribute to Thüringen, "the Green Heart of Germany", where Trautloft had spent his childhood. Henceforth, JG 54 became known as the Geschwader Trautloft and would win immortality on the steppes of Russia.

Focke-Wulf Fw 190 A-4

Flown By Oberstleutnant Hannes Trautloft, Kommodore JG 54, Krasnogvardeisk, circa December 1942 / January 1943

Trautloft went on to score 25 more victories, until he was designated Jagdflieger Inspektor Ost - Inspector of Fighers East. The honor was tainted by the sad realization that the man who welded JG 54 into the fighting unit it had become was leaving.

Trautloft's involvement in the Mutiny of Fighters in 1945 led to his removal as Inspector of Fighters and subsequent posting to 4 Fliegerschule Division, which he held until war's end. During the 1960's, Trautloft served as the Inspector General of the reborn German Air Force. In addition, he was active in many verterans organization until his passing in 1995.

In all, Hannes Trautloft flew 560 combat missions, scoring 57 victories, 45 of them in the east.