Walter Nowotny

Walter Nowotny

Focke-Wulf Fw 190 A-6

Flown by Leutnant Walter Nowotny Stab I/JG 54, Orel/Russia, Oct 1943.

"It was a clear blue sky, and it was filled with Soviet fighters attempting to attack our bombers. I picked an I-18 (MiG-1) and made a sharp turn, putting my Me 109 in a good position. A few bursts sent him burning to the ground. The remaining fighters tried to escape, but my Me was faster. Flying above the docks on the Neva mouth, I got the backboard plane in a finger-four formation into my gunsight. Two bursts of fire and the Rata blew up. Fuselage and wings tumbled down on fire. The Flak fired fiercely from below. I made a 180 degree turn and spotted four I-18s attacking our bombers from behind. Pulling up the nose of my plane, I made one of the Soviet fighters pass through my bullet tracers. The success stunned me. He immediately went into a steep dive, started spinning and left a thick black trail of smoke. This was my sixth victory today. Number seven didn't last long. I was just about to return home, as suddenly a Rata pulled up beneath me. I pushed my stick forward, and seconds later the enemy went down in spirals."

This vivid account - in his own words - of Walter Nowotny´s second mission over Leningrad on 4 August 1942 (the previous mission resulting in three kills) clearly pictures both the skill and character of this young Austrian fighter pilot in the Luftwaffe. Walter "Nowi" Nowotny was one of the most talented and ambitious Experten of the German Fighter Air Arm. This day, Tuesday 4 August 1942, he achieved his victories Nos. 48-54 - thus marking the beginning of his astonishing victory row. Fourteen months later, he reached the 250 victory mark as the first fighter pilot of WW II. Walter Nowotny was 17 as Hitler forced the Anschluss of his homeland Austria to the Third Reich. Austria was a divided country, split between anti-Nazis and Hitler´s followers. Young Walter belonged to the latter, which ensured him of a quick career in the Luftwaffe. At the age of 20, with the rank of a Leutnant, he flew his first combat missions with JG 54 "Grünherz" against the Soviet Union in June 1941.

The eager and fearless nature of "Nowi" soon became well-known among the other pilots of JG 54. This side of his personality almost cost him his life, as he was shot down by an I-153 over the Riga Bay, following his first three victories on 19 July 1941. After three days and nights (during which he was close to committing suicide out of pure desperation) in a rubber dinghy in the sea, he finally reached the shore. This first encounter with death changed young "Nowi". He became more careful - and superstitious, always carrying the trousers he had worn on this occasion, the Abschusshose, on all his combat missions.

During the following year, he managed to down another 40 Russian planes, but in majority these were rather "easy" victories, achieved with great care and mainly against aircraft much obsolete to his Messerschmitt Bf 109 F and Gs. The blow against Nowotny´s self-confidence was not fully repaired until that fateful day in August 1942. From then on, he felt absolutely secure in the air. This is remarkable, since the bulk of his successes were scored after the recovery of the Soviet Air Force, when obsolete models such as the I-16 were exchanged for Yak-9s and La-5s equal to the Messerschmitt and Focke-Wulf fighters, and as aces such as Petr Pokryshev on the Leningrad front started emerging.

Roaming the skies over Leningrad in 1942/43, Nowotny definitely must have met Pokryshev in the air more than once. Flying over Staraya Russa, a skillful Soviet pilot once was close to putting an end to Nowotny´s deadly career. "The Russians have had me shot up! I've got 'blisters' on my wings!" Nowotny cried over the radio: "We desperately shook off the enemy and made a quick escape at low level", said his wing-man "Quax" Schnörrer. With smoke pouring out of the hit engine, Nowotny´s Messerschmitt 109 made a hastily landing at Tulebya airfield. Rushing on the landing strip at 100 mph, the engine suddenly burst into flames. At a speed of 60 mph, Nowotny blew off his canopy and left his plane in a true do-or-die jump. The burning Messerschmitt continued rolling another 30 meters, and then exploded.

On 25 March 1943, Nowotny met the first Soviet Spitfires - belonging to Major Petrov´s 26 GvIAP of the Leningrad Air Defense - and shot down one of them, his 79th victory. On 15 June, he scored his 100th kill. Nine days later, he brought down 10 Soviet aircraft in one single day. That month, Walter Nowotny raised his score by no less than 41.Promoted to Oberleutnant and in charge of 1./JG 54 "Grünherz", he surpassed himself by downing 49 Soviet planes in August 1943, among them nine on the 13th and seven on the 21st. Claiming his 150th victory on 18 August, he stood as No 16 on the "Ace list".

The following month was opened with another ten victories on the first day. Three days later, he was awarded with the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross, and on 9 September 1943, his victory tally reached the incredible "200 mark". During his last ten days on the Eastern Front, ending on 14 October 1943, Walter Nowotny blew 32 Russian aircraft out of the sky - pushing his total victory score to 255.

22-years-old Hauptmann Walter Nowotny by now stood on the top of the fighter aces. Desperate for anything that could give the German people any faith in the war, the Nazi propaganda machinery rapidly turned Nowotny into its foremost headline "superstar". Young Walter received all the highest military awards at hand: The Knight´s Cross with Oak Leaves, with Swords, and with Diamonds added. Afraid of losing such a "star", the High Command withdrew Nowotny from combat activity.

During the following year, his main role in the war was to serve as an object for propaganda and moral-boosting.But the winds of war eventually forced the High Command to call back Nowotny into active service. In the fall of 1944, he was put in charge of the first jet fighter unit, equipped with the Me 262, "Kommando Nowotny". And here, Nowotny´s star fell - literally. Lacking the essential unit leader quality, Nowotny failed to make any success story out of "Kdo Nowotny". Hurt and enraged by the justified criticism from the Fighter General Galland, Nowotny took off in a unserviceable Me 262 on 8 November 1944, flying against U.S. heavy bombers with fighter escort. His last words heard over the radio were: "I´m burning! My god, my god! I´m burning!"

Above text © Claes Sundin & Christer Bergström 1997