One of the highest scoring German aces
(an Austrian, actually) almost ended his flying career very early.
Flying a Bf 109 in July 19, 1941, he had
shot down three Polikarpov I-153 biplanes (his first three kills), when he
went down too. He ditched his Messerschmitt in the Gulf of Riga and
clambered into his one-man survival raft. With no food or drink, he
paddled southwards, towards land that he estimated to be about 40 miles
away. A couple German fighters flew overhead, but didn't notice his Mauser
pistol shots. Sunburn set in, waves splashed into his dinghy, and he
became exhausted from his paddling.
On his second night adrift, two Soviet
destroyers passed close by, but didn't notice him either. He was somewhat
heartened by the evidently-German artillery fire directed at the Russian
warships. But by the second day, he became nearly suicidal, and even began
writing a "farewell message." He fell asleep, and when he awoke on the
third day, the currents had brought him close to shore. He paddled towards
it, landed, and collapsed on the sandy beach. He awoke in a bed; two
Latvian auxiliaries (collaborators?) had rescued him.
For many months, JG 54 remained at
Krasnogvardeisk, as the northern front settled into a stalemate around
Nowotny achieved over 50 victories in
this airplanes, from July 1941 through early 1943. He was appointed
Staffelkapitän of 1./JG 54 on 25 October 1942.
In January and February of 1943, JG 54
transitioned to the Fw 190, a rugged aircraft that Nowotny and many of the
experts would fly with great success. In August, Nowotny added 49
victories to his score and was promoted to Gruppenkommandeur of 1./JG
54. Heady stuff for a 22-year-old. But he hadn't yet been awarded the "Oak
Leaves," and showed distinct signs of "throat-ache;" despite the fact that
he had passed the 120-victory threshold - no "Oak Leaves."
But he continued to excel in the air. On
September 1, 1943 he downed ten Russian aircraft. On a morning bomber
escort mission, he destroyed four attacking Soviet fighters. He noticed
another group, and promptly got two of those. As the dogfight carried him
180 km over Russian lines, he closed in on a seventh victim, only to have
his cannon jam. he closed in ever closer and finished it off with his
machine guns. He made good his return by flying on the deck, right thru
the flak thrown up from a large town. That afternoon, on another sortie,
he got three more during an in-and-out duel in the clouds.
A few days later, he received his
long-awaited Oak Leaves. "The Swords" followed three weeks later, awarded
to him at a ceremony at Hitler's headquarters.
On October 15, 1943, he destroyed a
Curtiss P-40 - his 250th victory. He was the first pilot ever to achieve
such a score. Back at his base, a wild celebration ensued. Nowotny took
off to Vilna to celebrate in style. His wingman "Quax" Schnörrer stayed at
the base and, with other pilots, got riotously drunk. Then General von
Greim telephoned, to say that the Führer wanted to speak to Nowotny, to
congratulate him personally. Understanding the situation, General Greim
passed on the information that Nowotny was at the Ria Bar in Vilna,
confident that Hitler's telephone operators wouldn't be able to get
through to the partying Nowotny. But they did. Nowotny, stewed to the
gills, surrounded by young lovelies in a noisy bar, managed to get through
the conversation with the Führer. He had been awarded the "Diamonds," the
Reich's highest military honour. The next day, von Greim, Schnörrer, and
Nowotny flew to Hitler's HQ in East Prussia, for Nowotny to receive his
But October, 1943 marked the end of
Nowotny's famous schwarm (flight of four planes). Toni Döbele (96
victories) was killed. Lt. Karl "Quax" Schnörrer (35) was badly injured in
a crash and hospitalized for a long time. Nowotny himself was made into a
superhero by Goebbels propaganda machine and was withdrawn from the front.
His career was temporarily halted
because he was assigned command of the Schulegeschwader 101 (SJG
101). This was a training unit for new pilots, and was based in Palau.
Even though it was an unpopular assignment for the veteran pilots, Nowotny
once again brilliantly succeeded, earning a reputation as a first class
Me 262 Jet
On September 26, 1944, he was appointed
CO of Kommando Nowotny, the world's first jet fighter unit, based at
Achmer and Hesepe
Kommando Nowotny became operational on
the 3rd of October and claimed their first kill, a B-24, on October 7th.
Nowotny began the practice of using prop-driven conventional fighters as
cover against the roaming Allied fighters during the takeoffs and landings
of the Me 262. The Me 262 was especially vulnerable as the turbojet's
relatively low thrust resulted in slow acceleration. It took some time for
the jet to get up to speed. But once there, no Allied aircraft could touch
November 8, 1944
Adolph Galland, Luftwaffe General of
Fighters, visited Achmer for an inspection. Nowotny was going to give
Galland his pilots' flight reports. A flight of B-17 bombers was reported,
so the unit took off, about six jets in the first wave, then another. The
Fw-190Ds were waiting on the runway cover their return of the jets.
Galland was in the operations shack, monitoring the pilots' radio
transmissions. Several bombers were called out as shot down, and Nowotny
radioed that he was approaching. The flight leader on the ground, Hans
Dortenmann, requested permission to take off to assist, but Nowotny said
no, to wait. The defensive anti-aircraft battery opened fire on a few P-51
Mustangs that approached the field, but they were chased away. The jets
were coming in.
One Me-262 had been shot down, and
Nowotny reported an engine failure before making a garbled transmission
referring to “burning”. Galland watched Nowi's approach, heard the sound
of a jet engine, and saw his Me 262 A-1a (W.Nr. 110 400) “White 8” dive
vertically out of the clouds and crash at Epe, 2.5 kilometres east of
Hesepe. The explosions rocked the air, and only a column of black smoke
rose from behind the trees. The wreckage was Nowotny's plane. After
sifting through it, the only salvageable things found were his left hand
and pieces of his Diamonds decoration.
The unit was disbanded shortly after
Nowotny's death. It had claimed 22 aircraft with a loss of 26 Me 262s,
eight of which were due to accidents and mechanical failures.