Walter Nowotny

Walter Novotny
Walter Nowotny (left).

"It was a clear blue sky, and it was filled with Soviet fighters attempting to attack our bombers. I picked an I-18 (MiG-3) 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 August 2, 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, Sunday August 2, 1942, he achieved his victories Nos. 48 through 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. He received his fighter pilot training (together with a certain Oberfährnrich Hans-Joachim Marseille) at Jagdfliegerschule Wien-Schwechadt. At the age of twenty, with the rank of a Leutnant, Nowotny 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 over the Gulf of Riga, following his first three victories on July 19, 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. Nowotny was convinced that these trousers gave him luck.

During the following year, he managed to down another forty Soviet aircraft, 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. It struck Nowotny hard when his section leader, 33-victory ace Feldwebel Gerhard Lautenschläger, was shot down and killed by a Soviet Curtiss P-40 on May 16, 1942.

The blow against Nowotny´s self-confidence after his unfortunate encounter with Soviet fighters over the Gulf of Riga in 1941 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.

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 fighter 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 and left his plane in a true do-or-die jump. The burning fighter continued rolling another 30 meters, and then exploded.

On March 25, 1943, Nowotny met the first Soviet Spitfires - belonging to Mayor Petrov´s 26 GIAP of the Leningrad Air Defense - and shot down one of them, his 79th victory. With four victories on June 5, 1943, he reached a total of 92. Three days later, he brought home another six victories - numbers 93 through 98. On June 15, 1943, Nowotny scored his 100th kill, and on June 24, 1943 he shot down ten Soviet aircraft in a single day (numbers 115 through 124). That month, Walter Nowotny increased his score with forty-one. Promoted to Oberleutnant and in charge of 1./JG 54 Grünherz, he surpassed himself by downing forty-nine 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 September 9, 1943, his victory tally reached the incredible "200-mark". During his last ten days on the Eastern Front, ending on October 14, 1943, Walter Nowotny blew 32 Soviet aircraft out of the sky. His final victory on the Eastern Front - number 255 - was achieved on November 15, 1943.

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 autumn of 1944, he was put in charge of the first operational jet fighter unit, equipped with the Me 262s, "Kommando Nowotny". Nowotny took off in an Me 262 on November 8, 1944, and intercepted U.S. heavy bombers with fighter escort. This was the first occasion since July 1941 when he did not wear his Abschusshosen on a combat mission. His last words heard over the radio shortly after take-off were: "I´m burning! My god, my god! I´m burning!"


Note: Much of the material above are extracts from the forthcoming volume 2 of Black Cross/Red Star.

                            © Christer Bergström, Andrey Mikhailov 2000 - 2001.


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