In the closing months of the war in Europe, the Western and Eastern Fronts drew so close together that Hartmann encountered numerous Allied warplanes. The Blond Knight shot down seven Mustangs for his only non-Soviet kills. On May 8, 1945, he shot down the Yak-7 over Brunn for victory number 352, making him the highest scoring ace in military history.
With far fewer military aircraft being deployed by modern air forces, it is highly unlikely that any pilot will even threaten Erich Hartmann’s status as warfare’s supreme aerial ace. His JG-52 comrade Gerhard Barkhorn is second with 301 victories. Hartmann’s phenomenal vision, accuracy, and flying skill not only made him the most successful dogfighting military aviator in history, but also brought him through the horrors of the World War II without a scratch.
After landing following his last patrol, Hartmann learned of Germany’s surrender. He and the remaining pilots and ground personnel of JG-52 burned their Me-109s and surrendered. Along with the Third Reich, this greatest of all fighter groups had passed into history.
Kelly Bell is a long-time writer on the topic of World War II and resides in Tyler, Texas.
This article originally appeared on Warfare History Network.
Image: Creative Commons.