Erich Woitke
Erich Woitke was a fighter pilot 'ace' serving in the German Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....

 during World War II.

Woitke was born 29 January 1912 in Mülheim
Mülheim an der Ruhr, also called "City on the River", is a city in North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany. It is located in the Ruhr Area between Duisburg, Essen, Oberhausen and Ratingen...

, near Duisberg. A gifted all-round athlete, he represented Germany in the Decathlon
The decathlon is a combined event in athletics consisting of ten track and field events. The word decathlon is of Greek origin . Events are held over two consecutive days and the winners are determined by the combined performance in all. Performance is judged on a points system in each event, not...

 at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Leutnant Woitke served with the fighter unit 1./J 88 of the Condor Legion
Condor Legion
The Condor Legion was a unit composed of volunteers from the German Air Force and from the German Army which served with the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War of July 1936 to March 1939. The Condor Legion developed methods of terror bombing which were used widely in the Second World War...

 during the Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

. He recorded his first victory on 27 September 1939, claiming a Republican I-16 "Rata". He claimed 3 more victories, all "Ratas" before returning to Germany. From the early stages of his career until his death, Woitke was considered outspoken, and anti-authoritarian, and his attitude to authority would lead him into conflict with his superiors on numerous occasions. He is reputed to have received the German Cross
German Cross
The German Cross was instituted by Adolf Hitler on 17 November 1941 as an award ranking higher than the Iron Cross First Class but below the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross respectively ranking higher than the War Merit Cross First Class with Swords but below the Knight's Cross of the War Merit...

 in Gold from Hermann Göring
Hermann Göring
Hermann Wilhelm Göring, was a German politician, military leader, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. He was a veteran of World War I as an ace fighter pilot, and a recipient of the coveted Pour le Mérite, also known as "The Blue Max"...

 in person, only to hurl the award on the floor while making disparaging remarks!

In February 1940, Oberleutnant Woitke was made Staffelkapitän
Staffelkapitän is a position in flying units of the German Luftwaffe that is the equivalent of RAF/USAF Squadron Commander. Usually today a Staffelkapitän is of Oberstleutnant or Major rank....

, 6./JG 3, leading the unit through the Battle of France
Battle of France
In the Second World War, the Battle of France was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, beginning on 10 May 1940, which ended the Phoney War. The battle consisted of two main operations. In the first, Fall Gelb , German armoured units pushed through the Ardennes, to cut off and...

. On 31 May 1940, Woitke shot down a Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

 (RAF) Bristol Blenheim
Bristol Blenheim
The Bristol Blenheim was a British light bomber aircraft designed and built by the Bristol Aeroplane Company that was used extensively in the early days of the Second World War. It was adapted as an interim long-range and night fighter, pending the availability of the Beaufighter...

. He next claimed a French Morane-Saulnier M.S.406
Morane-Saulnier M.S.406
The M.S.406 was a French Armée de l'Air fighter aircraft built by Morane-Saulnier starting in 1938. Numerically it was France's most important fighter during the opening stages of World War II....

 near Compigne on 3 June. Operating during the Battle of Britain
Battle of Britain
The Battle of Britain is the name given to the World War II air campaign waged by the German Air Force against the United Kingdom during the summer and autumn of 1940...

, Woitke claimed 7 victories. On 1 October 1940, Woitke was appointed Gruppenkommandeur
Gruppenkommandeur is a Luftwaffe position , that is the equivalent of a commander of a group or wing in other air forces. Gruppenkommandeur usually has the rank of Hauptmann or Major, and commands a Gruppe, which is a sub-division of a Geschwader. A Gruppe usually consists of three or four...

II./JG 3.

He was then appointed Gruppenkommandeur II./JG 52 in late November. Woitke recorded his next victory (his 14th in total) on 14 February 1941, a Spitfire over Maidstone.

Woitke led II./JG 52 east in May 1941 for the invasion of Russia. He claimed 2 victories on 22 June 1941, the opening day of Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...


The severity of the Russian winter of 1941–42 was such that Luftwaffe operations were virtually halted. By January the pilots and ground personnel of II./JG 52 were pressed into service as infantry to protect their airfields from the sudden Soviet counter offensive in the Rzhev
Rzhev is a town in Tver Oblast, Russia, southwest of Staritsa and from Tver, on the highway and railway connecting Moscow and Riga. It is the uppermost town situated on the Volga River. Population:...

As commander Woitke was warned of a Soviet incursion on the night of 20 January, and was advised by local army commanders to alert the airfield's defensive positions. He apparently ignored the advice and consequently several pilots and groundcrew were killed and wounded, including the gruppe adjutant Oberleutnant Carl Hartmann.
Woitke was therefore court-martialled, removed from command and demoted.

In October 1942, Woitke was back in front line service, with II./JG 27 in Africa.
He claimed a USAAF P-39 Airacobra on 9 October over El Daba as victory number 23. in By January 1943 Woitke was serving with Stab.JG 77 in Tunisia. He claimed a Curtiss P-40
Curtiss P-40
The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk was an American single-engine, single-seat, all-metal fighter and ground attack aircraft that first flew in 1938. The P-40 design was a modification of the previous Curtiss P-36 Hawk which reduced development time and enabled a rapid entry into production and operational...

 on 14 January.

By October 1943, Woitke was part of 2./JG 11 on Reichsverteidigung (Defense of the Reich
Defense of the Reich
The Defence of the Reich is the name given to the strategic defensive aerial campaign fought by the Luftwaffe over German occupied Europe and Germany itself during World War II. Its aim was to prevent the destruction of German military and civil industries by the Western Allies...

) duties. He claimed his 25th kill, a B-17, on 9 October, and then served with II./JG 300 by early 1944, shooting down a B-24 bomber on 21 February.

In May 1944, Woitke was appointed as Gruppenkommandeur III./JG 1. After the D-Day landings, III./JG 1 were sent to Beauvais
Beauvais is a city approximately by highway north of central Paris, in the northern French region of Picardie. It currently has a population of over 60,000 inhabitants.- History :...

 as part of the counter to the Allied aerial operations over the beaches in Normandy. On 18 June Woitke was shot down in aerial combat with P-38 near Pont Laverne, and although he bailed out of his Bf 109 G-6 he dislocated both shoulders, hospitalising him until October 1944.

Recovered, Woitke returned to III./JG 1, now based at Anklam
Anklam is a town in the Western Pomerania region of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany. It is situated on the banks of the Peene river, just 8 km from its mouth in the Kleines Haff, the western part of the Stettin Lagoon. Anklam has a population of 14,603 and was the capital of the former...

. On 24 December 1944, Woitke was shot down and killed in aerial combat near Aachen with Spitfire
Supermarine Spitfire
The Supermarine Spitfire is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was used by the Royal Air Force and many other Allied countries throughout the Second World War. The Spitfire continued to be used as a front line fighter and in secondary roles into the 1950s...


Woitke was credited with 30 victories, 8 on the Russian front, 2 in Africa, and the rest on the western Front, including three heavy bombers. His victory total includes 4 victories claimed in the Spanish Civil War.
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