Heinz Knoke
Heinz Knoke was a World War II 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....

flying ace
Flying ace
A flying ace or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down several enemy aircraft during aerial combat. The actual number of aerial victories required to officially qualify as an "ace" has varied, but is usually considered to be five or more...

. He is credited with 33 confirmed aerial victories, all claimed over the Western theatre of operations, and claimed a further five unconfirmed kills in over 2000 flights. His total included 19 heavy bombers of the USAAF.

Early life

Born the son of a policeman on 24 March 1921 in Hamelin
Hamelin is a town on the river Weser in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is the capital of the district of Hamelin-Pyrmont and has a population of 58,696 ....

, on the 6th July 1938, whilst watching an air display Knoke made his first flight, a fifteen minute joy ride in an old transport aircraft and took the preliminary exam for entry into the Luftwaffe. On 15 November 1939 Knoke underwent flight training at No. 11 Flying Training Regiment Schonwald, nr. Berlin and in August 1940 attended Jagdfliegerschule 1 (Werneuchen) under instructor Flight Sergeant Kuhl, an experienced operational pilot who had already seen action in both the invasions of Poland and France.

War career 1941-42

In early 1941 Knoke received his first combat posting, joining Jagdgeschwader 52
Jagdgeschwader 52
Jagdgeschwader 52 of the Luftwaffe, was the most successful fighter-wing of all time, with a claimed total of more than 10,000 victories over enemy aircraft during World War II. It was the unit of the top three scoring Fighter aces of all time, Erich Hartmann, Gerhard Barkhorn and Günther Rall...

. Posted to II Gruppe under Hauptmann Erich Woitke
Erich Woitke
Erich Woitke was a fighter pilot 'ace' serving in the German Luftwaffe during World War II.Woitke was born 29 January 1912 in Mülheim, near Duisberg...

, his comrades included future aces Gerhard Barkhorn
Gerhard Barkhorn
Lieutenant-General Gerhard "Gerd" Barkhorn , was the second most successful fighter ace of all time after fellow Luftwaffe pilot Erich Hartmann...

, Günther Rall
Günther Rall
Lieutenant-General Günther Rall was the third most successful fighter ace in history. A flying ace or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft during aerial combat. He achieved a total of 275 victories during World War II: 272 on the Eastern Front,...

 and Walter Krupinski
Walter Krupinski
Walter ´´Graf Pinski`` Krupinski was a German Luftwaffe fighter ace of World War II and a senior West German air force officer after the war. He was one of the highest-scoring pilots, accredited with 197 victories in 1,100 sorties. He was called by his fellow pilots Graf Pinski due to his...

. After initial operations during the invasion of Soviet Russia in June 1941, Knoke was transferred to Jagdgeschwader 1 (JG 1) in July 1941. On 28 August 1941 Heinz married Elisabeth "Lilo" Makowski in Schieratz.

In February 1942, Knoke participated with 3./JG 1 in Operation Donnerkeil
Operation Donnerkeil
Unternehmen Donnerkeil was the codename for a German military operation of the Second World War. Donnerkeil was designed as an air superiority operation to support the Kriegsmarine Operation Cerberus, also known as the "Channel Dash".In 1941 Kriegsmarine surface vessels had carried out commerce...

, the Channel Dash of the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the heavy cruiser .

On 14 February 1942 Knoke was detached to Jagdgruppe "Losigkeit" (Fritz Losigkeit
Fritz Losigkeit
Major Fritz Losigkeit was a German World War II Luftwaffe Flying ace and recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership...

), charged with the air protection of these boats over the Norway coast. He returned to JG 1 in March 1942. On 5 March 1942 he shared in shooting down a Spitfire of No. 1 Photo Reconnaissance Unit (PRU), RAF. Its pilot, F/L ADM Gunn, was taken prisoner. In October 1942 Knoke became Commanding officer of 2nd Staffel, JG 1. He claimed his solo first kill on 31 October, an 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...


Against the USAAF 1943-44

As the United States Army Air Forces
United States Army Air Forces
The United States Army Air Forces was the military aviation arm of the United States of America during and immediately after World War II, and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force....

 (USAAF) daylight bomber offensive increased steadily
in intensity through 1943, so operations by the defending JG 1 and JG 11 grew in proportion.
Knoke destroyed his first 'heavy' on his 164th operation, Maisie, a B-24 of the 44th Bombardment Group, shot down over Zwischenahn on 26 February 1943. Two of the crew survived.

The problem of attacking the heavily armed bomber effectively occupied the minds of the Luftwaffe in early 1943. Oberleutnant
Oberleutnant is a junior officer rank in the militaries of Germany, Switzerland and Austria. In the German Army, it dates from the early 19th century. Translated as "Senior Lieutenant", the rank is typically bestowed upon commissioned officers after five to six years of active duty...

Heinz Knoke and his friend, Leutnant Dieter Gerhardt (killed in action against B-24
B-24 Liberator
The Consolidated B-24 Liberator was an American heavy bomber, designed by Consolidated Aircraft of San Diego, California. It was known within the company as the Model 32, and a small number of early models were sold under the name LB-30, for Land Bomber...

s on 18 March 1943), developed the idea of aerial bombing as a means to break up the tight combat box
Combat box
The Combat box was a tactical formation used by heavy bombers of the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II. The combat box was also referred to as a "staggered formation"...

es, thereby compromising the defensively strong USAAF bomber formations.

Knoke claimed his fifth victory, a B-24 of the 93rd Bomb Group on 18 March over Helgoland. On 22 March, Knoke successfully downed B-17 Liberty Bell, of the 91st Bombardment Group, with a 250 kg bomb, intercepting its return flight from bombing Wilhelmshaven
Wilhelmshaven is a coastal town in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is situated on the western side of the Jade Bight, a bay of the North Sea.-History:...

. The B-17 fell into the North Sea
North Sea
In the southwest, beyond the Straits of Dover, the North Sea becomes the English Channel connecting to the Atlantic Ocean. In the east, it connects to the Baltic Sea via the Skagerrak and Kattegat, narrow straits that separate Denmark from Norway and Sweden respectively...

 30 kilometres (18.6 mi) west of Helgoland. All the crew were killed. However, the practice was soon curtailed, as the carriage of 250 kg bombs severely affected the high altitude performance of the Bf 109-G and also made the fighter bombers vulnerable to any escorting fighters.

In April 1943 I./JG 1 became II gruppe of the newly formed Jagdgeschwader 11
Jagdgeschwader 11
Jagdgeschwader 11 was a German fighter wing of the Luftwaffe during World War II. Its primary role was the defense of Northern Germany against Allied day bomber raids...

 (JG 11), Knoke's 2 Staffel becoming 5./JG 11.

During 1943 Knoke claimed some 17 kills, the majority B-17 and B-24 'heavies' of the USAAF.
Another B-17 (of the 95th Bomb Group
95th Bomb Group
The 95st Bomb Group was an air combat unit of the United States Army Air Forces during the Second World War. Classified as a heavy bombardment group, the 95th operated B-17 Flying Fortress aircraft.-Organization of the 95th Bomb Group :...

) was downed on 11 June 1943. On 25 June 1943 Knoke was wounded in the hand by return fire from a bomber, resulting in the amputation of part of his thumb.

On 17 August 1943 while intercepting the raid on Regensburg
Regensburg is a city in Bavaria, Germany, located at the confluence of the Danube and Regen rivers, at the northernmost bend in the Danube. To the east lies the Bavarian Forest. Regensburg is the capital of the Bavarian administrative region Upper Palatinate...

 he was wounded by shrapnel fragments and his aircraft damaged by bomber return fire. Knoke belly landed near Bonn
Bonn is the 19th largest city in Germany. Located in the Cologne/Bonn Region, about 25 kilometres south of Cologne on the river Rhine in the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, it was the capital of West Germany from 1949 to 1990 and the official seat of government of united Germany from 1990 to 1999....

, his Bf 109 G-6 written off.

On 27 September 1943 Knoke shot down a B-17, Elusive Elcy, of the 94th Bomb group using WGr. 210 mm underwing 'rockets'
WGr 21 rocket launcher
The Werfer-Granate 21 rocket launcher, also known as the BR 21 in official Luftwaffe manuals, was a weapon used by the German Luftwaffe during World War II and was the first on-board rocket in service by the Luftwaffe and was introduced in mid 1943. The weapon was developed by Rheinmetall-Borsig...

 launched from modified mortar tubes. Encountering the USAAF escort fighters for the first time, he also shot down a P-47 of the 56th Fighter Group flown by Lt. H.P Dugas, who was killed. Knoke was then shot down by other P-47's and had to bail out.

Knoke was shot down again on 4 October 1943. After downing a B-24 of the 397th Bombardment Group in a frontal attack, he was hit by the dorsal gunner's fire and Knoke bailed out of his damaged fighter into the bitterly cold North Sea. Covered by aircraft of his unit, Knoke managed to climb into an inflatable raft dropped by a Focke-Wulf Weihe. He was rescued two hours later by a lifeboat.

Knoke claimed his 18th victory on 10 October 1943, a B-17, although his 109-G was hit by P-47's and 75% damaged, force landing at Twente
Twente is a non-administrative region in the eastern Netherlands. It encompasses the most urbanised and easternmost part of the province of Overijssel...


Knoke was again shot down on 4 January 1944.
On 10 February 1944 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...

Günther Specht
Günther Specht
Günther Specht was a German Luftwaffe fighter ace during World War II.Specht joined the heavy fighter wing "Horst Wessel" in early 1939. The unit was initially equipped with Messerschmitt Bf 109s and later with the Bf 110. In 1939 he was wounded by an RAF tail gunner and blinded in one eye...

 was wounded and Knoke became acting commander of II./JG 11.

On 4 March Knoke was leading II./JG 11, and was involved in the decimation of the 363rd Fighter Group. In a surprise attack on some 60 Mustangs over Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

, the USAAF lost 12 P-51's in a single combat, Knoke claiming one himself.

From 15 to 20 April 1944 Knoke was attached to the Experimental Station at Lechfeld, where he flew for the first time the Messerschmitt Me 262
Messerschmitt Me 262
The Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe was the world's first operational jet-powered fighter aircraft. Design work started before World War II began, but engine problems prevented the aircraft from attaining operational status with the Luftwaffe until mid-1944...

 jet fighter.

On 28 April 1944 Knoke was promoted to the rank of Hauptmann, for "bravery in the face of the enemy", and made Gruppenkommandeur of II./ JG 11. At 23 years of age Knoke was, at the time, the youngest Gruppenkommandeur in the Luftwaffe.

Knoke was shot down on 29 April in action against the P-47 of Capt. James Cannon of the 354th Fighter Group and was hospitalised until August 1944 with severe concussion. Before he bailed out, Knoke managed in turn to shoot down the overshooting P-47 piloted by Capt.Cannon, who was taken prisoner.

Normandy 1944

Still recovering from his wounds, Knoke was then transferred on 13 August 1944 to command III./ JG 1. Operating over the Normandy front, Knoke claimed a P-47 over Rânes
Rânes is a commune in the Orne department in north-western France.-Heraldry:-References:*...

, southeast of Argentan
Argentan is a commune, and the seat of two cantons and of an arrondissement in the Orne department in north-western France.Argentan is located NE of Rennes, ENE of the Mont Saint-Michel, SE of Cherbourg, SSE of Caen, SW of Rouen and N of Le Mans....

 on 14 August,(of the 358th Fighter Group
358th Fighter Group
The 358th Fighter Group is an inactive United States Army Air Force unit. Its last assignment was with the Second Air Force stationed at La Junta Army Air Field , Colorado. It was inactivated on 7 November 1945....

, piloted by 2/Lt.S.A. Giamalva, killed) and another the next day. On 16 August he claimed a Spitfire near Étampes
Étampes is a commune in the metropolitan area of Paris, France. It is located south-southwest from the center of Paris . Étampes is a sub-prefecture of the Essonne department....

. A P-38 of the 31st Photo Squadron (1/Lt.T.L.Wood KIA) was shot down on the 17th, followed by an unconfirmed B-26 later the same day. Two P-51s were claimed on the 18th August.

On 25 August another P-51 of the 354th Fighter Group was claimed but he was shot down during the engagement. Bailing out behind the fluidly moving front lines, Knoke was almost captured by French Maquis
Maquis (World War II)
The Maquis were the predominantly rural guerrilla bands of the French Resistance. Initially they were composed of men who had escaped into the mountains to avoid conscription into Vichy France's Service du travail obligatoire to provide forced labour for Germany...

 forces. Shooting his way clear, Knoke managed to regain German lines and returned safely to his unit.

By the end of August 1944 III./ JG 1 had been almost wiped out in the air battles over the Western front, and Knoke was ordered to move the unit to Fels am Wagram
Fels am Wagram
Fels am Wagram is a municipality in the district of Tulln in Lower Austria, Austria....

, prior to transfer back to Germany for reinforcement and re-equipment.

Given orders to then transfer III./JG 1 to Vienna, during a car journey near Prague
Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Situated in the north-west of the country on the Vltava river, the city is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of over 2.3 million...

 on 9 October 1944, Hauptmann Knoke was seriously injured in the legs by a Partisan-planted land mine.

In March 1945, while still on crutches, Knoke became the officer commanding at Jever
Jever is the capital of the district of Friesland in Lower Saxony, Germany. The name Jever is usually associated with a major brand of beer which is produced here, the city is also a popular holiday resort. Jever was granted city status in 1536. Unofficially Jever is sometimes referred to as...

 air base. He also oversaw the work on defensive fortifications around Wilhelmshaven
Wilhelmshaven is a coastal town in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is situated on the western side of the Jade Bight, a bay of the North Sea.-History:...


On 27 April 1945 he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was a grade of the 1939 version of the 1813 created Iron Cross . The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was the highest award of Germany to recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership during World War II...

 (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes).

In September 1945 Heinz Knoke returned to civilian life.

Political career

In 1951 Heinz Knoke was elected to the legislature of Lower Saxony as member of the Socialist Reich Party
Socialist Reich Party
The Socialist Reich Party of Germany was a West German far-right political party founded in the aftermath of the World War II in 1949 as an openly Nazi orientated split-off from the national conservative German Right Party...

. Although the Supreme Court of Federal Republic of Germany declared this party illegal in 1952, Knoke remained in politics as a member of the parish council of the Gemeinde Schortens (Gemeindeparlament) from April 1954.

For several years he also worked as a Manager with the Jever Pilsener Brauhaus.

He was member of the Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Liberal Democratic Party), and was elected for the community parliament/parish parliament at the elections of October 1956, and was returned to office in the March 1961, September 1964, and September 1968 elections.

He retired in October 1972 and in the mid 1980s joined Osnabrück University to study literature and philosophy.

War time writings

During the 1950s Knoke wrote a book about his wartime career entitled "I Flew for the Führer" published by C. Boesendahl in 1952 (an English version was initially published in 1953). The book became an aviation classic, as one of the first quality narratives to appear in the West as told by one of the Luftwaffe aces.


  • Iron Cross
    Iron Cross
    The Iron Cross is a cross symbol typically in black with a white or silver outline that originated after 1219 when the Kingdom of Jerusalem granted the Teutonic Order the right to combine the Teutonic Black Cross placed above a silver Cross of Jerusalem....

     (1939) 2nd and 1st Class
  • Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe
    Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe
    The Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe was awarded in Bronze, Silver, and Gold with upgrade possible to include diamonds. Pennants suspended from the clasp indicated the number of missions obtained in a given type of aircraft...

     in Gold for Fighter Pilots
  • Wound Badge
    Wound Badge
    Wound Badge was a German military award for wounded or frost-bitten soldiers of Imperial German Army in World War I, the Reichswehr between the wars, and the Wehrmacht, SS and the auxiliary service organizations during the Second World War. After March 1943, due to the increasing number of Allied...

     (1939) in Silver
  • 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 (17 November 1943)
  • Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
    Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
    The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was a grade of the 1939 version of the 1813 created Iron Cross . The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was the highest award of Germany to recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership during World War II...

     on 27 April 1945 as Hauptmann
    Hauptmann is a German word usually translated as captain when it is used as an officer's rank in the German, Austrian and Swiss armies. While "haupt" in contemporary German means "main", it also has the dated meaning of "head", i.e...

    and 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...

    of the III./JG 11

External links

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