Heinrich Hoffmann (pilot)

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Heinrich Hoffmann
The head and upper body of a young man, shown in semi-profile. He wears a field cap and a military uniform with numerous military decorations including an Iron Cross displayed at the front of his shirt collar. His hair is dark and short, his nose is long and straight, and his facial expression is a determined and confident smile; his eyes gaze into the distance.
Heinrich Hoffmann
Born (1913-03-08)8 March 1913
Worms, Germany
Died 3 October 1941(1941-10-03) (aged 28)
south of Yelnya
Allegiance  Nazi Germany
Service/branch Luftwaffe
Years of service 1937–41
Rank Oberfeldwebel
Unit JG 77, JG 51
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (posthumously)

Oberfeldwebel Heinrich Hoffmann (8 March 1913 – 3 October 1941) was a German World War II Luftwaffe Flying ace. A flying ace or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft during aerial combat.[1] Hoffmann is credited with 63 aerial victories in 261 combat missions and was the first non-commissioned officer and first soldier of the Wehrmacht to be awarded posthumously the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub).[2][3] The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.

Early life and career

Hoffmann, the son of carpenter master craftsman Ernst Hoffmann, was born on 8 March 1913 in Pfiffigheim. Pfiffigheim is a borough of Worms, at the time in the Grand Duchy of Hesse and by Rhine, a constituent state of the German Empire. Interested in flight, he was an active member of the Hitler Youth and later with the National Socialist Flyers Corps where he received his first flight training in 1936.[4]

He joined the Luftwaffe in 1937 and was promoted to Unteroffizier (corporal, non-commissioned officer) of the Reserve in 1938.[4] Following fighter pilot training,[Note 1] he was assigned to the 3. Staffel (3rd squadron) of Jagdgeschwader 77 (JG 77—77th Fighter Wing) on 18 May 1940.[Note 2] The squadron was later re-designated and as of 21 November 1940 was known as 12. Staffel (12th squadron) of Jagdgeschwader 51 (JG 51—51st Fighter Wing).[2]

World War II

World War II in Europe began on Friday, 1 September 1939, when German forces invaded Poland. Hoffmann claimed his first aerial victory over a Royal Air Force (RAF) aircraft on 7 September 1940 in the Battle of Britain.[2] In total, he flew 147 combat missions over the English Channel and Britain.[4]

Hoffmann's most successful period as a fighter pilot began in July 1941 during Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. After his 12th victory, he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class (Eisernes Kreuz 2. Klasse) on 10 July 1941 followed by the Iron Cross 1st Class (Eisernes Kreuz 1. Klasse) on 28 July. He claimed 20 aerial victories during July and 25 in August. He often flew as wingman to Heinrich Bär, contributing to Bär's record of 220 claimed kills, pilot slang for the destruction of an enemy aircraft.[2] On 22 July 1941 Hoffmann claimed his 23rd aerial victory of the war over an Ilyushin Il-2.[6] The Il-2 Shturmovik was a heavily armoured ground attack aircraft which was very difficult to shoot down. Hoffmann became an expert by aiming for the Il-2's non-retractable oil cooler. These kills are listed as "R-3s" on his personal victory list.[2]

He achieved his 33rd aerial victory on 2 August 1941, shooting down three Polikarpov R-5s, one Polikarpov I-15 and two Neman R-10 bombers, making him an "ace-in-a-day".[7] Hoffmann received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes) after 40 aerial victories on 12 August 1941. He also destroyed three locomotives and 10 trucks in numerous ground support missions[2] He claimed his 50th aerial victory on 2 September 1941 by destroying four R-3s, which may have been R-5s or Polikarpov R-Zs. Two days later he claimed two Ilyushin DB-3s and one Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-3[8] On 8 September, Hoffmann claimed two more Tupolev SBs, bringing his total to 55 aerial victories. These were his last successes on the Leningrad front. His unit, IV./JG 51, was relocated further south.[9]

On 3 October 1941, the Luftwaffe officially listed Oberfeldwebel (Staff Sergeant) Hoffmann as missing in action after a low altitude engagement with several Il-2s near Shatalovo in the early evening hours.[2] He was flying the Messerschmitt Bf 109F-2 Werknummer (factory number) 12876 and may have been shot down by the Soviet 233 IAP's (233rd Fighter Aviation Regiment) Starshiy Leytenant Sergeyev, who claimed his first aerial victory in the vicinity where Hoffmann disappeared.[10][Note 3] Posthumously he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub) on 19 October 1941, the 36th officer or soldier of the Wehrmacht so honored. This presentation was the first to a non-commissioned officer and the first made posthumously.[11]



  1. Flight training in the Luftwaffe progressed through the levels A1, A2 and B1, B2, referred to as A/B flight training. A training included theoretical and practical training in aerobatics, navigation, long-distance flights and dead-stick landings. The B courses included high-altitude flights, instrument flights, night landings and training to handle the aircraft in difficult situations.[5]
  2. For an explanation of Luftwaffe unit designations see Organization of the Luftwaffe during World War II.
  3. IAP—Istrebitelny Aviatsionny Polk (Fighter Aviation Regiment—Истребительный Авиационный Полк)
  4. see image in infobox



  1. Spick 1996, pp. 3–4.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Obermaier 1989, p. 47.
  3. Weal 2007, p. 22.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Stockert 1996, p. 208.
  5. Bergström, Antipov & Sundin 2003, p. 17.
  6. Bergström & Mikhailov 2000, p. 116.
  7. Bergström & Mikhailov 2000, p. 118.
  8. Bergström & Mikhailov 2000, pp. 142–143.
  9. Bergström & Mikhailov 2000, p. 184.
  10. Bergström & Mikhailov 2000, p. 194.
  11. Stockert 1996, p. 209.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Thomas 1997, p. 293.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Scherzer 2007, p. 398.
  14. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 231.
  15. Von Seemen 1976, p. 170.
  16. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 55.
  17. Von Seemen 1976, p. 26.


  • Bergström, Christer; Mikhailov, Andrey (2000). Black Cross / Red Star Air War Over the Eastern Front, Volume I, Operation Barbarossa 1941. Pacifica, California: Pacifica Military History. ISBN 978-0-935553-48-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Bergström, Christer; Antipov, Vlad; Sundin, Claes (2003). Graf & Grislawski – A Pair of Aces. Hamilton MT: Eagle Editions. ISBN 978-0-9721060-4-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000) [1986]. Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 — Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtteile (in German). Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Obermaier, Ernst (1989). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Luftwaffe Jagdflieger 1939 – 1945 (in German). Mainz, Germany: Verlag Dieter Hoffmann. ISBN 978-3-87341-065-7. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Spick, Mike (1996). Luftwaffe Fighter Aces. New York: Ivy Books. ISBN 978-0-8041-1696-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Stockert, Peter (1996). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 1 (in German). Bad Friedrichshall, Germany: Friedrichshaller Rundblick. ISBN 978-3-9802222-7-3. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Thomas, Franz (1997). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 1: A–K (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2299-6. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Von Seemen, Gerhard (1976). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 : die Ritterkreuzträger sämtlicher Wehrmachtteile, Brillanten-, Schwerter- und Eichenlaubträger in der Reihenfolge der Verleihung : Anhang mit Verleihungsbestimmungen und weiteren Angaben (in German). Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7909-0051-4. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Weal, John (2006). Jagdgeschwader 51 'Mölders. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84603-045-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Weal, John (2007). More Bf 109 Aces of the Russian Front. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84603-177-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

  • "Aces of the Luftwaffe". Heinrich Hoffmann. Retrieved 9 March 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>