Heinz Knoke

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Heinz Knoke
Nickname(s) "The Last Prussian"
Born (1921-03-24)24 March 1921
Hamelin, Germany
Died 18 May 1993(1993-05-18) (aged 72)
Bad Iburg, Germany
Allegiance  Nazi Germany
Service/branch Luftwaffe
Years of service 1939–45
Rank Hauptmann
Unit JG 52, JG 1, JG 11
Commands held III./JG 11
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross

Heinz Knoke (24 March 1921 – 18 May 1993) was a World War II Luftwaffe flying ace. He is credited with 33 confirmed aerial victories, all claimed over the Western theatre of operations, and claimed a further 19 unconfirmed kills in over 2,000 flights. His total included 19 heavy bombers of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF).[1]

Early life

He was born the son of a policeman on 24 March 1921 in Hamelin. On 6 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 examination for entry into the Luftwaffe. On 15 November 1939, Knoke underwent flight training at No. 11 Flying Training Regiment Schonwald, near 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 (JG 52). Posted to II Gruppe under Hauptmann Erich Woitke, his comrades included the future aces Gerhard Barkhorn, Günther Rall and Walter Krupinski. After initial operations during the invasion of Soviet Russia in June 1941, Knoke was transferred to 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, the Channel Dash of the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen.

On 14 February 1942 Knoke was detached to Jagdgruppe "Losigkeit" (Fritz Losigkeit), where he was charged with the air protection of these ships over the Norway coast. He returned to JG 1 in March. On 5 March he shared in shooting down a Royal Air Force (RAF) Supermarine Spitfire of No. 1 Photo Reconnaissance Unit (PRU), RAF. Its pilot, Flight Lieutenant 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 RAF Bristol Blenheim.

Against the USAAF 1943-44

As the USAAF daylight bomber offensive increased steadily in intensity throughout 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 Liberator of the 44th Bombardment Group, which he shot down over Zwischenahn on 26 February 1943 - two of the crew survived.[2] Journalist Robert Post who on the first and last mission of the "The Writing 69th", was also among those killed.[3]

The problem of attacking heavily armed bombers effectively occupied the minds of the Luftwaffe in early 1943. Oberleutnant Heinz Knoke and his friend, Leutnant Dieter Gerhardt (killed in action against B-24s on 18 March 1943), developed the idea of aerial bombing as a means to break up the tight combat boxes, 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 Flying Fortress Liberty Bell, of the 91st Bombardment Group, with a 250 kg bomb, intercepting its return flight after attacking Wilhelmshaven. The B-17 fell into the North Sea 30 kilometres (19 mi) west of Helgoland. He thus became the first of very few fighter pilots in aviation history to destroy an enemy aircraft with a bomb. All the crew were killed.[4] However, the practice was soon curtailed, as the carriage of bombs severely affected the high altitude performance of the Messerschmitt Bf-109-G and also made these aircraft vulnerable to any escorting fighters.

In April 1943 I./JG 1 became II gruppe of the newly formed Jagdgeschwader 11 (JG 11), Knoke's 2 Staffel becoming 5./JG 11.

During 1943 Knoke claimed some 17 kills, the majority B-17s and B-24s of the USAAF. Another B-17 (of the 95th Bomb Group) was downed on 11 June. Later that month, (on the 25th), 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 he was again wounded, this time by shrapnel fragments and his aircraft damaged by bomber return fire. Knoke belly landed near Bonn, his Bf 109 G-6 was written off.

On 27 September 1943 Knoke shot down a B-17, Elusive Elcy, of the 94th Bomb group using Werfer-Granate 21 unguided rockets launched from modified mortar tubes. Encountering the USAAF escort fighters for the first time, he also destroyed a P-47 Thunderbolt of the 56th Fighter Group flown by Lieutenant H.P Dugas, who was killed. Knoke was then shot down by other P-47s and had to bail out.

Knoke was brought down again on 4 October that same year. After shooting down a B-24 of the 392nd 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-47s and 75% damaged, forcing him to land at Twente in the Netherlands.

Knoke was again shot down on 4 January 1944. On 10 February Gruppenkommandeur Günther Specht was wounded and Knoke became acting commander of II./JG 11.

On 4 March Knoke was leading II./JG 11, when he was involved in the decimation of the 363rd Fighter Group. In a surprise attack on some 60 P-51 Mustangs over Hamburg, the USAAF lost 12 P-51s in a single action, Knoke claiming one himself.

From 15 to 20 April 1944, Knoke was attached to the Experimental Station at Lechfeld, where he flew the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter for the first time.

Knoke was promoted to the rank of Hauptmann (Captain), on 28 April 1944, 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 Captain 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 'Jug' 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, southeast of Argentan on 14 August, (of the 358th Fighter Group, piloted by 2nd Lieutenant. S.A. Giamalva, who was killed) and another the next day. On 16 August he claimed a Spitfire near Étampes. A P-38 Lightning of the 31st Photo Squadron (Lieutenant. T.L. Wood, who was killed), was shot down on the 17th, followed by an unconfirmed B-26 Martin Marauder later the same day. Two P-51s were claimed on 18 August.

On 25 August another P-51 of the 354th Fighter Group was claimed, but Knoke was shot down during the engagement. Bailing out behind the fluidly moving front line, Knoke was almost captured by French Maquis forces. Shooting his way clear, Knoke managed to regain the German lines and returned safely to his unit.

By the end of August 1944 III./ JG 1 had almost been wiped out in the air battles over the Western Front; Knoke was ordered to move the unit to Fels am Wagram, prior to its transfer back to Germany for reinforcement and re-equipment.

Given orders to then transfer III./JG 1 to Vienna, Hauptmann Knoke was seriously injured in the legs by a Partisan-planted land mine during a car journey near Prague on 9 October 1944.

In March 1945, while still on crutches, Knoke became the officer commanding at Jever air base. He also oversaw the work on defensive fortifications around Wilhelmshaven.

He was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes) on 27 April 1945.

In September 1945 Heinz Knoke returned to civilian life.

Political career

In 1951 Heinz Knoke was elected to the legislature of Lower Saxony as a member of the Socialist Reich Party. Although the Supreme Court of the 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 a 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, where he 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.

Wartime writings

During the 1950s Knoke wrote a book about his wartime career entitled I Flew for the Führer, which was 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.




  1. Knoke, 1997, p. 191
  2. 'Battles with the Luftwaffe'; Boiten & Bowman, 2001, page 29
  3. Knoke, Heinz (1997). I Flew for the Fuhrer. Greenhill Books. p. 208. ISBN 1853672637. Retrieved December 25, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Weal, 1999, p. 53.
  5. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 263.
  6. Scherzer 2007, p. 454.


  • 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>
  • Knoke, Heinz (1997). I Flew for the Führer. Greenhill Books. ISBN 1-85367-263-7.
  • Patzwall, Klaus D.; Scherzer, Veit (2001). Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 – 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN 978-3-931533-45-8. 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>
  • Weal, John (1999). Bf 109F/G/K Aces of the Western Front. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-85532-905-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links