Herbert Ihlefeld

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Herbert Ihlefeld
File:Herbert Ihlefeld.jpg
Herbert Ihlefeld
Born (1914-06-01)1 June 1914
Pinnow, Province of Pomerania
Died 8 August 1995(1995-08-08) (aged 81)
Wennigsen, Lower Saxony
Buried at Old cemetery in Kirchheim unter Teck, Baden-Württemberg
Allegiance  Nazi Germany
Service/branch Reichsheer (1933–35)
Luftwaffe (1935–45)
Years of service 1933–45
Rank Oberst (Colonel)
Unit J/88, LG 2, JG 77, JG 52,
JG 103, JG 25, JG 11, JG 1
Commands held JG 77, JG 52, JG 103, JG 25,
JG 11, JG 1

Herbert Ihlefeld (1 June 1914 – 8 August 1995) was a German Luftwaffe military aviator during the Spanish Civil War and World War II, a fighter ace credited with 132 enemy aircraft shot down in over 1,000 combat missions. He claimed nine victories in the Spanish Civil War, and during World War II, 67 on the Eastern Front and 56 on the Western Front, including 15 four-engined bombers and 26 Supermarine Spitfires. He survived being shot down eight times during his 1,000 combat missions.

Born in Pinnow, Ihlefeld volunteered for military service in the Reichswehr of the Third Reich in 1933.[Note 1] Initially serving in the Heer (Army), he transferred to the Luftwaffe (Air Force) in 1935. Following flight training, he was posted to Jagdgeschwader 132 "Richthofen" (JG 32—132nd Fighter Wing) in 1937. He volunteered for service with the Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War where he was assigned to 2. Staffel (2nd squadron) of Jagdgruppe 88 (J/88—88th Fighter Group). From February–July 1938, he claimed nine aerial victories, two remained unconfirmed. For his service in Spain he was awarded the Spanish Cross in Gold with Swords.

Following service in Spain, Ihlefeld was posted to I. (Jäger) Gruppe (1st fighter group) of Lehrgeschwader 2 (LG 2—2nd Demonstration Wing), the unit was later redesignated to I. Gruppe of Jagdgeschwader 77 (JG 77—77th Fighter Wing). With this unit he participated in the Invasion of Poland and Battle of France. During the height of the Battle of Britain on 13 September 1940, he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross after 21 aerial victories in World War II. Ihlefeld, who had been appointed Gruppenkommandeur (group commander) of I. Gruppe of JG 77 in September 1940, fought in the aerial battles of the Balkan Campaign. He was shot down by anti-aircraft artillery and spent eight days in Yugoslav captivity before he was rescued by German ground forces. During Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union. There, after 40 aerial victories of World War II, he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves on 27 June 1941. Ten months later, following his 101st aerial victory of the war, Ihlefeld was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords on 24 April 1942.

On 22 June 1942, promoted to Major (major), Ihlefeld was appointed Geschwaderkommodore (wing commander) of Jagdgeschwader 52 (JG 52—52nd Fighter Wing). He was injured in combat on 22 July 1942 and after convalescence, he was given command of Jagdfliegerschule 3 (3rd Fighter Pilot School), which was later redesignated to Jagdgeschwader 103 (JG 103—103rd Fighter Wing). On 21 July 1943, he was tasked with leadership of a high flying de Havilland Mosquito intercept unit called Jagdgeschwader 25 (JG 25—25th Fighter Wing) in Defense of the Reich. This unit failed to achieve its objective and was disbanded in late 1943. Ihlefeld was then assigned to the Stab (headquarters unit) of the 30th Fighter Division before he briefly commanded Jagdgeschwader 11 (JG 11—11th Fighter Wing) in May 1944. On 20 May 1944, he took command of Jagdgeschwader 1 Oesau (JG  1—1st Fighter Wing) and participated in Operation Bodenplatte. In the final weeks of the war, the Geschwader was equipped with the Heinkel He 162, a single-engine, jet-powered fighter aircraft. Ihlefeld died on 8 August 1995 in Wennigsen, Lower Saxony.

Early life and career

Ihlefeld was born on 1 June 1914 in Pinnow, at the time in the Province of Pomerania, a province of the Kingdom of Prussia, the son of a farm laborer. Following a machinist vocational education, he volunteered for military service in the Reichsheer on 1 April 1933. As a Grenadier, he was first posted to Infanterie-Regiment 5 (5th Infantry Regiment) based in Stettin and in 1934 was posted to the aviation technical school at Jüterbog.[2] In March 1937, he was assigned to the I. Gruppe (1st group) of Jagdgeschwader 132 "Richthofen" (JG 32—132nd Fighter Wing).[3][Note 2]

2. Staffel insignia

With outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936, Germany supported the Nationalists and asked for volunteers which organized in the Condor Legion (Legion Condor). Unteroffizier (Staff Sergeant) Ihlefeld joined 2. Staffel (2nd squadron) of Jagdgruppe 88 (J/88—88th Fighter Group) in late 1937. Flying with this unit until July 1938, he claimed nine and was credited with seven aerial victories over Spain and was awarded the Spanish Cross in Gold with Swords (Spanienkreuz in Gold mit Schwertern). There, he was issued one of the first Messerschmitt Bf 109 B-1's sent to the Condor Legion.[4] A Polikarpov I-16 fighter aircraft shot down on 21 February 1938 was his first aerial victory of the war.[5] On 13 March 1938, Ihlefeld was credited with his second victory, a Polikarpov I-15 biplane fighter aircraft followed by his third, a I-16, on 11 May 1938. A week later, on 18 May, he claimed another I-16, the victory was unconfirmed. A Tupolev SB-2 bomber from a force attacking La Sénia, shot down on 2 June 1938, became his fifth victim.[6] He claimed another unconfirmed victory on 25 June 1938 over a 1-16. On 12 July 1938, he was credited with a victory over a I-15. Two I-15s shot down on 15 July 1938 were his last victories in Spain.[7]

On 1 August 1938, he was assigned to I. (Jäger) Gruppe (1st fighter group) of Lehrgeschwader 2 (LG 2—2nd Demonstration Wing), an operational training unit tasked with the evaluation of new types of aircraft and tactics. The unit was later redesignated to I. Gruppe of Jagdgeschwader 77 (JG 77—77th Fighter Wing). On 20 August 1938, he was promoted to Leutnant (second lieutenant).[2]

World War II

World War II in Europe began on Friday, 1 September 1939, when German forces invaded Poland. Ihlefeld flew his first combat missions over Poland and was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class (Eisernes Kreuz zweiter Klasse) on 26 September 1939.[2] On 10 May 1940, the Battle of France, the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, began and Ihlefeld claimed his first victory of the war on 29 May 1940.[3] The combat took place at an altitude of 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) near Saint-Quentin during the Battle of Dunkirk (26 May – 4 June 1940), the defense and evacuation of British and allied forces from France to England, on a combat air patrol. On this mission, 11 Messerschmitt Bf 109s encountered two Armée de l'air (French Air Force) Morane-Saulnier M.S.406 fighter aircraft. Ihlefeld was credited with shooting one of them down at 20:15, the other Morane was credited to Hauptmann (Captain) Hanns Trübenbach.[8] On 30 June 1940, he was credited with two victories over Bristol Blenheim light bombers shot down at 12:45 and 15:30, his second and third of the war.[9] Although Ihlefeld was unhurt, damage to his Bf 109 E sustained in one of these encounters, resulted in a forced landing near Saint-Omer.[10]

Ihlefeld received an early promotion to Oberleutnant (first lieutenant) on 1 June 1940 followed by his appointment to Staffelkapitän (squadron leader) of 2 Staffel in I.(J)/LG 2.[Note 3] He was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class (Eisernes Kreuz erster Klasse) on 4 July 1940.[2] On 9 July 1940, I.(J)/LG 2 was tasked with flying escort fighter missions for Kampfgeschwader 2 (KG 2—2nd Bomber Wing) attacking British shipping in the English Channel. These types of missions were referred to as Kanalkampf by the Germans and resulted in a series of air battles between the Luftwaffe and the British Royal Air Force (RAF). On the third mission of the day (16:25 – 17:20), escorting a flight of Dornier Do 17 bombers to their targets, Ihlefeld claimed his fourth victory of the war, a Hawker Hurricane fighter aircraft shot down at 16:30.[12]

Battle of Britain and Channel Front

On 10 July 1940, seven RAF bombers attacked the Amiens – Glisy Aerodrome, all of which were shot down by the Luftwaffe. On this day, 47 Do 17 bombers from I. and III. Gruppe of KG 2, supported by one Messerschmitt Bf 110 heavy fighter and two single-engined fighter Gruppen attacked British shipping in the English Channel. In the resulting aerial combat, Luftwaffe pilots initially claimed 23 victories, 10 of these were later confirmed by the Luftwaffe. Actual RAF losses that day were three aircraft shot down, further seven made forced landings and were severely damaged. RAF pilots claimed the destruction of 16 German aircraft, actual losses were four Do 17s and three Bf 110s shot down plus further four damaged aircraft. These events marked the beginning of the Battle of Britain (10 July – 31 October 1940).[13]

On 11 July 1940, I.(J)/LG 2 was ordered to relocate to Jever in northern Germany. In the following four weeks, the Gruppe received a period of rest and the aircraft were given a maintenance overhaul prior to moving back to the Channel Front, to an airfield at Marck, east of Calais, on 8 August.[14] Adolf Hitler had issued Führer Directive no. 17 (Weisung Nr. 17) on 1 August 1940; the strategic objective was to engage and defeat the RAF so as to achieve air superiority in preparation for Operation Sea Lion (Unternehmen Seelöwe), the proposed amphibious invasion of Great Britain.[15] On 13 August 1940, during Operation Eagle Attack (code name Adlertag), I.(J)/LG 2 was tasked with providing fighter escort for Junkers Ju 87 dive bombers from IV. Gruppe of Lehrgeschwader 1 (LG 1—1st Demonstration Wing) and II. Gruppe of Sturzkampfgeschwader 1 (StG 1—1st Dive Bomber Wing), destined to attack the RAF airfields at Rochford and Detling. During this mission (16:25 – 17:35),[Note 4] Ihlefeld claimed his fifth victory, a Hurricane.[16] British losses from 16:15 to 16:36 GMT amounted to one Hurricane from No. 43 Squadron whose pilot, Pilot Officer C.A Woods-Scawen bailed out unhurt. Four Hurricanes from No. 56 Squadron were lost—Pilot Officer C.C.O Joubert was slightly wounded, Flying Officer P.F.Mc Davis was badly burned, Flying Officer R.E.P Brooker bailed out unhurt while Sergeant P. Hillwood bailed out and swam 2.5 miles (4.0 kilometers) to shore. The first two men were shot down over Rochfort.[17]

On 22 August 1940, I.(J)/LG 2 flew a combat air patrol over Southern England. Taking his total to seven victories, Ihlefeld had claimed two Supermarine Spitfire fighters shot down in the vicinity of Dover. Five Spitfires were lost by Fighter Command on this day.[18] Weather conditions improved over Southern England on 24 August 1940 and I.(J)/LG 2 was ordered to fly a combat air patrol over Kent.[19] The Gruppe flew three missions that day and claimed ten aerial victories, all of which over Spitfires, two of which were credited to Ihlefeld. Ihlefeld's first victory was claimed at 12:30 and the second at 17:00.[20] Fighter Command lost five Spitfires and one damaged on 24 August. Two losses roughly match Ihlefeld's claim. No. 54 Squadron lost one; Pilot Officer C. Stewart bailed out in the afternoon, the time unknown. Pilot Officer D. Mc Gray was shot down at 11:15 GMT and bailed out of the No. 610 Squadron Spitfire X4067. Both men were shot down near Dover.[21]

On 30 August 1940, Ihlefeld claimed his tenth victory of the war, another Spitfire probably shot down over the English Channel near Calais. On this day, Gruppenkommandeur (group commander) of I.(J)/LG 2, Hauptmann Bernhard Mielke, was killed in action. Later that day, Ihlefeld was appointed his successor as Gruppenkommandeur.[22] The next day, I.(J)/LG 2 flew fighter escort missions for II.(S)/LG 2, the ground attack Gruppe of LG 2. On two separate missions they attacked the airfield at Biggin Hill on their first mission (10:25 – 11:20), and in the evening Croydon airfield. The German flight believed they encountered Hurricanes from No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron on the second mission. The Germans claimed four victories, one of which by Ihlefeld, for the loss of two in combat.[23] 303 Squadron, if engaged during this day, suffered no fighters damaged or destroyed on this day. Their likely opponents were from No. 17 Squadron which lost one Hurricane. The pilot Sergeant G.A Steward was unhurt. I./LG 2 lost one Bf 109 destroyed and one sixty percent damaged. Oberleutnant von Perthes was shot down and killed by Flying Officer T. Bird-Wilson.[24]

On 2 September 1940, he increased his total to 13 aerial victories, claiming two Spitfires, on a mission against the Hornchurch airfield.[25] No Spitfires were lost in the battle over Hornchrch though two Spitfires belonging to No. 222 Squadron were damaged.[26] Three day later, Detling airfield was the target, and Ihlefeld again claimed two Spitfires shot down.[27] On 6 September, I.(J)/LG 2 escorted Erprobungsgruppe 210 to various airfields in the greater London area. Again Ihlefeld claimed two victories, two Hurricanes shot down took his total to 17 aerial victories.[28] 19 Hurricanes were destroyed to all causes and two damaged on this date in intensive air battles.[29]

Heinkel He 111 bomber over the Surrey docks and Wapping in the East End of London on 7 September 1940

On 7 September 1940, I.(J)/LG 2 participated in Operation "Loge", 350 bombers escorted by 648 fighters, attacked various targets in the greater London area. Ihlefeld's Gruppe protected those bombers heading for the docks in the East End of London. On this mission, Ihlefeld claimed a Hurricane shot down at 18:05 and another one at 18:10.[30] 17 Hurricanes were destroyed and 7 damaged this day. Up to 19 of these aircraft were hit or destroyed in the time-frame of the claim.[31] The Luftwaffe flew another large scale attack on 11 September. In total, 280 bombers, 96 of which headed for London, supported by 750 fighter aircraft, headed for England. Ihlefeld claimed a Spitfire destroyed at 17:05 and a Hurricane at 17:10 that day.[32] This took his total to 21 aerial victories in World War II, for which he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes) on 13 September 1940. The presentation was made by Hitler personally on 16 September 1940.[2] One day before the presentation, the Battle of Britain Day, Ihlefeld had claimed the 22nd aerial victory, a Hurricane.[33] At 10:00 on 24 September 1940, Ihlefeld engaged Spitfire's in combat over Maidstone, claiming one shot down.[34] There were four Spitfires lost and two damaged in combat on this date. None were shot down at the time of the claim or in this district.[35] Three days later, on a fighter escort to mission to London, he claimed two Hurricanes, taking his total to 25 aerial victories. On this mission, Ihlefeld lost his 1. Staffel commander, Oberleutnant Adolf Buhl.[36] Responsible for his loss was Fähnrich (Officer Candidate) Hans-Joachim Marseille who had abandoned Buhl. Ihlefeld was forced to give Marseille a stern rebuke for his conduct in combat and eventually dismissed Marseille from LG 2.[37] He was promoted to Hauptmann on 1 October 1940.[2]

The war of attrition against the RAF had cost I.(J)/LG 2 dearly, and the entire Gruppe had to be moved back to the home airfield Köln-Butzweilerhof to reform and re-equip on 5 November 1940. From 30 June to end of October 1940, the Gruppe had claimed 92 aerial victories for the loss of 10 pilots either killed or missing in action, further 4 pilots had been taken prisoner of war. In the same timeframe, 38 aircraft were damaged or lost.[38] I.(J)/LG 2 was ordered back to the Channel Front on 26 December 1940. That day, it flew to the airfield at Calais-Marck and was subordinated to the Stab (headquarters unit) of Jagdgeschwader 52 (JG 52—52nd Fighter Wing).[39] Ihlefeld claimed his 26th victory of the war at 15:50 on 17 January 1941 northwest of Boulogne-sur-Mer.[40]

On 5 February 1941, the RAF began the Circus offensive against the Luftwaffe, a series of attacks flown by heavily escorted bombers targeted the coastal region in northern France. Ihlefeld claimed a Spitfire destroyed at 17:35 on 10 February. The RAF had sent a Circus against various targets in the vicinity of Pas-de-Calais.[41] Four days later, he claimed two Spitfires shot down on a combat air patrol over Ashford and Canterbury.[42] On 26 February 1941, Ihlefeld shot down Sergeant Howard Squire, his 30th victory of the war, in his Spitfire from No. 54 Squadron on Circus No. 5 mission.[43] Twelve Blenheim bombers from No. 139 Squadron had targeted harbor installations at Calais. They were protected by Hurricane and Spitfire fighters from No. 54, No. 74, No. 92, No. 601 and No. 609 Squadron. Squire made a forced landing and was taken prisoner of war.[44] In combat with Spitfires west of Calais, Ihlefeld claimed his 31st victory at 17:20 on 1 March 1941.[45] At 15:45 on 13 March 1941, I.(J)/LG 2 combated Spitfires 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Cap Gris Nez and Ihlefeld again claimed one of his opponents shot down.[46] His next two claims were submitted following combat over Hastings on 19 March. Two Spitfires shot down at 19:08 and 19:10 took his tally to 34 aerial victories.[47] Ihlefeld claimed his last victory on the Channel Front on 25 March 1941. The combat with another Spitfire took place in the vicinity of Dungeness. On 30 March 1941, I.(J)/LG 2 was ordered to relocate to Vienna.[48] At the Channel Front since December 1940, I.(J)/LG 2 had claimed 24 aerial victories for the loss of 3 pilots killed.[49]

Balkan Campaign

The Balkan Campaign began on 6 April 1941, with multiple objectives. Operation Marita was the codename for the German invasion of Greece, while I.(J)/LG 2 was committed to the invasion of Yugoslavia. Based at Radomir in Bulgaria, the unit was subordinated to Generaloberst (Colonel General) Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen's VIII. Fliegerkorps (8th Air Corps).[50] I.(J)/LG 2 primary targets in this campaign were various Jugoslovensko Kraljevsko Ratno Vazduhoplovstvo (JKRV—Yugoslav Royal Air Force) airfields in the greater Skopje area. The Gruppe, together with the ground attack unit II.(S)/LG 2, flew five combat missions on the first day of the campaign. During one of these missions, strafing the railway up the Vardar valley and an airfield near Niš, Ihlefeld was shot down in his Bf 109 E-7 (Werknummer 2057—factory number) by anti-aircraft artillery and was captured by Yugoslavian soldiers.[51][Note 5] The airfield at Niš was practically deserted and Ihlefeld had been hit by small arms fire and was slightly wounded in the head.[53] While in their custody, he was allegedly severely beaten, and threatened with execution by firing squad. On 14 April 1941, he was rescued by German troops of the 5th Panzer Division after eight days in captivity, and returned to Germany to recover.[2][54]

The invasion of Yugoslavia ended when an armistice was signed on 17 April 1941.[55] That day, I.(J)/LG 2 relocated to Ptolemaida, Greece and to Larissa three days later.[56] On 21 April, I.(J)/LG 2 flew missions against the port of Piraeus and Athens .[57] I.(J)/LG 2 then moved to Eleusis on 27 April.[58] The Battle of Greece ended on 30 April 1941 and the Gruppe was granted a period of rest which ended on 2 May 1941.[59] In preparation for the Battle of Crete (20 May – 1 June 1941), I.(J)/LG 2 flew reconnaissance missions over Crete on 13 May 1941.[60] Missions against Crete were flown from an airfield at Molaoi.[61] One day later, the unit flew its first ground attack mission against various targets.[60] On 22 May 1940, I.(J)/LG 2 successfully attacked HMS Fiji off of Crete, damaging her severely.[60] Ihlefeld was credited with his only aerial victory over Crete on 26 May 1941. His 36th victory was claimed over Maleme against a Hurricane fighter.[62][63] Actions over Crete ended for I.(J)/LG 2 on 31 May 1941. By this date, the Gruppe had claimed six aerial victories in this campaign. I.(J)/LG 2 was then withdrawn and relocated to Belgrad in preparation for Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union.[64]

Eastern Front

On 18 June 1941, I.(J)/LG 2 was moved to Bucharest and placed under the command of JG 77. The Geschwader was located in the sector of Heeresgruppe Süd (Army Group South).[65] Three days later, I.(J)/LG 2 moved to Roman.[66] That evening, the pilots and ground crews were briefed of the upcoming invasion of the Soviet Union, which opened the Eastern Front.[67] At 3:20 on 22 June 1941, 70 Bf 109s of JG 77 and I.(J)/LG 2 crossed into Soviet airspace and attacked airfields and provided fighter protection for III. Gruppe of Kampfgeschwader 27 (KG 27—27th Bomber Wing).[68] Ihlefeld claimed his first two victories, both SB-2 bombers, on the Eastern Front on 23 June 1941. JG 77 and I.(J)/LG 2 flew seven combat missions that day. On the first mission of the day, 34 Bf 109 provided fighter escort for two Gruppen of KG 27 in support of the advancing German ground forces. At 5:50, Ihlefeld claimed his 37th victory of the war.[65] On the seventh mission, which began at 19:10, he claimed the second bomber in the area of Chernivtsi.[69] Two Ilyushin DB-3 bombers shot down on 26 June 1941 took his total to 40 aerial victories in World War II.[70] This achievement earned him the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub) on 27 June 1941. He was the 16th member of the German armed forces to be so honored.[71] That day, he was also honorably mentioned in the Wehrmachtbericht radio report, the first of six such mentions.[72]

Ihlefeld, on a combat air patrol in the vicinity of Iași, claimed a I-16 fighter aircraft shot down on 28 June.[73] The next day I.(J)/LG 2 moved to an airfield at Uzhhorod and to Tudora on 1 July 1941.[74] On 2 July, I.(J)/LG 2 flew five combat missions and Ihlefeld achieved his 42nd aerial victory over a Polikarpov I-153 biplane fighter.[75] On a Stuka escort mission to Kamianets-Podilskyi on 4 July, he shot down a I-15.[76] On 6 July, I.(J)/LG 2 flew seven combat missions, on two of which they had enemy contact. On the sixth mission of the day, the unit encountered five SB-2 bombers escorted by seven I-16 fighters. In the resulting aerial combat, Ihlefeld shot down one I-16, his 44th victory.[77]

On 30 August 1941 he became an "ace-in-a-day" by shooting down five Soviet aircraft, his 48th to 52nd aerial victories.[71]

Ihlefeld receiving the Swords, Huy and Späte receiving the Oak Leaves

In the spring of 1942, a series of multiple victories (five aircraft on 24 March, seven on 30 March and seven on 20 April), saw Ihlefeld become the fifth pilot on 22 April 1942 to reach 100 victories during World War II.[78] During the period of Ihlefeld's leadership, I./JG 77 was credited with the destruction of 323 enemy aircraft while losing only 17 Messerschmitt Bf 109s.

Wing Commander

On 10 May 1942, Ihlefeld was replaced by Hauptmann Heinrich Bär as Gruppenkommandeur of I. Gruppe. Ihlefeld had been selected to take over JG 52 as Geschwaderkommodore (Wing Commander). Prior to this appointment, he was sent to the Geschwaderstab of Jagdgeschwader 51 (JG 51—51st Fighter Wing) as a commander-in-training under Hauptmann Karl-Gottfried Nordmann.[79] In June 1942, Ihlefeld was promoted to Major (major) and on 26 June took command of JG 52.[71] On 22 July 1942, whilst flying over the front in his Fieseler Fi 156 Storch, a small liaison aircraft, he was shot down and badly wounded by Soviet fighters,[80] this took him out of the front line until July 1943, when he joined the newly formed Jagdgeschwader 25 (JG 25—25th Fighter Wing) as Geschwaderkommodore, leading the group's high-altitude Bf 109s in ultimately unsuccessful operations against RAF de Havilland Mosquitos, and later United States Air Force (USAAF) heavy bomber formations in defense of the Reich missions.

On 1 February 1944, Ihlefeld was promoted to Oberstleutnant (lieutenant colonel).[81] In May 1944, he briefly became Geschwaderkommodore of Jagdgeschwader 11 (JG 11—11th Fighter Wing), before taking command of Jagdgeschwader 1 "Oesau" (JG 1—1st Fighter Wing) on 20 May 1944. Ihlefeld replaced Bär as Geschwaderkommodore who had led the Geschwader since the death in combat of Oberst Walter Oesau on 11 May 1944.[82] On 14 July 1944, Ihlefeld claimed a North American P-51 Mustang and a Spitfire shot down.[83] He was credited with his next victories on 25 July, claiming the destruction of a Avro Lancaster heavy bomber and a Spitfire.[84]

Operation Bodenplatte and end of war

Ihlefeld participated and led JG 1 in Operation Bodenplatte, the failed attempt to cripple Allied air forces in the Low Countries. The objective of Bodenplatte was to gain air superiority during the stagnant stage of the Battle of the Bulge and dates back to meeting held on 16 September 1944. That day, Hitler informed Generalleutnant (Lieutenant General) Werner Kreipe, acting Chief of the General Staff of the Luftwaffe, about the planned offensive.[85] Ihlefeld probably learned of this operation on 5 December 1944.[86] Luftwaffenkommando West (Air Command West) had ordered every wing commander of all the Jagdgeschwaders destined to participate in the operation to attend a meeting at the headquarters of II. Jagdkorps (2nd Fighter Corps) in at Flammersfeld near Koblenz.[87] At the time, Ihlefeld was faced with a very challenging leadership situation. Prior to the operation, LG 1 had lost the commander of I. Gruppe, Hauptmann Hans Ehlers who was killed in action on 27 December, and the commander of III. Gruppe, Hauptmann Erich Woitke who had been killed in action on 24 December. The commander of II. Gruppe, Hauptmann Hermann Staiger, had landed his combat damaged aircraft at Frankfurt and had not yet returned to his unit.[86] On the early afternoon of 31 December 1944, Ihlefeld summoned his three new Gruppenkommandeure to Twente for the mission briefing. The new I. Gruppe commander was Hauptmann Georg Hackbarth, II. Gruppe was led by Oberleutnant Fritz Wegner and III. Gruppe was now headed by Hauptmann Harald Moldenhauer.[88]

On 1 January 1945, the Geschwaderstab and I. Gruppe, both based at Twente, took off at 8:10 and joined up with and III. Gruppe, based at Rheine, which had taken off at 8:15. Their designated targets were the airfields at Maldegem and Ursel. The formation was led by four Junkers Ju 88 night fighters from Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 (NJG 1—1st Night Fighter Wing); they were the pathfinders for the single-engined fighters.[89] The formation of 20 Focke Wulf Fw 190 A-8s and 30 Bf 109 G-14s, flying at an altitude of 50 meters (160 feet), headed west. As the flight approached The Hague, they came under heavy and precise German anti-artillery fire. The German anti-artillery units had not been informed of the Luftwaffe operation. Several aircraft were hit, including the aircraft of Ihlefeld who had to make a forced landing near Rotterdam. II. Gruppe, based at Drope, between Lengerich and Bawinkel, had also taken off at 8:15 and headed for the airfield at Ghent/Sint-Denijs-Westrem.[90][91] JG 1 continued with their mission without Ihlefeld leading the decisive phase of the attack. The result of the attack can be described as Pyrrhic victory at best. JG 1 claimed the destruction of around 60 enemy aircraft, of which 54 were destroyed on the ground, for the loss 25 pilots and 29 aircraft.[92]

Following of Operation Bodenplatte, and failing to maintain air superiority over the Ardennes area, a severely weakened II. Gruppe transferred to Insterburg in East Prussia, present-day Chernyakhovsk in Russia. I. Gruppe faced RAF fighters over Hengelo-Twente on 14 January 1945. JG 1 lost 12 pilots with 7 being killed, 3 wounded and 2 missing. Spitfires shot down the entire 1. and 2. Staffeln of JG 1 at Twente airport as they took off, for the loss of two. Ihlefeld threatened to court martial Major Günther Capito, the new commander of I. Gruppe, for such a disastrous loss but was unable to during the transferring to the Eastern Front. In Poland JG 1 were briefly assigned to Luftflotte Reich (Air Fleet Reich).

He was promoted to Oberst (colonel) on 30 January 1945.[81] Late in the war, elements of the Geschwader were equipped with the He 162 Volksjäger, a single-engine, jet-powered fighter aircraft.

Later life

In 1984, Winston Ramsey, the editor of After the Battle magazine, contacted both Ihlefeld and Squire, who Ihlefeld had shot down on 26 February 1941, and arranged a meeting. Subsequently Ihlefeld and Squire met at Calais.[44] Ihlefeld died on 8 August 1995 in Wennigsen, Lower Saxony. His ashes were buried on the urn field near the chapel on the old cemetery in Kirchheim unter Teck, Baden-Württemberg.[81]


Wehrmachtbericht references

Date Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording Direct English translation
Friday, 27 June 1941 Hauptmann Ihlefeld, Kommandeur einer Jagdfliegergruppe, errang am 26. Juni seinen 39. und 40. Luftsieg.[72] Hauptmann Ihlefeld, commander of a fighter group, achieved on 26 June his 39th and 40th aerial victories.
Thursday, 26 March 1942 Hauptmann Ihlefeld schoß am 24. März seinen 70. bis 74. Gegner im Luftkampf ab.[103] Hauptmann Ihlefeld shot down on 24 March his 70th to 74th enemy in aerial combat.
Tuesday, 31 March 1942 Hauptmann Ihlefeld errang mit sieben Abschüssen seinen 82. Luftsieg.[104] Hauptmann Ihlefeld achieved with seven kills his 82nd aerial victory.
Monday, 20 April 1942 Hauptmann Ihlefeld errang an der Ostfront seinen 85. bis 88. Luftsieg.[105] Hauptmann Ihlefeld achieved on the Eastern Front his 85th to 88th aerial victory.
Tuesday, 21 April 1942 Hauptmann Ihlefeld errang gestern an der Ostfront seinen 89. bis 95., Oberleutnant Geißhardt der gleichen Jagdfliegergruppe seinen 52. bis 56. Luftsieg.[106] Hauptmann Ihlefeld achieved yesterday on the Eastern Front his 89th to 95th, Oberleutnant Geißhardt of the same fighter group his 52nd to 56th aerial victory.
Thursday, 23 April 1942 Hauptmann Ihlefeld errang am gestrigen Tag an der Ostfront seinen 98. bis 101. Luftsieg.[107] Hauptmann Ihlefeld achieved yesterday at the Eastern Front his 98th to 101st aerial victory.


  1. From 1919, Germany's national defense force was known as the Reichswehr. That name was dropped in favor of Wehrmacht on 16 March 1935.[1]
  2. For an explanation of Luftwaffe unit designations see Organization of the Luftwaffe during World War II.
  3. According to Prien, the appointment to Staffelkapitän (squadron leader) of 2 Staffel of I.(J)/LG 2 occurred sometime in June 1940.[11] According to Obermaier, this happened on 1 July 1940.[3]
  4. All times used in this section are Central European Time unless otherwise noted.
  5. According to Ciglic, Weal and Savic, Ihlefeld shot down a JKRV Potez 25 on the landing approach, Shortly after, he was hit by a lucky shot fired from the ground by Serbian kap Vlastimir Belic, forcing him to bail out near Donji Dušnik.[52]
  6. According to Scherzer in the I.(J)/LG 2.[98]



  1. "Proklamation der Reichsregierung an das deutsche Volk bezüglich der Einführung der allgemeinen Wehrpflicht" (in German). Retrieved 19 April 2015. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Stockert 1996, p. 122.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Obermaier 1989, p. 31.
  4. Jackson 2015, p. 48.
  5. Forsyth 2011, p. 90.
  6. Forsyth 2011, p. 94.
  7. Forsyth 2011, p. 103.
  8. Prien 1992, p. 304.
  9. Prien 1992, p. 327.
  10. Prien 1992, p. 329.
  11. Prien 1995, p. 2372.
  12. Prien 1992, p. 334.
  13. Prien 1992, p. 335.
  14. Prien 1992, pp. 336, 343.
  15. Prien 1992, p. 338.
  16. Prien 1992, p. 347.
  17. Mason 1969, pp. 240–241.
  18. Mason 1969, p. 292.
  19. Prien 1992, p. 357.
  20. Prien 1992, p. 359.
  21. Mason 1969, pp. 298–299.
  22. Prien 1992, p. 363.
  23. Prien 1992, p. 368.
  24. Mason 1969, p. 331.
  25. Prien 1992, p. 373.
  26. Mason 1969, p. 340.
  27. Prien 1992, p. 374.
  28. Prien 1992, p. 377.
  29. Mason 1969, pp. 355–356.
  30. Prien 1992, p. 382.
  31. Mason 1969, pp. 365–366.
  32. Prien 1992, p. 385.
  33. Prien 1992, p. 387.
  34. Prien 1992, p. 394.
  35. Mason 1969, p. 410.
  36. Prien 1992, p. 396.
  37. Heaton & Lewis 2012, pp. 18–20.
  38. Prien 1992, p. 420.
  39. Prien 1992, p. 450.
  40. Prien 1992, p. 457.
  41. Prien 1992, pp. 460, 462–463.
  42. Prien 1992, p. 467.
  43. Prien 1992, pp. 471–472.
  44. 44.0 44.1 Price 2012, chptr. 18 "Act of Chivalry"
  45. Prien 1992, p. 471.
  46. Prien 1992, p. 475.
  47. Prien 1992, p. 477.
  48. Prien 1992, p. 480.
  49. Prien 1992, p. 481.
  50. Prien 1992, p. 488.
  51. Prien 1992, pp. 496, 498.
  52. Ciglic, Weal & Savic 2013, p. 27.
  53. Shores, Cull & Malizia 1987, p. 194.
  54. Prien 1992, pp. 498, 514.
  55. Prien 1992, p. 522.
  56. Prien 1992, pp. 523, 531.
  57. Prien 1992, p. 533.
  58. Prien 1992, p. 547.
  59. Prien 1992, p. 551.
  60. 60.0 60.1 60.2 Prien 1992, p. 566.
  61. Shores, Cull & Malizia 1987, p. 338.
  62. Shores, Cull & Malizia 1987, p. 383.
  63. Prien 1992, p. 606.
  64. Prien 1992, pp. 614, 616.
  65. 65.0 65.1 Prien 1993, p. 628.
  66. Prien 1993, p. 630.
  67. Prien 1993, p. 632.
  68. Prien 1993, p. 635.
  69. Prien 1993, p. 644.
  70. Prien 1993, p. 651.
  71. 71.0 71.1 71.2 Stockert 1996, p. 123.
  72. 72.0 72.1 The Wehrmacht Reports 1939–1945 Volume 1, p. 591.
  73. Prien 1993, p. 654.
  74. Prien 1993, pp. 657, 660.
  75. Prien 1993, p. 663.
  76. Prien 1993, p. 666.
  77. Prien 1993, pp. 669–670.
  78. Obermaier 1989, p. 243.
  79. Prien 1993, p. 999.
  80. Hayward 1998, p. 146.
  81. 81.0 81.1 81.2 Stockert 1996, p. 124.
  82. Mombeek 1992, pp. 232–233.
  83. Mombeek 1992, p. 251.
  84. Mombeek 1992, p. 252.
  85. Manrho & Pütz 2010, p. 1.
  86. 86.0 86.1 Manrho & Pütz 2010, p. 12.
  87. Manrho & Pütz 2010, p. 2.
  88. Manrho & Pütz 2010, p. 13.
  89. Manrho & Pütz 2010, p. 5.
  90. Mombeek 1992, p. 290.
  91. Manrho & Pütz 2010, p. 19.
  92. Manrho & Pütz 2010, p. 39.
  93. 93.0 93.1 93.2 93.3 93.4 Berger 1999, p. 139.
  94. 94.0 94.1 Thomas 1997, p. 317.
  95. Patzwall & Scherzer 2001, p. 204.
  96. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 239.
  97. Von Seemen 1976, p. 177.
  98. 98.0 98.1 98.2 Scherzer 2007, p. 413.
  99. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 54.
  100. Von Seemen 1976, p. 25.
  101. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 39.
  102. Von Seemen 1976, p. 14.
  103. The Wehrmacht Reports 1939–1945 Volume 2, p. 67.
  104. The Wehrmacht Reports 1939–1945 Volume 2, p. 73.
  105. The Wehrmacht Reports 1939–1945 Volume 2, p. 91.
  106. The Wehrmacht Reports 1939–1945 Volume 2, p. 92.
  107. The Wehrmacht Reports 1939–1945 Volume 2, p. 94.


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  • Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 1, 1. September 1939 bis 31. Dezember 1941 (in German). München, Germany: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG. 1985. ISBN 978-3-423-05944-2. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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External links

  • "Lexikon der Wehrmacht". Herbert Ihlefeld (in German). Retrieved 27 March 2007.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • "Jagdgeschwader 52". Herbert Ihlefeld (in German). Retrieved 20 April 2010.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
Military offices
Preceded by
Oberstleutnant Friedrich Beckh
Commander of Jagdgeschwader 52
22 June 1942 – 28 October 1942
Succeeded by
Oberstleutnant Dietrich Hrabak
Preceded by
Commander of Jagdgeschwader 103
7 December 1942 – 20 July 1943
Succeeded by
Major Hans von Hahn
Preceded by
Commander of Jagdgeschwader 25
July 1943 – December 1943
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Major Anton Hackl
Commander of Jagdgeschwader 11
1 May 1944 – May 1944
Succeeded by
Major Günther Specht
Preceded by
Major Heinrich Bär
Commander of Jagdgeschwader 1 Oesau
20 May 1944 – 8 May 1945
Succeeded by