About the family – how many sisters did you have?


Four, they were all older than me.  My mother was 43 years old when I was born and my father 46.


How big was the age gap?


My youngest sister was seven years older and the eldest fourteen years older.

They all spoiled me.


What did your father do?


He had his own firm – a leather business, which was founded in 1908. And he said then that synthetics will ruin him.  His firm was closed before the war started.  My father died before the war and my mother in 1952.  We lived in Stauffen, a nice little town.


How did you get interested in flying?


I was in the Hitler Youth – like a scout. One day I found out that there was a flying Hitler Youth.


What did you do?


I was technically very gifted and we built our own planes. That gave me a lot of fun and if you did well you were allowed to fly.


When did you join the Luftwaffe?


I joined the squadron in 1938. After the Abitur everybody had to join the forces anyway, for two years. Because I liked flying so much I wanted to join the Luftwaffe to become a pilot.  The training was expensive and you had to sign a permanent contract.  But that was fine with me.


How did they single you out to become a fighter pilot?  Was that always your ambition?


Yes, I wanted to become a fighter pilot.  I was very gifted.  I was allowed to fly alone after only 17 starts.  Average was 50 flights before you were on your own. Normally the good ones became fighter pilots.


Did you think the fighter pilots were the elite?


Oh yes, definitely.  They became the most medals, decorations.  One could see the success.


Was there a bit of rivalry between the fighter and bomber pilots?


Yes, always.  The bomber pilots never really knew, if they hit their targets.  And we said jokingly that they would miss anyway.  Our instructors could see who would be good as a fighter pilot, or who could become either a  bomber or  reconnaissance pilot.  The bad ones had to leave.


Do you think it was good to be a pre-war pilot?


Oh yes, that was a big advantage.


Did you still have to think about flying?  Or could you totally concentrate of the task in hand?


Flying became automatic, but of course, you had to gain all your own experiences. [The story about Trauloft and his diary.] He has written 2000 pages, an entry every day.  Because I was his friend I received the diary after his death.  Trautloft wanted to become a pilot in the early 1930’s.  But because Germany was only allowed to have an army with 100,000 men after the 1st World War training to become a pilot was impossible.  But Germany formed a secret treaty with Russia.  Aeroplanes were built on Russian soil and pilots were trained there.   This was between 1932–33.  In return the Russians got the plans to build and develop their own air force.  Trauloft had an even bigger advantage because he took part in the war in Spain.  He was together with Garland, Mölder and Wick.  And Hartmann was super gifted.  The diary has been printed in German and will be translated into English.


Where were you when the battle of Britain started?


In the summer 1940 I was near Calais in Guines.  The field had just been  harvested and there was a small forest around.  We had tents and Nissen huts in there and a kitchen. There were two air strips which we built ourselves.


Did you stay there?


Only when we were on duty.  Otherwise we had accommodation in town.


How many planes were on duty?


There were always two aeroplanes.  And you had to be ready in 3 minutes.


Did you have enough food?


There was a kitchen and there was always lots of food.  We had chocolate, coffee and every day ½ l milk. We lived like “Gott in Frankreich”. (a German saying). Around the area where we stayed the French population had fled and left their farm animals behind.


What did a typical day look like? Was there a regular routine?


No, it depended very much on the tactical strategy.


How many pilots were in a squadron?


I was the squadron leader with another 11pilots. 12 aeroplanes in a squadron – 3 squadrons formed a group.


Did all the aeroplanes go out for missions?


Normally twelve planes went out on a mission. The others were repaired or serviced etc.


How did you receive your orders for the day?


We had a telephone connection with the commanding officers.  The orders came in over the phone.  Very often the evening before the mission it was decided what every pilot had to do the next day. There were three different possibilities. You were in a chasing position over a great area.  You were protection for the bombers.  You were to accompany the bombers for the last stretch of their journey.  The fighter aeroplanes had only petrol for 1 hour and 15 minutes, so they had to go back in time.


When did the missions normally start?


At 9 o’clock or when the bombers arrived.


Did you have your own mechanic?


Yes, we had our own mechanics in my squadron.  There were 3 attendants to each aeroplane and a radio controller for the whole group.  My mechanic was Oberfeldwebel Hölzner.  He came to me before the war, as an Unteroffizier.


Did you trust him?


Through and through.  I think if I didn’t have my good mechanic I would have not survived. My mechanics looked very well after my aeroplane.

I promoted him to the highest rang – Oberfeldwebel.  And after the war he was my engineer in my factory.


Did you think it was a big advantage to have guns and not only machine guns on board of your aeroplane?


A huge advantage.


Did you fly lots of missions?


All in all probably 2,000 flights, missions officially 700 but I think more like 970.  Yes I did with the B109.  I had lots of experience and confidence. For instance there was a sort of ridge in our air strip which wasn’t too difficult for me.  But the other pilots found it very tricky to start and land.


Did you have days off?


That was planned but it was not always possible.


What did you do when there was spare time?


We went to Lille.  The town had nice pubs and restaurants and very, very nice girls.


How did you get to Lille?


We had several cars for the squadron – a Citroen – 12 cylinder – automatic.  It was a fantastic car.


Did you have a girlfriend?


Not only one.  When we had bad weather and we couldn’t fly we played cards, mostly “Skat”.  You play it with 3 or 4 players.


Did you swim in the sea?


Yes, always.


So, 1940 were very exciting times for you?


Yes, certainly.  We had lots of success and we were happy.


Did you have particular good friends?


I was very well known.


Was there a strong feeling of camaraderie?


In the beginning, with all the success, this feeling was really strong. Later it wasn’t there anymore, because of all the newcomers.


Did you expect that Britain would surrender?


Yes, after the tragedy of Dunkirk. I have watched thousands of small transport ships getting ready to take the German army to England. But Göring thought he could win the war just with the air force.  And nterestingly we young enthusiastic Germans didn’t see what would happen and neither did the leadership. Kesselring couldn’t do anything. The generals were full of despair.  But the invasion was stopped.


Where were you in May – August 1944?


Yes, I was there when the Norman invasion took place.  But it was very difficult.


It has always been said that the infantry was there but not the German air force.


Our aeroplanes were hidden under trees and sometimes before we even started the Americans were above us in big numbers.  At other times we succeeded and flew up to a height of 5000 to 8000 feet but the American planes appeared above us.  In 1 mission we had losses of 60 %.  We didn’t have a chance. Once I had 10 Mustangs around me and they all wanted to bring me down.  But they disturbed each other and didn’t succeed.  I had to fly very low.  To survive I flew in and out of forests and houses.  I had to ask everything of my 109 and I am  only  still alive because of my great experience and my flying skills.  Let me tell you a story from Russia.  I took a Storch once to go swimming in a river.  Soldiers were swimming there as well.  When they saw me coming by plane they remarked, ‘Yes, naturally the gentlemen from the air force come by plane.’  Once I flew with somebody else to get a barrel of beer.  There wasn’t lots of room in the plane so the other person had to sit on the barrel for the whole duration of the flight back.