Erich Hartmann & Gerd Barkhorn
Erich Hartmann & Gerd BarkhornErich Hartmann & Gerd Barkhorn

300 Club Erich Hartmann & Gerd Barkhorn

Erich Alfred Hartmann (19 April 1922 – 20 September 1993), nicknamed “Bubi” by his comrades and “The Black Devil” by his Soviet adversaries, was a German fighter pilot during World War II and is the highest-scoring fighter ace in the history of aerial warfare. He claimed 352 aerial victories—that is, 352 aerial combat encounters resulting in the destruction of the enemy aircraft—in 1,404 combat missions.

He engaged in aerial combat 825 times while serving with the Luftwaffe. During the course of his career, Hartmann was forced to crash-land his damaged fighter 14 times. This was due to damage received from parts of enemy aircraft he had just shot down or mechanical failure. Hartmann was never shot down or forced to land due to fire from enemy aircraft.

Hartmann, a pre-war glider pilot, joined the Luftwaffe in 1940 and completed his fighter pilot training in 1942. He was posted to Jagdgeschwader 52 (JG 52) on the Eastern front and was fortunate to be placed under the supervision of some of the Luftwaffe’s most experienced fighter pilots. Under their guidance, Hartmann steadily developed his tactics, which earned him the coveted Ritterkreuz mit Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten (Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds) on 25 August 1944 for claiming 301 aerial victories. Hartmann scored his 352nd and last aerial victory on 8 May 1945.

Lieutenant-General Gerhard “Gerd” Barkhorn (20 March 1919 – 8 January 1983) was the second most successful fighter ace of all time after fellow Luftwaffe pilot Erich Hartmann. Barkhorn joined the Luftwaffe in 1937 and completed his training in 1939.

Barkhorn flew his first combat missions in May 1940, during the Battle of France and then the Battle of Britain without scoring an aerial victory—that is an aerial combat encounter resulting in the destruction of the enemy aircraft. His first victory came in July 1941 and his total rose steadily against Soviet opposition. In March 1944 he was awarded the third highest decoration in the Wehrmacht when he received the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (Ritterkreuz mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern) for 250 aerial victories. Despite being the second highest scoring pilot in aviation history, Barkhorn was not awarded the Diamonds to his Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords after achieving his 300th victory on 5 January 1945.

Barkhorn flew 1,104 combat sorties and was credited with 301 victories on the Eastern Front against the Soviet Red Air Force piloting the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Focke-Wulf Fw 190D-9. He flew with the famed Jagdgeschwader 52.