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FW 190 A-5 of Nowotny.

Photo: C.Sundin, Ch.Bergström "Luftwaffe Fighter Aircraft in Profile", Schiffer 1997

Walter Nowotny - The End of Legend?

Written by Christer Bergström and Saso Knez

Walter "Nowi" Nowotny was arguably the most successful Fw 190 pilot. Above, on photo, is his deadly weapon - personal Focke Wulf FW-190 A-5 of Stab I./JG 54, Orel airfield (Russia), 14th October 1943. In text is placed portrait photo of Nowotny, please note his awards: Knight Cross Cross with Oak Leaves, with Swords, and with Diamonds.
Walter Nowotny was born on 7 December 1920 in Grümund. He was 17 as Hitler forced the Anschluss of his homeland Austria to the Third Reich. Austria was a divided country, split between anti-Nazis and Hitler´s followers. Young Walter belonged to the latter, which ensured him of a quick career in the Luftwaffe. In 1939 Nowotny joined Luftwaffe, in spring 1941 he was assigned to JG 54 "Grünherz". This unit took part in attack against Soviet Union and soon Nowotny, at the age of 20, with the rank of a Leutnant, scored his first kills.

The eager and fearless nature of "Nowi" soon became well-known among the other pilots of JG 54. This side of his personality almost cost him his life, as he was shot down by an I-153 over the Riga Bay, following his first three victories on 19 July 1941. After three days and nights (during which he was close to committing suicide out of pure desperation) in a rubber dinghy in the sea, he finally reached the shore. This first encounter with death changed young "Nowi". He became more careful - and superstitious, always carrying the trousers he had worn on this occasion, the Abschusshose, on all his combat missions.

Please hear his own vivid account from second mission over Leningrad on 4 August 1942 (the previous mission resulting in three kills) clearly pictures both the skill and character of this young Austrian fighter pilot in the Luftwaffe:
"It was a clear blue sky, and it was filled with Soviet fighters attempting to attack our bombers. I picked an I-18 (MiG-1) and made a sharp turn, putting my Me 109 in a good position. A few bursts sent him burning to the ground. The remaining fighters tried to escape, but my Me was faster. Flying above the docks on the Neva mouth, I got the backboard plane in a finger-four formation into my gunsight. Two bursts of fire and the Rata blew up. Fuselage and wings tumbled down on fire. The Flak fired fiercely from below. I made a 180 degree turn and spotted four I-18s attacking our bombers from behind. Pulling up the nose of my plane, I made one of the Soviet fighters pass through my bullet tracers. The success stunned me. He immediately went into a steep dive, started spinning and left a thick black trail of smoke. This was my sixth victory today. Number seven didn't last long. I was just about to return home, as suddenly a Rata pulled up beneath me. I pushed my stick forward, and seconds later the enemy went down in spirals."
This day, Tuesday 4 August 1942, he achieved his victories Nos. 48-54 - thus marking the beginning of his astonishing victory row. Fourteen months later, he reached the 250 victory mark (on 13th October 1943, his victim was a skillfully flown P-40) as the first fighter pilot of WW II.

During the following year, he managed to down another 40 Russian planes, but in majority these were rather "easy" victories, achieved with great care and mainly against aircraft much obsolete to his Messerschmitt Bf 109 F and Gs. The blow against Nowotny´s self-confidence was not fully repaired until that fateful day in August 1942. From then on, he felt absolutely secure in the air. Only on 4th August 1942 "Nowi" scored seven kils in three sorties. This is remarkable, since the bulk of his successes were scored after the recovery of the Soviet Air Force, when obsolete models such as the I-16 were exchanged for Yak-9s and La-5s equal to the Messerschmitt and Focke-Wulf fighters, and as aces such as Petr Pokryshev on the Leningrad front started emerging. Successes of Nowotny were awarded by Knight Cross on 4th September 1942. Soon, on 25 October 1942 he got command of 9./JG 54.

Roaming the skies over Leningrad in 1942/43, Nowotny definitely must have met Pokryshev in the air more than once. Flying over Staraya Russa, a skilful Soviet pilot once was close to putting an end to Nowotny´s deadly career. "The Russians have had me shot up! I've got 'blisters' on my wings!" Nowotny cried over the radio: "We desperately shook off the enemy and made a quick escape at low level", said his wing-man "Quax" Schnörrer. With smoke pouring out of the hit engine, Nowotny´s Messerschmitt 109 made a hastily landing at Tulebya airfield. Rushing on the landing strip at 100 mph, the engine suddenly burst into flames. At a speed of 60 mph, Nowotny blew off his and left his plane in a true do-or-die jump. The burning Messerschmitt continued rolling another 30 meters, and then exploded.

On 25 March 1943, Nowotny met the first Soviet Spitfires - belonging to Major Petrov´s 26 GvIAP of the Leningrad Air Defense - and shot down one of them, his 79th victory. On 15 June, he scored his 100th kill. Nine days later, he brought down 10 Soviet aircraft in one single day. That month, Walter Nowotny raised his score by no less than 41. Promoted to Oberleutnant and in charge of 1./JG 54 "Grünherz", he surpassed himself by downing 49 Soviet planes in August 1943, among them nine on the 13th and seven on the 21st. Claiming his 150th victory on 18 August, Nowotny stood as No 16 on the "Ace list".

The following month was opened with another ten victories on the first day. Three days later, he was awarded with the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross, and on 9 September 1943, his victory tally reached the incredible "200 mark". During his last ten days on the Eastern Front, ending on 14 October 1943, Walter Nowotny blew 32 Russian aircraft out of the sky - pushing his total victory score to 255.

Walter Nowotny. 22-years-old Hauptmann Walter Nowotny by now stood on the top of the fighter aces. Desperate for anything that could give the German people any faith in the war, the Nazi propaganda machinery rapidly turned Nowotny into its foremost headline "superstar". Young Walter received all the highest military awards at hand: The Knight´s Cross with Oak Leaves, with Swords, and with Diamonds added. Afraid of losing such a "star", the High Command withdrew Nowotny from combat activity.

During the following year, his main role in the war was to serve as an object for propaganda and moral-boosting. But the winds of war eventually forced the High Command to call back Nowotny into active service. In the fall of 1944, he was put in charge of the first jet fighter unit, equipped with the Me 262, "Kommando Nowotny".

Nowotny was firstly reassigned to a training Geschwader in Pau. He also test flew the Me 262 - like most other Experten he was astonished. Since he was not employed to his full potential in the Defense of the Reich organization, he was given the command of the Me 262 test unit - Kommando Nowotny. In it's short history Ekdo 262 didn't live up to expectations of the High Command and the pilots themselves. Nowotny was to be the energy boast that the unit needed. He was to lead by example. When he arrived to Hesepe he was introduced to the Oberleutnant Hans Gunther Muller the Komandeur of the Hesepe detachment, Nowotny immediately reacted in his own fashion saying: ¨What? You are the Staffelkapitan and you haven't scored a kill on the Me 262??!! I suggest you find yourself a more suitable employment.¨ But he was to soon experience the real situation in the unit.

In the next few weeks the unit was plagued by the constant enemy action, the highly temperamental jet turbines and similar problems which were not solved till the end of the war, but eventually the catastrophic 8. November would dawn.

Galland and Keller were visiting the unit that day. Under the pressure to perform, and to rectify the unit in the eyes of the High Command, Komando Nowotny gave their best shot. Nowotny was among the pilots who were to fly that day. The Komando's all out effort turned out to be only 2 Me 262 in the first wave and the same in the second wave. The target was a large group of bombers heavily escorted who were targeted to bomb the marshalling yards at Rheine and the Nordhorn Canal. There were four FG on the lookout for rats coming from Hesepe and Achmer. Detecting the bombers two Rottes of Me 262 were prepared to take-off (one at Hesepe-Erich Buttner and Franz Schall, and at Achmer-Nowotny and Gunther Wegmann). But only two Me 262 managed to take-off. Buttner had a puncture during taxing and Nowotny's turbines refused to start-it was most likely an fuel-clog problem. But the two pilots airborne managed to bring down a Thunderbolt and a Mustang.

Galland: "I arrived on that day ( 7. November) to inspect the unit and write a report, plus I spoke with Nowotny that evening, and he was going to give me his pilots' reports concerning their actions. The next day, a flight of B-17 bombers was reported heading our way, so the unit took off, about six jets (note: some relations told about four), if I remember correctly, in the first wave, then another. The Fw-190Ds were waiting on the runway to take off and cover their return, engaging the Allied fighters that were sure to follow. I was in the operations shack, where we monitored the radio transmissions and could get an idea of what was happening."

Schall approached the formation but didn't make contact as he was intercepted by escorting Mustangs. In the following dogfight Schall reported a Mustang shot-down, but he suffered a flame-out at high altitude. He tried to start his turbines with a dive, but was caught-up by Mustangs, who made some really nice photos of the evacuated turbinen jager.

Galland: "Several bombers were called out as shot down, and Nowotny radioed that he was approaching. The flight leader on the ground, Hans Dortenmann, requested permission to take off to assist, but Nowotny said no, to wait. The defensive anti-aircraft battery opened fire on a few Mustangs that approached the field, but they were chased away, from what I could understand, and the jets were coming in. One Me-262 had been shot down (note: piloted by Franz Schall), and Nowotny reported one of his engines was damaged. He was flying on the right engine alone, which made him vulnerable. I stepped outside to watch his approach to the field, when an enemy fighter pulled (Nowotny's slayer) away not far from us."

At that very same moment Lt. RW. Stevens of the 364 FG which was patrolling the area, caught-up with a Me 262-flown by Nowotny who was returning to Hesepe. He knew the jet was approaching the field, and would shortly be in the Flak-alley. He swiftly closed in due to the Nowotny speed loss from the engine failure. When in the gun-range he opened fire. He recorded some hits on the jet, but sensing all that flak is just waiting for him to come in to range, he decide that he would be satisfied with a Me 262 - damaged. He put his trusty Mustang in a shallow dive to gain speed and he immediately went back to seek cover in those low hanging clouds. Meanwhile Major Nowotny was fighting a lost battle. His Me 262 was partly paralyzed from the engine loss, and he made one last radio transmission. Last words of Nowotny heard over the radio were: "I´m burning! My god, my god! I´m burning!". Then his fighter rolled and stalled-probably on the port side. His altitude was low, so when hitting the ground he briefly bounced back in the air losing one of the engines, and upon hitting the ground his Me 262 furiously exploded.

Galland: "I heard the sound of a jet engine, and we saw this 262 coming down through the light clouds at low altitude, rolling slightly and then hitting the ground. The explosions rocked the air, and only a column of black smoke rose from behind the trees. We took off in a car and reached the wreckage, and it was Nowotny's plane. After sifting through the wreckage, the only salvageable things found were his left hand and pieces of his Diamonds decoration."

The crash site at Epe (2.5 km east of Hesepe) is littered with the remains of the Meserschmitt scattered in an wide area. A local remembers that a engine was lying on the road beside the crash site. A small memorial was erected near the ¨grave¨ of this exceptional pilot. R. Stevens reported having chased and damaged a Me 262 at Epe.
The left profile of last aircraft of Major Nowotny - Me 262 A-1a, white 8, W.Nr. 110400. Kommando Nowotny, Achmer, Germany, 8th November 1944.

Me 262 of Nowotny.

Photo: C.Sundin, Ch.Bergström "Luftwaffe Fighter Aircraft in Profile", Schiffer 1997

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1998.12.22, © WW II Ace Stories.