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Erich Rudorffer

Erich Rudorffer
Erich Rudorffer in 1944
Nickname(s) Fighter of Libau
Born (1917-11-01) 1 November 1917
Zwochau, Saxony, German Empire
Allegiance  Nazi Germany
Service/branch Luftwaffe
Years of service 1939–45
Rank Major
Unit JG 2, JG 7 and JG 54
Commands held 6. JG 2, II./JG 2, I./JG 7 and II.JG 54
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords

Major Erich Rudorffer (born 1 November 1917) is a German former Luftwaffe fighter ace, one of a handful who served with the Luftwaffe through the whole of World War II. He is the 7th most successful fighter pilot in the history of air warfare and, as of 2014, both the oldest jet fighter ace and the most successful ace still living. Rudorffer claimed a total of 222 victories, fighting in all the major German theaters of war, including the European and Mediterranean Theatre of Operations and the Eastern Front. During the war he flew more than 1000 combat missions, was engaged in aerial combat over 300 times, was shot down by flak and enemy fighters 16 times and had to take to his parachute 9 times. His 222 aerial victories include 58 heavily armoured Il-2 Sturmovik ground attack aircraft. He also claimed that he sank a British submarine on 19 May 1941 off the Isle of Portland but Royal Navy losses do not corroborate this claim and the Luftwaffe only credited him with damaging the submarine. Rudorffer is the last living recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves and Swords.


  • Early life 1
  • World War II 2
  • After the war 3
  • Awards 4
    • Reference in the Wehrmachtbericht 4.1
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early life

Rudorffer was born in Zwochau, Sachsen. He flew for Deutsche Lufthansa until two months after the beginning of World War II, when all pilots were transferred to the Luftwaffe. In early 1940 Rudorffer was transferred to Jagdgeschwader 2 Richthofen.

World War II

Rudorffer got his first victory over a Curtiss Hawk 75, on 14 May 1940. He scored eight more times before the capitulation of France. He flew throughout the Battle of Britain, and legend has him being pursued down Croydon High Street below rooftop level by a Hurricane. He achieved his nineteenth victory on 1 May 1941; he was then awarded the Ritterkreuz of the Iron Cross and appointed Staffelkapitän of 6./Jagdgeschwader 2 (JG 2) "Richthofen" the following month. By the end of December 1941 he had claimed 40 kills.

In 1942 Rudorffer participated in Operation Cerberus (Channel Dash) and flew over the Allied landings at Dieppe in August 1942. After 45 victories in November 1942 his unit was transferred south to Sicily and later Tunisia. On 9 February 1943 Rudorffer claimed to have defeated 8 British pilots during a 32-minute aerial battle, and collected his first multiple victories. Again on 15 February he was victorious over 7 allied aircraft. Among his victories over North Africa are 10 Allied bombers.

Rudorffer on 21 June 1944. In the background is his wingman, Unteroffizier Kurt Tangermann

In July 1943 Rudorffer was appointed to command II./Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54) on the Eastern Front. He claimed his first victory in that theater on 7 August. Due to the experience gained by fighting the RAF he achieved incredible success. During his first sortie on 24 August 1943, 5 Soviet aircraft were downed in 4 minutes. On 11 October 1943 Rudorffer made history when during 17 minutes he claimed 13 kills.

Rudorffer earned his nickname Fighter of Libau on 28 October 1944 near the Latvian city of Libau. While preparing to land he spotted a Soviet task force of about 60 close air support aircraft on its way to attack Libau airfields. He broke off the landing and engaged the enemy without any backup. He drove off the attackers, shooting down nine enemy aircraft within 10 minutes. In the winter of 1944 Rudorffer was trained on the Messerschmitt Me 262 Jet fighter. In February 1945 he was recalled to command I./Jagdgeschwader 7 (JG 7). Between December 1944 and beginning of April 1945 the I./JG 7 operated from the then newly built Luftwaffe Airbase in Kaltenkirchen north of Hamburg. So he seems to have been Group Commander more or less for the one month of March 1945. Rudorffer claimed 12 victories with the Me 262,[Notes 1] to bring his total to 222. His tally included 136 on the Eastern Front, 26 in North Africa and 60 on the Western Front including 10 heavy bombers.

After the war

Fw 190 A8/N reproduction by Flug Werk GmbH Germany in the colors (minus the Swastika) and markings of Major Erich Rudorffer's mount of JG 54 when stationed at Immola, Finland.

Rudorffer started out flying DC-2s and DC-3s in Australia. Later on he worked for Pan Am and the Luftfahrt-Bundesamt, Germany's civil aviation authority. He is the last living recipient of the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. Rudorffer was one of the characters in the 2007 Finnish war movie Tali-Ihantala 1944. A Fw 190 participated, painted in the same markings as Rudorffer's aircraft in 1944.[1] The aircraft, now based at Omaka Aerodrome in New Zealand, still wears the colours of Rudorffer's machine.


Reference in the Wehrmachtbericht

Date Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording Direct English translation
30 October 1944
Bei den gestern gemeldeten Abschußerfolgen in Kurland errang der mit dem Eichenlaub zum Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes ausgezeichnete Major Rudorffer durch Abschuß von elf Flugzeugen seinen 206. Luftsieg.[8] Among those aerial victories in Courland that had been reported yesterday are eleven aircraft shot down by the recipient of the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross Major Rudorffer bringing his total to 206 aerial victories.


  1. ^ For a list of Luftwaffe Jet aces see List of German World War II jet aces
  2. ^ According to Scherzer as Hauptmann (war officer) and not Major.[5]


  1. ^ Flug Werk's homepage with replica
  2. ^ Patzwall and Scherzer 2001, p. 389.
  3. ^ a b Thomas 1998, p. 230.
  4. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 367.
  5. ^ a b c Scherzer 2007, p. 643.
  6. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 81.
  7. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 47.
  8. ^ Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939-1945 Band 3, p. 573.
  • Berger, Florian (1999). Mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern. Die höchstdekorierten Soldaten des Zweiten Weltkrieges [With Oak Leaves and Swords. The Highest Decorated Soldiers of the Second World War] (in German). Vienna, Austria: Selbstverlag Florian Berger.  
  • Boehme, Manfred (1992). JG 7 The World's First Jet Fighter Unit 1944/1945. Atglen, PA:  
  • Morgan, Hugh; Weal, John (1998). German Jet Aces of World War 2. London; New York:  
  • Musciano, Walter A (1995). Die berühmten Me 109 und ihre Piloten (in German). Weltbild Verlag GmbH.
  • Obermaier, Ernst (1989). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Luftwaffe Jagdflieger 1939 – 1945 [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the Luftwaffe Fighter Force 1941 – 1945] (in German). Mainz, Germany: Verlag Dieter Hoffmann.  
  • Patzwall, Klaus D.; Scherzer, Veit (2001). Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 – 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II [The German Cross 1941 – 1945 History and Recipients Volume 2] (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall.  
  • Schaulen, Fritjof (2005). Eichenlaubträger 1940 – 1945 Zeitgeschichte in Farbe III Radusch – Zwernemann [Oak Leaves Bearers 1940 – 1945 Contemporary History in Color III Radusch – Zwernemann] (in German). Selent, Germany: Pour le Mérite.  
  • 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 [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives] (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag.  
  • Spick, Mike (1996). Luftwaffe Fighter Aces. New York:  
  • Thomas, Franz (1998). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 2: L–Z [The Oak Leaves Bearers 1939–1945 Volume 2: L–Z] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag.  
  • Williamson, Gordon (2006). Knight's Cross, Oak-Leaves and Swords Recipients 1941–45. Oxford, UK:  

External links

  • Media related to at Wikimedia Commons
  • Jagdgeschwader 54
  • Erich Rudorffer @ Aces of the Luftwaffe
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