The fighter pilot who would become the third highest-scoring ace of all time began as a novice pilot flying Bf109s with III./JG52 at the outbreak of war. He quickly demonstrated his natural flair and combat ability, as well as his leadership qualities, first during the Battle of France in which he claimed his first victory, and then in the Battle of Britain when he was promoted Staffelkapitän of 8./JG52. Then, after a spell in Romania to protect the oil fields, in May 1941 his unit flew in support of the German assault of Crete.

Following the invasion of Russia and transferring to the Eastern Front his victories quickly mounted but on 28 November 1941, after scoring his 36th victory, he was shot down and crashed, breaking his spine in 3 places and leaving his right leg paralyzed. It was in hospital that he met and married his doctor before eventually returning to 8./JG52 in July 1942. He was awarded the Knight’s Cross in September and in October, after his score passed the 100 mark, the Oak Leaves as well.
From April 1943 to March 1944 he was Kommandeur of III./JG52, gaining his 200th victory on 29 August for which he was awarded the Swords, but it was during this period of great success, in which his score reached 250 victories, that he was wounded again.

In April 1944 he took command II./JG11 in the West but on 12 May 1944, after shooting down two P-47s, he was wounded, spending six months in hospital. After a period leading the Fighter Leader School he returned to combat in March 1945 in charge of JG300. By cessation of hostilities he had scored 275 victories, flown 621 missions and been shot down 8 times.

After the war he served with great distinction in the Luftwaffe der Bundeswehr.

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