The Reich’s Most Outstanding Fighter Pilot

Austrian choirboy Walter Nowotny was destined to become the Reich’s top gun in aerial combat. The Reich’s Luftwaffe fighters were renowned for their courage and kill ability, yet Nowotny was in a class of his own.

Walter NowotnyNowotny was just nineteen-years old when on hearing the English and French declarations of war he volunteered for service in the Luftwaffe. Soon afterwards the teenager was posted to the Eastern Front where he joined the ‘Grunherz’ JG54 Group and within weeks downed his first Russian J18. Things didn’t always go the young fighter pilot’s way. On his 24th mission he was shot down and ended up in the freezing Bay of Riga. For three days he clung to life in a small dinghy. Eventually the young airman was saved by a Lithuanian fisherman.

Typically fun loving the 21-year old was humble and dismissive of his victories. Stationed in Vilnius he was celebrating his 250th downing when on October 19, 1943 he was called to the telephone. At the other end of the line was Adolf Hitler. During the call he learned that he was to be awarded the Knight’s Cross with Diamonds. Only seven other officers earned this outstanding award.

Luftwaffe bomber pilot Willi Kreissmann:

By the time I flew my first missions on September 1942 Walter Nowotny had cleared the skies of Russian Yaks and U.S made Curtis aircraft of the elite Stalin squadron.

After his 56th aerial victory Walter Nowotny received his Ritterkreuz (Knight’s Cross). A year later after his 191th kill he received the coveted Oak Leaves Award. Willi Kreissmann:

Of special mention is when our group was engaged in aerial combat in which Nowotny shot down ten Russian fighters on a single day. When his kills reached 220 the Führer awarded my comrade-in-arms Germany’s highest honour.

Hitler awards Nowotny
Nowotny awarded by Adolf Hitler

On the Führer’s orders Walter Nowotny was stood down and ordered to leave his fighting wing. Nowotny’s notoriety was now drawing Soviet flak, which was putting other Luftwaffe fighter pilots lives in danger. A telephone call came from the celebrated fighter pilot Major General Galland. Walter Nowotny was ordered immediately to Berlin.

By early 1944 the Messerschmitt aircraft factories had their ground-breaking twin-engine jet propelled fighter ME 262 coming off the production lines. Nowotny was selected to create Germany’s first jet fighter squadron. There were disappointments but by autumn 1944 the squadron had brought down four MOTS, Mosquitoes and Mustangs.


On November 8 1944 after receiving news of a massive incoming attack Major General Galland called Nowotny. Wave after wave of American bombers was on their way to incinerate German towns and cities. The group’s Messerschmitt force took to the air as Nowotny followed the group’s progress from the Luftwaffe Command Post. It was then that he heard the disturbing news that two of his fighter pilots had been shot down. Leaving his post the ace was in the air within minutes. Soon immersed in a cataclysmic air battle Nowotny quickly took revenge by destroying a USAF Liberator bomber and an American Mustang fighter plane.

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Over the crackling radio he then heard the news that flames were erupting from his aircraft. As his fighter spiralled towards the ground Nowotny opened the aircraft’s canopy and bailed out. Tragically, the parachute lines became caught and tangled in the flailing fighter plane’s rudder and Nowotny met his tragic end. The date was November 8 1944. The young pilot was laid to rest with honours in a special lot in the Central Cemetery of Vienna which today is visited by those who respect one of the greatest ever gladiators of the Baltic, Russian and German skies. On special anniversaries the fighter pilot’s story is told in the many wreaths and flowers that adorn the place where he now sleeps.

Biographic Detail: Luftwaffe Pilot Walter Nowotny was credited with 442 flying missions and 258 victories in aerial combat. Of these 255 were on the Eastern Front and three whilst flying the world’s first jet fighters Messerschmitt Me 262.

The fighter ace achieved most of his victories in the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 aircraft and approximately 50 triumphs whilst piloting the Messerschmitt Bf 109.

His achievements earned him the coveted Ritterkreuz mit Eichenlaub, Schwerten und Brillanten (Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds). After his death, the Jagdgeschwader 7 unit, the first operational jet fighter wing in history, was renamed Nowotny in his honour.

Published in: on July 14, 2016 at 8:09 am  Leave a Comment