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Werner Schröer
File:Werner Schroer.jpg
Werner Schröer
Born (1918-02-12)12 February 1918
Died 10 February 1985(1985-02-10) (aged 66)
Place of birth Mülheim an der Ruhr
Place of death Ottobrunn
Allegiance  Nazi Germany
Service/branch Luftwaffe
Years of service 1937–1945
Rank Major
Unit JG 27, JG 3
Commands held 8./JG 27, II./JG 27 , JG 3

World War II

Awards Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords

Werner Schröer[Notes 1] (12 February 1918 in Mülheim an der Ruhr – 10 February 1985 in Ottobrunn) was a German World War II fighter ace who served in the Luftwaffe from 1937, initially as a member of the ground staff, until the end of World War II in Europe on 8 May 1945, by which time he had reached the highest ranks of combat leadership. A flying ace or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft during aerial combat.[2] Schröer was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves and Swords was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. For the fighter pilots, the grades of the Knight's Cross were also a quantifiable measure of their success and skill. Werner Schröer was the second most successful claimant of air victories after Hans-Joachim Marseille in the Mediterranean.

Military career[edit | edit source]

Schröer joined the Luftwaffe in 1937 as ground crew (with 4.Kompanie Flieger-Ersatzabteilung 24). However, in 1938 as a Gefreiter he enrolled in basic flight training, which he completed, as a Feldwebel, in May 1940. He then spent two months posted with Jagdfliegerschule 1 getting advanced fighter training, graduating on 20 July 1940.[3] In August he was assigned to 2./Jagdgeschwader 27 (JG 27—27th Fighter Wing), which at the time was heavily engaged in the Battle of Britain. Operating over the Channel and southern England he got three victories, but they could not be officially confirmed.

Mediterranean theater of operations[edit | edit source]

After attending officer-training over winter, and as a Leutnant, he and the rest of I./JG 27 was sent to North Africa, via Sicily, in March 1941 to support the Afrika Korps. The first aircraft arrived at Ain-el-Gazala airfield, west of Tobruk on the 18th April. So it was mildly surprising that after 8 months without success that Schroer's first victory was one of the four claimed the next day in the first missions by the Gruppe in Africa:[4] a Hurricane shot down over Gazala, although he had to force-land his own Messerschmitt Bf 109E ('Black 8', Werknummer 3790—factory number) near his airfield, with 48 bullet-holes in it.[5] Two days later, on 21 April, he collided with another aircraft while combatting Hurricanes, slightly injuring himself and requiring another forced-landing. On 23 April Marseille opened his account with JG 27 scoring his first victory in Africa (and 8th overall).

Schröer's scoring progress was slow, as he adapted to the wide open spaces of desert aerial combat - his second victory was another Hawker Hurricane on 25 June, and by the end of 1941 his tally was just seven. On 29 August 1941 Schroer engaged in aerial combat with the top Australian ace Clive Caldwell of No. 250 Squadron RAF north-west of Sidi Barrani. In the course of the battle Schröer damaged Caldwell's P-40 Tomahawk. Caldwell suffered bullet wounds to the back, left shoulder, and leg but was still able to shoot down Werner Schroer's wingman and heavily damage Werner's own aircraft and thus forced him to disengage. The arrival in September of II Gruppe from the Eastern Front allowed I./JG 27 to rotate its pilots back to Germany, a squadron at a time, for rest and re-equipment with the improved Bf 109F. However, this could not prevent the Axis forces being routed out of Cyrenaica by the British Operation Crusader.

In February, Rommel launched his counter-offensive retaking a lot of the same ground all over again. So by March 1942, when Werner became Adjutant in I./JG 27 learning command under the experienced Eduard Neumann, they were back at Martuba, east of Derna. On 22 June, the day after the fall of Tobruk, he was promoted to Staffelkapitän of 8./JG 27, based further forward at Gazala. The next day, 23 June, with Marseille having just reached 101 victories, Werner scored his 12th and finally started scoring regularly. With the Battle of Gazala well underway, and Rommel charging 500 km onto El Alamein, the airwar finally heated up. He scored 16 victories in July, then after a month away, a further 13 victories bringing his total to 44 (including six on 15 September).

On 9 September he was awarded the Deutsches Kreuz in Gold after his 32nd & 33rd victories the day before. However, German pilots in North Africa may have significantly over-reported kills. On 15 September 1942 for instance; DAF squadron records suggest that German units over-claimed by a margin exceeding 200% on some occasions.[Notes 2]

He continued scoring regularly in October, downing a further 15 aircraft. Leutnant Schröer was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes) on 21 October for 49 victories, just before Montgomery launched his victorious Battle of El Alamein. In the frantic air battles overhead, Schroer shot down 10 aircraft in a week. On 4 November, the new Oberleutnant Schröer shot down his first four-engined bomber - a Boeing B-24 Liberator - west of Sollum. However, the end in Africa was nigh, and with the Afrika Korps in full retreat, III./JG 27 handed over its aircraft to Jagdgeschwader 77 (the 77th Fighter Wing) replacing it on the continent, and evacuated to Crete and the Aegean islands. Fittingly, as the Gruppe's highest scorer, Werner scored one of its last African victories on 16 November (his 61st). Those 61 victories, all scored in Africa, made him the second-highest scoring ace of the Desert War, after Marseille (who had been killed in a flying accident on 30 September with 158 victories).

In the few months they were in the Aegean, including a posting with the Italian forces on Rhodes, the newly promoted Hauptmann Schroer shot down two light bombers on 15 February. After that he had extended leave at home for his wedding.[7]

On 22 April he was made Gruppenkommandeur of II./JG 27, replacing Gustav Rödel, who himself had been promoted to Kommodore of JG 27. II/JG 27 was now operating with the new Bf 109G in the dangerous skies over Sicily, as the Allies prepared for invasion with heavy preparatory bombing raids. Based at Trapani, on the western corner of the island, they were up against complete Allied air superiority and had the hopeless task of trying to protect transport aircraft making desperate evacuation flights of remaining wounded and specialists our of the beleaguered Afrika Korps, now bottled up in Tunis. Just before Schroer took over command, on the evening of 18 April, only 6 transports had made it to Sicily out of 65 leaving Tunis. Flying at sea-level, half had been shot down and the remainder turned back damaged.[8] Powerless to help, II./JG 27 claimed only one enemy fighter in response. However, with renewed vigour Werner led from the front and over the next two months, claimed 22 Allied aircraft shot down, including 12 four-engined heavy bombers.[5] The surrender in May, of the Afrika Korps was of a comparable scale to the surrender of VI Army at Stalingrad only a few months earlier.

Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily, started on 10 July. Unable to influence the result to any great degree, II./JG 27 had already been ordered back to the Italian mainland. Soon after, on 28 July, the unit was ordered to hand its aircraft over to other units and the pilots and crews returned to Germany for much-needed rest and re-equipment. On 2 August, for his courageous efforts against the odds, Schroer was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub), for 84 victories.

In defense of the Reich[edit | edit source]

In August, II./JG 27 was at Wiesbaden-Erbenheim in Germany, starting training for a completely different air-war: Reichsverteidigung (Defense of the Reich) duties, at high altitude against the big, heavily-armed massed-formations of four-engined bombers, or Viermots. From August to March, Schroer shot down 14 aircraft, 11 of them being Viermots - an indication of the type of air-combat in which he was now fighting. The unit's first operational sortie in the Reich, 6 September, was their most successful with nine bombers claimed, including three for Schröer (86-88v.)

On 7 January 1944 Schröer was credited with the destruction of a P-38 Lightning piloted by Joseph P. Marsiglia (55th Fighter Group, 338th Fighter Squadron). Marsiglia had to bail out and was apprehended near Holz in the district of Saarbrücken.[9] But on 14 March 1944, Major Schröer (with 99 victories) was appointed Gruppenkommandeur, III./Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54—54th Fighter WIng), based in the north at Lüneberg. In April the unit retrained and transferred onto the Focke Wulf Fw 190. On 24 May, Schröer claimed a P-51 Mustang and two P-47 Thunderbolts to reach his century (100–102v.). But the worsening situation and the intense pressure was taking its toll, and he was sent on a month's stress-leave in early June just as Allied attention turned to Normandy, possibly saving his life as the unit took very heavy losses in France.[10][11]

Returning to duty, from 29 June 1944 to February 1945, Schröer was senior instructor at the DES Kommandersschule for fighter leaders. But in the desperate final days of the Reich, Werner was recalled to active service, as Geschwaderkommodore of Jagdgeschwader 3 (the 3rd Fighter Wing), taking command on 14 February. He then claimed 12 Russian aircraft destroyed - his only victories not on the Western front. On 19 April 1945 he received the Swords to his Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves (Schwertern), then, finally, on 8 May he surrendered his unit to British forces.

He was kept a prisoner-of-war until released in February 1946, and did not return to the military. In his later years, he ran a campaign to get a memorial erected to his friend Hans-Joachim Marseille, but sadly he passed away before he could see that mission completed.[11] He died on 10 February 1985 in Ottobrunn, aged 67.

Werner Schröer was the 144th recipient of the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. He was credited with 114 victories, claimed in only 197 combat missions. His tally of 26 four-engined bombers ranked him the 5th most successful pilot against that formidable type of Allied aircraft. Likewise, his score of 102 victories against the Western Allies, including 61 claimed over North Africa, make him the 5th-equal ranked pilot, alongside Joachim Müncheberg and Egon Mayer.

Promotions[edit | edit source]

Flight Training [11]

  • 1 October 1938 Gefreiter
  • 1 April 1939 Unteroffizier
  • 1 December 1939 Feldwebel

Combat assignment

  • 1 March 1941 Leutnant
  • 1 November 1942 Oberleutnant
  • 1 February 1943 Hauptmann
  • 1 November 1943 Major

Awards[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. According to his [Werner Schröer] statement family name was Schroer until 1968 and Schröer from then on.[1]
  2. JG 27 claimed 19 P-40s destroyed from No. 239 Wing. Yet Russell Brown claims that DAF squadron records show only five aircraft lost to enemy action. He also lists several other dates on which there was significant overclaiming by JG 27 pilots.[6]
  3. The sequential numbers greater than 143 for the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords are unofficial and were assigned by the Association of Knight's Cross Recipients (AKCR) and are therefore denoted in parentheses.[18]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Scherzer 2007, p. 685.
  2. Spick 1996, pp. 3–4.
  3. Luftwaffe Officer Career Summaries website.
  4. Weal 2003, pg. 66.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Aces of the Luftwaffe website.
  6. Brown 2000, pp. 281–282.
  7. Weal 2003, pp. 94-96.
  8. Weal 2003, pg. 91.
  9. Crashes in Saarbrücken County
  10. Weal 2001, pg. 91.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Luftwaffe 39-45 Historia website.
  12. Obermaier 1989, p. 40.
  13. Patzwall and Scherzer 2001, p. 425.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Thomas 1998, p. 289.
  15. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 389.
  16. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 71.
  17. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 48.
  18. Fellgiebel 2000, pp. 49–51.
  • Berger, Florian (2000). Mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern. Die höchstdekorierten Soldaten des Zweiten Weltkrieges (in German). Wien, Austria: Selbstverlag Florian Berger. ISBN 3-9501307-0-5.
  • Brown, Russell (2000). Desert Warriors: Australian P-40 Pilots at War in the Middle East and North Africa, 1941–1943. Maryborough, Australia: Banner Books. ISBN 1-875593-22-5.
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000) (in German). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 – Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtsteile [The Bearers of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939–1945 — The Owners of the Highest Award of the Second World War of all Wehrmacht Branches]. Friedburg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6. 
  • Musciano, Walter (1989). Messerschmitt Aces Tab Books ISBN 0-8306-8379-8
  • Obermaier, Ernst (1989). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Luftwaffe Jagdflieger 1939 – 1945 (in German). Mainz, Germany: Verlag Dieter Hoffmann. ISBN 3-87341-065-6.
  • Patzwall, Klaus D. & Scherzer, Veit. Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 – 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall, 2001. ISBN 3-931533-45-X.
  • Roba, Jean-Louis & Pegg, Martin (2003). Jagdwaffe Vol 4, Sec2: The Mediterranean 1942 - 1943 Hersham, Surrey: Ian Allan Publishing ISBN 1-903223-35-0 incl colour picture of aircraft (p. 168)
  • Schaulen, Fritjof (2005). Eichenlaubträger 1940 – 1945 Zeitgeschichte in Farbe III Radusch – Zwernemann (in German). Selent, Germany: Pour le Mérite. ISBN 3-932381-22-X.
  • 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 (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.
  • Scutts, Jerry (1994). Bf 109 Aces of North Africa and the Mediterranean. London, UK: Osprey Aerospace. ISBN 1-85532-448-2 incl colour profiles of aircraft (#8, 30 & 31).
  • Spick, Mike (1996). Luftwaffe Fighter Aces. New York: Ivy Books. ISBN 0-8041-1696-2.
  • Spick, Mike (2006). Aces of the Reich. Greenhill Books. ISBN 1-85367-675-6
  • Sundin, Claes & Bergström. Christer (1997). Luftwaffe Fighter Aircraft in Profile. Altglen, PA: Schiffer Military History. ISBN 0-7643-0291-4 incl colour profile of aircraft (#16)
  • Thomas, Franz (1998). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 2: L–Z (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 3-7648-2300-3.
  • Weal, John (2003). Aviation Elite Units #12: Jagdgeschwader 27 'Afrika’. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-84176-538-4.
  • Weal, John (2001). Aviation Elite Units #6: Jagdgeschwader 54 ‘Grünherz’. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-84176-286-5.
  • Weal, John (1999). Bf109F/G/K Aces of the Western Front. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-85532-905-0.
  • Weal, John (2006). Bf109 Defence of the Reich Aces. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-84176-879-0.
  • Frey, Gerhard; Herrmann, Hajo: Helden der Wehrmacht III – Unsterbliche deutsche Soldaten (in German). München, Germany: FZ-Verlag GmbH, 2007. ISBN 978-3-924309-82-4.

External links[edit | edit source]

Military offices
Preceded by
Oblt Hans Lass
Squadron Leader of 8./JG 27
22 June 1942 – 21 April 1943
Succeeded by
Oblt Dietrich Boesler
Preceded by
Hptm Gustav Rödel
Group Commander of II./JG 27
22 April 1943 – 13 March 1944
Succeeded by
Hptm Friedrich Keller
Preceded by
Hptm Rudolf Sinner
Group Commander of III./JG 54
14 March 1944 – 20 July 1944
Succeeded by
Hptm Robert Weiß
Preceded by
Maj Heinrich Bär
Commander of Jagdgeschwader 3 Udet
14 February 1945 – 8 May 1945
Succeeded by
none: end of war

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