One of the more successful fighter pilots against the Western Allies. Let’s take a look at Werner Shroer who rose from enlisted ranks to high Luftwaffe Command during the War years.
Werner Shroer enlisted in the Luftwaffe in 1937. After briefly working as ground crew, he started flight training on July 1, 1938. This was a thorough and demanding process at this time, he didn’t become an operational fighter pilot until August 1940.
He was assigned to JG 27 and flew during the Battle of Britain. He claimed three kills but these were never confirmed.
In February 1941 JG 27 (actually a detachment of JG 27, the Group as a whole served on every German front during the War, and was scattered beyond my ability to make any sense of at this time) was first assigned to Sicily to help in the Malta campaign, the following month Werner Shroer made officer (Lietnant equal to 2nd Lieutenant). During this time the Bf 109s of JG 26 and JG 27 proved to be the clear top dogs in the skies over Malta, scoring dozens of kills in two months for no loss. Their small total numbers (about 14 planes for much of this time) were the only thing keeping the Axis from Aerial Supremacy.
In April the group* (I believe most of JG 27 at this time) was ordered to North Africa. On April 19 Werner Shroer claimed the Luftwaffe’s first victory over Africa when he downed a Hurricane at Tobruk. In that same battle he himself was shot down by the Hurricane flown by a Pilot Officer Spence. He was back in action later that day and was shot down again, apparently by the same Pilot Officer Spence. That is likely some sort of first (or only!) occurrence in the War.
In North Africa the air battles were mostly fought along a narrow coastal strip, as the Armies surged back and forth. The British had still not deployed Spitfires outside of Britain so fighter squadrons were mostly Hurricanes and Tomahawks. JG 27 was clearly the dominant power of this period, but with less than 50 operational aircraft they were never in complete control. Most battles were fighter on fighter, the RAF had a small number of bombers in theater at the time and Luftwaffe a handful of Stukas.
Several pilots began building their scores. Shroer had made ace but was still a fairly green pilot. He often flew with Hans-Joachim Marseille, who with 158 kills, most of them in North Africa, was the most successful pilot against the Western Allies.
In one air battle, August 29 1941, he fought Tomahawks of 250 Sqn led by Clive Caldwell. Shroer lost his wingman but wounded Caldwell in the back and shoulder.
The next Summer, Shroer finally started scoring regularly and often. Really coming into his own by the time of Marseille’s death in September 1942. Shroer would ultimately score 61 kills to be the second top Ace over North Africa and was JG 27’s top Ace when they left Africa in November.
He continued to score in Sicily and Italy until he was pulled back for Reich defense duties. In mid-May 1944 he was given a month of stress leave that likely saved his life, his unit remained in Normandy and was shredded during May and June.
When he returned to duty it was as an instructor and later in higher command positions so he saw less combat. In February of 1945 he took command of JG 3 on the Eastern Front and scored 12 kills in the closing weeks of the War.
All told, Werner Shroer scored 114 kills. 102 against the Western Allies made him the top scoring survivor of the War. 26 were four engine bombers.
Post-War he worked for Messerschmitt.
This build represents one of his early planes in North Africa. It shows four kills on the rudder. This is the Tamiya kit, always an easy and fun build.
*I find German air group organization a little confusing. A “Geschwader” (in this case “Jagd” for fighter, hence “JG”) is usually translated as “Wing Formation” and is roughly equal to an American Group. It is made of three or four “Gruppen”, which translates as “group” but is more or less equal to an American Squadron. The “group” is broken into three or four “Staffeln” which may be translated as “squadron”, but of course is much smaller than an American squadron. All told a Jagdgeschwader would have from 90 to 120 aircraft at full strength; as I said, roughly equal to an American Group.
I try to be careful to use the small “g” for group when I’m being non-specific (or don’t know!) about the exact detachments involved. I’m sorry if this causes confusion for all of us.
While Germany had a lot of aces with impressive records my impression was always that there was a serious burnout rate as the other side of that. I’m not sure what their official policy was, but I get the impression that the US policy of rotating veteran pilots back to the US as instructors was ultimately more conducive to better trained rookies and better morale.
Yes I think that’s exactly right. So many of the top German aces flew till they died. Although there likely were other leave periods, the only significant break for Shroer seems to have been that one month of “stress leave”. And then training and HQ assignments for six months (!) before he was back in combat.
Of course that last combat tour may have been a measure of institutional desperation, but desperation is never a good sign!
You raise a good point, desperation, or at least urgent need was likely a factor by early 44 if not earlier. Trained pilots were clearly in short supply towards the end of the war.