Flight Journal

Focke-Wulf Fw 190

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The Focke-Wulf Fw 190 originated from an order from the German Air Ministry in the autumn of 1937 for a single-seat fighter to supplement the Messerschm­itt Bf 109. Designed by Focke-Wulf’s chief designer, Kurt Tank, the Fw 190 was very nearly stillborn and its gestation period was troubled with problems, including overheatin­g engines.

Despite some fine qualities, the Fw 190 was eventually accepted for production only because it was to be powered by a BMW air-cooled radial engine, meaning that production of the Daimler-Benz liquid-cooled aero engines could be preserved for the Bf 109. The pugnacious shape and size of the Fw 190’s BMW 801 powerplant was its most obvious difference from the Bf 109. On the Fw 190 A-4, this was a BMW 801D-2 developing 1700hp.

The first Fw 190 A-1s entered front-line service with the Luftwaffe on the Western Front in August 1941. On the Eastern Front 1./JG51 was the first Luftwaffe unit to convert from the Bf 109 to the Fw 190 in September 1942. Otto Kittel’s JG 54 converted to the Fw 190 in February 1943.

first two IL-2 Sturmoviks shot down near Dunaberg.

Kittel quickly became a respected fighter pilot with JG 54, but his score rose only slowly. By the end of 1941, after six months at the front, he had only 10 victories to his name. At this stage of his career, he was operating mainly as a dedicated wingman, which naturally reduced his opportunit­ies to take kills. Nonetheles­s, he was awarded the Iron Cross Second Class on June 30, 1941, and the Iron Cross First Class in October that year.

During this fighter pilot apprentice­ship, Kittel learned much from the more experience­d and expert aces with whom he flew, such as Hannes Trautloft (58 kills), Hans Philipp (206 kills), and Walter Nowotny (258 kills), who offered their advice about aerial combat and who led by example. It was drummed into him that the priority was to engage the enemy bombers regardless of fighter escorts, but he was also taught to avoid unnecessar­y risks and to get home in one piece, to take the safer option and to avoid ill-considered and wild offensive tactics. He learned not to risk himself for a

single uncertain kill.

Across the summer of 1942, aerial victories were hard to come by for JG 54 operating in the northern sector of the Eastern Front, as the majority of the Soviet air activity was combating the German Army’s summer offensive in the south. By the end of 1942, Kittel had 21 kills credited to him, having been flying on operations for 18 months in the Bf 109.

Fw 190 conversion

In early 1943, by which time Kittel had scored well over 30 victories in Bf 109s, his unit was briefly withdrawn from the front to convert to the Fw 190. Compared with the Bf 109, the Fw 190 had a stronger undercarri­age ideally suited to the harsh airfield conditions on the Eastern Front, good firepower, and greater speed and agility. Kittle and his colleagues were pleased with their new fighter.

Back on the frontline, flying the Fw 190, Kittel’s score began to rise rapidly. On February 19, he claimed his 39th victory, which was also JG 54’s 4,000th of the war. The publicity associated with this event brought him to the attention of his superiors and to the public in Germany. By mid-March 1943, flying from one of the forward airfields near Staraya, Russia, Kittel had fought several impressive engagement­s and his total number of victories had risen to 47.

Down in enemy territory

On March 15, 1943, Kittel flew as part of a Schwarm of four Fw 190s led by Oberleutna­nt Hans Götz, on a mission over the Demvansk Pocket. In a dogfight with about 20 mixed-type Soviet fighters, including MiG 3s, LaGG-3s and some leaselend Bell P-39 Airacobras, Kittel damaged one of the enemy fighters, but his Fw 190 took some hits, which initially did not seem to be critical. However, on the way home, his engine failed and he had to force-land in a snow-covered field some 60km (almost 40 miles) inside Soviet-occupied territory. Fortunatel­y, his wheels-up landing was successful and Kittel’s Fw 190 slid to halt on its belly without catching fire. His colleagues saw Kittel leap from the cockpit and disappear into a forest. In an epic and courageous escape-and-evasion trek, despite being inadequate­ly clothed and bitterly cold, and with virtually no food, Kittel made his way westward. Disguised as a Russian peasant with some old clothes he found in an abandoned hut, he passed through several Soviet checkpoint­s, using his Czech and Russian language skills to evade detection. He crossed the frozen Lake Ilmen, waded a freezing river and, after walking 80km (50 miles) in three days, he made it back to the German lines. He was returned to his unit and then granted some survivor’s leave.

200 and counting

On his return to operations, Kittel’s tally of victories continued to increase at an impressive rate with multiple kills on many days.

On August 4, 1943, over the course of three sorties, the high-scoring ace claimed a remarkable seven kills in one day: three IL-2 Sturmoviks, three LaGG-3s, and one

DISGUISED AS A RUSSIAN PEASANT WITH SOME OLD CLOTHES HE FOUND IN AN ABANDONED HUT, HE PASSED THROUGH SEVERAL SOVIET CHECKPOINT­S, USING HIS CZECH AND RUSSIAN LANGUAGE SKILLS TO EVADE DETECTION

La-5, all at low level. Ten days later, his score reached 100.

During October 1943, he claimed 18 victories. He shot down four enemy aircraft in a day on October 15 and made his 120th kill four days later, after which he was awarded the “Ritterkreu­z,” the Knight’s Cross, on October 26.

In January 1944, Kittel was rested from operations and transferre­d to be the chief instructor of the Ergänzungs-Jagdgruppe Ost (Training Group East) at Biarritz, France. He was promoted to Leutnant, but he was very unhappy in a teaching role and yearned for frontline action. He filed several applicatio­ns to return to combat flying and his request was eventually granted in March 1944, when he returned to JG 54 on the Eastern Front to take up the appointmen­t of Staffelkap­itan of the 3rd Staffel of II./JG54. His killing spree took off again immediatel­y.

On April 4, 1944, Kittel shot down five enemy aircraft, which raised his total score to 151. In recognitio­n of this he received the Oak Leaves to his Knight’s Cross, presented to him personally by Adolf Hitler at the “Wolf’s Lair” in East Prussia on May 5. It was also a brief chance for some leave with his wife and family.

Kittel’s 200th victory, against a Soviet Lavochkin La-5 fighter, was achieved on August 26, 1944. On October 27, Kittel repeated his seven-in-one-day feat with claims against three IL-2 Sturmoviks, two Petlyakov Pe-2 twin-engine bombers, and two Yak-9 fighters, bringing his score to a total of 254.

A month later, on November 25, now with 264 victories, he was awarded the “Schwerten” (swords) for bravery in the face of the enemy, becoming only the 113th German serviceman to receive the award. Kittel, who was now an Oberleutna­nt, flew to Hitler’s headquarte­rs to receive the award and from there he went straight home for some more leave with his family in Germany. When he returned to the Eastern Front in January 1945, he took over command of the 2nd Staffel of II./JG54, with whom he added his final three kills to his remarkable total.

Sturmoviks’ revenge

On February 14, 1945, Kittel took off from an airfield in Latvia, leading his squadron and flying Fw 190 A-8 “Black 1” to engage a group of about 14 IL-2 Sturmoviks over the Courland Pocket. He made contact with the enemy formation, which was flying at low altitude, no more than 100-150 meters (300500 feet). His colleagues reported that he dived into the IL-2s, opened fire and hit one of the Sturmoviks, which disappeare­d over the Soviet lines on fire and in trouble. Kittel then seemed to be surrounded by Sturmoviks; his Fw 190 was hit hard, an explosion was seen in the cockpit, it burst into flames and went down trailing smoke and flames. The aircraft tore into the ground near Dzukste, starboard wing first, exploding on impact; Kittel had no chance whatsoever of surviving.

The foe Kittel had fought for three and a half years, the Sturmovik, against which he had been so successful (he had downed a total of 94) had finally taken revenge.

Kittel had flown 583 combat missions and destroyed 265 Soviet aircraft, making him the fourth highest-scoring fighter ace of all time. He was the top-scoring Fw 190 ace of the war with 226 of his victories achieved flying the type. It had not all been one way, and he had been fortunate to survive as long as he did. He had been forced to bail out of a Bf 109 due to an engine failure and had forced-landed three times in Fw 190s due to damage caused by enemy fire, including the occasion when he came down behind enemy lines. He was the most successful German fighter pilot to be killed in action and one of the best the world has ever seen. Otto Kittel died only 12 weeks before the end of the war in Europe, leaving his young wife Edith as a widow; his baby son, Manfred Kittel, was born in 1945.

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 ?? ?? Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-4s (White12+ and White1+) of 1./JG54 “Greenheart­s” in the snow at Krasnogvar­dysk, Russia, in 1943. (Photo author’s collection)
Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-4s (White12+ and White1+) of 1./JG54 “Greenheart­s” in the snow at Krasnogvar­dysk, Russia, in 1943. (Photo author’s collection)
 ?? ?? Ilyushin IL-2M3 Sturmovik in flight in 1943. With over 36,000 IL-2s manufactur­ed, the Sturmovik is the mostproduc­ed military aircraft in aviation history. (Photo author’s collection)
Ilyushin IL-2M3 Sturmovik in flight in 1943. With over 36,000 IL-2s manufactur­ed, the Sturmovik is the mostproduc­ed military aircraft in aviation history. (Photo author’s collection)

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