Hans-Joachim ("Hajo") Herrmann Knight's Cross, Oak Leaves and Swords
Hans-Joachim (“Hajo”) Herrmann Knight’s Cross, Oak Leaves and Swords.
Born: August 1st 1913, Kiel, Germany. Died: November 5th 2010 Age 97.
One of the most deadly Luftwaffe pilots of the Second World War and one of its most innovative air tacticians; a committed Nazi determined to fight to the end, he even formed a special unit of fighter pilots whose task was to ram Allied bombers out of the air.
Even after the war he never participated in the collective soul-searching about Germany’s role in the conflict. He became a lawyer specialising in defending neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers, including the British historian David Irving, and was active as a speaker for the far-Right German People’s Union (DVU) and the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD).
He began his military career as an infantry officer, but after his introduction to gliding – and an invitation from Herman Göring – transferred to the newly-created Luftwaffe and was commissioned in 1935.
In August 1936, Herrmann was in the first group of Germans to arrive in Spain to support General Franco’s Nationalist forces. Initially he flew bombing operations in the Junkers 52 before becoming a founder member of the Condor Legion, attacking airfields and defensive positions near Madrid. Many more bombing operations followed, and in April 1937 he returned to Germany.
On the first day of the Second World War, Herrmann took off in his Heinkel He111 to bomb railway lines in Poland, the first of 18 targets that he attacked before his unit moved to support the German invasion of Norway, when he bombed targets near Oslo and Stavanger. With the occupation complete, his unit was re-equipped with the Junkers 88 and moved to support the Wehrmacht’s blitzkrieg into the Low Countries and France.
As commander of the 7th Staffel of KG-4, he led many bombing attacks on England during the Battle of Britain; his first was against oil refineries at Thames Haven. He first attacked London on the night of September 7/8 1940 (his 69th operation against England), when he bombed the India Dock. By October 18 he had flown 21 missions over London. Despite the Luftwaffe opening the campaign against cities, Herrmann referred to his bombing of London as ‘revenge attacks’. He later wrote of this period: ‘Our anger at the British war of terror overcame our reservations towards repaying like with like in the hope of compelling a return to warfare according to the rules.’
In February 1941 his group went to Sicily and, within days, Herrmann led dive-bombing attacks against airfields on Malta. He was also ordered to “hold the British Fleet in check”. Attacks against the Royal Navy’s heaviest ships followed, when Herrmann observed: “We came to know the British seamen were of the first order.”
Following the German advance into Greece on April 7, his unit turned its attention to mining and bombing operations in the eastern Mediterranean. On one attack, against shipping in Piraeus harbour, Herrmann’s bomb hit Clan Fraser, which was carrying 350 tons of high explosive. The resulting explosion sank 10 other ships and closed the port for many months.
In July 1941 Herrmann was appointed commander of a bomber group, initially based in France to attack targets in England, before it moved to Norway. Based in the far north, he attacked Allied convoys heading for Murmansk with supplies for the Russians; they included PQ-17, which was mercilessly harried by German aircraft with the loss of all but 11 of its 35 ships. After a year in command, Herrmann was assigned to the general staff in Germany, where he became a close confidant of Goring. During his career as a bomber pilot, Herrmann had flown 320 missions.
In July 1942 he was appointed to the Luftwaffe operational staff, soon gaining a reputation as one of its leading tactical minds. With the RAF’s night bombing raids on Germany intensifying in the summer of 1943, he devised the tactic of using day fighters to hunt alone rather than in packs.
As a bomber man himself, his ideas initially gained little support from the Luftwaffe’s night fighter staff, but Göring supported the idea. Flown by experienced night fighter pilots and ex-instructors, the fighters waited in the darkness above their Allied targets, using the light of fires below to illuminate the bombers before attacking.
For this special type of operation he created the Jagdgeschwader 300, a night fighter wing known as Wilde Sau (“wild boar”). Herrmann himself flew more than 50 “wild boar” missions and was twice forced to bail out of his stricken fighter. He was credited with shooting down nine RAF
After a period as the Inspector General of night fighters, Herrmann was appointed to command the First Fighter Division, when he continued to fly on operations.
After the Allied invasion of Normandy, he admitted that “the deployment of the Luftwaffe to defend the invasion was a complete failure”. By late 1944 he had become disillusioned with some of Hitler’s directives.
Early in 1945, as Allied offensives were wreaking destruction on the German armed forces, Herrmann came to believe that the Me 262 jet fighter was the Luftwaffe’s last hope and that mastery of the air was the key to future success. But he saw that the time needed until Me 262 operations could be expanded had to be bridged.
Herrmann asked that the ineffective elements of the fighter force and their propeller aircraft be disbanded, and that 1,500 of these aircraft should be manned by young volunteer pilots who, on a specific day, would ram Allied bombers.
He believed that this force, the so-called Rammjäger Sonderkommando Elbe, would strike such fear into the hearts of American commanders that they would not dare to venture out again for weeks or months. This would provide some respite, giving the Luftwaffe time to introduce more Me 262s and regain air superiority. The unit was sent into action in April 1945, but fuel shortages prevented deployment of the large numbers Herrmann had wanted.
Even as defeat appeared imminent, he refused to countenance any concessions to the enemies of National Socialism, vehemently rejecting an idea, floated by the Luftwaffe High Command, that the remnant of the air force should join with approaching American forces and fight alongside them against the Russians.
Having fought throughout the war almost entirely against the western Allies, Herrmann was taken prisoner by the Russians on May 11. He spent 10 years in Soviet camps and was one of the last to be released, returning to Germany on October 12 1955.
After a period studying law Herrmann opened a legal practice in Düsseldorf in 1965. His clients included Holocaust deniers such as Otto Ernst Remer, Fred A Leuchter and David Irving. Something of an idol to the far-Right, he held political and historical evenings all over Europe to tell a younger generation what it meant to “live for the cause”. He continued to make public appearances until 2009.
Hajo Herrmann is survived by his wife, the German soprano Ingeborg Reichelt, and by their two children.
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.