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Ofw. Heinz Hamacher - a lesser known Luftwaffe pilot

Heinz Hamacher. A lesser known Luftwaffe pilot

Ofw. Heinz Hamacher fought all WW2 in the western front. 

Flew bombing mission during the Battle of Britain, afterward night fighter tasks with the Ju88G (two unconfirmed kills) and “Stacheldraht” operations finally. He shot down one B24 confirmed with a Focke Wulf  FW190. 

Here, part of his history according to his family in Venezuela.

Written by Clemente Balladares Castillo for Aircrew Remembered

This is the transcription and translation into English from a one hour cassette recorded in Spanish in January 26, 2003 with Hendrich Hamacher at her mother apartment in Caracas. I want to thank my cousin Vanessa Hamacher for the scan of several photos of the family album. Specially, Gordon Permann for his encourages and helps in the writing of this article, Steven Perry and Robert W. Turner for the English grammar correction. Finally, to Diego Zampini of Argentina for his drawings on the main scenes related here.

It was the last year of World War II on April 29, Ofw. Heinz Hamacher of the 2/JG11 was flying “Stacheldraht” (Barbwire) operations, using an FW190 near West Barnstorf at 2500 meters around one o´clock in the afternoon, when he saw a returning group of American four-engine bombers. 

He dropped his single ventral external tank and concentrated on a straggling Consolidated B24 Liberator. After Heinz got in range, he delivered a sustained burst against the rear gunner. 

Managing to keep lined up behind the fuselage of the bomber even though the continuous incoming tracers had struck his Focke Wulf, Heinz saw the rear machine guns sag and thought: One left!. However, he continued shooting into the fuselage of the American bomber, perhaps due to the fear he felt. 

Just as he was about to ram the rear of the big plane, the machine guns of the FW190 stopped firing because he run out of ammunition, but he saw that the bomber roll on it’s side and begin to fall. 


There was no smoke coming from the engines, and none of the crew members of the bomber jumped. So he believed that he killed all the men inside due to his well-aimed fire into the bomber’s fuselage. Suddenly, after the downing of the American heavy, the engine of his fighter developed a problem maybe due to some of the incoming bullets from the rear gunner. So, he tried to land at a crop field nearby. 

What he could not manage to do was to line up his plane with the pattern of the crop field. Then, Heinz landed his plane against these lines, lurching trough each small dune of the crop field.  The bouncing of the plane caused the front of his head to strike the cockpit’s frontal armour plate several time despite his seat harness. Because of this, he had a severe fissure on his skull. Ofw. Hamacher went to the hospital where the medics placed a metal plate on his head.


Heinz Josef Hamacher born in 1919 in the RhineLand in the same town of Joseph Goebbels (Rheydt) in fact they were neighbours. The sister of Heinz was a friend of a sister of Goebbels. His first studies were as an Industrial Technician, then at the age of 18 he got into the German military service specialising in many courses offered by the Luftwaffe. He took dozen of courses for different planes. When he had 19 years old he became aviation instructor. 

As a instructor he knew many types of German Aircraft like the Heinkel He59, a twin engine biplane with floats, then he went to the Junker Ju87 Stuka and the Dornier Do17 "Fliegender Bleistift" (Flying pencil) which he remembered as a very unstable plane, which did not resist punishment well and all the pilots felt extreme displeasure due to the all around crystal cockpit which produced a sensation of complete exposure to the exterior. However, his preferences were the Junker Ju88, the Messerschmitt Bf109, Ju188, and the Focke Wulf FW190.

He started the war doing coastal reconnaissance in 1939 with the He59 between Belgium, Holland and Denmark. Afterward he went to France in 1940 piloting Stuka's in fighter bombing operations.

When the Battle of England begins, he was assigned to the II Gruppe KG6 with the Ju88 for night bombing of the United Kingdom. Heinz recalled the very difficult takeoff with more than 50 fully loaded planes on short runways, and if that were not enough; at night with no lights. If an accident happened at the takeoff the length of the runway was even shorter. Another amazing thing was how all those planes flew in formation during the darkness of nights, sometimes you just hear the noise and the turbulence produced by the other aircraft until they reached 12000 meters altitude. Once they approached the target, a pioneer bomber marked the place to be bombed with flares called “Christmas tree”. Afterward the rest of the Ju88 dropped their bombs. 


Heinz Hamacher with his wife Ursula on their wedding day

Regarding the British antiaircraft fire, the German planes always tried to occupy the place in the air left by the explosion, thinking that they never hit the same place twice. One night when several British reflectors illuminated his Ju88, he immediately dropped all his bombs without aiming at the target and initiated evasive manoeuvres. That night he returned to base with several fissures on the plane due to the stresses to which the aluminium was subjected.

No English fighter attacked the bomber formation at the beginning of each mission. They always encountered Hurricane and Spitfires close to Dover as they returned to the mainland. The group avoided them by flying as close to the sea level as the Ju88 could. Moreover, they has order not to shoot at the fighters in pursuit because of the revealing shine of the tracers; they just returned fire if the fighter discovered his plane. On many occasions they saw some British fighter hitting the sea. He was never shot down crossing the channel, but several of his Ju88s returned with many damaged surfaces and even one engine.

When the bombing of UK slowed down in 1941, Heinz Hamacher started to perform solitary daylight mission with the Bf109 looking for targets of opportunity. They had no wingman and were oriented just by radio. This operation had the name “Stacheldraht”, which means Barbwire. This was for a brief time until 1942.

Between 1942 and 1943, the German electronic detection skills led to improved radar equipment for the Ju88G. Heinz had the opportunity to train for this new interception operations for Night fighting (NachtJagger) with the 4/NJG 3, because of his knowledge of the Junker plane. 

Left: Joseph Goebbels (Neighbour of Heinz Hamacher during his childhood)

He always recalled the awful weather of many nights with no target at sight, even on the radar. But he remembers targeting several big planes -British bombers?- and shot at them in the darkness of night and clouds. He believed that on two occasions he hit the target but no confirmation came. Heinz always blamed the radar operator for overshooting the target….this guy came from the southern part of Germany! (the slowest guys).

Between his activities in the Luftwaffe, he performed testing of the repaired planes before they were returned to combat with their original crews at the Köenigsberg airbase, where Ursula Christopher Petersen worked as a secretary. Ursula always remembered the many times she got mad and blamed the fool who produced so much noise over the base. The weeks passed and she meet “the fool” in a Coffee Restaurant. Coincidentally, the letters of his Ju88 were UH. Unfortunately, there is no picture of any of these planes due to military secrecy. If anybody took a photo, they could be court martialed. What we have is a very nice picture of the wedding in October of 1942. The next year they had a first son who died naturally as a baby. Hendrich, his surviving son born in 1944, so he and Ursula told to me all this histories here in Caracas. 

Just the bombers preserved those letters. When he flew fighters, he piloted different machines in different units depending on the availability. We surmised that Ofw. Hamacher had chevrons on his Messerschmitt Bf109s (as a Oberfeldwebel “Master sergeant” it is possible that this plane had a single chevron < like all the Gruppen Adjutant had, plus a simple outlined dropping-bomb figure as a Jabo Staffeln.

Back to the nachtjagger duties of Heinz in 1943. One chilly dark evening he was returning from a mission. The approach to the airbase of the German night fighters was assisted by a motorcycle with two men, one driving and another with a small dim lamp running across the dark runway to orient the landing planes. When the aircraft had to stop, the lamp man shut off the light. That night, the lamp man forgot to turn off the light in a particular risky crossing of the runway. So, Heinz continued following the light, striking one of his wings against a small concrete structure on the airbase. His Ju88 suffered the loss of the damaged wing, and the landing gear on that side collapsed, leaving the other wing pointing to the sky. All the crew started to abandon the aircraft in case of a fire broke out. One of the men inside the plane, instead of jumping to the ground from the part of the fuselage closer to the ground, when up to the opposite wing which was higher than the normal level due to the accident. When this guy reached the tip of the wing, he jumped hurting one of his feet.

After the shot down of the American B24, Ofw. Hamacher was back to the Bf109G after several weeks of rehabilitation. The first days of June 1944 he needed to go to a town close to his base. Luftwaffe pilots had strict orders not to drive automobile or, even worst, motorcycles. However, he was in a real hurry without any driver to help him at this moment. So, he took a motorbike without authorisation from a superior. Heinz was very good with planes, much less so with surface vehicles. That days the roads were slippery or maybe it was his lack of skills with motorbikes. What is true is that he has a minor accident that hurt his ankle for several days. During the several days of his recovery and his consequent punishment for disobeying orders he learned about the allied invasion while grounded.


Heinz Hamacher when he arrived in New York

At the beginning of the winter of 1944 he was assigned some Defence of the Reich duties with a younger wingman. On one of these missions they attacked a group of P51s escorting American heavy bombers. More Mustangs appeared, and suddenly his wingman was shot down. Fortunately, he saw when his comrade bailed out safely. Then, the entire group of American fighters started to overwhelm Heinz. Using all the tricks he knew, he tried to hide inside thick clouds. But eventually one of the P51s caught him and fired a long burst again his Gustav, cutting off the complete tail of the Messerschmitt fighter. A second burst hit the engine. Afterward, he bailed out of the doomed plane. Perhaps, through fear he opened the parachute almost immediately. Normally, particularly at high altitudes, you wait around eight seconds before opening the chute but this time he did not do this. Other problems beset him, as strong winds blew against his parachute causing a dangerous pendulum movement which threatened to entangle the ropes and collapse the conic part of the chute.  He thought: “Well, if my parachute collapses... I will kill myself with the Luger before falling hard to the ground”. Almost at the same moment, some of the US fighters flew past him at very close range, creating a vortex which in some way slowed down the oscillation of his chute. A few moments later, he reached the top of a snow-covered pine tree. Once on the ground he realised that he was in good shape but without boots. Nevertheless, he began to walk several kilometres with no orientation regarding his exact location. After a while he arrived almost frozen in a German town where he felt safe.

Ofw. Hamacher, like his wife Ursula, had the opportunity to know the great Hans Joachim Marseille, whom he met during training courses in Germany in 1942. He was not very much impressed with the Star of Africa, because Heinz considered him a very bad pilot. “This man didn’t know how to correctly fly a plane” said. What Heinz really believed as true regarding the famous 152-kill ace of the war in the desert is that Marseille was an extremely good shooter. Marseille understood very well the angles involved in aiming at targets. 

They also knew,  Herman Goering. And he saw Hitler several times when he was visiting air bases. Even more he knew Adolf Galland and Erich Hartmann.

Regarding the revolutionary new German jets. Heinz knew the Me262, the Arado Ar234, and he especially remembered the smaller but faster Me163 Komet but never flew these planes. What he really did was to look very carefully the operation of those jets from airbases. Particularly, he was very much impressed with the take off of the rocket-propelled Messerschmitt. He met the ground crew and some pilots but never was called on to fly this machines.


At the beginning of 1945 the Russians were invading the river Oder. Ofw. Hamacher was flying his Bf109G doing some reconnaissance and looking for targets of opportunity near the frozen river. The landscape by this time was almost of a perfect white. Then he saw a small column of men, horses and few timber trolleys. He flew at low level, recognising the uniforms of the Russian soldiers. Meanwhile, all this platoon continued marching without sensing danger, even as the Gustav gain altitude and prepared to attack from the rear. After Heinz strafed the column, he returned to verify the results. Of course, apparently none of the Russian soldiers or animals survived the attack. Worst from his point of view, was the reddish colour of the snow caused by the slaughter. Heinz for around three days had nightmares and feelings of revulsion. Later on, he thought: “I had to do it”; “My family, the Germans”; “Them or us”. Such voices comforted him a little bit. 

Around May 1945, as a Master Sergeant he was looking for his units and subordinates. In order to avoid the Russians, they always kept close to the western front. By that time, Heinz was in southern Germany near the Alps. He walked up the mountains and was hidden inside houses of local civilians until June. He went down when all his supplies were running out and looked for the first American troops available in order to surrender. He found a jeep with some amazed soldiers who treated him very well according his rank. Weeks later he rejoined the family and started a new life in what was to become a rebuild country. After the war he graduated of Electrical Engineer.

In 1955 Heinz wanted to get out of Europe and see the rest of the world. Before this, he had found a very good job with Siemens, which moved him to Venezuela. The Hamacher family has not many properties in Germany. The grandfather’s house was lost in a British night bombing and family members died too. The abandoned house of Ursula was bombed by Heinz himself as Russian troops neared his neighbourhood. 

Afterward they travel a lot inside South America: Argentina, Brazil and the Caribbean islands. After the ´ 60s Heinz worked for ITT. During his stay in Brazil he suffered the first of five non-mortal brain strokes which he attributed to the wounds in his head when he shot down the four-engine bomber. Early in the ´ 70s he moved to New York, where he died in September 30, 1972. Heinz Hamacher was buried in New Jersey at George Washington Memorial Park Cemetery (Block I, Lot 103, Section B, Grave No.2).


Above: Clemente Balladares Castillo with the granddaughter of Heinz Hamacher with his new publication

About the writer:

Clemente Balladares Castillo is a Marine Biologist who works in the conservation of aquatic fauna at the Environment Ministry of Venezuela. He also had a ten year experience with aquaculture, oceanography and fisheries. Clemente is a diver too, and other of his hobbies is scale modelling.

I did extensive research on the available books, magazines and the internet regarding the term “barbwire operations”. I researched both in German and English languages. My investigation was disappointing. Nevertheless, I thing this could be a group or local term for the lesser-rank officials of the Luftwaffe regarding FreiJagd and/or Jabo operations. This mission refers to a single engine fighter bombers, mainly the Bf109 or the FW190, which made solitary ops without a wingman, just guided by radio. Sometimes this fighters were fitted with shackles to carry  a 250 Kg bomb. Those German aircraft were very useful in reconnaissance, and eventually they searched and destroyed enemy fighters, bombers, re-con planes or surfaces targets like troops, tanks, structures and others. This operations may have helped to hamper the allied effort without using a large number of planes.

II Gruppe JG 11

This very famous unit had many of the best Luftwaffe aces during World War II. Formed on April 1943 in Jever from I./JG1. On 11.8.44 increased to 4 staffeln, the old 4./JG11 became the new 8./JG11, and a new 7./JG11 was formed (the old 7./JG11 having become 10./JG11 of III./JG11), and the Gruppe now consisted of 5. - 8./JG11. Between the most outstanding Gruppenkommandeure of 2/JG11 we could highlight Hauptman Günther Specht, since  May 1943 till 15.4.44; the third ranking ace of all times Major Günther Rall 19.4.44 until 12.5.44, and Hptm. Walter Krupinski from May 1944 till 12.8.44. During 18.12.43 until 30.4.44 (when Heinz Hamacher shot down the B24) the main Airbase of 2/JG11 was Wunstorf which have mainly the Gustav fighter.

With thanks to Tom Kracker for putting us in contact with Clemente and the family of Heinz Hamacher Also to Techie Services, Norwich, England for photograph enhancements.

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