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Archive Report: Axis Forces
1914-1918   1935-1945

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.

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Helmut Mahlke Stuka Pilot Memoir
Kommandeur Helmut Mahlke Stuka Pilot

Born in Berlin on 27 August 1913, HELMUT MAHLKE joined the German navy as a cadet in 1932 before being transferred to the Luftwaffe three years later. He spent his whole operational wartime career with one Stukagruppe. After the war, he played a leading role in establishing both the new Luftwaffe and Germany’s new naval air arm. He died on 26 December 1998 in Heikendorf, Germany.

In his memoir 'Memoirs of a Stuka Pilot' he recounts his early days as a naval cadet, including a voyage to the Far East aboard the cruiser Köln, and as the navigator/observer of the floatplane carried by the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer during the Spanish Civil War. He goes on to describe his flying training as a Stuka pilot.

The author’s naval dive-bomber Gruppe was incorporated into the Luftwaffe upon the outbreak of war. What follows is a fascinating Stuka pilot’s eye view of some of the most famous and historic battles and campaigns of the early war years: the Blitzkrieg in France, Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, the bombing of Malta, North Africa, Tobruk, Crete and, finally, the invasion of the Soviet Union.

The author also takes the reader behind the scenes into the day-to-day life of his unit and brings the members of his Gruppe to vivid life; describing their off-duty antics and mourning their loss in action. The story ends when he himself is shot down in flames by a Soviet fighter and severely burned. He was to spend the remainder of the war in various staff appointments.

In 159 missions, he succeeded in destroying two destroyers, one submarine and 29 supply ships, while damaging a cruiser and other shipping. he was shot down three times in Russia in just two and a half weeks. His fellow crewman was Fw Karl Heinz Wüstner. The third time he bailed out, he received serious injuries.

Sturzkampfgeschwader 1 Insignia

Decorations: RK(7/16/41), DK-G(3/31/44), EK 1 & 2, Wound Badge(7/8/41), Dive Bomber Operational Clasp

Aircraft Flown: Ju 87B-2 Werk # 5926 "J9 + AH" (lost 6/24/41, on fire, Minsk) in III/StG-1, Ju 87R-2 Werk # 6172 "J9 + CH" (lost 7/1/41; landed onfire at Borisow) & Ju 87R-2 Werk # 5772 "J9 + DK" (lost 7/8/41; parachuted after combat with Soviet fighter near Owsicht) in III/StG-1

Units: 1/Bo.Fl.Gr.-196, 2(Stuka)/TrGr-186T, Kdr III/StG-1 (8/40 Angers, 6/41 Russia), Staff Luftflotte 3 (Above: Sturzkampfgeschwader 1 Insignia)

The use of Stuka groups as tactical units is illustrated by the following broad description of the deployment of Mahlke's unit.

Norwegian campaign

Fliegerkorps X was the only Luftwaffe fleet to take part in the campaign and I Gruppe StG 1 was the only component of StG 1 to take part. Part of the Corps' order of battle was I. Gruppe StG 1, equipped with longer ranged Junkers Ju 87R as well as the standard Ju 87Bs. The unit was initially based at Kiel-Holtena. On 9 April I./StG took part in raids against Oscarsborg Fortress after it sank heavy cruiser Blücher. Soon afterwards the gruppe was takes with naval interdiction. Its primary target was the Royal Navy's Home Fleet. The same day, the unit hit the 600 ton torpedo boat Aeger in the engine room. It was run aground and scuttled. The units first loss occurred in 19 April. While attacking HMS Cairo, Leutnant Karl Pfeil his gunner Gerhard Winkels were shot down and captured near Namsos. The same day, a British raid by Fleet Air Arm Blackburn Skua and Fairey Swordfish Aircraft destroyed six Ju 87s near Trondhiem/Vaernes from carriers HMS Ark Royal and HMS Glorious. Ju 87s did manage to sink anti-submarine trawlers Siretoco, Jardine and Warwickshire. HMS Bittern was badly damaged and sunk by HMS Juno. Later, on 1 May 1940, I. Gruppe failed to hit Ark Royal during an interdiction against British naval forces off the coast. Staffelkapitan of 2 Staffel, Oberleutnant Heinz Bohne claimed to have hit the carrier (he did not) and failed to mention in his report that he lost one of his Ju 87s (Oberfeldwebel Erich Stahl and Unteroffizier Friedrich Gott) to two Sea Gladiators of No. 802 Squadron RAF. This was the only loss on 1 May.

The next few missions on the afternoon of 1 May and 3 May, the Ju 87s had more success. The French large destroyer Bison was sunk along with HMS Afridi by I./Sturzkampfgeschwader 1 on 3 May 1940 during the evacuation from Namsos. Bison's forward magazine had been hit killing 108 of the crew. Affridi, who had attempted to rescue Bison's survivors was sunk with the loss of 63 sailors. On 4 May Ju 87s of I. Gruppe sank Norwegian steamers Blaafjeld, Sekstant, Pan and Aafjorld. On 8 May Gruppenkommandeur Hauptmann Paul-Werner Hozzel, Oblt. Elmar Schaefer and Lt. Martin Möbus and veteran observer Unteroffizier Gerhard Grenzel, became the first Stuka crews to receive the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. Grenzel was the first NCO in the Luftwaffe to receive the award.

On 24 May 1940 I. Gruppe sank the Norwegian trawler Ingrid in Bodo harbour. The Gruppe suffered one loss; Feldwebel Kurt Zube, to a No. 263 squadron Gladiator. He was rescued by German forces. I. Gruppe also took part in the Battles of Narvik. Heinz Bohne and his gunner was killed on 2 June 1940 over Narvik. He was the victim of Sgt. H H Kitchener and Flt Lt A T Williams of No. 263 Squadron RAF. Two Ju 87s were shot down on the morning of the 2 June 1940. Lt Klaus Kuber and his gunner were killed, the victim of a No. 43 Squadron RAF Hawker Hurricane. Mk. I flown by Sgt B L Taylor whilst Feldwebel Hans Ott and his gunner Sonderfuhrer Brack fell victim to Flg Off. John F Drummond.

Western Europe, 1940

No units of StG 1 took part in the western campaign in 1940. Stab./StG 1, I./StG 1 and III./StG 1 (which had I.St/TrG 186 specialised anti-shipping unit under its command) were committed to the Unternehmen Adlerangriff (Operation Eagle Attack) offensive under Hugo Sperrle's Luftflotte 3. All units were based at Angers, France, under the operational command of General der Flieger Wolfram von Richthofen. The total strength of the Geschwader was 80 Ju 87s with 55 operational.

On 14 July 1940 StG 1 engaged various convoys heading westward through the English Channel. II./StG 1 and IV.(St). Lehrgeschwader 1 sank five ships between them, including HMS Boreas and HMS Brilliant. Two II. Gruppe machines were lost. The same day III. Gruppe Ju 87s were forced to abandon a raid on Portland Harbour when engaged by RAF fighters. They suffered one shot down and two damaged.

The last major convoy action took place on 8 August 1940 against Convoy CW 9 (Peewit), comprising 20 merchant ships and nine naval vessels. Two Stuka attacks were organised. The first involved StG 1 who lost two Ju 87s and two damaged. A second attack from 60 Ju 87s of I. StG 1, III./StG 2 and III./StG 3 resulted in the destruction of four merchant ships and damaged seven. In exchange three I./StG 3 Ju 87s were lost and another four damaged. A third attack sank Empire Crusader.

In mid-August StG 1 was ordered to cease missions owing to the Ju 87's unacceptable losses. It continued operating over the channel until February 1941.

The Balkans

Main articles: German invasion of Yugoslavia, Battle of Greece, and Battle of Crete

I Grupp./StG 1 took part in the Balkans Campaign. Supported by 1,200 aircraft, 27 German divisions (including seven Panzer) of the Heer made short work of the Yugoslav Army, and then the Greek Army and the small British Army contingent sent to assist. I./StG operated from bases in eastern Romania. The Gruppe also participated in attacks on Malta's convoys.

North Africa

I Gruppe was rushed to North Africa in February 1941 to support the Afrika Korps (Deutsches Afrikakorps).

Eastern Front

StG 1 participated in most of the battles in the Soviet Union. At the end of Barbarossa, StG 1 had lost 60 Stukas in aerial combat and one on the ground.

See Kracker Luftwaffe Archive on this site

  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939-1945. Friedburg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 3-7909-0284-5.
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007). 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.

Researched by Stefan Pietrzak Youngs from the Kracker Luftwaffe Archive (held on this site), Mike Spick's book 'Bomber Aces of the Luftwaffe', Helmut Mahlke's 'Memoirs of a Stuka Pilot', private sources and Wikipedia.

Acknowledgements: Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Stan D. Bishop, John A. Hey MBE, Gerrie Franken and Maco Cillessen - Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Forces, Vols 1-6, Dr. Theo E.W. Boiton - Nachtjagd Combat Archives, Vols 1-13. Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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