Who is Erich Hartmann?
The highest scoring ace of all time was the great German Luftwaffe expert Erich Hartmann with 352 aerial kills. Flying Bf 109s (Me-109s) against the overmatched Soviet MiGs and Yaks for almost three years, he accumulated his unrivalled score. Hartmann claimed, that of all his accomplishments, he was proudest of the fact that he never lost a wingman.
He is also reputed to have said. "Get close .. when he fills the entire windscreen ... then you can't possibly miss."
Near the end of WWII, in early May 1945, the Luftwaffe command ordered Major Hartmann, then Gruppenkommandeur of famous Jagdgeschwader 52, and his Commodore, Hermann Graf (another pilot, who had earned the "diamonds" to the Knight's Cross) to fly to the British sector. Both officers disregarded this order, because they felt responsible for Jagdgeschwader 52's pilots, ground crew, family members, and other civilians, who had joined the squadron, seeking protection against fierce aggression by the Czechs. The officers ordered the destruction of the unit's aircraft, and then the unit moved west in direction of territory already occupied by US troops. On May 8th, 1945, the soldiers and civilians surrendered to US troops in the region between Bavaria (German province) and Czech border. But on May 17th, the US Army delivered all of these German troops and civilians to the Red Army.
Like all others, Hartmann was then deported to Siberia, where he was sentenced to 50 years of hard labor. (Hartmann has since been rehabilitated by Russian justice, which declared those sentences illegal in 1995.) The Soviets pressured him to support a build-up of an East German air force and tried to turn him into an undercover agent against the West. Hartmann refused, even though the Soviets threatened to kidnap and kill his wife and daughter, living in West Germany. Hartmann did not return to Germany until 1955, when the last German POWs were released along with the establishing of diplomatic relations between West Germany and the Soviet Union. In 1956, Hartmann joined the newly established West German Luftwaffe and contributed to the build-up of new fighter units. In 1959, he became the first commodore of Jagdgeschwader 71 "Richthofen." Erich Hartmann died 20 September 1993.