Pilots JG51.3 Werner Molders and Generaloberst Heinz Guderian 01
Photo 01: Molders (left) seen here with the Commander of Panzergruppe 2, Generaloberst Heinz Guderian (right).
Pilots JG51.3 Werner Molders with Galland and Goring 01
Photo 01: The two young Geschwader Kommodore, Werner Molders and Adolf Galland in discussion with Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring at an unidentified location in France during the summer of 1940.
Pilots JG51.3 Werner Molders 01-07
Photo 01: Oberst Molders
Photo 02: Oberst Molders seen during his tenure as Inspekteur der Jagdflieger during a tour of the Crimea in the Autumn of 1941.
Photo 03: Sitting in the cockpit of his Bf109F, Werner Molders is seen here describing another sortie.
Photo 04: Molders is seen here exiting the cockpit of his Bf109E-3 during the latter part of August 1940.
Photo 05: Molders in the cockpit of his Bf109R One of the first members of the Jagdwaffe to take the new 'Friedrich' into combat in October 1940, this photo may well be from that period.
Photo 06: Oberstleutnant Molders as photographed by his wife at his desk at the Air Ministry just before leaving for the Eastern Front.
Pilots Werner Molders was killed in He-111 KG27 (1G+TH) Nov 22, 1941 01
Photo 01: On 22 November, Oberst Werner Molders boarded a Heinkel 111 of KG27 at Chaplinka which was to fly him back to Germany where he was to attend the funeral of the Luftwaffe's chief of procurement and supply, Ernst Udet. However, the aircraft in which he was a passenger crashed at near Martin Quander Farm, Breslau-Gandau and Molders was killed.
Pilots Werner Molders Funeral Nov 28 1941 01-05
Photo 02: Molders' funeral procession was in true military fashion; his coffin was carried on a gun carriage flanked by a guard of honor. Following immediately behind is Herman Goring who in turn is followed by five of the most highly decorated Jagdflieger.
Photo 03: The Fuhrer pays his respects.
Photo 04: Reichsmarschall Goring leading the funeral procession. In the front rank, from left to right, are Siegfried Schnell,]osef Priller, Hans 'Assi' Hahn and Werner Streib. Erhard Milch is visible between Schnell and Priller.
Photo’s 05: The Reichsmarschall raises his baton in a final salute to Molders whose death was a severe blow for the Wehrmacht, and especially for JG51. Later, this unit was awarded an honour-title and officers and men serving with the Geschwader were entitled to wear on their right sleeve a cuff band embroidered with the words "Jagdgeschwader Molders".
Pilots Werner Molders signed 01
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HM Bf 109D J88.3 (6x79) Werner Molders Spain 1938
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VP Bf 109D 3./J88 (6x79) Werner Molders Spain 1938
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Service in the Army
Service in the Luftwaffe
The Spanish Civil War
The 'Sitzkrieg' While Galland was transferred to II.(Schlacht)/LG 2 equipped with the Hs-123, Molders returned to his old fighter unit to lead I./JG 53 (formerly-1.I.JG133). It was during this time that he acquired his nickname of 'Vati' ('Papa') due to his serious nature, experience and rigidity. This nickname was not intended as offensive but one which was born out of respect. No-one feared Molders and he was very popular amongst his pilots. He was not an impetuous man and could drink a glass of beer like the rest - but never two!
If his successes in Spain were partly due to his good fortune in receiving the best aircraft of its time, then the Sitzkrieg - or Phoney War - was to prove that he was an excellent fighter pilot and tactician. His introduction to the new campaign was, nevertheless, quite unsettling. On 8 September 1939, he led three other Bf 109s in an attack on six French Curtiss H-75s of GC11/4 north of Karlsruhe. In the ensuing dogfight, Molders' Bf109 was heavily damaged, forcing him to crash land in a field near Wolfersweiler. Trapped in his cockpit and slightly wounded, he had to wait for a local Flak crew to release him. Strangely, the French pilots involved claimed two victories, attributed to three pilots (SIC Cruchant being credited with two claims combined with two other pilots)!
Molders recovered quickly and claimed his first victory over the border twelve days later. Taking off with his Schwarm to Trier, he destroyed another H-75 of GC11/5 from a patrol escorting a reconnaissance aircraft. Sgt Quequiner, piloting N°21, was able to bale out of this aircraft which crashed near Merzig.
After being promoted Kommandeur of III./JG53, Molders celebrated his new command by shooting down a Blenheim I (16694) of No. 57Sqn engaged in reconnaissance along the Moselle on 30 October 1939 but would have to wait until 22 December to obtain his third victory in France. While escorting a Do-17P of 1.(F)/123, he attacked some fighters identified as "Moranes" but which were in fact, Hurricane Is of No. 73Sqn RAE With his wingman, Oblt. von Hahn, he shot down two (11967 and N2385) near Budange. With the onset of bad weather, the first months of 1940 were quiet but on 2 March, at the end of a very scrappy encounter, Hptm. Molders and Uftz. Neuhoff were able to claim two Hurricanes (11808 and L1958) from No. 73Sqn which crashed near Metz. The following day, again around Metz, Molders engaged a Morane Saulnier 406 of GCII/3. This was claimed destroyed but, in fact, C/C Koerber, although wounded, managed to land his damaged aircraft at Toul airfield. On 26 March, another MS-406 was claimed near Trier, but this proved to be a Hurricane of No. 73Sqn whose pilot, F/O Edgar James 'Cobber' Kain of the RNZAF, baled out after having previously been shot down on 2 March! On 2 April, another Hurricane, this time from No.1Sqn, was shot down near St Avold but the pilot was able to force-land his heavily damaged fighter behind the Allied lines and avoid capture.
On 20 April, III./JG53 were flying in the Zweibrucken area where they encountered Curtiss H-75s of GC11/4 escorting a Potez 63.11 reconnaissance aircraft of GR11/36. In the combat that ensued, anti-aircraft guns shot at both sides! An H-75 N°136 fell to Molders while another was damaged by Flak. The pilot, C/C Cruchand, was seriously wounded but managed to crash-land his fighter near Biesbriick. On 23 April, Molders claimed his last victory of the Sitzkrieg when he shot down a Hurricane I (N2391) of No. 73Sqn during the morning near Sierck-les-Bains, the pilot, Sgt C. Campbell parachuting to safety. During this campaign, Hptm. Molders was credited with nine additional victories while Adolf Galland flew only ground support. By the time Galland did transfer to the fighter arm, Werner Molders had 23 official victories.
The Campaign in the West
With 20 victories over France and 14 in Spain, Molders was awarded the Ritterkreuz which was presented to him on Loe airfield, near Le Selve. On 31 May, near Abbeville, Molders shot down a LeO 451 of GB1/12. On 3 June, during Operation Paula (launched primarily as a propaganda operation), Molders claimed two victories - a Curtiss H-75 (which, in fact, was a Bloch 152, and which was subsequently identified on his rudder with a British roundel!) and, very unusually, a Spitfire. Exactly, what a Spitfire was doing near Paris at a time when all RAF units had retreated to their bases in England to fight over Dunkirk is unclear. The 'Spitfire' was probably a D.520 of GC1/3. Two days later, Molders experienced altogether different circumstances. At around noon, he was credited with the destruction of a Bloch 152 (N°651 of GC 118?) and a Potez 63.11 (N0250 of GAO 501?) and later that afternoon, whilst on his second mission of the day, he spotted some "Moranes" attacking some Bf 109s. He decided to intervene but the "MS-406s" turned out to be potent D.520s of GC11/7. Having under estimated the enemy type, Molders was shot down by S/Lt Rene Pommier Layrargues, his Bf109E-3 crashing near Canly. Molders was able to parachute to safety, but was captured on the ground by soldiers of 195e RALT, an artillery unit who set upon him before an officer intervened. Interested in the man who shot him down, Molders asked to meet him, only to find that Pommier Layrargues was already dead, having been brought down and killed at Marissel a few minutes after their engagement.
Molders ended the Westfeldzug in a French POW camp at Montferrand.With the fall of France, he was eventually freed at the end of June 1940 and this is where there is cause for some interesting speculation! If he had been captured by the British in May, he would almost certainly have been sent to a POW camp in Canada, ending the war in safety and terminating the career of a great pilot. But as a prisoner of the French, he was liberated and became - posthumously - a flying legend. Which was the better fate?
As is often the case, establishing a new command proved hectic for Molders. On 28 July, the new Kommodore damaged a Spitfire I (P9429) of No. 41Sqn, RAF. Wounded in the thigh, the pilot, F/O A.D.J. Lovell, managed to land his damaged aircraft at Hornchurch. F/O Lovell survived to become an ace in his own right, only to be killed in a flying accident in 1945. Shortly afterwards, Molders himself was shot down by F/Lt John Webster of the sameSqn. This was Webster's fifth claim but he was killed on 5 September 1940 when his parachute failed to open after baling out following a collision with another Spitfire of 41Sqn. (Author's note: another source attributes this claim to the ace, 'Sailor' Malan of 74Sqn). Wounded in the knee, Molders was able to force-land his damaged Bf109 on the French coast. He returned to his unit on 7 August, but would have to wait some time before he could fly again.
On 26 August 1940, Molders submitted his 27th claim, another Spitfire. By 20 September, his score had reached 40 enemy aircraft shot down, proof that the battles over England were very intense and on that day, he was credited with two more Spitfires (X4417 and N3248) of No. 92Sqn and was awarded the Oak Leaves to his Ritterkreuz. He was only the second member of the German armed forces to receive the decoration. Four days later, Adolf Galland also received the award, becoming the third person to do so. It was at about this time that German newspapers devised a kind of competition between the two aces. One publication would be 'for Molders' another "for Galland"; in reality however, Molders was not interested in such "competition". He told Galland: "In this war; you will be the Richthofen and I the Bolcke" - yet further proof that the serious Kommodore was more interested in tactics than glory.
Molders score continued to increase; on 27 September, it was a Spitfire over Kent, possibly P9364 of No. 222Sqn. piloted by Sgt Ernest Scott, who was killed after having shot down a Bf109 - his fifth confirmed victory. On 11 October, another Spitfire I went down (X4562 of No. 66Sqn) and next day, three Hurricane Is (P3896,V7251 andV7426) of No. 145Sqn. On 17 October, Molders claimed another Spitfire (R6800 LZ-N of No.66Sqn.) followed by three more Hurricanes on 22 October (possibly from Nos. 46 and 257Sqn’s) off the English coast. Molders now had his fiftieth victory. Galland reached this total eight days later. From the beginning of October, Molders became the first pilot to test the new Bf109F in combat, which soon proved superior to contemporary British fighters. Certainly, this also helped in his subsequent successes.
After spending a few days leave skiing, JG 51's Kommodore returned to action at the beginning of 1941. Exploiting the relative inactivity of the Luftwaffe in the west (the German High Command was preparing to attack the Soviet Union and had moved many units to the east), the RAF were beginning to conduct sorties over France and the fighting now took place mainly off the French coast. On 20 February, Molders claimed two Spitfires (his 57th and 58th victories). Five days later, a Spitfire II (X4592 of No. 611Sqn) was shot down, and on the following day he scored his 60th victory. Galland had to wait until 15 April to attain the same score.
On 13 March, Molders shot down another British ace, S/Ldr Aeneas 'Donald' MacDonnel. MacDonnel, from No. 64Sqn, was born in Baku in 1913, and was the 22nd Hereditary Chief of the Glengarry Clan. Leading a sweep over Northern France, MacDonnel (credited with nine or ten victories) was shot down by Molders (his 62nd victory) and baled out into the Channel. He was rescued by a German motor boat but remained a prisoner of war until 1945.
The new versions of the Hurricane and Spitfire proved no match for the Bf109E. This is well indicated by a list of Molders's claims for the period: Hurricane II of No.615Sqn two Hurricane II’s of No.601Sqn (one claimed as a "Spitfire") Hurricane II (Z3087) of No.601Sqn Hurricane II (Z2743) of No.601Sqn Spitfire II of No.92Sqn.
Molders' aerial victories declined following the transfer of JG51 to the East. On 21 June, Adolf Galland - then with 69 claims - was the first Luftwaffe pilot to add the Swords to his Ritterkreuz. On the eve of Barbarossa - the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Molders had 'only' 68 claims, but on the day of the invasion, he claimed an I-153 (which must have brought back memories of Spain!) and three SB-2s shot down. He was awarded the Swords but this time as the second pilot to receive the decoration.
At this time, Soviet aircraft and pilots were seen as generally inferior to their German counterparts and this enabled Molders and his men to claim unprecedented scores and on 30 June, he was credited with the destruction of no fewer than five enemy aircraft. By 15 July 1941, on his 291st combat mission he claimed his 100th and 101st victories and was awarded the Diamonds to his Ritterkreuz. By comparison, Galland, would have to wait until 28 January 1942 for this decoration.
By this time, Molders had achieved an almost mythical status, seen to be deserving of 'protection'. He was ordered not to fly ('Flugverbot) to avoid risking his life at the front and was transferred to the Air Ministry in Berlin. On 7 August 1941, he was promoted to Inspector of Fighters and left his unit and on 13 September 1941, he married Louise Baldauf, the widow of a fallen comrade.
Molders could have remained safely at the Ministry, close to his wife, but he was preoccupied with the Soviet campaign and visited the Eastern Front many times. In the autumn of 1941, he went to the Crimea to lead the combined operations of Stukas and fighters where he discovered an important supply problem which he tried to resolve. In spite of the Flugverbot, he wanted to have a clearer picture of the situation in the air by flying again. On 8 and 11 November, Molders borrowed a Bf109 of III./JG77 and shot down three more Soviet aircraft over Sevastopol and the Kertsch peninsula, though he did not record them officially. Future Ritterkreuztriiger, Herbert Hahne, remembered serving as Molders' wingman at this time. After spotting enemy aircraft, the Inspector led his Kaczmarek, giving him instructions by radio and 'donating' him his victories. It would seem that 'Vati’ Molders enjoyed the role of 'counsellor' and adviser.
On 17 November 1941, Generaloberst Ernst Udet committed suicide and Molders was called back to Berlin to assist with the funeral. Four days later, he began his journey to the capital as a passenger in a He-111 of III./KG27 piloted by Oblt. Kolbe, another former flyer from Spain. The weather was bad and following an interim stop at Lemberg, the Heinkel took off again but the weather conditions continued to deteriorate. Near Breslau, the port engine failed and the crew tried to land at the nearest available airfield, Schmiedefelde. At low altitude, the second engine cut and the He-111 (1G+TH) hit the ground near Martin Quander Farm at N°132 Flughafenstrasse. Molders was killed at 11.30 on 22 November. He was succeeded as Inspector of Fighters by Adolf Galland.
As is often the case after a plane crash (Balbo, Sikorsky, Todt, etc.), rumors circulated in some quarters about a plot to kill Molders but post-war research has found these to be totally without foundation. It is true that Molders, as a devout Catholic, criticized the Nazi Party many times for its activities against the church. But to kill Germany's greatest ace for such beliefs at such a critical period in the war is, in the author's opinion, inconceivable.
Werner Molders was buried in the Invalidenfriedhof at Berlin where Manfred von Richthofen already lay. His Geschwader, JG51, later adopted the honor name 'Jagdgeschwader Molders'. As a postscript to this biography it is worth quoting the words of another ace, Dietrich Hrabak: "Wir waren nur jagdflieger. Molders was mehr als das!": "We were only fighter pilots. Molders was more than that!".
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