Heinrich Ehrler was born on the 14th of September 1917. Ehrler’s distinguished combat career earned him the shared title of ‘Top Combat Ace’ with Theodor Wessenberger, each scoring 208 victories.
Unfortunately, Heinrich Ehrler’s career was to end in controversy after he was blamed for the loss of the German Battleship, DKM Tirpitz on the 12th of November 1944. Erhler was a scapegoat, he was blamed for the sinking of the battleship as his unit based at Fliegerhorst Bardufoss with 12 operational Focke-Wulf Fw 190 A-3s, arrived too late to save the stricken ship.
As Ehrler was in command of 9./JG 5, the responsibility of the loss of the German Capital Ship fell to him. Ehrler was charged and faced a Court Martial hearing in Oslo on the grounds that he had ignored the Kriegsmarine requests for help and had underestimated the seriousness of the attack. Ehrler was found guilty. He was relieved of command, demoted and sentenced to three years and two months Festungshaft (honorable imprisonment). Ehrler had been recommended for the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords prior to the disaster, but the award was not approved.
Ehrler’s sentence was later commuted and his loss of rank rescinded, and on the 27th of February 1945 he was transferred to JG 7, where he was assigned to fly the Messerschmitt 262 in the last desperate days of World War II, flying intercept missions against Allied Bombers.
Prior to these events, Heinrich Ehrler had been a rising star in the Luftwaffe. Heinrich Ehrler started his career in the Luftwaffe in a flak-artillery unit, but transferred to pilot training early in 1940. Ehrler was posted to 4./Jagdgeschwader 77 (JG 77—77th Fighter Wing) based in Norway. He scored his first victory in May 1940. JG 77 supported X. Fliegerkorps (under Luftflotte 5) in operations against Britain from bases in Norway, often providing fighter cover for Stuka attacks against British shipping. JG 77 was restructured as JG 5 Eismeer in January 1942. JG 5 operated from bases in northern Norway and Finland, and they mostly engaged Russian aircraft, but were also given the task of intercepting British raids on Norway.
Ehrler achieved his second victory on 19 February 1942. He was promoted to Leutnant and made Staffelkapitän (squadron leader) in 6./Jagdgeschwader 5 (JG 5—5th Fighter Wing) after his 11th victory on 20 July. On 4 September, he was awarded the Ritterkreuz (Knights Cross) for 64 aerial victories. By 1 June 1943 he was promoted to Hauptmann and appointed Gruppenkommandeur (Group Commander) for II./JG 5. During this period he was also awarded the Eichenlaub (Oak Leaves) to his Ritterkreuz. On 25 May 1944, he achieved nine victories in one day, bringing his tally up to 155. On 1 August, he was appointed to Geschwaderkommodore (Wing Commander) of JG 5 and at the same time was promoted to Major.
The Sinking of the Tirpitz
On the 12th of November 1944, RAF Avro Lancaster bombers from 617 and No.9 Squadrons, flew their final mission to bomb the Battleship Tirpitz. The Lancaster’s flew to Håkøya due west of Tromsø where the Tirpitz was based.
Ehrler was in command of 9./JG 5 at Fliegerhorst Bardufoss with 12 operational Focke-Wulf Fw 190 A-3s. The Staffel was at 10 minutes’ readiness status due to the continuing pressure of British bombers in the Tromsø area. Ehrler’s unit was scrambled airborne, but he received conflicting messages as to the enemy aircraft location and course. Some reports claimed Alta was the target area, others indicated Bodø. When it finally became clear that the target was the Tirpitz, it was too late for the fighters to intercept, and the Tirpitz was destroyed with the loss of many lives.
As Commander of 9./JG 5, Heinrich Ehrler was accused of dereliction of duty during his Court Martial. After he had been relieved of his command, Walter Schuck, one of his junior officers, appealed to Reichskommissar Josef Terboven. On 12 January 1945, Terboven hand-delivered Schuck’s affidavit in support of Ehrler to Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring. Further investigations and testimonies indicated that the aircrews did not know that the Tirpitz had been moved to the new location at Håkøya a couple of weeks earlier. The investigation concluded the reason for the failure was poor communication between the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe. Ehrler was exonerated. Shortly afterward, the Führer HQ announced Ehrler’s release and return to front-line service, where he would have the chance to “rehabilitate himself.” Ehrler’s sentence was commuted and his loss of rank rescinded. He was reassigned to an Me 262 fighter squadron in Germany.
Transfer to Germany
Ehrler was transferred to Jagdgeschwader 7 (JG 7—7th Fighter Wing) on 27 February 1945. JG 7 was equipped with the MesserschmittMe 262 jet fighter, and was given the task of Reichsverteidigung (Defense of the Reich). During the next five weeks, Ehrler scored a further 8 kills, bringing his tally to 206.
On the morning of 4 April 1945, Major Ehrler flew his last sortie and achieved the last three of his 208 recorded victories. Flying out of JG 7’s airfield at Brandenburg-Briest, accompanied by his wingman, was in the skies 50 kilometers east of Hamburg when B-24 Liberators from the 448th Bombardment Group began forming their bombing run of Parchim. Ehrler attacked the lead 714th Bombardment Squadron, downing two B-24 Liberator bombers: Lt J. J. Shafter’s “Miss-B-Hav’n,” (B-24J-1-FO 42-95620) and Lt Mains’ “Red Bow” (B-24M-10-FO 44-50838). At the time of the attack, two P-51 Mustangs were pursuing Maj Ehrler, and he was being fired upon by the bomber’s gunners, taking hits from the tail and waist gunners of Lt G. Brock’s B-24 “My Buddy” (B-24H-25-FO 42-95083) who reported pieces of fuselage flying off the jet. The attack took place over Büchen.
Minutes later, as the 448th Bombardment Group circled back towards their Group RP at Stendal, Ehrler engaged a third Liberator, “Trouble in Mind” (B-24H-30-FO 42-95298) flown by Capt. John Ray’s crew over Kyritz.
52°57′N 12°23′E / 52.950°N 12.383°E / 52.950; 12.383). A reference is made by surviving crew members to cannon hits in the fuselage that destroyed the Liberator, but Ehrler had only moments before radioed Maj Theodor Weissenberger that he was out of ammunition and intended to ram the bomber. In any case, both planes were destroyed in the ensuing explosion. The B-24 crashed at Krüllenkempe, near Havelberg, Maj Ehrler’s jet fell to earth in the woods of Scharlibbe, where he was killed. His body was recovered the following day at Scharlibbe, near Stendal, where he was buried. Ehrler’s grave at Stendal confirms the date of death as 4 April 1945.
“Theo, I have run out of ammunition. I’m going to ram this one. Good bye. We’ll see each other in Valhalla.” – Heinrich Ehrler’s last transmission over the Squadron Radio Network before he rammed the B-24 bomber “Trouble in Mind,” piloted by Captain John Ray, destroying both aircraft and killing himself. “Theo” refers to Theodor Weissenberger.
Walter Schuck who followed the R/T exchange over the loudspeaker in the ops room recalls Ehrler’s last words slightly differently. He believes they were: “Theo, Heinrich here. Have just shot down two bombers. No more ammunition. I’m going to ram. Auf Wiedersehen, see you in Valhalla!”
- Ehrenpokal der Luftwaffe (20 July 1942)
- German Cross in Gold on 18 March 1943 as Leutnant in 6./JG 5
- Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe in Gold
- Iron Cross (1939)
- 2nd Class (19 September 1941)
- 1st Class (21 January 1942)
Recovered BF 109 G-2
Heinrich Ehrler’s Messerschmitt BF 109G-2, number 13605 of 6./JG 5 was shot down over northwestern Russia on June the 21st, 1943. The aircraft was discovered, and was later purchased and recovered by warplane restorer Jim Pearce in November 2003. The aircraft was flown by Ehrler on his 200th kill. He would continue to fly missions with JG 5 until his transfer back to Germany joining JG 7 in February 1945, to fly the Me 262. The Bf 109 was shot down by Russian Flak and was forced to land in the tundra, where the aircraft remained until it was recovered. It is currently being restored.
- Schuck, Walter (2009), Luftwaffe Eagle – From the Me109 to the Me262. Hikoki Publications. ISBN 978-1-902109-06-0
- Toliver, Raymond F. & Trevor J. Constable (1996), Fighter Aces of the Luftwaffe. Schiffer Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-88740-909-1.
- Pakcha Volny, Major Enrich Ehrler, Biography, http://www.luftwaffe.cz/ehrler.html
- Frost (2000-2003), Heinrich Ehrler, Biography, http://www.pilotenbunker.de/Jagdflieger/Luftwaffe/Ehrler_Heinrich/ehrler.htm