Valor Friday

| May 12, 2023

Lieuts Francis and Morton next to the German Storch they downed

In my studies for last week’s article I stumbled across an interesting tidbit. According to several sources, the last dogfight between two aircraft over Europe during World War II was not between two front-line fighters. Rather it was between two liaison planes, with the pilot and observer in one using their sidearms to force an enemy observation plane to crash.

It’s the first week of May 1945. The Fuhrer had just named his successor, German Kriegsmarine Grand Admiral Karl Donitz (now Reichsprasident), and then promptly killed himself, his newlywed wife, and their dogs in his Führerbunker on April 30.

The situation for what remained of the German High Command was bleak. Months of strategic bombing had left Berlin a full 1/3rd completely destroyed. Other major German cities faced similar fates, with many of them more than 50% obliterated (Hamburg was 75% ruins). Berlin was the last German region not under enemy occupation.

Hundreds of thousands of men had died in the hard fighting from Germany’s retreat across Fortress Europe over the last two years. From a maximum extent of the Nazi Empire, which stretched from the English Channel east to almost Moscow, they were now defending only Berlin. The western Allies of America, Britain, France, and others had crossed The Rhine. Berlin itself was completely surrounded by more than two million pissed off Soviets.

Donitz, being given an absolutely unwinnable scenario and with no options for a negotiated surrender, spent his scant few days in office trying to ensure that as many of his men as possible could surrender to the West.

Among the heroes of that particular effort was General Walter Wenck. Commanding the 12th Army, they attempted to fight through the Soviets to relieve Berlin. Unsuccessful, they were able to link up with the remnants of the 9th Army and held open a corridor at the Elbe River. Wehrmacht and civilians over the course of 4 May to 7 May were able to utilize this route to surrender to the British and Americans.

Since Donitz wanted his men to surrender in the west and continue fighting in the east to the last man, air warfare in this time was limited. Most of the Luftwaffe flew west and surrendered. On 4 May, Donitz surrendered most of his western forces to the British. The terms of the surrender prohibited further flights by the German Air Force.

The air war over Europe was done for the Royal Air Force, with one notable exception. On 5 May a flight of three RAF Spitfires spotted a Nazi Siebel Si 204. The Si 204 was a twin engine transport and training aircraft, not a combat plane. When the lumbering transport took evasive actions, the Brits opened fire. Flight Lieutenant Dudley Guy Gibbins and Warrant Officer Vic J Seymour share credit for the kill, the final for the RAF over Europe.

Donitz dispatched one of his generals to negotiate with US General Eisenhower (Supreme Allied Commander in Europe). Donitz told them to stall so more people could escape west, but on 7 May 1945, the instruments of surrender were signed. The most critical part of the document included the clause that “all forces under German control [are] to cease offensive operations at 23.01 hours, central European time, on May 8, 1945.”

While operations had already ceased in the west, the fight in the east continued until the final moment. On the Eastern Front on 8 May was Erich Hartmann of the Nazi Luftwaffe. Hartmann was already the German Ace of Aces (which is to say the highest scoring fighter ace of a country. In fact, Hartmann was (and remains) the highest scoring fighter ace of all time.

Hartmann, only having just celebrated his 23rd birthday in April 1945, had an impressive war record. He had shot down 351 aircraft (all but seven were Soviet), 50 more than the next highest scoring ace of all time (also a German). He was the first pilot to shoot down more than 300 planes. He twice shot down five or more enemy aircraft in a single day, earning distinction as an “Ace in a Day” each time he did so.

Hartmann’s list of decorations is equally long. He received the Iron Cross Second (Dec 1942) and First Class (Mar 1943), the Honour Goblet of the Luftwaffe (1943), and the German Cross in Gold (Oct 1943). He received the highly coveted Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross (the highest award of Nazi Germany) just twelve days later, still in October 1943. For continued valor in action, he received oak leaves (the 420th set), swords (the 75th man to be so honored), and diamonds (the 18th of only 27 awarded during the war). He is one of the most decorated German officers of the war.

Hartmann’s rank was, as of just that very morning in May, major. He was flying the venerable Messerschmitt Bf 109 with a wing man on a reconnaissance mission, starting about 0800 hours. Sent to reconnoiter Soviet lines, he took off and located them just 25 miles away.

From an altitude of 12,000 feet, Hartmann spied a flight of Soviet Yak-9 fighters. The Yak-9 was probably the best Soviet fighter of the war, while the Bf 109 was a well-tested and combat proven design. Coming from high and behind the Soviet pilot, Hartmann’s supremely honed skills led to a quick dispatching on his part. Hartmann would later succinctly say of the event, “My wingman and I saw eight Yaks below us. I shot one down and that was my last victory.”

He elaborated, “I decided not to attack the others once I saw that there were 12 Mustangs on the scene above me.

“My wingman and I headed for the deck where the smoke of the bombing could hide us. We pulled through the smoke and saw once again the two allies fighting each other above us. Incredible! Well, we landed at the field and were told that the war was over.” There were many other cases of American and Soviet aircraft fighting in those final days of the war and for shortly after.

Hartmann’s final kill of the war, on the very final day of the conflict, was the last German aerial kill of World War II. It was his 352nd kill. Landing, he found that the Germans had surrendered. He and his men destroyed most of their aircraft, while he and his second in command (an ace with 212 confirmed kills, Hermann Graf) were ordered to fly west to surrender to the Brits. Instead, as group commander, he surrendered his squadron to the nearby US 90th Infantry Division, but they were turned over to the Soviets.

The final American kill came in the evening, about 2000 hours, just a couple of hours before the unconditional surrender of all German forces was to come into effect. Kenneth L Swift of the 429th Fighter Squadron, 9th Air Force, flying a P-38 Lightning, shot down a Siebel Si 204 over Bavaria. It was his first, last, and only aerial victory of the war. He continued serving and shot down another aircraft during the Korean War while flying an F-86 Sabre.

You might wonder what about those two liaison aircraft battling with pistols? Well, I can find sources that say the event happened on 7 May, but many more that say it happened on 11 or 12 April. If it’s the former, it was probably not the final dogfight of the war, and if it’s the latter, well, it’s definitely not the final dogfight. It’s still an interesting story though.

US Army Lieutenants Duane Francis and Bill Martin were flying in the venerable Piper J3 Cub (known as the L-4 Grasshopper in USAAF service). Francis was the pilot while Martin was the observer. They were flying a scouting mission near Berlin when they saw a German Luftwaffe Fieseler Fi 156 Storch.

The L-4 and Storch were more similar than different aircraft. Both are small, slow, short take off and landing two seaters made with wood and canvas. Able to operate from short, improvised airfields, and maneuverable at low altitude and low speed, they were both used as forward air control, scout, and reconnaissance missions from just behind the front lines. What they also both shared was a complete and total lack of weaponry.

When Francis and Martin saw the Storch, they were above it in altitude. For some reason they decided to “engage” the German plane. But how?

Well, the two officers had their survival pistols. So they opened the door and started shooting at them with their pistols. Thirty years previous, this was the sort of fighting early aviation pioneers had done with each other during the early days of the First World War.

The Storch started to take evasive action. During his attempts to shake off the attacking Americans, the German pilot scraped a wing on the ground, forcing his plane to crash. The victors landed nearby, rendered first aid to their vanquished foe, and made sure he was taken captive.

Category: Air Force, Army, Historical, Valor, We Remember

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Great read Mason. Lots of history leading up to the final kill and
it was enjoyed over a cold American beer. Thanks.


Some very interesting and informative tid bits of history there, Mason. You da Man!


Prior Service

Nice writeup. Thanks for posting. I’d definitely never heard of American and Soviet planes fighting. I hope we got the best of them!


Used to be the War Eagles Museum in Santa Teresa, NM had a promo video for F-16s that had a long interview with Hartmann. They also had a flyable Storch which they would fly the first Saturday on June. It’s worth noting that Hartmann used state-of-the-art German fighters, and he said the majority of his kills were against Soviet Yak biplanes.


To fly is to be brave, to fly amongst bullets is just dumb!

Cheers to the dumbasses that’r braver than I.

(Also, those german fellas were a busy lot. Damn glad it didn’t work out for them!)

Anna Puma

Erich Hartmann became famous for his 109s wearing a black tulip with a white outline on the nose. But in 1943 he stopped the practice and I have heard two different reasons – one it spooked the Soviet pilots who would flee from him or because it was so visible it marked him for extra attention. But when he surrendered Jagdgeschwander 54, Grunherz, to the Americans in 1945 the black tulip was back on his Erla built Bf 109G-10.

Anna Puma

The last American fighter kill of the Pacific War occurred on August 15th 1945. The victory belongs to a Northrop P-61B Black Widow assigned to the 548th NFS based at Iwo Jima named “Lady in the Dark.”

Yes you read that right, August 15th. After the surrender but it seems some Japanese wanted to keep fighting. So a night anti-heckler patrol was kept running. Capt. Lee Kendall was vectored on a bogey that was at 4,500ft. The enemy aircraft dropped Window and attempted hard evasive maneuvers to lose its nocturnal nemesis. It was during these evasions that the Japanese aircraft fatally impacted the grund before Kendall could even open fire with his four 20mm cannons or four.50cal machine guns.

But this is not the end of how unique this victory was for on the previous night, the 14th, “Lady in the Dark” had scored another victory in which the Japanese plane crashed into the ocean before being taken under fire. So the final two US aerial victories of World War II occurred without a shot being fired.


[…] Last week I took a look at the final air-to-air dogfights of the European Theater in World War II. Today we’ll move to the other side of the world, only a few months later, for the final engagement in the sky over the Pacific Theater. […]