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Heinrich Ehrler
Heinrich Ehrler
Wartime Rank: N/A
Luftwaffe Service: 1940-1945
Squadron: JG 5, JG 77
Victories: 209
 - 199 Eastern Front
 - 10 Western Front
Total Sorties: 400
Awards: Knights Cross with Oak Leaves
Theaters: EF, WF
Combat Deput: Norway 1941
5 Victories achieved with Me 262

Born: Sept. 14, 1917
KIA: April 4, 1945, near Stendal
Heinrich Ehrler started his career in the Luftwaffe in early 1940, when he started his Pilot training after transferring from a Flak-artillery unit. Ehrler joined 4./JG 77 on his first operational posting and achieved his first victory in May 1940. JG 77 was based in Norway and he would spend most of the war on the Northfront. 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 tasked with intercepting British raids on Norway. Ehrler did not achieve his second victory until 19 February 1942. He was promoted to Leutnant and made Staffelkapitän(Squadron Leader) in 6./JG 5 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.

On 12 November 1944 the RAF launched its final raid targeting KMS Tirpitz. Avro Lancaster bombers from 617 and 9 squadrons were sent to Håkøya a little west of Tromsø where the Tirpitz was based.

Ehrler was at this time stationed at Fliegerhorst Bardufoss with 9./JG 5, currently having 12 Focke-Wulf Fw 190 A-3 operational. The Staffel was at 10 minutes readiness status due to the continuing pressure of British bombers in the Tromsø area. As Ehrler led his men into the air, he received conflicting messages as to where the enemy aircraft were. Some reports claimed Alta was the target area, others said Bodø. When it was finally clear that the target was the Tirpitz, it was too late - as the fighters where a long way from the target area and could do nothing to prevent the Allies from sinking her.

After this unsuccessful action Ehrler faced a court martial hearing on the grounds of his not having understood the seriousness of the attack, and having been too preoccupied with reaching his 200th victory. He was initially sentenced to death, but the sentence was later reduced to 3 years of Festungshaft (Fortress imprisonment), a more honourable punishment as opposed to a common prison term. This allowed him to continue to fly, but he was relieved of his command.

Later investigations concluded that the reason for the failure was poor communication, especially between the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe. Apparently the aircrews did not know that the Tirpitz had been moved to the new location at Håkøy a couple of weeks earlier, but it seems Heinrich Ehrler was a convenient scapegoat for the failure to protect Tirpitz.

He also had been recommended for the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. Consequently this request was also declined.

After being stripped of his command and all honours, Ehrler was transferred to JG 7 on 27 February 1945. JG 7 was equipped with the Messerschmitt Me 262 Jet Fighter, and was tasked with Reichsverteidigung (Defence of the Reich). During the next five weeks Ehrler scored a further 8 kills, bringing his total tally to 208.

On the morning of 4 April, Ehrler flew his last sortie and achieved the last three of his 208 victories. After shooting down two B-17 Flying Fortress bombers, Ehrler's Me 262 was out of ammunition. Ehrler then flew his Me 262 straight into a B-17 bomber, exploding both planes in the process. The action took place over Scharlibbe near Stendal.

"Theo. I have run out of ammunition. I'm going to ram this one. Good bye. We'll see each other in Valhalla."
- Heinrich Ehrlers last radio transmission before he rammed a B17 bomber, killing himself and exploding both aircraft.


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