Erwin Hentschel (29 October 1917 – 20 March 1944) was a German non-commissioned officer during World War II. He was a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. The Knight's Cross, and its variants were the highest awards in the military and paramilitary forces of Nazi Germany. During his career in the Luftwaffe (air force), Hentschel flew 1,490 combat missions as a radio operator and air gunner, and claimed seven aerial victories.
Hentschel was born on 29 October 1917 in Niederthalheim, present-day a borough of Mittweida, at the time in the Kingdom of Saxony, a federated state of the German Empire. He joined the Luftwaffe on 30 November 1938, initially serving with in a flak regiment. In June 1939, he was transferred to the 2nd squadron of Kampfgeschwader 51 (KG 51—51st Bomber Wing) based at Landsberg-Lech Air Base where he trained as a radio operator and tail gunner. He was then posted to the Stuka school at Graz-Thalerhof, present-day Graz Airport, followed by a transfer to the Supplementary Dive Bomber Squadron of 8th Air Corps and Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 (StG 2—2nd Dive Bomber Wing).
On 21 May 1941, Hentschel flew his first combat missions on the Eastern Front of World War II. In late September 1941, he became Hans-Ulrich Rudel 's regular air gunner. Flying with the I. and III. Gruppe of StG 2, he received the Honor Goblet of the Luftwaffe on 16 March 1942, was promoted to Feldwebel (technical sergeant) on 1 December 1942, received the German Cross in Gold on 9 January 1943, and was promoted to Oberfeldwebel (senior technical sergeant) on 1 June 1943. Hentschel flew his 1,200th combat mission on 9 October 1943, and was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 9 December 1943 after approximately 1,300 combat missions. On 20 March, Rudel made a forced landing behind enemy lines, trying to rescue a downed aircrew. The takeoff failed due to the soft underground. Walking back to German held territory, the four attempted to swim across the Dniester River. Hentschel drowned in the attempt.
- German Cross in Gold on 9 January 1943 as Unteroffizier in the 2./Sturzkampfgeschwader 2
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 25 November 1943 as Oberfeldwebel and Bordfunker (radio operator) in the III./Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 "Immelmann"