Heinrich "Pritzl" Bär (pronounced [ˈhaɪnʁɪç bɛːɐ̯]; 25 May 1913 – 28 April 1957) was a German Luftwaffe flying ace who served throughout World War II in Europe. Bär flew more than one thousand combat missions, and fought in the Western, Eastern and Mediterranean theatres. On 18 occasions he survived being shot down, and he was credited with 220 or 221 aerial victories, around 16 of which were in a Messerschmitt Me-262 jet fighter.
Bär, a Saxon with a strong accent, joined the Reichswehr in 1934 and transferred to the Luftwaffe in 1935. Serving first as a mechanic, then as a pilot on transport aircraft, he was informally trained as a fighter pilot. He claimed his first aerial victory in September 1939 on the French border. By the end of the Battle of Britain, his tally of victories had increased to 17. Transferred to the Eastern Front to participate in Operation Barbarossa, he quickly accumulated further kills, a feat that earned him the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords for 90 aerial victories in February 1942.
During the remainder of World War II, Bär was credited with 130 other aerial victories, including 16 while flying one of the first jet fighters, the Me 262, an achievement which would normally have earned him the coveted Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds. Hermann Göring's personal dislike of Bär, coupled with Bär's insubordinate character and lack of military discipline, deprived him of this award. After World War II, Bär continued his career as an aviator. He was killed in a flying accident on 28 April 1957 near Braunschweig.
Bär was born on 25 May 1913 in Sommerfeld near Leipzig in the Kingdom of Saxony, a federated state of the German Empire. His parents were farmers, and in 1916, his father was killed in action on the Western Front of World War I. Bär attended the Volksschule, a combined primary and lower secondary school, in Sommerfeld. Initially, he planned on taking over the family farm in Engelsdorf and following graduation attended the agriculture school in Wurzen. Aged 15, he became a glider pilot, joining the glider club on the "Schwarzer Berg" (Black Mountain) at Taucha. Bär then wanted to become a forester, for everything associated with wildlife and forests interested him. His first sight of a Junkers transport aircraft changed his mind and convinced him that he should become an aviator. As a teenager, he had ambitions to become an airline pilot with Deutsche Luft Hansa. He acquired the nickname Pritzl because of his affection for Pritzl candy bars.
The Great Depression prevented Bär from gaining a civil pilot license. In 1934, he joined the Reichswehr and was assigned to the 3. Kompanie of Kraftfahrabteilung 4 (3rd Company of the 4th Motor Vehicle Battalion) as a mechanic. He served in this position until the following year, when he was transferred to a combat wing of the Luftwaffe. A few months later, he was accepted for pilot training, receiving his transport aircraft pilot's training. From 1 November 1937 to 31 March 1938, Bär attended the flight school at Oldenburg and was then transferred to the flight school at Hildesheim. He was transferred again, attending the flight school at Ludwigslust where he attained his Luftwaffe Advanced Pilot's Certificate (Erweiterter Luftwaffen-Flugzeugführerschein), also known as 'C'-Certificate, confirming proficiency on multi-engine aircraft, on 16 May 1938. Bär then attended the blind flying school Blindflugschule 2 (BFS 2—2nd blind flying school) at Neuburg an der Donau from 7 July to 14 August 1938. He was transferred to I./Jagdgeschwader 135, the core of the future Jagdgeschwader 51 (JG 51), on 1 September 1938, usually flying the Junkers Ju 86. The Squadron Leader (Staffelkapitän) Douglas Pitcairn noticed Bär's flying talents and tried to convince Bär to become a fighter pilot. Initially Bär refused, but after he illegally conducted some aerobatics in the Ju 86 leading to an engine failure, he reluctantly accepted and became a fighter pilot.
World War II
Stationed on the border with France, Bär achieved his first victory—a Curtiss P-36 Hawk—on 25 September 1939 during the Phoney War air skirmishes with the Armée de l'Air (French air force), earning him the Iron Cross 2nd Class on 27 September 1939. During the Battle of France, he was credited with two more aerial victories before adding a further 10 during the Battle of Britain. During this time, he had several emergency landings in badly damaged aircraft and was shot down over the English Channel on 2 September 1940 by a Spitfire. Bär was summoned to appear before Hermann Göring and report on this battle. When Göring asked him what he was thinking about while in the water, Bär immediately replied, "Your speech, Herr Reichsmarschall, in which you said that England is no longer an island!", alluding to an address that Göring had made before the German fighter pilots. Incidents like this are testimony to his often blatant disregard for higher authority. His outspokenness frequently landed him in trouble with Göring. In early 1941, he was credited with an additional four aerial victories against the Royal Air Force (RAF), bringing his total to 17.
In June 1941, JG 51 was transferred East to take part in Operation Barbarossa with 1 staffel. On the morning of the 22 June, Bär and his wingman Oberfeldwebel Heinrich Höfemeier were escorting a damaged Heinkel He 111 over German lines when they made contact with 18 Tupolev SB bombers from the 39 SBAP (Skorostnoy Bombardirovohchnyy Aviatsionny Polk—high speed bomber aviation regiment) and 10 SAD (Smeshannaya Aviatsionnaya Diviziya—composite aviation regiment). The German pilots attacked; Höfemeier claimed four, Bär two—though the former was wounded in the arm. The Germans noted the vulnerability of the Soviet aircraft which lacked self-sealing fuel tanks and had a propensity to burst into flames. More JG 51 Bf 109s appeared and claimed six more. None of the 39 SBAP or 10 SAD aircraft returned home. Bär had achieved his 19th and 20th victory.
JG 51 at the time was part of the Fliegerkorps II, operating in the central sector of the Eastern Front. Bär claimed five aerial victories on 30 June 1941, bringing his total to 22. On this day JG 51 was credited with 113 aerial victories in total, among them their 1,000th aerial victory—the first unit to reach this figure—and Oberst Werner Mölders, with 82 aerial victories, surpassed Manfred von Richthofen in number of victories. The Geschwader recorded 24 separate engagements in a 14-hour period and lost five Bf 109s. Bär's opponents included Ilyushin DB-3 bombers from the 42nd and 52nd DBA (Dal'me-Bombardirovochnaya Aviatsiya—long rang aviation bomber regiment). Five Tupolev TB-3s from the 3rd TBAP were also claimed.
Within two weeks of combat against the Soviet Air Force, Bär's tally rose to 27, which earned him the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes) on 2 July, followed by his promotion to Oberleutnant on 1 August 1941. On 5 July Bär or Mölders may also have shot down the Soviet fighter ace Podpolkovnik (Lieutenant Colonel) Stepan Suprun from the 401 IAP (Istrebitel'nyy Aviatsionyy Polk—fighter aviation regiment) and holder of the Hero of the Soviet Union. Bär accounted for a Petlyakov Pe-2 on 23 July. Three were lost from the 411 BAP (Bombardirovochnyy Aviatsionyy Polk—bomber aviation regiment) operating under the OSNAZ (Osoboye Naznachenie—Special purpose-unit or task force). German pilots submitted three claims. On 9 August an SB bomber was claimed from a formation of eight belonging to the 57 BAP's 3rd Eskadrilya—five Soviet aircraft were shot down. Bär had achieved his 55th victory.
On 14 August, he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub) for 60 victories, and on 30 August he became an "ace-in-a-day" by shooting down six Soviet aircraft. On 31 August, Bär was shot down by an Ilyushin Il-2 some 50 kilometers (31 mi) behind Soviet lines, near Novgorod-Seversky. He suffered injuries to his back and feet while bailing out. Bär evaded Soviet patrols which rushed to the crash site. Bär remained in hiding through to the following night. He turned his leather jacket inside-out and discarded his flying boots to present himself as a Russian peasant. Vanity prevented him from throwing away the Knight's Cross and Oak Leaves and he hid the items. Bär eventually made it to German lines but aggravated his injuries and spent two months in hospital.
Bär was promoted to Hauptmann in late 1941 and appointed Squadron Leader of 12./JG 51 in early 1942. By late 1941, after Mölders (115), Lützow (100), Galland (96) and Gollob (85), Bär's 80 placed him among the leading pilots of the war. His longtime wingman at the time was Heinrich Hoffmann. From January he was appointed Gruppenkommandeur (Group Commander) of IV Gruppe. At this time JG 51 was only the second of two fighter groups that continued to operate the Bf 109E in the winter, 1941. He received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern) on 16 February as his tally rose to 90. This achievement was mentioned in the daily Wehrmachtbericht bulletin on 12 February 1942, his first of three references during the course of the war. Three months later he was referenced again.
On 11 May, Bär was transferred from IV./JG 51 on the Moscow front to take command of I. Gruppe of Gordon Gollob's Jagdgeschwader 77 (JG 77) flying wing. Bär replaced Herbert Ihlefeld who had been transferred. JG 77 was tasked with supporting the hard fighting in the Crimean Campaign over the Kerch Strait on the Crimean Peninsula. Led by the flying aces (Experten) Gollob and Bär, JG 77 took over the air space above Kerch-Taman as Gollob and Bär shot down two and three LaGG-3s respectively, raising Bär's victory total to 93. Mutual animosity between the two men, Gollob, a disciplinarian pro-Nazi, and Bär, an anti-authoritarian, ensured an intense rivalry. On 19 May 1942, Bär claimed five further aerial victories—including a Polikarpov R-5 in the morning and four I-16s in one afternoon mission: his victory total now stood at 103. He was the 9th Luftwaffe pilot to achieve the century mark. That same day, Inspector of Fighters (General der Jagdflieger) Adolf Galland arrived to inspect Bär's I./JG 77 and JG 77 surpassed 2,000 victories.
In June 1942, JG 77 was moved to the Mediterranean theater and took part in the air battles over Malta before relocating to Tunisia and participating in the North African Campaign. On 13 October 1942 he accounted for three Spitfire fighters from 185 and 1345 Squadron near the Sicilian coast. I./JG 77 soon transferred to North Africa and took part in the Tunisian Campaign.
On 1 January 1943 Bär submitted one of two claims against 12 Curtiss P-40 Warhawks of 3 Squadron RAAF. Flying Officer Ritchie and Sergeant Roediger were lost but Bär did not receive credit. Bär claimed two B-25 Mitchell bombers and three P-40s on 14 January which do not appear to have been credited. Two claims for P-40s destroyed on the 18 January were also not granted.
On 25 January 1943, Bär claimed two Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighters shot down, taking his total to 149 aerial victories. The battle involved 239 Wing RAF composed of 450, 112 Squadron RAF and 21 Squadron SAAF. The US 65th Fighter Squadron and 66th Fighter Squadron were also in the area and made contact with German fighters. The Germans claimed 10 P-40s. 450 and 112 Squadrons lost one each while the 65th Squadron lost three and the 66th two. After Bär achieved his 149th aerial victory, General Hans-Jürgen von Arnim submitted him for the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten). Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring ignored this request, denying Bär the "Diamonds". The reason for this remains uncertain, but it is believed that Göring disliked Bär for his insubordinate character and strong Saxon dialect, which Göring was known to detest. On 27 January 1943, Bär surpassed the 150 aerial victory mark. Bär's opponents were probably USAAF P-40s and P-39 Airacobras from the 33rd and 81st Fighter Group.
On 4 February Bär led I. Gruppe into action against B-17 Flying Fortress bombers from the 97th and 301st Bomb Group and their Lockheed P-38 Lightning escorts from the 1st Fighter Group. Bär claimed one B-17. On 15 February Bär claimed two USAAF Spitfires. The American pilots were possibly Lieutenant Joe Reed and H. E Huntingdon from the 31st Fighter Group. After an uncredited claim on 24 February over a P-40 Bär accounted for five on two days later. German fighter units claimed 13 against an actual 14 (possible 15) and several more damaged. Seven of the British pilots were unhurt. The following day he was credited with another P-40 in combat with 11 pilots from 4 Squadron SAAF. Records suggest he may have claimed three but was only credited with one.
Bär and his I. Gruppe of JG 77 operated from Fatnassa, Tunisia, in early March 1943. On 1st or 2 March, Bär claimed a Spitfire shot down. Then in the evening met Galland, who was making a surprise visit to I./JG 77. Galland was greeted by Major Joachim Müncheberg, who introduced Bär to Galland. Thus began a comradeship which outlasted World War II. On 6 March 92 Squadron Spitfires provided cover for 1 SAAF Squadron. They were supported by 601. Bär spotted their approach and climbed then dived onto the British. Bär accounted for two Spitfires—Flight Sergeant Tilston, from 601, was forced to bale out and Flying Officer Mahon from the South African unit was killed.
Over North Africa and the Mediterranean theater, Bär had increased his tally to 179, but, fighting a losing battle against ever-increasing Allied air superiority, Bär lost his fighting spirit, and suffered severe mental and physical exhaustion. After several arguments with JG 77's new Commander Colonel Johannes Steinhoff and Hermann Göring, in mid-1943 Bär was transferred to France "for cowardice before the enemy" and demoted to Squadron Leader. He took over command of an operational training unit, Jagdgruppe Süd.
Defense of the Reich
His combat skills were hard to overlook and hence Bär was transferred to II./Jagdgeschwader 1 (JG 1) on 21 January 1944 as an ordinary pilot. He was assigned to 6./JG 1. Jagdgeschwader 1 (JG 1) Wing Commander (Geschwaderkommodore) Colonel Walter Oesau welcomed him with a reminder that he had promised Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL) Göring that Bär would not be given any command responsibilities. Although Bär accepted this with humor, he later commented to others that in the air he was the "Kommodore of his own crate".
On 15 March 1944, Bär, now a Major and rehabilitated from the demotion, was given command of II./Jagdgeschwader 1 (JG 1). This was after the death of Hauptmann Hermann Segatz on 8 March 1944. JG 1 was tasked with Reichsverteidigung (Defense of the Reich) and equipped with the Focke Wulf 190 A-7 fighter. Morale of the group soared following his appointment. He was considered the unofficial leader of the group and the best officer in the entire Geschwader. On 11 April 1944, Bär achieved his 199th aerial victory over a B-17 Flying Fortress near Fallersleben. His 200th aerial victory, a B-24 Liberator, was claimed on 22 April accompanied by his regular wingman Warrant Officer (Oberfeldwebel) Leo Schuhmacher, who would be awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 1 March 1945 as a fighter pilot in II./JG 1. Bär had just landed at Störmede airfield from a II./JG 1 intercept when a smoking United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) B-24 of the 458th Bombardment Group passed overhead. Bär and his wingman quickly got into their aircraft and intercepted the B-24. The bomber's gunners had already bailed out of the aircraft, making it an easy aerial victory. Bär returned to Störmede airfield to the congratulations of his men. This double century victory earned Bär his third and final reference in the Wehrmachtbericht on 24 April 1944. After Oesau's death on 11 May 1944, Bär was made acting Wing Commander of JG 1. In June, he was appointed Wing Commander of Jagdgeschwader 3 (JG 3) following the death of Friedrich-Karl Müller. By the end of 1944, Bär's score had risen to 203.
Bär's 204th and 205th victories, against two Hawker Typhoons, were achieved on 1 January 1945 during Unternehmen Bodenplatte, a Luftwaffe mass attack against Allied airfields in the Benelux area. The operation resulted in hundreds of aircraft losses on both sides. Bär's JG 3 contributed by raiding Eindhoven in the Netherlands, shooting down about six RAF fighters and destroying many aircraft on the ground. One of Bär's 'aerial kills' may not have been airborne. Historian Norman Franks states both aircraft, from No. 438 Squadron RAF, were taxiing when hit. Flight Lieutenant Pete Wilson was wounded and later died from his injuries after Bär's strafing attack. The second Typhoon did get airborne. Its pilot, Flight Officer Ross Keller was killed. This version of events is contradicted by a witness, Pilot Officer 'Bill' Harle, who thought both aircraft were airborne.
Combat in the Me 262
In February, Bär was transferred to command the jet fighter training unit III./Ergänzungs-Jagdgeschwader 2 (EJG 2). In March, the unit was equipped with the Messerschmitt Me 262 fighter and sent into battle. Bär shot down 13 enemy aircraft, many of them heavy bombers like the B-17 and the B-24. EJG 2 abandoned Lechfeld for the airfield was under constant attack and was now threatened by the United States Army. On 23 April, Bär transferred to the elite Jet Experten unit Jagdverband 44 (JV 44), led by Adolf Galland. The following day Bär briefed JV 44 pilots in Galland's absence. The air defences had detected an incoming American formation and Bär instructed the jet pilots on the appropriate tactical approach to take when the interception was made. Klaus Neumann, Walter Krupinski and Günther Lützow flew on the mission. Lutzöw was posted missing in action and remains missing to date.
On 26 April, he assumed command of the unit when Galland was wounded. Bär possibly flew his first operational sortie with JV 44 on 27 April 1945. Flying the Me 262 A-1/U5, a six MK 108 cannon prototype, he was accompanied by Major Wilhelm Herget and the non-commissioned officer NCO (Unteroffizier) Franz Köster when the trio engaged American fighters over Riem; Bär claimed one aerial victory. While not flying operationally, Bär spent most of his time giving hasty instruction to the new pilots still being assigned to JV 44. With JV 44, he achieved his final four aerial victories (3 P-47s and 1 Mosquito) on 28 April, bringing his total to 220. All told, he had achieved 16 victories in the Me 262, making him the second most successful Jet Expert of the war, which he finished as a Lieutenant Colonel (Oberstleutnant).
During the final days of the Second World War in Europe, Lieutenant General (Generalleutnant) Adolf Galland attempted to surrender JV 44 to American forces from his hospital bed. At the same time Air General (General der Flieger) Karl Koller had ordered JV 44 to relocate to Prague and continue fighting. Bär, as a Galland loyalist, attempted to ignore the order. Bär was further pressured to relocate JV 44 when Major General (Generalmajor) Dietrich Peltz, commander of IX. Fliegerkorps, and Colonel Hajo Herrmann, commander of 9. Flieger-Division (J), unexpectedly emerged at the control room in Maxglan on 2 May 1945. A heated and violent dispute erupted between Bär, Peltz and Herrmann, witnessed by Walter Krupinski. He later recalled that Bär responded with "Yes, sir, but we are under the command of Generalleutnant Galland, and I will only follow orders of Generalleutnant Galland!"—a final act of disobedience that Krupinski believed could have led to Bär being shot for insubordination.
In the early morning hours of 4 May 1945, Bär gathered the pilots of JV 44 for a final briefing. Bär ordered the remaining Me 262 destroyed before going into captivity and interrogation by US Intelligence officers of the 1st Tactical Air Force's Air Prisoner of War Interrogation Unit, based at Heidelberg.
After the war
Bär did not return to his home in Sommerfeld after World War II. He settled in Braunschweig, where he continued his career in aviation, including a lead position for motor-powered flight with the Deutscher Aero Club. He also worked as a consultant and test pilot in the field of sport aviation, testing aircraft before they went on the market. On 28 April 1957, while conducting a routine flight-check in a light aircraft, a LF-1 Zaunkönig, Bär put the aircraft into a flat spin, the final manoeuvre in the test process. The aircraft spun down to 50 meters (160 ft) then, unable to regain control, Bär was killed in the resulting crash at Braunschweig-Waggum.
Summary of career
Heinrich Bär, call sign "Bussard 1", flew more than 1,000 combat missions. His 220 confirmed aerial victories place him eighth on the overall list of Experten. His claim of 124 aerial victories over Western-flown aircraft is second only to Hans-Joachim Marseille's total of 158; almost all of the latter's victories occurred in Africa. He achieved four victories during the Battle of France, 13 during the Battle of Britain and 61 over Libya and Tunisia. On the Eastern Front he had claimed 96 aerial victories. At least 75 of his victories had been claimed against British- and American-flown aircraft over Europe, 16 of these while flying the Me 262 jet fighter. Also among these 75 aerial victories are 21 US heavy bombers and one Mosquito. Bär crash-landed or bailed out 18 times and was wounded three times in combat.
- Wound Badge (1939) in Silver & in Black (26 November 1941)
- German Cross in Gold on 27 May 1942 as Hauptmann in the I./JG 77
- Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe in Gold with Pennant "1000" & in Gold (25 May 1942)
- Combined Pilots-Observation Badge
- Honor Goblet of the Luftwaffe on 8 June 1942 as Hauptmann and Gruppenkommandeur
- Eastern Front Medal (23 August 1943)
- Iron Cross (1939) 2nd Class (29 September 1939) & 1st Class (6 July 1940)
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
- Knight's Cross on 2 July 1941 as pilot and Leutnant in the 1./JG 51 after 27 aerial victories
- Oak Leaves on 14 August 1941 as Leutnant and pilot in the 1./JG 51 after 60 aerial victories
- Swords on 16 February 1942 as Hauptmann and Staffelkapitän of the 1./JG 51 after 90 aerial victories
Three times Heinz Bär was recommended for the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds. All three commendations were denied by Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring. Bär shot down a further 130 enemy aircraft after he had received the Swords.
Dates of rank
|4 April 1934:||Gefreiter|
|1 August 1940:||Leutnant (Second Lieutenant), with a rank age dated 1 May 1940|
|14 August 1941:||Oberleutnant (First Lieutenant), with a rank age dated 1 August 1941|
|1 December 1941:||Hauptmann (Captain), with a rank age dated 1 September 1941|
|1 March 1943:||Major (Major), with a rank age dated 1 September 1942|
|1 January 1945:||Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant Colonel)|