|Intro||German flying ace|
|Birth||24 September 1919, Ortenburg|
|Death||26 November 1944, Bramsche (aged 25 years)|
Heinrich Sterr (24 September 1919 – 26 November 1944) was a German World War II Luftwaffe 130 aerial victories—that is, 130 aerial combat encounters resulting in the destruction of the enemy aircraft—Flying ace and recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.
Sterr was born on 24 September 1919 in Ortenburg, Lower Bavaria as part of the Free State of Bavaria. He was not one of the traditional Luftwaffe Aces - he was not a member of the pre-war Luftwaffe (he had only just turned 20 when war broke out) and he missed the early warfare over Poland, France and the first year in the East. After completing his pilot-training in 1942, Sterr was sent, as an Unteroffizier, to 6./Jagdgeschwader 54 (6th squadron of the 54th Fighter Wing). At the time it was based at Ryelbitzi, west of Lake Ilmen covering the battles around Demyansk Pocket as the Soviets continued to try and break through the German forces in front of Leningrad. Although the front remained relatively static throughout 1942, there was no shortage of aerial combat and he scored his first victory on 19 July, shooting down an Il-2 bomber .
As the year drew to a close, II./JG 54's squadrons were cycled back to Germany to re-equip onto the new Focke-Wulf Fw 190A fighter. This was a catalyst for Feldwebel Sterr's combat career and started scoring regularly thereafter. By the end of March 1943 he had over 30 victories, and on 30 April he was awarded the Ehrenpokal der Luftwaffe (Trophy of Honour). In June, Luftflotte 1 staged a last big effort to blow the railway bridges of the vital supply link to Leningrad. In July, most other fighter Gruppen were assembled around the Kursk salient for the next German offensive - Operation Zitadelle. Although II./JG 54 was kept back guarding Leningrad, it appears several of its pilots, including Oberfeldwebel Sterr, went with I./JG 54 to Orel. In the fortnight or so that it was there he scored a further ten victories to add to a score now in the sixties. On 23 July he was awarded the German Cross in Gold.
By now the German forces were stretched too thin across the Eastern Front to provide constant air cover and were increasingly being used as "fire brigades", as new Soviet offensives broke out up and down the line. Sterr's victory list is a case in point, on the nomadic existence of II./JG 54 from here on: early August gave 15 victories over Leningrad, then later in the month a clutch of victories south-east of Smolensk; then in October there were eight victories around Kiev in the Ukraine.
Oberfeldwebel Sterr was awarded the Knight's Cross on 5 December 1943 (nominally for 86 victories) and sent home for officer-training. Returning as a Leutnant in January he was back in the Ukraine scoring victories against the inexorable Soviet advance. On 29 March 1944, Sterr was credited with his 100th aerial victory. He was the 68th Luftwaffe pilot to achieve the century mark. In March, he was then briefly posted to 3./JG 54 in Estonia for a couple of months. When he returned to 6./JG 54 at the start of May, II./JG 54 was back on the central sector, and the combined 60 fighters of I. and II./JG 54 faced 3500 Soviet aircraft!
When the next Soviet offensive, Operation Bagration, opened at the end of June, its devastating force shattered most of Army Group Centre and forced rapid retreats. Despite inflicting nearly 500 losses on the Soviets, JG 54 was powerless to halt the advance. In August, the Jagdwaffe (Luftwaffe fighter force) had a major unit re-organisation. From this 6./JG 54 was renamed 16./JG 54, and transferred to operate as part of IV./JG 54 which was re-equipping near Warsaw at the time. Having recently lost their Staffelkapitän (Squadron leader), Oberleutnant Sterr was appointed the unit's Staffelführer (Flight leader) also in August. His last Eastern Front victory was a Yak-9 fighter, on 12 August.
On 17 September 1944, the Western Allies launched the daring Operation Market Garden to seize the bridges to Arnhem. This forced the urgent transfer of the ill-prepared IV./JG 54 to the west, as the Reich's air units were greatly under-strength and still rebuilding after many were hammered during the Normandy invasion. This was now a different air war - not the low-level dogfighting and pursuits of the Eastern Front, but the high-altitude engagement against the massive American bomber formations, and their hundreds of escort fighters. With such odds stacked against them, it was often just luck if a pilot would survive. In just 3 weeks, IV./JG 54 lost 30 pilots for only 10 victories - and was soon pulled out the line to reform for the second time in a month.
In early November he was formally appointed as the Staffelkapitän of 16./JG 54, the unit he had served with for nearly his entire combat career. Oberleutnant Heinrich "Bazi" Sterr died on 26 November 1944. Engaging another bomber raid, his Fw 190A8 aircraft "Blue 4" was badly damaged by a pair of USAAF Mustangs. After making a forced landing at Vörden airfield, north of Osnabrück, he was strafed on the ground by the pursuing Mustang as he attempted to flee his wrecked aircraft. He is credited with 130 victories, of which 127 were on the Eastern Front,including 21 Il-2 Sturmovik bombers. Awarded the Knight's Cross, he was also nominated for the Oakleaves, but this was not awarded before the war's end.
- Wound Badge in Black
- Iron Cross (1939) 2nd and 1st Class
- Ehrenpokal der Luftwaffe on 30 April 1943 as Feldwebel and pilot
- German Cross in Gold on 23 July 1943 as Oberfeldwebel in the 6./JG 54
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 5 December 1943 as Oberfeldwebel and pilot in the 6./JG 54
- Patzwall 2008, p. 199.
- Patzwall & Scherzer 2001, p. 460.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 411.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 723.