Robert-Ludwig Becker (22 August 1911 – 26 February 1943) was a German Luftwaffe military aviator during World War II, a night fighter ace credited with 44 aerial victories claimed in 165 combat missions, making him one of the more successful nocturnal fighter pilots in the Luftwaffe. All of his victories were claimed over the Western Front in Defense of the Reich missions against the Royal Air Force's (RAF) Bomber Command.
Born in Dortmund-Aplerbeck, Becker grew up in the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany. Following graduation from school and university, he joined the military service in 1934. In 1935, he left the military and worked as a civilian pilot and flight instructor. In August 1939, he was again drafted into service and with Zerstörergeschwader 26 (ZG 26–26th Destroyer Wing), flying a Messerschmitt Bf 110 heavy fighter during the Battle of France. In June 1940, the Luftwaffe created its first night fighter wing, Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 (NJG 1–1st Night Fighter Wing), and Becker transferred to this unit. There he claimed his first nocturnal aerial victory on the night of 16/17 October 1940, the first ground-radar controlled victory by the Luftwaffe. His second aerial victory on 8/9 August was the first airborne-radar assisted claim by the Luftwaffe. Becker was appointed squadron leader of 6. Staffel (1st squadron) of Nachtjagdgeschwader 2 (NJG 2–2nd Night Fighter Wing) in December 1941. On 1 July 1942, he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross after his 25th aerial victory.
In October 1942, Becker was given command of 12. Staffel of NJG 1 and was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves on 26 February 1943. That day, he was killed in action on a daytime intercept mission against the United States Army Air Forces over the North Sea.
Early life and career
Becker was born on 22 August 1911 in Dortmund-Aplerbeck in the Province of Westphalia, a province of the Kingdom of Prussia. He was the first son of master builder Reinhold Becker. He graduated from a humanities-oriented Gymnasium in Dortmund, a secondary school, with his diploma (Abitur) at Easter 1930. From 1930 to 1936, Becker studied jurisprudence and economics at the University of Münster and at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin. While at university, Becker became interested in flying and took courses in aircraft manufacturing and other aeronautical classes. He then joined the German Student Corps, cofounded the "academic flying group" and joined the German Air Sports Association as a member of the SA-Fliegersturm in Münster, and later as a member of the National Socialist Flyers Corps (NSFK).
The "academic flying group" built a glider aircraft and in 1933, Becker attended the gliding schools in Rossitten, present-day Rybachy in the Kaliningrad Oblast, and Grunau, present-day Jeżów Sudecki in the Lower Silesian Voivodeship. He volunteered for military service on 1 March 1934 and was trained as fighter pilot at the Jagdfliegerschule in Schleißheim and as a dive bomber pilot in Schwerin. Becker also received training in instrument flight and handling an aircraft in adverse weather conditions. On 12 October 1935, he was discharged from the military holding the rank of Unteroffizier (subordinate officer) of the Reserves. He then worked for the Luftwaffe as a civilian pilot and flight instructor at the airfield in Münster-Loddenheide. Following further training at the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Segelflug (German Institute for Glider Research), Becker was made the head flight instructor for gliding and an official expert witness.
In parallel, Becker frequently participated in military exercises. While serving with 3. Staffel (3rd squadron) of Jagdgeschwader 134 "Horst Wessel", he was promoted to Feldwebel (staff sergeant) of the reserves on 1 June 1937 and to Leutnant in the reserves on 1 February 1938. On 25 August 1939, Becker was officially called into military service of the Luftwaffe, joining I. Gruppe (1st group) of Zerstörergeschwader 26 (ZG 26–26th Destroyer Wing) based in Dortmund.
World War II
World War II in Europe had begun on Friday 1 September 1939 when German forces invaded Poland. Until 14 September, Becker flew with 3. Staffel of ZG 26. This unit was equipped with the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and flew fighter protection from Varel. On 28 October, Becker was transferred to Hanover, later to Wunstorf and Oldenburg where the newly formed 10. Staffel of ZG 26 for night fighting was being formed. From 29 October to 16 December 1939, Becker then attended the Luftwaffe communication school in Halle (Saale). Following his return to 3./ZG 26, the unit was converted to the Messerschmitt Bf 110 heavy fighter. Becker was transferred to the 14.(Z) Staffel, a destroyer squadron, of Lehrgeschwader 1 (LG 1–1st Demonstration Wing) on 24 April 1940. With this unit Becker participated in the Battle of France. He flew 33 combat missions during this campaign for which he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class (Eisernes Kreuz 2. Klasse), which was presented to him on 3 July 1940.
Night fighter career
Following the 1939 aerial Battle of the Heligoland Bight, RAF attacks shifted to the cover of darkness, initiating the Defence of the Reich campaign. By mid-1940, Generalmajor (Brigadier General) Josef Kammhuber had established a night air defense system dubbed the Kammhuber Line. It consisted of a series of control sectors equipped with radars and searchlights and an associated night fighter. Each sector named a Himmelbett (canopy bed) would direct the night fighter into visual range with target bombers. In 1941, the Luftwaffe started equipping night fighters with airborne radar such as the Lichtenstein radar. This airborne radar did not come into general use until early 1942.
After the armistice with France, Becker was transferred to the 2.(J) Staffel of Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 (NJG 1–1st Night Fighter Wing), initially based at Düsseldorf and Gütersloh, and then to Arnhem-Deelen airfield where he was appointed technical officer. Becker flew his first aerial combat mission on 30 August 1940. The mission resulted in the loss of the aircraft near Winterswijk, while he and his radio operator managed to save themselves with the parachute.
His first victory was Vickers Wellington L7844 KX-I on the night of 16/17 October 1940. Becker was flying a Dornier Do 17 Z-10 equipped with a gun-camera. The victory recorded the demise of the No. 311 (Czechoslovak) Squadron aircraft piloted by Pilot Officer Bohumil Landa and three of his Czech crew. It was also the first ground radar-controlled "Dunkle Nachtjagd" (DuNaJa—dark night fighting, without search lights) victory of the war. Becker and Staub were vectored to the target by Leutnant Hermann Diehl, a Luftwaffe communication officer who had begun experimenting with a Freya radar on Wangerooge in 1939.
On 1 November 1940, Becker was promoted to Oberleutnant (first lieutenant) of the Reserves and was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class (Eisernes Kreuz 1. Klasse) on 23 December 1940. From December 1940 to April 1941, he was based at Leeuwarden airfield. He was then transferred to the Erprobungsstelle für Nachtjagdverfahren, the testing ground for night fighting tactics at Werneuchen on 5 April 1941. There, he was tasked with testing airborne radar and received the Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe for Night Fighters in Silver (Frontflugspange für Nachtjäger in Silver) on 1 June. In July, he was transferred back to Leeuwarden, then serving in 4. Staffel of NJG 1 which was led by Oberleutnant Helmut Lent at the time. On the night of 8/9 August 1941, Becker and his radio operator (Bordfunker) Josef Staub, also became the first Luftwaffe night fighter crew to intercept an enemy bomber using airborne radar. Flying Dornier Do 215 B-5 "G9+OM" equipped with the FuG 202 Lichtenstein B/C radar, they tracked and claimed another Wellington bomber shot down. The aircraft shot down was Wellington T2625 GR-B which crashed near Bunde.
Becker claimed six victories between 10 August and 30 September 1941 in Do 215 B-5 "G9+OM" before the Lichtenstein radar became unserviceable in September. On 12 August 1941, he, Staub and Wilhelm Gänsler in the air gunner position, intercepted and shot down the Avro Manchester bomber L7381 EM-R from No. 207 Squadron. The Manchester was on a mission to Berlin and was the second airborne radar assisted aerial victory recorded. Becker developed his own tactics for attacking a bomber. He would trail the aircraft from the stern, just below the height shown on the radar. After sighting the bomber, he dived and accelerated to avoid being spotted by the tail gunner. Once underneath the enemy, Becker reduced the throttle and matched the speed of the unsuspecting pilot. Becker then climbed steadily to 50 feet (15 metres) from the target before he pulled up and opened fire. Because the Do 215 lost speed the bomber would fly ahead and the through the stream of shells. With this method, the gun sight was rarely needed. On 1 October, Becker received the Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe for Night Fighters in Gold (Frontflugspange für Nachtjäger in Gold).
Squadron leader and missing in action
Becker was transferred to the II. Gruppe of Nachtjagdgeschwader 2 (NJG 2–2nd Night Fighter Wing) on 1 November 1941. He claimed his eighth aerial victory on 8 November and on 26 November was ordered to the Luftwaffe's main testing ground at Rechlin. On 1 December, Becker was appointed Staffelführer, a preliminary command position. On 20 January 1942, Becker claimed the destruction of Wellington bombers, all three in the vicinity of Terschelling. Wellington Z8370 from No. 12 Squadron was shot down at 21:00, Wellington Z1110 from No. 101 Squadron at 21:37, and Wellington Z1207 from No. 142 Squadron at 22:07. This achievement earned Becker a named references in the Wehrmachtbericht on 21 January, his first of four such mentions.
On 1 July 1942, after his 25th aerial victory, Becker was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes). Becker, who was still a member of the NSFK, was promoted to NSFK-Sturmführer on 15 September. On 1 October, he took command of 12./NJG 1 as Staffelkapitän (squadron leader). On the night of 9/10 November 1942, Becker and Staub claimed their 40th aerial victory. At the end of 1942, Becker was one of the leading night fighter pilots of the Luftwaffe, which at the time included Lent (49 nocturnal claims), Reinhold Knacke (40 nocturnal claims), Werner Streib (39 nocturnal claims) and Paul Gildner (37 nocturnal claims).
On 28 October, Gruppenkommandeur Hauptmann (Captain) Lent recommended Becker for promotion to Hauptmann. In his recommendation, Lent emphasized Becker's contribution in the development of night fighter equipment and tactics as well as his strong philosophical roots in National Socialism. The recommendation was seconded by Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant Colonel) Wilhelm von Friedberg, acting on behalf of the Geschwaderkommodore (wing commander), and finally approved by Generalleutnant (lit. lieutenant general, equivalent to major general) Kurt-Bertram von Döring, commader of the 1. Jagd-Division (1st Fighter Division). Becker was then transferred from the reserve force to active service and promoted to Hauptmann on 3 February 1943. His promotion was backdated to 1 February and the rank age was dated to 1 April 1942.
On 26 February 1943, Becker was informed that he had been awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub). He was the 198th member of the German armed forces to be so honored. After he received this information, he and his radio operator Oberfeldwebel Staub took off in Bf 110 G-4 (Werknummer 4864—factory number) on a daylight intercept mission over the North Sea against the United States Army Air Forces bombers attacking Wilhelmshaven. Following this mission, the two were reported as missing in action, last seen 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) north of Schiermonnikoog. Their exact fate was never determined. On 14 March 1949, Becker was declared dead as of 26 February 1943 by the Amtsgericht, an official court, in Dortmund-Hörde.
Summary of career
Aerial victory claims
Becker was credited with 44 aerial victories, claimed in about 160 combat missions. Foreman, Parry and Matthews, authors of Luftwaffe Night Fighter Claims 1939 – 1945, researched the German Federal Archives and found records for 41 nocturnal victory claims. Matthews and Foreman also published Luftwaffe Aces — Biographies and Victory Claims, listing Becker with 44 claims, plus one further unconfirmed claim.
|Chronicle of aerial victories|
This and the ? (question mark) indicates discrepancies between Luftwaffe Night Fighter Claims 1939 – 1945 and Luftwaffe Aces — Biographies and Victory Claims.
|Claim||Date||Time||Type||Location||Serial No./Squadron No.|
|– 4. Staffel of Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 –|
|1||16 October 1940||21:25||Wellington||Osterwolde||Wellington L7844 KX-1 from No. 311 (Czechoslovak) Squadron|
|2||9 August 1941||00:25||Wellington||25 km (16 mi) east of Groningen||Wellington T2625 from No. 301 Polish Bomber Squadron|
|3||13 August 1941||01:25||Manchester||13 km (8.1 mi) east-southeast of Groningen||Manchester L7381 from No. 207 Squadron|
|4?||13 August 1941||01:25||Manchester||25 km (16 mi) east of Groningen|
|5||15 August 1941||01:17||Whitley||25 km (16 mi) southeast of Leeuwarden||Whitley Z6842 from No. 102 Squadron|
|6||18 August 1941||01:44||Hampden||2 km (1.2 mi) south of Groningen||Hampden AE185 from No. 50 Squadron|
|7||6 September 1941||23:00||Whitley||east-northeast of Harderwijk||Whitley V Z6478 from No. 10 Squadron|
|8||29 September 1941||22:53||Wellington||35 km (22 mi) east-southeast of Groningen||Wellington X9910 KO-Y from No. 115 Squadron|
|– 6. Staffel of Nachtjagdgeschwader 2 –|
|9||8 November 1941||06:30||Whitley||13 km (8.1 mi) east of Stavoren|
|10||20 January 1942||21:00||Wellington||near Terschelling||Wellington Z8370 PH-Y from No. 12 Squadron|
|11||20 January 1942||21:37||Wellington||north of Terschelling||Wellington Z1110 from No. 101 Squadron|
|12||20 January 1942||22:07||Wellington||northwest of Terschelling||Wellington Z1207 QT-U from No. 142 Squadron|
|13||9 March 1942||03:24||Manchester||east of Enkhuizen|
|14||9 March 1942||04:11||Wellington||8 km (5.0 mi) north of Petten|
|15||12 March 1942||23:04||Whitley||southeast of Ameland|
|16||25 March 1942||22:28||Manchester||west of Makkum||Manchester L7390 from No. 106 Squadron|
|17||26 March 1942||00:33||Hampden||north of Vlieland|
|18||28 March 1942||22:05||Stirling||north of Vlieland|
|19||4 June 1942||00:27||Stirling||2 km (1.2 mi) north of De Kooy||Stirling W7474 HA-K from No. 218 (Gold Coast) Squadron|
|20||6 June 1942||01:21||Wellington||Slootdorp|
|21||7 June 1942||00:44||Manchester||over sea, 30 km (19 mi) north of Ameland|
|22||7 June 1942||01:10||Stirling||southwest of Holwerd|
|23||7 June 1942||01:47||Wellington||east of Ameland|
|24||9 June 1942||02:16||Wellington||west of Texel|
|25||20 June 1942||03:00||Wellington||30 km (19 mi) northwest of Vlieland|
|26||26 June 1942||00:39||Stirling||Wieringermeer||Stirling W7503 HA-A from No. 218 (Gold Coast) Squadron|
|27?||10 July 1942||
|Wellington||northeast of Vlieland|
|28?||22 July 1942||02:30||Wellington||vicinity of Spierdijk|
|29?||29 July 1942||00:48||Stirling||30 km (19 mi) north of Terschelling|
|30?||29 July 1942||01:27||Stirling||30 km (19 mi) northwest of Terschelling|
|31||18 August 1942||01:46||Stirling||30 km (19 mi) west of Terschelling|
|32||18 August 1942||02:35||Wellington||5 km (3.1 mi) south of Harlingen|
|33||28 August 1942||01:22||Wellington||6 km (3.7 mi) southeast of Medemblik|
|34||28 August 1942||01:43||Stirling||west of Bergen aan Zee||Stirling R9160 HA-G from No. 218 (Gold Coast) Squadron|
|35||5 September 1942||04:15||Wellington||north of Ameland|
|36||5 September 1942||04:45||Wellington||northwest of Ameland|
|37||5 September 1942||05:09||Wellington||west of Schiermonnikoog|
|38||14 September 1942||02:21||Halifax||10 km (6.2 mi) south of Leeuwarden|
|– 12. Staffel of Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 –|
|39||13 October 1942||23:49||Stirling||35 km (22 mi) northwest of Texel|
|40||14 October 1942||00:20||Wellington||30 km (19 mi) northwest of Vlieland|
|41||9 November 1942||22:55||Wellington||5 km (3.1 mi) west of Dokkum|
|42||8 January 1943||19:23||Lancaster||7 km (4.3 mi) southeast of Zutphen|
|43||17 January 1943||23:03||Stirling||20 km (12 mi) north of Ameland|
|44||17 January 1943||23:28||Stirling||40 km (25 mi) north of Terschelling|
|45||31 January 1943||03:10||Lancaster||15 km (9.3 mi) east of Texel|
- Iron Cross (1939)
- 2nd Class (3 July 1940)
- 1st Class (23 December 1940)
- Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe for night fighter pilots
- in Silver (1 June 1941)
- in Gold (1 October 1941)
- Honour Goblet of the Luftwaffe on 2 March 1942 as Oberleutnant and pilot
- German Cross in Gold on 24 April 1942 as Oberleutnant in the 6./Nachtjagdgeschwader 2
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
- Knight's Cross on 1 July 1942 as Oberleutnant and Staffelkapitän of the 12./Nachtjagdgeschwader 1
- 198th Oak Leaves on 26 February 1943 as Hauptmann and Staffelkapitän of the 12./Nachtjagdgeschwader 1
- Mentioned in the Wehrmachtbericht on 21 January 1942, 26 March 1942, 7 June 1942 and on 26 June 1942
Dates of rank
Becker held various ranks in both the Luftwaffe and the NSFK.
|1 June 1937:||Feldwebel of the Reserves|
|1 Februarz 1938:||Leutnant of the Reserves|
|1 November 1940:||Oberleutnant of the Reserves|
|15 September 1942:||
|3 February 1943:||Hauptmann, effective as of 1 February 1943 with a rank age of 1 April 1942|