the Fighter Ace who Never Ran Out of Luck
Many Luftwaffe fighter aces are portrayed in the book Graf & Grislawski: A Pair of Aces. One of the last aces with whom Alfred Grislawski made the acquaintance during the war was Ludwig "Lutz" Wilhelm Burckhardt. His service career with the Luftwaffe is characterized by an almost incredible luck.
After a few days of service over the contested landing beaches at Normandie in June 1944, III./JG 1 was pulled back to Wunstorf Germany to refit. Most of the new pilots that arrived to replace the losses were either terribly inadequately trained rookies, or old bomber pilots who generally had great difficulties in re-thinking what they already knew, and fly like fighter pilots.
When Generalmajor Adolf Galland and Oberst Gordon Gollob--JG 52's and JG 77's former Geschwaderkommodore who by that time had advanced to occupy a leading position in Galland's Fighter Staff--arrived for an inspection at Wunstorf shortly before III./JG 1 was to be sent back to Normandie, they were introduced to a motley crew. As usual, Galland was mostly interested in each pilot's number of individual victories. Hptm. Alfred Grislawski was the leading scorer in his unit. His 125 confirmed victories were way ahead of Hptm. Burckhardt's sixty-nine and Ofw. Herbert Kaiser's sixty-five. Hptm. Woitke reported twenty-six personal victories to Galland. Then there was Ofw. Friedrich Zander, a veteran from JG 54 Grünherz on the Eastern Front with thirty-one marks on his killboard, and Ofw. Leo Barann-- a Home Defense veteran who had shot down eight heavy bombers before he was injured in the spring of 1944. Of the remainder, only half a dozen could report between three and five victories each. Grislawski saw Galland's increasingly gloomy expression as he walked along the line, and he thought, "Most of these faces will be gone after the first week of combat."
A "re-created" image of Ludwig-Wilhelm Burckhardt's Bf 109 G-6/AS in III./JG 1 in 1944. From Cpt- Farrel's website.
Ludwig-Wilhelm Burckhardt was born in Bremen on 5 February 1919, the same year as Alfred Grislawski. Burckhardt had previously served with the Flak (anti-aircraft artillery) when he in June 1940 started his pilot training. After completing his training as a fighter pilot, he was posted to 1. Staffel of Ergänzungsjagdgruppe JG 77 in Romania in mid.1941. In late November 1941, this Staffel received orders to transfer from Romania to North Africa. Burckhardt had flown from Romania to Greece en route to North Africa, when he was instructed to return-and to fly to the Eastern Front, where he had been placed in II./JG 77.
The Jagdgruppe II./JG 77 was commanded by Hptm. Anton Mader, a very able unit commander who cared more about his subordinates than many other Luftwaffe Gruppenkommandeure. In April 1942, Mader had Lt. Burckhardt transferred to the Stabsstaffel of II./JG 77. Burckhardt initiated his service with the Stabsstaffel by crashing one of its aircraft. But this was not his fault-the cause was engine seizure-and Burckhardt survived unhurt. Under Mader's supervision, Burckhardt attained his first aerial victory-against an I-153 biplane over the Crimea.
During an escort mission for Generaloberst
Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen's Fieseler Storch near Sevastopol on 1 June
1942, Burckhardt's Bf 109 was hit by Soviet ground fire, and Burckhardt had
to belly-land close to the Soviet lines. Had he come down only a few hundred
yards further to the west, he would have landed either in a minefield or behind
enemy lines. Now he survived without injuries, but had to run in order to
escape the Soviet infantry's fire. The fact that this resulted in a sharp
reproach from his Geschwaderkommodore, Hptm. Gordon Gollob,
for abandoning his own aircraft, weighed lightly in comparsion. (Von Richthofen's
Fieseler Storch was involved in a highly unusual incident where Hermann Graf
and some of his Karayastaffel friends took part only a few days previously;
this is described in the book Graf & Grislawski.)
A few days later, Burckhardt was shifted from II./JG 77's Stabsstaffel to 6./JG 77. This was at the onset of the German attack against Sevastopol. In severe dogfights with the veterans of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet Aviation, Burckhardt shot down two of their fighters on 8 June 1942.
During the subsequent German summer offensive 1942, Burckhardt gave proof of both immense talents as a fighter pilot-and much luck. On 12 July 1942, he shot down six Soviet aircraft, and on 13 July, another four-which brought his total score to twenty-five. Next day, Burckhardt's Bf 109 was badly shot up by an Il-2, without causing himself any harm. Throughout the Summer and early Fall of 1942, Burckhardt continued to shoot down Soviet aircraft-often in doubles or triples-and at the same time crashed his aircraft over and over again, always surviving almost without a scratch.
In another combat with Il-2s on 23 July, Burckhardt's Bf 109 was again severely hit by enemy fire, and again he was fortunate to survive without any own injuries. On 8 August, Burckhardt and his wingman, Uffz. Robert Wolter, attacked a formation of LaGG-3s and shot down two each. Two days afterward, engine trouble forced down Burckhardt in no-man's land with his Bf 109. From the air it appeared as though the aircraft overturned before the pilot had got out. So the dejected wingman returned to base and reported that this time, Burckhardt had run out of luck Everyone at II./JG 77 made big eyes as Burckhardt arrived on foot, fully unharmed, three days later.
Burckhardt survived another belly-landing without sustaining any injuries on 15 September.
Awarded with the Knight's Cross on 15 October 1942, after 53 victories in the East, Burckhardt was transferred to North Africa with his unit. There he was appointed Staffelkapitän of 4./JG 77 on 12 November 1942. A most severe air fighting against an increasingly numerical superior enemy approached in Tunisia. Many German pilots would fall-in one way or another-in this bitter battle. Among them were the famous "Jochen" Müncheberg, who was killed, and I./JG 77's Gruppenkommandeur Heinz Bär--who sustained a nervous breakdown.
But Burckhardt was saved from this terrible fight. Much time he was unfit for flying due to malaria. With his health recovered, he flew one mission on 7 January 1943 and shot down a Spitfire. Just after he had landed again, he stepped on an explosive device and was injured.
Burckhardt's wounds were no worse than he could return to first-line service in August 1943. He was appointed Gruppenkommandeur of I./JG 77, succeeding Heinz Bär, who under disgraceful forms had been relieved from his command. I./JG 77 served in Italy. Nevertheless, Burckhardt would not last long as a Gruppenkommandeur. In December 1943 he was relieved from his command. Some sources indicate that this was after a controversy with a senior commander--in a matter where Burckhardt happened to be right.
Just as in the case with other JG 77 pilots, such as Heinz Bär and Herbert Kaiser, Burckhardt was posted to JG 1 in the Home Defense. There he was first appointed Staffelkapitän of Fw 190-equipped 6./JG 1. As Burckhardt was used to flying the Bf 109, he had difficulties in coming to terms with the heavier Fw 190 A. Hence, on 9 February 1944, he was shifted to Bf 109-equipped III./JG 1, where he assumed command of 7. Staffel. This time, he was succeeded by Heinz Bär, who was appointed 6./JG 1's new Staffelkapitän.
The Jagdgruppe III./JG 1 was equipped with the new Messerschmitt Bf 109 G-6/AS, equipped with DB 605 AS engines, specially trimmed for high-altitude operations. The unit was tasked to provide other Home Defense units, equipped with Fw 190s, with fighter cover against the U.S. fighter planes that escorted heavy bombers against Germany. This suited the fighter-combat Bf 109 expert Burckhardt well. In III./JG 1 he re-united with Ofw. Herbert Kaiser, an old friend from JG 77, and made the acquaintance with the legendary Alfred Grislawski.
During the next months, Burckhardt gave proof of his talents by shooting down over ten U.S. fighter planes with his gray Bf 109 G-6/AS--six Mustangs, five Thunderbolts, and a Lightning. But the Home Defense pilots were fighting against an increasingly overwhelming numerical superiority, and the struggle grew harder each day.
On 19 April 1944, more than one hundred 2 BD Liberators carpet-bombed Paderborn Airdrome, putting twenty-one of III./JG 1's Bf 109s out of commission. Luckily, there were only light personnel casualties. Three days later, what remained of III./JG 1 was scrambled against an incoming formation of enemy aircraft. They ran into 120 Mustangs, which attacked the Messeschmitts from above. Fighting from a position of hopeless disadvantage, the three III./JG 1 aces Grislawski, Burckhardt and Kaiser each shot down a Mustang. But twelve Bf 109s went lost, with two pilots killed and two injured. Burckhardt also was shot down in this combat, but was lucky to bail out. However, the Americans again proved that they were waging a total war, as one of the pilots in Alfred Grislawski's Staffel was gunned to death as he hung in his parachute straps. Burckhardt nevertheless floated down in his parachute without any incident. But on the ground, he became targeted by a strafing Mustang--whose pilot nevertheless missed the German pilot. Once again, Burckhardt came out of a dangerous situation without even any injuries.
Ludwig-Wilhelm Burckhardt's final war commission was to fight over the landing beaches at Normandie together with III./JG 1 in June 1944. He attained his last victory--against a Mustang on 10 June 1944--just before the badly mauled III./JG 1 was sent back to Germany to refit.
After four weeks at Wunstorf in July 1944, III./JG 1 was ordered back to France, where a manifold Allied numerical superiority lay in wait. Only few of the pilots that left Wunstorf that day would ever see their homeland again. One of its precious veterans nevertheless was left behind as the others departed for France: "Lutz" Burckhardt had got another attack of the malaria that he had caught in North Africa in early 1943. He was treated in hospital.
Burckhardt recovered from his disease only after many months. Shortly before the end of the war, he started training to fly the Me 262.
Although in active service since the outbreak of World War II, Ludwig-Wilhelm Burckhardt survived the whole war. He flew 245 combat missions, which led him to 69 confirmed aerial victories.
More by Christer Bergström -
the detailed history of the air war on the Eastern Front 1941 - 1945:
© Christer Bergström 2003