Luftwaffe bomber pilot Hansgeorg Bätcher made his mark on World War II history flying 658 successful combat missions, a record unequaled by any other bomber pilot. Born in 1914, in Finsterwalde, Germany, by age 17 he had completed requirements for a glider license and soon became an instructor. He enlisted in the German Army in 1935 and later volunteered for officer training in the Luftwaffe. His dream was to be a pilot, but the Luftwaffe needed observers, so he was initially assigned as an attack observer flying combat sorties over Poland. However, after the Polish campaign his dream came true--he was sent to pilot training. Flying the Heinkel 111 with Kampfgeschwader (KG) 27 over France, he was shot down and taken prisoner by the Allies. In 1941, as the Wehrmacht rolled through France, he was liberated and later assigned to Kampfgruppe 100 where he flew pathfinder missions over Britain.
His greatest contribution, however, was on the eastern front. Bätcher, a captain and squadron commander at the time in I/KG 100, couldn't have imagined when he took off early on 21 July 1941, that he would fly 642 combat sorties on the front in only 4 years! A daring and skillful pilot, he led his squadron in battles near Smolensk and Kiev and the most difficult sorties against heavily defended Moscow. He was extremely successful against lines of communications and Black Sea ports, sinking several ships. He flew along the southern areas of the front in support of the Wehrmacht and contributed decisively to several German victories. His squadron's aircraft were thrown into the desperate attempt to resupply encircled German troops at Stalingrad, but the best efforts of the Luftwaffe could not reverse Hitler's miscalculations. Several times flying up to five sorties per day, his Heinkel was shot up, but he skillfully flew it home, often bringing out wounded soldiers in the bomb bay. So important were his contributions, he was awarded Germany's highest honor, the Knight's Cross.
By 30 July 1943, Bätcher had flown his 500th combat sortie, and on 1 November was promoted to major. After 4 years of grueling combat, Hitler personally awarded him the oak leaves to his Knight's Cross. In December 1944, he took command of the respected III Gruppe of KG 76, the world's first jet bomber unit. Bätcher was one of the first pilots to fly the Arado 234. His elite unit tested the new aircraft and recommended several changes that greatly improved the bomber's capabilities. At the war's end, at only age 31, he commanded KG 54. After the war, Bätcher became a very successful businessman and entrepreneur in the paper and plastics industry.
On a brisk morning in February 1942, Hansgeorg Bätcher flew toward the Black Sea port of Kerch where Russian supplies were massing. Once over the target, he spotted a large tanker and dove out of the clouds to strike the vessel, but it remained afloat. After rearming and refueling his Heinkel 111, he returned to the heavily defended and now alert port, making a daring low-level attack, which ultimately sank the tanker. Afterwards, he received word from Japanese intelligence that his strike prevented a major Russian offensive due to a lack of fuel. This victory helped earn him the Knight's Cross.