Dietrich Hrabak, a 125-victory Ace with more than 1000 combat missions, was a key architect in rebuilding the modern German Air Force. He was born 19 December 1914 in a small village near Leipzig, in Saxony. Upon graduation from high school, he hoped to become a commercial pilot, but in 1934 Hrabak joined the Reichsmarine. Within 6 months he transferred to the newly-formed Luftwaffe for flight training. By April 1939, Hrabak was recognized as an experienced pilot and given command of a squadron in Vienna. On his very first combat mission in September 1939 over Poland, he was shot down–the first of 11 times! Hrabak’s first aerial victory came during the Battle of France.
Flying a Messerschmitt Me 109, he claimed five more victories before the armistice. In the summer of 1940, his squadron was incorporated into a newly formed fighting wing, Jagdgeschwader (JG) 54 “Green Hearts.” Hrabak commanded II/JG 54, one of the wing’s three groups as the Luftwaffe began its assault on England. During the Battle of Britain he added ten victories against Royal Air Force fighters and Field Marshal Goring personally decorated Hrabak with the Knight’s Cross. In the spring of 1941, II/JG 54 flew in the short campaign against Yugoslavia. When Operation Barbarosa began in Russia, he flew on the northern sector of the front and fought over Leningrad.
In November 1942, Hrabak took command of JG 52 on the southern front and fought over Stalingrad. In August 1943, he got his 100th aerial victory and in November, Hitler awarded him Oak Leaves to the Knight’s Cross. In early 1944, JG 52 achieved its 10,000th aerial victory–the most by any Luftwaffe wing. In October 1944, he returned to his old wing, the “Green Hearts,” as Commander. Flying the Focke Wulf Fw 190, he fought until near war’s end in Kurland. After the war, he worked in the auto and chemical industry until 1953, when Chancellor Adenaur asked him to help form a new German Air Force (GAF).
Hrabak personally interviewed most of the officers who would form the nucleus. In mid-1955, he came to the United States and trained on modern jets. In the summer of 1956, he returned home to command the Advanced Pilot Training Center at Furstenfeldbruck AB. By 1960, he commanded all GAF flying training centers. Two years later, he took charge of the air defense sector covering northern Germany and the Netherlands. In 1964, he was named NATO’s Chief of Air Defense, Central Europe, until he became special manager for the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. Finally, as a major general, he commanded the GAF’s tactical command.