Oberst Hermann Graf
© Dan & Nick’s Collaborative Experten Biographies
[photo credits | Wikipedia]
Hermann Graf (24 October 1912 – 4 November 1988) was a German Luftwaffe World War II fighter ace. He served on both the Eastern and Western Fronts. He became the first pilot in aviation history to claim 200 aerial victories….
In about 830 combat missions, he claimed a total of 212 aerial victories, almost all of which were achieved on the Eastern Front…
The 62 victories Graf claimed in the single month of September 1942 remain a record unbeaten in aviation history.
Based on and confirmed by all available Allied loss records, there are 100 verifiable claims for Graf. Out of those 100 claims, 71 of them are verified victories, with 29 overclaims.
This gives Graf a Claiming Accuracy of 71.0%.
Graf was credited with 10 victories on the Western Front, which included six four-engined bombers and one Mosquito, with 202 victories claimed on the Eastern Front..
Graf, a pre-war football player and glider pilot, joined the Luftwaffe and started flight training in 1936. He was initially selected for transport aviation but was subsequently posted to Jagdgeschwader 51 (JG 51—51st Fighter Wing) in May 1939.
At the outbreak of war he was stationed on the Franco–German border flying uneventful patrols.
During this period of the so-called “Phoney War”, Graf flew 21 combat sorties without firing his guns and was still considered an unreliable pilot.
On 20 January 1940, his Gruppenkommandeur Hans-Heinrich Brustellin had Graf transferred to Ergänzungs-Jagdgruppe Merseburg, which was a training unit for new fighter pilots to receive tactical instruction from pilots with combat experience.
He was posted as a flight instructor stationed in Romania as part of a German military mission training Romanian pilots.
On 1 May 1940, at Merseburg, Graf met and befriended two other pilot trainees, Alfred Grislawski and Heinrich Füllgrabe, with whom he would later spend much of his combat career. Their time spent in the unit meant they missed the air combat of the Battle of France and Battle of Britain.
On 6 October 1940, Handrick was appointed Gruppenkommandeur of III./Jagdgeschwader52 (III./JG 52). Handrick had some influence on the personnel rotation within his Gruppe and had Graf and Füllgrabe transferred to 9./JG 52 with him, where they rejoined Grislawski.
In the third week of May 1941 a detachment of III./JG 52, including Graf, was transferred to southern Greece to support Operation Merkur, the German invasion of Crete. The unit flew mostly ground attack and anti-shipping missions during the fortnight it was based there but Graf did not engage in any aerial combat.
Following the start of Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, on 11 August 1941, after German advances had removed the threat of Soviet air attacks on Romania, the unit was transferred to the front line and the major Luftwaffe airbase at Belaya Zerkov in the Ukraine south of Kiev.
Graf achieved his first victory in the early hours of 4 August 1941 when his squadron was escorting a Junkers Ju 87 dive-bombing strike, shooting down one of a pair of attacking Polikarpov I-16 fighters.
Despite his success, he was reprimanded by his squadron leader, because he had broken formation and forgotten to arm his guns before firing.
His second victory was achieved the next day, although Graf was lucky to get away unscathed – landing his aircraft riddled with bullet holes.
Claims vs. Losses Research by
He scores his 7th and 8th victories at the end of September 1941.
50km W of Kharkov
This one is said to have been one of 8 BAP’s losses, gunner was Starshina Vasiliy Kurayev, only one other survivor
In October 1941, Graf claimed 12 victories, including two Russian fighters shot down on 3 October to record his ninth and 10th victories, and 2 more on the 14th for his 13th and 14th claims.
13th and 14th claims
14.10.41/1610 and 1613
2 x “I-26s”
10-15km N of Walki
Day’s fighter losses include 164 IAP, Ml.Lt. Aleksandr Nikolaevich Feoktistov KIA. 186 IAP lost Georgy Afanasyevich Chernyshev KIA (many claims throughout the day)
By the end of October 1941, Graf was mastering his flying technique, becoming adept at low-level flying, and had achieved 20 victories.
15th and 16th claims
24.10.41/1250 and 1252
2 x “I-61s”
Very likely 5/32 IAP/VVS-ChF. Fifteen losses in the last week of October
Probably St.Lt. Mikhail Avdeyev of 5/32 IAP/VVS ChF, returned to base, damaged
10km S of Juschno (Yushno)
Very likely 5/32 IAP/VVS-ChF. Fifteen losses in the last week of October
(remaining claims for October 41 follow the same pattern….)
The rains arrived in November 1941, turning the airfields to mud and limiting air operations and the number of serviceable aircraft. Graf’s unit was moved forward to Taganrog to support the battle for Rostov.
S of Rostov
4 ShAP, details pending
10km NNE of Rostov
Day’s fighter losses near Rostov include 271 IAP, Lt. Mikhail Ivanovich Trushin KIA
(similar to 40th victory at 1307)
ENE of Rostov
Could this have been the crew from 51 DBAP lost to fighters this date near Zagorsk? Crew of St.Lt. Sergey Bykov and crew all KIA. 81 DBAP lost crew of Ml.Lt. Sydor Semenovich Molochkov
Once the snow arrived, freezing the ground, operations picked up again. In December he again claimed 12 victories, including three enemy aircraft shot down on 6 December (32-34)
E of Lysogorskaya
4 ShAP details pending
A further three aircraft were claimed shot down on 8 December 1941(35-37), and four on 27 December (38-41).
38th and 39th claims
27.12.41/1201 and 1205
2 x I-16 “Ratas”
Taganrog – Azov
88 IAP, overclaiming – no losses
In heavy combat over and around the see-saw battle, Graf had doubled his score to 42 by the end of 1941, making him one of the Gruppe’s leading pilots.
43rd and 44th claims
7.1.42/1450 and 1455
2 x I-16 “Ratas”
VVS Southwestern Front. Day’s fighter losses include Sergei Vasilyevich Demenkov WIA. 438 IAP lost Ml.Lt. Nikita Andriyanovich Taranov KIA
He was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross after 45 victories on 24 January 1942.
135 BBAP or 13 GBAP. Details pending
Returning to his unit in mid-March, he soon achieved his 50th victory and reached the half century mark.
E of Kotowka
135 BBAP or 13 GBAP. Details pending
On 23 March 1942, he was promoted to Staffelkapitän (squadron leader) of 9./JG 52 after his predecessor was shot down behind enemy lines and taken prisoner.
E of Staraya Saltow
Possibly the enagagement in which 296 IAP lost Lt. Mikhail Stepanovich Sedov KIA
15km E of Volzhansk
Possibly St.Lt. Ivan Fedorov of 487 IAP KIA
Graf began an incredible run of success when, in three weeks, commencing the last week of April, he shot down 48 Russian aircraft.
15km W of Burluk
Was this Lt. Petr Fedorovich Yakimov of 273 IAP? WIA and DOW in hospital on 1.4.42
61st, 62nd and 63rd claims
3 x Yak-1s
flight between Grammatikovo and Zuerichtal, Kerch Peninsula
247 IAP, details pending
On 30 April 1942, Graf had his best day to date. In seven missions over fourteen hours, he shot down six enemy aircraft to take his tally to 69.
36 IAP. Mayor Kartuzov WIA (shrapnel in leg)
Exhausted, he then missed a day but on 2 May 1942, he exceeded that feat with seven victories from six missions, for his 70th – 76th victory claims.
Six days later, Graf claims ANOTHER seven aircraft shot down on 8 May 1942, for his 79th – 86th victories.
79th – 85th claims
Day’s losses in aerial combat include St.Serzhanti Vladimir Nikolaevich Belkov and Vladimir Grigorievich Svetovostokov of 269 IAP both KIA and Sergey Petrovich Bubyrev of 12 IAP KIA
36 IAP lost I-16 of Leytenant Martynov bellylanded and Kapitan Petr Grigorievich Safronenko and Lt. Kravchennko, both baled out, 133 IAP lost Ml.Lt. Vasily Semyonovich Badanin KIA
The ground offensive for Kerch opened on 8 May 1942, but almost immediately, III./JG 52 (with Graf on 90 victories) was sent back to Kharkov, to counter a major Soviet offensive there.
88th and 89th claims
11.5.42/1745 and 1746
2 x I-16 “Rata” or MiG-1
VVS Crimean Front. 45 IAP lost St.Lt. Vasily Pavlovich Chernii (AE CO) KIA this date. One of these claims may pertain to him
The air conflict was intense and in the first two days (13–14 May 1942), Graf shot down thirteen aircraft, which included his 100th victory.
Six on 13 May (91-96) and eight on 14 May (97-104).
91st – 96th claims
Graf’s victims may include Lt. Arseniy Stepanov of 929 IAP, KIA this area
Graf became the seventh Luftwaffe pilot to achieve the Century Milestone on 14 May 1942.
99th and 100th claims
13 GBAP. One known loss (slight overclaiming), details pending
282 IAP lost St.Serzhant Leonid Sergeyevich Frolov KIA this date
Graf was awarded the Oak Leaves to the Knight’s Cross on 17 May 1942 for achieving 104 victories.
99 BAP/4 RAG?
Note that 8 GBAP lost crew of Lt. Ivan Arkadievich Shilov this date
Only two days later, his score now at 106, he was notified that he was also to receive the Swords to his Knight’s Cross.
It was during the second summer of the eastern campaign. By the time Graf returned to active duty at the end of July, III./JG 52 had re-equipped with the Bf109G, and was back at Taganrog in the south.
In mid-August, III./JG 52 moved forward to provide air cover as the army tried to establish bridgeheads across the Kuban River to capture the Black Seaports.
He claimed 32 victories in August 1942, including four enemy aircraft shot down on 13 August (112-115), five Russian fighters shot down on 14 August (116-120) and a further four Russian fighters shot down on 23 August (130-133).
Caucasus (PQ 00667) @ 400m
7 GShAP, 4 VA
116th and 117th claims
14.8.42/1014 and 1020
2 x I-16 “Ratas”
118th – 120th claims
Yak-1, Hurricane and LaGG-3
5 VA’s fighter losses this date include Lt. Alexey Savin of 482 IAP KIA in a LaGG-3. 45 IAP lost Ivan Lukich Svinarenko and Serzhant Nikolai Georgiyevich Zjuzins baled out POW (later freed)
123rd – 125th claims
3 x I-153 “Tchaikas”
238 ShAD, 5 VA. Details pending
Krasnogorsk/Kuban area (PQ 85253) @ 600m
238 ShAD, 5 VA. Details pending
Krasnogorsk/Kuban area (PQ 85494) @ low altitude
763 LBAP. Details pending
Stalingrad sector (PQ 49154) @ 600m
Believe this was the engagement in which Lt. Aleksandr Stepanovich Bochkov of 287 IAP was KIA (several claims around this time)
Stalingrad sector (PQ 49194) @ 2200m
8 VA. Day’s Yak losses include Starshina Grigory Yakovlevich Bondarev of 12 IAP KIA
Stalingrad sector (PQ 49421) @ 1200m
(There were at least 3 claims made during the engagement)
512 IAP. Slight overclaiming, only two aircraft lost with their pilots. Includes Politruk Grigoriy Kuznetsov KIA
136th and 137th claims
25.8.42/1151 and 1727 (is one of these timings in error?)
2 x LaGG-3s
5km E of Stalingrad
572 IAP, 864 IAP or 9 GIAP. 9 GIAP definitely lost Lt. Mikhail Mikhailovich Sarkin KIA this date
Stalingrad area (PQ 59173) @ 1800m
8 VA. Day’s fighter losses include St.Serzhant Ivan Ivanovich Snetkov of 867 IAP KIA
Geschwaderkommodore Gordon Gollob, of nearby JG 77, was temporarily appointed to command JG 52, after Major Herbert Ihlefeld, was severely wounded in a take-off accident.
Gollob rivalled Graf for highest scoring pilot on the Eastern Front; On 14 August, both pilots had 120 victories. Graf’s victories quickly mounted, reaching 140 by the end of August.
Graf claimed an incredible 62 victories in September, including four on 2 September (141-145), another four on 3 September (146-149), four on 21 September (182-185) and 10 on 23 September (188-197).
2.9.42/0912 and 1711
731 IAP. Two P-40s lost this date, pilot details pending. There were 6 claims in total for P-40s over the Stalingrad
Stalingrad sector (PQ 49441) @ low altitude
8 VA. 2 IL-2s lost this date. One was from 211 ShAP, Serzhant Arkady Vasilyevich Sokolov KIA over the target (may have been attributed to Flak)
Pe-8 or DB-7
Stalingrad sector (PQ 59143) @ 7000m
Could this at all have been an aircraft of 840 APDD? Navigator Alexei Mikhailovich Fomin KIA this date
146th – 149th claims
4 Yak-1s and 3 Yak-7Bs lost this date. Anatoly Nikolayevich Alexandrov of 867 IAP was certainly KIA
On 4 September 1942, he became the second pilot to reach their 150th victory – downing a Yakovlev Yak-1. This came just 6 days after Gollob achieved the same milestone.
Stalingrad (PQ 49241) @ 2000m
8 VA, 16 VA (220 and 283 IADs) or 102 IAD/PVO. 8 VA lost one Yak-1 and one LaGG-3 this date whilst 16 VA lost 17 Yak-1s.
Known to me are: 273 IAP lost Serzhants Mikhail Semyonovich Budnikov, Nikolai Lavrentevich Bessonov and Aleksandr Stepanovich Chetvertukhin all KIA. 43 IAP lost Nikita Timofeevich Syusyukalov also KIA. 581 IAP lost St. Serzhant Alexander Ilyich Fedorinin KIA
Stalingrad sector (PQ 40881) @ low altitude
629 IAP. Details pending
Stalingrad sector (PQ 49163) @ 400m
8 VA (6 IL-2s lost this date, includes Aleksandr Mikhailovich Smetanin of 694 ShAP and Serzhant Aleksandr Maximovich Shashin of 503 ShAP both KIA) or 16 VA (10 IL-2s lost this date)
8.9.42/1128 and 1135
2 x La-5s
27 IAP, 287 IAD. Legitimate victories: two losses: Starshiy Leytenant Yevgeniy Bykob and Starshiy Serzhant Anatoliy Yegoshin both MIA
The three fighters he downed on 9 September took him to 160 victories, which made him the top-scorer in the Luftwaffe.
159th and 160th claims
9.9.42/1321, and 1324
3 x La-5s
3 GIAP, 15 IAP or 27 IAP, 287 IAD, 8 VA. Very likely a misidentification or overclaiming, no La-5s lost this date.
Know to have come from 270 BAD. Their 284 BAP lost two Pe-2s this day. Crew details pending
731 IAP, actually made it home (I need to chase this one up…)
167th and 168th claims
14.9.42/0800 and 0804
2 x I-16 “Rata”
629 IAP, includes Starshiy Politruk Teplitskiy MIA
Stalingrad sector (PQ 49411) @ 1000m
8 VA or 16 VA (220 and 283 IAD) or 102 IAD/PVO. Losses include Ml.Lt. Ivan Stepanenko of 4 IAP, baled out
Stalingrad sector (PQ 49423) @ 400m
629 IAP, St.Lt. Lysenko bellylanded safely
Stalingrad sector (PQ 40882) @ 3500m
731 IAP, Starshina Vasiliy Prokhorov KIA
By 16 September 1942. his number of victories had increased to 172 for which he was honored with the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds. At the time of its presentation to Graf, it was Germany’s highest military decoration…
He became the fifth member of the Wehrmacht to receive this award, which at that time had only been awarded to Luftwaffe personnel.
Within the space of eight months, he had received all four levels of the Knight’s Cross – Germany’s highest military decoration. He was also soon promoted to Hauptmann (Captain)…
On 18 September 1942, he claimed three more victories, but a 20mm Soviet cannon-shell went through his canopy, narrowly missing his head.
178th and 179th claims
18.9.42/1157 and 1159
2 x LaGG-3s
If correctly identified: 572 IAP, 864 IAP or 9 GIAP. However, much more likely misidentified Yaks. 8 VA (no known Yak losses this date) or 16 VA (18 Yak-1s and 2 Yak-7Bs lost this date)
Stalingrad sector (PQ 49134)
228 ShAD or 291 ShAD. Losses include a whole formation of 6 IL-2s from 245 ShAP. Losses in total: 8 VA (2 IL-2s lost this date) and 16 VA (12 IL-2s lost this date including that of Mayor Konstantin Vasilyevich Yarovoi and St.Serzhant Vasily Ivanovich Tuzukov, 688 ShAP). 954 ShAP (16 VA) lost Ml.Lt. Tikhon Ivanovich Khudyakov KIA. Note: 688 ShAP losses are generally attributed to I/JG 53 and III/JG 3
Stalingrad sector (PQ 40784) @ 4200m
If correctly identified: 572 IAP, 864 IAP or 9 GIAP. However, more likely a misidentified Yak. 8 VA (2 Yak-1s and 1 Yak-7B lost) or 16 VA (6 Yak-1s and 5 Yak-7Bs lost) or 102 IAD/PVO.
3 x Yak-1s
8 VA (2 Yak-7Bs lost) or 16 VA 3 Yak-1s and 1 Yak-7B lost) or 102 IAD/PVO, day’s Yak-1 losses include Leytenant Sultan Akmet-Khan of 4 IAP, baled out. Same unit lost Leytenant Vladimir Prokofyevich Anashkin KIA
Stalingrad sector (PQ 49412) @ low altitude
8 VA (2 IL-2s lost) or 16 VA (no known losses). One of the two losses from 8 VA was Serzhant Vasily Nikolaevich Travin of 944 ShAP KIA
Stalingrad sector (PQ 49272) @ 1200m
629 IAP, Ml.Lt. Peshekhonov KIA
Stalingrad sector (PQ 49131 or 49201) @ 100m
8 VA (only 1 IL-2 lost this date) or 16 VA (no known IL-2 losses this date). Overclaiming? 503 ShAP lost Serzhant Vasili Mikhailovich Fedin KIA
198th and 199th claims
25.9.42/1441 and 1446
2 x La-5s
287 IAD. 8 VA Only one known loss of a La-5 this date. Overclaiming?
On 26 September 1942 he shot down three enemy aircraft (198-200) to become the first fighter pilot credited with 200 victories in aviation history…
Pitomnik airfield (PQ 49294) @ 800m
(Hermann Wolf claimed as well)
3 AE, 629 IAP (102 IAD-PVO). Pilots Pavlov, Sergeev and Ovchinnikov in I-153s plus Mal’chenko and V. Smirov in I-16s. Overclaiming, no losses
201st and 202nd claims
26.9.42/1642 and 1658
LaGG-3 and Yak-1
Do these pertain to the only Yak-7B lost by 16 VA this date? (No known losses by 8 VA)
The 62 victories he claimed in that single month (of September) remain a record unbeaten in aviation history. Elevated to hero status by the Luftwaffe, he was promoted to Major on 29 September and forbidden from flying further combat missions.
By then a national hero, Graf was withdrawn from combat operations and posted to a fighter pilot training school in France before being tasked with the setting up of a new special unit: Jagdgeschwader 50 (JG 50—Fighter Wing 50). Its mission was as a high-altitude unit to intercept the de Havilland Mosquito intruders.
On 28 January 1943, Graf took command of Ergänzungs-Jagdgruppe Ost (Fighter Training Group East) based in occupied France.
Here newly trained fighter pilots destined for the Eastern Front received their final training from experienced Eastern Front pilots. The main base was at St. Jean d’Angély 70 miles (110 kilometers) north of Bordeaux on the Atlantic coast although Graf spent most of his time at the Toulouse-Blagnac Airport.
Graf selected a Focke-Wulf Fw190A-5 aircraft for his personal use and lavishly decorated it Without the stress of aerial combat, Graf was again able to indulge his other great passion: soccer.
Graf was permitted to choose his personnel. He transferred his old friends, Grislawski, Süss and Füllgrabe, from III./ JG 52, as well as a number of football players serving as administrators in his JGr Ost training unit.
While in Berlin organizing the necessary transfers, Graf was introduced to the young film actress, Jola Jobst, whom he later wed. The new assignment was then delayed for two months for political reasons. Graf was to run one final pilot-training program: the latest draft of Spanish volunteers heading to the Eastern Front – the 4th Escudrilla Azul (4th Blue Squadron).
On 11 June 1943, Graf arrived at the Wiesbaden airfield to set up his new unit. Remaining elements were drafted out of Jagdgruppe Süd . The unit would be equipped with the new Messerschmitt Bf109G-5, a high-altitude variant of the Bf109G-6.
It was equipped with a pressurized cockpit and armed with extra underwing cannons or rockets. Delivery of the aircraft was delayed but in the meantime, Graf was able to shoot down a Mosquito intruder.
From 18 May to 6 June 1943, the pilots received three weeks of specialized fighter pilot training for the Soviet conditions.
His unit received the first twelve Bf109G-5 planes in July 1943. With one of these aircraft he managed to reach an altitude of 14,300 meters (46,900 feet). The unit was finally declared combat ready on 31 July 1943, albeit with only nineteen aircraft and made up of a single, three-squadron, Gruppe.
At the end of the July, against an 800-bomber raid on Kassel, Graf claimed his first four-engine bomber.
The unit’s first major interception was fairly inauspicious – a bomber raid on the Ruhr on 12 August 1943. Graf was greatly annoyed that no enemy aircraft were shot down.
On 15 August 1943, Graf’s unit was officially named Jagdgeschwader 50 (50th Fighter Wing).
On 17 August, the USAAF Eighth Air Force raided Regensburg, attacking the Messerschmitt factories there. This time JG 50 was far more successful. It was based almost right in the raid’s flightpath and claimed 11 bombers shot down for the loss of two of their own pilots.
The unit’s regular role was extended to bomber interception, and Graf’s Mosquito, the first victory for the unit, ironically proved to be the only one shot down by JG 50.
After the heavy losses of the Regensburg raid, the USAAF was unable to immediately mount further unescorted deep raids into Germany. This allowed some respite for JG 50.
It’s next major action was 6 September 1943. Graf shot down two of the four four-engined bombers claimed, even though he had to crash-land his aircraft.
205th and 206th claims
6.9.43/1050 and 1108
2 x B-17 Flying Fortresses
Stuttgart – Southern edge of the Black Forest
92nd BG, 7 losses including B-17F-80-BO 42-30000 of 327th BS (definitely over Germany) and B-17F-80-BO 42-30010 of 407th BS (will eventually update my database, then re-post)
On 8 October 1943, Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant Colonel) Hans Philipp, the second pilot after Graf to reach 200 air victories, and Geschwaderkommodore of Jagdgeschwader 1, was killed in action.
On 23 October, Graf and Major Anton Mader, Geschwaderkommodore of Jagdgeschwader11 (JG 11 – 11th Fighter Wing, the other home-defense day-fighter unit) were summoned to a meeting of the fighter commanders with Göring at Deelen Air Basenear Arnhem.
The night before, 6,000 civilians had been killed in a bombing raid on Kassel.
In route from Jever, Graf and Mader were nearly shot down by a flight of two Mosquitos over the North Sea Coast, while flying in an unarmed Messerschmitt Bf 108 Taifun.
Several days after the October meeting, JG 50 was disbanded and its personnel absorbed into I./Jagdgeschwader 301, a Wilde Sau night-fighter unit.
While operational, JG 50 had claimed 45 Allied four-engined bombers.
Graf was promoted to Oberst (Colonel) and on 11 November, appointed Geschwaderkommodore (Wing Commander) of JG 11,
In mid to late November 1943, Graf finally returned to combat operations.
Sunday, 20 February 1944, marked the start of ”Big Week” – six consecutive days of concentrated bombing by the USAAF designed to overwhelm the German defences. JG 11 was heavily involved and Graf shot down a B-24 Liberator for his 208th victory on the 24 February.
His 209th aerial victory, west of Berlin on 6 March, was over another B-24 Liberator, of the 453d Bombardment Group. It was actually an Herausschuss (separation shot) – a severely damaged heavy bomber forced to separate from its combat box and which the Luftwaffe counted as an aerial victory.
B-24H Liberator HSS
W of Berlin
42-54457 of 453rd BG. 1/Lt. Elmer Crockett and crew made it back to the channel then ditched. 5 survivors, 1 man KIA, 4 men MIA (already damaged by Flak)
On 29 March, Graf shot down two P-51 Mustangs that were making a fighter sweep ahead of their bomber stream. Chased and harried by the rest of the P-51 squadron, Graf tried to ram another before bailing out.
Landing heavily, he broke both knees and fractured his arm.
211th and 212th claims
2 x P-51B-5 Mustang
N of Hannover – Schwarmstedt area
4th FG, most likely attributable loss is 43-6759/WD-P of 335th FS, Lt. William E Newell baled out and POW
He claimed his last and 212th aerial victory on 29 March 1944. Prompt attention from the JG 11 medic saved Graf from losing his arm. From April to early July he spent time recovering in a hospital in his home-town of Engen.
On June 24, he married Jobst, whom he had been seeing over the past year.
He was severely injured during that encounter and, after a period of convalescence, became Geschwaderkommodore of Jagdgeschwader 52 (JG 52—52nd Fighter Wing).
His return was celebrated with a welcome dinner at its headquarters in Kraków, southern Poland, on 20 September 1944. He was officially appointed on 1 October.
Ongoing weakness in his left arm kept Graf on the ground. In the two years since he had left the Eastern Front, the quantity and quality of the Soviet pilots had greatly improved, as had their equipment.
For the remainder of the war he oversaw his three separated fighter groups shuttled up and down the front, in emergency responses to each new Soviet offensive. Several times the crews had to evacuate as Soviet tanks and artillery were shelling their airfield.
The German fuel crisis severely curtailed the amount of flight-time. Consequently, the November total for the wing of only 369 Soviet aircraft shot down was the lowest monthly total of the eastern campaign.
In December 1944, both Erich Hartmann and Gerhard Barkhorn, Graf’s best pilots, returned to active duty. Within a month, they both achieved their 300th victories.
On New Year’s Day, the Luftwaffe’s western command launched Operation Bodenplatte, against Allied air forces based in the Low Countries. It was an unsuccessful attempt to support the Battle of the Bulge offensive.
On 6 May 1945, Graf authorized the unit’s retreat to Deutsch Brod near Prague. General Hans Seidemann, commander of Luftwaffenkommando VIII, wanted to make a last stand in the Alps.
Graf disobeyed Seidemann’s order for him and Erich Hartmann to fly to the British sector to avoid capture by the Soviets.
He also refused to abandon his ground-crew and fly with his pilots to join Seidemann in the alpine redoubt. Instead, he led the 2,000 unit-personnel and fleeing local citizens on a march through Bohemia to cross the Moldau River (the nominal Allied stop-line).
Once there, he surrendered his unit to the 90th US Infantry Division near Písek on 8 May 1945 and became a prisoner of war (POW).
He and the remainder of JG 52 surrendered to units of the United States Army on 8 May 1945, but were turned over to the Red Army.
Graf was held in Soviet captivity until 1949.
This relatively early release was perceived by many to have been due to collaboration with his Soviet captors, something for which his fellow pilots criticized him, especially following a 1950s book by fighter ace and fellow Soviet POW, Hans Hahn, entitled “I Speak the Truth” (Ich spreche die Wahrheit).
This led to Graf’s exclusion from post-war Luftwaffe veterans’ associations. In 1971 Graf made his own statement to the newspaper, “Bild am Sonntag”, saying that he, along with others including Hartmann, had briefly joined the BDO (an anti-Nazi group of German ex-officer prisoners) as a way to survive the psychological deprivation of the imprisonment.
Bergström et al say this is borne out by the Russian RGVA archive of Graf’s POW file which makes no mention of extended co-operation with pro-Soviet groups. The BDO was disbanded after only a few months.
Shunned by many veterans, he did remain friends with of a number of his former comrades from the JG 52, in particular Alfred Grislawski. His marriage with Jobst soon collapsed and they divorced.
He married twice thereafter and his third wife, Helga Schröck (whom he married in May 1959), gave birth to a son, Hermann-Ulrich, in 1959, and a daughter, Birgit, in 1961.
In 1965, Graf was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a condition that seemed to affect many former high-altitude flyers and which caused his health to slowly deteriorate.
Graf died in his hometown of Engen on 4 November 1988.