|Born||26 Apr 1896|
|Died||17 Nov 1941|
Contributor: Alan Chanter
ww2dbaseErnst Udet, from Frankfurt am Main, Germany, volunteered, at the outbreak of World War One to serve in the Imperial Army, and in June of the following year transferred to the Flying Corps to train as a pilot. By the end of the Great War he was one of Germany's most famous fighter Aces with a total of sixty-two victories against Allied aircraft to his credit (including an unsatisfactory encounter with the French Ace, Charles Guynemer.). He had been awarded the coveted Pour le MĂ©rite, or "Blue Max", become the StaffelfĂŒhrer of Jasta 4, in von Richthofen's "Flying Circus" and was the highest scoring German Ace to survive the conflict.
ww2dbaseLike many others whose only experience was combat flying, Udet found it hard to adjust to life in post-armistice Germany. For a while he stayed with Hermann GĂ¶ring, his last wartime Commanding Officer and in the summer of 1921 he established a small aircraft factory at Milbertshofen, near MĂŒnchen (English: Munich), Germany, where he produced aircraft to his own designs, He took one of his products, the Udet U 4 to South America and won an air race from Rosario to Buenos Aires in Argentina. The Udet Flugzeughau's most successful design was undoubtedly the Udet U 12 Flamingo biplane - some thirty being built. But Business and administration held little attraction for him and so he severed his relationship with the factory and lived by giving stunt-flying demonstrations around Germany; a career much more suited to his Bohemian freebooting temperament. The Udet factory was taken over by BFW who eventually built another 150 Udet designed aircraft. For the next eight years Udet toured Germany and the world, giving flying displays and accepting any flying jobs offered. He flew flying sequences for many adventurous motion pictures of the day and made an impressive display at the National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio, where he stunted his old Udet U 12 Flamingo. On one expedition to film African wildlife he once flew so low that his aircraft was damaged when a lion jumped at it.
ww2dbaseIn 1931, Udet had been impressed by a flying demonstration by a Curtiss F8C Helldiver naval dive-bomber at the Cleveland Air Show in Ohio, United States. These aircraft were rather old by American standards but after talks with the Curtiss-Wright Company he was allowed to fly one himself. They even offered to sell him one for US$14,000. On his return to Germany, that October, Udet took up the championship of the dive-bomber with some fervour, although as a civilian his arguments did not carry much weight. He discussed his ideas with Hermann GĂ¶ring but the latter was then powerless to help him.
ww2dbaseEighteen months later it was a different story. The rise of National Socialism and the emergence of GĂ¶ring's new Luftwaffe were to bring an end to Udet's free-and-easy, playboy lifestyle, GĂ¶ring was not only pressing Udet to join the Nazi Party but his new Luftwaffe as well. Many times GĂ¶ring offered a job to Udet, who for some time proved unwilling to accept work that might interfere with his flying. On 25 March 1933 Udet, as an honorary Air Vice-Commodore of the German Sports Flying Club went back in the United States where, with funds thought to have been supplied by GĂ¶ring, he purchased, for his personal property, two Curtiss F11C Hawks which he named Iris and Ilse. The two crated Hawks arrived at Bremerhaven on 19 October and this expensive indulgence finally convinced him to join the Luftwaffe where he could put every effort into promoting his dive-bombing theories. On 12 June 1934 he gave a personal demonstration to high ranking Nazi officials at DĂŒbendorf. As an officer in the SA this demonstration, together with his overall fame and friendship with GĂ¶ring, seemingly saved him from becoming a victim during the "Night of the Long Knives" a few days later.
ww2dbaseThen, in January 1936, Udet, now a Colonel, was appointed to the post of Inspector of Fighters and Stuka dive bombers. Here he found two men who shared his enthusiasm for dive bombing; Major General Walther Wever, Chief of the Air Staff, and Colonel Wilhelm Wimmer of the Technical Branch. There were many in Germany, at that time, who expressed misgivings about Udet's proposals. Amongst them was Wolfram von Richthofen. Head of the Technical Office who was of the opinion that for any aircraft to dive below 6,000 feet in the face of heavy Anti-Aircraft fire would be nothing less than suicidal. Nevertheless when Wever died in an air crash at Dresden, Germany in June 1936, Udet took over Wimmer' responsibility for all new Luftwaffe aircraft development. He was now in a position to push through a dive-bombing programme.
ww2dbaseTemperamentally unsuitable for such an important job, Udet's appointment was fiercely resented by Erhard Milch, the first chairman of Lufthansa airline and a personal friend of GĂ¶ring, who hated having to consult Udet's over-manned and disorganised department, and plotted to seize control of it. Yet Udet's love of flying gave him an advantage in the matter of assessing new aircraft designs. He liked to describe himself as the Luftwaffe's chief test pilot, In August he sat in the cockpit of Wilhelm Messerschmitt's radically new fighter. The Bf 109 prototype was not yet ready to fly but Udet pronounced that it would never be a fighting aeroplane unless the pilot had an open cockpit. Nonetheless, when he finally had the chance to see the Bf 109 in flight he was magnanimous enough to change his mind. The only serious rival to the Bf 109 was Ernst Heinkel's He 112 which, at first, seemed certain to win the contract; but once in the air the Bf 109 proved superior, meeting the Air Ministry requirements in all flying aspects. Additionally the Bf 109 proved cheaper in cost, in man-hours, and in materials. Udet took the disappointed Heinkel aside and told him to stick to making bombers.
ww2dbaseOne of the first aircraft Udet examined in his new role was the Focke-Wulf Fw 56 StĂ¶sser (Falcon) monoplane from Technical Director Kurt Tank. Although initially designed as a fighter for Home Defence, one prototype had been fitted with dive brakes to improve performance and Udet requested that the design should be modified as a suitable vehicle for dive-bomber training. This was done and, in trials, it was found that 40 per cent of their bombs were hitting their target. The Luftwaffe, however, would reject the Fw 56 (which would only see service as a fighter trainer) being more impressed by the Junkers Ju 87 design, with its distinctive wing and ability to make virtually vertical dives. But, before a contract could be awarded, it was decided to evaluate the Ju 87 against three rival contenders, the Heinkel He 118V, the Arado Ar 81 and the Blohm und Voss Ha 137. The last two were quickly ruled out and the choice between the Junkers and Heinkel prototypes was still in doubt when Udet elected to fly the Heinkel himself. On 27 June he took off from Marienche to put it through its paces. This aircraft had been fitted with an unperfected interconnection of the airscrew pitch change with the flaps/dive brakes that required careful handling of the machine. Chief test pilot Gerhard Nitschke tried to explain to Udet that before going into the terminal dive he must change the airscrew to a coarse pitch. But Udet, impulsive as ever, sped down the runway without apparently taking the fact in. The result was predictable. The He 118 was thrown joyously into a dive by the inspector, who forgot to carry out this simple procedure. Coming down from around 13,000 feet the propeller took off on its own, taking the reduction gears with it. The tail broke off and, managing to get out, Udet followed the plunging bomber down to earth in a more dignified manner by parachute. His fault or not, the hopes of Heinkel went up in flames with the funeral pyre of his He 118.
ww2dbaseIn Spain, Major Adolf Galland who was pioneering ground attack experiments, produced a considerable body of written material which fitted very well with the dive-bombing theories of Udet, These tactics were now enthusiastically accepted by senior German officers, including General von Richthofen, Chief of Staff of the Condor Legion, who later commanded the ill-fated Stuka units during the Battle of Britain.
ww2dbaseThe Technical Office that Udet inherited grew from just four departments into 13 - and later 26! The whole complex edifice was riven by petty jealousies and inter-department rivalries. But rather than providing firm leadership, Udet chose to ignore the organisational chaos that was developing in his wake. His critics pointed out that he smoked too much, and had the disconcerting habit of scribbling acerbic caricatures of his friends and colleagues. With no effective deputy and a poor staff, it is little wonder that Udet was at his happiest only when out of reach of his office - visiting aircraft factories and airfields, or piloting his own bright-red Siebel tourer complete with its well-stocked bar! On 5 June 1938 he even took time off from his duties to set a new 100-km closed-circuit speed record of 634.7 kilometers/hour in the Heinkel He 100V2. Ernst Heinkel who was watching was the first to congratulate him on the achievement. In August 1938, Milch with Udet and other officers made an official visit to England where the latter indiscreetly boasted to his hosts about German Radar technology. Milch, still with few friends and little support from the Luftwaffe General Staff, cheerfully recognized another chance to undermine Udet's authority and increase his own power base.
ww2dbaseOn 1 December 1939, Udet was appointed Director General of Air Force Equipment (Generalluftzeugmeister) although his carefree lifestyle did not lend itself to the application required in this office; he failed to evaluate new technology and paid no attention to administration. At first the defeats of Poland and France seemed to confirm the brilliance of his decisions and in July 1940 he was awarded the Knight's Cross (Ritterkreuz) followed shortly after by promotion to Generaloberst (equivalent to RAF Air Chief Marshal). But Udet's success would be short-lived. In November blame was firmly laid at his door for the Luftwaffe's defeat in the Battle of Britain. He was unable to inspire the necessary drive and, during his short stewardship, technical development came almost to a standstill. He permitted work on designs of low merit to go forward and failed to adapt to the changing needs of the air force. Attempts to recover his falling reputation by rushing both the unsatisfactory Me 210 fighter and He 177 bomber into production would prove disastrous. Under Udet's leadership aircraft production declined at a time when, in Britain and the USA, it was increasing dramatically.
ww2dbaseBelieving, not without reason, that his superiors had abandoned him, and convinced that his arch-rival, Inspector General Erhard Milch, was plotting his downfall, the normally ebullient Udet suffered twelve months of illness, depression and strain. Finally, on 25 August 1941, he reported sick and Milch was brought back to take over Udet's department in addition to his own. On Monday morning, 17th November 1941, Udet was found dead with two empty cognac bottles and a revolver. On the wall he had scrawled a message accusing GĂ¶ring of selling out to "the Jew' Milch: "Iron Man you deserted me!" he'd written. GĂ¶ring dictated a press notice that said that Udet had died from injuries suffered while testing a new weapon. Jagdgeschwader 3 was named in his honour and he was accorded a State funeral attended by Hitler, and where he was eulogised by GĂ¶ring, who described Udet as his "best friend", In a final irony, while visiting a forward fighter field in the Crimea, the noted German Ace, Werner MĂ¶lders, recently appointed as Inspector of Fighters, was recalled to Berlin to attend Udet's funeral and act as a pall-bearer. En-route the He 111 transport in which he was travelling lost an engine and crashed in bad weather while attempting to land at Breslau-Gandau. MĂ¶lders and all aboard were killed.
Edward Davidson and Dale Manning: World War Two - The Personalities (Arms and Armour, 1997)
Len Deighton: Fighter - The true story of the Battle of Britain (Triad/Panther Books, 1977)
Peter C. Smith: Dive Bomber - An Illustrated History (Moorland Publishing Co -UK, Naval Institute Press -USA, 1982)
Kenneth Poolman: The Albatros Fighter (War Monthly Magazine, January 1982)
World Aircraft Information Files File 389/2 (Aerospace Publishing periodical)
Last Major Revision: May 2021
Ernst Udet Interactive Map
Ernst Udet Timeline
|26 Apr 1896||Ernst Udet was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.|
|2 Aug 1914||Ernst Udet attempted to enlist in the German Army, but was rejected due to his short stature.|
|18 Mar 1916||Ernst Udet, flying a Fokker E.III aircraft, shot down his first opponent, a French Farman F.40 bomber. This victory led to his Iron Cross First Class medal.|
|7 Nov 1917||Ernst Udet was made the squadron commanding officer of Jagdstaffel 37.|
|13 Nov 1917||Ernst Udet was awarded the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern.|
|29 Jun 1918||Ernst Udet, his aircraft damaged by a French Breguet aircraft, jumped from his aircraft and survived by parachuting to the ground. Late opening of the parachute led to the spraining of his ankle upon landing.|
|28 Sep 1918||Ernst Udet was wounded in the thigh.|
|25 Feb 1920||Ernst Udet married Eleanor Zink.|
|16 Feb 1923||Ernst Udet and Eleanor Zink divorced.|
|25 Mar 1933||Ernst Udet purchased two Curtiss F11C Hawk aircraft in the United States; he named them Iris and Ilse.|
|1 Jun 1935||First World War fighter ace Ernst Udet joined the Luftwaffe with the rank of colonel (Oberst). Official funds were made available to purchase two American Helldiver aircraft for Udet's personal use as a bribe to entice him back into the military fold.|
|10 Feb 1936||Ernst Udet was appointed the Inspector of Fighters and Dive Bombers of the German Luftwaffe.|
|9 Jun 1936||Ernst Udet was appointed Director of the Technical Department of the German Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM) with responsibility for all new Luftwaffe aircraft. His department grew to a complex 26 departments and was riven with petty jealousies and inter-department rivalries. Udet failed to provide a firm leadership and his organisation soon collapsed into chaos, whilst Udet, with no effective deputy and a poor staff seemed more happier when he was out of reach visiting aircraft factories and airfields (usually at the controls of his own bright red Siebel tourer complete with its well stocked bar).|
|5 Jun 1938||Ernst Udet claimed the 100-kilometer closed-circuit landplane speed record flying the Heinkel He 100 V2 aircraft.|
|1 Dec 1939||In Germany, Ernst Udet was appointed Director General of Air Force Equipment (Generalluftzeugmeister).|
|5 Jul 1940||Adolf Hitler presented the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross to Generalluftzeumeister Ernst Udet, the Director General of Luftwaffe Equipment.|
|19 Jul 1940||Ernst Udet was promoted to Generaloberst (equivalent to Air Chief Marshal of the British RAF).|
|25 Aug 1941||Held responsible for the failure of the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain, and believing that his superiors had abandoned him, and convinced that his arch rival Inspector General Erhard Milch was plotting his down fall, the normally ebullient Ernst Udet (who was already showing signs of illness through depression and strain) reported sick. His duties were assumed by Milch.|
|17 Nov 1941||Following twelve months of illness, depression and strain at the Luftwaffe's increasing losses on the Eastern Front, Generaloberst Ernst Udet, the German Director General of Air Armament, commited suicide by shooting himself while on the phone with his girlfriend, Inge Bleyle. Udet, Germany's second highest fighter ace of the First World War (behind the Red Baron) with 62 kills, had already lost favour with Hitler after the air force's performance in the Battle of Britain. The official version was that he had died whilst testing a "new weapon" and Jagdgeschwader 3 was named in his honour. Udet was accorded a state funeral at which he was eulogised by Hermann GĂ¶ring, who described him as his "best friend".|
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