Text: Jan Bobek

Illustration: Marek Ryś

Among the promising young NCOs who served in Jagdgeschwader 2 “Richthofen” in 1940 was Feldwebel Erich Rudorffer. At the end of 1939 he was assigned to 2./JG 2 and during the campaign in France he achieved nine victories. He added more in the Battle of Britain and the highlight of this period was three kills scored in one combat sortie on September 7, 1940.

The number of his victories stopped at eighteen, just two bars away from the dream number of twenty that for Bf 109 pilots in 1940 meant the award of the Knight's Cross. This award awaited Rudorffer on May 1, 1941, after he had shot down a Blenheim 30 km north of the island of Jersey on 21 April.

Let’s go back to the Battle of Britain and the boxart of Rudorffer’s “Black Nine” by Marek Ryś. It   depicts Rudorffer’s plane during a dogfight that took place on September 30, 1940, off the English coast. This was the Luftwaffe’s last major air raid against Great Britain. It deployed 163 day bombers and 1015 sorties by single and two-seat fighters. This number of fighter sorties was the sixth highest on the German side during the Battle of Britain.

The last day of September brought Rudorffer three flights, the highest number he flew in a single day during the Battle of Britain. In the morning, he took off with part of I/JG 2 for a free hunt over the coast of southern England. The same task was also given to the 109s from parts of JG 53 and the 110s from ZG 26. Against this free hunting group, which was heading for the area between St. Alban's Head and the Isle of Portland, RAF despatched seven Hurricanes from No. 56 Sqn and thirteen Spitfires from No. 609 (West Riding) Sqn.

The Hurricanes clashed with the 110s and both sides lost one machine. Then JG 2 got in troubles, its pilots encountering No. 609 Sqn, whose A Flight was led by L/Lt F. J. Howell and B Flight was under command of P/O M. J. Appleby. The Germans claimed four victories. Kommandeur of I./JG 2 Hptm. Wick claimed one Hurricane and one Spitfire near Portland, his wingman Oblt. Rudolf Pflanz claimed one Spitfire and Uffz. Kurt Bühlingen of 6./JG 2 claimed another one north of Portland. However, the British did not lose any machines. The pilots of JG 2, who were by this point (approximately 12.30 German time) beginning to run out of fuel and could not engage in a long air battle.

Howell's formation was at 23,000ft to Appleby's right at the start of the engagement, but in a fierce encounter they recorded no victories or losses. The first success was recorded by P/O D. M. Crook of B Flight. Several 109's passed directly in front of him, there was a brief manoeuvre fight, and then the Germans went into a dive. Crook was flying behind one at 600 mph when the German levelled off, Crook scored hits and the smoke emitting Bf 109 crashed into the sea.

Appleby attacked three Bf 109s that passed in a descent in the opposite direction on his left. He chased one, which went into a dive, and Appleby hit it in the cockpit with a two-second burst. At that moment P/O Crook was flying behind Appleby and observed his victory. Crook then saw another Bf 109 to his right, hit it too, the German jettisoned the canopy but did not bail out and began to dive into the sea. But to Crook’s surprise, his opponent levelled the flight. Crook hit him again, the glycol came out of the machine and the German crashed into the sea. Another airman from No. 609 Sqn claimed one Bf 109 damaged and one of the two Polish members of that unit, F/O Tadeusz Nowierski, reported a probable kill.

On the German side, Rudorffer’s colleague Fw. Wilhelm Hermes, an ace with ten kills, was missing. In the same battle (?), Gefr. Fritz Schuhmacher of 5./JG 2, went also missing. The following flight of I./JG 2 immediately headed for the area in a fruitless effort to find Hermes. In the afternoon Rudorffer took off once more. JG 2 again came into combat with No. 609 Sqn, which again emerged victorious. Nowierski apparently shot down Uffz. Alois Dollinger of 5./JG 2 and several other pilots scored too.

Rudorffer was lucky to survive both encounters with the elite pilots of the West Riding Spitfires. By the end of the war, he had claimed a total of 224 aerial victories and was awarded the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster and Swords. However, there were already serious doubts about his victories, which he achieved in command positions with several units during the war.